The conversation Texans coach Bill O’Brien, GM Brian Gaine and head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan had with their quarterback Deshaun Watson early last week was remarkably short, given how all of us would have perceived the gravity of the situation.
At that point, the team was still mulling options for how Watson would travel to Jacksonville—flying was off the table with the 23-year-old’s rib and lung injuries. And as part of planning, with 12 hours of ground travel necessary, they had to ask Watson himself a pretty straightforward question: What do you want to do?
“I want to play in the game,” Watson responded.
Simple question. Simple answer.
“He could play, he was cleared to play, obviously he wanted to play, he practiced all week,” O’Brien explained just before midnight local time back in Houston late Sunday night. “And so Brian and those guys got a bus for him, and three or four support staff people went with him. And that’s about it.”
If O’Brien seems matter-of-fact, it’s no mistake. It’s more an acknowledgement that what Watson did on Saturday to play on Sunday in the Texans’ 20–7 win over the Jaguars is closer to the norm now in Houston than to any kind of exception.
• While O’Brien talked, J.J. Watt was still getting treatment at the Texans facility, a necessity now after injuries robbed him of most of the last two seasons. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s routine just to get ready physically is, in O’Brien’s words, “incredible.”
• Johnathan Joseph is another one, 13 years deep into his NFL career, for whom getting physically prepared to play is a battle on a weekly basis. And this week, he was fighting through a shoulder injury sustained during last week’s win over Buffalo.
• Safety Andre Hal returned on Sunday for his first game since being diagnosed with lymphoma in June.
So Watson didn’t just open a window for all of us into who he is this weekend, he also gave implicit insight into who the Texans are becoming.
“No doubt, I speak for the coaching staff—we love coaching these guys,” said O’Brien. “They’re attentive in meetings, they practice hard, they give us everything they’ve got. And it’s fun to be here every day coaching them. Even when we were losing, those guys knew, in their minds, ‘Hey, we’re gonna turn this thing around, so we’re gonna keep showing up to work. … We have that type of locker room.”
That’s how an 0–3 start becomes sole possession of first place in the division in less than a month’s time.
Another wild week in the NFL as we close in on midseason, and we’ve got a ton to get to. Among those things …
• If there’s a midseason slump coming this year in Kansas City, like the one we saw last year, the Chiefs are showing zero signs of it. Andy Reid’s crew bounced back from the heartbreaker in Foxboro to absolutely annihilate the Bengals 45–10. Patrick Mahomes is up to 22 touchdown passes on the year after throwing four on Sunday night, as his Chiefs piled up 551 yards from scrimmage.
• The Saints came from behind to knock off the Ravens in Baltimore behind a swashbuckling approach from coach Sean Payton, whose team showed some toughness winning outdoors and in cold weather against a top-shelf defense.
• Cam Newton found a way to bring the Panthers back from 17–0 in the fourth quarter, piloting consecutive drives of 80, 87 and 69 yards to score the road win against the champs in Philly.
• The New England offense looked like the New England offense again against a hobbled Khalil Mack in Chicago.
• The Chargers survived a 10-day travel gauntlet and return to the States with two wins in that stretch and a 5–2 record that could become 9–2 in a hurry.
• Ohio State junior defensive end Nick Bosa withdrew from school to prepare for the 2019 draft, which opens another gate for promising underclassmen to pass through on their way into the NFL.
We’re starting in Houston with a team that may not have it all but sure has toughness in spades.
I’d talked to O’Brien and Gaine about their plan back in August at the team’s training camp, and I remember asking Watt about what he noticed in the players they were bringing to the Texans.
“I think the No. 1 thing they want is guys who love football,” Watt said. “That’s probably the biggest thing you can see—they want guys who want to be on the field, want to play the game, want to work in practice and get better. That’s how you’re going to win.”
Sure enough, it’s how the Texans have won—with the kind of scrap that’s hard to deny. Their first win required a fourth-down stop in overtime in Indy. The second had Watson fighting through his newly injured ribs to drive the field and beat the Cowboys in OT. Last week’s victory was keyed by a game-winning pick six. And the win over Jacksonville on Sunday took a mix of elements.
Half of Houston’s points—a touchdown and a field goal—were set up by forced fumbles. The Texans also had lengthy drives to another touchdown and another field goal. Watson was up and down, but the run game took care of him.
These would have been losses earlier in the year. The win in Jacksonville was the first game the Texans have played this season that was decided by more than seven points. Their other wins came margins of 3, 3, and 7, and their losses came by margins of 3, 5 and 7, so they’re aware of how thin the line is right now for them.
“This is a league that’s really based on improvement,” O’Brien said. “And we had close games early in the year, some games we could’ve coached better in, some games we could’ve played better in. But they were close.”
Now, those are going the Texans’ way. And the Watson bus trip can metaphorically tell you why they believe it’s happening, in that it really is easy for people in the building to envision almost anyone else in the locker room doing that for the team, which is right where the coach and GM are trying to get the program.
“I’d say that no matter what happens the rest of the season, this is a team filled with high-character guys that really care about each other,” O’Brien said. “They practice hard and put a lot of work into it. It’s hard to say it’s 100% that way, but it’s pretty close. We’ve got guys in this locker room that really love football and care about each other and play hard.
“When you have good character in locker room, Brian and myself, we are big believers in that you’re going to win games, because you have guys that are really going to fight and scratch and do whatever it takes to try and win the game.”
The Texans sure have.
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CAM NEWTON TAKES THE FOURTH
Weird afternoon in Philly. It started with the Eric Reid/Malcolm Jenkins dustup (we’ll get to that in the takeaways), and continued with a three-quarter shutout of the Eagles’ visitors from Charlotte. And that was where Cam Newton’s improvement under new coordinator Norv Turner and position coach Scott Turner showed up. Newton’s numbers on Sunday:
Quarters 1-3:9-of-17, 68 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs
Quarter 4:16-22, 201 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
And the cool thing is that so much of it was in the details.
“Norv and Scotty Turner, they have really gotten Cam to be a little more patient on certain things, to not always look for the big chunk play, to methodically make decisions,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said over the phone on Sunday night. “And you see that, you see him being patient and making methodical decisions as opposed always trying to hit that big home run right away.”
It showed up in a couple ways during the furious comeback.
First, Rivera pointed to a few plays where less was indeed more. There were a couple plays designed to go downfield that Newton calmly checked down to Christian McCaffrey, in whom he’s built great trust of late. And on the fourth play of the fourth quarter, there was a designed shot play to Devin Funchess where Newton recognized cover two and, as such, dumped the ball off to Jarius Wright on a shallow cross for nine yards that got the Panthers in a second-and-one.
Second, Newton was sending guys in motion pre-snap not because he was directed to, but because he wanted to sniff out what coverage the defense was in, a tactic he might not have pulled out on his own much even last year.
“It was absolutely to help him get more information as to what the defense is doing,” Rivera explained.
In some ways, all of this isn’t unlike how Todd Haley worked to create Ben Roethlisberger 2.0 in Pittsburgh earlier this decade. The idea is the same: Be a distributor more often, and limit the damage you take on your body. And as the Turners have preached to Newton: Own the offense.
“Those are the kinds of things you’re seeing here, taking ownership,” Rivera said. “The way he was communicating with the sideline, with the hand signals and every time he got the chance—‘Hey, how about this?’ He had ideas in his mind of what he wanted to do, too. A couple times, Coach would call a certain formation, and he’d start them in a different formation, to shift to it on his own, to see if there was anything special the defense was doing.”
At halftime Rivera challenged his coaches to get more aggressive and put players in one-on-one situations on both sides of the ball. He then challenged the players to win their one-on-ones.
Of course, that kind of directive can be foggy for a quarterback. In this case, Newton just went out and beat whoever the Eagles put in front of him over those last 15 minutes.
WILL THIS CHIEFS RUN EVER END?
Here’s a crazy fact for you: The Chiefs have played playoff contenders (Cincinnati and New England) on back-to-back Sunday nights, and punted a grand total once in those 120 minutes of football, while totaling 903 yards of offense. Against the Bengals on Sunday, Kansas City had eight real possessions: TD, missed FG, TD, TD, FG, TD, INT, TD. Along the way Mahomes threw for 358 yards and the Chiefs ran for 198.
So I texted Kansas City’s right tackle Mitchell Schwartz postgame and asked him straight up: When they have it working, are the Chiefs unstoppable?
“We know that if we’re all executing, there’s just too much talent on the field for good things not to happen,” Schwartz replied. “You want to double cover [Travis] Kelce and Tyreek [Hill], now Chris [Conley] and Sammy [Watkins] are singled up, and you have a light box to run against to let Kareem [Hunt] do his thing. You stack the box and you’re betting on covering all our guys, which is just tough with how good and fast they all are.
“I think we all have the confidence to know that if we take care of business on our end, it’s going to be hard to stop, and good things, and points, will happen.”
Schwartz called this the offense’s best showing thus far, for two reasons. The Chiefs had the run game working, and there was no lull in the onslaught, as there has been for quarters or halves in the early parts of this season.
And speaking of lulls, that was the other thing I wanted to ask Schwartz about. Last year Kansas City got off to a similarly hot start, racing to 5-0 out of the gate before opposing coaches got a bead on what Reid and company were doing to them. Since the Chiefs are still leaning on spread concepts, the possibility of a similar regression to the mean seems possible here.
The good news is the Chiefs aren’t ignoring their history in that regard. They haven’t had a meeting or anything crazy about it, but they’re not purposefully avoiding what happened last year either.
“Not in a big sweeping way since things are so different, but it’s brought up every now and again as a reminder,” Schwartz noted. “And I think everyone just remembers and is striving to not let that happen again. The main thing we learned was the importance of practice—practicing fast and with good fundamentals. Because unless you do that during the week, it won’t show up on game day.
“So there hasn’t been any slip in practice tempo or in the quality of work.”
That much is for sure.
BOSA’S BIG DECISION
John Bosa was in the stands for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, the final game of his son’s decorated Ohio State career. Joey Bosa was one of 18 players on that field who’d be taken inside the first 103 picks of the following April’s draft. Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith was another. And what followed in the first quarter—a devastating injury to Smith, then his son’s ejection for targeting—would have a lasting impact on the elder Bosa.
This week John’s younger son, Nick, the reigning Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year, made the decision to withdraw from OSU, following September surgery to repair a core muscle injury, and his dad admitted that Jaylon Smith’s situation was in the back of his mind.
“I just was so horrified for that kid,” Bosa said on Saturday. “I mean, I saw the play and it just it was awful. And it was not done purposely, that Joey got kicked out of that game, OK? He didn’t plan to get kicked out of the game. But when he did get kicked out of the game—and he was horribly disappointed—I gotta be honest with you, I was 110% relieved.
“I mean I was sitting in the stands and everybody was sad and ‘Oh my god.’ And I just sat back thinking, this is a blessing, because it was just horrifying to see that kid get hurt. That wasn’t a topic that we discussed, but certainly it’ll always be in my mind. That was a horrible thing for that kid, money he’ll never make up.”
You can actually quantify it. Bosa and Smith were considered the same class of prospect in 2016. Bosa got out healthy and, as the third overall pick, landed a rookie deal that guaranteed him $25.9 million. Smith, as the 34th pick, was guaranteed $4.5 million of his rookie deal. So that makes for a difference of $21.4 million. And as John Bosa said, that’s money that’s not coming back.
That means there is potential for Nick Bosa’s decision to resonate with other college players dealing with injury—guys like Michigan’s Rashan Gary (AC joint) or Stanford’s Bryce Love (ankle), who may see the door now open to making a business decision on some of the risks they’re taking, just as kids more regularly skip bowl games now in the post-McCaffrey/Fournette world.
And few understand these business decisions like the Bosas do. John Bosa was the Dolphins’ first-round pick in 1987. His brother-in-law Eric Kumerow, Joey and Nick’s uncle, was Miami’s first-round pick in ’88. Which will make Nick the fourth member of the family to be drafted high by the NFL, and that gives John Bosa some great perspective. So as you might expect, he had a few other interesting things to say:
He didn’t like some of the criticism Nick took this week. “There’s a College GameDay host [Desmond Howard, Michigan alum] who made just an absurd comment. And of course he’s from the team up north, so it doesn’t surprise me. But just you know when I see ex-players—and even [Tim] Tebow’s comments were absurd—Joseph’s money is not family money, it’s Joseph’s money. The pay that my son makes is not redistributed to the family money to take care of his younger brother. I mean, that comment was just absurd—‘He’s not going to be on the streets.’ So that’s why you risk your future in the NFL, because your brother makes a lot of money? I mean, it’s just absurd. Some of the statements from people that I just expected better from honestly.”
He’s not wild about the three-year rule either. “So in basketball it’s one-and-done. Does anyone ever fault anyone to go to school one year and then go and make millions of dollars in the NBA? No one ever has any problem with that for some reason, it’s one and done. OK. So all of the reasons behind football, ‘Well, protect the veterans,’ ‘You know, the NCAA protects college football and the money that’s there for college football’. So now we’re going to come up with a three-year rule. Where does that come from? Does that mean the person’s physical stature is now mature enough to play football? I mean, it’s absurd. But it is what it is. So it’s a three-year rule here. And it that solidifies colleges having the use of their stars for three years to make as much money as they can make it.”
Nick’s return to Ohio State would’ve carried significant risk. “There’s re-injury, yeah and what happens though, more dangerous, is even if the surgical repair is perfect, mentally your body is overcompensating for things and you’re thinking through things. And you’re actually more susceptible to other type of injuries, possible hip flexors, because mentally you’re kind of trying to protect what had hurt. And even though that specific repair is 110 percent, you started running the risk of other injuries and being a little more susceptible to other things.”
Nick is already out in Los Angeles, working through physical therapy. Once that’s complete he’ll start working with Joey’s personal trainer and former Chargers strength coach Todd Rice to prepare for the combine.
THE CHARGERS: ROAD WARRIORS
The Chargers landed at LAX at 1:30 a.m. local time after a flight of 12 hours or so from London’s Heathrow Airport, back in California for the first time in 10 days. Here’s what the itinerary looked like:
Friday, Oct. 12: Practice at Costa Mesa facility, bus to LAX, fly to Cleveland, arriving at 11 p.m. ET.
Saturday, Oct 13: Walkthrough at Cleveland State auditorium (rain moved it inside).
Sunday, Oct. 14: Game against the Browns.
Monday, Oct. 15: Team meetings at Cleveland hotel.
Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, Oct. 16-17-18: Practices at Baldwin-Wallace in Berea, Ohio; movie night on Wednesday; 8 p.m. flight to London on Thursday (TSA screening at hotel after practice).
Friday, Oct. 19: 8 a.m. arrival at Heathrow; bus to hotel; breakfast; meetings; 2:15 p.m. practice at Allianz Park rugby grounds.
Saturday, Oct. 20: 10:30 a.m. walkthrough at Wembley; evening meetings.
Sunday, Oct. 21: Game vs. Titans; 8 p.m. GMT flight to LAX.
Monday, Oct. 22: 1:30 a.m. PT. arrival at LAX.
Oh, and the Chargers came out of it 2–0.
“You just have to be pros about it,” corner Casey Heyward told me from the locker room after the 20–19 victory over Tennessee. “We have a lot of veterans on this team, lot of young guys as well, but veterans who lead by the way that we play. No doubt about it, it feels good to get that win and to be able to go back home with a win on the road; to be 5–2 going into our bye week, you gotta feel pretty good.”
It didn’t come easy, though. In fact, after the Titans tied the game in the waning moments of regulation, the Chargers needed two stops on two-point conversion attempts—the second one facilitated by a holding call on Heyward on the first.
“Did you watch it?” Heyard said, when I asked if the call was legit.
“Oh my gosh,” he continued. “You know what? It’s OK. If we’d lost, I’d have been really mad about it. But we won. I thought it was a bad call.”
In the end it didn’t make a difference, because the Chargers were ready for what was next—a pick route designed to go to Titans receiver Taywan Taylor that defensive backs Mike Davis and Adrian Phillips sniffed out almost right away. “We were expecting it,” Heyward said.
And since this is a pretty confident group, they were expecting to come out of this cyclone of travel as they have, too, with a couple more wins and plenty to build on coming out of their bye and going into November. The next four games on their slate (at Seattle, at Oakland, Denver, Arizona) suggest they could well sweep that month and be 9–2 for their big Dec. 2 date in Pittsburgh.
“I think we’re here for the long haul,” Heyward said. “We’re trying to be a playoff team, and we have to beat playoff teams—we have to win those games. And close out games like we did here. I always say, let’s find a way to win, not find a way to lose.”
They’ve done that the last couple weeks.
… OF THE WEEK
Why did I throw in the video with that Joe Namath/Terry Bradshaw nugget? Because if you’re going to make a Mahomes Mania video with Real American, it’s going in the column. No matter what it took to shoehorn it in.
And this week, there’s no question which meme was worth everyone’s attention—Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s first missed PAT came on his 223rd career attempt, and it was a costly one, providing the difference in New Orleans’ 24-23 comeback win over Baltimore. No kicker in NFL history has been as automatic as Tucker. But in 2018 a bad case of the shanks sure seems to be contagious, and it caught the Ravens’ Mr. Reliable at a pretty bad time.
Apparently my old pal Chuck is trying to give everyone a stroke. Cool hurdle by Kareem Hunt, though. And a bonus …
… Just because I love all of you. Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy’s doing a nice job of getting everyone down to field level on college football Saturdays to see the prospects that the scouts are eyeing—so throw him a follow!
“The message is that—quite frankly I told them we have to learn from these. These are games that galvanize football teams, and this is going to do that. This is going to bring us even closer together. Basically told them pressure’s off of us. Nobody in the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything. Pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun, and just relax. A lot of football ahead too. We still have a bunch of games, and still anything’s possible, anything can happen. We still treat it as one week at a time.”
— Eagles coach Doug Pederson, on the Super Bowl champions slipping to 3-4 with the loss to the Panthers on Sunday.
Philly goes to London this week to face an equally desperate Jaguars team, in what feels a little like one of those old WWF loser-leaves-town matches. (Sorry, that Mahomes video has my mind back on ’80s pro wrestling). After the bye, the Eagles get the Cowboys and a trip to New Orleans. The upshot for Philly? The division isn’t exactly the SEC of pro football. Even with a sub-.500 mark, the Eagles are just a game off the pace being set by the Redskins.
S/O TO …
Tyler Trent. Saturday was a tough night for my alma mater’s football team, as you may have heard. But if there’s a consolation for all of us who went to school in Columbus, it’s the happiness that game brought Trent, a Purdue sophomore who’s been diagnosed with bone cancer twice and is now terminal. Amazing work by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi on this story, and amazing people in that Purdue program, from coach Jeff Brohm on down. If you haven’t seen this yet, take the seven minutes to do it now. I’ll leave it here for you:
SIX FROM SATURDAY
Notes from the college football weekend from the perspective of the NFL.
1. The hit LSU’s Devin White put on Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald on Saturday night may have looked like a love tap to the rest of us, but by NCAA standards, it was targeting. And since the hit happened in the second half of that game, the Tigers’ front seven will be without its best playerfor the first half of the Alabama game on Nov. 3. Whole thing is absurd.
2. We’ve mentioned Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell as potential NFL coaches in this space. I think Purdue’s Jeff Brohm—who was actually a Steve Young backup in San Francisco in the ’90s—should be on the list too. And not just because of Saturday night.
3. Speaking of that game, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is going to have an interesting decision to make. He has first-round ability but could certainly use another year in school seeing different defenses, learning to move a little a better and killing the one-year-starter narrative. But if it’s a fair bet he’d go in the first round, that’d be tough to walk away from.
4. Alabama sophomore Najee Harris may play in a three-man platoon, with limited practice time with the ones, but scouts believe he’s the best player in a loaded backfield. And one reason why is right here—Harris appears to juke and hurdle a defender simultaneously, which doesn’t seem possible.
5. Interesting name to watch, particularly given Evan Engram’s success: Underutilized Ole Miss junior TE Dawson Knox. He’s only got nine catches on the year and has been overshadowed by the Rebels’ starry receiver group. But he’s enough of an athlete for NFL scouts to think he could go in the first or second round in April, should he declare.
6. I’m going to cheat here and use No. 6 to go to the prep ranks and thank my high school coach, Tom Lopez, for everything he did for my teammates and me (both on the field and off), and everyone else who went through the Lincoln-Sudbury program over the last four decades. I was a senior on his 20th team, and that year now sits within the first half of his head-coaching run at L-S. This is Year 41. And on Friday night he became the fifth coach in Massachusetts state history to hit 300 wins. Congrats, Coach!
1. By now, you’ve seen what certainly looked like a coordinated effort by Eric Reid to confront Malcolm Jenkins when everyone was watching—a beef that has simmered for months now over Jenkins’ leadership in the Players Coalition, and that group’s partnership with the NFL. Here’s what Reid said postgame: “He’s a sellout. He was corrupt from the jump. He knew what he was doing from the offset. His goal was to sell us out, and he did that. … I don’t focus on Malcolm every day. My focus is on the fight, the fight of my people. We just crossed paths today. We believe a lot of players should have stepped up for Colin. I believe Malcolm capitalized on the situation. He co-opted the movement that was started by Colin to get his organization funded. It’s cowardly. He sold us out.” When I asked Rivera about the comments, he said, “That’s something you’ll have to ask Eric. You’ll have to talk to him about it, talk to him about it or Malcolm to really get what’s going on between the two of those guys.” Jenkins, for his part, declined to respond to Reid’s accusations. I understand both sides of the argument here, and I will say that I think the personal nature of Reid’s comments are unfair. There are few people who are as respected in NFL as Jenkins is. I remember hearing ex-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel say Jenkins was the best leader he’d ever been around. And save for Reid, I think you’d have a very difficult time finding anyone in football who doesn’t like Jenkins.
2. The Colts may be 2–5, but their rookie class is showing off-the-charts promise. Second-round linebacker Darius Leonard had 17 tackles in the win over the Bills on Sunday and might be on his way to Defensive Rookie of the Year. Second-round defensive end Kemoko Turay had two quarterback hits and a sack. Running backs Nyheim Hines (fourth round) and Jordan Wilkins (fifth) combined for 93 yards on 11 carries. And first-round guard Quenton Nelson and second-round tackle Braden Smith were part of a line that now starts four former Top 40 picks, and paved the way for 220 yards rushing. And Indy has high hopes for injured second-round 3-technique Tyquan Lewis and sixth-round receiver Deon Cain. For GM Chris Ballard, this has the early look of a group that could accelerate the rebuild big-time.
3. We mentioned the availability of Amari Cooper and Karl Joseph in the Sunday Rundown, and it underscores some interesting office dynamics in Oakland. Coach Jon Gruden is letting GM Reggie McKenzie handle trade calls for now, and other teams are wondering if the prices set for the two above, and others, might be set a little higher than Gruden would have them because McKenzie might not be inclined to give away guys he spent high-end draft capital on. Would Gruden step in and take a 2 for Cooper (there are teams willing to go that far to get him)? I know some people would love to find out.
4. The situation in Cleveland now bears watching—after a very quiet flight home following the Browns’ heartbreaking loss to the Bucs. After the game, coach Hue Jackson said publicly he would consider taking play-calling back from offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who took the job on the condition that he’d have autonomy over that side of the ball. And how this affects Baker Mayfield is key, because his development is, of course, paramount not only to GM John Dorsey, but also to owner Jimmy Haslam.
5. Dak Prescott wasn’t perfect at Washington on Sunday, by a long shot. But give him credit for his fight. His sloppiness with the ball turned a nip-and-tuck affair into a 20-10 game with 5:02 left, but Prescott responded with a 12-play, 74-yard drive to cut the lead to three, then drove Dallas 35 yards for the tying field-goal attempt at the end of regulation. The disaster didn’t happen until he left the field. Long snapper L.P. Ladouceur was flagged for a false start (my buddies Matt Mosley and Ed Werder said on their podcast tonight that Redskins coach Jay Gruden tipped the officials off to look for movement) on what would’ve been a 47-yard bid from Brett Maher. Pushed back five yards, Maher clanged the potential equalizer off the left upright to send Dallas home with a loss.
6. One of coach Matt Patricia’s directives going into training camp was to fix the Lions’ long-wayward running game, and there’s serious progress being made on that front. Detroit’s invested big-time in linemen (guys like Taylor Decker, Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang) under Bob Quinn, and the GM poured another layer into the foundation in April in drafting Frank Ragnow in the first round. And then the Lions took Kerryon Johnson in the second round. The result? In Miami, Johnson went off for 158 yards on 19 carries, part of a 248-yard effort on the ground. The former represented the most yards in a game by a Detroit back in seven years. The latter represented the biggest team rushing total in 21 years. And living in that environment, which has been rarity for him, Matthew Stafford was predictably deadly, completing 18 of 22 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Bottom line: There are absolutely some good signs coming out of Detroit.
7. We hear a lot about new-age analytics leading to more fourth-down and two-point attempts, so it was great to see the OG of swashbucklers back at it on Sunday in Baltimore. Among Saints coach Sean Payton’s fourth-quarter risks: passing up a game-tying field goal to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens 18 with 7:03 left; having Mr. Everything Taysom Hill take the next snap and run the option to chew up 11 yards and get New Orleans to the Baltimore 6 and set up the go-ahead score; and throwing downfield to tight end Dan Arnold (zero career catches before Sunday) on the first play of the Saints’ next possession, holding a four-point lead, for 25 yards. In the end, Payton and company needed Tucker’s miss to hang on. But you can’t say they didn’t play to win. And while we’re here, a nugget on New Orleans for you: Word is they’ve been trying to find a corner to trade for, despite the fact that they’re already without next year’s first-round pick (part of the Marcus Davenport trade). We mentioned in the Sunday Rundown that teams are monitoring how Denver will proceed towards the trade deadline, with eyes on Chris Harris and Bradley Roby. So maybe there’s opportunity there for the Saints.
8. Love Mike Vrabel’s aforementioned decision to go for two in London. Not wild about the call to throw it there, though. Tennessee has high first-round picks at both tackle spots (Jack Conklin, Taylor Lewan) and has also invested in the running back position (Derrick Henry, Dion Lewis) and a fleet-of-foot quarterback (Marcus Mariota). Once the holding flag on Heyward moved the ball to the 1, my feeling is it was time to saddle up behind all that capital they’ve spent in the run game.
9. They say toughness in a football team can be proven when it can run the ball even if the opposition knows it’s coming—and New England did that down the stretch against Chicago’s vaunted defense. The Patriots got the ball at their own 41 with 4:05 left after the Bears’ last touchdown, staked to a 38-31 lead. James White carried on eight straight plays, for 5, 4, 2, 8, 3, 2, 2 and 0 yards, picking up two first downs, bleeding the Bears of all three timeouts and running 3:35 off the clock in the process, which forced Mitch Trubisky into that Hail Mary (which almost worked). It’s a credit to offensive line wizard Dante Scarnecchia, who’s worked his magic again in having Niners castoff Trent Brown ready to replace Nate Solder at left tackle, and in adjusting on the fly at right tackle, with the injured Marcus Cannon out and LaAdrian Waddle in.
10. Adam Thielen:67 catches, 822 yards, five TDs in seven games. That’s 10 catches and 114 yards clear of the second place guys (Zach Ertz, Julio Jones, respectively) in those categories, while the Vikings star is tied for seventh in touchdown catches. As we all expected. (By the way, if you want to see how the Vikings are making this one happen, go to last week’s Monday Afternoon Quarterback … NOW!)
The Giants are on national television again. And even though they’re 1-5, they’re must-see TV because of what might happen in the aftermath of a week during which owner John Mara publicly criticized Odell Beckham, and Beckham went on Facebook Watch to say that he owes an apology to no one.
Players know that on Monday and Thursday nights, most of their peers are watching. You better believe, too, that ESPN will have someone assigned to follow Beckham all night long. Which could make for some interesting results.
Meanwhile, Atlanta OC Steve Sarkisian has his unit rolling into this one, as the Falcons try and make up for an injury-destroyed defense by riding Matt Ryan like it’s 2016. And on this night, at least, I think it’ll work out for them.
The pick: Falcons 37, Giants 20.
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