“This was extremely heart-wrenching for me. I knew I had to say goodbye to a coach who is also a very good friend. I don’t think people really understand what a good person he is. He treats the janitor in the building the same as the quarterback.”
It’s been almost six years since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said that, on the day he dismissed Andy Reid, his head coach of 14 seasons. And it was that press conference that I remembered when I saw the Packers’ announcement early Sunday night —a stunner only in that it came now, and not in four weeks—that they were firing Mike McCarthy.
No one I’ve talked to about McCarthy over the last few weeks thinks the guy forgot how to coach. Most people still really like him. And as such, lots of Packer-connected people will be rooting for their now ex-coach wherever he lands next.
It was just time.
The reality? When you’ve got a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, the clock’s always ticking. McCarthy’s not blind to it. In fact, he conceded as much when he and I sat down over the summer, and he looked forward to a season in which the Packers’ franchise, the worthy successor to Brett Favre, would celebrate its 100th season.
“I get where he is,” McCarthy said. “There’s an urgency every single season. It’s clear. From my perspective, from my viewpoint, I do everything in my power to improve the program. Clearly, I understand the value of the quarterback. Clearly, I understand the value of Aaron Rodgers. But this is the ultimate team game. We need to be the best team. If this was all based on how the quarterback plays, we may win ‘em all, just being honest.
“It’s the other 52, that’s the part that we always have to make sure that we’re focused on. Yeah, I hope that when we’re sitting here 10 years from now, we’re looking back and that question isn’t asked.”
Indeed, the question of how the Packers will maximize what’s left of Rodgers’ prime years is still front-and-center in Green Bay, and a reason why McCarthy is being shown the door. It’s certainly not all McCarthy’s doing that they haven’t gotten back to the Super Bowl, eight years after he and Rodgers made their only appearance, and won their only NFL championship. The rest of the roster, as McCarthy mentioned, is part of the problem. Rodgers should shoulder some blame, too.
So as was the case with Reid in ‘12, a great run had gone stale. And when it became clear that things weren’t right—that happened well before Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Cardinals—someone had to pay the price, and now McCarthy’s gone.
Those who were involved and affected on Sunday can only hope they get the type of mutually beneficial aftermath that the Eagles and Reid wound up having.
Upset Sunday in the NFL! It turns out the Cowboys upending the powerhouse Saints on Thursday was a just a table-setter for a weekend during which the Bears fell to the Giants, the Jaguars blanked the Colts, and the Buccaneers took out the Panthers. And so we’ve got a lot to get to this week, including:
• Joey Bosa flashing big-time on Sunday night against the Steelers—and it was the capper on a long, frustrating road back to the field for the Chargers’ 23-year-old defensive dynamo.
• Why Bill O’Brien loves his Texans, and it goes well beyond their ability to rip off a nine-game winning streak after starting the season 0-3.
• On the other end of the spectrum, Jaguars DL Calais Campbell taking personal responsibility for a lost season, and explaining what he and his teammates are fighting for, now that a year that started with the highest of expectations has come undone.
• Where the problem with the league’s investigation into Kareem Hunt lies.
• Some exciting stuff from the college conference title games.
And we’re going to start with the biggest upset of all of them—and how it sent a Super Bowl-winning coach looking for a job.
• Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened on Sunday afternoon: Get the full Sunday breakdown from Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling on The Monday Morning NFL Podcast. Subscribe to The MMQB Podcasts now and it will be in your feed first thing Monday morning
Of course, it does start with the quarterback-coach relationship, because that’s where it starts for almost every team. And that Rodgers hasn’t been himself for chunks of this year—he was human on a big stage against Tom Brady a month ago (89.2 passer rating), had a messy night against Minnesota last week (94.0), and was worse in the Cardinals game (79.8)—only accentuated the problem.
The friction between McCarthy and Rodgers has been well-documented. As I understand it, it’d had gotten to the point where Rodgers—who has autonomy to adjust as he sees fit—was regularly changing plays, which would make it difficult for McCarthy to find his rhythm as a play-caller. As one coach who knows them both told me, “It’s almost ‘who’s got the better call?’ … Two really smart guys, ultra-competitive guys.”
Exacerbating all of it was the state of the roster, as McCarthy noted in the summer.
He would go to former GM Ted Thompson asking for specific additions to help Rodgers. And as Thompson’s health became an issue, word was McCarthy became increasingly frustrated, with the feeling that his requests were not being heeded. It eventually got to the point where McCarthy didn’t see the value in asking. So he stopped.
Those who know the situation say that McCarthy was doing a lot to try to help Rodgers from that standpoint that others didn’t know about. So when the roster’s construction fell into decline, McCarthy wasn’t redirecting Rodgers’ annoyance, he was taking it on himself.
It’s not hard to see where the failings were. Not a single member of the team’s 2015 draft class is on the Packers’ 53-man roster now. And where most teams would address the problems left in the wake of that on the veteran market, Thompson remained true to his draft-and-develop model, even though others in the organization saw the needs that were left unaddressed.
Thompson wound up retiring after last year, and the man widely believed to be McCarthy’s preference to take over, young exec Brian Gutekunst, got the job. Under its knew GM, the team even showed a little aggression with vets, bringing in Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham and Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson. But by then, other issues were arising.
After the 2016 season, assistant head coach Tom Clements left. A year later, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt was fired. The two served as buffers between McCarthy and Rodgers when anything went off track, and were effective in the role. Which makes it little wonder that Rodgers grew incensed with the changes.
2019 MOCK DRAFT: Bosa to Niners, Herbert and Haskins top QBs
“Well, my quarterbacks coach didn’t get retained,” Rodgers told ESPN Radio’s Mike Golic and Trey Wingo at Super Bowl LII. “I thought that was an interesting change, really without consulting me. There’s a close connection between quarterback and quarterbacks coach, and that was an interesting decision.”
So when things started off-center this year—Rodgers got hurt in a dramatic comeback win on opening night, and Green Bay only won two of its next seven games thereafter—the foundation of the McCarthy/Rodgers relationship wasn’t as strong as it once had been. Which brought everyone to Sunday, where the Packers failed to rebound from a slog of the previous week’s loss to Minnesota against a 2-9 Arizona team.
Truth be told, it was no secret that this conclusion was on the table. Losing to the Cardinals only gave the Packers the opening to ask, Maybe we shouldn’t wait? So team president Mark Murphy, in tandem with Gutekunst, decided to make the move now, to get a head start on the coaching search, and give McCarthy a chance to start preparing for his next job.
And again, despite the public criticism levied against the coach, those in charge at Lambeau Field don’t think McCarthy suddenly lost the ability to do his job. More so, his way had run its course, and sometimes these things aren’t to be blamed on one person or another.
That’s how it was in Philly in 2012. At that point, few in the public saw Reid as an offensive innovator anymore. Then he went to Kansas City, reimagined his offense, first for Alex Smith, then Patrick Mahomes, and today he’s seen as one of the most forward-thinking coaches in football. Meanwhile, the Eagles lived and learned through the Chip Kelly era, and came out of it with a Lombardi Trophy two years later.
Everyone won, in the end. Now, we’ll get to see if that sort of thing could happen again, under circumstances that are pretty similar.
BOSA’S BACK, AND THE CHARGERS SHINE IN PRIME TIME
One sequence of plays on Sunday night might just have flipped the dynamics of the AFC race—and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Chargers phenom Joey Bosa was right in the middle of it. So we’ll let him explain what happened on second-and-19 from the Steelers 21, with Ben Roethlisberger and company holding the ball and a 23-15 lead.
“I really didn’t expect him to drop back on that play,” Bosa said from the visitors’ locker room at Heinz Field. “I thought it was going to be a quick screen or something, but they left me on an island, and I kind of was setting up 71 [Matt Feiler] with speed and moves outside all day, and power, and it worked perfectly with the spin. It was a really clean move, but Ben saw me and bounced outside.
“I thought he was gonna get outside of me. But JJ [Justin Jones] did an unbelievable job of covering me up and wrapping out, and the second Ben saw him coming, he stepped right back into me. It was a great, great rush for the D-line.”
Bosa dropped Roethliberger at his own 11, and that set up Desmond King’s 73-yard punt return for a touchdown, which drew the Chargers within two. Philip Rivers found Keenan Allen on the ensuing two-point try to tie it up, and the Chargers wound up outlasting their hosts by a 33-30 count.
For Bosa, based on all he’s been through, this felt like more than another win. He now has three sacks in three games after returning from a foot injury that cost him the first nine games of this season. And for one those sacks to be one of the biggest momentum-building moments in a pivotal prime-time game meant everything.
“It’s ecstasy,” he said. “No better feeling, to be able to not just play well myself and make an impactful play, but for that to turn into a win—I mean obviously that play didn’t cause the win—but just have such an impact after being out for such a long time, it’s unbelievable. Other than maybe a Michigan win and the national championship [for his Ohio State alma mater], this had to be the most unbelievable win of my life.”
That’s a result of all the uncertainty of the last three months, from injuring the foot, to having a specialist in Green Bay cast it and put it in a boot, to finally finding a doctor in California who could figure the injury out. It was a long road back.
The final doctor told Bosa he’d deal with about 12 weeks of pain, and that he had to differentiate the soreness from a more severe pain—when he could identify that it was just soreness, he could play again. That’s where he is now. With the exception of having to take a rest every so often to let the foot calm down, he says he really does feel like himself again. Better yet, he really appreciates feeling that way.
“You do take so many things for granted, and this process has been horrible for me,” Bosa said. “I was depressed for a little while, but now that I’m healthy again I think it’s really important to look back on that and reflect and realize how much this game really means to me. And I mean, playing games like this, there’s nothing better in the world.”
The Chargers are pretty excited too. To be 9-3 and have one of the best defensive players on the planet rounding into game-wrecking shape is a pretty good spot to be in.
Episodes 1 through 6 available now: An exclusive True Crime podcast series from SI, re-examining the murder of Titans great Steve McNair. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you download your podcasts. And visit the podcast homepage for additional materials and updates.
THE TEXANS KEEP ROLLING, THANKS TO CHEMISTRY
During the weekend that Deshaun Watson took a bus to Jacksonville, Texans coach Bill O’Brien and I spoke about his quarterback’s decision to do it—a result of doctors telling Watson, who was suffering from a chest injury, not to fly. And O’Brien kept steering our discussion back to how Watson’s decision, more than anything, embodied how his players felt about one another. So I kept listening to O’Brien over the weeks to follow.
That led me to a really simple conclusion. O’Brien loves the group he’s got in Houston. And it’s not just because, with Sunday’s 29-13 win over Cleveland, the Texans have won nine straight, to turn 0-3 into 9-3.
“I mean, they really do what we ask them to do,” O’Brien says. “They work hard during the week. They work hard in the weight room. They work hard in the meeting room. They pay attention in the meeting room. They practice hard. We’ve got really good leadership. … So it’s just been a really enjoyable group to coach.
“I really enjoy coming to work every day because I know that it’s just a bunch of really good people that want to want to do well.”
The Texans are doing really well, which is evidence the plan O’Brien and the revamped front office, led by new GM Brian Gaine, put together is working. That plan, in fact, can explain why the coach has found it so easy to fall for the group—the kind of guys they have in the locker room is no mistake.
Among the common traits the Texans emphasized in signing free agents in March and drafting guys in May …
• Love football.
• Good teammate.
• Be dependable.
• Good work habits.
• Good learner.
• Good preparation habits.
• Good personal and football character.
“We try,” O’Brien continued, talking over his cell postgame. “I think every team probably tries. It’s hard. You have enough time in the draft to really get to know a guy. Free agency’s different. You don’t really always have enough time to really get to know a guy. But I do think we try to have as good of an instinct about a guy, we research the guys. You want guys in this locker room who are good teammates and really love their roles, who accept their roles, who really have a passion for football.
“In the end, that’s what has to continue for us.”
The coach thinks it showed up in how the team compartmentalized its 0-3 start—when the Texans appeared to have debilitating offensive line and corner issues—and began ripping off wins. And how, a week ago against the Titans, it roared back from an early 10-0 deficit by scoring 27 straight points en route to a 34–17 win.
Sunday’s game against Cleveland was a little different. Houston scored in impressive fashion on offense (a 10-play, 82-yard drive with just one third down), on defense (a Zach Cunningham pick-six) and on special teams (Ka’imi Fairbairn 53-yard field goal). And that’s maybe the best sign of who the Texans are becoming.
It’s a team capable of winning a bunch of different ways, and withstanding any blow you throw at it.
“We have a phrase, ‘answer the bell’,” O’Brien says. “Like, if one unit, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams, can really answer the bell when we need it, that’s what we’re looking for. When you you’re in a boxing match and you get knocked down and you go to the corner, you’ve gotta answer the bell. You have to figure out a way to come back and stem the tide. And I think this team has a pretty good way of doing that.
“That’s where I see their personality, I see all the things I’m talking about come out.”
THE JAGUARS GIVE A GLIMPSE OF WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN—AND WHAT MIGHT BE?
The Colts arrived in Jacksonville winners of five straight. They’d averaged 34.6 points per game over that time, and came in with the fourth-highest point toal in the league. Andrew Luck had at least three touchdown passes in eight straight games. And Indy had hung 29 on the Jags just three weeks ago.
Too bad for the surging Colts that the 2017 Jaguars decided to show up.
That was sort of the frustrating part for Jacksonville’s players—this 6-0 win over a division rival was a real-life example of what could have been. The defensive effort included two takeaways, a sequence of five consecutive punts forced, and a second-quarter goal-line stand during which the Colts had first-and-goal from the 5.
“We knew we were capable of playing like this in each and every game,” captain Calais Campbell said over the phone just afterwards. “I’m not going to make any excuses—we didn’t get it done. You can go through a lot of different things and add them up. We just didn’t get it done. We showed today, this is what we’re capable of. And hopefully we can do that again.”
If this one seemed to you to come out of nowhere, then I’m with you. But it wasn’t any kind of random occurrence to Campbell, who is the ultimate pro in a locker room that’s been combustible at times.
This was actually personal for Campbell for two reasons.
“I think a lot of guys felt bad because we feel like we let our teammates, our coaches down,” Campbell said. “I never want to be a reason why someone’s getting fired, losing their job. I have so much respect for Hackett and the way he came to work every day. I felt like I could’ve made more plays that could’ve helped him keep his job. And I wanted to make those plays. I felt like I just could do more.”
And he wants to get the chance to, which brings us to the second motivator for Campbell.
Like everyone around the organization, he’s aware that big changes could be coming. The team is already over the 2019 cap, wherever that lands, with its commitments for next year, and will have to do something at the most expensive position of all.
That almost always makes for big, wholesale changes. Campbell wants the team to put those changes off for one more year so he and a talented core can make another run at finishing what they started in 2017.
“That’s my personal reason,” Campbell said. “I feel like the window was there, and we just dropped the ball. We played below our level, and we just didn’t get it done. If we can go out there and fight and maybe get some momentum to carry into the offseason, we’ll be able to make a run next year. There’s always going to be change. That’s just the nature of it. But I believe the better we play these last four games, the more guys are going to keep their job here, and make it so we’ll be able to keep this family together.”
We shall see.
THE KAREEM HUNT FALLOUT
• I do think the NFL and the Chiefs made an effort to get to the truth in February and March. I also think it’s fair to question the intensity of that effort. The league sought the video of Hunt’s hotel altercation, but the Chiefs didn’t. The Chiefs discussed the matter with Kareem Hunt, but NFL didn’t. Which feels to me like checking boxes as much as an earnest bid to find out what really happened.
• I think it’s also fair to juxtapose this situation to Ezekiel Elliott’s last year. The NFL was dogged in investigating Elliott. So why not go after Hunt as vigorously as you did a few months earlier with another player? There was some belief that the Elliott situation was a matter of settling a score with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but I tend to believe it’s probably more about how high-profile Elliotts’ case was compared to Hunt’s. And that’s not a great look either—that you’d let the public’s interest in a case govern how deep the investigation goes.
• Give the Chiefs some little credit for working fast to release Hunt on Friday after the news broke. As we reported over the weekend, the team didn’t want to create a competitive advantage for someone else, so it waited until Hunt was put on the exempt list (virtually assuring he wouldn’t play the rest of the year) to release him. But the decision that he’d never play for the team again was made once the video, which contradicted the story Hunt gave the team, was posted.
• Worth mentioning here that there are at least a few owners who want the NFL to get out of the investigation business entirely, and this case shows another reason why: Too often, without subpoena power or other tools available to law enforcement, they’re going to wind up looking like the Keystone Kops.
• We’ll find out at 4 p.m. today if anyone puts in a claim on Hunt (not likely). I’d guess the next step will be, down the line, Hunt’s agent asking for clarity on the looming suspension. On paper, Hunt will have five games served at the end of this year, and there’s a pretty close to zero percent chance that the league wants him on the field for 2019’s kickoff weekend, so you can bet on his suspension being a pretty big one.
As for how the Chiefs move forward, the team doesn’t think it will be limited in what it can do schematically, moving from Hunt to Spencer Ware and Damien Williams, versatile backs bring who a little bit of everything. Where the Chiefs will miss Hunt? His ability to retain his balance when hit is rare, and it led to a lot of big plays over the last couple years.
For the record, in Sunday’s win over the Raiders, Ware and Williams combined for 99 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, and caught three balls between them for 12 yards. In his final game as a Chief, Hunt had 70 yards on 14 carries and another 41 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
… OF THE WEEK
“It’s sad because I don’t even know which one you’re talking about. It was a personal blow for me, being that I just have to take care of the ball. It’s a low-percentage chance you’re going to win a football game if you turn the ball over four times. That’s just carefree football. We can’t have that. I can’t allow that and accept that for myself. I just have to do a better job with my accuracy and decision-making.”
— Panthers QB Cam Newton when asked about his second of four interceptions in Sunday’s loss to the Buccaneers.
Honestly, I think this right here is a good moment for Newton—taking full accountability for a bad afternoon. Up to this point he’d really had as good a season as he’s had as a pro. So I’d expect him to bounce back. The problem? Well, for Newton, it’s that backsliding Carolina is now 6-6, and the Panthers still have to play the Saints twice.
Belichick and Thielen yelling at each other has to be because they know they are supposed to be together.— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) December 2, 2018
In case you missed it, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen’s eyebrows were raised when Patriots safety Patrick Chung went down with an injury just as New England needed time to deliberate on challenging the spot on a Minnesota fourth-down conversion. And Thielen let Bill Belichick know he thought the move was … cow droppings. Belichick responded by telling Thielen to—if my lip-reading skills, and everyone’s lip-reading skills are worth anything—“shut the [bleep] up.” I agree with Ryen. Just another stage of courting between the two.
Sometimes you need a reminder that outrageous athletes are able to do outrageous things athletically, and even some things that might not pertain directly to their particular job. This is one of those. Odell Beckham uncorks this one with a flick of his right wrist, and without his feet set, 50 yards downfield for a touchdown. And it’s not remotely surprising to see that. I can remember Dez Bryant being able to hit the uprights from midfield, 60 yards away.
Tell you what, that Polamalu can take a headbutt.
Just in case you didn’t hear the periodic reminders during the college games on Saturday, this is a good display that the players out there can’t see the first-down line like we can on TV. Because if they could see this one, they’d have probably been pretty distracted out there.
… To TMZ, and I’m not even joking. For ethical reasons, we in the mainstream media can’t pay for the sort of video that became public on Friday afternoon. Because of their deep relationships with law enforcement, the league and teams usually won’t even get a shot at buying them. So I’m glad, for the greater good, that a piece of evidence like the Hunt video found its way into the public realm, and that Hunt was held accountable for his actions. He’ll be better for that in the long run, too.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
College football’s championship weekend, from an NFL perspective.
1. Sometimes the bluebloods have depth at positions that prevent very good players from getting on the field—and that looks to have been the case with Georgia’s first-year starting OLB D’Andre Walker. His production as a backup per-play last year exceeded the starters, and he’s delivering on that promise now, and had a sack, two tackles for losses and a pass defensed against Alabama. As an edge player, one veteran evaluator says, “He’s hard to block, because he’s athletic, powerful and physical.” So keep an eye on him.
2. And if you want a Bulldog to watch going forward, true sophomore tailback D’Andre Swift merits a look—and figures to be a very high pick in the 2020 draft. One AFC personnel chief characterized him in one word to me on Sunday morning: “badass.” I’d concur.
2019 DRAFT: Team needs, fits for the top half of the league
3. Jalen Hurts was seen mostly as a running back prospect by NFL types coming into this year, but the show he put on against Georgia might be the start of something for him. New Bama assistant Dan Enos has been big for Hurts’ development as a passer, which few of us saw until Tua Tagovailoa got injured on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see if Hurts goes through with transferring, and then where he might land.
4. Speaking of dual-threat quarterbacks, Kyler Murray’s got the attention of everyone in college football now, and a lot of NFL folks as well. “For what Kyler does with movement, time, running, and how he can spin the ball,” texted one exec, “I just think he’s the best player in college football.” As for his pro prospects, we already know—per the terms of the contract he signed as the ninth pick in the 2018 MLB draft—he’s headed to the Oakland A’s system and away from football after this year. But if he were going to the NFL? He doesn’t have the mountain of snaps that ex-teammate Baker Mayfield had, playing four years as a starter at two different schools, which makes a difference, and is a little shorter and not as stout physically. “Baker’s intelligence, processing and anticipation set him apart—he was special in that regard,” the exec said.
5. Speaking of Oklahoma, WR Marquise Brown’s injury—he was taken off from the Big 12 title game on a cart and returned to the sideline in a walking boot—is a big storyline for the college football playoff. It’ll be big to follow draft-wise, too. As we said last week, “Hollywood” was considered a Top 40 pick.
6. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald showed again on Saturday night, in keeping his wildly overmatched Wildcats in the Big 10 title game, why NFL teams keep inquiring about his availability. And with a shortage of great candidates, it’ll absolutely happen again over the next month. Fitzgerald, by the way, first showed up on the NFL’s radar in late 2011, when the Rams had him on their early list of candidates.
1. This version of the New England offense looks like it’s morphing into what the Patriots became in 2010 after Randy Moss was traded away—there was no dominant No. 1, but there were numbers, which allowed Tom Brady to win an MVP playing point guard. Along those lines, Brady hit nine different receivers on Sunday against the vaunted Vikings defense, and looked more aggressive in doing it. “That makes it hard for them to defend us,” Brady said of the variety of receivers he threw to. “Hopefully we can keep it going.” New England, as it stands right now, would be the No. 2 seed behind the Chiefs. That, by the way, would make nine straight first-round byes for the defending conference champs.
2. Good to see the fiery Todd Bowles in the Jets’ postgame on Sunday. “I don’t know how many [penalties] we had, but it felt we had one every play,” he said. “It cost us, and it’s disgusting.” Bowles then characterized the postgame locker room—“Pissed off. Frustrated. Look in the mirror, just look in the mirror. We won’t be a good football team until we’re a smart football team.” At this point it doesn’t look like Bowles, a good coach and a good man, will be the one to get them there. But I really wouldn’t be surprised if team chairman Christopher Johnson waited until Black Monday to make a move. He’s been pretty deliberate in differentiating from his brother Woody—the Jets owner who is serving as Ambassador to the UK—and being measured in dealing with Bowles is another way to accomplish that.
3. One more for the magic of Sean McVay—Sunday’s win meant the Rams have posted 11 wins in back-to-back years for the first time in their history, which dates to 1937. And the cool thing about the win over the Lions is that it came in totally different fashion from the shootout victory over Kansas City. The 30-16 win in Detroit was a rock fight from the start, and so the Rams rode Todd Gurley (23 carries, 132 yards, two TDs) as much as they could.
4. We mentioned Beckham as superhuman earlier. Saquon Barkley makes two supermen in the Giants’ skill-position group. His 29-yard burst up the right sideline in overtime was almost as crazy as the third-down hurdle he had over the head of Bears safety Adrian Amos in the third quarter. Credit to Pat Shurmur, too, for keeping the Giants engaged through a really rough start to the season that could’ve been a “here we go again” situation for the guys who were there last year. But …
5. … Man, that would’ve been a cool story if Matt Nagy rode Chase Daniel, an onside kick and a new take on Philly Special to a comeback win at the Meadowlands. Good news for the Bears is that the Vikings and Packers also fell, so neither made up any ground on Chicago in the NFC North.
6. Speculation on Bengals coach Marvin Lewis’ future has begun, and I think the first thing to remember is how important familiarity is to the Brown family. If they were going to make a change last year, I believe it would’ve been in pursuit of then-Browns coach Hue Jackson and/or Redskins coach Jay Gruden. And if there’s a change this year, the safe money says Mike Brown would pursue someone of that ilk.
7. The Seahawks keep on rolling—they’re 7-5 now in a year that was supposed to be a teardown season. But at 4:10 a.m. I got fixated on this “scorigami” thing that Seattle’s coaches were talking about postgame. The concept? Get a score that’s never happened before in NFL history. For the ninth straight year the Seahawks have achieved that. Sunday’s win over San Francisco was the first 43-16 NFL game ever.
8. Jameis Winston’s been … not terrible … the last three weeks, completing 61-of-84 (72.6 percent) of his throws for 760 yards, six touchdowns and a single pick. I’d still expect Bucs coach Dirk Koetter to be gone (I’m a little less sure on GM Jason Licht), which means Koetter’s successor will have an interesting decision to make on whether or not to hang on to the former No. 1 overall pick. Winston’s option for next year is set at $20.9 million, which would make him the NFL’s 14th highest paid player at the position (as 2019 contracts stand right now). It might actually be worth it for the Bucs to go through with the option, just to see what they have, since you know the talent is there.
9. We wronte something on Denver’s rookie class last week, but it’s worth doubling back to really look at what undrafted tailback Phillip Lindsay has pulled off: He has 937 yards and eight touchdowns on 154 carries (a 6.1-yard average), and another 189 yards and a touchdown on 25 catches. By comparison, Saquon Barkley has 954 yards and eight touchdowns on 195 carries (4.9-yard average), plus 602 yards and four touchdowns on 74 catches. Denver, by the way, saw a lot of what they’re getting now in Lindsay when he was playing collegiately down the road in Boulder. Their question was whether, at 5’8” and 190 pounds, he was big enough to shoulder a sizeable NFL workload. So far, so good, and suddenly the Broncos are right in the thick of the AFC wild-card race.
10. Right there with Denver in the wild-card race are the Dolphins—who survived a Charles Clay drop in the end zone to beat a very feisty Bills team 21-17 at home. There have been murmurs of change coming at some level of Miami’s football operation, going back all the way to the summer. As is the case in Denver, making the playoffs is always a good way to stave those things off.
I think an appreciation of Jay Gruden is in order tonight.
The Redskins coach survived the Robert Griffin III divorce and the Kirk Cousins fallout, and this year has kept the ship steady through a rash of injuries (RB Derrius Guice, G Shawn Lauvao, G Brandon Scherff, QB Alex Smith, etc.) So if anyone’s equipped to navigate a week infiltrated by the Reuben Foster waiver claim, it’s the younger Gruden brother.
Tonight I think the Redskins, behind Colt McCoy, come out firing. And I think the Eagles, and Carson Wentz fire back with their second straight comeback win.
My pick: Eagles 27, Redskins 24.
Then we’ll be on to the traditional TNF Jaguars/Titans color rush clash (they’ll still wear the color rush for it this week, right?)
Check back on Monday afternoon for my regular follow-up notes column.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.