1a. Once you become known as the guy who got punched in the face by a co-worker, it’s tough to become known as anything else.* But Geno Smith would more appropriately be known as the guy who never got much of a chance. He quickly devolved from second-round pick to tabloid-back-page fodder with the Jets. Then he was banished to the Giants, which should have been a forgettable year as a backup in an archaic offensive system, but instead underlined his punchline status when he was awarded a start that ended Eli Manning’s consecutive games streak.
Smith did enjoy a quiet season backing up Philip Rivers in front of the 17 raucous Chargers fans at a soccer stadium every other weekend, and then took the cushiest job in sports, backing up Russell Wilson. Or what had been the cushiest job until Wilson’s finger was mangled 10 days ago, forcing Smith into what should be multiple starts in a season for the first time since 2014.
If you back it up to his time with the Jets, you could see why he was a top-40 pick. To be clear: Smith was subpar and far too reckless, but he was also young and raw. The physical traits were there though, his pocket presence was not hugely problematic, and he did a borderline admirable job piloting a broken system for a dysfunctional team. He could have been interesting as a one-year, prove-it, reclamation project somewhere. And while Thursday night’s performance against the Rams—nearly finishing the unlikeliest of comebacks had Tyler Lockett not chosen an inopportune time for one of his trademark flops—is unlikely to be repeated, it will be interesting to see what he can do over the next month for Seattle.
The Seahawks have a very good offensive coordinator in Shane Waldron—the kind of offensive mind Smith never got to work with as a starter—and there will be no training wheels, not with that mess of a defense on the other side of the ball. Smith doesn’t just have an opportunity to produce, the Seahawks desperately need him to in order to keep the season from getting away. He looked comfortable and confident against the Rams, and he has two All-Pro caliber receivers to work with. A Sunday night trip to Pittsburgh is not the easiest way to break back into the routine, but you could have said the same about his relief appearance 10 days ago.
1b. Tyler Lockett is easily one of the top-10 receivers in football; personally, I think considering his otherworldly ball-tracking skills that he is top-five. But he has also become the NFL’s preeminent flopper.
Flopping is gamesmanship, but in a league where the rules are already so heavily skewed in favor of the offense, and where the officials struggle so desperately to determine actual fouls while the competition committee continues to refuse to allow modern technology to help them, it’s more than just a little obnoxious.
That said, the Seahawks’ last-ditch drive two Thursdays ago immediately ended with a Smith interception because Lockett chose to flop rather than finishing his route. Lockett, rightly, didn’t draw the flag like he has so many times before. And maybe there’s a lesson to be learned for him—or maybe not—but for anyone who enjoys football, that moment just tasted great. Like eating an entire bag of candy corn despite the resulting profuse sweating and nausea great.
*—And I know all about being an unlikeable co-worker; a colleague once called me “irksome,” which is the sports media equivalent of being punched in the face.
2a. Pizza in the morning,
Pizza in the evening,
Pizza at suppertime.
When the pizza’s on a bagel,
You can eat pizza anytime.
—Walt Whitman (one would presume)
That philosophy works for the folks at Ore-Ida. It does not work nearly as well for those charged with operating a professional football league. Once again, the NFL is insisting on staging a Sunday morning game in London. I will back off a previous take that they shouldn’t do regular-season games overseas—while it’s an unreasonable charge for the participating teams, many have told me how meaningful it is to be able to attend a live NFL game that counts (and while my soul has since been crushed several times over, a part of me remembers the thrill of watching live football).
But there’s no reason the London game shouldn’t kick off with the rest of the early Sunday window, 6 p.m. local time. Most importantly, it would keep the players on a normal body clock. But there’s more than that. Matchups like what you get on Sunday Night Football work as a single-game window because, even if the game itself is a dud, there is some level of intrigue going in, and storylines to play up as things unfold. Instead, the Sunday morning game—like many Thursday night and Monday night matchups—essentially just serves as a reminder that, well, there’s a lot of crappy football being played in the NFL. Football that’s better hidden in the crowd of 1:00 kickoffs.
2c. That pizza bagels ad is chock full of highlights—more than any 15-second spot has any right having—but my favorite will always be the kid in the martial arts uniform kicking a basketball out of someone’s hands on a soccer field. Because it was either some marketing folks not being able to decide just what kind of kid athlete they should be appealing to (are we after the kind of kids who take karate? Basketball players? What about soccer? Wait, why not all of them!) or a shoot with too many props, more than they knew what to do with.
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Or… it is a red white and blue basketball, so maybe it was a powerful commentary on the impending demise of America’s democracy. Whatever it was, the imagery is simply unforgettable. I didn’t forget it. It’s unforgettable to me.
2d. I also wonder about the difference between pizza “in the evening” and pizza “at suppertime”—isn’t suppertime in the evening?—but that might just be a matter of regional dialect.
3. Monday night could give us a good indication of just how far Josh Allen has come, just how far the Titans defense has fallen, or some combination of the two. I thought, considering personnel limitations, the Titans did as good a job as any team against Allen during the quarterback’s breakout 2020 season. It was an ultimate bend-don’t-break performance, Tennessee effectively mixing coverages that had Allen second-guessing his looks all night.
The result was a bizarre combination of stats: Buffalo went 13-for-17(!) on third downs, but scored only 16 points and trailed the game by double-digits throughout the second half. That’s because the Titans effectively erased big plays (Buffalo’s only two plays of 20-plus yards came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach) and Allen’s hesitancy led to two interceptions.
The Titans were able to get a little more creative that night with a veteran-laden defensive backfield. But this year’s group, featuring All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and a mix of roster-fringe veterans and too-green youngsters, has looked limited, especially behind a toothless pass rush (that Bud Dupree signing, yeesh). Really, they profile as exactly the kind of team Allen would rip apart unless Mike Vrabel has something really good up his sleeve.
4. I don’t know what possessed the Bucs to weigh in on the Jon Gruden scandal—I guess when you’re defending Super Bowl champions you’re just feeling yourself some days. I can’t imagine anyone was demanding Gruden’s removal from the Bucs ring of honor, mostly because no one was devoting any brainpower to the Bucs ring of honor.
But there they were, on Tuesday, the organization announcing they’d be taking Gruden’s name off the Raymond James Stadium concrete while releasing a statement that was as haughty as it was empty.
The Bucs are, among other things, less than a year removed from signing Antonio Brown. Brown’s issues stand on their own (we’ve written an exposé, a followup when he threatened one of our sources, and I’ve written about him), but what’s clear is that, over the years, it was the network of enablers that came with his football superstardom that ultimately brought out the worst of him. Among those enablers are the usual collection of stooges and hangers-on, but also the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the Bucs franchise as a whole. Remember, Tampa not only did virtually no vetting of Brown before signing him, but they decided that even the mildest show of contrition—something we can all agree is part of any legitimate path to redemption—was not necessary to be a part of their organization. Along with a vague apology to the NFL (whatever that means), Brown’s only public comments at the time regarding the women he mistreated to varying degrees was as follows:
“I feel like I never really got in a conflict with no woman. I just feel like I’m a target so, anybody can come against me and say anything and I’m going to have to face it. There’s no support, there’s no egos, there’s no rules in it, anyone can come after me for anything. No proof or whatever. ‘He said, she’s saying.’ The media will run with it, so even if I’m not guilty, I already guilty because they already wrote it, put it on TV and put that in people minds. So for me to have to sit here and hear those the allegations of me is just unfair to me every time.” (This is where I remind you—again—to review our independently collected and corroborated reporting, and that the source of ours who he threatened has, as stated multiple times, never sought financial restitution.)
My eyes reflexively roll at the thought of a professional football team touting their core values—you’re a bunch of goobers trying to win games (and yes, I’m an even bigger goober for devoting my life to chronicling those games). But the Bucs claiming the organization has “advocated for purposeful change in the areas of race relations, gender equality, diversity and inclusion for many years” is like me claiming this column is definitely not guerrilla marketing for the pizza bagel lobby.
If, as an organization, you’re going to choose to be spineless, at least have a spine about it. Oh wait…
5. Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Living End!
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