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MMQB: Rookie Micah Parsons Is the Key to a Transformed Cowboys Defense

Dallas is thinking Super Bowl, and a first-rounder who does everything is the main difference from years past. Plus, remembering Demaryius Thomas, dramatic Bucs and 49ers wins, and more from Week 14.

Micah Parsons isn’t hiding why he fell to 12th in last year’s draft—the Cowboys actually landed the former Penn State star after trading down from No. 10 with the division-rival Eagles—even if a lot of people in his position would.

Really, there were two reasons for it. The same two everyone talked about in the spring.

“There were a lot of things coming around about my character,” Parsons told me from a victorious locker room on Sunday afternoon. “And before all that stuff, and before I decided to opt out [of the 2020 college season], I was considered a top-five pick. A lot of things came out about my character. And I told them—I did things when I was 16, 17. I did things when I was a freshman in college. I was having fun, but I didn’t think that would define who I am today.

“And I think people took that into consideration and their needs [into consideration]. But I don’t really stress about it. Everything always comes—you can’t stop what God has planned for you. And I’m just really taking advantage of all my opportunities I have now. I’m just grateful Dallas took me at 12. And I just try to show them every day how appreciative I am.”

Eight months later, we can take away two more things from the start of Parsons’s career.

He’s grown up plenty. And the Cowboys are just as appreciative that Parsons was there as he was that they took him.

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Dallas’s 27–20 win in Landover, over a very game Washington team, was just another example of how this Cowboys group has a shot to be different from its predecessors. The high-octane offense is still there, or at least it is when it’s at full strength—running back injuries have followed November’s receiver absences, and the line has had its health issues, too. And now, it has a defense that can shoulder the load when the offense stalls.

With all due respect to emerging star corner Trevon Diggs and new coordinator Dan Quinn, the 22-year-old Parsons is easily the biggest reason why. His prodigious talent is, of course, a piece of the story. But everyone knew how talented he was back in April. It’s what he’s now chosen to do with that talent that’s made the difference.

The result? The race for Defensive Rookie of the Year is effectively over with four weeks left in the season. Parsons is now running a new race, with guys like T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett, for Defensive Player of the Year, an award only one rookie has ever won before.

“Yes,” Parsons answered, when I asked if he knew which rookie it was. “Lawrence Taylor.”

That’s heady company, of course. But if you’ve been paying attention to Parsons and the defense around him, and where they could take this edition of America’s Team, the idea that he’d be in that kind of company really isn’t so wild. And all of it was on display in an absolutely vital NFC East showdown on Sunday in Maryland.


That was a weird Sunday we just finished up. It felt like a big bag of blowouts until we got to the late window, when we got dueling overtime games featuring double-digit comebacks. Which gives us plenty to dive into, in wrapping up the 14th Sunday of the season. Inside this week’s MMQB column, you’ll find …

• An appreciation for the life of Demaryius Thomas, from his old coworkers.

• The story of the first-rounder turned practice squadder who lifted the Buccaneers past the Bills.

• How the 49ers rallied around Jimmy Garoppolo—again.

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• Why I’m fascinated by Cordarrelle Patterson’s role in Atlanta.

And, of course, a lot more from a busy weekend. But we’re starting with the story of a groundbreaking draft prospect pursuing his potential as a football player and paying off a bet the Cowboys made on him in April.


Parsons didn’t just know Taylor was the only rookie to win Defensive Player of the Year honors before this year. He’d actually studied Taylor, to the point where he considered a tribute to the Giants legend and fashion icon.

“Yeah, L.T. was an assassin, man,” Parson said. “I love watching him. I was actually thinking about getting a hoop earring to show appreciation for him. So yeah, [winning DPOY] came to my mind. But I always stay humble, always stay grounded. I’m gonna just let it come to me. I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing and focus on what I got in front of me.”

And while doing that does display, in a certain, specific way, Parsons’s growth, the fact that he’d even taken the time to dive into the history of what he’s accomplishing shows something that’s every bit as important to the freakish equation of who he is—the ex–Nittany Lion is a football junkie. The kind who would have the interest to look into an all-time great who retired five and a half years before he was born. And the kind whose obvious addiction to the game is apparent, too, in his hair-on-fire playing style.

You, and Washington, could feel it on Sunday. It was there all afternoon, most apparent as the Cowboys pulled away late in the first quarter and into the second, in three flourishes.

• The first was on a fourth-and-2 with 41 seconds left in the first frame. Parsons crept up to the line at the snap, hovering over the right guard, and as Taylor Heinicke took the snap from the shotgun, Parsons blew right past four-time Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff. As Parsons approached, Heinicke turned, and Parsons swatted the ball loose by swinging his arm like a sledgehammer at it. Dorance Armstrong Jr. scooped it up and returned it 37 yards to the house.

Just like that, Dallas’s lead was 18–0.

“They sent me on a middle blitz, and I was able to get to the outside of the guard, and from there I was just able to accelerate and get to [Heinicke],” Parsons said. “Then I was able to complete the play.”

• Four plays later, Washington was in third-and-8. Quinn’s call had five guys at the line of scrimmage and Parsons lined up behind Neville Gallimore, who was at nose tackle. At the snap, the two edge guys fell off, Parsons came screaming in to Gallimore’s right, blowing through the A gap with only tailback Antonio Gibson between him and Heinicke. You can guess what happened next.

“They were in a 50 protection,” he said, “and I had an opportunity with the back. And I believe I should beat the back every time, and I was able to win the opportunity to get to the quarterback.”

• Later in the second quarter, the heater Parsons was riding just about boiled over. On a second-and-20, he was trailing Washington receiver Cam Sims down the seam when Heinicke threw one right through the heart of the Dallas defense, toward Terry McLaurin. The ball bounced off Diggs’s hands, and there was Parsons sliding over to collect it—or, at least, that what he was trying to do, before the ball slipped from his grasp on to the grass.

And was he kicking himself afterward?

“Of course,” he said, laughing. “I feel like I gotta get every opportunity I can get.”

He paid for it—with a self-imposed set of push-ups the Fox cameras caught on the sideline.

And by then, he’d made Washington pay a price of its own. There was 2:38 left in the half, the Cowboys were up 21–0 and the stop that followed set the Cowboys up to take a 24–0 lead into the break. The game wasn’t over. Washington staged a valiant comeback and got the deficit down to 27–20, and then that the defense came up big again.

On a third-and-3 with 2:34 left, Randy Gregory added another highlight to the wild interception he’d registered in the first quarter, with a game-sealing strip sack. DeMarcus Lawrence got the party started by beating right tackle Sam Cosmi off the ball, pushing Heinicke up in the pocket, where Gregory, coming from the backside, cleaned up and knocked the ball loose.

These are the sorts of plays Dallas’s defense has started to make in droves.

On that one, Parsons fell off and covered Gibson in the flat. But his presence was felt, because, well, it always is when he’s on the field, just based on the sheer amount he can do.

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Quinn usually sees Parsons in early on Wednesdays and Thursdays, before most of his teammates are at the team’s Frisco, Texas, facility, mostly because what Dallas asks of him is, well, a lot for a rookie—much harder than he might make it look on Sundays.

Over the course of a normal day, Parsons attends linebacker meetings, so the early mornings are largely dedicated to his defensive end work. He’ll buy himself time when he can, too, sometimes when special teams meetings are going on, to get work with Lawrence and Gregory, to fine-tune where he is as a down lineman. Some of the work actually started back in September, when Lawrence and Gregory were out, and the team had Parsons there more out of necessity than ingenuity.

From there, it evolved to where Parsons knows what position he’s playing based on the package Quinn sends in—he’s an off-ball linebacker in some, a down lineman in others.

“That one silver lining [in Lawrence’s and Gregory’s being out] is he really had to apply himself as a D-lineman, which is paying dividends for him when we get into that package,” Quinn said. “Because it’s not like you can just go in and out of that, so having a couple weeks where he was a full-time D-lineman with Aden Durde coaching him helped.

“I wouldn’t ask him to do it if I didn’t think he was capable of it. … That’s a lot to put on somebody, to say, ‘Hey, can you handle this? Can you handle that?’ Knowing the pass-rush schemes and the package for that, while also playing linebacker and going through it, I think that shows how far he’s willing to go.”

The results, clearly, show how far Parsons is taking it.

His two-sack, forced-fumble, generally havoc-wreaking performance against Washington show it. So too does the issue he causes offenses, when they have to find him and identify him before every snap—or risk paying a serious consequence.

“There was about three or four different [packages] in the game today,” Quinn said. “We had five big guys in as rushers and Micah as a backer. We had four with him as a backer. And then we had another where he was a D-lineman. So there was about three distinct packages that we tried to work today. And as we get into next week, we’ll see what we need and how to deploy the guys. But I am impressed by his ability to learn and work at it.

“It’s not easy. I wouldn’t ask him to do it if I didn’t think he was down for it.”

The truth is, not only is Parsons down for it, it’s come naturally to him.

And it’s at the point where he’ll say something that few rookies would: Thirteen games into his career, his first year playing pro football, after a full season off from the sport altogether, it hasn’t even been that difficult for him.

“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I don’t really think the NFL is hard. I think they got some really great players around here. But I just think it’s a bunch of players that work really hard, and I think it rubs off whenever you play guys like La’el [Collins in practice]. When I’m going against La’el and I’m challenging him every down, saying, What could I do there? How can I make this better? Or I’m going against Zack [Martin], and I’m just getting those opportunities, it really just makes those guys [on other teams] not look as good.”

In the meantime, Parsons has looked plenty good.


We can run through the numbers now, if you’d like. His current streak of six straight games with a sack is the second-longest ever by a rookie. His 12 sacks on the year are just 2.5 short of the rookie record set by Jevon Kearse in 1999. And as we detailed, he’s been so much more than just a pass rusher for the Cowboys.

But you won’t catch Parsons being surprised by any of it—and you don’t have to tell him he’s a unique sort of new-age hybrid. He knows that.

“I view myself as one of the most versatile players in the NFL,” he said. “I mean, I’m a guy that can do it all, but I want to do it all. I just want every opportunity I can get. I always say you gotta take advantage of the opportunities, and I just feel like any chance I can get to be on the field is just a great opportunity for me to display my talents. I don’t really believe in wasting opportunities, so I’m a guy that just wants to be out there.

“And everyone takes it too serious, but I used to play football for free so I’m just having fun within the game.”

Now, here’s something else Parsons is: honest enough with himself, and others, to know he wasn’t always maximizing his opportunities. That changed, as he tells his story, thanks to his son, Malcolm, who was born his freshman year at Penn State.

He knew then that the questions about his character were real. And eventually, it led him to reckon with not only the fact that it was up to him not to let those things get in the way of his goals, but also that there was someone else relying on him to keep that from happening.

“Having my son really inspired me to do better,” Parsons said. “I remember growing up and not really having much, and my dad always told me I had two options—either an academic scholarship or you could get an athletic scholarship. Really only choosing two ways, he said there’s nothing else in this world for you to do. I took that as a kid and I was like, ‘Wow, I gotta work. I gotta get something.’

“I want my son to have the same opportunities, or more, than me. I don’t want him to have two ways to go in life. If he decides to become an architect, let him become that. If he wants to become an athlete, let him become that. But I want to provide a life where maybe he wants to be an ESPN announcer or writer. He can do that without having to worry, where he can actually live his dream.”

And the cool part is, Parsons is facilitating that now by living his own dream, amid the sort of season almost no rookie could ever dream of.

He knows it, too, and that’s why he lit up when Taylor’s name came up again.

“Just his aggressive nature, and how he played the game,” Parsons said, “he was something to watch.”

Forty years later, Parsons is, too.


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REMEMBERING DEMARYIUS THOMAS

A good number of Demaryius Thomas’s NFL friends—and he had a lot of them—last saw him in August in Ohio, where so many of the Broncos he played with gathered for Peyton Manning’s Hall of Fame induction.

On the surface, he was fine, to the point where he almost looked like he could strap up and play that weekend. He was happy. He looked healthy. He was D.T.

But past that glowing smile, there was a fight he was engaged in.

“My wife was talking to him as well, and she was telling me afterwards he was talking about his seizures and all that,” said his former teammate, Wes Welker, on Saturday. “I didn’t really know about all that stuff. She mentioned it to me and I was like, ‘Gosh, that’s crazy.’ You didn’t really notice anything was wrong. He was in good spirits, same old D.T., laidback, easygoing, big smile on his face and everything else. It breaks your heart.”

Thomas died at 33 on Thursday—he would’ve turned 34 on Christmas Day.

The cause of Thomas’s death hasn’t been disclosed yet, but Thomas’s cousin LaTonya Bonseigneur told the Associated Press this week that Thomas had been dealing with the seizures for more than a year, and that the family believed he suffered one while showering on Thursday. Police found Thomas dead in the shower around 7 p.m. that night, after responding to a call referencing cardiac arrest.

Any news like this, involving someone so young who’d been in the league for a decade, would hit the NFL community hard. What struck me as different this time, though, was the sheer number of people, like Welker, who were heartbroken. Some spent years with him. Others only a few weeks. Everyone had the same sorts of stories about who Thomas was.

“He was a miraculous human being,” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who drafted Thomas into the NFL as Broncos head coach in 2010.

So how was he miraculous? If there was ever a guy who could’ve let circumstances turn his life sideways, it might’ve been Thomas. When he was 11, his mother and grandmother were arrested on drug charges. His mother was sentenced to 20 years in prison after refusing to testify against her own mother, who got a life sentence (they were later freed as part of a Barack Obama initiative to reduce sentences of nonviolent drug offenders). As a result, Thomas lived with an uncle through his formative years.

“He was just a monster [as a player], but his thing was just his kindness,” said ex–Broncos coach John Fox. “If there was ever a guy that could be sour about life, look at the cards I got dealt, it could’ve been him. But he wasn’t. He believed in controlling what he could control. The things he couldn’t control, he didn’t sweat. He was always giving, whether it was kids, in the community, with his teammates. I mean, he lit up a room every time he walked in.

“The genuineness, the kindness he had as a person, he was never snarky or b----y. All the negative human traits we all have, he never showed that.”

So that’s why the NFL is grieving—it’s not who Thomas was as a player (and he was really, really good), it’s who he was a person. And to pay tribute to that person, we collected a bunch of memories from guys who spent a lot time around him.

John Fox was with Thomas as his head coach in Denver from 2011 to ’14.

“When I first got there, he returned kickoffs. He had a little bit of an injury issue. He hurt himself in the offseason, I can’t remember what it was. But then we’d just got him back, he dislocated his finger to where he needed surgery. … He’s out there, routinely catching a pass, it just hit his finger funny and he dislocated it. And he goes, ‘Well, that’s football.’ I’m sitting there saying, ‘I would’ve been crushed.’ And he was upset. But it wasn’t negative. He was just Mr. Positive. …

“When I got there with [Tim] Tebow, he was the starter, and what I appreciated about all those [receivers], they blocked a lot, and they blocked good, and they blocked hard. Now, was it fun, if you asked them? They’d say, ‘Hell no.’ What was cool was, all of a sudden, we got Peyton Manning, and, Demaryius included, we were giddy—like, come on now. And then Demaryius in 13 and 14, I think those were the best years of his career, production-wise.

“He was our No. 1 guy just because he was such a physical specimen. And look, the first year we had Eric [Decker], and he went down the road, and then we got Emmanuel [Sanders], and they were different matchups, both really good. But the one that really scared them was Demaryius. …

“I saw him at Peyton’s party after his induction in Canton in August—so I just saw him. In fact, it was he and Tom Brady, I sat and talked to both of them for 15 minutes. Demaryius got to know Tom when he was in New England [for the 2019 offseason]. … Demaryius, he always had that smile that lit up the room. And I walked up to him and he goes, Foxy, my guy! He did that to just about anybody that he knew. He was just a really genuine, authentic guy with a smile that would light up a room.”

Adam Gase was with Thomas as his position coach in Denver in 2010, the team’s QB coach in ’11 and ’12, Broncos offensive coordinator in ’13 and ’14, then coached him with the Jets in ’19.

“He’s just one of those guys where when he walks in a room, it changes. He just always was smiling. Even when things were bad, he’d find a way to flip it and get guys, whether it’s coaches or players, going in the right direction. …

“From the first day that he came in, he just always tried to do what was asked of him. He always tried to be there for other guys. Just seeing him as a rookie, and then seeing him once Peyton got to Denver, by like 13, it was crazy in a three-year span, how it seemed like he matured so fast. … And it just always felt like he was mature. He understood it. I remember his first year, you could tell, I’m a rookie, I don’t know anything—it was just so different from what he’d done [coming from Georgia Tech]. He just got it so fast. … He understood locker room dynamics, what was expected of him, what he needed to do to impact games. But his leadership, he didn’t have to say anything. It was the way he was, the way he practiced, the way he went through meetings. He did it right.

“He was really, really smart. Obviously, being a Georgia Tech guy, he was super sharp. And he knew how to be ready for the games on Sunday, he knew how to adjust. His brain worked very quickly. I saw it with Peyton—when he changed stuff, there were no errors. He just did. He knew what to do. And that wasn’t easy. You had Wes. He was used to it with Tom. And I thought D.T. and Eric did a great job of always being able to adjust when Peyton changed stuff. It clicked for them. It’s hard to find. When you find guys like that, that talented, that can adjust as fast as he could, it was impressive to watch. And when you’re going through it at the time, you don’t realize how special it is until you’re away from it. Once you’re away from it you’re like, ‘God, this guy was so good.’ …

“I saw him at the Hall of Fame. We talked a lot before both of us went to the Hall of Fame. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through and reread our text messages to each other over the last two years. It’s just crazy to think he’s not here anymore.”

Josh McDaniels was with Thomas in 2010 as Broncos head coach, and again during Thomas’s brief stint with the Patriots in ’19.

“From the first time you met him, you just knew that he had a maturity about him and a kindness that is hard to develop at a young age. Every relationship that he had, you always felt like you were the most important thing to him when he was talking to you. And it didn’t matter the setting, nor did it matter what the circumstances were. He was just such an incredibly kind soul, and that’s why I think you hear what you hear from everybody.

“It doesn’t matter how long he was around you, you’d have felt like he cared deeply about you. And it was because he did. And I think the adversity that he faced as a young kid, he had to develop that a little quicker than the rest of us do. He just had a love for people and an ability to pay attention to everything that was important to you. And that’s just who he was. He was as authentic of a human being as I think I’ll ever meet. He was rare. …

“He certainly had a lot of professional wisdom [in 2019], that when I was with him initially he couldn’t have had. His willingness to share with the other guys, even though he was competing with them to try to make the team. He didn’t look at it that way. He looked at it like, if I can help any of these young kids, I’m helping them. He was willing to sit with any of them, or if it was a meeting, we were talking about a route or a technique or something, he would speak up in his way and just give some of the younger guys his opinion on it. But that that didn’t surprise me. … He was just unselfish and willing to give of himself. …

“We all have dealt with some tragedies. It’s hard to comprehend a guy like him, at his age and with as much impact as he’s had on people and with what I’m assuming he would’ve been able to do moving forward impacting others, that he’s gone at this point. It took my breath away when I read it the other night. Just shocking.”

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Matt Russell was the Broncos’ college scouting director when Thomas was drafted in 2010, and was in Denver for Thomas’s entire career (Russell became director of player personnel in ’12).

“He came from an offense where they ran the ball a ton, so he was a little bit of one of those under-the-radar guys, but he was so big and talented. I think everyone was trying to figure it out, where this certainly looks like a guy where if he were in an offense where they were throwing the ball a lot would have a lot of numbers. It was really Josh [McDaniels] that brought it to the forefront and started the conversation on D.T. And then everyone got on board. But in terms of drafting, Josh went to the tape and was like, Who’s this Demaryius guy?

“You look at him physically, he looks like a Greek god. Then you watch him play football and he’s a monster out there, a man among boys. And then when you get him off the field, the impact he had on people, the best way I can describe him is he’s probably the kindest person you’ve ever come across. He had it down perfect. He could play the game with a tenacity and a physicality and an intensity, where the expectation off the field might be that this guy’s a real aggressive personality. And he was not.

“He was the kindest, nicest, soft-spoken, do-anything-for-you guy that you’d ever come across. My son told me today on the way home from Steamboat, ‘He was my favorite player of all time.’ I’ve got pictures of my kids eating breakfast with him. They used to sit in his truck—he had a truck horn in his pickup truck, and my son and daughter used to get up in his truck and loved honking his horn, it was like an 18-wheeler horn. But for a guy that had as much success as he had, he was the most grounded, nicest guy you’d ever meet in your life. …

“This picture that I’ve got, it’s Peyton and his two kids, and my daughter and Demaryius sitting there at the table in Dove Valley, about five, six years ago. It’s the two of them and these three little kids, and it speaks volumes. That’s kind of who the guy was.”

Wes Welker was Thomas’s teammate in 2013 and ’14, playing in Super Bowl XLVIII with him.

“He had such an infectious personality. He was fun-loving. He was country. I think, at first, he was probably like, Man, this white boy. And we got to know each other, and we were so much more alike than we’d had ever thought. Coming from such different backgrounds and being able to connect, it’s crazy. The main thing is everybody loved him. There’s not one person that didn’t. You’d just see D.T., and you’d smile. He was always cracking jokes, always talking trash, but in a fun-loving way. It’s almost hard to describe.

“Super competitive guy, loved ball, loved his teammates. A lot of times you get guys that are that talented, and they start getting upset if they don’t get the ball. He just wanted the team to win, he just wanted us to be successful, he wanted to help and do everything he could in that way. It’s rare to find a guy of that talent level that’s always about the team, where it doesn’t become about the individual. D.T. wasn’t that way at all. I think that’s why it’s so hard on everyone. …

“In that room, having D.T. and Decker, [Andre] ‘Bubba’ Caldwell, we were just a tight-knit group. The next year we got Emmanuel. Getting to play with other guys that had a dog mentality to them, it just makes it more special, when like-minded individuals get together and get to play football together. You form a bond in what you go through as far as training and preparation, the stories you have together, the wins, the losses, the ups and downs. Just that bond that you create with each other through those times, that’s the cool thing about football. It’s just unmatched. When you get with people like that, it just makes things different. That’s when you have something special.

“At Peyton’s Hall of Fame, the big thing [I remember], sitting there talking with him, was his infectious smile.”


In the MAQB, we’re going to have a little more on Thomas—and the play by which many will remember him. But for now, we’ll leave you with a quote from Thomas that Broncos president Joe Ellis read to Denver’s players Friday and emailed to everyone with the team.

“As men, as athletes especially, we don’t like to talk about love. We talk about brotherhood and all that, but not love. But it’s the most important thing in a child’s life. More important than the kind of school you go to, or what neighborhood you live in, or even if you grow up around drugs and violence. If you are loved, you’ll make it out.”

There’s no question that Thomas was loved.


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TEN TAKEAWAYS

Breshad Perriman’s star turn on Sunday was just another sign of Tom Brady’s enduring greatness. No one ever thought the Buccaneers’ 44-year-old quarterback would throw his 700th career touchdown pass to a guy who was on the Tampa Bay practice squad two weeks ago, the Bears two months ago, and spent the summer failing to make the roster of the receiver-needy Lions. But there was Perriman, the Ravens’ 2015 first-rounder, in overtime, taking a simple drag route at midfield from Brady and turning it upfield for a 58-touchdown—which gave Tampa Bay a 33–27 win in the extra period and saved the defending champs from losing a game they led 24–3 at halftime.

“I definitely wasn’t the first read,” Perriman told me, laughing, after the game. “I was supposed to be picking for Mike [Evans]. It was a mesh concept, and I was supposed to be picking Mike’s guy. But just so happened that Mike was picking my guy for me. And yeah, it kinda just worked out.”

Indeed, when Perriman caught the ball that Brady laid out in the right flat for him, it was Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds chasing Perriman. And athletic as Edmunds might be, it was still a linebacker on a receiver.

“I turned and saw the green grass. I was thinking just go,” Perriman continued. “I wasn’t thinking about the first down at all. I was thinking just about getting a touchdown.” All Perriman really had to do from there, thanks to how the play was set up, was slap Edmunds’s outreached arms away once and turn on the jets. And with that, the Bucs had their fourth straight win. It puts Tampa Bay at 10–3 and in position to steal away the No. 1 seed in the conference if the Cardinals and Packers slip up (the Bills were last team with a winning record left on Tampa Bay’s schedule). Which, if things happen as they should, would put the Bucs in a similar spot to where they were last year going into the playoffs, riding a long winning streak. And as for how this has happened again, of course it starts with Brady, who’s built a strong MVP case for himself in his 22nd NFL season.

“He’s the GOAT,” Perriman said. “I mean, what don’t stick out is the real question. The way he prepares during the week is crazy, like he goes above and beyond. He’s really specific and detail-oriented, just how he wants things and how he sees things. So it’s legit, it’s really night and day from him and other quarterbacks that I’ve ever been around working with.”

All that also showed up, according to Perriman, who, again, is still new (this is his second month with the Bucs, and Sunday was his second game dressing for the team in 2021), in the way Brady kept his offensive teammates engaged Sunday as the lead slipped away. And it showed up in what Perriman noticed most about the team—that they believed throughout that they were going to win the game, regardless of how sketchy it might’ve gotten. “The energy and the confidence and the swag, now it’s on 10, like you can feel it,” Perriman said. “It’s pretty much contagious, and you can feel it, and it’s really night and day from anywhere that I’ve ever been. And especially night and day from when I was there [as a Buccaneer] in 19. So yeah, it’s been crazy.” And on this Sunday, Perriman was a big beneficiary of it all—a guy who’s now been with seven teams and is on his second tour with the Buccaneers, on the receiving end of a milestone touchdown pass to win a game from the greatest to ever play. “It’s a dream come true, man,” he said. “Just to be able to be in this position to play on this team in general—whether you getting the ball or not, you got the opportunity and the blessing. Just to be on a Super Bowl–caliber team—it’s just a gift and a blessing in itself.” And the best part is, if the Bucs keep playing this way, the dream should keep going for a while.

The Niners showed some mettle in Sunday’s other late-afternoon thriller. And it happened in a spot where it would have been easy for San Francisco to pack it in—the Niners were coming off of a rough loss in Seattle, went cross-country and blew a 20–6 lead before going to overtime, missed a 47-yard field goal that would’ve averted OT, then fell behind 23–20 in the fifth period.

“I mean, that’s just football,” second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk said postgame. “We went down. We put a good drive together, we thought. We weren’t able to finish the game there. But as soon as the defense got a stop, we knew we had a chance to go win it, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Indeed, and it was because Jimmy Garoppolo went 6-for-6 for 78 yards in OT. It was because George Kittle was clutch—as he had been at the end of regulation, with a spectacular 19-yard catch to set up Robbie Gould’s field goal attempt—with three overtime catches for 38 yards to keep the chains moving. It was also because Nick Bosa sacked his good friend Joe Burrow on the previous series on third down, to force the field goal attempt. And most of all it was Aiyuk’s tight-wire 11-yard touchdown catch, in which he went from the right side of the field all the way to the left pylon to win the game. What he pulled off was so tricky, in fact, that neither he nor the officials believed it had actually happened in the moment.

“It was a play that we worked I think maybe only one time throughout the week, so it was a play that I didn’t really think about when we got down there,” Aiyuk said. “I know we come into every game with a couple of red zone plays, and you have a couple opportunities within those plays. But that was one of the plays that I completely forgot about, so when I heard that, I knew that I got the ball in practice on that play. So I knew I definitely had a chance to get it. And then I think after that, I did get out to [safety Vonn Bell], he was kind of on my back hip, so I felt like I might have chance to score. I looked at the ref. He seemed pretty certain that I didn’t get in. I thought that we had the ball at the 1. And then as soon as I saw the replay the first time, I knew I was in.”

And review confirmed that, so the Niners got to leave Ohio with a 7–6 mark and a rather manageable schedule the rest of the way—they play the Falcons, Titans, Texans and Rams. They’ll also bring a little momentum with them into that stretch. “I think we know exactly who we are already,” Aiyuk said. “And that’s the reason why we’re able to come out on top in games like that. We would like for it to not come down to that, but we know this is the NFL, and that’s how it happens sometimes.”

Normally, there may not be a ton to say about the Falcons-Panthers game, but I’m still intrigued (obsessed?) with the evolution of Cordarrelle Patterson. The 6' 2", 220-pound athlete has evolved, at 30 years old, into a tailback. The dude was a receiver in high school, in junior college, then at Tennessee. And yes, in his year in the SEC, he did carry the ball 25 times, but it was mostly on gadget plays designed to get the ball in his hands and go. What we saw Sunday, in the Falcons’ 29–21 win over the Panthers, was certainly not that.

Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick, never carried the ball more than three times in a game during his first five years in the league (13 to 17). The Patriots had him moonlight at tailback in a pinch—he had games for 10 and 11 carries for them in 18. And the Bears gave him double-digit carries twice in his two years there (19 and 20). On Sunday? He had 16 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons. And this was no experiment—he came into the year never having carried the ball more than 12 times in a game; he’s had 13 or more five times now in 21.

“I’m a running back, man,” Patterson said, jokingly, when I asked him what his position was over the phone. “I spend all my time in the running back room. Everybody always thinks I’m a running back, so yeah man, I’m a running back. But I’m a baller too. I’m a positionless guy, so wherever you put me, I’m gonna make a play.”

That much was clear not just in how the Falcons were using Patterson as a back, but where—the Falcons ran the ball six times in the red zone Sunday, and all six of those carries went to Patterson, who grinded out 27 yards and a touchdown with them. And really, that they use him this way, in the sort of situation you’d give the ball to a bigger, tougher back, speaks volumes for how the plan Patterson and Atlanta OC Dave Ragone hatched has worked out. In the offseason, Ragone, who had Patterson in Chicago, made the pitch for Patterson to come with him, with the idea being that the Falcons would use him creatively.

“We had a big plan,” Patterson said. “I talked to Rags damn near every day. That’s one of the big reasons I came here, Coach Rags. We had a vision, but honestly, bro, I did not think it would go this way. I just wanted to just play and contribute to the team, but now I just feel like, Man, I could do it. Like why not just keep all this and keep having fun.”

It’s unconventional, but clearly that’s not getting in the way of much for the plucky Falcons. And as for why I think it’s so interesting? It’s because I think most great athletes are being moved, at a young age, to receiver—in part due to seven-on-seven and how high schools are running their offenses, and probably in part the reality of NFL economics. The bigger money is in catching the ball, not carrying it. I think that’s left some guys who, 20 or 30 years ago, would’ve been running backs, playing receiver or corner. Patterson is clearly one of them. And he didn’t deny that, when I asked him about it. But he won’t dwell on it either.

“Everything happens for a reason, man, and I ain’t that person to be like, ‘If a team would’ve did this, I could’ve did this,’” he said. “I just appreciate everything I’ve been a part of. The teams used me the way they feel like was best for me. And I’m a guy, I’m gonna go in, bust my ass, do everything I can to help the team.” That much is clear. Not many guys would so willingly try what Patterson has, let it alone pull it off entirely. But Patterson has, and he deserves credit for it. It’s not easy to do.

The Jaguars looked lifeless on Sunday, and that’s not great after the week that they had. It started with the question over lead back James Robinson’s benching, and who pulled the trigger on that one, and ended with an NFL.com report from Tom Pelissero detailing fractures and dysfunction in the building. And two nuggets from Tom’s report wound up carrying the conversation over the weekend—the first was that there was a dispute between Meyer and veteran WR Marvin Jones that led to Jones getting so upset that he left the team facility last week and had to be talked into coming back. The second was that there was a coaches meeting in which Meyer said he was a winner, told his assistants they were losers, then went around the room asking for guys’ credentials.

Meyer downplayed both incidents at a press conference following the Jaguars’ 20–0 loss in Tennessee, saying there was no confrontation with Jones and that he didn’t call his coaches losers. “So what’s the answer? Start leaking information or some nonsense? No. No, that’s nonsense. That’s garbage,” Meyer said. “I’ve been very blessed. I’ve not really dealt with that. I’ve not dealt with, ‘Well, did you hear what he said?’ What? No. Let’s improve on offense and get our quarterback in a position to be successful. That’s our focus. What someone’s brother said, or someone said someone said, that will occupy very little of my time. And if there is a source, that source is unemployed. I mean, within seconds, if there’s some source that’s doing that.”

Meyer’s been coaching a long time, and it sure looks like he hasn’t adjusted his style enough for the NFL. I don’t think he’s changed the foundation of how he does things. At Ohio State and Florida, he barely ever blamed players for failures—he blamed coaches. If there was an issue on the field, he assumed the coaches were letting it happen and aggressively went after people for it.

“I saw the one comment, ‘You’re all losers’—he’d never talk like that,” said one former Meyer assistant. “It’s more, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ The biggest thing was to challenge coaches. He doesn’t blame players. But it’s very uncomfortable for coaches. He’ll go after you, he’ll ask why you’re doing drills a certain way, running meetings a certain way, and if you say, ‘That’s how I’ve always done it,’ he’ll tell you that’s the worst reason you can give. He’ll murder you for that. It’s uncomfortable. But I promise you he’s not coasting. Most coaches blame players in a situation like he’s in. He doesn’t.”

So now, it’d seem this will go one of two ways. One, Meyer will come back next year, and the staff will be overhauled. Or two, he'll lose the team and the Jaguars will move on. Regardless of what happened between Meyer and his coaches, or Meyer and Jones, the situation is at a critical point now. And if Meyer can’t get the team to respond to him, then the decision will be made for everyone.

We’ve seen what we need to see from the Packers. That’s a Super Bowl–caliber team that needs to keep itself healthy between now and mid-January. The hope is they get Za’Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander and David Bakhtiari back this month. Being as good as the team is, they’ve got the flexibility to ease those guys back into the lineup, the way they have Aaron Jones coming off his sprained MCL (A.J. Dillon had 15 carries to Jones’s five on Sunday). And they need to be careful with Aaron Rodgers, too, who said after the 45–30 win over the Bears that his fractured pinky toe “feels worse. I don’t know what kind of setback that I had tonight, but we’ll look at it tomorrow. Definitely took a step back tonight.” Here’s the rest of the schedule for Green Bay:

• Dec. 19 at Baltimore
• Dec. 25 vs. Cleveland
• Jan. 2 vs. Minnesota
• Jan. 9 at Detroit

I do think getting home field advantage for the NFC playoffs is important for Green Bay. I don’t know that the Packers can pull that off if they throw Jordan Love out there for a game or two. But it’s certainly possible that the Packers could manage games judiciously and make sure Rodgers is where he wants to be physically when the playoffs start, and the rest of the team is in the place it needs to be, too. For obvious reasons, there’s a ton riding on it.

There were a lot of nice scenes from Thomas tributes in Denver. It started with the pregame agreement between Broncos coach Vic Fangio and Lions coach Dan Campbell, where Denver sent 10 players out to start the game, leaving a spot for Thomas, and took a delay-of-game penalty. The Lions graciously declined the penalty—“That was for D.T.,” Campbell said postgame. So here are images of that and other tributes to Thomas at Mile High on Sunday.

There’s more from the afternoon, if you’re interested, on the Broncos’ website. Oh, and good job by the team itself, too—with Sunday’s shellacking of Detroit, Denver’s at 7–6.

The Chiefs’ defense is legit. And if the offense we saw on Sunday is who K.C. is going to be going forward, then good luck to everyone else. Over the last six weeks, this group has absolutely been carried by a defense doing all the heavy lifting.

• Since halftime of the blowout loss to Tennessee, six and a half games ago, the Chiefs have allowed 66 points, which is just more than 10 points per game.

• The Titans were the last team to score 20 on the Chiefs. That game was played Oct. 24.

• On Sunday, the Chiefs’ defense scored as many touchdowns as it gave up to the Raiders’ offense (CB Mike Hughes returned a fumble 23 yards for the game’s first score).

• Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Melvin Ingram, Alex Okafor and Tershawn Wharton combined for four sacks and were in the Raiders’ backfield all day.

• Likewise, Tyrann Mathieu had a pick and a fumble recovery on the back end.

“I think everybody was clicking,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said afterward. “The neat part is we have a chance to be even better. We just have to keep the foot on the pedal as we go.” I’d wholeheartedly agree with Reid’s sentiment, that everyone was clicking on Sunday. But I need to see a little more before I’m all in on a third straight trip to the Super Bowl for the Chiefs—and by that, I mean consistency from an offense that’s scuffled with defenses playing back and forcing Patrick Mahomes & Co. to earn every yard they get. Yes, the Chiefs scored 48 points on the Raiders. They also scored 41 points against Vegas a month ago, and outside of those two games they haven’t so much as scored more than 22 against anyone going back to mid-October. So I want to see the Chiefs do it against a defense other than Gus Bradley’s. And that starts Thursday with a showdown against the Chargers.

Speaking of the Chargers, it’ll be fun to get the eyeballs of a national audience on them again for a very big one Thursday night. And Justin Herbert’s doing stuff like this—stuff that almost looks fake (because it looks so impossible)—is a big reason why.

“When you see something special, normally, it looks easy,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said postgame. “That’s what he does; he makes the really, really challenging stuff look easy. That’s a pretty good indicator that you are witnessing something rare. He’s capable of that. The more that I’m with him, the less I’m surprised. That doesn’t mean I take it for granted, but I’m not surprised because I know that if we give him those opportunities, he can do that. His teammates believe that. … What you’re witnessing is something special.”

Hopefully we get to witness more of it Thursday night, with two young quarterbacks who are so capable of it locking horns.

I’ve got our quick-hitters coming out of Week 14 right here for you.

1) The Panthers’ struggles are a pretty good example of how having a mess at quarterback can undermine everything. Carolina very much wanted Matthew Stafford last January and thought hard about drafting Justin Fields in April. Instead, they went into this season with guys acquired in half-measure moves, and it’s cost them. It’s too bad, too, because Matt Rhule and his group have gotten a lot of other things right.

2) Same might go soon for Washington, with Heinicke’s play tapering off a little.

3) Chase Claypool’s antics robbed the Steelers of another snap or two at the end of Thursday’s loss in Minnesota, and man, that might wind up being costly. Had the Steelers won, they’d be 7-5-1 and alone in second place in the AFC North. Instead, they’re alone in last place.

4) Here’s hoping Lamar Jackson’s ankle is all right. The Ravens’ injury luck (down their starting left tackle, top two running backs, top two corners, etc. for the season) has been as bad as it gets. To their credit, there definitely hasn’t been any excuse-making coming out of Baltimore, and just getting to this point at 8–5 is a pretty solid accomplishment, given the circumstances.

5) Russell Wilson’s starting to playing like Russell Wilson again, but it might just be too late at this point for the 5–8 Seahawks. Which would be a shame, to see his Seattle swan song featuring his playing out the string for a nonplayoff team.

6) I actually think the Bills and Bengals will benefit from the experience of fighting back in those spots, against really good teams, even though they lost their games.

7) That said, there is no excuse not to have a single handoff in a half, as was the case with Buffalo—the Bills became the first team in 30 yards to pull that off, in getting to halftime without giving their backs a single carry. It’s not a good thing, and it connects to a larger problem over the last two months for Buffalo.

8) The Chargers, Browns and Packers all did an awful job covering onside kicks at the ends of their games, even if didn’t cost them their games.

9) The Saints still have a lot of talent on their roster, which was on display again Sunday against the Jets. They just don’t have a quarterback.

10) Salute to Saints DE Cam Jordan for his streak of 172 consecutive games played. Pretty impressive to do that in football. Jordan landed on the COVID-19 list last week, which is what finally took him out of the lineup.

I’m happy for Hue Jackson, because it seems like he’s really happy where he is. The ex–Raiders and Browns coach was introduced as the new man in charge at Grambling State on Friday, and, as we talked a few hours after it became official, it was quickly clear to me that the 56-year-old has done his fair share of introspection over the last three years. And it wasn’t really by choice, either. More so, it was a result of his unceremonious exit from the NFL following the 2018 season.

“Any time things end that way, you have to reset,” Jackson said. “It takes a toll on you mentally. You have to work through things, and I had to take some time to do that. People aren’t built for losing. Then, when it happens? You have to do everything it takes to get yourself back together.” Jackson did. He didn’t coach in 2019 or 20—breaking a run of 32 seasons spent on the sideline, going all the way back his transition from player to coach in 1987. The time away gave him a shot to, to borrow his word, reset, but it also reminded him what he loved about coaching. He missed leading. He missed the camaraderie and the relationships. He missed just being in the locker room. “There’s nothing like it,” he said.

So when Eddie George called in the spring after the former Heisman winner landed the job at Tennessee State, an HBCU in Nashville, he was ready. The legendary Titans tailback needed an offensive coordinator to help him break into coaching, and what George gave Jackson back felt like a chance to be reborn as a coach. And for Jackson it wasn’t just getting to coach again. It was everything that came with the HBCU experience. “It’s the players, the family atmosphere,” Jackson said. “Don’t get me wrong, these players have aspirations to play in the NFL. But it’s just different. It’s about football for them, it’s not about the show. It’s about trying to be as good as you can be.”

And that’s where Jackson could really give back—and he, George and the staff did a good enough job of it this fall, with Tennessee State in the thick of a conference title race, to attract Grambling to then take a hard look at Jackson. And Jackson, all the same, found himself attracted to Grambling. “It’s Grambling. With all due respect to everyone else, this is the King Kong of HBCUs,” Jackson said. “What Eddie Robinson did here is second to none.”

Which is to say, obviously, Jackson will be setting expectations high. But there is one specific area where he thinks he can help—and that’s in getting guys to the NFL. Just one HBCU alum was selected in the 2020 draft. That number dropped to zero last year. And while it may never again be like it once was (33 Hall of Famers have hailed from HBCUs, including legends like Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Michael Strahan and Deacon Jones), Jackson does believe it can and should be better, and that he can help.

“I have access,” he said. “With the relationships I’ve built, I can pick up the phone and say, ‘This guy can play.’ And those guys know I’m not going to risk my reputation saying a guy can play when he can’t. So I think I can provide another viewpoint, hopefully give these kids a voice from someone who’s been there.”

So he’s got his fresh start now, but the scars are still there. He knows what people have said. He’s learned from having to hear it. “You have to shut yourself off to it. You can’t let it become who you are,” he said. “I knew that wasn’t who I was. I’m the same coach I was when I won [PFWA] Assistant Coach of the Year in 2015. For whatever reason, it didn’t work in Cleveland. The reasons don’t matter. It was just hard not being able to coach. But I’m the same person. I’m the same coach. I’ve coached a lot of great players. It stung, but you gotta let it go.” Fair to say, doing so has served Jackson well in 21.


SIX FROM SATURDAY

1) Since it was Heisman weekend, I figured we’d give you the NFL outlook for each of the four finalists here. And we’ll start by pointing you to last week’s mailbag for a good look at the winner—Alabama QB Bryce Young, a true sophomore who won’t be eligible to declare for the draft until after next season. “He’d be the first QB taken [if he were eligible to declare],” said one NFC scouting director. “He’s improved each week. Mature player who doesn’t force the ball, seems to take what the defense gives him. He’s good in rhythm and shows the ability to make plays off script. Accuracy and arm strength are very good. He can anticipate and is improving his consistency. … Also, Mac [Jones] and Tua [Tagovailoa] had more talent around them. Bryce has carried the offense at times this year.”

2) Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson finished second in the voting and by all accounts has a good shot at going first in the draft (ahead of Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, who spent much of the fall as the presumptive favorite to be the first pick). “He’s extremely versatile, in that he’s a great run defender and obviously a very productive pass rusher,” said an AFC exec. “He’s got a great motor. He plays with outstanding effort—always, always playing hard. You know he’s gonna empty the tank. And again, it’s against the run, too. He sets a firm edge, he’s tough to move and he chases the ball, makes plays outside and down the field. He’s not a dynamic athlete as a rusher, but he can bend and power through. It’s fair to compare him to guys that have come out recently, the edge rushers. Everyone will compare him to T.J. Watt and the Bosas; those are fair comparisons. He’s got really good hands, can bend and can win through contact. There lots of guys in college that are just speed-rush guys. He can win through contact.”

3) Meanwhile, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett came in third and has a good shot to be the first quarterback off the board. “He’s a good version of Johnny Football—better frame, head on shoulders and arm, and he’s a better leader,” said one AFC exec. “Athletic, gutsy. … Kind of hit the scene hard out of nowhere like [Joe] Burrow and balled out. Love the kid. He’s got the it factor. Kid has balls. … We have a ways to go, but definitely if the draft was today, he would be [the first quarterback] taken.”

4) And then in fourth was Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud, who, like Young, won’t be draft eligible until 2023. “He’s got arm talent, and he is going to end up being one of these QBs that [probably shouldn’t be] a first-round pick but will get drafted in the first round,” said an NFC exec. “He’s got arm strength, velocity on the ball, and he’s decisive. But he’s inconsistent with his ball placement, the receivers have to work for the ball some and you’d ask if he’s mobile enough to move the pocket.” Of course, Stroud, like Young, has a year to refine his game. And so while Hutchinson and Pickett make their way to the league, it’ll be interesting to track the other two over the next year.

5) Miami’s hire of Mario Cristobal is certainly one that could have an impact on the NFL down the line. The Hurricanes sit on pro football’s most fertile breeding ground—the city of Miami had the most players on opening-day rosters of any city (19), and Florida had the most players on opening-day rosters of any state (192). And we’ve all seen what The U is capable of when things are rolling. Or at least those of us who were around 20 years ago have seen it.

6) North Dakota State’s got consecutive blowout wins in the FCS playoffs, and the Bisons are back in the semifinals. If they can beat James Madison, then the winner of Montana State vs. South Dakota State, that’ll be nine national titles in 10 years, which, wild as it sounds, would prove again that NDSU is more dominant at its level than Bama is on the FBS tier. So I guess you could say the Tide are the North Dakota State of big-time college football.


BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

Kind of embarrassing to get blown out after that—and it definitely looks like some of the guys aren’t all that enthusiastic about it, either.

Fair guess.

Just not the Panthers’ day.

Definitely not an orthopedic situation.

I agree with Haley.

Allen was a horse against New England and a horse for the Bills in Tampa. It’s a shame he came out without a win in either game.

Quinn’s 31 and in his 11th year. So like Chris said … ridiculous.

Pretty much. And Bosa made a pretty massive play to preserve that one.

He’s right, too.

Chris definitely looks ready to crack a Labatt by the fire after a long day on the slopes.

I 100% agree with Harbaugh. I’d always rather know exactly what I need—be it one possession or two—with time running short, than just preserve the thinking I have a chance. I don’t really understand people who wouldn’t prioritize clarity in that situation.

We definitely earned that 7 p.m. ET hour on Sunday.

I have no idea what Joey’s reacting to here, but it must’ve been good.

Let the record show that Brady’s 16 rushing yards were an all-time high for him as a Buccaneer.

FedExField is a weird place.

Not gonna lie, that’s exactly how I (and everyone) felt at 2:30 ET, too.

… When things went right.

Nice recovery, Jeff!

Attn: Ben Roethlisberger.

Really well done, Texans. Dave Campbell is an absolute legend down there.


kelvin-beachum-cardinals

MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

Every week, we’ll talk to a prominent player about to step on the MNF stage. This week, ahead of Cardinals-Rams, and with the league’s 32 Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominees announced, we’re bringing you Arizona’s nominee, veteran OT Kelvin Beachum.

MMQB: Ten wins, a chance to clinch a playoff spot—does all this surprise you?’

Kelvin Beachum: I didn’t see it coming, honestly. I’m not gonna lie and say I did. I didn’t know how the season was gonna play out. You never do. You take it a week at a time and let the chips fall. Your preparation, your execution will put you in a great position week in and week out, but you just never know. This league, every team is so good. We’ve had some close ones. We’ve gotten out of games by the hair on our chin. It’s one of those things, you take it a week at a time.

MMQB: Can you identify the difference between this year and last year?

KB: Yeah, I think the biggest thing is just attention to detail, urgency and you have people who’ve played in big games a lot. And they know what it takes to execute and execute in the most critical situations of the game. It’s hard to point to one thing or one person. I just really think we’re on the details, and those are the things that win close games, and we’ve had some close games versus some really good teams this year. And you have to find a way to respond, because this league is all about how you respond.

MMQB: What’s it like to be a lineman for Kyler Murray? I’d imagine it’s a little different.

KB: It’s exciting, man. He’s so dynamic. He’s able to get the ball out super fast, knows where he wants to go with the ball. But you also know if he has to hold the ball, you’re holding your breath because it could be a highlight reel about to happen. It’s one of those things, you just want to do your job, make sure your guy doesn’t touch the quarterback, affect his throw, affect his line of sight. You want to make sure you do your job, so he can do his job, and usually when he does his job, something special’s about to happen. He makes the game super fun, period, because you just never know where he’s going to be. But you know something special’s going to happen.

MMQB: Do you think he’s got a case for league MVP?

KB: You know, I don’t make those decisions. I look at what you’ve been doing day in and day out, and I think about the maturity that I’ve seen from him, since I was here last year to this year. And he’s matured. He’s competing and growing as an individual. He’s grown as a person, which I’m super excited about. But I’m not one to make a case for an award I know I have no part in. But I think he’s playing at an exceptional level, a Pro Bowl level, and playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Now, if the powers that be think that’s the case as well, then I agree with them wholeheartedly.

MMQB: What do you think it says about the group that you were able to go 2–1 without Kyler, and before that win a game without Kliff Kingsbury?

KB: It says a lot about the group. It says, one, that we’re resilient. Two, we enjoy adversity. We thrive on adversity. And on top of that, for me, it shows how much this locker room cares about the people in the locker room. At the end of the day, you’ve got great players all across the league. It’s all about how you care about each other, and how much you want to play for one another, how much you want to fight for one another. And I think we have a collection of guys in this locker room this year that are really concerned about playing for one another and fighting for one another—fighting through pain, fighting through adversity. We had some COVID cases that hit us at very inopportune times through the year, and we have depth. That’s a testament to our GM, for finding a way to build a roster so you have depth, so when there is adversity, you’re able to plug in somebody who can pick up the mantle and go and perform at a high level as well.

MMQB: Now as a two-time Walter Payton MOY nominee, where did your motivation to do as much to help others come from since you’ve been in the league?

KB: When I first got into the league, I had a phenomenal community service [coordinator] in Michele Rosenthal, who was with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time. And she just allowed me to try everything, to see what it was like to serve in different capacities around the city of Pittsburgh. So I went to the hospital, the children’s hospital, served there. Started to serve at the community food bank, that was something I was super passionate about before I got into the league and I’m still passionate about. Went to different schools, did turkey distributions with Maurkice Pouncey and Max Starks that they would do every year. Coach [Mike] Tomlin had a turkey distribution he would do every single year. So I supported others, and saw how they did it and learned from guys that had been around the league for a long time, guys like Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu, Max Starks, Willie Colon, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy. I got to learn from other people and see what they did and saw how I wanted to use this platform. So for me it was actually being able to sit back and watch how other people did it, first and foremost, before I decided where I wanted to hang my hat.

MMQB: It does seem like you’ve focused a lot on kids—is there a specific reason for that?

KB: Yeah, when you think about being able to serve young people and help young people, these are the future leaders. It’s the generation of tomorrow. As a father, I want to make sure I’m impacting this future generation. I have kids. I want to see the world for them be a better place than it was for me. I didn’t have a lot growing up. My kids have quite a bit, but I want to make sure they understand the power of service, the power of volunteering, the power of giving back, the power of education. And being able to serve in the different capacities I’ve been able to serve in the past couple years, it starts with the young people.

MMQB: So what would it mean for you to win the award this time?

KB: It’d be huge for me to win, to be able to highlight my family, and really my wife. My wife has allowed me to be able to move in the way I’ve been able to move. It’d be a testament to the sacrifices my family has made, and that we’ve made as a family to be able to serve others, and to be able to take from what we have as a family and give to others. At the end of the day, it’s about serving. It’s about the work. And whether I win or not, I said this last time, I’m gonna continue to do the work. Because to me the work is what matters.

MMQB: Do you view Monday as a chance to put the division away?

KB: We’re looking at this game as Week 14, a Monday Night Football game. We gotta be 1–0 this week. That’s how we see it.

MMQB: Anything special about playing on Monday night for you?

KB: Man, all your peers, all the players from across the league are watching this game. And it’s an opportunity for you to gain the respect of your peers. And there are millions and millions of fans watching. It’s special. Usually my parents, my family down in Texas, can’t catch games. This is a nationally televised game. Everyone in my family’s going to be watching. It’s a huge deal. Any time you play on Monday Night Football, it’s special.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The NFL’s winter meetings are this week in Dallas.

On Tuesday, there’s a labor meeting, with the owners set to come together after that Wednesday. This particularly meeting is generally held to set the table for the following offseason—with things like the salary cap discussed ad nauseam. But this is also a good chance to catch up with owners ahead of the coaching carousel and figure out which teams are bracing for change.

I’ll have you covered from there starting Monday night on all my social channels, and of course right here on with the MAQB landing, as usual, this afternoon.

More SI Daily Covers:

Tom Brady Wins 2021 SI Sportsperson of the Year Award
How the Supply-Chain Crisis Led to a Pylon Shortage
A Quarterback Evolution and a Coaching Revolution
The NFL’s First Real Foray Overseas, 30 Years Later