1. It’s the most… existent time of the year, when NFL Saturday action gets underway, and that means we mix two columns—the Football Things preview and the Sunday FreakOut review—into one delicious goulash. We start with takeaways from the Colts’ Saturday night victory over New England…
Belichick Put It In His Defense’s Hands: And they didn’t deliver, allowing the Colts to pick up two first downs on their second-to-last possession, despite the fact that there was no way Carson Wentz was going to throw another pass. I didn’t like the decision to kick a fourth-and-goal field goal down 13 in the fourth quarter—even if you don’t get the touchdown, you’re pinning a team that doesn’t trust their quarterback inside their own 5. But neither approach works if your defense doesn’t get off the field. And then, on the final play of the night for the defense, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty overran the play on Jonathan Taylor’s game-clinching TD run.
Jonathan Taylor As Kyra Sedgwick In The Closer:
A Bad Matchup for Mac Jones: Outdoor football in January will be interesting for a Florida native who played college football in the SEC, but this one was, obviously, indoors. That said, this Colts defense is both very good, and matches up very well against Jones’s strengths. Their secondary is at their best early in the down—the way to beat them is on slower-developing play-action concepts and second-reaction plays—and they don’t let anyone run on them. Still, Jones’s first half was downright ugly. The second half, against looser coverage, was better, and his second touchdown throw—around hook defender Darius Leonard, with pressure in his face that kept him from stepping into it—was tremendous. But, overall, this was a long night for a rookie quarterback facing a great defense.
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A Brutal Night for Patriots Special Teams: They gave up a blocked punt that went for a TD, they jumped offsides on a field goal attempt that gave Michael Badgley a second chance, Nick Folk’s pooch kick in lieu of an onside attempt when way too far, Gunner Olszewski fumbled it out of bounds on an early punt return… Bill Belichick’s Christmas is absolutely ruined. Like, if at the end of the Grinch, all the Who’s were just like, Wait, we did want our stuff.
Dugger and Pittman Tossed, Judon Getting In Wentz’s Face…:
Like Aerosmith Doing a Bad Bon Jovi Impression, Carson Wentz Is Livin’ on the Edge: I’m not being sarcastic when I write that he had a couple of absolutely huge plays on QB sneaks that were not gimmes. But as a passer, in a game where he was protecting a lead, he put one ball into a linebacker’s hands that should have been a pick-six, and he stared down then forced a throw that was well covered by second- and third-level zone defenders that did result in an interception. Frank Reich, rightly, didn’t let him throw another pass all night, which is a luxury you can afford when you have Jonathan Taylor and that offensive line.
Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner and Kenny Moore: Is a power trio we can all get behind. Leonard and Moore made Mac Jones’s night miserable, and Buckner’s sack to end New England’s first drive, lining up on the right end and getting around Isaiah Wynn almost literally untouched with an inside move, was utterly terrifying.
Well, This Was Most Certainly a Penalty:
The Colts Are the Second-Best Team in the AFC: Behind only the Chiefs. Though if you’ve watched football this year you already knew that. Indy lost one in Baltimore because the kicker got hurt, they lost disastrously officiated home games to Tennessee and Tampa, and they let a couple slip away due to sloppy red-zone execution. Even with the giant question mark at quarterback, this is not a team anyone wants to host in four weeks.
Jonathan Taylor Is Wonderful: But not the MVP in a league where so much is put on the quarterbacks. I’d be open to Taylor, the Colts’ offensive line and defense, Frank Reich, and Matt Eberflus splitting MVP, but I’m not sure if that’s really in the spirit of the award.
2a. It is difficult to believe that Jaguars owner Shad Khan, as he claimed late in the week, decided to fire Urban Meyer on Sunday night, but then waited to do so until Wednesday night/early Thursday morning—or, after the Tampa Bay Times published their story on Josh Lambo’s allegation that Urban Meyer kicked him during pre-game warmups in August. (Meyer, for the record, said Lambo’s “characterization of me and this incident is completely inaccurate”). It’s especially difficult to believe Khan if you also believe things that happened on Monday happened before things that happened on Wednesday. Also, no coaching staff has ever been helped by losing their head coach at 1 a.m. on a Thursday morning rather than the previous Sunday night.
In light of the Jaguars saying Meyer was fired for cause (and therefore they won’t pay him for the remaining four years of his contract), and for an accumulation of offenses, the “fired on Sunday” theory works better from a litigation standpoint. And then consider that the team didn’t appear to take action when Lambo’s agent approached team counsel about the kicking incident the day after it happened, which would make it difficult for the team to claim that the Lambo kick was cause for the firing.
All of this is a reminder that Khan played his part in this debacle. Based on Meyer and former team president Tom Coughlin, Khan certainly seems to have his type: old-school (or just “old,” one might also say) hard-ass types. And you can see that archaic, players-last approach throughout the organization’s recent history. There was last year’s cynical tank strategy that did irreparable harm to the careers of many players subjected to it, even the owner’s son feeling emboldened to troll a former Jaguars player the organization were holding hostage with the franchise tag.
2b. All that said, the Jaguars’ job is a very attractive one. No to me—seems like one of those things that involves conversing with other people and being out in the sun a lot. But to anyone who doesn’t mind those things and is also interested in coaching a football team, yeah.
Surely, there’s nothing the owner would like more at this point than to go back to being an anonymous organization, so you’d probably have a long leash as long as you don’t traffic in humiliation the way the previous guy did. And—speaking of the previous guy—the bar is incredibly low.
But you also have an absolute stud quarterback (who’s currently being asked to run a veteran quarterback’s offense with a crummy supporting cast) locked into his mandatory rookie-wage-scale contract, the third-most effective cap space available this upcoming offseason according to OverTheCap.com, and a likely top-five pick.
If I were a member of the Khan family, I would call either Brian Daboll or crawl on my hands and knees back to Nathaniel Hackett and beg his forgiveness, then beg him to fix my offense. Or I’d counter a season of amateurism by getting a professional head coach, like Vance Joseph (who never should have lost his job in Denver in the first place) or Todd Bowles (who never should have lost his job with the Jets). Both of those guys are elite defensive minds who were done in by revolving-door quarterback situations.
2c. Now that his brief run in the NFL has come to a merciful end, folks like me who cover the NFL and don’t particularly care for college football* will never again have to devote any brainpower to Urban Meyer. But before we go, I just want to marvel on how spectacular a flameout this was. To assemble these headlines and visuals in a mere 11 months is simply unfathomable. Cue the Sarah McLachlan song, please:
2d. Is a job at the college level next for Urban Meyer? Well, I think Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s quote about that possibility sums it up pretty well: “It’s chaos right now . . . Adults manipulating young men. Education is like the last thing now.”
Wait, check that, Dabo Swinney was actually talking about [exasperated sigh] the transfer portal.
*—The sport itself is fine, and the NFL has no shortage of gross yet powerful people, but college football is teeming with power brokers who absolutely make your skin crawl, not to mention the systemic absurdity of the entire enterprise.
3. Regardless of how the 2021 season turns out for the Ravens, John Harbaugh deserves Coach of the Year honors for navigating an avalanche of late-summer injuries and still keeping his team in contention. But the Ravens, considering their 1–3 mark within the division, probably have to split their final four games, getting to 10 wins, to make the postseason. I’m not sure that’s possible.
First, there’s the schedule: home games against the Packers on Sunday and Rams in Week 17, a Week 16 trip to a face a Bengals team that’s better than they are, and a home game against the Steelers (Ben Roethlisberger has won his last three in Baltimore, by the way). Second, there’s the fact that they just aren’t particularly good on offense or defense. They got bailed out by their kicker (and officials who missed a delay of game penalty) in Detroit, and got bailed out by an in-game injury for the Colts’ kicker in a Week 5 MNF win. Their defense is tied with Dallas for most mass plays of 25-plus yards allowed (35), thanks to a series of coverage busts. Anthony Averett is getting a Christmas card from every offensive coordinator in the NFL and Marlon Humphrey, their best defensive back, is out for the year. The team has just six interceptions on the year.
More problematically, on offense they haven’t even tried to expand the passing game—despite the receiving corps returning to full health—and they’ve been too heavily reliant on Lamar Jackson creating late-in-the-down magic to make up for it. As a result, a Jackson-led offense hasn’t scored 20 points in a game since before the Frente de Todos party lost control of the Argentine legislature. (That’s November. Nov. 7 was the last time a Jackson-led offense scored 20 or more points in a game.)
The Ravens are basically a game up on the pack (the AFC North and the wild-card contenders) heading into Sunday, but getting to 10 wins is an absolute must. This just doesn’t profile as a team that can get there unless they get a lot of bounces going their way.
4. Fortunately, unlike last December when the Browns were forced to take the field for a crucial game in East Rutherford with a receiving corps made up of transients they found at the Port Authority bus station, logic has prevailed in regards to how the league handled the recent torrent of outbreaks.
Or at least logic prevailed momentarily. It was probably less about the league’s concern with competitive integrity and more about pressure from the union, and the prospect of forfeits and canceled games that led to the proper outcome, but the right conclusion is the right conclusion no matter how you get there.
But the league once again fought the union (and won) on daily testing for all players, even though it never made sense to stop testing vaccinated players daily or stop indoor masking at team facilities; even if it’s less common, vaccinated players can still transmit COVID-19. All of this is a reminder that the NFL—as it does—sees the protocols more as another opportunity to proclaim, We are a societal leader in _______ (in this case, vaccinations). This summer, the protocols were used as an incentive to get players to choose to get vaccinated, primarily as a means for the league to puff its chest out about vaccination rate. Players should get vaccinated, and a high vaccination rate should be celebrated, but it shouldn’t mean compromising on health and safety measures.
5. The only one of Brandon Staley’s TNF fourth-down decisions you can criticize is the one at the end of the first half—part of the reason you go for fourth down near the opponent’s goal line is that, if you don’t get it, at least your opponent is pinned deep in their own territory. On the final play of the first half, that’s no longer a factor. But any other criticism is just Captain Hindsight inanity from a mixture of those jealous of Staley’s boyish good looks and those who bet Chargers +3.
6. Ladies and gentlemen . . . Living Colour!
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