“If Wentz wins this game, the people in this town are going to tear down the Rocky statue and put up one of Carson Wentz.”
—ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, before Carson Wentz’s Eagles went out and beat Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers by 31 points Sunday.
* * *
PHILADELPHIA — Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. But this Wentzmania (we’ll get to his details shortly) leads the way for a slew of kid quarterbacks that has defined the first month of the season. Six of them. None named Jared Goff.
How ridiculously well the young quarterbacks have done:
Young turk W-L record: 11-2. Young turk TD-INT ratio: 15-3.
Is that really different? I’d say so. Last year, there were two young guns playing early, and Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston were a combined 2-4 after three weeks. This year, as we prepare to exit September, the four kids who’ve played enough to qualify for the league leaders—Garoppolo, Wentz, Siemian and Prescott—are 2, 7, 11 and 12 in the league in passer rating.
My theory on why we’re seeing such competent-to-outstanding play by these Millennials was explained in three words by Wentz outside the Eagles’ fairly giddy locker room Sunday evening. They’re the same three words he spoke to me at the combine last February when Wentz was on trial for his future, trying to make the jump from North Dakota State to the NFL.
“It’s just football,” he told me. “Nothing’s changed.”
Wentz doesn’t make it too big. I mentioned in this column after Week 1 that there were some preternaturally young kids playing well at quarterback, and now it’s not just a novelty act. Siemian, Prescott and Garoppolo have the same ethos as Wentz. (I’m not too familiar with Kessler or Brissett, who are playing solely due to injury.) Siemian strafed the Bengals on the road Sunday, Prescott looked like a six-year vet Sunday night in beating Chicago, and Wentz, well, let Eagles coach Doug Pederson do the gee whiz part of this. “Who’d have thought a kid from North Dakota would be such a mature individual and would make the adjustment to the pro game as quickly as he has?” Pederson said.
When it’s just football, you’ve got a chance.
* * *
It’s Just Football
Near the end of the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers, Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB went into the stands at Lincoln Financial Field to ask a few of the legions wearing Wentz jerseys about their three-game hero. Said 24-year-old Kyle Frazier: “I am literally in tears with how good he is. I’ve been an Eagles fan for 24 years, my whole life. I bought this jersey three weeks ago. When we drafted him I thought he was the change of the franchise.” And Vince Fabrizio, 54, said: “He will take us to a Super Bowl as some point.”
Like, now? This has been an absurd ride so far. Wentz and the Eagles 34, Big Ben and the Steelers 3. The guy who was supposed to redshirt this season, the guy who wouldn’t be playing right now if Teddy Bridgewater hadn’t suffered a freak injury 1,170 miles away last month, the guy who has every downtrodden fan in Cleveland vomiting (again) this morning because the Browns gave away the chance to draft him … that guy is 3-0, with the wins coming by 19, 15 and 31 points, and just when is construction beginning on that statue, Sal?
Six months ago this week, the Eagles locked onto Wentz. They told no one. But they spent a day and a half in Fargo at North Dakota State—on the practice field, in the classroom (for three hours) and out to dinner—and Philly’s staid offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, was reaching for the right word after Sunday’s game about that 36 hours studying Wentz.
“Magical,” he said. “Seriously. Like magic. There was just something about him. I’ve been around a lot of smart quarterbacks, a lot of really good quarterbacks. This guy had something we all noticed. On the practice field, just watching him warm up and get ready, I was giddy. His movements, his explosiveness in his lower body. His arm strength. His accuracy. Then in the classroom, his intellect and his football acumen—hard to describe. But all there. He could not be stumped, by any of us. What’s your protection here? Why’d you pick this receiver? What do you like about this play? He was so far ahead of guys I’ve studied. And we kept hearing the level of competition, that people were worried about the North Dakota State part of it. I said, ‘Let ‘em keep saying that! Please keep saying that.’”
“I remember it well,” Wentz said. “They tested me quite a bit. I just thought, Be myself. Talk football. Have fun.”
Pederson probed about Wentz’s focus. “I asked him something that was important to me,” Pederson said Sunday night. “You can be a dedicated person, but sometimes your family can be a drag on you. Sometimes they can be demanding, and distracting. I asked him, ‘Is your family gonna be a distraction?’ He said, ‘No sir. Coach, I can tell you, it’s all about football for me.’”
There was an innocence, an earnestness to Wentz—and Pederson bought what he was saying. He hasn’t regretted it. When the Eagles left Fargo, GM Howie Roseman worked with Cleveland to deal from eight to two in the first round, and a week before the draft, the deal happened.
One more deal had to be made to get Wentz on the field this month: the Vikings dealing for prospective Eagles starter Sam Bradford. When I asked owner Jeffrey Lurie whether he was nervous when the trade of Bradford was close with the Vikings early this month, he said: “No. Because of Carson.”
One play Sunday encapsulated Wentz’s early proficiency. On the first Philly drive of the second half, Wentz faced third-and-eight at his 27. Pederson called for a three-by-one formation (three receivers left, one to the right, Darren Sproles as a sidecar to Wentz in the shotgun). At the snap, Wentz stared left, trying to pick the most open option; but Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt burst through the line and rushed Wentz. “I just turned upfield,” Wentz told me, “and went improvise-mode.” He shook to the right a step, causing a lunging Tuitt to miss. No happy feet on Wentz here. While evading Tuitt, Wentz stared downfield and pressed forward, and then a few steps to the right while four Steelers chased him. Jogging right, he saw linebacker Ryan Shazier creeping up to join the chase, and Wentz, on the move, flicked a perfect ball to Sproles. Shazier left Sproles, thinking Wentz would run for the first down. The ball hit Sproles in stride, and the dangerous lightning bug sprinted and bobbed and weaved 73 yards. Touchdown.
It’s just football.
“Obviously it’s bigger,” Wentz said. “There’s more of a media machine now. And you play against guys you’ve been watching since you were a kid [Wentz was 11 the day the Steelers drafted Roethlisberger]. But it’s a game. Just a game. Just football. I’ve been playing it for a long time. My thought is, keep preparing. Prepare, and play the game we all love.”
It shouldn’t be happening this fast, coming up from 7-9 with a rookie head coach and a quarterback coming from North Dakota and a defense that needed a new leader. But it is, and there’s nothing fluky about it. The Eagles are legitimate deep-into-January contenders right now.
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Most Impressive Win of the Weekend
How can any win be bigger and better than Philadelphia whacking Pittsburgh? Tough call, but the Vikings losing two of their most indispensible players (Adrian Peterson, left tackle Matt Kalil) plus important defensive-line piece Sharrif Floyd during the week and traveling to NFC champ Carolina made for a pretty tough day.
This is one premier defense that Mike Zimmer has built. The Vikings held explosive Carolina scoreless for the last 50 minutes. They sacked Cam Newton eight times. They intercepted him three times. They nailed him for a safety. They held big targets Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess catch-less. And though the Minnesota offense struggled all day, Sam Bradford played his second straight turnover-free game, and the Vikings didn’t give anything away.
Minnesota travels to Philadelphia in Week 7. They could meet again in January.
Who loses the three most important offensive pieces—quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, left tackle Kalil and star back Peterson in the span of a month—and wins at the NFC champ’s house? One of the important elements for the Vikings, I believe, has been the ability of GM Rick Spielman to constantly look forward. Two interesting pieces to the Minnesota puzzle coming up:
• Spielman got fried publicly when he traded a first-round pick and another mid-round pick to Philadelphia for Bradford. But he knew, and didn’t say at the time, that he would likely have the ability in 2017 to have one of the best chips in the league to trade. Bradford is signed through the end of 2017, and Bridgewater is rehabbing after knee surgery. Suppose doctors tell Spielman in March that Bridgewater will certainly be back for 2017. Then Spielman could choose to trade Bradford or Bridgewater, certainly recouping a first-round pick. Or he could hang on to both and have the deepest quality quarterback situation in football. “I hope we have that difficult choice to make,” Spielman told me last week.
• Spielman wasn’t in love with his options late in the third round last spring, so he dealt the 86th overall pick to Miami (Leonte Carroo) for a sixth-round pick this year and third-round and fourth-round picks next year. “So even though we traded two picks to get Sam,” Spielman said, “we’ve still got eight picks in next year’s draft.”
“When you build a roster,” he continued, “you have to build it with the kind of depth to withstand the injuries that we’ve had. You have to think that every pick you make is eventually going to have to play.” It’s a good philosophy anyway. But with the Vikings 3-0, Spielman’s been pushing every right button so far.
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The Greatest Pro Football Coaches Ever
Well, there’s a headline that’ll be hard to live up to. But here are my five:
1. Paul Brown. 1946-49, Cleveland (AAFC); 1950-62 (NFL).
2. Bill Belichick. 1991-95, Cleveland; 2000-16, New England.
3. Vince Lombardi. 1959-67, Green Bay; 1969, Washington.
4. Chuck Noll. 1969-91, Pittsburgh.
5. Don Shula. 1963-69, Baltimore; 1970-95, Miami.
Notably absent are George Halas (40 years coaching the Bears, six titles) and Bill Walsh (offensive trendsetter, three Super Bowl wins) and many others, and I could have had Shula anywhere from third to fifth on the list. And it could be that one day Belichick will beat out Brown for the top spot. I won’t argue vehemently if folks think Brown benefited from the eight-team AAFC (he did) and then joining the 13-team NFL in 1950 (he did).
But here’s what you should remember about Paul Brown. The All-American Football Conference was the AFL, founded 14 years earlier, and Brown’s Cleveland franchise won the league in all four of its seasons. When the NFL merged with the AAFC, the Browns joined the big league—and played in the NFL title game in each of the first six seasons it was in the league. So, Brown won the championship of his league seven times in his first 10 years as a pro coach. So many modernisms started with Brown—sophisticated game planning, scouting reports, coach-to-quarterback radio communication, signing black players—and Belichick reveres him. “Paul Brown integrated football without saying a single word about integration,” sportswriter Terry Pluto quoted Jim Brown as saying in 1997.
I covered the Paul Brown-owned Bengals in 1984, and I remember coach Sam Wyche telling me having Brown for a boss was like living next to a library. “And I’d be a fool not to check out the books,” Wyche said.
As for Belichick, competing in the modern game with double (or more) the teams to beat every year makes his accomplishments significant. As does going 14-5 (to this point) with Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, and winning four Super Bowls, going to two more, and having a dominant team for 15 years, winning in so many different ways. There are those who will take him off this list because of the spying and deflation scandals, and though they count, I cannot believe the results would have been much different—if at all—if neither thing ever happened. (And I am not convinced the Deflategate thing ever did happen, and there’s zero evidence Belichick knew about any of it if it did.)
Lombardi is simple. He’s a legendary no-nonsense coach who built a dynasty in the smallest market in sport. Noll changed the culture in Pittsburgh, a change we see to this day. Shula won in a lot of ways, and more games than anyone.
Disagree? Send me your top five and brief rationale. When I write my mailbag column Wednesday, I’ll use the best arguments to shoot me down. Send your lists here. Thanks.
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Quotes of the Week
“There is no challenge.”
—Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, asked about the challenge of facing San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 29th-rated quarterback and last-rated in yards per attempt, after Seattle trounced the Niners on Sunday.
“Grow the hell up. It has nothing to do with anything but what’s between his ears.”
—Arizona coach Bruce Arians, on the problems of rookie long-snapper Kameron Canaday.
More on this down in the Award Section.
“We’re just two fierce competitors. That’s all it is. We love football. We feel like this has turned into something that is not football.”
—Odell Beckham Jr., of the Giants, after his emotional duel with Washington corner and rival Josh Norman on Sunday in New Jersey.
“When you’re [retiring at] 89 and they ask you what your plans are, I’m going to try to live! … I’m looking for a much smaller house and a much larger medicine cabinet.”
—Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, at a ceremony honoring him Friday night, days from the last game of his 67-year radio career.
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The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Trevor Siemian, quarterback, Denver. In his first NFL road game as a starter, Siemian beat a perennial playoff team. What a performance for the man who platooned with Kain Colter for two years at Northwestern. Against the Bengals, Siemian was 23 of 35 for 312 yards, with four touchdowns and no picks, for a rating of 132.1. Remember when the wideouts in Denver were sort of quietly grumbling? Well, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas combined for 15 catches, 217 yards and three touchdown catches. Let’s assume the flight back to Denver was a happy one.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Everson Griffen, defensive end, Minnesota. Griffen had three of the Vikings’ eight sacks in a marauding performance at Carolina, bugging Cam Newton from start to finish. The Vikings hit Newton 12 times (according to the official game book), helping lead to three interceptions. Griffen is sometimes forgotten on a defense with so many shining stars, but Mike Zimmer is using him to generate pressure consistently, and he was vital in holding the Panthers to one touchdown on 12 possessions Sunday.
Jamie Collins, linebacker, New England. In what could have been the best game by a defensive player in this young season, Collins had 14 tackles and an interception that showed his great range at an important time of a still-competitive game early in the second quarter against Houston. The play I liked most in the Patriots’ 27-0 win—other than the athletic pick—was this one. Last gasp for Brock Osweiler, first play of the fourth quarter, Houston down 20-0, third-and-four at the Pats’ 36, Osweiler dumps off a pass to running back Jonathan Grimes and Collins slams him down; no gain. Good thing the Patriots chose to devote major cap room long-term to Collins over Chandler Jones. Collins is better.
Quinton Dunbar, cornerback, Washington. He made a contested catch on a 31-yard fake punt throw from Tress Way, leading to the go-ahead fourth-quarter field goal against the Giants. When New York sliced and diced its way through the Washington defense on the ensuing drive, and Eli Manning stood 15 yards from the go-ahead TD, and threw for tight end Will Tye in the end zone, Dunbar muscled past Tye and picked off the ball a yard deep. Touchback. Perfect instincts on the play from the second-year man from Florida.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tress Way, punter, Washington. Talk about some guts from Washington coach Jay Gruden and from Way … with 18 minutes left and Washington trailing the Giants 24-23, and with a fourth-and-12, Way was asked to execute a fake punt throw deep down the left side. To a cornerback. (Well, there’s some extenuating circumstances there: Quinton Dunbar, a corner now, played receiver at Florida, and caught 111 passes in four seasons. He was moved to corner in Washington last year due to a rash of injuries.) Way’s pass traveled 40 yards in the air, and Dunbar snagged it despite a call of interference on the Giants, and it led to the field goal that gave Washington the lead.
Ryan Allen, punter, New England. Seven punts against Houston. Zero return yards. Dropped, respectively, at the Houston 11-yard-line, 10, 10, 20, 14, 5 and 4. I mean, can a punter have a better game? No wonder the Texans were so feeble Thursday night. They had to travel from Boston to Galveston to score a point.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia. Schwartz kept his lips zipped when he got fired as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator after the 2014 season, when his D ranked fourth in the league, and first in third-down conversion percentage. He didn’t mouth off when Rex Ryan, who installed his defense last year, limped home with the league’s 19th-rated defense, and 23rd-rated on third down. But there’s no denying that Schwartz is one heck of a defensive coach. For a third consecutive week, the defense was dominant in the 34-3 win over Pittsburgh, holding the explosive Steelers to 251 yards and badgering Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon. For the year, Schwartz’s crew is averaging surrendering 9.0 points, 274 yards and one touchdown per game.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Kameron Canaday, long-snapper, Arizona. The same undrafted rookie snapper whose snap was off-line and led to a 47-yard Chandler Catanzaro miss in the final minute of the 23-21 loss to New England in Week 1 had another airmail job Sunday in Buffalo. With the Cards down 23-7 and needing a field goal to make it a two-score game against the Bills, Canaday snapped it over holder Drew Butler’s head, and the Bills’ Aaron Williams scooped it up and ran 53 yards for a touchdown. Two losses, two major errors by the snapper. That’s not something the Cardinals are going to be able to withstand.
Cody Parkey, kicker, Cleveland. A 46-yard field goal, with a perfect snap and clean hold, ought to be pretty easy in today’s NFL. And it should have been for Parkey, in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter at Miami in a 24-24 game. But Parkey’s kick started left and stayed left, finishing eight feet wide. A good boot there, and Cleveland wins before overtime. Of course, the Browns lost.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback, New York Jets. Six interceptions in the 24-3 loss at Kansas City. Nothing else need be written.
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Right Combination of the Week
Dante Scarnecchia, offensive line coach, New England, and his line—Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. In his third game back after Bill Belichick fetched him out of retirement, and working on a short week, the 68-year-old Scarnecchia turned in a great teaching game for his still-developing line. When coaches talk about team play and right combinations of the line, they should show a tape of the New England line, orchestrated by Scarnecchia. The Texans’ trio of pass-rushers—J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus—combined for five sacks, six additional QB hits, and nine pressures in the first two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. On Thursday night, the combo platter of Patriot linemen had zero sacks, zero hits, and three pressures on rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett in New England’s 27-0 victory. That’s called smart obstruction of great rushers, particularly Watt, by Scarnecchia and coordinator Josh McDaniels.
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Stat of the Week
So Albert Breer of The MMQB went to Oregon the other day to talk to Drew Bledsoe, on the 15th anniversary of Bledsoe’s near-fatal internal-bleeding injury against the Jets in 2001, the injury that opened the door for Tom Brady to take the Patriots to their first Super Bowl win just over four months later. It also was the injury that paved Bledsoe’s way out of New England, because this franchise wasn’t big enough for two prime-time quarterbacks.
Fifteen years ago a hard shot knocked Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe out of commission, and in stepped Tom Brady. Here, Bledsoe opens up about how his life was changed that day and how he sees his legacy.
Breer got Bledsoe to talk about his major regret over the injury, and what happened afterward. “The one thing—and I truly don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it—I do bristle at a little bit is I feel there’s too much of me being Wally Pipp,” Bledsoe told Breer. “I am the single-season passing leader for three different organizations when I left … Just last week I was knocked out of the top 10 in passing yards all time.”
Wally Pipp. There’s a name sports fans know. He’s the guy who, injured, took a seat and allowed Lou Gehrig to take over at first base for the Yankees and play 2,130 straight games and become baseball’s Iron Horse. The inference over time in sports history is Pipp was some two-bit place-holder. But that’s just not right. Back in the dead-ball era of baseball, Pipp twice led the American League in home runs. And:
• Pipp had 1,941 hits in a 14-year career, 307th all time … more hits than Andruw Jones, Tony Oliva and Bobby Bonds.
• He had 1,004 RBIs, 279th all-time … more than Daryl Strawberry, Justin Morneau and Chris Chambliss.
• He scored 974 runs, 356th all time … more than Bobby Murcer, Jackie Robinson and Jorge Posada.
In praise of Drew Bledsoe:
• Yards. His 44,611 yards exceeds Dan Fouts, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas.
• Touchdown passes. His 251 TD throws beats out Jim Kelly, Steve Young and Terry Bradshaw.
• Passing yards per game. His average of 230.0 is 10 yards more than John Elway.
And the comparison with Tom Brady is compelling:
• Each man has averaged 34.6 pass attempts per game.
• Bledsoe played 124 games for New England, and set the franchise record for passing yards with 29,657. And it was in Brady’s 124th game for the Patriots that he broke Bledsoe’s yardage record.
Two morals of the story: Bledsoe was really good. Wally Pipp was pretty good too. Neither should be thought of negatively.
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Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Trevor Siemian, the quarterback Denver kept, has a passer rating of 95.9 after three games, and the Broncos are 3-0. Brock Osweiler, the quarterback Denver let walk to Houston, has a passer rating of 72.2, and the Texans are 2-1.
Osweiler’s 2016 income: $21,000,000.
Siemian’s 2016 income: $525,000.
Dan Shaughnessy’s Head Could Explode Dept.:
Interesting nugget pointed out by Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe: If the Red Sox are the No. 2 seed in the American League playoffs and Cleveland the No. 3 seed, this would be an interesting scheduling quirk:
• Oct. 9, 1 p.m. ET: New England at Cleveland. Tom Brady returns from his four-game suspension in the most-anticipated game of the football weekend.
• Oct. 9, likely 4:10 or 8:10 p.m.: Boston at Cleveland. Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
I’d guess MLB would make the baseball game, under these circumstances, the night game. If so, the scribes could finish their football columns by 7:15, not at all unreasonable, and walk the 23 minutes from the football stadium to Progressive Field, and get there in plenty of time for the first pitch. Fans could double-dip too, of course.
Amount of time Vin Scully was silent, in his time-honored way, to allow the moment to be appreciated by the screaming masses when shortstop Corey Seager hit a game-tying, two-out home run in the bottom of the ninth inning in Scully’s final broadcast at Dodger Stadium on Sunday:
(H/T to The MMQB’s resident Dodgerphile, Dom Bonvissuto.)
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On Your Night Table
Writer’s Note: I like to read. This is the section—formerly Book of the Week—in which I ask a football person for a book recommendation.
Legacy: What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. By James Kerr.
Recommended by Falcons coach Dan Quinn
I went fishing for books from coaches and players and front-office people over the past couple of months, and Dan Quinn enthusiastically recommended this. He gave me a copy of the 193-page inspiration tome about the legendary New Zealand rugby team, more than a century old, and he inscribed it thusly:
Read this book in the off-season. Gave copies to staff and a few players. Leaders create leaders.
Quinn gave me access to a training camp lesson plan, in which he emphasized how important it was for the All Blacks—and the 2016 Falcons—to make their own history. He told his players to embrace transferring “leadership and therefore responsibility from the coaches to the players.” One interesting point was that the All Blacks give each new man upon making the team a black leather book, followed by the history, the standards, the ethos of the team. The final pages of the book are left blank—as Kerr wrote: “Waiting to be filled. It’s time to leave a legacy. Your legacy. It’s your time.” The final five pages of the book Quinn gave to his coaches and select players are left blank. It’s their time.
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Tweets of the Week
This is just kinda sad … pic.twitter.com/a3xl77pJ1f
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) September 25, 2016
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 24, 2016
— Brandon Marshall (@BMarshh54) September 25, 2016
Jose Fernandez was not just one of baseball’s greatest young pitchers, but one of the next faces of baseball with his charisma. RIP.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) September 25, 2016
* * *
From The MMQB Podcast With Peter King, available wherever you download podcasts.
This week’s guest was itinerant Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who made an admission of mental illness in 2011 and was treated for it. Here, he addresses who he’d like to go back and apologize to for his often boorish behavior early in his career:
“I think about this all the time. There’s probably a list of 100 guys and woman, people in the [Denver] organization … But there’s one guy that always stands out, when I always think about this, and it’s Brian Dawkins. Brian Dawkins was at the end of his career, and we had a great team, and I didn’t do my part to help him reach that Super Bowl and get that ring. Josh McDaniels’ first year, and I never understood, after our sixth win in a row, we’re 6-0, I think we beat the Dallas Cowboys, Josh McDaniels says, ‘Hey, Victory Monday! I’m giving you guys Monday off!’ And Brian Dawkins was like, ‘NOOOOOO! Let’s keep it rolling!” And I’m young, I don’t understand the sacrifice that it took, and it takes, to be a Super Bowl champion, and to be successful. I want my Monday off! I want to go party! I don’t want to come in. I don’t want to work. I’m looking at this guy [Dawkins], like, ‘You’re a bad teammate!’ We went off … The reason I always think about him is now I’m in the same position, and I look at the [young] guys, and I don’t have but so much left in me, and I really want this—for so many different people and for different reasons. And I see guys don’t really understand how significant this moment is, and it’s only a moment, and it goes by like that. (Snaps his finger.) He was at the end of his career, and I was a jerk. I came in, I didn’t get in my playbook, I was mad at Josh McDaniels … I was just in a bad place, and I let him down. I let him down.”
“What would you say to Brian Dawkins right now?” I asked.
“Man, I’ll say it right now. I stay in contact with Brian, but I haven’t said this. I was actually thinking about writing a letter to him. I was actually thinking about writing a letter to those 100 people we talked about, and apologizing. The city of Denver, the city of Miami. I’m sorry, man. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it. Wow. Just so immature, and blind. I didn’t understand how interconnected we all are.”
* * *
Writer’s Note: A new section in MMQB, where I’ll share a picture or image with a good story behind it.
I took this one in the parking lot at Lincoln Financial Field before Sunday’s games, next to one tailgating crew of Eagles fans. “I call it the ‘Urinator,’” one of the guys said. I must not be in many tailgates, because this is the first one of these truly porta-potties that I’ve ever seen. You can just attach the sides for privacy, and you’re got your very own traveling outhouse.
In Philadelphia tailgates, it seems fairly wise to have this device. A Carson Wentz spiral away from this Urinator sat three conventional portable toilets around 1:40 Sunday afternoon. The shortest line: six people.
* * *
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my 10 notable people for Week 3:
a. Donald Trump. Want to know why the ratings for NFL games are down, on average, about 6 percentage points? A few reasons, but foremost is this: This presidential election is drawing eyeballs away from the NFL on Thursday and Monday nights. We’re always told the NFL is king. But tonight, when Trump and Hillary Clinton face off on Long Island in the first of three presidential debates, it’s expected The Trump Factor—either for car-crash effect or Make American Great sake—will help the debate obliterate Falcons-Saints. TV experts think the ratings of the debate could be eight times higher than the football game. In a year when CNN ratings are up 90 percent and MSNBC up 79 percent, some ratings have to go down.
b. Sammy Watkins just isn’t right. He’s got a significant foot injury, and it’s likely he won’t be the player the Bills traded two first-round picks and a fourth-rounder for until at least next year. You can’t ask a speed player to be an impact player if his foot’s not right. And this isn’t just a one-week or two-week injury; it could take the season to heal.
c. Jacoby Brissett won a game no one expected him to win, 27-0 over Houston, and he exited with a right thumb injury. Did you see the in-house video of Brissett from the post-game locker room Thursday night? High fives, hearty handshakes … nothing showing he was favoring the thumb. I don’t expect the Patriots are too nervous, particularly with a teeth-gritting Jimmy Garoppolo hoping to harness up to play one last game before the Week 5 return of Tom Brady.
d. Ton of really good kickers in the NFL right now, but Justin Tucker of the Ravens is as clutch as any. Baltimore trailed Jacksonville 17-16 with 67 seconds left Sunday, and Tucker drilled a 54-yarder that went straight down the middle and hit halfway up the net. Seriously: That thing would have been good from 65.
e. This seems like a pretty good sign: On a humid 88-degree afternoon in Jacksonville, old man Raven Terrell Suggs, coming off his second rehab for a torn Achilles, sacked Blake Bortles twice in the last 12 minutes of the game. Ravens are 3-0, unexpectedly, and though it hasn’t been pretty, they enter October with a two-game lead on the Bengals. We didn’t see that coming.
f. John Harbaugh, 90 wins with 13 games (or more) of his ninth year left. What a decision the Ravens made to take a chance on a special teams-turned-DB coach from the Eagles.
g. Whatever the reason, the Bills showed up for new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, and Lynn called LeSean McCoy’s name 17 times (for 110 yards), and the Bills ran 32 times in all for 208 yards. That’s more of the offense Rex Ryan wants, which Lynn knows. The players like playing for Lynn.
h. So the early view on Russell Wilson is that he wants to play against the Jets in New Jersey next Sunday, then rest and rehab his sprained right ankle and strained left knee (if that’s all it is, which will be discovered with finality today) over the Seattle bye week. Teams usually hate having the bye this early, but an early October week off couldn’t come at a better time for Seattle than Week 5.
i. The Cardinals are not in big trouble, but losing at Buffalo and falling to 1-2, with an offense sputtering too much for the talent they have, should make for nervous times this week in Tempe. Carson Palmer has 10 interceptions in his past five games, which, of course, is not sustainable if the Cardianls want to be Super Bowl contenders.
j. The MMQB/SI Takeover cover guy, Khalil Mack, has opened the season with three sackless games. Not that I believe in the SI cover jinx. Just saying. Mostly, teams are running and game-planning away from Mack.
2. I think the Jets-Chiefs game, analytically, has to be one of the strangest games in recent history. Eight of New York’s 11 drives ended in a turnover; I mean, has there ever been a game with an 8-to-1 turnover margin in the NFL? Crazy thing is, Ryan Fitzpatrick was never sacked and he threw six picks. “Sh—- game plan, sh—- execution, sh—- all around,” summed up Jets coach Todd Bowles. Boy, that must have been a fun flight back to New Jersey last night.
3. I think Mike McCarthy’s dream game plan likely is very close to Sunday’s 34-27 win over Detroit: 24 runs, 24 passes, four touchdown passes, no interceptions, Aaron Rodgers in commend in a huge first half, Jordy Nelson a factor again. Not perfect, but a B-plus game for an offense that desperately needed it.
4. I think Darren Sproles is the most underrated offensive weapon in football.
5. I think I don’t know whether Dak Prescott, rookie version, is a better option for the Cowboys a month from now than Tony Romo, rehab version. But I do know Prescott hasn’t done enough yet to wrest the job from Romo full-time. And we won’t know next week (at Niners) either. We won’t know till Prescott meets the Bengals and Packers in Weeks 5 and 6 before the bye.
6. I think Rick Spielman is the executive of the month … unless, like me, you give John Elway credit for passing on paying Brock Osweiler $72 million so Denver could play Trevor Siemian. But for the Vikings to be 3-0 with all the adversity they’ve had in the past month is amazing.
7. I think the continuing brainlock of some return men stuns me. I wrote last week about returners now being assured of the ball on the 25-yard line by virtue of the NFL’s new rule to put touchbacks on the 25 instead of the 20. The league was littered in the first two weeks with returners who took balls out that landed well into the end zone. And Sunday, with the Lions down by 17 point midway through the third quarter, Detroit returner Andre Roberts—a six-year veteran and former Larry Fitzgerald protégé who should know better—took the ball seven yards deep and chose to come out. Keep in mind Roberts would have had to return the ball 33 yards to the Detroit 26-yard line to make this worth the risk. Nope. He returned it to the 18. Cost his team seven yards.
8. I think that David Bruton interception in the end zone, when the Washington safety stole the ball from Giants back Bobby Rainey, sure looked like an interception to me. Replay saw it otherwise. I don’t buy it.
9. I think I speak for all Rams fans when I ask: Case Keenum, what were you thinking on the worst interception of the weekend? And where oh where is Jared Goff? Or even Sean Mannion?
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Stunning, horrible news out of Miami, the death of Jose Fernandez in a boating accident. What a talent, lost so young at 24. What a future Fernandez had. Think of this: The great Pedro Martinez had a career ERA of 2.93 and averaged 1.12 strikeouts per inning in his Hall of Fame career. After 76 starts, Fernandez had a 2.58 ERA and an astounding 1.25 K’s per inning.
b. That is just awful news for Fernandez’s family, for the fans of the Marlins, for his teammates, and for anyone who loves baseball.
c. When Fernandez escaped from Cuba, he was in a boat with multiple people and heard that someone had fallen into the sea. Fernandez jumped in and got the person in his arms, and was stunned to find out it was his mother, Maritz, according to the Miami Herald. Fernandez prevented his mother from dying. “I dove to help a person thinking nothing of who that person was,” Fernandez told the Herald. “Imagine when I realized it was my own mother. If that does not leave a mark on you for the rest of your life, I don’t know what will.” Chilling.
d. Tweeted former teammate Dan Haren: “Jose Fernandez was one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever played with. He loved life, he loved baseball. He will be missed dearly.”
e. What a talent. Think of this: Joey Votto, David Wright, Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton and Ian Desmond, combined, were two of 60 against Fernandez, with 32 strikeouts. Peter Gammons said Sunday that Fernandez was the best pitcher in the game.
f. In 29 starts this year, Fernandez struck out 14 batters in a game three times, 13 batters twice, 12 batters twice, 11 batters twice.
g. Eduardo Perez was so emotional and so eloquent about Fernandez on ESPN Sunday morning. He and Fernandez were friends. He told a story about a young Fernandez before his big-league career started, standing behind a fence watching Marlins ace Josh Johnson pitch a spring-training game. Perez said he asked Fernandez why. “I want to see the best, because I want to be the best,” Fernandez told him.
h. My father loved two athletes: Ted Williams and Arnold Palmer. He loved the class of Palmer so much, and he thought he was the most clutch athlete alive, and he could sit there and watch golf on our small black-and-white TV all afternoon, just to see Arnie and Arnie’s Army. Amazing that an athlete my dad (who died in 1986) really liked lived another 30-plus years and was such a presence on the American scene in all ways. RIP, Arnie.
i. Canine Story of the Week: Seattle writer Jim Moore on the death of his dog, along with a video of Willie the golden retriever eating an ice cream cone.
j. Congrats to the host of “Fresh Air,” on NPR, Terry Gross, for being awarded the National Medal of Arts and Humanities by Barack Obama the other day. I love her thoughtful interview style.
k. Celebrated Bruce Springsteen’s 67th birthday Friday by binge-listening to “Jungleland” and writing early stuff for this column. Good times.
l. Pretty good Saturday for college football on Tobacco Road. Two 3:30 p.m. ET starts, two upsets, 73 points scored in each … and 35, 36, 37, 38 points scored by the four teams. Duke 38, Notre Dame 35; North Carolina 37, Pitt 36. What a day.
m. I know the people in Eugene must be in mourning over losing to Colorado, but after so many lean years for Colorado football, this is a great moment for a once-proud football program. Good for the Buffaloes.
n. Coffeenerdness: Nice French Roast drip coffee at Wawa stores in south Jersey. Had two cups in the past week traveling through the area. Some of these stores don’t take dark roast seriously; they basically have a slew of coffee-flavored hot waters. Good job, Wawa.
o. Beernerdness: I’m not saying it matches Allagash White, but I had a wonderful witbier in Baltimore the other day: Optimal Wit of Port City Brewing Co. (Alexandria, Va.). Man, so many great regional breweries in the country now. Impossible to experience all of them. Glad I got to sample a Port City beer.
p. News flash: New York Times editorial board endorses Hillary Clinton for president. There’s a Dewey-beats-Truman stunner right there.
q. So my wife and I got a dog on Saturday, almost three years after the death of our second golden retriever, Bailey. Now we have a third, 11-month-old Charlie, a rescue from West Virginia by way of Maryland that we were lucky enough to find through a wonderful group, Love on a Leash Dog Rescue. He’s a good boy. Very much a puppy. We think he’s either a pure golden retriever or mostly one. And it’ll be interesting to see how a country dog can adjust to city life in Manhattan. Wish us luck.
* * *
Who I Like Tonight
New Orleans 23, Atlanta 3. A deafening roar goes up from the Superdome, welcoming the heroes back to town, and adopted New Orleans son Steve Gleason bursts in to block a punt, and the ball is recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, and hearts are warmed from Shreveport down to Lake Charles and over to Cut Off, and …
Louisiana can dream, can’t it?
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Gone way too soon. So bummed for
what never will be.
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