The MMQB’s Peter King takes a look at the struggles of Green Bay Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers.
As many of you are reading this, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having arthroscopic surgery on a partially torn meniscus in his left knee, as first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The bad news: Roethlisberger, 34, will miss the clash of the titans late Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field when Tom Brady and the Patriots come to town; Landry Jones will start for the Steelers. The good news: With a Week 8 bye, the Steelers have one game in the next 20 days. You’d have to think Roethlisberger would miss at least New England and Nov. 6 at Baltimore, but we’ll see. I’m told Roethlisberger won’t know the timetable for his return till after the surgery determines the extent of the damage—but it’s not believed to entail a long rehab.
So that news late Sunday night changed the dynamic of a weird Week 6, with these storylines leading the way:
1. Carolina (1-5) is in tatters with a sieve of a secondary, apace to surrender 35 touchdown passes. After losing to New Orleans, the Panthers enter the bye week thinking the best chance for a playoff berth is a 9-1 finish. At least.
2. Dak Prescott cemented his grip on the starting quarterback job in Dallas with his fifth straight win, and even if Tony Romo’s broken back bone is healed Oct. 30 off the Dallas bye, it’ll be a shock if Prescott gets yanked. This win was special. Prescott, NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas defense dominated the shrinking Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. For the second straight week Dallas beat a consistent playoff team by two touchdowns—Cincinnati last week, Green Bay now.
3. Oh, and Ezekiel Elliott, after his fourth straight game with more than 130 yards rushing, has a 116-yard lead in the rushing race.
4. Atlanta got jobbed by an uncalled pass interference on Seattle’s Richard Sherman and lost at Seattle 26-24. But the highest-scoring team in football is still 1.5 games up on a bad division—and the Falcons have just four road games left.
5. Colin Kaepernick started his first game in 50 weeks in Buffalo, knelt again during the anthem, got booed a lot, and, in other news, completed 45 percent of his throws in an actual football game. Bills by 29.
6. The play of the day: A backward pass by Kansas City’s Alex Smith to Dontari Poe, and a three-yard rumble for a touchdown that registered on the Richter Scale.
7. Remember when the AFC North was good? Its denizens went 0-4 on Sunday, and powers Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati are 9-9. Baltimore’s lost three straight, Cincinnati two and Pittsburgh one. In the last 52 weeks, the Browns are 1-16. Winning pitcher in that 24-10 win over San Francisco? Johnny Manziel.
8. Aaron Rodgers is in trouble. The Green Bay offense was booed off the field in the third quarter in the loss to Dallas, and Rodgers continued his pattern of poor throws to open receivers at key times, including a gimme touchdown to Randall Cobb that he sailed over Cobb’s head in the end zone.
Up first: The Prescott story. The man’s played so well that it’s not even going to be a controversy when (unlikely to be “if” now) the Dallas brass tells Tony Romo: Take your time coming back.
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The Dallas Dilemma
There was a moment in Green Bay on Sunday, late in the first quarter, that encapsulates just why the Cowboys believe they are not going to be able to take Prescott out of the lineup. Ironically, it came on the play when Prescott broke Tom Brady’s record for most passes thrown at the start of a career (162) without throwing an interception, and Brady’s the guy whose situation most compares to Prescott’s—established quarterback gets hurt, young guy comes in and plays great, established guy can’t get his job back.
On this play, from the Green Bay 36, Prescott did three things that were uncharacteristic of the way he’d learned to play football at Mississippi State. “This is what Dak Prescott did not do in college,” Troy Aikman said on FOX, narrating the replay. “He did not take the ball from under center. He didn’t run play-action. And he didn’t drop back. But on this play, as he works up into the pocket, he’s not watching the pass rush, he’s just managing the pocket—as you should. As a quarterback, he does it outstanding.”
So what happened is Prescott took the snap and took his drop, play-action-faking to Alfred Morris on his way back. Then he got flushed back, nimbly avoiding Julius Peppers, then flushed left, bracing for a hit from 322-pound tackle Letroy Guion. Skipping left, Prescott threw the ball about 21 yards in the air to his crosser, Terence Williams, who caught it just shy of the left sideline before getting hit out of bounds. Gain of 15.
“Troy’s right,” Prescott said afterward, after getting walked through the play, and through Aikman’s analysis. “I never took the ball from under center. I did pretty simple stuff out of the gun. Never did a seven-step drop. I just credit the work I put in, every day. The things I didn’t do in college is what [offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan has done with me every day. Just getting coached, working to be better at this level. But that play, that completion, felt good, really good. That’s a good example what I wasn’t asked to do in college, and I’ve taken this coaching and brought it into my game.”
Prescott understands the game he’s playing is different. But it’s not like learning Russian. It’s more like learning a dialect of English. “It’s still football,” he said. “It’s just football. Being here, it doesn’t feel that much different to me. It’s the highest level of football, obviously. And winning here today, beating the Packers at historic Lambeau Field, is fun. Really fun. But I prepare the same way I’ve always prepared. I played some big games in college, at some intense venues, throughout the SEC. I don’t let what people say be a distraction. I don’t let the place be a distraction. Today, in a place I’d always seen on TV, felt like a big college game to me.”
There was a cool story about Prescott this week by Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, who described a Thursday night in Dallas before Week 3. Kanye West was playing in town, and Prescott had tickets. But he decided not to go. He knew he’d get home after midnight and just didn’t want to interrupt the routine he’d made for himself.
“I thought that showed the importance of taking the job seriously,” he said. “I love the game. I love to prepare. I study my butt off, and I have to, because these guys are so good.”
I’m sure a 30-16 win over the Packers at Lambeau made Dallas brass and coaching staff feel a lot better about keeping Prescott in the lineup and using Romo as the league’s best insurance policy if Prescott slumps or is hurt. Seven weeks ago, COO Stephen Jones told me it was a remote possibility that Prescott would play so well it’d be hard for Romo to get his job back—similar to the Brady/Drew Bledsoe situation in Foxboro in 2001. “I can’t imagine a scenario where Tony’s not our quarterback when he’s ready,” Jones said in late August. “But things happen. You know what happened to Bledsoe and Brady. I’m sure Tony’s aware of that.”
It’s eerily similar, actually—except that Brady played nearly an entire season before Bledsoe was healthy enough to play. Comparing the first six starts of Brady, in relief of Bledsoe, and Prescott, relieving Romo, shows how hard it will be for Dallas to yank a healthy Prescott.
Romo, who broke a bone in his back in an Aug. 25 preseason game, got a positive report from the doctor last week, and there’s a chance he could be ready to play when the Cowboys come off their bye Oct. 30 against the Eagles. But the last great Cowboy quarterback wouldn’t be rushing to get Romo back. “I don’t think you can disrupt the momentum you have,” Aikman said on the game broadcast. “These are runs that don’t come around very often.” Dallas has won five straight.
“It’s not up to me,” said Prescott. “I just do what the coaches tell me. I want to be great, and to be great you have to just play each play, be in the moment.”
This is his moment. Whether he was the 135th pick in the draft as irrelevant now as the fact that Brady was the 199th. When you evade Julius Peppers all day and don’t get light-headed on the Aaron Rodgers fumes and you win at Lambeau by two touchdowns, it’s your moment. That’s why when the Eagles come to Texas in 13 days, Dak Prescott is the likely starting pitcher. Very likely.
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Two Sunday storylines
• The Seahawks, laid bare, somehow won Sunday. You all saw it: Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, after a lapse in coverage allowed Atlanta to score on a long touchdown pass, had to be separated from safety Kam Chancellor on the sideline. A few minutes later, a group of 10 or so teammates hopped up and down around Sherman, as if to say, Forget it. We’re a family. It’s all good. And the Seahawks, after blowing a 17-3 lead and falling behind 24-17, roared back to win 26-24—helped by a call that wasn’t made on Sherman, who appeared to interfere with Julio Jones on the Falcons’ last offensive play.
“The best way I can describe it,” said Earl Thomas after the game, over the phone from Seattle, “is we stayed strong. We survived. So much adversity. When you’re dealing with us, you’re dealing with a whole lot of alpha males. We understand Sherm. He’s a guy that’s passionate about football. On the sidelines, he was just pissed off. Us getting around him, that was just us being a family.”
Thomas called the interference non-call “ticky-tack,” but it looked like Sherman grabbing Jones’ arm and preventing him from reaching up to catch Matt Ryan’s pass. Whatever, this was a tremendous football game, the kind of game that might call for a January rematch. “My heart was racing lots of times out there,” said Thomas. “We really might see them again. They are really good. They brought out the best in us today.”
• What a play design, Andy Reid. There were several cool and different play calls Sunday; I write about one of them in my coach of the week award below. But how about the one in the Chiefs’ 26-10 win at Oakland, with the darnedest bunch formation and play call I’ve seen all season? Early in the third quarter on a miserable day in Oakland, Kansas City drove to the Oakland one-yard line, and Reid sent in a “diamond” bunch formation to the right: one man in front, on the line, two behind him to either side, and then a monster back behind them. The lead of the diamond was backup guard Zach Fulton (316 pounds), and behind him were fullback Anthony Sherman on the right at 242 pounds, and tight end Demetrius Harris to the left at 230. Poe, at 346, was the single back behind them.
It was called “Hungry Pig Right,” according to Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star.
At the snap of the ball, Alex Smith fired a backward pass to Poe. Poe caught it at the three-yard line. And that’s when the 1,134 pounds of Hungry Pig surged forward. “It’s a simple pass,” Poe said. “They block. I catch. I lean forward. They clear the way.”
Pretty entertaining. No one from the Raiders pierced the armor. Touchdown.
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R.I.P. Dennis Byrd
It’s hard to stop thinking about Dennis Byrd. On Saturday, with his son in his car, the 50-year-old former Jets’ defensive lineman was killed when he was struck head-on by another car on a highway in Oklahoma. Twenty-four years ago, Byrd, one of the best interior linemen in football, was left paralyzed after colliding with a teammate in a game against Kansas City. To understand why I couldn’t stop thinking about Byrd all day Sunday, understand that after he was injured in November 1992, SI assigned me to write a story about Byrd and the outpouring of love and affection for a fairly nondescript (but very good) player. This is some of what I found:
“When the Helen Keller Services for the Blind took a group of physically impaired adults to visit the Jet training camp last summer, a few of the players were uncomfortable with the visitors, some of whom had little control over their bodies. But after practice Byrd waded into the group and found a blind woman who was sitting on the grass because she had no use of her legs. Byrd sat beside her, took her hand and explained who he was, what position he played and what his job was like. When she touched his helmet and seemed interested in it, Byrd put it on her head. She screamed, out of happiness. She threw her arms around Byrd, and he threw his arms around her, and the people who saw it say their hug lasted for five minutes.
“Last summer, Byrd reported late to a defensive team film session because he wouldn’t leave the field until he had fulfilled every request for his autograph, which took 45 minutes. ‘The day I don’t have time to sign an autograph for a kid,’ he said, ‘is the day I get out of football.’”
So when his jersey had to be cut off him that day in 1992, and when he went through through weeks of rehab (“Day after day, just staring at his toe, trying to move it,” good friend Jeff Lageman recalled Sunday), his battle became New York’s battle, and the area never forgot him. In 2010, when the Jets were prepping the face the Patriots—who’d beaten them 45-3 weeks earlier, Byrd sent that cut jersey to coach Rex Ryan, hoping it would inspire the team. Ryan invited him to the hotel the night before the game and captivated players he didn’t know. “The room was dead silent,” said then-GM Mike Tannenbaum on Sunday. “The message was, ‘When an opportunity is given, you never know if it’s the last one you’ll ever have.’”
But Byrd was distancing himself from teammates then, and from his family. He used to take annual hunting trips with Lageman to the Navajo Nation out west, and inexplicably, they just stopped. His roommate with the Jets, Marvin Washington, told me Sunday: “I believe Dennis was suffering from CTE. He was struggling.” Washington is hoping his family will allow his brain to be examined for evidence of CTE, the brain disease many troubled former football players have been found to have after death.
Washington, a black man from Dallas, and Byrd, a white man from rural Oklahoma, became very close after the Jets drafted them four rounds apart in 1989. Washington told me that before they’d go to sleep the night before games, the routine was the same.
“I love you, Marvin,” Byrd would say.
“I love you, Dennis,’’ Washington would say.
“Dennis was such a good man,” Washington said. “And he was a great football player. I played with some great three-techniques [disruptive rush tackles] … Bryant Young, Trevor Pryce. I put Dennis right up there with both of them.”
Lageman was so broken up he couldn’t talk Saturday. On Sunday he said: “That 17-year-old kid who was the driver of the other car, Dennis would feel for him. I can guarantee you Dennis would forgive him. He’d say, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.’”
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Quotes of the Week
“Well, our relationship is growing. I thought we might as well make it serious. I proposed and she said yes. Me and the net are going to get married sometime soon. Hopefully it all works out. I’m 23, so I don’t know much about marriage. She seems like a pretty nice gal.”
—Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who appeared to propose to the kicking net on the Giants’ sideline after scoring the winning touchdown pass against Baltimore. You may recall Beckham punched out the net in a recent Giants’ loss.
“This feeling is gross. It’s like we pissed down our own leg.”
—Indianapolis linebacker Erik Walden, after the Colts blew a late lead and lost to Houston in overtime.
“Teddy Williams with the interception … Teddy Williams, making it a ballgame.”
—NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson, after Carolina corner Teddy Williams intercepted Drew Brees in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
I got it, Scott. Maybe I was one of 74 people from sea to shining sea who got the Teddy Ballgame reference, but at least now you know it didn’t fall on deaf ears.
“I don’t go out on weekends. After games, I’ll literally sit in my apartment and watch football. I have it instilled in me from my brothers, J.J. especially, minimal gains and marginal gains, you can be 1 percent better. I honestly believe that if I stay in, there’s probably a player from Michigan State or Ohio State going out drinking beer, and I have to be getting better than him.”
—Wisconsin pass-rusher T.J. Watt, brother of J.J., who entered the weekend as the Big Ten leader in sacks, to Emily Kaplan of The MMQB.
“That woman was out cold, and now she’s coming back. See, we don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussions — ‘Uh oh, got a little ding on the head? No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season’ — our people are tough.”
—Neanderthal Donald Trump, at a rally in Florida the other night, after a woman who fell ill at the rally came back to attend it.
“Sometimes he got the better of me and sometimes I got the better of him. I felt like it was always an epic battle when he stepped in the batters box. Congratulations my friend on such an amazing career! You will be missed by all but I will mostly miss our exchanges where it mattered most … between the chalk lines.”
—Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, on David Ortiz, who retired last week after the Red sox lost to Cleveland in the playoffs.
In 42 plate appearances against Verlander, Ortiz had five singles, five doubles, two home runs, five walks, four RBI—and 11 strikeouts. He batted .324 with a .405 on-base percentage.
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The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants. In a brilliant rebuke of all those who have ever questioned him—including, I assume, his third-grade gym teacher—Beckham had a Julio Jones-type game in the Giants’ four-point win over Baltimore. He had 204 yards in the second half, 222 for the game, and won it with a 75-yard catch-and-run of an Eli Manning pass late in the fourth quarter. Then he fell in love with the kicking net, all over again.
LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo. The man is on fire, and he’s doing it in a very neat and mathematically easy fashion. In the four games since offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has taken the reins from Greg Roman, McCoy has rushed for 110, 70, 150 and, on Sunday against the Niners, 140 yards. He added three touchdowns Sunday. That means, in four games, McCoy’s produced 117.5 yards per game, 6.44 yards per carry, and five touchdowns. I’d guess he likes the play-calling of Lynn. And his offensive line. “They whipped the 49ers up and down the field,” McCoy said.
Jay Ajayi, running back, Miami. No Lamar Miller? No problem. Ajayi, in rushing 25 times for a career-high 204 yards against a legit Super Bowl contender in Pittsburgh, got the insurance touchdown late with a 62-yard gallop.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Jatavis Brown, linebacker, San Diego. The 175th pick in last spring’s draft was the best defensive player on the field in the Chargers’ 21-13 win over Denver. The 5-11, 222-pound linebacker from Akron had a game-high 14 tackles and one sack, and he made the most significant play of the game. With 3:35 left and the Chargers up 21-10 and the Broncos driving, Siemian completed a pass to Demaryius Thomas to the Charger 27—and Brown promptly stripped Thomas. San Diego recovered and hung on to win 21-13.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Wendell Smallwood, running back/kick returner, Philadelphia. Thanks to the dumb excessive celebration penalty on Washington’s Vernon Davis (dumb because a player shooting a free throw with a football should not be flagged, ever) on the previous play, Smallwood took the ensuing kickoff at the Eagles’ 14-yard line and weaved/sprinted 86 yards for the first kickoff returned for a touchdown in the NFL this season.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Sean Peyton, head coach, New Orleans. In the Saints’ 41-38 win over Carolina—I didn’t see that coming—Payton showed again he’s one brilliant play designer. Though Payton has surrendered most play-calling to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, he’s still the man behind the curtain when it comes to play design and guts. And this one, to me, took guts to call. The situation: first quarter, fourth-and-one at the Carolina 2-yard line. Payton lines up fullback John Kuhn as the up-back, slight left and in front of Mark Ingram, in a power-left formation, with tight end Coby Fleener lined up to the left of the formation. At the snap, Fleener stepped back and sprinted right, as though on a jet sweep; Kuhn and Ingram steamed toward the back of the left tackle, as if to begin a power carry behind the left side of the line. For a split second—and I ran this back six times on NFL Game Pass Sunday—you could see Luke Kuechly, the most instinctive linebacker in football for my money, take a jab step to the right, buying the likely Brees handoff to Ingram. But nooooooo. Brees instead handed it to Fleener, who breezed in around right end, Kuechly trailing behind, for an easy touchdown. Now: This is Fleener’s fifth year in the NFL. He did not have a rushing attempt in 2012, 2013, 2014 or 2015. Ditto in 2016. Five years and 64 professional football games: zero rushes. Carolina couldn’t have known this, but in Fleener’s entire four-year, 51-game Stanford career, he never had a rushing attempt. So in nine seasons and 115 games, he never rushed the ball till Sunday in the Superdome. Imagine how Fleener must have felt when his number was called to score in the red zone. But Payton called for the jet sweep to a plodding tight end, and Fleener delivered. Tremendously smart—and, keep in mind, this came against the Panthers, a team the Saints play twice a year. So confusion is necessary.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay. There’s something amiss with Rodgers. Anyone who watches football can see. Case in point: Third quarter Sunday against Dallas, Green Bay has the ball twice, reaches Cowboys territory on both, and Rodgers coughs it up with bad turnovers both times. First he threw an interception behind his man that safety Barry Church picked off; then, at the Dallas one-yard line, late in the quarter, he ran a quarterback draw and had the ball stripped. Dallas led by 14 at the time of the second giveaway by Rodgers, and Dallas won by 14. These are the kinds of games Green Bay has won for years during the Rodgers Era, the slugfests with NFC peers. They’re not going to win many now unless Rodgers raises his game, and fast.
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Stats of the Week
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was never lower than fifth in yards per pass attempt in the NFL in the five seasons between 2010 and 2014. Stat mavens love yards per pass attempt, because it encompasses completion percentage and depth of completion.
Since the start of the 2015 season, Rodgers, at a moribund 6.63 yards per attempt, is 33rd among all NFL passers (minimum 200 pass attempts).
Johnny Manziel (6.73) is better.
The relevant AFC East head-coaching stats this century:
What A Difference A Century Makes Dept.:
One century and one day apart, a fairly amazing thing happened. On Thursday night, the Dodgers played the decisive game of the National League division series, a century and a day after the Dodgers played the decisive game of the 1916 World Series. Turns out the game in 1916 took a grand total of 37 minutes longer to play than one inning lasted Thursday night.
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Right Combination of the Week
Drew Brees, quarterback, and Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, New Orleans. The same way Brees found such comfort with a possession receiver, Marques Colston, over the years is the way he’s building great chemistry with the speedy Cooks, the third-year man from Oregon State. Cooks burned the young secondary of Carolina with an 87-yard rainbow catch-and-run from Brees to give the Saints a 14-0 lead near the end of the first quarter. Cooks is the perfect field-stretcher for Brees, and Brees is the perfect accurate deep thrower for Cooks—the right combination for a new era of Saints’ offense. In the 41-38 win over Carolina, Brees set the NFL record with his 15th game of 400 yards passing. He had 465. Cooks accounted for 173 of that.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Slice of New York Life Dept.:
Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Broadway and 78th, 25-ish woman walking south on a crowded sidewalk, on her cellphone, waaaaay too loud, as people stare:
“WHERE ARE YOU GUYS? I’LL MEET YOU … YEAH … I JUST GOT MY EYEBROWS DONE. TOOK ME LONGER THAN I THOUGHT … NO, EYEBROWS!”
Um, the folks over in Fort Lee can hear you, miss. And they’re all staring at your eyebrows.
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On Your Night Table
The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea, by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
Recommended by Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli
“The Go-Giver is a parable that centers on a business story,” Pioli said, “but it’s more about a way of living. This short, simple book is a great reminder that we all have resources or gifts that we can share to help one another. Some people have time, some have money, others have encouraging words or a platform to be an agent of change. It’s not a new idea. But it is a reminder of one of my core values: ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”
The ambitious man at the center of the book finds that when he puts others first, that’s when he achieves his greatest success.
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Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The Cardinals are in the midst of three straight prime-time games on different nights—Thursday (49ers), Monday (Jets), Sunday (Seahawks).
Surprisingly, the Bengals pulled the Thursday night-Monday night-Sunday night trifecta in Weeks 9, 10 and 11 last year.
Regarding the stories about the paucity of good young quarterbacks in football, here are the ages of the 10 top-rated quarterbacks in football entering Sunday’s play: 31, 28, 31, 34, 34, 23, 25, 23, 28, 27.
Drew Brees, 37, was number 11. Ages of the next 10 highest-rated quarterbacks: 28, 27, 24, 28, 27, 23, 32, 32, 35, 28.
I am not sure about the paucity of good young quarterbacks, is my point.
The NBC color analyst on the Nov. 29, 1992, Jets-Chiefs broadcast, when Dennis Byrd suffered a career-ending neck injury: Bill Parcells.
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Arizona coach Bruce Arians has such an interesting hat that it’s the ESPN promo for tonight’s game against the Jets:
It’s not just a style.
It’s not just Monday night either.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) October 16, 2016
I snapped this photo during training camp, when I recorded my podcast conversation with Arians. He uses the sale of his hats—similar ones here—to help his foundation raise money. But the hat itself—is it just a vanity play for a bald man? “I grew up in the city,” Arians said. “Everybody had a hat. Even when I had hair, I had a hat. It’s kind of a newsboy hat … New Era’s done a great job with it … Proceeds go to the [Arians Family] Foundation, to help abused and neglected children.”
This season, New Era made a houndstooth hat, to honor the first man young Bruce Arians coached under: the late Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who always wore a houndstooth fedora.
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Tweets of the Week
I’ll go back to/update a weird stat I cited Monday: Panthers’ last 56 games (inc playoffs): 13-2 … then 1-8-1 … then 22-2 … then 1-6.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 16, 2016
@lizclarketweet If the NFL ran Springsteen shows, Bruce would be forced to stand still
— joe f (@b1joe) October 16, 2016
This tweet came after the ill-thrown flag for excessive celebration on Vernon Davis for shooting a free-throw over the goal post after a touchdown in Washington.
— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) October 11, 2016
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) October 11, 2016
This tweet came in the seventh inning of the Red Sox’s season-ending (and David Ortiz’s career-ending) playoff loss to Cleveland last week.
I wasn’t trying to do this, but it looks like I caught a service dog watching Josi carry the puck up ice. And over the Pedigree sign too. pic.twitter.com/bic60RGmTC
— Jim Diamond (@diamondhockey) October 15, 2016
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From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
My guests this week: Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and Denver safety T.J. Ward.
• Steve Young, on not liking money after he signed the $40 million contract with the USFL 32 years ago: “I don’t think it’s not liking money. It just hit me like a firestorm in the USFL. The way it was couched when I signed with the USFL—like this is what’s wrong with sports. I remember flying back to Provo [after signing the USFL contract with the Los Angeles Express in 1984] and reading an article by Lee Benson—the famous sportswriter there, and my guy from college—and the headline was, “Steve Young: What’s wrong with sports.” … I can’t handle being known for all this money. That’s why I wanted to give it away. I had to learn and grow and mature and figure out how to not make it the part of my life … I don’t say I hate money, but it was the experience coming out of college that probably most anyone would have.”
• Young, on his relationship with Joe Montana: “It started in awe. I knew that I couldn’t watch. We never had an argument or a cross word. But it was hard, as you can imagine. And I saw years going by me, that were precious years. I was ready to do great things. He said, What is this idiot doing here? This is my town! And I totally respected that … I remember begging Mike Holmgren, who was our offensive coordinator, ‘Mike, I need a couple of throws! I can’t win this job if I can’t have a couple throws!’ Mike’s looking at me like, ‘It’s Joe Montana!’ … Six years and two Super Bowls, and at the end of the day, I always say the beneficiaries were the 49ers. And I’m the beneficiary. I saw someone do things on the field I have never seen … I struggled through every minute of it, but I was on the best platform for my abilities—best owner, best team, best coach, best players … In the end, I would say it worked out magnificently. But in the end, what stories. … We did a commercial together last year. It was titled ‘Awkward.’ He enjoyed it, I enjoyed it.”
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Dr. Z Unsung Guys of the Week
1. Browns DT Danny Shelton. The second-year man is quickly becoming one of the league’s better run defenders. Shelton entered Week 6 leading the league with 23 run stops and added another five against the Titans. His PFF run-defense grade was the highest of the week for any interior defensive lineman.
2. Texans TE C.J. Fiedorowicz. His all-around performance was crucial to the Texans’ OT victory over the Colts. He caught six of his seven targets and Brock Osweiler’s QB rating when targeting Fiedorowicz was a near-perfect 156.8. And his run-blocking grade ranked second in Week 6 among tight ends.
3. Washington OT Trent Williams. Williams’s run-blocking grade was the highest of any tackle in Week 6. Williams also only allowed one hurry on his 41 pass block snaps.
Go here to access PFF’s grades on every NFL player.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my one-sentence truths of Week 6:
a. Good on him for a comeback road win at Chicago, but Blake Bortles needs to learn the definition of “touch pass.”
b. We should hear FOX color analyst Chris Spielman every Sunday on a big game, and I realized this after listening to him describe clearly and cuttingly the deficiency in tackling in the NFL today.
c. On one second, third and fourth effort for a touchdown, Kenny Britt of the Rams showed why he’s been worth the headaches and the extra chances to a receiver-needy franchise in Los Angeles.
d. The biggest indictment of the 2016 NFL Draft could well be that 30 cornerbacks were chosen before the Eagles took the competitive and feisty and NFL-ready Jalen Mills, the 233rd overall choice last spring; he was a pesky blanket in Washington on Sunday.
e. Mike Tomlin is one smart coach, not waiting till crunch time to go for two-point conversions, as he did in the first quarter Sunday at Miami with a Ben Roethlisberger-to-Le’Veon Bell conversion. As I’ve said over and over, if you’ve got a smart quarterback with good judgment and accuracy, you’re going to make more than half of those plays, and you’re going to end up scoring more points over the course of the season.
f. I really underrated Joey Bosa—who is explosive with really good instincts and equal determination—before the draft.
g. Melvin Gordon runs east-west too much.
h. Two very similar offensive lines in terms of keeping the quarterback clean: Seattle 2015, Denver 2016.
i. The missed pass-interference on Julio Jones that should have given Atlanta a first down in Seattle territory down two with 90 seconds left reinforces what I’ve thought for years: Every play, and every infraction, should be eligible for replay-review.
j. In this case, because the play happened inside the final two minutes of a half, the officials would have had to see enough evidence that Richard Sherman had control of Jones’ right arm when the pass was coming down—but I’m pretty sure the officials would have.
2. I think when Coby Fleener retires, he’s going to have to dig out a tape of this weekend’s win over the Panthers as one of the true highlights of his football life. First there was the cool jet sweep TD run on the first carry of his five-year career. Then, late in the third quarter, he bisected the coverage of two huge star linebackers, Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, to catch a touchdown pass from Drew Brees to ice the game. Fleener’s had a slow start to his Saints’ career, particularly for a guy justifying a huge contract, but he was Brees’ most important weapon Sunday.
3. I think this pretty much conveys what the difference is with LeSean McCoy this year, and in the last month. It’s not complicated. His words after rushing for 140 yards Sunday: “I’m just going to be honest with you. You know last year I played okay. I was hurt. Instead of sitting out and not playing I would rather go out there and be 75-80 percent and that’s how I am, that’s how I’ve been. And another thing, it’s the guys up front. I mean, they’re really getting their blocks. They’re hitting every time. That’s a lot of credit to the guys up front and they’re making my job easy just to go one on one with defenders, that’s not that hard, so that’s the reason I think I’m playing like this. And also I’ve been working hard and as a player you read things sometimes. You see things and you know, it drives you. I think that, the hard work and the guys up front. That’s it, simply.”
4. I think it’s easy to get on the officials every week, and I believe they mostly do a good job in a game that continues to move faster every year. But there is no excuse for the excessive-celebration penalty on Washington tight end Vernon Davis. He scored a touchdown, paused in the end zone, and shot a free throw with the football over the goal post. Fifteen yards for that! Just so dumb. NFL senior vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Sunday night that Davis was penalized for using the ball as a prop. Davis, in effect, was flagged for using the football as a basketball. But when you’re spinning the ball on the ground, isn’t that using the ball as a top? Why isn’t that an automatic penalty? It’s just silly.
5. I think there has to be a certain amount of frustration inside the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick seeming as interested in the social-justice aspect of his professional life right now as the football side. I don’t begrudge Kaepernick for being politically active, and I didn’t see his post-game presser. But I read the transcript. He talked with more passion about the movement than about his first start of the year. “I don’t understand what is un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everybody; for the equality that this country says it stands for. To me, I see it as very patriotic and American to uphold the United States to standards that it says it lives by. That is something that needs to be addressed.” I got it. I don’t get why he’s more strident about this—after the game—than he is about the football game. If I’m Chip Kelly, that would bug me.
6. I think the most worrisome thing about the Panthers’ incongruous slide is that a formerly good defense is allowing an insane 29.3 points per game … and Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan are left on the schedule. So the team faces that, knowing it can’t lose more than one more game the rest of the way to have a decent chance at the playoffs.
7. I think Marcus Mariota has grown a lot in my eyes in the past two weeks. Tennessee has to be happy with the football sense—when to run (60 yards on the ground last week, 64 this week) and when to hang in (been sacked twice in the past two weeks)—Mariota has shown. When you’re completing 69.8 percent over two weeks, and winning with a team that was supposed to be last by a lot in the AFC South this year, there’s a lot to like about the future.
8. I think Thursday night was the first night I said, I really like those uniforms, with this color-rush thing—the orange of Denver and deep blue of San Diego.
9. Creo que me gustaría dar las gracias a David Ortiz para demasiados días para contar. Bien hecho, Big Papi. Godspeed.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Column of the Week, from one of the Central Park Five who, despite being proven innocent, does not get that benefit from Donald Trump.
b. Story of the Week, from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on the struggles of Aaron Rodgers.
c. CBS war correspondent Elizabeth Palmer is such a gem. When I watch her reporting life-and-death stories from Aleppo, such as the one with two children killed by a stray mortar attack, I say, “What a role model for all reporters.”
d. I really like NBC’s Richard Engel too. So good at cutting through the crap.
e. Coffeenerdness: Bizarro pet coffee peeve of mine: people who order cold drinks, then put heavy-paper sleeves on them.
f. Beernerdness: there must be something wrong with me. Weather’s starting to turn, and I’m still in a pilsner/white beer frame of mind. I really hope I haven’t lost my IPA taste buds.
g. Has there ever been a major-league postseason in which the most important player was a middle reliever? I bet not. But Cleveland reliever Andrew Miller has faced 28 batters in the playoffs, struck out 17, allowed five baserunners, and allowed none to score.
h. I like my pick of Cleveland over the Cubs in the Series.
i. Clayton Kershaw has been amazing, but never more so than as a fatigued reliever in the clincher at Washington.
j. I’m really glad I’ll be working at the time of the third debate Wednesday. I’ve seen enough.
k. I’m not the biggest Bob Dylan devotee, but I am thrilled to see him win the Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll go down as one of the best poets and songwriters ever—and to some, he was THE best. Of course, if you ever had the misfortune of driving by The MMQB’s training-camp tour van two or three times a summer in the last four years, maybe around 2 a.m., driving from Detroit to Mankato, you might just have heard me warbling/screaming my favorite verse from “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re all drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you’d better take your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.
l. Thanks, Bob Dylan, for allowing all of my employees to see what a sad-sack singer I really am.
* * *
Who I Like Tonight
Arizona 30, New York Jets 20. So it’s been a while since the Cardinals beat the Jets. This is how long ago it was:
• Forty-one years. November of 1975.
• St. Louis Cardinals 37, New York Jets 6.
• A year after Nixon resigned. A year into the Gerald Ford presidency.
• Joe Namath was the losing quarterback. He threw it 21 times and handed it to John Riggins 17 times. Namath would win only two more games for the Jets.
• The game was at Shea Stadium.
• Namath was a dreadful 8 of 21 and threw an interception to St. Louis defensive end Council Rudolph (one of the great names of my football youth) before getting yanked in favor of backup J.J. Jones. I’ve never heard of Jones, who played a total of seven NFL games, completing 28.1 percent of his throws. Jones’ career rating: 9.6.
• The game marked the 22nd victory of Cardinals coach Don Coryell’s 111-win career.
This will be the first game for the Jets in 11-year-old University of Phoenix Stadium, and it’s going to have some good drama, particularly if Darrelle Revis (hamstring) plays. First, there’s the matter of former Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who helped define this chameleon of an Arizona defense with safeties sometimes playing linebacker, returning to the place that enabled him to get the Jets job, and facing one of his mentors—Bruce Arians. Two: the potential last matchup of Revis and fellow Pitt Panther, Larry Fitzgerald. Since cross-conference teams play once every four years, it’s highly unlikely both (or either) will be playing in 2020. It’d be great to see Revis, 31, line up against the ninth-leading receiver of all time, Fitzgerald, 33.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
The first one now will
later be last. For the times
they are a-changin’.
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