There’s a new president (seemingly), the best Steeler start in their 88-season history, a boffo/weird Sunday-nighter, and Patrick Mahomes doing the absurdly kind of dominant things his political mentor, LeBron James, did at 25. But a moment, please, for Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy! host for 36 years, who died of prostate cancer Sunday morning at 80.
I love the show, going back to the days of previous host Art Fleming; I wish my mother, a Jeopardy! addict, had been alive to see me work on the NBC Football Night in America set back around 2006, when the set was in same studio as the original “Jeopardy” show. Such admiration for Trebek. He never erred, never mispronounced. Talk about a man in control of his domain.
What would you say if I told you an NFL coach believes he tuned up for his current job by watching the show?
“Alex Trebek and Jeopardy! trained me to be a football coach,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told me Sunday afternoon.
“When I was a sophomore, junior and senior at Georgetown [in 1986-89], every night after dinner, me and a big group, maybe six guys, would watch the show. Very smart guys. We were speed-readers, very competitive. It was a challenge to see who could blurt the answer out the fastest. You might know the answer, but if you don’t do it very fast, you’d lose. With my friends, if you were a little slow, you’d get steamrolled.
“In football, as a play-caller, you’ve got to be very quick, you’ve got to enunciate the play well when you call it, you can’t make errors. Those are all things Alex was so good at. His command of the show and the contestants was incredible. You need that kind of command when you’re in charge of a team too.”
RIP, Alex Trebek.
On with the show. Five quick observations of the NFL this morning:
• Steelers are survivors. Pittsburgh, 8-0 for the first time in its history, won their last three by 3, 4 and 5, with the loser having a chance each game to win in the 60th minute of the game. “We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. We know everyone’s coming for us,” said Ben Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh 24, Dallas 19. So what’s next? Cincinnati at home, Jacksonville in Duvaaaal, and then, perhaps 10-0, playing the Ravens, their good friends, in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.
• No team’s unbeatable. “Looking at this game, ain’t nobody elite,” Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said after the narrow loss to Pittsburgh. An 8-0 team is certainly elite; it’s just not unbeatable. Nor is any team. In the past week: The Bucs would have lost to the Giants if Daniel Jones hadn’t thrown two awful picks . . . The Steelers survived a trip to 2-7 Dallas when a Cowboy quarterback on his seventh roster in seven years threw incomplete into the end zone . . . Kansas City beat 3-6 Carolina by two when the Panthers missed a 67-yard field goal as time expired . . . In the shocking result of the season, the Saints embarrassed Tom Brady like he’d never been embarrassed Sunday night, and the NFC is in the rubble. It’s been nine weeks and 132 regular-season games of trying to figure out who’s really good and who’s a pretender. We need more time. Since Week 6, five serious contenders—Buffalo, Baltimore, Green Bay, Seattle and Tennessee—are a combined 9-9.
• Tua 34, Kyler 31. Such drama in Miami’s tight win at Arizona. A shame we got shafted out of OT by a lousy Zane Gonzalez missed field goal. Seriously: These guys won’t play again till the autumn of the next presidential election? Insanity. It’s worth studying whether the 17th regular-season game (the NFL is moving to that uneven number per team in 2021) could be used by the league so that budding mega-games like Miami-Arizona can be played more than once every four years. And by the way: Miami’s coming. In the last month they’re 3-0 against the high-falutin’ NFC West and shut out the putrid Jets 24-0.
• Invent new adjectives for Patrick Mahomes. Perhaps “Jordanian.” You may have missed his sidearm throw while sliding Sunday against Carolina. A strike, by the way. Mahomes is 25 years, 53 days old this morning. He has 101 career touchdown passes. Tom Brady and Drew Brees are the top two touchdown passers of all time. At that exact age Mahomes is today, Brees had 29 touchdown passes, Brady 27. Not a bad year so far for the Kansas City lad: 25 touchdowns, one pick. Chiefs are 8-1.
• COVID’s coming. I feel like a wet blanket saying that after such a fun Sunday of games. But the nation has had four straight days of 100,000-plus positive tests, 22 teams don’t have bye weeks left to fit in coronavirus postponements . . . plus there’s the NFL memo I saw the other day, the memo with 15 different players/coaches/top team officials testing positive in one day. Hard to fathom how a campaign with 12 more weekends of football, including playoffs, will avoid seasonus interruptus.
One undefeated team—Pittsburgh. One winless team—Jets.
One one-loss team—Kansas City. One one-win team—Jacksonville.
Otherwise, a whole lot in the middle entering the regular season’s last eight weeks.
A football season teaches you both euphoric truths and bitter ones.
For Tampa Bay, the 38-3 fist to the jaw from New Orleans exposed everything that could short-circuit a dream season ending in a Super Bowl appearance on their home field. Tom Brady, playing his worst football game in more than a decade, was under fire from a rush that encircled and tormented him all night. In 335 regular-season and playoff games, Brady’s 40.4 rating was his third-worst ever, and the beatdown was reminiscent of the 31-0 loss to Buffalo on opening day 2003. His receivers could not save him, not even the energetic Antonio Brown or the redoubtable Mike Evans. The frustrated defense was a step slow—make that two, as the night went on. Did you stay up to see the bizarre last New Orleans touchdown? Tight end Josh Hill, split left, was across from ace linebacker Lavonte David, and just before the ball was snapped, David began clapping his hands and crazily shaking them, looking for some help. It never came, and Hill had the easiest three-yard incut TD catch of his life. Just odd, as the whole night was for Tampa Bay.
Super Bowl? Very back-burner stuff now. The Bucs have a nice 6-3 record, but after surviving with some huge breaks Monday night against the Giants and getting embarrassed Sunday night, well, beating Carolina next week seems Herculean.
“It was a collapse,” said Bucs pass-rusher Shaq Barrett said of this loss. “A total team collapse.”
On the other side, the Saints exited Raymond James Stadium . . . quietly. I talked to Sean Payton as he prepared to leave for the airport post-game and Drew Brees on the bus to the airport, and they knew this was the kind of game, as Payton said, that sometimes just happens in football. That Buffalo win over New England, 31-0, on opening day 2003? On the last Sunday of 2003, New England beat Buffalo 31-0. “You hope you’re on the plus side of those a few times in your career,” Payton said. “We respect them; they’re a good team. But man, this was a good win for us.”
Sometimes, when they win a big road game, the Saints take a couple of celebratory laps around a stadium on the way to the airport. “Let’s just go to the airport,” Payton said to the driver around 12:30 a.m. today, not wanting the team to be too full of itself. “It’s late.”
It’s getting late in the season too. Nine weeks down, eight to go. This is a season with no clear-cut premier NFC team, and the top of the playoff picture is mostly cloudy. But why not the Saints, with their rising defense and an offense that has the most interchangeable parts of any team I’ve seen in my 36 years covering the NFL. It’s crazy, really. New Orleans built a 21-0 lead in the first 20 minutes Sunday night, completing passes to 11 different receivers. In 20 minutes! Maybe odder is the fact that of those 11 players who caught passes, only one was drafted in the top 50 of an NFL draft—Michael Thomas, overall pick 37 in 2016.
Four undrafted free-agents. Three third-round picks. Thomas, a second-rounder. And three unrestricted free-agents. Taysom Hill played running back, quarterback, wide receiver and tight end. He rushed for 54 yards (a team-high) and got a short-yardage first down, passed for 48, and caught one pass for 21. And he played two special teams.
“You kind of put all the pieces together like that,” said Brees, “and it gives the defense a lot to worry about. There’s a lot of ways we can beat you. We’re gonna spread the ball around.”
My favorite formation of the night, on the last play of the first quarter from the Tampa 7-yard line, gave Tampa Bay fits. Look at the pieces:
- Brees in the shotgun, with Latavius Murray as a sidecar.
- Thomas split far left and fullback Michael Burton (!) split far right.
- Tight end Jared Cook in the left slot, and rookie tight end Adam Trautman (third round, University of Dayton) tight to the right of the formation.
During the week, the Saints practiced this play against a man-to-man defense, which they anticipated being used in the Red Zone against this formation. But when Brees looked over the defense, it was zone, not man. Brees wanted to hit Trautman, but would the rookie adjust his route slightly to move linebacker Devin White off of tight coverage? He had no offseason program to learn some of the instinctive stuff Payton needs his receivers to know, like how to push a linebacker out of your route by running it a certain way. “On this play,” Payton said, “Trautman had to climb and get himself in a little different window against the linebacker, but he knew to do that.”
Adam Trautman hauls in the second #Saints TD of the quarter!@DrewBrees has 11 completions to 9 different receivers.
📺: #NOvsTB on NBC
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/6yfKIAre48 pic.twitter.com/sXtIKdSaDE
— NFL (@NFL) November 9, 2020
“Teams game plan so specifically for us,” Brees said. “Sometimes they’ll give us something oddball, like on this play. They just dropped eight into coverage, which we didn’t expect, and just rush three. Pre-snap, I kind of felt like we were getting that look—rush three, drop eight. My eyes were gonna go to Jared Cook, to try to keep the safety over there, so Trout would have so space in the middle. Hopefully, he can just find a little window in the coverage.”
At the snap, Trautman ran toward the goal line, trying to bend the route right so he could get leverage on Devin White, and he followed with a quick cut to the post. Brees threw it high, and in a little traffic, the 6-5 Trautman caught it cleanly. The first two to congratulate him? Thomas and the fullback-playing-wideout, Burton.
If anything, the Saints have gotten bolder about using every skill player on the roster. It’s doubtful Tampa has seen much of fullback-as-wide receiver, but that moment of thinking, the moment of doubt, maybe the moment like Lavonte David clapping his hands wondering where the help is . . . all of that is part of the multiplicity of what Payton does. And what Brees does.
Everyone knows Brees will be working for NBC soon as an football commentator; how soon, he hasn’t said. I get the feeling the Saints believe this year is it for him. When I asked him whether he thinks much about this being his last season, Brees said: “No. I try not to. Just enjoy the moment. Stay in the present. Stay in the moment.”
This is the moment: The Saints, Packers and Seahawks are all 6-2, the best the conference has to offer. But the Rams and Cards could still rise out of the West, and I’ll be surprised if this is the end of Tampa Bay. Too much talent to go down quietly, too much will of Brady. And I think the defense will be better. For now, though, Payton and Brees could end what could be their last dance together in the stadium they just left Sunday night. To knock out the Saints, you’d better find a way to stop those waves of mostly anonymous weapons that Brees, at 41, continues to make beautiful music with.
On Tuesday, league owners will try to get something done on the eyesore-of-the-NFL minority coach issue that continues to plague pro football. In a virtual league meeting, owners are expected to vote on the controversial issue of compensation for teams in the hiring of minority coaches. Only this time, the reward won’t go to the hiring team—an idea that was widely criticized and tabled by owners in the spring. This time, owners will vote on a plan to give a draft pick or picks to teams that develop a minority coach or GM who gets hired. Although I’m skeptical that the measure will appreciably increase the number of minority coaches and GMs, some high-placed NFL figures are confident the measure, 2020 Resolution JC-2A, will pass.
• A team losing an assistant coach who gets hired as a head coach, or a team losing a personnel executive to be a GM or primary football executive, will receive third-round Compensatory Picks in the following two drafts.
• A team losing both a minority personnel person to be a GM and an assistant coach to be a head coach—in the same year—would get three third-round picks, if they both last two years with their teams. A rarity, of course.
• This proposal has been vetted by three significant NFL committees, including the Workplace Diversity Committee and the Competition Committee, with widespread support that I’ve heard is close to unanimous.
• Roger Goodell very much wants to see something done on this issue, so he’s likely to push come Tuesday. (I doubt he’ll need to push hard.)
The upshot: Let’s say Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is Black, is hired to be a head coach by one of the other 31 teams early in 2021. Kansas City would receive Compensatory Picks at the end of the third rounds of the 2021 and 2022 drafts, per the draft of the resolution, which reads: “The employer-club [losing a minority coach or GM] shall be eligible to receive this draft-choice compensation if the minority employee hired as a head coach or primary football executive has been employed by the [original team] for a minimum of two years.”
When the idea of the hiring team getting rewarded with a draft pick was broached earlier this year, it was criticized by minorities like Louis Riddick, who interviewed for the Giants GM job that went to Dave Gettleman three years ago. “If these policies are implemented,” Riddick told me in May, “the first day I walk into the building, I know people with that organization would wonder, Did he get this job because he’s the best man for the job, or Did he get it at least in part because it gives us a big break in the draft? On the first day of the job, that team would be undermining its own hire by injecting doubt in the minds of the people who work in the building.” So that idea died.
But Goodell and NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent still wanted to make teams work to reward the development of minority candidates. This 2020 Resolution JC-2A “establishes a system that incentivizes clubs to, and rewards them for, developing minority employees who move on to the primary football executive or head coach with other clubs.”
The intention of the rule is good, obviously. But, in 2021 parlance, rewarding the Chiefs for developing Bieniemy wouldn’t motivate the Jets to hire Bieniemy over, say, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. So I’m not sure if it’ll have any impact on increasing minority coaches. The push for minority coaches should theoretically be boosted come January when each team will be required to interview two minority candidates for a head-coaching job instead of one—and also a mandatory minority interview for each coordinator opening.
After I tweeted this story Saturday evening, I got two major reactions. One: Why would a team hire someone from a rival when the rival would get two good draft choices in return? Couldn’t that work both ways? If the Jets, say, hire Josh McDaniels, that would be wounding a hated rival by forcing Bill Belichick to find an offensive mind he trusts after employing McDaniels for 17 years. That would certainly be worth two late third-round picks. Plus, when you’re hiring the most important person (non-quarterback, at least) in your organization, the positivity of your next franchise leader certainly is worth more than the negativity of some other team getting two middling draft picks out of it. Two: Dumb idea. Teams should hire best man for the job, period, regardless of race. Well, of course. But the players in the NFL this year are approximately 75 percent minority (mostly Black); at the start of this year, Black head coaches comprised 9 percent of the league’s ranks (three of 32). It’s a big problem. The league continues to search for ways to fix it.
At first glance, the COVID news in the NFL is pretty good. Tonight, the league will play its 133rd game of the season, Patriots at Jets, meaning that 52 percent of the regular season has been played, and every game that has been postponed due to COVID has been rescheduled during the regular season by shuffling byes and some teams’ schedules.
Now the sobering news: The league has 123 games left in the last eight weeks of the season, and rescheduling them during the season will be exceedingly hard. Only 10 of the league’s 32 bye-week slots are left: four in Week 10, four in Week 11, two in Week 13. The league, wisely, will not have a team play two games in a week, so that means that if any of the 22 teams that have used their bye have a debilitating outbreak, the NFL would either force the team to play with a major influx of practice-squadders OR have to push a game to a potential Week 18 on Jan. 10. Or perhaps not play it. One of the reasons the NFL is considering adding an eighth playoff team per conference at the league’s virtual owners meeting on Tuesday is to account for issues that might arise if two or more contenders do not play a full 16-game schedule.
“Say the seventh seed plays 15 games and is 9-6,” one official involved in these discussions about the extra playoff team told me. “Say there’s an eighth team that goes 9-7. In a seven-team field, the 9-6 team makes it by winning percentage over the 9-7 team. In essence, you’re penalizing the team that played a full schedule and won as many games. This would give some flexibility if there’s an outbreak somewhere.”
On Friday, I looked at the list of positive COVID tests around the NFL from that day—which includes not just the estimated 70 players per team but also the 100 people per team (coaches, trainers, equipment people) who tested positive that day. There were 15. Consider how careful teams are being, and how much they’re policing this. Fifteen seems like a lot. That occurred from Thursday’s testing around the league. Thursday was the first day in the pandemic when more than 120,000 Americans tested positive for the virus. Friday and Saturday also had more than 120,000 positive cases in the U.S. Seven NFL teams play in states that set single-day records for positive COVID tests. Starting QBs Matthew Stafford and Baker Mayfield both have missed or will miss five practice days because of close-contact with a person who tested positive. Stafford was negative for five straight days and thus got to play Sunday at Minnesota. Mayfield, if he’s negative this week, will play Sunday against Houston after missing much of the practice week—like Stafford did.
With the outbreak at a record high, and the byes almost gone, it seems logical to expect real disruption to the schedule soon, either forcing a Week 18 or chipping away at team schedules so they don’t all play 16 games. I’m told adding a Week 18 is more likely, at least as a first option; of course, if a team has to be gone for two weeks or more, Week 18 alone would not cover that. But the thought of continuing to push the season back by adding extra weeks in January is not desirable either.
One interesting point: The Rams have not had a player test positive since the beginning of August, which is pretty amazing—14 weeks without any of the estimated 70 players on the active roster or practice squad getting COVID. How have they achieved this? The Rams, before players reported in late July, constructed a gigantic white tent, with no walls, outside their practice facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif. All in-person team and position-group meetings, weightlifting sessions, and team meals (prepackaged) are held outside. Ninety percent of Rams players’ lives when on site are spent outside. It helps, of course, that Thousand Oaks has had 200 straight days with a temperature of at least 70 degrees. But unquestionably the Rams’ good fortune at avoiding COVID has something to do with being distanced, with masks on, in the open air. Hard for the Bills or Bears or Vikings to do that, of course. But that was a very bright idea by the Rams, deciding to conduct virtually all team business outside. They also, as an aside, made some days (Mondays, for instance) virtual days so players and coaches can be isolated.
Weird year. But I’m betting those who adjust the best, and those who don’t stress over the infinitesimal but important little virus-related rules, will be some of those left standing in January.
Offensive Players of the Week
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo. Allen, who’d been slumping for a month, started hot (20 of 22) and never cooled off against Seattle in Buffalo’s 44-34 home win over Seattle, preserving the Bills’ 1.5-game lead over Miami in the AFC East. Throwing with confidence, Allen decisively won his duel with Russell Wilson on 31 of 38 passing for 415 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Allen’s three touchdown throws came in the first 26 minutes of the game, put Buffalo ahead 24-7, and made Seattle play catch-up for the rest of the game. This was a huge game for Allen, who’d thrown only four TD passes in his last four games and hadn’t looked anything like the legit MVP candidate he was in September.
Dalvin Cook, running back, Minnesota. No player in football is hotter than Cook, who has 13 touchdowns in eight games and is averaging 6.0 yards per rush. In the last two weeks, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has clearly laid out his plan for the offense of the Vikings: It’s all centered around Cook and similarly physical back Alexander Mattison. Over the past two weeks, Cook and Mattison have rushed 67 times; Cousins has thrown 34 passes. The results have been a six-point win at Green Bay and a 14-point pounding of Detroit. In the win over the Lions, Cook followed his 226-scrimmage-yard performance of last week with 206 rushing yards and 46 more through the air.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. What a week for Mahomes, in so many ways. He spent in the vicinity of $100,000 through his foundation to team with the Chiefs to purchase 25 voting machines and pay for 30 election workers so Arrowhead Stadium could be a polling place last week. Mahomes has become an ally of LeBron James’ voting efforts nationwide, and he put his money into action at an important time for the country.
As for football: KC was down 14-6 when Mahomes made one of the oddest plays you’ll see from a quarterback. With 3:50 left in the first half, first and goal at the Carolina 1-yard line, Mahomes lined up in the shotgun. He took four walking steps to his right. He pivoted to his left, then ran back to catch the snap from center on the run, laterally so as not to get a flag for illegal motion or a false start. Watch this:
Mahomes to Robinson for the TD. Check out the pre-snap QB motion #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/sPo6uAZAVr
— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 8, 2020
Weirdly beautiful. And this on a day when Mahomes threw his 100th career touchdown pass, becoming the fastest player (40 games) in history to throw 100 touchdown passes. On a nerve-wracking day—KC survived, 33-31—Mahomes completed 30 of 45 for 372 yards, with four TDs (he now has 101) and no picks.
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami. The numbers were good (20 of 28, 248 yards, three touchdowns, no picks) but Tagovailoa is here because of his presence and playmaking in the fourth quarter of a narrow win at Arizona. His finest moment came in the fourth quarter, with Miami trailing 31-24. He led a 93-yard drive to tie the game at 31, and shorter one to lead to the winning field goal. You can see why Nick Saban loved Tua so much, and why the Dolphins picked him last April.
Defensive Players of the Week
Chuck Clark, safety, Baltimore. With the vaunted Baltimore offense struggling to score at its 2019 levels, Clark, noted for his preseason dustup with former teammate Earl Thomas, made a huge play to get Baltimore on the board late in the first quarter in Indianapolis. Clark grabbed a Jonathan Taylor fumble forced by Marcus Peters at the Colts’ 35, and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens’ defense held Indy to 10 points and forced two turnovers. Clark’s heads-up fumble return was their most important play of the game.
A.J. Klein, linebacker, Buffalo. Bills up 41-27, mid-fourth quarter, Russell Wilson has used about six of his nine lives, but here he comes again, needing two scores at a frenetic pace to tie it. On third-and-two from the Seattle 28, Klein came in unblocked from the Buffalo left end and wrapped up Wilson for a sack—or so it seemed. It wasn’t only a sack; Klein stole the ball from Wilson as they fell to the ground. Great play at a perfect time. Bills won, and Klein had two sacks, five tackles, two more QB hits and a swarming presence that frustrated Wilson.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Cedrick Wilson, wide receiver, and C.J. Goodwin, cornerback, Dallas. Cool play of the day—a 35-yard cross-field lateral pass by Wilson, after fielding a Pittsburgh punt at the Dallas 6-yard line midway through the second quarter, thrown to Goodwin, who sprint-weaved through traffic for 83 yards. The play lost 10 yards because of an illegal block in the back, but it put Dallas in position to get a field goal late in the first half to take a stunning 13-0 lead. Kudos to special teams coordinator John Fassel for another risk-reward gem.
Coaches of the Week
Raheem Morris, interim coach, Atlanta. When owner Arthur Blank fired coach Dan Quinn four weeks ago today, Atlanta was 0-5 and fairly hapless. Morris is a bad play by Todd Gurley (scoring instead of going down inside the 5 in the waning minutes against Detroit) from being 4-0 since; that 23-22 loss to Detroit is the only zit on his record. This is still a flawed Atlanta team, with far too generous a defense, but Morris has his players playing better. Does he have a chance at the full-time gig with his 3-1 record, the bye coming up, then seven games left? Well, Atlanta has two with the Saints, two with the Bucs, and a late-December match at mighty KC. I don’t like his odds to get Atlanta to 5-2 down the stretch, but that’s why they play the games.
Chase Blackburn, special teams coordinator, Carolina. Remember the name? Chase Blackburn? Nine seasons ago, in the second Patriots-Giants Super Bowl, early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots led 17-15 and Tom Brady was trying to put he dagger in the game. He threw deep down the left side, to the Giants’ 8-yard line, to Rob Gronkowski. Short. In coverage, Blackburn picked it off, changing the momentum of the game. Giants won, 21-17, and Blackburn will be in Giants lore because of it.
That has nothing to do with Sunday; just thought I’d re-introduce you to Blackburn, who made the special-teams call of Week 9 in a game that went down to the final minute in Kansas City. Midway through the first half, Backburn called a risky fake punt against maybe the most aware special-teams coach (Dave Toub) and unit in the NFL. On fourth-and-seven from the Carolina 45-yard line, punter Joseph Charlton took the punt snap and quasi-shot-putted a 28-yard floater to wide receiver Brandon Zylstra. Three plays later, Carolina had its second TD of the day and a 14-3 lead at Arrowhead.
Goat of the Week
Alex Smith, quarterback, Washington. How it pains me to give the goat horns to the doggedly heroic Smith, who had his first big chance to win a game since his leg was horribly damaged in a 2018 game. Smith threw three picks—one in the last minute of the first half, driving at the Giants’ 18-yard line, to Blake Martinez; the second to Jabrill Peppers at the New York 40 with 2:27 left in the game; and the last to Logan Ryan with 1:23 left in the game, ruining Washington’s last chance to win. Such a bummer to see him lose so painfully.
“Dallas may be America’s team, but we’re the world’s team.”
—Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, after Pittsburgh’s 24-19 win over the Cowboys on Sunday.
“Right now, we’ve been kicked in the guts six times. That’s six times too many for me.”
—Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, after the Chargers lost when the potential winning TD pass was stripped from rookie tight end Donald Parham Jr., on the last play of a five-point loss to the Raiders. The Chargers are 2-6.
“I will just say the devil was busy this week for us, and we just overcame it.”
—Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson, on the Ravens winning at Indy despite six defensive starters not being allowed to practice during the week because they were in the COVID protocol.
“There was never going to be, as one academic put it to me, a Black wunderkind.”
—Tyler Tynes of The Ringer, on The Peter King Podcast last week, talking about the simmering anger of Black coaches not getting the same opportunities in the NFL as their white counterparts—particularly the slew of thirty-something coaches (Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Zac Taylor, Kliff Kingsbury, Joe Brady) getting prime opportunities as head coaches or coordinators when young Black coaches haven’t had the same chances. The Tynes conversation starts at about the 37-minute mark of the podcast.
“I’m a big game show nut. Part of me thinks I was put on this planet to give away cash and prizes, and not just host a show like this. I fell in love with game shows, as a kid, in part because of Alex Trebek … Thirty-six years as the host of ‘Jeopardy!’ Rest in peace, sir.”
—Rich Eisen, closing NFL Network’s GameDay Morning show Sunday with a Trebek tribute.
“This is a gut punch. So much of American pop culture glorifies ignorance; Alex Trebek’s career was about glorifying knowledge.”
—Pro Football Talk managing editor Michael David Smith, with another Trebek tribute.
New Orleans receiver Emmanuel Sanders battled COVID-19 for 12 days and missed two games for the Saints before being activated last week. He had a fever and felt weak for much of his time away. Asked how he spent his down time, Sanders said he binged-watched all the episodes of Schitt’s Creek on Netflix.
That’s 80 shows, at 22 minutes each, of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and company.
That means Sanders watched 29 hours and 42 minutes of a TV show while he was laid up.
Jerry Jones is 38 days older than Joe Biden.
Since the NFL merger in 1970, the Cowboys had never been double-digit home dogs till Sunday, when the Steelers were 15-point favorites.
Indiana beat Michigan for the first time in 33 years on Saturday, 38-21. The decisive touchdown, giving IU a 24-7 lead before halftime, was a 1-yard touchdown pass scored by a native Hoosier, tight end Peyton Hendershot. Young Hendershot’s parents named him after Peyton Manning when he was born the spring after Manning’s rookie year with the Colts.
I went for a long walk in Croton-on-Hudson with my wife and Chuck the dog last Tuesday, but, as usual in this COVID-impacted season, I stayed home for the weekend action. So, see if this is an interesting road note.
If Russell Wilson has a 16-year career quarterbacking the Seattle Seahawks, he will never play in front of the fans of Buffalo.
This also is true: If Wilson plays for Seattle for at least 17 years, he will be 40 the season he plays his first game in Buffalo.
Teams in the NFL play at teams in the opposite conference once every eight years, under the current scheduling formula. Wilson was drafted in 2012 and began starting immediately for Seattle. The Bills were scheduled to host Seattle in 2012, but the NFL moved the game to Toronto as part of the league’s American Bowl series. The next chance for Buffalo fans to see Wilson in person was Sunday, but because of COVID-19 concerns, no fans were allowed at the game. Which takes us to 2028, the year when Wilson turns 40. I don’t doubt he’ll still be playing football then. But it’s pretty amazing to consider that the first time Bills’ fans might lay eyes on one of the great quarterbacks of this century will be in the season Russell Wilson is 40.
“Man I miss playing the Dolphins and Jets” pic.twitter.com/LvrmrxGERZ
— NFL Memes (@NFL_Memes) November 9, 2020
The great meme account for all things NFL/American society.
That is about as defeated as I’ve seen Anthony Lynn after a loss. Usually he is angry, frustrated, tense. Today he just seemed…at a loss. #Chargers
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) November 9, 2020
Popper covers the Chargers for The Athletic.
As Trevor Lawrence walks into Notre Dame Stadium, a collection of Clemson fans chant “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets!”
— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) November 7, 2020
Sampson covers Notre Dame for The Athletic.
A woman who also happens to be the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father.
This moment – for every dark-skinned immigrant kid whose parents promised that being smarter, working harder and never giving up would be our winning path – cannot be understated. 😭 https://t.co/vvmxpH8u21
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 7, 2020
Kinkhabwala, who reports for NFL Media, on Kamala Harris becoming the Vice President-elect. Kinkhabwala’s parents immigrated from India, and she was born in America.
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Good to hear from Austria this week. From Otmar Hackl, of Austria: “I enjoy your columns each week here in Austria, but your suggestion that all Steelers-Ravens games should be late window or prime-time games scares me. You probably do not think about it too much, but the game does have a lot of fans in Europe (and all over the world). As a huge Steelers fan (original turf of Three Rivers is hanging on my wall), one of many in Europe, it would more or less make it impossible for us to watch the game. Prime time games start 2:20 a.m. here (1:20 in the UK) and with people working on Monday, we would not be able to watch them. Throw us a bone here and grow the game internationally.”
Thanks, Otmar. The windows for you, I believe, being six hours ahead of East Coast time, are Sunday at 7 p.m. (early afternoon games), 10:25 p.m. (late-afternoon games) and 2:15 a.m. Monday for the Sunday night games. So yes, I see the prime-time games would be non-starters for people who work normal business hours (and those who don’t want to stay up all night). But the 10:25 games seem a bit more reasonable. It’s not pleasant to be up till 1:30 in the morning your time to watch a game, but you can’t please all the people all the time. It’s pretty hard for the NFL to take the best team in football (which the Steelers are currently) and not want to maximize the viewing audience in North America. When you play Pittsburgh-Baltimore as one of eight early games in the U.S., yes, you’re doing the European audience a big favor. But you’re also taking away the game from maybe 5 million North American viewers.
Good to hear from Portugal this week. From Ron Sellers: “The opening of today’s column about Robert Spillane is the reason your work is required reading every Monday afternoon (time difference in Portugal). I’m a lifelong Steelers fanatic and a football history buff, and I had no idea Spillane’s grandfather was the team’s first-round draft choice in 1954. I did wonder about the odd number for a linebacker (41), and of course now I know how meaningful it is.”
Thanks a lot, Ron. Yeah, when I talked with Spillane after the game last week, I knew about his grandfather winning the Heisman, but I did not know the Steelers connection and of course how the granddad wore number 41 in his lone year as a Steeler. Those are the kinds of stories I love—when I started my day Sunday, I had heard of Robert Spillane but didn’t know a thing about his story, and then he makes a couple of huge plays
In praise of the late Travis Roy. From Barry Lindemann of Calgary: “Like Travis Roy, I also was paralyzed young and use a power chair for mobility. Just wanted to thank you for sharing the poignant words that Travis spoke/believed about living with a disability with your readers. After reading earlier in the same column all about the complaints people have about your great writing, that people get for free (and have enjoyed for years) I hope it puts it into perspective for you to let any negative feedback you receive roll right off your back, and to truly be grateful for any time a guy gets to spend with family and at football games in the future as no one knows what tomorrow may bring!
So nice of you to write, Barry. Thank you. Good luck, and long live the words of Travis Roy.
Anguished about the Patriots not keeping Tom Brady. From Dave Coulter: “Why, why, why didn’t the Patriots sign Tom Brady when they had the chance? Now it looks like they have dropped off a cliff. Cam Newton is a turnover waiting to happen and is simply playing horrid football. I would be willing to bet that somewhere in private Robert Kraft is throwing things against the wall.”
Remember, Dave: Before last season, Brady and the Patriots agreed that his contractual obligation to the Patriots would be over after the 2019 season. That was what Brady wanted, not Kraft. So even if the Patriots wanted to keep Brady, and worked hard to do so, my feeling is he wouldn’t have agreed to stay. He wanted a last shot to play somewhere else.
1. I think the match of head coach and quarterback that fascinates me the most entering the coach-hire season (which is less thant two months away, with fact-finding happening now) is Eric Bieniemy and Deshaun Watson. Even with all the cap and personnel disadvantages, it might be the most tempting to consider if I were Bieniemy, and I had a shot at the Houston job. You can find talent down the line in the draft and free agency with a smart personnel staff (just look at New Orleans) and coach who knows exactly what he wants. Watson is playing so well now. I’d love to see the imaginative Bieniemy, plus the knowledge he’d bring from Kansas City, working in concert with Watson.
2. I think I’m glad I don’t have to vote for MVP today. Went into Sunday liking Russell Wilson narrowly. He didn’t play well Sunday in Buffalo, and Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers were great, and Ben Roethlisberger survived a bum knee to brawl out a win in Dallas, and maybe Josh Allen and Dalvin Cook will get in the race. Kyler? Brady? Brees? There’s no clear favorite right now.
3. I think the Week 9 award for Best Player in a Loss is close. Teddy Bridgewater has to be proving to the Panthers that he’s not a bridge quarterback to some future phenom; he had a leaping desperation dive for a first down in Kansas City that I’m sure made at least one Panthers’ fan get out of his chair and yell, “That’s my QB.” And Kyler Murray. His quick burst that leads to blinding speed out of the pocket is more explosive, I believe, than even Michael Vick. Murray’s a gift to football, and to the fans in Arizona. He’s a centerpiece for a contender for a long time.
4. I think, regarding the five-year extension signed by Pete Carroll—reported by Adam Schefter on Sunday—my first thought was a strange one. Seattle and New England are scheduled to play next in 2024. It will not surprise me a bit if Carroll and Bill Belichick are the two coaches in that game. If so, the matchup would be 73-year-old Pete Carroll versus 72-year-old Bill Belichick . . . with, possibly, an 82-year-old president who loves football watching on TV from the White House. I would bet Carroll and Belichick would both be coaching in 2024—just a guess, but I don’t think either man sees himself doing anything else, and both are healthy as horses.
5. I think there is a lesson to the sordid signing of pass-rusher Vic Beasley by the Titans, who are run by a smart GM, Jon Robinson, and smart coach, Mike Vrabel. I was glad to see Robinson take the fall for the $9.5 million Tennessee ended up wasting on Beasley, who the Falcons let walk after last season, in part, because some in the organization didn’t think he loved football. Robinson probably should have known that. When you’re getting ready to spend 5 percent of your salary cap on a player whose own team didn’t seem all that eager to keep, alarm bells should go off. “The blame falls on me,” Robinson told the Tennessean. “Not every decision we make works out.” These things happen; it’s football, and you make mistakes. Knowing Robinson, he’ll use it as a learning tool, and he won’t make the same mistake again.
6. I think, not to harp on the Titans, but they made two big signings to fix their pass-rush, Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney. For the $22.5 million it cost the franchise to sign them, the production has been stunning. Beasley got fired after getting no sacks in seven games. Clowney also has zero; he sat with a knee injury Sunday against Chicago. This factoid is stunning too about Clowney: His last regular-season sack occurred a year ago Wednesday, on Nov. 11, 2019, for Seattle.
7. I think this is the scouting oddity of the week (H/T to Mike Florio for his observation of great non-first-round receivers):
• Some first-round wide receivers picked since 2015: Kevin White, Brett Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson, Corey Davis, John Ross.
• Some second and third-round wide receivers picked since 2015: Michael Thomas, Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Chase Claypool.
8. I think my four reactions to that are pretty wide-ranging.
• One: Wow.
• Two: Every GM and quite frankly every owner who has anything to do with picking players needs to learn a lesson about the receiver position that is something like the lesson being learned in recent years about running backs—you can get them down the line. Unless you are rock-solid positive that there’s a big gap between the first two or three receivers on your board and your eighth through 10th, wait on the wideouts. Metcalf, the ninth wideout picked in 2019, went 64th overall; Godwin and Golladay were the 11th and 12th receivers picked in 2017. Evolve your thinking.
• Three: I’m reminded of what Andy Dalton told me a few years ago about how he was able to hit the NFL ground running early in his Bengals career. He attributed much of his precociousness to 7-on-7 football in the spring in his high school years in Texas—and said it was a huge boost for receivers to play competitively nearly year-round too.
• Four: I cannot believe, still, that the Packers, in two of the richest drafts ever for receivers in 2019 and 2020, didn’t take a receiver, period, in either year.
9. I think Notre Dame-Clemson told us one thing, other than it was a great football game: Replay in college football is totally, absolutely out of control.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Steve Kornacki and John King—wow. Just wow. You guys are great. You know counties in the swing states. You know voting histories of counties in the swing states. And with millions watching on the edge of their seats for days, you delivered that knowledge like it was on a script in front of you. Terrific job, both of you.
b. Happy 69th birthday (Saturday), Chris Mortensen.
c. TV Story of the Week: Andrea Adelson of ESPN on Stanford coach David Shaw donating bone marrow to his brother Eric Shaw, to save his life. So good, so real, so touching, so needed. Such a vivid message: Be the donor.
d. Eric Shaw: “A miracle. There’s people saved every day because someone made the decision to become a donor.”
e. Good luck to the Bonvissuto family! New home in Nashville! Back to your roots! You’re Volunteers again!
f. Fun new book out this week, by Jim Gray, on his life knowing every sports person of note on the planet. (Richard Nixon, too.) “Talking To GOATs: The Moments You Remember And The Stories You Never Heard,” with Greg Bishop, has so many great tales. Like this one, with the late Al Davis—and I had no idea how close Gray was to Davis—regaling Gray and his wife Frann over dinner.
Al didn’t look at things like other people did. One night, we were having dinner, Al, Frann, and me.
“Hey, Jimmy, what do you want in life?” Davis said.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked him.
“Well, there are only five things,” Davis said. “Money, fame, glory, power or love.”
I told him I had never thought of life that way.
“Well, you better hurry up and pick one,” he responded. “Or else you’re gonna have nothing.”
So I flipped the question and asked him what he would choose. “Ah, that’s easy. Power,” Davis said. “Because if you have power, you have money. If you have power, you’re going to be famous. If you have power, you probably achieved something glorious, and I don’t give a f— about love.”
Davis had asked the same question in a meeting with me and Alex Spanos, the late Chargers owner. Spanos had answered love. “I love my team, I love my community, I love my family,” he told Davis.
To which Al responded, softly, “Alex, if that’s how you feel, then you’ve won more championships than I ever have.”
g. Now that is one great story about Al. There are quite a few of those in here. Good one about Nixon, excellent one about Yoko Ono, and an insightful one about Tom Brady. Highly recommend this book.
h. Headline of the Week: From the oddsmaking page of the New York Post on Thursday, before the Packers’ game at wounded San Francisco: “(What’s left of) 49ers can cover vs. Packers.”
i. Reality of the Week: (A lineup that looked like the second half of the second preseason game for the) 49ers can’t cover vs. Packers.
j. Animal Story of the Week: Georgia Slater of People, on the first rescue dog bound for the White House, Major, one of the Biden Family’s two German Shepherds. During the campaign, Joe Biden instagrammed a photo of he, his wife Jill and Major, with the caption, LET’S PUT A DOG BACK IN THE WHITE HOUSE.
k. Radio Moment of the Week: NPR’s “Morning Edition,” on Thursday, updating the election results with chantings from Trump supporters. “STOP THE COUNT! STOP THE COUNT” from the protesters in Detroit, where the president’s lead was shrinking as the vote count continued; “COUNT THE VOTES! COUNT THE VOTES!” from the protesters in Arizona, where the president was cutting into Joe Biden’s narrow lead.
l. From Jeffrey Kasky, writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “I didn’t sign up for this.”
m. This is not what we want in America. No responsible citizen would support that.
n. Absolutely the best use of my time in prime time last week, when I just couldn’t keep watching Kornacki and King and the like: Four episodes of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. There’s something about watching people bake, particularly cheery people with imaginations and British accents. That show is gold, Jerry. It’s gold.
o. Beernerdness: Well, wow. I broke my beer-less month with one of the best pilsners I’ve ever had. Clever name too: Pills Mafia (Thin Man Brewery, Buffalo, N.Y.), a German pils with a just-right bite and perfect taste, hoppy, a bit sweet. I loved it. To think I gave it a shot because of the name . . . so glad I did. It’s a terrific beer, and I’m looking forward to the day when we’re traveling to football games again. I will be making a trip to Thin Man.
p. A few personal thoughts on the election:
• Selfishly, I’m very happy for my granddaughter Hazel, who turned 2 last month. Hazel will have as one of her first memories about the real world—I hope—the fact that a woman is vice president. (I, and those who love her, will tell her about Kamala Harris.) Hazel, and all young girls, will have it emphasized to them that they live in the land of opportunity. They can aspire to be what they want to be in life, not what they want except vice president and (one day soon, I hope) president.
• Harris, in her Saturday night address to the nation:
While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last. Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.
And to the children of our country, regardless of your gender, our country has sent you a clear message: Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before. And we will applaud you every step of the way.
• When I was 12, 13, 14 years old growing up in northern Connecticut, I used to meet a group of friends, at all times of the year, at the elementary school in the neighborhood. Big basketball court on asphalt in the back of the school. Six or eight or 12 of us would get together and play pick-up basketball. First to 20 wins, call your own fouls, etc. One of the guys was a hot-tempered kid, but probably the best player there, and we played all the time with his beautiful Spalding ball. He went to the basket with abandon, and when there was contact, he’d always call a foul on the defensive guy. We’d protest. That was a charge! A few times, maybe the fourth or fifth time in a game he did this, we wouldn’t give him the foul. Screw you guys! That was a foul! What are you looking at! He hacked my arm off! We wouldn’t give in. He’d spit out some language, grab the ball, and get on his bike and leave. We’d readjust the teams and keep playing.
Anyway, that’s what Donald Trump reminds me of. He makes up the rules that fit him, and he lies, and he ignores science and common sense and the climate, and runs roughshod over the country, and when he doesn’t get his way, it’s worse than my old buddy on the basketball court. Trump sues, he sics his followers on law-abiders, pleading that he knows nothing about what they are doing, and generally is the spoiled kid who, when he doesn’t get his own way, is willing to leave scars on the United States for his revenge. And now, we’re left with a country in a pandemic, with climate changing the landscape in so many parts of the U.S., and with the most divided country in a half-century. Maybe longer.
• You can hate Biden, you can hate the results of this election, you can love the president. Totally get it. But it must be acknowledged that Trump, for four years, has been the country’s Divider in Chief. Character must matter in the White House. Honesty must matter. The truth must be the truth. Words matter. Belittling nicknames from the president of the United States matter.
• More harmony would be nice too.
• I’m happy that I won’t wake up so many days with a knot in my stomach, wondering what got tweeted overnight or what misadventure we’d be getting into today. But I also understand that 70 million people voted for Donald Trump and now they’ll be angry and unhappy with the Biden administration, the same way I was with the current administration. Biden’s got to build bridges that look impossible to build right now. He’s got to find a way to do more with people who, today, revile him. He just has to. When I think of what I hope for Biden in the next year, the first word that comes to mind is “sanguine.” When times are darkest, he must be positive.
• Do you think we might get some plan for the coronavirus soon, before we all get it?
• Watched maybe four hours of FOX News in post-election news channel-hopping. Really impressed with host Bret Baier playing it down the middle, asking the questions that needed to be asked of people like RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.
• Admit it: Me watching FOX News. You’re shocked, aren’t you? I don’t watch it much, but I did want to see how the election was being covered, and I was impressed. I was not watching at night. But I do think sometimes we all conclude what we want to conclude about news outlets. I would bet the reportage on CNN and FOX Saturday afternoon wasn’t that far apart.
New England 23, N.Y. Jets 10. This is it for the Jets, tonight in New Jersey and Jan. 3 in Foxboro—their best chances to avoid 0-16. And how sweet it would be to get the first (and probably only) win of the season against the despised Patriots. “The Patriots, they’re the Alabama of the NFL,” said Jets rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton the other day. Used to be, Mekhi. At 2-5, they’ve got a ways to go to build back toward Sabanland. One problem: No Sam Darnold to evade the Patriots’ rush and use all three prime receivers—Jamison Crowder, Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims—suiting up in tandem for the first time all year. Joe Flacco will have that benefit, but he’ll take his share of hits from what I’m sure will be an aggressive New England rush. It’s getting late early for Cam Newton, who will have to be close to 2015 MVP form with all the offensive problems New England (29th in scoring, 30th in passing yards per game) is having.
For a six-win team,
the Bucs look pretty shaky.
Fix the protection.