Now for the other stories of Week 2
The specter of Johnny Manziel. One scout at Manziel’s absolutely ridiculous game against Nick Saban’s Alabama defense Saturday told me Sunday: “It’s like [wrestler] Ric Flair once said: ‘You may not like this, but you better learn to love it.’ ‘’ Manziel put up 562 yards of total offense, treating the ‘Bama secondary like it was Montclair State’s (464 yards passing, 98 rushing). Manziel, in his third year of eligibility at Texas A&M, could declare for the 2014 draft if he wants to come out, which seems likely. (He can also stay in and play the 2014 college season, and 2015 as well.) But Manziel, to many teams right now, would be undraftable because they’re scared of his mood swings and off-field questions. But it only takes one team out of 32 to fall for him. And some team will, unless he self-destructs between today and draft day.
The MMQB’s Greg A. Bedard was in College Station Saturday, and he’ll report the Manziel story for us tomorrow. I can’t wait to read what he thinks of the kid, and what the pro football men in his rolodex think. As I said on NBC Sunday night, Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer scouted the game. Hmmmmmm. Johnny Dawg Pound!
The AFC rocks. The NFC East does not. Most of us think the NFC’s a better conference, right? It’s not acting like it. The AFC was 4-0 in cross-conference games Sunday. The NFC East went 0-4, three of the losses coming to the supposedly weak AFC West: Denver over the Giants, San Diego over the Eagles, and Kansas City over Dallas.
My surprise team of the first eighth of the season? Miami (2-0). All the attention in the offseason went to the big-money free agents Miami signed, and rightfully so. In the 24-20 win over the Colts and Andrew Luck Sunday, inside ‘backers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler combined for 26 tackles, and Wheeler had a key sack of Luck; wideout Mike Wallace, the formerly unhappy one, had nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. But remember the pass-rush stars of Week 1—which we covered in The MMQB Friday. Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick have been Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside so far, and they’ll be a tough afternoon for anyone to block. And did you notice Ryan Tannehill bested Luck Sunday? Miami has a schedule edge now, having played its first two on the road. Now we’ll see if the Dolphins are ready for prime time. They host Atlanta Sunday, go to New Orleans for a Week 4 Monday-nighter, and return home to face Baltimore. We’ll know by Sunday night of Week 5 if Miami will contend to steal the division from a weakened New England.
Andy Reid is 2-0 too … and he returns to the scene of his prime Thursday night. “Listen, you know me,’’ he said over the phone from Arrowhead Sunday after the 17-16 win over Dallas. “I haven’t thought about that stuff. I don’t get caught up in it. All I know is it’s a short week and we’ve got to get ready to play on the road in a hurry.” Uh, come on. You’re returning to the place you coached 14 years. Thursday night. Prime time. E-A-G-L-E-S! EAGLES! Sound familiar? When we spoke, Reid didn’t know the result of the Chargers-Eagles game, and when I told him San Diego won, he said, “Chargers won? Wow!’’ Reid might have an ideal team to coach. In the two wins, Kansas City hasn’t turned the ball over, and quarterback Alex Smith has been the efficient West Coast guy Reid thought he was buying for two second-round picks last spring. “I love Alex,’’ Reid said. “He’s a competitor. The best. He’s doing so well in this offense so fast it’s amazing. Today, I gave him a handful—actually more than a handful—of plays to call. I said, ‘Hey, you take it. You call it.’ ‘’ We’ll see how the honeymoon looks Thursday night in the sweet-and-sour city Reid coached for so long.
Good for Mike McCoy, who thinks before he snaps. So the Chargers had a 21-point lead with 21 minutes to play Monday night and blew it, losing 31-28 to Houston. Same old Norvy Chargers, right? “I went back and watched the tape,’’ McCoy said Sunday from Philadelphia. “I tortured myself. I went back and forth over the plays we called, wondering what we should have done. In this business, you know every time a play doesn’t work, you say, ‘I should have called something else.’ And after I examined all those plays down the stretch, you know what? I wouldn’t change a single one. I have faith in my coaches and what we called. We just had to play better, and that’s what I told my team.” On Sunday, reclamation project Eddie Royal scored his third, fourth and fifth touchdowns of the season (Eddie Royal—he still plays?), Philip Rivers threw for 419 yards, and San Diego, on a short week, stunned the Eagles 33-30. Heck of a job preparing his team by McCoy.
The anatomy of a win. In Buffalo, coach Doug Marrone told E.J. Manuel at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, with Carolina up three and driving for an insurance field goal, that he was going to burn all three timeouts. “You’ll get the ball back, down six, with about 1:40 to go, and you’ll have to go the length of the field with no timeouts, okay?’’ Marrone told Manuel. His rookie quarterback was fine with that. There was 1:38 left, actually, when the quarterback got the ball at his 20. Manuel dinked and dunked five of seven passes, got lucky when Luke Kuechly was called for pass interference on a Carolina interception, scrambled for nine yards to the Carolina 2-yard line … and then, with two seconds left at the Carolina 2, Marrone told Manuel he was either going to get a heavy blitz or heavy coverage and had to be ready for either. “He was telling me to calm down,’’ Marrone said. Here came the heavy rush. Two Carolina defenders messed up the coverage on Stevie Johnson, leaving him wide open. Touchdown. Buffalo wins, 24-23.
You need to read these books.
Two books come out this week that will be well worth your while.
The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football (Doubleday), by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. “It’s the best work I’ve ever done,’’ noted reporter Keteyian said Sunday. The reporting on the Nick Saban-to-Alabama move after the 2006 NFL season is terrific. Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, Benedict and Keteyian report, first offered Steve Spurrier the head-coaching job, but he said Spurrier said he was “too dug in’’ at South Carolina. Spurrier told Moore to go after Saban. (Wonder if Spurrier regrets that now?) Saban, then with the Dolphins, was ripe for the taking, which he denied vehemently then. But coaches often deny truths vehemently until the bitter end. The authors say Saban got to dread the Dolphins job. “Saban told a friend in Miami he felt as if he were going to work in a factory every day; he missed the camaraderie of college coaching.” It was clear to Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga that Saban wanted to take the Alabama job, and he said to Saban finally, “Nick, if that’s what you want, I want you to do it.” The best chapter in the book, I thought, was Chapter 9, “The Janitor,” about the “Unseen, unsung heroes of college football,’’ the directors of football operations who have to clean up every mess in some messy programs. As well as do all the minutiae that make college programs go. It’s a very good read.
Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Harper), by Nate Jackson. Who, by the way, is one hell of a writer. Jackson and Chris Kluwe could both win big awards, and probably will, with their books this year. Jackson, who played tight end in the NFL for six years, skewers the pomp of the NFL (and Eric Mangini, big time), says the NFL would be smart to make marijuana legal (for pain-relieving reasons), and writes of his own experimentation with HGH to recover from the end of a pain-scarred Denver tenure. He wrote about that in an excerpt we ran on The MMQB Friday.
Re his HGH experience, Jackson writes how he injected himself to get ready for a trial with the San Diego Chargers after being released by Denver: “I reach out to a connection I made a year earlier and acquire a supply of human growth hormone, HGH. The drugs come in the mail in a package stuffed with dry ice. I half expect to see the feds storm out of the bushes, guns blazing, as I pull the box off my front porch. But no feds. Just me and another needle. It comes with very little guidance as to the quantity and regularity of the shot. I have a conversation with my supplier and he tells me how to do it. Other than that I’m on my own. I will tell no one what I’m doing. I go to the store and buy syringes and start injecting it in my stomach immediately. I am paranoid about every aspect of this decision. I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs. Haven’t ever even seen them. I take pride in my natural ability and I don’t want to taint it. I don’t want to test the karmic winds. But I also don’t want to taste the death of my football dreams, not like this. I pack up my Denali and head over the Rocky Mountains, the vials of HGH stuffed in an ice-filled cooler.’’ Rarely have we ever gotten such a real view of life on the edge of an NFL roster. Rarely? Never.