On a beautiful day in Denver, it was hard to imagine Peyton Manning being better. Ever. We’ve been saying that for a month now, since the seven-touchdown-pass extravaganza on a stormy opening Thursday night rout of the Ravens. But Sunday, the 37-year-old quarterback living out his wildest dreams continued this run of greatness that is unprecedented even to him.
On Manning’s final four touchdown drives of the day against Philadelphia, Denver never ran a third-down play.
Denver had 12 second downs on the four drives. Manning converted all of them into first downs.
Eleven plays, 80 yards. Ten plays, 80 yards. Eight plays, 80 yards. Seven plays, 65 yards.
That’s 36 plays, 28 points, 305 yards. And no third downs.
Ninety minutes after the 52-20 victory over Philadelphia, I told one of the four musketeers Manning uses as his weapons, wide receiver Eric Decker, about the no-third-down thing. He paused for three or four seconds, taking it in, then said: “That is crazy. Crazy. But our mentality is to convert everything. First down, second down, first down, touchdown.’’
Another pause. “I have to say, hearing that is really rewarding,’’ Decker said.
I hear this on Twitter and email all the time: Enough of Peyton Manning! Not today. Sunday was Manning’s 228th regular season game, and would you believe me if I told you that, at an age two years past when Terry Bradshaw retired, he is in the midst of the best playing stretch of his career? You can look it up. Over a four-game span, Manning has never been better, and it’s not very close. Ranked by passer rating, here are the best four-game stretches of Manning’s career:
“I’ll tell you what’s scary,’’ said Tony Dungy, Manning’s coach in that 2004 season, in the NBC Football Night in America green room Sunday night. “Peyton will be better in November. He’s still getting used to his receivers, I can tell you, the longer he works with guys, the better they’ll all be.’’
Manning has been working with two of his four receivers, Decker and DeMaryius Thomas, for 18 months. He’s been working with the other two, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas, for six months—though he did have some time with Julius Thomas just after he signed in March 2012, before the tight end underwent ankle surgery that limited him to four games in ’12—and zero catches.
Dungy disagreed with me about this Sunday night, but I think one factor in Manning’s favor is having Thomas, Thomas, Welker and Decker together as his receiving weapons. In Indianapolis he usually had three big ones together: Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and either Brandon Stokley or Dallas Clark. (Stokley and Clark were Colts from 2003 to ’06, but Clark didn’t emerge as a big receiving threat until after Stokley left for Denver in 2007.)
“I think a big part of it is we all want to win for this guy,’’ said Decker. “The line plays like, ‘Don’t let Peyton get hit.’ The receivers are like, ‘Run that route exactly the way it should be run.’ It goes to defense and special teams too. It’s a sign of unselfishness. I also think it has to do with our expectations. Even after a game like this, the attitude in the locker room was, ‘That was good, not great.’ That’s Peyton.’’
This afternoon, after a brief workout and some weightlifting, all of the Denver offensive players will gather in a Broncos meeting room. No coaches, just players. For one to two hours (the time varies; when they’re finished they’re finished), the players will look at the tape of Sunday’s games. They started this in Manning’s first year last fall. Anyone can speak up about anything. Communication on the field will be discussed. Audibles will be discussed. Route-running, blocking and blitz pickup … everything they see from every offensive snap.
“Peyton is kind of the leader of the session,’’ said Decker. “It’s an open forum. You got something good to say, say it. You got something to correct about somebody else, say it. We’re the players. We’re out there. Coaches are great, but we’re the ones out there with the game going so fast trying to figure things out on the fly. It’s a great thing for us to be able to talk among ourselves and make the corrections we need to make to get better. I’m a fan of it.”
In the first game of the season, against Baltimore, Julius Thomas caught a pass on a seam route and took a big hit from a Baltimore safety. Said Thomas: “When we came in and reviewed the game film, he’s like, ‘Do you understand that seam route?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He texted me a couple of days while we were practicing for the New York Giants and he said, ‘You know, I’m really liking the way you’re running these seam routes—they’re a lot better.’ I just texted him back and said, ‘Your mom only has to tell you one time that the stove is hot.’ The message was delivered by the safety from Baltimore: I’ve got to run these routes just a little bit differently so I don’t have to keep taking these hits. It just shows you how well he knows the game.’’
What’s next? The Cowboys, at Dallas. Manning’s onto the Dallas defense, with Cover 2 coordinator Monte Kiffin this week’s challenge. Cover 2: The Indianapolis defense favored by his old coach. Dungy was smiling Sunday night at the thought of it. “Peyton only practiced against that defense every day with us for years,’’ said Dungy.
Maybe Kiffin can force Manning to convert a third down. That’d be one small victory.
The Dot-Dot-Dot Section
Yes, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman ran the game-tying interception at Houston back 58 yards with one shoe on. He told me that when the Seahawks were down 20-3 at halftime, “The locker room was fine. Upbeat. You’re molded, you’re shaped by fire from games like this. We showed we could grind out a game on the road against a great team.” … Seattle at home: ‘Hawks 74, Foes 20. Seattle on the road: ‘Hawks 35, Foes 27 … I don’t care what they say: The Houston Texans have to be having grave doubts about quarterback Matt Schaub’s ability to win a Super Bowl. That’s three straight games with Schaub throwing a pick-6 … You saw the instant replay snafu last night, probably, with Bill Belichick steaming about the Julio Jones catch that couldn’t be reviewed. The rules when the replay system goes haywire: When the system is down during a challenge the referee has to stay at the monitor for two minutes while the replay technician attempts to fix the issue. If it is not fixed during that time period there is no challenge and no charged timeout. That’s what happened in Atlanta. If the system becomes operational during the two-minute period, the replay can commence. I doubt there’d have been enough evidence to overturn the Jones catch anyway … In the span of three plays of the second half, the Patriots got key plays from three players not on the team at this time last year—a touchdown catch by Kenbrell Thompkins, an interception by Aqib Talib and a 24-yard catch leading to a field goal by fourth-round rookie receiver Josh Boyce. The longer Tom Brady can work with these guys, the better New England will be … So I had The MMQB’s analytics ace, Andy Benoit, post his All-Pro team through a quarter of the season, which you’ll see on the next page. My awards at the quarter pole: MVP and Offensive Player, Peyton Manning (no kidding!); Defensive Player, Ndamukong Suh; Offensive and Defensive Rookies, DeAndre Hopkins and Kiko Alonso; Coach, Bill Belichick … Rob Chudzinski on the Browns’ two-game streak: “Brian Hoyer’s got the knack to know where to go with the ball like a veteran. Having Josh Gordon back really helps. On defense, Barkevious Mingo’s energy has been huge for us, and Joe Haden’s taken on a great receiver every week and really been strong.’’
Looking ahead to the 9-0 Bowl.
It is ridiculously early. But in seven weeks, on Nov. 17, there could be a beautiful game in Denver: The 9-0 Broncos hosting 9-0 Kansas City. And two weeks after that, a beautiful rematch at Arrowhead Stadum. Check out the two schedules before then:
Postscript: Denver travels to New England in Week 12. Imagine Denver playing a 9-0 bowl against Kansas City one week, then a 10-0 bowl against the Patriots the next.
Funny thing. Lots of NFL things that look so intriguing in September usually get blown up in October.
Andy Benoit’s Quarter-Way All-Pro Team
I asked Andy Benoit, our Deep Dive maestro, to give me his All-Pro team through four weeks, based on the extensive tape work Benoit does each week. Here are his picks and explanations:
Quarterback is an easy decision; running back is not. Forte gets the nod over LeSean McCoy because Forte’s 3-1 Bears would not be transitioning to Marc Trestman’s system so smoothly if not for the stabilizing ground game and potent underneath receiving that the sixth-year veteran provides. If the Eagles didn’t have McCoy they’d still be 1-3.
Julio Jones has been prolific despite drawing more dedicated double-teams (those double-teams will soften when Roddy White’s ankle gets stronger). Green doesn’t have huge numbers, but his vastly improved route-running jumps out on film. Johnson isn’t a pure slot guy, obviously, but attention must be drawn to the fact that his impact inside has brought much-needed dimension to Detroit’s offense. Guarantee you defenses have worried about him in the slot more than anyone else this season.
Up front, Thomas has routinely won battles with no chip-block help, while the uber-athletic Smith has shown valuable improvement as a run-blocker. Mankins has been dominant as usual; Mathis’s more finesse style is a good fit in Chip Kelly’s system. Pouncey gets the nod purely on athletic merit.
There are several deserving defensive ends, but these two 31-year-olds have consistently pressured quarterbacks without sacrificing their every-down discipline in gap control. Inside, Babineaux is a versatile and disruptive gap-shooter, while Suh has been arguably the best in football at blowing up double-teams (that’s saying something for a guy in a one-gap scheme).
Houston was quiet against the Giants but is still tied with Robert Mathis for a league-leading 7.5 sacks. He’s the better playside run-defender. Matthews has only played two and a half games, but he’s the catalyst to a hybrid, attack-oriented Packers D that was borderline sensational in its last two outings.
The speedy, instinctive Lee is a perfect fit in Dallas’ new zone-based scheme. Bowman has been vicious in San Fran’s nickel and dime packages. Sherman is an easy call. So is Haden; he blanketed Mike Wallace in Week 1, often without true safety help. In Week 3, Haden was airtight on Jerome Simpson. In Week 4, he kept A.J. Green in check. Berry and Polamalu are technically both strong safeties, but who cares? Berry has been outstanding in man coverage and blitzing; Polamalu looks like his old Canton-bound self.
The 2014 Hall of Fame conundrum
I’ve said for a long time that the wide receiver logjam, particularly with five or six more receivers likely to cross the 1,000-catch plateau in the next five years, is going to be the most vexing problem for the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters in the next few years. Marvin Harrison (1,102 catches) hits the ballot this year. Do voters put him in right away because of his importance to the Colts’ long run of excellence? Do they stack him behind Andre Reed and Tim Brown, who have been waiting nine and five years respectively? Do they wait to see if Reggie Wayne, 34, who wants to play multiple more years and is only 117 catches behind Harrison this morning, passes him, and by how much? Do the voters say both belong? Do the voters say neither belong?
But the logjam problem for 2014 could be a coaching one, for a couple of reasons.
Let’s get to the newest coach up for election in 2014, and the leader in the clubhouse among all coaches for enshrinement: Tony Dungy. In 13 years as a head coach in Tampa Bay and Indianapolis, Dungy had one losing season. He had an amazing six-year run beginning in 2003—wining 12, 12, 14, 12, 13 and 12 games—one of which led to his lone Super Bowl title, following the 2006 season. But he does have downsides: Dungy is only 21st on the NFL’s all-time coaching wins list, and he is 9-10 in the playoffs. And though he has steadfastly said he is happy in his TV job and normal family life, he is 57, and the Hall of Fame selection committee (of which I am a member) has sometimes factored in the possibility of a coach returning to the sidelines if he’s still a relatively young man, which Dungy is. Why’s that significant? Because you want to be able to consider a coach’s full career, not a potentially incomplete one.
For the record, and in fairness to this section of the column, a disclaimer: I have worked with Dungy on the NBC Football Night in America set for five years. I believe he will not return to coaching—but as Bill Parcells used to say, they don’t sell insurance for these kinds of things.
One question sure to come up with Dungy, the first African-American Super Bowl-winning coach, is the pioneering aspect of the job. He was a coaching wunderkind, ascending to the Steelers’ defensive coordinator job under Chuck Noll at age 28. After seven head-coaching interviews, he finally landed the Bucs job in 1996, at age 40. Many of the successful African-American coaches, including Lovie Smith and Jim Caldwell, both of whom won a conference title and lost in the Super Bowl, credit Dungy with being a important leader in their progression. Playoff coach Leslie Frazier of the Vikings does too—and they’re not the only ones.
So does racial pioneering matter, and should it count toward election? The bylaws of the Hall say, “The only criteria for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame are a nominee’s achievements and contributions as a player, coach, or contributor in professional football in the United States of America.” Nothing is said about being a pioneer. So it will be left to the interpretation of the voters. But my interpretation will be that the pioneer aspect of the job should matter. Inspiring, encouraging and being a role model for African-American coaches (and, quite frankly, coaches in general and football coaches in particular) is part of Dungy’s contribution to the game, and I will speak up about that subject in the Hall of Fame selection meeting on Feb. 1 in New York. Being around Dungy quite a bit in recent years, and talking to coaches about him, I’ve always gotten the feeling he’s one of the most important coaches of this era, for many reasons. But being the first African-American Super Bowl-winning coach, and leading two franchises to consistent winning seasons for 13 years, is going to make Dungy a very strong candidate for election four months from now.
A word about one other coaching candidate: Jimmy Johnson. He’s never made the list of modern-era finalists. He’s usually knocked out in the cutdown from 125 to 25 at this time of year. (Ballots for 25 modern-era semifinalists are due from the voters by Nov. 1.) I’d like to see him have his case heard in the room, in front of the 46 voters, and the only way that happens is for Johnson to make the cut from 125 to 25, then the cut from 25 to 15 for the modern-era finalists. I’m not saying he deserves it more than lots of the players or coaches on the ballot. What I am saying is he deserves to have his case heard. I think a good case can be made that, among modern coaches, Johnson is a Gale Sayers-type candidate.
Johnson coached nine years, which most people have said is too short a career to merit entry into the Hall. It bothers me, too. But Sayers played just 68 games over seven injury-plagued seasons. He got in because he was a meteor across the NFL sky—a transcendent talent who retired with a 5.0 yards-per-carry average and an NFL-record 30.6-yard career kick-return average, and who once scored six touchdowns in a 1965 game against San Francisco. He had some Adrian Peterson and some Barry Sanders in him.
Did any coach have a quicker impact on the game in recent history than Johnson, both in winning and in trends? He came into the league with a bad Dallas team in 1989 and was determined to do it his way—from stocking his defense with smaller, faster players instead of bigger ones, to bringing the Cover 2 from the University of Miami, to working the draft the way he recruited players at Miami—scouting the college teams’ postseason with his coaching staff instead of leaving it all to the scouts. He coached two Super Bowl winners in five seasons, then left a Super Bowl team behind and went on to make three playoff appearances in four seasons in Miami.
Though I believe Johnson is a strong candidate, he probably will never make the Hall. Most will say he needed to win more than 89 games as an NFL coach, and it’s a valid criticism. I just think there are some coaches, and players, who were so impactful over a short period that they deserve an airing in front of the 46 people who guard the door to the Hall of Fame.
1. Denver (4-0). Four games, 179 points. Everything is working. Everything.
2. Seattle (4-0). As Richard Sherman says (above), great teams win games against good teams on the road with significant obstacles. The Seahawks, down 20-3 at the half, had no business winning in Houston Sunday, and found a way to do so.
3. New Orleans (3-0). I bet Drew Brees loves waking up on game day knowing he doesn’t have to put up 35 for his team to have a chance to win.
4. Kansas City (4-0). It is Sept. 30. Kansas City has doubled its 2012 win total.
5. Indianapolis (3-1). Going West Coast/East Coast (Niners/Jags) was supposed to be harder than this: Colts 64, Foes 10.
6. New England (4-0). Tell me who could have forecast the Pats starting 4-0, including a win over a desperate Falcons team on the road, without their four biggest pass catchers from last year. Incredible accomplishment. By the way: The two teams I picked to make the Super Bowl—Pats, ‘Hawks—are 8-0. Not that I’m bragging or anything.
7. San Francisco (2-2). So … the nosetackle (Ian Williams) is lost in Week 2 with a broken ankle, and the best pass rusher (Aldon Smith) and multi-Pro Bowl inside linebacker (Patrick Willis) miss a road game on a short week against a Rams team with a fortified offense, and the Niners hold St. Louis to 188 yards and 11 points in a 35-11 rout. That’s some good depth right there, and some realization of the urgency of the day.
8. Detroit (3-1). Sunday’s 40-32 win over the Bears was the first time I’ve watched the Lions in a long time and thought, “That’s a complete team.” Detroit’s still leaky on defense, but the pressure packages used by defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham really affected Jay Cutler Sunday.
9. Miami (3-0). Sorry, Dolfans, for pushing Miami down a few slots. Just thought a few teams leapfrogged you this week, but credit Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman for not allowing the injury to Dustin Keller to derail their plans to field a competent offensive tight end in 2013. Through three games, Charles Clay has 14 catches for 203 yards.
10. Chicago (3-1). Not the end of the world, losing at amped Detroit. But Sloppy Jay Cutler’s not going to win championships.
11. Tennessee (3-1). Catholics all over central Tennessee light candles for the health of Jake Locker’s hip. Pretty amazing that through four games, he hasn’t turned the ball over.
12. San Diego (2-2). Antonio Gates is ageless, and still really good.
13. Dallas (2-2). Eighteen tackles for Sean Lee, on the road. Not bad.
14. Atlanta (1-3). Matt Ryan needed to be better on that last drive against New England.
15. Houston (2-2). Texans-Niners at Candlestick Sunday night. Combined record: 4-4.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Maybe its Rivers’ turn. Maybe in his 10th year he’s seen his fellow 2004 draftees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning, with their shiny Super Bowl rings, and now he’s saying enough. The Chargers beat NFC East frontrunner Dallas to go 2-2 Sunday (and they’re still two games behind two teams in the AFC West), and Rivers completed 35 of 42 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit. There is no doubt about it: The difference between this year’s Lions and every other year of the Stafford Era is Reggie Bush. In the first 28 minutes of Sunday’s division match against Chicago, the Lions roared to a 30-13 lead—and Bush jetted around the field for 136 yards on 14 touches. Great signing by GM Martin Mayhew.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco. After slumping through the season’s first three games, Gore, 30, played like Gore, 23. “A-plus-plus,’’ is how coach Jim Harbaugh graded Gore’s 20-carry, 153-yard performance in the surprising rout of the Rams Thursday night. “Very Frank Gore-like. Pure attitude.”
Defensive Players of the Week
Kiko Alonso, MLB, Buffalo. The second-round rookie is proving his worth as a rangy sideline-to-sideline playmaker in his first month on the job. He picked off two Joe Flacco passes and knocked two more away from their targets Sunday as the Bills stunned Baltimore.
Aqib Talib, CB, New England. He didn’t win every battle with Falcons wideouts Sunday night. He actually lost one. He gave up one completion, for one yard, and was huge in the Patriots’ fourth win of the young season. Talib, invaluable, is tied for the league lead with four interceptions.
Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee. Co-leads the league with four picks (with Talib and Alonso), and he had two of them against Geno Smith of the Jets on Sunday, along with recovering a fumble. Verner has become one of the most instinctive corners in football, and no player has accounted for as many takeaways this early in the season as Verner’s six (four picks, two fumble recoveries).
NaVorro Bowman, ILB, San Francisco. Memo to Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio: Blitz Bowman more. Bowman had two sacks, two quarterback hits and three quarterback pressures in the 35-11 rout of the Rams. He deflected a pass and forced a fumble too, and had six tackles. I’ve always thought Bowman to be the equal of Patrick Willis, which is not an insult to either man if you’ve watched the 49ers much. Two great, great players.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Dexter McCluster, KR/RB, Kansas City. The Giants trailed 10-7 late in the third quarter and were making a great game of it until punter Steve Weatherford booted it to McCluster, standing at his 11-yard line. McCluster never was touched, and he juked two Giants so badly that they fell to the turf at Arrowhead. McCluster’s return was the vital play of the game.
Steven Hauschka, K, Seattle. His 48- and 39-yard field goals in regulation helped push the game to overtime on a day Seattle’s offense moved in fits and starts. And with 3:19 left in overtime, he nailed a 45-yard game-winner that would have been good from 65 to win it, 23-20.
Coach of the Week
Rob Chudzinski, head coach, Cleveland. “You’re 2-0 since you gave up on the season,’’ I told Chudzinski Sunday night. He said: “Good thing nobody told that to our players.” Chudzinski may have some guys on his team looking at the brass cross-eyed for trading Trent Richardson after two weeks, but it’s a tribute to Chudzinski that the players are playing as hard as any group in the league. The defense held Cincinnati to 266 yards Sunday in a 17-6 win. “Winning reinforces the good things,’’ he said, “and these guys have worked hard. They don’t care about what the perception is on the outside.’’ Speaking of hard work, the Browns have the Thursday night game this weekend, and Chudzinski was in tape-studying mode by 6:45 Sunday night.
Goat of the Week
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. He threw five interceptions at Buffalo, leading to 13 Buffalo points, and the Ravens lost by three. Not good.
Quotes of the Week
“May have to give ol’ Thunder an IV after that one.”
—Peyton Manning, on the Broncos’ Arabian horse mascot, who sprints the length of the field after every Denver scoring drive. The Broncos set a franchise record Sunday with 52 points.
“My body was just on fire. As I got to the locker room, Dr. [John] Gray told me, ‘You can do whatever you want. You can throw me across this training room if you want. But your butt is not going back into that game.’ I said, ‘Actually, I do want to throw you across this locker room right now.’ But at the end of the day, I know it is all in my best interests to sit out and let the concussion settle down.”
—Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley, in a video posted on Vimeo.com, discussing the concussion he suffered in Cincinnati in Week 3.
“I love all my fans and I’m glad they follow me. But when you have a guy on there talking about, ‘I hope you tear your ACL,’ what human being would say something like that? Me personally, I’m gonna block you. If you’ve got something bad to say about me on Twitter, I’m gonna block you. I’m gonna say something to you first, and then I’m gonna block you … I’m a blocking machine!”
—Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
“Undrafted free agent. If you look at my Wikipedia page, it’s there. It’s a stamp. Might as well put it on my friggin’ forehead.”
—Detroit tight end Joseph Fauria, the Lions’ undrafted and very productive rookie tight end.
“Mom, no sense in going apartment shopping tomorrow.”
—Free-agent defensive end Austen Lane, writing for The MMQB Friday, conversing with his mother after leaving the field for the last time as a Kansas City player in Week 4 of the preseason. Lane was cut the next day, and is still coming to grips with what to do for the rest of his life.
Stat of the Week
Never has a precocious, well-regarded phenom of a football coach seen his career go up in flames in seven years the way Lane Kiffin has. The timeline:
2007: Hired at 31 by Al Davis as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
2008: Fired at 33, blasted as a liar and “for bringing disgrace to the organization” by Davis, as coach of the Raiders. Went 5-15 with Oakland.
2008: Hired at 33 as head coach, with a six-year contract, at the University of Tennessee.
2010: Departs Tennessee at 34, after going 7-6 in his one season as coach. The Vols’ athletic director Mike Hamilton, asked to describe Kiffin’s tenure, says: “Brief.”
2010: Hired at 34 as coach of USC, with a contract reported in the $4 million-a-year range, the same neighborhood as the highest-paid coaches in college football.
2013: Fired at 38 as head coach of USC (in a parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport, according to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News) hours after losing 62-41 at Arizona State. USC announced the termination at 4:28 a.m. local time Sunday.
Now, finally, for the Stat of the Week:
Head-coaching record: 40-35. Career postseason or bowl wins: zero.
I don’t know Kiffin well. When he got the Raiders job, I remember meeting with him at his first training camp, and I found his attitude about taking a job under Al Davis at the age of 31 hauntingly pragmatic. His attitude that day seemed to me to be that of a man thinking: If Al fires me before the contract is over, I still have “NFL head coach” on my resume, I’ll walk away with $6 million, I’ll still get a great job because I’ve got a good reputation as an offensive coach, and chances are no one will blame me for whatever debacle happens here.
So amazing: Lane Kiffin is 38 year old, and he has “former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans” on his resume. Oh, and enough money in the bank that he’ll never have to work another day the rest of his life, if that’s what he wants.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Only In America With Jerry Dept.:
This is the fifth year the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Lottery have teamed up to create a scratch-off lottery game. In the first four years that the tickets were on sale throughout the state, Texans have bought a mind-boggling $184 million worth of the Cowboys’ scratch-off, instant-win tickets. (The majority of the proceeds, almost $40 million, has gone to public education in Texas, according to Texas Lottery director Gary Grief.)
One of the prizes in the scratch-off game: access for two inside the Cowboys’ draft room the day of the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and a briefing with Jones about the Cowboys’ draft strategy.
“They would get to see the board,’’ Jones said at a press conference the other day. “I guess that’s not good. But they do see the board early, get an idea of where we might go. And we really spend a lot of time talking with them about that.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates will play their first home playoff game since 1992 Tuesday night.
The Pirates’ last home postseason game, in the National League Championship Series, was played on the night of Oct. 11, 1992, at Three Rivers Stadium. Earlier that day, rookie head man Bill Cowher coached his fifth NFL game, losing to quarterback Mike Tomczak and the Browns, 17-9, in Cleveland.
The previous day, William & Mary sophomore wide receiver Michael Tomlin (not “Mike,” according to a Philadelphia Inquirer report of the game) had a 51-yard touchdown catch called back due to a holding penalty in W&M’s 21-19 victory over Penn in Philadelphia.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
After Barack Obama and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani talked Thursday, Rouhani tweeted out some details of their conversation before Iran’s leader departed for home, including Obama saying words to this effect: “I wish you a safe and pleasant journey, and apologize if you’re experiencing the traffic in NYC.”
Since moving to the East Side of Manhattan a couple of years ago, United Nations Week (the early-fall week when the General Assembly is in session, and the most famous politicians in the world flood into the east side of the city) has been a revelation. The cops bring steel barricades to all the East Side avenues, and two to four cops spend five days on each corner, directing traffic so a U.N. business-only lane, to the far left on these streets, with barricades to the left and orange cones to the right, stays clear. This way, when a motorcade of Iraqi diplomats or God knows who comes speeding down the streets, the road is clear for them.
So: As a two-year resident of Manhattan, I’ve gotten used to walking when the walk signs say walk, and most other times, staying out of the street. It’s for my own good; stories of pedestrians getting plowed over by cabs and cars pop up daily. On Wednesday, I was trying to cross Second Avenue 10 blocks north of the U.N., I saw the white “walk’’ sign lit, and I took a couple of steps into the street.
“SIRSIRSIR!!!!” yelled a cop about 10 feet away from me, and I looked up, and here was a motorcade with a New York City cop car driving maybe 30 miles an hour being waved through the intersection …
So I jumped back onto the sidewalk. It wasn’t that close, really. But as I stood there and the motorcade got waved through, I saw three black Escalades following very, very close to the police car (which didn’t have a siren on). In the third vehicle, the window of the driver’s-side passenger door was down, and a man in what appeared to be brown military fatigues with two hands on some sort of machine gun was inside.
Nice to have the city back this morning.
Tweets of the Week
“Aqib Talib was awesome tonight—and will make for a fascinating contract decision for the Patriots, in the wake of the Hernandez affair.”
—@AlbertBreer of NFL Network, after the Patriots’ 30-23 win over Atlanta Sunday night. Talib, a talented cornerback who has been in trouble with the law and his former team, the Bucs, will be a free agent after the season, and the Patriots are thin at cornerback.
“Monte Kiffin on facing Peyton Manning after getting torched by Philip Rivers: ‘That’s not good.’ ”
—@clarencehilljr, longtime Dallas Cowboys beat man, on the Dallas defensive coordinator anticipating next week’s batting against Denver.
“Damn they fired Kiff.”
—@THEREAL_LENDALE, former USC and NFL running back LenDale White, an hour after the bizarre 4:30 a.m. firing of USC football coach Lane Kiffin Sunday.
“This is the 113th year that both Cleveland and Pittsburgh have had major league baseball. Up to now, never been in postseason same year.”
—@DannyKnoblerCBS, the longtime baseball writer, now of CBS.com, on the novelty of the 2013 Wild Card round.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 4:
a. Brian Hoyer. Outplayed Andy Dalton. Nothing fluky about the 17-6 Cleveland win. That job is Hoyer’s until further notice, maybe until draft day.
b. Patrick Peterson, with two fourth-quarter interceptions to lift Arizona to a win.
c. The unpredictability of football: The Super Bowl MVP quarterback goes to Buffalo to play a run-of-the-mill team with both starting cornerbacks out injured. And Joe Flacco throws five interceptions, and the Bills win.
d. The brute strength of Ndamukong Suh. He’s a marvel.
e. The Kansas City defense, which has allowed 41 points in four games. It doesn’t let you breathe. The Giants ran zero plays inside the KC red zone Sunday.
f. As a means of comparison, the Philadelphia defense allowed 42 points in three quarters Sunday.
g. Pat Haden’s decisiveness.
h. Aaron Williams’ acrobatic interception of Joe Flacco in Buffalo.
i. This fun number: AFC East is 11-4, and the NFC East is 4-12.
j. The insight of Austen Lane. In his writing for The MMQB, did you notice his difference in being cut by the Jags and being cut by the Chiefs? in Jacksonville, the coach and GM met with him, then the coach met with him individually. In Kansas City, the pro personnel guy met with him. That’s it.
k. Larry Fitzgerald beating Darrelle Revis for a touchdown in a battle of titans.
l. Good job by Giants rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, holding Justin Houston without a sack or heavy pressure at Arrowhead.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 4:
a. The games at Wembley have this one TV problem: Not enough lights in the stadium. Every one of those games looks dark.
b. Jacksonville, outscored by an average of 24.5 points in its four losses.
c. Left wondering what happened to one of the best legs in the game, Billy Cundiff. He missed two more field goals Sunday, and it won’t surprise me to see the Browns have a kicking competition this week.
d. Giants, too, with Josh Brown in trouble after shanking a 44-yarder?
e. Terrible coverage by Chris Houston, allowing Alshon Jeffery of the Bears to get behind him up the right sideline in the closing seconds of the first half. Handed the Bears a Robbie Gould field goal as time expired at the half.
f. I’ve never seen a hole in a Dick LeBeau defense the size of which Adrian Peterson ran through for his second touchdown of the game.
g. Mike Adams, Steelers left tackle, is awful.
h. Jason Pierre-Paul wrenched his knee, and no one noticed. That’s how invisible he’s been in four games returning from back surgery.
i. When Geno Smith is bad, he’s really bad. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Rex Ryan consider playing Matt Simms.
j. Re the Rashad Johnson lost-fingertip coverage: He lost half an inch of a fingertip. Nobody wants to lose a centimeter of a body part, obviously. But the coverage was a bit over the top. Excessive.
k. I’m not saying Tampa Bay is good. But I am saying the Bucs have lost three games in the most ridiculous manner, including blowing a late 10-0 lead to Arizona Sunday.
l. Matt Flynn’s first start for the Raiders: Meh.
3. I think you might be surprised to know that Bill Belichick tied Chuck Noll on the all-time wins list last night. They’ve got 209 apiece, including playoffs, Belichick in 19 seasons as a head coach and Noll in 23.
4. I think if I’m Roger Goodell, I’m walking down the hall at NFL headquarters sometime very soon to the new-owner-vetting office and asking, “Uh, did we know anything about the looming jillion-dollar judgment against the Wilf family? Or anything about Jimmy Haslam?’’ Read the stuff this week about the Wilfs, who own the Vikings and are in business with the state of Minnesota to build a new stadium, and a real-estate deal partnership gone bad … and a judge accusing them of racketeering and ordering them to pay $84.5 million to two aggrieved former partners.
5. I think the Bucs need to cut Josh Freeman. Today.
6. I think these things are always tricky. You don’t want to be giving in to players who are trying to shoot their way out of your franchise. But the Bucs are in a delicate time. They’re in a poisonous relationship with Freeman. They owe him $6.4 million, guaranteed, for the final three months of a lost season, and every day he spends on campus with the team is an ugly one. It’d be one thing if there were a team out there dying to trade for him. I was in touch with the Jags and Browns on Sunday about their prospective interest. Each has more than $17 million in salary cap money to spend now if they choose, and could afford to take on a new Freeman contract. (It’s assumed he’d try to go somewhere and get a new contract, because he’s due to be a free agent after the season, and it seems stupid to trade something of substance for Freeman just as a three-month rental if he’d hit the market after the season.) Each team told me the same thing: No interest. The Bucs should give Greg Schiano a chance to save his job and save the 2013 season, and the only way to do that is to cut Freeman loose now.
7. I think it’s too late now, but Freeman should have stood his ground, worked his way back to the job and showed future employers he can fight back from adversity. What he looks like now, to the other 31 teams in the league, is a guy who had trouble with a coaching staff, played poorly, overslept for the team photo (if that’s a true story) and started whining when he got yanked. What team is going to pay good money for a 53 percent passer (since the start of 2012) who goes renegade on a team when times are tough?
8. I think the Vince Wilfork injury from Sunday night—reported to be a torn Achilles tendon, which would be a season-ender—comes at a spot where the Patriots have precious little depth. How many more good players can New England lose and still be New England?
9. I think Rob Gronkowski is healthier than most injured players working their way back to playing shape, and he’s not playing. This is a strange story, folks. The Patriots might be able to sweep it under the rug for now, and it might even be a good idea for Gronkowski to sit for two or three more weeks, because he might be at the stage of his career that cries out for the conservative physical approach—he might have only a limited number of snaps in him before he breaks down again. Who knows? But there’s something odd about a story when a guy practicing like Rob Gronkowski says he’s not ready to be Rob Gronkowski in a game.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Was that the Minnesota Twins on the field in the last couple of weeks, or the New Britain Rock Cats?
b. What if Henderson Alvarez threw a no-hitter and nobody noticed?
c. Loved The Lyman Bostock Story, about the Angels outfielder shot to death while in the wrong place at the wrong time in Gary, Ind., late in the 1978 season. Congrats on a job well done, Bruce Cornblatt.
d. Kudos, too, to Rory Karpf, for his revealing Book of Manning documentary. Most of us never knew about the tortured life of Archie Manning’s dad, and it was a story artfully told.
e. When you finish third instead of second in your rotisserie league because Washington pitcher Tanner Roark left the last game of the year, a totally meaningless game in Arizona Sunday to everyone in America but me, with a 2-1 lead after seven innings and had the bullpen blow it and thus not get a win you needed, and when the guy you’re chasing gets one meaningless (but not to us) final strikeout from Kenley Jansen, allowing him to move up one slot in strikeouts … well, you’re probably in rotisserie baseball a little too deep.
f. Sorry. I can’t demonize the retiring Andy Pettitte forever for his one detour into PEDs. I can castigate him for it, and I can always think of it when I think of him. (If it was more than that, I will stand corrected.) But I don’t think of him as a consistent PED user. And so I rather enjoyed watching the last inning of the last game of his life, his first complete game after 167 incomplete ones, Saturday night in Houston. “It’s a shame we gotta get old,’’ he said afterward.
g. Coffeenerdness: Nobody likes a coffee nerd, and so when I started to tell the barista at Starbucks the other day that she was making the macchiato wrong (espresso on the bottom of the cup, with milk on top, which it shouldn’t be), I caught myself and shut up.
h. Beernerdness: Happiness is having six Flower Power IPAs in the refrigerator for use sometime in the next week or so.
i. Really interested in seeing the Julia Louis-Dreyfus/James Gandolfini movie. Got any others for me that are must-sees?
j. My World Series guess: Oakland over St. Louis in seven.
Who I Like Tonight
New Orleans 24, Miami 12. Honest comment from Sean Payton Saturday, asked if he has to counteract all the positive attention his defense has gotten this month. The Saints, 32nd and last in team defense last year, are fourth this season in their 3-0 start. “Honestly you’re always kind of paying attention to [it],’’ Payton said. “You guys [reporters] have a difficult job. What sells in your industry is something to either extreme, but the 85 percent in the middle is typically what we deal with on a weekly basis. Bill [Parcells] was really good at this. When it’s all [favorable], you’re making sure [to tell players] we have a lot that we have to improve on, and you show them the tape and emphasize that. I think just eliminating the outside distractions and eliminating what we call ‘the noise’ is more difficult today than it ever has been because of the amount of coverage and the amount of exposure to the game.’’ But facts are facts: The Saints are 3-0 largely because of the giant steps they’ve made on the less-famous side of the ball. The Saints are 144 yards stingier per game on D than they were a year ago, when they allowed more yards than any team in history. Expect blitzes from everywhere tonight, Ryan Tannehill.
The Adieu Haiku
Chip’s balloon has burst.
What a difference a month makes.
DeSean: Play DeD.