Now that was a really fun day of football and sidebars to football. A day plus, really, including tension in the Black Hole at 2:32 Eastern Time this morning. The highlights:
Mr. Freeman goes to Minneapolis. Josh Freeman wasn’t an unemployed quarterback for long. As Mike Florio reported on NBC late Sunday night, Minnesota GM Rick Spielman signed him to a one-year contract, and he’ll report to the Vikings today. Minnesota is coming off its bye week, and has a home game with Carolina Sunday afternoon. Freeman did the one-year deal for a strategic reason: He wants to be a free agent next March, able to sign with any quarterback-needy team before the lucrative 2014 quarterback draft in May. (More on the filthy-rich prospective QB crop lower in this column.) For now, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel will have company in the quarterback meeting room, and Freeman’s been brought in to play, not sit. The Vikings are only 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead, but before you get too excited about Freeman, check out my Stat of the Week. He’s a 50.8 percent passer over his last 10 starts, and that’s not going to win any jobs in Saskatchewan, never mind the Metrodome.
It’s not the right day to say Romo’s a bum. We all saw the pass Tony Romo, with 506 passing yards in a 48-48 tie very late in the Denver-Dallas game, threw. And he shouldn’t have thrown it. Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan stepped in front of rookie tight end Gavin Escobar and made an athletic interception at the Dallas 24. Eight plays later, as the clock ran out, Matt Prater kicked the winning 28-yard field goal. It follows the Romo pattern, of course, of throwing the ball to the other team in a vital moment. I have a hard time, though, saying, “Same ol’ Romo,’’ when his line before that throw was 25 of 35 for 506 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions; when he’d put up 48 points and the defense had a track meet run on it by Peyton Manning. I’m not absolving him of the error—just saying it’s not fair to rip Romo when he’s played the game of his life, and when Manning made the exact same mistake just a few drives earlier, throwing one to Morris Claiborne in a tense time. My takeaway from this game: There are no great teams in the NFC East; there may not even be one good one. But Dallas should win the division, even if it’s with a 7-9 record.
Danny Trevathan was shocked to be playing, never mind intercepting, on Sunday. “No way I thought I’d be here after what happened to me this week,’’ Trevathan said by phone after the game. On Wednesday at practice, Trevathan felt his knee pop and went down in pain. Lucky for him, an MRI showed no damage. “Just a strain,’’ he said. He said he broke on the Romo pass and was going for the interception all the way. “The ball was low, and I’m thankful for all the ball drills we do in practice,’’ Trevathan said. Ever been in a 51-48 game before, or one like it? “No sir,’’ he said. “This is the first game like this I’ve ever been a part of. It was a game we found out a lot about our character.”
How much longer for Matt Schaub? I know Gary Kubiak said last night Schaub is his quarterback, and the Texans will do everything they can this week to get him mentally ready for the boos at home, because they’re coming. The Rams will come to Reliant Stadium, and it’s got to be Schaub’s last stand. He looks like a shell of himself. He’s not a confident thrower right now, and it looked like he telegraphed a pick-6 90 seconds into the debacle loss at San Francisco. Amazing, really, how bad the Texans look right now, with such good players across the board (except for the offensive line, which is playing poorly and leaking too much pressure, and of course the quarterback). How the Texans do this week in performing mental rehab on Schaub will go a long way in determining whether they can salvage the season.
What’s my line? Depending on your source for gambling, it’s either 27.5 or 28 points for Jacksonville-Denver, which is significant because it is the most lopsided line in NFL history—or at least since records have been kept on such things, since 1972. A bookie in New Jersey (no names, please) told me last night he’d bet on the 0-5 Jaguars for a couple of reasons. “You don’t know who’s playing in the fourth quarter for Denver,’’ he said. “They could have [Brock] Osweiler in and take it easy on Jacksonville, or run a lot just to run out the clock. I’d bet Jacksonville.’’ We’ll be doing a series at The MMQB this week looking at the Jaguars’ place in the lowlights of NFL history, and how lines like this are created.
The play of the day wasn’t a pass. It was a punt. The most amazing play I saw all day was Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber booting one—in a monsoon, with a crosswind diagonally in his face and with the Patriots sending a punt-block team—57 yards with two minutes left and the Bengals trying to protect a 13-6 lead. “Heaviest rain I’ve ever punted in or played in, ever,’’ Huber said an hour after it was over. When, presumably, he was dry. I asked Huber to walk me through the play. It was 4th-and-2 at the Cincinnati 17. Huber stood at his own 2, and Patriots punt-returner Julian Edelman was downfield at the New England 40. The rain pelted down, and Huber wiped his hands a couple of times before the snap, not wanting the ball to slip through. “Mainly, you want to treat it like any other punt,’’ he said. “I saw they had everyone coming except for one blocker on our gunner and their return man, Edelman. The visibility was okay, and the snap was good. I’m not even thinking about the rain, just the punt. I was trying to get it directionally left, because I know how dangerous a returner Edelman is. When I kicked it, it felt good. It jumped off my foot. Like a good golf shot. They say when you hit a great golf shot, you can hardly feel it and it’s effortless. That’s what this felt like, and so I was pretty happy.’’ When Huber’s left foot contacted the ball, it was at the Bengals’ 6. Edelman kept retreating. Back and back and back, until he had one foot on the 25. Sixty-nine yards in the air, through a monsoon! “I never had one at the end of a game like that,’’ he said. Never mind the conditions. Edelman took it to the 35, and Tom Brady, in desperation, couldn’t finish the drive. Adam Jones ended it with an athletic pick. But the most valuable play in this game? A punt.
Dungy joins the chorus. As respected a voice on the NFL as I know, NBC analyst Tony Dungy, said last night on TV that Washington owner Dan Snyder should change the name of his team. “The Redskins nickname is offensive to Native Americans. In 2013 we need to get that name changed.” I reported last night that Snyder continues to be resolute about not changing the name. This comes on the heels of President Obama suggesting that if a “sizable group of people” is offended by its nickname, the owner should consider changing it. Last night, the attorney for the team, Lanny Davis, was strident to me in saying people were taking the president’s statement too far—and he’s right. “What is a sizable group?’’ he said. “In 2004, the only sampling of Native Americans [on this issue] was taken in an Annenberg Poll. Nine of 10 said they were not offended by the nickname. We respect anyone who is offended, but it is not a reason to change our name. When we sing ‘Hail to the Redskins,’ it is not an attempt to dishonor anyone.’’ I asked Davis if it was fair to characterize Snyder as resolute that he would not change the name. “I’d say the team is resolute, he is resolute, 95 percent of our fans are resolute and 90 percent of Native Americans are resolute,’’ he said. NFL owners meet in Washington Tuesday, and the Oneida Indian Nation has scheduled a symposium at the same hotel to discuss why the name “Redskins” is offensive to Native Americans.
That’s a lot of windy days, and nights. The way Al Michaels calculates it, Sunday night’s Texans-Niners game was about the 340th football or baseball game (the 26th football game) he’s done at Candlestick Park … and barring a game in the old dump being moved via NBC’s flex-scheduling in the last two months of the season, it was his last one. He did three years of San Francisco Giants baseball on the radio in the ’70s, then some baseball for ABC, and, of course, Sunday and Monday night football games. And the game he remembers most was one that wasn’t played. On Oct. 17, 1989, Michaels and partner Tim McCarver, readying for game three of the Bay Area World Series between San Francisco and Oakland at Candlestick, were nearing the end of a taped piece at the top of the show, at 5:04 p.m Pacific Time, when … well, listen to Michaels: “You’re in an intense state of concentration doing your job, but there’s suddenly this noise—sounds like kids banging bats on the floor of the upper deck—and this movement. We start to move. I lived in California, so I know earthquakes, and I know it’s either a big jolt that subsides, or a small jolt that builds. And so the lights in the booth went out. We couldn’t hear the truck. We didn’t know if we were on the air or not. McCarver grabbed my left thigh and squeezed it … I mean, we were holding on. I felt for a moment we’d be pitched out onto the lower deck.’’ It lasted 14 seconds, officially. Michaels guessed it was more like a minute. “You’re on national TV, so you don’t want to act like a baby. You have to keep your wits about you.’’ And finally, he did the open of the game that wouldn’t be played on the phone, on national TV. “Well folks, that’s the greatest open in the history of television, bar none.” I asked Michaels where this Candlestick moment ranked next to the Lake Placid Olympic hockey game. “That one’s on a shelf by itself,’’ he said. “But this one, you felt the importance of it. I was on the air on ABC till Good Morning America the next morning.’’
Monday Morning Football was fun.
With the Chargers driving frantically just inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, rookie Raiders corner D.J. Hayden made the biggest play of his young career. He darted in front of San Diego wideout Keenan Allen in the end zone and intercepted a Philip Rivers pass, securing the 27-17 Oakland win with the first interception of his NFL career.
At 2:32 this morning on the East Coast.
I found myself loving it—the lateness, the novelty, the vigor of the Black Hole crowd, the sereneding of Charles Woodson after the 56th interception of his career, the tremendous story of a player who nearly died on a college field last November (Hayden) being one of the heroes here.
The game ended at 2:39 a.m. Eastern Time, 11:39 p.m. Pacific Time, 8:39 p.m. Hawaii Time (held that late because of the time needed to change over the O.Co Coliseum after the Saturday night American League playoff game). At 3 a.m. Eastern, I polled my Twitter followers, asking them if they’d like to see a weekly very late Sunday night game. More football! Let’s gorge on football!
By 7 a.m., 127 of you morning people had responded. Voting yes: 91. No: 36. But as several of you tweeted, if I held that vote at noon on Monday instead of 3 a.m., I’d get a heck of a lot more no votes. One interesting refrain: Many of you said, in effect, the league should get rid of the Thursday night game and hold one of these late jobs after NBC’s Sunday night game is over. The biggest problem, of course, would be the venues and teams willing to hold a game so late. There are six teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, and it’s clear those are the teams that would need to host these games; hard to imagine midnight madness at East Coast stadia.
It’s an interesting concept, but one I doubt that would have any chance of happening. Just thought it was novel, and quite a few of you night owls enjoyed it.