– Tom Brady, in an early-morning email, some 11 hours after the unlikely 30-27 New England win over previously unbeaten New Orleans.
The latest chapter of the Book of Brady starts with a strange character, one who didn’t play or coach Sunday and was getting roasted for sitting the game out: Rob Gronkowski.
We all thought the Gronk story was over when the pregame shows finished filleting the man and his strange habit of practicing like an Olympian decathlete during the week and then sitting on the couch to watch the game, not play in it. But it turns out he had a very big role in this game, after all. Troy Aikman, early in the second quarter of the Saints-Patriots game on FOX, gave us a pretty big clue with the blanket coverage of Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib shutting out New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham to that point.
“You mentioned Rob Gronkowski and his situation,’’ Aikman said to partner Thom Brennaman, referring to Gronk’s being inactive for the sixth straight week with his mystery forearm injury. “One of the, I guess, positives that comes with that is he ran scout team all week. So the Patriots couldn’t have gotten a better look for having to face Jimmy Graham this week than what Rob Gronkowski showed them … When Bill Belichick decides he’s going to take [an opponent] out of the game, he does it as well as anybody. The key coming into this game for New England was trying to slow down and eliminate Jimmy Graham. That has happened.’’
As if on cue, the Saints snapped the ball two seconds later, with 12:44 left in the second quarter, and Graham ran a 10-yard cross on 3rd-and-10 from the Saints’ 23. Drew Brees fired it to him, with Talib in tight coverage. Graham had the ball in his hands, and Talib hammered it out. Incomplete.
I sensed Aikman was onto something, brilliant football mind that I am.
Brady confirmed it in his email.
“All of us have seen how badly Rob wants to help us win,’’ Brady wrote. “He has definitely given all he could in practice, especially on the scout teams to replicate the other teams’ best receiver. Though they may seem insignificant during the week, they are a huge reason why teams win.’’
What does this have to do with the scintillating end of game for Brady, the one that left Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan looking like his dog just died? Simple: In his previous four games, Graham rubbed out opponents with games of 179, 134, 100 and 135 yards (and five touchdowns). With Talib in his shirt, Graham was targeted six times by Drew Brees, with zero receptions. When you go from one guy accounting for 137 yards a game to zero, that’s going to tend to keep an offense down … and in this era of garish passer ratings and yardage numbers, Drew Brees going three-and-out on seven series in a game is pretty amazing.
“The good teams get better every week,’’ said Brady. “The mental toughness, the work ethic and discipline of all 53 guys on the roster matter.”
That leads us to the end of the game meaning something.
Tom Brady’s targets on New England’s 13 plays in the final 3:29:
(The ball was spiked by Brady once.)
Check out that cast. He met Dobson and Thompkins right after the draft. He met Collie two weeks ago. Bolden and Hoomanuwanui are bit pieces, who, with the right players healthy, wouldn’t have been playing this late in a game.
With 3:29 to play, New Orleans took a 24-23 lead, and the Patriots took the ball over. Hoomanawanui caught a four-yard one-hopper on first down (the officials missed the ball hitting the ground before the catch). Second-down karma: Bolden dropped what would have been a first-down conversion, because he ran before he caught it. And on fourth down, Dobson dropped another conversion throw. Belichick clearly figured—reminiscent of his gambit against the Colts in his own territory in 2009, the difference being here he trailed—his chances to make a first down here were better than his defense’s chances to hold the Saints without points. And if the Patriots held the Saints to a field goal, it was still a one-score game.
The Patriots held New Orleans to a field goal, all right. Saints, 27-23. But on the first play with the ball, Brady went for a big chunk downfield, to Edelman up the seam. Beneath him, Dobson was running an incut. It appeared that Brady figured Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis would shadow Dobson underneath when Dobson broke under Edelman. But Lewis stuck with Edelman and intercepted the ball.
“I saw Julian running through the safety,’’ Brady said, “and made a bad read. My worst play of the night.”
With 2:16 left now, the Patriots had one timeout plus the two-minute warning to stop the clock. One Saints conversion and New England was doomed. But they couldn’t convert. So Brady took over at the Pats’ 30.
How often does a quarterback have a chance three times in the last 3:30 to drive his team to victory? Now Brady was taking his third shot, 70 yards away, with no timeouts, and 73 seconds left. Collie had played one snap in this, his first game as a Patriot. But now he’d be on for the duration. The Patriots put their fastest four receivers on the field, all knowing that time was critical. When they caught a ball in-bounds, they knew to run it to the umpire or head linesman so the spot could happen quickly. Thompkins lined up wide left and Collie in the left slot. Edelman was wide right, and Dobson in the slot. All ran vertical routes, and Brady hit Edelman and Collie on the first two throws for 38 yards, then Dobson for six. After two incompletions, it was 4th-and-4, with 16 seconds left.
Now, Collie had practiced with the team six times. He was in the game now because Danny Amendola was hurt again. “We’ve worked after practice on some things this past week so that he could be in position to help our team win,’’ Brady wrote. “He runs great routes and I liked him on the option route he was running on that particular coverage.”
On the biggest play of the game to this point (the seventh play of Collie’s Patriot career), Brady saw he had the most advantageous matchup—against Malcolm Jenkins, and the Patriots thought the quick Collie could beat the bigger but not-as-quick safety on a little curl option route off the line. Brady’s pass was spot on, Collie gained nine, and he ran the ball in a hurry to the umpire, who placed it down. Brady spiked it. Ten seconds left.
That’s pretty good: A fourth-down conversion, receiver down, receiver pops up, runs the ball to the official, who spots it, the players get set, and Brady spikes it. All in six seconds.
With 10 seconds left at the 17, Brady knew he’d have two shots at the end zone, but he couldn’t waste any time. Same four-wide formation: Thompkins, Collie, Dobson, Edelman. Brady didn’t hide his intention. Thompkins, man to man with veteran Jabari Greer, got half a step on the defender, and Brady threw it a second after getting the snap. Perfect throw. The Patriots like the 6-1 Thompkins because he can be physical in going up to get the ball. He didn’t need to be physical here, but he leaped above Greer and snatched it, getting his feet down cleanly seven yards deep in the corner of the end zone.
“You can’t give Tom Brady three chances at a two-minute drill,’’ said Brees.
Even when his team is as patchwork as he’s played with in New England. In many ways, that makes this game, and this season, all the more rewarding for Brady. Peyton Manning has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker; Brady has Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. Manning has Julius Thomas. Brady has Michael Hoomanawanui. Manning’s slot guy is Brady’s beloved slot guy, Wes Welker. Brady’s? Maybe Danny Amendola. Or Julian Edelman. Or Austin Collie.
What we love about sports is when we can’t quantify the outcome of a game. This game in Foxboro, even with the Saints on the road, should have belonged to the Saints. But New England’s defense is improving, and you always have a chance with Brady. And this morning, he took a minute to soak it in—before moving on to the next one. Just a minute.
“We have faced some pretty challenging circumstances these past few months,’’ Brady wrote. “But no one has listened to the BS outside our football building. Guys have worked hard and have been ready when their number has been called.
“We have been grinding it out to get to 5-1. I would love to grind another one out to get to 6-1.”
Patriots at Jets, Sunday at 1. The next chapter. It can’t be as good as the last chapter. Can it?
And for the radio call …
Patriots radio analyst Scott Zolak’s analysis after the Thompkins touchdown:
“BRADY’S BACK! That’s your quarterback! Who left the building? Unicorns, show ponies, where’s the beef!! Boy, when you thought you’ve seen it all, when it’s total despair, 14 years in the league, this situation after situation he’s been through, to elevate a rookie! My god!”
Could be the great non-sequitor radio call of all time.
The biggest reason Kansas City is 6-0: The D.
The only two unbeatens left are in the AFC West: Denver and Kansas City, both 6-0. The Broncos have gotten there with offense. But Kansas City’s biggest spur has been a rebuilt defense by this week’s coach of the week, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who has taken most of the same talent Romeo Crennel coached last season and made it a lean, attacking machine. Just six weeks into the season, the Chiefs have passed last year’s sack total. The 10 sacks from Sunday’s win over the Raiders boosted the total for the year to 31—four more than Kansas City had in 16 games last year.
For a detailed view of the Chiefs, read Robert Klemko’s piece from the great Midwest on The MMQB. It’s good and detailed.
For the defensive view, I asked outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who had 3.5 of the sacks against the Raiders, for the difference between this year’s defense and last year’s. The simplest way to look at it is the Chiefs, because Sutton’s defense has some Rex Ryan tendencies (they worked together at the Jets), is a risk-embracing, odd-blitzing group. And it’s working.
“We don’t want to give the quarterback time to think,’’ Hali said from Kansas City after the game. “We bring a lot of confusion. Sometimes it looks like all the pressure is coming from one gap.’’
I told him Rex Ryan’s defense, dating back to Baltimore, often featured two or three rushers flooding one gap. “Your rush looks like that sometimes—like organized insanity,’’ I said.
“Insanity, yeah,’’ he said. “Insanity is the right word.”
But it must feel sane to Hali: By one measure, quarterback pressure and sacks, he too has surpassed his 2012 numbers. His combined sacks/pressures through six games is 46.5. Last year, he had 46 all season.
“As a pass rusher, I think the defense shows I can beat my man one on one, which is why I like it,’’ said Hali. “Coach knows how to use us all, so we’re all good in our roles.”
But will it work?
Now we see the NFL’s response to the month that set diversity back in the league. Last January, as you recall, NFL teams hired eight head coaches and seven general managers. All 15: white. (The Bills broke the schneid in May by hiring Doug Whaley, who is African-American, to be their general manager.] But in the months following, the league’s executive vice president of human resources, Robert Gulliver, and senior vice president of player engagement, Troy Vincent, have cobbled together a list of eight former coaches and GMs, and the group had its first meeting Thursday in New York City to begin the process of improving the diversity scorecard.
The NFL Head Coach and General Manager Advisory Panel includes former GMs Ernie Accorsi, Ron Wolf, Charlie Casserly and Bill Polian, former Chiefs president Carl Peterson, and ex-coaches Tony Dungy, Dennis Green and John Madden.
One way that could help advance minority hiring, particularly of coaches, is to give owners and club executives involved in the hiring process blind resumes—that is, resumes with the background and accomplishments of candidates, but not their names. That way, the theory goes, those hiring could look at an impressive nameless resume and commit to pursue the candidate before knowing who the candidate is. Would it help to be told about a college head coach of a top-10 team who has won 69 percent of his games and been a defensive coordinator at three major-college programs? No one knows if a team would say, “Whoever that is, let’s check him out.” It would, though, render the process color-blind, theoretically, without knowing the candidate is Charlie Strong, the African-American coach at Louisville.
But no metrics or plans are near final form yet. The committee hopes to have a plan to help the process by late November, and it won’t advance only the names of qualified African-American coaches, according to a league memo sent to the 32 teams.
The memo stated: “Through a series of facilitated panel meetings and individual discussions, the panel will assess potential head coach and general manager talent with the goal of identifying a viable short list of ‘ready now’ candidates. Panelists will consider both objective and subjective criteria. The panel is not intended to replace the work done by third parties such as search firms or advocacy groups like the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but rather, is intended to be a supplemental data point that can help owners and decision makers in the next hiring cycle. The panel will consider all talent, inclusive of diverse and non-diverse personnel.”
That’s some human-resource-speak right there. But the league knows it has a diversity problem on its hands after the January shutout, and something must be tried.
1. Denver (6-0). Funny line, and apt, after Montee Ball dropped a pass in the 35-19 win over Jacksonville, from CBS color man Dan Fouts: “Do you think he eats with those hands? He’d starve to death.”
2. Kansas City (6-0). Now the match of 9-0 titans in five weeks looks real. The Chiefs have Houston at home, Cleveland at home and the Bills on the road (and a bye) before traveling to Denver Nov. 17. Denver does have to get through an emotional Sunday nighter at Indy next week.
3. New England (5-1). Where does that rank on the Tom Brady all-time list of great wins? I say it’s got to be in the top six or eight. Let’s see. Three Super Bowls, and two AFC title wins over the Colts, then … what else?
4. New Orleans (5-1). In a couple of days, the utter shock of Patriots 30, Saints 27, will wear off, and the team will go on its bye week, and New Orleans coach Sean Payton will appreciate where the team is. Think of the Saints on Oct. 14, 2012: 1-5, in the midst of a horsecrap bye week with no hope. Think of the Saints on Oct. 14, 2013: 5-1, and in 14 days, they beat the 3-0 Dolphins by 21 at home, beat the 3-1 Bears by eight at Soldier Field, and almost beat the 4-1 Patriots by a point in Foxboro. This team’s got a ticket to the NFC title game, minimum, barring a major injury streak.
5. Indianapolis (4-1). Comparing the first 21 games of the Indianapolis careers of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck: Record—Luck 15-6, Manning 6-15. Passing yards—Luck 5,518, Manning 5,134. Touchdown-interception differential—Luck plus-10, Manning plus-2.
6. Seattle (5-1). Now for Arizona on Thursday night, on the road. Even without Calais Campbell (assuming the injured Bird doesn’t play), the Seattle line is in for a tough night.
7. San Francisco (4-2). So this is what the 49ers have been waiting for: an 18-play, 89-yard drive led by Colin Kaepernick, lasting over nine minutes, in the fourth quarter of a 22-20 game against Arizona. That made it 29-20, and was exactly what Kaepernick, who has struggled often in the first six weeks of the season, needed.
8. Cincinnati (4-2). Taking overtime to beat Buffalo is a worry. But Andy Dalton made enough plays when Cincinnati needed them.
9. Green Bay (3-2). Pack’s allowed 26 points in the last two games, showing signs of life on defense that have been missing for, oh, about a year.
10. Detroit (4-2). Waiting for the time when there’s a dance in Grand Rapids called “The Fauria.”
11. Chicago (4-2). Not saying Marc Trestman has completely overhauled Jay Cutler’s game, because he hasn’t. But I think Trestman is helping Cutler play smarter, and not taking some of the risky chances he’s taken in the past. He’s a 70 percent passer with no interceptions in the last two games, including the win over the Giants Thursday.
12. Dallas (3-3). The Cowboys are playing on offense (79 points in two games) the way Chip Kelly hoped his Eagles would be producing by now. Dallas at 3-3 Philly, Sunday at 1, for the NFC East lead. Looks like a Romo-Foles duel.
13. Miami (3-2). Out of the bye, Dolphins have the Bills at home, the Pats in Foxboro and the Bengals at home on a Thursday night.
14. Philadelphia (3-3). Finally, some impact plays from DeSean Jackson.
15. Baltimore (3-3). I don’t know what the stranger stat line is. Ray Rice rushing (71 carries, 197 yards, 2.8 per carry) or Ray Rice receiving (20 catches, 87 yards, 4.4 yards per catch).
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Tom Brady, QB, New England. A meh day on the stat sheet (25 of 43, 269 yards, one TD, one pick, six drops), but the 30-27 victory over New Orleans was one of the great ones of a great player’s career. Against one of the best defenses in the league, after two fruitless and frustrating late drives, Brady took the Patriots and their cast of newbies (Austin Collie, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, etc.) 70 yards in eight plays to the winning touchdown with five seconds left. While a third of the crowd was already on its way out of the place on Route 1, headed home.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Down to two wide receivers after a spate of injuries in Baltimore, Rodgers was trying to add to a shaky 9-3 lead late in the third quarter. With Jordy Nelson split wide right against ace Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, Nelson got a step on Webb, who was caught peeking into the backfield at play-action. Launching the ball from his 34, Rodgers threw a perfect pass 56 yards in the air. The ball landed in Nelson’s arms at the Ravens’ 11, and he sauntered in for the first touchdown of a defensive battle. Not Rodgers’ best stat day (17 of 32 for 315 yards with one TD and one pick), but the mark of a great quarterback is coping in adverse conditions on the road—against the defending Super Bowl champs, I might add.
Defensive Players of the Week
Tamba Hali, OLB, Kansas City. For 40 minutes, KC and Oakland were cuffing each other around in a 7-7 tie at Arrowhead. But the pressure D, led by Hali’s 3.5 sacks, finally made Terrelle Pryor crack. Pryor was sacked seven times in the last 29 minutes of the 24-7 Kansas City victory, three times by Hali.
Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh. In a typically stingy game for the Steelers defense, Clark had the first Pittsburgh takeaway of the year—an interception of Geno Smith near the end zone, preventing a New York touchdown—and totaled eight tackles plus a pass defensed.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Garrison Sanborn, LS, Buffalo. Long-snappers don’t get noticed much. But on the last play of the third quarter in a tight game with Cincinnati, Sanborn snapped from the Buffalo 44-yard line to punter Brian Moorman and took off sprinting. Sanborn ran 51 yards to the Cincinanti 5-yard line, where Adam Jones was trying to find the handle on the punt. Just as he did, Sanborn wrapped up Pacman and downed him at the 5. Great example of hustle and what a big factor a special-teams play can be.
Rodney McLeod, S, St. Louis. With the Rams up 24-6 in the third quarter over an increasingly desperate team of Texans, Greg Zuerlein kicked off, and McLeod came flying in from the left, popping Keshawn Martin and forcing a fumble. Fellow undrafted rookie free agent Daren Bates picked it up and ran 10 yards for the touchdown. That finished off Houston—maybe for the season.
Mason Crosby, K, Green Bay. He might have been one of two big misses from losing his job at a couple points in the last 12 months, but Crosby repaid Mike McCarthy’s faith on Sunday in Baltimore. He hit on field goals in every quarter—from 45, 31, 50 and 31 yards—in a 19-17 Packers win.
Coach of the Week
Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator, Kansas City. Same cast, basically, as the 2012 defensive team that allowed 26.6 points a game. This year’s D is allowing 10.8, and the defenders swear by Sutton’s send-blitzers-from-anywhere scheme. Against the Raiders Sunday, it was typical 2013 Kansas City defense: 274 yards allowed, 10 sacks of Terrelle Pryor, three interceptions.
Goats of the Week
The Candlestick fans who did the Wave while Calais Campbell lay injured on the turf. Galling. Made worse because Campbell appeared to be seriously injured. As Niners CEO Jed York tweeted late Sunday night: “To say I’m disappointed some fans did the wave this afternoon while @Campbell93 was down is understatement. Hope you get well soon Calais.”
Terence Newman, CB, Cincinnati. I know, I know. The Bengals came back to win in overtime. Lucky for them after Newman’s fourth-quarter gaffe. How Newman, singled against rookie Marquise Goodwin with the Bengals nursing a seven-point lead, lets the kid get two steps on him to catch the tying touchdown pass and force overtime is beyond me. But he did, thus earning the goat horns.
Quotes of the Week
“We’re at a very strange time. We know there’s a problem. We’ve identified a problem. But we don’t have many answers. So it’s a really uncomfortable time knowing a little but not knowing enough.”
—Dr. Ann McKee, who has studied 46 deceased former NFL players’ brains and found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy—a crippling brain disease—in 45, at a speech Thursday night at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. The remarks were reported by the Birmingham News.
McKee, one of the medical stars of the PBS documentary League of Denial, is in my opinion a hero of this movement for pushing for more answers, and more studies of how football affects the brain. As she told the News: “It’s very inconvenient. This is a big problem. It’s not something you can easily solve. It’s going to make your life much more complicated if you’re involved in sports at all. It definitely has huge financial repercussions. And sometimes it’s hard to change people’s minds.”
“Rob is going to know when he wants to play, and Rob loves the game of football. When Rob wants to play, when Rob can play, he’ll play. No one here questions Rob’s desire about the game, about his passion for the game, and wanting to play the game of football.”
—Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, on the strange case of tight end Rob Gronkowski’s injured forearm, to radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
—Houston linebacker Brian Cushing, opining on the Texans fans cheering at a time when embattled quarterback Matt Schaub was laying on the field at Reliant Stadium with an ankle injury Sunday.
“Never say never because then you become a hypocrite. I’ve seen too many other people in my profession say never and come back. Always keep doors open in life. That’s the important thing to do.”
—CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher, to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on his self-imposed exile from coaching, and his chances of returning to it now that he has a cushy job in TV and as a commercial spokesman.
I don’t doubt a lucrative offer with the right team could tempt Cowher, but he’s been out six years and nine months now. The earliest he could re-take a job, 2014, would be eight seasons after he last coached. That’s an awful long time to be out of the game—to have seen all your assistant coaches from the Steelers years scatter with the wind, and to be accustomed to a totally different lifestyle than the all-consuming one a head coach experiences.
“It’s going to be a long road.”
—Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, to Derrick Gunn of CSNPhilly.com Saturday, on the rehab from a hamstring injury suffered last week against the Giants. The long road started with a day off at Tampa Bay Sunday, and could continue next week against Dallas at home.
Stat of the Week
Reggie Wayne needs four receptions tonight at San Diego to become the eighth wide receiver in NFL history to catch 1,000 passes. (He’ll be the ninth player overall; tight end Tony Gonzalez has 1,275 receptions.)
Wayne will be inextricably tied to Marvin Harrison in history, and to Peyton Manning. For eight seasons, from 2001 to 2008, they were Manning’s targets in a time of unprecedented regular-season prosperity—91 wins. Harrison played with Manning for 11 years, and Wayne was Manning’s target for 10. Now, while Wayne would appear to be in the twilight of his Colts career with wunderkind Andrew Luck, don’t tell him that. In training camp this year he told one Colts operative who asked him how many years he had left, “Infinity.”
But as he approaches 1,000, the most impressive thing to me is his durability. Wayne has played every game since the last one of 2001, his rookie season: 200 in a row, including playoffs. And his production is getting better in his 30s. Wayne turned 30 during his eighth NFL season. So I’ve drawn a line of demarcation between year seven and eight, and here’s how the six years before and six years after that look:
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
In 10 minutes, the Ole Miss quarterback depth chart from a decade ago had a very bad Thursday night.
Ten years ago, Eli Manning was the starting quarterback at Ole Miss and Seth Smith one of his backups. They’ve gone their separate sporting ways since, Manning to the NFL and Smith to major-league baseball. And they’ve had better Thursday nights. Within 10 minutes of each other, Manning threw his third interception of the night at Chicago, dooming the Giants to a 27-21 loss; and Smith made the final out of the American League Division Series against Detroit. The Giants went home 0-6. Smith went home for the winter.
Tweets of the Week
“Bob McNair wasn’t available after the game. I didn’t need him to know he’ll fire Gary Kubiak if Texans continue to embarrass themselves.”
—@McClain_on_NFL, veteran Houston scribe John McClain, referring to the owner (McNair) and coach (Kubiak) of Houston, after the Texans embarrassed themselves at home in an ugly loss to St. Louis.
“Weeden just threw such a careless interception it makes Brett Favre look conservative.”
—@richeisen of NFL Network, after Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden’s second of two interceptions against Detroit.
“Breaking: Jets trade eight first-round picks for Thad Lewis, prepare to unleash ‘WildThad’ offense by 2015”
—SI.com NFL analyst @SI_DougFarrar, after Thad Lewis, on the Bills’ practice squad a week ago, drove the Bills through the Bengals for a first-quarter touchdown.
“Sentences I never thought I’d type: If the Giants go 0-16, I do not think they should take Teddy Bridgewater.’’
—@StevePoliti, columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 6:
a. Linebacker Jon Beason, in his Giants debut, with a team-high 12 tackles. That’s what you call looking on the bright side of an 0-6 team.
b. Brandon Marshall’s green shoes in the win over the Giants Thursday night. Easy for me to say, “Take the silly $5,000 fine,’’ but it was worth it to draw attention to the issue of mental health.
c. Adam Podlesh, the Chicago punter, who had but three boots Thursday—but they pinned the Giants back at their 8-, 9- and 11-yard lines.
d. Where did that 106-yard evening come from, Brandon Jacobs?
e. What a throw by Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller, up the seam, high, between two Jets.
f. And loved the backward pass from Ben to Antonio Brown, who rolled out and threw a quirky spiral to Felix Jones for a first down.
g. Ref Gene Steratore’s explanation
h. Great catch by A.J. Green, high above the defense in the Buffalo end zone.
i. Nifty shovel pass by Andy Dalton to Gio Benard, which Bernard freelanced into a touchdown gallop.
j. Brandon Tate’s 29-yard punt return in overtime, weaving and bobbing, to set up the winning field goal for Cincinnati in overtime.
k. An efficient day for Cam Newton: 20 of 26 with no picks. And a 35-10 stunner in Minneapolis.
l. John Fox after the 16-point win over the Jags. “There is resistance out there. It’s called the other team.” Love that.
m. The New York Times headline on the Denver-Jacksonville game: “Broncos beat Jaguars but not the spread.”
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 6:
a. It’s easy to pick on Eli Manning, because he’s thrown 15 interceptions. But it’s also hard to pick on Manning, because he’s getting chased all over the field every week, and because it appeared his second interception Thursday was a result of Reuben Randle running the wrong route.
b. Love so much of what you’ve done, Terrelle Pryor. But there’s no way you make that careless, risky interception in a 7-7 game.
c. Speaking of utterly preposterous, I bring you the interception of T.J. Yates, who threw to Janoris Jenkins in the end zone like he was the intended receiver.
d. Cover the man, Sam Shields, not some invisible person in the backfield.
e. The Houston Texans are in the most stunning free-fall west of Atlanta (I say the Texans are a bigger surprise than the Falcons). The Texans were clearly one of the three or four most talented teams I saw in training camp this summer. Losing by 25 at home to the Rams? One of the strangest results I’ve seen in my years covering the league.
f. Geno Smith’s consistency. Or lack thereof.
g. The Tennessee running game. Chris Johnson at Seattle: 12 carries, 33 yards. Maybe he’s channeling his inner Trent Richardson.
h. Brandon Weeden’s self-proclaimed “bonehead” shovel pass intercepted by Detroit’s DeAndre Levy. Just another brick in the wall to a first-round quarterback for Cleveland in 2014.
3. I think Andrea Kremer deserves applause for her story on Packers defensive tackle Johnny Jolly, back from prison and addictions to drinking and codeine. “At the rate I was going, I could’ve been dead,’’ Jolly told Kremer. And a lot more.
4. I think you’re not going to need a first-round quarterback, Raiders, from what I’ve seen out of Terrelle Pryor. And that comes after he made too many mistakes at Kansas City.
5. I think this is just a guess, but I Donte Whitner/Hitner’s going to wake up one day at, say, 39 and say to himself: “I’m changing it back. Like, right now.”
6. I think in case you missed it, Justin Blackmon showed in the 35-19 loss to Denver why he’s the most important Jaguar. This is the game Jacksonville was supposed to lose by 40 and didn’t because the Broncos couldn’t cover the rangy and dangerous Blackmon (14 catches, 190 yards). It’s is absolutely incumbent on the Jags that they corral Blackmon’s personal life and make sure he stays out of trouble for the future. As long as the Jags put him on the field, they’ll be no offensive pushovers.
7. I think, after watching a good bit of college football over the weekend, I can picture Marcus Mariota throwing to Justin Blackmon over the corners of the AFC South for years to come, if Blackmon can find a way to stay on the straight and narrow after his dangerous dalliances with alcohol. (You can tell I’m dubious.) But as I said on NBC Sunday night, what was once a virtual certainty—either Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina pass rusher Jadaveon Clowney being the first pick in the draft next May—is now in doubt. Mariota will be draft-eligible next May (as will many other attractive quarterbacks, including Johnny Manziel) because he’s in his third college season out of high school. And at least two teams love Mariota to the point that I believe if he comes out those teams would have him higher on their board than Bridgewater.
8. I think forcing a team to do Hard Knocks, as the NFL suggested it could do last week to ensure the show going on each summer at some team’s training camp, is just plain wrong.
9. I think the Giants should trade Hakeem Nicks. They’re not going to sign him after this season, and some team would give them a draft choice to rent Nicks for the last 11 weeks of the season. No downside for either side, if you ask me.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. David Ortiz knows drama, I’ll say that.
b. Seventeen months ago, Michael Wacha was pitching at Texas A&M. Amazing to think he’ll likely have a better pro career than the far more famous Texas A&M thrower.
c. Wow. How impressive is Wacha? Striking out Yasiel Puig with the bases loaded on a 3-2 count, then getting one of the best clutch playoff hitters, Juan Uribe, on a K next. Good to watch.
d. And Anibal Sanchez? And Max Scherzer? Lord. What pitching over the weekend in the two championship series. If Detroit had a bullpen, the AL series would be just about over this morning.
e. And I don’t want to hear about what a horrible job Joe West did behind the plate Saturday night. The check swings that enraged the Red Sox all checked out correct on replay, and none of the marginal strike calls was over-the-top bad, the replay showing them at least touching or very close to the strike zone.
f. Good decision to step away and get as healthy as you can with your epilepsy issues, Jerry Kill. And good support from the University of Minnesota to back you as strongly as it does.
g. Coffeenerdness: I have nothing to say about coffee this week, other than I drank a lot of it during the week. Can I have a week off?
h. Beernerdness: So it’s October, and I wrote last week about the cool pumpkin ale from Harpoon. I’ve got a weakness for trying these pumpkin brews. So over the week I had the Southern Tier Imperial Pumking Ale. I’ve praised Southern Tier Hopsun in the past, and hear great things about this brewery. But Pumking Ale’s not for me. It’s a taste explosion—too much pumpkin, too many spices (and too strong), and too sweet. I’ll take my pumpkin ale on the conservative side.
i. Congrats, Alice Munro. I love modest, humble and talented people winning awards they truly deserve.
Who I Like Tonight
Indianapolis 27, San Diego 23. The focus will be on two high-pick quarterbacks, which is understandable given the Monday night stage. But I hope you take time tonight to appreciate a quiet one, Indy wideout Reggie Wayne, who is four catches from 1,000. This is how Chuck Pagano praised him Saturday: “He takes a beginner’s mentality every year that he shows up to training camp. All the great ones do that. Phil Jackson, coming off winning six championships, right? You read his book, all he ever talked about with his players every year, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, whoever: take a beginner’s mentality. This is your rookie season. And that’s what he’s done. Every year he comes in, it’s like starting over. He’s got his iPad out, he’s got his notepad and he treats it like his rookie year.”
The Adieu Haiku
Sunday in Boston:
Brady first, then Big Papi
Worcester’s hoarse today.