No Perfect Endings, Just Luck
Soaking in what happened Sunday and what those happenings mean:
Wild-Card wonderment. It’s early. Nine games left is an eternity, etc., blah, blah, blah. But Kansas City’s win and Denver’s loss sets up at least the prospect of K.C. winning the AFC West and the Broncos being a wild card—likely the fifth seed. In that scenario Denver would play at the fourth seed. Maybe Cincinnati. Maybe Indianapolis or New England. Could you take a weekend rematch, Peyton Manning at Andrew Luck? Or Peyton Manning at Tom Brady for the 867th time? (The 866th: Nov. 24 in Foxboro.) Come to think of it, Denver at Cincinnati would be a pretty big letdown.
Sam Bradford’s done for the year; the Rams probably are too. Bradford got waylaid on a scramble out of bounds at Carolina, and an MRI back in St. Louis Sunday night revealed he tore his ACL. A shame, seeing how Bradford, completing 61 percent of his throws with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions, was playing well even if his team wasn’t, and this season was a good time to get Bradford and his young receivers clicking together. No more. Next Monday—assuming the World Series isn’t a four-game sweep by either Boston or St. Louis—a strange doubleheader will be played in downtown St. Louis. At 7:07 p.m. Central Time, World Series Game 5 is scheduled at Busch Stadium. At 7:40 p.m. Central Time, the Rams will host the Seahawks; backup Kellen Clemens, Bernie Kosar’s favorite quarterback, will sub for Bradford, presumably. I mention this because the locals will be all-in on the Cards, the best hope for a St. Louis championship, and likely will view the Rams as a lost cause yet again and leave quite a few seats empty. In Week 4 the Rams got their clocks cleaned in a prime-time home game against the Niners. Now, in Week 8, more of the same wouldn’t be surprising. Another nationally televised debacle? Not good for the future of football in that town.
A killer Sunday for injuries. As I spoke by phone to Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips about his late father, Bum Phillips, Sunday from Kansas City, we were interrupted. “I am sorry,’’ Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles said to Phillips. “I wasn’t trying to hurt him.’’ Wade Phillips said he knew Charles was trying to make a clean play when he blocked linebacker Brian Cushing from the side and seemed to cave in his rehabbed reconstructed left knee. Also for the Texans, Arian Foster left with a bad hamstring. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler (groin), Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) and Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) could miss significant time. The Texans, on a five-game losing streak, already were in a lost season. If Cutler is gone long in Chicago, the Bears could be headed down the same road.
And, of course, there was that game in Indianapolis.
There’s not a more perfect Manning II than Luck.
You love perfect endings in sports. Entering Sunday night, a perfect ending felt like Peyton Manning being feted in Indianapolis pre-game, dueling it out with his heir, Andrew Luck, and then leading his new team to a thrilling win over his old team. But Ronnie Hillman doesn’t fumble at the 3 in perfect endings, and Pat Angerer doesn’t intercept tipped wounded ducks in perfect endings. There was something fulfilling about the new boss beating the old boss Sunday night, and the new boss not really caring about the narrative America had been obsessed with in the days before the Colts and Broncos met Sunday night. One of Luck’s good friends, tight end and former Stanford teammate Coby Fleener, told me as much a couple of hours after the Colts’ 39-33 victory.
“This game, to Andrew, wasn’t about proving himself,’’ Fleener said from Indianapolis. “One of the things I think Andrew loves about football is it’s a meritocracy. You’ve got to go out and prove yourself over and over, and for him it’s about proving himself to his teammates and his coaches—not to you and Bob Costas. And it’s not him versus Peyton. Never has been, never will.’’
After the game, Luck deflected all the praise, and all the meaning of the game, and he was most emotional—anguished, it seemed—about missing a throw to Reggie Wayne, with Wayne, contorting himself trying to make a tough catch, hurting his knee. How hurt, we don’t know. “It stinks to the nth degree,’’ said Luck. “I put a lot of blame on myself for missing that throw.”
There was no end of a movie here tonight. We won. We’re happy. But it wasn’t our Super Bowl. It’s not going to define our season or anything like that.—Coby Fleener
This game was won as much by the Indianapolis defense (more about Vontae Davis and Robert Mathis in a moment) as it was won by Luck. But in the end, to Luck, it was about normalcy, and about not ever making football any more than it is: a test of 11 against 11. The inflammatory quotes and big Wednesday and Thursday stories … If those things hype the game and boost the ratings, great. But it’s nothing Luck involves himself with, and nothing Luck feels has a bit to do with the outcome of any game. “I think we kept our focus. We didn't let the outside sphere of influence creep into the locker room, which I think is a testament to the guys,’’ Luck said.
Meritocracy. Outside sphere of influence. Stanford words. Reminds me of the NFL scouting combine in 2012, when I found out Luck’s favorite book was Papillon, and he eschewed cable TV for his first two years of college. Didn’t have time for it; too much else to do. “Don’t go making me into a nerd,’’ he said. Or the time, on his first NFL road trip, he reminded quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen that Chicago is a great architecture city.
So, for Luck, what happened Sunday night wasn’t going to fit into our neat idea of a sportswriting narrative, no matter what happened. As Fleener said: “There was no end of a movie here tonight. We won. We’re happy. But it wasn’t our Super Bowl. It’s not going to define our season or anything like that.”
This game turned not on a play by Luck, but on one by Mathis, the longtime Manning teammate who, on this night, was his tormentor. Midway through the second quarter, Mathis showed how much Denver missed left tackle Ryan Clady. His backup, Chris Clark, was turnstiled by Mathis—the NFL sack leader with 11.5—who blindsided Manning near his own goal line. The strip-sack forced the ball out, and it bounced into the end zone, and a safety resulted. Those were the first two of 23 straight Indianapolis points. Luck led three straight touchdown drives, and by the time Manning started the comeback midway through the third quarter, it was 33-14.
Luck would be the first to tell you he had help, and not only from Mathis. Davis played the best game of his 14-month Colts tenure. The Colts were brutish with the graceful Denver wide receivers, and never let them get comfortable. “Our game plan was to be physical with their wide receivers, and if we got some flags thrown on us, so be it,’’ Davis told me after the game. “They’re pretty much a dink-and-dunk passing game, so what we tried to do is disrupt that. And we got a lot of help from our pass rush. Robert [Mathis], he’s playing like he’s 22, not 32.”
Manning and Luck shared a five-second moment after the game. Circumstances have thrown them together in history. They may never be close friends, but they will be admirers. Manning was gracious in defeat, praising the Colts and their fans and the defense, and he seemed to get prickly only when reminded that he threw some wobbly passes in the game. “I throw a lot of wobbly passes,’’ he said. “A lot of wobbly TDs too.”
Luck finished mistake-free (21 of 38, 228 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions or turnovers), and didn’t appear to be affected either before or during the game by the magnitude of it. “I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary from what I always see with Andrew,’’ said Fleener. “A lot of quarterbacks, I guess, would feel they have to do something out of the ordinary on a night like this. But Andrew understands it’s going to be his play on the field, and nothing else, that will determine his success.”
And that’s why Indianapolis should feel like the luckiest city in the NFL this morning.
So you’re unfamiliar with NFL Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 (b)(2) ...
Patriots at Jets, overtime, Jets kicker Nick Folk misses a 56-yard field goal. Patriots prepare to start a drive at the New England 38-yard line. I find this amazing: “The 2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League” is 159 pages long. There is even a half-page for "Guidelines for Captains," including options on the coin toss.
For the infraction called for the first time in NFL history Sunday, on the decisive play in a game that could have major playoff implications, there is one sentence. Twenty-five words.
The sentence is on page 51: “When Team A presents a field-goal or Try Kick formation … Team B players cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offensive formation.”
On the play in the Meadowlands, as the ball was snapped for the field goal, New England free-agent defensive lineman Chris Jones tried to shove another Patriots lineman, Will Svitek, through the gap between the center and right guard. Svitek almost squeezed through, but he was blocked by the Jets’ punt-team guard, Damon Harrison (actually a defensive tackle). The blocking didn’t matter. Once Jones shoved his teammate into the gap, the umpire standing behind the Patriots’ line, Tony Michalek, threw the flag. Correctly. “That’s a rules change for 2013 that a teammate cannot push a teammate into the opponent's formation,’’ said referee Jerome Boger to a pool reporter after the game. “It’s any type of pushing action.”
There was some confusion—partially of the league’s doing—when Bill Belichick said after the game that the call was wrong because it didn’t originate from the “second level,” or area behind the line of scrimmage. And there are videos from earlier this season in which vice president of officiating Dean Blandino refers to “the second level’’ when he interprets the rule. As Mike Florio explained Sunday night on Pro Football Talk: “The problem is that the NFL previously has explained the new rule on its official website by suggesting that the rule applies only to pushes from the second level.’’
At NBC, a digest of rules is kept handy for the particularly prickly ones. And there’s no reference to a “second level” when discussing this rule. It is just as I have written it. The rule was included at the request of several offensive lineman and approved by the Competition Committee. The linemen, particularly the centers, felt the injury risk would go down if defensive players couldn’t cave in the centers by lining up right over them or having players be pushed into a huge scrum at them.
Without the call, New England would have had to go 30 yards to be in position for a field goal. If the game is tied after the first possession of overtime, the next team to score wins. With the penalty—which was absolutely the right call—Folk had another chance and nailed it.
Said Rex Ryan: “I was fairly happy about it. I was thinking, ‘It’s about time we got a break.' ”
Said Jones: “The mistake was mine. I take it. Put it on my shoulders.’’
We will. And now, with the Jets and Bills winning Sunday, the AFC East is more of a horse race, with two games separating top and bottom.
Depressing Jacksonville note of the week
Jacksonville has played three home games this year and not scored a touchdown.
The Jags have scored 2, 3 and 6 points in their three home games: a safety, a field goal and two field goals … and lost by 26, 34 and 18.
The Jags do not play in Jacksonville again until Nov. 17, against Arizona. In the next three weeks, they’re in London (against San Francisco, in a surrendered “home” game), on the bye, and at Tennessee.
When is the last time an NFL team hadn’t scored a touchdown in its home stadium by the middle of November? In 1977, when Tampa Bay failed to score a TD at home until Dec. 18, in the final game of the season.
Requiem for Bum
It struck me on Saturday, reading Twitter, that many of you don’t know much about Bum Phillips, who died Friday night at 90. That’s not surprising. Phillips, the former Houston and New Orleans coach, was at his peak 33 years ago. I discovered how so many of you were lacking in Bum-know-how when I re-Tweeted the front page of Saturday’s Houston Chronicle sports section, headlined with “Luv Ya Bum,’’ and many of you were confused. One of you asked: “Doesn’t the Houston Chronicle have a copy editor?” No, no—the big slogan around the Houston Oilers way back then was, “Luv Ya Blue.” So there’s that.
I was too late to cover Bum Phillips as a coach—his last season was in New Orleans in 1985, my second covering the league—but I got to know him as a retired NFL coach, a Yogi Berra sort of character and father of Wade Phillips, who always loved being daddy’s boy. (Wade’s Twitter account is @sonofbum.) And I visited Bum in 1990 when writing about his son stepping out of his dad’s coaching shadow, which I’ll tell you about in a second. Bum Phillips was 86-80 in 12 years as an NFL head coach, but his best seasons came in a time of immense enthusiasm for the Oilers in Houston (1975-80), the last time the team truly captured the city before the franchise moved to Tennessee in 1997. In 1978 and ’79, Phillips got the Oilers to the AFC title game both seasons, only to find one of the great teams in NFL history in the way of Super Bowl glory. Phillips’ Oilers lost in Super Bowl seasons three and four for Pittsburgh, by 29 and 14 points, and a year later he was fired by owner Bud Adams.
It wasn’t just the winning. It was Bum himself—a Texan who wore Cowboy boots and a huge Texas belt buckle on the sidelines, and a 10-gallon hat when games were outside—who made the Oilers so attractive to the locals. The fans inside the decibel-friendly Astrodome made noise like today’s Seahawk crazies, and they waved these white and baby-blue pompoms so that sometimes when the cameras panned the stands it looked like it was snowing in there. And he said some fun things, after wins and after losses. He loved Don Shula. “He could take his’n and beat your’n, and he could take you’n and beat his’n.” (Pardon the spelling there. I don’t know how to spell “his’n,’’ never mind “your’n.”)
Check the Bum influence on Wade from a 1990 story I did on the rise of Wade as Denver’s defensive coordinator, when I visited the retired coach at his ranch near Houston:
Drive west of Houston for about an hour, until you run plumb out of town. Take a left onto a narrow state farm road across from the only restaurant for miles. Weave through a few miles of ranch road, past herd after herd of grazing cattle. Go over the one-lane wooden bridge and follow the dirt road to the end. Finally, with three ranch dogs nipping at your feet, walk into the metal-roofed arena where the cutting horses are being trained. Now, this is Texas.
Here a portly man wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses sits atop a sorrel horse named Mr. San Powder. He's watching a rider teach Sport Court, a 3-year-old chestnut, how to isolate a calf from the herd and keep it separate for a few minutes. "You put the horse out here without the other cattle so he learns to succeed," says the man in the sunglasses. "You don't want him to fail. You want him to win. So you get him some confidence first."
Wade's father, Bum Phillips, 66, pauses to spit tobacco juice. "You know," he adds, "it's like working with young players. Get ’em thinking too much, give ’em too much right away, and it confuses ’em. You've got to get ’em some confidence. You've got to train ’em right, teach ’em right. I've always said, You show me a good teacher and I'll show you a good coach. Coaching is not how much you know. It's how much you can get players to do."
[When Bum coached high school football], the Phillips family—Wade was born first and then came five daughters—got a new lesson in Texas geography almost every year. Bum, then a high school and college coach, chased jobs from the Louisiana border to New Mexico. They moved from Beaumont to Nacogdoches to Nederland to College Station to Jacksonville to Amarillo to El Paso to Port Neches to Houston. "You grew up pretty fast in this family," says Helen, Wade’s mom.
The most abrupt move of all came when Wade was in the ninth grade. The Phillipses were living in Amarillo at the time, and he was going to a junior high school right down the street from his house. He was getting good grades. He was playing all the sports. He had his first girlfriend. One morning, the principal sent for him, and on his way to the office, Wade looked out the window and saw a moving van in the driveway. His father, he soon learned, had quit his position at Amarillo High to take the coaching job at UTEP. Within an hour, Wade was off to El Paso, without even getting a chance to say goodbye to his girl. But he didn't protest. No tears. No anger.
"When Daddy would ask if we wanted to go to the Dairy Queen, we wouldn't want to," says Wade, half in jest. "We'd be afraid if we got in that car he'd move us again."
And this life lesson, from his father:
“When I was growing up, people thought bitching was coaching," says Wade. "But players eventually turn off the guys who yell and scream. My father once told me, 'Don't coach the way you were coached. Coach the way you are.' I don't believe in coaching by fear. I believe in coaching by teaching."
Think of that: You don’t see the yellers and barkers much anymore on the sidelines—or at least not as much as you used to. After the Texans lost narrowly Sunday, I asked Wade Phillips how he thinks his father should be remembered in football history.
“He was the ultimate players’ coach,’’ Wade Phillips said. “He had a real knack for making every player feel special, like they were so valuable. I never heard him once talk about winning. You play hard because your teammates are like a family. You owe that to your teammates. He always thought the scoreboard would take care of itself.’’
The greatest tribute I saw Sunday? Texans defensive stalwart J.J. Watt sacking Alex Smith and turning to the crowd and tipping an imaginary ten-gallon hat. For Bum.
“Yeah,’’ Wade said, struggling for words. “That was emotional.”
1. Kansas City (7-0). Of all the things I never thought I’d type this season, Kansas City as the lone unbeaten team in football would be at the top of the list. Did you see that strange handoff/non-handoff near the goal line that Alex Smith ran into the end zone for a touchdown? He said after the game it was a designed run for the quarterback. Sure didn't look that way to me. Looked like Smith, or Jamaal Charles, turned the wrong way. Whatever, the Chiefs are going to be playing January football this year, because the offense is good enough and the defense is great.
2. Indianapolis (5-2). At halftime Sunday night, Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu tweeted: “Dudes in the hood be like, that boy Andrew luck sumn serious #SNF” In other words, Mathieu thinks what the rest of America thinks: Luck’s good.
3. Denver (6-1). If you can’t beat ‘em, joke with ‘em. Best sign I’ve seen in any crowd in a long time, from a Denver fan at Lucas Oil Stadium: “When you’re done w/ Luck, we’ll take him too.”
4. Seattle (6-1). Cool mini-bye, just like this week’s Giants Thursday night/Monday night schedule: Eleven days between the game at Arizona and the one at St. Louis. Players love it.
5. New Orleans (5-1). On his bye weekend, Sean Payton cross-fitted.
6. San Francisco (5-2). Weeks 2 and 3: Foes 56, Niners 10. Weeks 4 through 7: Niners 132, Foes 51. That’s psycho.
7. New England (5-2). You may ask why I have the Saints No. 4 and the Pats No. 6, even though the Patriots beat the Saints last week. Judgment call. The Pats don’t have two cornerstone players they had last weekend anymore—Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib.
8. Cincinnati (5-2). Andy Dalton took some giant steps in the win at Detroit.
9. Green Bay (4-2). Dom Capers Returneth: Pack foes have scored 13 points a game in Green Bay’s three-game win streak.
10. Dallas (4-3). Very impressed with the defensive effort, holding the Eagles to three points and 278 yards.
11. Detroit (4-3). I continue to think the Lions will eventually be ruined by their secondary.
12. San Diego (4-3). Philip Rivers became the second Charger to surpass 30,000 career yards in Jacksonville Sunday. I could see Rivers getting to 45K.
13. Buffalo (3-4). Kiko Alonso is becoming a cult hero/tackling machine approaching the midpoint of his rookie year. He has 70 tackles in seven games, and four interceptions.
14. New York Jets (4-3). Chris Ivory: 34 rushes for 104 yards. That’s from the Earl Campbell days, carrying the ball that much.
15. Carolina (3-3). Panthers have won three out of four by an average of 26 points. Now that’ll get your attention.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. He had the most efficient day of his NFL life (15 of 17 for 204 yards and one touchdown; no interceptions) and added 10 clock-eating rushes for 26 yards. Newton will have better and more dominant days in this league but, playing under control and disciplined, he led the Panthers to 30 points or more for the third time in the last four games.
Defensive Players of the Week
Robert Mathis, defensive end, Indianapolis. His two sacks of Peyton Manning Sunday night would be impressive enough (Manning had been sacked five times in six previous games, and the Colts got him four times Sunday), but he pressured Manning consistently and helped force him into 20 incompletions. Mathis leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks through seven games. At 32, he has the speed of a much younger player, and it was interesting to see how Mathis overwhelmingly outplayed the Broncos’ impact rusher, linebacker Von Miller, on Sunday.
Vontae Davis, cornerback, Indianapolis. When you hold a great receiver like Demaryius Thomas to two catches for four yards in your time covering him, that’s a good day. Davis, the Colts' best cover corner since being acquired from Miami before last season, played physically and with great confidence. “Peyton’s great,’’ he said of Manning, “but we’re all football players. We just compete.” And, on this night, win 39-33.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Devin Hester, punt returner, Chicago. Rarely do you see a player return a punt 145 yards for a touchdown—but check out the Hester replay at Washington. He fielded a punt at his 19 at the far left sideline, then, to escape the coverage, ran horizontally across the field and backward about five yards, then up the right side the length of the field for a touchdown. By my calculations, Hester’s first punt return for touchdown since 2011, an 81-yarder, was in the 140-yard range. Great, great play. It’s the 13th punt return for touchdown in Hester’s career, and the 19th return touchdown overall.
Coach of the Week
Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, Indianapolis. Odd to give this award to a coordinator of a defense that gave up 33 points and 429 yards Sunday night, but … well, you had to see the game Sunday night to understand. Manusky and the Colts' defense planned to be more physical with Peyton Manning’s receivers than any team had been all season, and it worked, particularly with corner Vontae Davis, who padlocked Demaryius Thomas and keyed the win from the secondary. Manusky's scheme and blitzing of a quarterback thought unblitzable created some long-yardage situations for a team used to turning second downs into firsts consistently.
Goats of the Week
Sam Martin, punter, Detroit. Martin, a fifth-round rookie from Appalachian State, entered Sunday with the league’s third-best punting average. And when he lined up to punt from the Detroit 23 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 24-24 game against Cincinnati, all he had to do was boom the punt downfield so Andy Dalton would have too far to go in, say, the last 25 seconds of the game. But expecting an all-out punt rush, he hurried the punt—there was, in fact, no heavy rush; the Bengals lined up for a return—and shanked it 28 yards to the Cincinnati 49. Dalton threw two passes to get it to the Detroit 26, and then Mike Nugent booted a 54-yard field goal to win it as time expired.
Brandon Sowell, left tackle, Arizona. The lowest-rated tackle in the respected Pro Football Focus rankings (74th of 74 tackles before Sunday’s games) was the biggest problem in Carson Palmer’s major struggles Thursday night in the loss to Seattle. On one play, Seattle rusher Chris Clemons pushed Sowell back hard into Palmer. For the game, Sowell allowed two sacks, two quarterback knockdowns and five quarterback pressures. As Lawrence Taylor once said to Ken O’Brien: “Gotta do better than that, son."
Quotes of the Week
“So many names being tossed around. Makes me feel like a cow chip that somebody threw into the punch bowl.”
—Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips Jr., the legendary former Oilers and Saints coach who died Friday night at 90, speaking in 2004 of the honor of being one of 43 Houston sports legends introduced at the Super Bowl in Houston that year.
“If I see him in the street, I’m going to bust him in the f--king mouth.”
—Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, on Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who Smith charged said some personal things about Smith’s family on the field during the 30-15 Carolina win over St. Louis.
“Trying to remain relevant.”
—Coach Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, after the 2-4 Steelers beat Baltimore, staying on the edge of the AFC playoff race.
“I don’t throw anymore. The shape that I’m in is not anything like football shape, nor do I want to play. It took me 20 years, but in my 20th year, I realized I didn’t like getting hit.”
—Brett Favre, on NFL Network’s pregame show Sunday.
"Uh, pinky toe."
—San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, telling reporters where he has a hangnail, which has led to a nagging foot ailment.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The Rams get more visitors to their website from California than from Missouri.
Stat of the Week
In eight quarters against each other this year, the Jets and Patriots are tied in victories, 1-1, and in points, 40-40.
That’s about the only way you’d say they're even.
In their two meetings, the Jets have held the ball for 30:33 longer, Tom Brady has completed 48 percent of his passes, and the Patriots are 5-for-30 on third-down conversions. New England has 10 three-and-outs on offense.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes of the Week
Hope You Weren't a Traveling Salesman Needing a Room in Indianapolis Sunday Dept.:
On Friday afternoon, if you went hunting and pecking as a Marriott frequent traveler for a room in Indianapolis, many reasonably priced selections came up. But one that surfaced was the Residence Inn Downtown on the Canal. For a studio with a Queen bed and a sofa bed, the fee was $999.95. With $169.96 in taxes.
For a grand total of $1,169.94. For one night in Indianapolis.
The Flights of the 49ers:
The Niners are being good corporate citizens this week. Documenting their travel plans over 11 days and two football games:
Friday, Oct. 18, 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time: Departed San Jose International Airport on team charter for Nashville. Arrived 10 p.m. Central Time.
Sunday, Oct. 20, 3:05 p.m. Central Time: Played the Tennessee Titans.
Sunday, Oct. 20, 10 p.m. Central Time: Departed Nashville International Airport for London.
Monday, Oct. 21, 2 p.m. London Time: Due to arrive London Heathrow International Airport.
Sunday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m. London Time: Play the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. London Time: Due to depart Heathrow for 11-hour flight to California, and arrive at 4 p.m. Pacific Time.
This is the third straight year the Niners have had a road trips lasting more than a week. They stayed in Youngstown, Ohio, for both of the previous two: in between roadies at Cincinnati and Philadelphia in 2011, and in between games at Minnesota and the Jets last year. Under Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have won 73 percent of their games ... including 3-1 on these in-season odysseys.
Make that 4-1, after the win Sunday in Nashville.
Tweets of the Week
“I wanna play one NFL game before it’s over.”
—@KingJames, NBA champion LeBron James, asked by a Twitter follower if he’d consider playing pro football one day.
“I'm always amazed at the things people will ask on Twitter instead of just looking it up themselves.”
—@nfldraftscout, Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, commenting on the very large percentage of the Twitter population that is apparently Google-, Bing- and all-other-search-engines-free.
It’s quite possible that truer words have never been tweeted.
“Bum never wore his cowboy hat during home games at the Astrodome. Said his gramma taught him it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.”
—@gerrydulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dulac covered some of the memorable Oilers-Steelers tilts.
“Tigers just got beaten by a bunch of dudes that look like Happy Gilmore’s caddy.”
—@MarcCarig, Newsday’s baseball writer, after the bearded Red Sox won Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:
a. The impact of Chris Clemons. The Seattle front seven is dangerous enough—but with Clemons approaching peak form after offseason knee surgery (much less famous surgery than Robert Griffin III’s) it's hard to figure out who offensive coordinators should game-plan to stop on that Seattle front. For individual talent, Seattle and Kansas City have the biggest-impact front sevens in the league.
b. Catch of the day: Vincent Jackson’s one-handed grab deep downfield from Mike Glennon, with a defender hanging all over him.
c. Great physical defensive play by Washington’s Reed Doughty, muscling into Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery.
d. Saratoga Snacks, the Bill Parcells four-year-old horse, won a $250,000 race at Belmont Saturday. That’ll buy some carrots.
e. Andy Dalton throwing the ball 52 yards in the air—hey, he’s not supposed to be able to do that—and connecting with A.J. Green for an early bomb in Detroit.
f. The Kyle Long block on one of Matt Forte’s three touchdown runs for Chicago at Washington. A bulldozer of the clearout block.
g. Five third-down conversion catches by Jeremy Kerley for the Jets in the first 18 minutes against New England.
h. Roy Helu Jr. Or, as Keith Olbermann would say, “Hell-ooooh!” Three touchdown runs.
i. Julian Edelman, who is a terrific punt-returner.
j. Tremendous penetration and sack of Thad Lewis by Miami safety Reshad Jones.
k. The touchdown-saving deflection by Dallas third-round rookie safety J.J. Wilcox, knocking away a sure touchdown pass from Nick Foles to DeSean Jackson.
l. We’re starting to see why Mario Williams (10 sacks in seven games) got the big money in Buffalo.
m. Andy Dalton had the kind of game that playoff-winning quarterbacks have: At Detroit he was 24 of 34 for 372 yards and three touchdowns. He looked confident throwing intermediate and deep.
n. This line by Terrell Suggs, after watching his Ravens fall to 3-4: “We know what we gotta fix—offense, defense, special teams. We’re in a state of emergency.”
o. Why Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal is so good: He noted Saturday that wideout/tight end Chris Harper was the team’s first waiver pickup in one year. I mean, who monitors that? Great beat guys do.
p. A Stanley Havili touchdown. There’s a Ryan Grigson player right there.
q. The summation of Washington 45, Chicago 41, from FOX's Kenny Albert: "Eighty-six points. Five ties. Eight lead changes. Devin Hester tying Deion Sanders' NFL record for return TDs. A defensive score. A player on each side scoring three rushing touchdowns. Injuries to three key Bears. RGIII circa 2012. A breakout game for tight end Jordan Reed. The game had it all. Last team to score wins. One of the most exciting regular-season games I have ever been lucky enough to call."
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 7:
a. That wily, experienced veteran, Sheldon Richardson of the Jets, saying NFL officials baby Tom Brady. After less than two months playing real games, that is some quality opinion, Sheldon.
b. How did Robert Griffin III not see Charles Tillman laying in wait on that first-quarter interception? Awful read by the Washington quarterback.
c. Come on, Antonio Allen. Grabbing Rob Gronkowski 10 yards down the field and not letting go, and inviting the officials to flag you for holding, which they did?
d. Martellus Bennett, for the go-ahead touchdown with 3:57 left. Not covered by Washington. Mr. Haslett, coach Shanahan would like to see you.
e. Why, oh why, Nick Foles? Why take a six-yard sack when you can throw the ball away without penalty?
f. Good game overall for Geno Smith, obviously. But late in the first quarter at the Meadowlands, Smith had the Jets at the New England 20-yard line, threatening to go in for a 14-7 Jets lead. Instead, Smith laser-focused on wideout David Nelson, split right, who was blanketed by rookie cornerback Logan Ryan. Smith threw it anyway. And Ryan picked it off and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. Instead of the Jets taking command at 14-7, the Patriots had a gift 14-7 lead.
g. Champ Bailey, looking 35.
h. Trent Richardson’s hands. You can’t fumble down the stretch of huge games, but Richardson did.
i. Games played by teams that have employed Danny Amendola since 2011: 39. Games actually played by Danny Amendola since 2011: 15.
3. I think offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is doing an excellent job with the Seahawks' offensive attack (27.3 points per game), despite a makeshift offensive line. That’s the overriding plus in what I see in Seattle. The minus: Russell Wilson’s getting hit too much. Waaaay too much. When you see Wilson hit, he looks like Gumby; he always gets back and never seems to limp. But he’s been sacked 20 times, and by one count, was sacked or hit significantly 19 times at Arizona Thursday night. That’s playing with fire. And 8.3 rushes per game … too many. When I see a quarterback run as much as Wilson has (41 times in his last four games)—and I don’t think he wants to run; he’s being forced to by the rush in many cases—I see trouble down the road.
4. I think the thing I’d do if I were Bevell is put more of a load on Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.
5. I think if you love the Cardinals, and you’re dying to know why they’re letting Carson Palmer get battered, and why the line is a constant source of angst, this is the reason: In the last 10 drafts, Arizona has picked 13 offensive linemen—and none of them start on the line today. Obviously, first-round guard Jonathan Cooper would be starting had he not broken his leg in a preseason game. But still, this long-term record is a big reason why the Cardinals can't get anything consistent going on offense post-Kurt Warner:
2004: center Alex Stepanovich (fourth round), center Nick Leckey (sixth round).
2005: guard Elton Brown (fourth round).
2006: guard Deuce Lutui (second round).
2007: tackle Levi Brown (first round).
2008: tackle Brandon Keith (seventh round).
2009: tackle Herman Johnson (fifth round), guard Trevor Canfield (seventh round).
2010, 2011: no linemen picked.
2012: tackle Bobby Massie (fourth round), tackle Selio Kelemete (fifth round), tackle Nate Potter (seventh round).
2013: guard Jonathan Cooper (first round), guard Earl Watford (fourth round).
6. I think this was the saddest stat line of the week: Jackson State 1, Grambling 0 (forfeit). A story of disappointment, anger and players feeling betrayed, mixed with a horrible economy, told well by Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrman. Imagine how many great NFL players came out of that program, and now it’s a shell of what Grambling once was.
7. I think this is a rules interpretation your father’s general manager never had to worry about: Dreadlock holding. In the Cowboys-Eagles game, many of you wondered about the dreadlock-hold during punt coverage. It is holding if you grab a guy's hair and restrict him. You are allowed to tackle a runner by the hair, but can't hold by the hair.
8. I think we're going to see a different Thursday night package of TV games by 2015. (Maybe as soon as next year, but likely in ’15.) One highly placed league source told me over the weekend there's no chance of doubleheaders being played on Thursday nights, though Dallas owner Jerry Jones told Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal there had been discussions of it. I'm told it's likely the league will split the Thursday night package, leaving a small number of games (five?) on NFL Network and making a lucrative package of the others (eight to 10) on one network or more that would pay dearly for prime-time programming on a big TV night.
9. I think it could be an ugly Monday night next week for the Rams. Coming off a 30-15 loss in Carolina, St. Louis now must play backup Kellen Clemens against the Seahawks. And they have to share the city with the Cardinals, assuming there is a Game 5 of the World Series. Imagine that—the Cards starting .9 miles away from the Edward Jones Dome at 7:07 p.m. Central Time, the Rams starting at 7:40 CT against the mighty Seahawks in a game they’ll have no business winning if you consider the quarterback matchup.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I think everyone’s nuts for not liking Tim McCarver. I love listening to him.
b. Another good job, Andrea Kremer, on the mechanics of how the league fines players, on NFL Network Sunday.
c. “Rejubilation!’’ said Shane Victorino. Yes, there was a lot of that in Red Sox land when he broke up a very tense game with a grand slam to win the AL pennant Saturday night.
d. I admit I didn’t love the Victorino signing last winter (three years, $39 million for what appeared to be a declining player). But anyone who grand-slams a clinching championship series win is worth the dough, especially with what a great clubhouse guy, fielder and occasionally clutch hitter he’s been.
e. Tigers I admire greatly: Miguel Cabrera, for playing through obvious pain all October; Alex Avila, who got punished more than any catcher I’ve seen in one series, and who kept playing at a high level; and Torii Hunter. Best thing I can say about Hunter is I regret never having seen him every day for a full season, to appreciate his spirit, effort and terrific game.
f. Are there any hittable pitchers on the Cardinals? Not from what I’ve seen.
g. Red Sox in seven, but that is not a confidence pick. It’s an emotional one.
h. Coffeenerdness: I've got nothing this week. Sorry, I'll have a note for you next week.
i. Beernerdness: Stop what you’re doing if you live in Colorado (or in some pub with a great beer selection) and go try Avery Brewing’s Maharaja Double IPA. You probably shouldn't have more than a couple (it’s 10 percent alcohol), but it’s a smooth, delicious, malty brew. Had it Saturday night, and I’ll be back for more.
Who I Like Tonight
Giants 27, Vikings 20. Josh Freeman takes over at quarterback for Minnesota, but I don't see the move, after two weeks of Freeman cramming on the Vikings playbook, suddenly turning around Minnesota's moribund offense. And if Jon Beason plays the way he did last Thursday in his Giants debut, things won't be as easy on Adrian Peterson as we expect.
If Eli Manning can't get his season on track against the Vikings' secondary, there might not be much hope for the rest of 2013.
The Adieu Haiku
No more perfect heir
to Manning than Andrew Luck.New sheriff in town.