Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 9:
a. Washington’s defense, with an old-fashioned goal-line stand to force overtime. Now, it started with a play I thought was a dubious reversal—Danny Woodhead stretching for the pylon and it being ruled a touchdown, except that though the pylon moved, the officials ruled on review that Woodhead didn’t touch the pylon with the ball. Then Woodhead got stoned by London Fletcher and Brandon Meriweather, and Philip Rivers threw two balls to blanketed receivers. San Diego settled for the tying field goal, and lost in OT 30-24. The Washington D should take a bow for that one, because this was a lost game without those four stops inside the 10.
b. Brent Grimes, the 30-year-old oft-injured former Falcons cornerback, paying back Miami GM Jeff Ireland’s faith in him with a 92-yard interception return for touchdown.
c. Gio Bernard, with the best cutting and weaving and sprinting touchdown run of the weekend at Miami.
d. Onward Christian Ponder: Nice short touchdown scramble by the Man of Steele, trying to save his job against an inactive player.
e. There aren’t many people in the NFL who can fake the Saints’ Cameron Jordan to the ground. Now we see Geno Smith is one of them. What a beautiful cut by Smith on his TD run just before halftime.
f. Jeff Tuel, with a beautiful downfield throw to Marquise Goodwin, rookie to rookie, for a decisive touchdown against Kansas City.
g. The more I see San Diego wideout Keenan Allen—his moves, his presence, his confidence, his hands—the more I think we’re seeing a star in the making. Great touchdown catch.
h. Jason Witten shows no sign of mediocrity. None whatsoever.
i. It was a great day for the backs Sunday. Among them: Chris Johnson, finally with a 100-yard game (23 for 150); Adrian Peterson, with three or four I-will-not-be-denied runs to keep the Vikings alive, and with 140 yards overall.
j. Darrel Young of Washington, with a late-career Jerome Bettis game: five rushes, 12 yards, three touchdowns. Perfect role player for the Shanahans.
k. Love this line from Mike Tomlin, asked after the latest debacle if he was perplexed: “I am angry. Disappointed. You know, we don’t have time for perplexed.”
l. Love this line, too, from Jerry Jones about beating the 1-7 Vikings: “There are no 1-7 teams in this league.” I beg your pardon?
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 9:
a. I spoke too soon last Tuesday in saying what a good and varied receiving corps the Bengals have. Unless you count three straight first-half drops, the dagger of a drop by Mohammed Sanu, as fluky.
b. Cincinnati guard Kevin Zeitler, not holding the line on Cam Wake’s walkoff safety.
c. Tony Gonzalez staying put. I would like to have seen Gonzalez spend his last two months in the NFL with a contender. But Atlanta never got a solid offer for Gonzalez (the Falcons got nothing but feelers, I am told reliably), and it would have made little sense for a team to deal a third- or fourth-round pick plus clear $1.85 million in cap room for nine weeks of play … unless that team was desperately needing a tight end. Kansas City made sense, but the Chiefs never made the Falcons a firm offer.
d. Nick Toon with a diving drop at the Meadowlands against the Jets. That’s the place his dad thrived, and the team his dad thrived for. Those are the kinds of plays that make Drew Brees say, “Let’s design some more plays for Kenny Stills.”
e. I think Philip Rivers threw an interception to the shadows at FedEx Field. At least the shadows appeared to be the intended receiver, because there was no Charger in the same area code.
f. Work on your touch, Geno Smith. And when you’re throwing the ball away in the end zone, you’re allowed to run.
g. Ron Winter: How in the world do you give Brandon Flowers a roughing-the-passer flag for brushing the leg of Jeff Tuel while running by? Clearly an accidental, incidental play.
h. Terrible low-hit-on-the-quarterback call in the Saints-Jets game, ruling Drew Brees got hit low. He didn’t. He got hit at the waist.
i. Kareem Jackson, that was interference. You grabbed Darrius Heyward-Bey’s jersey and yanked.
j. D.J. Hayden’s coverage was what the doctor ordered for the Eagles in Oakland.
3. I think I had no clue an excellent writer, Nicholas Dawidoff, shadowed the New York Jets for an entire season, 2011, and was free to write a book about it. That book is due out later this month (odd the book comes out 22-plus months after the season ends), and it’s called, Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football. (Turns out that “collision low crossers’’ is a phrase some Jets coaches used to describe the five-yard bump zone beyond the line of scrimmage, where defenders could legally hit offensive players.) Men’s Journal excerpted the book this month. This chunk, about the tension between Brian Schottenheimer’s offense and Mike Pettine’s defense, was interesting:
“On the Jets, where the defense was not only tough but original, there was the growing feeling that Schottenheimer and his offensive players were holding the team back from winning a championship. The previous year, the Jets had begun their season with a game against the Ravens and lost, 10-9. The Jets offense was one for 11 on third down and secured a franchise-low six first downs. The game had been personal to the former Ravens coaches on the defense, and before it they had given Schottenheimer many suggestions regarding the Ravens players they used to coach. None were taken. Afterward, Pettine was so upset he could barely speak. ‘We knew them,’ he kept repeating. The defense’s superior attitude, Pettine knew, ‘chaps some asses across the hall,’ but this was the way football teams worked. He liked Schottenheimer, considered him ‘a great, great guy,’ and he knew that with a young, shaky quarterback and such an accomplished defense, ‘Schotty’s in a tough spot.’ If Pettine had been the head coach, he would have sought Schotty out, tried to help. Pettine hoped someday to be a head coach. But now he was the defensive coordinator, and ‘I never want to farm somebody else’s land. That’s how you get in trouble.’ ‘’
The book sounds like it digs into the real game.
4. I think I never ask why teams allow writers all the way inside. I’m just grateful some teams do. It can only help us further understand a complicated game.
5. I think, when watching Robert Griffin III, I’m stuck between thinking he’s not all the way back from 11-month-old knee surgery and thinking he is seriously regressing as a quarterback. A couple of people I trust are very down on Griffin, and so the other day I watched all the Washington offensive snaps from the Denver loss on NFL Game Rewind. I thought Griffin made some startling decisions. He threw two interceptions, and you can find fault with quarterbacks on most interceptions. On one, his receiver slipped, so he gets a pass there. But on the other one, with Denver’s Terrence Knighton steaming in on him in the pocket, he just threw it up for grabs on a 1st-and-10 call; this was no time to be careless, because all he had to do was just throw it away. But he handed Denver safety Rahim Moore an interception. Puzzling, to say the least—an immature decision.
But the one decision Griffin made all game that really bugged me came early in the second quarter. Washington had three receivers to the right of the formation on 3rd-and-5 from the Denver 48. One of the receivers, Josh Morgan, ran a shallow cross, and when I say shallow, I mean really shallow. Like, two yards past the line. (In fairness to him, he was bumped off his route slightly.) Fourteen yards downfield, with a step on his man, was wideout Santana Moss. Griffin should have seen Moss, who was in the quarterback’s line of sight, 12 yards beyond Morgan. But Griffin dumped it to Morgan, who was well short of the first down. Why do you make that throw? It was a total waste, and led to a punt in a game (against the explosive Broncos) in which you know you have to limit your punts. All in all, this is shaping up as a lost season for Griffin. Next offseason is going to be vital for him, and for the future of the Shanahans (Mike and Kyle) in Washington.
6. I think, speaking of alarms sounding over the play of RG3, this from Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins last week: “He has created fundamental tension on an offense that is disjointed from catering to him and his operatic personal demands about how he wants to play.” Yikes.
7. I think, watching that Washington-Denver tape, one Denver defender jumped off the screen time and again: safety Duke Ihenacho. Great ball skills and sense of where the play’s going to be. He went undrafted in 2012 out of San Jose State. Just another example of how you can strike it rich if you’ve got a good college scouting staff funneling undrafted guys into your training camp.
8. I think anytime I see a G.M. (Rick Spielman, in this case) say his coach (Leslie Frazier, in this case) is solid until the end of 2014, I wonder: Why would you say that? The Vikings could go 3-13, or have some such awful season. The ownership is not going to stand for that, nor will it stand for the quarterback mayhem that has been the Vikings now for three seasons. It’s possible Frazier is the coach until 2024. But why set yourself up to look bad if/when the sky falls?
9. I think it’s amazing, with all the talent at quarterback bursting from college football, that if NFL people could have one quarterback out of college football right now, they might well take Florida State quarterback/closer/outfielder Jameis Winston, who has played eight college games.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. A few notes about the Red Sox winning the World Series—those who are so inclined and who hate when I riff about baseball can skip the next 10 items. As mentioned before, I went to Game 5 Monday night in St. Louis, the night before I had to be in Kansas City to spend time with the Chiefs for a Sports Illustrated story I hope you read this coming week. Boston won 3-1, and I walked out of Busch Stadium thinking: This is the first time in my life the Red Sox are good because of pitching.
b. And David Ortiz, of course. World Series plate appearances: 25. Times reached base: 19. I keep reading there is no way to measure how clutch a player is, but after his second line-drive hit of the game Monday night made him 14-for-18 in the series, the guy in front of me said, “Matheny! I beg you! Just walk him!” Mike Matheny did—four times in Game 6, three intentionally.
c. Re Ortiz and those who cry “steroids’’ when he does well, because his name was on the supposedly secret 2003 list of MLBers who tested positive for steroids: There’s random steroid and HGH testing in major league baseball now. If he used anything this year, he was risking being caught and suspended. There is no evidence of any kind that Ortiz has tested positive for anything in the last nine seasons. I understand those would think: Once a cheater, always a cheater. He did test positive once, and he deserves scrutiny because of it. But what about the testing in 2013?
d. When did Jon Lester turn into Whitey Ford?
e. As a franchise billboard and leader, Dustin Pedroia has morphed nicely and completely into the Boston version of Derek Jeter.
f. Well, except for the models-chasing-after-him thing, I guess.
g. I take it the World Series parties Saturday were fun, Mike Napoli.
h. If that’s it, Jacoby Ellsbury, and you’re gone, good luck. You deserve success and a pot of gold. (Though I wouldn’t pay ridiculous money for him; too risky an investment with all the games missed.) I’d like to see Ellsbury in Seattle, both for his sake to be close to his home in Oregon and for a starving franchise’s sake. The Mets? I guess. But that’s the place too many careers go to die in free agency.
i. My brother Ken has lived most of his adult life in England with his family, but he’s remained a Yankees diehard, following them online mostly. Leave it to him to send me this factoid: The Red Sox have won eight world titles—all in the first 20 years of the 20th Century and first 20 years of the 21st Century. The Yankees won 26 of their 27 championships in the 86 years between Boston’s 1918 and 2004 titles.
j. One final point about all those talking about what a miracle this was—the Red Sox winning the World Series after losing 93 games last year: Boston lost 93 games because the team was so beat up by early August that the team was Pawtucket for much of the last month. Just looked up a game I saw last Oct. 1, third-to-last game of the year against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Boston’s batting order that night: Ciriaco, Nava, Ross, Gomez, Lavarnway, Saltalamacchia, Valencia, Lin (Che-Hsuan Lin, for those scoring at home), Iglesias.
k. Liked the story, and the points made in the story, by Matthew Futterman of the Wall Street Journal. For the sake of the next generation, baseball must be saved from itself. Tom Verducci made some good points in his current treatise on baseball’s future (you can see that on SI Vault Wednesday if you don’t have the magazine already), but it comes down to this: Baseball is too slow. For someone like me, who loves the ebbs and flows of the game, I can sit there and be happy watching a 3-hour, 35-minute game if it’s close and compelling. But I’m 56. I’m not Generation Next for MLB. As Futterman writes, stop batters from stepping out of the box once an at-bat starts.
l. The Notre Dame-Navy score progression in a very fun football game to watch while working Saturday afternoon:
m. Do NHL schedule-makers compare notes before the season? The Devils, Rangers and Islanders are separated by 36 miles as the crow flies. All had 7 p.m. home starts Saturday. And this is not a one-time thing. Devils, 1-0 losers, finished at 9:31. Isles, 3-1 winners, finished at 9:36. Rangers, 5-1 winners, finished at 9:36.
n. Good luck in the Patriot League soccer playoffs for Bucknell, Alexis Gannon. (Rich Gannon: proud dad.)
o. Coffeenerdness: So, in the Starbucks at 55th and Lexington in Manhattan the other day, late afternoon, I’m in line for a coffee, and there are two boys in bright orange hoodies, maybe 13, behind me. One says to the other: “You have not lived until you get a cotton candy here.” I’m wondering what in the world that is. They get to the head of the line and order two grande cotton candies. My curiosity gets the better of me, and I ask the one kid what that is. The effervescent kid says: “It’s a secret drink Starbucks has for kids. A vanilla frap with raspberry syrup.” The barista, making the thing, says to me, “You want to try it?” I say sure, and the kid says, “DON’T GIVE HIM ANY OF MINE!” How cute. What a sugar bomb—but darn good. I loved it. Like a berry milkshake. How about that Starbucks: reeling those kids in while they’re still kids.
p. Beernerdness: An hour to spare at the Kansas City airport in the evening? No problem! Two 20-ounce Boulevard Pale Ales pass the time quite nicely. I’ve never had a bad Boulevard beer.
q. Chuckled at the “adversity’’ questions lobbed at Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston after a 27-point win over Miami Saturday night and an early career (8-0) that has had little adversity.
r. Good luck with your new CNN show, Rachel Nichols.
s. Hope new Celtics coach Brad Stevens has the patience for a four-year rebuild.
Who I Like Tonight
Green Bay 30, Chicago 16. So, I know Mike McCarthy doesn’t want to burn out rookie running back Eddie Lacy (last four games: 97 carries, 395 yards), but maybe he should think about one more game of riding the horse. The Bears are without two linebackers against the run (D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs), and rookie Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene will start tonight on the Tundra. Briggs went down with a shoulder injury in the Washington game before the Bears’ bye, and Chicago steamrolled for 209 yards in an awful defensive performance that day. A Lacy/James Starks combo platter looks like the way to go, particularly with Randall Cobb down and James Jones iffy, and Aaron Rodgers’ deep game problematic.
The Adieu Haiku
raises the hazing issue.
And we must listen.