I’m still trying to take it all in. We all are. What a day. What a night.
In Houston, 52-year-old picture-of-health coach Gary Kubiak slumped to his knees leaving his home field at halftime Sunday night. Medics rushed to his side and Kubiak was wheeled off the field, appearing in pain, to a waiting ambulance, which sped to hospital. It wasn’t a heart attack, the club said, but in the wee hours of this morning, doctors examined Kubiak to see exactly what it was—a stroke, exhaustion, something else—as a city already saddened by the recent deaths of local sports fixtures Bum Phillips and Bud Adams held its breath.
In Denver, with 58-year-old coach John Fox lying in a hospital awaiting surgery to replace a defective heart valve, executive vice president John Elway negotiated into the night for an interim coach to fill in for Fox for as long as he needs to convalesce. His target, presumably, was defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the former nine-year coach of the Jags. “I’m getting close,’’ Elway told me Sunday night from Denver. (Del Rio was named interim coach on Monday morning.)
In South Florida, in a matter of six days, the left side of the offensive line vanished. The apparently excessively hazed left tackle Jonathan Martin left the team on Oct. 28, and Sunday night just before midnight, after a crazy day of charges and angry denials, the Dolphins suspended left guard Richie Incognito (the angry denier) for his role in Martin’s departure.
Then there was football.
Philadelphia hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the last two games. Nick Foles threw seven TD passes in the first 41 minutes Sunday against the Raiders. “I mean, it’s crazy,’’ Foles said from Oakland, exuding the same disbelief America had about what he’d just done. Seven touchdown passes in a game … Marino, Favre, Elway, Montana, Unitas never did it. Foles did. Eagles 49, Raiders 20.
Kansas City didn’t score an offensive touchdown Sunday at Buffalo. But with the defense outscoring the placekicker 12-11, the Chiefs won 23-14, remaining the lone unbeaten team in the NFL. After the bye, 9-0 K.C. will travel to Denver to play the Broncos, who will be close to perfect (8-1) if they win at San Diego Sunday.
Carolina put Atlanta out of its misery in Charlotte, while the Jets shocked the Saints. Meaning two things: Carolina is a game behind New Orleans in the NFC South. (They don’t play until Dec. 8 and 22, by the way.) And though the playoffs don’t start until two months from today, the Panthers and Jets would be postseason teams if the derby started now. How does this projected wild-card weekend of matchups look, based on this morning’s standings (and do not tell me you had Peyton Manning and Geno Smith as your office-pool picks for road AFC wild-card quarterbacks):
NFC, with Seattle and New Orleans the 1-2 seeds
Carolina (6th seed) at Green Bay (3)
San Francisco (5) at Dallas (4)
AFC, with Kansas City and New England the 1-2 seeds
Jets (6) at Indianapolis (3)
Denver (5) at Cincinnati (4)
Cleveland, which now has the best division record in the AFC North, continued to play like Believeland. The Browns (4-5) beat the Ravens (3-5) for the first time since Joe Flacco’s senior season at Delaware (2007), 24-18. That’s right. Flacco and John Harbaugh now know what it feels to lose to the Browns. They’d been 11-0 against Cleveland before Sunday.
Seattle (8-1) trailed Tampa Bay (0-8) 21-0 in the second quarter, and Bucs coach Greg Embattled Schiano (check his birth certificate; I believe an official name change has happened) orchestrated the funkiest touchdown play of the season in the process: a jump-pass TD from running back Mike James to tight end Tom Crabtree, the kind Tim Tebow used to throw. Fairy tales happen only in Tebowland. In overtime: Seahawks 27, Bucs 24.
Indianapolis got Andrew Luck’s 10th fourth-quarter comeback in 24 professional games at Reliant Stadium, which was lethargic after the Kubiak incident. Colts 27, Texans 24. Andre Johnson caught three touchdown passes in the first 30 minutes. T.Y. Hilton caught three touchdown passes in the last 16 minutes.
New England beat Pittsburgh in Foxboro, but the story was more the Steelers’ loss, and the way the Steelers lost. New England scored 55 points, the most ever allowed by Pittsburgh, and the Steelers surrendered 610 yards to a team that, at game time, was searching for an offensive identity.
Way back when, on Thursday night, when Richie Incognito was a reborn team leader, Miami won a game in overtime on a walkoff safety.
So really, we should have seen this kind of weekend coming.
Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Colin Kaepernick had byes this week. Sunday’s 11 games featured exactly none matching teams with winning records. And it’s a weekend we’ll never forget.
The condition of Gary Kubiak.
As of early this morning, Kubiak was with his family at a hospital eight minutes from Reliant Stadium. The team has announced only that he is in stable condition, is undergoing a battery of tests, has good vital signs, and did not suffer a heart attack. I’m told he left the stadium with a powerful headache, but we’ll have to wait for the diagnosis later today.
Marc Vandermeer, the Texans’ radio voice, had just finished the first half of the game and hustled out to get a halftime beverage when someone told him one of the coaches was down on the field, and it appeared to be Kubiak. “It was startling,’’ Vandermeer said early this morning. “He’s in such great shape. I have seen him on vacation, floating down a long, lazy river in central Texas, and he’s cut. He’s svelte. He really takes care of himself. He’s the last guy of the 32 NFL coaches I’d ever expect to have health problems at this age.’’
Vandermeer said the high and low of the moments before and after Kubiak’s collapse were stunning. Showing the presence and instincts of a veteran, quarterback Case Keenum, making his first home start for the Texans, had just scrambled 22 yards to the Indianapolis 5-yard line with the clock running late in the half and no timeouts left. Keenum sprinted to the line, yelling, “SPIKE! SPIKE!’’ and using the well-understood hand motion noting that he was about to spike the ball on first down to stop the clock. With 39 seconds left and everyone anticipating that, Keenum took the ball and threw immediately toward the left side of the end zone for Andre Johnson. The touchdown stunned the Colts and sent a record Reliant Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
Three minutes later, the same crowd was stunned into silence. Kubiak was walking toward the locker when he put his hands to his head, then braced himself, hands to knees, and slowly dropped to the ground. Security people immediately began frantically waving for medical help, and within minutes Kubiak was on a stretcher and put in an ambulance for the ride to the hospital.
“People were so euphoric,’’ a glum Vandermeer said of that first half. “We were watching a Texans quarterback do things we hadn’t seen before, and bring such excitement to the stadium. And people went from euphoria to a situation where a man’s life was in danger. It became difficult, quite frankly, to do a football game on the radio, and you could feel it in the stadium. A lot of people couldn’t tell at first it was Gary, but they all have Twitter or texts, and they soon discovered what happened. What should have been the happiest time of the season just … well, it became bizarro world.’’
As you’ll read on The MMQB today, our Robert Klemko was in the stadium Sunday night, and he has some strong images and stories from the Texans’ locker room after the game. But clearly, the team was affected by the loss of the only professional head coach many of them have ever known.
There will be cries for relief from the long hours coaches work, and we should listen to those cries in the wake of what befell Fox and Kubiak this weekend. But let’s also be cognizant of what it would take to, say, put a curfew on coaches’ hours and make them live more normal lives. Many coaches would simply install office facilities at home to get around what strictures the NFL puts in place. But if the debate comes, let’s have it. If the Fox and Kubiak events happened three months apart instead of one day apart, would we be wondering if we should do something about the workaholic nature of coaches?
The Saga of the Statements.
When something like the Jonathan Martin story happens—a perfectly normal football player cracks under some pressure, walks out on his team, then has his representatives forward charges of what they claim document harassment—the first instinct is to blame someone. But I don’t think there’s a single person or entity at fault. Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the reason Martin didn’t stand up to either the accused Richie Incognito or the reported hazing by mates is that he feared retribution from them, and that Martin felt pressured to pay $15,000 for a trip to Vegas for the offensive linemen even though he chose not to go.
The matter is now in the investigative hands of the league and the team. It’s hard to imagine Martin coming back to play in Miami; the tension in the locker room will be palpable, because some Dolphins will see Martin as a rat for going outside the family to air his grievances. That seems grossly unfair, obviously, if the harassment he is alleging is true. But it’s a way of life in the NFL.
“When you play in the trenches,” Jets tackle Willie Colon said Sunday, “you always want to see a younger guy earn his rite of passage. And sometimes, that comes with either playing hard or doing what you’re told, even though you may not want to do it—some people may label it as hazing or whatever. But there is a fair line. And I was always taught, growing up in the league, you respect everybody, because you never know when you are going to need that one guy down the road.
“I played with two injuries today. We watched the film on [former Jets guard] Brandon Moore’s retirement speech, and he said, ‘All I ever wanted to do was earn the respect of my teammates and the guy in front of me.’ And that’s what you want to do as an offensive lineman, as an interior lineman, you just want to earn the respect of your peers and the guys you are going against, let them know that you’re battle-tested and you are ready. Sometimes that comes on and off the field. But there is a right and wrong way of going about it.’’
The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas asked Colon if “the right way” was a young player paying $15,000 for a linemen trip to Las Vegas. “When I was in Pittsburgh,’’ Colon said, “Mike Tomlin said something great: It’s unfair to make a sixth-round guy pay for a $15,000 trip to Vegas when you have your starting linemen making over two-point-something million [dollars]. [Martin was a second-round pick.] He doesn’t have that money. Guys don’t earn that money until later in their careers. To make a young guy pay, that is very unfair, and it’s selfish because that man has a family and people and other needs. So to take $15,000 out of any young guy’s pocket for a trip to get crazy is unfair, and it’s selfish. If you want to let a guy pay for dinner or a night on the town, that’s fine. It’s nothing that should hurt a man’s life or his way of living; that’s disrespectful.’’
Incognito has toned down a wild on- and off-field life, and he was one of five players elected by teammates to the Dolphins’ board of player leaders; that board meets to discuss team issues with coach Joe Philbin. But Incognito’s humor can have a very sharp edge. Did it cross the line into hazing, or worse? That is up to the investigation to determine.
For now, Incognito will stay at home, suspended by the team Sunday; Martin is staying with his family in Los Angeles. Miami has to move on without two starting linemen, taken away just as the team began to show some life last week.
Sunday was a wild day for a team that had the weekend off, by the way. Look at the guts of three statements issued by the Dolphins within 15 hours:
Dolphins statement, 8:53 a.m. Sunday: “The Miami Dolphins, including coach Joe Philbin and Jonathan’s teammates, have been in communication with Jonathan and his family since his departure from the club and continue to be in contact … As an organization, we take any accusations of player misconduct seriously. The notion of bullying is based on speculation and has not been presented to us as a concern from Jonathan or anyone else internally.”
Dolphins statement, 5:01 p.m. Sunday: “We received notification today from Jonathan’s representation about allegations of player misconduct. We are taking these allegations very seriously and plan to review the matter further … As an organization, we are committed to a culture of team-first accountability and respect for one another.’’
Dolphins statement, 11:37 p.m. Sunday: “The Miami Dolphins have suspended Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. We believe in maintaining a culture of respect for one another and as a result we believe this decision is in the best interest of the organization at this time.’’
The judge and jury met quickly, and decisively.
One last point: Philbin has to bear his share of blame here. He’s the head coach. The buck stops with him concerning what happens in the locker room. It’s fine for a coach to tell his leaders: You guys police the locker room. (I’m not saying that’s what Philbin said, but some coaches do tell their captains and other leaders to take care of the little things that flare up in the society of the locker room.) But whatever the understanding is with a coach and his players, the coach is ultimately responsible for player behavior getting out of hand. Philbin is a very good man, but he needs to take firmer control of his locker room. He needs to know when a Jonathan Martin is about to spin over the edge. In this case, he didn’t, and it’s costing his team dearly.
No one saw this coming. Certainly not Nick Foles.
When Nick Foles was about to take the field Sunday at Oakland, coach Chip Kelly said to him: “Sling it. Rip it. Feel the game.”
Seven words for seven touchdowns. Foles threw a rollout liner to Riley Cooper; two lofted spirals perfectly placed to Cooper; one gift long one to an uncovered DeSean Jackson; one short, in tight coverage, to Brent Celek; one catch-and-run out of the backfield to LeSean McCoy; and one laser to Zach Ertz at the side of the end zone. He’d never thrown six before, in high school or college. And now he’d thrown seven.
“It’s a great honor to be up there with so many great quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning [who threw seven on Sept. 5],’’ Foles said by phone after the game. “But the most important thing is who I did it with. I am so proud of Riley Cooper. So happy for him. I love Riley to death, and he showed today how important he is to this offense, and how valuable he is as a receiver.”
As for the Eagles’ quarterback-of-the-future thing, that’s for another day. Kelly’s not showing his hand now, and Sunday certainly wasn’t enough to make Kelly, owner Jeff Lurie or GM Howie Roseman think Foles is the next Ron Jaworski. But I’ve maintained all along that Kelly doesn’t need a quick-twitch quarterback with Mike Vick’s running ability to be a good quarterback in this system. It’d be nice to have great athleticism, sure. But the most important thing is a quick-twitch brain, with fast decision-making ability and efficiency. Foles is completing 63 percent, which is good, not great. He has 13 touchdowns and no interceptions, which is very good, of course. His 8.7 yards-per-attempt is good, and his 127.4 rating ridiculously high.
“I have 100 percent confidence I can run this offense and run it at a high level,’’ Foles told me.
But now, to convince the brass, Foles needs consistency. He’s got seven more game to show it—and to try to hold off his friend and competitor, Vick, when he’s healthy enough to play in two or three weeks.
Josh Freeman a healthy scratch.
All I can say is, wow. That’s the 37th story on a rollicking weekend like this one, but it deserves to be noted. This is a notable thing. The Vikings are paying Freeman $2 million for 12 weeks of work, he’s able to play, he’s been with the team for 27 days, and your other quarterbacks are Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. So how exactly is Minnesota anything but a financial way-station on the way to another team in 2014?
Why Jacksonville is so … well, troubled.
I was going to use a stronger word. But the suspension of their best player, wide receiver Justin Blackmon, for the rest of the season is an exclamation point on what a disaster the four-year reign of Gene Smith (2009-12) as general manager was.
Smith’s an honorable man and was a solid scout before the Jags promoted him to GM before the 2009 draft. But of the 26 players he selected in his four drafts, only three figure to be Jaguars starters (not including punter Bryan Anger) when the team comes off the bye Sunday at Tennessee. Here’s who they are, and how they rated versus their peers according to Pro Football Focus, which grades every NFL player relative to his position:
• Defensive end Tyson Alualu, a first-round pick in 2010, is rated 42nd of 47 4-3 defensive ends.
• Guard Will Rackley, a third-round pick in 2011, is 69th of 71 guards.
• Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, a fourth-rounder in 2011, is rated the 36th-best wideout in the league, of 108 receivers ranked by PFF.
Smith made four top-10 picks in his tenure. Tackle Eugene Monroe (ninth overall, 2009) was a marginal starter who was traded to Baltimore last month. Alualu (10th, 2010) would be a backup on many NFL teams. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th, 2011) has been a disaster and may not make the 2014 roster. And Blackmon (fifth, 2012) came into the draft with one DUI charge and has had three more substance-abuse-related occurrences since, the latest of which resulted in his banishment for the rest of the season. It’s in serious doubt whether Blackmon will ever play another snap for Jacksonville.
1. Kansas City (9-0). Tweeted this Saturday night and brought out the venom, but hey, facts are facts. When the Chiefs faced opening-day third-string Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel Sunday in Orchard Park (Matt Flynn would have been my choice), it was the fifth week in a row that K.C.’s defense went against a quarterback who in training camp was a backup. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Tuel. Credit to the winners: They can only play who’s put in front of them. But after next week’s bye, the first three foes will change that dynamic. Kansas City faces Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning coming out of the break—in a 15-day span.
2. Indianapolis (6-2). Any doubt left that the Colts made the right pick in the 2012 first round?
3. San Francisco (6-2). Looks like Michael Crabtree (Achilles rehab) will miss one or two more games, then be back for the stretch run. Not bad for a team that’s scored 31 or more five games in a row.
4. Denver (7-1). Godspeed, John Fox.
5. New England (7-2). Good news: Four straight games of 27 points or more on offense. Bad news: Three of the last four foes have scored 27 or more on what was supposed to be a much improved defense. Shows how much New England misses Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib. But scoring 55 on the Steelers, and eclipsing 600 offensive yards, vaults the Pats.
6. Seattle (8-1). I have no idea what to think of this team. In the span of six days, the Seahawks play two teams with a combined record this morning of 3-14. They need a last-play stop to win one game, and a 21-point comeback to beat the other in overtime. I’m not big on style-point wins, but let’s be real here.
7. Green Bay (5-2). You’ve got to like the signs for the Pack tonight at Lambeau. Green Bay’s held three of the last four foes under 20, and Josh McCown’s playing in place of the groin-torn Jay Cutler.
8. New Orleans (6-2). Rob Ryan’s 0-5 against his brother. I’ve got a feeling that’s the least of the Saints’ thoughts this morning. Sean Payton’s got to figure out how to protect Drew Brees better when he comes up against good pass-rush teams like the Niners and Seahawks.
9. Cincinnati (6-3). A leaky line, receiver drops, the loss of Geno Atkins for the year. All in all, Thursday night’s 22-20 overtime loss to Miami was as bad a regular-season loss for all reasons as the Bengals have had in recent years.
10. Detroit (5-3). If I’m Matthew Stafford, I’m not sure I’d have wanted my bye coming off the high of last Sunday. Two outdoor tests await: at Bears, at Steelers.
11. Carolina (5-3). Imagine, six weeks ago, seeing the Panthers handle Atlanta with ease and thinking: That’s absolutely what I expected. Football is a funny game. Panthers are at the Niners and hosting the Patriots in the next two weeks. Now it’s getting serious.
12. Dallas (5-4). Tony Romo led a winning drive inside of three minutes. I mean, I’m just saying.
13. Chicago (4-3). Rusty Bears. Chicago’s played one game in the last 24 days entering tonight’s tilt at Green Bay.
14. New York Jets (5-4). Win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win. They’re here because of the last two wins: over the Patriots and Saints, with a defense that terrorized Brady and Brees.
15. Philadelphia (4-5). Eagles at home: 0-4. Eagles on road: 4-1. Chip Kelly must be thrilled he’s taking the team to Green Bay next week.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia. The NFL’s been around 94 seasons, and only six players had ever thrown a league-record seven touchdown passes in a game before. Foles became No. 7 on Sunday in a 49-20 win at Oakland. (Peyton Manning did it in Week 1, and it hadn’t been done for the previous 43 years.) Foles’ line: 22 of 28—amazing: more touchdown passes than incompletions—for 406 yards, with the seven TDs and no interceptions.
Mike James, running back, Tampa Bay. Drafted in the sixth round last April by the Bucs after a part-time starting career at the University of Miami, James, in his seventh NFL game, had the best day of any back in football Sunday: 28 carries, 158 yards, 5.6 yards per rush … in Seattle, against a team that had been respectable in run defense. By quarters: 37, 45, 58, 16, and two yards rushing in OT. But it was James’ touchdown pass—the play of the day in the NFL, in my opinion—that made him a lock here. He threw a Tebow-esque two-yard jump-pass touchdown to Tom Crabtree to give the Bucs a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Chris Ivory, running back, New York Jets. Against his old mates, Ivory moved the chains for four quarters and made a shaky game by Geno Smith tolerable. His 18-carry, 139-yard, one-touchdown performance was vital in the Jets’ 26-20 stunner over New Orleans.
Jason Campbell, quarterback, Cleveland. The numbers were nice—23 of 35, 262 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions—but it’s significant for two reasons. One: The Browns were 0-11 against the Joe Flacco Ravens entering Sunday, and much of that was due to the abysmal state of Cleveland quarterbacking over the last six years. In all ways, Campbell outplayed Flacco. Two: He did it all with either bruised or broken ribs. “He was hurting out there and kept fighting and made some big plays and big-time throws,’’ said coach Rob Chudzinski. You can say that again.
Defensive Players of the Week
Lawrence Guy, defensive end, San Diego. Normally, if you’ve been waived three times by age 23, you might be thinking, “Time to find another line of work.” Not Guy. Cut once by Green Bay and twice by Indianapolis, all in the last 15 months, Guy was signed by the Chargers 26 days ago to provide roster depth at defensive end. He did more than that on Sunday at Washington. In a scoreless game in the first quarter, he blocked a chip-shot 25-yard field goal attempt. A few minutes later, with Robert Griffin III pinned at his 1-yard line, Guy batted a Griffin pass up in the air, and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore intercepted it for a touchdown. Memo to Guy from Charger brass: You don’t have to worry about being cut this year.
Cameron Wake, defensive end, Miami. A knee sprain had limited Wake to 28 snaps a game, on average, in the Dolphins’ first seven games. Thursday night he played 69. The 69th was one of the great plays of a starry career. As Andy Dalton faded to pass near his own goal line midway through overtime in a 20-20 game, Wake overpowered right guard Kevin Zeitler and burst through the guard-center “A” gap. Dalton had no chance. Safety. “That’s why I love playing this game. It’s you, it’s a guy across from you and there’s the goal, quarterback, ball, whatever it may be,’’ Wake said after the game. “Every play, the guy across from you is saying, I’m better than you. I’m going to beat you. And every play I’m saying the same thing. There’s no in-between in football. You either get the job done or you don’t.” This time, he won. And for the game, Wake had three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Mike Scifres, punter, San Diego. No contest. Not close. First two punts of the day at Washington dropped at the 1-yard line, one downed and the next coffin-cornered. A beautiful display by Scifres. For the day, Scifres had four punts for a 40-yard average. But when two of them die at the 1, you’ve had a good day.
Coach of the Week
Mike Shula, offensive coordinator, Carolina. Shula’s taken his share of shots since walking in the door at Carolina with Cam Newton in 2011. But his teaching and patience have paid off in the past four weeks. Carolina won its fourth straight game and scored in the 30s for the fourth straight game in burying Atlanta 34-10. In the 16 quarters of the winning streak, Newton’s thrown two interceptions. Both came Sunday, but the Panthers are good enough to survive a couple of errors now.
Goat of the Week
Sean Payton, coach, New Orleans. Eight minutes to play, Saints down two scores (26-17) to the Jets, 3rd-and-1 at the New York 36-yard line. Third down: incomplete pass to the fullback. Fourth down: an end-around to the third-string tight end, Josh Hill. Loss of eight. Jets take over on downs. There are times to shock the world with cute. This was not one of them.
Quotes of the Week
“I’m not surprised. In fact, I’m a little surprised something like this hasn’t happened before. If you’re mentally weak, you’re going to get picked on.”
—Former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, on the Jonathan Martin saga.
“This is one of the greatest teachers of football I have ever met.”
—ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, on Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, for my Sports Illustrated magazine story on the Chiefs this week.
“When you don’t get along with somebody as a head coach, or assistant coach, it usually falls under one of those couple areas: lazy, lack of passion and a lot of times lack of character. And he fits all three.”
—Washington coach Mike Shanahan, responding to departed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth’s rips of him for being conniving and disingenuous when Haynesworth played for Washington.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
We know, via Jay Glazer, that Dolphins tackle Jonathan Martin, in response to a table full of teammates leaving when he went to sit down last Monday, threw his tray down in the Miami cafeteria and left the building in anger. Now you’ll know the rest of the story: The meal he threw down was spaghetti.
Stat of the Week
This is the 44th NFL season since the merger between the American Football League and National Football League took effect in 1970. In the first 43 years of the merger, no quarterback threw seven touchdown passes in one game. In the first half of the 44th season, two have: Peyton Manning and Nick Foles.
The seven quarterbacks to throw seven touchdowns in a game:
|Sid Luckman||Nov. 14, 1943||Chicago Bears||New York Giants||W, 56-7|
|Adrian Burk||Oct. 17, 1954||Philadelphia Eagles||Washington Redskins||W, 49-21|
|George Blanda||Nov. 19, 1961||Houston Oilers||New York Titans||W, 49-13|
|Y.A. Tittle||Oct. 28, 1962||New York Giants||Washington Redskins||W, 49-34|
|Joe Kapp||Sept. 28, 1969||Minnesota Vikings||Baltimore Colts||W, 52-14|
|Peyton Manning||Sept. 5, 2013||Denver Broncos||Baltimore Ravens||W, 49-27|
|Nick Foles||Nov. 3, 2013||Philadelphia Eagles||Oakland Raiders||W, 49-20|
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
So last Monday I detoured on my way to do some reporting on Kansas City’s fast start this season and went to Game 5 of the World Series, driving an hour west of St. Louis after the game so the morning trip wouldn’t be so onerous. Stopped in Warrenton, Mo., at a Holiday Inn Express, and checked in for six hours of rest. As I got my key, a family of four—a dad, from the looks of it, and his three sons, from the looks of it, about ages 7 to 16—entered the lobby about 90 minutes after Boston’s 3-1 win over the Cards. The four guys looked crushed. All were dressed in Cardinals stuff. The youngest boy was wearing a No. 6 Stan Musial jersey, and he looked like he’d just lost his dog. All of them, really, looked injured.
“Tough one,’’ the desk clerk said.
“Very, very tough,’’ the dad said.
I’ve always thought this, from numerous trips through the Midwest: What great fans the Cardinals have. I really felt for these guys.
Tweets of the Week
“Not saying it’s the right thing to do, but sounds like Jonathan Martin needs to punch somebody in the face.”
—@RossTuckerNFL, the former NFL offensive lineman, on the Miami tackle who left the team after feeling overly hazed by teammates, according to media reports.
“@espn @CBSSports @NBCSports @FOXSports @ProFootballTalk I want my name CLEARED”
—@68INCOGNITO, Miami guard Richie Incognito. Not only did ESPN not clear Incognito’s name on its Sunday pregame show, but said Martin feared retribution from Incognito if he spoke up about Incognito’s alleged hazing of him.
“See what happens when I allow my anger translator, Luther, to tweet for me?’’
—@HamzaAbdullah21, the former NFL safety who went on an obscenity-filled Twitter rant against the NFL, the NFL Players Association and commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday over the care (or lack of care) for former players. This conciliatory tweet was posted Saturday night.
Among his Thursday alarm bells:
“F— you NFL for lying to these people and denying the fact that football causes brain damage.”
“F— you NFL because you are the plantation and WE are the slaves!!! #IfYouThinkOtherwiseYouAreDelusional”
“Every player should go see a psychiatrist once a week upon leaving the game.”
“And the NFL should pay for all this. I shouldn’t have to pay $120 a week to save my f—ing life. You should! Our insurance should!’’
“What if I told you there’s nothing overly rare or unique about Hamza Abdullah’s feelings? MANY players agree. But he’s speaking up.”
—@sfujita55, former NFL linebacker.
“For parents of small children, daylight savings is cruel and unusual punishment.”
—@richeisen, who, when not working at NFL Network, chases his small children.
“Foles me once, shame on you. Foles me seven times, shame on the Raiders.”
—@NathanSerious, former NFL tight end Nate Jackson, after watching Nick Foles have one of the greatest days a quarterback has had in NFL history.
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.