The Jags aren’t quite relevant, but they had a good day
“You know me,” coach Gus Bradley was saying over the phone from Nashville, where his formerly 0-8 Jags hung on to beat Tennessee 29-27. “We don’t talk about wins. We talk about steady improvement every week.”
Bradley gave every player a game ball, and he said it was because of the improvement of so many players in so many little things. “We came back from the bye this week,” he said, “and the attitude at practice was unbelievable. It wasn’t like an attitude you’d see around the NFL very much. I had a couple of people in to watch practice this week and they told me, ‘Gus, it’s like a high school.’ You’d never know we were 0-8.”
I told him the play in the game that most impressed me was cornerback Will Blackmon breaking through to steal the ball from Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and run it back for a touchdown. It was a strange play, Blackmon charging in from the secondary and ripping the ball from a shocked Fitzpatrick, scoring what turned out to be the winning touchdown.
“I mean, how great is that?” said Bradley. “Will Blackmon was playing nickel for us for the first time today, and he makes such a huge play to help us win. It was a designed blitz from the nickel spot, and he executed it perfectly. That’s what I mean—we’re starting to do things right, to make the corrections we need to make to play winning football.”
This is what you always heard about Bradley. He’s a teacher. He didn’t let the team get depressed after so many dispiriting losses. There’s still a huge talent gap between Jacksonville and the rest of the league, but if they’re going to work this hard at 0-8, imagine how they’ll be when they’re playing a game that counts for something significant?
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I really liked Shannon Sharpe’s outrage Sunday, and other things Incognito.
Four takeaways after a week of the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin story:
• I don’t understand how African-American players look on passively or encouragingly while a white player calls a fellow African-American a “half-n—–.” Neither, apparently, does Shannon Sharpe, who is black and who said this on The NFL Today Sunday: “The Miami Dolphins locker room probably consists of 75 to 80 percent blacks. If you allow Richie Incognito to walk around in an open locker room and to use a racial epithet that most black Americans, all black Americans, know the … hate and the vitriol that comes with that word, you are encouraging him to do that. I read, and I don’t know, this is alleged, that some black players said Richie Incognito was an honorary black. There is no such thing. This tells me everything I need to know about the Miami Dolphins’ locker room.
“Maybe it’s me. Just ask your parents. Ask your grandparents. The mountain that they climbed so a black person in America could have respect, could have dignity, and you allow this in an open locker room to take place is unacceptable. I’m so disappointed … Because if you’re black, you know what that word means.” Brilliant, and high time a high-profile football player called out idiots who think it’s okay to use hugely hurtful words in jest. Football players will read this and say they were just kidding around. You don’t kid around with the n-word, and if it takes an NFL investigation to stop it, good for the NFL investigation.
• I hope Incognito is telling the truth when he says (as he did with Jay Glazer on FOX Sunday), “I’m embarrassed by my actions.” As I reported Sunday on NBC, I believe if Incognito is released by the Dolphins he has a good chance to find a home down the stretch with a playoff contender. Now, for that to happen, the team would have to have executives and a head coach with thick skins, a locker room that could see past the controversy and a team with eyes on the Super Bowl that could withstand the distraction Incognito would bring. I see a few of those teams that could tune out the outside world if they felt a good guard was worth it: New Orleans. Seattle. Denver. Detroit.
• I can’t see Martin ever walking back into the Miami locker room, even if owner Stephen Ross cleans house—and if Ross is embarrassed by the Ted Wells report when it’s finished and made public (likely around early December), I could see him cleaning house. Where will Martin land? I can’t see him finding a home until next year, if indeed he wants to continue playing football. I don’t think that’s a sure thing, by the way. But if he does choose to play, and the Dolphins let him go, the Colts are probably the most likely landing spot. There he’d work under his senior-year offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton. He’d work with his Stanford quarterback and tight end, Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener. And a GM not afraid of the bold move, Ryan Grigson, would make it fit. I think Martin would have to find a place he wanted to be.
Now, it’s also possible the Dolphins could try to deal him, because he’ll have two years left on his contract after this year. Would anyone give anything substantive for the former second-rounder? No way. A smart deal would be a low 2015 pick that could rise based on Martin’s performance or number of starts in 2014. If Grigson wants Martin (and, given his track record with project-type players, I bet he’d look into it), he’d find a way to get it done.
• So why does this story have such legs? Because it has subject matter everyone in America, and not just football fans, can grasp. Race relations. Bullying. (And Incognito’s kidding himself when he says this has nothing to do with bullying.) Workplace harassment. Locker room politics. The culture of tough-guy sports. If you’re Incognitoed-out this morning, brace yourself. There’s another month of this coming. At least.
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So … this is how you define “culture change” in Kansas City.
This is from my story on the Chiefs in Sports Illustrated this past week, about how Andy Reid has engendered a new way of team-think among veterans who, quite frankly, we never saw have this kind of impact on the team:
One play in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 9-0 start illustrates why the players like playing for new coach Andy Reid.
It happened late in the first half of an Oct. 27 home game against Cleveland. Kansas City had a first down at the Browns’ 28. As the offense broke the huddle, the Chiefs lined up in trips right: three receivers in a row outside the right tackle—wideout Dwayne Bowe, slot receiver Dexter McCluster and tight end Anthony Fasano, left to right.
Before you learn what happened, you need some history. The Chiefs had run this play earlier in the half, and Bowe noticed one of the Cleveland defensive backs clapping his hands twice and nodding toward Bowe. When the ball was snapped on this play earlier in the half, two defenders blanketed Bowe as he sprinted up the right seam, and quarterback Alex Smith had to look elsewhere. So when Bowe went to the sidelines after that series and Reid saw him, the coach said, “Hey 82, what do you see?” Bowe told him on this play, Z Out Zebra Post, he thought if Reid called it again, McCluster should do what Bowe had done on the first play, run a deep seam route, and Bowe, instead of streaking downfield, should run a short out, to take two cover men with him. That way, McCluster would be singled and, with his quickness, get a step on his man.
So here came that chance, late in the half. Coaches told Bowe and McCluster to switch their routes, and Z Out Zebra Post was Reid’s call. At the line of scrimmage, Bowe got the double-clap again and he knew he’d get doubled, and at the snap of the ball, Bowe ran an out-route with safety T.J. Ward and corner Buster Skrine bracketing him. Streaking straight downfield, McCluster got two steps on corner Joe Haden. Smith threw. McCluster stretched for the ball at the goal line. Bingo. Easy touchdown.
“Hey 82 … 82!” Reid said to a grinning Bowe when he returned to the sideline. “You got a job doing this coaching thing someday.”
That touchdown made the score 20-7. The final was 23-17, Kansas City. Dwayne Bowe, as it turned out, designed the winning play to make Kansas City 8-0. And his head coach called it.
“I’ve never had input like that as a football player,” said Bowe. “Some coaches have an ego. Some coaches want to win. Andy’s that [second] kind—he just wants to win.”
Dwayne Bowe, assistant coach. Quite a change out there in Missouri.