And now, the rest of the story.
Three quick takes from the day:
1. Tony Corrente got the call right in New Orleans. With 3:18 left and San Francisco up by three in a crucial game between the Niners and Saints, linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked Drew Brees and forced a fumble, which the Niners recovered. The problem was the sack, and the mechanics of it. Brooks clotheslined Brees on a hit that started above the sternum and finished with him forcibly sending Brees to the ground by contacting the neck with his forearm. Corrente called a personal foul on Brooks, gave the ball back to New Orleans, and the Saints went on to win with two Garrett Hartley field goals in the final three minutes. Emotional call, obviously, one that hurt the Niners grievously. But if you’ve seen nothing else in this league over the past three years, you’ve seen that officials are charged with protecting the quarterback above all others. And Corrente was protecting the quarterback. He did it wisely. Brees was tossed to the ground because of a forearm that finished on his neck. I thought the call was obvious.
2. Ozzie Newsome rested in Chicago overnight after falling ill at the Ravens-Bears game. Late in the Ravens’ loss at Chicago, Newsome, sitting in the second row of the press box at Soldier Field, felt ill and was transported to a hospital. “Ozzie Newsome did not feel well after today’s game, and a team doctor recommended that Ozzie not fly tonight,” a team statement said. It’s not thought to be a serious situation. I saw him before the game, and we spoke, and he seemed perfectly fine.
3. Washington tackle Trent Williams made a serious accusation against game umpire Roy Ellison. During the Philly-Washington game, Williams said Ellison called him a “garbage a–, disrespectful motherf–ker.” The league said it would investigate. That’s a stunning charge, and reporters in the Washington locker room afterward say other players backed up Williams’ account. There is some unpleasant byplay between players and officials during every game, but to say that what Williams is alleging has no place in the game would be an understatement.
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The most important game in the NFC this year.
That would be 14 nights from now: Seattle—coming off its bye, plus an extra day off after its bye—playing host to New Orleans, which also will have some extra time off. The Saints play Thursday this week, then have the mini-bye before this game.
It’s certainly possible that Carolina could go 3-0 against the Patriots and Saints in the next six weeks. If the Panthers do, they’ll be in the chase for home-field. But for now, let’s assume Seattle and New Orleans are the top two prospects, particularly after losses by Detroit and San Francisco (to the Saints) Sunday. How important is home-field advantage in the NFC? Let’s examine the two prime contenders for the No. 1 seed—Seattle (10-1) and New Orleans (8-2)—over recent games. (I’m going to use New Orleans’ stats for this year only, because the absence of Sean Payton and the bounty scandal skews the 2012 numbers. But I’ll use 2012 and 2013 for Seattle, because the team has been basically the same for two seasons, without any football tornadoes ravaging the win-loss record.)
|Team||Venue||Record||Average Margin of Victory|
One other point to make here. It’s about the quarterbacks—Drew Brees of the Saints in 2013, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks in the last two years. The dichotomy between home and road is marked. Wilson’s home/road rating: 117.0/92.4. Brees’ home-road rating this year: 121.2/84.6.
Seattle could win at New Orleans. New Orleans could win at Seattle. But the edge for the home teams in their noisy venues is so big that it will be a major factor in January.
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Beneath the surface in the Sam Hurd case.
I highly recommend the superbly reported Michael McKnight story on our site detailing the long, winding and drug-addled road that led Sam Hurd to a 15-year prison sentence last week. But McKnight, who worked on this story for 22 months, raised another point that’s more significant to today’s NFL, and that’s the recreational use of marijuana.
First, the rules: By NFL bylaws, all players are tested for recreational drugs once a year, sometime in a 16-week period between April 20 and Aug. 9. If a player tests positive in that solitary test, he is eligible to be tested at random after that. If he is clean, he can do recreational drugs, such as marijuana, without fear of the league as long as he doesn’t exhibit any aberrant behavior or get caught publicly (as with Dwayne Bowe last week). So the vast majority of NFL players are able, as long as they behave, to smoke marijuana at will after the spring/summer test. And reading the McKnight story, the overwhelming impression was Hurd was a mass user of pot—and he had friends in the league whom he supplied.
Three questions with McKnight about his story, and his impression of the pot culture in the league:
Me: Are there more Sam Hurds in the NFL, and if so how many?
McKnight: I think there are more Sam Hurds in the NFL. I don’t think there are more athletes who are dipping their toes in the world of cocaine trafficking, but in terms of guys who somehow procure large amounts of weed and give it to teammates … I would estimate there are between five and 10 other players like that. Meaning five to 10 other NFL locker rooms have a guy in the room who … if marijuana is your deal, you find out within the first month or so that That guy in that locker over there, that’s the guy you want to go to.
And moreover, people in that circle don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. The feeling is that a great number of those teammates need it. Whatever players need to get themselves right for Sunday, you do it. Whether it’s prescription drugs or whether it’s a sex addiction or whether it’s five hours of massage therapy on Friday … whatever it is to get yourself ready for kickoff Sunday, you do it. And there’s not many questions asked on what that is. You just do it. So that’s how these guys look at marijuana. It’s a support system for the life of an NFL player, or at least a handful of NFL players, who manage pain, relieve stress and kind of get high and smoke with their friends at one of their buddies’ places after practice just to kind of wind down. It’s a stressful world they live in. That doesn’t necessarily condone that behavior, but it does help us understand it a little better.
Me: So you believe marijuana basically is a pain-killer for players?
McKnight: A lot of players suggest that marijuana is one way to heal their bodies and help them become more like the people we’re surrounded by in public life every day. It’s just a starkly different world than you and I live in.
Me: Why did Sam Hurd do it?
McKnight: There’s the $64,000 question. I would hope the story lays that out a little bit better than I can explain it to you. But it was a swirl of agendas and misinformation, misunderstanding. It was a guy who frankly allowed his head to get screwed on wrong. He allowed his addiction—what I think was more of a psychological addiction to marijuana than a physical addiction—to just cloud everything. Pardon the pun. But he had a need for large quantity of marijuana. It fueled his every day. His craving for marijuana overrode many systems in his psyche telling him Hold on, don’t do this. The evidence suggests that. The 19 hours I spent interviewing Sam Hurd in a federal detention center suggests that.