Keeping the Passers Protected

It was a weekend of great play and controversy (and, oh yeah, crazy weather). But whether it was Denver's line stepping up or the refs speaking up for Drew Brees in two games with big playoff implications, Week 11 made it clear again: The QB is sacred

CHICAGO — We have great and controversial events to discuss, and we shall. But there are great and controversial events every week in pro football, and I’ll get to the rise of a battered Denver offensive line, to the 113-minute weather/tornado-threat delay, and to a foul that, in today’s football, simply must be called. But first …

Friday is the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. It is also the five-year anniversary of the first of three strokes suffered by a great and irascible football writer, Paul Zimmerman, who was the king of the hill when I got to Sports Illustrated in 1989. A week never goes by that one of you, either on email, through Twitter or seeing me in an airport, doesn’t ask, How’s Dr. Z? Or, When will Paul start writing again? This week, you’ll find out. NFL Films dispatched ace Ken Rodgers to produce and actor Tom Wopat to narrate the current story of 81-year-old Paul Zimmerman, and it airs beginning Tuesday night at 10:30 Eastern on NFL Network, and a few hours later on ESPN2 (Tuesday, 1:30 a.m. Eastern).

I’ll never forget getting Paul on the phone the day after the first stroke, and all I heard was the syllable that has become his constant companion: “When when when when,’’ in rapid-fire and urgent tones. Not much has changed, as you’ll see in this touching and real story of Zim. “We all disappear into history,’’ Rodgers said the other day. “But Paul was really great, and people should know that. He doesn’t deserve to be covered in dust in the library of sports history yet.”

Wopat speaks as Zim might, and at the end of the piece, as Zimmerman’s motorized chair takes him down the stairs at his New Jersey home, Wopat/Zim says: “The film crew packs up, the voiceover guy goes back to the city, you change the channel, and I enter my sixth year of silence. But please: feel no pity, send no consoling letters … Time marches on. Don’t waste it.”

A lesson for us all.

* * *

Peyton Manning's line kept him remarkably clean against a Chiefs team that led the league in sacks entering Week 11. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning’s line kept him remarkably clean against a Chiefs team that led the league in sacks entering Week 11. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Five guys rose to the occasion in Denver.

The final score Sunday night: Denver 27, Kansas City 17, Peyton Manning sacks 0, Peyton Manning knockdowns 0.

When you wear the kind of brace on your right ankle that Manning did against Kansas City, and when you’re facing the league-leader in sacks (36 in nine games coming in), and when your line is as leaky as Denver’s has been, you expect Manning to take some punishment. He took none.

I counted two significant pressures on Manning in 40 dropbacks. Two. Consider that his left guard, Zane Beadles, had allowed 30 pressures, sacks or significant hits by Pro Football Focus’ count entering the game. Defensive tackle Anthony Toribio beat center Manny Ramirez for one, on Manning’s only touchdown throw of the night, but Manning still got to make the throw exactly on time to Julius Thomas. Later, Justin Houston steamrolled right tackle Orlando Franklin back into the path of a Manning throw, and his ball fluttered. Derrick Johnson burst through a hole in the second half to sprint at Manning on another pass, but he was three steps from Manning by the time Manning got rid of it. No harm, no foul. In terms of significant disruption to Manning (and really, I’d hardly call those significant, seeing that they didn’t result in any damage), that was about it.

Newsletter

Want our best stories automatically delivered to your inbox three times a week? Sign up for our newsletter by entering your email address in the form in the upper-right corner of this page!

Mostly, Manning did what he did on a 33-yard wait-wait-wait-’til-the-receiver-clears throw to Eric Decker. He took the shotgun snap, and with his five-man line giving him a clean cone of protection, Manning bounced back to his left once, twice, three steps. He had plenty of time to find Decker, and Decker had enough space to create the biggest play on the Broncos’ last touchdown drive. That was late in the third quarter, and Kansas City wasn’t making up a 24-10 deficit after that.

Denver came in with a plan: Run the ball enough to take time off the clock and take pressure off Manning; throw the ball quickly, before the heat can hit home. Manning’s had many better days in the NFL, but an interception- and sack-free game? Against the ball-hawking Chiefs? He’ll take it. “The guys up front had a great challenge against an excellent defense and an excellent pass rush,” Manning said afterward—presumably without the Frankensteinian boot/contraption armoring his right ankle. “It was critical to the game.”

Said interim coach Jack Del Rio: “A big part of it was keeping him upright and not letting [Kansas City] be as disruptive as they’re capable of being. So you’ve got to tip your hat to the offensive line, the backs, the tight ends. Everybody is a part of it, even the wide receivers that are running the correct routes so the quarterback can deliver the ball on time.’’

Denver doesn’t get to be fat and happy for long. Two more emotional games await in short order: at New England Sunday night (Manning-Brady XIV happens in Foxboro), and a rematch with the Chiefs in Kansas City seven days later. The Chiefs have to be careful. They’ve got San Diego and Denver coming up, then finish with three of their final four on the road. They’ve gotten just one sack in the past three games. Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has to figure a way for Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, particularly, to disrupt the quarterback more.

* * *

The NFL needs more games like this one.

Thing I thought I’d never see on an NFL game summary, which I saw for the Ravens-Bears game in Chicago Sunday:

Time: 5:16.

Peter King's view from the Soldier Field press box changed quite a bit before (top) and after a spate of tornadoes touched down in Illinois Sunday
Peter King’s view from the Soldier Field press box changed quite a bit before (top) and after a spate of tornadoes touched down in Illinois Sunday

My first thought, for much of the first four-and-a-half hours of the game, which had a 113-minute delay in the middle of first quarter because of severe weather (an estimated 70 tornadoes touched down in the Midwest Sunday), was that this was Exhibit A for postponing a game for a day. Check out the first photo I tweeted out from the press box Sunday, the early-afternoon one that made the day seem like night. The rain sheeted across the region, and the sky was black. After a short rain respite, another big storm, also with lightning, came through. The delay got so long they stopped selling beer in the stadium, the concourses jammed with fans taking cover. I thought: Send these poor people home. This is no day for football, with tornadoes leveling neighborhoods in central Illinois and players and officials waiting around for two hours. At one point in the third quarter, I looked down at the pea soup of a field and saw ref Gene Steratore fold a briefcase-sized piece of turf back into place. And at one point, umpire Bill Schuster had to leave the field to get his leg taped after slipping on a divot breaking up a scrum; he’d strained a hamstring.

But with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, I went down to the field to watch the rest of the game from a tunnel. The wind was howling, with gusts up to 40 miles an hour. Players ran carefully, so as not to slip and fall. The field was a cow pasture, and players, officials and (during TV timeouts) the grounds crew tried to tamp down the turf after the torrential rain ruined it. And I thought: How great it is to see a game in the elements like this. You hate to make the fans wait out a two-hour delay, but would it have been more inconvenient, say, to reschedule the game for Monday at noon? Of all the games I’ve covered, only a Giants preseason game at foggy, rainy Cleveland in the ’80s, at the old Cleveland Stadium, was like this one. I was looking for the ghost of Jim Brown that day; and Sunday, I wondered how many of these games Luckman, Sayers and Butkus played in.

The Bears won in overtime, and Josh McCown made a big throw down the stretch to make it happen. He realized the significance of a game like this one—he knew that none of the players on the field Sunday, players in a buttoned-up, well-coiffed-turf NFL, would likely ever play in a strange game like this one again. Someday they’ll be retired and flipping the channels, and NFL Films will have clips from the 2013 Bears Mud Bowl. “You have opportunities in life, rare opportunities to do some special things,” McCown said. “We had that today.”

Our Robert Klemko wandered into the Bears’ locker room and found another oddity: Some players slept during the break. I asked him for the scene in there, and this is what he wrote: When lightning struck and winds in excess of 40 mph whipped through Soldier Field, players were relegated to their locker rooms, tasked with staying loose and focused for an undetermined amount of time. The Ravens lunched. The Bears passed around granola and Gatorade. They plugged in headphones or called their wives or told jokes to liven the mood. Bears veterans like Brandon Marshall and Roberto Garza worked the room, keeping everyone awake and focused with encouragement and hype. “I couldn’t sleep,” said tackle Jermon Bushrod. “I wanted to. I was yawning. But we were just passing time because we didn’t know how long we were gonna be in here.” At least two Bears gave in to the urge, and what they did next kept Chicago in the NFC North hunt. Backup quarterback Josh McCown, starting in place of the injured Jay Cutler, laid down and began visualizing plays, and before he knew it he was asleep. “I closed my eyes and just tried to think about the game,” McCown said, “and I think I dozed off.” Reserve defensive end David Bass did the same: “I napped for 15 to 20 minutes. It was refreshing.” Bass came out after the interrupted first quarter and picked off a Joe Flacco throw before it passed the line of scrimmage, returning it for a 24-yard touchdown in the second quarter. And McCown woke up to lead the Bears on a game-winning overtime scoring drive to improve to 6-4. Gentlemen, sleep psychologists everywhere salute you.

The more the NFL can hark back to a simpler day, a muddier day, the better.

1 2 3 4 5NEXT VIEW AS A SINGLE PAGE
More from The MMQB
377 comments
BenderIrish
BenderIrish

Hey King, nice comments about the Colts. You do know they have had a terrible run of injuries and still win! Oh, by the way they've also beaten your #1, 2 and 8 of your top ten! Shut up!

Gs1
Gs1

Typical corrupt journalist. How about showing the picture the instant Brooks hit Brees? The split second before Brees subsequently started to duck. Not as clear as you say it is. An ethical journalist would have shown the sequence of photos & let the people make up their own mind. Even better yet, how about putting the pictures side by side with the more obvious clothesline on Kaepernick and contrast why one got called but not the other? Good thing you don't cover politics or the real news.

miltonmarkowitz
miltonmarkowitz

Dear Pete,

Talk about the Steeler prison attire. They did that twice last year. You would think the Rooneys would have learned a lesson and acquiesced to the Steeler Nation and burned the uniforms but there was too much retail inventory leftover and they refuse to take the markdowns. Hope we don't have to suffer another embarrassment next year and be subject to more public ridicule

son of lee
son of lee

the refs were so biased during the saints/niners game. from greer's hang gliding act when he basically hung onto the WR in mid air (injuring his knee as he came down), to vernon getting held in the endzone, to jed collins late hit on brown and kaepernick getting sacked by his neck. all of those calls were plain to the half-sleeping fan watching the game. if the refs called one of those plays...we may have a different outcome, but instead the only close call they choose is the game-defining penalty on brooks forced fumble.

son of lee
son of lee

what did you think about the sack on Kaepernick by HIS NECK? nobody is mentioning the back injury to tarrell brown caused by jed collin's diving-knee to his back sooo late after the tackle had been made. That absolutely should have been flagged, and should have pushed them back. Instead, they get a 1 yard TD plunge the next play.

gregc
gregc

You can repeat a lie all you want but that won't make it true. Brooks hit on Bree's was legal and it was wrong to reverse the play. That bad call took a sure win for the 49ers and turned it into a loss.

The refs got it wrong and Peter King is wrong too.

workinOvatime
workinOvatime

Can we please stop with the kaikus? It's like watching your dad say "hey dawg, how's it hangin??." It's embarrassing. 

EP1
EP1

I like how, now that he is winning, Cam Newton has seemingly matured and has grown since his days of sulking and being a bad leader (when he was losing). Just like how it was reported that Dez Bryant has matured because he bout PS4's for 4 people at walmart. ha... those are sure signs of maturity I tell you what! I hope the Panthers continue to play well, I really do. But lets see how mature Cam is when they either dont make the playoffs or they lose in them.

seamillguesthouse
seamillguesthouse

Again Peter King is full of himself saying that  the Drew Brees  call was THE RIGHT CALL. .../.CASE CLOSED .

Looks like a lot of former players disagree including quarterback Steve Young. 

Dolphins1972
Dolphins1972

beat Miami on a Thursday night. NO. The game was on monday. Glad that your beloved Patriots didn't have the refs on their side for the first time

Serena
Serena

So wait a second defenders can't tackle QB's around the knees, can't tackle them around the head and now according to Peter can't tackle them across the chest? 

Why not just red shirt them and make any contact with them whatsoever punishable by a 3 game suspension, that is what it is coming too if Peter thinks that the Brees sack was a justifiable penalty  

Drake59
Drake59

King claims that Brooks tackle was an "obvious" call .  His gross error of what is a penalty and what is not has been washed away with too many fancy buffets and a no host bars. That in no way was a penalty. Not even in this pathetic watered down version of NFL football. Tell Joe Montna and Kenny Stabler, Steve Young Roman Gabriel that is a penalty.. really a sickening call .. gutless and wrong.

mikep435
mikep435

i thoroughly enjoy peter king's columns but i frequently disagree with his opinions. I watched that sack of drew brees several times and it looked like brooks'  arm was on brews' collar bone. as a fan of good tough defense it seems to me that the rules are totally unbalanced in favor of the offense.

OK
OK

Goodell's Chief Spin Doctor: Patriots 20, Panthers 16

"With Shane Vereen’s return adding to the weaponry, I like Tom Brady to outplay Cam Newton, who has posted a couple stinkers in a row (56.5 completion percentage, one touchdown, three interceptions)."

The Game's Actual Result: Panthers 24, Patriots 20

Final Play: The White Quarterback throws the game's only interception in the Panthers' end zone. 

The White Quarterback, after starting 23 for 26, finished 6 for 14 with the game's only pick.

Passing Stats

Cam Newton

19 for 28, 209, 3 TD, 0 INT

The White Quarterback

29 for 40, 296, 1 TD, 1 CHOKE INT

Which Patriots will Goodell's Chief Spin Doctor blame for the loss?

The offensive line, for not protecting The White Quarterback?

The receivers, for not catching each of The White Quarterback's passes?

The running backs, for not gaining the necessary ground yardage to take the pressure off The White Quarterback?

The defense, for allowing the non-white quarterback to throw his third touchdown pass of the night with less than a minute left in the game?

The Patriots coaching staff, for failing to develop a proper plan for The White Quarterback?

Just who will Goodell's Chief Spin Doctor blame to defend The White Quarterback?

Sdwalt
Sdwalt

Lots of SF fans upset, if your team would have played better, you would have won.

djbake6798
djbake6798

As a Niner I understand the call (they way over protect the qb- especially superstars)- but what gets me is Brees didnt see Brooks coming and actually stepped towards Brooks and ducked (changing the target). I know it's a bang bang play and it was high and it was very violent- but it's football.

WillWillis1
WillWillis1

I'm unclear on why you have a section for Special Teams Player of the Week. Don't you and the other Hall of Fame voters teach us every year that there isn't a place in the game for special teams? 

NeedARealGM
NeedARealGM

"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"....and that, my friends, is why the NFL will never again be the great game it once was....like it or not, agree or not, the NFL as we know it is over. 

Mulva
Mulva

I disagree with the Ahmad Brooks call and Peter King's description of it. 

 Sure, a "clothesline" to the neck sounds like a personal foul, but it wasn't "clothesline". Brooks had his arm out to hit and WRAP UP Brees. He didn't propel himself or use his helmet as a weapon. He used the "heads up" method to try and wrap him up with his arm while his helmet/shoulde rpads were not used as a weapon.

I thought it was a bad call in real time, on replay and I still do even with PK's biased account.

And I'm a Broncos fan so no dog in the NFC fight...

KirkNewsted
KirkNewsted

I agree on the Ahmad Brooks call, but the niners should have kept the ball.  The penalty shouldn't affect possession.

KirkNewsted
KirkNewsted

"The more the NFL can hark back to a simpler day, a muddier day, the better."

But play a Superbowl outdoors in New York?  Never, says Peter King.  Hypocrite.

RomarioDelLago
RomarioDelLago

Had to to just laugh at Drew Brees sheer arrogance to act like he has a right (at all) to have some sort of "chip" on his shoulder over the NFL sanctions of his cheating team, the Saints.  Here's a chip for you, Brees, you whiner, YOUR TEAM CHEATED and got busted.  Stop whining, stop acting like you were the victim and play football fairly and honorably.


Pathetic cheaters. 

PWINGS
PWINGS

"....Week 11 made it clear again: The QB is sacred!"

Incorrect. The QB is NOT sacred. However, the ratings and TV revenues ARE sacred. Evidence: What were the TV ratings for Packer games before the Aaron Rodgers injury? What are they now? What were the TV ratings for Patriots games before the Tom Brady injury in 2009? What were they after? The NFL's protectiveness of the QB's is nothing more than protecting the "goose that lid the golden egg". Fans watch games to watch TD passes being scored. Fewer TD passes = lower ratings = reduced advertising revenue. This is the same reasoning behind tightening the rules protecting WR's downfield and limiting contact by DB's in pass coverage. Please don't confuse concerns over TV revenue with concerns over players health. They're not the same thing. They're not even close!

Jon8
Jon8

As I have said for many weeks, the Jets are overrated! I also believe the Panthers are overrated!

The Redskins and the Falcons need an off-season, top-to-bottom-overhaull!!

DavidMManzi
DavidMManzi

Doesn't anyone realize where the Steelers got their throwback uniforms? They stole them from the Three Stooges who wore them in the episode "Three Little Pigskins." But the Stooges wore them better. No contest.

SemperFiDTM
SemperFiDTM

You kill two flies, yet "relocate" a ladybug? Thats textbook speciesism Peter. For shame.

GustavoRodriguez
GustavoRodriguez

How in the world umpire Corrente saved  or protected Brees AFTER the bam-bam play was over?

Does the league think that kind of penalties will be preventing those kind of plays from happeningin?


rickberk
rickberk

Peter, you were in Grand Rapids and went to Ruby Tuesdays looking for local beer?  That's weak.  Should have gone to HopCats.  50 local craft brews on tap. You'd have been in heaven.

sedeibel
sedeibel

You find irony in the '10 things' section. See 1i where he says Colston is "terminally underrated" yet omits him from 1d. where he's talking about the great receivers. I'm thinking...he's underrated because of people like you Peter!! Not a media darling = underrated.

ReddickHarris
ReddickHarris

Mr. King, I read and enjoy your column all the time, whether or not I agree with you, which I do most of the time. I enjoyed your paen to Bailey and I shared your sorrow. I have shared my life with four rescue dogs, two of whom I have had to put down. I stayed with them until the very end and held them in my arms as they took their last breaths. Each one was/is different and brought so much pleasure to our lives.Thank you for sharing Bailey with us.

There is another rescue dog wanting for you.

I am a supporter of the Beagle Freedom project. You should check into it.

Thank you.

Reddick Harris


stianv83
stianv83

@Serena Look closely at Brooks' shoulder and where it is. In case you don't know your anatomy, the neck starts at the shoulders, and go up to the jaw.

mjhellund
mjhellund

@Serena Check your glasses and take another look at the photograph, ma'am.

Goon
Goon

@OK I'm sure you hear this a lot, but you're an idiot. 

JPG
JPG

@OK "The White Quarterback" - ?

Can we please keep racism out of the story.

Please.

Gs1
Gs1

@Mulva King also fails to mention the more obvious clothesline on Kaepernick that wasn't called. That was a true clothesline.


MatthewWayneWilson
MatthewWayneWilson

I think the Ninerz should be investigated for cheating after your coach praised a player for a hit on the QB that was deemed illegal. What's the difference between that and paying a player a few bucks for an illegal hit?

kingma183
kingma183

@RomarioDelLago  It is amazing how ignorant you are!! The Saints were not santioned for cheating.  Drew Brees is a man of incredibly high character, all he does is give back to his community, and last time I checked there is no report whatsoever of Drew not playing football "fairly and honorably".  Being upset about a call is one thing, but you have no right to make false accusations and act like you know the least bit of what you are talking about!

Jerkzilla
Jerkzilla

@Jon8 Jets aren't over rated, everyone thought they would suck this year.  They have played over their heads at times and played their way out of the top 5 draft pick they deserve.

cozmikrebl
cozmikrebl

@SemperFiDTM  To be fair though flies are hard to relocate unless you have a lot of time and patience. Sadly they are on my 'kill list' as well. Brown reclusive spiders residing on the ceiling on the other hand, those are fun to do battle with while trying to capture/release.

George
George

@rickberk True that

but then king wouldn't have been able to savor their healthy and super nutritious deep-fried four-way sampler.

Gotta' keep up that pk no-neck look, ya' know!

:D

Serena
Serena

@mjhellund Look where initial contact is made, what do you want the defender to do let Brees go when Brees' knees collapse?

OK
OK

@JPG

Only if your willing to overlook the blatant racism that is The NFL's Chief Spin Doctor at SI.

SportPage
SportPage

@kingma183 @RomarioDelLago Drew Brees lost any right to call himself  "a man of incredibly high character" when he first claimed there was no such thing as bounties in the Saints locker room, and then afterward claimed he knew nothing about it.

Jon8
Jon8

@Jerkzilla @Jon8 

If the Jets do not make the Playoffs, and I believe they will not, then they have flopped and Ryan should be fired!

kingma183
kingma183

@SportPage @RomarioDelLago and by the way obviously he would claim there was no such thing as bounties in the locker room if he claimed he knew nothing about it.  The only question is weather or not he was lying about it.  And I'm guessing you have no evidence suggesting he was

Newsletter