Now for a few other events of Week 14.
The Longest Yard.
From the Broncos’ locker room, the new king of the field goal was talking about Tom Dempsey, the man whose record he broke just before halftime on a frigid and breezy Sunday afternoon in Denver. Dempsey, he knew, was handicapped—he was born without toes on his right foot—and kicked straight-on, his right shoe cut in half into a boot. It’s with that foot that Dempsey kicked a 63-yard field goal outside at Tulane Stadium for the Saints in 1970.
“That is awesome,” said Prater, a 29-year-old veteran from Central Florida. “What an achievement for him—and he did it straight on, with worse equipment than we have now, so long ago, when no one would think you kick a 63-yard field goal. That’s an incredible record to have for so long.”
I told Prater—through my colleague Tim Layden, that Dempsey praised his kick from his retirement home in New Orleans. “Wow,” said Prater. “That’s really awesome. That’s an honor for me.”
Prater, in fact, was almost late for his record. He had to rush out to the field after Peyton Manning completed a seven-yard throw to Jacob Tamme to get Denver on the outer limits of field-goal range. But he’d never kicked a field goal of 60 or longer in his life. “I really didn’t try many long ones today before the game because it was so cold,” Prater said. “Just figured we probably wouldn’t try any real long ones. I think I kicked one from about 60. That was it. But I hustled out there and we lined it up. When I saw it on the stripe, I knew what it was.”
Meaning: He knew it was for the Holy Grail. Sixty-four yards. The record.
The snapper, a San Diego State kid, Aaron Brewer, is from Fullerton, Calif. The holder, punter Britton Colquitt, who went to Tennessee, is from Knoxville. And Prater is from Estero, Fla. Now, here they were, three warm-blooded guys, trying for history.
“Almost every time I kick, just before I kick, Britton looks back at me and says, ‘Follow through straight to the target.’ He said that to me, and I was ready. The balls were pretty good today. [Assistant equipment manager] Kenny Chavez did a really good job with the balls today, getting the ‘K’ balls prepared in this weather. The snap was good, the hold was good. I know I had a chance. I just tried to kill it. It felt good coming off my foot.”
No one’s ever proven the altitude helps the kicks in Denver, though Sebastian Janikowski, one of four men to hold the previous record, always says he feels he kicks the farthest in Denver. (Janikowski and Jason Elam both kicked their 63-yarders in Denver; the fourth, by David Akers, was in Green Bay.) Prater’s kick sailed through the pristine chill, hung in the air an extra millisecond or two, and fell a yard or two beyond the crossbar. Perfect.
“The whole team rushed around me, like we won, and it was pretty exciting,” Prater said. “I went into the locker room and everyone was congratulating me, and I’m thinking, Seems like we just won the World Series—and we’re still losing the game.” Indeed, the kick sent the Broncos to the locker room trailing Tennessee 21-20. Denver would blow the game open in the second half and win 51-28.
An hour after the game, Prater still was a little dazed by it all. “It hasn’t sunk in, really,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to get a shot to break that record, but the time and conditions have to be right. I’ve been waiting for six years. It’s pretty amazing. Surreal. Everything went just perfect.”
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Looks like it’s Peyton’s MVP to lose now.
Manning has three games left (at home against San Diego on Thursday night, then at Houston and at Oakland) to break the two passing biggies. He has 45 touchdown passes and 4,522 yards. He needs six touchdown passes to break Tom Brady’s mark of 50 TD throws; he needs 319 passing yards per game to break Drew Brees’ yardage mark of 5,476. Seeing that the 11-2 Broncos are in a race with the 10-3 Pats for home-field edge through the playoffs and would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker, Manning may well have to keep playing in shootouts to keep Denver No. 1. The only way I see Manning missing a fifth MVP is if he struggles a bit down the stretch, loses a couple games and does not break one or both of the records. He’s just been too dominant for 13 games, despite his hiccups, to lose it otherwise.
The MVP is voted on by a panel of 50 media members (I’m one of them) under the auspices of the Associated Press. The winner is announced the night before the Super Bowl. The 50 voters simply vote for one player; it’s not a ballot of 10, for example, the way voters in baseball work the MVP. This process is something I’ve long railed against, because I think a ballot gives you a chance to reward the second-highest vote-getter, third- and so on, and because as it is now, very often in a close race the only way a voter can reflect that closeness is to split his or her vote.
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The NFL has discussed centralizing the replay system, likely in New York.
For uniformity of calls, mostly. And why not, after seeing the disastrous Jeff Triplette reversal of a likely correct call in Cincinnati? I’d prefer to have the same people looking at all replays. It lessens—though doesn’t eliminate—the chances of a mistake because the foremost authorities on the calls, led by VP of Officiating Dean Blandino, would be overseeing the process from the NFL command center. Mike Florio and I reported on this last night on NBC, and I can tell you it’s being seriously considered. Nothing is likely to change before 2015, however. I’d expect 2014 to be a study year for the project.
Sounds like the public wants to take replay—and probably a lot more—out of the hands of referees at game sites. Florio asked on Pro Football Talk: “Should the NFL move the instant-replay function out of the stadium?” By early this morning, 83.7 percent of those responding (5,591 of 6,681) said yes. I asked my Twitter followers last night: “Should the NFL centralize replay in one place?” It was 149-9, yes (94.3 percent).
The league would consider this not only because a uniformity of eyes looking at the calls could lead to more consistency, but also because it would likely shorten games. The time of games (3 hours, 11 minutes, 20 seconds, on average, this weekend) has slowly crept up in the last few years, and the league wants to bring it back down. The time it takes for replay is getting onerous. We measured the fateful Triplette reversal Sunday, from the time he announced that the Cincinnati rushing play near the goal line was being reviewed to the time he announced the reversal: four minutes, 10 seconds … even though the time a ref can spend under the hood is only one minute. There is no question that process can be streamlined by getting rid of the mechanical procedures at the game site that accompany the replay process.
For the record, times of games in the last six seasons, including this one through Sunday night’s Saints-Panthers game:
Stay tuned for offseason debate on this topic.
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Meet Julian Edelman.
Look there, on the list of leading NFL receivers, and you’ll see an odd name between No. 4 (A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall, tied with 78 receptions) and No. 7 (Calvin Johnson, 75).
Julian Edelman: 76.
The former Kent State quarterback. The seventh-round Patriot who would have signed with Green Bay as an undrafted free agent if New England hadn’t snared him with the 232nd pick in 2009.
I had Edelman on my podcast the other day and discovered why he’s been such a good match with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady:
“The more you can do, the more valuable you make yourself to a team. Sometimes, lying and saying you’ve done it when you really haven’t done it. Put my head down, worked my tail off, watched a lot of great guys ahead of me over the years … You watch Tom Brady and learn how to be a professional. You’re around that, and it becomes your life … Punt-returning, kick-returning, playing defense, whatever the coaches ask you to do. Blocking a kick. When you’re younger and you’re a seventh-round draft pick, a rookie, you basically do everything you can. You could be a camp body … Everyone’s fighting for a job. Any time a coach needed a guy up, you had to go sprint up there and try to deal with it … You saw a lot of guys, Wes Welker in the huddle, Joey Galloway, Randy Moss, even though they’re different body types, they’re such smart receivers. You could always take something away from everyone. When you’re green, you grow; when you’re ripe, you rot. You gotta constantly learn. My father tells me that all the time. We’d be practicing out in the backyard, and if I had a bad attitude or I was talking back or something, he’d go, You think you have all the answers. When you’re green you grow, when you think you’re ripe you’re gonna rot.”
Troy Brown, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman. Not all the same guy. But productive, smaller guys who’ve made a good living playing a long time. Edelman’s a free agent after the season. The Chargers struck gold with Woodhead, signing him from New England this year. Read the previous paragraph, and look at his production, and see how Edelman has become a Tom Brady go-to guy. This is a guy you want on your team, a winning player.