Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 15:
a. Philip Rivers’ bolo tie.
b. Philip Rivers’ explosive, cheerleader-like enthusiasm on the NFL Network set after the 27-20 upset of the Broncos. Spare me the stuff about “I hate Rivers because he yells at everybody on the field.” How would you not want to play on that guy’s team?
c. Philip Rivers’ early chemistry with Keenan Allen, who is looking more and more like the offensive rookie of the year.
d. Chargers corner Shareece Wright, burned regularly entering Thursday night. He sure was in the right place a lot against Peyton Manning, with seven tackles and two passes defensed.
e. The FOX graphic before the Atlanta-Washington kickoff. “Recent Washington Shutdowns” was the headline, and Stephen Strasburg, the government closure and Robert Griffin III were in three boxes beneath. Loved it.
f. Jay Glazer’s video of the illegal coach on the field in Pittsburgh-Miami. Uh, that’s not supposed to happen. Especially in a game involving the Steelers.
g. The hands of Buffalo safety Aaron Williams, niftily picking off Chad Henne early.
h. Steven Jackson, punishing the defense the way he was supposed to be doing all season. Check out the absolute steam-rolling of Washington’s Josh Wilson.
i. Throw of the Day: Under heavy pressure, Matt Cassel stepped up in the pocket against Philadelphia and launched a ball 45 yards in the air right into the hands of a sprinting Greg Jennings. Touchdown, a 57-yard touchdown.
j. Cassel, first quarter, nine of nine, 163 yards with a touchdown.
k. Textbook legal hit on the quarterback by Sean Weatherspoon, leveling Kirk Cousins a millisecond after releasing the ball.
l. Cousins, with a nice touchdown pass downfield on the run to Fred Davis.
m. Adrian Clayborn, chasing down Colin Kaepernick from behind, for the kind of sack the Bucs drafted him to get.
n. Robert Quinn is playing himself into Defensive Player of the Year contention.
o. Tramon Williams, still a superior corner—even if sometimes he doesn’t play like it.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 15:
a. Denver’s cornerback depth. Rookie Kayvon Webster’s gotten his share of burn marks, but now he’s gone for at least a week after thumb surgery.
b. Time of possession for Denver: 21 minutes. At home? The best offense in football went three-and-out three straight series for the first time this season against a previously 6-7 team.
c. Madness of Being a Chargers Fan Dept.: San Diego’s 32-32 in its last 64.
d. Jay Cutler throwing into traffic on the first series of the game at Cleveland. Interception.
e. Come on, Texans. Have a little pride.
f. Compete for the ball, Jordan Cameron, and that wouldn’t have been an interception.
g. John Denney, for snapping a ball into the facemask of holder Brandon Field on what should been a cake Miami field goal by Caleb Sturgis.
h. Catch the ball in the fourth quarter, when the game is big, Greg Little.
i. Giants: First 11 possession, five first downs.
j. Eli Manning, now the Giants’ all-time interceptions leader. Five Sunday.
k. I love Drew Brees, but in the red zone throwing into triple-coverage for Jimmy Graham? I mean, you don’t throw into triple-coverage for Jerry Rice. Terrible decision, and the Rams made him pay.
l. I do not think there was indisputable visual evidence for Walt Coleman to reverse the Tramon Williams interception in Dallas. It was close, and the ball may have moved on the ground. But indisputable? I didn’t see it.
3. I think the Rams can cross off one more positional need off their 2014 draft to-do list: running back. Zac Stacy (133 yards) was tremendous against formerly formidable New Orleans, and he’s just the kind of back Jeff Fisher likes: some speed, but enough power to make people bounce off.
4. I think the maddening thing about what we’re seeing in Pittsburgh is the grace and power of Le’Veon Bell and the deep-threat ability of Antonio Brown … and the fact that it’s almost certainly going to be too little, too late. The Steelers have to go to Green Bay and likely face Aaron Rodgers Sunday in his return to the lineup, and whatever tiny mathematical chance they have to finish 8-8 and in the playoffs would be gone with a loss. But lest anyone think they should blow it up and dump Ben Roethlisberger, think again. My Stat of the Week tells you the Steelers will have to do some major surgery on the roster and cap come March. But this is a contending team with holes, which you can say about 20 to 24 teams in the league right now.
5. I think I’m hearing some crazy things about the quarterback race at the top of the draft. Namely: I know one team that, as of now, thinks it’s no sure thing Teddy Bridgewater will be the top quarterback on its board (and this is a team that could take a quarterback in the first round). Moreover, this team believes Central Florida’s Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel could be the top quarterback on the board. That’s right. Blake Bortles. We don’t even know if Bortles, a redshirt junior, will return for his fifth season at UCF. He will reportedly make his decision after Central Florida’s Fiesta Bowl game against Baylor.
6. I think these are my thoughts about the tumult in Washington:
a. My friend Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Network that six GMs said they wouldn’t give better than a second-round pick for Kirk Cousins in trade after the season. The time to ask that question isn’t on Dec. 11, when Cousins has been in mothballs for a year. The time to ask the question is after Cousins plays three games. It’ll be apparent then, and only then, if Cousins is worth a first-round pick to some team. If he repeats his performance of Sunday in the last two games, it’s folly to think no team, say, between 20 and 32 with a quarterback need wouldn’t consider a deal. And I said “consider,” not “make.”
b. I continue to think Cleveland, using the late-first-round pick acquired from Indy in the Trent Richardson deal, is a realistic spot for Cousins if he plays very well in the final three games. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner wants more of a standard dropback quarterback than a run-around guy like Johnny Manziel. If the Browns could use their first first-rounder on another need position (wideout, corner) and the pick in the 20s on Cousins, that would give Turner a chance to get a young veteran ready for opening day faster than he could with anyone Cleveland would pick in a May draft four months from opening day.
c. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington owner Dan Snyder sniff around Art Briles, to see if he could recreate the Baylor magic Briles and Griffin made. But I can’t see it happening. I get the sense there’s already enough feeling in the Washington locker room that Griffin gets special treatment. Why feed into that more by importing a special coach for him?
d. Not that he’d ask me for advice, but what I’d say to Griffin is: Tell your father not to give interviews with his opinion about the team’s offense, and tell your father you’ll meet him after the game, outside the locker room. I just don’t think the NFL is the place for helicopter parents.
e. For his own good, and for the sake of the won-loss record, Snyder should draw a personal line between himself and the players. Over and over again, coaches are annoyed with some stars getting taken into the sanctuary and some not. It’s just not a good team thing.
f. I’d love to see David Shaw get a shot at RG3. I doubt he’d consider it, because I think the only place the well-satisfied Stanford coach would go in the NFL is an absolutely ideal one, and that’s not Washington right now. Wouldn’t mind Jay or Jon Gruden as the Shanahan heir either.
7. I think this will be the sixth straight season without a repeat rushing champion, unless Adrian Peterson can do something superhuman on his bad foot in the last two weeks. LeSean McCoy has a 122-yard lead over Peterson, and McCoy has games against generous run fronts (Chicago, at Dallas) remaining. Not since LaDainian Tomlinson won consecutive rushing titles in 2006 and ’07 has a man won two straight. Since then: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew and Peterson have won the titles.
8. I think I say this every year around the middle of December, but the ballot for the Hall of Fame is on my desk (I have been looking at it nearly every day, puzzling over my last three or four spots), and this is such a tough year for the cut from 25 semifinalists to the 15 finalists the committee of 46 will consider in for election on Feb. 1 in New York. I think it’s because there are so many of the so-called marginal men I feel strongly about—Aeneas Williams, Jimmy Johnson, Kevin Greene, Jerome Bettis—and so many of those on the ballot I believe are long overdue.
9. I think, among the many difficult decisions the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters face in winnowing the list for the class of 2014 is the Morten Andersen question, eloquently discussed by voter Len Pasquarelli. Shouldn’t a man who scored in 360 consecutive games (the equivalent of 22.5 seasons) be strongly considered, particularly with a résumé as good as Andersen’s?
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Newtown, a year later. Nothing substantive done about gun control in Washington, and at the state level 37 states increasing mental-health budgets in 2013 and five beefing up background checks. Not nearly enough. Overall, a sin.
b. Scott Price with a story we all should read about “What We Lost” in little Jack Pinto.
c. Read that, and then tell me we’ve done the people of Newtown right.
d. Just when you think Martin Brodeur is ready for the pasture, he goes and shuts out a pretty good team (Tampa Bay, 3-0, Saturday). That’s his 124th shutout. That’s 1.55 full seasons of nothing but shutouts.
e. I like some of the things I read from Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on the Shawn Thornton assault of Brooks Orpik last week, so I asked him to weigh in on the future of fighting in hockey. I am anti-fighting. Here is Yohe’s view: “Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik is still having headaches and doesn’t remember what happened on Dec. 7 in Boston. Those who witnessed it will never forget. Orpik, only minutes after delivering a controversial hit that was deemed legal, was stalked by Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton for three consecutive shifts. Thornton continually offered to fight, and Orpik declined. Finally, Thornton slew-footed him to the ice from behind before delivering a barrage of punches that knocked Orpik unconscious for 45 seconds.
“The NFL (eliminating helmet-to-helmet hits) and MLB (collisions at home plate are on the verge of being extinct) have made giant strides to make their respective sports safer. What has hockey done? And really, the bigger question remains, do NHL officials and players want their sport safer? Even after the NHL leveled Thornton with a 15-game suspension, Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma exclaimed that this number was suitable, and both praised Thornton for being ‘an honest hockey player.’ Do honest hockey players commit assault on the ice because an opponent refuses to drop the gloves? Orpik, who is out indefinitely, might have a different take on Thornton’s honesty. Two years ago, I conducted a poll of 15 Penguins, asking if fighting still belonged in the NHL. Fourteen of them—even Sidney Crosby—said fighting remained an integral part of policing the game from dirty hits. The one player who believed the time had come to eliminate fighting was, of all people, Brooks Orpik.”
f. Thanks, Josh.
g. Charles Barkley is fun to listen to.
h. It is very hard to walk by a television with The Big Lebowski on and not just sit there until the end of it. Saturday was one of those times, and if this were the offseason, I would have succumbed.
i. For Tyler Tettleton’s sake, go Bobcats. Beat East Carolina.
j. Coffeenerdness: Ground Central, the East 52nd Street coffee haven in Manhattan I recently praised, now gets more of it: Not only is the espresso heavenly, but also there’s a library-like reading and computing den, very cozy, in back. It’s an oasis of sanity in Midtown. And when Midtown is full of tourists, it’s almost useless to go to Starbucks. At least half the time, they get anything but “grande black coffee” wrong.
k. Beernerdness: Will stock up on a couple of Christmas beers this week. Suggestions?
Who I Like Tonight
Detroit 23, Baltimore 20. Remember a couple of weeks ago, when we were promised a Game of the Year on Monday, New Orleans at Seattle, and it fizzled, 27-7 by halftime? Tonight’s going to be different. Ravens, 7-6, playing for the AFC’s sixth seed with strong competition, at Lions, 7-6, playing for the NFC North title with strong competition. I expect the run games to struggle for both sides, so this could come down to whether Matthew Stafford has enough time to find Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson, and whether Joe Flacco can repeat the success of the last half of the fourth quarter in the weather in Baltimore last week, when the addition of rehabbed tight end Dennis Pitta was the key in the offense’s coming alive enough to beat Minnesota. Key player here: I’ll give you a clue. He entered Week 15 with the NFL lead in interceptions. Give up? Linebacker DeAndre Levy (with six), who will be vital in disrupting what Flacco likes to do in the middle of the field. I like the Fairley/Suh combo platter to make the difference, and Levy to make a couple of big plays, in the cacophonous den of the Lions tonight.
The Adieu Haiku
One simple question
in the Hall of Fame cutdown:
Where is Joe Klecko?