Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 16:
a. Great open-field tackle on dangerous Denver punt-returner Trindon Holliday, Justin Tuggle.
b. Double-move of the year: Minnesota wide receiver Jarius Wright, from the Bengals 36, runs up, outside, and stops; former first-round corner Dre Kirkpatrick lunges for it, and Wright darts up the right sideline, wide open, for a perfect 36-yard TD toss from Matt Cassel.
c. Kenny Stills is going to be good for a long time—and what value, averaging 18-plus yards per catch. He was the Saints’ fifth-round pick last April.
d. Pierre Garçon, with the catch of the day, laying on his back and grabbing one of his 107 receptions for the season. Great catch.
e. And congrats to Garçon for breaking the Washington team record of 106 catches, set by Hall of Famer Art Monk in 1984. And good for the magnanimous Monk, congratulating Garçon thusly: “Having set the record myself, I understand how exciting it is, so I’m excited for him. Records are meant to be broken. I didn’t expect to have it as long as I had it, but I’m glad the pressure is off of me now.”
f. Great hit by Josh Wilson, forcing the fumble that led to the Garçon touchdown catch in Washington.
g. Antoine Bethea, one of the most overlooked players in football. Always shows up, always hits the way a safety’s supposed to hit.
h. Robert Quinn, you’d come off the board in the top three of my fantasy pass-rushers list.
i. Superb camera work in the FOX game at Charlotte, showing a family in the stands enjoying the game pre-rain … then showing the same family getting drenched so hard it was hard to see them.
j. Le’Veon Bell, 124 tough yards on the Tundra.
k. Carson Palmer made his share of gaffes (share is putting it nicely), but he did come through when it counted, finding Jake Ballard (remember him?) for 17 yards to convert a key third down with the game in the balance at Seattle.
l. Imagine if Will Hill concentrated all his energy on football. See his pick-6 of Matthew Stafford at Detroit?
m. The Giants, showing up in Detroit.
n. The Chargers, the team with the longest winning streak (three) in the AFC.
o. Offensive rookie of the year: Eddie Lacy or Keenan Allen. Who’ve you got?
p. LeGarrette Blount will be a tough target to haul down on a New England (or Denver, or East Rutherford) day in the playoffs.
q. Great athletic deflection into an interception by Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower.
r. Unless something quite strange happens, Julian Edelman (96 receptions, 991 yards) is going to have a 100-catch, 1,000-yard receiving season. Raise your hand if you had that in your office pool out on Cape Cod in August.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 16:
a. Punters as consistently defenseless players. I’ll be the 473rd person to ask: How can a defenseless player make a tackle?
b. You’ve got to pick up the corner blitz, Pierre Thomas.
c. You’ve got to block Greg hardy around the edge, Terron Armstead, though I also think Drew Brees shouldn’t be taking a sack and taking his team out of field-goal range either.
d. Sometimes, watching the Washington special teams, you wonder whether they practice during the week.
e. No taunting in the NFL, Kenny Vaccaro. This is your 15th game. You’ve got to know that.
f. If you’re trying to draw the defense offside on a fourth down, Thad Lewis, you don’t get up from under center and walk down the line.
g. The flop out of bounds was Geno Smith’s best play of the day against Cleveland.
h. Just what the Texans, and Matt Schaub’s confidence, needed: a dropped touchdown pass right in the chest of Andre Johnson.
i. I do not use this word lightly, but the Cowboys sure make some stupid plays. The late hit by safety J.J. Wilcox, waaaay after Washington’s Santana Moss was down, handed Washington a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter … putting Dallas down by nine.
j. What a terrible, horrible injury for the Broncos, the apparent torn ACL for Von Miller. That’s going to play a big role in the AFC pennant race over the next month.
k. Seven three-and-outs for the Seahawks. At home.
l. Steven Hauschka clanging a 24-yard field goal try. At home.
m. I didn’t think the interception that officials said clanked off Doug Baldwin clanked off him. Looked like it hit the ground to me.
n. It’s this kind of year for the Ravens: Ray Rice can’t convert a 4th-and-1 run in the red zone, down 20-0.
3. I think the story I hope you all remember from Week 16 is what the Jaguars did with retiring center Brad Meester, playing his 208th game with the team. Coach Gus Bradley and the staff wanted to do something special for Meester, one of the great citizens of any team in the NFL. And so Meester reported as eligible on a 2nd-and-8 play from the Titans’ 13-yard-line (centers do not report as eligible but once a career—maybe), and quarterback Chad Henne threw him a nine-yard dart to convert the first down. Crowd went nuts. Teammates went nuts. Watching the highlight, you can see how much the Jaguars respect the working-class Meester. “You talk about memories you’ll take with you for the rest of your life,” Meester said. “That’s one I’ll always remember.” As will those who saw it.
4. I think the Jets should not fire Rex Ryan. Period. End of story. A 7-8 record with a game to go, with that team? Hardly a fireable situation. Extend Ryan one year (his contract is up at the end of next season) and push this decision off until the end of 2014. Ryan, and Jets fans, deserve that.
5. I think that was a great onside kick call by Sean Payton, despite the loss in Carolina, and it was executed by a man who does the kick as well as anyone in football, punter Thomas Morstead.
6. I think the leader in the NFL clubhouse to replace Ray Anderson as the league’s executive vice president of football operations is Merton Hanks, who currently rides herd on player conduct as executive VP of operations. The football ops job oversees all aspects of player conduct, safety and game competition. Hanks is the former 49ers safety.
7. I think you’ll enjoy this little chunk of my interview with Justin Tucker, the record-setting Baltimore kicker, from this week’s podcast:
What’s your longest field goal—high school, college or pro?
“It’s 79, pregame, in Denver, in altitude. Realistically, no head ball coach is going to send you out there in the first quarter of a game.”
What happened on the 61-yarder in Detroit?
“I hit one from 70 in pregame that hit the crossbar and went in. I knew if we got to the middle of the field area, we’d have a shot … I made it a point to kind of get up there [with special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, kicking coordinator Randy Brown and coach John Harbaugh] when they were discussing it. I just jumped in and interjected and asked for the opportunity: ‘I got this. Gimme a chance.’ ”
The NFL’s got to do something about kickers. [Entering Sunday’s game versus New England] You’re 65 of 70 in your career. You’ve made 33 in a row. You guys are just getting too good. Kicking’s too easy.
“I don’t think so. I think the guys around us are getting so much better. Kickers are getting more specialized. Long-snappers are snapping it back at 12 o’clock [with laces straight toward the posts]; the ball can basically hold itself. We don’t need to narrow the goalpost. That might be a discussion for someone who plays eight games in a dome. But when you’re playing out here in the AFC North, or a guy like Stephen [Gostkowski], when he kicks [in Foxboro] is so good … We’re paid to make it look easy, but it’s definitely not. I don’t think it needs to be modified at this point.”
And I hear you met your fiancée at a bus stop in Austin, Texas.
“I was waiting for a bus and saw a friend from high school with a bunch of her girlfriends walking by, including this girl Amanda. I was smitten right away. Like anyone in this modern day and age, I Facebook-stalked her for a good time, and I kept bugging her … She’d be the first to tell you she didn’t like me at first. Maybe too much personality to handle.”
Listen to the whole podcast, also featuring Peyton Manning, here:
8. I think this was a smart take on the differences between college and pro football from Chip Kelly: “The difference between college and the pros is that every single week is a challenge. You can look at some of the games you’ve played in college and you may hype them up that way. But in the back of your mind you know what the outcome of the game will be before it’s played because there is such a big discrepancy. In this league there is no discrepancy. You’ve got to come to play every week. The team that executes the best usually ends up the team that’s on top. But in terms of a surprise, nothing that’s really come out that’s been like, Well, I didn’t think that was ever going to be that way.” Finally, a college coach admits he knew he was going to beat Norfolk State 66-3.
9. I think if the NFL won’t give America a Thursday night game in Week 16, the NFL needs to give America a Saturday game. Afternoon or prime time, I don’t care. But Week 16 is too naked without an extra nationally televised game. I loved the late-season Saturday afternoon games the league used to have, but realize the ratings for them wouldn’t be what a prime-time game’s ratings would be. So put it in prime time Saturday night in Week 16.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I have no proverbial dog in the fight, because I’m not a college sports guy, but are you sure you hired the right man for athletic director, University of Texas people? This Oregon writer presents a pretty damning case against Steve Patterson.
b. Loved this Grantland story on Tony Gonzalez by Robert Mays.
c. Filled with sadness at the death of Claire Davis, the 17-year-old Arapahoe (Colo.) High School senior who was minding her own business Dec. 13 when a classmate shot her in the head for no reason whatsoever. Utter madness.
d. Michael Cecere, you deserve our respect and a lifetime of good karma.
e. None of the five New York City-area winter pro sports teams—Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Devils, Islanders—has a winning record. They’ve played a total of 142 games and won 58.
f. Coffeenerdness: Diner breakfast Sunday in New York. Coffee-flavored water. Miserable. Who drinks this swill?
g. Beernerdness: Had a couple of Fire Island Red Wagon IPAs last week at The MMQB’s holiday party in the city. Very good find. Strong IPA with a distinctive malt taste. Really liked it. Never knew there was such a thing as the Fire Island Beer Company, but I’ll be looking for its offerings.
h. The thing I hate about this time of year: The 20 or so coaches and families who are on the edge of their seats wondering if they’ll have to move in a week. Sort of takes away from the joy of the season, totally.
i. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. I hope it’s a wonderful week for everyone.
Who I Like Tonight
San Francisco 30, Atlanta 10. The Niners have another milestone to think about, not just the one concerning the 350th and final (most probably) football game in Candlestick Park. Frank Gore, who is as beloved to the Niners of the last decade as Roger Craig was to his Niners, is 144 yards from 10,000, and it’s a goal the current team would love to see him reach. Said offensive coordinator Greg Roman: “Frank’s just an amazing person, an amazing player. You kind of wish everybody, all the fans, could be around him just to see how special a guy he is, how committed he is to his team and it’s from the heart. It’s not a bunch of fake rah-rah. This guy lives it, breathes it, and it means so much to him. A lot of those yards have been tough yards, really tough yards. Coming to work with Frank is an honor. We’d love to see him get to 10,000 here.”
The Adieu Haiku
So long to The ’Stick.
Seems every step I took there,
I stepped in a bog.