Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about championship weekend:
a. For Atlanta and Jacksonville, the chance for their coaching staffs to coach in the Senior Bowl this week. That always is a huge edge come draft time.
b. Pittsburgh interviewing Mike Munchak for its offensive-line coaching job. How perfect: Munchak’s physicality and the Steelers.
c. Heard a lot of really good things about Ben McAdoo. Imaginative, tireless and a quarterback’s best resource. The Giants needed a fresh start.
d. Dont’a Hightower, blowing up a Knowshon Moreno run for a loss of five.
e. Two great plays on the first two New England third downs, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Tony Carter breaking up potential conversion passes for Austin Collie and Matthew Slater.
f. The power of Manning to make the stadium church-like quiet just before any Denver snap. Almost disquieting. If there’s an audible peep, he’ll raise his hands and simmer the loudmouth down.
g. Pats defensive end Chandler Jones—I believe—saved four points on the first scoring drive of the day, grabbing the upper arm of Manning as he threw and forcing the ball to go high to Eric Decker in the end zone.
h. Manning’s audible to a Moreno run on the first touchdown drive. Perfect read of the Pats’ D. Gain of 28.
i. Robert Ayers, the second draft choice of Josh McDaniels, with a sack of Josh McDaniels’ quarterback.
j. Pat Bowlen, who has been ailing, looking good on the podium accepting the AFC title trophy.
k. Colin Kaepernick’s legs. His 58-yard run—effortless.
l. Russell Wilson’s perfect throw into Jermaine Kearse for the winning touchdown.
m. Michael Bennett, who reminds me of George Martin, the old Giant. The ball just found him. In other words, he has an instinct for finding the ball, and did it again on the Kaepernick strip-sack by Cliff Avril.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about championship weekend:
a. Life of a Coach Dept.: Three years ago today, Ray Horton was the secondary coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then he was hired as defensive coordinator of Arizona (2011-12), and then defensive coordinator of Cleveland (2013), and now defensive coordinator of Tennessee. Four jobs in 36 months.
b. Tom Brady overthrowing Julian Edelman on what could have been a touchdown midway through the first quarter. Good play design, good route by Edelman. Just overthrown.
c. Tom Brady, missing too many deep throws.
d. Hated the 3rd-and-20, slip screen to Edelman on the last play of the first quarter—with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out briefly.
e. Wes Welker’s pick on Aqib Talib, early second quarter. Officials missed it. Talib got knocked silly, had to leave the game. Big play.
f. Not sure which official in San Francisco-Seattle missed the ball right in NaVorro Bowman’s hands as he shouted in pain from his serious knee injury in the second half … but miss the call they did. You cannot miss a clear fumble recovery at the goal line; way too much at stake. But the play couldn’t be reviewed. Lucky for the Niners they got the ball back a minute later after a Marshawn Lynch fumble.
g. The archaic policy in the NFL that has only certain plays reviewed. Every play should be reviewable. Too much at stake to see a clear error on the JumboTron and, because some plays cannot be reviewed, you can’t fix it. And don’t say it’ll make the games interminably long. Each team gets two challenges per game, and a third if they win both of the first two. That’s not excessive. It should happen.
h. Russell Wilson usually takes care of the ball. That first-quarter fumble could have been very costly.
3. I think, barring a successful appeal of his $21,000 fine for unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head and neck of a defenseless receiver (Percy Harvin), Saints safety Rafael Bush played the NFC playoff game against Seattle for, well, let’s figure it out. (The NFL shouldn’t rescind or lower the fine, in my opinion; it’s the classic definition of a high hit to a defenseless receiver.) But here’s the balance sheet:
Payment for divisional game: $23,000.
—NFL fine: $21,000.
—Federal tax on $2,000 remaining: $792 (at 39.6 percent of Bush’s salary).
—FICA on $2,000: $153.
—Louisiana state tax on $2,000: $120 (at 6 percent of Bush’s salary).
Total fine, taxes: $22,065
Bush’s take-home pay for the game: $935.
Thus: Bush took home 4 percent of his paycheck for the game.
4. I think I’d love to know who trained Jim Harbaugh for his standup act last week. Twice!
5. I think if you wondered why Ken Whisenhunt took the Tennessee job instead of Detroit, remember two things: He might not have gotten the Detroit job, and Tennessee was willing to pay him a premium to accept its job Monday instead of waiting for whatever happened in Detroit. “The Lions were still involved in their process,” Whisenhunt told me, “and they felt strongly about coach [Jim] Caldwell, and Tennessee moved quickly.” That’s code for, “I had better take the job with the offer on the table.” Secondly: I’m not convinced Detroit—with a better overall team than Tennessee, and certainly a better quarterback—is a better job. With Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler having five more prime seasons (if injury free) apiece, that’s four games every year against a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. In the AFC South, there’s Andrew Luck, and then only question marks.
6. I think Wade Phillips raised an interesting point the other day, on being disappointed he didn’t get one interview for a defensive coordinator job. The last five times he’d been appointed defensive coordinator of a team, that team made the playoffs in year one of his tenure. He’s right: Houston 2011, San Diego 2007, Atlanta 2002, Buffalo 1995, Denver 1989. The stench of this Houston season and the fact that Phillips isn’t close to any of the six head coaches hired so far have the most to do with the unemployment.
7. I think, re “Omaha” and the craze it caused thanks to Peyton Manning’s use of it against the Chargers, this is a word designed in most cases to alert the offense to snap and start the play on the next sound from the quarterback. Unless, as in the case of the neutral-zone infractions (San Diego had four of them eight days ago), it’s a quarterback telling the offense in the huddle or on the sidelines to go on the second or third sound after “Omaha,” to confuse the defense. I remember watching Tim Tebow practice during his rookie year, and every snap was after “Omaha … GO!!” Because Peyton Manning knows his sounds are being recorded and parsed by teams trying to pair words with on-field actions and plays, he knows that if he uses one word over and over, he can’t have the kind of pattern to it that will make it easy to follow.
8. I think Scott Fujita wrote the enlightening story of the week around the NFL, about new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. Fujita’s point was that his former defensive coordinator in Dallas was so smart and so well-respected by his players that his appointment as head coach was long overdue. Fujita wrote: “When he was my defensive coordinator and position coach with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, I remember watching game film with him one afternoon in his office. I can’t remember who the upcoming opponent was, but I remember sitting there quietly listening to him talk through calls as each play ran on the projector screen. I felt like I had a front-row seat to his game-day thought process, as he was essentially thinking out loud. And it wasn’t the defensive calls he was making that I found overly impressive. Anyone who ‘knows’ football can run through a call sheet and match it up with the corresponding game situation.
“But what I found uncanny was his ability to correctly and specifically predict what each offensive play would be, one after another. After about 25-30 plays of him making offensive predictions with roughly 90 percent accuracy, I called ‘bull—-‘ and told him he had either watched this tape a dozen times already or that he was simply reading the offensive plays from his monitor. So he offered to switch seats with me. I sat in his chair in front of the monitor and pulled up the archives to search for a film of that week’s opponent that wasn’t part of the regular six-to-eight-game breakdown that most teams evaluate each week during the season. I randomly selected a game from early the previous season, hit play, and watched him work his magic. After watching a series or two to get a feel for the game, he started reciting the ensuing offensive plays again, one after another. Finally, I told him he was showing off. His response: ‘Nope. I’ve just got these (bleep)ers down.’ And that he did. I began to think of Zim as a defensive coordinator with an offensive coordinator’s mind.”
Now that’s great stuff, the exact insight former players who do the job right can bring to NFL reporting.
9. I think the greatest statement in Inappropriate Parking Lot Behavior History was issued Friday, on the heels of news that Jets tight end Kellen Winslow was cited for public lewdness and possession of synthetic marijuana in New Jersey after a woman in a Target parking lot alleged to police that she saw Winslow with his penis out in the car. His publicist, Denise White, said: “Kellen pulled over to a parking lot to smoke what he thought at the time was a legal substance. He changed his clothes in his vehicle as not to smell like smoke when he returned home. There was absolutely nothing inappropriate that took place, and if there was police would have investigated further and charged Kellen, which they did not.” Riiiight. Synthetic marijuana is available at all the gas stations where I fill up. And it’s quite legal. And I change my clothes in Target parking lots all the time! Winslow pleaded not guilty to the pot charge, and police didn’t charge him with lewdness because the woman did not choose to file charges or come forward to testify against him. Dom Cosentino of NJ.com reported that two open jars of vaseline were found on the console of his vehicle by police, and when an investigating officer approached the car, “Winslow sprang to an upright position.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Saw one of the best hockey games I’ve seen in a while Thursday night in Denver. Avs 2, Devils 1 in a shootout, with incredible goaltending (Semyon Varlamov, Cory Schneider) and the continued inability of New Jersey to score in the shootout. That Varlamov is fantastic; he’s on a 17-game streak of not losing in regulation. Also: Great video board at the Pepsi Center.
b. Of course, one of the highlights during the game was noticing the back of No. 24 for the Avalanche: CLICHE. A forward. Marc-Andre Cliche, from Quebec. So, brilliant me, I’m at the game with our Robert Klemko, and Cliche goes into the penalty box, and I say, “Cliché in the sin bin! How perfect is that?!”
c. But the dream soon died. The PA announcer, calling out the penalty, pronounced the last name “Cleesh.” Bummer.
d. Just saw the highlights, but if you were in Oklahoma City Friday night, looks like you saw the shooting night of the year between Steph Curry (37) and Kevin Durant (54). The ease of Curry’s three-point shots, and the way Durant hits nothing but net from turnaround bombs … pretty great.
e. Great work by my former colleague, Jeffri Chadiha, now with ESPN, on his E:60 story on Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman searching for the father he vaguely knew, and the family he never knew existed. Really good story-telling.
f. John Henry must be loosening the budget of the Boston Globe. The paper had 18 staffers in Denver for the Broncos-Patriots game. For newspapers in this day and age, that’s amazing.
g. Saw a terrific film the other day about hunger in America, A Place at the Table, and realized it was one of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s projects. He is one of the executive producers on the documentary, which shows how insidious both urban and rural poverty is, and how the numbers of the hungry (50 million Americans experience some form of hunger problems every day) keep rising. A smart, hard-working single mom in inner-city Philadelphia finally gets a job after being unemployed, and finds she has less money to spend on food than when she was on public assistance. It’s one of many heartbreaking things in the movie.
h. Darren Sharper’s in trouble. The former safety was suspended by NFL Network without pay after being charged with suspicion of rape in California. And Saturday, the New Orleans police said he’s suspected in a sexual assault there. From my experience with Sharper—all good—that’s something I never saw coming.
i. Coffeenerdness: My compliments on the rich espresso in your coffee bar, Brown Palace.
j. Beernerdness: A Denver pizza place, Lucky Pie Pizza and Tavern, had Pliny the Elder double-IPA on tap, and that was a treat, to see the famous and delicious beer from Santa Rosa (as smooth and hoppy as any IPA I’ve had) in the house. Very good Sangiovese there too, if you’re into a good wine with your pizza … One other beer shoutout from my three-night Denver experience: Laughing Dog IPA, from Ponderay, Idaho, on tap. A darker IPA, strong, with a smooth taste. Liked it.
The Adieu Haiku
Big contrast: Erin Andrews
doesn’t fear Manning.