Silicon Valley Victory

The 49ers debut their new digs, and establish a new standard in the NFL. Plus, Blake Bortles makes things difficult in Jacksonville, a look inside the growing penalty problem and more notes from Week 2 of the preseason

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There are two words for the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium, which opened for football Sunday afternoon: imaginative and cool.

Imaginative, because the Niners, when they couldn’t get a deal done with the city of San Francisco for a new stadium eight years ago, decided they could do a couple of things. They could continue to fight to build a stadium in some inaccessible place near San Francisco where they didn’t want to be, or they could look elsewhere, to a place more accessible to the biggest city in the Bay Area, San Jose, and a place much closer to the mega-companies that had come to define the area. The site of this stadium is nine miles from Apple’s headquarters, 11 miles from Google, two miles from Intel, 10 miles from Facebook, four miles from Cisco and six miles from Yahoo. Levi’s Stadium is 45 miles south of Fisherman’s Wharf, but the world is changing—the world has changed—and so why mourn what isn’t?

Cool, because of these things:

  • The 38,000 square feet of solar panels produce enough energy to run the stadium for the 10 home 49er games each year.
  • On the roof of the stadium Sunday morning, 49ers CEO Jed York pointed out a few of the 16 types of indigenous vegetation on site. Sixteen? “For Joe Montana,’’ York said.
  • All of the water that services the bathrooms and irrigates the field is reclaimed and purified from previous uses.
  • There are light rail stops and bicycle racks just outside the stadium, You can ride your bike to the stadium from nearby San Jose neighborhoods, and my friend, San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, said he plans to walk the four miles from his house to the stadium one time this season.
  • Peyton Manning and the Broncos spoiled the party with a 34-0 romp of the Niners in their new home. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Peyton Manning and the Broncos spoiled the party with a 34-0 romp of the Niners in their new home. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    There’s a hands-on 20,000-square-foot 49ers Museum that lives and breathes the history of the franchise. You walk in, and there’s a virtual Patrick Willis walking alongside you, so real that it’s eerie. You sit in the broadcast booth, and you can announce “The Catch,’’ and email yourself the clip. My favorite part: the re-creation of Bill Walsh’s office, realistic down to the exact paneling and drapes and desk and original film projector he used when hired by Eddie DeBartolo.

THE MMQB: Behind the statues inside the 49ers’ new stadium

  • The first local students to use the learning center in the museum, 50 fifth-graders from San Jose, will be bused in today. They’ll have already seen a couple of videos on the physics and mathematics of football, and be educated by interactive displays that emphasize science and technology.
  • Noted local chef Michael Mina had a side of Wagyu beef on the rotisserie Sunday morning, but in keeping with the Bay Area appetites, there are 26 vegan food stations dotting the concourses.
  • There’s a 210-linear-foot stat crawl inside the Fantasy Football lounge. Not my cup of tea, but when 31 million Americans play fantasy football, you figure a few of them would want the latest when they’re at the game.
  • Another not-my-thing thing, but I realize it’s important today: Levi’s Stadium has four times the high-speed wifi capacity of the NFL’s standard for 2015. In other words, 40,000 people could live-stream a movie over the Internet while watching a football game. What does that mean? Basically, you shouldn’t have any trouble with instant updates for your fantasy-football team on your smartphone here.  

Driving up to the stadium Sunday morning, I thought what a pity it was to not have football in one of my favorite cities in the world anymore. Then I realized that’s an old-man thing to say, and Candlestick was a dump in the truest sense of the word, and life goes on—comfortably, in what feels like a palace, a $1.2 billion venue that is just about paid for in a state that’s supposed to be impossible to create things like this.

The readout on the ribbon boards that surround the bowl of the stadium said this just before kickoff:

“Goodbye old cold foggy, soggy status quo stadium … Hello most technologically advanced fan experience on the planet.”

I’m not a stadium junkie, and I don’t tour many of them. So I don’t know if this is the future of stadiums. But walking around Levi’s Stadium on Sunday morning, I certainly thought it should be. And I thought how ridiculous it is that the Raiders are playing in the pit they’re playing in, trying to find a home somewhere, anywhere. The San Antonio Raiders? Puh-leeze. Better to relocate to Los Angeles, certainly, if Mark Davis isn’t greedy and he can find a rich financial partner (or buyer) and the city can figure a way to make the business of the NFL work. But here’s a factoid for you: Levi’s Stadium is closer to downtown Oakland than to downtown San Francisco. The smartest thing of all would be for the Niners and Raiders, old buddies that they are, to pull a Giants-Jets and share a venue. Why not?

Now, for the football.

FOOTBALL IN FERGUSON
Robert Klemko on a high school team trying to ready itself for the season in the midst of civic chaos. FULL STORY
There haven’t been many days in the Jim Harbaugh Era when Niners fans wouldn’t want me to bring up football, but this is one of them. The preseason is a bad precursor for truth, and it’s silly to make too much of a 34-0 loss in August. But San Francisco is a lesser run-defense team without defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (torn biceps) and run-stuffing linebacker NaVorro Bowman (rehabbing from knee surgery). The Niners will be missing two of their three best defensive players—pass-rusher Aldon Smith (suspension) and Bowman—for at least the first four games of the season. That means the Niners will have to play Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, the stingy Cardinals and Chip Kelly’s Eagles, at least, with a wounded D. That puts pressure on Colin Kaepernick, who is capable of putting up 30 points regularly. But Kaepernick is going to get hit a lot, and when quarterbacks get hit a lot, they’re subject to injury, and the Niners’ backup passer situation is grim. Blaine Gabbert looks as bad as he ever did in Jacksonville, and he’s got a $2 million guaranteed deal to be an insurance policy, and Harbaugh said Sunday there’d be no cavalry on the way; the backup would be either Gabbert or Josh Johnson.

The 49ers are too good, and the coaching staff too smart, to have many days like Sunday in 2014. I wouldn’t worry, yet, if I were a Niners fan. I’d enjoy this era, and this stadium.

MMQB Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End

In two preseason appearances, Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles has attempted 28 passes, completing 18, with no interceptions. (Andrew Nelles/AP)
In two preseason appearances, Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles has attempted 28 passes, completing 18, with no interceptions. (Andrew Nelles/AP)

All the young dudes.

Very good young-quarterback weekend—albeit against lesser defenses after the starters were out—for Minnesota rookie Teddy Bridgewater (16-20, 177 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, 136.9 rating) against Arizona, and for Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (11-17, 160 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, 95.2 rating) against the Bears. Bridgewater was a little shaky in his first preseason game, and the Vikings seem likely to start the efficient Matt Cassel to begin the season. Likely, but not certain. And Monday night’s preseason game in Washington will determine if Johnny Manziel unseats Brian Hoyer as the starter for the Browns.

The most fascinating situation is in Jacksonville. With two promising performances in a row for Bortles, the draft-day plan to sit this year’s third overall draft pick for most if not all of his freshman autumn now has to be up in the air. I’m told the Jags are still likely to play Chad Henne early in the season, but the plan always was to wait until Bortles was fully ready to take over, having nothing to do with how good or bad Henne played. And judging by Bortles’ ease Thursday at Chicago—he doesn’t have happy feet, he sees his progression clearly, and he throws with an easy and unforced arm motion—he’s not far from being ready. 

It’s totally different than what happened with Blaine Gabbert three years ago, when Jacksonville played him before he was ready. Bortles has used the off-season and camp so far to improve his mechanics; he’s not an arm-thrower the way he was at Central Florida.

“This fan base saw a quarterback get thrown to the wolves,” offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch told me, referring to Gabbert. “We don’t need to force it. We never thought when we drafted [Bortles] we were taking him to play now. But nothing is set in stone. We’re giving Blake every chance to make the decision super-hard for us.”

Why do I want to apply anxiety?” says Jags coach Gus Bradley. “I am trying to slow Blake’s world down, so he can learn everything.

Much of this is about the mental aspect of the game. My recent 45-minute talk with Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley revealed much of what’s going into Bortles’ head—and into the heads of every Jaguar. “As a coach,” Bradley said, “why do I want to apply anxiety? Why do I want to apply stress? I am trying to slow Blake’s world down, so he can learn everything he needs to learn to be a successful player. The plan is all about getting Blake ready to play. We’ll apply pressure, because you have to deal with pressure to succeed. But we’ll stay away from stress. We’ll stay away from anxiety.”

Guess what the third and fourth sentences of my conversation with Bortles were, when I asked him how he feels about the Jaguars’ slow-motion plan to make him a franchise quarterback? They were as follows:

“This is such a good plan, I feel. There’s no anxiety, there’s no stress.”

You know the message is getting through to players when they’re repeating what the coach is saying and seeming to buy it.

“I just go out there every day and try to get better,” said Bortles, who will work with the first team at Monday’s practice. “You know, Chad’s the starter, you’re the backup. But the thing is, you’ve got to have a level of balance there. I understand the situation. But there’s no complacency, like I’m the steady backup. I go out there every day and prepare my butt off and compete like I’m the starter. That’s what I’m doing. And this has been an unbelievable environment to do it in.”

It’s hard to be around the Jaguars and not think they’re going to be a good team in 2015.

MORE JAGS: All things Jacksonville, including Peter King’s Camp Report

* * *

Eight quick thoughts from Week 2.

Mark Sanchez's preseason rating (115.1) is more than 43 points higher than his four-year averge with the Jets (71.7). (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Mark Sanchez’s preseason rating (115.1) is 43.4 points higher than his four-year average with the Jets (71.7). (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

1. Comeback player of the preseason: Mark Sanchez. I saw Sanchez light up the Bears’ second unit 10 days ago at Chicago, and it was more of the same against the Patriots on Friday night. Sanchez is comfortable in two ways—being out of the New York pressure-cooker, and running Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense. I think he was made to play fast. He looks more at ease in a frenetic state, more in command, and certainly comfortable with the offense. This is impressive because he’s coming off shoulder surgery and learning an entirely new scheme. 

It says much about him as a player that he’s come into a radically new world and mastered it as quickly as he has. Playing almost all no-huddle, Sanchez is 18 of 22 (81.8 percent) for 196 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Ever think Sanchez would have a 115.1 rating, Jets fans—against any level of competition? Against the Patriots he came off the bench inside the two-minute warning of the first half, went five for five for 61 yards and finished the drive with a touchdown pass. His best throw was a soft 20-yard ball placed perfectly up the left seam for Zach Ertz, the emerging tight end. The Eagles don’t have a quarterback competition, but they do appear to have a competent backup making the most of his second chance. 

“Mark’s a real quick thinker, and he makes decisive decisions and is very athletic,’’ Kelly said. “When you watch him drop, he’s got some pop in his feet when he gets on top of his drop and goes through his progressions and he gets the ball out quickly because he’s got a real quick release. We were excited when we had a chance to get him. I just think the one thing you’re starting to see is he’s healthy. If anybody has any questions about his arm rehabbing, the throw he made at the end of the first half [in Chicago should answer them]. I think it was 68 yards in the air. We’re really glad we got him.”

2. The Steelers may have found a perfect Dick LeBeau linebacker. To be a complete linebacker in the Steelers’ defense, it’s vital to be able to drop and cover. Pittsburgh’s first-round pick, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, showed that skill Saturday night against Buffalo. He dropped with tight end Scott Chandler, ran with him, and turned to catch an interception from quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first half. Instinctive play. Shazier was the best Steelers defender on the field Saturday night overall, recording nine tackles and two more special-teams stops. 

The Steelers have four highly drafted linebackers 28 or younger slated to start—from left to right, Jason Worilds, Shazier, Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones—and Shazier gives them hope it can be the kind of complete group the Steelers have been lacking.

3. Paging Mr. Fairley. Nick Fairley. Nick Fairley is behind C.J. Mosley on the Detroit Lions depth chart at defensive tackle. Deservedly so, from what I heard on my trip to Detroit nine days ago and what Fairley and Mosley showed Friday night in Oakland. Dogging it is no way to earn your spot back, Nick.

4. Quarterback Leadership 101. The quarterback is not allowed tardiness, Johnny Manziel.

5. On Blaine Gabbert. Very hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke not having sincere doubts about their backup quarterback this morning. The second straight shaky performance by Blaine Gabbert—he threw a bad interception, short up the right seam and having it easily picked off by Tony Carter of the Broncos, and put zero points on the board in over two quarters of play—has to have the Niners thinking about elevating current No. 3 Josh Johnson over Gabbert. With Colin Kaepernick exposing himself to getting hit in the open field the way he does, the backup quarterback slot for San Francisco is one of the more important backup passer jobs among any contender.

In Saturday's game, Jadeveon Clowney de-cleated Falcons RB Antone Smith, who later called the Texans rookie 'just a guy.' (Bob Levey/Getty Images)
In Saturday’s game, Jadeveon Clowney de-cleated Falcons RB Antone Smith, who later called the Texans rookie ‘just a guy.’ (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

6. Jadeveon Clowney looks terrific. Not quite unblockable, but with two more big plays behind the line of scrimmage against the Falcons on Saturday—an impressive hit on Atlanta running back Antoine Smith, and a sack of Matt Ryan on successive plays—he’s going to enter Week 1 for the Texans as an impact player, the kind offensive coordinators are going to have to game-plan for, in addition to J.J. Watt.

7. Storm clouds over East Rutherford. The Giants really looked out of sync on offense, for the second straight week under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Not sure how you have faith that the Giants will be a serious contender to overtake Philadelphia in the NFC East at this point. One bright spot: fourth-round running back Andre Williams, a keeper for New York. On a mid-second-quarter, first-down-conversion run, he hit the hole fast and steamrolled Colts safety Colt Anderson.

8. A tale of two Mannings. Peyton was in midseason form over the weekend, 12 of 14 in a classic take-what-they-give-you bludgeoning of the Niners on Sunday. But Eli continued a troubling August in the new Giants offense. Eli in his last two games: seven series, 1-for-9, six yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. Victor Cruz in three games: zero catches (one was wiped off by a penalty Saturday). That’s not good.

* * *

Penalty flags have been flying in the preseason at nearly two times the rate of the 2013 regular season. (Katherine Frey/Getty Images)
Penalty flags have been flying in the preseason at nearly two times the rate of the 2013 regular season. (Katherine Frey/Getty Images)

The NFL says it won’t compromise on officiating.

“Points of emphasis” are the three dirty words for defensive players around the league after two weeks of preseason games. But don’t expect the crackdown on defensive clutching and grabbing by the league’s 17 crews to soften once the real games begin in 17 days, league vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Sunday afternoon.

“We’re not going to change how we’re calling the games once the regular season starts,’’ Blandino told The MMQB.

That despite the epidemic of flags over the weekend, the second straight preseason weekend with heavy-handedness by the officials. Comparing accepted penalties in last season’s average game with the first two weeks of 2014 preseason football (not including Monday night’s Cleveland-Washington game):

Penalties Per Game Penalty Yardage Per Game
Average game, 2013 season 12.2 105.6
2014 Preseason Week 1 17.7 145.3
2014 Preseason Week 2 20.8 174.4
 

“The way the game’s being officiated now is the way it’s going to be officiated when the season begins,” Blandino said from his office in New York. “We have to remain consistent. I knew we’d see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis. But coaches adjust, and players adjust. They have to, and they know it. And we’ll correct our officials when we feel they’re being over-zealous with certain calls.

“Plus, I would say that between 70 and 75 percent of the calls I’ve gotten from teams after their games this preseason are asking the question, Why weren’t there more calls? I had a call today from a team with seven questions, and six were, Why wasn’t a foul called on this play?”

Some background: The NFL’s Competition Committee felt after last season there was too much grabbing and hand-fighting between defenders and receivers beyond the five-yard bump zone past the line of scrimmage. So the committee told the officiating department to emphasize two defensive penalties—defensive holding (grabbing jerseys and arms to throw receivers off course) and illegal contact more than five yards beyond the line—the kind of purposeful bumping beyond incidental contact that’s become a regular part of pass defense. (In addition, the committee ordered more attention paid to illegal hands to the face, which most often occurs between offensive and defensive linemen. In the past, if a tackle was sparring with a defensive end and his hand scraped the helmet of the defender, the officials would let it go; officials would flag only prolonged contact to the face. Now officials have been told to call any contact of a hand to the face.)

The league is determined to cut down the amount of sparring beyond the five-yard bump zone. “The jersey-grabbing and holding downfield, especially,” cornerback Joe Haden of the Browns told me the other day. “That’s what they’ve emphasized to us.”

“He’s dead on,” said Blandino. “You can’t grab the jersey of a receiver anymore.”

Once you see players adjust, you won’t see this exorbitant number of calls,” says Blandino. “Downfield contact was underofficiated last year.

Interesting upshot of this: One assistant coach said recently that if he were advising the receivers on his team, he’d tell them to wear loose, Triple-XL jerseys, to make it easier for defenders to grab. His theory was, why not try to attract penalties if the officials are going to be looking so hard to find the jersey-grabs?

The one team that’s hammered the point home effectively through two weeks of games is St. Louis. The Rams have their defensive backs practicing in pass coverage while holding two tennis balls, to limit the temptation to hold receivers’ jerseys and to grab their arms beyond the five-yard bump zone. In two games the Rams have zero defensive pass interference penalties, zero illegal-contact penalties, and two defensive holding penalties on defensive backs—both by rookie nickel back LaMarcus Joyner.

I asked Blandino if the league could take games with nine more flags, on the average, over last season—if this weekend’s pace held. Of course, there’s no guarantee it will. Blandino said last year’s numbers are a bit misleading, because they were relatively low compared to previous years. Thus, the theory goes, defenders were getting away with too many infractions that should have been called but weren’t, because officials were letting too much contact go. “I believe that once you see the players adjust, you won’t see this exorbitant number of calls,” he said. “Downfield contact was underofficiated last year.”

Coaches know they have to bang it into their players’ heads in the next two weeks. “It’s been a point of emphasis coming into the season,” said Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “We’ve been harping on it in the whole offseason program, OTAs, minicamp, and all through training camp. You can kind of see where the weekend’s going, including our game, as far as the emphasis on illegal contact, offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference, holding, all those things in the back end. You’re allowed five yards, and then after five yards you’ve got to get off guys and you can’t have contact. We’ve got to do a better job coaching it.”

Agreed, but however it’s coached, the game’s not going to be as good if, as we just saw this weekend, there are nine more flags, and nine more stoppages of play, in the average NFL game once the real games start.

Quotes of the Week

I

“I’m tired, and you guys should be tired of it as well, that ‘The Falcons are soft. The Falcons aren’t tough.’  Bull—-! We are a physical football team. There’s gonna be altercations. We want to be the biggest bunch of —–s in terms of making it hard for our opponents. All day long.”

—Falcons coach Mike Smith, on the second episode of “Hard Knocks,” in a team meeting, stressing to his players that they won’t be a bunch of softies this year.

II

“I’m very upset. Would you be upset? I was, particularly.”

—New Orleans coach Sean Payton, on the second unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of the game on tight end Jimmy Graham for dunking the football over the goalpost in the Saints-Titans game Friday night.

Payton should be more than upset. He should fine Graham, and do something else to punish him, for such a juvenile act.

We can debate all day whether the league is idiotic for making it an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for a player to dunk a ball over the goalpost. The fact is, such a play by Graham resulted in a delay-of-game flag at Atlanta last year, stopping the game for several minutes while the goalpost was made level by stadium workers after Graham’s dunking bent the post. And now it’s been made a penalty. Whatever you feel about it, it’s a selfish, team-defeating act that you know will bring a penalty flag and a 15-yard sanction against your team. Graham has to grow up. And if he won’t, Payton has to do something about it.

Tennessee got the ball on the ensuing kickoffs on the 38- and 36-yard-lines, by the way, instead of its 20.  That’s what selfishness does.

III

“I have told Joe this: If he was female, I would date him.”

—Jerry Rice, on the quarterback who helped make him famous, Joe Montana, in a film depicting the history of the 49ers at the new 49ers Museum at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

IV

“I don’t think there’s anything in life that’ll ever be harder than that. I peeked at it. And I just closed the folder and slid it away. And I went out to a cliff at Puget Sound. And I remember just sittin’ on the cliff. And I just screamed.”

—Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, in an interview with HBO “Real Sports” host Bryant Gumbel, for a story that will air Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, on viewing the autopsy photos of his mother as a pre-teen.

When Dorenbos was 12, his father murdered his mother. And so he went through adolescence without his mother or his father to guide him.

Stat of the Week

Fifteen minutes. Twenty flags. That was the second quarter of the Tennessee-New Orleans game Friday night. The flag-happy crews in the first two weeks of the preseason leave fans everywhere wondering: Is this what 2014 football is really going to look like? If so, is there a Rugby Channel on TV this fall?

There were 32 accepted penalties for 295 yards at the Superdome on Friday. The football was most unwatchable during a three-minute span of the second quarter, when the teams ran 10 plays that counted and there were 11 penalties called. (Two plays were erased by penalty, meaning that 12 plays were actually run, but only 10 counted.).

The rundown:

Time Remaining Play or Penalty
6:06 NO punter Morstead punts 43 yards to Tenn 17.
Penalty: Tenn, holding, 8 yards.
5:58 Tenn run, gain of 3.
Penalty: NO, Illegal use of hands, 10 yards.
5:37 Tenn run, gain of 13. Fumble recovered by NO.
Penalty: Tenn, holding, declined.
Penalty: Tenn, unnecessary roughness, 15 yards.
5:29 NO pass complete, gain of 6.
4:50 Penalty: NO, false start, 5 yards.
4:35 NO incomplete pass.
4:31 NO 19-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham
Penalty: NO, unsportsmanlike conduct, 15 yards
NO extra point, good.
4:31 NO kickoff.
Penalty: Tenn, illegal block, 10 yards
4:15 Tenn QB sacked, loss of 11.
3:37 Penalty: NO, defensive holding, 10 yards.
3:26 Tenn pass, gain of 26.
Penalty: NO, illegal use of hands, declined.
Penalty: NO, illegal use of hands, declined.
3:06 Penalty: Tenn, face mask, 15 yards.
  Net yards gained in 3 minutes: 56.
  Yards penalized in 3 minutes: 88.
 

I have said all along that the calls made in Week 2 of the preseason could well be different than the calls made on Week 1 of the regular season. We’ll see. 

Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week

Another in a series of press-conference gems dropped by the Eagles coach.

Kelly spoke last week about the importance of players on the 90-man roster taking advantage of whatever chances they get during practice and preseason games:

“We’d love to get more reps but we are also not going to be on the field for four hours. As we say, ‘Don’t count your reps. Make your reps count.’ When you’re out there, take advantage of them.  Your answer can’t be, ‘Well, I’m not playing well because I didn’t get enough reps.’ If you only get three reps, make those three reps the best reps you can.’’ 

Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

Alex Mack, center for the Cleveland Browns, would like a pet squirrel.

I know that because the Browns were taping some in-house TV and stadium video spots the day we were in Browns camp, and a little girl of 6 was interviewing Mack and asked: “If you could have any pet, what would you have?”

“I would have a squirrel,’’ said Mack. “I am a huge squirrel fan.”

So there’s that.

II

So if you’ve been surprised to see teams using tablets instead of Polaroids on the sidelines to look at formations and plays in the first 32 games of the preseason, there is this nugget: The teams are not allowed to do anything with those tablets other than view still pictures and draw on the screens. No video, no internet connection.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

It was a long Monday for members of The MMQB Tour, as part 1 of the trip wound down. (Sunday, in Santa Clara, began part 2, with San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Houston, San Diego and Arizona coming this week, followed by the Dallas-Miami game Saturday night. No more RV. I’m flying now, because of the distances between cities.) After a day with the Packers in charming Green Bay (news item: The two big concerts in the Bay this fall are Cher and Mötley Crüe), we set out for Cleveland, driving. After a dinner stop in Milwaukee—oh, you heard about the dinner stop?—we got on the road to Cleveland. Seven hours on the road without traffic turned into eight hours on the road with traffic, just 437 miles, and we stumbled into our hotel at 4:50 a.m. Nothing wrong with that … except for the little matter of my 8 a.m. meeting at the Browns facility with coach Mike Pettine.

We walked into the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express, with the Tuesday USA Today and Cleveland Plain Dealer on the counter for those checking out. One problem. “We don’t have any reservations for you,” the front-desk gal said. We checked with our travel agent. Seems the reservation was made for Aug. 18, not Aug. 11. Next Monday. With no rooms available, our intrepid tour manager, Andy DeGory, got on the phone and found us rooms at the nearby Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge.

Now it was 5:15, and we made it into the lobby of HoJo’s. Keys got dispensed, and we elevatored up to the third floor of the rather shabby place. Walking down the hall to our rooms, “rather shabby” got worse. The carpet on the floor stopped. The floor for the last half of the hallway was just cement. The place smelled. Just get in the room, just get in the room … How bad could sleeping be for 90 minutes? I thought. I put the key in my door and opened it.

The room looked trashed—either under construction or trashed. It was dark; I couldn’t exactly tell. And this voice from inside, weakly, waffled: “I’m … in … here.” Like some dying ghost.

Whoa! I closed the door. I went to the lobby.

“Might be a good idea when you give me the key to a room that there won’t be another person in it,” I said.

“W-w-w-what?” the front-deskman said.

I explained, and he said it must be a worker in the place who’d decided to sleep in an available room when it wasn’t occupied. As if I cared.

“Can you just give me a room? Any room without a person in it?” I said.

He did, and I went to another room at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, so happy to be at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, and praying that no living thing would be in the room.

There wasn’t. No idea if that included the bed bugs, but at least there wasn’t a living or comatose or dead person in the room, and that was something to be thankful for.

So I wouldn’t give the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge on the southern fringe of Cleveland a very high recommendation this morning.

Tweets of the Week

I

FOX Sports.com’s Peter Schrager, after seeing officials throw 24 flags in the first half of Tennessee-New Orleans.

II

The SI.com NFL analyst on the Cowboys’ flexible star receiver, watching Bryant light up the Ravens Saturday night.

III

Jill Kelly, the wife of Jim Kelly, on rumors that the ex-Bills quarterback is talking to Jon Bon Jovi about uniting to form a partnership to buy the team. Fans in Buffalo think Bon Jovi would be likely to move the team if he was in an ownership group that bought the Bills. Kelly has sworn to keep the Bills in western New York if he joins any ownership group.

IV

Star Angels outfielder Mike Trout, watching a girl, Mo’ne Davis, of the Little League World Series team from Philadelphia, throw a two-hit shutout in her World Series debut Friday in Williamsport, Pa. Trout was among many pro sportsmen and sportswomen throwing love Davis’ way. Well-deserved love.

 

New Bear Santonio Holmes has only played 15 games over the past two years, and his last 1,000-yard season came in 2009. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
New Bear Santonio Holmes has only played 15 games over the past two years, and his last 1,000-yard season came in 2009. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think in the next week you’re going to see and hear of so many teams desperate for cornerbacks. “We’re going to get one,” a personnel man for one team told me Saturday, “but we may have to pay a higher price than we want, or a higher price than the player deserves.” The Jets, the Ravens, the Lions, the Colts, the Vikings and the Bucs, among others, could be sniffing around for a dwindling supply of cover guys near the final cutdown.

2. I think I have no idea why so many saw Santonio Holmes as toxic. He’s been mildly disruptive in his NFL career, but not a cancer. I think the Bears made a good signing there.

3. I think I have one name to keep in mind as the Pro Football Hall of Fame senior committee gathers this week in Canton to nominate one old-timer for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, class of 2015: Mick Tingelhoff. Think of Tingelhoff’s greatest accomplishment: For the last 358 games of his 17-year career—99 preseason games, 240 regular-season games, 19 postseason games—Tingelhoff started. He failed to start only once—the first exhibition game of his career for the Vikings in 1962. Amazing. He dressed for 359 games in 17 years, and started the last 358. “He never missed a practice either,’’ his onetime quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, said. He made first-team All-Pro seven times; no NFL center was voted first-team All-Pro more times. Back when the Pro Bowl meant something, a back playing behind Tingelhoff made the Pro Bowl 13 times.

4. I think I don’t know why NFL Network markets its talent as stand-up comics or, worse, as clowns. They are neither. These are smart men who played football at a high level, and when the commercials and promos come on for the NFL Network’s pre- and post-game shows, we see the hootin’ and hollerin’ and silliness. I just wish Rich Eisen would be allowed to have more reasoned discussions with the people who I thought were go-to guys in locker/coaches’ rooms—Warren Sapp, Michael Irvin, Steve Mariucci.

5. I think you should watch The MMQB this week for reporting from riot-torn Ferguson, Mo., from our Robert Klemko. The reportage began with this story from the weekend about Chicago defensive lineman David Bass, who grew up in the area and discusses the racial profiling he felt he encountered there. Klemko was on site Saturday night and Sunday, and spent time with some of the key people in the drama, and some of the high school football players and coaches who are trying to make a normal life for themselves in the midst of the strife.

6. I think if you’re wondering about the Rams’ involvement in the local story, wonder no more. Klemko has uncovered that the Rams provided tickets for high school players from the stricken area to the preseason game against Green Bay on Saturday. He filed this to me Sunday, and he’ll have more in a story on our site this week: 

Watching the violence over Michael Brown’s killing unfold in Ferguson last week, a Rams staffer thought of the high schoolers, specifically, the boys who are supposed to play in their first football game of the season this weekend. Rams manager of fan development & alumni relations Kyle Eversgerd put in a call to coaches at McCluer High, McCluer North and McCluer South; there would be 75 free tickets awaiting each team if they chose to come to Saturday’s preseason game at the Edward Jones Dome.

“In light of everything going on it just kind of hit me,” says Eversgerd, whose job includes outreach with local high schools. “I can’t imagine with all that stuff going on, how tough it must be to practice. We were able to get them away from it all.” 

So as hundreds of protesters faced off with police on the now-infamous West Florissant Avenue on Saturday night in Ferguson, leaving a man critically wounded by gunfire just yards from the homes of area children, the boys from three local teams were at their first NFL game, watching Aaron Rodgers and Sam Bradford from the 400 level. Said McCluer coach Mario MacDonald, “Our kids are focused on this season, but I worry about them out here, to be honest.”

At McCluer, MacDonald estimates more than 75% of his roster comes from single-parent homes, and most would not have been able to otherwise afford tickets that average about $100. The game was a welcome distraction; many McCluer players are angry with police and inclined to protest after Michael Brown’s shooting death here a week ago. On the bus ride to the game, players saw protesters on Florissant and started chanting, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”

Then they focused on football.

“It was overwhelming to see the NFL live, for real,” said senior running back Henry Jones, “You saw how fast they played, and how they played together. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I could actually see myself out there playing.”

7. I think this was the reaction of one scout upon leaving the Broncos-Niners game: “Very strange. San Francisco looked tired. I wonder if they’ve been beating themselves up in practice. They were just off. But it’s a classic case of not putting too much stock into preseason games. If they had to play a game tomorrow, they’re still one of the top three or five teams in football. I would worry about the backup quarterback situation though.”

8. I think if Peyton Manning made playing quarterback any easier, he’d be sleeping.

9. I think the thing I’m most looking forward to on my western swing this week is seeing Jadeveon Clowney, in pads for two practices, rush Manning and his Ryan Clady-fortified Denver front. I’ll see the Broncos and Texans practice Tuesday and Wednesday in Denver.

Talk Back
Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday’s mailbag.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Such a sad week.

b. Robin Williams’ death by suicide drives home what a serious illness depression is. For all those who suffer from it, and for those who don’t always realize how hopeless depressed people can feel, I hope Williams’ death causes a re-examination of depression specifically and mental health in general.

c. Tremendous story by Richard Corliss in Time magazine, on the death of Williams and appreciation of his life. What a terrific job, too, considering news of Williams’ death spread around dinnertime in New York on Monday evening, and Corliss’ brilliant elegy was in my mailbox on Thursday morning. Imagine having to write that story, with no lead time, no hint that it was coming, basically overnight.

d. At the time of his heroin-overdose death in February at 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman was, in my opinion, the greatest actor in our country. On Friday, I went to the last movie in which he played a lead role, a German spymaster named Gunther Bachmann, in “A Most Wanted Man.” The premise is interesting—that disagreements and rivalries between international spy agencies helped Mohammed Atta and associates hatch and develop the plot for the 9/11 attacks on the United States in Hamburg, Germany. After 9/11, Hoffman’s character is chasing a Chechen man identified by sources as a probable terrorist, and his search for him and for a money-launderer far more dangerous and his butting of heads with rival spymasters make a for a taut, fast story. And as I sat there and watched the chain-smoking, hard-drinking Hoffman do some of his best work, I thought how sad it was that we won’t see 20 more examples of the man’s brilliance on the screen. Robin Williams dies, and Philip Seymour Hoffman gives us two hours of what we’ll be missing over the next quarter-century. What a bummer.

e. The movie is dark, and it seems awfully real to me. I’d recommend “A Most Wanted Man.” It’s not “Capote,” or “Charlie Wilson’s War,” or “Doubt,” or even “The Savages” or “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” Hoffman’s most underrated films. But Hoffman, and this movie, are worth your time here.

f. Estimated three-week money haul for ALS and related ALS charities, thanks to the #IceBucketChallenge: $13.3 million, which ALS authorities say is about eight times what the normal giving was in a similar summer period last year.

g. Russell Wilson certainly got the job done, atop the Space Needle.

h. Thus, you’re wrong if you think the Ice Bucket Challenge is a bunch of mularkey. It’s working, to raise awareness and research money.

i. Coffeenerdness: Very nice coffee in the Levi’s Stadium press box. Peet’s. Not sure the blend, but it’s dark, and it’s good.

j. Beernerdness: My thanks to the beermeisters at Busch Stadium for making The MMQB feel at home with a beer-tasting in St. Louis on our trip through town. My two favorites from the evening: STLIPA, an IPA from former Anheuser-Busch brewers at Urban Chestnut in St. Louis; and Schlafly Brewing’s Dry Hopped APA, another flavorful IPA-type from the Midwest. Lots of good beers being brewed in the Midwest, and St. Louis is a gem of a beer town.

k. What a way to get a save, Trevor Rosenthal. He entered Thursday’s game against San Diego up 4-2. What the Pads did versus Rosenthal: single, fly out, single, walk, single (run scores, second runner thrown out at home), walk, strikeout. Five baserunners allowed, and you record two outs, and you get a save. Heck of a way to make a tightrope living.

l. The best show on radio: Radio Lab, on NPR. Seek it out and listen to an hour of interpreting and analyzing news (such as Saturday’s fascinating hour on how the U.S. government figures out whom to kill in drone strikes in al-Qaeda hotspots) and delving into life trends.

m. Most of what NPR does is so important. Radio is so much better than it was in my youth, and NPR shows (Radio Lab, This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, All Things Considered) are the biggest reason, collectively.

n. Thanks, Michael Beschloss, for reminding us that Roberto Clemente, had he lived, would have turned 80 today.

The Adieu Haiku

Peyton is ageless.
The best man on field Sunday,
and he’s 38.

More from The MMQB
282 comments
jefftoons
jefftoons

Onion Award winning Architecture, for the Ugliest Sports facility ever built.

Can we get some kind of telethon going, so we can raise another 100K so they can finish it?

JRoy_20
JRoy_20

With these practice squad increases across the league, this could be big for bubble players. I'm hoping to see rookie QB Brock Jensen of NDSU picked up somewhere and put on PS. His potential is something many people want to see in this league. The kid is a winner and has proved that. Also very talented and developed. He played in the FCS like Romo, but proved to win big against teams in the Big 12 (youtube NDSU/Kansas St final drive) Would really like to see him get a shot. 

JimVan
JimVan

Yep, new stadium and bigtime change to a losing team!

number18
number18

And Peyton taught a graduate level football course to the Kap led pansies.

yobogo
yobogo

How far away does a team have to move from their home city, before they are considered having officially moved? Shouldn't the 49ers be the Santa Clara 49ers now? Or if they had gone further, like if they made a stadium deal with Sacramento, would that be far enough to become the Sacramento 49ers?

porsche356
porsche356

Wonder if Blandino's boys will be calling the Cowgirls games like everyones elses

NicolasMartin
NicolasMartin

Pity the poor taxpayers who have to pay for bills for millionaires who play for billionaires.

rskins09
rskins09

 Watched about  three quarters of the Cleveland  - Redskins game @ Fed Ex last night  ....The number of penalties were overwhelming :  five, six plays in a row ...Knew the NFL official was going to rationalize it in this article ..The NFL  is going a little  bit overboard with these penalties  so far ..Hope they lighten up in Sept..  By the way,  Kirk Cousins  was the best QB on the field last night  .. He's better  than at least  ten starting QB's in the NFL and has been playing better than RGIII  this summer ...Everyone lambasted the Skins when they drafted Cousins in the fourth round ..  He was a steal  and hope the Skins don't trade him ..You gotta have a good back up QB in the NFL  nowadays ...Alfred Morris had a full load on last night and looks stronger than he did last year ... 

Hola
Hola

Why not change the name to Santa Clara or San Jose?  They are farther from San Francisco than the New York Jets and New York Giants. 

Michael206
Michael206

The Niners turned their back on a venerable stadium that produced five championships.  They left their home and family, moved to a new town, and are now cavorting with an empty-headed barely-legal bimbo in Santa Clara.  There will be consequences.

#CandlestickCurse

gbgentleman
gbgentleman

Levi stadium is very nice...good job SF, now just make your announcers go away and never return.  AT least tell them that Lambeau field is still the EXACT same stadium it was (answer to the oldest stadium trivia question they dismissed with arrogance).  It has a nice new facade and a new atrium, but it still has the same cold bleachers inside of the same structure.

gbgentleman
gbgentleman

Eli was in mid-season form as well.  He looked just as bad in mid-season last year as he does right now.

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Gee, Peter, you didn't say anything about the parking and concession prices. Oh, I forgot, you work for a corporation.

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Yeh, Manzil and if you're late again, you can be sure Peter King will scold you. Again.

mike202
mike202

I think Roger Goodell would be happiest if he could remove the defensive team from the field entirely.  This Peyton Manning rule to allow receivers to run into DBs and get a penalty on the DB is ridiculous.

ben.kizer
ben.kizer

I haven't watched much of the preseason, because I just don't care all that much about it, but the parts I have watched haven't impressed me much. I don't know about you, but the excessive flag throwing is ridiculous. It's going to grind games to a halt. Add that to instant replay reviews and you have football starting to tread baseball territory for length of games. I'm also not impressed with 40-39 or 28-27 scores. The "last one who has the football wins" type of ball with lackluster defense is just as boring, if not more boring, than a 10-3 defensive dog fight. The NFL's gradually elimination of defense and their trigger happy refs are going to cause the downfall of this giant. If things don't change, I agree with Mark Cuban that the NFL is going to be heading downhill.

terence1329
terence1329

Hey Peter, 

 Next time you're in NYC take the ferry over to Staten Island, and try our new brewery called Flagship. You wont 


be disappointed. If you can't make it... there are plenty of bars in the city carrying it now. Thanks!

MargoLane77
MargoLane77

Peyton Manning is usually the best man on the field in August, September, October, November, December .... but rarely in January or February. The Cult of Peyton is ageless.

ragnarsworld
ragnarsworld

Geez, Peter is a whiny wuss.  You're on a bus road trip and you stop for a motel?  Really?  Grow a pair.

DillonAustin
DillonAustin

I wont be shocked if by week 4 of the season the headline for MMQB is about how bad and unwatchable the NFL has become because of the defensive holding/ pass interference calls.


Mark my words a game is going to be lost within the last 2 minutes because of a call from the refs.


This will start to effect the NFL in 2 major ways. Fans will start to look at NFL referees as fixers of NFL games calling fouls in crucial moments.


Fans will stop gambling as much on the product that is NFL because it will start to feel less like gambling and more like a fix.


What I saw in the opening series between San Diego and Seattle tells me the NFL has a serious problem on their hands and games are no longer going to be decided by players and coaches but by last minute fouls called by the Refs.



Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Man that's an ugly looking stadium....the only thing missing was an earthquake...YIKES!

peachcreekmedia
peachcreekmedia

The stadium isn't beautiful at all. Its just new. It has some of the features from other new venues like Target field without any of the character. The key point here is 10 games. The facility is USED 10 games but SEEN 365/25/7! At 1.2 bln can we not get a stadium that both beautiful used year round by many people AND has a great game day experience? I just don't see the difference between this stadium and any other new multi purpose stadium. 

vspoke
vspoke

@yobogo You mean like the New York Giants playing in New Jersey?


Mike26
Mike26

@rskins09 So Cousin's pile of you-know-what stunk less than everyone else's you-know-what?  

blynder
blynder

@mike202

They are still calling pick plays, so the offense doesn't quite have the free reign that some are talking about. ;)

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@MargoLane77  Very true.  Peyton is the worst big game QB in the Best QB Ever discussion.  And it isn't even close.  Something about big games seems to make his Papa Johns clench up tight.

Go_Niners!
Go_Niners!

@DillonAustin Ease up there, chicken little.  Either the refs will back off after a few weeks or players will adjust and stop grabbing quite so much.  


And by the way, a ref can decide the game just as much with a non-call as with a call.  If a defender blatantly mauls a receiver, but the ref decides not to enforce the rule of the game and blow the whistle, that's just as much "deciding the game" as any penalty call.

Michael206
Michael206

@vspoke 

No intruding on my beautifully crafted narrative.

#CandlestickCurse

mike202
mike202

@Go_Niners!If you would have watched the series mentioned you would agree that none of the illegal contact penalties called were fouls under any definition.  they were good coverage with no hands past 5 yards.  


San Diego got jobbed by the officials and this from a Seahawk fan.

DillonAustin
DillonAustin

@Go_Niners! @DillonAustin

Yes that's correct, and since we're being fair, I absolutely hate the 49'ers. But in the Superbowl between the Ravens and 49'ers on the last play of the game was a clear pass interference on the Ravens which was not called.


You lost that game, a game in which the much overrated 49'ers never belonged. And then you had a chance to win it only to have it taken away because of a noncall.


The difference between a call and a noncall is what I'm talking about. A noncall is much easier to forget.


Chicken little? Ok buddy 

MarcSchenker
MarcSchenker

Uh, you're an astute observer of the cornerback/end relationship and how sometimes it can get tricky. Also, I imagine you're still upset about Obama beating Romney. Unfortunately, with the art of holding grudges comes the art of the inability to see things as they are so I'll help you here. Jimmy Smith. Michael Crabtree. Clean play. End of DillonAustin.

Newsletter