Everything We Thought Was Wrong
For seven months, through the scouting combine and free agency and the draft and offseason practice and training camp, the story lines of the new NFL season get birthed. Then, in one day, they get blown up.
It serves us right, really. Because if you learn anything watching this game, you learn that nothing is guaranteed.
Ten things we think we thought about the 2014 season before this weekend:
- The Patriots would have their usual AFC East stroll to a playoff bye, and the other three division stumblebums would fight for second place.
- The Saints finally had the defense to make another serious Super Bowl run.
- The Bills were imploding from within.
- Tampa Bay was everyone’s darling, everyone’s pick to rise from the Schianoian ashes to playoff contender.
- Carolina was due for a fall. New offensive line, all new receivers and Cam Newton entering the season with a fractured rib.
- The Packers were ready for prime time.
- Philadelphia and coaching savant Chip Kelly were ready to run away with the NFC East.
- Brian Hoyer was nothing but a placeholder for Johnny Football. (Or, as my buddy Don Banks calls him, “Johnny Bench.”)
- Alex Smith, model of efficiency.
- San Francisco’s defense was in big, big trouble.
This is the reality:
Tom Brady and the Patriots are alone in last place of the AFC East for the first time since Brady took over as the team’s starting quarterback in 2001. This great and powerful defense was gashed for 191 rushing yards at Miami on Sunday and shut out in the second half. The final: Miami 33, New England 20.
New Orleans gave up a franchise-record 445 passing yards in Atlanta. Matt Ryan had his best day in the NFL. The final: Atlanta 37, New Orleans 34.
Buffalo went to Chicago and physically matched up well with the powerful Bears. The final: Buffalo 23, Chicago 20.
The Bucs looked jittery and ultra-conservative, punting on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, down 17. Carolina rode the right arm of backup Derek Anderson (kept clean by the 80% new offensive line), with Newton coaching/cheerleading from the sidelines. The final: Carolina 20, Tampa Bay 14.
The Packers got physically overmatched, injured and humbled at the time some of us (no, I don’t want a Super Bowl-prediction mulligan—yet) predicted very big things for them. The final: Seattle 36, Green Bay 16.
The Eagles’ turnover-proof quarterback, Nick Foles, coughed it up three times in the first half and the Jaguars raced to a 17-0 lead. Form prevailed, but not before leaving Eagledom with some questions about their team's goodness. The final: Philadelphia 34, Jacksonville 17.
Hoyer led the Browns to touchdown-touchdown-field goal-touchdown on four straight second half drives, tying the Steelers on the road in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh won the game, but a moral victory was Hoyer’s.
Smith threw three interceptions. The Chiefs looked awful. The final: Tennessee 26, Kansas City 10.
The Niners got a significant pass rush from Justin Smith and Ahmad Brooks and picked off Tony Romo three times in the first half. The final: San Francisco 28, Dallas 17. (Felt like 58-17.)
In fact, about the only thing we know for sure with the opening Monday doubleheader on tap is that Seattle’s the king, and right now no one is very close for second. Denver, maybe. Everything else? Cloudy, with a chance of murky. But that’s what makes the NFL season so much fun. Hopes rise and are dashed, and they’re dashed and they rise. Nothing’s a lock.
I’ll start this morning with the most interesting victory of the weekend.
And Derek shall lead them.
Coach Ron Rivera decided Saturday night that he would sit Cam Newton for the game, for two reasons: It was in Newton’s best interests to have one more week to heal the rib fracture he suffered 17 days ago in Foxboro. And he just hasn’t had much practice time, either in the offseason or in the last couple of weeks, because of the rib and his spring ankle surgery. “[Newton] didn’t do anything in practice Wednesday, he didn’t do anything Thursday, but lo and behold Friday, he looked really good,’’ said Rivera. “But I had to listen to our doctors and our trainers, and that’s why I made my decision.”
Rivera handed the ball to Anderson, one of the nicest guys in football but not one whose past engendered much confidence: He hadn’t started a game in 45 months, and the last time he was a starter, in Arizona, in 2010, he lost his last six games. This wasn’t the safest of game plans, either—the Panthers had Anderson take some shots downfield for rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. But Anderson’s influence was felt during a nine-minute drive midway through the first half. He completed five of six passes, ate up lots of clock (calling the snap consistently with the play clock in low single-digits) and finished with a five-yard strike to tight end Greg Olsen for a touchdown.
After the game, Newton practically skipped into the locker room on a balmy evening in Tampa, wearing civilian clothes and recounting with glee what he observed from the sidelines as the Panthers eked out a road division win playing a quarterback who hadn’t started in four years. A few yards behind him, that backup, Anderson walked alone in a muddied uniform, gaze forward, quiet but pretty proud. “I’ve been through a lot,” Anderson said. “I haven’t been out there for four years, so to play a solid football game and get a win was big for me.” And for his team.
The Falcons are back in business.
This off-season the Falcons re-made their team into a tougher group that—they hoped—wouldn’t fold when things got difficult. A little meaner on both lines, and if there was a skirmish, well, they shouldn’t back down.
Good test Sunday in the opener. Drew Brees was cutting the Falcons up thoroughly (when hasn’t he gone up and down the field against Atlanta?), and 20 minutes into the game New Orleans led 13-0. Ryan, though, was surgical the rest of the way, leading seven scoring drives in the last 40 minutes. “This was important on so many levels,” said kicker Matt Bryant, who ended up co-hero along with Ryan. “The Saints are such a big rival, and opening at home after all the changes we made in the off-season—we really needed this.”
Bryant had a crazy game. He hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. He had a tying 51-yard field goal as time expired in the second half. And he was perfect on a 52-yard field goal in overtime. “I do the same thing every time—remind myself, Head down, kick through the ball,” Bryant said. “I don’t think of anything else.”
Miami does a couple of things very well.
New GM Dennis Hickey spent $3 million in a devalued running-back market to get Knowshon Moreno in the house for one year. That looks like the best money he’s spent since taking the job. Moreno, who ran for 224 yards for the Broncos at New England last year, pulverized the Pats again, rushing for 134 yards and taking pressure off Ryan Tannehill. Clearly, Moreno’s the dominant back in Miami; he’s more powerful than Lamar Miller and a smarter runner.
And Cam Wake is one of the best pass-rushers in the game. He showed it again with two sacks of Tom Brady and two forced fumbles. “I don't know if the win means more than any other win,” he said from Florida after the game. “But I do know when we saw the schedule, we liked it. It was like, Hey, great! They’ve been winning the division. So we can measure ourselves right away. And, you know, the game could have implications later on.”
Playoff implications, he meant. Something the Dolphins aren’t used to. There are things in the matchup against Miami that should worry New England, and not just Moreno’s ability to carve them up. Bill Belichick needs to shore up protection for Brady.
The Ray Rice story will not, and should not, go away.
The latest TMZ video on Ray Rice’s physical abuse of his then-fiancée, which was released this morning, will open up more debate about Rice’s two-game suspension—and be part of the discussion when he returns from his two-game ban after Thursday night’s Ravens game. The video, though grainy, clearly shows Rice hitting Janay Palmer with a hard left hook, and she hits her head on the side of the elevator before falling to the floor.
If league officials saw this video before issuing the two-game ban for Rice, all the scorn that’s been heaped on Roger Goodell and his colleagues will be deserved. Goodell admitted he was at fault for misjudging the Rice sanction and 11 days ago issued a re-written domestic violence policy, with a six-game ban for a first offense—though with the proviso that mitigating factors could either lessen or increase the ban. There will be intense pressure on the league, as today goes on, for a harsher sanction for Rice. When asked this morning whether Rice's two-game suspension could be increased, the league deferred comment.
Editor’s note: Peter King explains his earlier reporting on the Rice video here.
The Dot Dot Dot.
J.J. Watt on playing so well (blocked PAT, recovered fumble, sack) in the first game after his $100 million contract with the Texans was signed: “I wanted to go out and show I’m worth it. But this is somewhat cliché—I want to show that every game.” … Tomorrow at The MMQB, you’ll love my One Question Interview with Watt. Remember to go find it during the day … Seattle has had 23 drives with its first-team offense on the field in preseason and Thursday night in the season-opener. Russell Wilson has led 17 scoring drives. “This is what we envisioned,” Percy Harvin said. “Russell’s getting all our playmakers involved.” … Vikings coach Mike Zimmer praised offensive coordinator Norv Turner for his use of Cordarrelle Patterson as a receiver and on fly sweeps Sunday in St. Louis. “When I got here,” said Zimmer, “I heard Cordarrelle wasn’t the hardest worker. But he’s been great for us. When Norv met with him, he said, ‘We’re going to get you the ball in a lot of different ways.’ And that’s happening.”
On penalties …
You can look at the penalty story in two ways through 14 games of Week 1—which, obviously, is not long enough to draw any conclusions about what the points of emphasis will do to the overall flags thrown this year. But it is enough time to get a clue.
One way: Overall, there was a slight uptick in the number of flags compared to last year but nothing incendiary. NFL games averaged 12.2 accepted penalties per game in 2013 (below average for recent seasons). Through 14 games this weekend, teams combined for 14.2 accepted penalties per game. Nothing like a couple of the preseason weeks (21.0 flags per game in preseason Week 2), to be sure.
The other way to look at it: There were three important points of emphasis—illegal contact, illegal hands to the face and defensive holding. Last year the average NFL game had 1.1 of those three categories, combined. Through Sunday night, the average NFL game had 3.7 of them. That’s to be expected, with officials trying to draw a line in the sand with those calls.
“I’m not surprised," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said while the two late-window games (Carolina-Tampa Bay, San Francisco-Dallas) were being played. “With the points of emphasis, those fouls will be up; that’s to be expected. But watching the games in the early window, teams are adjusting well, the way we thought they would. There’s not a lot of fouls.”
Blandino said he gave his officials no special messages before the Week 1 games, and certainly no message to let up.
He also said the new replay-review system, with the officiating command center in New York having a role in the reviews, went smoothly in Week 1. “I’m very happy with how we managed the amount of reviews from an efficiency standpoint," Blandino said. “By the time the ref went over to the sideline, we usually had the right review cued up for him to watch, where he’d be able to get the best angle on the play in question."
In New York, each game is watched by a replay assistant in the command center, with a touch screen in front of him to see each camera angle available to the replay assistant in the stadium and then to the referee under the hood. The goal is, as Blandino said, to have much of the research done by Blandino and his chief assistant, former referee Alberto Riveron, before the ref goes under the hood. While he’s on his way to the replay machine on the field, the ref has open communications with his replay official in the stadium and Blandino and Riveron in New York.
The worst thing for the Rams: the looming schedule.
Of the 28 teams that have played so far this weekend, the Rams had the worst day. A disaster at quarterback—and whether Shaun Hill (a calf injury, no, a thigh injury) really was hurt enough to leave the game at halftime—was weird enough. But a 28-point loss at home to a team that won five games last year, and no offensive answers whatsoever, and a defense with eight first- or second-round picks on it giving up 6.2 yards per carry and 68% completions to Minnesota, was plain awful. The Rams did lead the league in something on Sunday: penalties. They committed 13. “Embarrassing,” linebacker James Laurinaitis called it.
The Rams look to have two weeks to do the unlikely, which is save their season. They play at Tampa Bay, which had a bad home loss to a backup quarterback Sunday, and then come home to face Dallas, which looked terrible Sunday. Then there’s a bye. Then there’s the toughest eight-game stretch any team has this year—or at least it looks the toughest. Seven 2013 playoff teams, and Arizona, which won 10 games. The roll call starting in Week 5: at Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, Denver, at San Diego.
Jeff Fisher certainly will stress to his team this week that it’s only one loss. His team is young and impressionable, and maybe they’ll buy the optimism. But St. Louis is a show-me NFL market anyway. The locals have bought into winning through the draft, and not even the loss of Sam Bradford for the second straight year with a knee injury should have made the team bottom out like this.
* * *
What is this new NFL Now thing?
So the NFL has launched this new app called NFL Now, designed to give fans a way to follow their team in a much more concentrated and portable way. The app is free, but you can pay $1.99 per month and get a premium level of service (with, for instance, all the Hard Knocks episodes ever made). It’s a video service mostly, but it also has news and a menu you can sculpt the way you want. One of the drivers behind it is Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, a co-chair of the league’s digital media committee. I spoke to him in Seattle about it.
The MMQB: What’s the advantage of NFL Now over just trolling the web for what you want?
Kraft: People are going to want to consume the content they want. They want to consume when they want it, how they want to consume it, and then what specifically they want. And then they want to discover things that they will like without having to search for it. And so NFL Now is the foundation and the beginning of creating that so five years, 10 years from now there will be a generation of NFL fans that grows up consuming NFL content this way. It will engage them. Then from the league’s perspective, we will know who those people are for the first time. We’ll know what you like related to the NFL and help feed you the best content. We also will know a little bit about you as a person, so we can feed you ads that are more compelling.
The MMQB: How can you tell what ad would appeal to what person?
Kraft: When you look at the age of a person, the zip code and what types of interests they have, we’ll be able to determine through algorithms, as we see the types of things they like to consume, you can actually get to grow some pretty clear conclusions about the person at the other end, without even having to ask them personal information. So it will allow us to really better serve our fan base, with the content they want, how they want to get it and when they want to get it. It will allow us to better serve our advertisers, too.
The MMQB: What’s the biggest selling point of NFL Now?
Kraft: Today there are 32 team apps, there’s a league app, and there’s a Watch NFL Network app, so if you go on a mobile device you look on every app and try to see what’s interesting and compelling to you, if you go on a desktop you can search and move around, but that’s not time-efficient. So by being able to know exactly what device you’re on, and knowing you like the Chicago Bears, let’s say, then knowing that either you’re an avid fantasy player or you like hard news or you like lifestyles, we can feed you the compelling content that exists on the Bears. If you’re a fantasy player, we’ll know who is on your fantasy team. Let’s say Wes Welker is on your fantasy team, we’ll feed you Broncos news and information that relates to Wes Welker and nobody else on the Broncos. You’ll have an NFL Network-type scroll down the bottom side and if you don’t like the news feature you’re being fed on that moment, you can touch on whatever interests you. So while you and I are used to consuming media a certain way, the teenagers today, the twenty-somethings, this is the way they want to consume media.
1. Seattle (1-0). Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on Russell Wilson: “He’s a point guard.” I do see the John Stockton comparison. He won’t have the gaudiest stats (Seattle had a 56/44 run-pass ratio in the opener, and Pete Carroll loves the impose-your-will, ball-possession style), but Wilson continues to make everyone around him better.
2. Denver (1-0). Was anyone even remotely surprised by the win over the Colts, when Indy had no one to pressure Peyton Manning?
3. San Francisco (1-0). So much for the meaning of preseason. (And thank goodness for the Dallas Cowboys as an opening opponent.)
4. Carolina (1-0). I’ll tell you what was so impressive about the Panthers’ performance at Tampa Bay: The offensive line has been 80% rebuilt from last year (new left tackle Byron Bell, new left guard Amini Silatolu, new right guard Fernando Velasco, new right tackle Nate Chandler ... with one holdover, center Ryan Kalil), and paved the way for a good offensive day. Carolina had 113 rushing yards and allowed one sack and just three quarterback hits with a stationary target, Derek Anderson. Very good news for a team with major concerns about the offensive line entering the season.
5. Cincinnati (1-0). Good debut, mostly, for two men under the gun: Andy Dalton and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
6. Miami (1-0). Very strong defensive effort. New England’s seven second-half series ended thusly: fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble, turnover on downs.
7. Atlanta (1-0). Down 13-0 after 20 minutes, the Falcons scored on seven of their last nine drives. What an energizing win for a franchise that led the league in self-doubt last year.
8. Minnesota (1-0). I know the Rams could be a bottom-five team (could?), but that was a very impressive win by a team with so much to prove. Cordarrelle Patterson (102 rushing yards, of all things) is going to be an incredible weapon in the hands of offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
9. Philadelphia (1-0). Thirty-four unanswered points solves a lot of worries.
10. New England (0-1). Cause for concern, sure. But I still think New England wins 11 and takes the AFC East.
11. New Orleans (0-1). It’s like the 2013 defensive effort for the Saints never happened. Rob Ryan led the league in only one category Sunday: Rolaids consumed.
12. Pittsburgh (1-0). Ben Roethlisberger has to be happy with his two young weapons at wideout, Markus Wheaton and Antonio Brown (11 catches, 213 yards, combined). He’ll need that kind of production if the defense doesn’t get to the quarterback better than it got to Brian Hoyer on Sunday.
13. Green Bay (0-1). There is no shame in losing at Seattle by 20 when the Seahawks are raising the championship banner and are double-digits better than any other team in football right now. But the Packers’ depth is a worry, as is right tackle and the ability to stop the run. The Jets won’t be a walkover in six days.
14. San Diego (0-0). Antonio Gates might not play tonight, but tight end Ladarius Green is the Chargers’ best backup player. Philip Rivers isn’t fretting.
15. Tennessee (1-0). Titans edge Buffalo for the last spot … because they beat a 2013 playoff team, Kansas City, on the road by 16, and played a fairly dominant game. Good for Jake Locker, completing 67% of his passes. If he’s accurate, he’s going to have a chance to keep the job long-term.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Derek Anderson, quarterback, Carolina. What a great day for the forgotten Anderson: winning a division game on the road against the rising Bucs, and playing well in doing so. His 24-for-34, 230-yard, two-touchdown, no-interception game gives Ron Rivera and the franchise hope that if Cam Newton is missing for any length of time, all is not lost.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta. The Falcons needed a win in the worst way—to deodorize the stink of the 4-12 debacle last year mostly. But also to show the other powers in the NFC South that they’ll be a factor this year. Ryan’s career-high 448 passing yards was the spur to the 37-34 win over the Saints, and Ryan led seven scoring drives in Atlanta’s 11 possessions. To put up 37 points against the New Orleans defense is something I didn’t think I’d see any quarterback do this year, and Ryan did it right out of the box.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle. It’s easy to forget what an intimidating presence a power runner can be in this day of throw-throw-throw in the NFL. Lynch showed with brute force how dominating a great back can be with his 20-carry, 110-yard performance in Seattle’s 36-16 beatdown of the Packers.
Defensive Players of the Week
Cam Wake, defensive end, Miami. If you’re going to have a discussion about the best defensive player in football, Wake has to be included. Has to be. Two sacks of Tom Brady Sunday were huge (“and I’m ticked off about the one I missed,” he told me) and two forced fumbles helped turn the tide of the game. Very impressive start to the season for Miami, and Wake was the most important element.
Justin Smith, defensive end, San Francisco. With the Niners heavily undermanned on defense (no NaVorro Bowman for the first half of the season, no Aldon Smith for the first nine games), someone had to be a difference-maker against a powerful (or so we thought) Dallas offense. Leave it to the aging Smith to reprise his 2011 greatness on the field in Texas, sacking Tony Romo twice and getting six tackles in addition. The score was 28-17, but it was nowhere near that close, thanks in large part to Smith.
Cliff Avril, defensive end, Seattle. It’s eight straight great quarters for Avril (remember how impactful he was in the Super Bowl?) after his one-sack, four-QB-pressure performance Thursday against Green Bay. Detroit fans have to be asking, “Where did this guy get such a motor?”
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matt Bryant, kicker, Atlanta. Hard for a kicker to have a better, more clutch day than Bryant did in Atlanta. His 51-yard field goal as time ran out in the fourth quarter sent the game to overtime and his 52-yarder in the extra session won it.
Chris McCain, linebacker, Miami. What a debut for the undrafted rookie from Cal. On his first NFL punt rush, McCain burst through the guard-center gap in the New England line 75 seconds into the game and smothered Ryan Allen’s punt.
Alfred Blue, running back, Houston. Also in his first NFL game, Blue juked Washington punt-team end Roy Helu Jr., burst in on punter Tress Way, blocked the punt and recovered it for a touchdown. That’s how you break into the NFL.
J.J. Watt, defensive lineman, Houston. What an effort, power-wedging his way through the tightly packed guard-center hole of Washington’s PAT team, sticking his right arm in the air to block the kick.
Three picks, two of the dumb variety, will renew the doubts every Cowboy fan has about Romo’s ability to ever lead the team deep into the playoffs.
Coaches of the Week
Mike Zimmer, head coach, Minnesota. You know how many times over the years—over the last three, four, five years at least—Mike Zimmer has entered a season and looked at some of the head coaches in the league and said to himself, “That should be me.” He finally gets his chance, and he passed his first test with greatness, a 34-6 pummeling of the Rams on the road.
Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle. What I liked the most about the Seahawks’ performance Thursday night was Bevell’s approach: a smart combination of playing smashmouth with Marshawn Lynch and derring-do with plays like Russell Wilson stopping short on the read-option and firing a touchdown pass to Ricardo Lockette. Bevell has a John Stockton-type quarterback, smart and capable, the guts to call anything and the intelligence to not over-think. “We do have weaknesses,’’ he told me after the game. “The players have weaknesses. But it is our job as coaches to find the strengths in what our guys do. They all have strengths, and that’s what we highlight. What really helps is having Russell. He is so committed to improving on the littlest things every day.’’
Goat of the Week
Tony Romo, quarterback, Dallas. Stats lie. Romo was 23 of 37 Sunday against the Niners, but it was one of the worst games of his career. Three picks, two of the dumb variety, will renew the doubts every Cowboy fan has about Romo’s ability to ever lead the team deep into the playoffs.
Quotes of the Week
“I was booing myself.”
—Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly, on the fans who let his team have it when the Eagles were down 17-0 to Jacksonville in the first half at home.
“Teaching puppies how to bite.”
—San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, on relying on so many young players and instructing them to play aggressive football.
“When I suck I’ll retire. I don’t plan on sucking for a long time.”
—Tom Brady, to WEEI in Boston.
“They could have just washed their hands completely of it. But they thought about my personal issues and allowed me to come back on the practice squad so I still have insurance.”
—Cincinnati defensive lineman Devon Still, after the Bengals kept him on the practice squad so he could have the resources to deal with his 4-year-old daughter Leah’s battle with cancer.
“I wanted to do something to get our bodies right for the East Coast time. In my mind, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”
—Oakland coach Dennis Allen, on flying his team from Oakland to Newark on Thursday for a Sunday game this week.
I understand, I guess. And who really cares about the expense involved, because money falls out of the sky in the NFL, even in Oakland. But the Raiders had an eight-game losing streak in Eastern Time under Allen entering the season because, obviously, they haven’t been a good team. The best idea for playing well in Eastern Time for a western team (other than actually having good players) is what Seattle does: practice early. Get your players ready to play a 10 a.m. body clock game by actually practicing in the mornings and meeting in the afternoons. Not very complicated.
Sunday brought more of the same at the Meadowlands: Jets 19, Raiders 14. And it would have been much worse if the Jets hadn’t given away some points.
Stat of the Week
In their last two games, the Seattle Seahawks have been devastatingly efficient, obviously. (Seattle 79, Denver/Green Bay 24.) The offensive symmetry for the Seattle offense in those two games is scary for future foes to consider.
|Statistic||vs. Denver||vs. Green Bay|
|Yards per carry||4.7||5.6|
|Percy Harvin all-purpose yards||137||160|
|Average gain per play||6.2||6.0|
|Possessions ending in scores||6||6|
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
No wonder so many young quarterbacks pine to attend the Manning Passing Academy each July. High school senior Harry Kraft, the son of Patriots president Jonathan Kraft and grandson of owner Robert Kraft, has attended the camp multiple times, and last year his small-group coaches were Carl Smith—quarterback coach of Russell Wilson in Seattle—and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Hines Ward got married on the 50-yard line of Heinz Field on July 26.
Gunnar Esiason, son of Boomer and October 1993 Sports Illustrated cover boy, is the offensive coordinator at Friends Academy, a high school in Locust Valley, N.Y., on Long Island. He has quite a nice weapon to build his offense around—Tyrone Perkins, a running back bound for Syracuse, who scored 24 touchdowns last season.
I’m not much of an oddsmaker, but think back to the day the schedule came out last spring, when Carolina was slated to open the season at Tampa Bay. Carolina ended last season on an 11-1 tear. Tampa Bay ended last season 4-12 and fired half the building. I know Cam Newton was questionable entering Sunday, but for Tampa Bay to be favored by a field goal … that blows my mind. It’s the power of the NFL standing for Not For Long.
Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week
Another in a series of Progressive Football-Think from the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, this week on getting players experience in playing his up-tempo offensive system, the kind of football he played consistently as the Oregon coach before arriving in the NFL:
“Our players face it every day. When people tried to tempo us in college, it's like this is what we've seen every single day in practice so it's not like you're going to sneak up on us and run a tempo play. That's what they are used to. The game I think for our guys really slowed down in college on Saturdays and in the pros on Sunday because of the pace and tempo we practice on the practice field. People break in the huddle, you're looking for, ‘All right, what are they in? What's the personnel?’ You already know the personnel coming out of the huddle, and you're ready and equipped with the calls you're going to make depending on where the tight ends play and all that. I think it's one of the unintended consequences, but it really helps that people do try to tempo us. But I also think because the players have been trained in it—so when you're teaching people in the NFL now, tempo, well, [wide receiver] Brad Smith was an up‑tempo quarterback at Missouri so he understands that. [Quarterback] G.J. Kinne did that at Tulsa, and he understands that some of the receivers we have ran it in their system. [Wide receiver Jeremy] Maclin ran it when he was at Missouri. So it's not like when you start to introduce a concept to some people, they don't understand it. We started to use it back when we were at New Hampshire, when I became a coordinator, and when things were difficult on a defense to defend. Why wouldn't we do something that was hard for defenses to handle to try to get them out of their comfort zone?”
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I sat next to the indefatigable Adam Schefter on my flight to Seattle last week. It was a 7:15 a.m. Delta flight. He had been up since 2 a.m. He saw the J.J. Watt signing news on his phone when he woke during the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. He figured he’d nap on the plane to Seattle. When the plane took off, he fired up his tablet, did some fantasy-draft prep (for his two leagues and for CNBC’s Jim Cramer, whom he helps). Midway through the trip Schefter saw that Colts owner Jim Irsay pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence. He typed out a 500-word story on Irsay, revealing that the NFL would discipline him before Thursday’s season-opener. (Irsay was suspended six games and fined $500,000 later in the day, in fact.) We chatted quite a bit, and Schefter went fishing for stories through emails and texts. No nap. When he landed, he reported on Wes Welker’s suspension and Michael Sam flying to Dallas to take a physical, and did some business in Seattle, and drafted two fantasy teams and helped Cramer draft his, and at 11 p.m.—2 a.m. East Coast time, 24 hours after he woke—he went to bed.
“I never got that nap,” he said. “Watt signing the biggest defensive contract, an owner suspended, Welker, Michael Sam … the madness never stops.”
Tweets of the Week
I would caution against any sweeping conclusions based on one game but the Raiders are ttttteeeeeerrrrrrriiiiiibbbbbllllleeee.
— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) September 7, 2014
The columnist at the Newark Star-Ledger watched the Oakland mess at the Meadowlands
@ProFootballTalk @SI_PeterKing my little brother could use a few calls as well @nfl!
— Benjamin Watson (@BenjaminSWatson) September 5, 2014
The former NFL tight end and brother of an aspiring NFL prospect, Asa Watson, tweeted this after I reported and Pro Football Talk expanded upon a story that the NFL contacted multiple teams after Michael Sam was waived by the Rams, asking if they’d evaluated him for possible signing to their practice squads.
Dallas owner and GM Jerry Jones denied that the league reached out to him to suggest he consider Sam. Dallas signed Sam on Wednesday to the 10-member practice unit.
I’ve heard quite a bit from readers and Tweeters who object to the NFL singling out any player for special treatment, which the NFL certainly did here. I would make these points:
One NFL executive I spoke to about this was miffed that the league was looking out for Sam like this. “Didn’t he want to be treated like everyone else?” the exec said. Yes, I told him—but that’s not really the point. Sam didn’t ask for anyone to do this. Don’t blame him.
Universally, everyone thinks the NFL shouldn’t be in the business of advocating for any player. I understand. And I agree—mostly. But some teams believe he brings too much non-football attention for a marginal player. The NFL’s effort has a tinge of affirmative-action to it: There was a time when minorities struggled to get equal-access to college admission. The story here is much different, but the concept is the same.
The NFL should have done one thing that truly could have helped Sam get a job on a practice squad—let Jeff Fisher explain, maybe in a statement the league could have made available to the 31 other front offices, about how having Sam on the team for 16 weeks (from draft day to the day he was cut) was not a distraction.
It sickens me to my stomach to see #JohnParry officiate this game. #Turd
— Takeo Spikes (@TakeoSpikes51) September 5, 2014
The former linebacker was ejected by Parry in the last game of his career for getting into a helmet-grabbing altercation with Raiders running back Mike Goodson.
Seems Spikes has a long memory.
When he was trying to stick with the 49ers, Ricardo Lockette lived on Colin Kaepernick's couch.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) September 5, 2014
The veteran football scribe on the man who scored the first touchdown of Seattle’s season.
Just told Vin Scully to have a good broadcast. That's like telling Picasso to paint well. #TheDumbThingsISay
— F.P. Santangelo (@FightinHydrant) September 1, 2014
Former major league player F.P. Santangelo, now a member of the Washington Nationals’ TV team, upon seeing Scully before a game last week at Dodger Stadium.
Picture of the day. Check out the last names on the back of these jerseys pic.twitter.com/L5ABNJDuzR
— Matt Barber (@dixiefriedsport) September 6, 2014
South Carolina radio host Matt Barber tweeted this screen grab of Arkansas State teammates Jemar Clark and Darion Griswold (and their unintentional homage to the Chevy Chase character of the Vacation film series).
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 1:
a. Seattle’s roster formation. Who keeps eight wide receivers on the final 53? GM John Schneider did. He cut rookie wideout Phil Bates on Saturday to make room for needed offensive line depth, signing offensive tackle Andrew McDonald off the Carolina practice squad. In Seattle it’s about finding and developing the best 53 plus 10, even when they overload at one position. All teams say that. Seattle does it.
b. Percy Harvin’s 39 snaps. He was a huge factor, on his fly sweeps and his short and intermediate routes. The Seahawks’ multiple threat continues to say he’s in great shape with no aches or pains (“Best I’ve felt since college”), and it showed against Green Bay. Pretty tough to defend Seattle with Harvin’s speed and Marshawn Lynch’s sledgehammer approach.
c. Richard Sherman’s presence. He shut down the right side of Green Bay’s offense the way Deion Sanders used to shut down his side of the field.
d. Dennis Allen’s call to start Derek Carr over Matt Schaub. Coaches have to make tough calls like this to be good and to ensure the trust of the locker room.
e. The Dolphins having a moment of silence before their game to honor big Fins fan Steven Sotloff, the journalist executed by ISIS last week.
f. Andrea Kremer’s interview with Tom Brady on NFL Network. Asked good questions, such as whether he thinks he’ll get cut some day. “It’s happened to everybody, so why would I not think it would happen to me?” he said.
g. DeAndre Hopkins with a juking move and huge touchdown play to help beat Washington.
h. Frank Gore symmetry: He’s the 10th player to gain 10,000 rushing yards for one team—in 10 seasons.
i. Terrance West for the Browns: 100 yards on his first day in the NFL. Not bad for the kid from Towson who wouldn’t let football failure after football failure ruin his love of the game.
j. Allen Hurns, undrafted from the University of Miami, with a 110-yard receiving day in his first NFL game, and two touchdowns for the Jaguars in the first 10 minutes.
k. Tremendous stiff-arm-and-flinging-Pacman move by Steve Smith Sr., on his long TD catch and run.
l. Frank Caliendo doing Bill Belichick. There are not many funnier things in the world.
m. Knowshon Moreno, who is so obviously the best back on the Dolphins, with his 134-yard Miami debut.
n. The line by Dan Patrick on NBC Sunday night, referring to Antonio Brown’s ridiculous flying kick of Cleveland punter Spencer Lanning: “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting!”
o. Good stat by Kenny Albert on FOX: Jared Allen was 0-6 in his career as a visiting player at Soldier Field. Now a Bear, he’s 0-7 there.
p. Julius Thomas, a matchup nightmare.
q. Arthur Jones, the defensive lineman signed in free-agency by Indy. He made a huge stop of Montee Ball late in the fourth quarter that kept the Colts in the game.
r. Rahim Moore, back on the field for the first time in 10 months after nearly losing his left leg, with two interceptions for Denver, both of them on instinctive plays.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 1:
a. Earl Thomas’ punt-return judgment. And if that’s the only thing I didn’t like about Seattle from a 60-minute game, it must have been a pretty good night.
b. The Packers’ depth, on each line. Losing B.J. Raji looks to be a huge blow in the wake of a poor performance on run defense in Seattle, and the right side of the line was turnstiled when Bryan Bulaga was lost in the first half with a knee injury.
c. The ridiculous, meaningless, massive over-coverage of whether the Jets’ backup quarterback is going to have a radio show in New York. If this is what covering football is coming to, please deport me to Auckland.
d. Rob Gronkowski with a big third-down drop on his first series back.
e. Eagles cornerback Cary Williams getting beat for a touchdown by undrafted rookie Allen Hurns early in Jags-Eagles.
f. Dropped pick by Calvin Pryor of the Jets. Simple catch.
g. Not a good debut for Washington special teams coach Ben Kotwica, who came over from the Jets in the off-season. Kotwica’s unit had a punt and extra point blocked in the first half at Houston.
h. Are you kidding, Antonio Brown? Kicking the punter in the head with a Bruce Lee move? Where in the world did that come from?
i. Josh McCown, who too often looked unsure and shaky. Last thing I thought I’d see out of him after last year’s success in Chicago.
j. Atlanta lost left tackle Jake Matthews to an ankle injury, the second starting left tackle lost in the last month. Matthews missed the second half against the Saints. That’d be a big loss if it’s serious.
k. The field in Denver. It looks that lousy Sept. 7? It’s like they had a rodeo on it or something.
3. I think one of the plays of the weekend we won’t talk about enough was the last meaningful play of Sunday—rookie cornerback Bradley Roby, in his first game, had Reggie Wayne on a crossing route on fourth-and-six, and when Andrew Luck threw to Wayne trying to convert and keep hope alive, Roby timed his leaping drive perfectly, knocking away the ball. That’s a great sign for the Broncos, who need to develop a good young corner.
4. I think if you thought the new points of emphasis would somehow take the edge off Seattle’s secondary, you were wrong. Updating stat from last week: In Seattle’s five games this summer, the starting defensive backfield (Byron Maxwell, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas) has played 531 snaps and been called for zero penalties.
5. I think the best nugget I can think of to illustrate why the Texans trusted J.J. Watt enough to make him a $100 million player, the richest in franchise history: One day this off-season, Houston coach Bill O’Brien couldn’t sleep, so he decided to get up and get an early start at the office. He drove to work and there, at 4 a.m. on this summer weekday, was J.J. Watt working out in the weight room.
6. I think the swirling mayhem around Jim Harbaugh seems to suit him fine. After the first game of his fourth coaching season, Harbaugh is 28 games over .500. That’s better than Jeff Fisher, John Fox and Pete Carroll. Some people thrive in tense environments, and Harbaugh seems to be one of those people.
7. I think I would not be remotely surprised if, sometime in the second half of the Dallas-San Francisco game Sunday, Jerry Jones turned to son Stephen and said, “You happy about passing on Manziel now?” That was a brutal day for Tony Romo, in the top five of the brutal days of his career. The only way Dallas has a chance this year is for the offense to carry the team, and with Romo looking so shaky Sunday against the depleted 49ers, it bodes ill for the Cowboys to be competitive.
8. I think, not meaning to say your season is over or anything, fans of the Rams, but it’s only 240 days till the 2015 draft. Hope springs eternal!
9. I think you’re taking the Johnny Manziel criticism a little too far, Merril Hoge. “Juvenile punk?” Yeesh.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. What a courageous statement from the family of American journalist Steven Sotloff: “This week we mourn. But we will emerge from this ordeal. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess—fear."
b. Very smart, thoughtful column by Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News on the redeeming values of football, told from the perspective of the mayor of Dallas.
c. So the NCAA found that UConn coach Geno Auriemma violated NCAA rules by congratulating a girl a month out of eighth grade for having a shutout in the Little League World Series. “Shameful” is a word that comes to mind. No wonder so many people hate the NCAA.
d. Underrated album of the week: “Wrecking Ball,’’ by Bruce Springsteen. Good cross-country music. “This Depression” is addicting.
e. So glad to have given a few of my NBC friends some great pizza advice. They went to Serious Pie in Seattle, and their pizza taste will be forever spoiled.
f. Good luck, Ron Washington, with whatever it is that caused you to leave the Texas Rangers.
g. Coffeenerdness: I know you get tired of me and my coffee thing. But the care some of these coffee shops in Seattle (and elsewhere) take with their coffee borders on artistry. Some barista at Fonte Coffee in downtown Seattle made me a latte Thursday with a perfect palm tree etched in the foam. How do those guys do that?
h. Beernerdness: Is there a rival for Allagash White? I mean, could there be a beer as good in the United States? I may have found it: Avery White Rascal, from Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, Colo. A gem. Light but very flavorful.
i. The other day, in my Seattle hotel room, I flipped on the Red Sox-Yankees game to catch the first inning or so before heading out. And when I saw the Red Sox lineup, it hit me what a difference a year makes. How they lined up in the field Wednesday night in the Bronx:
P Anthony Ranaudo
C Christian Vasquez
1B Allen Craig
2B Jemile Weeks
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Brock Holt
LF Yoenis Cespedes
CF Mookie Betts
RF Daniel Nava
j. A year ago, that team, in order, was in Pawtucket (R.I.) of the International League, Portland (Maine) of the Eastern League, St. Louis, Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League, Boston, Pawtucket, Oakland, Greenville (S.C.) of the South Atlantic League, and Boston.
k. Stay hot, Mookie Betts.
l. And I loved this photo (below) of high school football Friday night in Fond du Lac, Wis., taken by Stacey Raube and sent to me. Thought I’d share it with you this morning. Fond du Lac 61, Marshfield 14, by the way.
Who I Like Tonight
Detroit 30, New York Giants 20. The only way you like the Giants tonight is if you think preseason football is an absolute mirage. I don't see New York flipping the switch quickly after an awful August.
San Diego 33, Arizona 27. Love this game—a lot. I would have picked the Cards if Andre Ellington was healthy. He averaged a league-high 5.53 yards per carry last year, and Bruce Arians was going to use him all over the map as a matchup nightmare this year. If he doesn’t play, that’s going to put pressure on an immobile Carson Palmer against a good, young San Diego pass rush (and one old guy, Dwight Freeney). The Chargers need Kennan Allen to win his share against a very good Arizona secondary.
The Adieu Haiku
Such great plays Sunday.
A couple by a tall Vike.