‘The NFL Needed This’
The adrenaline was still flowing for Russell Wilson an hour after a game that was supposed to be high drama, and actually was.
“The NFL needed this game," Wilson said.
After another week of off-field hell for the NFL, Wilson won’t get any argument from the 12’s in Seattle, the folks from California to Maine watching the CBS doubleheader game that bled deep into 60 Minutes time, the worried NFL suits on Park Avenue, and the advertisers who wanted the great old quarterback (Peyton Manning) and the great new one (Wilson) dueling into overtime in the din of CenturyLink Field. Games like this one are why people won’t throw the NFL out with the trash because of the Ray Rice scandal. And people like Wilson, who has perfected the art of saying the right thing and doing the right things in the community, need to be front-and-center if the public is going to retain confidence in the NFL, a confidence that’s been shaken so badly this month.
The NFL is on fire. The first Super Bowl rematch in 17 years couldn’t put it out, of course. But it could remind people who love football but are pissed off at it why they loved it in the first place. Wilson and Manning and the Broncos and the Seahawks did their best in three hours and 33 minutes to put some salve on the sport.
After Manning engineered one of the best drives of his career—six plays, 80 yards, no timeouts, 41 seconds, ending in a touchdown pass and two-point conversion—Wilson made it look easier in overtime. Does the man sweat? Does he get cotton-mouth?
On a brisk 13-play, 80-yard drive to start OT, Wilson threw the ball six times, handed it off three and ran it four times himself. And Seattle won 26-20. We’ll have enough time to get to the news of the weekend, but we’ll start today focused on the first Super Bowl rematch in 17 years, and on the man who is making big games his time.
Tony Dungy compared Wilson to a young Joe Montana a couple of weeks ago, and the hyperbole-prompted snickers were everywhere. But what about Wilson isn’t Montana-like? Shorter guys. Don't put up gaudy stats. Teammates love them. Coaches love them. Tremendous internal drive to win. Both 25 when they won their first Super Bowl. And, most important, they play big in the big games.
Wilson has gone head-to-head with the game’s luminaries seven times. Seven games against Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers. The tale of those seven games:
One interception: a tipped pick on Sunday, deflected by Aqib Talib and intercepted by Chris Harris. One pick, no losses in seven games.
“That’s a team record," Wilson said by phone from the bowels of CenturyLink. “When we play against the best, like we did today, it’s a humbling experience. I want to be up there with those guys one day. It’s a thrill to be able to play in games like this, against guys like Peyton, and I just want to excel when we play them. It can’t get any better than a game like this today."
I want to be up there with those guys one day.
I know I shouldn’t say this," Wilson said, “but I actually wanted overtime. I live for those moments.
Manning redeemed himself after throwing a late interception in traffic to Kam Chancellor. In the final seconds of regulation, he hit Jacob Tamme for a 26-yard TD (K.J. Wright gave him too much cushion) and squeezed in the two-point pass to Demaryius Thomas. And so it was on to overtime.
Denver’s defense was fatigued. Seattle’s was getting there. The coin flip was big. “They changed the rules a little bit," Manning told the press in Seattle, “but it doesn’t really change if you go down and get a touchdown. It puts a premium on the coin toss. I called tails at the beginning of the game, went with it again in overtime, it was heads, and it proved to be a significant call. That’s the way it is, and you like to not leave it to that, not that situation. We had a chance on the second to last series of the game. But bad throw by me."
So, if Denver could hold Seattle to a punt or field goal, the Broncos would get the ball back. If Seattle scored a touchdown, game over. Wilson gathered his offense before he took the first snap and said, “This is what we live for, fellas: championship moments. Let’s go out and embrace it."
Watching the drive, you never got the impression Denver would stop Wilson. He had a third-and-three and a third-and-four on the drive, but both times he took the matter—and the ball—into his own hands. He end-sweeped both times for twin gains of five. Marshawn Lynch took the winner through a center-guard hole, from six yards out. That was it.
“I know I shouldn’t say this,” Wilson said, “but I actually wanted overtime. Of course I want to win in regulation, but overtime is so much fun. I live for those moments.”
The proof is in the 7-0 record, and the one interception in 28 quarters. “My father always told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to excel.’ ” Russell Wilson was taught well.
I figured a way to get Tim Tebow’s name in the column.
When I think of Drew Stanton, I don’t think of many big NFL moments. None, really. But I do think of the man who was signed by the Jets in 2012, paid a signing bonus of $500,000, then traded seven days later because the Jets had a crazy brainstorm and impulsively signed Tim Tebow.
“My world turned upside down,” Stanton said Sunday evening from Arizona. He can talk about it with some perspective now, because it’s crazy and nutty in retrospect that the Jets would have chosen Tebow to back up Mark Sanchez instead of Stanton, who has wins over the Giants and the 49ers in the last nine days as an emergency reliever for Carson Palmer.
“I signed with the Jets because I thought it was a great situation, and because I had the word of [coach] Rex Ryan and [then-GM] Mike Tannenbaum that I’d be the backup. A few days later I started hearing rumors about Tim and the Jets. I said, ‘No way.’ They just paid me a bonus and committed to me. So, my wife and I are down in Florida the week after I sign with them. It’s her birthday. We’ve got a doctor’s appointment—we’re going to find out whether she’s pregnant with a boy or a girl. We find out it’s a boy, and I come out of the doctor’s office and my phone’s blowing up. The Jets got Tim. We went for a walk along the Intracoastal Waterway, trying to figure out what to do. I mean, I was shocked. I had their word, and then this happened.
“But, sitting here right now, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Shortly after signing Tebow, the Jets traded Stanton to Indianapolis, where he would back up rookie Andrew Luck. The Colts’ offensive coordinator was Bruce Arians. Stanton hadn’t worked for him before. When he got to Indy, Stanton loved the guy, and Arians loved him back. When Arians got the head-coaching job in Arizona the next year, he brought Stanton with him. And when Palmer began struggling with a nerve problem in his right arm, making it difficult for him to grip a football, Arians put Stanton in the lineup. The Cards flew to New Jersey and beat the Giants 25-14. At home on Sunday they beat the Niners 23-14. Stanton is 30. These were the fourth and fifth starts of his NFL career. That’s the life of an NFL backup.
“If the Jets hadn’t signed Tim,” Stanton said, “I’d never be here right now. I’d never have gotten the chance to start these two games and have this incredible experience.”
He’d never have been on the sideline as the final seconds ticked off the clock on Sunday, with the crowd in Glendale roaring, Stanton and the Cardinals having broken the 49ers’ hold on them. San Francisco had won nine of the previous 10 games against Arizona. The Cards were down 14-6 early in the third quarter, and Stanton was getting cuffed around by the Niners’ rush. But on consecutive series he completed five of seven throws and took advantage of rookie John Brown’s quickness at the line of scrimmage. Brown, the third-round pick from Pittsburg (Kans.) State, twice beat jams at the line; he’s clearly one of the quickest receivers in the league. And Stanton found him twice downfield, once mismatched against a safety, and hit him for 24- and 21-yard touchdowns.
In two games, Stanton is 32 of 62 (51.6%), with two touchdowns and no picks, a rating of 83.5. “My stats stink,” he said, “and I don’t care. Stats mean nothing to me—wins do. I love Bruce’s offensive philosophy. He wants to push the ball downfield. That fits me. The numbers aren’t going to be great. But when you’re around this league long enough as a backup, this is the life you have. You never know when the chance is going to come, and you’ve just got to be ready to play well when it’s your time.”
Arians has a deft touch with his quarterbacks. He had Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh for years, then Andrew Luck for one year in Indianapolis, and then he helped resurrect Palmer’s career in Arizona last season. Now Stanton. What an amazing story: The Arizona Cardinals, half of their defensive keystones gone and keyed by a quarterback who hadn’t taken a snap since 2010 and a receiver who was playing small-college football a year ago, beating the San Francisco 49ers and alone, ahead of Seattle, atop the NFC West. Football is a crazy game.
What makes a good play-caller?
As Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton raises his game early in 2014—and we have to be careful here, because Dalton has been a very good regular-season quarterback, only to fail in the playoffs in each of his three NFL seasons—it’s becoming clear that the multifaceted game plans of first-year Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson are a big reason why.
“What I like about what we’re doing,” Dalton said from Cincinnati last night, “is we put defenses on edge. They don’t know what we’re doing.” Even with ace receiver A.J. Green not being 100% physically after suffering a toe injury eight days ago, the offensive imagination continued on Sunday as the Bengals routed Tennessee 33-7 to move to 3-0. They’re the last unbeaten team left in the AFC, pretty amazing after only three weeks.
In this case, the play that illustrates Jackson’s touch with the offense is the last play of the first quarter, at the Tennessee 18-yard line. Dalton handed it to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, lined up in the backfield, and Sanu took off to the right while Dalton slunk off to the left. Sanu is becoming something of a legend for his throwing prowess, but he launched a pass to Dalton with a little too much air under it. As the ball came down, Titans corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson bore down on Dalton, looking like he’d either pick off the floater or level Dalton. He did neither. Dalton caught the ball, turned toward the goal line and dove in for the first touchdown reception of his pro career.
First, the origin of the play. “Hue saw something when he studied Tennessee and put it in the game plan,” Dalton said. “We’d never run it before, never practiced it before. He felt confident that the corner wouldn’t be there and that I’d be open and we could get a big gain on the play. He said during the week, ‘We feel like there’ll be nobody backside.’ So when I saw the corner coming toward me, I was surprised. I thought he could have taken my head off. I was lucky. He obviously didn’t play it right.”
Dalton said self-assurance is a big part of his game, and of Jackson’s. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. When he calls something, I really think it’s going to work,” Dalton said. That’s what a quarterback wants in his play-caller. In this case Cincinnati was lucky that Wreh-Wilson butchered the play; he should have either chosen to separate Dalton from the ball or go for the interception, but he said after the game he was concerned about a penalty for hitting Dalton illegally. A poor excuse, obviously. And maybe Sanu should have seen the corner there and run the ball instead of throwing it. But as always happens, the winners get to write the history and the losers make excuses.
“It’s one of those deals where the coach might say, ‘Great play. Don’t make that same read again,’ ” Dalton said. But Dalton also knows Jackson will probably have something else strange in the game plan when the Bengals come out of their bye week—and it will probably work. Through three weeks, he’s had a good run of play calls.
For the Ravens, a win and a slew of problems.
We’re still waiting to hear the Ravens’ reaction to the damaging ESPN story claiming the organization knew how bad the Ray Rice tape was but tried to downplay it to minimize his league punishment.
In brief: ESPN reported that Ravens director of security Darren Sanders had the contents of the most damaging Rice videotape—the one America first saw via TMZ on Sept. 8—described to him by a police officer watching it. Sanders, ESPN reported, relayed the disturbing news to team executives. Later, Rice’s attorney told club president Dick Cass that the video was “horrible” and, according to ESPN, Cass responded by urging for Rice to enter a pre-trial diversion program. Meanwhile, according to ESPN, the Ravens were arguing for leniency for Rice, and strongly urged commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Rice for only two games. That’s what Goodell did.
One of the assertions made in the story was that coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice when he saw the original TMZ video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the Atlantic City elevator—and was overruled by Ravens management.
I spoke to Harbaugh after the Ravens’ victory in Cleveland and asked him if he wanted to cut Rice immediately back in February. Harbaugh did not answer yes or no, but said stridently: “That is such an unfair characterization. It is not fair to the organization. We said all along that the facts would determine the consequences, and that was my stance from the start of this.”
Harbaugh did not want to say anything else on the subject—for now; the Ravens are expected to address the ESPN story today—but it has been his assertion in the past that when the Ravens have organizational meetings about any subject and there are significant differences of opinion, the decision that is made becomes the team decision and he supports it. It is conceivable that he could have wanted Rice released at the start of a meeting and then, after a consensus was reached to hang on to him pending the outcome of an investigation, agreed to wait to act on Rice.
Either way, the Ravens have some explaining to do, particularly with respect to Sanders and Cass. If Sanders knew how damaging the elevator video was and passed that information on to upper management, and Cass pressed for leniency knowing how bad the elevator tape was (as ESPN suggested), both men could have to answer to owner Steve Bisciotti and/or the investigator retained by the league, former FBI director Robert Mueller.
One note about Sunday: The Ravens seem immune to the tornado outside their organization. In the two games since the TMZ video made the Rice story explode anew, Baltimore has hammered Pittsburgh and come back on the road to beat the improved Browns. “We’ve got high-character people who fight, and I’m proud of them,” Harbaugh said. “We’re the Ravens, and I know the people we have. We stand for something.” I’ve heard Harbaugh say things like that since he took over as coach in 2008, and I’m sure people roll their eyes about it, particularly now, with the questions about how they handled the Rice matter. But Harbaugh is a lot like Tom Coughlin in that regard. He believes what he believes, and he doesn’t care if you think it’s corny or outmoded. To him, it’s real.
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Kneejerkisms after a fun day of football.
• Todd Bowles is catapulting himself into contention for a head-coaching job. Consider the job Bowles has done as the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator. His best linebacker, Daryl Washington, is suspended for the year after another violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. His best pass-rusher, John Abraham, just went on IR with concussion issues. Last year’s defensive leaders, Karlos Dansby (free agency to Cleveland) and Darnell Dockett (on IR), are both gone. In came Bowles, preaching an attacking style, and the players ate it up. “We’re going to be an offensive defensive team," he said in training camp, and that’s what they’ve become, allowing just 45 points in three games—none in the fourth quarter. He’s done it with only one premier player left on the front seven, defensive end Calais Campbell, by mixing up blitzes (rookie Deone Bucannon has been terrific as a change-up blitzer) and using all his puzzle pieces well. The only sack in Sunday’s 23-14 win over San Francisco came from undrafted free safety Tony Jefferson. Everyone keeps telling the Cardinals they’ve lost too much to be a formidable defense. Bowles won’t let his players hear it.
• Seattle’s Jon Ryan had about as good a day as a punter can have. Ryan’s numbers were ridiculously good—six punts, 50.2 yards per punt, and a 47.7-yard net; only one of the six punts was returned for positive yardage. Ryan was huge in the biggest game of the year so far because he kept giving Peyton Manning long fields. And long fields in Seattle are most often fruitless fields. Most impressive was this fact: Manning never led the Broncos to a score on a possession following a Ryan punt. That’s a huge day’s work. Summing up Ryan’s prolific game:
|Punt Yardage||Denver's Starting Point||Result of Denver Drive|
|61||Denver 14||Lost fumble|
Said coach Pete Carroll: "Jon Ryan just had an incredible influence in this game, throughout. If there was anybody who was MVP, it might have been Jon Ryan today with his effort, because he had probably the best day of his career."
• I feel for Dennis Pitta. Two awful right hip injuries in the past 14 months, and it again looks like he could be finished for the year. “At least he got paid," said Rodney Harrison as we watched in the NBC viewing room. Harrison’s right: By the end of next season, even if Pitta can’t play beyond this year, he will have made $16 million (his entire amount of guaranteed money on the contract) of a five-year, $32-million deal.
• Charles Woodson returns to the scene of the crime. How often can you say the main characters in a football game are the same for the rematch 13 years later? It’s been 13 seasons since the infamous Tuck Rule game, the overtime win in the 2001 playoffs in which the Patriots were aided and abetted by ref Walt Coleman negating what appeared to be Woodson’s game-clinching strip sack of Tom Brady. On review, Coleman ruled that Brady was tucking the ball away and therefore it constituted an incomplete pass; the Patriots retained possession, won in overtime, and went on to their first Super Bowl under Bill Belichick. The Raiders never forgot. So four months shy of the game’s 13th anniversary, the two teams met again in Foxboro. Lots of changes (“The starting Oakland wide receivers that day were Jerry Rice and Tim Brown," my NBC stats partner, Elliott Kalb, pointed out), but there was Woodson, chasing New England receivers and chasing Brady too. A lot of similarities between the games too. The Patriots, both times, scored 16 points in a win (16-13 then, 16-9 now), Woodson was productive in defeat (five tackles and a pass defensed then, four tackles and two passes defensed now) and Sebastian Janikowski kicked multiple field goals in both games (two in the playoff game, three on Sunday).
• The Johnny Manziel play should have drawn two penalties, not one. You may have seen Manziel slyly talking to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan near the sideline on Sunday, then take off downfield and catch a long pass. The crowd in Cleveland went nuts. But running back Terrance West was flagged for not being set at the snap of the ball, negating the play. What should have happened is that Manziel should have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Players cannot line up less than five yards from the sideline in the team’s own bench area—and Manziel certainly was that close.
• Jared Cook did the right thing. Oddest event of the day: Rams tight end Jared Cook dropped a fairly easy touchdown catch in the end zone against the Cowboys, and went back to the Rams’ sideline. Quarterback Austin Davis stuck his hand out as if to say, Hey, we’ll get ’em next time. No worries. Cook angrily slapped his hand away. Strange, because it was Cook’s fault, and he was acting all angry when the quarterback went to tell him it’d be fine. And so Sunday evening, Cook tweeted: “My actions from today's game were truly a mistake—unintentional and in the heat of the moment. There is never an excuse for unsportsmanlike conduct and I apologize to everyone." Good for him.
• It’s Bortles’ team now in Jacksonville. No choice for Gus Bradley. Jags started 0-3 last year, with a minus-64 point differential. This year Jacksonville is 0-3 and minus-75. Yikes. Bortles at least led the offense to 17 second-half points Sunday.
• Amazing how quickly we’ve forgotten the story of 2013. There’s Jonathan Martin starting at right tackle for a playoff team, San Francisco. There’s Richie Incognito sitting at home, wishing his phone would ring so he could play guard somewhere, anywhere. Martin plays, and it’s as if what happened 11 months ago never occurred. Something tells me the story of 2014 will have more legs.
• As for the next step in the search for a new personal conduct policy... I expect Goodell and the chief of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith, to meet early this week, likely Tuesday, to discuss the composition of a committee to get the personal conduct policy overhaul moving. It’s likely both men, in the spirit of cooperation that helped the two sides build a new drug policy (which I’ll discuss later in this column), will advocate putting a diverse group together. I expect there to be former players with good leadership reputations, current players, an owner or two, and people from the business world who have had the responsibility of putting similarly complicated policies in place in corporate America and/or public service agencies such as police departments or the FBI. The interesting part of the process will be how much authority Goodell is willing to give up. “Vulnerable” is not a word often associated with Goodell during his eight years as commissioner, but the fact is he’s never been more vulnerable, and it could be time to make sea changes in how the office is run.
Goodell needs a domestic violence czar.
Before I break down the revamped substance-abuse policy, which would have been huge news in any other NFL month but this one, a word about the biggest point in the joint league-union announcement that has been mostly lost: This policy could be the stepping-off point for commissioner discipline that players have screamed about for years. This sentence in the joint statement by the league and union amounted to a big win for the players and an acknowledgment by Goodell that he had to change with the times and break the three-year logjam to get HGH testing for NFL players: “Appeals of positive tests in both the substance abuse and performance enhancing drug programs (including HGH) will be heard by third-party arbitrators jointly selected, appointed and retained by the NFL and NFLPA." The arbitrators will be jointly picked by the league and the union.
That has been the backbone of the NFLPA’s argument for three years: We do not want the same body—Goodell or his people—to pass judgment on players and then hear the appeals. It’s double jeopardy. It’s patently unfair. Finally, the players won. And it’s right. The new system will be more fair.
And as one league official estimated, 80% of all appeals heard by the league are in recreational or performance-enhancing drugs. So how far would Goodell have to go now to simply turn over all appeals to a third party? It is past time that Goodell passes off the job of discipline in general in big cases, particularly in the legally complex and time-consuming domestic violence cases, where I think he should name a domestic violence czar who would take all of those cases out of the hands of teams and into the hands of a uniform NFL code-interpreter. Maybe it’d be Lisa Friel, the former New York prosecutor and ex-chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s sex-crimes unit. (Though Friel was roundly criticized for her recent work with an independent security company on a Yeshiva University sex-crimes case.)
How a domestic violence czar could work: As soon as there is a charge of domestic violence, the czar and her/his staff would investigate the case initially to see if there is enough evidence to take the player off the field immediately, to judge how due process should work in the case, and to see what alternatives there are for employees (such as a non-football-illness designation, as the Cardinals did with Jonathan Dwyer after he confirmed concerns about his mental health in talks with the team and local police). The status of players charged with domestic violence is too important an issue in society to be left to teams. The league should have one uniform policy, to be administered by a certified expert in the area.
Goodell needs to get out of the morass of this issue and leave it to an expert or small group of experts to handle. Too many women’s groups—and women—won’t trust him no matter what the NFL does with domestic violence going forward. A sex-crime expert should be considered strongly when Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith meet this week to work on revamping the Personal Conduct Policy. If everything is indeed on the table, Smith should walk into this meeting and urge Goodell to back up his words with actions.
As the president of the NFLPA, Eric Winston, told me Saturday: “If the vast majority of discipline cases are now going to third-party arbitration going forward, I hope this sets the stage for all [discipline] to be done the same way."
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As for the new drug policy …
There are wins for both sides. Let’s go over them.
For the league: Immediate HGH testing and a mandatory two-game suspension for a first-time DUI conviction are the big wins. HGH testing, which some players have criticized as invasive because it requires a blood test (a shaky argument, because players get blood drawn regularly when they have health issues), should begin within the next week. The penalty for a confirmed test of a player using a masking agent is a two-game suspension without pay; use of a steroid or HGH results in a four-game unpaid suspension; and if the league finds evidence of cheating or manipulating a test, the suspension is six games ... A first confirmed DUI violation, which formerly did not have an automatic suspension, will now result in a two-game, unpaid ban. A second offense would trigger an eight-game unpaid ban. “I think awareness about DUI is up now among players, that it makes no sense to risk driving impaired," Winston said. “You can put an app on your phone now for a car service to come and get you."
For the players: The third-party appeal hearing, with the appeals officers chosen jointly by the league and union, is the biggest win. The NFLPA had told Goodell for years it wouldn’t agree to a revamped policy without it, and the players stuck to their point … Reducing Josh Gordon’s sanction from a year to 10 games, and returning stimulant violators (Wes Welker, Orlando Scandrick) to the field immediately is a win … The marijuana fixes are big too. Many players have said—and society largely agrees—that the league over-punishes marijuana violations, particularly because so many players use marijuana not just for pleasure but to help cope with the physical pain caused by football. Now, players will have to test positive for marijuana four times before facing a suspension. The steps in the marijuana sanction section of the policy: first positive test, entry in the substance-abuse program, with more testing; second positive test, a two-game fine; third positive test, a four-game fine; fourth positive test, a four-game suspension without pay; fifth positive test, a 10-game suspension without pay; sixth positive test, a one-year suspension without pay. And to eliminate concerns about players testing positive for second-hand marijuana smoke, the threshold for a positive test will be raised immediately from 15 nanograms to 35 nanograms. Winston has cautioned players that this is not a free ticket to smoke marijuana at will, though it’s obvious many do. It’s a good change that players will be disciplined less for casual marijuana use.
Also: Players who test positive for banned stimulants (the ADHD drug Adderall, for instance) in the off-season will not be suspended. But a positive in-season test will still result in a four-game suspension without pay.
It shouldn’t have taken 38 months to get HGH testing in the NFL; that’s obvious. This should have been done a couple of years ago. Now that the league has surrendered on the drug appeals process, Goodell should have bent on third-party appeals earlier instead of digging in his heels so adamantly. Now that he has, this portends positives for the future relationship between the commissioner and the union, which has been fraught with trust issues on both sides.
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The All-Pro Team of Hurt Guys.
You can actually make one now, without much of a stretch. Here’s my 53-man roster of men who have been injured and missed at least one game, or left a game and not returned:
WR: A.J. Green, Cincinnati; DeSean Jackson, Washington; Alshon Jeffery, Chicago; Eric Decker, New York Jets.
TE: Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville; Jordan Reed, Washington; Dennis Pitta, Baltimore.
T: Bryan Bulaga, Green Bay; Sam Baker, Atlanta; Anthony Davis, San Francisco; Michael Bowie, Cleveland.
G: Evan Mathis, Philadelphia; Jeff Allen, Kansas City; Geoff Schwartz, New York Giants.
C: Nick Hardwick, San Diego; Roberto Garza, Chicago.
QB: Cam Newton, Carolina; Robert Griffin III, Washington; Carson Palmer, Arizona.
RB: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City; Knowshon Moreno, Miami; Ryan Mathews, San Diego; DeAngelo Williams, Carolina; Doug Martin, Tampa Bay; Ben Tate, Cleveland.
DE: John Abraham, Arizona; Chris Long, St. Louis; Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay.
DT: Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay; Darnell Dockett, Arizona; B.J. Raji, Green Bay; Glenn Dorsey, San Francisco.
OLB: Robert Mathis, Indianapolis; Jadeveon Clowney, Houston; Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati; Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta; Zach Brown, Tennessee.
ILB/MLB: Sean Lee, Dallas; Derrick Johnson, Kansas City; Dannell Ellerbe, Miami; Jon Beason, New York Giants; Danny Trevathan, Denver.
CB: Charles Tillman, Chicago; Jason McCourty, Tennessee; Lardarius Webb, Baltimore.
FS: Micah Hyde, Green Bay.
SS: Eric Berry, Kansas City; James Ihedigbo, Detroit.
P: Dave Zastudil, Arizona.
Return: Tavon Austin, St. Louis; Trindon Holliday, New York Giants
1. Seattle (2-1). Does Russell Wilson feel pressure? Ever?
2. Cincinnati (3-0). Amazing performances continue with the rout of the Titans. What don't the Bengals do well right now? Andy Dalton even catches touchdowns. Gio Bernard is turning into a terrific all-around back. And look at the defense: In three games, opposing quarterbacks have a league-low 56.9 rating. Now the Bengals have the early bye, then … Bengals at Patriots in 13 days sure looks like it could be a great game.
3. Denver (2-1). Flip a coin with the Bengals for Nos. 2 and 3. Great effort by Denver in the Pacific Northwest, and an incredible comeback to force overtime. Not a killer loss.
4. Arizona (3-0). Three wins, by 1, 11 and 9 points. An average running game (3.9 per carry) and caretaker Drew Stanton making enough plays to win the past two weeks. The difference: The Cards’ defense is so much better than anyone thought it would be, holding foes to 2.9 yards per rush and a 57% completion rate. And not to number you to death, but check out the fourth-quarter combined score through three games: Arizona 30, foes 0.
5. San Diego (2-1). Danny Woodhead is not a minor loss. It’s a huge one. But Philip Rivers has been so good over the past 13 months. I just trust him to handle the loss of his pass-catching running back to injury and move the receptions to someone else. My money is on Donald Brown, the former Colt. I think offensive coordinator Frank Reich will give Brown an expanded role in some of the nickel packages. No one’s as quick as Woodhead in tight spaces, but Brown may be the best alternative.
6. Philadelphia (3-0). Nick Foles showed me a lot on Sunday, especially on a day when LeSean McCoy’s line was a bizarre 19 carries for 22 yards. Jordan Matthews came up big too. Really impressed with the Eagles’ versatility on offense, particularly when the offensive line is in shambles.
7. New England (2-1). It looked like Tom Brady got hit significantly 15 times by the Raiders on Sunday. Wait until the Bengals come to Foxboro in a couple of weeks.
8. Pittsburgh (2-1). Most impressive win of Week 3. For the Steelers to run for 224 yards against a top-five defense, on the road, and to have the Panthers wave a white flag by putting Derek Anderson in the game down 37-13 with six minutes left … a tremendous performance by a team I didn’t expect it from.
9. Atlanta (2-1). Matt Ryan is on pace for a 5,147-yard season. It’d be 50,147 if he could play Tampa Bay every week.
10. Baltimore (2-1). Steve Smith Sr. is averaging 16.1 yards per catch since becoming Steve Smith Sr., a yard and a half more than regular old Steve Smith averaged when he was known as Steve Smith. Steve Smith Sr. is 35, and not many 35-year-olds—never mind one like Steve Smith Sr., who was supposed to be losing his speed—are that productive.
11. Carolina (2-1). I can’t unsee what I saw last night. A debacle of a performance on special teams and defense mostly, and more injuries for an already-beat-up team. Now DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are all hurt. That is not what you want entering a schedule stretch of Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Atlanta. Not a gimme in the next eight weeks, and who’s going to run the ball?
12. Detroit (2-1). Highly impressive win over the big, bad (maybe) Packers. Watching how impressive the Lions were on defense (DeAndre Levy is a man), I wonder if they are finally turning the corner from being a team with great talent that always self-destructs to a team learning to handle success—and failure.
13. Indianapolis (1-2). Every NFL win is cool. But the Colts had to walk off the field in Jacksonville after the rout of the Jags thinking, Was that a JV team we just played?
14. San Francisco (1-2). “One of the most tense 49ers post-game locker rooms I’ve ever been in," San Jose columnist Tim Kawakami said last night, emerging from the Niners’ post-game room in Arizona. Strange game for the Niners, with a loss of poise we’re not used to seeing.
15. New Orleans (1-2). I give Mike Zimmer credit for playing the Saints tough. But there’s still something missing from the Saints. Not sure what to think of them now.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, running backs, Pittsburgh. With the Steelers’ season at a crucial early-season point because of an awful loss at Baltimore last week, Bell and Blount absolutely smoked the Panthers on Sunday night. Bell (21 carries, 147 yards, including an 81-yard run) and Blount (10 carries, 118 yards, including a 50-yarder) steamrolled what was formerly a good Carolina defense for a combined 265 yards. Pittsburgh is alive in the AFC North, a game in back of the formidable Bengals and tied with the Ravens, because they played like the Steelers of the Franco days.
Defensive Player of the Week
DeAndre Levy, linebacker, Detroit. When he stood up big Green Bay back Eddie Lacy for a safety in the second quarter at Ford Field on Sunday, it seemed to shut down the Packer offense for the day. During the last 40 minutes, the Pack had only four possessions—and didn’t score a point on any of them. Levy had 10 tackles, including the safety, and broke up two passes. As a playmaking outside ’backer with the size (238 pounds) to play inside, Levy has become almost as important to the Detroit D as the big guys up front—it’s just that no one knows it yet.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Devin Hester, punt returner/wide receiver, Atlanta. Hester turned a remotely competitive football game into a rout, and made history at the same time, Thursday night in his new home. Early in the second quarter he took off around left end on a sweep and sped through the Tampa defense for a 20-yard touchdown. Eight minutes later he fielded a punt on the Atlanta 38 and made mincemeat of the Bucs’ punt-coverage team. It was no contest as Hester weaved and sprinted down the left side for a 62-yard touchdown—the NFL-record 20th return touchdown of his career, breaking Deion Sanders’ record. Convenient, then, that Sanders sat on the NFL Network set post-game when Hester climbed up to discuss his record-breaking night. “You’re the best ever," Sanders told him. “You’re the best EVER."
Coach of the Week
Jeff Stoutland, offensive line coach, Philadelphia. Good job by Troy Aikman giving Stoutland props for getting a makeshift line ready to produce in a big way. With Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis and right tackle Allen Barbre already down (and regular right tackle Lane Johnson serving a four-game suspension for a substance-abuse violation), the Eagles suffered another body blow on the line on the first series of the second half, losing Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce to an abdominal injury. But with neophytes at left guard (Dennis Kelly), right tackle (Andrew Gardner) and center (David Molk), the Eagles still churned out enough production—six scoring drives in 11 offensive possessions—and 379 total yards in the 37-34 victory over Washington. Stoutland, a coaching lifer, was Nick Saban’s line coach at Alabama until taking a job on Chip Kelly’s staff before the 2013 season. He’s known as a perfectionist who doesn’t like excuses. I love what he told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane last year: “I learned from really, really good coaches when I was young. You know the one thing they all had in common—good coaches never get tired of coaching the same thing over and over and over and over and over. A lot of people are like, ‘You know what, I told you that like twice now, I’m done. I told you, now it’s your job to do whatever.’ I’m not satisfied. I’m a pig head. I’m like, ‘Until the guy gets it right and understands it, I haven’t done my job.’ ” He’ll need that approach with his line as beat-up as it is now.
Goat of the Week
Denarius Moore, wide receiver, Oakland. Easy call. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, down 16-9, was driving the Raiders to a potential tying touchdown in the final minutes at Foxboro, in a game the Raiders had no business being in—but were because their defense pestered and flattened Tom Brady all day. At the New England 12 with 59 seconds left, Carr threw underneath to Moore. It slipped through Moore’s hands, bounced off the chest of New England DB Logan Ryan and landed in the hands of Vince Wilfork. Ballgame. Moore’s lack of concentration cost the Raiders a real chance for the upset of the early season—and perhaps the entire season, when all is said and done.
Quotes of the Week
"I want a new commissioner to lead my league. I want a new commissioner to go out there and say the right things and be that leader because right now, Roger Goodell is not that, and I don't think he can ever be that. Roger Goodell needs to step down."
—Former New England linebacker and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi.
"So the NFL succumbed to Beer Pressure. How crazy is this: A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone for the NFL."
—Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, noting that Anheuser-Busch issued a statement that the recent spate of NFL domestic-violence is against the beer company’s “company culture and moral code." The benchings of Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Carolina's Greg Hardy followed.
Anheuser-Busch spends about $200 million a year with the NFL.
"The climate is changing quick. There was a lot of pressure put on a lot of people … Greg’s in a tough situation. He knows he put himself in it."
—Carolina coach Ron Rivera, on Greg Hardy, who won’t be with the team until his domestic-abuse case before a North Carolina jury is settled—and maybe not after that if he is found guilty. Rivera’s quote, and the banishment of Hardy, came a day after the Anheuser-Busch statement.
“We have a scar. This will be on us the rest of our lives."
—Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith, after one of the most embarrassing days in the history of the Bucs—and that is saying something—Thursday night. Tampa Bay trailed Atlanta 56-0 after three quarters and lost a division game 56-14.
“The facts are the facts: Fifty-seven domestic violence cases saw little to no action under Goodell’s ‘leadership.’ We know what happens when no one is watching: Goodell ignores domestic violence. He has made it clear he will not even consider resigning, bringing into question his basic judgment. So now, we call on all of the NFL’s sponsors to take a stand against domestic violence by withdrawing their support for the NFL until Goodell is out of office."
—Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, an organization that advocates for women’s right and fights sexism, after Goodell’s Friday press conference.
Headline of the Year
“Herm Edwards: Bucs Headed to the Super Bowl”
—ESPN.com, on May 29. Story is here.
For the record, the former NFL coach picked a Bucs-Steelers Super Bowl. You are not alone in genius-dom, Herm. I picked the Bucs to make the playoffs.
Stats of the Week
Stunning news Sunday morning: former Tennessee kicker Rob Bironas died overnight in a one-car accident in Nashville. Bironas’s SUV left the road while he was he traveling home, hit some trees and ended up upside-down in a ravine. He was 36. The Titans released him last March in a salary-cap move—he was due to make $3.1 million in salary and bonuses this season—and he’d just gotten married in June to Rachel Bradshaw, Terry Bradshaw’s daughter. I had tremendous respect for Bironas as a kicker. In 2006, with the Titans struggling at 3-7, Bironas hit a 49-yard field goal with seconds left to beat Eli Manning and the Giants 24-21. The next week, on a muddy field in Nashville, Jeff Fisher gave him the chance to try a 60-yard field goal against Peyton Manning and the Colts to win the game with seven seconds left. Bironas hit it, and the Titans won 20-17. “Tremendous kick," then-Colts coach Tony Dungy recalled Sunday. “He had seven or eight yards to spare.” He’s the seventh-most accurate kicker of all time, and there’s this evidence of what a great kicker he was: In his last seven seasons, he hit 21 of 27 field goals (77.8%) from 50 yards and out. Sad news about a good man.
The stat for Bironas that you should know is found in the All-Time NFL Records Section, on page 546 of the 2014 Official NFL Record and Fact Book:
Most Field Goals, Game
8 Rob Bironas, Tennessee vs. Houston, Oct. 21, 2007
Bironas opened the scoring in that game with a 52-yard field goal, and kicked four more before halftime (from 25, 21, 30 and 28 yards). He had 43- and 29-yarders in the second half, then watched Houston rally to take a 36-35 lead inside the final minute on a Sage Rosenfels 53-yard touchdown pass. The Titans hustled downfield and called a timeout with two seconds left and the ball at the Houston 11. Bironas went out to kick. At the last second, Houston called a timeout to freeze him. Didn’t work. At the final gun, Bironas kicked a 29-yard field goal to win it, 38-36. (Here's a 2007 SI.com feature on Bironas, published a few days after the game.)
The league has been in business for 95 seasons. Only one man has as many as eight field goals in a game.
This from a Marist/NBC poll of 606 adults, taken last week, on the state of the NFL today:
- Twenty-nine percent believe Roger Goodell should be forced to resign—which, conversely, could be taken (and I am sure will be by the league) that Goodell has 71% job approval. That’s not what it says, though. The question was whether Goodell should be forced to resign, not whether he is doing a good job at running the NFL.
- More men (55%) than women (50%) disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the domestic violence issue.
- Eighty-six percent say the current controversy will not change how much pro football they watch. Only 11% said they are likely to watch less of the NFL. (Three percent said it would make them watch more, oddly.)
- Among southerners polled, 51% feel the kind of corporal punishment used by Adrian Peterson on his son is right.
Jose Altuve is unbelievable. On Sunday, the Astros’ 5-foot-5 second baseman got his 219th hit of the season and passed Rod Carew (218 hits in 1974) as the second baseman with the most hits in one season in the past 80 years. He won’t catch Rogers Hornsby for the top spot, unless he has the most incredible week a player has ever had at the plate: Hornsby had 250 hits as a second baseman in 1922.
On another level of amazement: Look where Altuve, a Venezuelan toiling in anonymity in Houston, stands versus some of the best players in major league history when you compare the best season for hits that each one of these players had:
|Player||Top Hit Season||Year|
In his last 11 games, Altuve has 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 2, 2, 0, 3, 2 and 2 hits.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy were paid a combined $1,462,705 on Sunday to not play football.
In the NFL, you have to figure the first three quarters of every game, and most often more than that, are going to be wholly competitive. So the biggest indictment of the Tampa Bay season through the first three games would be the composite score of the Bucs’ games through three quarters:
Foes 79, Tampa Bay 14.
The Canadian Football League has nine teams—four in the Eastern Conference, five in the Western Conference.
The last-place team in the West, Winnipeg, is 6-6. The first-place team in the East, Hamilton, is 4-7. So the worst in the West is 1.5 games better than the best in the East.
The teams in the East, combined, are 13-32. The teams in the West: 39-20.
So, of course it makes sense that the best team in the West, Calgary (10-2), lost by 16 points to the East's Montreal (4-8) on Sunday.
Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week
The Philadelphia coach, on offensive diversity:
“We are equal opportunity distributors. How do you want to defend us? Doesn't matter. If there's a matchup we can exploit, we'll exploit it. We don't have a set number [of touches] that this needs to go here, this needs to go here. A lot of times, it's different guys, different games. And one game it's one guy, another game, it's another guy. So it's not by design that we are trying to go one way or another way … In the four years [at Oregon], one year the leading receiver was a wide receiver, one year it was a tight end and one year it was a running back. Here is what happened at Oregon. We were up 50 points in a lot of games, so we threw the ball less than ever. And I had that question last year a thousand times that you really emphasize the run. Well, when the score is 50‑3 at halftime, we are not coming out in the second half and jacking the ball around. So we had some running backs that were seventh string that were our scout squad guys that got more touches than an All-Pac-12 receiver in a game and that's because the game itself dictated that. I hope our running backs carry the ball more than we throw the ball this year in every single game, because if they do, that means we are winning every single game."
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Walking back from Central Park around noon Saturday, I spied a crazy-long line outside the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue. The line weaved in a maze of crowd-control stanchions, hundreds of people in the maze, and at the end of the maze, the line went east down 59th Street, a full city block to Madison Avenue.
It wasn’t too tough to guess what it was for—the rollout of the iPhone 6. I asked one of the security dudes: “How long a wait if I went to the end of the line right now?"
“Six hours," he said.
So I went to the end of the line and asked a couple of young guys, 20 or 23, waiting with their heads in their iPhone 5s, “Did you know you’ve got about a six-hour wait in front of you? That’s what the security guy told me."
“They told us it was about five," one of the guys said.
Well, that certainly makes all the difference.
Tweets of the Week
NFL officials "Thank goodness. We needed this game." #RiceGoodell
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) September 21, 2014
The MMQB columnist, as overtime in the thrilling Seattle-Denver game kicked off.
Shocked and saddened this morning at the passing of Rob Bironas. Such a nice guy. Sending prayers and love to his family... RB # 2
— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) September 21, 2014
The country recording artist and friend of the late 36-year-old Titans kicker. Bironas died in a one-car wreck late Saturday night in Nashville.
Has there ever been a worse month for a sports league than the first half of this month for the NFL? @mcuban please stop your voodoo
— DECManagement (@davidcanter) September 17, 2014
The agent for several NFL players with DEC Management, on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who was critical of the NFL last spring for being too big and too cocky for its britches.
Roger Goodell does NOT need to step down, that's ridiculous.
— Osi Umenyiora (@OsiUmenyiora) September 19, 2014
Boo this man...
— Sidney Rice (@sidneyrice) September 19, 2014
The ex-NFL wide receiver, during Roger Goodell's press conference Friday.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 3:
a. Nate Irving, stoning one of the toughest short-yardage backs in football, Marshawn Lynch, at the goal line on the Seahawks’ first series.
b. Arizona safety Deone Bucannon, not playing like a rookie. On the last play of the third quarter against the Niners, he didn’t fall for a Colin Kaepernick ball fake, stayed home and nailed the Niners QB for a loss. Veteran play.
c. Excellent call on Jonathan Martin's illegal block by ref Gene Steratore. Huge call, but a valid one.
d. The 49ers’ play of the game at Arizona: San Francisco safety Antoine Bethea forcing a Larry Fitzgerald fumble with a crushing hit. That should have given the visitors life, but the offense could never get enough going.
e. Matt Ryan, again. He’s on fire.
f. Hard-trying linebacker Paul Worrilow, who’s becoming a sideline-to-sideline force for the Falcons. Over the past 19 Atlanta games, no Falcon has more tackles.
g. Doubt you missed the ESPN story (by Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg) on the Ravens and Ray Rice, but in case you haven’t read it, you must.
h. Love this note from ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss: “Watching Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt line up as a goal-line tight end and catch a one-yard touchdown pass made me think that first-year head coach Bill O'Brien is utilizing Watt the way Bill Belichick once did with linebacker Mike Vrabel. O'Brien, of course, is a former Patriots assistant who has hired Vrabel as his linebackers coach in Houston. Not surprisingly, it turns out it was Vrabel who was a significant voice in suggesting to give Watt a chance in the role."
i. Great punchout by Alec Ogletree of the Rams, stripping the ball from Cowboys back DeMarco Murray.
j. Kirk Cousins, 7 of 7 on the first drive of the day at Philly. Sign of great things to come on the day.
k. Great camera work—I mean, absolutely great—by the FOX crew in Philadelphia, showing LeSean McCoy grabbing unsuccessfully for his helmet, which an equipment guy was keeping from him after a helmet-to-helmet hit. Then FOX had McCoy arguing strenuously to stay on the field instead of being taken to the locker room.
l. Nick Novak, the San Diego kicker, with his 23rd straight field goal.
m. Terrific ankle-sack by Andre Branch of the Jags on Andrew Luck. Great pursuit.
n. Great athletic pickoff and run by Antrel Rolle against the Texans.
o. Khalil Mack looks like such a playmaker. Oakland defense was superb in Foxboro.
p. Giants' Damontre Moore, with a game-changing blocked punt on Shane Lechler of the Texans.
q. Russell Wilson, with the game on the line.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 3:
a. Tampa Bay’s secondary. A horrible performance.
b. You paid Evan Dietrich-Smith to play like that, Tampa?
c. The Dion Jordan draft pick by Miami.
d. Danny Woodhead going off on a cart in Buffalo. One of my favorite players to watch—just gets so much out of his talent.
e. You need to block J.J. Watt, Justin Pugh. You can’t matador the guy the way you tried to in the first quarter.
f. Mike Zimmer’s going to go nuts today when he watches tape of the Saints’ second TD, Drew Brees to backup tight end Josh Hill. As wide open as a lumbering tight end could be.
g. The three-week Washington special-teams tally: one punt blocked, one extra point blocked, one 102-yard kickoff return allowed.
h. Terrible throw by Tony Romo, right in the hands of a baiting Janoris Jenkins. Easy pick-six.
i. Look at that late-first-half Jake Locker interception, running left, stopped, threw into heavy traffic in the end zone with a 1% chance (and that’s being charitable) of the pass being completed. It was intercepted. That’s not a question of accuracy. That’s a question of decision-making, and that was a terrible decision.
j. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s first-half passer rating at the Giants: 0.6. That’s a Dean Wormer passer rating.
k. Pack your stuff, Nate Freese. Can’t be missing 41-yard field goals in a dome.
l. New England’s pass protection. Big worry.
m. I don’t know whether I like it or don’t like it, but those pool shots in Jacksonville are just strange.
3. I think, in reaction to Adam Schefter’s report that the Ray Rice camp will contend the video that got him cut from the Ravens and barred by the NFL was doctored, I would say, Do you really think if some of the video was excised that it changes the crux of what America saw? I don’t think so.
4. I think it’s stunning to think this. But in light of the investigation of sexual assault against him, and in light of his shoplifting incident, and in light of his incredibly vulgar outburst while standing on a table (!) in front of scores of Florida State students, and in light of the NFL being on fire over its handling of domestic violence, and in light of any move by an NFL team to add a player with a history of misogyny, I think it’s possible that whenever Jameis Winston enters the draft—in either 2015 or 2016—there’s a good chance he will not be a first-round pick. This would be an incredible fall from grace for a player who looked like a sure first overall pick judged on talent alone. I am still trying to figure out what would cause a person, in public or private, to scream the words that came out of Winston’s mouth on the Florida State campus the other day. If I’m an NFL GM, it would scare the heck out of me. If I’m the wife of an NFL GM—or owner—thinking of drafting Winston, I’m asking some pointed questions.
5. I think, and I haven’t changed my mind in light of the Exempt List placements of Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, that Ray McDonald should not be barred from playing by the San Francisco 49ers. Yet. I need to see more than an accusation. The other day, Houston attorney and football blogger Stephanie Stradley, writing for The MMQB, had an excellent argument for due process. Read it here.
6. I think if you’re waiting for me to call for Roger Goodell to be fired, you’ll have to wait a while. I’m not into mob rule either. Let’s see what the Mueller report says about who knew exactly what about the Ray Rice video in the league office, and when they knew it, and about whether Goodell was badly misguided in his original ruling in the case or there were other factors at play. I strongly believe that on Friday he should have clarified what he meant when he told Christine Brennan of USA Today that the evidence from the video of Rice punching his fiancée in the Atlantic City elevator “was not consistent with what was described when we met with Ray and his representatives.” That will be a key component of the Mueller report. ESPN and the New York Daily News both reported Rice was unequivocal about what he told Goodell, that he struck Janay Palmer with his hand and knocked her backward in the elevator, causing her to lose consciousness. Goodell had two chances Friday to clarify that simple point, and he should have—among other issues he should have been more forthcoming about to a nation starving for news on this important issue.
7. I think, if you want to know the difference between Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer in terms of why one is playing and why one has been banished when neither has had his day in court, it is not complicated. McDonald met with the Niners and said he was not guilty of attacking his fiancée. The team, after some investigating of its own, believes McDonald’s story. Dwyer denied to the Cardinals much of the substance of the charges against him—that he head-butted his wife, causing her a broken nose. But in the course of looking into the story, the team discovered that Dwyer had threatened suicide multiple times. The team had four choices: release Dwyer, let him continue to play, de-activate him each week, or place him on the non-football-injury list. That list would allow Dwyer to get medical and psychiatric care to determine the extent of his troubles. The Cardinals chose the NFI list. Dwyer can't play for the Cardinals this year but would be allowed to sign with another team. That’s unlikely with the charges hanging over him, certainly. That was a nice escape clause Arizona had, because keeping Dwyer on the team might have been a media circus.
8. I think, in the annals of press release history, this one from the Dolphins on Friday is up there with the strangest. The headline:
Miami Dolphins Defensive End Dion Jordan Suspension Lifted
for Performance Enhancing Drug Violation.
Suspended Four Games by NFL for Violating Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances
Jordan, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, is rapidly becoming an albatross of a draft choice for Miami. After an unimpactful rookie year, he was suspended for four games in July, then had that suspension wiped out because the new league drug policy softened the league’s PED policy. But then he tested positive for substance abuse, and a new four-game suspension replaced the old four-game suspension that was lifted after two games. Got it?
9. I think the Broncos will be second-guessed for letting Wes Welker back into the lineup after his August concussion. This is how GM John Elway explains Welker playing a month after suffering the injury: “The guy who has all the answers is the player. He knows how he feels. We listen to the doctors, who are comfortable with him playing, and I have talked to Wes at length, and I know he is comfortable with playing. Unless we see something very out of line at this point, he will be able to play."
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. My best to the family of Dave Rahn, former 49ers PR man, who died of melanoma Thursday. Dave was a good, good man with a terrific work ethic, and he was as professional a person as I’ve dealt with in this business. Rest in peace, Dave.
b. I’ve had two significant melanoma surgeries, and it’s nothing to fool around with. Sunscreen and regular checkups are the only way to beat it—or to compete with it.
c. Utah 26, Michigan 10. Tough loss for Brady Hoke at home.
d. Loved this story about the constant search for football and academic intelligence by the Eagles, from Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal.
e. Great cover on The New Yorker this week too.
f. Tremendous job by Time’s Sean Gregory asking, “Is Football Worth It?” It’s a story about a high school football player who died in a game, and much more. Strongly recommended. (The story is not on line yet, but learn more here.)
g. And this one in Time Magazine, about the importance of sleep and the debilitating effects of sleep deprivation.
h. Good for you, Florida State, having some morals and suspending Jameis Winston for the full game, a big game against Clemson on Saturday night.
i. Ran the 6.2-mile Central Park loop, with the half-mile hill I dread, in 59:23 Saturday. Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, running that course in less than an hour. Last week I cut off the toughest mile on the run, the northern hill at the top of the park, and substituted that mile with a run on the flat streets of midtown Manhattan. On Saturday, I included the hill. Glad I did—but I paid for it when I woke up Sunday.
j. Coffeenerdness: I have sung its praises before, but you cannot go wrong with Ground Central Coffee on East 52nd Street in Manhattan. Comfortable, excellent espresso, and baristas who give you the time of day and then some. It's the kind of relaxed place that more coffee shops should be like.
k. Beernerdness: I have no beer insight this week. Bad week for beer. That just means, of course, that I'll have to make it up to you next week.
Who I Like Tonight
New York Jets 27, Chicago 17. Now here’s something I bet you didn’t know: The last time these two foes met on Monday night, 1991, Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh threw a touchdown pass as time expired in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime. In OT, Harbaugh’s one-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds left won it. Unfortunately, Harbaugh is not available tonight. (Though I can tell you he would like nothing more than to quarterback a Monday-nighter with the country watching.) I think the Jets’ front seven wins this one, with Jay Cutler under pressure all night from a devastating New York rush. That, plus some physical coverage on Brandon Marshall.
The Adieu Haiku
Russell Wilson wins.
He just does. No dazzling stats.
Low maintenance too.