Old Men and the (Previously) Unbeatens
Monday Morning Quarterback

Old Men and the (Previously) Unbeatens

It was vintage Tom Brady and Peyton Manning on Sunday, as each hit historic career milestones in victories over the league's last unbeatens. Plus, the Niners turn to their own aging star, the block that has Bruce Arians furious, the Fine Fifteen in flux, weekly awards and more
Winslow Townson for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

 “I want to play 'til I’m 41. And if I get to that point and still feel good, I’ll keep playing. I mean, what the hell else am I going to do? I don’t like anything else. It’s so hard to think of anything that would match what I do. Fly to the moon? Jump out of planes? Bungee-jump off cliffs? None of that s--- matters to me.”

—Tom Brady, sitting on the roof deck of his Boston Back Bay apartment, May 2009.

* * * 

So, how many more days of the grand masters will there be? How many more Sundays of Tom Brady, 37, shaking his finger at reality and saying, “Not yet," and going out and running an uptempo offense in a game the Patriots had to have—and in this case, beating the last unbeaten team in football and throwing for his 50,000th yard?

How many more Sundays of Peyton Manning, 38, controlling fields full of players 10 and 15 years younger? How many more days like Sunday in Denver, where he set a career mark for passing yards in a game (479) and threw his 500th touchdown pass—and 501st, and 502nd and 503rd—against the only other unbeaten team in football before Sunday?

Sunday was a highlight day in the NFL’s 95th season. It may turn out to be the year’s most scintillating set of games. The Bills shocked the Lions 17-14 at Ford Field in the last game of the 55-season Wilson ownership era, just a few miles from where Michigan native Ralph Wilson is buried. Dallas beat Houston in overtime, in a rivalry contested (stupidly) as often as presidents are elected in America. The Saints had no business losing at home to Tampa Bay, and they almost did, surviving 37-31 in overtime. Cleveland overcame the biggest deficit to win of any road team in history, nudging collapsing Tennessee. With the free world wondering if Jim Harbaugh would still be the coach of the 49ers by halftime, San Francisco beat old friend Alex Smith and ensured Harbaugh would keep his job for at least a couple of days. And aside from the record set by Manning, there was more drama at Peyton’s Place Sunday. Arizona coach Bruce Arians called a block by Denver’s Julius Thomas, which left Cardinals pass-rusher Calais Campbell with an MCL injury that could shelve him for a month, “the dirtiest play I’ve seen in my 37 years [in football].”

The drama was best in Foxboro. It often is.

Look: Tom’s the best quarterback in the game," Wilfork said. "You can have your opinion, everyone can have their opinion about how he’s washed up, whatever. I knew he would come through and play like this.

What was notable about the Patriots last Monday night was their inability to protect Brady, his inability to develop new targets while the old ones (Rob Gronkowski most notably) were either returning from injury or struggling to get open before the pass rush crushed the quarterback, and how utterly feeble the Brady-led offense looked. On Sunday night, the Patriots forced the issue from the first snap with a no-huddle look that attacked Cincinnati—a look a couple of Bengals said later they were ill-prepared for. He opened with a 20-yard strike up the seam to Brandon LaFell, then nine- and seven-yard smash runs by Stevan Ridley, then another throw up the seam to the man acquired for Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, tight end Tim Wright. Brady, on fourth-and-one from the Bengals' 5, snuck for four yards, and Ridley finished the first drive with a pile-drive one-yard TD. The second drive was more of the same, and it was 14-0 just 12 minutes into it, and that’s when I heard the chant loudly over the TV: “BRA-dy, BRA-dy, BRA-dy …"

No one could have figured 43-17, but you could have figured a win, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels enabling Wright—who showed some Aaron Hernandez football tendencies with his strength and athleticism—to be featured for the first time, with Gronkowski playing more than the 52% of the snaps he’d played in the first month, and with Ridley catching the Bengals off-guard (no excuse for it) with a collection of quick runs. The two tight ends, like the old days, combined for 11 catches, 185 yards and two touchdowns.

This is the way offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to play football now. In Wright, the Patriots finally have a tight end who knows the offense well enough to play significant time and become a downfield receiving threat. From the first series of the game, the Patriots used Gronkowski, Wright and blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui in two- and three-tight end sets. Collectively, they played 134 snaps, with Gronkowski finally looking like he was recovered from last winter's ACL surgery. As for Wright, think of how difficult it must have been for him, coming to New England a little over a month ago. He had to learn his third offensive system in 16 months, and part of learning a new system is forgetting a former system. On Sunday, you could tell the Bengals respected his athleticism and speed because they sometimes used cornerback Leon Hall to cover him. He could certainly be the invaluable piece to the offensive puzzle that the Patriots have been lacking, if this one game is any indication.

New England's offensive plan entering the game was very much like the old days: rely on the run, particularly getting Ridley on the edge, and get the athletic tight ends down the field. It was no coincidence, to me, that Gronkowski and Wright each had long gains on the first series. Expect more of that. Much more.

It was clear that the goal in this game, from those who play alongside Brady and those who sit in the stands, was as much support group for Brady as it was to get a win to retain AFC East supremacy. “We wanted to make Tom Brady look like Tom Brady tonight," Gronkowski said forcefully later.

Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected six times for 100 yards and a touchdown. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) Brady and Rob Gronkowski connected six times for 100 yards and a touchdown. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brady was detached, alone and adrift Monday night. Last night he was pugnacious, uber-involved, and as into a game as I’ve ever seen him. Late in the game, he and Vince Wilfork, the longest-tenured Patriots, were captured by the NBC cameras having a smiling, animated conversation. Early this morning, I asked Wilfork what it was about. “We were basically saying what a great team win it was," Wilfork said. “A great team win. Forget all the other stuff. We came to work, ignored the noise. We said were so proud of how we played, and our teammates. Look: Tom’s the best quarterback in the game. You can have your opinion, everyone can have their opinion about how he’s washed up, whatever. I knew he would come through and play like this tonight."

In Denver, Manning has more weapons and a better line than Brady, and Sunday was what we’ve come to expect from Manning: ridiculous production for a 38-year-old playing after four neck procedures. There is something so metronomic about Manning’s play. It’s like you’re going to have to drag him out of the game because he’s so good at it and because you can’t quite picture him doing anything else. He split his four touchdowns between Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas, and he didn’t seem particularly emotional about the 500-touchdown milestone, though he got a jab in at a teammate—My guess? Julius Thomas—in the process. “So any touchdown passes that I’ve thrown usually resulted in helping our team try to win the game or win the game,’’ Manning said. “I think about it that way―that it helped the team. But yeah, somebody asked me if for my first [touchdown pass], ‘Did we wear leather helmets?’ So, that was a nice free cheap shot there. I wouldn’t start that guy on your fantasy team next week. He’s not going to get a lot of balls next week. I’ll leave him nameless.”

What’s the end game for Manning? How far will he set the records into the stratosphere? How many more days will there be like this one, when two of the best quarterbacks of this, or any, generation, put their team on their backs and dominate an unbeaten?

For a clue, recall my summer conversation with Manning. He’s not looking years into the future, as Brady has been. He’s taking it a year at a time. “I’ve heard Drew Brees and Tom Brady say that they have this target, like, ‘I’m gonna play until I’m 45.'" Manning said in training camp. “I’m not in that position, I think because of my neck injury. But I think the smart way to handle it is, every March, I do this physical and we take a look at it. It’s the perfect time, because it says, ‘Hey, everything looks good.’ And also kind of allows me to go, I still want to go through a lifting, off-season schedule again. I do my neck check, but I do my heart check as well, my desire check. I like it when my heart says, Hey, let’s keep this going. I’ve been encouraged."

That’s good. Watching what we watched Sunday can’t get old.

Frank Gore delivered his second straight 100-yard game on Sunday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Frank Gore delivered his second straight 100-yard game on Sunday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Now for the rest of the news...

The Niners have their version of Brady/Manning.

His name is Frank Gore. And with the team in crisis mode over the last eight days, he’s come on strong. Over the first three weeks of the season, offensive coordinator Greg Roman seemed to be veering away from Gore (35 total carries in the team’s 1-2 start) and toward rookie Carlos Hyde and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (40 carries between them) on the ground, and a heavy dose of Kaepernick in the air. Returning to Levi’s Stadium for two vital games against teams playing well—Philadelphia and Kansas City—embattled coach Jim Harbaugh (I’m just going to permanently affix that adjective in front of Harbaugh from now on) and Roman decided to go back to the 31-year-old running back with no expiration date.

“So how do you think I’ve looked?” Gore asked from the Niners’ locker room after his second straight 100-yard game keyed San Francisco’s second straight win Sunday.

Like you’re carrying an anvil in each shoulder pad.

The Niners have won two tight games, 26-21 over Philadelphia and 22-17 over Kansas City. Gore had 100-yard games both weeks—and his value has been felt in the late stages. In the second halves of those games, Gore had 25 of his 42 total carries, for 130 yards. Hyde had 10 carries in each game, so Roman’s not forgetting about him. It’s just that, now, when the going is the toughest, the Niners realize they’re not ready to put Gore out to pasture yet.

“I still feel like I can do it at the highest level,” said Gore. “All offseason I kept hearing what I can’t do. That motivated me. I worked out in Miami with [young NFL backs] Lamar Miller and Gio Bernard, and competing with the young guys kept me young. I loved it. Now I feel great, and I feel I can carry the same load I always have.’’

Since Harbaugh took over in 2011, that’s been a pretty consistent load. Look at Gore’s numbers. Would you change the focus of the running game if you were the Niners?

Year Age Rushes Yards Per-carry avg.
2011 28 282 1,211 4.3
2012 29 258 1,214 4.7
2013 30 276 1,128 4.1
2014 pace* 31 246 1,168 4.7

 

I asked Gore about the controversy swirling around Harbaugh. FOX’s Jay Glazer reported Sunday that no matter the outcome of this season, it would be Harbaugh’s last with the team. That follows the reports coming from Deion Sanders and Trent Dilfer that multiple players on the Niners don’t like playing for Harbaugh.

“Are there guys in the locker room who have a problem with Jim Harbaugh?’’ I asked Gore.

“We don’t think that way,” Gore said. “As a football player I feel coach loves me. He’s a winner. He loves the game. We love the game. We’re a family, and we’re all football.’’

My feeling: Harbaugh thrives in turmoil, in dysfunction, in us-against-the-world. It gets tiresome to deal with that, and it’s difficult to try to plan for the long term when you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to deal with the moods of your coach. On the Niners’ side, they don’t want to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in football, or close, shy of his winning a Super Bowl. So if he does that this year, who knows? Maybe CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke can swallow hard and make a long-term deal and make it work. But the odds are stacked against that now. And an alternative such as Roman or defensive-line coach Jim Tomsula (who led a 38-7 win over Arizona as interim coach in the final game of 2010) would make for a peaceful life around the Niners’ facility.

But be careful what you wish for. Harbaugh has been the Niners’ coach for 53 regular-season games, and San Francisco has never had a three-game losing streak during that time. I covered Bill Parcells with the Giants, and he and GM George Young never got along famously. But they won. Owner Wellington Mara knew about the dysfunction, and he didn’t like it, but he liked Parcells, and he liked winning. That’s going to be the big test in San Francisco. Management might roll its eyes at the mercurial Harbaugh. But winning’s not easy. Harbaugh just makes it look that way.

* * *

Calais Campbell could miss a month with a sprained MCL. (Joe Mahoney/AP) Calais Campbell could miss a month with a sprained MCL. (Joe Mahoney/AP)

Bruce Arians has a point.

At first glance, the block that got Calais Campbell hurt in the Denver-Arizona game didn’t look bad. An illegal chop block is customarily one in which a defensive player is being blocked in the upper body by an offensive player, and a second offensive player then hits the defender below the waist. Campbell wasn’t engaged with a blocker when Julius Thomas hit him low, near the knees, and caused what was preliminarily diagnosed as a sprained MCL that could have him out for a month.

But as Mike Pereira explained on FOX, the block certainly was illegal. “It’s called a ‘lure block,’ ” Pereira said early this morning. “Chop blocks are usually the high-low combination blocks, except for this one exception. If an offensive player assumes a pass-blocking posture across from a defensive player, the defensive player is going to assume he’s pass-blocking him. Then it’s illegal for another blocker to hit him low. It’s illegal and probably will result in a big fine, I would think.”

Pereira refers to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 3 in the NFL’s Digest of Rules. The rule that applies here says: “… Chop Blocks are illegal, including in the following situations: A1 [offensive player one] chops a defensive player while A2 [offensive player two] confronts the defensive player in a pass-blocking posture but is not physically engaged with the defensive player (a lure).’’

Arians was seething Sunday night, and I don’t blame him. He’s already lost so many major pieces on his defense, and he’s down to his third-string quarterback after injuries shelved both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, and then Patrick Peterson (ankle) was lost for the game in Denver. Campbell was his one remaining impact front-seven player, and for him to be knocked out on an illegal play obviously was going to burn Arians.

• VIDEO: One-on-one with Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles

Around the league …

Watkins' catch set up the game-winning kick. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Watkins' catch set up the game-winning kick. (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Sammy Watkins and Buffalo’s legacy game. How does Kyle Orton walk onto a new team with a new offense he hasn’t run, start a game six weeks later against a hot defense, and find a way to win on the road? With some help from his friends. With the game in Detroit tied at 14 and less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Orton needed about 25 yards to put the Bills in field-goal range. He threw a crossing route to  Sammy Watkins, but the throw was behind the streaking rookie. Watkins reached back, flipped the ball into the air and toward himself, and hauled it in. What a catch. Gain of 20. That would have to be enough, and it was. Dan Carpenter’s 58-yard field goal won the game.

“I could get one hand on the ball,” Watkins said from Detroit, “and I knew it was a catch we needed. Kyle put the ball where I could get it all day. In the huddle before that last drive, we were all like, ‘The defense has been playing so great, let’s go out and win this game ourselves.’ ”

Watkins, playing his fifth NFL game, already gets the Buffalo thing. He said the win was for the family of the late Ralph Wilson; the team will be officially sold on Wednesday at a league meeting in New York, and so this game was the last one in a 55-season ownership run for the Wilson family. “This game was for what Mr. Wilson stood for, and for his legacy,” said Watkins.

Calvin Johnson is hurting. Johnson aggravated an ankle injury against Buffalo, and I’m hearing he could miss a week or two because of it. That would probably be a smart move by Detroit coach Jim Caldwell, because in 37 snaps two Sundays ago against the Jets and 28 snaps Sunday against the Bills, Johnson was invisible. Totals: three targets, three catches, 19 yards, no touchdowns. The Lions should concentrate on getting Johnson healthy the next two weeks, hold him out against Minnesota and New Orleans, and hope he can play in 20 days in London against the Falcons. Detroit also could be without Reggie Bush (ankle) Sunday at Minnesota. The Lions finished the game with a running back named George Winn on Sunday. He’s on his sixth team in 17 months, and the Lions may have to ride him until Bush and the concussed Joique Bell are ready to return.

A significant gathering Wednesday. Coming up at the NFL fall meeting Wednesday in lower Manhattan: The sale of the Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula for $1.4-billion will be approved … Owners and prominent club officials will be the first team personnel to take the one-hour Domestic Violence training class that all NFL employees will be required to take this fall … Lots of discussion on the new personal-conduct policy will occur, including a debate over whether a leave with pay (Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson) should bring any cap relief to teams wanting to replace a player out for several weeks or longer … Roger Goodell is due to brief owners on the status of the league’s progress on the domestic-violence front … Owners will also hear updates on international games and the real money involved in the DirecTV deal made last week.

Briefly … The Giants head into a crucial stretch (at Philadelphia, at Dallas) with two important rookies playing a lot: fourth-round running back Andre Williams and first-round receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (If you add second-round left guard Weston Richburg, that makes three who will be crucial to Eli Manning come Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.) “There’s no time to analyze whether I’m really ready or not,” Williams (whose rookie journey The MMQB followed this offseason) during his told Michael Eisen of Giants.com. Look at the newbies on offense right now, in key spots in the 30-20 win over Atlanta: Beckham (35 snaps, four catches, a touchdown), Williams (36 snaps, 65 rushing yards, one touchdown), Richburg (all 68 snaps), tight end Larry Donnell (52 snaps, no catches after his three-TD game last week) … Last three games: Colts 105, Foes 47 … I’d play rookie QB Zach Mettenberger right now if I were Ken Whisenhunt. No sense in delaying the inevitable. It’s a hard game, and there’s no way Whisenhunt is going to be able to trust Jake Locker to stay healthy, even if the hand injury he suffered against Cleveland on Sunday is minor … I’ve seen enough of Brian Hoyer to know he deserves a legitimate chance to win the quarterback job into the future for Cleveland. He’s been unflappable. His teammates love him. I’m not saying he’ll be a great player. I’m saying he has a chance to be the answer to the question they’ve been asking in Cleveland since drafting Tim Couch in 1999 … Good week for the Saints to have a bye. Tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) can heal … The MMQB's Robert Klemko was in San Diego to witness the latest Jets mess. Read his story here. It’s amazing that, in 31 attempts, Geno Smith and Mike Vick combined for 74 passing yards Sunday at San Diego. First shutout of the NFL season: Chargers 31, Jets 0 … I’ll have a DeMarco Murray/Cowboys story atop the column Tuesday, so come back for that.

The news of the week that got lost.

Matt Prater is now free to sign with any team after the Broncos released him last week. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Matt Prater is now free to sign with any team after the Broncos released him last week. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The Broncos cut—arguably—the best kicker in football. Last year Matt Prater kicked a 64-yard field goal. It broke a 43-year-old record for the longest field goal in NFL history (set by Tom Dempsey in 1970 and matched three times since). Prater led the league with 81 touchbacks and converted 100 of 101 kicks (75 extra points, and all field goals but a 52-yarder wide left on Nov. 17). But then he was suspended for violating the league’s alcohol policy; he had a DUI in 2011 and had an unspecified violation this offseason, leading to the four-game ban. The Broncos’ kicker now will be Brandon McManus, acquired from the Giants for a 2015 seventh-round pick before this season. Gutsy move by John Elway. Though McManus has a great leg—of his first 16 kickoffs, 14 went for touchbacks—he’s totally unproven on field goals. At the time Elway made the move on Friday, McManus’s longest NFL field goal was 24 yards. (Against the Cardinals on Sunday, McManus went 2-for-3, connecting on two 40-plus-yarders and missing one from 53). Two major reasons for the move: 1) The Broncos lost trust in Prater, who had to fight to get his suspension reduced to four games at the start of the season; the Broncos didn’t want to be left in the lurch if Prater had another alcohol violation and got suspended for a full year. 2) He was due to make $2.3 million for the final 12 games of the season; McManus’s salary as an undrafted rookie is $420,000—a key factor with some big contracts coming due (Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Pot Roast Knighton) for Denver in 2015. The Broncos save $3.25 million next season with Prater off the books now. Still, Elway is taking a risk, and he knows it.

The Rams gave the quarterback job "for the remainder of the season" to Austin Davis. I suppose it’s not a “wow" that Shaun Hill had the job taken from him after about 15 minutes, but Davis has played better than anyone in St. Louis thought he would (completion percentages in his three games: 70, 76, 71), and during the Rams’ bye week Jeff Fisher, who hates quarterback controversies and thinks they distract a team, decided to not make this a temporary thing. “We’re going to go ahead and start Austin for the remainder of the season. It’s not that Shaun lost the job, it’s that Austin earned an opportunity to keep it … Yes, I did say that Shaun was our quarterback. My job is to make the right decisions. Austin deserves it, and I’m not going to have a short hook." To me this says Fisher and the Rams were tepid believers in Hill in the first place, and chose the other quarterback from Southern Mississippi (there has not been a long line of them since Brett Favre) as their guy for the rest of the year. Or until he stinks for two or three weeks. Fisher’s right: He won’t have a quick hook with Davis, but by giving the job to Hill then snatching it back when Hill was healthy, Fisher showed he will be ruled by how Davis plays.

Quietly, every franchise in the NFL just improved its bottom line by $24.2 million a year, without any effort whatsoever. The new deal the NFL signed Wednesday with DirecTV, an eight-year contract worth a minimum of $12 billion (I hear it’s slightly more than that) beginning in 2015, is an increase in rights fees for satellite TV from $1 billion to $1.5 billion per year. That $500-million-per-year increase nets out to $15.6 million per team. Add to that the new $275 million this year from CBS for doing the Thursday night package ($8.6 million per team) and you’ve got $24.2 million a year more in found money for NFL teams from TV revenue alone. (To be clear, the DirecTV contract starts in 2015, and the $275 million will certainly be the floor that the NFL accepts from whichever network does the Thursday night package in 2015.)

• JENNY VRENTAS: Why London? And can the NFL make it work?

By Wednesday, the long-term future of the Bills (and maybe a new downtown stadium) will be assured. Terry Pegula, 63, who has made his fortune in the natural gas and fracking businesses, and wife Kim are likely to be approved in a landslide by the NFL’s 31 owners at the annual fall meeting in New York City. He’s buying the Bills for $1.4 billion, almost $500 million more than their appraised value, and word on the NFL street is he’d like to oversee construction of a new stadium in downtown Buffalo, near the hockey arena where his Sabres—he owns them too—play. Think of the inflation of franchises in less than a generation. In 2000 the Jets were sold to Woody Johnson for $635 million. New York is the biggest city in the country. Buffalo is 73rd-biggest, behind Henderson, Nev., and Plano, Texas. If you rank by TV markets, Buffalo is 52nd (because of its surrounding counties). But if the NFL franchise in Buffalo is worth $1.4 billion, what are the franchises in New York worth? What would the Cowboys sell for?

• STAYING PUT: Life-long Bills fan Luke Russert on what the Bills mean to Buffalo.

It’s only 38 months late, but who’s counting? Testing on NFL players for human growth hormone will begin today, more than three years after the owners and players agreed to a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with provisions for such testing. The details had them bogged down for years and got Roger Goodell and De Smith hauled in front of Congress to explain the foot-dragging. But on Friday, NFL Players Association president Eric Winston sent a letter to all players explaining that beginning today, five players on eight teams per week will be tested randomly. So each team can expect to have five players per month, in essence, tested going forward. “Our goals during the long and hard process of collective bargaining were fairness, transparency, and safety," Winston wrote. “We are proud to say that as a result of our new agreements, the game is cleaner, but also that players’ rights have been significantly advanced."

* * *

And now a Rahm Emanuel sighting in MMQB.

Talked to three people well-informed about the draft's move from New York City to Chicago next spring, and all three said the same thing: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel was the driving force behind Chicago’s bid. “He and the Chicago group were incredibly passionate,” said the league’s senior vice president of events, Peter O’Reilly. “He was huge in helping us re-imagine the event as not only the draft but a fan festival serving the entire Midwest. There are eight franchises within driving distance of Chicago.” I talked to Emanuel on Friday about why he was so intent on getting the draft for his city:

The MMQB: How often did you meet with Roger Goodell, and what was your message to him?

Emanuel: I met, well, three to five times, most recently on Sunday [in Chicago]. I called him quite a bit. I think Roger’s going to change his cell number, he’s heard from me so much. I just told him, Roger, you got my cell number, you bet on this city and I promise I will answer every question. And when the event is on, stuff happens, right? Stuff’s gonna happen. Here’s my cell, office number, my email. There is only one thing you have to do: Contact me, and it will be fixed.

The MMQB: Why did you want the draft so much for Chicago?

Emanuel: The draft is a big deal, a really big deal. Sports are great for a city and a region. I strained my shoulder banging on the glass at a Blackhawks game. I knew this would be a great event for Chicago and for the heartland of the country. What better way to showcase our great city in front of 50 million TV viewers at the end of April, when nothing else is really going on? And we’re used to big events. We put on the largest NATO conference in the country—62 heads of state—and a huge Lollapalooza music event. I told Roger, “You want the draft in a place that’s great at putting on big events.”

The MMQB: Are you concerned with the recent spate of domestic violence incidents in the NFL?

Emanuel: No, and here’s why: I am building the first new domestic violence shelter in the city in the last 10 years—100 beds. My whole career I have fought domestic violence, and we need to take it out of the darkness. The NFL is addressing it head-on, and we’re going to continue to do that too.

With much of San Diego's backfield banged up, rookie Branden Oliver took advantage of the opportunity and totaled 182 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) With much of San Diego's backfield banged up, rookie Branden Oliver took advantage of the opportunity and totaled 182 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Fine Fifteen

At this point I might as well just pick this thing out of a hat. I mean, what do you do with New England? Dallas? San Francisco? Detroit? Here goes.

1. Seattle (2-1). Those who study the Fine Fifteen closely will find it interesting that this is the third consecutive Monday that Seattle has been number one with a 2-1 record. That happens when you play your third game on a Sunday, have a bye the next week, and play on Monday night the following week.

2. Denver (3-1). Best offensive day in history for the Broncos—by a yard. And it happened against the previously unbeaten Cards.

Where Did It All Go Right?
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3. San Diego (4-1). Wait a minute. Best rushing defense in football (Jets) takes the field at Qualcomm on Sunday, and the Chargers basically clinch the game before halftime when their fourth running back, Branden Oliver, runs 15 yards through the defense for a touchdown to make it 21-0, capping a 91-yard drive. Not a good day for the Jets, but the Chargers had a lot to do with it in the 31-0 rout.

4. Dallas (4-1). All those who had the Cowboys on a four-game winning streak after losing their opener, raise your hands. Okay, the two of you out there in Abilene with hands raised, just stop. You’re lying.

5. Philadelphia (4-1). I agree with those who are uneasy about the Eagles’ offense. Last two games: 22 offensive possessions, two offensive touchdowns, 565 yards. That’s no juggernaut.

Nick Foles and the Eagles survived a furious Rams comeback attempt on Sunday. (Al Tielemans/SI/The MMQB) Nick Foles and the Eagles survived a furious Rams comeback attempt on Sunday. (Al Tielemans/SI/The MMQB)

6. Cincinnati (3-1). No Bengals jokes this morning, just this bit of reality that coach Marvin Lewis and coordinators Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther must pass on to the players this week: We went to New England, a desperate team. We never matched their aggressiveness. We never fought them. We let them dictate to us. Championship teams don’t do that, and that’s why we’re not a championship team right now.

7. San Francisco (3-2). Somehow I think Jim Harbaugh loves all the mayhem around his job. Because Jim Harbaugh loves mayhem.

8. Kansas City (2-3). The stage was set so perfectly for Alex Smith to be the hero in his return to San Francisco, first-and-80-to-a-win with 2:12 to go and the Chiefs down five … but then he threw an easy pick to Perrish Cox of San Francisco. The Chiefs are going to be a tough opponent the rest of the way, with Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali wreaking havoc regularly.

9. New England (3-2). Maybe the craziest bookend week of the Belichick Era. It began with a 41-14 loss at Kansas City that may not have been that close, and wound its way through a week of press-conference mayhem, went “on to Cincinnati" and the Patriots dominated the last unbeaten team in football Sunday night, 43-17. Football is a funny game.

10. New York Giants (3-2). Average score of the last three games, all wins: Giants 35, HOU/WAS/ATL 17. Big one next Sunday at the Linc: Giants at Eagles.

11. Arizona (3-1). Cards won with Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, and were competitive Sunday at Denver with Logan Thomas. Credit to coaching, and to the passers. And as Alex Flanagan reported on NBC, Palmer is finally getting some regeneration on the nerve that’s been bothering him and kept him from throwing the ball well for the past three weeks. He could be ready to play Sunday at home against Washington. "Could" being the operative word, because nerve regeneration is an unpredictable business.

12. Indianapolis (3-2). Great defensive performance in the 20-13 shutdown of the Ravens. And now it gets hard in the next quarter of the season: at Houston Thursday, then Cincinnati at home, then roadies at Pittsburgh and the Giants.

13. Green Bay (3-2). Welcome back to dominance, Eddie Lacy.

14. Baltimore (3-2). C.J. Mosley, the first-round pick from Alabama, with his first huge NFL game: 14 tackles, one pick of Andrew Luck.

15. Buffalo (3-2). I just love the fact that the Bills have been owned by the Wilson family of suburban Detroit for 55 seasons, and in the last game of the Wilson reign, the Bills played in Detroit for the fifth time ever and won a thriller on a 58-yard field goal in the final seconds. Perfect. Oh, and the Bills host the Patriots on Sunday, with the winner holding sole possession of first place in the AFC East.

Hoyer (Andy Lyons/Getty Images) After Sunday's comeback win, Brian Hoyer is now 5-2 as the Browns' starting QB. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Award Section

Offensive Player of the Week

Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver. Manning had played 266 games in his storied career before Sunday and had lots of notable statistical days. On Sunday, in the 41-20 win over previously unbeaten Arizona, he threw for a career-high 479 yards (previous high: 472), and his four touchdown passes put him over 500 for his career. Now with 503 touchdowns, he trails Brett Favre by five for the NFL’s all-time mark … and his next outing is Sunday, just off Broadway—at the Meadowlands against the Jets. More likely he’ll break the mark at home, either against the 49ers in two weeks or in the game after that, against San Diego, on a short-week Thursday game.

Brian Hoyer, quarterback, Cleveland. Competing with one of Peyton Manning’s greatest days is some feat, but Hoyer deserves it. Down 28-3 in Nashville with 31 minutes to play, Hoyer led the Browns on a 26-0 run to finish the game, with scoring drives of 90, 56, 67 and 42 yards (plus a safety). He threw touchdown passes of 17 yards and six yards to Travis Benjamin in the final seven minutes to win. For the day, Hoyer was 21 of 37 for 292 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception.

Defensive Player of the Week

Bjoern Werner, outside linebacker, Indianapolis. Several Colts could have won this—the irrepressible Cory Redding was close—but I give it to Werner this week because he’s such an important element to what the Colts need to do, and he’s playing in place of Robert Mathis, out for the year with an Achilles injury. This would have been the first game back in the lineup for Mathis after his four-game suspension. In his place, Werner, the first-round pick from 2013, had two sacks, six tackles and a deflected pass in the Colts’ very physical 20-13 win over the Ravens.

Philly Brown scored the first punt return touchdown for the Panthers since 2003. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images) Philly Brown scored the first punt return touchdown for the Panthers since 2003. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Special Teams Players of the Week

Philly Brown, wide receiver/punt-returner, Carolina. Crazy play in the first quarter at Carolina against Chicago: Brown, undrafted out of Ohio State, was back to return a punt at his 20, waiting, waiting, waiting for the ball to come down when—wham!—Chicago pursuit man Teddy Williams smashed into Brown, knocking him away before the ball arrived. A flag flew, obviously on Williams for interfering with Brown’s opportunity to catch the punt. But when Brown saw the ball lying on the ground, he picked it up and ran 79 yards for the first points of the game—which, fittingly, ended up a seven-point Carolina win.

Tim Masthay, punter, Green Bay. You look at the score—42-10—and you say, “You can’t give the winning punter an award after a rout like that.” Yes I can. It’s not just his six punts averaging 50.7 yards; that kind of production happens regularly with the great legs NFL punters have. But the Vikings had just nine yards, total, on returns, and Minnesota took over at its 14-, 11-, 20-, 12-, nine- and 10-yard line after the six punts. With the third-string quarterback playing for Minnesota, it’s pretty easy to understand how big of a factor Masthay was Thursday night—he gave Christian Ponder a very, very long field almost every time he took possession at Lambeau.

Coach of the Week

Brad Seely, assistant head coach/special teams coordinator, San Francisco. San Francisco ball, fourth and four feet at the Niners’ 29, 13 minutes to play, Kansas City up 17-16. Seely put the punt team on the field, with upback and safety Craig Dahl as the personal protector. Think of the risk of a missed fake here—Kansas City would get at least a field goal and a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Seely called the fake, and the ball was snapped perfectly to Dahl, who bulled forward for three yards and the first down. Five minutes later, the Niners kicked the go-ahead field goal. They’d go on to win, 22-17.

Coach Jim Harbaugh had to approve the fake, but Harbaugh trusts his coaches most often in situations like this. If Seely felt good about the call, Harbaugh would too. So he signed off on it.

Goat of the Week

Alex Henery, kicker, Detroit. This is the easiest goat of the season. Henery won’t be in Detroit very long—probably not past this morning—after missing 44-, 47- and 50-yard field goals in a game the Bills stole at Ford Field 17-14.

Quotes of the Week

I

“I think our fans are excited. Hopefully none of them are in the ER."

—Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, after the Browns, who trailed 28-3 with a minute left in the first half, rallied for a 29-28 win at Tennessee.

II

“I apologize to our fans, those that are left. We could have had Joe Namath and it wouldn’t have been any different today."

—Jets coach Rex Ryan, after the 31-0 loss to the Chargers in San Diego.

III

"I don’t blame them for hating me now."

—New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who was the toast of the French Quarter last fall and whose unit has been regularly booed this year.

IV

“They got this sign in front of the building that says: 'Commitment to Excellence.' They ought to take it down. It's false advertising right now. There's no commitment to excellence. There's a commitment to mediocrity right now. And that's the problem. You need to change the culture and the environment … You're not going to beat anybody until you find a quarterback, and you find some guys in the locker room that go around and demand perfection, demand excellence."

—Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. This is not a rare shot by Gannon, who is passionate about his old team. I’ve heard him get angry about the softness of the Raiders.

V

"It is not okay for you to fade away quietly and die. There is a significant sense of urgency for this cause. I want to see Steve Gleason step up on stage to accept an Academy Award for this film.”

—Former Saints linebacker and Gleason teammate Scott Fujita, at an event in Manhattan last week debuting the trailer for the documentary on the life and times of Gleason and his fight against ALS.

VI

"You want Joe Buck and Troy Aikman doing your games. Nothing against David Diehl. He's a helluva kid."

—Arizona coach Bruce Arians on Buck and Aikman calling his game Sunday against Denver. The Cardinals might have to get used to the number one FOX crew doing some of their games now, instead of lesser ones.

VII

"I quit trusting my gut a long time ago. Son of a b---- has been lying to me forever.’’

—Arians, asked early in the week if his gut feel was that Carson Palmer would play on Sunday.

Stat of the Week

I

The Lions have missed eight field-goal attempts this season. The other 15 teams in the NFC have combined to miss 15.

Lions kickers: 4-12, (33.3%).

Rest of the NFC kickers: 110-125, (88.0%).

II

Lots of discussion this week about the efficacy of the Thursday night football games, which have been downright awful this year. Average margin of victory: 29.0, with no game closer than 20 points. As I wrote Friday, if you want to discuss the dissolution of the concept because of player safety, I am all for that. If you want to kill the games because they’re not competitive, well, this year is an outlier so far. The numbers in the seven seasons the NFL has expanded Thursday night football beyond Thanksgiving:

  2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Thursday games 10 9 10 10 17 17 5
Average margin of victory 16.0 10.0 12.9 10.0 13.1 10.4 29.0
Home team record 6-4 5-4 6-4 8-2 8-9 10-7 4-1

 

Many of you have asked: Why doesn’t the league schedule teams coming off byes to play all the Thursday night games? It’s a valid question, but the solution isn’t that easy, for these reasons:

What would the league do in Weeks 2 and 3, when playing off a bye would mean two teams would have a bye in Week 1 and two teams would have a bye in Week 2? Teams would fight to not have a bye that early. They'd look at the schedule and see teams in their division having a mid-season bye to get their beat-up guys healthy, and they’d scream about it, rightfully so.

The NFL now mandates the teams that play in London have their byes the following week. That would have to change, or the league would have to have two additional teams on byes every time a game is played in London.

This wouldn’t be a reason to not institute that rule, but players wouldn’t like having their bye weeks affected by the specter of playing early in the week the next week. Imagine returning from the bye on a Monday morning, and having to install the game plan and get ready for your game. Now, coaches could make players return to work on Sunday prior to a Thursday game off a bye week, but I can tell you that would not be a popular practice among players (or coaches). The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates four consecutive days off during bye weeks. The rules states: “Such four-day period must include a Saturday and a Sunday unless the Club is scheduled to play a game on the Thursday following the bye week, in which case players may be required to report to the Club on the Sunday preceding the Thursday game. In such an event, the four-day period shall be Wednesday through Saturday."

I doubt the Thursday night routs will continue. But the time to judge this concept is not after one month.

Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

No road team in the 95-season history of the NFL had ever come back from a deficit of 25 points or more until Cleveland did it at Tennessee on Sunday.

II

The NFL has had four meetings with former players giving their input to Roger Goodell and NFL VP Troy Vincent on the domestic-violence issue. Last Monday a group of 10 NFL alums convened inside the NFL office with Goodell and Vincent, including former defensive tackle Christian Peter. He was drafted by New England in 1996 only to have his rights relinquished by the team a week after the draft for his history of misdeeds with women—including two accusations of rape while a player at Nebraska, groping a woman in a Nebraska bar, and grabbing a woman’s throat in a Nebraska bar in a separate incident. He has since undergone treatment and therapy for alcohol abuse and anger management. Why did the league invite Peter? I’m told it’s because league officials want to hear testimony from those who have been involved in abuse of women and then, theoretically, have turned their behavior around.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

Stayed at a Connecticut hotel Saturday night. Checked in around 6 and turned on the TV to watch the end of Alabama-Ole Miss. During a commercial, I flipped through the 50 channels to see how Nats-Giants was progressing. The TV didn’t have FOX Sports 1. No Nats-Giants then.

After dinner I came back to the room. I didn’t want to miss Cards-Dodgers—not if it was going to be anything like the Friday night masterpiece, one of the best baseball games of the year. I flipped through the channels again. No MLB Network. There was HGTV, SyFy, OWN, WE TV, the Hallmark Movie Channel. But no baseball.

Neither baseball playoff game was on my TV Saturday night. How can Major League Baseball put its showcase games on channels that don’t make the cut on a 50-channel cable system at a hotel?

Tweets of the Week

I

ESPN’s beat man on the Bills’ defensive coordinator (and former Lions head coach), after Buffalo beat Detroit with a 58-yard field goal in the final seconds.

II

III

The Washington Post columnist after Angels superstar Mike Trout started the American League playoffs 0-for-8, including a game-ending strikeout Friday night in a 4-1 loss to the Royals.

IV

Players Tribune is a new website started by Derek Jeter that he says will enable players from all sports to talk directly to fans without a media filter (hmmmmm … that is not the first time I have heard of such a wonderful concept!).

V

Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have won two straight amid reports the coach won't be back with the team after the 2014 season ends. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have won two straight games amid reports the head coach won't be back with the team after the 2014 season. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:

a. This story about Jim Harbaugh by Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com.

b. How cool, Pat Bowlen emerging to be in his 31st Denver Broncos team photo Saturday morning. Bowlen, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, surrendered his active owner duties earlier this year.

c. Kyle Orton.

d. Adam Schefter reporting that Ray Rice will talk to investigators for the league and the NFLPA at the same time. Smart idea. No margin for confusion there. Hope there’s a transcript, and that we see it.

e. Jay Glazer’s unequivocal report that Jim Harbaugh absolutely will not return as Niners coach in 2015.

f. Alshon Jeffery’s one-handed catch on the sideline. Again. What hands on Jeffery.

g. Incredible throw by Nick Foles, completing a pass to Zach Ertz while parallel to the ground.

h. Indianapolis defensive tackle Cory Redding, who was in Joe Flacco’s face for much of the first half. Great penetration.

i. Mike Patterson of the Giants, with same penetration, stoning Steve Jackson inside the 5.

j. Eli Manning, who kept telling everyone the Giants’ offense would be fine, and no one believed him, and he’s turning out to be right.

Odell Beckham Jr. caught four balls for 44 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. (Al Bello/Getty Images) Odell Beckham Jr. caught four balls for 44 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

k. The legitimate lift Odell Beckham Jr. provided the Giants in his first game.

l. What a save by Tony Romo, escaping J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus with a nimble shovel pass to Jason Witten before getting sandwiched.

m. The superb screen from Drew Brees to Pierre Thomas, with Brees sucking in five Bucs. Touchdown. No one throws a prettier screen than Brees.

n. Luke Kuechly tormenting Matt Forte.

o. Jordan Matthews, the Eagles' rookie receiver, who plays like an instinctive vet.

p. What a catch by Cleveland's Taylor Gabriel way down the right side, with Jason McCourty hanging on him.

q. Prettiest throw of the day: Mike Glennon rolling left and, just before stepping out of bounds, throwing a beautiful completion 15 yards downfield.

r. Philip Rivers, who somehow gets better as he gets older.

s. The New England offensive line. No unit took more guff last week (70% of it justified), and the five men kept Tom Brady mostly clean and paved the wave for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to have the biggest rushing performance New England has had in 2014 (220 yards).

2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 5:

a. The Bengals coming up so, so small.

b. The Rams not covering Jeremy Maclin, running free for the end zone and catching a touchdown pass with no defender in the same area code. Mind-numbing.

c. Jake Locker’s durability. Or lack thereof.

d. Same Jay Cutler, next week.

e. Re the Cowboys' second-to-last drive of the regulation: How does a team get a delay of game coming out of a timeout?

f. Logan Mankins, beaten on a stunt for the crucial safety by Saints pass-rusher Junior Gallette.

g. The phony running-into-the-kicker penalty on Jason Pierre-Paul.

h. More “bad luck” for DeMarco Murray, I guess. Fourth time in five weeks he’s been unlucky with a lost fumble.

i. Every time I see the Bucs’ numbers, I wonder: Who signed off on those unintelligible digits?

j. New Bear Teddy Williams, interfering with Panthers returner Philly Brown (and “interfering” is putting it mildly), smashing into him while he awaited the punt.

k. That pool in Jacksonville. A fan with a Terrible Towel Sunday. Myron Cope would not approve.

l. Indy’s invisible D on Justin Forsett’s 29-yard late-first-half run.

m. Buster Skrine.

n. How did J.J. Watt miss the sack on Romo on his third-quarter touchdown pass? That looked to be one of the easiest sacks of Watt’s career, rushing from Romo’s blind side, and Watt just whiffed.

o. That Saints’ tackling has to be driving Rob Ryan crazy.

p. Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford, getting a defensive hold and then pass interference—on the same play.

q. The Jets, who lead the league is disappointment after five weeks.

Baffling Death of Rob Bironas
The former Titans kicker wished his wife good night and slipped out of the house unnoticed before dying in a single-vehicle crash. In between, two incidents of alleged road rage have left friends and family wondering what happened to the upbeat man they always knew. FULL STORY
3. I think we began to piece together the strange death and final hour of Rob Bironas. The medical examiner in Nashville disclosed that a blood test on Bironas determined his blood-alcohol content to be more than two-and-a-half times the legal limit when he crashed his SUV in Nashville and died in a one-car accident Sept. 20. The limit is .08, and Rob Bironas’s level was .218. “He didn't take anybody with him, so I am thankful for that," his father, Larry Bironas, told Jim Wyatt of The Tennesseean. Robert Klemko of The MMQB wrote an insightful piece about Rob Bironas’s death last week. In it, Klemko quotes former teammate Matt Hasselbeck on Bironas’s lifestyle when he knew him on the Titans. “When I was there, Rob liked to have a good time," Hasselbeck told Klemko. “Alcohol was part of his regular weekend routine, and that can be a dangerous thing. But I heard through mutual friends that he really cleaned up that part of his life. He got married. This is a guy who I knew to live on the edge, was over-caffeinated all the time, pushed the limit on weekends." We may never know why he drank to extreme excess that night, and why he allegedly threatened people in two cars in the hour before his death, but now at least we know a reason for his reckless driving that night.

4. I think college football got great in Mississippi in my lifetime. Now that’s unusual, but I love it. Mississippi State has beaten two top 10 teams in its past two games, LSU and Texas A&M. Ole Miss beat nemesis Nick Saban and Alabama on Saturday in Oxford. The sports world is better when the Kansas City Royals are winning playoff games and the bottom-feeders in college football rise up.

5. I think the Lions should sign Matt Prater this morning. Hurry up, Martin Mayhew, before the Saints beat you to it. I get the risk. I get the moralizing, and it’s legitimate. But you take the risk when your team is close, and the Lions are close to NFC North supremacy.

6. I think Russell Wilson did a nice job in his story for Derek Jeter’s new website, The Players Tribune, writing about domestic violence, admitting he was once a bully (evidently a pretty serious one) and asking fans/readers to contribute $2 to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. I like when players sign their names to important causes; so many of them (Michael Jordan and the aforementioned Jeter most notably) never make prominent public stands on such issues. Wrote Wilson: “Domestic violence isn’t going to disappear tomorrow or the next day. But the more that we choose not to talk about it, the more we shy away from the issue, the more we lose."

7. I think I can counter one story that was out there in New England during the week: I am told New England wide receiver Aaron Dobson did not challenge offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels about playing time or his role, and has never raised his voice to McDaniels. Dobson had March foot surgery, and the recovery was slow, and he’s played only one game this season so far. The reason he missed three of the first four games is rust, not insubordination.

8. I think if you read one story about football—or anything—this day, please read what my old Newsday peer Bob Herzog wrote about the young man, Tom Cutinella, who died playing high school football on Long Island.

9. I think it must be hard for parents to go on when they lose a child. Tom Cutinella sounds almost too good to be true, so driven, so good, so caring, so mindful of others. Herzog wrote that the young man put flags on military graves near his home every Memorial Day. When Cutinella got his driver’s license, he was thrilled to be able to sign up to be an organ donor. “He was an honors student. He set his goals high, and he was determined to go to either West Point or Annapolis," his dad, Frank Cutinella, told Herzog. "He'd tell me, 'If I don't get in Army or Navy for lacrosse, I'll get in there on my grades and character.' " After Tom Cutinella died, doctors harvested as many organs as they could, so that Tom could help others live.

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

a. Happy 59th birthday, Tony Dungy.

b. And happy 80th (Saturday), Sam Huff.

c. Loved this headline from a site called TheBusinesswomanMedia.com: “Internationally acclaimed barrister Amal Alamuddin marries an actor.”

d. We see what you did there, TheBusinesswomanMedia.com.

e. I wonder if, in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the headline was, “Nick Clooney’s Son Gets Married.”

f. Shelley Smith, the terrific ESPN journalist based in Los Angeles, has breast cancer. Sending all the good wishes your way, Shelley, as so many in and out of our business are.

g. My lord: Kent Tekulve threw out the first pitch at the Pirates’ wild-card game 26 days after undergoing a heart transplant.

h. Madison Bumgarner looks like the next Jon Lester to me—the next power-pitching, big-game lefty. What a game he threw in Pittsburgh.

i. How about Giants relief pitcher Hunter Strickland, he of nine major-league appearances, walking into the opening game of the National League Division Series at Washington, bases loaded, Giants up 2-0, bottom of the sixth, two outs, and facing one of the best-hitting shortstops in the game, Ian Desmond. Fastball, 99 mph, ball one. Then 98-, 99- and 100-mph strikes, consecutively, with the crowd going nuts. Then he gave up two bombs. Baseball’s a funny game.

j. The Giants have some grind-out-at-bat guys, befitting their manager.

k. I tweeted Friday night, watching the 10-9 pitchers’ duel (riiiiight) between the Cards and Dodgers, that Matt Carpenter could play 20 years and not have a better game than he had in the St. Louis victory. On the mound for L.A. was Clayton Kershaw, who has led the National League in ERA four years straight. Kershaw had a 6-1 lead. Ten outs to go. Carpenter hit the first pitch into the right-center field seats. That made it 6-2. In the next inning, with two out, the Cards had tacked on two more runs, and Carpenter came up with the bases loaded, down 6-4. Kershaw got two quick strikes. Carpenter worked it to 2-2, fouled two pitches off, then sent a fastball to the base of the wall in right-center, maybe 15 feet shy of where he’d deposited the home run a 35 minutes earlier. “What an at-bat," said Cards manager Mike Matheny. What two at-bats! That tells you right there Matt Carpenter’s a guy you want up in any situation, with the utmost pressure.

l. Kershaw regular-season: 98-49, 2.48 ERA.

m. Kershaw post-season: 1-4, 5.19 ERA.

n. Great stat from Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Distpatch: The Cards have 28 postseason victories in the last four seasons, 11 more than any other team in baseball.

o. I love watching the Royals do the little things so, so well. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson throwing out an Angel trying to go from second to third on a medium-deep fly ball. Every guy in the bullpen, even the kids, performing roles well. Seems like America’s pulling for them so hard.

p. Kansas City entered the bottom of the eighth in the AL Wild Card game down 7-3. Since that point, it has outscored foes 21-7 over 36 innings and gone 4-0.

q. The Royals have done that. In October.

r. Whoa: The Islanders got Johnny Boychuk, one of the best defensemen in the NHL, from the Bruins, in a Saturday trade for two and maybe three draft picks. Of course, he will toil invisibly for the rest of his career now—or as long as he plays for the Isles. I think it’s a rule the Islanders never play a game that America notices.

s. Coffeenerdness: I was doing so well in the off-season, controlling the coffee intake. But now I’m back to the equivalent of five cups a day. The demon is the mid-afternoon cup, which I always feel with the 3:45 a.m. wakeup. Shouldn’t I be smarter than an afternoon cup of high-test by now?

t. Beernerdness: Tried another pumpkin brew the other day: Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. I wasn’t crazy about it, mostly because it was vague pumpkin flavor, almost as if Dogfish Head—which is a fantastic brewer—was afraid of being too bold with the pumpkin and spices. The search for the great pumpkin (beer) continues through the best month for it, October.

u. Please change your college football music, CBS. It’s maddening.

v. I’m thrilled that one of the best writers I know, Tommy Tomlinson, is writing a book, “The Elephant in the Room," about his struggles to conquer a weight problem, and about how America struggles with the same issue. I asked him about it. “I've been trying my whole life to figure out my addiction to food," he said. “It's the one hurdle in my life I've never been able to get over. Millions of other people grapple with the same thing every day. I want to tell people what it's like to live as a fat person, in an honest and true way, and—I hope—gain some understanding of why weight is such a struggle for me and so many others." Can’t wait to read it.

w. Rest in peace, Tom Mulhern.

Who I Like Tonight

Seattle 30, Washington 26. I like the rested Seahawks with the multitude of offensive weapons. I don’t think Washington has an answer for Percy Harvin’s speed (who does?), particularly on the play that’s sweeping the league right now, the Jet Sweep.

Interesting subplot to the game: the Russell Wilson-versus-Kirk Cousins quarterback duel. Three years ago Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin to play one final year of college football. He faced off against Cousins and Michigan State twice that year, in East Lansing during the regular season (Cousins won that one on a tipped Hail Mary, 37-31), and in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship (Wilson won that won with a late drive capped by a Montee Ball touchdown run, 42-39). Seattle GM John Schneider was in Indianapolis scouting Wilson that December night—which ended with Schneider meeting the Wilson family at the Wisconsin team hotel after the game—and came away convinced that Wilson should be the Seahawks’ quarterback of the future. When he returned to Seattle the next week, he told Pete Carroll he believed in Wilson, and Carroll, after watching some Wilson tape, became a believer too. And the rest is Seattle sports history.

It’s notable that both quarterbacks were so good in those two high-pressure games in 2011, Wilson for Wisconsin and Cousins for Michigan State. Collectively, their numbers in those two matchups:

Cousins: 44 of 61 (72.1%), 571 yards, six TDs, one interception, 127.2 NFL rating.

Wilson: 31 of 45 (68.9%), 410 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions, 116.0 rating.

What does that mean tonight? Not a lot—except I do believe this will be a shootout.

The Adieu Haiku

The Patriots live.

Those reports of their demise?

Exaggerated.

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