Seattle, Suddenly Super
SEATTLE — In the Seahawks’ locker room, maybe 45 minutes after the NFC Championship Game ended, I stood and looked around.
A story in every corner of the room.
Where the defensive backs dressed, there was Richard Sherman grimacing as his father, Kevin, helped him put his shirt on, gingerly maneuvering his hyperextended left elbow. “Dressing him just like when he was a little boy," a bystander said. A few lockers down, still in full uniform, safety Earl Thomas, his shoulder dislocated, sat and stared ahead blankly—I’m guessing dreading the act of taking his uniform off because of the oncoming pain.
Tight end Luke Willson, the shaggy Canadian, regaled one wave of the media (there would be others) with the story of an amazing two-point conversion that will go down in Seahawks lore—as will so many things that happened on a windswept and rainy championship Sunday. Willson had a goofy look on his face, like he still couldn’t believe what happened.
Up the row of lockers from Willson, where the wide receivers dressed, one of the two most anonymous Seahawks on this day, wideout Chris Matthews, didn’t want the moment to end. You could see it in his face, as he told the story of the onside kick that ruined the Packers and gave the Seahawks life.
Now, across the way, on offensive-line row, the other of the two anonymous guys, backup rookie tackle Garry Gilliam, a rookie free agent from Penn State, had a cell phone to his ear, and a wide smile on his face, gesturing with his hands while doing a radio interview on some distant show.
Then, in middle of the lockers in the corner of the room, Russell Wilson, his face still streaked with tears and eyeblack, the happiest guy in the room, sat with his hands on the shoulders of a crouching Lane Gammel, the Seahawks’ director of football communications, like he wanted to hug him. The joy on his face told the story of the day.
Everywhere, a story. Ed Werder, the ESPN reporter, came over. “We’ve covered the game for so long," Werder said, “and been to so many games with so many different things happening. How amazing it is that almost every time, you see something you’ve never seen before. Right?"
Oh, many things. Thirty-one seasons I’ve covered the NFL, going back to a training camp in 1984 in Wilmington, Ohio, covering Paul Brown’s Bengals and watching many a hot summer practice alongside Brown. And I started to think of the great games I’ve covered and how they’d compare to this one. The only one that came to mind, standing there in the Seattle locker room, was the ridiculous Houston-Buffalo wild-card game 22 years ago, with Buffalo down 35-3 in the third quarter playing a backup quarterback and, of course, coming back to win.
But this game … this was different from anything. It was the suddenness. It was Seattle being awful for 55 minutes, as bad as they’d been in any Pete Carroll Era game of consequence, Russell Wilson capping the worst game of his high school, college or pro football career with his fourth interception with 5:04 left. At that moment, Green Bay led 19-7, and it shouldn't have been that close. This was Wilson’s line:
At that moment, CenturyLink Field as quiet as anyone’s ever heard it, some fans already up and streaming for the exits. Wilson came to the sideline and made a beeline for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
"We’re gonna win it," Wilson said. “I know we’re gonna win it."
And he said he had a play he knew was going to work.
* * *
Something historic is going to happen in 13 days in Arizona, now that we know that the two top seeds in the 2014 playoffs—14-4 New England and 14-4 Seattle—will be meeting in Super Bowl 49. Either the Seahawks will become the first team in a decade, and the ninth team all-time, to win back-to-back Super Bowls. Or the Patriots, in their sixth Super Bowl appearance, will finally win their fourth title of the Brady-Belichick Era after a decade of knocking at the door and not winning one. You can look it up: The 10-year anniversary of New England’s last Super Bowl win, 24-21 over Philadelphia, is just two weeks away.
Super Bowls are more often duds than scintillating affairs, and this matchup promises nothing. Except this: In the span of two hours Sunday night, Vegas spun the line significantly. At 9:30 p.m., near the end of the Patriots’ 45-7 laugher over Indianapolis, Seattle was a 2.5-point favorite. By 11:30, it was a pick-’em line. That seems fitting. On the surface you’d give the Patriots a ton of credit for eviscerating a team in the conference championship game, but the Colts were such paper tigers that it’s hard to know if New England is the 2007 Patriots or just a team that took advantage of a weak foe. (Or both.) Either way, the even-Steven Super Bowl matches two hot teams. New England has had one hiccup of substance since Oct. 1, a narrow loss at Green Bay. And Seattle, since being an unsteady 6-4 at midseason, is 8-0.
Patriots points per game since Oct. 1: 33.4.
Seahawks’ points allowed per game during their 8-0 streak: 9.9.
We’ll get to New England pounding the rock and routing the Colts … and to the other news of the week in the NFL—including the reunion of the first and 197th picks of the 1983 NFL Draft. (Bet you can’t figure that one out.) But come back to gusty Seattle, and see, chapter and verse, why Russell Wilson got so teary-eyed Sunday night.
* * *
The Morgan Burnett Slide
Green Bay 19, Seattle 7
5:04 left, fourth quarter
This was Wilson’s fourth pass attempt of the day to Kearse, and the Packers intercepted all four of them. Kearse tipped two, one was short, and one was a competitive play that Kearse just lost. Strangest, and saddest, 55 minutes of the undrafted Kearse’s career. “I mean, it was a very interesting game for me,” the emotional Kearse said afterward. “Four interceptions happened when the ball was thrown my way.”
The Seahawks had gotten the ball back at their own 46 on a punt. On their first play, Wilson fired over the middle, and the ball deflected off of Kearse’s hands, right to Burnett. Oddly, with at least five yards of green in front of him, Burnett took just a couple of steps after the interception and then dived down and covered up. He didn’t want to fumble there or get the ball stripped. But the game wasn’t over. I looked for Burnett in the Packers’ locker room after the game to talk to him, but I never saw him. I’d love to know why he didn’t try to gain some yards, even if it was with both arms protecting the ball like an old-time fullback. What safety in the open field doesn’t want to try to score?
Seattle had all three timeouts left, and there was a decent chance the Seahawks could touch the ball twice more. Of their four previous second-half possessions, the Packers had punted quickly on three of them. Seattle stacked the box, and Mike McCarthy, desperately trying to run out the clock, took the ball out of the efficient Aaron Rodgers’ hands. McCarthy played clockball. Lots of coaches would have done the same, to be sure. But the drive after Burnett's interception was beyond fruitless. Seattle stopped Eddie Lacy for minus-four on first down. Timeout, Seattle. Lacy again, against a stacked box. Minus-two. Timeout, Seattle. Lacy again, against a stacked box, gain of two. No timeout. Punt. Seattle ball at its 31, 3:52 to play.
Green Bay had burned just 72 seconds. And Seattle still had a timeout left. Bad use of the clock by the Packers.
“I’m not questioning [the play-calling],” said McCarthy. “I came in here to run the ball. One statistic I had as far as a target to hit … was 20 rushing attempts in the second half. I felt that would be a very important target to hit for our offense.”
Green Bay didn’t hit it. Or come close. The Packers had 14 second-half rushes, for 72 yards. Six more would have meant they’d have run out the clock. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
The Seahawks took the ball and marched 69 yards in seven plays in 1:43, Wilson running it in with 2:09 to go. That was important. Now, even if Green Bay got the ball after the kickoff, the clock would stop at least twice—at the two-minute warning, and with the final Seahawks timeout.
* * *
The Two-Point Rainbow
Seattle 20, Green Bay 19
1:25 left, fourth quarter
“You mean the Whirly Bird Two-Pointer?’’
That’s what Luke Willson, the tight end from Ontario (Canada, not California), the former Toronto Blue Jays prospect, was calling it after the game. After Green Bay botched the onside kick and Seattle’s Chris Matthews recovered—more on that from The MMQB's Robert Klemko—and Lynch waltzed in for the touchdown to give Seattle a one-point lead, Pete Carroll, of course, chose to go for the two-point conversion, to make a Green Bay field goal force overtime rather than win the game.
Russell Wilson was supposed to roll right and find one of three receivers to that side. But immediately he got pushed outside and spun away from the Green Bay rush. Back and back and back he rolled right, way back to the Packer 18, with an oncoming defender about to slam him.
“Luke was the backside protector on the play,’’ said Wilson, “and I was going to tell Luke, ‘Hey, you never know, just be ready.’ But I didn’t want him to leave too early [to abandon his post protecting the left side from a stray rusher] so I didn’t tell him anything in the huddle. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘If there’s nothing to the right, I’m spinning back and finding a way.”
“It was a sprint-out to the right,” said offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, “and the guy we wanted, Doug [Baldwin], was running to the flat, and he was covered, and Russell got pushed out of there by their rush. But to Russell’s credit, very smart play. He understands the situation. You’re not throwing it away there, or taking a sack. Just give a guy a chance.”
Wilson, from the far sideline at the 18, knowing he was going to get blasted, threw a high-arcing prayer. That’s what it was. A 1-in-50 Hail Mary.
“If you run that two-point 100 times,” Wilson was asked later, “how many times do you make it?”
“Never,” Wilson said.
“I was shocked to see it coming,” Willson said. “I’m not involved in that play—at all.”
Willson boxed out the Green Bay coverage, caught the ball at the 1, and burst into the end zone.
Strangers hugging. Adults crying. Stadium shaking. Players screaming.
“I’m screaming obscenities,” said Willson. “I don’t know why, but that’s sort of my way of celebrating.”
And, of course, for dramatic purposes, Aaron Rodgers limped his way downfield, re-straining the most famous calf in American sports history, driving the Packers to the tying field goal with 19 seconds left.
Overtime. The way it should never have been, but the way, suddenly, it just had to be.
* * *
The Most Famous Pass in Seahawks History
Seattle 22, Green Bay 22
Start of overtime
“How about Tarvaris Jackson winning the coin toss?” said Wilson. Jackson, the designated toss-caller, is on a roll, and this time the win meant Seattle would take over at its 13.
It shouldn’t have been this easy. But because Lynch was so productive in the second half (he had 120 of his 157 rushing yards after halftime), Green Bay decided to crowd the box and force Wilson to beat them. On a third-and-seven from the Seattle 30, Baldwin got behind Green Bay corner Casey Hayward, and Wilson lofted a perfect ball over his shoulder. Gain of 35.
“I was keeping us in the same personnel, trying to get us in and out of the huddle, make checks quickly, and put the pressure on the defense,” Bevell said. “On tape, watching the first game we played them this season, they went into Cover Zero [safeties near the line, corners on islands] in a similar situation. So we weren’t surprised when we saw it at this point of the game.”
On the next play after the Baldwin catch, Kearse, on the right, lined up on a very good cover man, Tramon Williams. “There was nobody in the [deep] field,” said Williams. “Just me and the guy. If you don’t have a safety in the middle of the field, the quarterback can pretty much throw it across the field.’’
Wilson’s choice here was clear, as he approached the line to get the snap. If even one of Green Bay’s safeties stayed deep, the call was a run to Lynch. If both were sneaking toward the line, he’d audible to a deep throw, to Kearse.
Wilson let go of the ball at the Packer 43. It came down at the one, leading Kearse perfectly. The coverage was tight—borderline interference, in fact, with Williams’ hands going around Kearse’s neck as the ball arrived. “I felt I was in good position,” Williams said. “But he made the throw, and I couldn’t get the ball out. The guy made a good catch, Russell made a good throw. Good read.”
“Tunnel vision,” said Kearse. “I knew I was going to make the play.”
The ball nestled into Kearse's arms. Williams hogtied him to the ground, but Kearse hung on. Back judge Dino Paganelli, the Grand Rapids AP history teacher (remember him from my Week in the Life of an Officiating Crew series last year?) waited to see that Kearse came down with it. He waited an extra tick, then threw his arms in the air. Touchdown.
“Instant classic,” Bevell said.
“One for the ages,” Carroll said.
“That may be one of the best games in NFL history,” said Wilson.
I found Wilson afterward, and asked him about the four picks, and going from the worst game of his life to the most exhilarating in the span of eight minutes of game time.
“That’s God setting it up, to make it so dramatic, so rewarding, so special,” he said, alone for a moment in the locker room before heading out for the night. “I’ve been through a lot in life, and had some ups and downs. It’s what’s led me to this day.”
This play is the one Wilson thought could work—and would work. He was waiting for Cover Zero. And he got it, and he delivered. It’s a throw so many in these parts will remember for years. For decades.
* * *
History awaits the Patriots.
You get the feeling watching the Patriots, and listening to them after the 38-point rout of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game, that the pressure is on. Reaching a sixth Super Bowl in 14 years won't be enough. They’ve got to win this one. New England won in 2001, 2003 and 2004, then lost narrowly to the Giants in 2007 and 2011. A third straight loss in the Big Game wouldn’t erase anything they’ve done as a franchise, to be sure. But winning puts them on the same level with the great 49ers and Steelers dynasties, and in a lifetime achievement way, would make their accomplishments competitive with the ’60s Packers. Those Green Bay teams won one more NFL title, yes. But the Patriots have been a power for 14 years. That Packers team faded after Vince Lombardi left the sidelines.
“This team,” said Tom Brady on Sunday night, “is going to have to win one more important game to kind of leave our legacy.”
The one thing New England has going for it, arguably, is that it’s playing slightly better than the unbeaten 2007 team was down the stretch. Remember: That 2007 team got to 16-0 in the regular season, but four of the last six wins were by 10 points or fewer; that’s after a point in the middle of the season when New England was winning every game by three and four and five touchdowns. Then the Pats got to the postseason, and their protection for Brady broke down, and they weren’t as explosive, and the Giants’ pass-rush exposed them, and they were vulnerable. This Patriots team has a diverse offense—it runs well, Brady has a great bond with Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, and the play-calling by Josh McDaniels and imagination of McDaniels and Bill Belichick make New England as dangerous as it has been at any time in the Belichick era. That’s high praise, considering the Patriots twice trailed Baltimore by 14 points in the divisional round. They’re not perfect, but the Patriots will be hard to beat from a strategic and personnel point of view.
I’ll have more an analysis of where the Patriots stand Tuesday. But I’m really looking forward to the Super Bowl. I could see the Patriots in a rout. I could see the Seahawks in a rout. Each is capable of a dominating offensive game with a will-imposing running back, and each is capable of explosive plays in the passing game. And, judging by what we’ve seen with the Patriots’ tackle-eligible play, and Seattle throwing touchdown passes to rookie tackles, coaching will be a very big part of Super Bowl 49.
One final thing: Bob Kravitz of WTHR reported this morning that the league would investigate the Patriots for deflating some footballs Sunday night in the championship game. We'll see how that develops today. I didn't hear about this until well after midnight, so I'm not sure about its significance. But if true, theoretically doing so could—could, not would—make a football easier to throw and catch. Again, we'll see if this has any legs today. Stay tuned.
Some coaching thoughts, including the most pressure-packed job by far.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers were already going to be under intense pressure without Jim Harbaugh coaching them in 2015. In Harbaugh’s four seasons, the team averaged 12.3 victories and was the winningest franchise in the NFC. In the four seasons before his arrival, the Niners won 6.5 games, on average, per season. And so the pressure on the next coach was going to be something like the pressure on Dave Van Gorder. Never heard of him? No wonder. He’s the catcher who succeeded Johnny Bench with the Cincinnati Reds. He batted .211 over four forgettable years for the Reds, and he was jettisoned.
I bring up Van Gorder because Jim Tomsula—to those outside the Bay Area, and to some inside it—is just such an unknown figure, a hire that screams, “What? Are you kidding? A defensive line coach, ascending to head coach one of the league’s flagship teams?” The pressure on Tomsula to follow Harbaugh already was going to be massive; anyone following Harbaugh would have all eyes of the league and sporting America on him. But now, add to that what we saw during and after the introductory press conference in Santa Clara, and in an interview with Comcast Bay Area that was, to put it kindly, an unmitigated disaster.
Tomsula is already going to have a difficult time following Harbaugh, and leading the Niners out of their first funky season since 2010, and finding someone (Lane Kiffin, perhaps) to coach Colin Kaepernick back to form. If you add in the prospect that dealing with the media is going to be a daily high-wire act, the toughest job of all the new coaches all of a sudden gets much, much tougher.
I know the 49ers PR staff, and there’s little question in my mind they had Tomsula well-prepared for his opening act. They’re pros. But his initial interactions with the press were the kind of performances that lead me to think they’d better get him, very much on the QT, some media and public-speaking training. If you’re Jed York, you want Tomsula to succeed or fail on his own merits, on the football bottom line, not on how he deals with the media.
Kubiak and Elway—A remarriage made in Denver heaven.
It will be announced today that Gary Kubiak will succeed John Fox as Denver’s head coach. Smart move. Kubiak, after getting fired 13 months ago in Houston as head coach, rehabbed his strategic image while working as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator this year. The Ravens had the biggest leap in 20-yard-plus explosive plays this year (they had 74), made the biggest improvement in sacks allowed (down to 19) and gained 57.5 yards more per game on offense. Then, of course, there’s the closeness of Kubiak and Denver’s GM, John Elway.
I love the biographical symmetry of Elway and Kubiak.
- 1983 NFL draft: Elway is the first pick of round one, by Baltimore, and is later traded to Denver. Kubiak is the first pick of round eight, by Denver.
- 1983 through 1991: Elway starts 130 regular-season games. Kubiak, his backup, starts five.
- 1995: Kubiak is hired as Denver’s offensive coordinator. For the last four seasons of Elway’s career, the career quarterback understudy, Kubiak, is the great Elway’s boss. “I am on the other side of the fence now," Kubiak says the day he got the job. Kubiak coordinates the only two Super Bowl wins in Elway’s career. Overall, Kubiak is Denver’s offensive coordinator for 11 seasons.
- 2014: Elway hires Klein Kubiak, son of Gary and former Rice wide receiver, as personnel assistant in the scouting department.
- Sunday: Elway and a Broncos delegation fly to Houston to interview Gary Kubiak for the head-coaching job of the Broncos.
To recap, over a three-decade span, Kubiak went from backing up Elway as a player, to supervising him as a coach, to seeing Elway hire his son to be a scout, and now will go to work for Elway as his head coach.
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
From ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ to a right cross to the mouth.
Last spring, Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler flew to New York to meet with a consultant, Dov Seidman, whom the NFL had retained to teach teams about winning with good core values and a positive culture. Trestman didn't say as much, but clearly he was looking for ways for Cutler to become a better leader, and for the team to embrace a no-hazing, positive-locker-room culture. “I wanted to find out what else we could do to keep growing," Trestman told me then. This is no criticism of that; not at all. I like Trestman’s efforts. But I see John Fox teaching accountability and responsibility more the old-fashioned way, stressing hard work and handling misbehavior with an iron fist rather than a gloved one. If Cutler stays, and that is no sure thing, Fox will build a bridge to him but also not tread lightly when his quarterback is churlish, standoffish and just plain impossible to get along with. Maybe that’s the tough love an obstinate guy like Cutler needs.
As for the style of football, I though former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen put it very well in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday, saying playing against a Fox team involved a series of “downhill collisions in the hole that felt like a train wreck." Wrote Bowen: “I'm talking about old school stuff when you lined up versus those squads … put on your big boy pads and got ready to hit. You were in for a fight. Tough, nasty football—with nowhere to hide. Those were the most physical games I can remember playing during my journeyman career in the league. Fox will bring that physical style to Chicago as the Bears coach. I can guarantee that. You want to see a shift, a change in the football culture from Marc Trestman's Bears? This is it."
I would add one point of caution: That wasn’t what the Denver Broncos were at the end of Fox’s tenure. One of the reasons Elway didn’t mind shaking up the team is he didn’t see the passion he’d hoped to see, particularly with the offense struggling in the last few weeks of the 2014 season. A fresh start is good for everyone here, including Fox.
* * *
Not sure this qualifies as a trend, but the shift to defensive coaches is happening.
The more notable coaching statistics this month:
All five head-coaching openings before Sunday had been filled by defensive coaches.
Six of the eight teams playing on divisional weekend last week had head coaches with defensive backgrounds, and three of the four coaches in the championship games were defensive-based. And obviously New England and Seattle, the Super Bowl teams, are coached by defensive experts.
I’m not prepared to say this is some major shift in the game. Even with the likelihood that six of the seven openings will be filled by men with a defensive background, it doesn't mean the game is changing. I don’t believe it. New Chicago GM Ryan Pace, for instance, told me last week his focus was on finding a coach who could command a room, and who could deliver a meaningful message—regardless which side of the ball the coach made his career.
But let’s look at the job board, with offense-to-defense switches in bold, defense-to-offense in italic, and static (defense-to-defense) in regular type:
|Team||Old Coach||Side of Ball||New Coach||Side of Ball|
|Buffalo||Doug Marrone||Offense||Rex Ryan||Defense|
|Chicago||Marc Trestman||Offense||John Fox||Defense|
|Denver||John Fox||Defense||Gary Kubiak||Offense|
|New York Jets||Rex Ryan||Defense||Todd Bowles||Defense|
|Oakland||Tony Sparano||Offense||Jack Del Rio||Defense|
|San Francisco||Jim Harbaugh||Offense||Jim Tomsula||Defense|
"I don’t know the answer," said Bill Parcells, the former coach who has served this month as a sounding board for several teams looking to hire. “But when all is said and done, I think the ability to stand up in front of a room and command attention is important. I do think there is one important thing that defensive coaches realize. They all have an appreciation for running the ball, and we might be getting to a point where we’ll see a little more of that. The defensive coaches know that running the ball will demoralize an opponent before anything else. So I think they might have more of an appreciation for the running game than some offensive coaches."
I’m leaning toward this being more of a coincidence than anything else, after speaking to some of the decision-makers. Tomsula has been a longtime favorite of COO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke. Ryan was the kind of leader and community beacon the Buffalo front office was seeking. Oakland owner Mark Davis loved Del Rio from their first interview. Bowles had all the right answers for the Jets—who, by the way, have hired six defense-based head coaches in a row.
But Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith, the Super Bowl MVP, thinks there’s something teams are seeing when they look to rebuild. “The emphasis has been on offense for so long I think a lot of teams have neglected to build a disciplined defense that plays well within the new rules," Smith said. “You're seeing that shift. When I entered the league, when a ball was thrown over the middle, you tried to kill [the receiver]. You can’t do that anymore. You have to coach up your guys to play around it."
Smith also put in a good word for his boss, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn of the Seahawks: “I feel like if you're trying to make a legitimate hire you should be willing to go through the process and find the best person, whether that be immediately or if you have to wait a few weeks. If you're not willing to wait to see all the coaches, you're not giving yourself a fair shake. How serious are you about winning?" Interesting point.
In a league exploding with offense, defensive coaches have a slight edge. Running down the NFL’s 32 teams:
Defense (10): Buffalo (Rex Ryan), New England (Bill Belichick), New York Jets (Todd Bowles), Cincinnati (Marvin Lewis), Baltimore (John Harbaugh*), Pittsburgh (Mike Tomlin), Cleveland (Mike Pettine), Indianapolis (Chuck Pagano), Jacksonville (Gus Bradley), Oakland (Jack Del Rio).
Offense (6): Miami (Joe Philbin), Tennessee (Ken Whisenhunt), Houston (Bill O’Brien), Kansas City (Andy Reid), San Diego (Mike McCoy), Denver (Gary Kubiak).
*Harbaugh, a career special-teams coach, was the Eagles’ secondary coach for one season before taking the Baltimore job in 2008.
Defense (7): Chicago (John Fox), Minnesota (Mike Zimmer), Carolina (Ron Rivera), Tampa Bay (Lovie Smith), Seattle (Pete Carroll), San Francisco (Jim Tomsula), St. Louis (Jeff Fisher).
Offense (8): Philadelphia (Chip Kelly), Dallas (Jason Garrett), New York Giants (Tom Coughlin), Washington (Jay Gruden), Green Bay (Mike McCarthy), Detroit (Jim Caldwell), New Orleans (Sean Payton), Arizona (Bruce Arians).
Vacant (1): Atlanta.
So it’s fairly close. Defense 17, Offense 14, with one job open. The two on Atlanta’s short list are defensive coordinators—Quinn and Teryl Austin of Detroit. It’s not a landslide for the defense, certainly. Just something to monitor. The next question is this: Is there any reason why the more charismatic leaders are on defense, assuming they are? Just something to keep in mind entering 2015.
One hundred days out from the draft, it’s an underclass bonanza.
The deadline for underclassmen to apply for the 2015 draft was Thursday, but because they have 72 hours to withdraw their names and retain college eligibility, we won’t know for sure the composition of the list until later today. But I’ve taken the list of announced underclassmen and peddled it to a couple of reliable NFL executives, just to ask: Who’s likely to be a first-round pick among all these underclassmen?
The number comes in at about 21, which would be a high number. In the past four years, 15, 19, 15 and 14 (last season) underclass players were picked in the first round.
What follows is a list of the 21 underclassmen whom my draftniks project to go in the first round on April 30. It goes without saying that, with the draft 100 days from today, this list is very tentative. But I thought it would be good to get a feel of where we’re going with a heavy influx of quality juniors this year.
So what I’ve done is rank the underclassmen with a good chance to go in round one from 1 to 22, and taken a stab at the overall pick of each player in the first round. This is absolutely guesswork; there is no way to know whether Jameis Winston, for instance, is going to be picked 1 or 101 until a massive amount of homework on him is done to judge how off-putting his off-field issues are.
|Player||Underclass Rank||Est. Overall Pick|
|Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon||1||1|
|Leonard Williams, DE, USC||2||2|
|Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama||3||3|
|Shane Ray, DE, Missouri||4||4|
|Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State||5||6|
|Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska||6||7|
|Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin||7||10|
|Landon Collins, S, Alabama||8||11|
|Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Florida||9||14|
|Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State||10||15|
|Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma||11||17|
|Ereck Flowers, T, Miami (Fla.)||12||18|
|Andrus Peat, T, Stanford||13||19|
|Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State||14||21|
|Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan||15||22|
|Marcus Peters, CB, Washington||16||23|
|Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State||17||25|
|Shaq Thompson, LB/RB, Washington||18||26|
|Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota||19||27|
|Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon||20||29|
|P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State||21||31|
* * *
The Ditka stuff on HBO might surprise you.
On Tuesday at 10 p.m. Eastern Time, HBO’s “Real Sports" with Bryant Gumbel will air a segment on the 1985 Chicago Bears, and in particular how several of the players from that team have suffered (and are suffering) from cognitive problems after their starry football careers. Quarterback Jim McMahon, whose head-trauma problems have been well-documented, gives this harrowing account about his current life with his live-in girlfriend: “The forgetfulness … I'd leave the bedroom, tell her I was going to the store, get a dip or something, and she'd come in there a half hour later, and I'm still standing there, wondering what I was going to do. And she said, ‘You were going to go to the store.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I'll go to the store, and then I'll have to call her and say, ‘I don't know how to get back home.’”
The Bears lost a safety from that era, Dave Duerson, to a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2011, and an autopsy showed “moderately advanced" CTE, the brain malady that scores of deceased football players have been found to have. The coach of that team, Mike Ditka, has been outspoken that the league should be doing more—even more than the recent $765 million settlement with former players over brain trauma—and continued that with Gumbel. “What I would say to the commissioner, to the owners … You got an obligation and responsibility to those guys because you wouldn't have a damn job right now if it wasn't for those guys."
When Gumbel asks Ditka, in effect, if this could end up being the ruination of the sport, Ditka says: “Let me ask you a question better than that. If you had an eight-year-old kid now, would you tell him you want him to play football?"
“I wouldn't," said Gumbel. “Would you?"
“No," Ditka said. “That's sad. I wouldn't. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do."
That’s Iron Mike Ditka, folks. Should be a piece well worth watching Tuesday night.
* * *
Maybe I’m the only one who finds this stuff interesting.
Regarding the future of pro football on television, I asked NFL executive vice president/media Brian Rolapp, also the president and CEO of NFL Network, about it recently. We could be a decade away from real change in the way we watch football. A snippet of our conversation:
Rolapp: “We spend a lot of time talking to [Google and Facebook] about when will the Internet be ready to distribute live NFL games. That’s always a question I get: ‘Well, when is Google going to carry a game package?’ I think the answer is once an Internet player can sustain 30 million users at the level and the quality that they expect to get on television. Five years ago, we were like, We don’t see that. Now? That might be possible as we sit with the Google guys."
Rolapp: “Well … Sooner rather than later. I think some things still have to change. If you would have asked me if those guys could carry live games five years ago, I’d probably say no. Now I’d say it’s closer than we think. Those are the types of things we learn. For us, the more we get out of not only our football bubble, but our sports bubble, and get out to other industries—mainly technology—and hear about what they’re learning, you always find lessons that you can apply back. Our view is, ‘Only the paranoid survive.’ If you’re not looking around the corner, if you’re not trying to get smarter, if you’re not looking for the lessons learned in other industries, then you’re going to wake up and find you’re not so popular anymore."
Me: “With the Google experiment, how would that work? They would obviously want exclusive regular season games. So, is that realistic to think that you would put some of your games someday on a platform like that versus an over-the-air television network?”
Rolapp: “Look, our broadcast contracts go through 2022. We’ve made our bed. And in 2023? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m also not convinced that it has to be exclusive … When you have close to 70 percent of your fans having a second screen open while they’re watching the game on television, they’re doing all sorts of things. So it’s not necessarily about the internet or technology replacing the game on television, it’s about supplementing it and adding to it and making it better. So I think those are all avenues open to us. The other thing is that it’s not just about live game presentation. The biggest growth for the NFL, I think, has been not necessarily during the 256 regular-season games that we put on television—it’s the Monday through Saturday and it’s the offseason. The draft had 45 million people who watched it on television. Not too long ago the draft was a conference room in the New York Hilton and a chalkboard … If you give fans the right product, if you give them the right opportunities to interact with the stuff they love and feel passionate about it, not just when games are going on but throughout the week and throughout the year, that’s really where a lot of the growth is and technology helps fuel that."
The Fine Fifteen
T-1. Seattle (14-4). I don’t know how Vegas makes a line for Supe 49.
T-1. New England (14-4). You can look at it like Seattle escaped and New England dominated, but let’s be real: The Colts were not worthy of being in the NFL’s final four. They did earn a spot in the AFC title game, so good for them. But they are not the fourth-best team in football. They’re fortunate to be fifth. New England just shredded the Colts, for the fourth time in three seasons. And New England’s really, really good. I think it has the potential to be an all-timer of a Super Bowl in Arizona.
3. Green Bay (13-5). I was in the funereal Pack locker room. I can think of a lot of reasons to rip the Packers for giving up three touchdowns in the last six minutes of an NFC Championship Game, but the feeling I had walking around the room was pity. So hard to see a team lose a game in such a strange way, completely falling apart.
4. Dallas (13-5). Jerry Jones culminated his Executive of the Year season by signing Jason Garrett for five years and Rod Marinelli for three, and by admitting he probably won’t be able to keep both Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray in free agency. All are acts of a smart front-office man—the first two because those are the two most important coaches on the staff, and both were unsigned. In the old days, Jones would have mortgaged the future, badly, to keep every very good veteran contributor. Sometimes you can’t do that. Experience has taught Jones well.
5. Baltimore (11-7). Tough break, the John Fox divorce in Denver. It will rob the Ravens of an offensive coordinator who was perfect for them, Gary Kubiak, and will further deprive the Ravens of the top post-Kubiak candidate for OC, Kyle Shanahan, who now (according to Adam Schefter) is locked and loaded for Atlanta—presumably to work with Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, once Quinn coaches his last game with Seattle in 13 days.
6. Indianapolis (13-6). That’s a more depressing and non-competitive playoff loss by the Colts than the 43-22 job last year. The worrisome thing for Indy is that the Patriots show the Colts what’s coming—the pounding ground game, and the mirror of the left-tackle-eligible play they ran three times successfully the previous week … and the Colts are too weak to stop it. This is a big off-season for GM Ryan Grigson. He’s got to find some answer for that defensive front seven, which gets embarrassed every time it plays the Pats.
7. Denver (12-5). I see why John Elway did what he did. I’m not sure what the correct solution is when a team underachieves, but I think what Elway was saying when he parted with John Fox was this: After the organization brought in three huge defensive pieces in the off-season, and after we found a running back who could tilt the field in our favor, a second opening-game loss in the playoff in three years is simply not good enough. And we should be beyond losing by double-digits at home when Peyton Manning is not healthy; the shell of the team around him should be good enough to overcome that. Not saying that’s right. But I am saying I believe that’s how Elway feels.
8. Detroit (11-6). This postseason’s coaching-interview circuit has reinforced to Jim Caldwell what he already knew: Teryl Austin was one heck of a good choice to coordinate the Detroit defense.
9. Carolina (8-9-1). I wonder how the Panthers will value Cam Newton in contract talks.
10. Pittsburgh (11-6). Totally understand the Steelers parting ways with Dick LeBeau. Painful part of the business. At some point, Mike Tomlin knew he wanted linebackers coach Keith Butler to be his defensive coordinator. Butler is 58. LeBeau will be 78 at the start of next season. There’s nothing sinister here, just a very hard decision to make because LeBeau has been such a gem for the organization for a long time.
11. Cincinnati (10-6-1). Scout the quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, Bengals.
12. Houston (9-7). You too, Texans.
13. Arizona (11-6). Of course Bruce Arians should hire Dick LeBeau. No-brainer. Arizona is the Never Retire State! Arians, head coach: 62 years old. Tom Moore, assistant head coach: 76. Tom Pratt, pass rush specialist, 79. LeBeau: 77.
14. Buffalo (9-7). I was working out at my gym in New York City on Thursday when one of the trainers approached me and said: “Can you believe Rex went out for a beer with Jim Kelly? I love it!" Bills Nation speaks.
15. Kansas City (9-7). Alex Smith needs to have two things: a good offseason and another wide-receiving threat, coming in the draft or free agency.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. The Pats got the ball first in the third quarter, up 17-7 and in a driving rainstorm, and Brady hit eight of eight on the first two drives of the half for 104 yards and two touchdowns. It was all over then, and Brady deservedly earned a quarterback-record sixth berth in the Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. No Offensive Player of the Week in my column, I feel sure, has ever been as bad as Wilson was in the first 55 minutes of a game … and I doubt as exhilarating in the final few. Wilson’s four interceptions were a career-high for him at any level of football. But when he had to make plays—on 69-, 50- and 87-yard scoring drives that kept Seattle’s hopes alive and eventually won the Seahawks the game—he made them, including two gorgeous throws in overtime to beat the stunned Packers.
Defensive Players of the Week
Richard Sherman, cornerback; Earl Thomas, free safety, Seattle. I think most football people knew Thomas is a freakazoid when it comes to dishing out big hits and playing with pain. But Sherman? Thomas left the game with a subluxed shoulder, an injury defined by the shoulder bone slipping out of the joint, and came back in the second half with the shoulder in a harness—and then whacked Eddie Lacy with that same shoulder on a hard tackle. “I’m a man, man," Thomas said. Sherman hyperextended his elbow in the third quarter, never missed a snap because of it, and made a jarring mid-field tackle of Jordy Nelson down the stretch. “That," Sherman said later, “was absolutely not a pleasant feeling.” Sherman had an interception on the first Green Bay series of the game, and Sherman and Thomas combined for nine tackles.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Mason Crosby, kicker, Green Bay. Sunday should have been Crosby’s greatest NFL moment. He kicked field goals of 18, 19, 40, 48 and 48 yards, the last with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter, with a 14-mph wind blowing, to tie the game and send it to overtime. Not his fault the Packers made so many grievous errors down the stretch to lose the game.
Coach of the Week
Bill Belichick, coach, New England. In meaningful games since Oct. 1 (I am not counting Week 17 against Buffalo), the Patriots are 12-1. That means Belichick, since the 41-14 beatdown at Kansas City in Week 4, knew precisely what he was doing when he traded Logan Mankins for Tim Wright and a fourth-round pick (which will be about the 101st overall pick this spring), and when he experimented with line combinations throughout September. On Sunday against Indianapolis, he again confounded an opposing coaching staff (though I would blame Chuck Pagano for not having his team ready for the tackle-eligible play that resulted in the Nate Solder touchdown) and showed he’s simply the best coach coaching football today.
Goat of the Week
Brandon Bostick, tight end, Green Bay. This is the kind of play that can haunt a player forever. With the Packers nursing a five-point lead with 2:09 to play and only one timeout left for Seattle, the Seahawks onside-kicked. Bostick’s job on the play was to block and allow the more sure-handed players behind him (most notably Jordy Nelson) to catch the ball. But Bostick jumped for it, the ball went though his hands, and the Seahawks recovered. If Bostick or Nelson had recovered, Green Bay could have run out the clock by getting just one more first down.
Quotes of the Week
"Well, Jim, I have only one thing to say: We’re on to Seattle."
—New England coach Bill Belichick, mocking himself to Jim Nantz on CBS during the Patriots’ AFC Championship celebration after the 45-7 rout of the Colts.
"Gave it away."
—Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, stating the obvious after the overtime loss to Seattle.
"There are no sacred cows in the NFL. If Bill Belichick doesn’t want him anymore, then Bill Belichick will get rid of him."
—Tom Brady Sr., to Andrea Kremer of NFL Network, on the network pre-game show Sunday, regarding the short-term and long-term future of his son with the Patriots.
"Write whatever you want. It’s a bunch of hot air. I don’t think it matters. It doesn’t mean anything.”
—Bill Belichick, asked about the meaning of New England’s previous title game experience Friday at his pre-AFC Championship Game news conference.
"Not right now. I’ve got a commitment to Ohio State and to these players. I love what I’m doing. Not right now.”
—Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, on the possibility of leaving college for an NFL head-coaching job.
One quibble: At what point in the future would Meyer ever not have a commitment to Ohio State and his players? Would he ever tell a recruiting class, “Guys, just want you to know I could leave for the NFL at some point during your time here."
"I will be shocked if he retires."
—ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, on the Colin Cowherd radio show last week, about Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.
I wouldn’t used the word “shocked," but if Manning is healthy and throwing it well in early March, I would be surprised if he retires.
By the way, when Manning pulled out of the Pro Bowl on Sunday, my first thought was: Good for him—because had he played, 300 writers would have swarmed him after the game to ask him if he was retiring. He’s not ready to talk about it, because his body’s not telling him anything yet.
“Whose staff is this? It’s our staff. I get tired of the same questions all the time relative to who’s got final say, whose pulling the trigger? We’re doing it. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not one person is going to make every decision in this building. There’s different people in different roles and at different times different people are going to be responsible for a final decision. The one thing I’m confident of is we’re going to do this together. We’re going to do it together from day one on.”
—San Francisco GM Trent Baalke, on the decision-making process atop the 49ers with the naming of Jim Tomsula as head coach.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Andrew Luck’s Colts have played Tom Brady’s Patriots four times in the past three seasons—and lost by 35, 21, 20 and 31 points.
Kevin Bacon One Degree of Separation Between the Steelers Dynasty and Sunday’s Games:
In the 1979 NFL season, rookie kicker Matt Bahr of the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the scoring in Super Bowl 14 with a 41-yard field goal.
In 1996, free agent kicker Adam Vinatieri from South Dakota State beat out Bahr, 39, in training camp and won the kicking job for New England.
In January 2015, Vinatieri, the oldest player in football at 42, missed a 51-yard field goal attempt and made one extra point in his record 30th NFL playoff game. (Jerry Rice is second at 29.)
This doesn’t qualify as outrageous, but it certainly was bothersome when I found out: Tony Sparano was not told by owner Mark Davis he was being relieved of his head-coaching duties. After hearing reports that Jack Del Rio was replacing him as coach, Sparano made several phone calls to find out his fate, and he did find out, but not from Davis.
Shouldn’t an owner, the man deciding whether the current coach is going be fired or retained, be the one to tell said coach his fate? I sure think so.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
My January travel trail so far:
Fri., Jan. 2: New York to Pittsburgh, fly.
Sun, Jan 4: Pittsburgh to New York, fly.
Tue, Jan 6: New York to Las Vegas, fly.
Wed, Jan 7: Las Vegas to New York, fly (redeye).
Thu, Jan 8: New York to Providence, train. Car to Foxboro.
Sat, Jan 10: Car from Foxboro to Providence. Providence to New York, train.
Tue, Jan 13: New York to New Orleans, fly.
Wed, Jan 14: New Orleans to New York, fly.
Fri, Jan 16: New York to Detroit; Detroit to Seattle, fly.
Today: Scheduled for Seattle to Detroit; Detroit to New York, fly (redeye).
In order, I covered Ravens-Steelers, appeared at Time Inc. event at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, covered Ravens-Patriots, traveled to Louisiana for an NBC Super Bowl pregame show story, and covered the NFC title game in Seattle.
A note about the Detroit airport: It might have become my favorite one. It sounds strange, the airport in Detroit being the best in the country, but it just might be. Good places to eat, very good coffee spots (illy, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf), good and fast tram system, clean and bright, big TVs with CNN, and the best airport hotel in the country. By far. The Westin Detroit Airport, inside the terminal, is magnificently soundproof. And the best quality of a hotel that’s right off the runways must be that you can’t hear takeoffs and landings.
A note about one of the hidden gems of Seattle: I joined a large party of writers and non-writers Friday night at Betty, a restaurant in the Queen Anne neighborhood. (The MMQB's Robert Klemko and Emily Kaplan came.) It’s the third or fourth time I’ve been there, and it gets better. Good, homey food (I had the bouillabaisse special and it was fabulous) and good local beers and Washington wines. The menu is thin, but that’s not a bad thing, because they do so many things well.
Tweets of the Week
Darelle Revis in the Super Bowl as a Patriot. Man, the universe hates #NYJets fans.
— Phil Taylor (@SI_PhilTaylor) January 19, 2015
Watch out for a Fa--
— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 18, 2015
That's the former NFL coach, after the Seattle fake field goal-turned-touchdown-pass-to-a-tackle in the third quarter.
This game is one more reason why Las Vegas has big buildings.
— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzAJC) January 18, 2015
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, after Green Bay bolted to a 16-0 lead over favored Seattle in noisy Seattle—and after two of the most efficient quarterbacks in football combined for four interceptions in the first 22 minutes.
Bill Belichik Pressers are just as funny as Marshawn Interviews but the funniest thing about it is they are dead ass serious. Ha
— Tyrann Mathieu (@Mathieu_Era) January 16, 2015
The Arizona safety, apparently live-Tweeting the Bill Belichick press conference Friday and drawing comparisons to Marshawn Lynch’s stupid press conferences.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Championship Sunday:
a. Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis, San Francisco wideout Anquan Boldin and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the three finalists for NFL Man of the Year. Worthy choices. Great volunteerism.
b. LeGarrette Blount, with seven touchdowns against the Colts in the past two playoff games (four last January, three Sunday).
c. Nate Solder, the converted college tight end, with a nimble touchdown on that tackle-eligible play. Again.
d. Great point by PFT’s Michael David Smith: LeGarrette Blount is the running back Trent Richardson should be.
e. Excellent call by ref Tony Corrente, not flagging Clay Matthews for hitting a sliding Russell Wilson late in the second quarter—because Matthews had already committed to hit Wilson before Wilson committed to slide, and because Matthews went over the top of Wilson.
f. Josh Boyd and Mike Daniels, the Green Bay defensive tackles, consistently overpowering the interior Seattle running game. Boyd and Daniels stood up Marshawn Lynch twice, and penetrated the guard-center gaps consistently.
g. In what turned out to be losing efforts, the play of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, free safety, and Morgan Burnett, strong safety, of Green Bay. Clinton-Dix, avenging a poor game in Seattle in the season-opener, had two first-half interceptions of Russell Wilson and had a third one go through his hands in the fourth quarter; Clinton-Dix also stopped a scrambling Wilson a yard short of the end zone in the final three minutes, forcing Seattle to waste important seconds down the stretch. Burnett had an interception too, but his impact was felt more in run support and inducing Kam Chancellor-caliber punishment.
h. Most of the 45 separate pieces on the Seahawks making plays, right down to Chris (Not the MSNBC Guy) Matthews recovering an onside kick.
i. Ditto New England, with fullback James Develin from Brown scoring a first-half touchdown.
j. “Let It Be” by the Beatles. Played in-stadium as ref Tony Corrente was under the hood, ruling on a fourth-quarter touchdown by Marshawn Lynch. Turns out Corrente didn’t let it be, ruling that Lynch stepped out at the nine-yard line. Cute, though, by the stadium music crew upstairs.
k. The news break that by Football Zebras that Bill Vinovich—who I thought did a terrific job with some difficult calls in the New England-Baltimore divisional game—will be the ref in the Super Bowl.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Championship Sunday:
a. Almost everything about the first quarter Seattle played, quite possibly the worst quarter in Pete Carroll’s reign, particularly considering the import.
b. Fourteen Seattle turnovers all season. Four in the first half Sunday.
c. The Doug Baldwin fumble on the first-quarter kick return. Guys can fumble on returns. Happens all the time. But this was particularly egregious because the Brad Jones tackle of Baldwin was a simple tackle, not a strip-type tackle. There’s no way Baldwin should have fumbled on that play. Led to three easy points for Green Bay.
d. Stop, just stop, Seahawks, with the we-don’t-get-no-respect rants. It’s unbecoming. Doug Baldwin, you’re a good player. But that stuff gets old. Very old, particularly when you and Jermaine Kearse miss balls early, make some plays late, then somehow get motivated against the doubters. Whatever all that means.
e. Not sure what we saw in Seattle was a choke job by the Pack, but Seattle scoring no offensive touchdowns in the first 57 minutes, then the Packers allowing three touchdowns in the last six minutes plus the recovery of an onside kick … okay, I will call it a choke job by the Pack.
f. The five-yard hands-to-the-face penalty on defense—fine in and of itself—should not be an automatic first down.
g. The Indy run defense, which has played New England three times in the past 53 weeks and allowed 166- and 148-yard rushing games to LeGarrette Blount and a 201-yard rushing game to Jonas Gray. That defines pathetic right there.
h. Didn’t you used to be Josh Cribbs?
i. Greg Manusky and Chuck Pagano, knowing the Patriots were three for three on the tackle-eligible plays last week, and when it was announced in the stadium Sunday, somehow, some way not having their team cover eligible tackle Nate Solder, who scored a touchdown on a pass from Tom Brady.
j. I’ll live to be 103 and not understand that bit of coaching.
k. Colts tackle Xavier Nixon, who missed the plane to New England. Seriously. How do you miss a plane that would take you to the biggest football game you’d ever suit up for?
l. Mike McCarthy not going for it at the half-yard line in the first quarter. I will never, ever think that's smart with a back as ferocious and powerful as Eddie Lacy.
3. I think Ray Lewis is going to have to get used to something, working in the media. We record things. We keep them around. It would be a good idea for the ESPN PR people to remind him of that, in fact. Lewis, the other day, said this to Stephen A. Smith: “The first time we created something called a tuck rule, it’s the only reason we know—I’m just being honest!—the only reason we know who Tom Brady is, because of a tuck rule!"
Lewis referred to the first playoff game of Brady’s life, when the Patriots were given life after Raider Charles Woodson caused a Brady fumble when it appeared Brady was trying to bring the ball back into his gut after extending his right arm to throw. Officials ruled it an incomplete pass, and used the tuck rule as the reason. The Raiders were livid that it wasn’t a fumble, and the Patriots went on to win 16-13 in overtime. They went on to win the Super Bowl that year.
OK, let’s eliminate that year. Brady is 16-8 with four Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl wins without that playoff season … and his 45 touchdown passes without that first playoff season would be the most in NFL history. You get called out for saying dumb things, Ray Lewis, and, well, I don’t need to say any more. Lewis the next day backtracked and said Brady was a great player, and said his anger was over the tuck rule. Didn’t sound like it to me.
4. I think new coach Todd Bowles has every intention of giving Geno Smith a thorough chance to win the starting quarterback with the Jets. That couldn’t have hurt him with Woody Johnson.
5. I think there were probably some disappointed networks, plural, when the NFL announced CBS was keeping the Thursday night football package for 2015, with a league option for 2016. The NFL will run the Thursday night package the same as it ran it in 2014: Thursday night games on NBC in Week 1 and Thanksgiving night; seven Thursday night games on CBS and NFL Network beginning in Week 2; and the last six Thursday night games (excepting Week 17) on NFL Network. Additionally, CBS and NFL Network will each have a Saturday game, one in the late afternoon and one in prime time in Week 16 (Dec. 26, 2015).
6. I think the 46 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters will have interesting debates across the board when they gather in Phoenix to elect the 2015 class on Jan. 31. One point to make about Contributor candidate Ron Wolf, the former Green Bay GM: The appointment of Scot McCloughan as Washington’s general manager means that the Wolf General Manager tree now has five branches. Both GMs of NFC championship game teams (Seattle’s John Schneider, Green Bay’s Ted Thompson) descend from Wolf, as do Kansas City’s John Dorsey and Oakland’s Reggie McKenzie. And now McCloughan.
7. I think, not to pick at a week-old scab, but the one thing lost in the justifiable criticism of the Dez Bryant catch reversal is this: Say the catch was ruled good. Say Dallas had first-and-goal from the Green Bay one, and say Dallas scored within a play or two to make it 27-26, Dallas. The Cowboys would have gone for two. And so with somewhere around four minutes left, Green Bay would have gotten the ball back, down either one or three, with one timeout left. Here were the Packers’ previous three possessions: six plays, 47 yards, field goal; seven plays, 95 yards, touchdown; eight plays, 80 yards, touchdown. So if you want to say the Bryant reversal jobbed the Cowboys out of a chance to win, that’s fine. But please do not say the Bryant reversal cost the Cowboys the win. That didn’t happen.
8. I think there were some very good points made by The MMQB’s Greg Bedard in his piece about why Peyton Manning should not retire. Bedard concludes that Manning had to have been playing hurt in the last two months of the season. He graded Manning’s 735 pass drop-backs during the season and gave Manning a ratio of 44 plus plays and 32 minus plays (by Bedard’s grading) in the first seven games of the season, and a 66-93 plus-minus ratio in the last 10 games. A smart take.
9. I think the Falcons will be glad they waited for Dan Quinn.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Great story by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, on the mental breakdown suffered by the replacement ref who made the controversial call to end the Packers-Seahawks game in 2012.
b. RIP Ervin Drake. Don’t know him? I didn’t either, until I read about his death Saturday. He wrote “It Was A Very Good Year," one of the best songs Frank Sinatra ever sang.
c. Oh, about that global-warming-is-nonsense angle? Check this out.
d. Saw “The Imitation Game.” Just a tremendous movie, exhilarating and sad and inspirational at the same time. Benedict Cumberbatch is fabulous as code-breaking mathematician Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, as he works to break the Nazi code so the Allies can intercept the Nazis’ battle plans. Underrated performance by the young Turing, Alex Lawther, who is as good in this movie, though in a lesser role, as Hailee Steinfeld is in “True Grit.”
e. With all the good entertainment options at home, there’s still a place for a great movie in the theater.
f. Congrats to Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson for climbing the sheer 3,000-foot El Capitan at Yosemite National Park. One particularly difficult part of the journey had Jorgeson fail to climb a lower section of the rock 10 times in a seven-day period. “I will rest," he wrote in his blog during that trial. “I will try again. I will succeed.”
g. Nice piece by NBC Nightly News on J.J. Watt over the weekend.
h. Coffeenerdness: Thanks to the ladies at the illy coffee shop inside Detroit’s airport for being prompt, cheerful and making one heck of a triple latte, the barista asking me after my first sip: “Is it okay?” No it’s not okay. It’s fantastic. And that’s rare in the hurry-up-and-take-what-we-give-you service industry in American airports.
i. Beernerdness: In New Orleans, I tried the Jockamo IPA from Abita Brewing, the diverse local brewery, and enjoyed it. Kind of a classic IPA, a little darker and maltier than lots of IPAs.
j. Frank Deford’s great line, on NPR, on Boston’s bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024: “It’s like bidding to host an epidemic.” He bases that on the fact that most Olympic cities end up bleeding money and spending far more than they ever thought.
k. Congrats on your choice of Dartmouth, prep QB Harry Kraft (son of Pats president Jonathan Kraft). You’ll be with a good quarterback man there in Buddy Teevens.
l. Sad to see the end of a hallowed bookstore in Manhattan, owned by the parents of “Mike & Mike” co-host Mike Greenberg.
The Adieu Haiku
Russell Wilson’s tears.
Those should be shed by all teams
that passed on him. Twice.