AROUND THE NFL

The Ravens are now on top of the AFC If The Season Ended Today:

 

In the AFC –

                                               Overall          Div Rk       Conf Rec

 

1          Baltimore         North        10-2             1             6-2

1          New England  East          10-2             1             6-2          

3          Houston           South        8-4              1             7-2        

4          Kansas City     West          8-4             1              6-3        

5          Buffalo             WC            9-3             2              6-2

6          Pittsburgh        WC            7-5             2              6-3          

7          Tennessee                         7-5            3              5-4

8          Oakland                             6-6             2             4-4          

9          Indianapolis                       6-6             2             5-6          

10        Cleveland                           5-7            3              5-4

 

We have a pretty good idea now who 5 of the 6 AFC playoff teams will be.

 

Since Cleveland has two games left with Cincinnati (and one with Arizona), we are going to leave them on this display even though they are two games below the line.

 

One thing – we though that if the Bills win out (Ravens, at Pitt, at NE, NY Jets) they are the AFC East champions. They would have split with New England, have the same conference record and have a better conference record.  However, in the divisional tiebreaker, common games comes before conference record.  This from Matt Warren of BuffaloRumblings.com:

 

4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.

This is where folks are confused. In the Wild Card race, the next tiebreaker is conference record, but not in the divisional tiebreaker. Because the divisional squads play so many common opponents, it is the higher tiebreaker. Buffalo lost to the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. The Patriots beat both of those teams. The only change down the stretch would be Buffalo beating the Baltimore Ravens, a team that bested New England.

 

That gives Buffalo two losses vs common opponents and New England would only have one. The Patriots win the tiebreaker and the AFC East division in a hypothetical 13-3 season.

 

The Ravens, with wins over New England AND San Francisco, are now the Super Bowl favorites:

 

Top Super Bowl Favorites

At Caesars Sportsbook; odds as of Dec. 2.

 

TEAM  ODDS

Ravens            5-2

Saints              7-2

Patriots            9-2

49ers               6-1

Seahawks       10-1

Chiefs              10-1

Vikings             13-1

Packers           18-1

Texans            30-1

Cowboys         30-1

Bills                  35-1

 

David Perdum on their rise:

 

There weren’t many believers in the Ravens to start the season. In September at DraftKings sportsbook, 24 of the 32 teams had attracted more bets to win the Super Bowl than the Ravens, including the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and New York Giants.

 

Baltimore kicked off the season as a 45-1 Super Bowl long shot and was 40-1 in early October after losing back-to-back games to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. The Ravens, behind dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson, went on a tear from there. During their current winning streak, they’ve defeated six playoff contenders who are a combined 51-20.

– – –

Will this nickname for Al Riveron stick?

 

“We had an interception turned over by the Wizard of Oz.”

—Oakland coach Jon Gruden after the 40-9 loss to Kansas City. The Raiders’ Trayvon Mullen intercepted Patrick Mahomes in the middle of the third quarter, but the pick was overturned on review by the NFL’s New York officiating crew, and the Chiefs followed with a quick touchdown.

 

During a replay discussion this week we heard one of the FOX rules analysts, we think it was Mike Pereira, drop the name Russell Yurk into the discussion.  He’s the VP of Replay & Administration, but previously the replay decisions had been exclusively laid at the feet of Riveron.  In the last few weeks, they seem to have become a bit more aggressive on interference and perhaps a tad more coherent.  We wonder if Yurk, a former on-site replay official before things were centralized, has become more involved in the decisions.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Give Peter King credit for unearthing a great Lions factoid:

 

In the 10 years that Barry Sanders played (1989-98), the Detroit Lions finished in the top 16 in the NFL in rushing every year.

 

In the 20 full seasons since he retired, the Detroit Lions have never finished in the top 16 in in the NFL in rushing.

 

Detroit’s NFL rank in rushing yardage with Sanders: 8, 11, 10, 16, 7, 3, 14, 12, 2, 10. Average league ranking: 9.3.

 

Without Sanders: 28, 20, 28, 29, 32, 19, 26, 32, 31, 30, 24, 23, 29, 23, 17, 28, 32, 30, 32, 18. The Lions are 18th this year. Average league ranking: 26.6.

 

The Lions have played the last 21 years—21 percent of the history of the NFL—with a mediocre to pathetic running game every year. Six executives and nine head coaches have been unable to build a running game worth a darn.

 

They could get to the top 16 this year:

 

ARZ     114.1 (14)       

JAX     113.4 (15)       

DEN    108.3 (16)       

NO      107.3 (17)       

DET     105.6 (18)       

 

 

MINNESOTA

If November belonged to LAMAR JACKSON, will December be DALVIN COOK’s month?  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com on the MVP darkhorse:

 

The Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson has taken the league by storm as the most dynamic quarterback in years and has emerged as the front-runner for the award, but Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook is stating a strong case of his own.

 

Cook is putting into existence the things he once imagined. He has gone back and forth all season with Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey (and more recently Cleveland’s Nick Chubb) for positioning as the rushing and scrimmage yards leader. In his first 11 games, Cook ranks second in yards from scrimmage (1,472) and third in rushing yards (1,017). But the basis of his MVP candidacy is how he makes his entire team better.

 

“He envisioned himself being this way, living this way,” Rhodes said. “He always spoke on ‘I’m going to be one of the best.’ He always said, ‘I’m going to be the rushing leader. I’m going to run hard.’ He has great confidence. Believe me, if you’re around him, you’ll see his confidence.

 

“It’s a guy you want on your team. It’s a guy that you can depend on. Dalvin says, ‘Just give me the ball. I can make something happen.'”

 

Cook’s explosive playmaking abilities are the cornerstone of the Vikings’ system and have boosted quarterback Kirk Cousins’ play. What Cook has accomplished in 2019 — his first healthy season in three — is what the Vikings envisioned when they traded up to draft him 41st overall in 2017.

 

As the Vikings travel to perhaps their biggest game of the season on Monday against the Seattle Seahawks (8:20 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Cook effect can be felt across positional lines. He has influenced every aspect of his team’s identity while restoring the Vikings to relevance in the NFC.

 

Before the season, Minnesota recommitted to a running game that struggled in 2018. The Vikings ranked 30th in yards (1,493), 27th in carries (357) and 25th in yards per carry (4.18). This season, a revitalized zone-blocking scheme has produced the fifth-highest output in running back yards (4.80) and open-field yards, defined as when a team’s running back earns more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to Football Outsiders.

 

Cook is quick to credit his blockers for his success. But it’s his patience to see the play develop in front of him that makes his offensive line’s job easier.

 

“It puts a lot of confidence in us, just knowing that our block doesn’t necessarily have to be perfect,” Vikings right tackle Brian O’Neill said. “A lot of times if you’re just in the way, he’ll be able to break one, and not a lot of people can do that. He’s probably the best at that — taking a lot more than he’s necessarily given. He can make it into something a lot more so than I’ve ever seen anybody do or block for. All we need is one or two inches, and he can do it.”

 

Going into Week 13, Cook leads the NFL with 63 rushes this season on which he hit a maximum speed of 15-plus mph, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He also has the fastest average speed at the line of scrimmage among running backs on rushes (10.9 mph).

 

The zone scheme allows Cook to “literally go anywhere,” according to left guard Pat Elflein, forcing defenses to chase him to the perimeter on outside runs or whiff on tackles as he cuts up the middle of the field. Cook leads the league in scrimmage yards after contact (533) and receiving yards after contact (161), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

 

“Now that he’s healthy, he’s just such an explosive player,” Elflein said. “Every time he touches the ball, he can break two, three, four tackles, and he does it consistently.”

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Injury watch on QB DANIEL JONES.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones had a rough time against the Packers defense on Sunday and three interceptions weren’t the only painful part of his day.

 

Jones had his ankle taped at halftime after visiting with medical personnel late in the first half of the 31-13 loss that dropped the Giants to 2-10 on the season. Jones didn’t miss any snaps and there’s no expectation that he’ll miss any against the Eagles next Monday either.

 

Head coach Pat Shurmur said on a Monday conference call that he expects Jones to practice this week, which would indicate that he also expects the rookie to make his 11th start of the season in Philadelphia.

 

If Shurmur’s wrong about Jones, Eli Manning would be in line for a return to the lineup. Shurmur said Monday, via multiple reporters, that Manning is ready should such a need arise.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Coach Doug Pederson is not happy.  PhiladelphiaEagles.com:

 

The Eagles lost 37-31 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. This is the team’s third straight loss, dropping their record to 5-7 with four games left. The Eagles will face only NFC East opponents for the remainder of the schedule. In this edition of Morning Roundup presented by Microsoft, we will cover the entire Week 13 matchup and what the future holds for this team. Let’s get right into it.

 

1. Doug Pederson ‘disgusted, mad, and angry’ about loss

 

Head coach Doug Pederson told the SportsRadio 94WIP Morning Show earlier today that he is “disgusted, mad, and angry” about Sunday’s 37-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

 

Pederson admitted that the Dolphins “played harder” than the Eagles, who had a chance to tie the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East with a win.

 

Immediately after the game, Pederson cited the team’s inconsistency, penalties, and lack of execution – especially offensively on third down – for the defeat.

 

 

2. Carson Wentz: ‘We’re not making enough plays in critical situations’

 

Quarterback Carson Wentz threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in Sunday’s loss as the offense put up 31 points, its highest total since the October 27 win at Buffalo.

 

But the Eagles surrendered leads of 10-0 in the first quarter and 28-14 in the third. What happened?

 

“It’s really hard to say. Every game is different, but at the end of the day we’re not making enough plays in critical situations to win ballgames,” Wentz said. “We’ve been close in a lot of these, and just collectively as a team, we’re just coming up short in those critical situations and it starts with me. I’ve got to be better in a lot of those big-time situations, too. That’s probably the biggest thing that I noticed right off the top.”

 

 

WASHINGTON

This from Andrew Siciliano:

 

@AndrewSiciliano

Redskins, at 3-9, cannot be a Wild Card. But, amazingly, they remain alive for the NFC East title.

Strange, but true.

 

If they could win in Green Bay on Sunday, they have Philly, NY Giants and at Dallas to finish.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

A couple of personnel moves for the Falcons from Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons don’t have much to play for, but they have a few more guys to work with.

 

The team announced Monday that punter Matt Bosher had been activated from injured reserve, hopefully putting a stop to their revolving door at the position.

 

They also designated guard Chris Lindstrom to return from IR, opening the practice window for their first-rounder, and signed tackle John Wetzel.

 

Lindstrom, the 14th overall pick, suffered a foot injury in the opener and went on IR. He has 21 days of practice time to be activated.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Two LBs named Devin went in the first round, and DEVIN BUSH of the Steelers took the early lead in acclaim.  But, here is DEVIN WHITE of the Buccaneers doing his thing in JAX and getting Peter King’s Defensive Player of the Week award:

 

White, in just one quarter at Jacksonville, continued to show the Bucs made a smart pick at number five in the first round last April. The rangy linebacker from LSU snuffed out the first Jaguars drive with an interception of Nick Foles at the Tampa 26, leading to the first TD of the game. Four minutes later, White picked up a strip-sack fumble of Foles and ran 14 yards for a touchdown. Thirteen minutes into the game, Tampa Bay had a commanding 15-0 lead. White had a late end-zone pass break-up to ensure a 28-11 win.

 

Suddenly, the Buccaneers have won three of four to get to 5-7.  Is a winning season possible?  Three of the final four at home – Indianapolis, at Detroit, Houston, Atlanta.

 

Looks like 8-8 to the DB, which ain’t bad from how things started.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Even after nailing a winning 53-yard walkoff FG, PK BRANDON McMANUS was bemoaning a perceived lack of confidence from his coach:

 

Just before halftime on Sunday in Denver, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus walked onto the field prepared to attempt a 65-yard field goal. And then he walked off the field, at the orders of head coach Vic Fangio.

 

Fangio said after the game that he declined to let McManus try the field goal because he has seen extra-long attempts mess up kickers’ mechanics. McManus was angry about it, throwing his helmet and yelling at the sideline, and after the game he said he wanted a shot at the record.

 

“I know I can make the kick,” McManus said, via ESPN. “And this is a storied game that I grew up watching, and it was a dream of mine to play in this league — and if I was able to have my name mentioned as the longest field goal in NFL history, [I] would love that. That’s why I would have loved to kick that attempt.”

 

After halftime, McManus walked onto the field, placed the ball at the 45-yard line and booted a 65-yard field goal through the uprights. McManus is hoping that by showing Fangio he can do it in warmups, he’ll get Fangio to let him do it in a game.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Peter King:

 

The eight Chargers losses this year have been by 3, 7, 7, 7, 3, 2, 7 and 3 points.

 

That’s 8 losses by 39 points.

 

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Peter King on the clutch kick by PK JUSTIN TUCKER:

 

There’s something about Justin Tucker that makes you say, I want that guy on my team. Here’s the game of the year in the NFL so far, the 10-1 Niners traveling cross-country to play the 9-2 Ravens, the best of the NFC at the best of the AFC (as it appears). After a slew of controversial calls and great individual performances, and a backup San Francisco safety named Marcell Harris punching the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s grasp and almost ruining the game for the Ravens, not to mention the steady-to-hard rain on a 40-degree day, with a 13-mph wind swirling in the stadium, it all came down to this:

 

Three seconds left, and the score tied at 17, and the ball lying at the San Francisco 31-yard-line, and the Ravens waving out Tucker for the field goal try.

 

“I try to be chill,” he said from the Ravens locker room afterward. “I focus on the action of the kick, not consequences. Honestly, as the clock ran down, I‘m just hoping the ball’s the spotted at the 32.”

 

“Why?” I said.

 

“Fifty’s a nice round number,” Tucker said. “And there’s slightly more glory making a 50-yarder than 49.”

 

My, my. The man wants to kick from a yard longer. That’s his sense of confidence, of history.

 

“The rain was coming down all day,” he said. “Actually, I changed my shirt at halftime, I was so cold and wet. So the spot we picked out where my plant foot was going to land was rather soft and very wet. Knowing what to do and how to adjust before the kick is one of the important steps before the kick. Gotta make sure I stay up, and I get my studs out of the ground lightly so I don’t slip. You feel the moment, of course. You have to embrace it. You can’t run away from it. You process the whole specter of human emotion, from fear to excitement, compartmentalize it, put it away, then realize the only thing that matters is the action, as I said, not the consequence.”

 

Interesting: Tucker said when it’s raining hard, as it was, and the wind is blowing, you can see by looking toward the goalpost which direction the wind is going—because that’s the direction it’s raining. The wind was going left to right, but really, Tucker couldn’t really know how it would swirl after the kick because it wasn’t absolutely steady. He aimed a bit to the left of center. When he kicked, the ball didn’t seem to be affected by the wind much. It started to the left of center, then flew straight away through the posts.

 

He was happy, but not blown away with emotion. This is his job, and he’s the most accurate kicker ever, and he knows there will be other kicks this big. And bigger.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

We’re not sure the Steelers needed anything to fire them up further before the re-match with Cleveland, but if they did Browns coach Freddie Kitchens provided it.  Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com:

 

Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens downplayed his “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt in the aftermath of his team’s 20-13 loss Sunday, but Steelers players blasted the coach for putting his team in a bad position.

 

“I know that our coach never would have done anything like that,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Why throw gas? When you do something like that, you throw your players in harm’s way. He’s not on the field. You throw your players in harm’s way when you do stuff like that with a vengeance. And I hate that for them.”

 

Foster added: “You just don’t see that from upper management. We all got to grow as professionals in some sense. I’m glad Coach T [Mike Tomlin] doesn’t do anything like that.”

 

The two coaches have traded their share of barbs in the rivalry. During an ESPN interview over the summer, Tomlin made a yawning motion when asked about facing Odell Beckham Jr. twice per season after the wide receiver was traded to the Browns from the Giants.

 

Kitchens, whose birthday was Friday, was photographed wearing a “Pittsburgh started it” shirt to see the Mr. Rogers biopic “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” on Friday night.

 

The shirt referenced the brawl between the teams two weeks ago, when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with a helmet, setting off a melee and earning himself an indefinite suspension.

 

“I wore a T-shirt,” Kitchens said after the game. “I wore a jacket with it. My daughters wanted me to wear the shirt. I’d wear it again. I put on a jacket, I covered it up, I took a picture, that was simple as that. A T-shirt didn’t cause us to give up 40-yard passes. We were ready to play. That’s the only thing people need to be concerned about. We were ready to play.”

 

Baker Mayfield, who frequently sent messages through his shirt choices during his college career at Oklahoma, didn’t comment on Kitchens’ shirt in his postgame news conference.

 

“I don’t really have a comment on that,” Mayfield said. “It’s just a T-shirt. I’ve done much worse.”

 

By wearing the shirt in public, Kitchens seemingly escalated tensions between the two teams after it appeared that emotions were cooling in the week leading up to the rematch.

 

“I thought it was pretty stupid,” Steelers offensive lineman David DeCastro said. “That’s a lot of bulletin-board material. I don’t know why you do that as a coach. I just don’t get that. Of course it’s going to motivate us. What are you thinking? It’s just not smart.”

 

Since WR JAMES WASHINGTON played at Oklahoma State, we thought his special connection would be with his OSU QB MASON RUDOLPH.  But it seems he also has a bond with QB DEVLIN HODGES.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver James Washington admits that he isn’t the best at calling ducks.

 

It’s a good thing, then, that Washington has a world champion to teach him a thing or two about the skill.

 

Washington, a Stamford, Texas, native who has been hunting deer, wild hogs and coyotes since sixth grade, went duck hunting with quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges on the players’ day off Tuesday. With Hodges the better caller and Washington the better shot, the two made a heckuva pair in their second hunting outing together.

 

On Sunday, the quarterback and wide receiver took the chemistry they developed in the brush and marshes outside Pittsburgh and put it to good use at Heinz Field for a 20-13 win against the Cleveland Browns.

 

“Honestly, I guess it’s just me and him just knowing each other off the field,” Washington said of their connection. “Me and him do a lot of hunting together. We kind of get to know each other a little better. It’s all about just making plays that come your way at the end of the day.”

 

Down 10-0 in the second quarter, the Steelers needed a spark. For the second week in a row, they found it in Hodges’ connection with Washington.

 

This time, the quarterback, making his first home start, hit Washington for a 31-yard gain on a free play, jump-starting an otherwise lackluster offense.

 

“It kind of goes back to hunting,” Washington said. “I tell him I’m a better shooter than he is, so you call them in, and I’ll shoot ‘em. Kind of how it works.”

 

On Sunday, Hodges threw ‘em, and Washington caught ‘em.

 

The 31-yard play in the second quarter gave the Steelers their first third-down conversion of the afternoon and gave the team a little juice. The Steelers got a field goal on the drive, their first points of the game.

 

“It was a heckuva play by James,” Hodges said. “I think it was on an offsides call, so we had a free play. We took advantage of it, and it was a little spark to get us going.”

 

Mike Tomlin felt the ripple effects of the spark.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Peter King on Houston’s breakthrough win against the Patriots:

 

You never know whether a game is just a game, or if it’s something more. The 28-22 Houston victory over New England felt like more, because the Texans under Bill O’Brien had lost to the Patriots under Bill Belichick by 21, 27, 18, 3 and 7 since O’Brien took over the Texans in 2014. On this night in Houston, the Texans built a 28-9 lead with 10 minutes to go, and though New England got two touchdowns late, the game didn’t have a lot of real drama. It was Houston’s night.

 

In the Houston locker room after the game, Deshaun Watson, the third-year quarterback and no-doubt team leader, took it on himself to give O’Brien the game ball. Those in the room said O’Brien was emotional about it. He should have been. A decade ago, O’Brien was on Belichick’s staff in New England, and he’s been the little brother getting beat up by the big brother every time they play. Until Sunday night.

 

“It was big for both of us,” Watson said. “We work together all the time. We had two tries since I’ve been here against them where we came up short. Just being the quarterback of the team, it really came from everyone, but for me to present that, I bet it meant a lot to him. It was awesome.”

 

For Watson, beating Tom Brady was his big moment. “Who knows when he’s going to hang it up,” Watson said. “That’s my role model, a guy that’s been doing it forever, over 20 years. I’m only alive for 20 years.”

 

With Brady a free-agent at the end of the season, he may face Watson again. The scheduling formula has the first-place AFC East team playing at the first-place AFC South team … so if Brady’s back, there could be a rematch. But it’s in doubt, so Watson felt good about beating the great Brady while he was a Patriot.

 

Coach Bill O’Brien reveals that the winning trick play was devised by its key participants.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The biggest trick card came on a play in which quarterback Deshaun Watson became a receiver. Leading 21-9 in the fourth quarter, Watson took the shotgun handoff, handed the ball to running back Duke Johnson moving left, who then handed it to receiver DeAndre Hopkins coming across the formation. Hopkins, with Watson trailing as a pitch option, waited until the last moment for the defender to commit before lobbing the pigskin forward to Watson, who dove for the end zone.

 

O’Brien didn’t take credit for the trickeration, noting that Watson and Hopkins brought it to him during the Week 10 bye.

 

“I think they drew it up in the dirt over the bye week,” O’Brien said, via the Houston Chronicle. “They brought it in, had it on a piece of notebook paper, handed it to me. We’ve been working on that for a while. The timing was right. Wasn’t the exact look we thought we were going to get and they made it work.”

 

The play wasn’t new, the Chicago Bears ran a similar action on a two-point play in a 2017 prime-time game against the Minnesota Vikings, except in this version — by design or happenstance — Watson caught a forward pitch instead of a backward pass.

 

Watson acknowledged he swiped the play while watching tape with backup QB AJ McCarron.

 

“I think it was Chicago that did it, me and AJ McCarron were looking at it, watching film one day,” Watson said. “And we were like actually we can probably run that and then Hop saw it and Hop, of course he’s like, ‘Let’s do it, let’s do it!'”

 

Taking the play from the Bears is apropos. The touchdown catch combined with three TD passes, Watson joined former Chicago QB Jim McMahon (Week 4, 1985) and Nick Foles (Super Bowl LII) as the only players in the Super Bowl era to have 3-plus passing TDs and a receiving TD in a single game, per NFL Research.

 

The last two players to do so both hoisted Lombardi trophies that season.

 

As for Hopkins, he was proud of the degree of difficulty in which he completed the play.

 

“I would give myself a 10 maybe because I took a hit just to get it to him,” Hopkins said. “They played it very well. He was patient. I knew I had to kind of tuck the ball, wait for him to commit, to throw it to Deshaun. I knew once I threw it to him, he was going to be in.

 

“In practice, it wasn’t a guy flipping me at practice. It was a lot clearer. I knew holding onto the ball, getting the guy to commit, it would lead to Deshaun being open. I knew all I had to do was give him the ball.”

 

The play, which ended up being the game-winner after the Patriots’ late comeback bid, gave the Texans their fourth win in the last five games, pushing their record to 8-4, and a one-game lead in the AFC South with four to play, including two versus the Tennessee Titans, second in the division at 7-5.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Big money QB NICK FOLES was benched amidst the loss to the Buccaneers, and GARDNER MINSHEW takes over against the Chargers. Jordan Dajani of CBSSports.com:

 

Despite the “Minshew Mania” which swept the nation earlier this season, many maintained that the Jacksonville Jaguars did not have a quarterback problem. Nick Foles broke his collarbone in the first game of the season, and the former Super Bowl MVP was the obvious starter moving forward as soon as he was ready to take the field again. After the 28-11 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, the Jaguars are making a change.

 

On Monday, the Jaguars announced that Gardner Minshew would be taking over as the starting quarterback, and Foles will serve as his backup. Foles has lost his last three starts by a combined 59 points since returning from injury. To make matters worse, two of those losses were to divisional rivals, which effectively ended Jacksonville’s postseason dreams. Foles turned the ball over three times on Sunday, and he was benched for Minshew in the second half after the Jaguars faced a 25-point deficit at halftime. The rookie then threw for 147 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the final two quarters.

 

“I wanted to get a spark,” Marrone said after the game, via ESPN. “It was kind of dead, and I wanted to get things going and made the switch at quarterback. … I haven’t spoken to either quarterback afterward. I know I’m going to get a lot of questions on it, on what’s going to happen, which is fine. I’m going to tell you the answer already. I haven’t spoken to them, and I always believe in doing things the right way. I’ve got to talk to them first.”

 

“It’s obviously emotional right now, and we’re really disappointed, so we’ll wait, and I’ll talk to them before any announcement comes out. I just think it’s the right thing to do.”

 

Foles was booed in the first half and Minshew was cheered as he took the field. The Jaguars inked Foles to a four-year, $88 million deal in March, which was enough to warrant faith in him when he returned from injury, but he clearly hasn’t played well. Foles has lost all four of his starts and he has thrown for 736 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

 

Minshew is definitely more of a raw player, but he’s also an exciting one because he can make things happen on the field by using his feet to reset the pocket. He’s quickly turned into a fan favorite — his game characterized by miraculous escapes from would-be tacklers in the pocket and downfield throws that not every rookie quarterback can make.

 

This was a tough decision to make, but there’s no denying that the Jaguars received a spark when Minshew entered the game. Jacksonville hosts the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday in Week 14.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Peter King is a fan of what the Bills are building (doing things like having WR JOHN BROWN throw a pass):

 

The personality of this Bills team. A quarterback who’s a fighter, role players who do what’s asked even if it’s not their forte, imaginative coaches. All buttressed by a punishing defensive front that was gashed a bit too often against Dallas but still shows signs of being a January competitor.

 

John Brown. Three years, three teams (Arizona, Baltimore, Buffalo.) “Great example of our guys: well-coached, fundamentally sound and we coach the fundamentals every day, and he buys into everything we ask,” coach Sean McDermott told me. “We tried getting him last year, and he chose Baltimore, and we went after his again this year. I’d be lying if we said we knew everything about him. You wonder why he goes to a team here, team there, and he never stays in one place. We’re glad he came to us—he’s so good for us.”

 

The pass, though. He’d never thrown a pass before, I told McDermott.

 

“It was one day in training camp,” McDermott said. “you know, you’ve got a lot of practices, you want to check some boxes, We thought, Let’s see who can throw it. Give the credit to [offensive coordinator] Brian Daboll. He comes to me after he has all his guys throwing the ball and he says, ‘Hey, John throws it pretty good.’ We think maybe he could do it. So the last maybe five weeks, we’ve been practicing it, waiting for the right time to run it. It’s a good gadget to have. Today, we said let’s trust these guys—they can do it.”

 

The block, though. He’s never been known for blocking, I told McDermott.

 

“That’s him,” McDermott said. “I know John’s been overshadowed by other guys who get more attention, but this is a great example of who he is. He fits Buffalo. He fits who we are. We ask all our guys to block in situations like that. He’s like our guys: unselfish, loves to work, loves football, does what it takes.”

 

I’m not sure if I touched a nerve with McDermott. This was just a short, seven-minute conversation, him on the airplane at DFW waiting to fly back home. But I asked him what he was thinking as he walked off the field after his team handled the Cowboys, with 90,445 watching, on national TV, in a game the Cowboys had to have, to advance the Bills to a totally unlikely 9-3, a little-engine-that-could team still breathing on the Patriots’ necks. He sounded a little emotional. Yes, this was a very good day for a coaching lifer.

 

“As we walked off the field?” McDermott said. “I was just grateful. I am a man of faith. I am blessed to be in Buffalo. We’re building something special. It’s humbling to be a part of it, for all of us.”

– – –

Peter King responds to a question on whether or not RB FRANK GORE is a Hall of Famer:

 

Frank Gore has no doubt had a wonderful career. Third all-time on the career rushing list, consummate professional, tremendous longevity. My question: Is he a Hall of Famer? I don’t know if at any point of his career he was considered one of the top rushers in the league and he was never part of an iconic team.”

 

Gore’s a bit of a conundrum. He’s an absolute outlier in NFL history, a guy who, as you say, was never considered the best or second-best back but had a valiant and incredibly productive career after both knees and both shoulders had been reconstructed. By the way, he was considered elite in 2006, when he was third in rushing with 1,695 yards and a league-best (for rushers with at least 200 carries) 5.4 yards per rush. The Hall of Fame doesn’t have specific qualifications at any position. But I do think there is a place in the Hall for a player who, from 2006-16, his 11 prime seasons, averaged:

 

1,132 rushing yards per season.

4.4 yards per rush.

15.1 games per year.

 

That doesn’t count the 110-yard rushing game he had against the Ravens in the Super Bowl. Last point: After Gore at three, the next nine backs on the all-time rushing list are either in the Hall of Fame or, in the case of number six Adrian Peterson, a lock to make it. I think Gore has done enough, but it’ll be up to the 48 voters in 2026 or so to decide if they think he has.

 

You can’t not put Gore in the Hall if you have any respect for longevity in a game that doesn’t encourage it.  Same for Ronde Barber and some others.

 

 

MIAMI

Somehow on the way to 0-16, the Dolphins have won three games.  Peter King says Coach Brian Flores is a big reason:

 

Of course it’s for calling the weirdest play of this season, the punter throwing a backhanded TD flip to the kicker for a touchdown—seven points in a game Miami won by six—but also for, in the words of Ryan Fitzpatrick, “his steadiness, work ethic and consistency.” At 0-7, and with a stripped-down roster, the Dolphins kept playing hard, and they’re 3-2 in the last month.

 

The Dolphins are 2-1 against the NFC East with the Giants still to come in New York.  Would they be a contender if they were in that woeful Gang of Four?

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Is QB TOM BRADY in decline?  Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com with an opus, edited below:

 

The Patriots win with such a frequency that any rare loss becomes a cause for temporary concern, but Sunday night’s 28-22 defeat to the Texans seems more ominous than most. While the defense struggled to keep Deshaun Watson from finding secondary targets like Duke Johnson and Kenny Stills for big plays, the Patriots’ offense was hopeless for most of the first three quarters.

 

After kicking a field goal on their opening drive, the Pats had just eight first downs over their six ensuing scoreless possessions. Julian Edelman & Co. made the score more respectable with touchdowns on each of their final three drives, but New England didn’t touch the ball with a chance to tie the score or take the lead after the Texans went up 14-3 with six minutes to go in the second quarter.

 

What made this seem different than a typical midseason Patriots loss, of course, was how their quarterback played. Tom Brady alternated between frustration and helplessness for most of the game, yelling at teammates who were either dealing with the aftereffects of a midweek flu raging through the locker room or placed into roles they weren’t capable of filling at a high level. Before the three late scoring drives, Brady was 9-of-25 passing for 90 yards with an interception and at least two other picks that were either dropped or taken away by penalty.

 

Losing a game in the middle of the season doesn’t mean much in a vacuum. The Patriots lost to the Titans and Dolphins around this time last season and still won the Super Bowl. In the lopsided battle Brady has waged with Father Time over the past decade, though, any sign of gravity starting to win has to be a cause for alarm. For most of Sunday night, he didn’t look like the guy who laughed at historical precedents and aging curves while collecting rings and selling $200 cookbooks. He looked like a 42-year-old.

 

Of course, counting out Brady has also been a cottage industry going back to his time at Michigan. As he got into his late 30s, anyone with even a passing interest in football has been waiting to see signs that Brady had slipped. The closest we came was in 2014, when he was overrun by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football in a 41-14 blowout loss. He had a passer rating of 79.1 after four weeks, and while it seemed like his future with the team could be tenuous, the Patriots righted the ship, won the Super Bowl and have added two more since.

 

I wrote about that Patriots-Chiefs game in 2014 and was careful to avoid pinning the blame on the quarterback. He wasn’t the problem. Brady’s footwork was great, and his passes were crisp and on time, but the offense around him was collapsing. The offensive line was a disaster. The receivers weren’t getting open. He seemed to have little faith in anybody.

 

Then, the following week against the Bengals, everything righted itself. The Patriots found an offensive line combination that worked. They took the training wheels off a recovering Rob Gronkowski and unlocked the offense. Suddenly, the same Brady who had looked like he was falling apart during the first month of the season looked like his usual self. There was never any issue at quarterback whatsoever.

 

Again, I’m more concerned about the offense as a whole than I am about Brady individually. This time, though, it’s easier to see a less impressive Brady on tape. There are reasons to be worried about both Brady and the players around him, and there aren’t the sorts of obvious paths to improvement there were with Gronkowski still on the team. I’ll spoil the conclusion for you now: It’s absolutely too early to say that Brady is finished and that he won’t hit his prior level of play, but there are more reasons to be concerned about this Pats offense than there have been at any point in recent memory.

 

Oh, one more thing: Even if the offense doesn’t get any better than what we saw on Sunday, the Patriots are still viable Super Bowl contenders. There’s a player from Brady’s past who proved that to be true in his own final season, and we’ll get to him in a minute.

 

First, let’s start with evaluating some of the evidence surrounding Brady and the offense to get a sense of what’s going on and why this might be different from that 2014 hiccup:

 

This is not a one-week problem

The Patriots have been struggling on offense for most of the 2019 season. They got off to a dominant start, beating the Steelers, Jets and Dolphins by a combined score of 106-17. Brady looked like his usual self, averaging just over 300 passing yards per game while throwing seven touchdown passes without an interception. Same old Brady, same old Patriots.

 

From Week 4 onward, though, they haven’t even been a league-average offense. It has been masked by special-teams work and a defense that has scored touchdowns and created plenty of opportunities for the offense, but the Pats have averaged just 1.69 points per possession since their narrow victory over the Bills in Week 4. That’s 24th in the NFL, placing them just behind the Dolphins (1.73 points per drive) over the same time frame. The Pats averaged 2.48 points per possession over that same 10-week span in 2018 and 2.66 points over it in 2017. This is out of character.

 

It’s tempting to ascribe this to the defense being utterly dominant and suggest that New England really didn’t need to score on offense, but that hasn’t been the case. If we just look at drives in the first half, the offense is averaging 1.74 points per trip, which is 22nd in the NFL. It scuffled badly against the Bills, Eagles and Cowboys, games in which the defense held the opposing offense under 10 points and Josh McDaniels’ offense failed to create any distance.

 

In the Bills game, the Pats were outscored 10-9 on offense, only to make up for it with a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Likewise, against the Cowboys, the difference was a blocked punt that gave them the ball on the Dallas 12-yard line and set up the only touchdown of the game on a throw to N’Keal Harry. The offense was otherwise outscored by the Cowboys in a battle of field goals, 9-6.

 

The Pats’ defense has allowed an opposing offense to top 14 points just twice this season, and those happen to be New England’s two losses: Sunday’s 28-22 defeat and the 37-20 loss to the Ravens in Baltimore before the bye. For more than a decade, the Patriots were carried by Brady and the offense. Now, overnight, they seem dependent upon the defense to win games.

 

Brady has been one of the league’s least productive quarterbacks for two months

Even before Sunday’s dismal showing, Brady’s numbers were disappointing. In fact, the late surge against a relatively disinterested Texans defense in the fourth quarter meant that Brady’s statistics actually improved slightly after cratering following the Cowboys game. From Week 4 on, Brady has been unrecognizable from his usual self:

 

Tom Brady’s Struggles

SPLIT   WEEKS 1-3      WEEKS 4-13

Cmp     72                         225

Att        106                       380

Cmp%  67.9%                   59.2%

Yds      911                       2357

Y/Att     8.6                       6.2

TD        7                         11

INT       0                          6

Rating   116.5                    80.3

QBR     88.4                     42.3

 

To put that in context, of the league’s 33 qualifying quarterbacks since Week 4, Brady ranks 30th in completion percentage, 30th in yards per attempt, 29th in passer rating and 24th in Total QBR. His rate stats since Week 4 are roughly in line with those of Mitchell Trubisky, who has completed 63.2% of his passes, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, thrown two touchdowns for every interception and posted a passer rating of 85.7 to go with a QBR of 40.4. Bears fans might have been excited to hear that Trubisky would be compared to Brady in 2019, but this is not a fawning comparison for either passer.

 

Everyone has bad games. Brady even had a rough month to start the season in 2014. This current rough patch, though, is nine games long and counting. He has gone seven games without posting a passer rating of 100, which was his average passer rating as recently as 2017. He had never gone seven games without posting a 100-plus plus passer rating at least once before in his career.

 

A better measure of how Brady has struggled would be to calculate his rolling baseline adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), which is a more precisely weighted version of passer rating. We use the league’s adjusted yards per attempt for each week, weight them for how frequently Brady threw passes in each week, and then compare them to Brady’s actual numbers.

 

Brady bottomed out after the Cowboys game, when he had racked up just 5.9 adjusted yards per attempt over a nine-game span. The weighted average AY/A over that time frame was at 7.1 yards, so Brady was 17.1% below league average over that time frame. Outside of one nine-week stretch in 2013, that’s the worst mark he has posted over a nine-game span since 2003. He got back up to 6.5 AY/A over the past nine weeks after the Texans game, but that’s still below league average. Even if you include those first three games, his AY/A+ for the full season is below average for the first time in his career as a starter.

 

I can’t chalk up Brady’s struggles to any concerns about the schedule, either. The Pats have played the easiest schedule in football per ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). The Texans defense Brady seemed overmatched against for most of the game ranked 26th in pass defense DVOA heading into the game. A week ago, the Patriots weren’t able to move the ball against a Cowboys defense that ranked 18th and subsequently allowed the Bills to average nearly 12 adjusted yards per attempt in a 26-15 loss.

 

Watching Brady in this game, I had to wonder whether his elbow injury might be a bigger concern than what has been let on via the injury report. Take a look at him in the Super Bowl comeback against the Falcons from three years ago. (If you’re a Falcons fan, maybe go do something else.) Even go back further and take a look at the Brady who sliced up the Dolphins in Week 1 of 2011.

 

Compare that to the highlights from Sunday’s game. He seems to be struggling to get the sort of zip he typically found on throws, even as recently as a couple of years ago. Look at this 16-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers on the sideline from last night. Brady needs to put the pass in a place where the cornerback can’t possibly make a play on the football, but with a big window, his pass nearly takes Meyers out of bounds and requires a spectacular catch. There were throws like that throughout the Texans game.

 

In the areas in which we would typically expect Brady’s experience and instincts to shine, he has struggled even more notably. Brady perennially ranked among the league leaders in QBR when teams were foolish enough to try to blitz the former Michigan standout. This season, Brady ranks 27th in QBR (38.0) and passer rating (78.7) when teams send extra pressure.

 

Likewise, in the red zone, Brady has struggled to find open windows and forced dangerous passes into coverage. His 20.9 QBR in the red zone ranks 27th in the league, while his passer rating of 90 is 24th. Brady has two red zone interceptions in 12 games after throwing two in three seasons from 2016-18. He also has a league-leading two dropped interceptions in the red zone.

 

Is this Brady’s new true level of play? Is he really somewhere close to the 30th-best quarterback in football? I don’t think so. It is fair to say that Brady looks diminished from the passer we saw in 2018 or in the first few weeks of the 2019 season, at least right now. We’ve also seen him struggle at this level for long enough now to make me think that the offense around him has to improve for Brady to look better. And that’s a whole other set of problems.

 

This offense hasn’t found its post-Gronk identity

After the Randy Moss era in New England, the Patriots built the next iteration of their offense around keeping defenses off balance. The league’s most famously secretive team extended that mystery to the very last second before Brady snapped the ball, in part because they had the league’s most versatile weapon. Gronkowski teamed with a series of tight ends and fullback James Develin to mask the pre-snap intentions. Gronk gave the Patriots a mismatch in the passing game when teams sold out to stop the run and served as a devastating blocker when teams spread out to stop the pass.

 

The ultimate example of how he could break open a game schematically, of course, was his last day in an NFL uniform. In Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots struggled to move the ball all game against the Rams until one fateful series. The Pats lined up with the same offensive personnel — wideout Julian Edelman, a running back, Develin and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Gronkowski — and forced the Rams to match up with their base personnel.

 

Once they did, the Patriots ran the same pass play — Hoss Y-Juke — three times in a row. Brady hit Edelman matched up against linebacker Cory Littleton for 13 yards on the first play, threw to Rex Burkhead for 7 yards on the second, and then hit Gronk up the seam for 29 yards on the third iteration. Sony Michel plunged in for the game’s only offensive touchdown on the next play.

 

That drive worked because the Patriots had running backs and fullbacks who can catch and tight ends who could both threaten teams downfield and block with equal aplomb. They just don’t have the personnel to do that anymore. Gronk retired. Allen is out of the league. Develin is on injured reserve. Burkhead has played only a handful of snaps, and the Pats’ halfback rotation with Michel and James White strongly hint at what type of play is coming merely by making it onto the field. (It might be telling that White had such a great game as a runner Sunday.)

 

Teams don’t have to be afraid that the Patriots are going to scheme their way into a personnel mismatch anymore, because their weapons aren’t scary enough to do that. There might be a different version of this team in another galaxy where the Patriots have healthy, productive versions of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. Here, the Patriots have Edelman and little else. Brady held onto the ball for an average of 3.4 seconds against the Texans, longer than he has in any other game since the start of 2016, because he just doesn’t have receivers getting open.

 

Outside of Edelman and White, Brady might not also have much of a rapport or trust with his receivers. We saw one such example when Bradley Roby intercepted Brady in the first half. On the play, the Patriots motioned Edelman into a trips set on the right side of the field, leaving N’Keal Harry matched up one-on-one with no likely safety help. The Patriots happily did this in years past with Gronkowski, isolating him against a smaller corner while using Gronk’s size to create an easy throwing lane on slants and in-breaking routes.

 

At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Harry should have a physicality advantage on the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Roby. It didn’t quite work out that way. Roby rightly expected an in-breaking route was coming, and Harry broke the cardinal rule of slants and let Roby get across his body to make a play on the football. It took a Brady tackle to prevent a pick-six, and the coaching staff reacted accordingly. After playing 12 of the first 16 offensive snaps, Harry was on the field for just 10 of the ensuing 61, including exactly zero of the snaps during New England’s three touchdown drives.

 

The attempts the Patriots made to add weapons for Brady haven’t yet panned out or flamed out entirely. Brown lasted one game. Gordon was traded. Mohamed Sanu is still less than 100% while struggling through a high ankle sprain and had three catches for 14 yards in his return. Harry missed the first half of the season and already appears to be in the doghouse. Ben Watson is averaging just under 25 yards per game since returning from a suspension.

 

It’s possible that the Brady of a couple years ago could have turned this into a high-powered offense. Whether it’s the receivers bringing down Brady or vice versa, though, this just hasn’t typically added up to an effective passing game over the past couple of months. As Gregg Rosenthal noted on Twitter, there seem to be a couple of plays every game in which Brady throws the ball to an unguarded patch of grass and then wildly gestures that a receiver should have been there waiting for the throw.

 

At this point, the Patriots have to ask themselves what they do well. They don’t have the hybrid receivers to line up and shift into something the defense can’t handle, with White and the occasionally healthy Burkhead as the lone holdouts. They don’t have the pure weapons to win one-on-one and give Brady an option on 50-50 balls outside of Edelman’s agility to win in the slot. What worked during the 2018 playoffs was a significant dose of the running game, but …

 

The blocking and the running game aren’t taking the heat off Brady

The Patriots just aren’t a great running team. They came into Sunday’s game ranked 21st in rush offense DVOA, and while they had an effective night against the Texans by running for nine first downs on 29 tries, there isn’t much big-play ability in this rush offense. White’s 32-yard carry was comfortably their longest run of the season. The Pats rank 15th in first-down rate at 23%, but they’re averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, which is 29th in the NFL.

 

The decision to draft Michel, which seemed curious at the time for a Pats offense that had almost always succeeded with low-cost backs in the primary rushing role, looks downright disastrous given how poorly he has run this season. The Pats drafted Michel with the 31st pick of the first round, four selections before the Browns chose Nick Chubb. Later in the second round, weapons such as Courtland Sutton, DJ Chark and Dallas Goedert all came off of the board. This year, the Pats took little-used Damien Harris in the third round just before the Bills drafted Dawson Knox, who has made an instant impact for Buffalo. Hindsight, maybe, but why use a premium draft pick on Michel unless he’s a difference-maker as both a runner and receiver?

 

It’s possible that Michel will look better with an improved offensive line, but the unit that rolled over opposing defenses during the 2018 postseason is long gone. Left tackle Trent Brown left for the Raiders in free agency, while center David Andrews is going to miss the entire 2019 season with blood clots in his lungs.

 

Brown was replaced by fellow 2018 first-rounder Isaiah Wynn, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn Achilles, then hit injured reserve this season with a toe injury before returning two weeks ago. The Patriots were forced to turn to street free agent Marshall Newhouse to take over at left tackle, where Brady had spent virtually his entire career playing behind Matt Light or Nate Solder.

 

Wynn is back and looks promising, but other issues have popped up. Andrews was replaced by Ted Karras, who went down with a knee injury during the Texans game and was ruled out shortly thereafter. It’s unclear how long he will be out. There’s not much out there to acquire in free agency; the Pats traded a sixth-round pick for former Bengals and Bills starter Russell Bodine after Andrews hit injured reserve in August, only to cut Bodine after one week.

 

The biggest problem on Sunday was right tackle Marcus Cannon, who clearly wasn’t 100% while battling through an illness. He could barely put his uniform on before the Cowboys game and then missed the first series of the second half against the Texans while getting an IV in the locker room. When he was on the field, Cannon made backup Texans linebacker Jacob Martin look like J.J. Watt coming around the edge. Cannon’s toughness obviously deserves plenty of respect, but the line wasn’t a plus for the Patriots on Sunday.

 

They have to hope this gets better. This time around, they at least have Dante Scarnecchia back as their offensive line coach, and if anybody is going to fix their problems, it’s one of the most legendary positional coaches in the league. It might just be as simple as getting Cannon healthy, keeping Wynn on the field, and hoping to find a solution at center, but that’s still a lot to ask, especially if Brady is holding the ball and waiting for somebody to get open.

 

Kicking has been a disaster

While the Patriots have been one of the league’s best offenses for more than a decade, they were almost always fortunate to have an excellent kicker waiting for those times where they didn’t cash in. Outside of a half-season in 2010, Brady has spent his entire career with either Adam Vinatieri or Stephen Gostkowski. It has been a nice luxury to have, and while it hasn’t cost the Patriots in 2019, their kicking game has been uncharacteristically mediocre.

 

With Gostkowski missing four extra points in 15 tries before going on injured reserve, the kicking game started off poorly and hasn’t gone much better since. Mike Nugent went 5-of-8 on field goals before being cut for Nick Folk, who was 7-of-9 and then underwent an appendectomy. Folk was cut for Kai Forbath, who missed an extra point in his Patriots debut Sunday.

 

Can Brady and the offense get better?

Yes, but there’s not the sort of obvious path the Patriots were able to get behind in 2014 after the Chiefs game. Then, the Patriots had Gronkowski playing about half of the offensive snaps while recovering from the torn ACL he had suffered the previous season. When the Pats famously moved on to Cincinnati, Gronk’s snap count spiked to 79%, he caught six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win and the Pats’ offense never looked back.

 

With the deadline for Gronkowski to return in 2019 passing on Nov. 30, the Patriots don’t have a Hall of Fame-caliber difference-maker lurking on their roster to suddenly transform the offense in an expanded role. The closest thing they have is Sanu, who didn’t make much of an impact even before the ankle injury. I can imagine a scenario where he grows more comfortable with the playbook and gets healthy right around the time the playoffs begin, but asking for a Gronk-like impact is just too much.

 

Likewise, it’s reasonable to expect the offensive line to play better when both Wynn and Cannon are on the field and healthy, but there’s no guarantee that’s ever going to happen. Wynn has played four games over two years, while Cannon is yet to start a full 16-game season since moving into the starting lineup for good in 2015. The Pats could be down to third-stringer James Ferentz at center for the foreseeable future, which is unlikely to help matters.

 

The improvement has to come from a series of small upgrades across the board as opposed to one significant difference-maker. Mixing up tendencies would help; even if it’s not the best use of their skill sets, using White as a runner and sending Michel out on pass routes more frequently at least creates some doubt for opposing defenses. (A heavier dose of Burkhead at Michel’s expense might also make sense.)

 

McDaniels needs to find a way to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly on a regular basis. Brady patting the ball over and over again and holding it for three-plus seconds while he waits for someone to get open just isn’t a great use of his skills. He typically got rid of the ball way quicker than league average in recent years; in 2019, he’s far closer to league average at 2.74 seconds before pass attempts. NFL quarterbacks are at 2.76 seconds in 2019.

 

Is Brady toast?

We can’t say that. Go back through the second half of the Texans game and watch what happens when he gets a tiny bit of help. Watson broke an ankle tackle on a third-and-17 checkdown, turning what seemed to be a drive-ending play into a first down. Later on the drive, the offensive line held up against a bizarrely timed heat check of a double A-gap pressure on first-and-30 from Romeo Crennel, giving Edelman enough time to work his way through a Phillip Dorsett clearout and for Brady to hit him with a perfect pass for 44 yards.

 

Brady is too smart to make the sort of mistakes that really pop up when a quarterback is finished, at least from what I can tell. He’s still protecting the football. The interception he threw against the Texans was a contested pass, but I’d pin more of the blame on Harry. His footwork and ability to keep his body prepared to make passes is still impeccable. Brady doesn’t seem to have the zip he had in his mid-to-late 30s, and he had some accuracy issues in the Texans game, but he has been able to complete passes at all levels of the field during this rough stretch.

 

If you’re asking me whether it’s fair to say that Brady is diminished from the player who won MVP in 2017, well, that’s a more realistic question. I don’t know that the Brady who could carry a passing attack with Edelman, White, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan to a 25-point Super Bowl comeback is still around. The idea of him strapping the team to his back and carrying it to a Super Bowl on his own, injuries be damned, is probably in the past.

 

If the offensive infrastructure rights itself, Brady will be fine. If not, I think we’re going to continue to see inconsistent performances on offense.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

R.I.P. SEYMOUR SIWOFF

An amazing legend, known to anyone in NFL P.R. endeavors passed away this week.  Richard Goldstein of the New York Times:

 

Seymour Siwoff, who brought statistical analysis to the sports world, chronicling feats from the epic to the arcane through seven decades as the head of the Elias Sports Bureau, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 99.

 

His death was confirmed by his grandson Joe Gilston, whose Joseph Gilston Trust took over Elias in March, purchasing 100 percent of its stock.

 

Until then, Mr. Siwoff had since 1952 been the president and chief executive of Elias, the official record-keeper for America’s major professional sports leagues. In recent years the bureau’s day-to-day operations had been overseen by Steve Hirdt, the executive director, but Mr. Siwoff remained a presence in its Manhattan office until just a few months ago.

 

When Mr. Siwoff took control of Elias, it was tallying basic baseball records for newspapers and wire services. At the time, the Brooklyn Dodgers were evidently the only team with its own statistician, Allan Roth, who tracked the performances of the Dodgers’ players.

 

Sports statistics were still relatively primitive, and record-keeping, long before the computer age, was a laborious task. Managers, coaches and front-office executives were armed with only modest information for plotting strategy and making trades. The correct answer to many a barroom trivia argument might remain unclear long after closing time.

 

That began to change when Mr. Siwoff purchased the Al Munroe Elias Baseball Bureau from the widows of Al and Walter Elias, who founded it in 1913.

 

Mr. Siwoff (pronounced SEA-woff) had worked part time for Elias in 1939, when he was a freshman at St. John’s University in Queens. After serving in the Army in World War II — he was wounded in the Italian campaign — he obtained an accounting degree from St. John’s, then returned to Elias, where he melded his professional training with his interest in sports.

 

Mr. Siwoff renamed the company the Elias Sports Bureau, reflecting his ambition to range through the entire sports world.

 

Elias eventually became the record-keeper for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League,  the Women’s National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer. It also provides national and local sports broadcasting outlets and sports websites with data and content drawing on its archives; among its offerings are short “Elias Says” items for ESPN’s website.

 

By the 1970s, Elias was relying on computers to unearth data and indicate what it all might mean in anticipating players’ performances.

 

Through its computer programming, Elias has also provided teams and news media outlets with bits of history within minutes of an odd or spectacular moment on the field, revealing whether anything like it had happened before.

 

“Statistics can be cold and trivial,” Mr. Siwoff was quoted as having said in the 1970s in “The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination With Statistics” (2004), by Alan Schwarz, a former reporter for The New York Times. “But they can also be alive and full of drama.”

 

“What I enjoy most about statistics is the chance they give you to relive the past,” Mr. Siwoff said. “When Nate Colbert drives in 13 runs in a doubleheader, it gives you a chance to recall when Jim Bottomley drove in 12 in a game.” (Colbert set his record with the San Diego Padres in 1972; Bottomley achieved his with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1924.)

 

“In looking up things like that, I can see these guys in my mind as clearly as if they were playing again,” Mr. Siwoff said.

 

Mr. Siwoff assembled a staff, which presided over computers and old record books and scrapbooks, on an upper floor of an office building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, overlooking the New York Public Library.

 

 “We’ve got more information on sports up here in our office than they do down there,” he once said.

 

Elias has over the years been joined by a growing field of statistical compilers and analysts. But it retains its standing as the official statistician for many leagues.

 

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

The NFL is making a Week 15 flex, exposing the Bills at the expense of the Chargers.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bills will get some more prime-time exposure in Week 15.

 

After introducing itself to much of America with a convincing victory over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, the Bills get another opportunity to make a national statement against the Steelers on Dec. 15.

 

The NFL announced Sunday night that the Bills at Steelers game is being flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC.

 

The game originally scheduled for that slot — the Vikings at the Chargers — will to move to 4:05 p.m. ET on CBS. That’s good news for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose struggles in prime-time are well documented

 

And this from John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

For the Bills, the game will mark a rare appearance on the Sunday night schedule. Since NBC started airing the Sunday night game in 2006, the Bills have only made one appearance, and that came in November 2007 when they lost a home game to the Patriots, 56-10. The Bills have the fewest Sunday night appearances of any team in the NFL.