AROUND THE NFL

This tweet from Kenny Albert:

 

Los Angeles/Boston in 2018 World Series and 2019 Super Bowl. Only other time same cities met in consecutive WS/SB: 1969 (Jets/Colts & Mets/Orioles) 🏈 ⚾️ credit: @Psuicer7

 

This tweet from Kevin Seifert of ESPN:

 

@SeifertESPN

Per @ESPNStatsInfo: Since 2010, @NFL teams that win the toss and receive in OT in the playoffs are now 7-1 in OT. The only loss was today by the Saints.

 

– – –

On Monday, the NFL announced the teams that are playing overseas in 2019:

 

The Chiefs will be giving Mexico City another shot in 2019.

 

They were supposed to play the Rams at Estadio Azteca in 2018, but the game was moved to Los Angeles when the league decided to move the game due to the poor condition of the field in Mexico City. The league said they planned to return in 2019 and announced on Monday that the Chiefs and Chargers will play one of their two 2019 games on the other side of the border.

 

Four other games will take place in London and the league announced those matchups as well. The Panthers will face the Buccaneers, the Bears will face the Raiders, the Bengals will face the Rams and the Texans will tangle with the Jaguars. Dates, times and, in the case of the London game, sites have not been announced.

 

Two U.K. games are expected to be played at Wembley Stadium and the other two are slated for Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium. Tottenham was supposed to host a game in 2018, but it was moved to Wembley because the new building wasn’t ready.

 

The Bucs, Rams, Jaguars and Raiders will be designated as home teams in the London games while the Chargers will be the “home” team in Mexico City.

 

So it is

 

Chiefs “at” Chargers in Mexico City

Texans “at” Jaguars in London

Bengals “at” Rams in London

Panthers “at” Buccaneers in London

Bears “at” Raiders in London

 

It is the first time to London for Houston and Carolina.  Only the Packers remain London free – and they haven’t been to Mexico City either. 

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Jason Garrett and longtime Cowboys OC Scott Linehan met – and when it was over Linehan was out.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

Scott Linehan is no longer the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive coordinator, the team announced Friday.

 

The Cowboys will move ahead with a different playcaller for the first time since 2014.

 

“This was not an easy decision because of how highly we regard Scott Linehan as a football coach and as a person. He and I had some really positive, substantive and open discussions which took place in the latter part of this week, and we ultimately agreed that it would be in the best interest of all of the parties involved if we were to make a change at this position,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said in a statement.

 

“This was very much a mutual decision, and there was a great deal of common ground and shared understanding between both of us during our meetings. Scott has had an incredibly positive impact on our football team. He has been instrumental in the development and success of a significant number of our veteran and younger players. He is an outstanding football coach, a great friend and we wish him and his family nothing but the absolute best moving forward.”

 

Later Friday afternoon, Linehan issued his own statement and said he met with Garrett on Wednesday and they had “a good, direct talk. At the end, we resolved that a fresh start was probably best for both of us.”

 

Linehan added: “The Dallas Cowboys have been nothing but great to me, first class all the way. There’s a reason that they are the most valuable sports franchise on the planet. And I’ll always respect Jason as a coach, and I consider him a good friend. I’ll miss my fellow coaches and my players a great deal. But life is about change and growth, and I very much look forward to my next challenge.”

 

Linehan was under fire for most of the 2018 season as the Cowboys struggled to a 3-5 start coming off a close to the 2017 season in which they scored more than 20 points just once in the final month and missed the playoffs. In the first eight games of the 2018 season, the Cowboys scored more than 20 points just twice.

 

The Cowboys struggled in the passing game, going with a by-committee approach to replace receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. The trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper improved the offensive production, with Dak Prescott going from averaging 202 yards passing per game to 274.

 

Still, the Cowboys finished the season ranked 22nd in yards (343.8) and points (21.2) per game, even though they had the NFL’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott, who had 1,434 yards.

 

The Cowboys had three rushing champions during Linehan’s tenure: DeMarco Murray (2014) and Elliott (2016, 2018). But the Cowboys never had a passing game rank better than 16th; that was in 2014, when Tony Romo had his best season with 34 touchdown passes and nine interceptions and Bryant led the league in touchdown catches (16).

 

In 2014 and 2016, the Cowboys averaged 29.2 and 26.3 points per game, but they did not average more than 22.1 points in Linehan’s other three seasons as playcaller.

 

A criticism of Linehan was a conservative nature that led to predictable calls in certain down and distance situations. It worked well when the Cowboys had players at the top of their game (Romo, Bryant, Elliott, Prescott, Witten and an offensive line that featured Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin), but struggled when players were out with injuries or suspended.

 

What’s unclear is where the Cowboys go next.

 

On Monday, Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas he expected Linehan to return in 2019 and there would not be significant changes to the staff. He also stated they had not had a meeting with the coaches to discuss the future. Linehan was signed through 2019, as is Garrett.

 

The Cowboys have signed offensive line coach Marc Colombo and assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett to new deals and have parted ways with assistant special teams coach Doug Colman.

 

It is possible Garrett could take over as the playcaller, a role he handled from 2007 to 2012, first as the offensive coordinator and then for the first two years as his role as head coach. Bill Callahan called plays in 2013 before Linehan’s arrival.

 

On staff, the Cowboys could look to quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore, who has Prescott’s full support, or tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier, who was offensive coordinator at Alabama, Michigan and Florida before joining the Cowboys in 2018.

 

Whoever lands the job will have a lot to work with. The Cowboys have Smith; Frederick, who did not play a snap in 2018 because of Guillain-Barre Syndrome; Martin; Elliott; Cooper; and Prescott, who has won more games than any quarterback other than Tom Brady since 2016.

 

A pair of former Cowboys QBs, and not Aikman and Staubach, and not even Danny White and Tony Romo, will apparently serve as Garrett’s QB/offense braintrust.  Will Brinson of CBSSports.com:

 

Many years ago, Jerry Jones got fed up with his head coach Wade Phillips and decided to make his first-ever in-season coaching change, turning to Jason Garrett, his former backup quarterback turned offensive coordinator. The Cowboys are making a similar move as they head towards 2019, apparently hiring Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna to fill out their coaching staff.

 

The Cowboys finally let go of Scott Linehan, after it was rumored for months that he might be sent packing this offseason.

 

Moore is reportedly in line for a promotion to offensive coordinator, according to a report from Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. Moore is a former Boise State standout who went undrafted in 2012 but latched on as the Lions backup for several years. He would eventually end up with the Cowboys in a backup role for three years; it looked like he might be THE GUY when Tony Romo went down with a preseason back injury but then this guy named Dak Prescott emerged.

 

Stream the NFC Championship game on fuboTV, try it for free, and stream the AFC Championship game on CBS All Access. 

 

This past season, Moore made the move to coaching and served as the Cowboys quarterbacks coach in 2018 on Garrett’s staff. The phrases “fast-rising” and “impressive” were used to describe Moore, a notably cerebral quarterback at both the college and NFL level.

 

Moving him to OC would make sense, because he wouldn’t need to immediately call plays. The expectation is Garrett will be doing that in 2019.

 

But there are more potential backup quarterbacks on the move towards Dallas. According to Rapoport, the Cowboys plan on hiring former Cowboys backup — and former Lions starter! — Jon Kitna has quarterbacks coach, replacing Moore in that position.

 

Kitna, like Moore, went undrafted out of college, although Kitna left school much earlier (1996). Kitna would play for the Seahawks for several years and then head to Barcelona for a season before eventually returning to start for the Bengals. He had a remarkable run before Cincy snagged Carson Palmer (and even produced with Palmer sitting on the bench as a rookie). Then he had a pretty nice run with the Lions — he led the league in completed passes in 2006 at the age of 34 and started 36 games over three seasons there — and then landed with the Cowboys where he finished his career as Tony Romo’s backup.

 

His first season with Dallas was the year Phillips was fired and then Kitna spent his final seasons playing under Garrett.

 

More recently, Kitna was a coach at the high school level before becoming the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Fleet of the recently formed Alliance of American Football.

 

Backup quarterback has been a position that’s created a lot of success at the coaching level. The Cowboys are hoping to create a pipeline in Dallas that leads to an impressive season from Prescott and the Cowboys offense

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles are saying a Philly Voice report on QB CARSON WENTZ is Fake News.

 

Multiple star players on the Philadelphia Eagles have defended Carson Wentz on Twitter after the Philly Voice published a report in which team sources describe the quarterback as being “selfish,” “uncompromising” and “egotistical.”

 

The Philly Voice report, published Monday morning, cites more than half a dozen Eagles players and other sources close to the team.

 

The report describes an uneasy dynamic within the Eagles organization, with sources accusing Wentz of playing “favorites” and failing “to take accountability” while describing Nick Foles as “universally loved.”

 

Tight end Zach Ertz, who was identified in the report as Wentz’s favorite, was among Eagles players to tweet in defense of Wentz on Monday. He was joined by star defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and right tackle Lane Johnson, who called the report “#fakenews.”

 

Lane Johnson

@LaneJohnson65

 Whoever wrote that article needs to check their “sources”. #fakenews

 

Carson has been and is our leader and our QB. Y’all know where to find me if you have any issues.#flyeaglesfly

 

Zach Ertz

@ZERTZ_86

 Don’t believe everything you read!!! Carson has been nothing but a GREAT person, GREAT teammate and GREAT leader since Day 1. Our locker room stands behind him all the way. We can’t wait to get back to work and be the best team we can be in 2019! #FlyEaglesFly

 

fletcher cox

@fcoxx_91

 Reading through this Carson Wentz thing and as a leader on this team none of that is true Carson is a great teammate and great player we are all behind him 100% he’s our guy and will come back and prove the world wrong. If you got a problem feel free to @ me I’ll respond

 

Wentz missed the final three regular-season games and both of Philadelphia’s postseason contests with a stress fracture in his back.

 

Foles, who led the franchise to its first Super Bowl title last year in place of the injured Wentz, stepped in again this season and helped guide the Eagles back into the playoffs and into the NFC divisional round, where they were eliminated by the Saints.

 

The Eagles announced last week that Wentz would be their starting quarterback going forward.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Another reason not to get one of those new-fangled cars with keys that don’t have to be inserted into the ignition to start – provided by Falcons WR CALVIN RIDLEY.  J.D. Capelouto in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

 

Calvin Ridley had his car stolen at a gas station in Buckhead on Saturday night, police confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

The Falcons rookie wide receiver was at the BP on Piedmont Road when he went inside the store; his 2018 Dodge Challenger was still running, said Atlanta police spokeswoman Officer Stephanie Brown.

 

Between 9:50 and 10 p.m., Ridley told police, someone drove away with his car. He said his car was push-to-start and he still had the keys on him.

 

In a tweet that has since been deleted, Ridley called for the public to help get his car back and added that he was grateful there was no violence.

 

“Man they got me last night in Buckhead,” he wrote. “Car Stolen. No such thing as a safe part of town so be careful. Grateful there was no violence, they just got me at the gas station & rode out.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

QB TOM BRADY was positively charming in his postgame interviews (although we are easily charmed) and then he did this covered by a Jeff Darlington tweet:

 

@JeffDarlington

Tom Brady just quietly approached a security guard waiting outside the Chiefs’ locker room — and asked if he could see Patrick Mahomes. Brady was escorted into a room where he spoke briefly with him. A very clear display of respect from one incredible quarterback to another.

 

Peter King is awfully good in the postgame locker room, and here he is again with Brady:

 

With apologies to Teri Hatcher in the famous “Seinfeld” episode, Mahomes is real, and he’s spectacular. He lost this game, and he missed his share of throws in a 16-of-31 performance, but he won a city. After 19 starts for the Chiefs over the past 13 months, Mahomes can do no wrong in Kansas City. This fandom knows it has its franchise player for the next decade-and-a-half, even if Chiefs Kingdom went to bed weepy Sunday night.

 

“I just went and saw him,” Brady said. “I mean, he’s feeling like you think he’d feel when you lose a game like this. It hurts. He’s a hell of a … I mean, what a great young player. So impressed with his poise, his leadership. He is spectacular.”

 

Back to the final drive. What was so interesting about it is that the Patriots had their share of failure on the 13-play, 75-yard drive that will go down in Brady history as one of his greatest. Brady threw five incompletions out of nine passes. But his completions won the game. Third-and-10 from the Pats’ 35, crowd in full throat: a perfect strike on a crosser to Julian Edelman, who gets crunched. Gain of 20. Incomplete, incomplete. Now, Edelman in tight coverage, but Brady confident in fitting the ball into a very tight window to a guy who he throws with at his Montana hideaway every summer, just the two of them … gain of 15. Now New England’s in Stephen Gostkowski field-goal range, at the K.C. 30.

 

Two more incompletions. Third-and-10 again, and the crowd, for one last weary time, mustered up a big cheer.

 

But here’s the funny thing about this play. Two players in the locker room said they were surprised to hear Brady’s play-call of the slant to Gronk—because it wasn’t on the playsheet, hadn’t been practiced all week, and, as one said, “I don’t know when’s the last time we ran it.”

 

Remember late in the fourth quarter, on the Patriots’ last scoring drive of regulation time? Brady threw a fade to Gronkowski down to the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, and Berry, the K.C. safety, played Gronk’s outside shoulder, giving the Patriots a clue to what to do in OT. That’s my guess, anyway. That had to have been the reason why McDaniels called the most stunning play of the game, a play they didn’t have on the playsheet entering the game.

 

At the snap of the ball, with the New England tight end lined up to left of the formation, Brady saw Berry playing Gronkowski’s outside shoulder to the left, and Gronkowski ran a slant inside, shielding Berry from the ball, catching it, and gaining 15. Really, it was a pretty easy completion. And a vital one. First down, New England, at the Chiefs’ 15.

 

“Gronk almost broke out of it—great route by him,” Brady told me. “Almost a touchdown. Great call by Josh. You know, Josh, what he’s formulated for us is huge. He puts in endless hours just to find little scheme things for us. Like those plays we put in this morning. You know, the continuity here has been so important. Dante Scarnecchia, on the offensive line; Ivan Fears, with the running backs; Josh, making it all work. And then coach Belichick finds guys he likes—Gronk, Julian—and he says, ‘All right, you’re going to be here a while.’ “

 

Belichick is in his 19th year coaching the Patriots. McDaniels has been on the staff for 15 of those 19; Scarnecchia, 17 of the 19; Fears, 19 of the 19. Now you don’t have to wonder, with the quarterback and head coach in New England since 2000, why New England can change things up so efficiently on the fly.

 

Rex Burkhead ran it three times for 15 yards to end it. Pats, 37-31.

 

“I never imagined any of this, believe me. This is beyond. I mean, who could ever imagine this? Nine Super Bowls? I just take it for what it is and enjoy it. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. I love my family. It takes a lot of people to support you for all of us. I’m just happy for all of us.”

 

And, apparently, it’s never going to end.

 

A tweet from Evan Kaplan:

 

@EpKap

Tom Brady is 1 of 5 QBs in NFL history with 400 touchdown passes and will make his 9th Super Bowl appearance.

 

The 4 other quarterbacks to throw 400 career touchdowns (Peyton, Brees, Favre, Marino) have COMBINED for 8 Super Bowl appearances.

 

Christopher Gasper in the Boston Globe sings the praises of Bill Belichick:

 

Take a bow, Bill Belichick. In the distinguished canon of your coaching career, this is one of your greatest game-planning masterpieces.

 

If you’re looking for the most valuable Patriot from the Patriots pulsating 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship game, look no further than Fort Foxborough’s resident genius.

 

His Hoodieness pulled out all the stops at Arrowhead Stadium and pulled off one of the most impressive and satisfying playoff victories of his distinguished tenure. Sun Tzu said that every battle is won before it’s ever fought. Belichick was in full Sun Tzu mode to coax the Patriots to their first road playoff victory since the 2006 season. The Nobody Believed in Us New England Patriots won on the strength of an unbelievable game plan.

 

The Patriots won this game before it went to overtime in Arrowhead Stadium and Rex Burkhead plowed in from two yards out, before they even touched down in Kansas City. It was won by Belichick and his coaches, who formulated a brilliant, cohesive game plan that involved both sides of the ball limiting the passing pyrotechnics of Patrick Mahomes and the league’s highest-scoring offense.

 

The Patriots turned this into a game of keep away, and because of that they get to keep playing into February for the third straight year, becoming the first team since the Buffalo Bills (four straight from 1990 to 1993) to advance to three straight Super Bowls. Of course, it was Belichick as the New York Giants defensive coordinator who slowed down that famous K-Gun Bills offense to help the Giants win Super Bowl XXV.

 

That game plan ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This one should be framed for posterity as well.

 

The first rule of football is that you can’t score if you don’t have the ball. Mahomes and the Chiefs made the most of their touches, especially in the second half, when they scored 31 points. But ultimately they didn’t have the ball enough to win this game. That was by Belichick’s design.

 

The team that seems to be immune to time, playing in its eighth straight AFC title game, pounded the rock and drained the clock. Tom Brady and Co. had the ball for 43 minutes and 59 seconds to just 20 minutes and 53 seconds for the Chiefs. The Patriots ran 94 plays to just 47 for the Chiefs, who averaged 62.5 plays per game during the regular season.

 

The game ended the way it started, with Mahomes helpless and powerless on the Kansas City sideline as Brady and the Patriots churned out a touchdown drive. The Patriots got the ball to start overtime, and Kansas City never got it back, New England marching 75 yards in 13 plays. Along the way, the Patriots thrice converted on third and 10. The final, deciding blow of this heavyweight fight silenced the stadium that set the Guinness World Record for loudest crowd roar the last time the Patriots played here, the infamous Monday Night Massacre in 2014.

 

Belichick knew his team wasn’t suited to win a shootout with the Chiefs on their turf. So, the Patriots tried to shorten the game and the amount of time that they had to defend an offense that led the NFL with 35.3 points and 425.6 yards per game. They did that in the first half and then ended up in a second-half showdown.

 

Just like they did in the regular season meeting on Oct. 14, the Patriots allowed 31 second-half points to Chiefs after silencing and flummoxing them in the first half to take a 14-0 lead.

 

The Patriots set the tone and the tenor of the contest with their opening drive, a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown death march for the Kansas City defense that sucked 8:05 off the clock and the enthusiasm out of the Arrowhead Stadium crowd. It was the Patriots longest touchdown drive of the season. It ended with Sony Michel barreling in from a yard out.

 

The Patriots possessed the ball for 12:38 of the first quarter, and the Chiefs had it for 2:22. In the first half, the Patriots were on the field for 21:07 and ran 42 offensive plays for 245 yards, while the Chiefs had the ball for 8:53 and ran just 16 plays for 32 yards.

 

Possession is ninth-tenths of the law, and the No. 1 reason the Patriots were able to withstand the magical Mahomes and the Chiefs, who turned this one into a whiplash of lead changes in the fourth quarter and forced overtime on a field goal with eight seconds left. Mahomes made the most of his chances, but the Belichick had him off balance, as he finished 16 of 31 for 295 yards with three touchdowns and four sacks.

 

The Patriots played heavy — literally — with 22 personnel (two backs, two tight ends, and one wide receiver). They ran the ball 25 times for 99 yards in the first half. They also broke a tendency by running the ball with third-down back James White out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, and three receivers) when they had predominantly been a passing team out of that formation all season long.

 

Brady dropped back to pass 46 times in this game, completing 30 of them for 348 yards. Still, the Patriots ran more than they passed, attacking the Chiefs’ cotton-swab soft run defense to the tune of 48 carries for 176 yards. The yards per rush average might not be impressive, but the complementary football displayed by the Patriots was.

 

“Yeah, it was good,” Brady said. “They have an explosive offense with [Travis] Kelce and [Tyreek] Hill and Patrick. The way he played, he played a great game. You play on the road, and it’s going to be tough. What travels is running the ball and playing tough. That’s good in any weather, any condition, any environment, any stadium. That was a big part of our game.

 

“Sony ran his butt off. Rex ran his butt off. It was a great win.”

 

It didn’t all go to Belichick’s plan, as Brady threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone on third and goal in the second quarter, and the Patriots got stuffed on fourth and 1 from the KC 25 in the fourth quarter.

 

In some ways, this was reminiscent of the 2006 AFC Championship game against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots led that game 21-6 at the half and couldn’t hold on, losing 38-34.

 

The Patriots led 17-7 to start the fourth quarter. They led 24-21 with 3:32 to go after a second TD run by Michel (29 carries for 113 yards) and 31-28 with 39 seconds left after a 4-yard touchdown run by Burkhead. But this time they left Mahomes too much time. He drove the Chiefs to the tying field goal. But he never saw the ball again, as the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime.

 

Don’t discredit the defense in this one. They held Chiefs speed demon Tyreek Hill to one catch for 42 yards and forced the Chiefs to grind it out.

 

Patriots safety Devin McCourty tipped his cap to Belichick and the coaching staff for a job well done.

 

“Our coaching staff don’t care about sleep. They don’t care about anything,” McCourty said. “When we came in there Tuesday to go over the scouting report I felt like the game plan was already in. It was just tweaking some things, because as soon as we won that game Sunday they got to work.

 

“As a player, there’s nothing more you can ask for from your coaches than for them to really give everything they got and prepare you so that when you go out on kickoff, everything else is behind us. We just get to go play free because Bill is going to make sure we practice it over and over again. We watch it in the meetings, so I think our players always have a ton of respect and are very thankful for our staff.

 

So now, the NFL’s OG genius, Belichick, will match up with the Millennial coaching genius, Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, in Super Bowl LIII. It should be a tremendous battle of wits. But simply getting this team to this point is a testament to the job Belichick has done this year. Like this game plan, it’s one of his greatest coaching feat

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

Peter King looks at the marriage of the Jets and wide-eyed Adam Gase.

 

he stark reality of the Adam Gase coaching job with his quarterbacks is that, in three years, the Dolphins went from Ryan Tannehill to Matt Moore to Jay Cutler to Moore to Cutler to Moore to Cutler to David Fales to Tannehill to Brock Osweiler to Tannehill. Correct: Gase, due to injury and performance, changed his starting quarterback 10 times in 49 games as Miami coach.

 

If that happens again in New Jersey, and Sam Darnold misses as much time as Tannehill did (24 of 49 starts), Gase will be lucky to last three years. Gase needs to get very good results with Darnold, to be sure, to show the Miami years were overwhelmingly affected by injury and not the result of bad coaching. Miami finished 30th, 18th and 26th in passing yards in Gase’s three Miami seasons, and 26th, 28th and 17th in scoring. Gase got to be known as a quarterback-whisperer over the years, and the fact that he and Peyton Manning bonded so well and produced great numbers in Gase’s three years coaching Manning in Denver gave the Jets the belief he’d be a great teacher for the formative Darnold.

 

“When all the stuff is happening with your quarterbacks, and you’re in the moment, you think of just one word: adjust,” Gase said the other day from New Jersey. “The first year, Ryan gets hurt and Matt rallies us and we make the playoffs. The second year, we’re having a great offseason period with Ryan, and we tailor our offense to one quarterback, and he tears his ACL in August, and then we adjust to Jay. This year, again, we’re shifting quarterbacks [due to injury]. When you don’t have consistency at quarterback, it puts everything out of whack.

 

“The great thing about getting to coach Sam is I’ve never gotten a chance to experience coaching a guy this young. [Darnold is 21.] Watching the tape, you could see him getting better game by game. He hasn’t come close to his peak, and I’ve been told he’s a great guy to work with, so I’m excited. April [the start of the Jets’ offseason program] can’t come fast enough.”

 

The Jets, per the respected Jason Fitzgerald’s Over The Cap, have the second-most cap room in the league in 2019, $93.8 million. That could lead them to test the market in trade for the high-priced Antonio Brown, or in free agency for a back like Le’Veon Bell, who just took the year off from football. It’s too early, just days into his tenure, to tell if Gase will favor the big-money solution to the Jets’ offense shortcomings and urge GM Mike Maccagnan to spend, spend, spend. “Having the amount of cap space we have allows you the flexibility to build the way you want to build,” Tase said. “It’s hard to predict right now which way it goes for us.”

 

Gase won’t be afraid of managing the big personalities like Bell or Brown. With the interchangeability of backs these days, I’d probably rather spend big on Antonio Brown if the Steelers’ price isn’t prohibitive. Which it may be.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAREEM HUNT

If and when he signs a new contract, RB KAREEM HUNT is probably facing an NFL suspension.  Adam Schefter says that hasn’t deterred teams from being interested in him.

 

Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy said this past week that his team would not rule out the possibility of signing Kareem Hunt, and it turns out he’s not alone.

 

Multiple teams have expressed interest in Hunt, and it now appears the former Chiefs running back will have a job “sooner rather than later,” one league source told ESPN.

 

The Bears’ Matt Nagy, who coached Kareem Hunt as a rookie, won’t rule out pursuing the RB, who was released by the Chiefs after video of him shoving and kicking a woman surfaced. Hunt would have to be reinstated from the commissioner’s exempt list.

 

Since late November, when the disturbing video that shows Hunt shoving and kicking a woman surfaced, he has been undergoing anger-management counseling daily, according to a source. Hunt appears to be making progress with the counseling, which has helped him draw the interest of some teams, sources said.

 

The Bears were the first team to openly acknowledge that they would consider signing Hunt, but there are others, according to sources.

 

Hunt faces potential discipline as the league continues its investigation. He was released by the Chiefs on Nov. 30 after the video surfaced and is on the commissioner’s exempt list, so he would need to be reinstated before he could sign with a team.

 

Nagy and Hunt have a relationship that dates back to their days together in Kansas City, where Nagy served as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator during Hunt’s rookie year in 2017.

 

Nagy said Monday that he reached out and spoke to Hunt on the phone one week ago.

 

“I talked to Kareem, completely wanting to know how he’s doing,” Nagy said. “We had a good conversation. Here’s a kid that I spent a year coaching on offense. It’s a tough situation. I wanted to see … making sure that he’s OK but understanding, too, the situation that happened is unfortunate for everybody. He knows that.

 

 

THE CREW OF BILL VINOVICH

 

Rams fans started a petition to deny Bill Vinovich the job of referee for the NFC Championship Game when it was learned that the team was 0-8 in games that he had refereed. 

 

Even though only two of those games had come since the team moved to Los Angeles.  They both were losses this year, including the first meeting between the teams in New Orleans.

 

The DB thought it was funny, since Vinovich is a lifelong resident of Southern California.  You would think most teams would want their hometown guy wearing the white hat.

 

Then we looked at the rest of the crew that Al Riveron assembled.

 

In the immediate vicinity of the pass interference were three officials.  Most immediate to the action was side judge Gary Cavaletto, but down judge Patrick Turner and back judge Todd Prukop also were in the calling radius to help back up Cavaletto.

 

Ben Austro of ProFootballZebras.com with expert commentary:

 

There is not much to equivocate about on the call. The covering wing officials, down judge Patrick Turner and side judge Gary Cavaletto, discussed whether contact from Rams cornerback Mickell Robey-Coleman on Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis was illegal, and decided there would be no flag. Back judge Todd Prukop was also in position to make a call.

 

A foul would have brought up a first down and the ability to run out the clock prior to scoring, rather than the fourth-down field goal for the Saints with 1:41 on the clock, and the Rams tying the game at the end of regulation and winning in overtime.

 

The 63-year-old Cavaletto, who was part of Walt Anderson’s Deflategate crew in the 2014 AFC Championship Game, was raised in Santa Barbara, California and still lives there.  For some reason the NFL lists him as having gone to “Hancock” which is a community college in Santa Maria College, so maybe he never got a degree from UC-Santa Barbara which he also attended.

 

This from Peter King:

 

It’ll be interesting to see what fate faces Cavaletto, who officiating authorities feel was in the best position to make the call, and whether VP of Officiating Al Riveron will face similar heat for the non-call. That just cannot happen, but it did.

 

We suspect a retirement if coming here (and may have been in the works under any conditions).  Cavaletto has worked 15 postseason games in the last 14 years for four directors of officiating, two this year, and we never heard his name, so we have to presume he is or was pretty good.

 

 

Patrick Turner (above), the down judge, in his fifth season as an NFL official, lives in the L.A. suburb of Lakewood, California.  He went to Cal State-Long Beach.

 

Todd Prukop, the back judge, went to Cal State-Fullerton where the Rams trained for many years.  He now lives in Ladera Ranch, California, also in Orange County.

 

Prukop, it should also be noted, was previously a part of one of the most infamous no-calls in recent NFL history.  This from when Prukop was assigned to work Super Bowl 51 in Houston.

 

Remember when streaking Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was dragged down by Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman in Week 6 but pass interference was not called? It was Prukop who was responsible for making the call in the play. Coach Dan Quinn went ballistic on the sideline on the non-call and even the normally even-tempered Jones complained loudly.

 

Now, to be clear, we are not claiming a conspiracy.  And we wouldn’t want geographical considerations to deny qualified officials the chance to screw up in the postseason. 

 

Still, this configurence of three men who probably grew up Rams fans, all having the possibility to make the non-call that kept the team’s Super Bowl dream alive is not a good look and one that could have been avoided by assignment to the AFC Championship Game.

 

And we’re sure that Cavaletto, Turner and Prukop were in pain over Sunday’s events, and not trading high fives, as they flew back together to LAX after the game.

 

Here is some coverage from the L.A. Times:

 

The missed call caused an apologetic message from the NFL to Payton. Payton indicated he spoke after the defeat with the league’s senior vice president of officiating, Al Riveron.

 

“The first thing Al said when I got on the phone was ‘We messed it up,’ ” Payton said.

 

Added Payton, “It was simple. They blew the call. It should never have not been a call. They said not only was it interference, but it should have been [a] helmet-to-helmet [penalty].”

 

The play began at the Rams’ 13, with one minute and 49 seconds remaining and the score tied at 20. Brees set up in the shotgun, with Lewis flanking him in the backfield. Initially unable to locate Lewis, Robey-Coleman was sprinting across the field at the snap.

 

The miscommunication created some separation for Lewis as he executed a wheel route. Brees fired the football toward the right sideline. Robey-Coleman saw Lewis raise his hands for the catch. He elected to go after his man, rather than the ball.

 

The side of Robey-Coleman’s helmet collided with Lewis’ facemask. The hit lifted Lewis off his feet, and sent him spinning 180 degrees. Robey-Coleman said he heard from an official that the ball was tipped. But he did not deny his infraction.

 

 “I felt more than lucky in that moment,” Robey-Coleman said. “I felt blessed. It probably was interference, because I didn’t play the ball.”

 

Rams coach Sean McVay applauded Robey-Coleman for the aggression. Robey-Coleman made “a nice play,” he said. “And I am certainly not going to complain about the way that was officiated.”

 

The crowd hollered when Lewis went down. The jeers only grew in volume as replays inside the stadium revealed the depth of the mistake. The call occurred in the vicinity of down judge Patrick Turner and side judge Gary Cavaletto.

 

“I will admit, I was a little surprised that one of the two, with the same look that they had, didn’t come up with a different call,” Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating, told The Times. “What did I see? Well, pass interference.”

 

In a brief interview after the game, head referee Bill Vinovich called the decision “a judgment call by the covering official. I personally have not seen the play.” Vinovich was one of the few inside the stadium who missed it. Lewis caught a replay as he returned to the sideline. “I saw what everybody else saw,” he said. “Y’all feel like it was obvious? Everybody knew it was obvious.”

 

The replay system offered the Saints little recourse. Vinovich confirmed that the play could not be reviewed. Payton barked in vain at the officials near his bench. As a member of the league’s competition committee, he will have a say in any alterations moving forward. But the postgame apology provided no comfort to his players.

 

“It ain’t going to change nothing,” Saints wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., said. “They should have come down and overturned it.”

 

More from Ben Austro of ProFootballZebras.com:

 

The frustrating part is there were two opportunities to get this right.

 

When looked at in real-time, the contact is a lot closer than we see in replay. Contact can precede the ball if it is nearly simultaneous, what is called a bang-bang play. That is not the case here, as Robey-Coleman did deliberately contact Lewis attempting to make a play on the receiver and clearly arrived early, even though close.

 

The second opportunity the crew had was the helmet contact. A player in the act of receiving a pass is deemed “defenseless,” protected from forcible blows to the head or neck area. In this case, the helmet-to-helmet contact can be seen as well. If there is contact to the body which is simultaneous, then there is a case that the head contact is not forcible, and thus not a foul. There is a bit of an overriding provision. Officials are told to “err on the side of a foul” in cases of player safety like this. In other words, when presented with a borderline call, tip in favor of the flag. Between the three covering officials, it did not come to that.

 

The NFL also stumbled by letting Payton carry the ball on explaining the league’s position.  More from Austro:

 

Whatever the decision, referee Bill Vinovich said that the game situation has nothing to do with the call. “Absolutely not,” Vinovich told a pool reporter after the game.

 

Vinovich was incredibly brief with his response, much to the frustration of fans and media. “It was a judgment call by the covering official,” Vinovich said. “I personally have not seen the play.” This is by design. The only reason Vinovich is talking to the media is to clarify rules or officiating mechanics. He is not allowed to offer opinions on calls to the media; that is the job of Riveron. He also could not even comment on the play, because he is watching the quarterback at the end of the play, not the flight of the pass.

 

To that end, for hours after the game, the only word from the league is that which was funneled through Payton. There is no public acknowledgement of the call, despite a Twitter feed that provides official statements (signed with “-Al” when they come from Riveron) during the course of games. The only statement from the league for hours after the conclusion of the game had to do with the overtime rules.

 

Apparently, the NFL is trying to decide how contrite to be with its belated public statement.  This from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Everyone knows that the officials blew a key non-call late in the NFC title game. The teams knows it. The players know it. The officials know it. The league knows it, and a league employee has said so.

 

But the league has reversed course on its plan to formally admit it, for now.

 

Per a league source, the NFL has decided to refrain, at least for tonight, from issuing a statement admitting that Bill Vinovich’s crew failed to call pass interference against Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman, who hit Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis prematurely on a key third down play with less than two minutes to play in regulation.

 

The Saints should have had the ball with a fresh set of downs, along with the ability to take a couple of knees, bleed the clock, and kick a chip-shot field goal to advance to Super Bowl LIII. Instead, the Saints had to kick the field goal with enough time left for the Rams to tie the game — and then for the Rams to win it in overtime.

 

Apparently, the powers-that-be are haggling over the language of the statement that would admit the mistake. The haggling will continue into Monday, at a minimum.

 

If the league hopes to retain any credibility whatsoever, it will acknowledge the mistake ASAP and commit to making changes aimed at preventing such mistakes in the future. As the clock ticks, it will only get harder for the league to clean up a mess that its own substandard procedures for spotting and fixing obvious errors has created.

 

Florio has often wondered if the NFL doesn’t use it’s super secret ability to whisper in the ear of on-field officials to help them out when they blunder – but usually that is things like horrific yard-line spots and bad penalty mark-offs.  Should they have the power to yell in the ears of the SoCal 3 and tell them to throw a late flag in this case – or sit still as they did here and know that the Rams Super Bowl trip (and crown?) will forever be tainted?

 

We all have seen flags thrown and mysteriously picked up (“It’s good that the crew got together and straightened that out” is a frequent comment).  Should the NFL have the power to throw flags late, but correctly?

 

Peter King’s thoughts on the future include the name Dean Blandino:

 

This is a huge moment for officiating. Will side judge Gary Cavaletto or down judge Patrick Turner, or both, be fired, for missing the most obvious pass interference penalty in playoff history? If the call gets made, it’s conceivable and perhaps likely that the Saints would have made the Super Bowl.

 

The upshot. As soon as this call got made, I heard from a couple of acquaintances/sources about the impact of it. “Al Riveron [EVP of Officiating] is gone,” one said. “He can’t survive this.” Another said the league will have to pay big to bring back Dean Blandino or Mike Pereira (less likely). I think Riveron was on thin ice before Sunday. What the NFL should do, if it decides to dump Riveron, is pay realistic money to get Blandino back from his cushy gig at FOX. He’s a trusted and trustworthy guy.

 

Expand replay. Don’t expand the number of challenges a coach can have during a game. Just allow him to challenge a terrible call that he curently cannot challenge.

 

What King is alluding to is that Blandino followed Mike Pereira to FOX when he had the most stressful job in the Park Avenue building, but was still being paid a lot less than almost all of the NFL’s vice presidents with vague titles, unclear responsibilities and 9-to-happy hour lifestyles away from the line of fire.

 

We rarely see a call or non-call as bad as this one.  He hit him early, he hit him in the head, he admitted he was trying to commit a penalty.  While there was plenty of interesting officiating in the Patriots-Chiefs game, all of the much-discussed calls were within the realm of reasonable error on a close play (even the phantom roughing the passer on Tom Brady).

 

But the non-call NICKELL ROBEY-COLEMAN will long be remembered as the worst of the worst.

 

This tweet from Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times:

 

@tometrics

Still can’t get over the missed pass interference call in the #Rams-#Saints game. That’s the kind of stuff that would make me want to quit watching sports.