AROUND THE NFL 

The venue wasn’t the only thing the NFL changed at the last minute for tonight’s big game.  Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL took the unusual step this week of assigning an “all-star” officiating crew to the most highly anticipated game of the season, adding to the playofflike frenzy for Monday night’s matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

 

Referee Clete Blakeman will work the game with only two members of his regular crew, umpire Ramon George and down judge Dana McKenzie. The other five officials — including Jim Lapetina, who will handle replay — were plucked from three other crews.

 

The approach is similar to how the NFL assigns officials to playoff games, a process that is based on performance and seniority rather than crew. But it is rarely, if ever, employed before the postseason. Officials typically work on the same eight-person crews throughout the regular season to maximize continuity and familiarity among members.

 

Individual crew members are occasionally juggled for health or scheduling reasons. But a series of actions this season have indicated the league is moving away from the consistent crew concept, in favor of a more aggressive administration of officiating. Earlier this season, the league bounced down judge Hugo Cruz among four crews before ultimately making him its first-ever official to be fired for performance during the season.

 

NFL spokesman Michael Signora confirmed Sunday that “there is a rotation amongst the crews throughout the season.” Signora did not provide details on the decision to overhaul Blakeman’s crew for Monday night’s game.

 

An officiating source said Sunday that the five officials added to Monday night’s crew are all highly respected and have performed well this season.

 

The Chiefs-Rams game, originally scheduled to be played in Mexico City before it was relocated to Los Angeles, is a rare matchup. Since 1970, there have been only four other games pitting teams with one or fewer losses this late in the season. And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the latest matchup ever between two teams averaging at least 33 points per game.

 

The following is the full crew for Monday night’s game, as listed on the official flip card published by the NFL, with the officials’ permanent referee in parentheses.

 

Two of the officials are normally part of referee Jerome Boger’s crew. Boger was originally scheduled to work the game before Blakeman was called in, as first reported by NFL reporter Ed Werder and confirmed by ESPN.

 

Referee: Clete Blakeman

 

Umpire: Ramon George (Blakeman)

 

Down judge: Dana McKenzie (Blakeman)

 

Line judge: Rusty Baynes (Jerome Boger)

 

Field judge: Dale Shaw (Boger)

 

Side judge: Brad Freeman (Clay Martin)

 

Back judge: Tony Steratore (Boger)

 

Replay: Jim Lapetina (Brad Allen)

 

On the topic of officiating, we agree with this from Peter King:

 

I think, as you may recall by reading this column over the years, I despise the spot foul on defensive pass interference. It’s unfair to be able to have a 48-yard penalty on the defense when the receiver and corner are jousting for the ball, compared to a max of 10 yards for an offensive pass-interference infraction. It’s beyond stupid. It’s flat-out unfair. But I digress.

 

There’s another call I detest. That’s the call when, on a kickoff or punt, a ticky-tack hold or block in the back that wouldn’t have ended the play negates the entirety of the play. Case in point: Thursday night, Trevor Davis had a kick return of 53 yards for Green Bay, to the Seattle 47. Negated. The officials called a hold on Green Bay linebacker Korey Toomer. The replay showed Toomer with his hands on the outside shoulders of Jacob Martin, the Packer linebacker he was blocking. Was Toomer holding Martin? Hard to see, but I saw no jersey tugging, and it didn’t appear to be a hold. But this is the issue: Martin had zero chance to make the play on Trevor Davis.Martin was five yards away from the play as Davis sped through a big hole; Martin could not have impacted the play. It’s just crazy that because of the ticky-tackiest of penalties, the Packers started that drive at their 10-yard line (after the penalty is assessed) instead of the Seattle 47. That’s a 43-yard difference because of a penalty that might not have been a penalty, on a man who could not have made a difference in the outcome of the play. Lord, help us all on this over-officious officiating.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

Rookie RB KERRYON JOHNSON was a key figure in Detroit’s 4th win of the season Sunday, but he also hurt his knee.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Lions’ top running back is going to be out for a while — but not as long a while as some feared.

 

After medical tests today, Kerryon Johnson is considered week to week with a knee sprain, a league source tells PFT.

 

Considering that the Lions play on Thanksgiving, we can safely say he won’t play in that game, and maybe won’t play a few more weeks beyond Thursday. But any time a running back limps off the field with a knee injury there are fears that it could be something more serious, and those fears have been assuaged.

 

Still, any game without Johnson is a game in which the Lions’ running attack may be nonexistent. Johnson has single-handedly given the Lions a running attack this season: Johnson has averaged 5.4 yards a carry, while the Lions’ other running back, LeGarrette Blount, has averaged 2.3 yards a carry.

 

So the Lions are going to have a tough time running the ball on Thursday against the Bears. But at least they’re not worried about the long-term health of their promising rookie runner.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Peter King with more thoughts, with the help of ProFootballFocus, on Mike McCarthy’s decision to punt:

 

uch folderol about the Packers’ decision that may have cost them the game at Seattle on Thursday night. I want to focus on it here analytically, because coach Mike McCarthy said after the game, in making the decision he did, that “we played the numbers.”

 

The situation: Green Bay, down 27-24 with 4:20 to play in the fourth quarter, had a 4th-and-2 at its 33-yard line, with one timeout left. Key defenders Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels were out with injuries. McCarthy decided to punt.

 

McCarthy doubled down Friday, back in Green Bay. “Three-and-out there, I think, puts us right about the two-minute [warning],” he said. “I have great confidence in our two-minute offense, especially with Aaron … It’s a solid decision.”

 

I asked the analytics pros at Pro Football Focus on Friday to run their numbers for me, and for their opinion on the McCarthy call.

 

“It’s very difficult for me to conceive of a sound mathematical process that concludes punting was the right decision here,” said George Chahrouri, the director of research and development for PFF.

 

According to the PFF numbers:

 

• Green Bay’s chance of converting on 4th-and-2: 60 percent.

• Green Bay’s chance of winning after punting: 21 percent.

• Green Bay’s chance of winning after converting the fourth down: 38 percent.

• Green Bay’s chance of winning if they don’t convert the fourth down: 20 percent.

 

Translated, the PFF numbers say the Packers would convert fourth-and-two six out of 10 times, and the number say if they convert, they’d have nearly 4 in 10 chance to win the game. But a punt there, per PFF, gives Green Bay a 2 in 10 chance of winning.

 

Extrapolating further: If Green Bay punts, Seattle likely needs two first downs to run out the clock.

 

If the Packers go for it and make it, Aaron Rodgers needs to go about 60 yards in four minutes to score the go-ahead touchdown—or about 40 yards to try a field goal to tie. If they fail to make it, and they hold Seattle on its possession, a Sebastian Janikowski field goal (no sure thing) would give Seattle a 30-24 lead—and would give Rodgers the ball back, needing to go the length of the field in, say, two minutes for the win.

 

With a defense that allowed 77 and 75-yard drives on Seattle’s previous two possessions, and with a defense playing without two of its best players on the front seven, McCarthy—seriously—might want to examine how he calculates whether to go for it or punt in that case. It’s odd to put the burden on a faltering defense to stop Seattle, instead of putting the burden on Rodgers to make a manageable fourth-and-two. Neither “the numbers” nor common sense seems to back up McCarthy. However, this losing is not all McCarthy’s fault. In Seattle, Rodgers made some exquisite throws in the game, but his worm-burner incompletion on what should have been an easy third-and-two play forced the fourth-and-two decision. Mason Crosby missed his seventh kick in seven games, a 47-yarder wide left early in the game, that factored late.

 

McCarthy and staff have done a good job getting unknown young running backs and receivers up to speed this year. It’s not all bad, certainly. But the Packers just feel like a team going in the wrong direction. And with a quarterback as good as Rodgers, club president Mark Murphy and GM Brian Gutekunst have to decide whether a team that’s stumbled with and without Rodgers in the lineup needs a coaching change and a fresh voice in 2019.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Tragedy in the family of Cowboys WR MICHAEL GALLUP.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Monday that the team is supporting wide receiver Michael Gallup, whose brother died by suicide.

 

“We just found out after the ballgame that his brother had committed suicide and just wanted to leave it at that,” Garrett told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Monday. “Obviously a very personal matter. We’re all behind Michael and supporting him and his family, and this is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day and give him all of our love and all of our support.”

 

The mood was muted in the Cowboys’ locker room following their 22-19 win against the Atlanta Falcons when word of Gallup’s brother’s death filtered through the locker room. Gallup was spotted in a side room being consoled by wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal. He remained in Atlanta on Sunday.

 

Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said after the game said “we’ve had a tragedy” — not to a player or member of the organization but to a family member. He did not disclose more information.

 

Gallup grew up in Monroe, Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta, and Sunday’s game was a homecoming of sorts. He finished the game with one catch, a 10-yarder on third down on the Cowboys’ winning drive.

 

Gallup is among a family of eight children with six adopted, including himself.

– – –

Jerry Jones sets his price for selling America’s team.  This from the Dallas Morning News:

 

Jerry Jones has the Dallas Cowboys to thank for the bulk of his $6 billion fortune after buying the team in 1989 for a then-record $150 million.

 

While the National Football League franchise is worth considerably more today, Jones has made it clear no amount of money will persuade him to sell the team, which faces the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving.

 

In September, Forbes estimated the Cowboys’ team value at $5 billion, making it the NFL’s most valuable team for the 12th straight year and the world’s most valuable franchise across all sports.

 

Jones, 76, who derives some of his wealth from real estate and energy assets, recently acquired a controlling stake in Comstock Resources Inc., an oil-and-gas company that’s seeking to expand in the Haynesville Shale region. He spoke with Bloomberg this month about the Cowboys, art, and Texas oil and gas. The following comments have been edited and condensed.

 

How much would you accept to sell the Cowboys?

If I had to sell the team tomorrow I wouldn’t accept anything less than $10 billion. But, I don’t want to imply that I would take $10 billion for them. The Cowboys are just not for sale. They’re a long-term asset and my immediate family — which has been a part of making them what they are today– they’ll own the Cowboys long after I’m gone.

 

So, would you say the Cowboys are worth $10 billion?

I don’t say $10 billion just to say a ridiculous number. I just think you really have to go on what people would pay. I don’t want to say at least $10 billion but I certainly think you can justify a $10 billion value, but economically I’d rather have the Cowboys than the $10 billion.

 

How much art do you own and which is your favorite?

I have probably about 70 or 80 pieces and most of them are at the Cowboys stadium, including the Sky Mirror by Anish Kapoor. My favorite is Norman Rockwell’s Coin Toss, which is in my home.

 

When did you acquire Coin Toss?

In 1989, right after I bought the Cowboys, Ross Perot called me and told me that he had a Rockwell painting that he thought I should have. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it because I just spent $150 million on the team, but I decided to buy it for $1 million. Christie’s just appraised the piece and they said its worth $25 million.

 

We’re reminded of the scene from the 1978 Heaven Can Wait where the former owner of the Rams is watching practice.

 

Former owner: He got my team. The son of a bitch got my team.

Advisor: What kind of pressure did he use, Milt?

Former owner: What I asked for was sixty-seven million, and he said “okay.”

Advisor: Ruthless bastard.

 

To put that price in perspective, in 1980 the Denver Broncos sold for a then NFL-record $30 million.

 

 

WASHINGTON

QB ALEX SMITH suffered his broken leg on Sunday 33 years to the day after Redskins QB Joe Theismann suffered his significant fracture.  Theismann was at Sunday’s game.  Roman Stubbs in the Washington Post:

 

Earlier in the morning, the former Washington Redskins quarterback reminded his wife that it was the 33rd anniversary of the broken leg he suffered against the New York Giants on Nov. 18, 1985 – an injury considered one of the most gruesome in professional sports history.

 

Later in the day, he watched from a suite as current Redskins quarterback Alex Smith suffered a similar injury against the Texans, his right leg snapping in the same grisly fashion. Smith broke his right tibia and fibula, requiring immediate surgery, and he will miss the rest of the season, Coach Jay Gruden announced after the game.

 

Theismann said he became sick to his stomach as Smith lay on the turf, writhing in pain.

 

“I saw the way his foot was, and I turned away,” Theismann said.

 

In the minutes after, as Smith’s leg was stabilized, and the quarterback was sent to the hospital and eventually diagnosed, Theismann sent out a tweet that compared his injury with Smith’s. He also texted Smith. He said he wrote to him: “I’m just so sorry.”

 

@Theismann7

 Alex’s leg is exactly like mine 33 yrs ago

 

The memories of Theismann’s injury – which occurred after former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor barreled into the back of his right leg during a Monday Night Football game and effectively ended Theismann’s career – were even vivid before Sunday’s game. Theismann and his wife talked about the moment and the anniversary as they drove from Virginia to the game on Sunday.

 

He pointed out after the game that both he and Smith were at the late stages of their career when the injuries occurred. “You’re not 26, 27 years old. Alex is going to be what, 34 this year? I was hurt at the age of 35.”

 

There were other chilling ties to the two injuries : Both games ended 23-21 (although the Redskins won in 1985) and Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was on the sideline as the Giants’ special teams coach during Theismann game.

 

While Theismann was injured after being hit from behind, Smith’s occurred after his right leg had become caught in the turf during a sack by Houston defensive back Kareem Jackson. Texans defensive end J.J. Watt also made contact with Smith as he went down and his leg buckled.

 

Theismann launched a full-throated endorsement of Colt McCoy as the team’s starter moving forward, and he wondered aloud who the Redskins might turn to as the second quarterback. He also wondered, as he hurried down a stairwell and made his way out onto the concourse, when he might talk with Smith again. They now are bonded by a ghastly anniversary.

 

“I’m still just so upset,” Theismann said. “I feel so bad for him.”

– – –

Colin Kaepernick’s supporters have watched in amazement as QB after QB is signed, none of whom can claim a 4-2 postseason record like Kaep.

 

Well, with QB ALEX SMITH done for the season, the Redskins have signed a QB with a 4-2 postseason record.  But it is not Keap.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Mark Sanchez will get another chance to hold a clipboard.

 

The quarterback will sign with the Washington Redskins to backup Colt McCoy, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

 

Sanchez was plucked from the NFL breadline after the Redskins worked out a bevy of signal-callers following Alex Smith’s devastating leg injury suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Houston Texans.

 

Per Rapoport, the Washington workout included such luminaries as EJ Manuel, Kellen Clemens, T.J. Yates and Josh Johnson.

 

Landing on Sanchez isn’t a surprise. The 32-year-old quarterback is familiar with several of Washington’s assistants dating back to his run with the New York Jets. Redskins OC Matt Cavanaugh was Sanchez’s QB coach from 2009-2012; offensive line coach Bill Callahan was with N.Y. at the time; and current passing game coordinator Kevin O’Connell was a Jets’ backup QB for two years when Sanchez helmed the squad.

 

Sanchez languished on the free-agent market after serving a four-game PED suspension to start the season. He spent 2017 caddying for Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, and 2016 as a backup in Dallas. The nine-year pro last started a game in 2015 for the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

With McCoy set to start, Sanchez should only see the field in the event of injury. The Redskins play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, so the backup QB doesn’t have long to get up to speed if another Washington player suffers injury.

 

Fun fact: The last game Sanchez started was Thanksgiving Day 2015 in Detroit — a 45-14 blowout loss. And we all know the QB’s most infamous Turkey Day moment.

 

Grab a slice of pie, friends, and gather ’round the TV to see if Mr. Sanchez gets a chance at any more memorable Thanksgiving moments with which to regale us.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Peter King does his thing with an interesting “embed” with the Saints on the night before they crushed Philadelphia. 

 

This is not the usual Football Morning in America column. Last week, I asked Sean Payton if one weekend this year I could write about his Saturday night meeting, and about the relationship between he and Drew Brees, who is having the greatest year of his life (and one of the greatest years a quarterback’s ever had, regardless of age) at age 39. Payton agreed, and so Saturday night around 7, Payton’s assistant, Kevin Petry, took me onto the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton for the Saints meetings, which ran from 8 (Payton actually kicked it off at 7:59) till about 10:40. This is the story of that evening.

 

You can read it here.

 

Most of it is about Sean Payton and DREW BREES and offensive plays, but this is a sidebar:

 

By that time, the players had all relocated to the ballroom with the food. Except for one player. That player was playing a grand piano—and playing it very, very well.

 

We looked over, and I asked Payton who it was.

 

“Austin Carr,” Payton said. “Wide receiver. President of his class at Northwestern. He’ll be the president of the United States when he retires.”

 

Carr played for a while, beautifully. I went over to ask him about playing.

 

“Just relieving some tension,” said Carr, talking while his fingers moved over the keys. He said he loves the music of John Legend. This music is what you’d hear from someone coming out of Juilliard.

 

“The song’s beautiful,” I said. “What’s it called?”

 

“I haven’t named it yet,” he said.

 

Lots of composers in this Saints group.

 

On Sunday, Carr caught his first NFL TD pass as the 64th different receiver to catch one of Brees’ 511 TD passes.

 

Brees is starting to feel more and more like the 2018 MVP – both for his season and his epic career.  Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com feels it.

 

Sean Payton is a dear friend of Doug Pederson’s. In other words, you do not want to know how the coach of the New Orleans Saints treats his enemies.

 

Throwing a touchdown pass on fourth-and-6 while holding a 31-point lead? Blitzing a battered Carson Wentz in the final minutes while holding a 41-point lead?

 

In high school or college football, that kind of thing would inspire a community uprising. In the pay-for-play world of the NFL, the fact Payton has a soon-to-be-40-year-old quarterback dominant enough to humiliate the defending champs with such a cold, bloodless approach is the far bigger story.

 

Drew Brees is the NFL’s most valuable player and its most lethal weapon, and that isn’t likely to change between now and his 40th birthday in January. He completed 73 percent of his passes in this 48-7 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles, and yet the stat book said his performance qualified as a subpar day at the office (he completed 77 percent over his first nine games).

 

That’s the price you pay when you are assembling one of the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had.

 

No. 9 in your program is No. 1 in your right-minded MVP standings. Brees wears that number, 9, because he grew up in Austin, Texas, idolizing Ted Williams. Brees and his younger brother, Reid, were passionate baseball fans and talented young players, and when they weren’t dreaming of someday appearing in the College World Series (Reid realized that dream with Baylor in 2005), they were spending Sunday mornings watching the “Golden Greats of Baseball” on VHS tapes. “The Splendid Splinter,” Drew once said. “That was my guy.”

 

The Splendid Spinner is in the middle of his own magical 1941, when Williams batted .406, hit 37 home runs, and struck out 27 times in 606 plate appearances. Brees now has 25 touchdown passes against one interception in a season that has already seen him become the most prolific passer by yardage of all time. He will surely break the league record he set last year, when he completed 72 percent of his attempts.

 

“It’s crazy to think Drew is going to be on one of those videos we watched as kids,” Reid Brees told ESPN.com by phone Sunday night. “Actually, he already is on videos. But when they make another one after he retires and show the greatest quarterbacks of all time, my brother’s going to be on that list, if not in the conversation as the best ever.”

 

The Brees brothers also grew up watching a Michael Jordan tape over and over and over again. But their hearts were in baseball, and Reid said his older brother was a left-handed batter who naturally gravitated toward Williams. Whatever the boys saw on those old videos, they ran out into their backyard and immediately tried to duplicate it. “And every time we’d go out there,” said Reid, who works in medical sales in the Denver area, “it was bottom of the ninth, two outs, full count, bases loaded and you’re down three runs. The moments you always dream about.”

 

For Drew Brees, reality has triumphed over the fantasy. He was ignored by the major college programs in his home state after a dazzling high school career, but he overcame questions about his size and his arm at Purdue, and again in the NFL, to stand today as pro football’s best player. He threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns against Philly, and it was a shock every time he failed to complete a pass. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brees went 9-for-12 for 121 yards and two touchdowns while throwing into tight windows (no more than 1 yard of separation) against the Eagles — or three more such completions than any other quarterback in any other game this season.

 

“I feel really good right now,” Brees said afterward. “I love my team. I love coming to work every day with these guys. I want to play my heart out for these guys. I care about them. I certainly don’t want to let them down. I want to be as consistent as I can for them, give them confidence, put them in positions to succeed, and that’s my job. So I’m just doing my job.”

 

The Saints are 9-1, and if they land home-field advantage throughout the playoffs it’s awfully difficult to imagine any NFC team beating them in the Superdome. This building is absurdly loud, and Brees’ skill-position players are absurdly good. The Saints have averaged 48 points in their past three games. They have joined the 2013 Broncos as the only teams to score at least 40 points in six games since the NFL-AFL merger.

 

“We have a high standard for ourselves,” Brees said. It starts with the quarterback, of course. In the winners’ locker room after the game, Brees walked about with a green towel wrapped around his waist, eating a banana with one hand and slapping teammates’ hands with the other. Always leading. Always encouraging.

 

Hard to believe he has never won the league’s MVP award, but then again, the 6-foot, 209-pound Brees spent much of his career in the shadows of generational giants Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Peyton is long gone, and a 41-year-old Brady has devolved into Tom Not-So-Terrific, at least temporarily, leaving Brees to battle it out with whiz kids Patrick Mahomes, Todd Gurley and Jared Goff.

 

Of greater consequence, Brees burns to win a second Super Bowl ring and to enhance a legacy that, well, doesn’t need a whole lot of enhancing. When Brees last won a title after the 2009 season, three of his four children weren’t even born. He’s a different man now. And a much better football player.

 

So now Brees is favored to lead New Orleans to a 10-1 record in Thursday night’s meeting with Atlanta. Asked if a national TV game on Thanksgiving night still stirred his competitive juices, Brees brought up his childhood with Reid and their holiday football games in the backyard.

 

On the phone Sunday night, Reid Brees also recalled those games, along with all the obstacles his older brother hurdled between their Austin backyard and quarterbacking greatness in New Orleans.

 

“Drew deserves everything he’s getting right now,” Reid said. “I’ve seen him do amazing things my entire life, so what he’s doing now is no surprise. But still, it is very cool to watch.”

 

Very cool. And very devastating.

– – –

And this from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on the greatness of Brees and his connection with WR MICHAEL THOMAS:

 

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is justifiably getting plenty of recognition as an MVP candidate this season. But Brees shouldn’t overshadow a teammate who’s having a historically great season.

 

That teammate is Michael Thomas, who is having a season like no other wide receiver has ever had.

 

So far this season, Thomas has been targeted on 91 passes and caught 82 of them, for 1,042 yards. That 82-of-91 stat equates to a completion rate of just over 90 percent on passes thrown to Thomas, which is absolutely unprecedented for a 1,000-yard wide receiver, as far back as target stats exist.

 

FootballOutsiders.com has target stats dating back to 1986, and the highest catch rate for any 1,000-yard wide receiver in the NFL since 1986 came when John Taylor of the 49ers caught 80 percent of his passes in 1989, when he caught 60 passes for 1,077 yards.

 

So Thomas is on track to catch 90 percent of his targets in a 1,000-yard season, when the previous high water mark was 80 percent. If Thomas continues playing at his current pace for the rest of the season, he’ll finish the year with 131 catches on 146 targets, for 1,723 yards. That’s an unprecedented season in NFL history.

 

 

 

TAMPA BAY

The Buccaneers will turn back to QB JAMEIS WINSTON as the 49ers come to town on Sunday.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Dirk Koetter continues to spin the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback merry-go-round.

 

Jameis Winston will return to starting duties for the Bucs in Week 12 against the San Francisco 49ers, the team announced.

 

The move is no surprise after Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed three more interceptions in Sunday’s loss to the New York Giants. Since re-entering the starting lineup to replace Winston, Fitzpatrick has thrown seven interceptions and lost a fumble in three games.

 

Winston replaced Fitztragic in the Week 11 loss, completing 12 of 16 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and a late-heave interception. Koetter characterized Winston’s play in relief as “fantastic” after the loss. Winston engineered four touchdown drives that helped the Bucs get back into what was a blowout affair in New York.

 

The move back to Winston won’t alleviate all the turnover concerns in Tampa. In five games this season, including three starts, Winston has tossed eight touchdowns to 11 interceptions and one lost fumble.

 

Coaches yo-yoing quarterbacks rarely works out well, and that’s certainly the case for Tampa, which has lost seven of its last eight games to fall to 3-7. The Bucs turn back to Winston to see if he can provide one last life raft to Koetter’s sinking ship with an offseason of big decisions on the horizon.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

In the week before the big game, one Rams WR named Cooper went on IR, another came off it.  This from TheRams.com:

 

The Los Angeles Rams made a pair of roster moves on Monday, activating WR Pharoh Cooper to the 53-man roster, and moving WR Cooper Kupp onto the club’s injured reserve list as a corresponding move.

 

Cooper was designated to return earlier this week, after spending the mandated eight weeks on the IR. The return man injured his ankle Week 1 against the Raiders in Oakland.

 

A season ago, Cooper averaged 27.4 yards per kick return, and took one return for a touchdown. The third-year All-Pro return man is expected to resume his kick return duties if active on game day.

 

Kupp is moved to the list a week after the second-year receiver out of Eastern Washington tore his left ACL in a non-contact play in the fourth quarter of Week 10’s game against the Seahawks.

 

Kupp finished his season leading all Rams’ receivers with six touchdown receptions. He will miss the remainder of the season.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Peter King with a quote:

 

“It’s not the first time. I doubt it will be the last time.”

—Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, on his sideline spat with coach Jon Gruden, during Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. Coach and QB were visibly upset with each other after Carr was penalized for trying to call back-to-back timeouts. Both Carr and Gruden downplayed the confrontation after the game, which Oakland won to improve to 2-8 on the season.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King on reports that the Browns have/had an interest in talking to Condoleeza Rice about their head coaching position:

 

I think Adam Schefter is eminently trustworthy, which is why I am fairly sure there was something to his report Sunday that the Browns may be interested in interviewing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for their head-coaching job. Notice the wording there: interested in interviewing. Schefter wrote the Browns “would like to interview” Rice. He did not write, the Browns “would like to hire” Rice. Why would Cleveland want to do this—if indeed the Browns ever did? I am reminded of an old Al Davis story. When I asked someone in the Raider organization once about Davis’ tendency to talk to six or eight people every time he had a coaching opening (and to do long, painstaking interviews), he told me Davis loved milking information and ideas from smart people in football, sometimes in the guise of being interested in hiring them. My biggest problem with the concept is, as Rice admitted in a statement Sunday, she is “not ready to coach.” Right. The idea of her being anything other than a consultant-type interview is asinine. Let’s let a cadre of women who love football make their way in it.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

When the DB saw the Eagles beat the Colts, 20-16, in Week 3, we thought – hey, pretty good game by Indianapolis, hanging with one of the NFL’s best teams.  Two months later, we’re wondering how did Philadelphia (and the Jets) ever beat Indy.

 

Peter King:

 

When we last left Indianapolis, in the middle of October, it was already wait-till-next-year time in Indiana. The Colts were 1-5, they’d just given up 42 points to the abysmal Jets, the rest of the year was going to be target practice for Andrew Luck so he (and the franchise) could feel better about 2019. But they’ve won four straight (by an average of 19.3 points), and they totally undressed one of the league’s hot teams, Tennessee, 38-10 Sunday in Indy.

 

In the last four games, the Colts are scoring 36.5 points a game (only the Saints have been more explosive over that time), and Luck, a punching bag when he last played in 2016, has not been sacked. The turn of events has been so stunning that Reich, when this rout was over Sunday, walked into his office at Lucas Oil Stadium, closed the door, sat quietly and found himself near tears.

 

This is why: A year ago, Reich, then 56, was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia and thought there was a good chance that his dream of being an NFL head coach would never happen. When all the head-coaching jobs for 2018 got scarfed up by the middle of January, Reich thought he’d have to wait (at least) another year. But then the Eagles went on their Super Bowl run, Josh McDaniels told the Colts he was staying in New England two days after the Super Bowl, Reich got interviewed, and Indianapolis chose him as coach. And wouldn’t you be emotional if circumstances finally turned in your favor and you got the job of your dreams, and you had a franchise quarterback playing like one?

 

That’s why Reich was overcome Sunday.

 

“Sitting there,” he told me from Indianapolis after the game, “I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I was so emotional. I really connect with this place and these people and this quarterback, and I just thought how great it was that it worked out that I’m here.”

 

Luck’s a 67-percent passer under Reich, with seven straight games of at least three touchdown throws. Something Reich learned from Doug Pederson in Philadelphia last year is to run a democratic process—to listen to your coaches and to your quarterback about what works best. Collaborating with Luck has been easy. “He’s got a level of tenacity in every part of his preparation that’s special,” Reich said. Also, it’s pretty important to run for 200 yards a game, which the Colts have done three straight weeks now.

 

One of the things Reich has stressed with his team is the ethos of incremental gains. Some call that getting one percent better every day. That’s a Reich mantra. Winning games makes players believe in that. Getting to 5-5 makes them believe they’re progressing. As did this piece of imagery he created for his team after the game: “I told them we’ve climbed out of the deep hole, but now we’ve got a mountain to climb. We got a long way to go.” At least now the Colts can see where they’re going.

 

We did note when the Colts were 2-5 that the schedule might be doable if they put things together.  Here are the last six games which look like 4 wins, an interesting game with Dallas and a pivotal game with the Texans.

 

Nov 25        Miami                                                                                                                 

Dec 2          @ Jacksonville                                                                                                   

Dec 9          @ Houston                                                                                                          

Dec 16         Dallas

Dec 23         New York Giants                                                                                               

Dec 30         @ Tennessee

 

Here is another reason Reich has tears in his eyes.  A tweet from Trey Wingo:

 

@wingoz

If we’re being honest with ourselves…. the two best rookies in football are both playing for the same team: Quenton Nelson on offense and Darius Leonard on defense for Indy

 

 

TENNESSEE

The injury that removed QB MARCUS MARIOTA from Sunday’s wipeout in Indy was not dire.  Turran Davenport of ESPN.com:

 

The Titans may have dodged a bullet with Marcus Mariota’s injury, according to coach Mike Vrabel.

 

Vrabel provided an update on his starting quarterback Monday, saying Mariota suffered a stinger against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Mariota was injured with seconds left in the first half of the Titans’ 38-10 loss to the Colts and did not return. The injury was originally believed to be the same elbow injury that limited Mariota’s effectiveness during the first few weeks of the season.

 

“He’s getting treatment and it’s really not even the elbow. He had a stinger when a guy hit him in the head. He was evaluated by the independent neurologist and was cleared. We will have to see where he’s at and make sure he’s OK to play,” Vrabel said. “When you have a stinger there’s numbness. It goes from your neck down to your arm. When you get your neck twisted, you suffer some inflammation. That’s what happens.”

 

The Titans are going to get a second opinion on Mariota’s injury to make sure he is able to get back under center. Vrabel and the Titans are hoping everything checks out for Mariota and he is able to play next Monday night against the Houston Texans. If Mariota is unable to go, Tennessee will turn to Blaine Gabbert, who started for the Titans in their Week 2 victory over the Texans.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ALAN PAGE

Peter King:

 

Two Pro Football Hall of Famers received the highest honor a U.S. citizen can get, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Trump. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach and Alan Page, the defensive tackle who played for Minnesota and Chicago, had the medals fastened around their necks in a White House ceremony Friday. Not to deflect any praise from Staubach—who has had an incredible and selfless life of achievement and service—but I think Page is far less known nationally than Staubach. Page is a player, and more notably a man, who should be a beacon for all future players to study and appreciate.

 

Playing 15 seasons, from 1967 to 1981, Page never missed a game. In 1971, he became the first of only two defensive players to win Most Valuable Player. In 1976, Page had 18 sacks, rushing almost exclusively in traffic from the inside. In the 70s, he became the first active NFL player (it is believed) to run a marathon; he loved running so much that his weight dropped to 225 pounds and was a major factor in the Viking releasing him—he wouldn’t quit running, and Minnesota didn’t think a modern defensive tackle could play so light. The Bears disagreed, and Page still had some good days in Chicago. In his last NFL game, in December 1981, he sacked Denver quarterbacks three-and-a-half times.

 

Page fought for rights of players as a key member of the NFL Players Association. He passed the bar and began to practice law late in his career. In 1992, he was elected a justice to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and re-elected to three additional six-year terms.

 

Over 30 years, the Page Education Foundation he founded with wife Diane Sims Page helped provide more than $14 million in scholarship money to 7,000 Minnesota students of color; in exchange, the recipients had to perform community service. Later in life, he took joy in serenading runners in the Twin Cities Marathon by playing a tuba along the route … which caused scores of runners to stop, whip out cell phones, and take mid-race selfies with the most respected man in Minnesota.

 

Page has been critical of Trump’s politics, but wouldn’t engage in that when he went to Washington last week. “We live in a time when people would like to shed more heat than light,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “and I am more interested in shedding light.”

 

That is a life incredibly lived.

 

We would like to add two words that are missing from King’s story – Notre Dame.

 

There weren’t many African-Americans at Notre Dame in the early 1960s.  The DB has always wondered what led Page to choose the school.

 

Here is some background from Wikipedia.  We see he went to a catholic high school.

 

Page grew up in Canton, Ohio. His parents stressed the importance of an education, and of doing his best regardless of what others did. His mother died when he was 13. Page said he wanted to become a lawyer when he was a child.

 

High school and college career

Page graduated from Canton Central Catholic High School, in Canton, Ohio, in 1963. He starred in several sports and excelled in football. Page also worked on a construction team that erected the Pro Football Hall of Fame, laying the groundwork for the building in which he would one day be enshrined.

 

After high school, Page attended the University of Notre Dame, where he led the school’s football program to a national championship in 1966.

 

 

2019 DRAFT

The best QB in the upcoming draft?  It now seems to be DREW LOCK of Mizzou.  Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com:

 

Drew Lock has really started to look like the collegiate reincarnation of Matthew Stafford.

 

The Detroit Lions signal-caller was my comparison for the Missouri quarterback before the season began, but I knew Lock needed some refinement with his decision-making and footwork.

 

After a strong start to the year, Lock hit some road bumps against top-level defenses. Of late, he’s gotten into a rhythm at all levels of the field, and his significant arm strength is always on display. After another impressive outing on Saturday, Lock has started to distance himself from the other quarterback prospects in this class.

 

Here’s how Lock and other NFL Draft prospects are stacking up in the latest edition of QB Stock Watch.

 

1. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: Stock Up

2019 NFL Mock Draft: Giants pick strong-armed Drew Lock, Jets land receiver A.J. Brown

Lock missed a pair of downfield sideline throws to his favorite target, Emanuel Hall, in the early going against Tennessee but was hitting on slant after slant on high-velocity throws made from different arm angles. He had two long-ball touchdowns dropped — one uncharacteristically by Hall — and deployed a laser over the shoulder of a cornerback that was a trophy case toss for his draft resume. Lock threw accurately on the run too. While the dropped downfield strikes were outstanding, I thought his best throw game on a jerk-route touchdown that you rarely see. From the left hash, Lock uncorked a rocket to the far right outside receiver, who started his route like it was going to be a shallow cross, then stuck his foot in the ground and accelerated toward the sideline. It was a super-long throw for the Missouri quarterback and had a tiny margin for error. The ball was on time, with enough juice and hit the wideout in stride for what was an easy score.

 

There was a throw in the dirt over the middle but beyond that, Lock was on point all game against Tennessee. Given the level of competition, it was his finest throwing performance of the season, and he managed the pocket well, too, although he wasn’t pressured much.

 

2. Ryan Finley, NC State: Stock Up, Slightly

Finley got off to a great start, throwing in rhythm and with anticipation on out-breaking routes and on short slants, even with pressure in his face. NC State didn’t need to, but it ran two flea-flickers against Louisville, and while Finley connected on both, neither had ideal ball-placement. Finley was off on a dig route too, and nearly tossed a pick on a rollout in the end zone early but got back into a rhythm on two long anticipation throws to his talented tight end Emeka Emezie. He tossed a dime on a deep cross later.

 

Before he was taken out of the game because of its blowout status, Finley made his best throw of the game on a relatively deep pass to Kelvin Harmon right over the head of the cornerback. Good rebound game for the veteran quarterback.

 

3. Justin Herbert, Oregon: Stock Steady

Herbert put perfect touch on a deep-shot touchdown to Dillon Mitchell late in the second quarter from the far hash, which came after a throw just inside the numbers with impressive velocity to an open receiver.

 

He missed Mitchell on essentially the same play earlier, and threw a pick on a well-under-thrown ball that came when he was hit as threw. Herbert’s second pick came when he did slide up and away from pressure but forced the football into coverage and led to a tip-drill interception for Arizona State. For the most part, I liked Herbert’s pocket management and accuracy on in-breaking routes, but can’t label this a “stock up” performance due to the turnovers and plethora of screens that inflated his statistics. 

 

4. Daniel Jones, Duke: Stock Up, Slightly

Although his numbers don’t indicate this, Duke’s veteran quarterback managed the game against Clemson extremely well in the first quarter by getting the ball out quickly and accurately to underneath targets before finding a wide-open receiver to his right after starting the play looking to his left. A play later, with Clelin Ferrell bearing down on him outside the pocket, Jones launched an on-target deep ball … that was dropped. There was some tight coverage, but the throw as there. Early in the second, Jones made a gorgeous throw through a tight window on a deep slant that was dropped.

 

For as good as the first half was — Duke led 7-6 with under two minutes to go in the half — the second half was that much of a disaster the Blue Devils, although I thought Jones still held it together with a few accurate passes under pressure. He just took too many sacks and had a handful of throws batted at the line. Despite the big loss, Jones fared well in the most hostile of environments against an avalanche of NFL talent. It was probably the best 3.67 yards-per-attempt game a quarterback can have.

 

5. Will Grier, West Virginia: Stock Up, Slightly

Shaky start on the opening drive for Grier with bad ball-placement, which looked like an aberration when watching the next two drives, as he threw with impressive accuracy to all levels of the field, especially the over-the-shoulder touchdown to David Sills.

 

After a plethora of screens and easy, high-percentage throws, Grier made a nice anticipation throw on a deep out but the ball took forever to get to its target. In the third, Grier threw a wobbler deep that was nearly intercepted by the middle-of-the-field safety. He missed Sills on a jump ball in the end zone late in the game but the talented receiver made an amazing adjustment on the ball on a slightly under-thrown back-shoulder toss in the fourth.

 

Grier made his best throw of the season — yes, season — on the final drive of the game against Oklahoma State with under 20 seconds left when he looked down the middle, then snapped his head to the right and threw a rope over the cornerback and in front of the safety down the sideline. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, he was then flushed out of the pocket and didn’t put enough air on the ball into the end zone to Sills to end the game. Overall, a good but not great performance from the senior.

 

Honorable Mention: Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State

In his homecoming against Maryland, Haskins went 28 of 38 for 405 yards with three touchdowns and an interception … and 15 carries for 59 yards and three scores. He’s very inexperienced for an NFL prospect but does play well beyond his years in terms of full-field reads, decisiveness, and overall accuracy.

 

It’ll be interesting to see if Haskins declares for the 2019 NFL Draft because he’s undoubtedly talented. Another year at Ohio State, and we could be talking about No. 1 overall pick consideration for the Buckeyes signal-caller.