AROUND THE NFL
If The Season Ended Today In the NFC –
The Panthers, losers of 3 straight, have fallen all the way out of the playoffs. They will be behind the eight-ball in any matchup with Seattle now.
And the Packers? They have to make up the equivalent of three games on the Vikings now that Minnesota has the 1-0-1 tiebreaker advantage. In other words, if the Packers win all five – to get to 9-6-1, they need the Vikings to go 2-3 to get ahead of them.
NFC Div Conf
New Orleans South 10-1 2-1 7-1
Los Angeles Rams West 10-1 4-0 6-1
Chicago North 8-3 3-1 6-1
Dallas East 6-5 3-1 5-3
Minnesota WC 6-4-1 2-1-1 5-3-1
Washington WC 6-5 2-1 6-3
Seattle 6-5 1-2 5-3
Carolina 6-5 1-1 4-4
Philadelphia 5-6 2-1 3-5
Green Bay 4-6-1 1-2-1 2-5-1
Looking at the schedules of the Wild Card teams –
The Vikings have two tough road games coming up – at NE, at SEA, then two winnable games (vs MIA, at DET) before a home meeting with the Bears who may not have much to play for.
The Redskins have two games left with the Eagles, starting this week, and three other games they can hope to win – at JAX, at TEN, NYG.
Seattle has what looks like three wins with 2 meetings with SF and Week 17 at home with the Cardinals. The key is two tough games, MIN and KC, but both are at home.
Carolina has two games with New Orleans (Weeks 15 and 17). They visit two of the better “bad” teams – Tampa Bay and Cleveland and host Atlanta.
The Eagles have the Redskins twice, and games with three division leaders, Rams, Cowboys, Texans.
Green Bay – four games they would have found winnable at one time ARZ, ATL, at NYJ, at DET, plus at Chicago.
So it could look like
Green Bay 8-7-1
That is if the Seahawks can beat either MIN or KC at home. And Washington splits with Philadelphia. And the Saints, playing hard all the way, sweep Carolina. So still a long way to.
– – –
Peter King on grade inflation in the NFL’s Passer Rating system:
In five-year intervals, here is how many quarterbacks finished the season with quarterback ratings of 90 or higher:
1993: 3 quarterbacks rated 90.0 or better.
2018: 22 (through 12 weeks).
Or – here is a little snapshot from the mid-80s on the all-time list – JAMEIS WINSTON and RYAN TANNEHILL amidst some Hall of Famers:
25 Jameis Winston 87.2
26 Cam Newton 87.1
27 Ryan Tannehill 87.0
28 Otto Graham* 86.6
29 Dan Marino* 86.4
30 Brett Favre* 86.0
– – –
And another tweet from King:
The NFL’s Final Four in 2017 (Philadelphia, New England, Minnesota, Jacksonville) has a combined record of 22-21-1.
– – –
There are two sides to the offensive explosion. This tweet from Louis Riddick:
There is no denying that offensive innovation and rules changes have made it extremely difficult for defenses. That being said, defensive coaching, fundamentals, and execution is at an all time low. The proof is on the film if you know what you are looking at.
Peter King points something out:
Amazing, isn’t it, that the team with the 26th-highest-paid quarterback by average compensation (Mitchell Trubisky, $7.25 million) is in the driver’s seat over teams at one, three and five in compensation—Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, all at $27 million or more.
Peter King, sadly, seems to have reached the end of the line with QB MATTHEW STAFFORD – one of his Goats of the Week:
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit. Two points before I start: In dealing away Golden Tate and with Kerryon Johnson hurt, Stafford was at a disadvantage Thursday against the defensively stout Bears. And this might be more about 9.5 seasons than one play by a quarterback who is everything as a man and a civic presence that you want in a franchise-billboard player. But I’m a little tired of hearing how great Stafford is, and how he’d be so much better with an offensive line and a supporting cast, and how formidable he’d be with a running game. A great player—even an above-average one—can see the safety cheating down, waiting to pounce on a quick out to a tight end running a short route into the left flat. Bears safety Eddie Jackson plucked it easily and went in for the winning touchdown. Not blaming Stafford for the final pick, in the end zone with 67 seconds left going for the tie, but the lack of communication on the play was a fitting end to another egg laid by the Lions on Thanksgiving. This likely will be the 27th straight season without a playoff victory for the Lions, and Stafford was drafted to end it. Nothing doing so far.
And this, also from King (who may be carrying a message from someone):
I think if I were Jacksonville GM David Caldwell, come March and the new league year, I’d offer Detroit first and fourth-round picks for Matthew Stafford.
I think if I were Lions GM Bob Quinn, I’d probably take it.
NEW YORK GIANTS
This tweet from Neil Best:
Jets and Giants a combined 14-40 over past two seasons.
The DB would add – in the same period the two L.A. teams are 38-16.
The honeymoon of 2017 is over for GM John Lynch who is catching some heat for LB REUBEN FOSTER. Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com:
On paper, the beginning of this San Francisco 49ers reboot was a perfect storm of ambition.
Signing aggressive-but-inexperienced general manager John Lynch. Pairing him with cocky head coach Kyle Shanahan. Fleecing the Chicago Bears in a trade and dominating the 2017 board with a superficially perfect draft haul. Stealing franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo via trade from the New England Patriots, then inking him to a massive long-term deal. All the while, churning a moribund roster into newfound relevance.
The 49ers were back on track up to the beginning of the 2018 season. Since then, the process has gone backward. And nothing accentuates that more than Reuben Foster’s Saturday night unraveling – which is now the lowest point in the roster-building effort of this regime.
The granular details of Saturday night are still unfolding, but the bottom-line of Foster’s latest misstep has been laid out. For the second time since February, the linebacker has been accused of domestic violence by his girlfriend Elissa Ennis. And this time, it allegedly happened in the most unbelievable of places: inside the team hotel on the road, the night before the 49ers were set to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Foster’s alleged conduct is concerning enough, there’s also a question to be asked of the organization as well: Why was his girlfriend in the team hotel in the first place?
There are few good answers to that question. The 49ers realized that, quickly cutting the once-celebrated 2017 first-round pick on Sunday afternoon, citing Foster violating some “very specific ground rules.”
Despite significant criticism, the 49ers stuck with Foster through the first domestic-violence allegation back in February. Eventually, Ennis’ allegation was recanted, with the accuser saying it was another woman who hit her – not Foster. Ennis went on to testify that she made the story up to damage Foster’s career. After Saturday night’s alleged incident, police in Tampa reported finding a scratch on Ennis, as well as allegations that Foster had pushed her, knocked a phone out of her hand and slapped her across the face. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday evening that there was a “domestic disturbance” that police responded to in October involving the couple, an incident the 49ers told the newspaper they were unaware of.
Just In: Santa Clara police in October took report of domestic violence incident involving Reuben Foster. It’s unclear if @49ers were aware of the incident
Eventually, Foster will be judged. But the 49ers? They are being judged right now. And they should be. Foster represents a significant gamble that turned into an ugly mistake. And it comes at a time when the franchise has already hit a number of potholes in the path to a total cultural reset inside the building. General manager John Lynch said Sunday that cutting Foster was “extremely disappointing.”
He’s right. It is disappointing. I’ve spoken to Foster one-on-one. He comes off as an airy, good-natured young man. He has loads of personality and charisma. Teammates and staffers have always been naturally drawn to him. That and his ability to play linebacker at an extremely high level have gotten him a litany of chances in both life and his chosen career. And there’s little doubt at least some will line up behind him in this latest mess, too. Just as they have during all the other nonsensical things he has been involved in during his college and pro careers.
That’s also what makes this embarrassing, too. Especially for Lynch, who unequivocally stumped for Foster publicly more than anyone else in the organization. While other teams took Foster off their draft boards, Lynch spoke of how he had him ranked No. 3 overall in the 2017 draft. Going a step further, Lynch even said Foster was in play at the third pick in the draft, if both Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas had been off the board.
Something like that says Lynch was fine with Foster’s red flags during the draft process. It’s revealing because a multitude of teams said privately they were not in the same boat. Several pointed to a scary nightclub shooting in Auburn, Alabama that left three dead – including one of Foster’s close friends, Recco Cobb. Even those who didn’t hold the nightclub incident against Foster admitted they were leery of a lot of people who had surrounded him over the years.
The reservations were simple. If Foster had problem people surrounding him in college, that could get significantly worse in the NFL.
As a onetime-Alabama football staffer told Yahoo Sports on Sunday, “With Reuben, it was always a lot of stuff that had to do with cousins, ladies, family and friends. When he was in the building, it was fine. When he was out of the building, there was a lot to deal with.”
This kind of assessment was no secret in the NFL. The dueling personalities of Foster was always a consistent evaluation. Even his biggest supporters couldn’t gush about all his positives without tempering praise against the maintenance in Foster’s personal life. He was a great kid … with unbelievable football skills … and a ton of personal and emotional baggage.
Lynch knew it, but he also liked Foster a great deal and was excited to give him a chance. That’s why he traded up to the 31st pick and took him. All of this despite Foster failing a scouting combine drug test with a diluted urine sample – then getting kicked out of the event altogether after a heated incident with a hospital employee during a physical.
But the talent was too great, so Lynch rolled the dice. And what he got in return was 16 games on the field, two domestic-violence allegations and a two-game NFL suspension stemming from substance-abuse and personal-conduct violations. Now, even if Foster caught on with another team, he faces deeper league scrutiny and another potential suspension based on his latest arrest.
And none of this speaks to what else Foster has left behind for Lynch. Specifically, a microscope that is going to focus more intensely than ever on his skills as a general manager. Not to mention the 2017 draft class, which has fallen precipitously from the heights of applause in the days following the draft. That “A+” draft class is looking much worse now.
Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick, is having a mediocre impact on the defensive line. Foster is gone. Third-round cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has been maddeningly inconsistent. Third-round quarterback C.J. Beathard was beaten out by undrafted free agent Nick Mullens and could be the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart in 2019. Fourth-round running back Joe Williams was released. And if that isn’t enough sting, the 49ers traded the 67th overall pick in the 2017 draft to the New Orleans Saints, who used it to take star running back Alvin Kamara. If Lynch hadn’t snagged Pro Bowl-caliber tight end George Kittle in the fifth round, his first draft would look like a smoking crater right now.
All of which speaks to how tense things have to be for the 49ers right now. Sitting at 2-9 and with a brutal schedule the rest of the way, this could be a 2-14 team. That represents a big step backward from 2017, even without Garoppolo for most of this season. And it puts a massive amount of pressure on 2019. A year in which a lot has to break right – including Garoppolo coming back and playing at an extremely high level – for the 49ers to once again look capable of that exciting turnaround everyone predicted this season.
Back in August, I visited with Lynch and asked him about the first Foster domestic-violence allegation. Specifically, whether that incident had opened his eyes to the unexpectedly difficult parts of the general manager job. His response?
“It’s not for the faint of heart, you know? I know that,” Lynch said. “I knew that coming in. But until you’re in that seat and something like the Foster accusation happens, you don’t really understand what people are talking about. But I go back to principles and believing in things. And one of the things Kyle and I talked about when we came in here, we’re not going to do what’s popular. We’re going to do what we believe is right in every situation. If we do that, we’re going to be all right. In [Reuben’s] situation, we did what we thought was right. We felt like there was reason to believe in the kid and we stuck by him.”
In the end with Foster, Lynch was wrong. And maybe he was wrong all along. That’s something he’ll have to grapple with moving forward with this franchise, into a future that doesn’t seem quite as secure as it was only three months ago.
I think in late October, around the time of the trading deadline, it looked like Oakland could have three top-15 picks next April. Doesn’t look like that anymore. The Raiders’ first-round pick should be a top-five choice in 2019. But the Dallas pick (for Amari Cooper) and the Bears pick (for Khalil Mack) are looking more and more like picks in the bottom third of the round. Dallas and Chicago look like playoff teams right now.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
How many teams have had two Hall of Fame QBs on their rosters at the same time?
There have been a few – the 49ers with Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Rams with Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin, others?
But we think you can add the 2005 Chargers to that list. Peter King:
When Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt came out of the locker room for the second half at the StubHub Center, he caught the stats up on the scoreboard. “19-19,” he saw next to Philip Rivers’ name.
“That’s not right,” he thought to himself. Whisenhunt thought he misread it. And he went out to coach the second half, not thinking of the supposedly faux 19 for 19.
But as the half went on, he discovered Rivers was indeed perfect … for 25 throws. Then the Chargers quarterback, on his last series of the game, was trying to avoid a sack when he threw the ball away toward running back Austin Ekeler. He finished 28 of 29, an NFL-record 96.6 percent accurate on the day. A few minutes after coach Anthony removed Rivers from the 45-10 rout of the Cardinals, Rivers realized he was one throw from perfection.
“I remember exactly what he said,” said Whisenhunt, who has coached Rivers for four years. “‘GOSH! The one I missed the guy had me on the leg! SHOOT!’“
That’s about as profane as the devoted Catholic gets.
“You could feel it today,” Whisenhunt told me from California. “He’s been playing at an incredible level for a while now. Remember—this started, really, in this week last year, when we played the Thanksgiving game at Dallas.” Rivers completed 82 percent that day, for 434 yards. In the 17 games since, he’s had the best year-plus of his life: 68.2 percent accuracy, 5,120 yards, a 37-9 touchdown-to-pick ratio, and a crazy 9.08 yards per attempt.
It’s one crazy coincidence that Rivers and the man who was let go to make way for him to play in 2006—Drew Brees—are playing this well so late in their careers. Brees turns 40 in six weeks. Rivers turns 37 in two weeks. And now Rivers leads the Chargers to a prime-time game at Pittsburgh on Sunday, another test in a long line of them for him and this Chargers team that’s 13-4 since last Thanksgiving. “Him and Ben [Roethlisberger] again,” said Whisenhunt. “It’s going to be fun. It always is.”
– – –
Things looked bleak for RB MELVIN GORDON when he was hurt in the third quarter of Sunday’s rout of the Cardinals. But he has not even been ruled out for Sunday’s big game in Pittsburgh. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Melvin Gordon has a sprained MCL, which is expected to sideline him for a few weeks. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, though, isn’t even ready to rule out the running back for Sunday.
“It’s highly doubtful that he’ll play this week but never count that guy out,” Lynn said Monday, via Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register.
Gordon was injured on a trick play in the third quarter on a tackle by Cardinals defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche in the backfield. The Chargers feared the worst, so Lynn called the diagnosis “good news” and said he was “very relieved.”
The Chargers “absolutely” expect Gordon to return before the end of the regular season.
“I’ve had MCL’s, and I know you can recover quickly from those,” Lynn said. “Melvin is a fast healer. I was relieved. When you saw it on the field, it looked pretty nasty because it was a leg whip. I thought he came out on the good end of this one.”
The Chargers will fill in with Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. They also have Detrez Newsome.
But they will miss Gordon, who has 802 yards and nine touchdowns on 153 attempts this season. He has missed only one game this season, sitting out the Tennessee game with a hamstring issue.
The Bengals are done with QB ANDY DALTON for 2018 as they turn to JEFF DRISKELL. John Breech of CBSSports.com:
The month of November has been an ugly one for the Bengals and things officially went from bad to worse on Monday, with the team announcing that Andy Dalton has been placed on injured reserve in a move that will end his season.
The Bengals starting quarterback went down during the third quarter of Cincinnati’s 35-20 loss to the Browns on Sunday. On the fourth play of the second half, Bengals center Billy Price sent a shotgun snap sailing over Dalton’s head. As Dalton attempted to jump on the ball, the knee of Browns defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah came crashing down on his right hand.
After the play, Dalton was examined on the sideline, before eventually being taken to the Bengals locker room.
Following the game, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis actually sounded optimistic about the prognosis of the injury.
“On first look and everything it’s not (serious) but they’re going to do some further tests,” Lewis said, via ESPN.com.
Lewis spoke to the media again on Monday, and this time, he didn’t sound as optimistic. During his press conference, the Bengals coach said Dalton would have to undergo more tests so the team could determine the severity of the injury. The move to injured reserve means that Dalton’s season is definitely over.
The loss of Dalton continues a disastrous month for the Bengals. When November started, the Bengals were sitting at 5-3 and looked like a serious contender for an AFC wild-card spot. However, over the past three weeks, the Bengals have lost three straight games, not to mention, A.J. Green hasn’t been on the field for a single snap during the month due to a toe injury that he suffered in Week 8.
The Bengals have been ravaged by injuries this year with multiple players missing games, including Green, Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, John Ross and Vontaze Burfict.
With Dalton out, the Bengals will now turn to Jeff Driskel, who will almost certainly be making his first career start this week when the Bengals host the Broncos on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS, stream on CBS All Access or stream on fuboTV (try for free). Driskel, who was originally selected by the 49ers during the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, has been with the Bengals since 2017. The 25-year-old was elevated to backup quarterback this season after AJ McCarron left in free agency.
Although he hasn’t played much this season, Driskel did see some serious action after Dalton went down against Cleveland. During his short time on the field, Driskel threw for 155 yards and a touchdown.
With Driskel now starting, the Bengals signed quarterback Tom Savage on Monday to serve as his backup.
This will mark only the second time that Dalton hasn’t made it through an entire season in his eight-year career. The 31-year-old quarterback hasn’t missed a game since 2015 when he also missed time due to a right thumb injury that he suffered after a Bengals turnover.
The injury to Dalton could make for an interesting offseason in Cincinnati, especially if Driskel plays well down the stretch. The Bengals can get out of Dalton’s contract after this year. If they were to cut him during the offseason, the move wouldn’t cost the Bengals anything because there’s no more dead money left in his contract after 2018.
As the frost hits the pumpkin, the Browns have the same record as the Packers at 4-6-1.
And they actually have a better shot at the playoffs.
I like the way Gregg Williams thinks, at least this week. The Browns enter December with a pulse. They’re 1.5 games out of the sixth playoff seed.
I cannot believe I just wrote that short paragraph. Is Sam Rutigliano the coach? Paul Brown? Blanton Collier?
Before flying south to Cincinnati to try to break a seven-game losing streak, the Browns got a playoff primer from coach Gregg Williams. The interim coach told me he showed his players they were still in the race. “I showed them who was alive,” Williams said. “And we are. I also showed them the remaining teams on our schedule, and how five of the six were still alive. I wanted them to see we’re in it.” Actually, every team left—first the Bengals, and then Houston, Carolina, Denver, Cincinnati again and Baltimore—was alive. And still is. “But my big thing is: One day at a time. One practice at a time. One game at a time. One meeting at a time. And they’ve listened well. They stay in the moment.”
Baker Mayfield was very good at that Sunday, leading the Browns to their biggest lead since mastodons roamed the earth, 28-0 late in the first half. It’s interesting watching Mayfield. He’s got a lot of Russell Wilson in him. When things are going great, he comes out with confidence, and you think he’s going to make a play. When he’s down big, he comes out with confidence, and you think he’s going to make a play. He’s not overly celebratory. He threw four touchdown passes Sunday, and he didn’t go batcrap after a single one of them. He’s happy, and he’ll high-five or hug his mates, but he doesn’t go whirlygigging around the field. It’s because Mayfield expected what just happened. He’s not particularly surprised.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him,” Williams told me. “But I’ve had the luxury of being on teams with excellent quarterbacks, and I’ve gone against Hall of Fame quarterbacks in my 29 years coaching. And Baker has the innate leadership that shows me he belongs. Grown men can smell whether you belong. They know he does. In his mind, already, he can play the game at a slo-mo pace. I see the similarities to a young Drew Brees.”
Gregg Williams is given to hyperbole. But watching Mayfield play for three months, I see he might be on to something here.
Kevin Seifert at ESPN.com didn’t get the message with his playoff picture (we have taken out his commentary, just pay attention to the IN THE HUNT
1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
2. New England Patriots (8-3)
3. Houston Texans (7-3)
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)
5. Los Angeles Chargers (8-3)
6. Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
In the hunt: Indianapolis Colts (6-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5), Miami Dolphins (5-6), Cincinnati Bengals (5-6), Denver Broncos (5-6)
But Joe Donatelli of Channel 5 in Cleveland is on the case:
It’s a long shot.
We played around with the New York Times playoff simulator, and what we discovered won’t come as too much of a surprise. In order to have a feasible shot at the postseason, the 4-6-1 Browns needs to win all 5 remaining games and finish 9-6-1. If they do that, according to the simulator, they have an 82 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The Times estimates odds by randomly simulating the remainder of the season thousands of times and counting how often the Browns make the playoffs.
It’s not perfect, but it’s something.
Which game is the most important?
It’s the Ravens game.
If the Browns:
Lose to the Texans and win the rest: They have a 19 percent chance
Lose to the Panthers and win the rest: They have a 17 percent chance
Lose to the Broncos and win the rest: They have a 16 percent chance
Lose to the Bengals and win the rest: They have a 13 percent chance
Lose to the Ravens and win the rest: They have a 7 percent chance
What about ties?
When it comes to the 2018 Browns, you gotta factor in the ties.
If the Browns win out and tie the Ravens, they have a 63 percent chance of making the playoffs.
We know, we know. The odds of any of this happening are small, but in a season filled with Rally Possums and Victory Fridges and Dangerous Feelings, it’s fun to think about.
So even with one loss (as long as it isn’t in Week 17), the Browns have a decent shot.
Bob McNair became the third NFL owner to pass away this season over the weekend. Peter King:
A few years ago, Bob McNair was having breakfast with a friend at a Super Bowl when the subject of franchise values came up. The value of some teams had raced past $2 billion and were approaching $3 billion, but McNair wasn’t all that excited about it. First, he had no desire to sell and couldn’t see a day when he would. Second, he thought the value was secondary to the real importance of owning a franchise.
“The real value is in the goodwill,” McNair told his friend that day. “Teams are really worth a hard value of maybe $150 million to $200 million. It’s what you can do when you own a team that’s important.”
McNair, for instance, was affected by the shooting in 2015 at the Mother Emanuel Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., paying for the funerals of the nine victims, and later contributing $1 million toward a memorial on the site of the shooting. That, of course, stands in contrast to his most controversial moment in recent years when, 13 months ago, ESPN quoted McNair in a private league meeting as saying the NFL couldn’t have “the inmates running the prison.” The quote angered players and even one top league executive, Troy Vincent. McNair apologized and said he wasn’t referring to players when he said it, but his reputation was tarnished by the incident, and those who knew him thought the controversy bothered him till his death last week at 81.
I knew McNair—though not well—as a thoughtful and caring man about his team and the league. It was easy to talk to him for 20, 30 minutes at a time; he never seemed in any hurry and was as gentlemanly as any league owner I met. He always put his money where his good will was. Reportedly, he gave away as much as $500 million in his life. He did things other owners wouldn’t do, such as naming Amy Palcic the first woman to be in charge of an NFL team’s football and off-field communications department. More than once, he told current coach Bill O’Brien, “Go home,” when he saw him in the office at night. He didn’t think he had all the answers, even when the Texans would have a good season. I remember him asking me about the old Giants’ teams I’d covered, and what made Bill Parcells successful.
I think the league will miss him, a lot. Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney, who died in April 2017, was the league’s compass. But McNair, who’d been on the scene only 19 years since being awarded the Texans franchise in 1999, was part of a cadre of owners, led by Rooney, who were exceedingly conscientious about the game. That group of owners was league-first, more concerned with the NFL’s long-term future than short-term money ventures. Now it’ll be up to people like his son and presumed team heir, Cal McNair, to carry on the kind of tradition Art Rooney II is trying to carry on after the loss of his father. It’s a heavy burden with all the winds buffeting the NFL.
“I’ve never known anyone I respected more than Bob McNair.”
—The Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, who has covered the NFL for the past 40 years, on the late Texas owner.
After losing in Buffalo, the Jaguars dump their OC and QB. The AP:
The Jacksonville Jaguars sacked offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Blake Bortles one day after the team’s seventh consecutive loss.
Coach Doug Marrone fired Hackett and benched Bortles on Monday, making sweeping changes to one of the league’s worst offenses.
“I felt I needed to make a change to get us an opportunity to win some games,” Marrone said. “It’s not a knee-jerk reaction. I really feel like at the end of the day we’ve got to try to get better production out of our passing game or more consistent production in our passing game.”
Marrone promoted quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich to offensive coordinator as well as backup quarterback Cody Kessler.
Milanovich spent five seasons (2012-16) as head coach for the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts before landing in Jacksonville last year. Kessler lost all eight starts for Cleveland in 2016.
“Hopefully he can stay healthy and win some games for us,” Marrone said. “My plan is for him to go in there and play.”
Staying healthy could be a challenge for Kessler considering Jacksonville will be without three starting offensive linemen, including left guard Andrew Norwell (ankle) who was placed on injured reserve Monday. Norwell joins center Brandon Linder and left tackle Cam Robinson on IR.
The Jags also could be without their offensive centerpiece if the NFL suspends running back Leonard Fournette for leaving the sideline and provoking a fight in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo.
Marrone refused to make excuses for the offensive struggles.
Bortles didn’t throw for 150 yards in four of the last six games. He had 104 yards through the air against Pittsburgh two weeks ago and 127 yards against the Bills. Marrone benched Bortles twice in two years, only to give him the job back both times.
Now, though, it seems Bortles could be done in Jacksonville.
Finances might be the only reason he sticks around. The fifth-year starter signed a three-year, $54 million contract in February and is due to count $21 million against the salary cap in 2019. Cutting him would cost Jacksonville $16.5 million against the cap.
But it’s clear Marrone has lost faith in Bortles, who regressed this season.
Marrone felt Hackett should have done more, too. Marrone and Hackett had been together for nine years, including stops at Syracuse (2010-12), with the Bills (2013-14) and in Jacksonville (2015-18).
Hackett ended up being the first scapegoat in Jacksonville’s ultra-disappointing season. He failed to get Bortles and the offense to play anywhere close to the level they did early in the season or in 2017. Injuries have been the biggest issue, but not enough to save Hackett’s job.
“Obviously, you feel terrible, especially as an offensive player,” center Tyler Shatley said. “I feel like a lot of that’s on us. He had great game plans and stuff; we just have to execute better.”
The Jaguars rank 22nd in the NFL in total offense, averaging 346.5 yards a game, but have been on a steady decline the last two months. They rank 29th in points, averaging a paltry 17.9 a game.
Bortles’ lack of production has been the primary problem. He has 13 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season, incapable of putting the offense on his shoulders when things go wrong around him.
He also has been hamstrung, most notably by a lack of playmakers and numerous injuries. Jacksonville is without three left tackles, two tight ends, the team’s leading receiver from 2017, the team’s starting center and played six games without Fournette.
“It sucks that somebody had to get let go,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “I thought he was doing a wonderful job. But it’s the nature of the business. We need to start winning or we all need to look in the mirror about who can let go. It sucks.”
Marrone could have made other changes. The defense looks little like it did in 2017, prompting some to question coordinator Todd Wash’s future, and special teams have been a non-factor all year.
But Marrone opted to address the offense.
“Any time you’re losing, it’s not just on one person,” Marrone said. “It’s on everyone, and obviously when I say that I understand and take responsibility for that. It starts with me as the head coach. … Obviously none of us are doing a good enough job right now. We have an opportunity to play five games and get back on track and break this losing streak.”
More from Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com:
I spoke to Hackett in the aftermath, and he was respectful of the call that Doug Marrone (who he’s worked with for the last nine years) made. “I’m grateful to them for giving me the opportunity just to have a chance to call plays,” Hackett said. “We had a great run last year, being in that AFC Championship, getting there and being so close. I mean, we were supposed to win four or five games, we lose [Allen Robinson] in the first game, it was awesome. … Looking back at it, there were things that hurt us with the injuries, but you have to find a way to overcome it. Unfortunately we couldn’t finish games the way we’d have liked. The truth is, my head’s still kind of spinning here.”
Last season Bortles survived an August benching to get Jacksonville to the AFC title game and score a big extension, so you never say never. But it sure seems this would be it for the Jaguars quarterback, with the team staring down a very tenuous cap situation in 2019. So the logistics of releasing Bortles? The team still has about $6.5 million in guarantees to account for, which can be offset by whatever another team might be willing to pay him. There’s also $10 million in dead money, on top of that guarantee, to bring the total to be accounted for, if he’s released, to $16.5 million, which is only $4.5 million less than the $21 million cap number he’s scheduled to carry next year if he is on the team. As for the new starter, going to Cody Kessler is likely as much about being able to sell the locker room on its quarterback and giving the team a spark as anything.
Peter King on the game played by JOSH ALLEN Sunday:
The Bills should never move. Buffalo’s home-field advantage rivals Seattle’s. It’s cold, and extremely partisan, and extremely loyal, and woe be the fool who comes in and challenges your manhood or your team. Prior to Sunday’s Bills-Jags game, Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey trashed rookie quarterback Josh Allen in a GQ story last summer. Ramsey got booed all day. Then, Jags running back Leonard Fournette got into a brawl when the game was tied late in the third quarter, and Jacksonville’s only offense weapon got tossed.
This game was Jacksonville’s season. The most disappointing team in football (and it’s not close for second) was 3-1 in the first month of the season and was 0-6 since. Make that 0-7, because Jacksonville’s formidable front couldn’t intimidate or win against the rookie quarterback from Wyoming. Allen made one of the sweetest plays he’ll make as a pro late in the first quarter, waiting till just the precise moment, just before getting crushed, to unleash a 75-yard strike to undrafted wideout Robert Foster. And Allen ran/lumbered for 99 yards through the fast Jacksonville defense.
“Ever think you’d run for almost 100 yards in an NFL game?” I asked Allen.
“Never,” he said. “Never in a million years. Not once in my life.”
Said Allen: “We knew it’d be a chippy game. Jacksonville likes to talk. The fight hurt them, because they lost their running back [Fournette] for the game, and they missed him.”
Allen had some good moments in his first six pro games, but he had much to learn coming from Wyoming with suspect accuracy. It was probably a blessing in disguise for him to miss the previous four games with an arm injury, because he got to learn. And though he was only eight of 19 Sunday, Allen looked more athletic than we thought in running the ball, and he didn’t turn it over. After the game, Ramsey surprised Allen by approaching him from behind, getting his attention and shaking his hand.
“It didn’t mean much, to be honest,” said Allen. “I just want to win football games. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but I don’t pay much attention to him.”
But Ramsey’s comments about Allen being trash were relayed to Allen so many times he had to hear them, and feel them. And the handshake had to stun him a bit.
“I guess it was a sign of respect,” said Allen. It should have been.
THIS AND THAT
FOX is out – and ABC/Disney/ESPN is in for the 2019 NFL Draft. Two of Disney’s entities – ABC and ESPN – will compete against each other during the first round:
ABC is joining the NFL draft broadcast business and will televise all three days of picks next April.
The network will join ESPN, also part of Walt Disney Company’s TV properties, for prime-time coverage on Thursday and Friday nights, April 25 and 26, from Nashville, Tennessee. NFL Network also will televise those two nights, which include the opening three rounds of the draft.
ABC will have a separate broadcast crew from ESPN and NFL Network. On Day 3, April 27, ABC and ESPN will simulcast the final four rounds, while NFL Network does its own broadcast.
Handling coverage of the ABC telecasts will be ESPN’s College GameDay, college football’s longest-running pregame show. ESPN and ABC personalities and other “special guests” will be part of the multi-night ABC presentation.
ESPN Deportes will televise all three rounds in Spanish.
“The addition of broadcast television for all three days of the 2018 NFL draft helped to bring this important offseason event to even more fans and resulted in the highest-rated and most-viewed draft ever,” said Brian Rolapp, chief business and media officer for the NFL.
Fox simulcast with NFL Network last April for the first two days and ABC broadcast the third day.
“We’re looking forward to once again broadcasting all three days of the NFL draft and excited to have another member of the Disney family with us to help grow this event and showcase the future stars of the NFL,” Rolapp said.
The first round on ESPN last spring — when five quarterbacks were drafted, adding interest to the proceeding — averaged 5.36 million viewers. The opening round’s combined numbers for ESPN, Fox and NFL Network hit 11.2 million viewers. Combined numbers, including streaming, reached 11.4 million.
All three days of the draft averaged 5.5 million, with Saturday on ESPN and ABC averaging 2.9 million.
“ESPN is constantly seeking opportunities to innovate and expand our coverage of major events, and the NFL draft is a perfect example of that. There is no better way to celebrate 40 years of working with the NFL to grow the draft than to bring the considerable assets of The Walt Disney Company to Nashville,” said ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro.