AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Coach Matt LaFleur was happy after a nice win in Dallas.

 

The Cowboys had almost 230 more yards of offense than the Packers on Sunday, but they also turned the ball over three times on their way to a 34-24 home loss.

 

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said the defense showed “great resolve” in forcing late stops after the Cowboys had rallied from 31-3 down. That effort was married to a strong outing from running back Aaron Jones and an offensive showing that’s much improved from what the Packers put on the field to open the season.

 

“I just think that everybody’s a little bit more comfortable with hearing the play calls,” LaFleur said, via Albert Breer of SI.com. “On that first Thursday night, nobody had, the starters had never played together. They didn’t play in the preseason, never make an excuse for that, that was my decision, but I just think they’re more familiar with one another. And they’re starting to come together. But again, there’s a lot of room for improvement. . . . Not only from them but from myself as a play caller.”

 

The offense clearly remains a work in progress for Green Bay, but a 4-1 record and the increasing comfort level are two reasons to feel positive about where things are headed over the course of the season.

 

 

MINNESOTA

QB KIRK COUSINS rehabbed his career on Sunday.  Peter King:

 

Football Is Crazy, Minnesota Mayhem Dept.:

 

• Kirk Cousins missed a few (a few?!!!) last week against the Bears in a bleak showing and lost 16-6.

 

• Wideout Adam Thielen seemed to veiled-threat Cousins out the wazoo after the game with, “You have to be able to complete the deep balls.”

 

• Out of nowhere, Stefon Diggs didn’t show up for work Wednesday as rumors swirled he wanted to be traded. “There’s truth to all rumors.” Was it Cousins-related? Was it even true?

 

• Cousins sort of apologized publicly for not hitting Thielen in Chicago.

 

• Would the Vikes think of yanking Cousins if he didn’t shape up? Would they take the $30.5-million cap hit for cutting him before the 2020 season if he didn’t shape up?

 

If Cousins was sweating his future, short or long-term, he wasn’t showing it.

 

“It was a pretty normal week for me, and a very good practice week,” he told me Sunday evening. “I can read between the lines when reporters are asking me things, so I guess there was a lot swirling around. I can tell by the tenor of the questions. But I can tell you I don’t pay attention to what’s out there. I just don’t. Maybe a high school friend will text me something about me coming under fire. I’ve gotten to the point where I tell my friends: ‘You don’t have to text me. Really, it’s better to be in the dark.”

 

He thought for a moment, then said: “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.”

 

I don’t know if Cousins is out of the hole; I doubt it, frankly. But his best game as a Viking (by passer rating) silenced the hounds for a while. In a 28-10 win over the Giants, Cousins was 22 of 27 for 306 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and a rating of 138.6.

 

Cousins entered the game in New Jersey needing to show his accuracy and his decision-making—both suspect this season—could get better. I thought Cousins made two terrific throws to Thielen, his go-to guy, with due respect to Diggs. Makeup throws? Doubt it, but who knows. One was a terrific, accurate throw to the right sideline with cornerback Janoris Jenkins all over him; the ball was dropped into Thielen, who toe-tapped and hung onto it for a gain of 11. Nothing game-determining there, just the kind of throw you’ve got to make consistently in the NFL to be a winning passer.

 

The second pass was a nine-yard, sort of nondescript TD throw to Thielen, who was trolling the back of the end zone with five minutes left in the third quarter. Deandre Baker got to Theilen a split-second before the pass from Cousins and tackled him, with the ball headed for Thielen’s hands. “When we talk about a player running to the middle or the back of the end zone,” Cousins said, “we talk about putting that ball on the top shelf. Throw it high, give Adam a shot at it, but no one else.” Perfect throw, and even with Thielen getting dragged down, the ball hit his hands and he hung on.

 

On the Thielen relationship …

 

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a closer friend in the league than Adam,” Cousins said. “We sit together on planes. Our families are friendly. What’s funny is the comment Adam made after the game last week is the same one he’s said to me. He thought it was unrealistic to just run it and have that be all our offense. So I had the context. But I guess it took on a life of its own.”

 

It did take on a life. But it did so because Cousins has missed so many throws he needs to make for the Vikings to get their money’s worth on the three-year, $84-million guaranteed contract that he is midway through. One game in the Meadowlands is encouraging. But it’s not burying the Bears, or winning the division.

 

“I am aware of the contract, and the expectations,” said Cousins. “I don’t pretend they’re not there. But I’ve never thought about the contract when I’m dropping back on third-and-seven. I feel the tension every week, but it’s a tension I’ve always felt before games.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

An NFL side judge didn’t like the way that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett threw his challenge flag.  Another flag, this one yellow, sailed into the sky.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

Normally reserved coach Jason Garrett initially was unsure why he had been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the Dallas Cowboys’ 34-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and Jerry Jones was exasperated when he learned it was for abusive language.

 

“Apparently he didn’t like how I threw the [challenge] flag,” Garrett said.

 

Side judge Scott Edwards made the call on Garrett, and in a pool report, referee Ron Torbert gave the reason for the penalty.

 

“It was for abusive language toward an official,” Torbert said.

 

When that explanation was relayed to Jones, the Cowboys’ owner and general manager expressed his irritation.

 

“Oh, I hope the little darling didn’t hear something he hadn’t heard before,” Jones said. “We should all stop the wheel over that if he got [a penalty for] abusive language.”

 

With four seconds left in the third quarter, Amari Cooper was ruled to have been out of bounds on a pass from Dak Prescott. Replays, however, showed he was able to get both feet down, requiring Garrett to use his final challenge of the game.

 

“We had already challenged a potential pass interference earlier [and] you know in that situation you have to use the flag to get the call corrected and you’re not going to have one for later in the game,” Garrett said.

 

“Obviously, I didn’t handle that situation as well as I should have. I knew we were going to get the play because I saw it and unfortunately we had to use that flag there. And he made the decision to throw a flag on me.”

 

Garrett’s frustration stemmed from a 39-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Anthony Brown earlier in the third quarter.

 

“The standard is very high for them to overturn,” Garrett said. “That was more of a situational challenge. I don’t think it was pass interference. If I thought it was pass interference I wouldn’t have thrown the flag, but understanding the standard is high because of the situation, you have to give yourself a chance. … Oftentimes when you slow it down, things look a little more magnified than they are. I know it’s hard to get those things overturned, but it’s too big of a play not to do it.”

 

The Packers ended that drive with Aaron Jones’ fourth rushing touchdown of the day to take a 31-3 lead. The Cowboys managed to cut the deficit to 14 points in the fourth quarter, but a third Prescott interception made chances for a miraculous comeback even more difficult.

 

However, on that pass, Prescott thought Michael Gallup was interfered with by Kevin King, which played a part in why he threw the pass to begin with.

 

“I saw what everyone saw,” Prescott said. “Seeing guy very handsy. No call. Move on.”

 

Garrett said it was not his place to comment when asked if he felt it was a poorly officiated game. Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott spoke carefully after the game about the officiating.

 

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins finally get the chance to win a game at Miami this Sunday after a tough opening schedule – Dallas, Philly, Chicago, New England – ah, maybe not the Giants.

 

But Jay Gruden won’t get the chance to win it.  Barry Petchesky at Deadspin.com:

 

After an embarrassing yet expected 33-7 “home” loss to the Patriots, after which everyone already knew head coach Jay Gruden would be fired … Washington fired him. This being the Skins, though, they did it in the most disrespectful manner imaginable.

 

On Sunday, Gruden had morbidly responded to questions about his job by saying, “if the key works Monday I’ll keep working.” That’s not quite how he found out. But it was close!

 

From the Washington Post:

 

Gruden was summoned to the team’s facility in Ashburn for a 5 a.m. meeting Monday by owner Daniel Snyder and team president Bruce Allen, who informed him of the decision.

 

Jeez. Let the man sleep in, maybe? Do the deed Sunday, or perhaps even just give him a phone call?

 

Gruden was a dead man walking after an 0-5 start, and it always seemed likely the front office was waiting for him to eat shit against New England before doing to the deed, because it’s easier to claim a “fresh start” after that inevitable ass-kicking than right before it. The events of the past week were par for the course for this franchise, with the sides sniping at each other through the media and some embarrassing videos of Gruden coming out with suspicious timing. All of which led to this morning’s firing, and the inevitable recriminations to come in the next days.

 

The Skins announced the firing in a statement credited only to “the team”:

 

Through the first five games of the 2019 season, the team has clearly not performed up to expectations, and we all share in that responsibility. Moving forward we are committed to doing all that we can collectively as an organization to turn things around and give our Redskins fans and alumni a team they can be proud of in 2019 and beyond.

 

In five-plus seasons in Washington—the longest coaching stint under current ownership—Gruden was 35-49-1 with a single playoff appearance. That’s obviously not great; he always looked kind of hapless out there, but at least the players seemed to like him. But, grading on the Dan Snyder curve, it wasn’t really all that bad, or at least not out of the ordinary. Of the six coaches hired by Snyder, not one has finished with a winning record, and the team has finished last in its division eight times and third seven times. See a pattern? What’s wrong with this franchise wasn’t only or even mostly about Gruden.

 

The new head coach is offensive line coach Bill Callahan, who has history succeeding a Gruden as head coach. This from the Washington Times:

 

The Washington Redskins will name Bill Callahan as their interim coach Monday after they fired Jay Gruden, according to multiple reports.

 

Callahan currently serves as the team’s offensive line coach, a role he has held since 2015.

 

He was one of two coaches — along with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula — to have head coaching experience at the NFL level. Callahan coached the Oakland Raiders from 2002 to 2003 in vastly different seasons. The Raiders made the Super Bowl in 2002 with an 11-5 record, but went just 4-12 a year later.

 

The Redskins fired Gruden early Monday morning following a 33-7 loss to the New England Patriots.

 

Does this mean the Redskins will lose the Super Bowl next year to an AFC team coached by Jay Gruden?

 

John Keim of ESPN.com on the state of the team:

 

The Washington Redskins dismissed their coach. They haven’t solved their problems.

 

Washington fired Jay Gruden, 52, on Monday morning and it’s a hard decision to argue. The Redskins are 0-5 this season and haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. They reached the postseason once under Gruden — in 2015 — and his 35-49-1 record in Washington further backed up the need to move on. His firing became inevitable long before the news was announced.

 

Bill Callahan takes over as interim coach, but the big question remains: Can owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen, who was hired late during the 2009 season, figure out a way to win? The Redskins are 59-89-1 since Allen arrived.

 

The Redskins have now fired five coaches during Snyder’s tenure, which began in 1999. He will hire his eighth coach after the season. None of the first seven — including Marty Schottenheimer (one year), Joe Gibbs (four) and Mike Shanahan (four) — had winning records in Washington. That’s one Hall of Fame coach (Gibbs) and two who are debated as being worthy.

 

Whoever the Redskins hire will join an organization with two playoff wins since Snyder bought the team. Washington has finished last in the division eight times during his ownership.

 

This year the Redskins, and by extension Gruden, were in trouble before the 2019 season began.

 

Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams remains a holdout, a huge blow to the offense.

 

Top tight end Jordan Reed suffered a concussion in the third preseason game and hasn’t played.

 

Washington started newcomer Case Keenum at quarterback because rookie Dwayne Haskins wasn’t ready and veteran Colt McCoy was dealing with the effects of a broken leg suffered in December.

 

All of this was a tough mix for Gruden, who had to win immediately. And once the season kicked off, more problems emerged.

 

Coordinator Greg Manusky’s defense — expected to be a team strength — has struggled badly. Cornerback Josh Norman has not played to his contract and linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who counts $13.95 million against the cap, has been too quiet on the field. That’s too much money as a group for too little in return.

 

The Redskins also have been among the most-injured teams over the past three-plus seasons. In 2017 and 2018, for example, 52 players were placed on injured reserve. This season, the Redskins have dealt with numerous injuries again as 10 players are on injured reserve, including starting running back Derrius Guice.

 

There was clear frustration during the past year, with Gruden feeling a loss of power in key decisions. Some of that was overblown: He was involved in setting free-agency boards as well as draft boards and knew, for example, that Washington would pursue safety Landon Collins and possibly trade for Keenum.

 

But some of it was true: While the Redskins front office was enamored of Haskins, a local talent, the football people in the building knew it would take a while for him to develop into a starter. The Redskins still selected him 15th overall anyway because, well, they had their orders. You can’t ignore months of scouting and build a winning organization. Whether it was strictly Snyder’s decision or not — and it might be a terrific pick in the long run — it wasn’t one that would benefit a coaching staff in a must-win season. That’s why they wanted someone who could help now. They like Haskins and like working with him, but they placed him in a difficult spot.

 

There were reports Gruden did not want to part with certain players or keep others during final cuts, notably receiver Josh Doctson (cut) and running back Adrian Peterson (kept). And at the end of last season, Gruden said multiple times the Redskins’ front office and coaching staff needed to be “on the same page.”

 

That said, there is a feeling around the league the Redskins have underachieved — especially on defense, an area where Gruden hurt himself during his tenure. He was, for the most part, hands-off defensively and his defenses generally struggled. Gruden retained Jim Haslett as his defensive coordinator for his first season in 2014, but they parted ways after that season. Wade Phillips was a candidate, but Gruden opted to bring in Joe Barry. That didn’t work out and two years later, Barry was fired. Gruden then hired Manusky, a coach players respect. That move also has failed to produce the desired results.

 

Gruden is considered a strong offensive mind by executives and players, but under him the Redskins often hurt themselves with penalties and undisciplined play. Though players liked him, some pointed to issues with accountability — one former Redskin said some fines, for example, were not collected while those levied against players who coaches knew it wouldn’t affect, were collected. Other players wanted more transparency from the coaching staff about decisions that affected them. And Gruden’s blunt honesty during news conferences would occasionally get him in trouble.

 

The Redskins are at a precarious point in their franchise history. Here’s a team whose fan base has been mired in a mix of apathy and anger, causing attendance and TV ratings to drop. It has been a decade in the making and there’s a lot of work to be done to reverse that slide — work that goes beyond just firing the coach.

 

This isn’t about Snyder’s meddling; heck, he gave Gruden five-plus years, more time than any other head coach he has employed. This is all about knowing how to put together a winning organization. Based on one simple fact — the Redskins’ two-decade record of 139-185-1 under Snyder — they have failed to do so.

 

They fired Gruden; it’s a coaching move Snyder has done in the past. Now, once more, comes the hard part: Finding someone who can win in Washington.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Dan Quinn isn’t just standing on the sideline watching his coaches mess up anymore.  Peter King on his Goat of the Week Coach:

 

Dan Quinn, head coach, Atlanta. A 1-4 start is bad enough for a team that has a majority of starters left from its Super Bowl team in February 2017. But what’s worse is that Quinn has taken over the defensive play-calling and the defense was pathetic in a game the franchise had to have Sunday, allowing 37 points in the second half and 592 total yards. The Falcons, against a suspect Houston line, had zero sacks. I can’t imagine Quinn surviving the season if this team doesn’t play radically better, and soon. They’re allowing a whopping 30.7 ppg.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

History tonight?  Peter King:

 

The 49ers host Cleveland tonight, Oct. 7, 2019, to try to go to 4-0.

 

Last time the 49ers won to go 4-0: Oct. 7, 1990.

 

On that day 29 years ago:

 

• The Niners beat the Houston Oilers, 24-21, in the Astrodome, which was the home of the Oilers till 1996.

 

• Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and John Taylor led the San Francisco offense.

 

• Starting inside ‘backer for the Niners: Matt Millen.

 

• Olivier Vernon was born in Miami.

 

• Dallas rookie running back Emmitt Smith had his first 100-yard rushing game as a pro.

 

• Charles Woodson celebrated his 14th birthday in Fremont, Ohio.

 

• “Goodfellas” was in theaters. “Home Alone” was in final edits, to be released in November.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Yes, writes Sam Farmer in the Los Angeles Times, WR COOPER KUPP is faster today than he was a year ago.

 

Last season ended in dramatic and disappointing fashion for Kupp, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee against the Seahawks and missed the final nine games, counting the playoffs and Super Bowl.

 

He had to re-learn how to run after surgery, and used that as a way of eliminating the imperfections in his stride. He meticulously studied video of his form, breaking it down in super slo-mo, and the results were astounding. He said he’s between 1.5-2 mph faster than he was before his injury.

 

“It’s a little crazy,” said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the ACL reconstruction. “We’ve never had this GPS data until the last few years, but I can tell you that’s typically not the way it goes the first year back. He’s surprising everybody.”

 

Surprising everybody, that is, except Cooper Kupp. Since early childhood, he has kept a list of football goals, most of them absurdly lofty, that he constantly reads through. As a kid, he had them posted on his wall. But they became increasingly private.

 

 “When I started writing down my goals, I wanted to be as outlandish as possible,” he said. “I wanted to make sure before I went to bed that I’d see my list of goals and feel good when I put my head on the pillow that what I’d done that day was pointing toward achieving those things. I set them outrageously high because I wanted to have an outrageous work ethic about how I went about my day.”

 

NFL teams took notice of Kupp’s numbers at Eastern Washington — and how he had some of his biggest games against Pac-12 opponents — but future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning played a role in raising his profile too.

 

Kupp worked as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy for five years, and Peyton quickly recognized he was no ordinary receiver. When Kupp was heading into his sophomore year of college, Rams general manager Les Snead stopped by the Manning camp and overheard Peyton stake a claim to the sure-handed target before a passing exhibition.

 

 “Peyton mentioned to [his brother] Eli, and all the subsequent college QBs, ‘`Hey Cooper Kupp’s my guy. Y’all can figure out who y’all are throwing to, but Cooper’s mine,’ ” Snead recalled. “At that point, you took the note to follow the kid. Because Peyton’s a perfectionist, and he was definitely going to have someone who was going to be where they were supposed to be, and make the catch when he was supposed to make it.”

 

Recalled Peyton Manning: “Eli and I would argue over who got to throw to Cooper, because all of his routes were very precise. He had great control of his body. You always knew where he was going, when he was going to break out or break in. For a quarterback and receiver, sometimes it takes a while to develop that timing. But he was one of those guys who right away for me and Eli the timing was easy. And of course he caught everything as well.”

 

That blip on the radar screen grew brighter as Kupp assembled his record-breaking college career. The Rams were light on both receivers and draft picks in Sean McVay’s first season, and they were worried that Kupp wouldn’t be around for them to take in the third round. So they were actually relieved when Kupp ran an underwhelming 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, covering the distance in a relatively sluggish 4.62 seconds.

 

“I don’t know if I gave a fist pump, but I do know I made a smirk,” Snead said of his reaction to that 40 time. “I said, ‘`We’re going to be able to get Cooper Kupp now because the football world overvalues 40s.’ If there’s one thing we do wrong in scouting, it’s putting too much value on how fast someone runs the 40-yard dash.”

 

Reminded this week that the Rams were pleased he ran slow, a bemused Kupp said: “Man, they should have let me know. I could have saved myself some embarrassment.”

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Uh oh.  Perhaps the only thing that can slow down QB PATRICK MAHOMES is QB PATRICK MAHOMES – and his ankle.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com on the injuries in Kansas City:

 

Chiefs coach Andy Reid downplayed the ankle injury of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was noticeably hobbling in last night’s loss to the Colts.

 

“Tweaked it just a little bit. I think he’s going to be OK,” Reid said, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com. “He was pretty good at the end there. We’ll see how that goes.”

 

Mahomes didn’t miss any game time, but he wasn’t himself, and the inability to run and throw on the run was obvious, as the Colts handed them their first loss of a season.

 

Mahomes said he’d be a regular in the athletic training room for the next week.

 

“Just reaggravated it a little bit there in the first half and then got stepped on in the second half,” Mahomes said. “Obviously it’s going to be a little sore tomorrow.”

 

The Colts also lost defensive end Chris Jones (groin), linebacker Anthony Hitchens (groin), and defensive lineman Xavier Williams (ankle), along with wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring).

 

That means for a week, their injury report will be more important to watch than their highlight reel, heading into next week’s game against the Texans.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Peter King on the 3-2 Raiders and their rushing game:

 

“We’re beginning to figure out our identity,” right tackle Trent Brown, one of the Mayock reinforcements, said from the winning locker room after the game. “Our identity is running the football. Everything, for us, opens up by running the football.”

 

The Raiders have the nucleus for that run game. It’s Jacobs, the first-round back from Alabama, who never was a workhorse under Nick Saban but was drafted by Mayock and Gruden to be just that. Jacobs never ran the ball more than 20 times in his job-sharing Alabama career—in fact, he ran the ball more than 16 times in a game only that one time—but on Sunday, with the beefy line pushing the Bear front around, Jacobs ran it 11 times in the first and 15 in the second half, grinding out 123 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.

 

When I told Trent Brown about his light college use, Brown chuckled, and said, “Josh is a great running back, and it’s going to be interesting in the next couple of years to watch what a great back he develops into. Alabama always has a deep stable. I really appreciate Alabama not giving him that many carries. Keeps him fresher for us in his NFL career.”

 

Mayock and Gruden were criticized for making Brown the highest paid tackle in football in free agency—and for giving a new life to the formerly retired Richie Incognito, who left football under a cloud in Buffalo. And who knows how the story will play out, but those guys were tremendous Sunday as 40 percent of the line that held the Bears sackless. Amazing, Carr was knocked down just once on the day, and was comfy enough in the pocket to complete 25 of 32 mostly quick passes.

 

Hard to tell where this season will take the Raiders, but they’re playing like the second-best team in the West, and they’ll have a huge schedule edge in the second half of the season. Five of their last nine games will be home beginning Nov. 3, and only the Dec. 1 game at Kansas City looks like a steep task. Who’d have thought when Brown was wreaking havoc on this franchise on Labor Day Weekend that we’d be seeing the Raiders a game out of first in the AFC West entering the middle of October?

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Somehow, S EARL THOMAS can concuss his rival’s quarterback with his helmet after he throws a pass and not worry about a suspension.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Earl Thomas won’t miss time for the blow that knocked out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

 

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported Monday morning that Thomas isn’t expected to be suspended for the hit, per a source informed of the situation.

 

The play will be reviewed for a possible fine, Pelissero added. Thomas was flagged for the play but not ejected.

 

Rudolph appeared to be knocked out immediately from the impact of Thomas’ hit to the facemask in the second half of the Ravens 26-23 overtime win. The QB was helped off the field by teammates. He was ruled out with a concussion and taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Rudolph was discharged from the hospital Sunday night.

 

Thomas defended the hit after the game, saying he didn’t think he’d aimed for Rudolph’s head.

 

“I hit the strike zone like we talk about. I didn’t go high,” Thomas said, per ESPN.com. “I didn’t intentionally try to hurt him. I’m worried about him. I heard he’s at the hospital. My prayers go out to him and his family. I’ve never tried to hurt anybody.”

 

Thomas might avoid suspension, but a hefty fine could still come his way this week, even if he didn’t intend to hurt Rudolph.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Frank Reich tells Peter King that the Colts beat the Chiefs with what went on before Sunday night.

 

A weird calm came over Frank Reich and the Colts this weekend in Kansas City. Part of it came from the fact, as Reich told me Sunday night, that the Colts had their best week of practice in his 23-game Indianapolis career. Part from the cumulative effect, he said, of having the right people with the right attitude to overcome a clunker like last week’s seven-point home loss to Oakland. And part because, as he said, “I’ve come to learn in the NFL that the game is about so much more than Sunday—it’s about who you are and how you work Monday through Saturday, and you have to get your players to believe you are what you do during the week.”

 

And so when Reich stepped to the podium in the meeting room at the Westin Crown Center on Saturday night to address his team, he had only one theme. Reich hates gushy coachspeak. That’s when you tell your team it’s sunny when all 53 players can see it’s cloudy. He didn’t give them the same message a week earlier before Oakland that he gave this week. On Saturday night he told his players: “The rest of the world’s gonna be shocked tomorrow night when they see this game. But we’re not gonna be shocked.”

 

Going over final game details in the coach’s locker room Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium with offensive coordinator Nick Siriani, they saw several surprising upsets. “That’s crazy,” Siriani said to Reich.

 

“That’s what people are gonna say after we win tonight,” said Reich.

 

Let’s figure out the last eight months in the NFL, or at least in the Colts’ corner of the world:

 

January: In Kansas City, Chiefs beat Colts (and star quarterback Andrew Luck) by 18 in the playoffs.

 

August: Luck shockingly retires 15 days before the season. Unproven Jacoby Brissett takes over.

 

September: Chiefs beat Raiders, in Oakland, by 18.

 

September: Raiders beat Colts, in Indianapolis, by seven.

 

October: The Colts’ best defensive player, linebacker Darius Leonard, set to miss his third straight game (against Kansas City) with concussion-related issues.

 

So what should the score have been Sunday night? Chiefs, 42-16?

 

October: In Kansas City, Colts beat the Chiefs by six, 19-13.

 

“This is a crazy game,” Reich said. “Today in the NFL told you that. But it’s what so great about the game too. It’s so human. The cumulative effect of 53 guys practicing great with a great attitude and a great plan and hunger can do anything.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

STATE OF OFFICIATING

The DB was ready to say more bad things about NFL officiating head Al Riveron after another confounding week in the world of replay.

 

Then we found this from the end of August, a Q&A with retired ref John Parry written by Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:

 

The NFL maintains a thick wall around its referees, limiting their public exposure to occasional pool reports and once-per-year training camp visits with reporters. Only when they retire can officials speak freely about the underworld of the league’s 33rd team.

 

So as the regular season approaches, I jumped at the chance to chat at length with John Parry, who stepped away from 19 years as an NFL official to join ESPN in April as an officiating analyst.

 

Kevin Seifert: I’ve been called a nerd, and maybe it’s true, but one of the most fascinating things to me about NFL officiating is that there have been nearly the same number of flags thrown in each of the past five years. The numbers are so close, it’s hard to imagine they are organic:

 

15.87 per game in 2018

 

15.80 in 2017

 

15.82 in 2016

 

16.37 in 2015

 

16.03 in 2014

 

How could that be? NFL players turn over at a rate of 30% or so per season. Every year there are at least five or six new head coaches. Officials retire and are swapped out. How do all of those things change, but the flag totals don’t?

 

John Parry: They’re not managed at all. I never went into a game thinking, ‘I’ve got to hit 12 flags.’ But you do have this idea that in a three-hour football game, there probably will be between 10-15 fouls. So it does play in your mind. And I will tell you that when you’re in a game with two teams that aren’t as disciplined as they should be, and you start to get into that range of 17, 18, 19, mentally you do start to ask yourself, ‘Are we calling this game too technical?’

 

You might bring the crew together during the game and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re putting the flag down a lot. Let’s make sure for the rest of the game that what we’re calling is big. It just seems that every fourth or fifth play, I’m making an announcement.’

 

Seifert: So in a way you’re trying to keep the flags within a range.

 

Parry: There is an art to officiating. You have a three-hour window where the canvas is created, and you’re painting hopefully a masterpiece of officiating. So you do think about it. Based on the flow of the game, or how the game is being played, the artistry in great officiating is determining when I will insert myself. There are definitely times when you go to an offensive lineman and say, ‘It’s a long drive, I get that you’re winded. But you’ve got to get your hands inside when you’re blocking. You’re challenging me and eventually, if you continue with this technique, you’ll force me to throw.’ And you’ll find that players do work with you. We call that ‘preventive officiating.’

 

Seifert: It’s basically warning players who are committing fouls to stop it, right?

 

Parry: Yeah, you’re working with a player to eliminate having to call a foul. You do it all game long, on both sides of the ball. There is a lot of conversation from officials and players and coaches to try to get the best entertainment value for the fan.

 

Parry: That’s the artwork of it. We file game reports after every game, so I may put on my game report that in the first quarter, at the 10:20 mark, the left tackle probably had a hold, but I chose not to throw and instead communicated with the player. And then, it never appeared again. The league wants to know if you saw it and what your ruling was. It’s when we don’t see things we should call that it becomes a problem. Most of the time they support preventive officiating.

 

Seifert: Without that context, I would imagine that fans, reporters or maybe even coaches will see that and think you either missed a call, are inconsistent or, worse, trying to help one of the teams win — rather than just avoiding a bogged-down game. Sometimes people assume the worst. I know there was concern, both from fans in New Orleans and even some people within the league, that four officials who live in Southern California worked the NFC Championship Game. As you might have heard, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints in a game that included one of the worst missed calls, in favor of the Rams, in NFL playoff history.

 

Parry: Here’s the simplistic answer to that: Every week, every official is dissected and evaluated by the league office. And there’s a grade for every game. You have 17 referees whose goal is to work the Super Bowl. You have 17 down judges who are trying to get to the Super Bowl. We’re competing to get that honor. To get there, you can’t really have more than five mistakes total over the course of 17 weeks.

 

So as a referee, my goal is accuracy in a three-hour game over anybody who might say I’m partial to Drew Brees, for instance, because we both went to Purdue. It just doesn’t happen.

 

Seifert: Really? Five mistakes is all you can have?

 

Parry: As I’m talking to you, I’m sitting in my office at home. I’m looking at three posters on the wall: Super Bowl XLI, Super Bowl XLVI and Super Bowl LIII. Those are the three I worked. I know the type of years that I had to get those three posters. I was either 98% or 99% accurate in those years. You get three hours of football and 15 games per year, so that’s 45 hours to determine if you get to February.

 

Seifert: So that wouldn’t leave much room to intentionally make bad calls and change the outcome of a game. I get it. But how do you explain two officials looking at the contact that occurred in the NFC Championship Game and deciding not to throw a flag? (Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman made clear contact with Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived.) Their playoff assignments were already set.

 

Parry: I think one of the things fans don’t understand is that an official never starts and ends with the same player. So depending on where the bodies go, what the formation is, what the down and distance is, that dictates where an official starts looking and then where they should move their eyes to next. It’s a progression.

 

When you look at that play — and like everybody, I’ve looked at this thing 200 times — it’s a four-second play. In the last two seconds, three officials walk through multiple progressions and then move their eyes toward the area of contact. They see the contact. There’s no doubt they saw it. But their eyes probably got there a half-second late. Is the ball in front of the receiver? On top of him? Already past? They had to make a judgment in less than one second.

 

Sometimes we look at the replay and say, ‘Good Lord, how does that guy miss it?’ Well, if he’s coming off another progression, he doesn’t get there quite early enough. He doesn’t see all the action. And we’re taught every year not to guess. We need to see the whole action and rule on the whole action. When we don’t, we lean toward not calling anything.

 

Seifert: Al Riveron certainly took his share of the blame for that call, fair or otherwise, too.

 

Parry: Last year, I was one of the 24 officials who participated in the full-time game official program. That meant I had an opportunity to go to New York every other week from Wednesday through Friday and work in the Command Center. I had no idea how busy and how stretched and pulled from so many positions Al Riveron is. We would be trying to evaluate and do the work of the week, and suddenly Mike Tomlin is calling. So Al goes and talks to Tomlin for a while, then he comes back and we’re back to film, and then we’re interrupted because ESPN has a question about the Monday night game regarding an extension of a timeout, or they want to use a new camera.

 

It’s hard. I like Al. Al is an officials’ official. He always supports his people. But I think the NFL has put too much on Al Riveron’s plate. The NFL is asking one guy to manage more than 500 people, in an environment where 50% of the league is going to be unhappy every week.

 

Seifert: That sounds like a structure set up just to survive, not really to innovate or get better. How can the NFL fix that?

 

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To celebrate 100 years of pro football, Peyton Manning travels the country to see the people and places that made the NFL the NFL.

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Parry: The position has grown to the point where the department either needs to grow or he needs to have people to delegate to. I would never use the term “undervalue” when you think of how the NFL views officiating, but I think they have to recognize how important it is.

 

Do they have the right people? Do they have enough people? Can they think outside the box and create better systems and training and recruitment? Seven of the 17 referees have retired in the past two years. Is the recruiting program adequate? There are so many wheels you could look at for improvement, but the league is asking Al to handle all of that, and it’s too much.

 

Seifert: So I’m guessing you wouldn’t consider the NFL to have a robust training and recruitment program in place right now…

 

Parry: When I first entered the league, I had a mentor who would work with me on film work and help me evaluate each decision, where I was standing, the calls I made … like a big brother. They put their arm around you for a full season and you communicated constantly. The league went away from the mentoring program, and for a period of time we had trainers, basically retired officials who helped. And they were very good.

 

But right now, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you that there are only two trainers for all of the officials, and they put out training tapes. So the only training anyone is receiving is those weekly tapes. If it were me, I would expand that training and education for officiating so much.

 

Seifert: That lack of training is especially concerning when you look at the backgrounds of the new officials that are hired each year. Some of them are pretty young.

 

Parry: One of the areas that does concern me is the speed we’re moving people up to the NFL. There is something to be said for cutting your teeth and working each level. I did five years in the Big 10, five years in Arena Football, and in total it was an 18-year process to get to the NFL. That’s where you learn and grow. You can’t work four, five, six, seven years of football and come to the NFL and be successful.

 

It’s just hard to prepare for. I started at the grassroots, from the lowest levels through high school, and I was a pretty good line judge and side judge in the Big 10. It still took me three or four years to adapt to the speed and the skill set of 22 NFL players on the field at the same time. It’s hard.

 

Seifert: To me, the best news is that we have a growing legion of experts with public access who can assess these issues with context, and in real time, on game broadcasts and highlight shows. I’ve found that half the complaints I see about NFL officiating come from people who either don’t know the rules, haven’t been taught officiating mechanics or have an overriding emotional stake in the outcome of a game.

 

Parry: We’re not going to agree with every call, but credible discussion of it is good for the conversation at large.

 

 

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FAVRE

That 50-year-old guy biking on a road near Hattiesburg may be Brett Favre.  Peter King:

 

Favre has found other things to do, and other things to think about on those bike trips.

 

“I try to ride about—I average 110 to 120 miles a week … Like Deana and I rode 27 miles two days ago. Some of the back roads, some of the main roads just depending on what time. When she got me a bike about 11, 12 years ago, one of those bikes you pick up with one finger, I said, What am I gonna do with that? She said, we can go biking together. I’m like, don’t be ridiculous, I’m not biking. How far do you go? She said about 25 miles. I said Are you crazy? Twenty-five miles? One time? One day? And lo and behold, she said if you start getting into it, you won’t waste your time for anything less than. And she’s right. The first couple times I went like three miles and I’m like, alright let’s turn around and go back. I’m thankful that she talked me into it.

 

“I love to jog but not when it’s 98 and humid. So in the winter I’ll jog a little bit if my body feels okay. I ran in a half-marathon last year with Breleigh, our youngest daughter. She said, ‘Dad, I think I’m gonna sign up for a half marathon. Will you do it with me?’ What are you supposed to say? I’m not doing it? I said of course I’ll do it. So I try to stay as in-shape as possible.”