AROUND THE NFL

As we go to press comes this word that there ain’t going to be no BAKER MAYFIELD-SAM DARNOLD re-match on Monday night.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Sam Darnold was out of practice yesterday with what was designated “illness.”

 

Now that they know which one it is, he may be out even longer.

 

According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, Jets coach Adam Gase said his quarterback would miss this week’s game against the Browns after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

 

Gase said Darnold could miss several weeks, and has lost a significant amount of weight.

 

They’ll need another quarterback, as Trevor Siemian is the only other one on the 53-man roster at the moment.

 

Back when the DB was Darnold’s age, mono was a 6-week sentence to do nothing, even if you felt pretty good.  Is that still the case?

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

As a three-game homestand starts, QB AARON RODGERS has some friendly advice for the Packers faithful.  Jelani Scott of NFL.com:

 

Aaron Rodgers knows how to handle high-pressure situations. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune to distractions.

 

In the midst of answering reporters’ questions Wednesday, the Packers star quarterback made a simple request. Not to his teammates or coaches but to the many Cheeseheads who will fill the seats at Lambeau Field this Sunday for Green Bay’s home opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

 

“My only ask is that we don’t do the wave when we’re on offense,” Rodgers said, per The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman.

 

Sunday’s contest will be the first of an enjoyable stretch for the Packers that will see them play five of their next six games at home.

 

Rodgers is typically a guy who likes to joke around so who knows how serious he was. It’s highly unlikely the popular crowd activity will be put on ice but we’ll see if the Green Bay faithful actually follow through with their star’s request come kickoff.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Maurice Jones-Drew, writing at NFL.com, is incensed about the light workload for RB SAQUON BARKLEY.

 

Hey, New York Giants: You must not want to win.

 

That’s the only rationale I can muster in trying to explain why Saquon Barkley had a measly (and career-low) 15 — 15! — touches in Big Blue’s Week 1 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

 

It’s not like the Cowboys immediately bottled up the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. On his first carry of the season, Barkley exploded through a hole up the middle for a 59-yard gain to put the Giants in good position to get on the board first (which they did, on an Eli Manning touchdown pass to Evan Engram). Then …

 

Crickets.

 

Well, it sure seemed like crickets, considering the production we became accustomed to from Barkley in a rookie campaign that saw him rack up an NFL-best 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Barkley, the most sought-after player in most fantasy leagues due to his ability to dominate as a runner and receiver, touched the ball just 12 times after the opening drive. He finished the game with 11 carries for 120 yards (a whopping 10.9 yards per carry) and four catches for 19 yards. Now, he did commit the first fumble of his NFL career on the Giants’ first play from scrimmage, but New York recovered the football and Barkley immediately followed the blunder with that massive run. So I’d be shocked if this was why his touches were limited in the 35-17 defeat to a division rival.

 

Some will argue that Barkley didn’t see his normal workload because the Giants were playing from behind for most of the game, and I get that. But Barkley is far and away the team’s most talented player. And as I mentioned above, he’s a terror in both the running and passing games. Barkley racked up 91 catches for 721 yards and four scores last season. So even when the Giants need to take to the air in comeback mode, No. 26 is more than capable as a pass catcher. But on Sunday, the G-Men seemed to forget this.

 

According to Next Gen Stats, Barkley touched the ball on just 28.3 percent of his offensive snaps. To put this into perspective, Barkley touched the ball on 42.8 percent of his offensive snaps in 2018, when he authored one of the most impressive rookie campaigns by a running back in the history of the NFL. Elsewhere in the league in Week 1, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey touched the ball on 45.3 percent of his offensive snaps. Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott recorded a touch on 41.4 percent of his offensive snaps — and he showed up to the Cowboys facilities four days before the season opener! If anything, Saquon and Zeke’s touch percentages should have been swapped.

 

We wouldn’t have given Barkley a bunch of late touches with the game out of hand, but Saquon only had 8 touches in the first half, out of 25 plays, while the Cowboys built a 21-7 lead.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

DT AKEEM SPENCE is thrilled to be an Eagle.  He had been a Dolphin.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Getting released around the cut to 53 players is a tough pill for many players to swallow, but it has turned out pretty well for defensive tackle Akeem Spence.

 

Spence was released by the Dolphins in late August and that means he got to avoid being part of last Sunday’s 59-10 loss to the Dolphins. His week got better when his agent called him on Monday to tell him that the Eagles were interested in signing him after losing Malik Jackson to a foot injury.

 

“It just so happened, around 3 or 4, I’m taking my clothes to the cleaners, I see my agent called me,” Spence said, via the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He asked me, how would I like the opportunity to be on a Super Bowl contender? I said, ‘Who wouldn’t?’”

 

Spence called the Eagles a “first class” organization and said playing the Eagles system with former Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke is “the perfect fit for me.” He suggested that playing in Miami in 2019 was on the extreme other end of the spectrum for his former teammates.

 

“I feel bad for ’em. . . . Those guys don’t have any control over what’s going on. . . . It’s one of those things, man, you shake your head on,” Spence said.

 

We’ve heard that some Miami players would like to join Spence as ex-Dolphins, but the Eagles and Dolphins will meet on December 1 should any Dolphins want to show Spence where he can stow his pity.

 

 

WASHINGTON

RB DERRIUS GUICE is down again.  Adam Maya at NFL.com:

 

Derrius Guice is getting a second opinion on his troublesome right knee.

 

The Redskins running back is in Florida to meet with Dr. James Andrews to examine his knee Thursday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, per a source. Rapoport added that Guice will likely have surgery on his meniscus, which would involve a 4-6 week recovery.

 

The initial hope was that Guice would be able to avoid the operating table. According to Rapoport, his injured right knee hasn’t been improving and he could elect for Andrews to trim his meniscus as soon as Thursday.

 

Guice gained 18 yards on 10 carries in his first NFL game this past Sunday against the Eagles. The second-round pick in 2018 missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in training camp. That injury was to his left knee. Now he might need another surgery to make his right one right.

 

His absence elevates Adrian Peterson, who was a healthy scratch for the first time in his Hall of Fame career last week. Washington coach Jay Gruden has already said the 34-year-old will get the starting nod this Sunday against the Cowboys. All Day, of course, was originally signed by the Redskins last August in the wake of Guice’s ACL injury. Guice’s latest injury might give Peterson a few more weeks as a feature back.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Falcons rookie G CHRIS LINDSTROM played 9 snaps with a broken foot on Sunday.  Now, he’s done for at least a couple of months.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons drafted Chris Lindstrom 14th overall, hoping he’d add some toughness to their offensive line.

 

He did just that, even though he’s not going to be playing for at least the next eight weeks.

 

Via to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, the Falcons were impressed that the rookie right guard continued to play despite breaking a bone in his foot early in the third quarter of the opener.

 

“He told us he played on it after the game,” left tackle Jake Matthews said. “He’s a tough dude, so I’m not surprised he did that. It shows the character he has and how much he cares about the team and how well he wants to do. Obviously, it sucks he’s going to be out for a little bit.”

 

Lindstrom played 45 snaps in the opener, the final nine of them after the injury.

 

“He’s tough, and I don’t know what else you can say about the man,” right tackle and fellow first-rounder Kaleb McGary said. “That’s a hell of thing to play nine snaps on a busted foot. I wouldn’t want to. And I don’t imagine Chris really wanted to. But Chris is just so tough. He’s a hell of player. We’re lucky to have him, that’s for damn sure.”

 

The Falcons will likely start veteran Jamon Brown at right guard in his absence. Lindstrom was scheduled to have surgery Wednesday, and he’ll be in a walking boot for eight weeks. He’d be eligible to return in Week 10, at the soonest.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

He may not be big himself, but QB KYLER MURRAY has huge goals.  Grant Gordon of NFL.com:

 

Throughout his playing days on the gridiron, Kyler Murray has had plenty who doubted him and plenty of motivation to succeed.

 

Perhaps the biggest quandary as to his draft status and worthiness of being selected No. 1 overall by the Arizona Cardinals was his height (listed as 5-foot-10 on the team website). If not that, perhaps it was the strength of his arm.

 

“When I left [Texas] A&M [after my freshman] year, nobody thought I could throw,” Murray told reporters following practice on Wednesday. “I’m short and I can’t throw. It’s a bad combination.”

 

Perhaps surprisingly, Murray said it’s not those who doubt him who also motivate him. It’s just the plain-and-simple desire to be the greatest of all-time.

 

“What fuels me?” Murray said, repeating a reporter’s question to him. “I would like to be the best to ever play the game.”

 

 

SEATTLE

Even with one of the most accomplished and reliable QBs in the league, Pete Carroll is obsessed with running the football.  Mike Sando of The Athletic:

 

Pete Carroll could have glossed over or dismissed the chart showing just how run-heavy his team became last season. Instead, the Seattle Seahawks’ coach used the data to launch a conversation about football philosophy, one of his favorite subjects. Carroll embraced the discussion of a topic that some Seattle fans remain fixated upon.

 

Are the Seahawks hopelessly behind the times in their relative aversion to passing? Alternatively, does Carroll’s superior understanding of his team and the game validate an approach that is increasingly an outlier in the 32-team NFL?

 

The chart presented to Carroll earlier this offseason showed the 2018 Seahawks passing the ball less frequently than any NFL team since the 2011 Denver Broncos (Tim Tebow!) when the choice to run or pass was unquestionably theirs. To identify those situations, first and second downs during the first 28 minutes of games seemed ideal. That time frame eliminated the final two minutes of first halves, when teams often hurry to score or milk the clock. It also eliminated second halves, when score differential increasingly influences play-calling.

 

The numbers would have made Chuck Knox proud in 1973. Seattle passed 35 percent of the time in those neutral situations last season. The league average was 50 percent. The Seahawks’ passing rate would have been even lower if Carroll had not waited until Week 3 to implement a run-heavy approach after an 0-2 start. By our criteria, the Seahawks were the pass-happiest team in Week 1, which Carroll wasn’t going to tolerate.

 

“Let’s go back, let me answer your question,” Carroll said after our conversation had gone in a couple of different directions. He pointed on the chart to Seattle’s 2013 and 2014 Super Bowl seasons, when the team leaned heavily toward the run but not as heavily as last season. Carroll suggested that is where the Seahawks would prefer to be, closer to 40-45 percent pass in those neutral situations.

 

“Why is the running game such a big deal?” Carroll asked, picking up where he left off. “It is not because we just want to knock our head against a wall. It is because the game is played well when you don’t give the other team the football. The game is played well when you can convert and make first downs. The game is played well when you can explode on offense.”

 

There is irony in Carroll defending his approach against charges of being stuck in the past. When the Seahawks hired him in 2010, critics questioned whether Carroll’s college enthusiasm and new-age reputation would translate to the NFL. Nearly a decade later, Carroll is the winningest coach in Seahawks history. The only NFL teams to win a higher percentage of their games since Carroll took over in Seattle were the ones that already had Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers as their quarterbacks.

 

Critics raise different objections today. They’re convinced Carroll’s allegiance to the running game is holding back the Seahawks and wasting an upper-tier quarterback in a league increasingly ruled by the play-action pass. It’s an easy argument to win on a spreadsheet. Passing adds so much more than rushing in terms of yardage, points, expected points and so on. It’s increasingly accepted that offenses need not run the ball frequently or effectively to succeed with play-action passes. Presenting the threat of the run is the key.

 

Coaches who suggest otherwise can become targets, although some in the NFL’s analytics community think the conflict is exaggerated.

 

“The phrase ‘establish the run’ has probably mischaracterized many coaches,” an NFL team’s analytics director said. “I don’t think they literally mean, ‘This is the script: run, run, run, run, pass.’ Their goal is to run for positive yardage and make a defense commit to all gaps up front, which helps to create space downfield and make pass rushers less certain. Coaches are aware that it doesn’t take five consecutive runs to create those advantages. There is less disagreement than people think. Every run-game enthusiast I’ve met also loves a good play pass.”

 

Not that a little pushback would deter Carroll, whose college and pro teams have posted a 218-104-1 record (.680) in his 22 seasons as a head coach. His .563 winning percentage in New England, where Carroll was widely considered a failure, is higher than the career win rates for Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches Marv Levy, Sid Gillman and Weeb Ewbank.

 

“What does it take to get the offensive style that allows you to take care of the football on a regular basis and be able to explode?” Carroll continued. “Our whole thing is to be able to explode in the passing game. It is not about the running game explosions. That is the steady part of it.”

 

Cue Vince Lombardi.

 

“We are as much like the old Packers as you can get,” Carroll said. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

 

Carroll’s formula is straight out of the defensive-minded head coach’s playbook: run the ball to reduce turnovers and (ideally) to promote manageable third-down distances, while enabling explosive pass plays to change field position and score points.

 

Carroll credited this approach for helping Seattle go 95 consecutive games without losing by more than 10 points. That streak, which ended in 2016, is the longest in league history by 21 games. The 1920-25 Chicago Bears own the second-longest streak at 74 games, according to Pro Football Reference.

 

“That is not all about rushing,” Carroll said. “That has to do with everything. A lot goes into that.”

 

Carroll’s Seahawks enter the 2019 season riding another 19-game run of such games, tied for the NFL’s second-longest streak despite the Seahawks having overhauled their roster.

 

“The one part Pete is leaving out of that equation is you have to have a good defense,” a different NFL analytics director said.

 

Carroll actually did address that part.

 

“The defense always has to be great,” he said.

 

A general manager I visited this offseason foresees a future when teams pass 70 percent of the time on first down in neutral situations. At his suggestion, we looked at first downs in the first three quarters of games, excluding the final two minutes of first halves. Teams passed in these situations at about the same rate last season (54 percent) as they have every season since at least 2000.

– – –

As noted at the outset, the 2018 Seahawks were the run-heaviest team on early downs in the first 28 minutes since the Tebow-led 2011 Broncos. Carroll’s harshest critics called this a waste of a talented quarterback and borderline malpractice. On the other hand, check out where Seattle ranked last season during those exceedingly run-heavy first 28 minutes of games:

 

First in fewest turnovers (two)

Second in EPA per pass attempt (.29)

Fourth in explosive pass rate (20.9 percent)

Fifth in offensive points per game (11.7)

Sixth in third-down EPA per play (.24)

Ninth in total offensive EPA (4.0)

 

The Seahawks also ranked tied for first in opponent turnovers collected (13) during the first 28 minutes of those games, which benefited their offense.

 

However, Seattle ranked among the top 10 in gross offensive EPA through 28 minutes, suggesting turnovers weren’t the whole story.  The Seahawks were 9-0 when leading after 28 minutes. Only New England (10-1), Houston (10-0) and Kansas City (8-2) led more frequently at that point in games.

 

“Pete’s frame of mind is, ‘We get the explosives because of the running plays and the play-action,” an NFL team’s analytics director said. “My argument is, no, you get explosives because Russell Wilson is really good. He is really talented. The play-action helps, but Russell is making plays that other quarterbacks cannot make, including when he runs around.”

 

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Adam Teicher of ESPN.com says things are going to get Shady in KC soon.

 

LeSean McCoy got an inside look at the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense on Sunday, and acknowledged that for a time, he was in awe.

 

“I was telling the guys in the huddle, ‘It’s amazing to see you guys move so fast up and down the field with big plays,'” the 11-year veteran running back said. “Sometimes you might get a big play but then some time goes by before there’s another one. These guys, they get a second one right away.

 

“It was nice just watching it how fast they were going up and down the field, how much space they had, how many opportunities they had and the gains they were getting each play. At one point in the game we were averaging 15 yards per touch. That’s not normal. To see it firsthand is pretty cool.”

 

McCoy is the newest piece in the Chiefs’ offense, having arrived only days before the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was more than a bystander, though, playing 20 snaps compared to 45 for starter Damien Williams.

 

He was more effective rushing the ball against the Jaguars than Williams, gaining 81 yards on 10 carries compared to 26 on 13 for Williams. The Chiefs were also better when passing while McCoy was in the game. They averaged 15.9 yards per pass attempt when McCoy was in the lineup and 10.1 yards when Williams played. Williams did have six catches for 39 yards compared to one catch for 12 yards for McCoy.

 

Add it all up and it feels like a bigger role for McCoy is on the horizon this Sunday when the Chiefs travel to play the Oakland Raiders. But Reid said the Chiefs hadn’t figured out how much they would use their backs, including rookie Darwin Thompson.

 

“I can’t tell you one way or another,” Reid said. “But I would tell you we’re comfortable with both guys. Thompson, the same thing. He can get in there and do this thing, too. We’re going to roll all three of those guys.”

 

In fairness to Williams, McCoy had a couple of runs that were blocked well and were plays Williams also would have succeeded on. Reid said other factors, such as the defensive fronts Jacksonville showed, played into the success of each player.

 

But the gap in production between the two backs was large. McCoy showed that even at 31 he still has considerable skills and wasted little time scooting through available holes.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Rookie S JONATHAN ABRAM, noted in “Hard Knocks” for his desire to hurt people, is now injured himself.  Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:

 

Oakland Raiders rookie safety Johnathan Abram, the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft, will undergo shoulder surgery and likely will miss the remainder of the season, coach Jon Gruden said Wednesday.

 

Gruden said Abram will be placed on injured reserve.

 

“Big blow to our team,” Gruden said after practice. “No question it’s a big loss. … We’ll consider this a redshirt year for him.”

 

Abram reportedly suffered the injury during the first quarter of the Raiders’ 24-16 win against the Denver Broncos on Monday night. Abram, who finished with five tackles and a pass defensed in playing 49 of 64 defensive snaps, was also on the field for four special-teams snaps. He was not credited with a tackle in the first quarter.

 

“For him to go out there and hurt it when he did, and to continue to play …” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll just start hitting people with my other shoulder.’ And that right there shows you what kind of man he is. He’s a grown man. He’s a Raider, and he’s our Raider. And I’ll make sure that he’s still a part of this, he feels a part of it.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Another injury for TE HUNTER HENRY.  Andie Hagemann of NFL.com:

 

Hunter Henry is sidelined again.

 

The Los Angeles Chargers tight end suffered a tibia plateau fracture to his left knee during Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, the team announced in a statement Wednesday.

 

It hinders an already ailing Chargers offense that could also be without wide receiver Mike Williams, who is dealing with a knee injury also sustained against the Colts, when the team plays the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

 

Henry will continue to be evaluated, and the official timeframe for his return has not yet been determined, the Chargers added.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports the Chargers will not place Henry on injured reserve. The Chargers believe he will be out about a month, a shorter timeline than if he was placed on IR, Rapoport adds.

 

The injury is the latest devastating setback for the fourth-year tight end and the Bolts.

 

After a promising 2017 campaign, Henry tore his ACL in May 2018. He missed the 2018 regular season but played 13 snaps in the Chargers’ playoff loss to the New England Patriots, per Next Gen Stats.

 

Henry had four receptions for 60 yards in the Bolts’ Week 1 overtime win.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Are QB LAMAR JACKSON and WR MARQUISE SMITH really Fantasy superstars.  Eric Karabell of ESPN.com counsels caution until the Ravens play some real defenses:

 

Fantasy managers are going to be overly excited this week about Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson and WR Marquise Brown after the duo combined for more than 60 PPR points in Sunday’s embarrassing romp in Miami over the beleaguered Dolphins. The Ravens host the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 and, while that Cardinals defense looks to be less than imposing, the fact is the Dolphins look truly terrible — like worst-in-the-league incompetent.

 

Then again, it is only one game. For the most part, it is still simply too early to make meaningful conjectures, either positive or negative.

 

As a result, Jackson, the fascinating running quarterback who so many believed was incapable of efficient passing games, and Brown, the speedy receiver from Oklahoma selected first at his position in the draft, should have their initial performances judged as the small sample size and context requirements that they are. Sure, perhaps they can maintain some level of awesomeness for four months, but more likely this is, for lack of a better term, a Dolphins-related fantasy masterpiece. Proceed with caution.

 

After all, the player churn on Miami’s roster has been clear and notable, and no Dolphins team had ever permitted 59 points or 643 yards in a game. Jackson barely felt pressure in the pocket, and Brown barely saw reasonable coverage on scoring plays of 47- and 83-yards that doubled as his first NFL receptions. Between Jackson and backup Robert Griffin III, Ravens quarterbacks completed 23-of-26 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns. The Ravens were second to Seattle in rushing yards last season, and it seems unlikely that general game plan has altered. However, for one game, Miami’s absent defense altered it. I’ll bet the Ravens could have run wild, too.

 

If Jackson is going to end the 2019 season as a top-10 fantasy quarterback — which is eminently plausible given his running skill set — he is unlikely to get there by producing Patrick Mahomes-like passing numbers. In the postgame interview session, the quarterback even proudly noted, responding to his myriad critics, “Not bad for a running back.” Well, yeah, sure it was “not bad” at all, but again, we need context and cannot get that for a few more contests.

 

Jackson was anything but accurate as a rookie, though players can and often do improve. His ESPN Fantasy projections of 3,099 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes seemed a bit tame to me, but this one game does not drastically alter the numbers, either. Nobody thought Jackson would throw for five scores in one game. Still, I think he is capable of 20 touchdown throws over four months, along with the rushing upside. Let us see what happens — not only in Week 2 versus the Cardinals, but in those AFC North battles that await soon after.

 

That noted, I am a Jackson fan for fantasy. I’ve been recommending him (and often pointing out the running ability of other quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Kyler Murray and Josh Allen) for months due to his rushing statistical upside and the likelihood he could throw better than he showed as a rookie, when the Ravens barely permitted him the opportunity to throw downfield. The Ravens lacked reasonable weapons for him then, and adding Brown in the draft made perfect sense. Still, Brown is merely a rookie and most first-year receivers lack consistency.

 

Brown adds a critical deep threat to the offense, and perhaps he can be DeSean Jackson for the next decade, but we do not know this yet. He surely has the skills — specifically the speed. However, Brown has also had durability issues and he saw targets on nearly half his snaps Sunday. That cannot continue, and our standard game is, after all, PPR. Add Brown for Week 2. He is available in more than 70% of ESPN standard formats. However, he has not earned WR2 status just yet, so one is not under obligation to activate him. In fact, one could easily argue there will never be a better time to attempt to trade the rookie.

 

 

 

 

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns are dealing with an in-house tragedy.  Jake Trotter of ESPN.com:

 

Petara Cordero, the girlfriend of Cleveland Browns defensive end Chris Smith, was killed Wednesday morning on a highway in Cleveland, the team announced.

 

Smith had pulled over after his vehicle, a 2019 Lamborghini in which Cordero was a passenger, had a tire malfunction and hit the median, according to the team.

 

Cordero exited the vehicle and was standing on the road’s shoulder when a car driven by a 47-year-old woman smashed into the passenger side of Smith’s car.

 

According to a Cleveland police report provided by the Browns, Cordero was transported to Fairview Hospital and pronounced dead.

 

Police said the other driver admitted to drinking. No charges have been filed and toxicology reports are pending.

 

Smith was not impaired or injured, police said.

 

Smith and Cordero had a daughter together last month. Cordero was 26.

 

The Browns called a team meeting later Wednesday morning to tell the players.

 

“Words cannot describe the sorrow we feel for Chris following the loss of his girlfriend, Petara,” Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. “Our entire organization mourns with Chris, his family and the Cordero family. We will do everything possible to offer them our support, comfort and any resources in this most difficult time.”

 

The baby lost her mother at one month old.  How sad.

– – –

Did the Browns ban the wrong fan after a Titan was doused in beer?  Jake Trotter of ESPN.com:

 

Tennessee Titans defensive back Logan Ryan expressed his appreciation Wednesday to the Cleveland Browns for acting swiftly in banning the fan who doused him with beer at FirstEnergy Stadium last Sunday.

 

Problem is, the Browns appear to have banned the wrong fan.

 

A man named Eric Smith claiming he was banned by the Browns told WKYC in Cleveland that he wasn’t even at the stadium, and that he was DJing at a wedding on Sunday instead.

 

Eric Smith

@TheBeardedDJ

I legit just got a got from the @Browns telling me I’ve been banned from the stadium for throwing the beer in Logan Ryan’s face Sunday. I’m fairly certain I haven’t been to a game since 2010.

 

The Browns released a statement Wednesday night:

 

“Our investigation of the fan incident on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium remains ongoing. While we are continuing to gather information and have been in contact with multiple people as part of that process, we have not explicitly identified the individual involved or taken any formal action of punishment at this time. We will have no further comment until the investigation is complete.”

 

A photographic comparison:

 

 

 

PITTSBURGH

WR DONTE MONCRIEF knows he was a miserable failure on Sunday night in Foxboro/Foxborough.  Adam Maya at NFL.com:

 

The entire Steelers offense is getting used to life without Antonio Brown on the field. That much was apparent in Pittsburgh’s 30-point loss to the Patriots.

 

Perhaps no player’s role will be affected more than wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who wasn’t even on the team last year. The free-agent acquisition saw a team-high 10 targets in Week 1. It amounted to three catches for 7 yards.

 

“It’s sickening when you watch it and you know the plays that you’re supposed to make and you didn’t make them,” Moncrief said, via the team’s site. “And you see them and you’re like, ‘Gosh, I know I gotta make that.’ The other day, after we watched that film, there was a feeling in my stomach, it hurt. I went home, went straight to sleep, it hurt me. I had to put that away.”

 

The Steelers would hope. With defenses expected to key on JuJu Smith-Schuster all season, another wideout will have to emerge. Moncrief repeatedly drew Ben Roethlisberger’s attention, only he struggled to haul in numerous passes that hit him in the hands.

 

The sixth-year veteran has been playing through a dislocated middle finger that he suffered in training camp. That wasn’t something Moncrief pointed to for his problems.

 

“You can’t just put it on that,” he said. “I gotta make plays, period. You gotta go with it, even if it’s hurt or not you still gotta play. (Roethlisberger) depended on me and I gotta make plays for him, hurt finger or not. … “He believes in me. He knows what I can do. I know what I can do. At the end of the day that was my worst game ever in my career, and it hurt.”

 

For what it’s worth, Big Ben said the rough debut won’t deter him from targeting his new receiver.

 

“I’m not going to shy away from him,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m excited for him this week. I think we’ll see some big things.”

 

That’s what the Steelers were looking after signing Moncrief in March, just a few days after shipping Brown to the Raiders. Moncrief caught 48 passes for the Jaguars in 2018 after spending his first four years with the Colts.

 

His best season came all the way back in 2015 — he had 64 receptions, 733 yards, 6 TDs — with a healthy Andrew Luck. Moncrief could easily eclipse those numbers in the Steelers’ pass-happy offense. (No team threw more in 2018.) He’ll just have to play better than he did this past Sunday.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

WR ANTONIO BROWN showed up at Patriots practice wearing the number 1 and participated.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Belichick confirmed today that his expectation is that Brown will participate in team activities, despite Tuesday’s news that Brown is facing a lawsuit from a woman accusing him of sexual assault. But beyond a brief statement, Belichick wouldn’t talk about Brown.

 

“On Antonio’s situation, both Antonio and his representatives have made statements, so I’m not going to be expanding on any of those. They are what they are. We’ve looked into the situation. We’re taking it very seriously, all the way through the organization. I’m sure there are questions but I’m not going to be entering into any discussion about that,” Belichick said.

 

Asked for follow-up information about Brown, Belichick didn’t answer, saying, “We’re done with that. Anything else on Miami?”

 

The allegations against Brown are being investigated by the NFL and could get him placed on the commissioner’s exempt list.

 

This from Josina Anderson signals fireworks ahead:

 

@JosinaAnderson

My understanding is that Britney Taylor intends to submit or orate a statement after her scheduled meeting with the NFL. From my conversations with multiple people surrounding the case, it is quite evident that neither side has put forth all of their cards of supporting evidence.

 

Terez Paylor of YahooSports.com:

 

When word spread this week about the latest development involving Antonio Brown, a man who has seemingly commandeered more headlines this month than the last year of Watergate, the explosiveness of the news caused jaws to drop league-wide.

 

That sentiment applied to those working at 850 Park Ave. in New York. For those in the league office, the news of Brown being accused of sexual assault in a civil lawsuit filed in federal court must have felt familiar as commissioner Roger Goodell and his lieutenants again found themselves figuring out what to do with a star player stuck in a legal situation that stands to bring only negative attention to their cherished shield.

 

Nothing bothers the NFL more than situations like this. That became clear in 2017, when the league unnecessarily treated the small number of players who kneeled during the anthem as an existential crisis. To the league, it mattered little that the players, most of whom were African Americans, were doing it as a means of protesting police brutality and racial injustice. No. The main reason the NFL didn’t like it was because the gestures were unpopular with a segment of the sport’s fans, something that could hurt the league’s money. So the league viewed the kneeling as something that needed to be curbed, and the NFL pulled out all the stops to do so, including committing $100 million to the Players Coalition causes.

 

Yet, it’s strangely appropriate that after all that, Goodell still can’t keep his shield from taking off-field dents, all due to these legal situations involving star players. Prior to Brown, there were already two examples from this year in Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, who found himself at the center of a child-abuse investigation in March, and Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who got into an altercation with a security guard in May in Las Vegas.

 

Due to Goodell’s history as an aggressive disciplinarian even in the face of scant evidence — (cough) deflate-gate (cough) — it was widely assumed both players would be punished in some fashion, in part because of their histories (both have prior incidents, with Elliott notably serving a six-game suspension in 2017) and because the collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the players union essentially allows Goodell to discipline players for simply making the league look bad. It’s a flex that Goodell hasn’t hesitated to use, especially after he got destroyed in the court of public opinion for the way he bungled the Ray Rice situation in 2014.

 

Yet, when no criminal charges were filed against Hill or Elliott, Goodell shocked many this summer by not punishing either player, instead issuing stern warnings. Reactions league-wide among fans ranged from surprise to anger, with the latter particularly applying to Hill, as many latched onto his “you ought to be terrified of me too” line to his then-fiancee — the same woman who was involved in his 2014 domestic violence incident that he pleaded guilty to — in a secret recording that was released to the public.

 

Those folks were already expecting some form of punishment, but the truth is, the league would have been criticized if they’d gotten their way, too. Had the NFL disciplined Hill, Chiefs fans would have been the ones howling about the decision, all because of a lack of incriminating evidence — just like Patriots fans did when Goodell punished their favorite team for deflated footballs.

 

So, the Hill case was a no-win situation for the league and Brown’s current legal situation might be, too. Brown has strongly proclaimed his innocence while his accuser, Britney Taylor, released a strong statement proclaiming her insistence of his guilt. Because of this — and the high likelihood that most people interested won’t read all the available material on the matter over the coming days — there’s a good chance that many have already made up their minds, meaning no matter what Goodell decides down the road, there will be a segment of the public unhappy with him.

 

Taylor has expressed an interest in meeting with the NFL to discuss her accusations, which should ultimately aid the league’s decision-making process. In the meantime, the NFL also finds itself weighing whether to place Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list while it investigates, which would allow Brown to continue receiving a paycheck but prevent him from playing or practicing.

 

Though much remains murky about Brown’s current status, this much is clear: all eyes will be on how Goodell and the league handle yet another serious situation involving one of the league’s star players.

 

Anything short of “fair” will be chum for the steady stream of critics who can’t wait to hammer arguably the most attackable sports commissioner in America.

 

So – there are three prongs to Britney Taylor’s lawsuit.  The first, the unwanted request/demand for sex seems too minor to provoke NFL action.  The third, a rape seems like a lifetime ban, if true, but for the sake of this discussion let’s say Brown has “proof” such as a home video Taylor doesn’t know about that seems to show the sex was consensual.

 

What about the second, the surprise ejaculation that Brown seemed to admit to in his disjointed email? 

 

To the DB, it seems to be in the same territory as the JAMEIS WINSTON Uber incident, arguably worse.  So, by that standard, it is hard to see Brown avoiding a suspension even if he can throw substantial doubt on the most serious of the charges, the rape.

 

Charles Robinson of YahooSports.com says the Patriots have contract language they believe will let them jettison Brown without obligation:

 

Asked whether Brown would play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, Belichick said the team was taking it “one day at a time.”

 

For the NFL’s part, a source familiar with the league’s talks told Yahoo Sports the NFL would prefer to move “quickly” to resolve the element of Brown being active or moved to the commissioner’s exempt list, a remedy that has been used in past cases involving criminal allegations but never in civil suits like the one Brown is facing. The source added that the NFL has sought to speak with Brown’s accuser, who is apparently willing but cannot schedule a meeting before next week because of prior engagements.

 

That meeting between Taylor and the NFL appears to be the most pivotal point ahead, with the Patriots apparently ready to center their decision on Brown largely based on advisement with league investigators. Whether Brown ends up being set aside from the field by the league or not, at least one thing is clear: New England has language in his contract that could void all of the $9 million in guarantees from his one-year, $15 million deal. According to a source with access to the contract, the specific clause is tied to “undermining” the public image of the club. The clause, which was sent to Yahoo Sports, reads:

 

“If at any time prior to the end of the 2019 League Year, Player: … takes any action that materially undermines the public’s respect for, or is materially critical of, the Club, Player’s teammates or the Club’s ownership, coaches, management, operations or policies then, upon election of the Club, the guarantees set forth in this section 27 will be null and void, whether or not any such guarantee otherwise had been earned in accordance with the terms thereof.”

 

If the Patriots were to invoke that clause as having been violated by this week’s lawsuit, it’s believed the team could waive Brown with no penalties. Whether or not that is a consideration might ultimately hinge on the information that becomes available in the next few days —whether coming from Brown, his accuser or the talks between the NFL and both of those parties.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

WR QUINCY ENUNWA has to wonder about his career after another season-ending neck injury.

 

New York Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa suffered another serious neck injury.

 

The 27-year-old wideout will miss the rest of the 2019 season after injuring his neck in Sunday’s season-opener against the Buffalo Bills, coach Adam Gase announced Wednesday.

 

It’s a brutal blow for Enunwa, who missed the entire 2017 season due to a neck injury.

 

Enunwa exited Sunday’s game briefly in the first quarter before returning. He earned one catch for -4 yards in the game. Tests on Monday revealed the seriousness of the injury, Gase said.

 

After a breakout 2016 campaign, injuries have waylaid Enunwa’s career. After missing all of 2017, he sat out five games in 2018 due to ankle injuries. The receiver signed a four-year, $36 million extension in December.

 

A 6th round pick in 2014, he got a $9 million per year extension despite all the injuries and 38 catches and 1 TD in 10 games last year.

– – –

Marc Sessler of NFL.com notes that either BAKER MAYFIELD or SAM DARNOLD will be an 0-2 QB at this time next week:

 

The first Sunday arrives like a hammer.

 

Smashing through fables, Soviet-level propaganda and dreamy what-if scenarios built around teams with more real-life issues than answers.

 

The hammer fell hard Sunday on a pair of second-year passers tied to great expectations — Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold — jolting two toyed-with fan bases who spent the past eight months telling themselves THIS YEAR WILL BE DIFFERENT.

 

Different is on hold.

 

On hold in Cleveland, where Mayfield’s on-field magic act was short-circuited by a gaggle of pass protectors doubling as thru-hikers snoozing in a summery field along the Appalachian Trail. Fellows like Greg Robinson, slapped with two penalties in the first half, the second of those — a vicious kick to the head of Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro — triggering his ejection. While Robinson has long ridden the struggle bus as a left tackle, his dismissal helped set the table for Tennessee’s 43-13 domination of the much-ballyhooed Browns.

 

Robinson’s backup, a human named Kendall Lamm, was quickly lost to a knee injury, forcing overwhelmed right tackle Chris Hubbard onto the left side, while the recently acquired Justin McCray attempted to bottle up chaos on the right. Nothing worked, as Cleveland offensive tackles accounted for three sacks allowed and a whopping six infractions during a meltdown act that saw the team generate five fewer points than penalties — a ridiculous 18 of them — the most in a game by the franchise since 1951.

 

The chaos up front gave us a different brand of Baker. Tennessee’s stifling, underrated defense flipped the switch in the final quarter, turning Mayfield’s line, which had been acceptable to that point (22 of 29 for 264 yards with a touchdown), into a B-grade slasher film flush with a gory three interceptions in the final reel, highlighted by Malcolm Butler’s soul-crushing pick-six. Mayfield spent the game running from masterfully drawn-up Titans pressure — or falling victim to it — leading to glossy closeups of the passer wincing in pain on the sideline before leaving the loss with a wrap on his right wrist.

 

Mayfield is surrounded by starry skill-position playthings, but they were reduced to misfit toys on Sunday by a crumbling line and the team’s unquenchable thirst for killer mistakes — some of them Baker’s when it mattered most. Fantastical images of Cleveland chasing an AFC title now give way to genuine concern over an offensive line that must contend with the Rams, Ravens, 49ers and Seahawks before a Week 7 bye.

 

Before all of that, though, the Browns must go on the road to face a Jets team still stinging in the wake of an ultra-collapse at home to a division foe from Buffalo. Gang Green loyalists have been harboring high hopes of their own, with Darnold breathlessly and confidently mentioned all offseason as the league arm most likely to make a massive jump in Year 2.

 

Fifteen contests remain for that leap to happen, but Darnold refused to break out against a stellar Bills defense, guiding the Jets to seven punts and only one score at a troubling 4.3 yards per pass. The offense was tugged along by a defense that generated points off a pick-six and safety while harassing Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen — another imperfect second-year starter — into three additional turnovers that gave the ball to Darnold in excellent field position. The young passer, though, could muster only one touchdown drive from all those gifts under the tree.

 

After New York’s 16-0 lead morphed into a 17-16 comeback tale for the feisty Bills, Darnold was given the chance to author memories, facing first-and-10 at his own 40 with 1:29 left on the clock. Instead of heroism, the green-clad passer unfurled four straight incompletions, an inglorious mixture featuring two batted balls, a deep shot to zip codes unknown and a final fourth-down arc that fluttered through the air after Darnold was hit making the toss. The offense never found its way inside an air attack that, by design or against it, defaulted to a beehive of darts thrown short of the sticks.

 

“We were just inept on offense, making mistakes we can’t make to consistently move the ball,” Jets coach Adam Gase later said, refusing to take it easy on his young signal-caller. “We have a lot to clean up there.”

 

Darnold and Mayfield slept in their beds Sunday night as two quarterbacks staring down 0-1 starts. Granted, early September football resembles the Mesozoic Era by Thanksgiving, but what comes next can’t be dismissed as meaningless: a nationally televised rematch against each other on “Monday Night Football” a year after Mayfield led the Browns to a comeback win in prime time over the Jets in relief of starter Tyrod Taylor.

 

Whether or not it’s fair, the tilt will serve as a loose public referendum, with the defeated quarterback left to peer down the business end of a nasty start to the new campaign.

– – –

Both Darnold and Mayfield can take heart in the NFL’s affinity for realms of the surreal: Week after week, reality shifts at a dizzying pace; we are flung into time tunnels; proud predictions become salt as hero journeys play out faithfully every Sunday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET — and Monday nights below the moon — reducing last week’s ugly fate into a fading picture show yanked from theaters for good.

 

Mayfield and Darnold desire the same thing — and so do their desperate teams. Only one can have it.

 

The quarterback left wanting come next Tuesday morning will begin to learn some of the NFL’s more arcane and age-old lessons on the subject of pain.