The Daily Briefing Friday, October 6, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles with a pair of injuries to watch.   Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News:

 

Fletcher Cox wasn’t present when the Eagles began practice Thursday; the team’s All-Pro defensive tackle has not taken the field since suffering a calf strain in the Sept. 24 victory over the Giants. He would seem unlikely to play this weekend against Arizona. The typical recovery time for an NFL calf injury is a little more than two seeks, according to a recent medical study.

 

Running back Wendell Smallwood was absent for the second successive day. A source with knowledge of the situation said Smallwood has knee swelling that isn’t considered serious. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (heel) returned to the field Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.

 

Handling injuries this week is tricky, in that the Eagles play next Thursday at Carolina. A player who isn’t 100 percent recovered probably isn’t going to play two games in five days. After Carolina, the Eagles don’t play until their home Monday night game against Washington, Oct. 23.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Players are held to a much stricter code of conduct than fans – that’s the message we get as WR TERRELLE PRYOR describes the verbal abuse he received in Kansas City.  Will Levith of RealClearSports.com:

 

If you’ve been on the side of the fence, saying that the NFL sideline and on-field protests have to go, this might give you some perspective about the other side.

 

Washington Redskins’ wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., who was initially slammed for making an obscene gesture at a fan Monday night, took to Instagram to defend his actions, saying that Kansas City Chiefs’ fans were hurling racial slurs at him.

 

“Being called [the N-word] several times to the point where an NFL employee had to step to me and stand by me the whole game from the 2nd quarter on is the exact reason why guys are kneeling during anthem,” Pryor wrote in an Instagram Story post. “I choose not to kneel because as a team we decided to be the one and stand … but as I walked in tunnel hearing some one call me [the N-word] and say F you to me..me flicking the person off is more deserving.

 

“I do apologize to my teammates and the organization. But at some point you keep calling us The N Word .. we going to start acting up. #straightlikethat”

 

In the post, Pryor explains that an NFL employee had to stand next to him on the sidelines from the second quarter onward because of the issue.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON made amends Thursday for speaking eight unacceptable words on Wednesday, but not before he lost many of his endorsements.  The AP:

 

Cam Newton apologized Thursday night in a Twitter video post for sexist comments made to a female reporter.

 

“After careful thought, I understand that my word choice was extremely degrading and disrespectful to women,” the Carolina Panthers quarterback said at the start of the nearly two-minute video. “To be honest, that was not my intentions. And if you are a person who took offense to what I said, I sincerely apologize to you.”

 

On Wednesday when Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked the 2015 NFL MVP about wide receiver Devin Funchess’ route running, Newton laughed and said, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes. It’s funny.”

 

In the video, Newton said he’s a man who strives to be a positive role model in the community and who tries to use his platform to inspire others. He said he takes ownership to everything that comes with that.

 

“What I did was extremely unacceptable,” Newton said. “I’m a father to two beautiful daughters and I try to instill in them that they can be anything that they want to be. The fact that during this process I have already lost sponsors and countless fans I realize that the joke is really on me. I have really learned a valuable lesson from this.”

 

Newton also sent a message to the “young people” who follow him.

 

“Don’t be like me,” Newton said. “Be better than me. To the reporters, to the journalists, to the moms, the super moms, the daughters, the sisters all around the world I sincerely apologize and hope that you can find the kindness in your heart to forgive me. Thank you.”

 

The NFL quickly released a statement Wednesday saying that Newton’s response to the question was “just plain wrong and disrespectful to the exceptional female reporters and all journalists who cover our league.”

 

However, it doesn’t appear there will be any punishment handed out to Newton.

 

“I think there are conversations going on at the club level with the appropriate people, with the Panthers,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said in a conference call Thursday. “I don’t want to anticipate the league stepping in there.”

 

The Twitter consensus in the wake of Newton’s video seemed to be that he somewhat defused the situation, albeit perhaps a bit too late.

 

 @JasonLaCanfora 

Good on Cam Newton. Took his time responding and collecting his thoughts and  issued a sincere, heartfelt apology.

 

@DenkyuuMedia  Cam Newton Says Something Stupid, Loses Sponsors, and Then Puts on a Master Class in Sincere Apologies http://dlvr.it/PsnjF2

 

@AndrewBrandt 

There will always be apology grading with people like Cam, but glad to not see an agent/PR-scripted statement. Need to show vulnerability.

 

Meanwhile, those who want to tear everyone down found three tweets they deem unacceptable in the timeline of young reporter Jordan Rodrigue.  Alex Putterman of Awful Announcing:

 

On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton came under fire for laughing at a question from Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue before declaring that, “It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes.”

 

Newton was rightfully pilloried for the remark, which suggested a lack of regard for the many women who cover sports at least as capably and intelligently as their male peers. When the quarterback failed to apologize, the criticism intensified. On Thursday Dannon Yogurt announced it was cutting ties with Newton.

 

But because Newton has in the past been the target of attacks that appear racially coded, the online conversation over his comment to Rodrigue quickly devolved into a racism vs. sexism debate that was often light on nuance. That only intensified when Twitter users discovered tweets sent by Rodrigue years ago that condoned racism and used the n-word.

 

@IamQuidpro

If #CamNewton lost his sponsorship from Dannon, shouldn’t Jourdan Rodrigue lose her job from these racist comments?

 

On Thursday, Rodrigue apologized for the tweets, writing that, “there is no excuse” for “the sentiment behind them.”

 

If nothing else, this whole incident shows that the world is not full of good guys and bad guys, victims and perpetrators. Newton has been the victim of racism, but on Wednesday he was the perpetrator of sexism. Rodrigue was the victim of sexism Wednesday, but previously she was the perpetrator of racism. Rodrigue messed up sending those tweets, which does not at all diminish that Newton messed up by suggesting women don’t know anything about football.

 

Not to wade too far into this, but Rodrigue’s use of the “N” word was with the spelling that ends with “a” in a tone that she was showing affection for Dale Earnhart, of all people.  We think there was a fleeting time, about five years ago when said tweet was tweeted, that the “a” spelling was thought to be okay, although it no longer is.

– – –

The Panthers have turned to 31-year-old S JAIRUS BYRD, asking him to come off the street and fill in.  Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Panthers have taken fliers on veterans who may or may not be over the hill before.

 

And the latest version could end up playing a big role this weekend.

 

They needed a body at safety with starter Kurt Coleman out for a month with a knee injury, so they signed former Saints free agent bust Jairus Byrd. And Byrd could end up starting sooner rather than later, since the Panthers don’t have many other options.

 

With backup Demetrious Cox nursing an ankle injury, the Panthers are down to either the newcomer or special teamer Colin Jones to start next to Mike Adams at safety against the Lions.

 

Panthers coach Ron Rivera compared it to the acquisition of Jared Allen two years ago during their Super Bowl run, after defensive end Charles Johnson was injured.

 

“That’s a great comparison because that is what we did talk about, ‘Hey, we’ve got an opportunity here to pick up a guy that’s been in systems and understands systems,” Rivera said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “The other bonus we get out of this, too, is he’s been in this division. So he knows Atlanta. He knows New Orleans. He knows Tampa Bay, as well.”

 

Byrd’s turning 31 tomorrow, and there’s no guarantee he’s going to hold up after years of knee problems in New Orleans.

 

“Any time you step out on the field or are playing this game, I always have something to prove. That’s just how I’m wired,” Byrd said. “Injuries are part of this game and unfortunately there’s not much you can do about that. Now it’s about taking care of my body and just making sure I’m available and doing what I need to do.”

 

The Panthers need him until Coleman returns, and his signing’s also a signal of the short-term nature of the roster they assembled this year.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

With three more errant boots last night, Tampa Bay kickers have now misfired on 25 FG attempts since the start of 2015.  Add in 7 failed PATs and you have 32 missed combined kicks and 82 lost points.

 

At the top of the heap, DAN BAILEY of the Cowboys only has 7 missed combined kicks (all FGs).  MATT BRYANT of the Falcons has missed 9.  JUSTIN TUCKER of the Ravens has missed 10.  ADAM VINATIERI of the Colts has missed 11.  You get the drift.

 

Now it is true that one of NICK FOLK’s missed FGs on Thursday was from 56 yards and another from a somewhat understandable 49.  But then he was wide left from 31 in the fourth quarter.

 

Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Nick Folk is deep in the kicking doldrums.

 

During Tampa Bay’s 19-14 prime-time loss, the Buccaneers kicker missed three field-goal attempts of varying distance in the last three frames.

 

After pushing 56- and 49-yard field-goal attempts near the end of the second and third periods, respectively, Folk overcompensated and pushed a 31-yarder wide left on Tampa Bay’s first fourth-quarter drive. The miss earned him boos from Bucs fans at Raymond James Stadium.

 

At the time of his third missed kick, the Bucs were nine points behind New England, a three-field goal deficit.

 

Folk admitted after the loss that he deserves some blame for the defeat, telling reporters, per the Tampa Bay Times’ Greg Auman, “We left points out there. We should have won the game, 20-19. This one’s on me”

 

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter told reporters that, after speaking with general manager Jason Licht after the game, a chat on the state of the kicking position is “forthcoming”, but that they “don’t want to make any rash decisions.”

 

Folk, a veteran kicker who was a reliable threat — a Folk hero, even — with the Jets for seven seasons, has been under the telelens ever since the start of training camp. Folk was brought in to compete with embattled second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo, who didn’t live up to his second-round draft selection in his rookie season. When Aguayo flamed out in the preseason, the Bucs cut him on national television, handing the job to Folk.

 

Since winning the job by default, Folk has struggled. He missed a field goal and an extra point in Tampa Bay’s narrow win over the Giants in Week 3, nearly sinking the Buccaneers’ ship; Folk’s game-winner salvaged the wreckage. His 0-for-3 shank-a-palooza on Thursday night did. Folk is 6 for 11 on field goals and 7 for 9 on extra points through four games.

 

“Been a bad week,” Folk said. “From the start of last Sunday to today. Bad week.”

 

Koetter didn’t see Folk’s woes coming.

 

“It’s unfortunate because … he’s been really solid in practice, the thing that happened last week kind of came out of left field,” he told reporters after the game. “There was no real indication that was coming. We only kicked live in practice one day this week, and Nick was lights out.

 

“So again, these last two weeks haven’t been exactly what we’re looking for. Of course, Nick will be the first to admit that. But still, it’s a team game. We had other opportunities.”

 

Maybe it’s not just Folk. Tampa Bay has had a lingering placekicking problem dating back to last season. According to NFL Research, the Buccaneers are 28-42 (66.7 pct) on field goals over the last two campaigns; their 14 misses are four more than any other team during that time span.

 

But in a season that has already seen out-of-nowhere success stories at the kicking position — Jake Elliott and Harrison Butker banging out winners at home; Greg Zuerlein going 7-for-7 in Jerryworld; and Giorgio Tavecchio earning a game ball after making four field goals on a day’s notice — Tampa’s never-ending field-goal woes stick out like a sore foot.

 

How they correct that course won’t just be the difference between winning and losing games, but between making and missing the postseason.

 

This tweet from Ed Werder after what might be Folk’s last NFL kicks reminds us he has been a good kicker for a long time until landing in Tampa Bay’s Bermuda Triangle:

 

@EdwerderRFA

As a #Cowboys rookie in 2011, Nick Folk kicked 53-yard game winner as #Cowboys overcame 5 Tony Romo INT. Now Folk misses 3 as Romo in booth

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

It looks like QB DEREK CARR won’t be out long.  Conor Orr of NFL.com:

 

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is still not quite ready to get back on the playing field, but that doesn’t mean he’s missing workouts.

 

An ESPN report from the scene in Oakland Thursday noted that Carr “went through stretch and threw the ball at the start of practice.”

 

@mattschneidman

Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree. Yes, Carr is throwing in practice.

 

Carr officially was listed as a limited participant at practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session.

 

Carr exited Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos in the third quarter with a back issue. The team later announced Carr suffered a transverse process fracture and replaced him in the lineup with backup EJ Manuel. Manuel is expected to be under center for this weekend’s tilt against the Ravens with 2016 draftee Connor Cook sitting at third string.

 

Carr’s presence at practice has to be encouraging. While a transverse process fracture can sometimes cost a quarterback more than a month, Carr has already worked to gain a reputation as a fast healer — or at least a quarterback with a pretty high tolerance for injuries. Carr also played with a broken finger late last season before breaking his leg.

 

While Manuel looked confident last week against Denver and wasn’t afraid to throw the ball against the Broncos’ high-profile secondary, this is a team that needs Carr in order to fulfill their lofty expectations. His daily practice habits will be worth monitoring over the coming days and weeks.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The DB thinks of Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times as the dogged reporter type of writer, but in this look at the Chargers and their move to L.A. he trots out his comedic chops:

 

In San Diego, this is a fantastic NFL season.

 

The Chargers, who abandoned that city for Los Angeles, are 0-4 and, worse, have gone largely unnoticed.

 

This week’s game against the winless New York Giants has been shoved to Channel 9, where it won’t risk bumping into the Rams’ kickoff. Last week, the Chargers were exiled to Channel 13. What’s next, rabbit ears?

 

Whether it’s failing to sell out their debut at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, or needing a silent snap count at home because of all the screaming opposing fans, or barely beating the local ratings of the 6:30 a.m. game in London, it’s a new indignity every week for the Chargers.

 

These problems go beyond losing the first four games. They are baked into the situation, and the issues aren’t going to be solved with a few Ws.

 

Unlike the Rams, who could point to their 49 seasons in the market and the fact that owner Stan Kroenke was bankrolling a glistening new stadium, the Chargers came to Los Angeles without a compelling story. No matter what the club said, what everybody heard was: “San Diego wouldn’t help pay for a stadium. So … Hello, L.A.!”

 

Yes, the Chargers played the 1960 season here, but that’s a Trivial Pursuit question. No meaningful history. No significant fan base. No rationale beyond the bottom line.

 

The Chargers arrived uninvited into a market still skeptical about embracing one team. For Los Angeles, it was like getting a second bread-making machine as a housewarming gift. You weren’t even sure you’d use the first one.

 

This didn’t come out of the blue. The warning signs about the apathy were there before the Chargers announced they were moving north.

 

But they moved anyway. Then, in addition to a botched logo and other fumbles, the Chargers rolled out their “Fight for L.A.” slogan. That could be read one of two ways. They were either fighting the Rams for fans, which the NFL didn’t like — the league goes to great lengths to avoid owners competing over the same sports dollars — or fighting on behalf of L.A. Well, nobody here asked for the Chargers to fight on their behalf.

 

Now, there’s no longer any reference to “Fight for L.A.” on the team’s website, and the narrative has shifted to one that’s almost pleading and apologetic, in essence: “We knew this was going to take a long time. … We didn’t expect you to love us right away. … Please, give us a chance.” There might be a niche market in that, but it’s hard to imagine the franchise growing a robust fan base that way.

 

For 20 years, Los Angeles was incredibly valuable to the NFL without a team. It was the threat that stadium-hungry teams around the league could hold over their cities. That leverage point still existed after the Rams moved, because Kroenke was building a two-team stadium. It would be for the Rams, and a team to be named later.

 

But now that the Chargers have moved here, and the situation has gone sideways, Los Angeles has become a cautionary tale. The only other team that would work here would be the Raiders, and they’re building a stadium in Las Vegas.

 

There’s no way this city will be looked at as a hammer again. A relocation-minded owner who threatened, “We just might be the second team in Los Angeles,” would be met with gales of laughter. So at least that’s a good thing.

 

All of this comes at a bad time for a league trying to cope with the dark clouds gathering over issues of health and safety, political protests, game attendance and TV ratings.

 

Commissioner Roger Goodell was at the Chargers’ game last Sunday — the second time in two months he has visited them — and saw how Eagles fans took over that stadium. The crowd might have been split, but players from both teams talked about how much it felt like a Philadelphia home game.

 

It won’t be any better for the Chargers when they play host to Denver in Week 6. And their New Year’s Eve finale is against the Raiders, when StubHub will surely be a sea of silver and black that’s accented by flecks of blue.

 

So where do the Chargers go from here? At this point it’s highly improbable that they would try to unwind the relocation and move back to San Diego. They couldn’t with their current owner, anyway, and the Spanos family has given no indication it intends to sell. Plus, the NFL has in place financial penalties for the Rams or Chargers if they sell their clubs in the next 10 years. The league doesn’t want house flippers.

 

After next season, both teams will have to start cutting $65-million checks every year for a decade to pay off their relocation fee. There is pain to come.

 

A new stadium is cool and exciting, except when you can’t fill it. Both the Rams and Chargers have to prove that they’re capable of doing that.

 

Meanwhile, there are former Chargers fans in San Diego who find themselves cheering for the Giants’ Eli Manning this weekend, and Miami’s Jay Cutler a few weeks ago. Back in the old days, Manning and Cutler were despised.

 

And the hits keep coming.

 

“Mr. [Dean] Spanos has talked about this being a process,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “He’s talked about getting in and doing the hard work of connecting with the community, and that’s what they’re doing.”

 

It’s a process. So is a root canal.

 

Hmmm.  The news that the Spanos family will take a hit if they sell their team to a Russian oligarch who wants to move them puts a crimp on the DB’s idea that the Chargers are being laundered for a move to London.

– – –

The Chargers are changing kickers.  Eric Williams of ESPN.com on how the team is rewarding PK NICK NOVAK for attending one of their games at Stub Hub Center:

 

The Los Angeles Chargers moved on from kicker Younghoe Koo on Thursday, waiving the rookie kicker and signing veteran Nick Novak.

 

“Nick’s been a very accurate kicker in this league for a long time,” coach Anthony Lynn said Thursday. “He’s been here before. We’re familiar with him, and he has experience in big games. As you know, every game we’ve played has been a close game, and every point matters.”

 

The Chargers have started the season 0-4, losing three of those games by three points or fewer.

 

Koo had a potential game-tying kick blocked in the final second of a 24-21 Week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos and then missed what would have been a game-winner in the final seconds of the Chargers’ 19-17 Week 2 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

 

Overall he was 3-for-6 on field goal attempts this season while converting all nine of his extra-point attempts.

 

This will be the 36-year-old Novak’s second stint with the Chargers. He previously kicked for the Chargers from 2011 to 2014. He made 101 of his 117 field goal attempts with the Chargers and 156 of his 157 extra-point attempts.

 

He was with the Houston Texans the past two seasons but was released by the team before the start of this season.

 

In 10 NFL seasons, Novak has converted 82.8 percent of his field goal attempts (173-for-209). He is 239-for-245 on extra-point attempts.

 

“I take a lot of pride in wearing the lightning bolt and the name on the back of the jersey,” Novak said. “Like I said, I just want to be a good teammate. It’s great to play; it’s not so fun being out there watching.”

 

Novak said he’d been training at his home nearby in San Diego when he got a call from the Chargers on Wednesday. Novak said he also attended the Chargers’ last home game against the Philadelphia Eagles last week to check out his potential new surroundings at the StubHub Center.

 

“Koo’s a very talented kicker,” Novak said. “He’s got a live leg and a lot of talent. I actually went to the game last week with my wife and watched him in warm-ups, watched him throughout the game and I was really impressed with his leg strength.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

LB PRESTON BROWN says simplicity is the key to Buffalo’s current defensive success.  Kevin Patra at NFL.com:

 

The Buffalo Bills defense deserves some love.

 

Of all the early season storylines, Sean McDermott’s defense leading the way to an AFC East lead at the quarter mark is riding far too low on the national radar.

 

Often when NFL teams make coaching changes, the franchise will seesaw defensive mind to offensive mind or vice versa. This offseason, however, the Buffalo Bills hired McDermott, a heretofore defense coordinator, to take over a team Rex Ryan managed.

 

The difference in performance has been stark.

 

Through four weeks, the Bills own the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense (13.5 points per game allowed), given up a league-low four touchdowns, are tied for fourth with seven takeaways, sit fifth in yards per play allowed (4.7), and eighth in yards allowed (306.0).

 

Last year, the Bills ranked 16th in points per game allowed (23.6), 19th in total yards per game (357.0), and 29th in rushing yards per game allowed (133.1).

 

Speaking on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Thursday, Bills linebacker Preston Brown said the difference between 2016 and 2017 is a simplified D.

 

“We don’t like to compare that much with last year, but we know it’s a lot simpler,” Brown said. “You can see it out there. Guys are having fun. With the 4-3 scheme, we’re back to where we are my rookie year. Guys are having fun and just playing fast.”

 

The tape speaks the truth. The Bills defense flies to the ball. Jerry Hughes leads a battering defensive front, with undrafted free agent Eddie Yarbrough flashing each week. The second level of Brown, Ramon Humber (who broke his hand this week) and Lorenzo Alexander swarm ball carriers. And the back end led by safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, along with first-round corner Tre’Davious White, is a perfect mesh for McDermott’s zone-heavy scheme.

 

Brown’s comments about McDermott simplifying the defense stand in contrast to the complaints last season that Ryan’s defense was too complicated, as Marcell Dareus said in December. This year’s defense looks much closer to the fourth-ranked D employed by DC Jim Schwartz in 2014 than anything we saw the past two years under Ryan.

 

McDermott has his defense playing loose, fast, and aggressive. If they can keep up their smothering pace, perhaps the longest playoff droughts in football will finally come to an end.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com thinks Bill Belichick got away with one when he kicked a late field goal.  And Belichick was quite eloquent in his postgame in going through his thought process:

 

The Buccaneers had a chance to win last night’s game against the Patriots, thanks in part to a decision from Bill Belichick to take the ball out of the hands of Tom Brady on fourth and three from the Tampa Bay 30 and place it on the foot of Stephen Gostkowski and, ultimately, on the backs of a the worst defense (statistically) in football.

 

Let me stop right there and emphasize this point, since if you were watching the game last night it was never mentioned: Belichick took the ball out of the hands of the greatest quarterback who ever lived and entrusted the outcome to a consistently leaky defense.

 

And that defense nearly leaked right down its leg by allowing Tampa Bay to drive the ball in position for one last shot at a victory.

 

The CBS broadcast failed to properly characterize (if it even mentioned it at all) the decision to not let Brady win the game and instead to trust a bad defense not to lose it. Even if the man who instantly has been crowned the greatest analyst in any sport didn’t realize in real time the significance of the strategy, repeated shots of Brady’s sideline demeanor should have given him a clue: Brady was not happy that Belichick chose to not let the quarterback win the game with a quick three-yard pass.

 

Belichick explained his thought process in a post-game press conference.

 

“That was really a tough decision,” Belichick told reporters. “First down ends the game. We don’t have to play anymore. It’s a long kick. It was 45 yards, something like that. The wind was challenging; it was a cross wind. So, you know, Steve hit a great ball. I definitely thought about — you know, if we could pick up fourth and three, then the game would be over. That would be it. So one play would have ended it. I just felt like the percentage play was the field goal, and Steve came through. The defense came through. That’s one that really could have gone either way. And honestly punting was an option there too. Had it been a couple yards further out like we did earlier in the quarter and tried to put them down inside the five yard line. A field goal would have won but, you know, [they were] out of time outs. It would have put another, if we could have executed it well, put another 20, 30 yards on the drive. So, you know, that was one of those that there was some options. It was a tough decision.”

 

Maybe it’s a tough decision if: (1) Brady isn’t the quarterback; and (2) the defense isn’t terrible this year, statistically. But with Brady in position to throw the ball three yards and deliver the dagger, that’s what Belichick should have done.

 

Indeed, that’s the only outcome that doesn’t put the New England defense on the field with a chance to blow the game. Made field goal? Touchdown loses it. Missed field goal? Bucs have the ball at the 37, and a field goal loses it. Punt? Bucs have the ball at the 20 at worst inside the five at best, and a field goal loses it. Go for it and fail? Bucs have the ball on the 30, and a field goal loses it.

 

It ultimately worked out, barely. And maybe the faith Belichick showed in his defense will improve their confidence down the stretch.

 

And maybe the lack of faith Belichick showed in Brady will make him even more determined to show Belichick that Brady can and should be trusted to win and/or not lose any and every given game.

 

Of course, we remember the time against the Colts when a first down would win the game and Belichick went for it (eschewing a punt, not a field goal) and did not get the first and lost.

– – –

Judy Bautista of NFL.com wonders if Thursday night’s ugly win in Tampa will mark a turning point for New England:

 

Perhaps, on a cold early February night in Minneapolis, this game will become part of the mythology, the evening when the New England Patriots turned their season by gutting out a messy victory despite putting their foibles on full display.

 

It’s difficult to identify those moments in real time, and so when the Patriots exited Tampa with a 19-14 victory over the Buccaneers, it was still impossible to know what the Patriots will look like even next week, when they play a didn’t-see-that-coming relevant game against the New York Jets. They are surely not the juggernaut that was predicted at the start of the season, at least not yet. But we’ve seen seasons start like this for the Patriots before, and in 2014, a similar arc ended with a championship.

 

For now, with a quarter of the season gone, we know this much about the Patriots: They are ping-ponging between vulnerabilities, beating the Bucs in part because the home team was stymied by its own erratic quarterback, hampered by the absence of two of its starting linebackers, thwarted by an inability to convert Patriots penalties and turnovers into points, crushed by a kicker who missed three field-goal tries.

 

The Bucs did not convert a third down until there was just 1:26 remaining in the third quarter, and that provided a signal that the Patriots’ defense might be righting itself after a disastrous start to the season. Jameis Winston was the fifth quarterback to throw for 300 yards against the Patriots this season, but he completed just 26 of 46 passes. And the defense, which had been beset by miscommunication and shredded in the first four games, did not allow the blown assignments and big plays that marred those first games. That those issues improved on a short week with little practice time was particularly encouraging. It was a game, safety Devin McCourty said, that the defense could build upon.

 

“Certainly, there are a lot of things we can do better, need to do better,” coach Bill Belichick said. But when asked what the defense did better, he replied, “pretty much everything. You’ve got a chance to win when you give up 14 points.”

 

Brady observed earlier this week that the Patriots hadn’t been in control of games too often this season, and nothing about this game is likely to change that feeling. Their 12 penalties for 108 yards renewed a period of uncharacteristic self-immolation for the second week in a row. Brady was battered again behind a porous offensive line. The Bucs entered the game with just one sack on the season, but they sacked Brady three times and hit him much more than that. Brady even threw a shockingly bad pass, well behind intended receiver Chris Hogan, that resulted in an interception on the first drive. There were moments when Brady seemed slow to get to his feet, but when asked about it after the game, he responded, “Just football. I’ll be there next Sunday.”

 

The Bucs did nothing with that interception or a third-quarter fumble by Brady, but the sputtering of the Patriots’ offense, which played minus an injured Rob Gronkowski, continued. The Patriots, Brady said, were tweaking their game plans — there were two of them, one with Gronkowski, one without — until Thursday morning. Gronkowski’s expected return in time for the Jets’ game next Sunday is sure to improve the offensive flow.

 

“I hope we can score more points than we did tonight,” Brady said. “The offense isn’t always going to have a great day. The defense isn’t always going to have a great day.”

 

Brady has been around so long that he has been part of championship teams that relied primarily on defense and others that were mostly offensively-driven. Last year’s was of a more balanced vintage, and there is still plenty of season remaining for the Patriots to get there.

 

Belichick is fond of saying that coaches don’t know what they have in a team until about a month into the season. The first month is gone from this season, and Belichick has a few extra days to decipher what he just saw before the Patriots finally play their first division game of the campaign: an enigma of a team still waiting for its identity.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

HOME FIELD QBs

From a stat/fantasy perspective Scott Spratt of Pro Football Focus looks at who the best homefield QBs might be.  This may or may not have anything to do with actually winning games.

 

Pittsburgh was on most people’s shortlist of the teams entering the 2017 season with a realistic chance to win the Super Bowl, but, 3-1 record aside, they have not lent confidence to those who made that prediction over the first month. In Week 1, they squeaked out a victory in Cleveland against what appears to be another dreadful Browns team. In Week 3, they lost in Chicago to a Bears team that has been outscored by 43 points in four games, just 1 point better than Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger has yet to reach 270 passing yards or 3 touchdowns in a game. But the one thing Steelers fans can hang their hats on is the schedule. Three of those first four games were on the road, which leaves a lot of home games left on the Steelers’ schedule to right the ship.

 

I can’t remember when I first heard the theory that Roethlisberger tends to play poorly on the road, but it has become loud after he threw for 235 and 216 yards and 2 total touchdowns over the last two weeks, both away from Heinz Field. Frankly, that was something I had never paid much attention to. My typical fantasy team-building strategy relies on one quarterback, which lets me fill my roster with upside plays at running back and wide receiver. But now that so much of fantasy play centers on DFS, having a clear understanding of a quarterback’s matchup benefits or detriments is critical. And I think I already have a solid foundation to figure this one out.

 

A few weeks ago, I did some research on the effects of domes for players that established benchmarks for what quarterbacks would gain and lose when they went on the road. Using that as a starting place, I adjusted quarterbacks’ road statistics as if they had played at home. Then, I could compare their per-game adjusted road totals to their real home totals. I did that from 2009 to 2016. If a quarterback had the same adjusted road and real home totals per game, then his home-field advantage was average. But some players showed some pretty big deviation from average over significant samples, and it turns out that Roethlisberger leads the way.

 

Quarterbacks with the Biggest Fantasy Home-Field Advantage

 

                                                 Games Extra Home FanPPG

Ben Roethlisberger         PIT       113       +3.8

Drew Brees                   NO       126       +3.2

Joe Flacco                   BLT       122       +2.8

Eli Manning                 NYG       128       +1.8

Aaron Rodgers               GB       110       +1.5

 

Roethlisberger gains some moderate extra advantage with 16.2 extra passing yards and 0.2 fewer interceptions per game than expected at home, but he does the bulk of his damage with 0.7 extra passing touchdowns per game at home. Drew Brees is close to him with 0.6 extra passing touchdowns per game at home, and then no other active quarterback has shown more than half of that touchdown benefit.

 

I’ve labeled this phenomenon as home-field advantage, but it could just as easily be road-field disadvantage or some characteristic of certain quarterbacks that make them experience bigger-than-normal home/road splits. Before I restricted my results to only current starting quarterbacks, I noticed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was in the top 10 for three different teams out of the 91 player-teams I researched since 2009. That’s a guy who likes his own bed, I guess.

 

Meanwhile, a home field can have the opposite impact on a quarterback, as it has with Trevor Siemian.

 

Quarterbacks with the Smallest Fantasy Home-Field Advantage

 

                                               Games   Extra Home FanPPG

Trevor Siemian             DEN      14         -3.5

Blake Bortles                JAX       46         -3.5

Jameis Winston             TB        32         -2.4

Andy Dalton                   CIN      93         -1.8

Philip Rivers                   SD       128       -1.4

 

I don’t think these numbers imply that Denver makes it harder for Siemian to be effective as passer. Instead, I suspect that Denver has maybe the biggest actual home-field advantage, and that manifests itself in the Broncos gaining big leads and then shifting to a run-heavy approach to kill clock and take advantage of a defense that is not conditioned for thin air late in games. I see something similar with Blake Bortles, who has likely had more of a chance to benefit from his garbage-time predilections on the road. Philip Rivers is probably the only quarterback I would speculate has had a real home-field disadvantage in San Diego. And based on the early returns on the fan base attendance in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that trend continues for him this year.

 

 

THE NFLPA AND THE LEFT

Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times finds that the NFLPA is spending some of the players cash on some very left-wing groups.

 

Even before its feud over the national anthem with President Trump, the NFL Players Association wasn’t on the same political team as many of its fans, judging from its contributions to leftist advocacy groups.

 

Tax documents released by 2ndVote show the NFLPA donated $5,000 in 2015 to the Center for Community Change Action, a group active in the anti-Trump resistance and bankrolled by a host of liberal foundations, including top Democratic donor George Soros’s Foundation for Open Society.

 

A member of the AFL-CIO, the NFLPA also contributed in 2013 and 2015 to Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, which Open Secrets said spent $1 million in 2016 to defeat Trump.

 

Other NFLPA charitable contributions went to a mix of groups supporting veterans, medical research and youth, including the Wounded Warrior Project, the Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, Active Minds, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.

The Center for Community Change, whose 2015 annual report lists Planned Parenthood as a donor, plans to honor Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer at its Oct. 12 awards dinner recognizing “heroes on the front lines of resistance.”

 

“Clearly, ‘social activism’ by NFL players includes aligning with George Soros and other liberal organizations like Planned Parenthood in support of the left’s agenda,” said 2ndVote, a conservative watchdog group.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com on the draft impact of the Chargers-Giants tilt (as well as two other games) on Sunday:

 

Neither the Giants nor the Chargers have won a game in the 2017 season, but their Week 5 matchup is going to be incredibly meme-able, GIF-worthy and follow the assortment of captivating narratives that follow both teams.

 

Odell Beckham Jr. constantly under the microscope. Eli Manning’s awkward facial expressions. Philip Rivers’ late-game misfortune. Ben McAdoo’s casino hair. Ereck Flowers vs. the Pythagorean Theorem-hating radio rant guy. The list goes on.

In all seriousness though, both clubs desperately need a win or they’ll find themselves with the Browns “fighting” for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft as we get into the second quarter of the season.

 

First things first … here’s a peek at the current 2018 NFL Draft order. SportsLine’s updated projected win totals were used as tiebreakers through three games. This order will re-order quite often.

 

Chargers at Giants

If this game follows the general narratives for both teams, it’ll go something like this: Chargers get out to an early lead while Eli Manning looks utterly incompetent, Melvin Ingram repeatedly beats Ereck Flowers around the edge and Ben McAdoo hides behind his enormous play-call sheet. Midway through the third quarter, after reports surface of halftime arguments in New York’s locker room, Odell Beckham goes off, capping a drive in which he makes five catches with a ridiculous grab in the back corner of the end zone. Then, in the fourth quarter, Philip Rivers dinks and dunks his way down the field to give the Chargers a lead that Los Angeles’ defense relinquishes on the next possession. The game ends on a strip sack fumble of Rivers the play after the winning touchdown was dropped.

 

Jets at Browns

So it turns out the Bengals are most definitely not the worst team in Ohio. Myles Garrett might return this week for the Browns, and boy do they ever need him. Their defense looked completely out of sorts against the Bengals, and DeShone Kizer looks like 2016 Notre Dame starter DeShone Kizer. How about these Jets? Bilal Powell and Jermaine Kearse aren’t here to tank. Neither is Josh McCown. Clearly. Cleveland smartly stockpiled draft picks the past two years, yet we probably should be seeing some signs of improvement — even gradual — by now. We aren’t. Sashi Brown and Co. will start to come under fire if they lose in another stinker at home.

 

49ers at Colts

Despite losing both games, San Francisco has been competitive in back-to-back weeks, which is something I expect to write a few more times this season. The 49ers have a sprinkle of talent and an imaginative young coach. They’re just lacking the most important thing in the NFL … a variety of quality players. Andrew Luck is out once again for the Colts, which means Jacoby Brissett, who was effective against the Browns and for a quarter against the Seahawks, gets another start for Indianapolis. Call me crazy, but I envision a high-scoring contest. Yes, a game featuring Brissett and Brian Hoyer loaded with offensive fireworks. You heard it here first.

 

And the current draft order:

 

Draft Order

 

1 Cleveland Browns (0-4)

2 Los Angeles Chargers (0-4)

3 San Francisco 49ers (0-4)

4 New York Giants (0-4)

5 Chicago Bears (1-3)

6 Indianapolis Colts (1-3)

7 Cincinnati Bengals (1-3)

8 Miami Dolphins (1-2)