The Daily Briefing Monday, December 4, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

If The Season Ended Today in the NFC:

 

                                             Overall     Division       Conference

Minnesota Vikings      NCN     10-2           3-1                8-1

Philadelphia Eagles    NCE    10-2            4-0                8-1

Los Angeles Rams     NCW      9-3           3-1                6-3

New Orleans Saints    NCS      9-3           3-0                7-2

Seattle Seahawks        WC      8-4            4-0                6-3

Carolina Panthers        WC      8-4            2-2                4-4

Atlanta Falcons                        7-5            1-1                6-2   

Detroit Lions                            6-6             3-1                5-4

Green Bay Packers                 6-6             2-2                5-4

Dallas Cowboys                      6-6              3-1                5-4

 

At the moment, the Vikings have the tiebreaker on the Eagles based on a fairly substantial lead in strength of victory which pops up after common games.

 

The Seahawks jumped the NFC South Falcons and Cardinals in the Wild Card chase.  And with a win in the first game with LA, Seattle still controls its own destiny and would win the West with a 4-0 finish.

 

The Saints regain sole possession of the NFC West lead while the Seahawks le

So, the DB was wondering, what happens if the Packers run the table and get to 10-6?  That is a challenge, requiring beating Cleveland this week without AARON RODGERS, then winning at Carolina, vs. Minnesota and at Detroit presumably with Rodgers.

 

They 10-6 Pack would be in pretty good shape actually.  They would have head-to-head wins over Seattle and Carolina, as well as Dallas.  So if the Pack runs the table, we think they are in if two out of the three teams of Seattle, Carolina and Atlanta go no better than 2-2. 

 

Carolina and Atlanta meet in the season finale, so that’s 1 loss for one of them.  Carolina hosts Minnesota this week and would have lost to the Packers in Week 15 in our scenario.  And Atlanta has two games left with the Saints for some possible losses.  Seattle’s final run where they have to win 3 has a likely win over Arizona in Week 17, but road trips to Jacksonville and Dallas and a home showdown with the Rams.

 

– – –

Peter King on the sudden inevitability of more Roger Goodell:

 

I think those close to the process believe the Roger Goodell contract extension will be finished by the time owners meet in Dallas on Dec. 13. It may even be done early this week, after the six members of the Compensation Committee finish calling the other 26 owners in the league. I’m told all six committee members are in favor of the final iteration of the Goodell contract, and the final few calls to owners could result in minor changes. According to one source close to the process, the message from the committee to owners is they want to put this to bed so they can focus more “on the important things we need to do as a league. There’s a common feeling in these conversations—the owners want to address TV ratings, attendance, no-shows, the anthem issues, civil rights issues. Basically, the owners want to get on with it.” Does Jerry Jones have time to mount any organized opposition to the Goodell deal? Does he want to still? Time is of the essence now.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com takes issue with the late game strategy of Bears coach John Fox:

 

After the two-minute warning on Sunday, the 49ers had the ball on the Bears’ 4-yard line, and the Bears, leading 14-12, were out of timeouts. At that point, the Bears’ best strategy would have been to allow the 49ers to score a touchdown, to give themselves time to try to score a touchdown of their own.

 

Instead, when the 49ers gave the ball to Carlos Hyde, the Bears tackled him. After that, Jimmy Garoppolo took a snap and kneeled down, killing the remaining time on the clock before the 49ers’ game-winning field goal.

 

So why didn’t Bears coach John Fox let the 49ers score? He said he thought the Bears had a better chance of blocking the 49ers’ field goal than of marching down the field for a touchdown in 90 seconds.

 

“We talked about it, but it would have had to be done at 1:36 or 1:40, whatever it was,” Fox said. “We felt good about the block we had on the potential field goal. Neither one of those are great options.”

 

It’s true that neither letting the other team score nor trying to block a chip-shot field goal is a good option. But of the two, letting the other team score is the better option. Fox should have let his rookie quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, see if he could engineer a final touchdown drive after allowing the 49ers to score their own touchdown. He didn’t give the team that chance.

 

Of course, it’s possible that if the Bears had let the 49ers score, Hyde would have realized what was going on and gone down at the 1-yard line. But the Bears should have at least tried to let the 49ers get the touchdown, and give themselves a chance to score a touchdown after the ensuing kickoff. Instead the 49ers ran out the clock and won on a field goal.

 

 

DETROIT

Down goes the Silverdome – on the second try.  The AP:

 

The second time was the charm for a partial implosion of the Pontiac Silverdome — the former home of the Detroit Lions.

 

Demolition company Adamo brought down the upper section of the Silverdome on Monday, one day after some explosive charges failed to detonate. Company officials said wiring issues were the culprit of Sunday’s failed attempt, which disappointed thousands of onlookers who had braved cold temperatures in hopes of seeing a dramatic collapse.

 

The Lions played at the suburban Detroit facility from 1975 through 2001. The Silverdome also was the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and hosted the Super Bowl in 1982.

 

During its lifetime, the indoor, 80,000-plus seat stadium also hosted Super Bowl XVI, Wrestlemania III, a visit by Pope John Paul II and various motorsport events.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Peter King:

 

Since (Teddy) Bridgewater suited up and prepared to retake his job that day in Washington, (case) Keenum, in four games, is an 80-percent passer, with nine TDs and two picks, for a passer rating of 124.1. Never in his pedestrian five-year career has Keenum had this kind of run, and he’s done it with the hot breath of Bridgewater on his neck.

 

“I don’t think those things are correlated,” Keenum told me after Sunday’s win. “In my mind I’ve done a good job of keeping my blinders on. I’ve learned to compartmentalize things. Honestly, I am doing the same things I always do, and just trying to be better. I may have gotten better through experience and very good coaching here. Plus, this is by far the best receiver group I’ve ever worked with.”

 

But there’d never been any sign in his past of the consistent success he’s had this year. “It’s cool,” he said. “You take the blinders off for a few minutes sometimes and look at what we’re doing. We’re in control of our situation now.” Particularly after the Eagles lost and Minnesota took over the top seed in the NFC. Pretty incredible.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

With the move to bench QB ELI MANNING having been a p.r. nightmare, Giants ownership goes ahead and does the inevitable and fires Coach Ben McAdoo.  GM Jerry Reese gets the heave-ho also.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Ben McAdoo’s keycard will stop working Monday.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport first reported the embattled New York Giants head coach has been informed he’s been relieved of his duties.

 

The Giants have also fired general manager Jerry Reese. Co-owner John Mara confirmed the two moves later Monday during a news conference with New York media.

 

“[I] met with Ben McAdoo and thanked him for everything he has done for our us, for all his hard work, for all the professional manner in which he’s conducted himself,” Mara said Monday. “I also feel he will be a successful head coach at some point in the future. I think he’s going to learn from his experience here and he’ll go on and be a successful head coach.

 

“Both [McAdoo and Reese], contrary to what their public persona is sometimes, have been complete professionals here. They always make decisions on looking for what they believe is in the best long-term interest of the franchise.”

 

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as interim head coach and Kevin Abrams as GM the rest of the season. Mara also told reporters that former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi will serve as a consultant during the search for a new coach and GM.

 

The news comes a day after the Giants lost their 10th game of the season, a 24-17 defeat in Oakland.

 

“I’m going to coach this team as long as my key card works,” McAdoo said after the loss. “You know, we’ve got a great group of players, the coaches, we’ve got a great staff to work with. We’re going to show up ready to go tomorrow and get this thing cleaned up and move on to the next one.”

 

McAdoo’s firing comes less than two seasons into his tenure and just a year after helping guide Big Blue to a playoff berth in 2016. The 40-year-old will finish with a 13-15 record as the Giants’ coach. New York has the NFL’s biggest decline in winning from 2016 to 2017, a .521 win percent decrease. The Giants have had one of the worst offenses in the NFL since McAdoo was hired as the head coach, scoring just 17.8 points per game and ranking 30th in the NFL in total yards per tilt (314.7) — only the Browns and Bears have scored fewer PPG since 2016, per NFL Research.

 

The Giants are cleaning house not only due to the play on the field but also after bungling the benching of Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.

 

Rapoport reported Sunday that some members of the Giants ownership did not agree with how Manning’s situation was handled this week and there was intense and serious internal debate about firing McAdoo.

 

Ditching a coach and GM in the middle of the season is an uncharacteristic move for the Giants organization, but underscores the fractured relationships throughout every level of the franchise.

 

The change in gears came swift in New York. Ownership put out a statement in mid-November supporting the coach, saying it would wait until after the season to evaluate the situation. Following the botched Manning situation, however, the tenor began to change. Owner John Mara said Wednesday there were “no guarantees” McAdoo’s job was safe.

 

Days later the Giants fired the coach and general manager.

 

The Giants, it should be remembered were 11-5 last year.  What odds do you think there were three months ago that McAdoo would be the first coach fired?

 

More on Mara’s reasoning:

 

Mara said the team felt a shift in gears was unavoidable after meeting Steve Tisch following Sunday’s loss in Oakland.

 

“We agreed wholesale that changes needed to be made to this organization to get us back to the team we expect to be,” he said. “We also agreed that it was pointless to wait any longer to make these changes.”

 

Mara said both interim general manager Kevin Abrams and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo are both candidates for full-time positions.

 

Mara said the GM search would begin immediately and “in all likelihood” that position will be named before a head coach.

 

Less than a month after issuing a statement that the team would make no changes to the coaching staff until after the season, the Giants pulled a U-turn Monday.

 

“I changed my mind, we changed our minds,” Mara said of reversing course. “Given all the events that have occurred, where we are as a franchise right now. To be honest with you, it became more and more apparent that we were going to have to do something at the end of the season. So we talked after the game and again this morning about why prolong it any longer. Why not just get it done now? I’m very conscious of the fact that three of our last four games are at home. I was conscious, having lived through it before, of what the reaction was going to be. It also gives us somewhat of a tactical advantage, allowing us to start looking at general managers right now rather than waiting to the end of the season.”

 

While Mara suggested the 2-10 record was the main reason for the firings, one event — to use his word — that had to have played a role was the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, how it was handled, and the fan reaction.

 

Mara confirmed Monday that the idea to play Geno Smith and Davis Webb came from McAdoo, but said he approved the move.

 

“I signed off on that…” Mara said explaining the process that led to Manning missing his first start in 210 games. “You ought to stop blaming Ben and Jerry on that, if you want to blame anyone on that, blame me. I certainly had the power to overrule it if I wanted to. I chose not to do it.”

 

Thoughts from Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com:

 

The epitaph for Ben McAdoo’s ill-fated 28-game run as the fabled franchise’s head coach can be written in five words.

 

The Giants became the Jets.

 

The locker room had come undone, as evidenced by a string of early-season suspensions; the coach had lost control, which had become obvious through his handling of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. over the calendar year; the season was over before Thanksgiving; and then, on Nov. 28, the Giants benched two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning for, yup, Geno Smith.

 

That’s not to denigrate Smith, who was far from the train wreck many expected him to be on Sunday against Oakland. But almost anyone could have predicted how this move would be received by the fans; of course they remember how the Jets’ second-round pick became the face of the failed John Idzik administration and a punchline (no pun intended) over his four years in green.

 

That’s who you’re benching Eli for?

 

Image matters to the Giants, and it matters to the Mara family in general and John Mara in particular, so that move was the final straw for McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese, both of whom are now gone. The team’s brand was being dragged through the mud, again, and what was coming this weekend didn’t promise to be much better.

 

FOX’s Jay Glazer reported on Sunday that a group of Giants alumni was mulling the idea of wearing Eli Manning jerseys to this Sunday’s home game against the Cowboys. Elsewhere, there were rumors of a boycott by the public, where fans would come to MetLife Stadium to tailgate, without any plans to actually go into the game.

 

As I understand it, Mara’s anger over the damage being done to the Giants reputation was visible over the last few days. In fact, some believed that even a win on Sunday over the Raiders wouldn’t have granted McAdoo a stay of execution—notable, because in-season firings coming off wins are exceedingly rare.

 

(To be fair, Giants’ ownership deserves it’s share of the blame for public perception of the team changing, too, for putting the now-departed leadership in place, and its handling of the Josh Brown situation in 2016.)

 

So how’d we get here? Reese and McAdoo arrived at this point for very different reasons.

 

Reese inherited a strong roster when he succeeded Ernie Accorsi as GM in 2007, and he deserves credit for supplementing it with a draft class that put that year’s team, the eventual Super Bowl champion, over the top. He then added pieces like Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham that became integral to another championship four years later.

 

But in the time since, a series of failed draft classes cut the guts of the roster out as the championship teams aged, and the problems of 2017 weren’t much different than those of ’14 and ’15. The offensive line was no good, and the defense lacked depth. And while a good run of health in 2016 allowed for those to be covered up, they never went away. Firing Reese is far from a knee-jerk move.

 

McAdoo’s descent began back in January, when Beckham and the receivers traveled to Miami to ring in the New Year during a playoff week—and waved it in everyone’s faces on social media. Beckham’s absence from the offseason program was handled simiilarly by the star, mostly via Twitter and Instagram, and flaunted that he was playing by his own rules.

 

Then in September, McAdoo’s public effort to draw a disciplinary line by going at Manning after the team’s loss on Monday Night Football to the Lions rang hollow in the locker room six days later, when the coach reacted to Beckham’s dog-peeing celebration by saying he wishes everyone would focus on the touchdown catch he’d made seconds beforehand.

 

All of that made clear who was really in charge, and it wasn’t McAdoo. The suspensions of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Janoris Jenkins—both openly disrespected the coach—and the drama involving Eli Apple became about as predictable as it was that this day was coming.

 

Reese had to go, because the roster wasn’t getting better. McAdoo had to go, because he’d lost the team. And now the Giants start over, turning the page while avoiding what could’ve been a pretty ugly series of home game to come.

 

First order of business? Restoring the team’s good name.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Is QB KIRK COUSINS still shockingly normal or is he odd?  Greg Bishop with a long look at the self-admitted nerdy QB here with highlights below:

 

Because Kirk Cousins is Kirk Cousins, he desperately wanted an office. That is what he asked of the Redskins, and that is what they gave him: a windowless nook with gray filing cabinets and ample storage space, tucked off the lobby at 21300 Redskins Park Drive. Desk jockeys around D.C. relive Cousins’s TD passes at their cubicles every Monday, but the QB imagined that scene in reverse, and over the summer his wish was granted. He even nailed the decor, from the You Might Be a Redneck If … calendar to the clacking Newton’s cradle to the beach photo taped on a wall.

 

Months later, Cousins is reveling in excitement over an office gift from one of the facility’s custodians. “Whiteboard cleaner!” he says, displaying the bottle à la Vanna White. He reclines in his swivel chair as he says this, sounding less like Montana and more like Milton from Office Space. But whereas Milton was forever searching for a vanishing stapler, Cousins is looking for something even more elusive: contentment, over his contract status (to be determined, again, this offseason), his growing family (son Cooper was born on Sept. 29) and his better-than-expected NFL career.

 

It’s tempting to frame the new workstation as just more evidence in the ongoing case of Kirk Cousins vs. Quarterback Cool. Consider what else is on record. Exhibit A, how Cousins and his wife, Julie, move into his in-laws’ basement every winter to save money; B, how he hangs photos of reporters inside his locker, so he can remember their names; C, how he loves trivia; D, how he reads piles of books, underlining passages and typing out his favorite takeaways, then emailing his reviews to family members; and E, how he bought a Mercedes G-Class wagon in October, which sure seems like a cool splurge … until he reveals the mileage (past 50,000) and year (2001). Before that purchase he drove a passenger van that once belonged to his grandmother. “I hated looking at it,” says tight end Jordan Reed.

 

Cousins is all of that: nerdy, obsessive, frugal. And yet that portrait, while vivid, is incomplete. It misses why he is all those things. It fails to account for how he turned a career of low expectations into an experiment that, come March, could earn him the largest contract in NFL history. Football pundits can argue about how good the 29-year-old is. But they can’t argue that he’s not as good as he can be.

 

Which brings us back to the office. On a desktop sits a small computer monitor on which Cousins analyzes opponents’ film. Opposite that is a whiteboard crowded with diagrams of new plays scribbled below lists—so many lists—of tasks to complete and books to read and important points to remember. There’s a bin, underneath the desk, below the whiteboard cleaner, containing game plans and manila folders overstuffed with notes dating to 2010, when he was still at Michigan State. “There’s gotta be 50 folders in there,” Cousins says, beaming with pride.

 

The accountant-athlete spends hours each week inside this cubicle, which speaks to his—favorite-word alert—process, which megaphone-shouts to his singular obsession: not playing football, but getting ready for it. Former coach Mike Shanahan says he noticed that fixation immediately after the Redskins took Cousins in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft—exactly 100 picks after they used the No. 2 choice on QB Robert Griffin III. At the end of that summer’s training camp, with Griffin entrenched as the starter, Shanahan pulled Cousins aside. “With what you’ve shown me, you could have a Drew Brees-type career,” he told the backup. Cousins never forgot those words, an affirmation of his ethos. “Mike didn’t just show me that process matters,” Cousins says. “He showed me that my process works.”

– – –

Every single decision Kirk makes is aimed at football optimization. Those athletes who say Football doesn’t define me? Good for them. Cousins isn’t just a nerd. He’s a gridiron scientist, and the game absolutely does define him, even during the birth of his first child. “Process relaxes me,” he says.

 

Cousins is half QB, half biology experiment. He spends tens of thousands of dollars annually on saliva testing and brain training, tissue rejuvenation and blood work and massages. He sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber. He measures his deep sleep and his REM sleep; his hormone, adrenal and testosterone levels; his heart rate and his breathing. This season he started analyzing the left side of his brain, rather than both sides, because it controls his internal speech, the part of his brain he’s trying to calm.

 

It’s more than training, though. Cousins is a seeker, reader and planner. He wakes at sunrise and makes to-do lists that he giddily refers to as action plans. In college he decorated his bedroom with inspirational quotes from George Washington (Discipline is the soul of an army) and Muhammad Ali (The fight is won or lost … long before I dance under those lights). And while, yes, plenty of players make lists and gather quotes, Cousins is different in how it all ties back to his career. His reading list skews toward quarterbacking (Gunslinger, about Brett Favre; Belichick and Brady), leadership (Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance) and—cough, franchise-tag money, cough—investment wisdom (Poor Charlie’s Almanack, by Warren Buffett’s business partner). Netflix and chill? Cousins does Netflix and leadership study, binging on documentaries about Martin Luther, Dale Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. His brother, Kyle, calls him a polymath. Feel free to look that up.

 

Cousins will seek advice from anyone, on anything he finds relevant to performance optimization. Two years ago he spoke at the same conference as Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, and Welch listened to Cousins rattle off story after story about those who doubted him. That message, Welch says, “reached into my soul.” Welch became a mentor. One of many.

 

Last year, as the NFL saw a serious uptick in activism, Cousins talked with African-American teammates about their experiences with police so that he might comprehend why a player would kneel. If he better understood them, he reasoned, he could better lead them. That’s also why he played golf with Donald Trump in June, to seek insight into leadership, not politics. (POTUS couldn’t resist the urge to inquire about the franchise tag.) The minor controversy birthed by those 18 holes surprised the QB. Why not meet with Trump if he could glean something useful?

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Keep an eye out on whether or not Bruce Arians returns to the Cardinals in 2018.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

In October, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians responded to a report that he’d decided to retire at the end of the 2017 season by saying that “nothing could be further from truth” but he’s not ruling himself in for the 2018 season either.

 

Arians said on Monday that there will be several factors, including his health, to consider when making a decision about continuing his coaching career. One thing that won’t be a factor pushing him toward hanging it up is the team’s losing record over the last two years.

 

“If anything, it makes me hungrier,” Arians said, via the team’s website. “Because I know who is coming off that [injured reserve] list.”

 

Running back David Johnson, quarterback Carson Palmer, linebacker Markus Golden and left tackle D.J. Humphries are some of the players that the Cardinals have lost to injuries this season.

 

Arians’ desire to return wouldn’t mean much if the Cardinals decide to make a change, something Arians referenced when he called coaching “a ‘What’ve you done for me lately?’ business” during his press conference. That’s certainly been proven many times, but there’s been no public indication that the Cardinals have a change in mind.

 

AFC WEST

 

Peter King on the evolution of the three-way tie in the AFC West:

 

After one quarter of the 2017 season, this was the AFC West:

 

Kansas City: 4-0

Denver: 3-1

Oakland: 2-2

L.A. Chargers: 0-4

 

Over the past two months, this has been the AFC West:

 

L.A. Chargers: 6-2

Oakland: 4-4

Kansas City: 2-6

Denver: 0-8

 

With one-quarter of the season remaining, the AFC West standings:

 

Kansas City: 6-6

L.A. Chargers: 6-6

Oakland: 6-6

Denver: 3-9

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Peter King on the Chiefs:

 

The Chiefs are mess. Crazy to think that what they have going for them more than anything else is playing the next three at Arrowhead—games they should be favored to win despite entering the last part of the season having lost six of seven. The good news for Kansas City is that the deep-strike ability Alex Smith showed so brazenly early in the season was back Sunday in the Meadowlands, where Smith threw for 366 yards. The bad news: The defense gave up 38 points and 488 yards. To the Jets. And the Chiefs lost their poise badly late in the game. Marcus Peters is a great cornerback. But he does some knucklehead things, such as picking up an official’s yellow flag and throwing it into the 20th row in the end zone. Andy Reid’s got to be worried about this team. The defense that used to be so solid is now so shaky that Josh McCown strafes it effectively. The offense is so unreliable it can lose to the Giants.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Peter King on RB MARSHAWN LYNCH:

 

It’s been interesting to watch Del Rio’s usage of Marshawn Lynch, coming off his retirement season. Lynch’s 101-yard game against the Giants on Sunday was his first over 100 yards in 25 months, since his final Seattle season. Lynch ran angry on Sunday, and he ran fresh. His 52-yard TD run was his longest run in three years. “We were aware of not wanting to overwork him early,” Del Rio said. “Now we’re at the point where we’re going to ride him the rest of the way.”

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Peter King:

 

I think I love every Charger uniform. The sky blue is my favorite. A very close second: Sunday’s deep-blue jerseys, deep-blue pants, deep-blue socks. Sartorially, the Chargers are running away with the AFC West.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Andy Benoit of TheMMQB.com notes a surprising burst of offense from the Ravens on Sunday.

 

All week you’ll hear about the Ravens becoming that wild-card team nobody wants to face. You might even be reminded that John Harbaugh’s 2012 club entered the playoffs at 10-6 before winning Super Bowl XLVII.

 

That’s fine, but if we’re going to have this conversation, we need answer only one question: Do we believe Baltimore’s offense can play as well in the final quarter of the season as it did Sunday against Detroit? We finally—finally!—saw a respectable output from this group, thanks to an approach that fit its personnel. It featured a successful first- and second-down passing game, with selective downfield shots out of running formations. The highlight was a 66-yard play-action completion to Mike Wallace, where the speed-burning receiver aligned in the slot (which meant no press coverage) and ran a deep post against zone (which meant he faced safety Glover Quin instead of a corner). Joe Flacco, who has failed on more than a few of these throws in 2017, threw a beautiful, pinpointed deep ball.

 

Flacco also completed some bootleg throws, a tight end screen to Nick Boyle, and a few red-zone, play-action balls in the flats. All are passes that come on running downs and out of running formations. That’s how you help an ailing aerial attack.

 

Playing with the lead that these tactics established, Baltimore in the second half lined up in those same run looks and actually did run the ball, with increasing success. Ex-Seahawks tailback Alex Collins might be a tad stiff above the knees, but he has the light, agile feet to create space in traffic. Plus, he reminded us several times down the stretch that he can get around the corner. His outside running was punctuated by a victory-cementing six-yard touchdown in the fourth.

 

Overall, it was a textbook showing from a Ravens offense that must scheme ways to overcome a line that’s playing with backup guards (James Hurst on the left side, Matt Skura on the right) and a receiving corps that lacks dimension (2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch again). This formula is replicable on a weekly basis, which is why we’ve been wondering all season: Where the hell has it been?

 

But back to the question: Do we believe the Ravens can sustain this? Entering Sunday, Flacco was averaging 5.3 yards an attempt, the lowest in the NFL. His 8.2 yards per completion would be the lowest in the NFL . . . ever. The running game ranked 17th in yards per attempt, as it shuffled between zone-blocking and man-blocking, trying to find an identity. If watching good offense on film is like reading a novel with a rich motif, watching Baltimore’s offense has been like reading a string of unrelated tweets. Was Sunday’s game against the Lions—who, it should be noted, have allowed the second-most yards per rush (4.84) in the league since losing Haloti Ngata in Week 5—the first chapter in the story of a strong finish? Or was it just a rare, sensible blip?

 

Even if Baltimore’s offense has found itself, any playoff run will be on the strength of a stingy defense. That defense allowed 20 points on Sunday, three more than its season average, which ranks second in the NFL. Can that continue? The secondary lost stud cornerback Jimmy Smith to a torn Achilles. Smith’s replacement, first-rounder Marlon Humphrey, has been rotating in for much of the season, but he looked like a wide-eyed rookie in Smith’s spot on the right side. Matthew Stafford targeted Humphrey mercilessly downfield with Marvin Jones, and even once with third-string tight end Michael Roberts. Humphrey starting on the right side means Brandon Carr will now stay in fulltime on the left. With increased reps, we could see more of the highs and lows that Carr typically endures.

 

Up front, grossly underrated star defensive tackle Brandon Williams and, remarkably, 35-year-old Terrell Suggs, are playing the best football of their careers. However, they’re about all defensive coordinator Dean Pees has for a consistent pass-rushing presence, which is why you can expect Pees to expand his third-down pressure packages even more. Pees knows that without Smith, the Ravens are less capable of surviving in “react” mode. They’ll go on the attack. Pees has been diverse out of double-A-gap concepts, with linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson and, most recently, slot corner Maurice Canady all being featured blitzers. He’s also willing to disguise coverage, too, though Humphrey’s youth might make this more challenging.

 

The Ravens face the Steelers next week and then finish up with the Colts, Bengals and Browns. On paper, with a defense like this, they should finish at least 10-6. But whether that can (a) actually happen, and (b) even matter when this team makes the postseason depends on Flacco and the other side of the ball.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King:

 

Man, Jimmy and Dee Haslam want to keep the front office and coaching staff for another year. They don’t want to blow it up again. But this iteration of the Browns is 1-27 with Green Bay and Baltimore at home, then Chicago and Pittsburgh on the road. My gut feeling is the Haslams will do something of either partial or complete deconstruction, and be miserable doing it.

 

I wonder what gives Haslam, the biggest booster of the woebegone Vols there is, more pain: His college Tennessee Volunteers or his professional Cleveland Browns.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Noted by Peter King:

 

In a second-quarter play called by former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, former Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler threw a touchdown pass to former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, against the Broncos, sending the Broncos to a 9-3 deficit. To celebrate, former Bronco Thomas pretended to ride a bronco in the end zone while several Broncos walked away dispiritedly.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

It was brutal, vicious and cowardly – whatever the provocation – and TE ROB GRONKOWSKI will be suspended for New England’s Week 14 game.  ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been suspended one game by the NFL without pay for his late hit on defenseless Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White in Sunday’s 23-3 victory.

 

Gronkowski, who was penalized on the play but not ejected from the game, can appeal the suspension. It is the first NFL suspension for Gronkowski since he entered the league as a second-round draft choice with the Patriots in 2010.

 

In remarks to reporters after the game, Gronkowski had apologized to White for the hit, which came after an interception thrown in his direction. White was on the ground after the play, face down, when Gronkowski leaped on top of him and put his elbow/forearm into the back of his head/neck area.

 

Gronkowski will appeal the penalty, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

There may be an appeal, but Coach Bill Belichick is aware Gronk was in the wrong:

 

“I understand. It was bull—-.”

 

—Patriots coach Bill Belichick to Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, apologizing to him at midfield post-game for Rob Gronkowski’s dirty hit on a prone Tre’Davious White.

 

Peter King agrees with the suspension:

 

1. I think my first reaction to Rob Gronkowski’s dirty hit was that he didn’t deserve a suspension. He’s no Vontaze Burfict, no gratuitous offender with a long track record. But then I went back and watched it eight or 10 times. It’s gruesome, a forearm shiver from a much bigger man to the back of the head of Tre’Davious White, the Buffalo cornerback. Suspensions should not be doled out easily. But in this era of football, when the ills of hits to the head and head trauma and concussions are rightfully and universally decried, the violence of a hit like Gronkowski’s has far-reaching implications.

 

• It left White with a suspected concussion. Knowing what we know about the dangers of concussions and how, once a concussion is suffered, future concussions can come easier, it’s inexcusable for a concussion to happen voluntarily. Gronkowski surely didn’t mean to concuss White, but whatever he meant doesn’t matter; it was a purposeful hit to the back of his head.

 

• The NFL has to show it’s serious about policing hits that result in concussions, particularly those that can be avoided. This is the perfect example of a hit that had nothing to do with football, and it could potentially plague White in the future. If the NFL lets this hit be adjudicated simply by a fine to a player making $6.75 million this season, what’s the lesson?

 

• A suspension hurts Gronkowski, and hurts the Patriots. To deter Gronkowski from ever doing it again, regardless of his frustration over officiating (he said that’s what made him boil over on Sunday in Buffalo), the league has to come down hard … and show Gronkowski that a simple apology isn’t enough, and show the rest of the NFL that there will be no tolerance for bush-league fouls like this.