The Daily Briefing Monday, October 2, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
Thoughts and prayers to all those victimized by the horrific shooting in Las Vegas.
As well as to those involved in the recovery of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Relieved to report that those in the DB’s extended family in Puerto Rico are safe.
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After four weeks, the DB’s take is that there are not any dominant teams in the 2017 NFL, that we think 12-4 or 11-5 might be the high water mark for won-loss records.
Maybe the Chiefs can prove us wrong, but every other team either looks flawed or is untested.
Peter King approves of LB DANNY TRAVATHAN’s suspension:
Two games for Danny Trevathan is the least he should have gotten suspended for the ugly hit on Davante Adams. I don’t believe Trevathan was trying to hit him helmet-to-helmet. But in this case, it doesn’t matter. It happened.
And I like Trevathan—the way he plays, the man he is. Hits like that simply must get a major sanction, to ensure the players and the public know that helmet-to-helmet car crashes simply won’t be tolerated, no matter whether they’re intentional.
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Word Monday that the MITCHELL TRUBISKY Era begins on Monday. Josh Alper at ProFootballTalk.com:
According to multiple reports, the Bears will bench Mike Glennon and start Mitch Trubisky, who they traded up to take with the second overall pick in this year’s draft.
The move is not a particularly surprising one after Glennon’s four turnovers against Green Bay and eight turnovers in the first four games of the season. While coach John Fox stressed that quarterback is one of 11 offensive positions and that there’s need for improvement across the board, it was getting harder and harder to believe that Glennon was being held back by his teammates.
The Bears will host the Vikings next Monday night, which gives Trubisky an extra day to prepare for his regular season debut.
This about Martha Ford’s leadership in the Lions locker room. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
Days after linking arms with players during the singing of the national anthem, Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford asked her team not to kneel for the playing of the song during a team meeting last week.
In exchange for finding a different way to protest racial injustices around the country, Ford said she would be willing to donate both money and her name to community issues at the heart of the players’ cause.
“As a team, we came together, talked to Mrs. Ford, the owners, and we understand the issues for the most part, generally,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “Me personally, I definitely want to be an aid in growing the social awareness in this country, that it is a race problem in this country.
“We do dance around the topic a lot and Mrs. Ford has come forward and said that as long a we compromise as a team and unify and make a unified demonstration, she’ll back us financially. So I’m definitely going to hold her to her word.”
Ford, who linked arms with players, Lions coach Jim Caldwell and her three daughters at Ford Field last week, was not on the sideline for the anthem Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Lions played the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions did not immediately return a phone call from the Free Press seeking comment.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Not throwing a pity party for the Giants at 0-4, but losing two straight games on field goals on the last play of the game … kind of a brutal way to live.
One on a 61-yard kick in a tie game, the other just a few inches inside the upright by a shaky kicker to deny an outright Giants victory.
Conor Orr at NFL.com:
Kudos to the Falcons, who battled despite losing both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu at the half. Jones’ hip injury may be one of the most significant developments on a Sunday with a few high-profile injuries. Early on in the third quarter, after already having a fumble returned for a touchdown, Ryan attempted to get Atlanta’s high-flying offense in gear with a deep bomb. Who was left? Taylor Gabriel, who, unfortunately, was bodied by Micah Hyde. Hyde came up with a crucial pick.
Word on Monday morning is that WR JULIO JONES did not sustain a serious hip injury, which has to be a relief for Falcons fans. Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Falcons have a bye next week, and it comes at a fortuitous time.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, star wide receiver Julio Jones isn’t expected to miss any additional time after he was unable to finish yesterday’s loss to the Bills with a hip flexor injury.
Jones tried to come back yesterday, but coach Dan Quinn said he lacked his normal explosiveness so they decided to hold him back.
“He had trouble just exploding, and if he can’t be him, that’s a unique thing for him,” Quinn said. “The speed, the explosiveness — so when he wasn’t able to do that, that’s when we had to pull him. He definitely wanted to go.”
The Falcons were without both Jones and fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu in the second half of their loss to the Bills, and their absence was evident as the Falcons tried to drive late without their top two targets.
Words from CAM NEWTON after the big win over the Patriots. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Panthers offense bounced back from a terrible outing against the Saints in Week Three with their best effort of the season in Sunday’s 33-30 victory over the Patriots.
The balanced effort saw Cam Newton run for one touchdown and throw for three more, including one on a short pass that Fozzy Whittaker took to the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown. Whittaker wound up open because the defense keyed on Christian McCaffrey motioning to the other side of the field. Newton faked to McCaffrey to set the stage for the kind of play the Panthers talked about a lot this offseason.
After the game, Newton said that the offensive performance was a sign that things are falling into place and noted that there aren’t shortcuts to getting the full package in place.
“Well, it’s not about what a lot of people think because a lot of extracurricular activity, especially throughout the week, but it just takes time,” Newton said in comments distributed by the Patriots. “People have to realize — I have to realize it — it takes time. Anything great — this offense isn’t cereal or quick grits or instant grits — this is a full on entree and we have to prepare it that way. Knowing moving forward, we’ve got impact players and play makers that when you give them the ball or give them opportunities to make plays they will do it.”
As we learned in My Cousin Vinny, no self-respecting Southerner eats instant grits so the Panthers will have to wait for everything to come together in its time. Sunday was a good sign and doing it again next week in Detroit should mean it’s about time to ring the dinner bell.
Even in a 20-0 victory where there would be plenty of opportunity to serve as the closer in a punishing ground game, ADRIAN PETERSON has 4 carries for 4 yards Sunday in London.
One week after giving up 41 to the Rams, the 49ers are being praised for their defense by Nick Shook of NFL.com:
The 49ers are still very much hamstrung by Brian Hoyer on offense, but they have a defense of which to be very proud. San Francisco’s front seven harassed Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, hitting him 11 times and hurrying him 13 times in his first 27 dropbacks of the game and racking up a total of six sacks. The result was plenty of pocket chaos and stalled Cardinals drives, which helped San Francisco stay in the game.
“Their front four is phenomenal,” Palmer told FOX Sports’ Jen Hale immediately after the game.
Unfortunately for the Niners, who have an offense that was even more anemic, the game turned into a slog, a football version of trench warfare. San Francisco is better than it was last season, but mistakes — 13 accepted penalties against them for 113 yards — hurt in many moments, including on the final drive in overtime. Three of the Niners’ four losses this season have come by three points or less. It’s a heartbreaking way to lose, and when it keeps happening, can wear a team down, but this Niners team is making strides, and the penalties shows they’re just a handful of corrections away from bringing home a win.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
In retrospect it shouldn’t be a surprise that RB TODD GURLEY is one of the best backs in the NFL. Chris Wesseling on the 3-1 Rams:
Todd Gurley’s career day paced the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense as the upstart Los Angeles Rams came from behind to topple the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4. Here’s what we learned in the Rams’ 35-30 victory:
1. The reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Month, Gurley took control of the game in the final two quarters, finishing with a career-best 215 yards from scrimmage. The highlight was a 53-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a post route, as Gurley scored via reception for the third consecutive game. New coach Sean McVay has not only rejuvenated Gurley on the ground, but has also tapped into the former Georgia star’s ability to make plays in the aerial attack. Gurley fell just six yards shy of becoming the first Rams back since Steven Jackson in 2006 to reach 100 receiving yards in a game. Needless to say, Dallas’ defense sorely missed All Pro linebacker Sean Lee, who sat out with a hamstring injury.
2. Credit Rams coordinator Wade Phillips for key halftime adjustments after his defense failed to stop Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys’ offense on four first-half possessions. Taking a decisive 287-126 edge in net yards into the third quarter, Dallas’ first four second-half possessions resulted in three punts and a Mark Barron interception before Dak Prescott found a wide open James Hanna for a fourth-quarter touchdown. The Rams dominated time of possession, stonewalled Elliott and came through with big stops on third downs, playing keep away throughout the second half.
3. Already armed with three-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker as the premier punter in football, the Rams’ special teams have also benefited from the league’s most productive place kicker at the season’s quarter mark. After entering Week 4 with the most kicks (field goals and extra points) converted, Greg Zuerlein drilled seven field goals without a miss, accounting for 23 of the team’s 35 points.
4. While it’s fair to point out the lack of powerhouse defenses on the Rams’ early-season schedule, the dramatic turnaround masterminded by McVay will have him in the Coach of the Year discussion as long as it continues. In addition to Gurley’s renaissance, McVay has also transformed Jared Goff from one of the NFL’s least efficient quarterbacks to one of its most efficient. Goff has already thrown more touchdown passes (seven) through four games than he managed in seven rookie starts (five). The top overall pick in the 2016 draft has completed 66.7 percent of his passes at 9.2 yards per attempt for a 112.2 passer rating at the season’s quarter mark.
5. One of McVay’s stiffest challenges is figuring out how to get his organization’s money’s worth out of fourth receiver Tavon Austin, relegated to a gadget player in September. McVay found success Sunday by using the jitterbug receiver/runner hybrid as a change-of-pace backup to Gurley, dialing up six runs for 48 yards (8.0 yards per carry). Maximizing Austin’s unique playmaking ability will continue to be a challenge going forward.
The DB was surprised to see that the last time the Rams were 3-1 was….last year. Then they went 1-11.
But 2017 seems much different. With reasonable health, we think the floor would be about 6-6 the rest of the way for at least 9-7. And maybe much better. It will be interesting to see if the LA area starts to get behind this team, the highest-scoring in the NFL at the moment.
We’re almost 25 percent of the way through the 2017 season (28 of 32 teams have played four of their 16 games as of this morning), and this is what blows me away about the NFL through the first quarter:
• The Rams are the story of the year, with the coach of the first quarter in 31-year-old Sean McVay (nudging Andy Reid) bizarrely turning a moribund offense into the best in the NFL in the first month.
• If you had the Rams, Texans and Jags as three of the four highest-scoring offenses in the league after a quarter of the season, you’re officially very smart about football.
“Nobody saw a lot of these coming,” McVay said over the phone from Texas on Sunday afternoon. “But that’s the NFL every year, isn’t it?”
McVay is scary precocious. It showed in his post-game scrum with the team Sunday, after the Rams walked into Jerry World and beat the Cowboys 35-30. He sounded like a veteran head coach, not one who 11 years ago this week was walking across the Miami campus in Oxford, Ohio, scurrying to class as a senior.
“Love the way you guys continue to compete from first snap to last snap!” he barked, all eyes on him. “Great win! Three-and-one—we accomplished our goal of finishing the first quarter that way. Enjoy it! Love you guys. Love where we’re going.” Then he handed out game balls to kicker Greg Zeurlein (seven of seven on field goal attempts) and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips (for beating the team he used to head-coach) … and told Phillips to break the team down, and then snuck out of the way so Phillips could be the center of attention for a few moments.
Not only did it look like McVay had been there before at the ripe old age of 31, but he let Phillips have the moment. Smart move. McVay’s made a lot of those. Like running some involved pass plays for Jared Goff on first downs, when foes are gearing for the run and again-brilliant back Todd Gurley, and when Goff can take advantage of play-action to get some route combinations when he knows he’ll have someone open. “What I like about the offense is I know I’ll always have a receiver open,” Goff told me in training camp. What’s also helped: picking up Sammy Watkins in trade, Robert Woods in free agency and Cooper Kupp in the draft. Along with speedy but heretofore underachieving Tavon Austin, that’s a very good top-four receiver group. McVay’s route combinations create the kind of traffic that ensures Goff will keep seeing open receivers.
“What I’ve appreciated about Jared,” McVay said Sunday, “is that no pressure gets to him. No moment’s felt too big for him, not even today on a stage like this, in this stadium against the Dallas Cowboys. He’s very even-keel.”
Add two veteran linemen—left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan—and Gurley’s impact (596 total yards, seven touchdowns), and you’ve got the kind of difference-making on the ground that the 2016 Rams just didn’t have. Gurley couldn’t breathe last season. “This guy is a hell of a versatile back,” McVay said. “Maybe he’s not [Darren] Sproles as a receiver out of the backfield, but I think he’s excellent in the open field, which is one of the reasons you really want him to catch balls in space.”
Also: GM Les Snead was on a cold streak at the end of last season, when he barely survived the ax that got Jeff Fisher. But Whitworth was a superior signing. Sullivan and Woods have become major additions. Snead’s architecture and McVay’s could have the Rams in contention in December, and who’d have thought that would happen with a coach who gets carded in L.A.
Said McVay: “We’re growing. We’re going in the right direction.” To put it mildly.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com with some number crunching:
Rodney Harrison calls Todd Gurley the best running back in the league. The numbers back Rodney up.
According to the NFL, Gurley has become only the third running back in league history to generate more than 575 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns in the first four games of a season. The others? Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith.
Brown did it twice, in 1958 and 1963. Smith accomplished it in 1995.
The group could soon expand from three to four; with only 37 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown tonight against Washington, Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt will join the club, too.
Which could make Hunt the best running back in the league, arguably.
It’s not often that a Week 4 injury to a 7th round rookie is a significant setback, but that was the case Sunday night when RB CHRIS CARSON went down. Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com:
A sweet second half for the Seattle Seahawks ended on a sour note on Sunday night when starting back Chris Carson was carted off in garbage time.
The seventh-round rookie suffered a “significant” ankle injury, coach Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. Carroll didn’t elaborate on how much time Carson would miss, but confirmed he will get an MRI soon.
“We don’t know if he needs surgery, that kind of stuff, we don’t know that yet,” Carroll said. “But it’s significant. So, we’ll see.”
Carson’s injury comes right as the first-year back was establishing himself as the guy in the Emerald City. Carson entered and exited Sunday night’s win over the Colts as the team’s leading rusher (202 yards). His decisive running and pass-catching ability were needed assets for a team still trying to fill the void left one year ago by Marshawn Lynch.
With Carson likely out for some time, starting responsibilities will likely fall to Eddie Lacy, who had his best statistical game of the young season this week (52 yards), or Thomas Rawls, who was a curious healthy scratch but earned confident praise from Carroll after the game. Also available are J.D. McKissic, who had a breakout performance against Indy, and the injured C.J. Prosise.
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Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com offers this review of QB RUSSELL WILSON:
Watching Russell Wilson is a frustrating exercise, weekly. The Seahawks quarterback opened Sunday night the way he had played most of the season — error-prone and wandering — only to pull himself together in the second half. Wilson, still wary of his shoddy offensive line, continues to play, clinically and by the seat of his pants, outside the pocket — and Seattle lives and dies by his decisions there. Sometimes he’s special, buying time before galloping and diving for a 23-yard touchdown or launching an off-balance laser to Tyler Lockett. Sometimes he’s antsy, underthrowing his high-balling tight end for a momentum-shifting pick.
It’s easy to trust Wilson to eventually get it right at home against a suspect defense — he’s a Super Bowl champion whose unorthodox pocket play has often been to his benefit, not his Achilles’ heel. But something doesn’t feel right about Wilson and this year’s Seahawks, more so than previous years. Wilson’s performance in this win (81 comp pct., 295 yards, 3 total TD) should be celebrated, but don’t just marvel at the stat line. The tape tells another story.
Michael Silver of NFL.com on the great Denver defense, especially against the run:
They muted Melvin Gordon, erased Ezekiel Elliott and snuffed Shady, a.k.a. LeSean McCoy. So when the Denver Broncos suited up Sunday for a battle with the Oakland Raiders and their punishing, recently unretired running back, they were fairly confident they could blot out Beast Mode, too.
Nine carries for 12 yards later, Marshawn Lynch had been made painfully aware of a new reality in the Rockies: The Broncos, who last year seemed to be defending opposing runners with red capes and shouts of “Toro!” have called B.S. on that state of affairs. Four games into the 2017 season, it’s clear that Denver is giving no ground — and that’s a major reason it looks poised to make some serious noise in the AFC.
In a battle of AFC West rivals coming off disappointing defeats, the Broncos (3-1) smothered the Raiders’ offense in a 16-10 victory at Sports Authority Field, sending 76,909 fans home happy after safety Justin Simmons made a game-clinching interception at the Denver 8-yard-line with 1:46 remaining. And while the newest member of the No Fly Zone might have finished things, it was the No Room To Run crew which once again set the tone against suddenly struggling Oakland (2-2).
“We’re gonna shut down everybody we play, I promise you,” said inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, who had six tackles on Sunday. “We just have a different tenacity about us this year, a different mindset. A lot of guys came back stronger and more focused. We’re just more aggressive, more confident.”
Marshall and his fellow defenders’ collective self esteem surely got a massive boost on Sunday, after Denver limited the Raiders to 24 rushing yards on 15 carries. It was the stylistic opposite of the two teams’ first meeting last season: In an early-November Sunday night game at Oakland, the Broncos allowed 218 yards on the ground in a 30-20 defeat.
Coming off a Super Bowl 50 victory keyed by its dominant defense, Denver sputtered to a 9-7 record in 2016, missing the playoffs. The Broncos finished the season with the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense — first against the pass and 28th against the run.
“We talked about it all offseason,” Marshall said. “We could’ve been the No. 1 defense again last year, like in 2015, if we weren’t 28th against the run — and we probably could’ve made the playoffs, too. There were a couple of games, like the one against the Raiders, where we got annihilated, and that’s probably the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. We don’t want to be the reason we don’t make the playoffs this year.”
A quarter of the way through 2017, the Broncos have the league’s top-ranked defense. They’re also No. 1 against the run, surrendering a mere 50.8 yards per game. After limiting Gordon to 54 yards on 18 carries in a season-opening victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, Denver absolutely suffocated reigning league rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott, allowing only nine yards on eight carries in a 42-17 thrashing of the Dallas Cowboys. McCoy (14 carries for 21 yards) was not a factor in the Broncos’ 26-16 road defeat to the Buffalo Bills, who improved to 3-1 with a road upset of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
If the Cowboys are almost universally believed to possess the NFL’s most potent offensive line, the Raiders are a consensus second — at least, they were until very recently. Yet after a promising performance in his Silver and Black debut, a 26-16 victory over the Titans, Lynch has become increasingly less productive.
On Sunday, Lynch’s longest gain was 4 yards, as the Raiders struggled to move the ball even before star quarterback Derek Carr was knocked out of the game on a third-quarter sack on which he took a knee to the kidney area, causing numbness in his legs.
It was the second consecutive game in which the Raiders’ offensive line has been eviscerated by an opponent, as Washington had done the same in a 27-10 victory the previous Sunday night.
“I don’t know, man,” left tackle Donald Penn said as he walked off the field following the defeat to the Broncos. “I don’t know what the f— is going on with us right now.”
The Broncos know they’ve got a good thing going: They’ve managed to hold Gordon, Elliott, McCoy and Lynch without a rushing touchdown and under 100 yards — combined. That’s not a misprint: Those four decorated backs have collectively gained 95 yards on 50 carries. Respect.
Coach Jack Del Rio says QB DEREK CARR had to leave Sunday’s loss in Denver due to back spasms. Conor Orr at NFL.com:
The Raiders might have avoided a significant setback on Sunday.
Following the team’s 16-10 loss to the Denver Broncos, head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters that quarterback Derek Carr’s back injury did not seem serious.
“I think he just got roughed up there. He got tackled. Something causes his back to spasm up,” Del Rio said. “I didn’t see much that would indicate the he would be injured. His back spasmed up.”
Carr left the game with about five minutes to go in the third quarter. The injury was sustained on a sack — one where the team’s franchise quarterback pinballed between two Broncos defenders on his way to the ground. After spending some brief time in the medical tent, Carr was ushered into the locker room and did not return to play.
“I tried to come in here and have them work on it. I tried to throw and all those kind of things and it just wasn’t ready yet,” Carr told reporters after the game. “I tried to do anything I could to be back out there. I just couldn’t.”
In his absence, Oakland turned to former Bills first-round pick EJ Manuel. Manuel went 11-of-17 for 106 yards and an interception in relief.
Sitting at 2-2, the Raiders still have a long way to go and did not want to risk Carr’s injury turning into something more significant. Having seen life without the $125 million man in the playoffs a year ago, Oakland is going to do anything to ensure his long-term health.
This is a season in Oakland defined by the Raiders’ Super Bowl aspirations. The addition of veterans like Marshawn Lynch and the top-dollar money thrown at the team’s high-profile offensive line are all signs of a club that saw themselves on the brink just a year ago. Without Carr, the combination of Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper is nowhere near as potent. Lynch can be effective against an eight-man box anticipating the run, but was shut down on Sunday against an excellent Broncos defense.
So it goes for Del Rio, who will exercise patience and caution with Carr all the way. When it comes to the face of the franchise, there is no other option.
The DB was in Dallas Sunday and it looked like any other Anthem with not a soul kneeling during the playing. A different story in Baltimore, where team management asked everyone to pray. Peter King:
Surreal, slightly insane day at the Ravens home stadium.
On the way into a football game, two grown men were dressed as American flags, their faces striped alternately white and red, with a blue panel on their foreheads with white stars. American flags waved from tailgates, Bob Seger and Aerosmith and other classic rock blasted from speakers. Scores of flag T-shirts and patriotic apparel, almost as many as Joe Flacco jerseys.
Twenty minutes before kickoff, to loud applause, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played inside M&T Bank Stadium, followed by a short crowd chant of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” A few minutes later, with each team on its sideline, the PA announcer asked minutes before the biggest rivalry game on the schedule—the hated Steelers were in town—for the crowd to pray “for kindness, for unity, for equality and justice for all Americans.” Most of the Ravens on their sideline kneeled and bowed their heads.
The crowd booed players bowing their heads in prayer.
“We knew it was possible that we would get it,” said Terrell Suggs of the Ravens. The team enraged many of its local fans when, in London last week, in response to President Trump urging owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who does not stand at attention for the anthem, many Ravens took a knee during the anthem.
But this was before the anthem. And this is what it’s come to in the NFL: fans so on edge they have no idea what they’re booing, or why. When you boo prayer, you’ve gone over the edge. Now, maybe the crowd booed, thinking the players were kneeling for the anthem. But the PA announcer spoke pretty clearly about praying for good for all Americans. And the boos came.
A few minutes later, every Raven and every Steeler stood at attention for the anthem. (There also was a flyover.) No booing then. During the first TV timeout, a serviceman was introduced to massive cheers. During the fourth quarter, seven servicemen appeared on the field, to more cheers.
The theme, at least here, after a rancorous and angry week with fans questioning allegiance to the Ravens, was to hammer home the patriotic and militaristic theme for the afternoon. The crowd ate it up.
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King is starting to think that QB JOE FLACCO is part of the problem, not part of the solution:
I think, not to make a big deal of it in a game in which the whole team stunk, but Joe Flacco looked awful Sunday. “I sucked,” he said. He knew. To have a passer rating of 65.0 is awful—and to have one 26.7 rating points lower than Blake Bortles this morning is even worse.
Flacco and MATT RYAN came in together in 2008 and both knew early success. Flacco got the first (and only) Super Bowl win. But Ryan has now far outstripped him.
Like the DB, Conor Orr of NFL.com sees a star being born in Houston in QB DESHAUN WATSON:
Deshaun Watson was spectacular, and not just because he tied an NFL rookie record with five touchdowns and, for a time, posted a perfect passer rating. Having watched all of Watson’s NFL snaps to this point, Sunday resembled a turning point for me. Watson developed that in-pocket comfort; the rhythmic bounce behind the line that nearly all of the league’s premier passers have. It takes some quarterbacks three years to find it. It took Watson three weeks. What stood out? Watson having barely practiced with Will Fuller, missed him by about 5 yards on a deep shot in the end zone. On his next attempt on a similar route, it was right at Fuller’s chest and drew a significant pass interference penalty. Watson is converting the difficult third-and-8s, with down-and-away throws to his tight end. The velocity on his football is invaluable in the 5-15-yard range. He’s also completely unafraid to take the deep shot.
Is it too early to proclaim Watson to be the best quarterback in Texans history? We can only think that MATT SCHAUB at his peak would also be in the conversation.
Peter King likes the cut of QB JACOBY BRISSETT:
I think Indy GM Chris Ballard made one heck of a trade for Jacoby Brissett (acquiring him a month ago for wideout Phillip Dorsett), and that’s even if Brissett settles into a backup role when Andrew Luck is healthy enough to play. Brissett is self-assured, has a great arm and possesses the ability to throw into tight windows downfield—if his early play in Indy is true to him. Plus, as NBC cameras caught Sunday night, Brissett is never afraid to show his passion—a trait he might have picked up from Tom Brady—and light into teammates on the sidelines when necessary.
Will the Titans be the team that turns to Colin Kaepernick? Mike Florio:
It remains to be seen whether Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will miss time after injuring his hamstring against the Texans on Sunday. If he does, here’s a radical thought: The Titans should add Colin Kaepernick.
Here’s reason No. 1: Kaepernick already should have been on the team.
Remember when some in the media were pushing the “all about football” angle regarding Kaepernick’s unemployment? You know, before Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear that it’s definitely not all about football? One of the arguments made in support of not signing Kaepernick was that his skills and abilities don’t match the skills and abilities of the offense run by the starter.
And, of course, the mobile Marcus Mariota has been backed up by a stiff-legged pocket passer named Matt Cassel.
Mariota spent much of the offseason recovering from a broken leg suffered last December, but it was Cassel and YouTube trick-shot artist Alex Tanney getting the reps. (They now have slow pro-style Tyler Ferguson on the practice squad.) Even Robert Griffin III would make more sense, given the team’s offense.
At this point, it makes less sense to add Kaepernick, if Mariota’s hamstring will require him to sit for a few weeks. The Titans can’t afford to fade behind the pack in the division, which currently has three teams at 2-2 and one at 1-3.
It would make too much sense for the Titans to make the move. Which likely means they never would. Whether it’s Kaepernick or Griffin or someone else with fleet feet (JFF), they need someone other than Cassel if they hope to run the offense the way Mariota does.
The made it tough for CBS to get all of its breaks in on Sunday:
Bill Parcells Memorial Clock-Eating Scoring Drive of the Season: The Bills drove 82 yards in 19 plays, using 11 minutes 20 seconds of game clock, and kicked a field goal in Atlanta.
The best defense is a ball control offense.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
Cam Newton’s shoulder looks just fine. After an early interception, Newton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another on a day where Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula absolutely owned Bill Belichick and his defense. (That feels strange to type.) The Panthers didn’t punt until midway through the fourth quarter, with Newton picking up a few key third down conversions on called runs. He finished with 44 yards rushing and 350 yards of the team’s 444 yards of offense, many of which came after Patriots mistakes in the secondary.
The Patriots may have the worst defense in football through one quarter of the season. They lack any edge defenders rushing the passer and continue to be flummoxed by confusion in the secondary. Free agent pickup Stephon Gilmore was involved in at least one miscommunication that led to a big play and was called for two costly penalties that kept drives alive, including on the Panthers’ game-winning march.
THIS AND THAT
Darren Rovell tweets the Week 4 count:
Last week, about 180 NFL players didn’t stand for the National Anthem. This week? 11.
6 Bills, 3 Dolphins, 2 Lions.
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Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham do their investigative thing at ESPN.com in a long piece with nuggets from behind the scenes on the NFL’s attempts to manage the controversy. You can read the whole thing here with some, admittedly somewhat random, excerpts below:
As DeMaurice Smith drove Monday morning to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport for a flight to his annual locker room meeting with the Buffalo Bills, his phone rang. It was Roger Goodell. The two longtime adversaries — the NFL Players Association executive director and the NFL commissioner — had not yet spoken about the previous weekend, when league executives, team owners, coaches and most of the league’s 1,664 players scrambled to figure out an appropriate response to President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of a few players’ decision to kneel during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Goodell was calling Smith, and the overarching question was whether the league and the union, two entities that never miss a chance to argue, would unify against an unprecedented attack by the president — or split, again.
“It certainly was my takeaway that the commissioner was looking for a way for the protests to end,” Smith said Friday when asked about his 30-minute conversation with Goodell, while declining to offer specifics about what was discussed. Goodell declined to comment, but a league source did not dispute Smith’s account. “Knowing the league the way I know the league, they are first and foremost concerned about the impact on their business,” Smith said. “That’s always their first concern. I mean, who are we kidding?”
Nobody was kidding when many of the NFL’s highest-profile owners, including Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, expressed concerns last week that the optics of hundreds of players kneeling, sitting or remaining in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem had alienated many fans at a particularly perilous moment for the NFL. TV ratings for many of this year’s games have continued a slide that began last season; some league sponsors have grown skittish about the backlash; and most surveys have shown that a majority of NFL fans are turned off by the politicization of the game.
To the commissioner’s suggestion that the protests should end, Smith said, “My only response was, ‘I don’t have the power to tell our players what to do.’ … At the end of the day, this is a group of players who are exercising their freedom. There is no room for me to snap my fingers and tell our players, ‘It’s time for you to give up a freedom.’ Just the idea offends me. It’s almost as if the players are being asked, ‘What’s it going to take for you to stop asking to be free or to be treated like an American?'”
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WHAT WOULD IT TAKE? That was a central question during one of the most chaotic and divisive weeks of Goodell’s 11-year tenure, according to more than a dozen interviews conducted by Outside the Lines with players, owners, league, union and team executives, and other executives briefed on confidential meetings, most of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
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on Tuesday afternoon, 48 hours after the protests had defined a football Sunday, about 25 team owners entered the league’s headquarters at 345 Park Avenue in New York City for routine committee meetings that quickly became anything but. Many barely paid attention during a stadium finance presentation. Finally, in the late afternoon, there was a meeting with owners and league executives to discuss what had happened. By then, Trump had tweeted nearly two dozen times attacking the NFL and its players. Tempers were hot.
Some owners were angry that Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications who worked as President Bill Clinton’s press secretary, had told reporters on a Monday conference call that the players’ words and actions on the subjects of police brutality and racism were “what real locker room talk is.” It was a brazen shot at Trump, who was captured in a 2005 video talking, in explicit terms, about grabbing women by their vaginas but later dismissed the video’s contents as “locker room banter.” Owners, many of whom had supported Trump and seven of whom had donated at least $1 million to him, felt that Lockhart had unnecessarily politicized the league’s response. One owner barked angrily at Lockhart, who declined to comment about the matter, echoing a sentiment that most of them — especially Jones — shared: Nobody wanted to engage in a political mud fight with the White House, even if “they were all pissed at the president,” a league source said.
Then the topic turned to the subject of angry fan bases and nervous sponsors. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, in particular, each had received significant blowback from their fan bases and sponsors. Fans had booed the Patriots and Cardinals for kneeling, and disgusted fans posted on Facebook and YouTube videos of them burning NFL merchandise.
Most teams had already spoken with their coaches and player captains about how to proceed this weekend. After nearly 20 of its players knelt last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots, for instance, had decided Monday that they would no longer kneel but would put one hand over their heart and the other around the shoulder of the nearest teammate.
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Going forward, however, some owners preferred a league-wide directive. Dan Snyder, the Washington Redskins’ owner and who declined to comment through a spokesman, argued that the protests needed to end because of the danger that the issue posed to the league’s bottom line. A “$40 million” NFL sponsor was considering pulling out, he told his fellow owners. Snyder kept repeating “$40 million” to add emphasis, amusing a clique of owners who did the math and realized that, after the players’ cut of the shared revenue, it amounted to considerably less than $1 million per club — hardly a game-changing sum for a league that last year had an average per-team profit of $101 million.
In the meeting, many owners wanted to speak, but the discussion soon was “hijacked,” in the words of one owner, by Jones, a $1 million contributor to Trump’s inaugural committee fund and who declined comment through a spokesman. The blunt Hall of Famer mentioned that he had spoken by phone, more than once over the past 24 hours, with Trump. Jones said the president, who only a few years ago tried to buy the Buffalo Bills, had no intention of backing down from his criticism of the NFL and its players. Jones — who a day earlier for Monday Night Football in Arizona had orchestrated a team-wide kneeling before the anthem ahead of rising to stand when it started to play — repeated his refrain that the protests weren’t good for the NFL in the long run. Most agreed, but some felt that even if the league did lose a small percentage of fans due to the protests, it also could gain a new audience. There was a general, if fanciful, consensus that even a short-term financial hit could benefit the league in the long term, especially if the league and the union could join in solidarity behind a single plan. That’s how the league’s marketing department was planning to proceed, even if some of the rough ideas fell flat. One idea had all players wearing a patch on their jerseys that would read, “Team America.” An owner briefed on the proposal simply shook his head: “We need to do better than that.”
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A LITTLE WHILE later, eight players from five teams — linebacker Jonathan Casillas of the New York Giants, safety Devin McCourty and special teams star Matthew Slater of the Patriots, defensive end Chris Long of the Philadelphia Eagles, linebacker Christian Kirksey, cornerback Jason McCourty, and tight end Randall Telfer of the Cleveland Browns, and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum of the Jets — entered the League Boardroom at the NFL offices and took seats at the giant wood table with the league logo as its centerpiece. The meeting itself was representative of not only the entire week but of the past few years, defined by discord and distrust on the issues separating the league and the union. Smith said last week that Goodell never mentioned the meeting with players during their Monday call, and that he first got word of it after hearing that Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, had reached out directly to at least a dozen team captains to invite them to attend. A league source, however, says that team owners, not Vincent, invited the players, at the suggestion of Goodell. Both sides agree that Smith and other union executives were not invited until Tuesday morning, when Goodell asked them to attend in an email. But by then, it was too late. Smith was on the road for a series of locker room meetings and couldn’t attend.
Even something as simple as convening a mutually beneficial owners-players summit had ripped open scars. In a small protest of their own, more than a dozen players who initially had agreed to attend ended up canceling after hearing the union’s leaders were initially unaware of the plans. While the NFL blamed the chaos of the week for the chaos surrounding the meeting, Smith was sure that Goodell had attempted “an end run” around him with key players. “I viewed that as insulting to our players’ leadership,” Smith said. “The league tries to use some of our guys to give them cover, to get them on their side. Our players’ leadership wasn’t pleased, and I wasn’t pleased.”
When the meeting commenced, Kraft, Rooney, Khan, John Mara of the Giants, Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins, Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles, and Jimmy Haslam of the Browns were among the owners in attendance. Some of the owners sat next to the players at the table, rather than across from them. The meeting was understood to be confidential; no senior league executives were permitted to attend except for Vincent. Early on, one of the players pointedly told the assembled owners — in particular Kraft, who this year gave his longtime friend Trump a Super Bowl 51 champions’ ring — “We know a lot of you are in with Trump. This meeting is going on because the players think that some of the people that they work for are with his overall agenda, and that’s not in the players’ favor.”
“I’m not with Trump,” Ross said, alluding to the president’s comments about the players. “And I don’t mind anyone printing that anywhere.”
All eyes turned to Kraft, who had been one of the strongest advocates of hosting this meeting with players. He said that players, while within their rights to peacefully protest, needed to understand that, at the end of the day, the NFL was a business, and that everyone in the room needed to think about it that way and to think about the people they entertain.
Several other owners echoed Kraft’s concerns that the president found a way to endanger the sport’s popularity with a divisive, politically charged issue. “This could kill football and end our business,” an owner said.
The session was off to an ugly start. A few owners believed the players were delivering union talking points. Players saw something more monumental: The owners found themselves in a position of weakness; their worry about the impact on their business had become a crisis, and they needed the players to help them. “For the first time, the owners are afraid of the players,” Smith later said. “It has less to do with money and it has more to do with control. The owners are used to being in control — and they aren’t on this. They know it. They hate it.”
During the two-hour meeting, the players also noticed there was no consensus among owners about what to do. Each owner was dealing with the protest differently, and the differing approaches — and ideas — seemed to rile up themselves more than anything the players had said.
Toward the end, though, the tone of the conversation had turned, with players openly expressing their views and the owners listening. It felt more like an honest dialogue. In the Giants’ locker room two days later, Casillas thanked Trump for what he had said during his rally because it had opened a meaningful conversation.
But what frustrated Smith and several players most was the deeply offensive subtext of the questions, as if nobody was acknowledging that the players’ issue — which was now the owners’ issue, too — was bigger than the NFL. Lockhart would later insist that the conversations had “brought our teams together,” but Smith disagreed: “It was offensive to me because, historically, there was always a question of, ‘What is it going to take in order for us to buy your voice of protest?’ The problem with that is, No. 1, it assumes we are doing this because we want something from the owners. And second, it’s clear that once you commoditize a freedom, like the right to free speech, once you’ve sold it, you can never use it again.”
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“We can’t just tell them to stop,” Goodell said of the players’ protests.
Many owners immediately argued otherwise. “We need to find a way where Trump doesn’t win,” one said, and that meant using leverage as employers to end the protests. Another said, “We’ll get our guys in line.” It was clear to many in the room that this was a regional issue as much as a political one, with owners’ tolerance for kneeling shaped more by their fans in local markets than their own personal politics. Dan Snyder, who had joined his players in arms at FedEx Field on Sunday night, was in an especially divisive market and was particularly dismissive of the kneeling. “It was raw for a lot of owners,” an owner says.
The session also felt like a lot of owners’ meetings, with nobody running it, owners sitting behind poker faces as they wondered whether to express an opinion and, finally, as usual, Jerry Jones filling the void. As much as any owner, Jones doesn’t do anything that isn’t good for the NFL’s business interests. He reiterated that he was not in favor of the kneeling, but that the owners had to find a sincere way to listen to the players’ concerns. “How do we address the root issue for the players on this?” he wondered aloud. “In the long run, it’s not good to kneel. People don’t want football to be politicized, but there’s a need to do something to listen to our players and help them.”
The meeting soon ended, without a clear path forward.
Give CAM NEWTON credit for some nice words:
“We cannot forget the fact that sports as a whole brings people together. For the two hours, three hours, whenever a time that a sporting event is on or your team is playing, we know that a lot of people from different shapes, colors, creeds, ethnicities and cultures come together. At that moment, they’re rooting for the same thing … A lot of situations that are going on right now in our country are trying to cause division. We get nowhere divided. I stand for the national anthem, and I don’t look down upon a person who doesn’t feel that they want to. You have to respect another man’s judgment for why they’re protesting … I just hope and I pray to God that this country finds the energy and the heart to come together as a whole.”
Everyone wants to know the end game here. When will the wildcat anthem protests end, and what will it take to end them? Get educated by the Don Van Natta/Seth Wickersham story on ESPN and then consider what each side wants. The owners, clearly, want the players to stand at attention for the anthem. The players want the freedom to express their outrage at national events that they feel are getting short-shrift of national dialog and action. So before Trump spoke up 10 days ago, a group of players was engaged with the league office, including Roger Goodell, regarding the league paying more attention to the issues of unfair treatment of minorities by law enforcement, and other issues of civil rights. I keep thinking if the league can make a significant investment (and not just in money) in the issues the players are passionate about and that need attention—Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin, for instance, is pushing the revival of the DARE program, which gets young school kids to have positive interactions with police officers—that players will be inclined to work with the league on anthem decorum. I say “work with,” not “stop all anthem protests,” because some players clearly won’t want to make a deal with the league where it appears they were paid off to stop protesting.
It’s a complicated issue. It’s easy to say, “Just stand at attention for the anthem!” Easy, but clearly not what all players will do now, under almost any circumstance.
So according to King the NFL needs to sign up for the Kaep cause with cash. That will go over well with the fans who are already enraged.
As Jason Whitlock told Peter King about the aftermath of the Tweets from the Troller In Chief:
These guys are involved in a business where they make millions of dollars and Trump just baited them into being adversarial with their customer base.
The NFL’s handling of the situation has put several sponsorships in a critical state. Chris Enloe at The Blaze:
Anheuser-Busch is rethinking their NFL sponsorship, and they want your input.
In the wake of increased national anthem protests by NFL players, Anheuser-Busch is reconsidering its NFL sponsorship, likely because the protests are very unpopular among everyday Americans. Bud Light currently serves as the official beer of the NFL.
So the company set up a hotline for fans to call and give their thoughts about the protests and Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the NFL. The number for the hotline is: 1-800-342-5283.
What does the hotline say?
When a customer calls the number, they are greeted by a recorded voice who gives them the opportunity to voice their opinions about the protests.
“If you are calling with questions or comments about Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship of the NFL, press one,” the voice says. “At Anheuser-Busch, we have a long heritage of supporting the nation’s armed forces, veterans and military dependents. The national anthem is a point of pride for our company and for the 1,100 veterans that we employ. Please feel free to share your feedback after the tone.”
The company also released a statement:
These are complex issues that require in-depth discussions and nuanced debate. What I can say is that at Anheuser-Busch we have a long heritage of supporting the institutions and values that have made America so strong. That includes our armed forces and the national anthem as well as diversity, equality and freedom of speech. We proudly employ over 1,100 military veterans and we work every day to create an inclusive environment for all of our employees. Because only together can we achieve our dream of bringing people together for a better world.
Have people been calling?
Since the company established the hotline and began to promote it, the company has been inundated with calls. According to KTVI-TV, the hotline went down Friday afternoon after receiving too many calls.
As of Sunday afternoon, the hotline is back up.