The Daily Briefing Monday, October 22, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

The Patriots and Chiefs continue to dominate the AFC in our If The Season Ended Today after Week 7:

 

If The Season Ended Today in the AFC:

 

                                                                 Div            Conf

Kansas City                 West    6-1            2-0             5-1

New England               East     5-2            1-0             4-1

Pittsburgh                    North    3-2-1        1-1-1          1-2-1

Houston                       South   4-3            2-1             3-2

LA Chargers                WC      5-2            1-1             4-1

Cincinnati                    WC      4-3            1-1             3-2

Baltimore                                 4-3            1-2             4-2

Miami                                       4-3            1-1             3-2

NY Jets                                    3-4            0-1              2-3

Tennessee                               3-4           2-0              2-4

Jacksonville                             3-4            0-2             2-3

Denver                                     3-4            1-1             1-3

 

The NFC went 4-2 against the AFC this week and that brought the season series to a tie at 15-15 as we approach the halfway point of the 64 games.  That’s quite a change from last year when the NFC had a huge 41-23 advantage

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

The numbers keep proclaiming that WR ADAM THIELEN is a truly elite receiver.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

Minnesota Vikings safety George Iloka summed it up perfectly in a tweet Sunday afternoon, capturing the essence of wide receiver Adam Thielen’s consistency in every game this season.

 

@George_iloka

 Death, taxes, and Adam Thielen #SKOL

 

Thielen rewrote the NFL record books midway through the fourth quarter of his team’s 37-17 win over the New York Jets, becoming the first player in the Super Bowl era to record 100 yards receiving in each of his team’s first seven games. The late Charley Hennigan is the only other player to achieve the feat, doing so for the Houston Oilers — then in the American Football League — in 1961.

 

Thielen sparked Minnesota’s scoring attack on his team’s first possession, capping a four-play, 68-yard drive with a 34-yard catch for a touchdown. The reception was Thielen’s deepest of the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Thielen had been targeted 30 or more yards downfield only one other time in 2018.

 

“I was just trying to run as fast as I could,” Thielen said. “It was just a straight go ball, and I think [Vikings quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] pretty much caught that ball for me. Just threw it in a perfect spot. If it was an inch left or an inch right, it probably would have been incomplete. He put a perfect ball in there, and [I] just had to try to finish the play as best I could.”

 

Minnesota’s opening-drive touchdown marked Thielen’s fourth straight game with a receiving touchdown. The last Vikings player with a longer streak within a season was Randy Moss in 2004.

 

By the end of the game, Thielen had 67 catches on the season, eclipsing Keenan Allen’s 2015 record of 62 receptions in his team’s first seven games, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.

 

Part of Thielen’s success in 2018 points to the difficulty the Vikings pose on offense. When fellow receiver Stefon Diggs is being shadowed by a No. 1 cornerback, Thielen is often able to maximize his matchup. Against the Jets, Thielen was regularly seeing double-coverage from Parry Nickerson and Jamal Adams, but he still broke free on nine catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.

 

“They were double covering [Thielen] a lot today,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “They doubled him, and they doubled Diggs, so we probably need to adjust to that a little bit quicker. But Adam, when he gets the opportunities one-on-one, he has a good chance to win — plus, Kirk puts the ball in places that he can catch it.”

 

Thielen averaged 2.4 yards of separation in Week 7, which is a large factor in his ability to get open for Cousins and capitalize on the chemistry the two have built in the early part of the season.

 

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cousins was 9-of-10 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown when targeting Thielen, including 4-of-4 with a TD on throws at least 10 yards downfield. Cousins was 3-of-10 with a touchdown targeting all other receivers at least 10 yards downfield.

 

“He’s a great player,” Cousins said of Thielen. “Ultimately, he’s a great person. It starts there and the way he approaches everything he does. I’m lucky to play with him. The Vikings are lucky to have him. He’s a special player and a special teammate and deserves the success that he’s having. Hopefully there’s much more ahead because he’s the kind of guy, along with a lot of guys on this team, that deserve to do great things.”

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

After sitting on lesser picks when discussing a trade for S EARL THOMAS, the Cowboys part with a first to get WR AMARI COOPER as part of the Raiders fire sale.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Another big talent is on the way out in Oakland.

 

The Raiders are trading wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cowboys, Josina Anderson of ESPN reports. The Cowboys are reportedly sending a first-round draft pick to Oakland.

 

Cooper arrived in Oakland as the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. He showed a lot of promise his first two seasons, topping 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first two years, but his production has declined significantly since then. The Cowboys, who need help at the receiver position, are hoping Cooper can get back to his old form.

 

This is the second time the Raiders have traded away a former Top 5 draft pick this year, having previously traded Khalil Mack to the Bears. Raiders coach Jon Gruden hasn’t hidden the fact that he didn’t like the roster he inherited, and he’s getting rid of the players he doesn’t want. The Cowboys will hope Gruden misjudged what Cooper brings to the table.

 

On the one hand, it was an odd call – but on the other is if the biggest officiating controversy of the week comes from a long snapper’s hand movements, then the bigger safety issues from body slams and head-to-head hits seem to be under control – for now.

 

Todd Archer of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Officially, the penalty was a false start in the game book. In the words of referee John Hussey, Dallas Cowboys long snapper L.P. Ladouceur was called for a snap infraction.

 

Ladouceur, a 14-year veteran, could not recall ever being flagged for such a penalty.

 

With three seconds remaining, Ladouceur’s penalty moved a potential game-tying field goal attempt from 47 to 52 yards, and Brett Maher’s kick hit the left upright, leaving the Cowboys with a loss — 20-17 against the Washington Redskins — and at a loss.

 

“I just adjusted down so I could put my hands on the bottom of it, so I could snap it in the right direction,” Ladouceur said. “Exact same thing I’ve been doing for 14 years … I’m not even trying to get him offside. I know the situation. Just too bad.”

 

Coach Jason Garrett said he was told that Ladouceur moved the ball in a way that prompted Jonathan Allen to jump offside. Garrett could not recall the last time he saw that called as a penalty.

 

“Once? Twice? Not very often,” Garrett said.

 

On Twitter, Al Riveron, the NFL’s director of officiating, said the “illegal ball movement by the center causes the defense to come across the neutral zone and contact a lineman.”

 

Ladouceur — the longest-tenured Cowboy, having joined the team in 2005 — said he went through the same pre-snap routine he has followed his entire career.

 

“Never had that before,” Ladouceur said. “I do the exact same thing every time, so when that happens, that’s what I was telling the ref: ‘I do the exact same thing. Yeah, the guy jumped.’ That’s what I thought.”

 

Ladouceur said he puts one hand on the ball, then a second and lays it down so he can snap it accurately. Entering Sunday, he was perfect as a snapper, with clean snaps on 924 punts, 572 point-after attempts and 419 field goal tries.

 

What is Ladouceur’s understanding of the rule?

 

“As long as I don’t pick up the ball,” he said. “The ball was on the ground the whole time.”

 

Maher had made 16 straight field goal attempts prior to his miss. He said he pulled the kick slightly, and the wind might have played a part as it was coming down.

 

“That penalty had zero impact on the result of that kick, I can promise you that,” Maher said. “L.P. and [holder Chris Jones], like they’ve done all year, they made my job easy, and it was the same in that situation. Yeah, I felt like I was very capable of making that kick. Just didn’t get it done.”

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

One thing about WR TERRELL OWENS, he always was in great shape – and now he has inspired WR JULIO JONES.  Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com:

 

Julio Jones laughed as he glanced at the video of himself running cones barefoot in the sand while simultaneously catching tennis balls.

 

During the clip, one can hear a booming voice in the background screaming at the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver as he completes each rep.

 

“Get it. Come on. Goddamn, Julio. There you go.”

 

That voice belongs to Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrell Owens, Jones’ workout partner this past offseason.

 

Jones, 29, couldn’t recall how he met the 44-year-old Owens. He just knew an opportunity arose to work alongside one of football’s greats, and it was a chance he couldn’t pass up.

 

“T.O.’s work ethic, everything about him, what he stands for … he was a pro for so long,” Jones said. “He played into his mid-30s. And just his regimen, it’s always good to learn and keep bettering yourself.”

 

So Jones and Owens worked, and worked and worked. Their workout sessions started around 8 a.m. and typically consumed most of the day. They connected everywhere from the University of Alabama, where Jones starred in college, to Georgia’s Johns Creek High School, where Jones’ good friend and former Falcons teammate, Roddy White, is an assistant coach.

 

Jones and Owens had their share of workouts in the Los Angeles area, including at UCLA and USC. The most grueling sessions, however, might have been the ones featured in the video, held at the popular 100-foot high sand dune in Manhattan Beach, California. It’s the same mound that is often rented out for hourlong slots by players from the Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, just to name a few.

 

“What were those [drills] about? It was just about keeping going,” Jones said. “When you’re tired, you’ve got to focus. Everybody can go through the motions. But you’ve got to focus, too, when you’re tired.

 

“That’s what I learned from T.O., just hard work. I’ve always had it, but it’s always refreshing to go out and see somebody else that works hard, just like you work.”

 

As Jones prepares to share the field with the New York Giants and another top-tier receiver Monday (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Odell Beckham Jr., he would be the first to say working with Owens added a little more fuel to his competitive fire. Although Jones has yet to post a touchdown this season and last scored in January during a playoff win against the Rams, he remains one of the game’s most feared offensive threats. Entering Week 7, Jones ranked second in the league with 708 receiving yards (44 receptions on 69 targets) despite drawing added defensive attention every week.

 

Unlike Owens or Beckham, Jones isn’t viewed as a diva receiver who craves attention or demands the ball.

 

“Well, he’s about winning, No. 1,” quarterback Matt Ryan said of Jones. “That’s been the case from the moment he stepped into this building. … He’s just wired that way as a person. But he also wants it, too. He wants the ball, too, and that’s what you want from those guys. Even with double coverage, he feels like he can make plays and wants and is aggressive in that respect.”

 

Jones shook his head about the offseason chatter of the outspoken Owens being a negative influence on him, an assumption tied to Jones having a contract issue before re-joining the team for training camp. The Falcons eventually adjusted Jones’ 2018 salary to give him a $2.9 million boost and promised to renegotiate his deal next year, with two years and more than $21 million remaining.

 

“We didn’t talk about business at all when we were together,” Jones said of his discussions with Owens. “We were just man to man, player to player, trying to get better. We were just working. We never talked about anything with contract or whatever we had going on. Not one time. He didn’t feel like it was the place to tell me, and I didn’t feel like I needed to talk to him about it. We were just grinding.”

 

Teammates noticed the hard work Jones put in despite him being away during the Falcons’ voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp. Ryan saw the results of Jones’ grind up close when he brought a group of Falcons out to California in July to throw with Jones.

 

“He was in great shape,” Ryan recalled. “That’s probably the first thing that jumps out. He was in really good condition; was able to run, go, all through the workouts at top speeds. I’ve probably been around him so much that I’m used to seeing how great he is at everything he does.”

 

Specifically, Ryan said it seems like Jones has gotten even better with his releases to help create separation. Not to dispute his quarterback’s observation, but Jones said that hasn’t necessarily been the case, although he did typically run routes with Owens following their workouts.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Dirk Koetter might be the ex-coach of the Buccaneers today after he foolishly let struggling PK CHRIS CATANZARO try a 59-yard FG, into the wind, in overtime – except Catanzaro made it.  Jenna Laine of ESPN.com:

 

Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s voice started to quiver and his icy-blue eyes grew misty. He’d just nailed the 59-yard game-winning field goal — the longest field goal in overtime history — and all he could think about were those who didn’t give up on him after he missed what would have been the game-winner.

 

“They mean a lot,” Catanzaro said of teammates who rushed to give him a hero’s welcome. “As a kicker, you never want to go in there [and miss] when they set you up so well. … I’m just so thankful it worked out like it did. God is good.”

 

The previous long was Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski from 57 yards on Oct. 19, 2008.

 

“I almost passed out. I stood up and got dizzy trying to scream too much,” said Bryan Anger, the Bucs’ punter who was the holder on Catanzaro’s kick. “It’s tough to keep your head down and push through that.

 

“He played the wind well. The wind was kind of going in our faces and cross from right to left, so that’s tough because he [had to] start outside the uprights. … So he started outside the uprights and let it draw back in. The wind was a little tricky today. Up top, the wind was going one way and below, it was going the other.”

 

With 4 seconds to go with the game tied 23-23, Catanzaro saw his 40-yard kick sail wide right. In the second quarter, he also missed an extra point — all from the same hashmark. Anger wasn’t sure if that contributed to the misses.

 

“I was extremely upset with myself. I told the guys earlier, ‘This team deserved to win this game,'” Catanzaro said. “They played their tails off all game, and for me to miss a kick like that, it was very frustrating for me, especially after the prep I had this week.”

 

Defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a fellow Clemson alum who was with Catanzaro when he was with the Arizona Cardinals, said he told him: “Stick with it. You’ve been here.”

 

Quarterback Jameis Winston told him: “We’re gonna give it to you again. Stay in it. Do your thing.”

 

Because of the new NFL overtime rules — which if the game is tied at the end of the overtime period, it will result in a tie — head coach Dirk Koetter felt he had to pull the trigger. He had also witnessed Catanzaro drill a 61-yarder in practice this week. Catanzaro made a 57-yarder when he was with the New York Jets last season and was 62.5 percent on kicks of 50-plus yards since 2016.

 

“I knew he had the distance in him,” Koetter said. “If we didn’t make that one, we weren’t getting it back. You either go for the win or hope you tie. The way the game was going, we were going for the win. But I knew he could make it if he hit it.”

 

Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he was surprised to see the Bucs line up for a 59-yard field goal in overtime.

 

“I said there’s no way he was going to make that. He did. So they won,” Jackson said.

 

Defensive back Damarious Randall was expecting to see the punt team.

 

“I saw the kicker come out and I thought, ‘He just missed a [40]-yarder, there’s no way he’s going to make a 58- or 59-yarder,'” Randall said. “That’s just the nature of the game. He just missed a kick and he just made a hell of a kick. Just tip your hat to him. That’s a hell of a kick.”

 

Added Baker Mayfield: “I’m thinking if he doesn’t make it, we’re getting the ball at midfield, we have less than 20 yards until our kicker is in comfortable reaching distance at that. That’s a great kick. You don’t see that often.”

 

It was not the longest walk-off game-winner in Tampa Stadium history.  That honor belongs to MATT BRYANT who booted a 62-yarder for the Eagles as regulation time expired almost exactly 12 years ago on October 23, 2006.

 

And the win had a cost for the Buccaneers as LB KWON ALEXANDER seems to be lost for the year with a torn ACL.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

CB PATRICK PETERSON wants to bail on the sinking Cardinals.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

Arizona Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson has asked to be traded by the Oct. 30 trade deadline, league sources told ESPN.

 

Peterson feels as if the situation is deteriorating and continues to reaffirm to others that he “desperately” wants out, a source said. The Cardinals continue to insist that they won’t trade him, but Peterson keeps asking.

 

“We’re not trading Patrick,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said Monday. “That’s out of the question.”

 

Wilks said he would talk to Peterson later Monday, but to this point Wilks said that Peterson “hasn’t expressed to me” a desire to be traded.

 

Wilks was asked how he will handle the situation.

 

“No. 1, I’m not going to indulge in speculation,” he said. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Patrick. Patrick is a captain. He’s well respected around here. He’s well respected throughout the league. Yes, are we in a difficult situation? Yeah, we are. 1-6. Nobody feels great about where we are right now. It’s about trying to turn the corner and make things happen so we can make sure that we get this thing on track. Starting with myself and everybody else in that locker room. That’s what we need to be talking about.”

 

Peterson has been named a first-team All-Pro three times and a Pro Bowler seven times. But the Cardinals are 1-6 and have not made the playoffs since 2015.

 

Peterson is in the midst of a five-year, $70 million contract and won’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2021.

 

 

SEATTLE

Jenny Vrentas of SI.com tries to figure out who might own the Seahawks in a few years time.

 

The succession plan Allen put in place has not yet been made public, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said it would have been inappropriate to discuss it at this week’s fall league meeting so close to Allen’s passing. The Seahawks were represented at the meeting by chief financial officer Karen Spencer.

 

If the Seahawks are sold, the team would draw a great deal of interest, given that the team has a strong fan base, an excellent stadium and a hometown flush with tech money. One obvious name the league would no doubt be interested in bringing into the fold is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. He’s the world’s wealthiest person and is based in Seattle, and the NFL is already in business with him, through its Thursday Night Football streaming partnership with Amazon Prime Video.

 

“Someone like that,” Jones said of Bezos, “I’d carry him piggyback to get him to the NFL.”

 

At this point, with the succession plan unknown, many owners said discussion of what could happen with the team would be pure speculation. But league insiders floated a few names that could make sense, given their net worth, location, ties to professional sports teams and/or the NFL’s desire to have them join the ownership. Along with Bezos, also mentioned were Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle Corporation; Joe Lacob, owner of the Golden State Warriors; and Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce.

 

Allen never married and had no children. His younger sister, Jody Allen, reportedly does not have interest in running either the Seahawks or the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, both owned by her brother, but she has not shared her wishes publicly. If the Seahawks are put up for sale, criteria No. 1 for potential buyers is having the requisite funds, which given the Panthers’ $2.3 billion price tag earlier this year, includes a small pool of individuals. A new controlling owner would have to hold at least 30 percent of the club’s equity.  A second criteria may be identifying a buyer who would want to keep the team in Seattle.

 

“I have no idea what his estate is, but my thought would be that he would want it to always be the Seattle Seahawks because he contributed so much; he loved Seattle; it was big deal to him,” Jones says. “He’s a unique owner relative to this situation because of his enormous wealth. He and his estate can do whatever they want to do here.”

 

Indeed, Allen was the wealthiest NFL owner, worth more than $20 billion. Jones’ implication is that purchase price might not be the most critical issue to Allen’s estate, which makes sense particularly given speculation that the proceeds from the sale may be committed to the charitable causes about which Allen was so passionate.

 

When teams are up for sale, the new owner needs to be approved by three-quarter’s of the league’s owners, and it’s not uncommon for other club owners to encourage businesspeople they think would be a good fit to make a bid. Asked specifically about Bezos, Jones gushed that he is a “very, very” attractive candidate to be an NFL owner, and added that he is a “tremendous, tremendous American.” Said Giants co-owner John Mara, in a typically more muted tone, “pretty talented people, a talented company, so I think that would be a great partner for the NFL.”

 

“If you are in my shoes, and you have the background that I have, Jeff Bezos is one of the top guys in the country,” Jones says. “When someone of that kind of stature, Paul’s stature, decides to become involved in the NFL through ownership, I throw a party, because I have such respect for them, and I know they are going to make a serious contribution to our sport and the NFL.”

 

Of course, Jones added that he has “no idea” if Bezos would be a candidate or if he would even be interested. But the potential web of interested buyers could be wider than in previous sales thanks to a rule change passed at this week’s meetings. The NFL voted to eliminate its cross-ownership rule, which prevented team owners from owning non-NFL professional sports teams in other NFL markets.

 

That means, for example, that the Clippers and Warriors owners would be permitted to bid on the Seahawks if the team goes up for sale. The policy change had been discussed for months and even years, and was not related to Allen’s passing, but it could have an impact on what happens with the Seahawks. The one thing that does not seem to be in doubt is the team’s roots in Seattle, which Allen did so much to preserve.

 

Said Jones, “One of the things I appreciated the most about [Allen] was how he was unequivocal in his love for Seattle and what the Seahawks were as a part of Seattle.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Word out of Denver is that WR DEMARYIUS THOMAS can be had for the right price.  Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

 

The Denver Broncos have been listening to offers for star wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, league sources told ESPN.

 

A handful of teams have reached out to Denver to see whether the Broncos would be willing to part ways with the five-time Pro Bowler, who was a first-round pick in 2010, and Denver has not rebuffed those advances to date, according to sources.

 

Some teams have also expressed interest in Emmanuel Sanders, but Denver has not been interested in listening to teams asking about him, according to sources.

 

The 30-year-old Thomas, however, appears to be in a different category. He’s at the tail end of the prime of his career, and Denver has a young receiver in Courtland Sutton who is ready for more playing time.

 

While it’s not certain the Broncos will deal Thomas, sources said they will continue listening to offers leading up to the NFL’s Oct. 30 trade deadline.

 

Thomas has 33 catches for 372 yards and three touchdowns in seven games this season for the Broncos. He failed to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in six years last season, when he finished with 949 yards and five touchdowns.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

There goes the idea that the Raiders might spin off RB MARSHAWN LYNCH to a contender that could use a tough running back.  Lynch, the only thing close to a weapon the Raiders showed in London, is now on IR with a groin injury

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

It seems like a smart marketing move for the Chargers to undersell the Rams with tickets at the new stadium.  But when your “rival” is also your “partner” things get more complicated.  Peter King:

 

The Chargers are going to sell incredibly reasonable tickets for the L.A. market, but that’s not making everyone happy. The way this new stadium works: The Rams sell tickets separately from the Chargers. Rams owner Stan Kroenke foots the bill to build the place (about $3.1 billion), and owner Dean Spanos of the Chargers forks over all personal seat license fees to Kroenke. Spanos announced last week that the upper deck in the new Rams/Chargers stadium, opening in 2020, will have $100 personal-seat licenses per seat, plus tickets ranging from $50 to $90 per game. In today’s economy, that is stunningly reasonable. But Kroenke, I am told, never thought the PSL fees the Chargers would announce would be so low. The Rams were thinking the Chargers’ contribution to the stadium through PSL fees would be near $400 million. Now the Rams think they’ll be lucky to see $150 million out of Charger PSLs. That could mean another big chunk for Kroenke to pay. “The math in the stadium is starting to erode,” said one official with knowledge of both team’s financial dealings.

 

Look at it this way. Say you want to buy one season ticket with a PSL in a prime section in the upper deck for each team. For the Rams, that could cost $5,000 for the PSL and $120 per ticket per game for the 10-game season. Initial investment for year one for a Rams seat: $6,200. Initial investment for a Chargers seat, including the PSL and the ticket cost at $90 per seat: $1,000. Let’s say you’re not a Rams fan, but you’re an NFL fan. You say, “I can get a pair or tickets to the new stadium, including PSLs, in a good spot of the upper deck for $2,000 for the season?” The Chargers, in this scenario, could actually take business away from the Rams because their upper-deck tickets will be in some cases one-sixth the cost. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out—and to see if the Chargers, even with these advantages, can come close to selling out their games in 2020.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Peter King is among those who feel that LB VONTAZE BURFICT got away with something when the NFL “only” took half a game check away from him.

 

If the Bengals are not going to discipline linebacker Vontaze Burfict seriously—and they continue to bring him back time after time, cheap shot after cheap shot, so clearly they have no intention whatsoever of reining him in—and if the Ben Roethlisberger story about Burfict threatening JuJu Smith-Schuster on the field eight days ago is true, the league absolutely should have acted with more than a fine. After Burfict wobbled Antonio Brown with an elbow to the helmet, Roethlisberger said Burfict pointed at Smith-Schuster and said, “You’re next.” Burfict has already been suspended three times in the last three years, and he needed to be suspended from the game, again, for multiple weeks.

 

The NFL needed to have some stones about Burfict. Fining him half a game check, $122,000, is a slap on the wrist for what appeared to be a deliberate intent to injure when Burfict elbowed a defenseless Brown in the head. The NFL thinks it can puff its chest out and say, We fined the guy $122,000. We sent a warning shot across the bow here. Nonsense. Nothing gets through to Burfict. He’s a serial cheap-shot artist.

 

When Burfict does this, he needs to be taken off the field, for multiple games. I don’t care if there’s going to be a knock-down fight with the union over it. This is about principle. To spend millions and to mandate for the first time ever that players must wear models of helmets approved by stringent NFL/NFLPA codes, and then allow Burfict to stay on the field after what he did and (apparently) said? What about the next time? Does any thinking person believe Burfict will never do this again? In a time of great concern about head injuries, the NFL is playing with fire here, allowing the dirtiest player in football to get away with a sanction of half a game check.

 

I keep thinking of the playoff hit by Burfict on Brown in January 2016. That’s when a defenseless Brown was blasted by Burfict coming across the middle; Brown fell to the ground almost limply, his limbs flailing helplessly. And when I saw those replays last week, time after time, of the new Burfict hit on Brown, this occurred to me: None of these suspensions or fines has taught Burfict a thing. So who’s next? Who gets the next Burfict cheap shot? The blood of the next egregious hit by Burfict will be on the hands of the league office.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Still no sign of RB Le’VEON BELL as the Monday after the bye week dawns at the Steelers facility.

 

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

QB DESHAUN WATSON did not get to Jacksonville by normal means.  Peter King of TheMMQB.com:

 

Imagine the surprise of those people in Baton Rouge

 

The starting quarterback of the Houston Texans, Deshaun Watson, walked into Fleming’s in Baton Rouge for a late dinner Friday night, four hours into his 13.5-hour trip from Houston to Jacksonville on Interstate 10. The team didn’t want to risk aggravating painful lung/rib injuries. So he bused with two drivers, a Texans trainer, a team security official, and director of sports performance Luke Richesson, watching some tape, some TV, getting stretched, and sleeping. They arrived at their Jacksonville hotel at 9 a.m. Saturday. “I felt good today, so I guess it was the right call,” he said. (He also bused home Sunday night and Monday morning.)

 

The Texans have a short week before facing Miami on Thursday night. Assuming Watson does not re-aggravate the chest area, he should be back on the Texans charter for the 1,000-mile trip to Denver in 12 days. I asked Watson what changed between the 0-3 Texans and the Texans on the current four-game win streak. “We’re battle-tested,” he said. “Never count us out. I like the detail work we’re doing on both sides of the ball. There’s a great trust between the guys on this team.”

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Peter King thinks the legend who has become the Giants “trash” could be treasure to Jacksonville:

 

It probably wouldn’t work. But with the trading deadline a week away, and the Giants out of contention, what would the Jags have to throw at the Giants to give them pause? A second-round pick and a warm body or two? The Giants can’t throw Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney out there for nine games, could they? It’s all probably a phony dream, but Jacksonville should be looking at quarterback alternatives this week.

 

Jacksonville can say what it wants about Blake Bortles, but after watching his last three games (the last two putrid losses to Dallas and Houston), whatever trust he built up internally is gone. With the flawed Jags totally toothless on offense, Doug Marrone has to decide now who starts against the Eagles in Week 8, and how he can hide the shortcomings of whoever it is. Bortles said he has “no idea” if he’s starting this week, and Marrone said Bortles “was pissed” when he got yanked Sunday. If Bortles really doesn’t understand, he’s tone-deaf. Jacksonville’s season is on the brink, right now. It amazing to think they could struggle to make the playoffs.

 

That said, QB BLAKE BORTLES will put his talents on display Sunday against the defending world champions in London.  The Jaguars said he would be the starter.

 

Jeremy Layton of the New York Post with more:

 

September was a simpler time for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Through two weeks of the NFL season, they were looking like the team to beat in the AFC, if not the whole league. They had just handily beaten the Patriots. Blake Bortles had thrown for four touchdowns. Jalen Ramsey was talking trash about anyone who had ever touched a football.

 

A little over a month later, and the sky has all but fallen. Since Week 2, Jacksonville has lost four of five, culminating Sunday with their third straight loss, which came against a beaten-up Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Their vaunted defense has given up 90 points in three games. Even worse, Blake Bortles — who signed a three-year extension in the offseason — was benched in favor of Cody Kessler.

 

After the game, the Jags’ frustration boiled over. According to The Athletic, star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue had to be physically restrained by Calais Campbell in the locker room. There was “lots of yelling” among the players.

 

Then, Ramsey spoke. The typically brash cornerback was initially stoic, but after being asked about the “frustration” in his team’s locker room, his emotions caught up to him.

 

“You all walk in here, you all see how it is in here, you all see how we vibe with each other, you all see how we vibe towards the coaches, you all see how it is,” Ramsey said. “It is no secret what’s going on here right now. Ain’t nobody going to say it because we can’t, but it ain’t no secret what’s going on and it ain’t right right now.”

 

Ngakoue declined comment, as did Tashaun Gipson and A.J. Bouye. Telvin Smith said, “I don’t speak on locker-room business.”

 

The defense should share some of the blame for the team’s sudden collapse. After giving up 30 points only once last season, the Jaguars have already done so twice in seven games, including during an embarrassing 40-7 loss to the Cowboys last week.

 

But it’s clear that the root of the frustration — and the team’s biggest weakness — lies in the offense, and that starts and stops with Bortles. A win away from the Super Bowl last year, Jacksonville opted for continuity by extending Bortles instead of going quarterback shopping in the offseason.

 

It certainly seems like the decision has backfired. Bortles has already turned the ball over 13 times through seven games. His second fumble against the Texans was the tipping point for coach Doug Marrone.

 

“We’ve got to do something,” Marrone said. “Like I said before, the one thing you do with that position, doesn’t matter the name, doesn’t matter who it is. When you make a move to get a spark, everyone goes on notice. Everyone.”

 

The Jaguars now travel to London to face the defending champion Eagles. Marrone confirmed that the starting quarterback job is now “open,” along with several other positions on the roster.

 

“Who’s the starter at right tackle? Who’s the starter at center? Who’s the starter at receiver? Who’s the starter? Everything is open,” Marrone said.

 

“We’ve lost three straight games and we can’t stop shooting ourselves in the foot for lack of a better expression. We’ve got to do something, but the first thing we’ve got to do is stop turning the damn ball over. Period.”

 

 

TENNESSEE

Peter King liked the decision of Mike Vrabel to go for two, he just didn’t like the play selection:

 

When I saw the end of the Titans-Chargers game in London, I felt it was a story ripe for debate. The situation: 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter … Tennessee just scored to make it 20-19, and Titans coach Mike Vrabel puts up two fingers on the sidelines—he’s going for two, and the win, instead of playing it safe and going for the PAT and playing for overtime. Tennessee lines up, and Marcus Mariota throws an incomplete pass. But Chargers corner Casey Hayward gets called for defensive holding. Now Tennessee is at the 1. Vrabel is resolute. Two again. Mariota lines up under center. Empty backfield, with Dion Lewis in motion. The Chargers set up in a five-across defense, about a yard deep in the end zone, and the Titans send five out. Mariota chooses to try wideout Taywan Taylor crossing the back of the end zone, over the hands of safety Adrian Phillips, and Phillips tips it away.

 

Pro Football Focus gave the Titans a 47.2 percent chance to convert from the 2, rising to 58.4 percent from the 1. However, here is one big mitigating factor in favor of running here, particularly with a good mobile quarterback like Mariota: Since 2013, quarterbacks running on fourth-and-two or less in the Red Zone have converted on 79 percent of their attempts. So putting Mariota on the run and either throwing to an open man or finding a crease to try to dive through would have been the play here. Or maybe even the Brady/Brees quarterback sneak. I wouldn’t have favored that over the Mariota rollout, because the ball was one yard away, probably too far for a sneak.

 

The DB always finds the use of precise percentages for truly unknowable calculations – such as 47.2% as the precise calculation for the Titans going for it in that situation.  It would take 1,000 conversion attempts to get a true test of precise odds.  Can’t we just says a little under 50/50, rising to nearly 60%?

 

We also note, that faced with the same situation, down a point, John Harbaugh of the Ravens conventionally played for a tie – and he too came up short, although without any questioning of his decision that the DB can see.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

QB RYAN TANNEHILL remains sidelined and will mis a third start on Thursday when the Dolphins head to Houston.  That sets up a match of BROCK OSWEILER against his former teammates:

 

Brocktober will continue for the third consecutive game.

 

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Monday that Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback Thursday at Houston, and Ryan Tannehill will miss his third game. Tannehill is dealing with a shoulder injury that has prevented him from throwing.

 

Gase said Tannehill is in a “good spot” and the Dolphins (4-3) plan for him to throw this week; he added that there’s no guarantee it would be a real football, and it could be a Nerf football.

 

Miami still expects that Tannehill won’t need surgery, that he will return this season and he will be the starter when he does.

 

Osweiler gets a chance to play the Texans for the first time since they traded him to the Cleveland Browns last summer. He confirmed he hasn’t talked with Texans coach Bill O’Brien since the deal, but Osweiler sidestepped questions about his relationship with O’Brien and his Texans tenure.

 

Miami will be without its two top receivers — Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills — Thursday, and likely longer.

 

Gase said there is a “high possibility” that Wilson’s season is over after he suffered a hip injury Sunday versus Detroit. Wilson traveled Monday to see a specialist, and the Dolphins expect to get confirmation by Tuesday afternoon on his injury.

 

On a positive note, Gase said he hadn’t heard anything to indicate that Wilson’s injury would be career-ending and that the speedy receiver was in good spirits when they talked after the game.

 

The Dolphins were without WR DeVANTE PARKER on Sunday – by their own choice.  Barry Petcheskey of Deadspin.com

 

Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker has appeared in two games this season, but “appeared” is a word with a lot of wiggle room. He was targeted just three times in Week 3, and was only on the field for four snaps in Week 6. He’s otherwise been struggling with injury, first a broken finger and then a quad injury. That’s the official word, anyway; Parker says he’s totally healthy and wants to play, and now his agent says it’s only coach Adam Gase’s “incompetence” that’s keeping Parker off the field.

 

Parker, the 14th overall pick in 2015, was a surprise inactive for Miami’s 32-21 loss to the Lions on Sunday, after being listed as a full participant in practice all week. Parker’s agent Jimmy Gould went off, blasting Gase to anyone who would listen. To ESPN:

 

“Coach Gase is incompetent — period — and not telling the truth when it comes to DeVante, who is totally healthy and was needed big-time today. This is the third game he has done this to DeVante this year. It’s sickening and a grossly unfair characterization of my client.”

To the Palm Beach Post:

 

“I am responding that coach Gase is not telling the truth and his decision was an example of poor management and cost the team the best opportunity to win. He continues attacking the health of my client and that is not acceptable.

 

Parker is not only healthy but wants to help this team win and the only real question that should be asked is how does coach Gase justify his own incompetence. The team averaged only 6.1 yds per catch. They need Parker active. He is completely healthy and was in full participation all week and in warmups this morning. Something smells in Miami.”

To NFL.com:

 

“I find the decision to make DeVante inactive today by Coach Gase incompetent and insulting. It’s also just not true and I am sick of hearing him say my player is not healthy. This is the   third game this year that DeVante should have played in when you include the Jets and [New England]. DeVante is healthy and with injuries and [the Dolphins’] 6.1 [YPC], DeVante could have and should have been allowed to contribute.

 

“What a horrific decision by Coach Gase and he needs to take a very long look in the mirror and make himself inactive.”

 

Spicy stuff! The Dolphins’ pass game was pretty unspectacular, with Brock Osweiler filling in for the second straight game for Ryan Tannehill, whose injury is another ongoing source of drama in Miami. Osweiler’s numbers look okay, but were inflated by a whole bunch of short completions after the Dolphins went down early. Parker certainly would have helped after both Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills left the game with injuries.

 

But Gase appears to have no use for Parker. He acknowledged after the game that Parker’s supposed injury wasn’t the only reason he was benched for the Lions game, saying in his press conference that his active receivers “had been kind of rolling together” and he wanted to keep it going.

 

Parker has been the subject of trade talks, which seems like the best-case scenario for both teams. But ESPN reports that Miami’s asking price has been too high for other teams, and the injuries, especially the serious hip injury to Wilson, potentially throws a wrench into those plans.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Despite a scary-looking cart ride, things don’t seem to be too bad for RB SONY MICHEL.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

New England Patriots running back Sony Michel underwent an MRI on his left knee Monday and it revealed no structural damage, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Michel, who had elevated to a top spot on the depth chart alongside “passing back” James White, will be considered week-to-week, the source told Schefter.

 

This is a best-case scenario for Michel and the Patriots after he was helped to the sideline and then carted to the locker room early in the second quarter of the team’s 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

 

The Patriots, who visit the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football on Oct. 29, have just two other running backs on their 53-man roster: White and Kenjon Barner.

 

In his standard day-after-game conference call, head coach Bill Belichick said he didn’t have anything to add about Michel’s status, noting that the team will update its injury report the next time it is required to do so later this week.

 

During his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Belichick said the team will explore the possibility of adding a running back.

 

“We’ll take a look at that over the next day or two and try to figure it out so when we start practicing for Buffalo, we’ll be ready to go,” Belichick said. “We’ll look at our options and see what we feel like the best thing is [and] see how long we think Sony might be out.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

FORMER PLAYERS

The state of North Carolina deems former Panthers WR Rae Carruth to have paid his price to society.  The AP:

 

Former NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth was released from prison Monday after serving more than 18 years for conspiring to murder the mother of his unborn child.

 

The Carolina Panthers’ 1997 first-round draft pick was released from Sampson Correctional Institution in Clinton, North Carolina, after completing his sentence of 18 to 24 years.

 

Carruth did not speak to reporters on as he left the prison wearing a knit cap and an unzipped jacket on a chilly morning with temperatures in the high 30s. There was a smattering of applause as Carruth got into a white SUV and was whisked away from the prison.

 

Carruth, now 44, was found guilty of orchestrating a plot to kill Cherica Adams on Nov. 16, 1999, in Charlotte, North Carolina, to avoid paying child support. Adams was shot four times while driving her car, but managed to make a 911 call that helped implicate Carruth.

 

Adams fell into a coma and died less than a month later after the shooting.

 

The child she was carrying, Chancellor Lee Adams, was delivered by emergency cesarean section but suffers from permanent brain damage and cerebral palsy.

 

Last week, he told WSOC-TV in Charlotte in a telephone interview, “I just truly want to be forgiven.”

 

Carruth went on to say he was “somewhat frightened” about his release, adding that, “I’m nervous just about how I’ll be received by the public. I still have to work. I still have to live. I have to exist out there and it just seems like there is so much hate and negativity toward me.”

 

Carruth has repeatedly said he wants to have a relationship with his son, who remains in the custody of his grandmother, Saundra Adams, who has raised him since birth. Adams had previously said she would be there when Carruth got out of prison, but she was not present on Monday.

 

Carruth’s arrest on charges of conspiracy and attempted murder nine days after the shooting sent shockwaves throughout the Panthers organization.

 

The team released Carruth and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after he fled the Charlotte area after posting $3 million bail and was found by federal authorities hiding in the trunk of a car in Tennessee, about 500 miles from Charlotte.

 

Carruth will be a on a ninth-month post-release program, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety spokesman Jerry Higgins. He would need special permission from a case officer to leave the state or the country during that span, but is free to go wherever he pleases after nine months.

 

 

 

 

THE BATTLE FOR THE NFL’S SOCIAL JUSTICE SOUL

Peter King, who is personally sympathetic to the idea of NFL players creating social justice for those oppressed by the criminal justice system, is saddened by the rift between those who started the fight and those who got $90 million of NFL money to play with/apply to the cause.

 

Eric Reid of the Panthers and Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles, both activists for better treatment of minority citizens in America, had to be separated before their game Sunday. Jenkins approached Reid before the game, the two men had words, Jenkins walked away, and Reid got wide-eyed and enraged while he was being held back. Early in the game, Reid took a cheap shot at Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, tackling him after he’d clearly handed off, and Reid got called for unnecessary roughness; Zach Ertz of the Eagles went after Reid and got the same flag, and the penalties offset.

 

Translating all of this: After Colin Kaepernick (and others) kneeled and demonstrated during the anthem, some players—the Players Coalition—chose to meet with league officials and partner with them in a league-funded attempt (almost $90 million over seven years) to fund work by players in the area of sentencing reform and other social-justice work. Reid thought the Players Coalition sold out Kaepernick, who is still out of football in large part because of his political activism, and he called the coalition “an NFL-funded subversion group.” For players using their days off to go on police ride-alongs to calm tensions in some cities, or traveling to lobby their state legislators, imagine how it would feel to get belittled like that. And after Sunday’s game, Reid said Jenkins “sold us out.”

 

There’s not much common ground there, it would seem. Except this is what Jenkins said after the game, while he was being ripped to shreds by Reid in a locker room down the hall under Lincoln financial Field: “Eric Reid is someone I’m rooting for [and] I’m very proud of—putting his livelihood on the line to fight for those who don’t have voices.” On Sunday, Jenkins seemed the bigger man though Reid was on the winning team.