The Daily Briefing Monday, October 9, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

Five weeks in, it’s time for the first ‘If The Season Ended Today” featuring the runaway Chiefs, two AFC East teams in the playoffs (none named New England) and the first place Jaguars.

                                               

                                               Overall     Division       Conference

Kansas City Chiefs     ACW   5-0               1-0                 3-0

Buffalo Bills                 ACE    3-2               1-0                 2-1

Pittsburgh Steelers      ACN    3-2               2-0                 2-1

Jacksonville Jaguars  ACS    3-2               1-1                 3-2

Denver Broncos          WC      3-1               2-0                 2-1

New York Jets                        WC      3-2               1-1                 3-2

Baltimore Ravens                  3-2               2-1                 3-2

New England Patriots             3-2               0-0                 1-1

Miami Dolphins                       2-2               0-1                 2-1

 

There are 5 teams at 2-3 – the Raiders on a 3-game losing streak, the Bengals on a 2-game winning streak and the Titans, Texans and Colts of the AFC South.

 

Yes, we realize the Patriots are only “behind” the Jets and Bills because of a very incomplete tiebreaker.

 

And yes, we were surprised to see how close the Dolphins remain to the playoff line.

– – –

Peter King:

 

I think the best team in football is Kansas City, and there’s a pretty good gap for number two. My candidates: Philadelphia, Carolina, Washington, Denver.

 

We think this represents a good dose of conventional wisdom – and none of the following preseason favorites make King’s list – New England, Atlanta, Green Bay, Dallas, Pittsburgh.

– – –

With one game left, road teams are 9-4 in Week 5.

 

In a week of tight lines, only 4 road teams were favored (and one is Minnesota tonight).  Of the 3 favorites who have played, 2 won and Tennessee lost.  So 7 road dogs, led by Jacksonville (+8.5) have won this week (although we are not sure Green Bay and Seattle at +1.5 truly qualify).

– – –

Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com bumped into Colin Kaepernick and thought he had a scoop. Ryan Glasspiegel of TheBigLead.com:

 

While it didn’t feel like there was any way the Colin Kaepernick situation in the NFL could get any weirder or more murky, a disagreement emerged today between him, his camp, and the mainstream sports media that is truly bizarre.

 

On CBS’s NFL Today, James Brown introduced Jason La Canfora by saying the reporter “sat down” with Colin Kaepernick, his girlfriend, and his trainer on Saturday:

 

After sitting down with Colin Kaepernick for several hours, @JasonLaCanfora says the QB is still actively trying to play in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/R9qTIZ7EQl

 

— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) October 8, 2017

 

La Canfora stressed that Kaepernick maintained that he is vigorously working out in addition to his activism work in Harlem, that he is laser-focused on an NFL return, and that he was willing to meet the Titans anytime, anywhere for a workout this week.

 

At the end, James Brown asked about the Anthem protests: “And the kneeling, he said?” La Canfora responded: “He’s not planning on kneeling. He’s donating all his jersey sales. And he’s planning for standing for the Anthem, if given the opportunity.”

 

La Canfora clarifed on Twitter that he did not ask Kaepernick about the kneeling, and was relaying a report from Adam Schefter about that from March. “Colin Kaepernick will stand during the national anthem next season, sources told ESPN on Thursday,” Schefter wrote. “Kaepernick no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created, sources told ESPN. He also said the amount of national discussion on social inequality — as well as support from other athletes nationwide, including NFL and NBA players — affirmed the message he was trying to deliver.”

 

After La Canfora’s report, Kaepernick retweeted this entry from TV/radio personality Charlamagne Tha God, which said that Kaepernick “never spoke to CBS,” but that he “bumped into” La Canfora in a hotel lobby:

 

Further, Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa (who previously shared a meme of Ray Lewis and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti comparing them to the slave and Uncle Tom from Django Unchained) also affirmed that no decision has been made with regards to Anthem protests:

 

Kaepernick has retweeted a bunch of tweets essentially saying that the idea he won’t kneel is fake news, but has yet to issue a statement in his own words. And why didn’t anyone push back on Schefter’s original report back in March?

 

This is all so damn weird.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

LB DANNY TRAVATHAN will not be available tonight due to his violent hit on Packers WR DAVANTE ADAMS a week ago Thursday.  But Adams did play with distinction on Sunday in Dallas (7-66, 2 TDs including the game-winner), and he did tell Peter King this about Travathan:

 

“Did Travathan reach out?”

 

“He did. He hollered at me, and I talked to him. It made me feel better, knowing there was no intention on his part. He’s not a dirty guy. It was just kind of a dirty hit. That’s how the game goes sometimes. No bad blood. I moved past it.”

 

 

DETROIT

Not only did the Lions lose – QB MATTHEW STAFFORD now goes on injury watch.  Kyle Meinke of MLive.com:

 

Matthew Stafford is hurting.

 

The Detroit Lions quarterback suffered a right leg injury in Sunday’s 27-24 loss against Carolina, and received tape jobs both above the knee and later around the ankle and foot. He managed to hobble through the rest of the game, though was clearly slowed by the injuries.

 

Just for good measure, he also started bleeding from his left hand.

 

Stafford declined to address the injury after the game, even though the pain was obvious in the way he played and the stiff-legged way in which he left the locker room long after everybody else. He spent so long getting treatment after the game, he didn’t even start talking to reporters until after every other player had exited the locker room.

 

“I don’t want to talk about that kind of stuff, guys,” Stafford said during a brief chat before he headed for the exit. “If you want to ask me about the game, fire away.”

 

The injuries were the result of taking some more heavy fire. He was sacked six times for the second straight week, something that hadn’t happened even once in his previous 27 games.

 

Stafford managed to stay in the game though, and after toiling through three bad quarters, hit Darren Fells twice for touchdowns to give Detroit a chance in the fourth. But the defense couldn’t get off the field on a third-and-9, and Carolina was able to run out the clock.

 

“He’s a fighter,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s tough. We’ll see where he is.”

 

Stafford finished 23 of 35 passing for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw any interceptions, but also fumbled for the second straight week, and lost this one. That appeared to be the play where he was originally injured, and he received medical attention on his upper leg after taking his usual seat on the bench.

 

 

MINNESOTA

QB CASE KEENUM will yield the starting position back to QB SAM BRADFORD tonight on Monday Night Football.  Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

 

It appears the Vikings will have Sam Bradford back at quarterback on Monday night.

 

In a production meeting on Sunday night, Zimmer told ESPN’s broadcast crew he anticipates Bradford starting at quarterback, three weeks after a knee injury first kept Bradford out against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A second opinion on the quarterback’s left knee on Sept. 22 confirmed the Vikings’ belief that Bradford would not need surgery on his knee, and after taking last week off to rest, Bradford participated in all three of the Vikings’ practices this week (albeit in a limited fashion).

 

Asked on Saturday about his level of confidence Bradford could play, Zimmer said, “We’ll see.” Asked if he was more confident than he’d been at the beginning of the week, Zimmer said, “No, not really.”

 

The DB remembers another Vikings at Bears game when a starting quarterback was revealed after a production meeting and before kickoff to the consternation of one of the teams (in that case the Bears).  Was this another unauthorized revelation or were the Vikings okay with it?

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Will the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals take the matter of RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT’s discipline away from District Court Judge Amos Mazzant in Dallas and turn it over to the NFL’s preferred court?  We should know this week according to an unsourced report in the Dallas Morning News.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

This oddity from David Letterman, recounted by Peter King, from the ceremonies honoring Peyton Manning in Indy:

 

“By the way, if you like football trivia, so far this year Eli and Peyton have the same number of wins.”

 

—Letterman

 

That held true Sunday, as the Giants fell to 0-5 with a loss to the Chargers.

– – –

Not only are the Giants a hard-luck 0-5, their best player is going under the knife. And that’s not all.  NFL.com:

 

The Giants’ top target is going under the knife.

 

Odell Beckham will undergo surgery on his fractured ankle, the team announced Monday. Beckham suffered the injury in New York’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

 

Beckham’s surgery has yet to be scheduled, the team added.

 

The injury was one of many suffered by key Giants on Sunday, with fellow wideouts Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard suffering less-severe ankle injuries. Marshall is undergoing further testing and examination on the ankle, while Shepard is day-to-day with a sprained ankle, the team also announced.

 

Receiver Dwayne Harris suffered a fracture of his fifth metatarsal on Sunday and will have surgery Tuesday to repair the injury, per the team.

 

Rounding out the injury report, linebacker Jonathan Casillas (stinger) and safety Landon Collins (sprained ankle) are listed as day-to-day.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

There actually is a big game coming up on Thursday night as the Eagles go to Charlotte.  Peter King on Philly QB CARSON WENTZ, the clear winner in the Carson Show on Sunday:

 

We’re seeing Carson Wentz mature before our eyes. And though Arizona looks like it was overrated entering the year, Wentz’s performance was still impressive, waxing the Cardinals on three straight drives to open the game 21-0 after one quarter, on the way to a 34-7 win. “What we do well,” Wentz said afterward, “is mix it up well—play-action, empty backfield, find where the mismatches are. We came out firing and never let up.” Last year, Wentz showed some carelessness down the stretch, rushing his passes and trying to force too many throws. Now you watch him and see the quick but not careless working through progressions. Some young quarterbacks have nervous feet. Not Wentz. His touchdown to Nelson Agholor down the left sideline was the correct decision, the pass placed perfectly. Thursday is going to be a fun game to watch, two young quarterbacks duking it out. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Cam,” said Wentz. “I’ve watched him a lot. A lot to like.”

 

One problem for the Eagles – RT LANE JOHNSON enters the short week in the concussion protocol after missing the second half.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Peter King:

 

I think when the Falcons built this beautiful new $1.5-billion downtown stadium, team officials were quick to say they wanted an open-air stadium. Finally, many said; it’s madness that a city in the south, a temperate, lovely American city with a great climate, would have a domed stadium. So the Falcons built a retractable-roof stadium. The roof was open for one game, the opener against Green Bay. And the team announced Thursday it would remain closed for the rest of the football season—it also will be open one soccer game, for the Atlanta MLS franchise to presumably break the single-game MLS attendance record Oct. 22—and then closed for the rest of the season. The reason is because of problems with mechanization of the roof panels. Getting that roof open has to be priority one for Arthur Blank. Domes stink. Roofs should never be closed, save for relentless precipitation or extreme heat/cold. The Colts abuse it, keeping the roof closed on beautiful Indiana days. Blank has to make sure the problem with the roof is fixed ASAP.

 

We file this in the glass one quarter empty category.  No word from King on the Falcons revolutionary concessions pricing program ($5 beer, $2 hot dogs).

 

 

CAROLINA

Peter King on CAM NEWTON who seems to be hitting his stride as a player, even as social media forces him to adjust his stride as a person:

 

Newton is pretty good at shutting out the outside world, apparently. Newton had an MVP-vintage game in the 27-24 win at Detroit: 26 of 33, 355 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. And the Carolina offense, for the first time this year, showed every aspect of what GM Dave Gettleman tried to build before getting fired in July. Isolate on one play, the six-yard shovel-pass touchdown from Newton to rookie Christian McCaffrey. Newton’s physical presence, and his speed, and the speed elsewhere on offense, made the play happen. At the snap of the ball, rookie wideout Curtis Samuel came in motion from the left. Newton took the snap and faked the jet-sweep handoff to Samuel. Then Newton ran to the left, with Jonathan Stewart to his outside shoulder, as though the Panthers were running the read-option. Two defenders committed to Newton and Stewart, and suddenly Newton stopped short and shoveled the ball to McCaffrey out front, between two defenders. Easy touchdown. What made the play work? Newton’s physicality and his speed threatened the defense. Stewart must be respected as a back running wide. Samuel distracted the D with his motion. And McCaffrey just snuck in for a fairly easy touchdown. At least it looked easy. That’s the kind of play that foretells trouble for future defenses, with the injection of speed and Newton’s post-shoulder-injury health. “Atlanta’s run it sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. “Pitt ran it in college. We’ve seen it. But there’s a lot of good options to it for our offense.”

 

Shula said he didn’t talk much to Newton about the controversy of the week (more about that later in the column), his belittling of a female reporter. “Luke Kuechly and some of the guys picked his spirits up, I think,” Shula said. “Me and [backup] Derek Anderson and [QB coach] Ken Dorsey were like, ‘You okay?’ And he said he was. We moved on. He’s just so happy today. He loves winning. I don’t think he lets things bother him the way we might think.”

 

King also offers this, which we would take to be the current conventional wisdom of media types, on Newton:

 

I think Cam Newton’s words of apology Thursday night were promising. But none of us except Newton knows the deep-down sincerity of his apology for what he said to a female reporter on Wednesday. (When Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked Newton about pass routes, Newton responded that it was funny to hear a “female” talking about “routes.”) Newton has been widely derided for his smirky 1981-era putdown. That’s all justified. I liked his apology, and it seemed sincere. But I’d make two points here. One: Why’d it take him 30 hours to apologize—and, to a lesser degree, why didn’t he include the reporter in his apology? The fact that he took 30 hours to say he was sorry is concerning. Did it take him longer than a day to realize he was wrong? Or did he know he was wrong and simply took time to do something well thought-out? Two: It makes no sense right now to say, “Great apology. We’re all good.” This is now a wait-and-see thing. Newton said all the right things, and they appeared heart-felt. But it’s his actions now that will speak for him.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

PK NICK FOLK is gone, and the Bucs are returning to a blast from the past – but it’s not Roberto Aguayo. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on the return of PK PATRICK MURRAY:

 

It’s Patrick Murray, who is a familiar face in Tampa and whose agents have announced the move.

 

Murray was the team’s kicker in 2014 and made 20-of-24 field goals over the course of the year. He spent 2015 on injured reserve and was released by the team in May 2016 after they drafted Roberto Aguayo in the second round of the draft. Murray played two games for the Browns last year before again going on injured reserve and spent a week with the Saints this summer.

 

Folk replaced Aguayo, so the Bucs have done a lot of spinning their wheels at kicker just to wind up back where they started.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Bruce Arians with a muted response to the loss in Philadelphia Sunday.  NFL.com:

 

There was plenty of blame to go around in Arizona’s ugly 34-7 loss to the Eagles.

 

Bruce Arians, though, kept his complaints local.

 

“This is one of those games where everyone is looking for an excuse or somewhere to point a finger, but I’ve got to point it at me because our team obviously was not ready to play in all three phases,” the Cardinals coach said, per ESPN.

 

“I was kind of shocked. But I obviously did something wrong.”

 

Right guard Evan Boehm quickly disagreed, telling reporters: “Coach wasn’t out there playing.”

 

From a coaching angle, though, Arizona’s issues on Sunday weren’t particularly new. Sitting at 2-3, the Cardinals’ most troubling weakness centers squarely on an offensive line that has left quarterback Carson Palmer to face endless peril.

 

Absorbing two more sacks — and countless hits and contact throughout — Palmer simply won’t last the season facing this brand of weekly heat.

 

As Gregg Rosenthal noted in our 36 Takeaways From Sunday omnibus, some of this trouble charts back to the coach’s philosophy on offense, where “Arians refuses to leave in an extra pass protector and Palmer continues to pay.”

 

Mike Florio with more from GM Steve Keim:

 

The Cardinals suffered a blowout loss in Philadelphia on Sunday, a loss described by G.M. Steve Keim as the worst since the 2015 NFC title game.

 

And Keim, appearing Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, suggesting that changes could be coming.

 

“Quite frankly, we need to continue rotate players in and out of here and find players who can help us,” Keim said, via az central sports. “If a guy continually makes the same mistake and he’s not going to fix it, we’ll go ahead and make a decision and look at the ready list [of available free agents] and bring on some guys, who we are this week, and make some changes.”

 

Keim bemoaned the performance of both sides of the ball in the loss to the Eagles.

 

“Starting off defensively, I mean the third-down conversions that they made, third and 19, obviously that can’t happen,” Keim said. “Poor tackling. Simple coverage basics that you’re taught. Playing the sticks. Playing aggressive in coverage. Not giving up first downs as easily as we did. It’s really frustrating.

 

“And offensively, I don’t think it’s any question that we had to try and run the ball effectively to get them off balance and maybe try to throw some play actions. Maybe we hit some deep shots on them. But when you can’t run the ball effectively, I think we all know . . . when teams tee off and know you’re going to throw the football quite a bit, not only is it extremely difficult to pass protect but it’s difficult to pass protect knowing what’s coming. You’re going to be constantly getting pressure.”

 

The Cardinals have gotten more than constant pressure this year, and quarterback Carson Palmer lacks the mobility to thrive in the face of it. Unless things change across the board for the Cardinals, this season quickly could become a lost season — with more than players possibly losing their jobs.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

The 49ers are 0-5 and two of their would-be leaders had a reduced role on Sunday.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Two high-profile San Francisco 49ers veterans watched from the sideline Sunday as their team again fell in overtime, 26-23 to the Indianapolis Colts.

 

Running back Carlos Hyde and linebacker NaVorro Bowman spent chunks of time on the sideline Sunday and neither was happy about the situation, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

 

Bowman played a season-low 56 snaps, rotating with Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brock Coyle.

 

“We had a conversation and, uh, I don’t know — they’re doing what they want to do and, I don’t know. I don’t like it,” Bowman said following the loss. “No one likes coming out of the game, but I’m a team player.”

 

Hyde was replaced by rookie Matt Breida for much of the game as coach Kyle Shanahan said he went with the “hot hand.” Breida out-snapped Hyde, 34 to 32. Breida earned 10 carries for 49 yards and was a hair shy of breaking off a long run. Hyde meanwhile carried just eight times for 11 yards. Hyde spent the week dealing with a hip issue but said his curtailed playtime had nothing to do with the injury.

 

“That wasn’t injury-related,” Hyde said. “That was just the coach’s call. … I don’t like it, but my boy, Matt, he’s a good back. So he did a good job going in there and making plays and stuff.”

 

On a young, rebuilding team there are times when the veterans who have been through the fire are left to watch teammates go through growing pains. That doesn’t mean they must enjoy it. Sitting at 0-5, Shanahan will likely face more tough decisions about how much to change his lineup moving forward.

 

The DB isn’t really sure either “benching” is that dramatic.  More than 50 defensive snaps is still a pretty big load.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

Apparently there was some tension in the parking lot after the Raiders loss to the Ravens, but exactly what happened is unclear.  Matt Schneidmann of BayAreaNewsgroup on the conflicting tales involving T DONALD PENN:

 

Raiders’ left tackle Donald Penn stepped out of his car to confront a fan in the parking lot after Sunday’s 30-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, and there are conflicting reasons as to why.

 

On one hand, Penn said in a tweet it was because the fan threw a bottle at his car.

 

@DPENN70

He threw a bottle at my car but I should of stayed in the car he was tryna get me to react so he could sue me glad I took a sec 2 think

 

But in an Instagram video, the fan, Salvador Chavarria, said he never threw a bottle at Penn’s car. Two weeks ago, Chavarria posted on Instagram a conversation between him an Penn over Instagram direct message. Among profanities written by Penn responding to Chavarria’s trash talk, Penn tells Chavarria, “Next time you at the game say it to my face also lol kid,” to which Chavarria says, “Im there all the time yo season ticket holder for 10 years … U really got time to go through all the dms bro?”

 

Penn then responds, “Find me after and say it to my face,” to which Chavarria responds, “Dont get our QB leg broken again.”

 

That, of course, is referring to Penn’s missed block that resulted in Derek Carr’s broken leg against the Colts in Week 16 last season.

 

So Sunday, Chavarria was there as Penn pulled out of the Coliseum parking lot. Penn got out of his car, and this is what happened (Chavarria is in the black hat):

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/08/donald-penn-and-raiders-fan-get-into-it-in-the-parking-lot/

 

The video, apparently shot by someone in Chavarria’s camp starts too late to show whether or not a bottle was thrown.  Penn gets out, security forms a barrier, mutual profanity ensues, Penn departs back to his car.

 

 “He’s out here claiming that I threw a bottle at his car,” Chavarria said in a video posted later Sunday on Instagram. “I did not throw s***. I would not disrespect another man’s property like that. I didn’t throw anything.”

 

Chavarria said if he had thrown something at Penn’s car, he felt police would’ve swarmed him. He told Penn to “stop lying,” and said he didn’t want to back down from Penn’s challenge to insult him to his face.

 

“You don’t deserve $21 million,” Chavarria said in his Instagram video, referring to the Pro Bowl left tackle’s new two-year contract. “‘Cause you ain’t blocking for s***.”

 

Neither side looks good in this situation, and neither do the Raiders on the field. They dropped their third straight game and first without Carr at quarterback. Next up for Oakland is the Los Angeles Chargers at 1:25 p.m. next Sunday at the Coliseum.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Peter King is among those noting that the Bengals are playing better since LB VONTAZE BURFICT returned from his latest suspension:

 

Marvin Lewis will tell anyone who’ll listen how valuable Burfict is, and how much he was missed during his September suspension for the brutal hit on Kansas City running back Anthony Sherman. Burfict’s 13 tackles and one sack were vital to the Bengals’ 20-16 win over Buffalo in the Cincinnati rain Sunday. 

 

 

CLEVELAND

Peter King is among several in the media with this thought this weekend:

 

The Cleveland Browns, in the past two drafts, bypassed Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Those three are seventh, ninth and 12th, respectively, in the NFL in passer rating this morning … with a combined touchdown-to-interception differential of 29 to 10. The Brown had better love one of the quarterbacks coming out in the draft next April.

 

 And this, also from King:

 

In their past 49 games, the Cleveland Indians are 40-9.

In their past 49 games, the Cleveland Browns are 9-40.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Has QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER hit the same wall that Peyton Manning did in 2015?  Mike Sando of ESPN.com:

 

Ben Roethlisberger had never thrown more than three interceptions in a game before Sunday, when he threw five during a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville. Before this defeat, the Roethlisberger-era Pittsburgh Steelers had lost at home by more than 20 points just once, an NFL low, during his 13-plus seasons with the team.

 

How worried should the Steelers be about their 35-year-old, retirement-talking, mortality-musing quarterback?

 

Roethlisberger, having publicly mulled walking away from the game before the season, suggested to reporters Sunday that he might be finished. Is he? And what should the Steelers be thinking? Posing those questions to five seasoned coaches and evaluators drew out fascinating insights.

 

Not worried about this season

 

All five league insiders thought it was way too early for the Steelers or their fans to worry about Roethlisberger and the team in 2017.

 

“I’m not that worried at all,” one former general manager said. “He has been doing it long enough. I don’t think his skill set has evaporated. I just think he is on a bad little roll right now. Maybe I’m dead wrong, but that is kind of what I feel.”

 

Even before Roethlisberger’s self-doubting comments came to light, a coach with AFC North experience said he thought Roethlisberger, despite his legendary toughness, was right there with all the other quarterbacks who sometimes seem to revel in playing the role of drama queen. Publicly mulling retirement and publicly questioning his own play creates its own drama.

 

“Until I get more evidence, I’m going to say Ben is going to end up being better than he is right now and back to his normal self,” this coach said. “I just don’t think the team is in sync at all. It doesn’t feel right from the outside, but they are 3-2 and they are on top of the AFC North anyway. So, here we go.”

– – –

“I have thought in the past they would kind of take a step back, and they really have not, but I think they still go through little slumps like everyone else,” the former GM said. “I think their core is still real.”

 

Facing a Favre-like dilemma

 

One veteran personnel evaluator said he saw parallels to what the Steelers are going through and what the Packers went through when Brett Favre was winding down in Green Bay a decade ago. One big difference: There is no Aaron Rodgers waiting to take over in Pittsburgh. The consensus among coaches and evaluators was that backups Josh Dobbs and Landry Jones do not project as future starters.

 

“If I am Pittsburgh, I am thinking, ‘Man, I wish this guy [Roethlisberger] would quit talking about retirement,'” an evaluator said. “They need to have a plan moving forward because they don’t know what this guy is going to do. It is hard having a plan when the guy can just decide he wants to play five more years. They are in the Favre-Green Bay mode right now, where you could draft a guy, but then Ben could play another three years and you have to force his hand.”

 

This evaluator thought the Steelers would probably draft their Roethlisberger replacement once Roethlisberger retires. That could be easier said than done, however, because Roethlisberger could annually draw out his decision deep into the offseason.

 

“It is a tough situation to be in because he is yanking your chain,” this evaluator said. “They usually make the right decision. I know it is wearing them out, all the talk. To be honest with you, are you guaranteed you’ll get anybody ever better than him? No. So, you go with him as long as you can. Replacing Favre worked out for Green Bay, but I’m sure there was a point in time where they were like, ‘We are not playing this guy [Rodgers] over Brett Favre.”

 

These situations usually come down to whether the team thinks it has a better alternative. There clearly is not one on the Steelers’ roster now.

 

Preparing for the end

 

For all their inconsistencies, the Steelers emerged from Week 5 sitting atop the AFC North. Their record is 3-2 for the sixth time in Roethlsiberger’s 14 seasons. They were 1-4 through five games back in 2013 and still managed to finish 8-8. Their moments of instability are more stable than the Browns’ moments of stability.

 

“I see why people are concerned, but who is good in that division?” the former GM said. “They have been fortunate enough throughout the years even when they have a down year, they go 9-7 or 8-8 and still be in the mix. That is a bad year for them, but it is a good bad year. Most teams are not capable of those. They could be a 9-7 team that is playing at home in the first round of the playoffs and all of a sudden they have it going again, and Ben has the hot hand again.”

 

Steelers fans who suffered through the Jacksonville debacle might find that tough to believe, and there certainly is a chance that Roethlisberger has begun the type of sharp decline that other older quarterbacks have fought off through intense conditioning, nutrition and overall wellness regiments.

 

“There is a part of me that thinks if Ben has knocked around this retirement thing, what if his brain this past offseason was wrapped around that retirement word just a little bit more than normal where it crept in just enough to affect a level of commitment, where he started to do a few shortcuts?” one of the insiders asked. “Maybe this is what he is, then. But we don’t know unless we are in his head.”

 

There’s a line of thinking that says if Roethlisberger were to suffer an injury that sidelined him at an advanced age, he might be prone to put on weight quickly and that he would never be the same. That time is not here, but the Steelers surely need to brace for the end, however it comes. They need to prepare accordingly, even if Roethlisberger pulls out of this current dive and plays a few more seasons.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Peter King thinks the Texans are better off with QB DESHAUN WATSON and without injured-again DE J.J. WATT than the other way around:

 

You might have expected the postgame locker room in Houston—after the devastation of losing defensive stalwarts J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the year, after losing for the third time in five games—to be relatively hopeless. That’s not the way one observer saw this locker room on Sunday night, with Houston at 2-3 and without local hero Watt and rising star Mercilus. That’s because for the first time in years, the Texans think they’ve found the most difficult franchise centerpiece to find, in quarterback Deshaun Watson. On Sunday night, with the crowd in mourning after the loss of Watt with a broken leg that will require surgery as soon as Monday, Watson didn’t succumb to emotions. He led the Texans to 27 points in the second half, throwing four touchdown passes and keeping Houston in a shootout with the best team in football. Watson is leaving his mark after just four starts:

 

• The Texans have scored 91 points in the last two games, a two-game franchise record.

 

• Watson has thrown nine touchdown passes in the past two games.

 

• His attitude and presence is something coach Bill O’Brien points to a lot. He even used the next-man-up thing after Sunday’s game, after the big defensive injuries. “Praying for those guys,” Watson said. “But at the same time, it’s the National Football League and you have to have a next-man-up mentality.”

 

It’s weird to simply move on after injuries like that. Weird and cold. But that’s the business of the NFL.

 

But now we learn that the Texans lost another top defender Sunday night.  ESPN.com:

 

Texans defensive end J.J. Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg on Sunday on the Kansas City Chiefs’ first drive of the game. He is out indefinitely.

 

Watt will undergo further testing on the leg. His recovery timetable is uncertain, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus tore a pectoral muscle on the same drive, a source confirmed to ESPN, and he will miss the remainder of the season. The Houston Chronicle first reported Mercilus’ injury.

 

Watt fell to the ground while engaged in a block in the Texans’ 42-26 loss. The Texans later announced the diagnosis.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

He may not be going into a career in politics, but Peter King says Peyton Manning has already transformed one city:

 

When I started in the sportswriting business, in 1980, one of my jobs at the Cincinnati Enquirer was as backup beat writer covering the Reds. In those days, their Triple-A team was in Indianapolis, and a couple of times a year, I’d drive two hours up I-74 to write about some future Red. Indianapolis was sort of old and dusty and definitely minor-league, with a rickety old ballpark and a downtown with nothing happening, at least compared to Cincinnati. Maybe not quite how native Hoosier David Letterman described Indy of the sixties on Saturday (“like a minimum-security prison with a racetrack”), but still far behind mid-sized cities like Cincinnati. More Letterman: “People would say, ‘Dave, we’re planning a trip to Indianapolis, what should we do?’ This was years and years ago. I said, ‘This is what I’d do if I was going to Indianapolis. I’d rent a car and go to Chicago.’”

 

So now Indianapolis, with its compact downtown packed with hotels and restaurants, has had a Super Bowl—and the city performed so well the NFL might go back for a second one day. Indianapolis has won a Super Bowl. Indianapolis has had Final Fours, men’s and women’s. Indianapolis is even hip, with Manhattan-caliber restaurants like Bluebeard. On Saturday, with two big conventions and a Colts game in town, downtown was bursting at the seams; there was a line at St. Elmo’s. And a crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 people came to the city to watch the unveiling of the half-ton bronze statue for the man who, more than anyone, made it possible. GM Bill Polian always maintained Lucas Oil Stadium got built on the back of Peyton Manning, and the former two-term governor, Mitch Daniels, echoed that in remarks to the adoring crowd. Locals were giving Daniels a hard time about the cost of Lucas Oil Stadium early this century, and he said: “Just build it. Peyton will fill it.” Fitting, too, that the shiny upscale JW Marriott—representing boom times in the first 17 years of this century for $320-a-night rooms in ritzy downtown hotels—could be seen through the legs of the bronze number 18.

 

“He didn’t do it alone,” Letterman said. “But by God, look around us. He changed the skyline. This used to be a small town. This man has changed the skyline.”

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

All that talent on the Jacksonville defense is starting to jell.  Gary Gramling of TheMMQB.com on CB JALEN RAMSEY:

 

Jalen Ramsey Ball Skills: As the old saying goes: He has the skills to pay off any outstanding debts he might have. Ramsey was essentially responsible for 14 points in Pittsburgh. He made a ridiculous diving interception in the first half to set up Jacksonville’s first touchdown, and later he knocked a ball out of Antonio Brown’s hands and into Barry Church’s for a pick six. Ramsey and Xavier Rhodes are putting themselves in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

 

 

TENNESSEE

So who has the true scoop – NFL Network rumor monger Ian Rapoport or coach Mike Mularkey?  Jason Wolf of USA TODAY- Tennessee:

 

Could Marcus Mariota miss multiple games?

 

The Titans’ franchise quarterback could return from a strained hamstring to face the Colts (2-3) on “Monday Night Football” next week at Nissan Stadium, coach Mike Mularkey said Sunday. He disputed a report from NFL Network that Mariota originally was expected to need two to four weeks to recover from an injury he suffered Oct. 1 at Houston.

 

“You can listen to NFL Network or you can listen to me,” Mularkey said after the Titans’ 16-10 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. “When I say day to day, I tell you like it is.”

 

Mariota was expected to be a game-time decision against the Dolphins but was “not real close” to playing, Mularkey said. The game against the Colts will be two weeks from the day Mariota was injured.

 

Matt Cassel started against the Dolphins and completed 21 of 32 pass attempts for 141 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Phillip Supernaw to tie the score 10-10 midway through the third quarter. He also had a fumble returned for a touchdown.

 

The Titans gained 20 or fewer yards on 13 of 15 possessions. They went three-and-out on eight drives and had negative yardage on three. Cassel was sacked six times.

 

“I think he managed the offense well,” Mularkey said about Cassel. “I think there’s some throws I know he’d like to have back. There’s some throws that I’d like to see our guys make plays for him. I’d like to see us protect a little better. … Overall, it’s the first time he started and played a game since last year.”

– – –

On the long end of the timetable presented by NFL Network, Mariota could be out through the Titans’ Week 8 bye, missing three games, including an Oct. 22 visit to the Browns, and return to face the Ravens on Nov. 5 in Nashville.

 

More: Titans report card: Toothless offense torpedoes strong defensive effort vs Dolphins

 

Is there a chance he plays against the Colts next Monday?

 

“I feel better about that one than this one,” Mularkey said. “I held out hope, but I feel better about that one.”

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Bills lost a game and TE CHARLES CLAY on Sunday.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

The Buffalo Bills will be without their top receiving option for quite some time.

 

Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters Monday that tight end Charles Clay underwent a knee scope and will be out multiple weeks.

 

Clay was carted to the locker room in the first half of Sunday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

 

Save for LeSean McCoy, Clay was Buffalo’s leading receiver in receptions (20), targets (28) and receiving yards (258). The Bills backup tight end, Nick O’Leary, got a lot of run in Clay’s absence, catching a career-high five balls for 54 yards against Cincinnati, and should be Buffalo’s starting tight end going forward.

 

But for a team with a limited amount of playmakers — the injured Jordan Matthews is Buffalo’s only reliable wideout — Clay’s absence will be massive.

 

 

MIAMI

Offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned on Monday after a shocking video hits the Internet.  His behavior was revealed by a black stripper due to “racial injustice.”  Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:

 

Chris Foerster resigned from his position as the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line coach Monday morning, hours after a video of him snorting a white powdery substance hit social media.

 

Foerster, who has been an NFL coach for 24 seasons, three of which were spent with the Dolphins, said he accepts full responsibility for his actions in the video, which was posted on the Facebook account of Kijuana Nige, a Las Vegas woman .

 

“I want to apologize to the organization and my sole focus is on getting the help that I need with the support of family and medical professionals,” Foerster, who turns 56 on Thursday, wrote in a statement released by the Dolphins.

 

The video released Sunday night lasts about 52 seconds and seems to be intended as a personal message from Foerster to someone.

 

“How about me going to a meeting and doing this before I go,” Foerster says on the video before snorting up a line with a rolled up $20 bill.

 

“It’ll be a while before we can do this again because I know you’re going to keep that baby,” Foerster says while doing another line. “But I think about you when I do it. I think about how much I miss you. How high we got together. How much fun it was.”

 

Nige said she released the video because of social injustice. She is described as a stripper by Black Sports Online, and her social media presence features a number of provocative pictures.

 

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said Monday that he found out about the video at about 10:45 p.m. Sunday night in a call from general manager Chris Grier.

 

“I don’t know details,” Gase said of the video. “This is not a good situation. It’s not something you expect. Things happen sometimes that you don’t anticipate; it’s not fun.”

 

The team released a statement saying: “We were made aware of the video late last night and have no tolerance for this behavior. After speaking with Chris this morning, he accepted full responsibility and we accepted his resignation effective immediately. Although Chris is no longer with the organization, we will work with him to get the help he needs during this time.”

 

Gase hasn’t said yet what he will do as far as replacing Foerster. Chris Kuper, the Dolphins’ assistant offensive line coach, could be elevated to that position, or the team could opt to hire someone from outside the organization.

 

Gase said that Foerster is “disappointed, upset, mad at himself.”

 

The head coach also said he feels the team will be able to deal with the distraction.

 

“That’s the NFL, man,” said Gase, whose team has endured numerous distractions since the season started, including losing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Tony Lippet to season-ending injuries during training camp and the preseason, and being displaced by Hurricane Irma. “This is a league of distractions. We’ll move on.”

 

Foerster’s offensive line has struggled throughout the first four games of the season. The Dolphins are averaging just 10.2 points per game, and six of the team’s 41 points have been scored by the defense.

 

The Dolphins are struggling to run the ball, averaging 3.2 yards per carry and 74.8 rushing yards per game. And Miami’s offensive line has allowed 10 sacks this season. The pressure Jay Cutler has been under because of the offensive line’s struggles has forced Miami’s quarterback to get rid of the ball quickly, and throw short passes the past few games.

 

Sporting News is reporting that Dave Magazu, who worked with Gase in Denver and Chicago, could be hired by the Dolphins to coach the offensive line. Magazu was fired by the Bears in January and hasn’t found another job.

 

Kuper played offensive guard for eight years with the Denver Broncos, and Gase added him to the staff in 2016 as Miami’s offensive quality control coach. He was promoted to assistant offensive line coach last season when Jeremiah Washburn, who served in that capacity, was hired by the Bears to replace Magazu.

 

Madeline Marr of the Miami Herald tries to figure out who Kijuana Nige might be:

 

So just who is the woman who brought down an NFL coach?

 

She’s Kijuana Nige — and she’s a Las Vegas model who’s got opinions.

– – –

 “It’s going to be awhile before we can do this again. Because I now you’re going to keep the baby.”

 

This statement would lead us to believe Nige is pregnant.

 

“I think about you when I do it. I think about how I miss you, how high we get together, how much fun it was. So much fun. Last little bit, before I go into my meeting. That f–ed up, babe? You think?”

 

The video ends with an expletive that President Donald Trump used with Extra’s Billy Bush back in the day: After placing the substance on his fingertip, Foerster licks it and says, “I wish I was licking this off your p—y.”

 

Why did Nige out the married father of three, 55, in this embarrassing fashion?

 

She wrote on social media that she posted the video because of the backlash against black NFL players who have kneeled during the National Anthem in protest over racial inequality.

 

On Sunday, she was raging: “The white people mad at me like I forced blow down this mans nose and like I recorded it on tha low. No those are his habits and he recorded himself and sent it to me professing his love. So quick to make excuses for him but will roast a minority player over an anthem, dog fights, weed, domestic issues etc.”

 

According to ModelMayhem.com, Nige is a Kansas City native who was “nationally ranked in sports.” Her bio adds that she enjoys “acting, singing, modeling, and being active.”

 

Journalist Robert Littal, the founder of BlackSportsOnline tweeted that he had spoken to Nige this morning. “Says major outlets trying to interview her, she wants $$$ for it.

 

Littal calls Nige a “stripper.”

 

As for Foerster’s wife, who’s to say if the marriage will last.

 

According to fabwags.com, a site devoted to the wives and girlfriends of those in sports, her name is Michelle Foerster and she’s a pediatric nurse who has studied addiction at St. Petersburg College. We are not making this up. Check her out on LinkedIn.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

Things we wish we knew two weeks ago.

 

Peter King:

 

Patriots last 10 regular-season games on the road: 10-0. Patriots last 10 regular-season games at home: 6-4.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

QB ALEX SMITH of the Chiefs is not the only NFL journeyman having a banner season in 2017.  Peter King:

 

Lots of upset specials in the NFL this season, but the Jets being above .500 in October is one of the biggest surprises. Bowles was bullish Sunday on quarterback Josh McCown, the 38-year-old veteran of 10 pro teams. Sunday marked the first time in McCown’s career that he’d won three NFL starts in a row. “We love him,” said Bowles. “He is perfect for our team. He has meant everything to us. He’s a leader for guys all over the team.” McCown’s 71-percent accuracy has been huge, as has his ability to instill some instant chemistry into a bunch of new receivers (Jermaine Kearse: team-high 22 catches).

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

The NFL achieved something close to a unified position in Week 2 with the owner’s appearing to side with the protesting players but trying to temper extreme expressions of distaste for the U.S. flag, anthem and, by implication, Constitution.

 

But while many teams have moved back to the status prior to Trump’s comments – an occasional protest tolerated such as the DB saw in Philadelphia yesterday – all Cardinals and Eagles standing, three Eagles with raised fists – there are signs that the unity is fraying.

 

The 49ers, the team whose tolerance of Colin Kaepernick, percolated the movement were heavily influenced by the movement Sunday in Indianapolis to the point the Vice President of the United States felt compelled to leave the game.

 

Nancy Armour of USATODAY is among the many liberal journos who aren’t impressed:

 

A mockery was made of the national anthem all right.

 

But it wasn’t by the San Francisco 49ers.

 

Vice President Mike Pence turned the anthem into a prop Sunday, co-opting it for a stunt that served no other purpose than to sow division, further enrage the administration’s conservative base and try to cow NFL owners. That it likely deflected attention from yet more neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville was all the better.

 

Please, though, tell me again how it’s the players who are so disrespectful.

 

Pence was so incensed by the sight of several 49ers kneeling during the anthem at Lucas Oil Stadium that he left immediately afterward. Not so incensed that he wasn’t right there with a carefully crafted statement to let the world know of his outrage, however.

 

“President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag or our national anthem,” Pence’s statement said.

 

In case anyone missed how righteously indignant he was, he quickly updated the background photo on his Twitter profile to one of him standing for Sunday’s anthem, hand over his heart, next to someone in a military uniform.

 

Spare me.

 

This isn’t about patriotism or love of country or any other garbage excuse. This was a carefully orchestrated PR move — one staged at no small expense to taxpayers, given Pence flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas on Saturday night and was heading back out West to Los Angeles later Sunday.

 

“After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked on Twitter.

 

Before anyone starts squawking, this has nothing to do with whether Pence has a right to express his opinion about the player protests. Of course he does. You can question the impact on our democracy when the vice president and president make statements that could be seen as chilling to dissent, but that’s an argument for a different time. 

 

No, this is about the sincerity of Pence’s “protest.” This was not a heartfelt expression of political dissent, as the player protests have been.

 

This was pure political theater, as disingenuous as it was calculated.

 

Pence knew exactly what he was walking into in Indianapolis. The protests started with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick more than a year ago. San Francisco safety Eric Reid, the first to join Kaepernick in taking a knee during the anthem, has made it clear his protest will continue this season.

 

The 49ers have also been the most staunch defenders of both their players’ activism and reasons for it. They donated $1 million last year to Bay Area organizations that promote social justice, and have left no doubt in the wake of President Donald Trump’s rant two weeks ago that they consider the protests appropriate.

 

“For more than a year, members of our team have protested the oppression and social injustices still present in our society. While some may not have taken a knee or raised a fist, we have all shared the desire to influence positive change,” the 49ers said in a statement issued last weekend on behalf of the players, coaches, ownership and staff.

 

“As the majority of us have done throughout our careers, we use our platform as members of a NFL team, and our right to freedom of expression, to speak up for those whose voice is not heard.”

 

If there was any team Pence was guaranteed of seeing protest, it would be the 49ers. Yet he went to the game, anyway.

 

Perhaps that’s why the media pool was left to wait in vans outside the stadium. NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard said on Twitter that the pool was told Pence “may depart the game early. Did not indicate how early.”

 

“This was like a PR stunt,” Reid said after the game. “This is what systemic oppression looks like.”

 

Pence knew what he would see and he knew what his response would be. Trump confirmed that, saying on Twitter that he “asked (Pence) to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespected our country.”

 

Some of the 49ers knelt, but the disrespect came from Pence. In a shameless bid for political points, he tried to play the country for a fool.

 

Peter King did not like Pence’s move because it upstaged Peyton Manning’s day:

 

When Peyton Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998, Mike Pence—born in Indiana, raised in Indiana, college-educated in Indiana—was a conservative talk-show host and avowed Colts fan. When Pence was elected to Congress in 2000, he moved away from Indiana for the first time but continued to root hard for the Colts in the Manning glory years. When Pence was elected governor in 2012 and Manning left for the Broncos, Pence continued to root for Manning when he played the Patriots, presumably because of the rivalry between the Colts and Patriots; Pence even tweeted his best wishes to Manning before a Denver-New England game several years ago.

 

So it surprised no one when Vice President Pence announced last week that he would be attending the ceremony in Indianapolis on Sunday when Manning’s number would be retired at halftime of the Colts-49ers game. Pence would be in Las Vegas on Saturday to honor the victims of the murderous gun rampage there, and he would be moving on to California for a vice presidential appearance on Monday, but he would fly on Air Force 2 with his traveling party for the 1,600-mile trip from Las Vegas to central Indiana to pay tribute to Manning at his halftime ceremony.

 

With Pence’s trip, of course, there would be a traveling press pool of about 20 and a traveling Secret Service detail of approximately 10 with Pence and about 20 more doing advance work to sweep Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis hotel where the VP’s party would stay on Saturday night and Sunday morning. There would be an ambulance in front of Pence’s motorcade and a trauma team on alert at a local hospital. There certainly would be other manpower needs associated with a vice presidential trip, at a significant cost to U.S. taxpayers.

 

Meanwhile, at some point during the weekend, President Donald Trump and Pence spoke, and Trump told Pence—he admitted as such on Twitter—that if there was a demonstration with players kneeling during the national anthem on Sunday, Pence was to leave the stadium.

 

If there was one certain thing at the 49ers-Colts game, it was that some 49ers would demonstrate during the anthem. This is the only team since the start of the 2016 season to have one or more players either sit or kneel for every game—preseason and regular-season. There was absolutely no chance that this game would go off with 45 Colts standing on their side of the field and 45 members of the Niners standing on their side of the field. For at least the previous 26 games that the 49ers played, first with Colin Kaepernick sitting and then kneeling, and this year with safety Eric Reid leading players in some form of demonstration, the team did something during the anthem. Last week in Arizona, about 30 players kneeled.

 

So why did Pence show up? This was a fait accompli—that some Niners would kneel, that Pence would walk out, and that it would turn into the story of the day in the NFL.

 

And in the process, it would cast a gigantic shadow over the ceremony Pence even tweeted about Sunday morning.

 

Vice President Pence @VP

Looking forward to cheering for our @Colts & honoring the great career of #18 Peyton Manning at @LucasOilStadium today. Go Colts!

 

Unless he was tone-deaf and had zero press people on his staff telling him, “The 49ers are going to kneel, Mr. Vice President,” Pence knew he would be leaving and joining his boss in chiding NFL players for demonstrating during the national anthem.

 

Approximately 23 players for the 49ers kneeled. Pence walked out. By 8 p.m. Sunday, the top five stories on the Indianapolis Star website were:        

 

• VP Pence leaves Colts game after 49ers players kneel

• Swarens: Throw the flag on Mike Pence’s walkout

• VP Mike Pence tweets same picture from Colts game

• Doyel: Pence uses Colts for political purposes

• Veterans, activists respond to Pence’s Colts walkout

 

No popular headline about Manning’s number 18 retired by the Colts or his induction into the team’s ring of honor. Judge for yourself about the motives of Pence, a native Hoosier, at the glorious celebration of one of the greatest athletes in the history of the state. He could have stayed away from Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. It’s a disgrace that Pence copied his boss and hogged a spotlight he had no business even sharing, never mind owning.

 

But the Vice President of the United States slapped Manning and Pence’s beloved Colts in the face. Whether he’s a puppet for the President or his own man, Pence trumped a day that belonged to the greatest football hero the state of Indiana has ever seen, and he did it for political purposes. He stole Manning’s last great day as a Colt. Mike Pence will have to live with himself for that.

 

Meanwhile, Jerry Jones of the Cowboys becomes the first owner to say that on his team he will use his rights as an employer to compel a certain standard of behavior on company time.  Drew Davison in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will bench any player in his organization who disrespects the flag during the national anthem.

 

Jones made his strongest statements regarding the national anthem protests throughout the NFL after Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers. Jones is the first NFL owner to go on record about disciplining players for protesting during the anthem.

 

“If there is anything disrespecting the flag, then we will not play. Period,” Jones said. “We’re going to respect the flag and I’m going to create the perception of it.

 

 “The main thing I want to do is make it real clear – there is no room here if it comes between looking non-supportive of our players and of each other or creating the impression that you’re disrespecting the flag, we will be non-supportive of each other. We will not disrespect the flag.”

– – –

No Cowboys players have knelt during the anthem, but a couple Cowboys defensive linemen made subtle protests Sunday. David Irving and Damontre Moore each held up their fists at the end of the anthem.

 

Irving and Moore both feel that it is not an act disrespecting the flag. Both have family members in the military, and those family members are OK with it.

– – –

Irving: “I’m standing, hand over my heart. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. My dad is a master sergeant, he’s a Marine. I know what he thinks. He’s OK with it as most Marines I speak to are. My brothers are in the Marines. They don’t think it’s disrespecting the flag.”

– – –

Jones was not aware that Irving and Moore raised their fists near the end of the anthem, but reiterated that disrespecting the flag would not be tolerated by his organization.

 

“We’re going to respect the flag and I’m going to create the perception of it,” Jones said. “And we have. I’m not aware [of players raising their fists] and wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not aware of that. If you say so you saw it. We as a team are very much on the page together. We have made our expression that we’re together.”

 

Jones had no issues with Pence leaving the Colts game early, saying he agrees with the vice president that kneeling for the anthem is disrespectful.

 

Jones went on to say that in a conversation he had with Trump last month that the President told him there is a league policy requiring players to stand during the anthem. However, an NFL spokesman said this is a policy, not a rule, requiring players to stand.

 

“I’m not saying whether or not whether I was aware of it or not, but [Trump] did say. He said this could have all been resolved,” Jones said. “Whether I agree with him or not, I also said you know there are several things we don’t agree about. We’re friends, but there are several things we don’t agree about.

 

“But I want to be real clear – if it comes between the impression of the perception that we’re not standing together supporting each other, or the perception that we’re disrespecting the flag we will not – the perception that we’re not together will be secondary to not respecting the flag. Respecting the flag is first. Or the perception of not respecting the flag.

 

“We are going to stand for the flag and we’ve done that. We’ve kneeled in support of each other before the national anthem, and we’ve stood for the national anthem. We’ve always done that. There’s no equivocation. We’ll stand for the flag.”

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com has some thoughts as he contends that the NFL cannot just exercise its “right” as an employer to tell its employees to exercise their “political rights” on their own time:

 

Sunday became, in many respects, one of the most monumental days in the history of the anthem controversy. It marked the renewal of the effort by politicians to make the issue their own. It also became the day on which the owners pushed back.

 

Whether the reasoned, pragmatic approach from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who has essentially surrendered to the notion that kneeling constitutes disrespect regardless of whether it actually doesn’t, or the aggressive, matter-of-fact, my-way-or-the-highway attitude from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who seems to have grown weary of tiptoeing around what he wants, the owners abandoned months of paralysis and decided to remind everyone that the bosses are the bosses and the workers are the workers.

 

On Monday morning, the man who leads the union that defends and advances the rights of the workers made his position clear.

 

“Last week both the Commissioner and the Chair of the NFL Management Council John Mara were clear when they assured our union leaders, in the presence of other owners, that they would respect the Constitutional rights of our members without retribution,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. “I look forward to the day when everyone in Management can unite and truly embrace and article what that Flag stands for: ‘Liberty and Justice for All’ instead of some of them just talking about standing. We look forward to continuing our talks with them on this very issue.”

 

As to the claim, previously from outsiders and most recently from Jones, that anything other than standing for the anthem constitutes disrespect, Smith disagrees.

 

“No player is disrespecting our Country or our Flag. As thousands have shown in the past, it takes bravery and courage to speak and confront these issues as our players have, especially when it is unpopular with some. There is room for Management to do the same and maybe then players do not have to risk the taunts and threats alone. This is their opportunity to lead as well and will be a true test of the motto that ‘Football is Family.’”

 

Two weeks ago, that was the approach. But with no long-term solution and with players not content to simply get it out of their systems and go back to standing, some owners have decided to do the things they did that allowed them to build and maintain great fortunes — issue orders and expect them to be complied with.

 

That could end up being a huge mistake. The owners have plenty of power, but on this issue they have none. The more they try to exercise it, the more inclined the players will be to resist. And the more inclined the union will be to stop treating this as a shared concern but as a matter of collective bargaining.

 

Which is maybe how it should have been treated all along.

 

If, in the end, the league wants to have the ability to tell players to stand for the anthem, the league needs to be ready to give the players something significant in return. And the harder the owners try to clamor for an outcome they currently don’t have the power to engineer, the bigger the concession should be.

 

The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard has a poll that says that attitudes towards the NFL have indeed significantly declined over the player’s anthem protest and the NFL’s appeasement of it.

 

Over just one month of player, coach, and owner protests of the flag and National Anthem, the National Football League has gone from America’s sport to the least liked of top professional and college sports, according to a new poll.

 

From the end of August to the end of September, the favorable ratings for the NFL have dropped from 57 percent to 44 percent, and it has the highest unfavorable rating – 40 percent – of any big sport, according to the Winston Group survey provided exclusively to Secrets.

 

Worse for football, which was already seeing lower TV ratings and empty stadium seats, the month of protests and complaints about them from President Trump drove core fans, men 34-54, away, the most significant indicator that NFL brass aren’t in touch with their base.

 

The Winston Poll from the Washington-based Winston Group found that the attitude of those fans went from an August rating of 73 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable to 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a remarkable turn against the sport.

 

According to the poll analysis, “more critically for the NFL, the fall off in favorables occurred among important audiences. Among males, NFL favorables fell 23 percent, going from 68 percent to 45 percent. In looking at a more specific audience, males 34-54, NFL favorables fell 31 percent, going from 73 percent to 42 percent. Among this group the NFL has a surprising negative image, as it went from +54 percent in August to -5 percent in September.”

 

The Winston Poll was of brand images for the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and college football and basketball. It was of 1,000 registered voters and taken August 29-30 and then again September 28-29.

 

In August, baseball had the highest favorables, just a few points above the NFL.

 

August Winston Poll

 

MLB/                           61 percent favorable to 13 percent unfavorable.

NFL/                           57 percent favorable to 23 percent unfavorable.

College football/        53 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.

College basketball/   48 percent favorable to 17 percent unfavorable.

NBA/                         47 percent favorable to 23 percent unfavorable.

 

September Winston Poll

 

MLB/                           63 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.

College football/         51 percent favorable to 21 percent unfavorable.

NBA/                          46 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable.

College basketball/    45 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable.

NFL/                           44 percent favorable to 40 percent unfavorable.

 

During the month, the college basketball drop was likely influenced by the suspension of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino who is linked to a scandal.

 

A comment from law professor Glenn Reynolds of Instapundti:

 

The problem is, the people running the NFL — like the people running many institutions — care more about approval from their social peer group than they do about the opinions of their customers, or even the performance of the institutions they run. The solution is to get people from a different social peer group, one more like the customers, to run things, but that’s hard given the tremendous homogeneity of America’s ruling class.

 

Does The Commish have his new contract yet?  If he does, the NFL has re-signed someone whose incredible unpopularity is noted by Peter King:

 

The NFL can, and certainly will, slough off the reception for the commissioner here (in Indianapolis), but I found it notable, to say the least. The setup of the program paired speakers together, something I’ve never seen at a public event. The MC made a short introductory talk about each man and asked both to come up at the same time. One spoke, one sat between Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay. Jeff Saturday introduced (oddly) with David Letterman. Bill Polian introduced with the former governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. Goodell introduced with Tony Dungy. Now why were the speakers introduced this way? And why was Goodell introduced with Dungy, the most revered person in the crowd (save Manning)? Take a guess. When Goodell took the podium to speak, he was greeted by boos from—this is a very rough estimate—about half the crowd of maybe 10,000 to 12,000 fans. It seemed stunning, on such a celebratory day, with such good and warm feelings, that such a folksy town like Indianapolis would rain down boos on a commissioner who went out of his way to fly to Indiana to pay tribute to Manning. When Roger Goodell is booed in these environs, in front of a crowd ready to shower nothing but love on the dais … well, I am dubious, for as long as he is on office, whether he’ll ever rehab his public reputation.

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

The DB has seen various takes on NFL TV ratings, some of which, particularly for FOX on Sunday are relatively encouraging.  This from Michael David Smith:

 

The NFL got unsurprisingly strong ratings for Sunday’s big game between the Packers and Cowboys.

 

The game drew a 15.0 overnight rating, a big increase from the late afternoon national game in Week Five of the 2016 season. Last year’s comparable Week Five late afternoon game, Bengals-Cowboys on CBS, drew a 13.1 overnight rating, according to Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily.

 

That 15.0 overnight rating is one of the best ratings in the NFL this season, although it doesn’t quite match the 16.1 for Cowboys-Broncos in Week Two. The Cowboys are the NFL’s best TV draw.

 

NBC’s ratings for Sunday Night Football were also up from Week Five last year, although maybe not up as much as expected. Last night’s Chiefs-Texans game got a 10.6 overnight rating, up 4 percent from Giants-Packers on Sunday night in Week Five last year. However, last year there was a presidential debate at the same time as the Week Five Sunday night game, so ratings were lower than normal.

 

Overall, NFL ratings seem to be rebounding from 2016 but not up to 2015 levels.

 

But we do note this from Peter King:

 

A word about NFL TV ratings. Several words, actually. The NFL is concerned about them. Some people in the league are hugely concerned about them. They should be. A year ago, when the ratings were tanking, most media cognoscenti said it was because the rancorous presidential campaign was sucking all the TV air out of the room, and the marginal football fan was watching Fox News or MSNBC or CNN instead of football. So we’ll skip 2016 ratings for the purpose of this exercise, and compare 2017 to 2015.

 

In Week 4, ESPN’s Monday night rating for the Kansas City-Washington game was 19 percent lower than the Detroit-Seattle Week 4 game in 2015. NBC’s Sunday night Indianapolis-Seattle rating was down 32 percent compared to the Dallas-New Orleans game in 2015. Now, you can say a lot about that second comparison, namely that any game with Dallas will get a good rating. But no matter what the matchup, to be down by a third, week over week, from two years ago is notable.

 

Now, I doubt in NBC’s case that a third fewer people watched this year’s game in Week 4 than watched in 2015. People who follow the ratings game closely tell me that some fans are cord-cutters who have found ways to watch that aren’t measured by traditional rating services. Still, the numbers are concerning.

 

 

PETER KING TRAVEL NOTE

 

You may wonder why I sing the virtues of Indianapolis as a travel city. There is no big-league city that comes close to the convenience, in my book. In part, that’s because you do not need a rental car when you go to cover a game or event there; everything downtown is, at most, a 15-minute walk. Then there’s the airport. It’s a great one, never over-crowded, and it’s got a good rotunda of shops and coffee and a wine bar and the underrated Patachou restaurant. I had a 6:35 a.m. Delta flight from Indianapolis to New York on Sunday. Check out this Indy convenience factor:

 

5:18 a.m.: Finish packing in downtown Westin. Leave room. Get in cab for airport.

5:39 a.m.: Arrive at airport. Go to TSA precheck line. Four people in front of me.

5:42 a.m.: Get coffee.

5:47 a.m.: Arrive at gate A11. Flight’s on time.

 

Granted, the quick trip happened in part because of the insanely early hour I left my hotel. But trust me: Nowhere else in an NFL city can you leave your downtown hotel room and be at your airport gate in 29 minutes at any time of day. Not even close.

 

The DB calls B.S. on this.  21 minutes from home (comparably located to downtown) to gate in Tampa on Saturday (with parking a car, but no coffee).

 

You probably could do it in the wee hours in San Diego, Philadelphia, Reagan in Washington, Sky Harbor in Phoenix and maybe even Logan in Boston on a Sunday morning.  The airport in Indy isn’t even that close to downtown.

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Y.A. TITTLE

 

Marc Sessler at NFL.com on the passing Sunday of one of the all-time greats:

 

Y.A. Tittle, the Hall of Fame quarterback and celebrated former signal-caller for the Colts, 49ers and Giants, passed away Sunday night. He was 90.

 

The sports information department at LSU, Tittle’s alma mater, confirmed his passing, noting that the NFL icon was peacefully surrounded by family and friends.

 

Tittle’s storied career through pro football began in 1948 with the Baltimore Colts and spanned three decades and 17 seasons. During long stints with Baltimore, San Francisco and the New York Giants, Tittle piled up two MVP awards, four All-NFL selections and seven Pro Bowl appearances.

 

In a 1962 showdown with the Redskins, Tittle, entrenched with the Giants, unfurled an NFL-record seven touchdowns, helping to boost his career total of 212 scoring passes.

 

Looking back on that distant afternoon’s seven scoring strikes, Tittle — nicknamed the “The Bald Eagle” for his absence of hair — once reflected in a conversation with ESPN: “I didn’t know I was that good.”

 

Even younger football fans will recall the iconic photograph taken of Tittle: a cinematic, grainy, black-and-white image showing the fallen signal-caller on his knees, helmet off and bleeding from the forehead after throwing a pick-six in 1964, the final year of his enduring career.

 

Speaking of his post-playing days, Tittle’s wife, Dianne, once told ESPN that the game was his “emotional home,” noting that he was “was homesick for it” until the end.

 

Long before the Tom Bradys of the world grappled with sports science to author lengthy careers, Tittle was out there in the mid-60s flinging passes at age 38, daring Father Time with every snap.

 

He goes down as one of the most durable, intriguing and beloved passers of his day — one remembered by his peers as an old-school warrior who lived for Sundays until the end.