The Daily Briefing Monday, September 17, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

Peter King points out:

 

• Florida is 6-0. New York/New Jersey is 1-5.

 

King also spots this passage in “Big Game”, the new book by political insider Mark Leibovich:

 

“Goodell is clearly gifted at working the members. He makes them feel important and heard. And he is especially good at gratifying the older members, whom he cultivates as mentors, even quasi-father figures … When you hear Goodell speak around his owner-bosses, he can evince a similar tone of an approval-seeking son.” This is as spot-on as anything he writes in the book.

 

King finds nothing ironic in writing this about the writing of Leibovich, a reporter for the New York Times:

 

He also slapped around the business of covering the NFL—“the nugget business,” he called it—finding, and I am taking this farther than Leibovich did in the book, the business of “off the record” between journalists and sources in the NFL to be out of control. I will admit there’s something to that. But that’s why this book is important. It’s an impartial, smart and journalistic voice examining an insular business. I liked this book a lot, even just to show all of us in the business that it’s good to step back once in a while and say, Open your eyes.

 

And after watching a 31-yard pass interference penalty set up the Ravens on Thursday night, this from King:

 

I think even 15 yards, in this case, would have been excessive. But 31? Just way excessive. There are two or three of these every week, and the league refuses to change the rule because the old-timers think defensive coaches would abuse the rule by coaching up corners to grab receivers or tackle them whenever defenders are clearly beaten downfield. Then give back judges the freedom to make flagrant DPI a spot foul; if an official sees a defender tackling a receiver downfield, call the flagrant foul and place the ball at the spot of the foul. But I can tell you this: Last year, I asked Stanford coach David Shaw about whether he sees coaches abuse the rule in college football—which does not have DPI be a spot foul. He said he doesn’t see it much at all.

 

I’ll ask you the same question I asked when the NFL was discussing moving the extra-point ball-placement line from the 2-yard line (where teams were about 99-percent accurate on PATs) to the 15-yard-line. I asked: If you were inventing a game, would you include a play with 99-percent certainty of scoring a point? Of course not. Same in this. In inventing football, would you make the maximum offensive pass-interference call a 10-yard penalty and leave open the penalty yardage for defensive pass interference—so the same degree of interference on defense could be 55 yards while it maxes out at 10 yards for the offense? You wouldn’t do that, if you had any sense of competitive fairness.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

LB CLAY MATTHEWS rushed Vikings QB KIRK COUSINS.  He arrived in a timely manner, he didn’t hit high, he didn’t hit low, he didn’t hit with his helmet, he didn’t hit Cousins in the head, he did have some body weight on Cousins, but not much, certainly not a pile drive.  Cousins threw an interception that would have won the game for Green Bay.  And referee Tony Corrente threw a flag, that even after the game he felt violated some code known only to him.

 

Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

The Green Bay Packers had just forced Kirk Cousins to throw a crushing interception. It was time to party at Lambeau Field — until it wasn’t.

 

If this were a visual piece, this is where we’d insert the tight shot on a single yellow flag sitting on a patch of green grass.

 

Clay Matthews Jr. pressured Cousins on the first-down play, hitting the quarterback just after he threw and knocking him to the ground in what appeared to be a legal takedown. But officials saw it differently, calling roughing the passer on Matthews.

 

The penalty negated the interception, giving Minnesota new life. The Vikings went down the field, scoring the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion eight plays later.

 

Matthews was miffed after the game, lost for an explanation for what he thought was a clean hit.

 

“I mean, I don’t know even know where to start to be completely honest with you,” Matthews said. “I have so many emotions running through as far as just what a terrible call it was. But at the same time, I don’t know what else to do. I mean, I don’t know. You let me know.

 

“Tell me: Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within his waist, his chest. I got my head across, put my hands down. To call it at that point of the game is just unbelievable. Last week, OK, shame on me. But this week, that’s unbelievable.

 

“The worst part is we’ll probably send it in and you know what they’ll say? They’re gonna say, you know … They’ll find fault on me because they’re going to agree with the refs. So I don’t know. It’s just a difficult call to call. You see how it changed the game, and I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control here. I don’t know what else to do.”

 

Referee Tony Corrente explained after the game officials believed Matthews picked up Cousins and drove him into the ground. It was not a body-weight penalty, Corrente clarified, though Matthews said he didn’t receive an explanation in the moments after the play.

 

It’s no coincidence that this same Vikings-Packers matchup produced a new amendment to the roughing the passer rule after Anthony Barr landed on top of Aaron Rodgers in a similar fashion last season (though Barr’s was much more of a drive into the ground than Matthews’). Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone and the league eventually made the change in an effort to avoid such injuries moving forward.

 

Peter King (who has spent a lot of time with Corrente over the years) chides the veteran official on Twitter:

 

@peter_king

Tony Corrente is a good referee, but this is really an awful call.

 

Now for the Matthews penalty. With 1:45 left in the game and the Vikes trailing 29-21, Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander picked off Cousins and returned it to the Minnesota 18. But ref Tony Corrente called roughing the passer on Clay Matthews; Corrente said later Matthews “lifted [Cousins] and drove him into the ground.” If Matthews did lift Cousins, and it’s not clear he did, it was maybe an inch. And the “drove him into the ground part?” It looked very much like the kind of safe tackle the league is encouraging players to make in these days of uber-caution around touching the quarterback. Said Cousins: “I haven’t seen it. I’m sure it was probably a generous call, and two or three years ago, it probably doesn’t get flagged. But that’s one of those plays the Packers felt made a huge difference in the game, and there are some we felt made a huge difference in the game. Both sides can point to several plays I’m sure.”

 

You can’t hit high, you can’t hit low – and if you hit in the strike zone you might fall on the QB when you go down.  Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:

 

And there is little doubt that officials have been instructed to enforce existing rules far beyond recent precedent, an edict that slipped under the radar during a summer spent focused on a new rule against lowering the head to initiate contact — one that has produced only two flags in the first 31 games of the season.

 

Retired NFL referee Terry McAulay, now an NBC rules analyst, has termed the ejections “uncharted territory” and “the two most interesting plays of 2018.” He also expressed relief Sunday that he no longer is in position to incorporate the emphasis against roughing the quarterback.

 

@SNFRules

Replying to @ProFootballTalk

I’ll just say this now: if the two hits on the QB in #MINvsGB are indeed fouls for roughing the passer, I am glad that I am no longer on the field and have to make those calls.

 

Indeed, what seemed a simple point of emphasis on a specific portion of roughing the passer has intensified into much more.

 

Among officiating points distributed this summer was a competition committee note on the risk for injury when a defender “used all or part of his body weight to land on a quarterback immediately after the ball is thrown.” The committee directed the NFL officiating department to “emphasize that the defender is responsible for avoiding landing on the quarterback when taking him to the ground.”

 

Richardson was one of five players penalized for doing so in Week 1. But even after those calls, 10 other flags came for different classifications of roughing the quarterback. As the chart below shows, that number alone would have tied a recent NFL high for such calls in Week 1.

 

Referee Tony Corrente, in fact, penalized Mathews for violating the prohibition against lifting a quarterback and driving him into the ground. Replays showed only the slightest hints of that mechanism as Matthews hit Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, but those are the kinds of calls you see when officials are instructed to err on the side of penalty enforcement.

 

Of the 21 flags thus far, none impacted a game more than the one against Matthews. It overturned a Packers interception with 1 minute, 37 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, giving the Vikings new life on a drive that ultimately tied the game and sent it into overtime.

 

“You see how it changed the game,” Matthews told reporters. “I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control. I don’t know what else to do.”

 

Coaches have suggested various techniques for minimizing the actions that trigger flags, including rolling off the quarterback and using the “gator tackle” technique that in essence pulls the quarterback on top of the defender. Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson said he showed Richardson film of his Week 1 foul, pinpointing the moment to roll away, but both he and Richardson acknowledged the advice sounds easier than it is.

 

“How would you roll?” Richardson said. “You’ve got to be on the ground to roll. I don’t see too many people able to roll when they’re flying through the air. [Quarterbacks] have got to brace for it, too. Everybody gets hurt in this game.”

 

Clay Matthews has been flagged twice for roughing the passer this season, including on a play that wiped out a potentially game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter of the 29-29 tie with the Vikings. Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire

Other than the league backing away, it’s difficult to see how this evens out. In some ways, Patterson noted, the small legal strike zone on quarterbacks has contributed to players landing on them in the first place.

 

Prohibitions against hitting quarterbacks in the pocket in the head or neck area, as well as at or below the knee, leave defenders aiming for their chest and core area.

 

“If I’m hitting you there,” Patterson said, “most likely we’re core against core. So most likely we’re going to fall on top of each other. Whereas, if I could hit you [low or high], it isn’t going to happen. But the core of my body is the core of your body, which is the legal strike zone. Most likely if we both fall down, I’m going to fall on top of you. So you add that next layer.”

 

 

MINNESOTA

The NFL proves to be too big a deal (at least at this time) for the Auburn kicker the Vikings drafted, so they go with the veteran who has been around the block.  Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com:

 

The Minnesota Vikings cut ties with kicker Daniel Carlson on Monday, one day after he went 0-for-3 on field goals against Green Bay. Minnesota is replacing the rookie with veteran kicker Dan Bailey, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

The Vikings also announced the signing of wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom Minnesota brought in for a workout on Sept. 7.

 

Carlson missed field goals from 48, 49 and 35 yards in the Vikings’ 29-29 overtime tie against the Packers. After his first field goal attempt in OT sailed wide right, Minnesota went back to Carlson to kick a 35-yard would-be winner.

 

Coach Mike Zimmer called the decision to release Carlson “very easy.”

 

“Did you see the game?” Zimmer responded Monday, when asked about waiving the former Auburn kicker.

 

Carlson lamented postgame that nerves likely played a role in missing his final kick.

 

“It feels terrible. Obviously I let my team down,” Carlson said. “That last one was probably more just confidence after missing twice early. That’s frustrating. That shorter one I should never miss like that.”

 

Minnesota traded up into the fifth round of the draft to select Carlson with the 167th pick in April, giving up two draft picks in the process. He was the highest-drafted kicker in team history. The rookie competed with former Vikings kicker Kai Forbath during the spring and throughout the first two weeks of training camp. The kicking competition effectively ended on Aug. 20 when Minnesota released Forbath after two seasons.

 

Despite cutting ties with Carlson five months after he was drafted, Zimmer says he’s not concerned about the picks Minnesota gave up in the process.

 

“Nah, that’s water off a duck’s back,” Zimmer said. “We’ll get some more sixth-rounders next year, I’m not worried about that. Plus we got three undrafted free agents on the roster, too, so it’s probably better than having those sixth-rounders.”

 

Bailey, the second-most-accurate kicker in NFL history, was released by the Cowboys during roster cuts. Dallas opted to stick with Brett Maher, who had never kicked in a regular-season NFL game.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The Giants have lost their center JON HALAPIO for the year.

 

When Giants center Jon Halapio was carted off the field on Sunday night, his injury looked serious. And the team confirmed today that it was.

 

Halapio suffered fractures to his lower leg and ankle and needs surgery to repair the injuries, the team announced today. He’ll miss the rest of the season.

 

The Giants’ offensive line was already struggling, and Halapio’s injury won’t help. Brett Jones had been the Giants’ backup center, but the Giants traded him to the Vikings at the end of the preseason. With Halapio out, the Giants will either need to bring someone in off the street or go to one of their backup offensive linemen, with John Greco, Spencer Pulley and Evan Brown the candidates.

 

Halapio was a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2014 who has bounced around the league for a few years before catching on with the Giants. He became a starter late last season and started both games this season.

 

Which leads Peter King to write:

 

I think I’m not trying to be Mr. Negative here, but the Giants looked so bad Sunday night, and so incapable of protecting Eli Manning and blocking for Saquon Barkley, that I could see them starting 0-7. On the docket the next five weeks: at Houston, where the 0-2 Texans will be a desperate team in the home opener; New Orleans at home; at Carolina, with a formidable rush; the Eagles and their deep defensive front on a short-week Thursday at home, and then at Atlanta on a Monday night.

– – –

RB SAQUON BARKLEY didn’t do much with 14 catches.

 

@FO_ScottKacsmar

Saquon Barkley had the fewest receiving yards (80) in a game with at least 14 catches in NFL history.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles say QB CARSON WENTZ is good to go Sunday against the Colts on FOX.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Carson Wentz is back.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles announced Monday that Wentz has been medically cleared and will start Week 3 versus the Indianapolis Colts.

 

“He’s ready, ready to take the reins again and move forward,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday.

 

Sunday will mark the first time Wentz will see the field since tearing his ACL and LCL on Dec. 10, 2017.

 

The Eagles were patient in bringing back their MVP candidate following knee surgery. Wentz participated early in training camp with the team optimistic he would return for the opener. The quarterback, however, was not medically cleared for contact until Monday.

 

The Eagles owned the luxury of deploying Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to open the season, allowing them to tread carefully with Wentz’s return.

 

After two weeks watching an up-and-down Foles lead the Eagles to a 1-1 start while averaging 5.5 yards per attempt and a 78.9 passer rating, Wentz is back under center. The Eagles squeaked by the Falcons in the opener and fell to the Buccaneers on Sunday.

 

Pederson said he has no plans to hold Wentz back, expects no limitations, and won’t “coach scared” with the QB returning from injury.

 

“He’s going to be prepared mentally, now it’s a matter of the physical part taking over,” Pederson said. “… In my mind, he’s cleared, he’s cleared. No need to hold back.”

 

Wentz’s return will provide a much-needed boost to the Eagles offense that struggled with consistency under Foles. How long it takes Wentz to shake off the rust remains to be seen.

 

“I think there’s going to be maybe an issue or two. It’s going to take some time to get back into the rhythm of the flow of game,” Pederson said. “The speed of the game is different than the speed of practice. So we do everything we can to try to simulate that during the week and try to prepare him that way.

 

“He’s going to be prepared mentally. Now it’s just a matter of the physical part taking over.”

 

When last we saw Wentz on the field, the 25-year-old quarterback was performing at an MVP-level, making breathtaking throws, and using Houdini-like magic to escape rushes.

 

One issue Wentz must overcome in his return is a battered Eagles receiving corps. Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) remains week-to-week, Pederson said Monday. Mike Wallace fractured his fibula in Sunday’s game and is out an undetermined about of time. And Mack Hollins is on IR with a groin issue.

 

The injuries mean beyond Nelson Agholor, there isn’t much in the receiver corps for Wentz to rely on in his return. Kamar Aiken, DeAndre Carter and Shelton Gibson are currently the top receivers in line for outside snaps. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Philly looked to bring in help this week.

 

 

WASHINGTON

 

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Has Peter King ever had one of his Goats of the Game come from a winning team before?

 

Damontae Kazee, safety, Atlanta. I know the Falcons won, but Kazee’s play and resulting ejection really rankled me. Eighteen minutes into a game that began with a debilitated defense (including the injury absence of crucial safety Keanu Neal), Kazee, starting because Neal was out, made a stupid and totally uncalled for hit on Cam Newton. Kazee dove head-first at a sliding Newton, who was clearly giving himself up. The hit left Newton shaken and laid out on the ground. Kazee, rightfully, was ejected … leaving the Falcons down two safeties five quarters into the 2018 season, in an important division game. His teammates saved Kazee’s bacon with the 31-24 win.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS

WR MICHAEL THOMAS is getting plenty of attention from QB DREW BREES.  After 12 catches on Sunday, he has 28 for the season which is an NFL record for the first two games of the season.

 

Brees has thrown 30 passes in the direction of Thomas, 28 have been caught for 269 yards and 3 TDs.  That is a 93.3 completion percentage although the 8.97 yards per pass is only excellent and not other worldly.  The only in the bad thing in the equation I that Thomas has lost two fumbles after catches.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times was their when the front runner for 2018 NFC MVP took the podium postgame:

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick was ready to dress for success. After shredding the Philadelphia Eagles for 402 yards passing and four touchdowns in a 27-21 win Sunday, once again he was helped out by receiver DeSean Jackson.

 

First, he put on the black, gold-rimmed sunglasses. Then came the receiver’s cable necklace thick enough to hold an expansion bridge. Next he was handed the blinding, diamond-encrusted 1 of 1 pendant, followed by a diamond bracelet on his left wrist.

 

Finally, as teammates roared in approval in the locker room, a shirtless Fitzpatrick pulled a silk black jacket with white trim over his bare shoulders and zipped it only halfway.

 

“We just have to stay humble,” Fitzpatrick deadpanned as he stepped to the podium for the postgame interview. “We’ve got to make sure we know how to handle success and all those things. We can’t change who we are.”

 

The Bucs are not who we thought they were.

 

Frankly, neither is the 35-year-old Fitzpatrick, the leader of this bling dynasty.

 

Not only did he become the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for at least 400 yards and four touchdowns in each of the first two games to start the season, Fitzpatrick gave the Bucs a 2-0 start for the first time since 2010.

 

A week ago, Fitzpatrick passed for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns while running for a score in a 48-40 win at New Orleans.

 

But nobody probably thought he could duplicate that Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.

 

But just like a week ago, FitzMagic cast his spell early, connecting with Jackson on a 75-yard touchdown pass only 11 seconds into the game.

 

It wasn’t the play that came into the huddle. But Fitzpatrick saw Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby blitz off the edge, leaving a safety to rotate to Mike Evans on the left side. That left Jackson one on one with Jalen Mills, and he easily beat him for a 75-yard touchdown.

 

“I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw Fitz step back and throw it and said, ‘It’s got to be coming to me,’ Jackson said. “So I stayed thin, he threw it to the middle of the field, I tried to run away from the defender, cut back and the rest is history.”

 

History is what Fitzpatrick seems bent on making.

 

On Sunday, he threw touchdowns to four different players: In addition to the 75-yard bomb to Jackson, he hit tight end O.J. Howard for a 75-yard touchdown, receiver Chris Godwin for an 8-yard score and Evans for a 4-yard TD.

 

“It’s a quarterback’s dream to be in the huddle with those guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’m getting to do it with the guys up front. I’m getting time to survey the field and pick and choose. It was another day. We had our struggles. It wasn’t perfect. There was a little bit more of a grind than last week. We had our lull for a little bit. But the guys stayed on it and made plays when they had to.”

 

Even the Bucs’ mistakes erased big chunk plays. Fitzpatrick hit Howard on a pass over the middle, but he coughed up the ball and it was technically ruled an interception by Darby. Then Evans caught a 16-yard pass in the fourth quarter but lost a fumble trying to struggle for extra yards.

 

Like Fitzpatrick, the 31-year-old Jackson is seeing a rebirth in his second season with the Bucs. A year ago, he only caught 50 passes for 668 yards and three touchdowns. But playing with Fitzpatrick, his third TD came with his sixth reception of the season. In two games, Jackson has nine catches for 275 yards and three TDs, a gaudy 30.6 yard average.

 

“He’s lost a step,” Fitzpatrick shouted from the next locker.

 

“They all think I’m old and slow and can’t play anymore,” Jackson said. “He knows better than that.”

 

Jackson looked back at Fitzpatrick. “How old are you, bro?” he said.

 

“Thirty-one?”

 

“I’ve got an 11-year-old,” Fitzpatrick said, pointing to his son Brady, who was sitting in his dad’s locker with his brother, Tate.

 

“It was unbelievable,” Jackson said. “He’s playing out of the world right now. Us old guys are in our prime.”

 

He’s the first QB to throw for 400+ yards and 4+ TDs in both of the first two games.  It was the 3rd time in NFL a QB had pulled off the feat in back-to-back contests.

 

Some other Fitz facts:

 

Fitzpatrick is not the first quarterback ever to throw for 400-plus yards in each of his team’s first two games of a season; he’s the third. Two NFL MVPs join him on the list, as both Tom Brady and Cam Newton accomplished that feat in 2011. And, no, Fitzpatrick is not the first quarterback ever to throw at least four touchdown passes in each of his team’s first two games of a season; he is, again, the third. Mahomes has matched that accomplishment this year and New England’s Drew Bledsoe did it first in 1997.

– – –

His four 50-plus yard touchdown throws tied him with Joe Namath (1972) for the most through a team’s first two games in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also became the first quarterback in Bucs history to throw four touchdowns in consecutive games, and the first to have multiple 75-yard passing touchdowns in a single game.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

PK GREG ZEURLEIN is hurt, but the Rams are only going for a short term shaky fix with the familiar face of Kickin’ SAM FICKEN.  Herbie Teope of NFL.com:

 

Head coach Sean McVay hinted after Sunday’s game at the possibility of bringing back kicker Sam Ficken, and now the move appears on track.

 

The Rams are expected to sign Ficken as a replacement for Greg Zuerlein, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported, via sources informed of the situation.

 

Zuerlein suffered a groin injury during pregame warmups, but the Rams didn’t skip a beat on offense and special teams. The Rams compensated by converting three two-point conversions and punter Johnny Hekker kicked an extra point. Hekker also connected on a 20-yard field goal in the Rams’ 34-0 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

 

 

McVay told reporters after the game that he was unsure of how long Zuerlein would be out. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, however, reported Monday that the Rams are not putting Zuerlein on injured reserve, which indicates the team doesn’t anticipate a long-term injury.

 

Ficken is now set to rejoin the Rams after filling in for Zuerlein late last season, and the Rams’ head coach indicated a comfort level with him.

 

“Sam came in and did a nice job if he does have to fill in for Greg for however long period of time that is,” McVay told reporters after the game, via the Rams’ official website. “But as of right now, we’ll find out, and then we move forward accordingly.”

 

Whether Ficken will be required to come through in the clutch with Zuerlein out remains to be seen, but the Rams showed Sunday they can rely on the offense to convert two-point conversions whenever needed.

 

Ficken made 6 of 8 total kicks in a 2-game stint last year (2-3 FGs, 4-5 PAT).

 

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Peter King:

 

If Philip Rivers’ weapons stay healthy, the Chargers will make the playoffs. Book it.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Peter King:

 

Ravens: 42-42, with one playoff appearance, since winning the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.

 

 

CLEVELAND

The Browns opt for an anonymous kicker to replace melted down PK ZANE GONZALEZ:

 

Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that the Browns will sign Greg Joseph over other candidates that included Cairo Santos and Blair Walsh.

 

Joseph has never kicked in a regular season game. He was in camp with the Dolphins this summer and made all three field goals and two extra points during four preseason appearances for Miami.

 

Gonzalez missed a field goal against the Steelers in the 21-21 tie in Week One and then missed four kicks against the Saints in Sunday’s 21-18 Browns loss. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Gonzalez is being evaluated for a groin injury on Monday, so he will likely be waived/injured once the move to add his replacement is official.

– – –

Peter King on the interest in WR JOSH GORDON:

 

Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Browns GM John Dorsey had received feelers from three teams about dealing Gordon, with the likelihood he will be traded Monday.

 

Two questions: Can we let a 27-year-old man try to conquer his addictive demons first? And what is the rush to do this—have the teams drooling over Gordon taken time to consider that, since entering the league six years ago, he has been suspended five times and at least once was self-admitted to a rehab facility? I’m not suggesting Gordon be banned from football for life. I am suggesting that there is evidence—circumstantial evidence, but there’s some heavy smoke here—that there’s something amiss with Gordon. And this is moving way too fast for any team to satisfactorily examine Gordon.

 

Which culminated in a trade to NEW ENGLAND.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Patriots and Browns have moved from close to agreeing on a trade sending wide receiver Josh Gordon to New England to reportedly agreeing on that trade.

 

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Patriots will send a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for Gordon. The teams have also agreed that the Browns will send a 2019 seventh-round pick back to the Patriots in the event that Gordon fails to play 10 of the 14 games left on New England’s regular season schedule.

 

Gordon was scratched from the Browns lineup against the Saints on Sunday due to a hamstring injury, but Schefter reports that Gordon is believed to be healthy enough to play for the Patriots against the Lions in Week Three.

 

If that’s the case, he’ll join Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and James White as a target for Tom Brady. Julian Edelman is set to join them in Week Five after serving a four-game suspension.

 

So much for trading him out of the AFC.

 

This from Peter King after the trade:

 

@peter_king

The Patriots don’t often do dumb things.

They are 68 million times smarter than me at football.

But I think casting your lot with a person with Gordon’s history is asinine.

Look at his resume in my column this morning.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

Peter King does his thing with the Mahomes, father and son:

 

Before the Chiefs and Steelers met Sunday at Heinz Field, Pat Mahomes the dad met Patrick Mahomes the son for their traditional pre-game hug. Pat Mahomes the retired baseball pitcher and Patrick Mahomes (yes, “Patrick;” his mom has decreed the son will be called a different name than the father) the young Chiefs quarterback have been doing this since seventh grade. If dad is at the game, he’s hugging his son and saying the same thing on this breezy 80-degree afternoon at one of the coolest places to play pro football—the confluence of the Three Rivers—that he’s said before youth, high school and college football games.

 

“Players make plays,” Pat Mahomes said to his son. “Go out there and have fun.”

 

Pat Mahomes’ 11-year major-league career ended just down the street 15 years earlier—his last MLB stop was with the Pirates in 2003—but he wasn’t thinking much about that sitting in his normal-fan end-zone seat Sunday. Mostly, he was thinking about the eerie calm of his son.

 

“It’s just crazy,” said Pat Mahomes late Sunday night after his flight home to Texas landed in Dallas. “Watching him, he’s so calm. The thing that’s funny to me is he really doesn’t realize what he just did. He went into Pittsburgh, where they’ve won more Super Bowls than any team in history, and he won. He really doesn’t think about that stuff. He doesn’t think about being in Heinz Field playing Roethlisberger. He just goes and plays football.”

 

Players make plays. Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL in making them. He’s quickly becoming the big story of this NFL season. In the Chiefs’ 42-37 win over the Steelers—the first win for Kansas City in Pittsburgh since 1986—Mahomes threw six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Watching a good portion of it on CBS, I’m surprised Ian Eagle finished the game with a voice. What Mahomes is doing has never been done. No player, never mind a player in his second and third NFL starts, has opened a season with a 10-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio in two games. Now, it’s only an eighth of the season, but Mahomes has gone on the road twice, played playoff contenders with Hall of Fame-contender quarterbacks (Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger), gone 2-0, put up 80 points, and thrown touchdown passes to four wideouts, a tight end, a running back and a fullback.

 

It’s not just the raw numbers. It’s the way he’s done it. Watch Mahomes play, and you see an eight-year vet, or someone who plays like one. No happy feet, no real highs of emotion, calm in the pocket even when there’s traffic. He’s in such a perfect system, with speedy and talented wideouts, the defending NFL rushing champion and a tight end bettered in today’s game only by the great Gronk. Andy Reid just spreads the field—five of the six touchdown passes Sunday came on two-by-two formations—and lets Mahomes find the open guy. He doesn’t care who it is.

 

I spoke to Patrick Mahomes while he and his dad walked to the team bus after the game. Patrick Mahomes was polite. He dished out credit like John Stockton dished the basketball. He sounded absolutely unsurprised by what’s happened in the first two games.

 

“What’s happened speaks to Coach Reid and everything he’s taught me in the last year,” Mahomes said. “He’s prepared me to go out and play fast. In this system, if you can play fast, you can take advantage of things against the defense. And the talent and the legends I have around me—I’m just really trying to get the ball out of my hands and into these playmakers’ hands.”

– – –

I wondered what Pat Mahomes the pitcher thought of how his son had been schooled so far. He praised Reid lavishly (“He’s taught my son how to be a professional”) but he saved special praise for Alex Smith. Last year, Smith knew when the Chiefs traded the 2018 first-round pick to move up in the 2017 first round to take Mahomes his days were numbered. Smith, of course, lasted one more season. But he taught Mahomes what he knew about football. “How to prepare, mostly,” Mahomes the quarterback told me. “He taught me how to make sure I was ready for any situation that presented itself in a game. I owe him a lot.”

 

Dads understand and appreciate help given to their children. So Pat Mahomes told Smith several times last year how much he appreciated what he did for his boy. Unspoken was the fact that they both knew Patrick was there to take Smith’s job.

 

“That’s what’s so admirable about what Alex did all season for him,” Pat Mahomes said. “I know how it was when I came up [to the Minnesota Twins, in 1992]. I remember one time that year asking Jack Morris how he threw his split-finger fastball. He said, ‘Get away from me, you little MF. You’ll be trying to take my job next year.’ ”

 

When Patrick was 6, in 2001, his father played for the Texas Rangers. Alex Rodriguez was a first-year Ranger, having signed a $252-million deal to move from Seattle. “Alex would take Patrick down to the cage, and he’d take batting practice, and then he’d break down the tape with Patrick and teach him about his swing. Patrick loves A-Rod,” Pat Mahomes said. “Being around those clubhouses was great for him. It taught him the value of hard work in sports, and how professional athletes should act.”

 

The lessons worked. Patrick fell in love with football, and football is loving him back right about now. “We’re not done,” offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy told Mahomes after the game in Pittsburgh.

 

“I know,” Patrick Mahomes said. “I’ve got a long way to go.”

 

The path looks pretty clear.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The Texans have now lost their last eight games, including two this year re-armed with QB DESHAUN WATSON and DE J.J. WATT.

 

The Texans are one of six 0-2 teams – with Seattle or Chicago destined to join them barring a tie.  The others are Buffalo, Oakland, the Giants, Detroit and Arizona.  And either Pittsburgh or Cleveland would have been 0-2 had the other kicked an OT field goal.

 

How tough is it to make the playoffs with an 0-2 start?  The odds say that maybe one of them will do so.  John Kryk did some research in the Toronto Sun:

 

Once again this year the NFL is selling hope, hard, for slow-starting teams.

 

“Since realignment in 2002,” an item in a news release previewing Week 2 says, “116 of the 192 playoff teams (60.4%) began the year either 1-1 or 0-2, including eight [of 12 playoff] teams last season and six [of eight] division champions…”

 

The intended takeaway? As the item’s all-caps lead-in words state:

 

“NO NEED TO PANIC.”

 

Well, yes, there bloody well is if your record is 0-1 right now.

 

Because if you separate the teams over the past 10 years that started 0-2 from the 1-1s, you’ll find that nearly all 0-2 teams failed to reach the post-season.

 

A dive by Postmedia into NFL records from 2008-17 shows that only 7.5% of playoff teams (9-of-120) lost their first two games. And if you go back only nine seasons, not 10, the playoff likelihood for 0-2 teams drops to 5.6% (6-of-108).

 

The ‘Owen Two’ parade …

NFL teams that started 0-2 in each of the past 10 seasons, with playoff teams in CAPITALS:

 

2017

NEW ORLEANS, Cleveland, LA Chargers, Cincinnati, NY Jets, NY Giants, Indianapolis,

Chicago, San Francisco,

 

2016

MIAMI, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Washington, Indianapolis. Chicago, New Orleans,

 

2015

HOUSTON, SEATTLE, Baltimore, Indianapolis, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans

 

2014

INDIANAPOLIS, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Oakland, NY Giants, Tampa Bay, New Orleans

 

2013

CAROLINA, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Washington, NY Giants, Minnesota, Tampa Bay

 

2012

Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland, Tennessee,

 

2011

Carolina, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, Seattle, St. Louis,

 

2010

Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota, Carolina, St. Louis, San Francisco,

 

2009

Carolina, Detroit, Tennessee, Kansas City, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Cleveland,

Miami

 

2008

MIAMI, MINNESOTA, SAN DIEGO, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville,

Kansas City, Seattle, St. Louis

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Peter King:

 

(Blake) Bortles certainly looks good now. He balances when the throw and when to run, and he’s become smart at each. Amazing, too, that with three key receivers from recent seasons (Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns) missing this year, Bortles has found a new nucleus, led by the acrobatic Keelan Cole. “We compete at practice every day,” Campbell said. “We’re a pretty good defense, and I can tell you, Blake makes us struggle a lot. We’ve got a good group that we know can compete with any of the top offenses.”

 

And this, also from King:

 

He outplayed Tom Brady. Seriously. Now Bortles had help from his pressure defense. But Bortles had the game in hand by halftime (17 of 25, 200 yards, three touchdowns, no picks) and did everything he could to avenge the toughest loss in Jags’ history—the 24-20 AFC Championship Game in Foxboro eight months ago. For the game, Bortles threw for 377 yards, four touchdowns and one pick. Revenge is sweet.

 

One piece of bad news for the Jags – LT CAM ROBINSON is done for the year with a torn ACL.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

CB VONTAE DAVIS decided at halftime that he had enough of the NFL.

 

Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis abruptly retired at halftime of Sunday’s 31-20 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, saying in a statement later that the reality had hit him: “I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”

 

Davis, a 10-year veteran, said he meant no disrespect to his teammates and coaches, but that physically he could no longer play at the standard he set for himself.

 

“[He] pulled himself out of the game,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “He communicated to us that he was done.”

 

Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander alerted reporters to Davis’ abrupt retirement after the game.

 

“Never have seen it ever,” Alexander said. “Pop Warner, high school, college, pros. Never heard of it. Never seen it. And it’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates. … He didn’t say nothing to nobody. … I found out going into the second half of the game. They said he’s not coming out, he retired. That’s it.”

 

After the game, Davis released a statement on social media.

 

He talked about the physical toll of the game and said that while he was on the field Sunday, he didn’t feel right and wondered whether he wanted to keep going.

 

“And truthfully, I do not because the season is long, and it’s more important for me and my family to walk away healthy than to willfully embrace the warrior mentality and limp away too late,” he said in the statement.

 

“This was an overwhelming decision, but I’m at peace with myself and my family.”

 

Davis started Sunday’s game but was not seen on the field or on the sideline in the second half. The Bills trailed 28-6 at halftime.

 

“I don’t have nothing to say about Vontae,” Alexander said after the game. “I’m going to give him a little bit more respect than he showed us today, as far as quitting on us in the middle of the game.”

 

Davis, 30, was a healthy scratch for the Bills’ regular-season opener in favor of Phillip Gaines, who started the Bills’ 47-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Gaines played nickel cornerback for the Bills on Sunday after an injury.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION

Peter King:

 

The NFL is just 31 games into a 256-game regular season, but something interesting, and perhaps very predictable, is happening. Offense is exploding. Entering the final game of Week 2, check out this trend/outlier through two weeks of this season and last:

 

2017 Season

Games Played: 32

Points Scored: 1,249

Average Per Game: 39.03

 

2018 Season

Games Played: 31

Points Scored: 1,465

Average Per Game: 47.26

 

Point Per Game Differential: +8.23

 

Again, it’s too early to call this the new normal. But in the offseason, the NFL took more pains to protect the quarterback (we saw it with calls like the Clay Matthews “roughing the passer” on Kirk Cousins at a crucial moment in Green Bay on Sunday) and to penalize players for using their helmets on tackles, which is likely going to adversely affect defenders.

 

And when I asked respected veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell on Sunday night about the eight-point rise in scoring early this year, he said: “Look at the rules. I know the NFL is trying to make the game safer, but the safer they make it, the easier they make it for the offense. Offense makes good TV. The quarterbacks are the rock stars of the league, and they want to protect them. My job’s harder.”

 

The average QB in 2018 plays like Aaron Rodgers.  This tweet:

 

Football Perspective

@fbgchase

Yesterday, the NFL had an average passer rating of 105.1.

 

Aaron Rodgers’ career passer rating is 103.9.

 

That should be the lead story on every analysis of the NFL right now.

 

There were 28 QBs playing:

 

16 QBs had a passer rating over 100.

21 QBs had passer ratings over 95.