The Daily Briefing Monday, September 24, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
It seems like a simple task, pick the winner, straight up of one measly NFL game each week. But three weeks in, your typical survivor pool is a massacre.
The DB has a familiarity with one that started the year with 340 entrants. In Week 1, the Saints homefield loss to Tampa Bay (plus a few other assorted misfires) took out 151. In Week 2, 189 entrants were whittled to 165, normal attrition. Then the Buffalo win in Minnesota (plus JAX going down at home) took it to 35. So only 10% of the entrants could get three right.
If 340 people called heads or tails, the law of averages says we would have 43 people left.
Jason Owens of YahooSports.com:
The absolute stunner of an upset that saw the Bills pull off the 27-6 win on the road wasn’t just the biggest upset of the young NFL season. It was the biggest upset the NFL has seen in 26 years.
The last time a 16.5-point underdog won in the NFL, the Bills were on the wrong side of the score.
The Bills 27-6 win against the Vikings as 16.5-point underdogs today is the biggest outright upset in the NFL since 1992 when the Jets beat the Bills as 16.5-point underdogs.
Once upon a time the Bills, led by quarterback Jim Kelly, were one of the league’s dominant teams. That’s obviously not the case today.
Nobody saw this coming
Buffalo, which got embarrassed by the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers to start the season, was starting rookie quarterback Josh Allen behind a porous offensive line against one of the league’s dominant defensive units.
It also fielded a defense that had given up 78 points in two games against a dynamic Vikings offense that had little trouble moving the ball against the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers.
So none of what happened in this game makes sense.
The game wrecked survivor pools across the country. Congratulations if you’re among the 35.59 percent of pool players who didn’t choose the Vikings this week.
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Big day for anyone who didn’t pick the @Vikings in their survivor league!
Nice try. Thanks for playing, 64.41%!
4:20 PM – Sep 23, 2018
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It just goes to show that in the NFL, there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Of course one of the reasons that some of the 35% didn’t choose the Vikings is that they had already used up Minnesota in Week 1 when they beat the 49ers. The percentage of people who used the Vikings this week of those who could have is even higher.
– – –
After a FOX-produced NFL Network game got big ratings, a FOX doubleheader weekend with the Patriots on NBC continued the good news for the NFL. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal tweets:
More good ratings news for the NFL. The four NFL windows combined for a 46.1 overnight, up 1% from last year’s 45.6. Fox’s national game (Dallas-Seattle) was a 15.3, up 11% from the comp national game on CBS last year.
More from Awful Announcing on the battle between America’s team (in defeat) and Tiger.
The overall story of NFL ratings showing some recovery from last year’s lows (and posting some highs that hadn’t been seen in years) seems to have continued in Week 3, according to the overnights. In particular, NBC’s Sunday Night Football game (the Patriots’ 26-10 loss to the Lions) jumped 17 percent over last year’s Week 3 broadcast (Raiders-Redskins), and perhaps even more impressively, Fox’s national afternoon game (Cowboys-Seahawks) rose 11 percent year over year (from CBS’ Bengals-Packers broadcast in that window last year) despite going head-to-head with NBC’s incredible ratings for Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour win in five years at the Tour Championship.
NBC drew a 4.4 overnight for the final round of the Tour Championship yesterday (1:30-6:15pm ET). Best rating for @playofffinale on record (dating back to 2000). For just 3:00-6:15pm ET window, up against NFL national window on Fox, NBC telecast drew 5.2 overnight
NBC drew a 13.6 for Patriots-Lions last night, marking the best Week 3 “Sunday Night Football” overnight rating since 2015 (Peyton Manning-led Broncos vs. Lions with a 13.8)
The news wasn’t all good for the NFL, though. As Paulsen notes at Sports Media Watch, the early games on CBS and Fox saw year-over-year declines:
The early games did not fare as well. FOX earned a 9.0 for the first half of its doubleheader, which featured 49ers-Chiefs or Green Bay-Washington in 47% of markets — down 10% from last year (10.0) and even with 2016 (9.0).
Meanwhile, CBS pulled an 8.3 for its singleheader window (-19%).
Still, the afternoon increase despite massive competition from golf is impressive, especially considering that Seahawks-Cowboys was pretty ugly at points. But the Cowboys always draw strong ratings, so that certainly helped. And SNF got a boost from not only featuring the Patriots, but seeing them lose to a former Bill Belichick assistant (Lions’ coach Matt Patricia); some of those Tiger viewers may have stuck around for the football game, too. Overall, that made for a pretty good Week 3 for the NFL, even with those early-window declines. (That 19 percent drop means it wasn’t a great week for CBS, though.)
Overall, eight of 12 Sunday NFL windows so far this season have seen year-over-year increases in metered markets. There have been some notable declines so far this year too, of course, especially for the Thursday Week 1 Kickoff Game (hurt by a weather delay), Week 2’s Thursday Night Football debut, and Week 2’s Monday Night Football, so it’s not that every NFL rating is suddenly dominant again, and the all-windows overall story is only of a slight year-over-year increase (which is still concerning considering that last year’s ratings saw almost a 10 percent overall drop; not beating them by much isn’t necessarily great). But there has been a fair bit of ratings improvement for the league for many of its broadcasts, and these Week 3 numbers support that.
Word is the Patriots were ready to send TE ROB GRONKOWSKI to the Lions on Draft Day, but he only wanted to play with TOM BRADY. The ESPN.com version:
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski confirmed to reporters on Sunday that he considered retiring during the offseason when the team explored trading him to the Detroit Lions.
“Yeah, it happened,” Gronkowski said after the 26-10 loss to Detroit. “[Tom] Brady’s my quarterback, that’s all. Wasn’t going anywhere without Brady.”
On Monday, Brady said the feeling was mutual when it comes to his star tight end.
“I think that speaks to our relationship and I feel as strongly about him as he does about me. I love the guy,” Brady told WEEI on Monday. “He’s had a big impact on my career — personally and professionally. Like I said, I’m very lucky to play with him and we’re going to keep fighting.”
Earlier on Sunday, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the Patriots and Lions were deep into trade discussions last offseason that peaked during the week of the draft, when the teams nearly completed a blockbuster trade involving Gronkowski.
It wasn’t that Gronkowski didn’t want to play in Detroit; he didn’t want to play anywhere other than New England, sources told Schefter. The Patriots had been discussing a trade with a few teams, and Gronkowski wouldn’t have reported to any of them, according to sources.
It was at that point Gronkowski and Patriots officials met, with the two sides discussing a plan for the Pro Bowl tight end to continue playing in New England. The Patriots then called off any proposed trade with the Lions, leaving Detroit disappointed.
The story had a happy ending for Gronkowski and the Patriots, who agreed to a reworked contract in the summer that added $4.3 million in incentives for the 2018 season. He can earn $1 million in per-game roster bonuses, plus a maximum of $3.3 million by hitting three of the following four incentives: 70 or more catches, 1,085 receiving yards, 80 percent playing time or nine or more touchdown catches.
The Packers lost DT MUHAMMAD WILKERSON for the rest of the season. ESPN.com:
Green Bay Packers defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson will miss the rest of the 2018 season because of an ankle injury he suffered Sunday, a source told ESPN’s Rob Demovsky.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday called the injury “significant” and said it required him to stay overnight in Washington for a procedure so he can travel back to Green Bay.
“I would say it’s significant but that’s as far as the details I have right now,” he said.
McCarthy also said Monday that linebacker Nick Perry in the concussion protocol. Perry had seven tackles in the Packers’ 31-17 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday.
– – –
LB CLAY MATTHEWS had four roughing the passer calls in the first nine years and 127 games of his storied career. Yesterday, he literally stumbled into his third in three games in 2018. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com:
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said the NFL is “getting soft” after he was whistled for a third roughing-the-passer penalty this season, while the league took the unusual step of expressing immediate support for the call in the latest instance of the controversial effort to protect quarterbacks this season.
“Unfortunately this league’s going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft,” Matthews said. “The only thing hard about this league is the fines they levy down on guys like me who play the game hard.”
Referee Craig Wrolstad penalized Matthews for landing on Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith late in the third quarter of a 31-17 Packers loss at FedEx Field. In a tweet sent shortly thereafter with video of the play, the NFL cited Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b) in justifying Wrolstad’s decision.
This is a foul for roughing the passer – the defender lands “with all or most of the defender’s weight” on the passer. Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9(b): http://ops.nfl.com/4a8IbH #GBvsWAS
Among other specifications, that rule prohibits players from falling with all or most of their body weight on quarterbacks. The NFL made it a point of emphasis for this season, in part because Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone last season on a similar hit.
“Obviously when you’re tackling a guy from the front you’re gonna land on him,” Matthews said after the game of his penalized hit on Smith. “I understand the spirit of the rule, I said that weeks prior. But when you have a hit like that, that’s a football play.
“I even went up to Alex Smith after the game, asked him, ‘What do you think? What can I do differently?’ Because that’s a football play.”
There were an NFL-record 21 roughing-the-passer penalties through the first two weeks of the 2018 season. Matthews is the first NFL player since at least 2001 to be penalized three times for roughing the passer in the first three games of a season. He entered 2018 with a total of four roughing penalties in his 10-year career.
He expressed “disbelief” in how the rule has evolved and said he “would like to see football be football.”
“I respect the rule, I just think they’re going in the wrong direction with this,” he said.
In Week 2, a roughing penalty against Matthews wiped out a Packers interception that would have clinched a victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The game ended in a tie. Afterward, Matthews joined many other players in saying they do not know how to avoid landing on quarterbacks in some instances.
After the Redskins game, Matthews said the way he’s been tackling for his entire career was no longer acceptable and suggested he might have to target the ball rather than the man.
“I’m just going to keep playing hard,” he said. “Maybe now, pass-rushers and guys getting after the quarterback, you just have to attack the ball.
“I’ve been playing this game for over 20 years, that’s how you tackle. So we’ll see. I mean something’s got to change because the league’s not. These are big plays, and like I said last week, these are big plays.
“So, disappointed. I tried to change from last week and still get the flag. It’s unfortunate.”
Wrolstad told a pool reporter that Matthews could have done more to avoid the flag.
“If you’ve got a shoulder into him and then landed on him with most of his body weight off him or released him when he went down, then he would have been OK,” the referee said. “But in my judgement, I ruled that he landed on him with most or all of his body weight there.”
Wrolstad also said each play is examined individually, and that Matthews’ status as a repeat offender this season had no bearing on his decision.
The controversy over Matthews’ hit gained further fuel because Redksins lineman Daron Payne threw Rodgers to the turf Sunday but was not whistled for a roughing penalty.
Rodgers discussed the play with Wrolstad and later said the referee told him he “couldn’t see through the 14 guys something to that effect.”
“I said, ‘I’m not asking for a call here. But I’m wondering if you felt like he slammed me on my head or not.’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t see it,'” Rodgers said.
Asked about the Payne hit after the game, Wrolstad said he was unsure to which play was being referred.
Matthews, though, said that play made it difficult to define a “good hit” when compared to his penalty.
“Was that the one where Aaron got suplexed?” he said. “You know what, I watched that on the sideline and said, ‘How come that’s not a flag?,’ We’re talking about — hey, let’s be honest — we’re talking about the MVP quarterback gets suplexed, that’s a good hit? But me, I put 250 pounds on a quarterback the right way, and here comes a flag.”
Meanwhile, the mystery of Tony Corrente’s truly awful flag on Matthews for “scooping and lifting” KIRK COUSINS last week continues. Tom Pelissaro of NFL.com reported an anonymous source telling him the league thought so much of Corrente’s flag that the play would be included on the next teaching video as an example of wonderful officiating. But the video came and went without the play.
Ben Austro of ProFootballZebras.com, a defender of the on-field rank-and-file officials and usually sympathetic to the role of the administrators, was not happy late last week:
The transition was expected to be bumpy. Before owners convened in Orlando in March, there wasn’t even a proposal on the table for one of the game’s monumental shifts toward player safety. The Competition Committee called an audible, and what became this year’s “use of the helmet” rule was so hastily introduced, it had passed before it was released to the media. Although it was probably a discarded proposal the committee already hashed out, it had the appearance of something sketched out on a hotel-branded notepad.
Details of the rule change and new points of emphasis on player safety were scant through the spring — a critical time for the league to get players, coaches, and the media up to speed. Senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron had a newly created staff of 21 year-round officials at his disposal, and it appears as if there was limited engagement with this group on the new rules.
As officials approach their July clinic, I am usually getting some bits of information on key officiating points particularly around rules changes. This year, there was either no advance information to give or there was a concerted effort to keep it under wraps.
When the usual rules tutorial video for players was released just before preseason, there were additional position-specific videos on legal and illegal hits. As Dom Cosentino at Deadspin pointed out, even those videos were fraught with apparent contradictions and open questions. We even noted that changes of this nature required communication from Riveron once players and officials broke in the new rules, which he did come through on, with the full expectation that the soft mortar of the rules would be cured for week 1 of the regular season.
While there are multiple examples of unnecessary roughness fouls that have called the rules into question, the most notable was a fourth quarter tackle by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews on Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Initial impressions were that referee Tony Corrente, not unlike any other official, made a snap decision at game speed that was, shall we say, off. Cousins himself could only thinly disguise his disbelief that it was a foul. Corrente, in my opinion at the time, made it worse by describing an action that seemed wholly absent: “He picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground,” Corrente said to pool reporter Rob Demovsky after the game.
Turns out, my blame of Corrente is misplaced. The league thinks it is a correct call. Not only was Corrente correct — and not a designation of “support,” which means it wasn’t a wrong call, instead there was a better call — but also a training tape will discuss the technique and how to avoid the flag, which was first reported by Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. Demovsky, who covers the Packers for ESPN, reported, “a league source reiterated Monday that the ‘technique of grabbing the passer from behind the leg or legs, scooping and pulling in an upward motion, is a foul.’”
What is missing? For one, how is Matthews tackle described as an illegal “scoop-and-pull” maneuver by the league, and not one of several leverage-based tackles intended to minimize injury? Also, why are legal tackling techniques under the rules, as opposed to finer points of rules interpretation, being taught two weeks into the regular season? Those are obvious questions. But there is one even more glaring.
Where is Al Riveron?
We only have a sentence from Demovsky’s unnamed source. And not to denigrate Pelissero’s talents in any way at all, but the use of “NFL.com has learned” in his article is nothing short of a bullshit phrase. The NFL fed information to NFL.com without attribution, rather than going on the record with an interview, issuing a press statement, sending that scant amount of information in a tweet, or even leveraging the corporate television network assets to get the message across. NFL.com has learned to tow the corporate line when needed, even if it means keeping co-workers clean.
As of Wednesday morning, Day +3 from the controversy, this is the most recent public comment from Riveron in any media platform:
For our friends in Spanish-language media, the Media Video for Week Two. / Para nuestros amigos de medios hispanos, la versión en español de nuestro vídeo de la segunda semana.
That is from Day −2. Executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, Riveron’s boss, has also been silent on the issue.
Riveron was fast to point out there were 12 of 14 correct roughing-the-passer calls on Monday in Week 1, calling out first-year referee Shawn Smith for a miscall. Former referee Terry McAulay, now working for NBC, noted that “they have never pointed out a replay mistake,” since centralized replay responsibilities were shifted to Riveron in 2017.
This doesn’t even touch on the fact that whoever is driving this rule interpretation — Riveron, Vincent, the Competition Committee, the commissioner — is completely overshooting the target. Former officiating heads Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino addressed this in their Last Call webcast for Fox Sports. “They’re creating penalties for contact and tackles to me that don’t put the quarterback at risk of injury,” said Pereira. “I think we’re setting a dangerous precedent.” He’s right. Player-safety rules do not get retracted, and for good reason; a lenient interpretation gives rise to lawsuits for players to recover lost wages after being injured in any closely related circumstance.
Regardless, the league is obviously forging ahead with its “re-education” campaign. One hopes that Riveron has used his media blackout to get this training video to players post haste. If he has not disseminated the video by now, he has placed the Jets and Browns, who play on Thursday night, at a competitive disadvantage; the most equitable move is to hold the video for early next week, even though it defers a presumed player-safety issue for another week of yellow laundry on the field.
Either way, the league at least has handled this consistently with every ham-handed step from the Competition Committee in March to today.
Peter King also with guidance for the league, with the aide of former ref Terry McAuley:
I hate the rule as much as anyone. But by the letter of the silly law, Matthews (vs. the Redskins) did commit a roughing the passer foul Sunday in Washington. In the NFL rules digest, Section 2, Personal Fouls, in Article 9, Roughing the Passer, here is the rule:.
“A defensive player must not unnecessarily or violently throw [the quarterback] down or land on top of him with all or most of the defender’s weight. Instead, the defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with the defensive players’ arms and not land on the passer.”
NFL officiating consultant Ed Hochuli, who was in the NFL’s officiating command center Sunday, believes the Matthews roughing call “was an absolutely textbook full-body-weight roughing call, the best example of it that I’ve ever seen.”
If so, the question is whether the NFL wants players playing this way. Matthews last week (I’ll get to that in a moment) certainly did not commit a foul in the eyes of any reasonable football fans and most in the league; I think at least half believe the flag he drew in Washington on Sunday was unjust. How is a man supposed to play if he can’t do it the way Matthews played both of these?
Some history from last week. The NFL sends out an officiating video each week to the media and the public, to try to educate and inform about significant plays from the previous week. This week, NFL VP of officiating Al Riveron highlighted six plays from Week 2 in a 5-minute, 15-second video. He explained why two players were ejected in the first two reviews; a fluky two-passes-in-one-play situation; a close call using the new what-is-a-catch rule; a defensive hold off the line of scrimmage; and then explaining the dropkick rule after a drop-kicked kickoff in Chicago.
There was nothing, however, about the most discussed, most controversial plays of the weekend—the roughing-the-passer calls on Minnesota’s Eric Kendricks and Green Bay’s Clay Matthews in the Vikes-Packers game. (Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio first reported what was on the tape.)
What a lost opportunity. There’s an elephant in the room, with a penalty that was hugely controversial and significantly influenced the outcome of a game (the Matthews roughing call that gave Minnesota life, down eight with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter) that could decide the winner of the NFC North. And Riveron spends the last 62 seconds on a frivolity: Michael Dickson of the Seahawks drop-kicking a kickoff.
The NFL preferred to talk about one of the flags only—the Matthews penalty—in ref Tony Corrente’s pool report minutes after the game. And Riveron discussed roughing the passer privately with some teams in the wake of the calls, a league source told me. But not in the one way the league communicates each week with the media and the public. That’s at best a tremendous lost opportunity, at worst trying to bury an embarrassing call that was a major factor in the outcome of a game. The league is sticking with what Corrente said post-game: that Matthews “picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground.”
Here is actually what happened: Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had released the ball a split-second before Matthews wrapped his right arm around his waist; his left arm first went to the back of Cousins’ legs, then to the ground, to brace for the fall. Cousins’ right leg was off the ground when Matthews made contact with his head to the left of Cousins’ midsection, and the QB’s left leg appeared to come an inch or two off the ground for a distance of maybe two feet as Matthews tackled the quarterback backward. As they fell, Matthews stuck his left arm out to cushion the fall, in effect preventing his full body weight from landing on Cousins.
“I don’t see where [Matthews] lifted him and drove him down,” respected former ref Terry McAulay said on “The Peter King Podcast” this week.
There is nothing else Matthews could have done. The left arm being braced to the ground was almost a gentlemanly act by Matthews, who knows how closely any hits on the quarterback are being watched. Corrente threw the flag. “I’m sure it was probably a generous call, and two or three years ago, it probably doesn’t get flagged,” Cousins said afterward.
I asked McAulay, now an NBC rules analyst, what he thought when he saw the flag on the Matthews call.
“I thought the NFL just had another self-inflicted crisis that was completely avoidable,” McAulay said. “I felt for Tony Corrente. A lot of emotions. If that had been me, I may very have made that call, given the guidance I’ve heard and would have been sick about it—that I had to make it … This is indeed what Tony in his mind, and his superiors, want him to call.”
McAulay said: “I don’t know what happens next.”
I’ve got an idea. In my opinion, what should have happened is this: Riveron could have supported the call publicly, and then, in reviewing the call, could have said, It was very close, and we’d have been fine with a no-call here as well. It’s a judgment call by the referee, and Tony Corrente erred on the side of protecting the quarterback. Then, in the weekly training tape to officials, Riveron could have cautioned the league’s 17 crews to be vigilant about roughing but not overdo it.
I’ll be shocked if the league’s 17 referees, including four rookie refs (whose heads must be spinning with this mayhem), continue to make this call. It’s not roughing the passer. Continuing to call clean plays like this, and like the Kendricks hit of Rodgers, will totally bastardize the ability of defenders to pressure the quarterback. Everyone knows the league is being hyper-vigilant about losing $33-million and $28-million-a-year quarterbacks (Rodgers and Cousins) in Week 2 of a long season; the Packers were an unattractive prime-time team three times after Rodgers was lost last year in Week 6 with a broken clavicle. I appreciate that. But football’s football. Protect the quarterbacks. Don’t put velcroed flags on them.
“In my opinion,” McAulay said, “there are two fundamental principles of rules-making. Number one is player safety. Number two is maintaining a balance between offense and defense. I think college football has lost that number two. And if the NFL’s not careful, they’re gonna lose it.”
NEW YORK GIANTS
It could have been worse, but TE EVAN ENGRAHAM will be out for awhile.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram sprained the MCL in his right knee in Sunday’s victory over the Houston Texans, coach Pat Shurmur confirmed Monday.
Engram will be considered week-to-week, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Engram was hurt when he was hit low by Texans defensive back Kareem Jackson after a catch. Engram limped off the field after the 19-yard gain, his only catch of the day.
The second-year tight end was checked by the trainers and did some light sprints on the sideline. It looked as if he might return.
The Giants originally listed him as questionable to return before the final decision was made to keep him out for the remainder of the contest. Engram said it just “didn’t feel right.” He was wearing a brace on his right knee after the game.
Looking ahead, the 2018 season could be a tough road for the Falcons, especially on defense. They entered the year with two top-flight safeties – and now they are both gone. Vaughn McClure of ESPN.cop with the news of S RICARDO ALLEN’s injury and some possible moves the Falcons could make to compensate:
The Atlanta Falcons have lost starting free safety Ricardo Allen to a season-ending Achilles tendon tear.
It marks at least the third significant defensive player to suffer a major injury. The Falcons lost Pro Bowl strong safety Keanu Neal to a season-ending ACL tear, and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Deion Jones was placed on injured reserve following foot surgery. Jones is eligible to return for the Nov. 18 game against Dallas.
Defensive ends Takk McKinley and Derrick Shelby also missed the last game due to groin injuries, the severity of which are unknown at this time.
Currently Injured Falcons Starters
Safety Ricardo Allen is the latest in an ever-growing list of Falcons starters to get hurt this season.
Keanu Neal, S Out for season
Andy Levitre, LG Out for season
Deion Jones, LB On IR
Devonta Freeman, RB Day-to-day
Takk McKinley, DE Day-to-day
Ricardo Allen, S Out for season
— ESPN Stats & Information
Allen played 66 snaps before being carted off the field during Sunday’s 43-37 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. The team initially called it a calf injury as Allen went down without any apparent contact.
“It hurts, especially when you know what ‘Rico’ means to this defense, how much he means to this whole team, how much he helps everyone, the person he is,” linebacker Duke Riley said of Allen. “He gets everything going. He’s a big, big part.”
The loss of Allen, a designate “chief” as a team leader and one of the smartest players on defense, leaves the Falcons decimated at the safety position. He had shifted over to Neal’s strong safety role and Damontae Kazee spent more time in Allen’s free safety spot. The Falcons traded with New England prior to the start of the season for Jordan Richards, who initially was viewed as the backup to Neal. And the Falcons signed veteran Keith Tandy, who was inactive for the Saints game.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn’t rule out having a discussion about free-agent Eric Reid, who has been scrutinized for kneeling in protest of social injustice as part of Colin Kaepernick’s cause.
Both Reid and Kaepernick have filed collusion grievances against the NFL.
Earl Thomas, one of Quinn’s former stars when he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, is disgruntled with the Seahawks now, so one has to wonder if the Falcons might inquire about what it would take to get Thomas in a trade, although that might be a longshot.
Peter King on the greatness of QB DREW BREES, now first all-time in pass completions and two weeks away from being first in passing yards:
Drew Brees, the ridiculous metronome. It just never stops. Tom Brady talks about playing till he’s 45, and he well could. But Brees, who turns 40 in January, broke the NFL’s all-time record for completions Sunday, passing Brett Favre. And if he has two normal weeks (against the Giants and Washington, coming up), he’ll break another record—for passing yards. He’s 418 yards away from Peyton Manning’s yardage record. And 46 touchdowns from Manning’s passing-TD record. And if you watched the 43-37 Saints’ win at Atlanta on Sunday, all you could think was: This guy’s missed two games due to injury in 13 seasons in New Orleans, and he might put the records so far out that it’ll be tough for Brady or anyone to pass them.
The game has changed so drastically that you don’t know what to make of these numbers. Should they rule who’s the best quarterback ever? No. This era’s different from all the others. “I don’t know if I told you this story,” Brees, back in New Orleans Sunday night, told me. “But after I got drafted by San Diego [in 2001], we played in Miami that preseason. Pregame, walking in the stadium, I remember seeing Dan Marino up in the Ring of Honor. All the records written next to him … I remember thinking, ‘Good gracious, how do you ever play that long to accomplish those numbers?’ That day, had you ever told me I’d have some of those numbers, I’d have told you you’re crazy, obviously.”
The game he set the completions record was made memorable because Brees won it with his legs. Down 37-30 late in the fourth quarter, from the Falcons’ 7-yard line, he jitterbugged toward the line and faced two Falcons’ defensive backs. Uncharacteristically, he juked corner Brian Poole, evading him and diving in for the tying touchdown. He drove the Saints 80 yards for the winning touchdown on the first drive of overtime, diving in from the 1 on a quarterback sneak. That’s Brees.
“I love to compete,” he said. “I love to work, I love to set a goal, embark on the journey and accomplish the task. So many incredible people in my life have put me in position to succeed. So many who have helped make me a confident person when maybe I was lacking in it in some parts of my life. So an accomplishment like this is for them too.
“A lot of receivers caught those passes. I hope they’re proud. This is for them, too. I’ve had the same head coach, Sean Payton, the same offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael, for all my years here, and the same quarterback coach, Joe Lombardi, for 11 of the 13 years. This is for them, too.
“I’m having a lot of fun playing still. I hope there are lots more years.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston privately predicted to team officials that fellow quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would have the success he has had to start this season, sources told ESPN.
Sources said that during a meeting the day before his three-game suspension began, Winston told Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht that Fitzpatrick was going to “light it up.”
During one last meeting before the start of Winston’s suspension, Licht noted that there were no assurances the quarterback would keep his job when he returned.
Jameis Winston predicted to Buccaneers officials that backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would “light it up” to start the season, sources told ESPN. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports
Winston thanked Licht for “keeping it real” and headed out of the office. But once he did, he ducked his head back in and told Licht: “You know Fitz is going to light it up, don’t you?”
And Fitzpatrick has. In upset wins over the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 819 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
Winston’s three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, stemming from him allegedly inappropriately touching an Uber driver in 2016, ends Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
Winston is expected to return to the Buccaneers’ training facility almost immediately that morning. He has stayed in touch with his teammates, sending them congratulatory texts after wins. The NFL provided Winston clearance to do that before the texts were sent.
QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO seems to be the first NFL starting QB to be lost for the season. Peter King:
One of the reasons the NFL is so hell-bent on protecting quarterbacks is because sometimes passers get lost on fluky, freaky, extremely normal plays, and so the NFL simply doesn’t want to exacerbate the normal by getting quarterbacks bashed around in the pocket unless it’s totally unavoidable. In Kansas City on Sunday afternoon, one of the NextGen’s top passing prospects, Jimmy Garoppolo, took off around left end and was striding for the sidelines. He took an awkward step with his left foot. The knee caved. Preliminarily, the Niners think Garoppolo tore his ACL. There will be an MRI this morning in California, but coach Kyle Shanahan is preparing to play the rest of the year with backup C.J. Beathard, beginning Sunday at the Chargers. GM John Lynch’s glum voice over the phone when he returned home illustrated the harsh likely reality.
“All indications are that it’s torn,” Lynch said. “Our [medical] guys say they’ve been wrong before and so they need to do the MRI, obviously.”
Garoppolo, Lynch said, “is heartbroken. His family’s heartbroken. You can see it in his eyes, in their eyes. It’s tough. Jimmy needs to play, and he wants to play. But Kyle feels strongly about C.J. We all do.”
Tough night for the next-man-up mantra. But that’s the normal in a brutal league. When Lynch says Garoppolo needs to play, he’s not being harsh; he’s being real. Carson Wentz was injured 29 games into his career, and the Eagles already knew he was their long-term quarterback—he’d experienced enough highs and lows to have a proven track record, even as a young player. Garoppolo started his 10th game Sunday; the Niners have already signed him to a rich contract, and their confidence in him won’t be shaken by a knee injury. But any quarterback, no matter how promising, needs to play at this high level before feeling truly confident, and convincing his mates, that he can be a great quarterback in the NFL. Garoppolo has already had his financial coronation. Now, most likely, the Niners will have to wait for Garoppolo’s football coronation.
The 49ers have also lost CB RICHARD SHERMAN for a “few weeks” due to a “mild calf strain” per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
S EARL THOMAS is so good that he skips practice and still picks off QB DAK PRESCOTT twice. Brady Henderson of ESPN.com:
Earl Thomas said he expects to be fined by the Seahawks for sitting out a pair of practices earlier this week, which he said was done in an attempt to protect himself.
Thomas had a pair of interceptions in the Seahawks’ 24-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, capping a bizarre week for the team and its All-Pro free safety. He told reporters afterward that his absences in practice were related to his continued discontent over his contract situation.
“I need to make sure my body is 100,” he said. “I’m invested in myself. If they was invested in me, I would be out there practicing. But if I feel like anything — I don’t give a damn if it’s small, I’ve got a headache — I’m not practicing. But I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way. I know I’m going to get fined. But that’s just where I’m at with that.”
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning that the team is considering a hefty fine against Thomas for conduct detriment to the team after he sat out Wednesday and Friday. The team listed his absences as not injury-related, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told reporters that it was a personal matter, without elaborating.
“I probably will,” Thomas said when asked if he expects to be fined. “Definitely. They definitely going to tax me.”
Asked if he has been told that he’ll be fined, Thomas said, “I’m sure I’ll have a slip in my locker.”
Thomas, 29, held out all during training camp, reporting to the team on Sept. 5, four days before the season opener. He was seeking a new contract as he entered the final year of a four-year, $40 million extension that he signed in 2014. Over the summer, he posted a note on social media asking the team to either sign him to an extension or trade him to another team.
The Seattle Seahawks are considering levying a significant fine on safety Earl Thomas for conduct detrimental to the team because he missed practice twice this past week, according to organizational sources.
When he returned, he said on Instagram that the “disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten.”
Carroll did not have much to say about the Thomas situation in his postgame news conference.
“I haven’t even talked to him about it, other than we made it through, and we’ll talk next week,” Carroll said. “There’s nothing to even tell you about it right now. I’ll let you know next week.”
Carroll said he had not given any consideration to not starting Thomas because of the missed practices.
Asked whether he expects that this will become Thomas’ routine, Carroll said: “Let me tell you what I do know. What I do know is he gave everything he had today. He was in every step of the way, every aspect of the game. The communications, the focus and the adjustments, and we were going.
“I was with him on some of those things on the sideline. He was in everything. He played his tail off, and he had a blast playing, and he had a blast in the locker room. I’ll talk to him next week about whatever.”
All of this comes in the wake of Seattle’s win over the team that has been most connected to the Seahawks in a possible trade for Thomas. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that a trade to the Cowboys is a “super long shot,” according to one league source.
Thomas was asked if he thought this week could be his last with Seattle, the team that drafted him 14th overall in 2010.
“Yeah, of course. I heard chatter,” Thomas said. “People was coming up to me and saying a trade might happen. Even pregame, a couple of Cowboys coaches — I don’t know if they were trying to play psychological games — but they was like, ‘You ready for the trade tomorrow?’ But at the end of the day, I had a great time with the guys that I’ve been practicing with — well, I haven’t been practicing, but the guys I have been around. It was just fun out there.”
Thomas said he wasn’t sure if the Dallas coaches were joking or serious, and his pregame conversation with head coach Jason Garrett was “just small talk, like, ‘What’s up?’ That was it.”
Thomas said former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, now on Dallas’ coaching staff, wasn’t one of the Cowboys assistants who made pregame comments about a trade.
On the possibility of this being his last game in Seattle, Thomas said, “I don’t know if it was, man. I had a damn good time. I’ll go out like that if I have to.”
When asked if he’s still hopeful for an extension from Seattle or if he thinks that ship has sailed, Thomas said, “I just want to be appreciated. That’s it.”
Thomas’ interceptions in Sunday’s tilt were his second and third of the season. He finished the game with seven tackles, tied with linebacker Bobby Wagner for the team lead.
Carroll said Thomas played a “heckuva game.”
Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com on the emergence of a receiving threat in Baltimore:
John Brown has cemented his role as the Ravens’ top playmaker after making five catches for 86 yards against the Broncos. A free-agent addition from Arizona, Brown now leads Baltimore with 222 yards receiving, an 18.5-yard average and two touchdown catches. He could play a big role in next Sunday night’s game in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers have given up an NFL-worst nine completions of 25 or more yards in the first two weeks of the season.
Has RB Le’VEON BELL made the Steelers cry uncle? Jeremy Fowler at ESPN.com:
Le’Veon Bell is still out of business, so the Pittsburgh Steelers are open for business.
Pittsburgh is now listening to trade offers for the All-Pro running back while he remains away from the team with an unsigned franchise tag, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
When Bell didn’t show for Week 1, sources said the Steelers planned to stand pat with no plans to rescind his $14.5 million tag or trade him. Bell wants a new contract and is unhappy with being tagged for the second straight year, so he has stayed in South Florida as the Steelers began the season 0-1-1.
Bell forfeits $852,941 per week — or one-seventeenth of the total tag number — each week he fails to show up, and it’s become clear Bell has no intention of showing up soon. In the last week, Bell has been spotted on jet skis, on a yacht and at a nightclub for his album release.
Bell is bound by the terms of the tag for 2018, so any team that inherits his services must wait until 2019 to sign him to an extension. Bell and the Steelers negotiated up until the July 16 deadline, and once that deadline passed without a new deal, Bell’s only on-field option was playing on the tag.
Bell’s agent, Adisa Bakari, made clear on an early September appearance on NFL Live that Bell’s goal is to preserve his long-term health. Several starting offensive linemen ripped Bell for not communicating his intentions to a team that planned for him to be there Week 1.
In July, a source told ESPN that Bell planned to play a full season and sitting out would be a shock, with Bakari saying that’s the plan barring something “exceptional.” That was before Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley signed a four-year, $57 million extension. Pass-rushers Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack earned deals worth well over $100 million in total, and Bell believes he’s one of the league’s best players.
The first team linked to a trade? The Jets. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News:
The Jets have not made a concrete offer for Bell yet, but they believe that the Steelers are serious about moving the dynamic offensive weapon.
Bell, who has not yet signed his $14.54 million franchise tag tender, will miss his third game of the season when the Steelers face the Buccaneers on Monday night.
Bell, the league’s best dual-threat running back for the past several years, has amassed 5,336 rushing yards, 2,660 receiving yards and 42 career touchdowns in his first five seasons. He’s looking for a multi-year deal for more than $15 million per year.
NFL rules prohibit any team trading for Bell to give him a multi-year deal until after the 2018 season, so he would, in effect, be a one-year rental. Logic, of course, would dictate that a team trading for Bell would want to have a behind-the-scenes multi-year agreement in place before pulling the trigger on a trade with Pittsburgh. The NFL trade deadline is Oct. 30.
Gang Green has the available cap space now (about $17 million) and next season (a projected $90-plus million) to land and keep Bell beyond 2018.
The Jets are going big-game hunting…again.
The Jets are going big-game hunting…again. (George Gojkovich / Getty Images)
Would the Jets be willing to give up a premium-round pick for Bell or simply wait until he hits the open market to make their move in 2019? Is the 26-year-old difference maker with 1,541 touches at a position with a short shelf-life worth more than $15 million per year?
The Jets don’t have a 2018 second-round pick (see: trade with Colts that netted Sam Darnold), but they do have an additional third-round pick (see: Teddy Bridgewater trade with Saints). The Steelers, of course, would get a compensatory pick if Bell ultimately walks in free agency.
Bell must show up for the final seven games to get credit for this season. Otherwise, the Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Bell for $14.54 million again in 2019.
The DB was in Philly Sunday for the battle of the comeback QBs.
While the overall performance of QB CARSON WENTZ was maybe just “good”, the one thing that didn’t seem in question was his mobility, despite his recent knee surgery. Although he was sacked five times, he still nimbly evaded Colts rushers on many occasions.
But, even before the last play, the DB was wondering about the strength of ANDREW LUCK’s arm. We don’t think we had ever seen him play live before, so we don’t know if he used to have a gun. But several of his passes seemed to waiver en route to their target on Sunday.
And then came the appearance of QB JACOBY BRISSETT to say a prayer. Shalise Manza Young at YahooSports.com:
Is Andrew Luck still not 100 percent?
That definitely seems like the case, after what we saw at the end of the Indianapolis Colts’ game in Philadelphia.
Luck out, Brissett in
Down 20-16 to the Eagles with enough time for one last play, the Colts pulled Luck and put Jacoby Brissett in the game at quarterback to throw the last-gasp Hail Mary.
The Colts were at their own 46 for the play, meaning there was about 55 yards to get to the end zone.
Brissett certainly has a strong arm and is experienced – he started 15 games for Indianapolis last season – but it was curious to see the Colts’ coaching staff make the decision to put Brissett on the field in the situation they did.
Brissett actually overthrew a bit, and his attempt went to the back of the end zone.
Luck’s longest pass play of the season is 29 yards, which came Sunday on a completion to T.Y. Hilton.
Reich affirms distance was concern
After the game, Colts coach Frank Reich affirmed that the distance needed on the throw was why Brissett was in for Luck.
“He can throw it a mile,” Reich said. “We knew Jacoby had the arm to throw it into the end zone.”
Had Indy been 10-to-15 yards closer, Reich said, Luck would have stayed in the game. But it was “all about getting the ball into the end zone.”
Brissett threw the ball about 70 yards. It sounds like Reich puts Luck’s range at about 50.
Did you know this about QB RYAN TANNEHILL? Peter King:
Ryan Tannehill is 9-1 in his last 10 starts. The win over Oakland was his 80th start. He’s 40-40. But he’s more efficient than a .500 quarterback should be, at least lately. The faith Miami showed in Tannehill after he missed the team’s previous 19 games heading into this year is paying off.
Sometimes your best moves are the ones you don’t make.
An interesting Patriots tweet from Michael Giardi of NFL Network:
Can’t be understated. Not tough in Jacksonville. Not tough in Detroit. And it’s not just physical toughness, it’s mental as well.
And some negative New England numbers from ESPN.com:
Is the New England Patriots’ season already in jeopardy? Or is this a familiar stutter-step that Patriots fans will laugh about while their team hoists another Lombardi trophy in February?
The answers will play out over the course of the season, but for now, the Patriots and their fans aren’t laughing,
Sunday night’s 26-10 loss to the Detroit Lions wasn’t an ordinary loss. It was one of the worst in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
Consider: Not only did the Patriots finish with just 209 total yards, but 52 of them came on their final, garbage-time drive. So for nearly 58 minutes, the Patriots were thoroughly shut down by a team that looked pedestrian at best in losing its first two games.
And 3-0 Miami is next.
The depths of the Patriots’ loss kept ESPN Stats & Information busy putting the game — and start to the season, including their 31-20 Week 2 loss in Jacksonville — in the following context:
This is the first time the Patriots have lost back-to-back games by double digits since Dec. 16-22, 2002 against the Jets and Titans. They’ve played 244 games during that stretch.
The Patriots ran 47 offensive plays Sunday, their fewest since 2010.
The Patriots’ point differential of minus-20 is their worst through three games of a season since 1995 (minus-39).
The Patriots have been outscored by 35 points (71-36) since halftime of Week 1.
The Patriots’ 16-point loss is their second-largest margin of defeat under Bill Belichick when favored by seven points or more, behind only their infamous 25-point home loss to the Dolphins in 2008 (12.5-point favorite).
It’s also tied for their second-largest margin of defeat when favored by at least seven points in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). The Patriots lost to the Falcons by 16 points in 1980 as 8-point favorites.
Tom Brady’s 133 passing yards are the fewest of his career in a start in a domed stadium or one with a retractable roof.
It also was Brady’s fewest passing yards since 2014 vs. the Bills …
and his fewest in a road game since 2009, also against the Bills.
Brady had minus-1 passing yard in the first quarter, his fewest in any quarter since 2006 (minus-5 in fourth quarter at Titans).
The Patriots were held without a first down on each of their first three possessions for the third time since Brady became the starter in 2001 (2016 vs. the Broncos and 2003 vs. the Bills).
Kerryon Johnson had 101 rushing yards and became the Lions’ first 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving 2013.
The Patriots entered the season with an 84 percent FPI chance to win the AFC East. After Week 1 that fell to 78, and it’s now at 68 percent.
THIS AND THAT
That guy in the RV next to you lifting some weights – that may be Ed Hochuli. Peter King:
“I think the first thing I’ve learned since I’ve been out and my wife and I have gotten on the road is how proud people are to be Americans. I have never seen so many flags in my life. We’ve been on the road now for about eight months—we’re based in Couer d’Alene, Idaho right now—but everywhere we go, we see the flag. We had some friends who picked up some hitch-hikers, a couple in their twenties who travel all over the world, and they said, ‘Everybody here puts their flag out; we don’t see that in other countries.’ Forget what’s going on in the country right now. But putting out the flag—we’ve got one in our RV—makes a very loud statement.
“I’ve also found out how wonderful life is without the pressure of officiating. When I was doing it, I thrived on the pressure. I loved the pressure. I loved the adrenaline of the game. But now that it’s gone, I’m able to sit back and enjoy life. I can enjoy the forest and the plants and the water and the beauty. Instead of being a player in life, I am a spectator. And I have to say, that’s pretty great.
“People see me and they say, ‘You gotta be missing being on the field right now.’ But I’m not. Not at all. It’s incredibly different than I thought, because I thought I’d miss it. But we’ve traveled a lot now for the last eight months. We sold our house [in Arizona] and got this RV, and we’ve traveled through Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Utah. We’re going to go down south in a while. But we drive for a day or two, find a place we like, and we park maybe for a month. My whole life I wanted to learn how to fly-fish. So a friend of mine took me to Snake River in Idaho, two separate trips, about five days, and I learned how to do it. It’s the most peaceful thing. No noise, no clutter. Just beauty. Man, that’s living. The majestic, beautiful country we’ve got—the first thing that comes to mind is the parks of Utah. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands. I walked to the edge of Bryce and I did say out loud, ‘Wow. That’s unbelievable!’
“For me, it was time to quit. It was time. I knew it. You gotta know when it’s time. Enough was enough. I didn’t want to go when everyone was saying, ‘You gotta go.’ I wanted to go on my terms, which I did.
The DB saw a lot of flags in Barcelona this summer, but they weren’t that of the official home country. We now know what the flag of Catalonia looks like.