The Daily Briefing Monday, September 25, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The words of Donald Trump have amazing powers and on Friday, like Bruce Banner turning into The Hulk, they turned Colin Kaepernick’s fading protest movement into a fireball that consumed The Commissioner, NFL owners and many others to the horrified delight of the media and the consternation of those who care about the League’s future.

 

After two lackluster weeks, the actual excitement level of NFL play rose in Week 3 with thrillers in Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Foxboro and Green Bay and plenty of upset results elsewhere.

 

But instead most of the focus going forward is how the NFL, once noted for staging flashy unified pageants at the National Anthem, is now squarely at war with the President of the United States over the right of a minority of its players to righteously protest/flagrantly disrespect the flag at such pageants with no threat of reprisals.

 

We will focus our coverage today in a section at the bottom, although it may also appear in vignettes about individual teams such as Pittsburgh.

 

We do have this from Don Banks at Patriots.com who notes that teams only came out of the locker room for the Anthem in the Age of Obama and were tucked away in the locker room prior to that:

 

Lost in all the debate is that prior to 2009, with some exceptions, NFL teams were almost always in the locker room during the anthem. So not a lot of time has passed since the tradition of encouraging (not requiring) players to stand for the anthem on the sideline. It’s not even a decade old, in a league that’s been in operation for 98 seasons.

 

Can it be changed back, thus avoiding the current hot-button debate and litmus test of what standing for the anthem has come to mean? It could, but it’s not likely to happen. I can’t see the NFL trying to put this Genie back into the bottle, no matter how much sense it might make. There’s been too much focus on the issue, and lots of ground staked out, and I can’t imagine the league wants to try and force action of any kind to change the status quo.

 

– – –

After three weeks (minus one game), only the Chiefs and Falcons are 3-0 and they haven’t done it by playing Ohio.  Kansas City’s collection of victories includes New England and Philadelphia, both of whom haven’t lost to anyone else.  Atlanta can make the same claim about wins over Green Bay and Detroit.

 

On the other hand, five teams are 0-3 with the Giants and Chargers being clubs that some were optimistic on at the start of the year.

– – –

And this also, on football, from Banks:

 

So you want to gamble on the NFL, eh? Carolina, Baltimore and Tampa Bay entered Week 3 with the three top-ranked defenses in terms of scoring. No flukes to any of that, right? The Panthers, Ravens and Bucs can all play some big-league D.

 

Carolina proceeded to give up 34 at home to the Saints. The Ravens were shredded for 44 points by the Jaguars in London. And the Bucs lost in Minnesota, surrendering 34 points to the Case Keenum-led Vikings.

 

The NFL defies explanation at times.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Peter King:

 

That’s a stunner, the fact that Aaron Rodgers won his first OT game ever on Sunday. Also stunning: He’s 1-7 in overtime.

 

We also would note – and we don’t pretend to know whether this is the sign of a flaw that will keep him out of the Hall of Fame or a statistical anomaly – but even with Sunday’s win, Rodgers significantly underperforms his peers in Game Winning Drives.  Here is the partial all-time list from ProFootballReference with guys who might be peers in boldface:

 

1          Peyton Manning          56       

2          Tom Brady                 51       

            Dan Marino                 51       

4          John Elway                46        

5          Brett Favre                 45        

6          Drew Brees               42        

7          Johnny Unitas            40        

8          Eli Manning              39        

            Ben Roethlisberger  39       

10        Warren Moon              37       

11        Carson Palmer          35       

12        Matt Ryan                  34       

            Fran Tarkenton           34       

14        Joe Montana               33       

15        Vinny Testaverde        33       

16        Drew Bledsoe             31       

17        Kerry Collins               30       

            Jake Plummer                        30       

            Tony Romo                 30       

20        Jim Kelly                    29       

            Matthew Stafford      29       

24        Jay Cutler                  26       

            Joe Flacco                 26       

            Matt Hasselbeck         26       

             Philip Rivers             26       

46           Russell Wilson       22       

65          Andrew Luck           18       

             Aaron Rodgers        18       

 

So among active QBs – Rodgers is 8th in passing yards, 6th in TD passes and 14th in Game Winning Drives.

 

 

MINNESOTA

The DB has always thought that QB CASE KEENUM is a serviceable short-term QB.  He was more than that Sunday.  Peter King:

 

Minnesota, playing without Sam Bradford for the second straight game, got a career game from Case Keenum (25 of 33, 369 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 142.1 rating). The Vikes are hopeful of getting Bradford back for the NFC North trifecta coming up (Detroit, at Chicago, Green Bay), but Keenum’s not so frightening now.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

An “ouch” from Peter King:

 

I think I think I’m not saying Ben McAdoo shouldn’t be a head coach in the NFL, but when I see him speak publicly, he does not inspire confidence that he should be a head coach in the NFL.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Tiny RB DARIN SPROLES has dodged a lot of big hits over the years, but the Giants got him in the arm on Sunday.  NFL.com:

 

Sproles is believed to have suffered a broken arm, Rapoport reported. The veteran will undergo an MRI on Monday to learn additional details, but is out indefinitely.

– – –

Peter King with PK JAKE ELLIOTT, Sunday’s unknown hero in Philly:

 

Before the game, coaches watched Elliott kicking on the field and decided they’d call on him if the kick was 56 yards or closer. Coincidentally, that’s the longest kick of his career, 56 yards, when he was in college. But with the ball at the Giants’ 43 with one tick left, Elliott did the quick math … 61 yards.

 

“I sprinted up to the coaches to put my word in,” Elliott said after the game. “I was real wide-eyed. I said, ‘Let’s go! LET’S GO!’”

 

The head coach, Doug Peterson, looked at this kid he barely knows, said nothing, and pointed out to the field. “I ran out there,” Elliott calmly recounted. “Normal flow. A little jittery. But I was zoned in. I couldn’t really tell you what I was thinking. I felt good about it. When I hit the ball, it felt good. You know when you’re a kicker, and you hit it really well, sometimes it feels like you haven’t really hit it that hard …”

 

“Like a baseball player hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat and not really feeling much?” he was asked.

 

“Exactly.”

 

Then, he said, he kicked it, and “I saw the ball in real life.” It veered a little bit right and kept going and going and appeared to slightly shave the inside of the right upright. Plenty of ball. Good.

 

The wide-eyed amazement of teammates he barely knows sprinting at him … FOX hustling him over for the Erin Andrews post-gamer on the field …  Two teammates, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, waiting to carry him off the field … The crowd, as loud as one observer said he’s heard it in two or three years, going bonkers.

 

What will Elliott remember most? All of it, probably.

 

“It’s a little bit stunning,” Elliott said. “Surreal. Really surreal.”

 

That’s how you feel when you kick the longest field goal in Eagles history, the longest NFL field goal ever kicked in Philadelphia, and the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history, and a dagger in the heart of the 0-3 Giants. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t beat out Randy Bullock three weeks ago.

– – –

This is why coaches kick “Fraidy Cat” punts, instead of realizing that “Fortune Favors The Bold.”  The DB doesn’t see going for a 4th down (even with 8 yards to go) in enemy territory at any time as an especially dumb decision.  But Peter King let’s her rip on Doug Pederson:

 

I think he didn’t win Goat of the Week honors because the Eagles beat the Giants, but Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson certainly made a goat-like decision that could have cost his Eagles the game Sunday. With 2:43 left in the first half, and a fourth-and-eight at the Giants’ 43, and the Eagles up 7-0, Pederson chose to go for it instead of pinning New York deep in their territory with the Giants’ offense struggling. The Giants sacked Carson Wentz and drove for what appeared to be the tying TD—except Sterling Shepard dropped the tying touchdown pass.

 

He didn’t plan on a sack.  If the Giants offense is “struggling” then you should/could be bolder on offense because your defense can hold them from near midfield.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

WR KELVIN BENJAMIN did not finish the loss to the Saints with a knee injury, but an early report claims he is “fine.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Tampa Bay’s defense came up empty against the Vikings – and it also came away injured.  Here is an NFL.com list of the ailing:

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Noah Spence exited the game after suffering a shoulder injury versus the Vikings. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy briefly left with an ankle injury but returned to the game. Safety T.J. Ward also left the game after suffering a quad and hip injury.

 

In the second half, linebacker Lavonte David was carted off the field with an apparent ankle injury. ESPN reported after the game that X-rays were negative on David’s left ankle, but he was seen sporting crutches.

 

Rapoport reported, per a source, that David suffered what is believed to be a high-ankle sprain. An MRI is scheduled for Monday to see how long he’s out, Rapoport added.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

T ANDREW WHITWORTH will stand Sunday in Dallas, but he tells Peter King that the words of Trump still made him seethe:

 

“I saw the president’s comments when I picked my phone up Friday night and saw the social media buzz. Honestly, my first thought was, ‘Oh no.’  I really had fear. I didn’t know where it would lead. And now, I hope for unity. I hope for guys to support each other. Let’s find ways to unify, to find common ground.

 

“Will I kneel or sit? No. That doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent in support of the players who choose to demonstrate in some way. But this is why I will stand: My high school best friend, Lee Deal from West Monroe, La., was a soldier in the Navy killed in Iraq the year I was drafted in Cincinnati. I’ve got a tattoo on my back of his gravestone. The national anthem, for me, I always get really emotional. I get to play this game and my brother—my close friend, who served this country on a special reconnaissance team and earned a Purple Heart—doesn’t get to be here. So I will always stand, and get emotional … as a tribute to Lee.

 

“For me, who I am, what I’m about, it’s about people loving each other. There is inequality in this country. I don’t know all the facts, but I 100 percent believe there is racial inequality that must be addressed. The president made it personal. He went after a group of people, a special group of people, he attacked personally. Attacking people the way he did is not the way to improve the world.”

– – –

Peter King, who thinks a lot about the Hall of Fame, sees the admission of RB TERRELL DAVIS as Pandora’s box:

 

“He’s a Hall of Famer with what he’s done already in his career.”

 

—Cris Collinsworth, on Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, after he made the game-clinching sack in the Rams’ 41-39 win over the 49ers

 

Collinsworth is a splendid analyst and a very good friend. But it would take something truly extraordinary for me to vote a man who has played three years and two NFL games into the Hall of Fame. Then again, this is what the Terrell Davis Hall of Fame vote has wrought: Davis had three other-worldly seasons and one very good one, and he was elected to the Hall this year.

 

The DB feels the same way about the vote to admit the persistent PK Morten Andersen.

 

If Andersen, why not Adam Vinatieri?  Or Jason Hanson?  Or Phil Dawson? Or Gary Anderson?  Or anyone who boots more than Andersen’s 565 field goals down the line?

– – –

Peter King on the rise of the Rams offense:

 

Obviously, this can’t all be about coaching. But coach Sean McVay and his hands-on Goff guys—quarterback coach Greg Olson and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur—have gone back and educated Goff about the littlest things. Formations and pass-route combinations have been a big part of the education. Take Goff’s one-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Thursday night—made possible by an interesting formation with Watkins paired with another receiver to the left of the formation that was as close to a pick play, but entirely legal, as an offense can run. It’s just smart stuff that makes life easier for the quarterback.

 

Having a significantly better offensive line helps. And the importing of Andrew Whitworth as a free-agent left tackle has meant the world. It’s like the importing of Chris Sale to the Red Sox pitching staff—it changes everything. Compare the protection from the left tackle for the Rams last year to the protection from the left tackle this year, stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

 

• 2016: Left tackle Greg Robinson allowed 40 sacks/significant pressures/hits of the quarterbacks in 511 pass drops. That’s one pressure per 12.8 pass attempts.

 

• 2017: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has allowed one sack/significant pressure/hit of the quarterback in 84 pass drops. That’s one pressure per 84 pass attempts.

 

When I spoke with Whitworth on Saturday, he credited the teaching of McVay.

 

“The reality is, how many true teachers are there out there, rather than yellers and screamers,” Whitworth said. “The most impressive thing about Coach McVay is he’s a teacher. The greatest coaches are the ones who can not just stand in a classroom and instruct on the board what to do—but they can stand right beside me, looking through my eyes, and tell me how to do something. Teach me something. That can last forever. That’s what I see with coach McVay and Jared.

 

“Now, when I see Jared, I see a really confident guy. He’s told me, ‘I feel good about any single play we call. I just feel like I need to make the decisions. I don’t think, Is this what we should have called? Is this the right situation for this call?’ I think it’s important that after a play, Sean is not there to criticize him when he makes the wrong decision. He knows the only way for him to learn this is to go through it. It’s been good to watch.”

 

 

SEATTLE

The Seahawks are now 1-2 after a loss in Nashville in which CB RICHARD SHEMAN picked up three major penalties on one play and four in the game.  Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:

 

Richard Sherman was involved in a play Sunday he’d probably love to wipe from his memory bank.

 

The Seattle Seahawks cornerback was flagged three times in a matter of seconds during the first quarter of the team’s Week 3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

 

The pass interference wiped out Kam Chancellor’s interception. The Titans declined Sherman’s holding infraction during Chancellor’s return. The personal foul for jawing at officials was enforced. When the dust cleared, the Titans went from a third-and-10 at their own 44 to a first-and-10 at the Seattle 25. Tennessee would eventually kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

 

Here’s what the box score looks like. It’s messy:

 

Sherman was extremely fired up at game officials after his penalty hat trick, and he was later involved in a heated encounter on the Titans sideline when he clobbered Marcus Mariota after the Titans quarterback had stepped out of bounds on a scramble. The hit drew an unnecessary roughness flag on Sherman and prompted a scuffle on the sideline where Titans lineman Jack Conklin also drew a flag.

 

It’s worth watching here.  The pass interference looks like pass interference, although Sherman would probably have a technical reason to tell you the call was wrong.  The holding on the return has a lot of armwork, but we don’t see grabbing or shoving.  But he certainly could have/should have been ejected for his reaction after the merited unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, including what looks like contact with an official.

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

Just when QB TREVOR SIEMIAN appeared ticketed for Canton, he showed badly in Buffalo on Sunday.  Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com:

 

I was about to buy into the recent hype as well and, yeah, that was really impressive against the Cowboys in Week 2.

 

But lest we forget, this is a week-to-week league. And Sunday, on the road, Siemian was not good. Game management has to be his forte, but in what was a close outing through the third quarter, he made two critical errors the likes of which just can’t happen. He isn’t physically gifted enough to throw the ball through people, and when his fundamentals suffer and he tries to do too much, bad things happen.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

A mea culpa from Pete Prisco:

 

@PriscoCBS 

 Quit tweeting at me Chiefs fans. I was wrong about your team. Playing as well as any team in the league. There, I said it

– – –

Peter King on the NFL’s rushing king so far:

 

Kansas City has a good one in Kareem Hunt. The 86th pick in the 2017 draft has a 113-yard lead in the rushing race after three games. If the Kansas City kid keeps up the 133.7-yard average per game, he might have a decent season.

 

The NFL’s top 2 rushers so far are rookies – Hunt at 401 and DALVIN COOK of the Vikings at 288.  Another rookie, LEONARD FOURNETTE of the Jaguars is 7th at 199.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

WR MICHAEL CRABTREE did not finish the loss to the Redskins due to a chest injury.

– – –

The Raiders could be in the Black Hole for a while longer, into the next decade, reports Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com:

 

The Raiders, already facing the prospect of playing three more years outside of Nevada until their Las Vegas stadium is complete, have begun talks with Bay Area authorities about extending their time in Oakland beyond 2019, league sources said.

 

There are concerns that stadium construction will not be able to start — and finish — on time in Las Vegas, and the Raiders are also still sorting out issues with UNLV, which would share the new stadium. Those issues are holding up the formal completion of all paperwork that would free ownership to begin tapping into the $750 million in public funds being used to largely finance the complex.

 

The executive director of the Coliseum Commission in Oakland is open to an extension, sources said, and while the Raiders might be using an extension in Oakland as leverage in its battle with UNLV, it is also very likely they might need to play outside of Vegas beyond 2019 before the new stadium is ready.

 

“They’re talking about adding on at least one more year in Oakland,” said one league source.

 

The Rams already announced earlier this year that their new stadium in Inglewood was going to open one year later than originally expected, and while the Raiders certainly are not near that point yet, they are planning for contingencies in the event they do need a temporary home beyond the 2019 season.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Not much was expected in year one of the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles, but Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says it is going even worse than expected after Sunday’s “home” game with the Chiefs:

 

In addition to the fact that the Chargers lost for the third time in three games, the Chargers had a second straight pathetic accumulation of paying customers in a home stadium that is smaller than more than 100 college venues.

 

The 27,000 seats weren’t fully occupied (the team still claimed it was a sellout), and many of the seats that were occupied ended up in the possession of Chiefs fans. So many that, via TheBigLead.com, the Chargers couldn’t do player introductions for fear of being drowned out by the visiting crowd.

 

The outcome (with more of the same to surely come) will do nothing to quell talk that the Chargers should return to San Diego. Despite some hot takes and perhaps overly-hyped storylines from last week regarding the possibility, Sam Farmer of Los Angeles Times has explained that a re-re-relocation of the Chargers is highly unlikely unless the Spanos family sells the team, which is also highly unlikely.

 

The real test will come when the new stadium opens in Inglewood. If the Chargers can’t get more than 25,000 and change to show up when there are more than twice as many seats in the building, it simply won’t be sustainable. If, in turn, the Rams struggle to fill the venue, the league may decide that instead of 20 poorly attended games per year in L.A., there should be only 10 total.

 

Until that experiment can even happen, the Chargers will need to get through this season and two more at the StubHub Center. Which will mean more and more stories like this one are coming, unless and until it becomes a given that: (1) the Chargers won’t be able to sell all of the tickets; and (2) plenty of the tickets will be used by those who support whoever the Chargers are playing.

 

The DB spoke recently with someone who has a pulse on thinking within the NFL – and the idea that the Chargers might still strike a deal to return to San Diego is still burning in NFL hearts.

 

If not, the DB thinks they could become the kind of rare free agent team that could move to London or Mexico City under new ownership.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Didn’t we have something from FootballOutsiders.com last week claiming the Ravens were the second-most likely team to go to the Super Bowl?

 

But this is what Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com saw:

 

The Ravens might be the most compromised offense in the NFL. What they did in London was atrocious, and the loss of Marshal Yanda on an already injury-plagued offensive line could cripple them all season. The first two weeks they benefited from 10 turnovers from opposing QBs — and still could barely score. On Sunday, when a gassed defense couldn’t even make Blake Bortles flinch, and the offensive line, sans Yanda, started turning it over … well, it snowballed quickly. This group is limited to say the least.

 

Yeah, here is that FootballOutsiders.com report, using something called DVOA to measure the teams. 

 

This report lists the odds of each team

 

Reaching the Conference Championship Game

Winning the Conference Championship Game

Winning the Super Bowl

 

Team    Conf App           Conf Win           SB Win

PIT       49.5%               32.4%               20.3%          

BAL      29.4%               16.0%                 9.0%  

DET      28.8%               15.7%                 7.2%

NE        25.8%               12.4%                 6.9%  

KC        25.4%               11.9%                 6.4%  

 

Prior to Sunday, DVOA said the Ravens (2-0 against Ohio) were 77.7% to make the playoffs, #2 on that list as well.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com cruelly notes how the Browns have consistently passed on good QBs to draft mediocre ones:

 

Watch Wentz. Watch Deshaun Watson go out and match Tom Brady throw for throw and nearly pull off a historic comeback at Foxboro. And then watch DeShone Kizer. One of these things is not like the other.

 

It’s very early in their careers, and the cast in Cleveland is surely suspect, but passing on so many quarterbacks — I won’t mention how many times they passed on Dak Prescott — to take inferior ones (Cody Kessler, a third-round pick in 2016, was inactive again) has a way of haunting you for a long time. They didn’t want to draft Wentz in the first round and claimed he wasn’t a top-20 QB, which will only look more crazy with each week Wentz dazzles.

 

And they traded with Houston this year so the Texans could take Watson, and then Cleveland took Kizer in the second round. Watson’s decision-making, athleticism and presence are far beyond the other 2017 rookie quarterbacks at this point. He was a consistent play maker on Sunday, in only his second NFL start, and he’s doing it on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

 

Kizer had a humbling time against a weak Colts defense. He has reached 50 percent passing in only one of his three starts and he has three TDs, seven INTs and a 53.2 rating. It’s going to be bumpy, and this is hardly all on the young passer, but turnovers and decision-making were big issues at Notre Dame as well. It doesn’t just go away.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

While hundreds of NFL players were “courageously” disrespecting/protesting the Anthem, there was one player who defied his coach to show his love of this nation.  Diana Crandall of RealClearLife.com says the actions of ANTHONY VILLANUEVA seem to have captured the hearts of more NFL fans than any other.

 

Alejandro Villanueva, a U.S. army veteran and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive lineman, beat out Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Derek Car to become the best-selling NFL player in the league on Monday, ESPN reports. Orders for Villanueva’s gear, including jerseys and number t-shirts, poured in after Villanueva became the lone Steeler to come outside of the tunnel to stand, hand on heart, during the national anthem on Sunday. The rest of the Steelers remained in the locker room for the duration of the song.

 

When then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began kneeling to protest police brutality against African Americans, Villanueva had this to say:

 

“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year,” Villanueva reportedly told ESPN last year.

 

ESPN notes that it’s “unprecedented” to see an offensive lineman’s sales spike at the top for any period — but there’s at least one person who isn’t happy with Villanueva’s decision.

 

“I was looking for 100 percent participation. We were gonna be respectful of our football team,” Tomlin reportedly said.

 

Word has been that all of Colin Kaepernick’s teammates were respectful when he bucked the trend current in 2016.  We shall see what lies ahead for Villanueva.

– – –

Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com see Pittsburgh as out of sorts all day Sunday after taking the protests to a new level by abandoning the Anthem:

 

It’s fair to say the Steelers seemed distracted and out of sorts all day.

 

It was hard not to wonder if the Steelers managed to overthink this one. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (who has yet to muster 270 passing yards in a game this season despite his preponderance of weapons) shrugged off that notion after the game, saying he didn’t think the time spent deciding to stay in the locker room was a distraction from pressing football matters.

 

Tomlin said he gave the league a heads-up about the Steelers’ plan for the anthem, but was never given assurances they wouldn’t be sanctioned (they won’t be fined, I’m told, nor will the Seahawks or any other team that skipped the sidelines during the anthem).

 

But they never looked entirely into this game either, whether it was muffed punts or failing to turn gift turnovers into touchdowns or managing to establish any sort of groove on either side of the ball. Defensively, the loss of T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt clearly hurt, but for much of the game Pittsburgh was overrun at the line of scrimmage. They looked, too often, like a team that had its mind elsewhere.

 

The offense has been far too tepid. Expected to be one of the most explosive units in the NFL, they continue to slumber for long spells of each game. They struggle to move the chains consistently, settling for the odd big play here or there, but continuity is an issue. They have scored two offensive touchdowns in each of their three games — with only one rushing TD all season — and Le’Veon Bell remains a nonfactor (61 yards on Sunday, and only 180 yards on 52 carries — 3.5 per attempt — this season) against a Bears defense that seemed suspect.

 

And on the other side of the ball, the Bears rumbled for 220 yards on the ground against the Steelers. Jordan Howard amassed 138 yards on 23 carries despite being in and out of the game due to injury, and rookie Tarik Cohen ran for 78 yards on only 12 attempts. Cohen appeared to end the game in overtime on a long touchdown scamper, only for a controversial replay decision to intervene.

 

The Steelers seemed dumbfounded and disoriented by it all, and shortly after they lined back up, Howard did end the game with a 19-yard scoring run. It left them with much to sort through on a flight back home, from their pregame sideline stance to their premature halftime exodus to the very last play of the game.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

When Patriots CB DARIUS BUTLER looks at DeSHAUN WATSON, he sees a young CAM NEWTON.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Watson diced up Bill Belichick’s defense to the tune of 301 passing yards on 22-of-33 throws, two touchdowns and two interceptions (the latter coming on a last-second Hail Mary), and he ran for 41 yards on eight keepers.

 

In a place many rookies have gone to get destroyed, Watson impressed wire to wire.

 

“He’s a handful,” Patriots corner Malcolm Butler said afterward, via transcripts distributed by the team. “[He was] running around, people diving at him, missing him. That’s a great guy. That’s an upcoming Cam Newton.”

 

Behind a wobbly offensive line, Watson’s mobility is a difference-maker. In just his second start, Watson wasn’t deploying a dink-and-dunk operation, either. Instead, the first-round pick pressed the ball down the field time and again.

 

“His leadership,” Butler said of what impressed him most of Watson. “You see him leading his offensive line, leading some of the veteran players, just keeping his composure, playing the game and not letting anything get too big for him.”

 

After struggling for spells in his debut, Watson showed the strides he can make each week.

 

“He’s an exciting player,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a player that never says die. You’re always in the game with him. He can make plays on his own. Like all rookies, he has a long way to go but he’s shown up pretty well the first two starts.

 

“I thought Deshaun played his heart out. He’s a sharp kid. He’s a fun guy to coach. He gets better every day. He’s a special kid.”

 

Watson is listed as 6-3, 215.  So do you see Newton or someone else? 

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

WR KAMAR AIKEN has gone into concussion watch after a hit by the Browns.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

 

 

 

TENNESSEE

 

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on the scene Sunday in Buffalo:

 

Former Bills quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly was on the field for the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Broncos and he raised his cap to the fans while holding his other hand over his heart at the end of the song.

 

Several Bills players, including running back LeSean McCoy, were taking a knee while Kelly was doing that and Kelly wasn’t a fan of their display. In an Instagram post accompanying a picture from Sunday, Kelly shared his displeasure with that display and President Trump as well as his hope for how the team will handle the anthem next week.

 

“Even though I’m thankful the BILLS won today, I’m really upset and sad about what’s happening. And I imagine many of you are too. I love the game of football and all that it means to the players, fans and cities across THIS country … but with all that’s going on it’s hard. The only time I will ever take a knee  is to pray and to thank the Good Lord for what he’s given me. We all have our issues. We all need to try and appreciate and understand each other and help each other and that goes for our PRESIDENT TOO. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that we need to UNITE not SEPARATE. I hope next week we can STAND, LOCK ARMS and become ONE FAMILY.”

 

The Bills current quarterback Tyrod Taylor stood during the anthem and said after the game that he didn’t know what the team would do in the future, but said in order for things to change “or in order for the awareness to be beneficial, it has to be something that goes on consistently.”

 

And Don Banks at Patriots.com on the pivotal play – a call by the men of Roger Goodell:

 

No more calls, we have a winner. That was the worst taunting call of all time Sunday in Buffalo, when Broncos linebacker Von Miller offered a helping hand up to Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, then pulled it away in “too slow’’ style. Are you kidding me, NFL? Both players were laughing at the move, and there was no real harm or foul. It makes the league look small, petty and up tight when referees take everything too seriously. And the penalty eventually helped Buffalo score their final three points and make it a two-score deficit for Denver.

 

 

MIAMI

Peter King:

 

I don’t want to give the Dolphins an excuse, and I know Adam Gase doesn’t either, but their Miami-to-California (for nine days)-to-Miami-to-New Jersey travel slate couldn’t have helped in the 20-6 loss to the Jets. Now in three days, they leave for London.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

While Patriots owner Bob Kraft has sided with The Commish and the anthem protestors, Donald Trump indicates a rare spirit of forgiveness to someone who crossed him.

 

Nick O’Malley of MassLive.com:

 

Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among a large group of NFL owners who spoke out against Trump’s negative portrayal of NFL players. Kraft — a well-known supporter of Trump — said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments” made by the president.

 

Kraft has joined the list of NFL owners who have spoken out against the comments made by Trump saying that players should be “fired” if they kneel for the national anthem.

 

When asked about one of his supporters speaking out, Trump said that he was all right with what the Patriots owner had to say.

 

“Look, that’s OK,” Trump said. “He has to take his ideas and go with what he wants. I think it’s very disrespectful to our country. I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag.”

 

 

Trump stressed that he maintains a positive relationship with Kraft.

 

“I like Bob very, much, we’re friends,” Trump said. “He gave me a Super Bowl ring a month ago, right? So he’s a good friend of mine, and I want him to do what he wants to do.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

At the moment, the media are enthralled with Tony Romo’s predictive powers.  Jaclyn Hendricks of the New York Post is typical:

 

One quarterback predicted Andy Dalton’s demise Sunday, and it wasn’t Aaron Rodgers.

 

As the Bengals attempted to strike into Packers territory on a third-and-8, Tony Romo watched from the broadcasting booth, anticipating Green Bay safety Josh Jones would blitz Dalton.

 

“Head’s up for pressure from the top,” Romo said.

 

Moments later, Jones sacked Dalton, adding to another disappointing performance for the Bengals, who dropped their third straight game, 27-24, in overtime.

 

As for Romo, 37, his stock continues to rise in his first year as an analyst for CBS Sports. During last week’s matchup between the Patriots and Saints, the former Cowboys quarterback foresaw Drew Brees throwing to New Orleans receiver Brandon Coleman on an inside route for a touchdown.

 

Romo joined CBS in April after 14 seasons with Dallas. It appears he has no regrets about leaving the field behind.

 

Romo doubles up this week and we all will get to watch him on Thursday.  He’ll be back at Lambeau for Bears-Packers.

– – –

Another nominee for telecasting NFL Rookie of the Year is rules analyst Dean Blandino on FOX.  He was Johnny-on-the-spot when the rules claimed the ending of Atlanta-Detroit.  Max Demara of Detroit.247.com:

 

Dean Blandino might understand and support the NFL runoff rule, but that doesn’t mean he loves what it did to the Detroit Lions.

 

Joining the Dan Patrick Show on Monday morning, Blandino, the former league head of officiating, addressed the 10 second runoff that occurred as a result of a long standing NFL rule.

 

“I hate for a game to end like that. It’s the right rule, the right call. Most of the time it is an equitable result. I just hate for a game to end like that because then you have the what if’s,” Blandino said.

 

Among those what if’s, the fact that the Lions would have gotten off a snap quickly in a matter of seconds in order to get a winning play in.

 

“It was only a two or a three yard play. Detroit can probably get lined up. The problem is you have to have a standard. Let’s say it was a 30 yard play. Are they going to get lined up in eight seconds?,” Blandino wondered, despite the fact the Lions have been the masters of getting to the line quick in a variety of circumstances.

 

According to Blandino, the rule probably won’t change because it’s been a standard, even though it harmed Detroit.

 

“It’s impossible to say we’re going to take each situation on it’s own. The standard is 10 seconds. That’s been the standard for a long time. Yesterday, it was to the detriment of Detroit,” he said.

 

None of that will make Lions fans feel any better about the result.

 

 

TRUMPED UP WEEKEND

When the issue was whether America’s biggest fundamental crisis was problematic contact by police, doing a dangerous job that often finds its members shot and shot at, with African-Americans, it was not hard for the bulk of NFL players to decline to join Colin Kaepernick and his acolytes in social protest.

 

But when said protestors are called “sons of bitches” by the President of the United States, and their employers were chastised for continuing to employ them, the collective backs of the NFL and much of its media rose up in fury over the weekend.

 

An admiring Peter King checks in with The Commish who is thrilled with how the NFL’s PR response plan unfolded.  There also is some good reporting on Trump’s relationship with the NFL:

 

On Sunday evening, the 48 Hours That Roiled the NFL were almost over. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sat monitoring the second half of the late-window games in the NFL’s officiating command center. He took a short break to consider what happened on what one owner told me was the strangest weekend he’d seen in his tenure in the league.

 

“The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud,” Goodell said. “I’m proud of our league.”

 

Think of what happened. President Donald Trump was bashing the league that spurned him again late Friday night. In a speech in Alabama, the president ripped the NFL both for being too punitive on big hits and for owners not firing the next player who didn’t stand for the anthem. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” Trump said, railing to an empathetic crowd. “Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!!”

 

But really, think of what happened. The previous weekend, in the 16 games in the NFL, fewer than 10 players, total, either sat or raised a fist during anthems across the league. The organized protests were being replaced by meetings between a cadre of increasingly socially conscious players and league and team officials. Then the Alabama speech happened, and players—white and black—and owners and union officials and the commissioner, got angry. On Saturday, one coach whose team hadn’t done any protesting of note before this weekend said his players “felt like the president put them in a corner—and they had to do something or it’d look like the president made them back down.”

 

So Trump actually was the divider-in-chief this weekend. In two-plus minutes of a speech pumping up the candidacy of an Alabama Republican senate candidate, the president of the United States detoured to cursing at grown men who would choose to protest silently before football games. How would you guess strong and principled men would respond to anyone, never mind the president, calling them SOBs? In a week, five or eight protesters became in excess of 250. Three full teams—Pittsburgh (other than Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva), Seattle and Tennessee—boycotted the anthem Sunday, and other groups either knelt or sat. “He [Trump] attacked our brothers, my brothers, and me,” said Carolina veteran Julius Peppers, who stayed in the locker room during the anthem before the Saints-Panthers game.

 

More than that, it seemed Trump got players so angry that these protests are likely to continue well into this season. Early Monday morning, after Washington’s victory over Oakland in the Sunday night game, cornerback Josh Norman went on an emotional run. He described watching the Trump comments, being stunned by the cheering in the crowd and he said: “Am I American? Am I here … for the land of the free and the home of the brave? Am I really free? … This right here is NOT acceptable. I’m kinda getting choked up right now.”

 

Trump was at it again Sunday, while protests—players either demonstrating or locking arms in solidarity on the sidelines—happened at 14 NFL games from London to Los Angeles. He tweeted about “boring games” on a day when five of them in the early window came down to the last minute. Last second, in one case. Trump’s buddy Tom Brady, battered by a consistent Texans rush, threw his fifth touchdown of the day with 23 seconds left to beat the Texans 36-33. The Bears won on a walkoff overtime 19-yard run by Jordan Howard. Newbie Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett eked out a three-point win when Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer threw an interception on the last play of the game. Detroit lost by four to Atlanta when a last-second attempted touchdown dive by the Lions’ Golden Tate fell about 10 inches short. And a Philadelphia rookie kicker playing his second NFL game kicked a 61-yard field goal at the gun to beat the Giants by three.

 

But it was a weird day for the game, and a weird weekend for teams. Seattle was in Nashville on Saturday preparing to play one of the league’s rising teams, the Titans. And the Seahawks, instead of either resting or focusing on the game, spent about four-and-a-half hours Saturday discussing what to do Sunday—and then even more time on it before the game. The Steelers debated what to do at length Saturday before playing the Bears. How much did that have to do with the Seahawks and Steelers losing Sunday? Maybe nothing. We’ll never know.

 

Goodell wouldn’t say how he personally felt when he first heard the Trump remarks early Saturday. But someone who spoke to him this weekend said Goodell had “profound disappointment” over the comments. He’d gone to Philadelphia on Sept. 12 to meet with some leaders of a players’ group working on social causes such as criminal-justice reform and police-community relations. Anthem protesting was down, and a source said the league was considering what further steps to take in response to the players’ request for the league to be more involved with social causes.

 

Goodell told me Sunday night: “I spent a lot of time listening to our players and coaches and owners over the past two days. They really care about our league. I just think we need more understanding. I was trying to find out with the players and coaches, ‘How are you feeling? What’s going on in your locker rooms?’ They were trying to figure out ways to respond.” He would not disclose any of the players or coaches.

 

Sunday’s demonstrations, Goodell said, did not surprise him. “They reflected the frustration, the disappointment, of the players over the divisive rhetoric we heard [from Trump],” he said.

 

Asked what the league could do now about the festering problems between the president and the country’s most popular game, Goodell said: “I think we have to be focused on what the NFL is doing—staying true to our values, unifying people and continuing an effort to understand and help improve our communities. People love coming together around football. We saw nothing but exciting football today. I think the public loves our game and recognizes the efforts we’re making with it.”

 

“Aren’t you bothered that the president might be on a crusade against your league?” I asked.

 

“No,” Goodell said. “We live in an imperfect society. A public discourse makes us strong.”

 

As of Sunday night, at least 22 of the league’s 32 owners issued statements on Trump’s comments, or spoke about them. Four of the seven men (Woody Johnson of the Jets, Dallas’ Jerry Jones, Stan Kroenke of the Rams, and Tampa Bay’s Edward Glazer) who donated to Trump following the 2016 election did not comment over the weekend. Johnson, Jones, Kroenke and Glazer gave a total of $3.25 million toward the cost of Trump’s inauguration.

 

Many of the statements were formulaic and respectful, with only a few rapping Trump with more than a ruler on the knuckles. John Mara and Steve Tisch, co-chairs of the Giants, called the comments “inappropriate, offensive and divisive.”

 

But imagine how Robert Kraft of the Patriots felt formulating his statement. I was told Kraft was watching Trump’s speech Friday night while working out after returning to Massachusetts from a business trip, and he was immediately upset. Kraft issued his statement Sunday morning. It read, in part: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday … There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.”

 

Over the years, Trump, who at one point of his life was a huge football fan (and may still be), became friendly with Kraft and with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Trump played golf with Brady. Trump watched games from Kraft’s box. I remember meeting Trump before a Patriots game in Foxboro when he was walking the sidelines with Kraft. Kraft’s relationship with Trump was such that when Kraft’s wife, Myra, died on July 20, 2011, Trump and wife Melania were not only in attendance at the services, but also among the first to arrive. After the funeral, Trump and Melania sat shiva with the Krafts at the their house in suburban Brookline, Mass. (Shiva is a one-week mourning time during which families grieve with relatives and close friends at the family home.) For weeks thereafter, Trump was one of a small circle of friends who would call Kraft weekly to see how he was doing without Myra.

 

Trump ascending to the presidency hasn’t dulled the relationship—at least until this weekend. Soon after his inauguration, Trump invited Kraft to dinner with the Japanese prime minister at Trump’s winter home in Florida. Then, Kraft gave Trump a genuine Super Bowl ring, the same as his players got after the scintillating 34-28 comeback win over Atlanta last February.

 

Kraft has gotten to know his players throughout his years as the owner, taking groups of Patriots to Israel and on trips to Boston’s inner city, including one session with the Boston police chief. Kraft has formed lasting bonds with many of those players, black and white. He has to be thinking, It’s one thing to urge players to stand respectfully for the national anthem. But who’s that guy calling them SOBs if they don’t? That wasn’t the guy who sat shiva with me when my wife died.

 

So now where does the league go from here? The players may continue to poke the bear, and union executive director DeMaurice Smith could too; his defiant tone in his statement made it clear the players wouldn’t back down to Trump. But it’s unlikely you’ll see Goodell engage much with Trump’s warring words. It’s not the commissioner’s style.

 

And Trump? I wouldn’t expect him to go quietly into the Washington night. In 2014, he was outbid by the Pegulas for the Bills and used Twitter to tell Buffalo what he really thought.

 

“Even though I refused to pay a ridiculous price for the Buffalo Bills, I would have produced a winner,” Trump said in October 2014, in a flurry of tweets. “Now that won’t happen.”

 

Sound familiar?

 

The NFL’s PR response is being crafted by Joe Lockhart, a former Clinton spinmeister who has never met a Republican he wouldn’t take on.  He gave this to ProFootballTalk.com on Monday morning:

 

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart roasted President Trump this morning, saying that NFL players who link arms and speak out on the issues that matter to them are the best of America — and referencing Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape in the process.

 

“Everyone should know, including the president, that this is what real locker room talk is,” said Lockhart, a former spokesman for President Clinton.

 

That’s an obvious reference to Trump being caught on tape talking about his treatment of women, saying that he can “grab them by the pussy.” When the tapes surfaced, Trump defended it as “locker room talk.”

 

Lockhart said today that real locker room talk includes the many players who have been speaking out on inequality and criminal justice reform. As Lockhart noted, many players have served their communities by meeting with prosecutors and public defenders to learn more about the system and express their thoughts about how the situation could be improved.

 

The NFL also takes issue with Trump’s contention that the league has ruined the game by calling more penalties for hits to the helmet.

 

“The president said something about wanting less emphasis on safety in the game. We fundamentally could not disagree more. These comments represent someone who’s out of touch,” Lockhart said.

 

Lockhart’s comments make clear that the league is willing to take on the president, after the president took on the NFL.

 

John Legend, at Slate.com, gives us the typical reaction from the liberal entertainment wing:

 

The president of the United States loves to drape himself in the symbols of patriotism, but fails to respect the ideals at the core of our Constitution and national identity. Trump may love the flag, but he doesn’t love anything it’s supposed to stand for. He actively encouraged a hostile foreign power to infiltrate our electoral process. He wants to suppress millions of Americans’ right to vote because they didn’t vote for him. He routinely undermines freedom of religion with his rabid Islamophobia, attacks the free press with disturbing regularity, and is now attacking the rights of the people to peacefully protest.

 

Protest is patriotic. Protest has played a critically important role in elevating the voices of the most vulnerable in our nation. Protest in America has been essential to ending war, to demanding equal rights, to ending unfair practices that keep citizens marginalized. If we quell protest in the name of patriotism, we are not patriots. We are tyrants.

 

Would there have been a Civil Rights Act without the Birmingham protests? When Bull Connor unleashed his fire hoses and dogs on the schoolchildren taking to the streets, racial disparities and the violence facing people because of the color of their skin became the issues of the times. With savage images of the brutal attack in the news every day, President John Kennedy had little choice but to push for a Civil Rights Act that demanded equal services and equal rights.

 

(recounting other great protests)

 

The NFL protests carry on in this tradition. They are not some arbitrary statement about a flag. They are a demand that we Americans make this country’s reality match its proud symbolism. They are an attempt to educate the public that criminal justice—mass incarceration, lengthy sentences, police brutality—is the civil rights issue of our time. Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, and Marshawn Lynch are demanding that this country again take a breath, self-reflect, and recognize that we fail a large and important population in this country by investing in prison systems rather than education and housing, by using the criminal system as a first rather than last resort, and by failing to punish police officers who engage in illegal racial profiling and police abuse. They are insisting that we do better.

 

To be clear, this is not the end of their activism. Malcolm Jenkins, who has raised a fist, and retired player Anquan Boldin are co-leading a “Players Coalition” of 40-plus players, working with grassroots activists and talking with legislators to demand police accountability and push for change in this country’s bail and juvenile sentencing scheme. Jenkins recently spent an afternoon watching bail hearings with the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and Boldin left the league to devote all of his time to reform and humanitarian work. Colin Kaepernick has donated at least $900,000 to causes that work to better the lives of the most vulnerable. Chris Long is donating his first six game checks to fund scholarships to poor kids from his hometown of Charlottesville.

 

But even without this activism, the players’ protests are important. Because of them, almost every day of the week, we talk about racial disparities. People across this country are suddenly thinking about what it must feel like to be a person of color, watch an officer shoot an unarmed man, and walk away with a pension. And every time someone takes a knee or raises a fist, viewers must grapple with the why—with the uncomfortable reality that our country daily marginalizes thousands of people in impoverished communities.

 

I sing for a living—no one would want me on their NFL team. But if I could, I’d take a knee on Sundays. Because these conversations are necessary for progress. Because these protests are their own form of a pledge-of-allegiance—allegiance to the ideals that are our nation’s founding principles, which many heroes have given their lives to defend. They are the definition of patriotism.

 

Law blogger Ann Althouse, also a student of The Narrative, was quick to spot a change of tone in the hallowed pages of the New York Times:

 

Just when liberal media was gearing up to destroy football over all the brain damage, Trump calls for a boycott of football over the National Anthem protests.

 

Here was the devastating NYT story 3 days ago: “Aaron Hernandez Had Severe C.T.E. When He Died at Age 27”:

 

Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end and a convicted murderer, was 27 when he committed suicide in April. Yet a posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease C.T.E. that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.

 

It was, a lawyer for his family said, in announcing the findings on Thursday, “the most severe case they had ever seen in someone of Aaron’s age.”

 

C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has been found in more than 100 former N.F.L. players, some of whom committed suicide, according to researchers at Boston University.

Well, that’s it, I said to myself. That’s the end of football. How can we sit back and enjoy watching activities that we know are wrecking the players’ brain?

– – –

This is a blunt, loud call to stop watching. You’re a bad person if — knowing what you know now — you continue to watch football. This isn’t a new message. Rush Limbaugh has been saying for years that this issue has already killed football, and it’s only a matter of time. But this news about Hernandez was a devastatingly hard hit.

 

Football was down. The end. We, the good people who read the NYT, must say no to football. What is known cannot become unknown except by willful, immoral forgetting. No decent person can take pleasure in football. No fit parent can allow a child to take up the game. The era of American football is over. Bury it. We can end the misery through the simple and necessary refusal to watch anymore. Say no, America… or hey, wait a minute. Here’s that nasty President of the United States and he’s calling for a boycott of football…

 

@realDonaldTrump

If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!

 

Now, what?! If you really hate brain damage, you might say, great. We can successfully destroy football now, because we’ve got a powerful second reason for football-watchers to end their support for the evil, destructive game. The people who are least receptive to the brain-damage problem might be the most likely to get into the strict discipline of firing players for “disrespecting our Flag & Country.” Look at that capitalization, from the man who said “I love the poorly educated.” He knows his audience. They don’t read The New York Times. They’re not going to let complicated news stories about CTE stop them from watching football. Can they even say chronic traumatic encephalopathy? But they sure get the prod from the Prez about Flag & Country.

 

Do you ally with your enemy against a common enemy? But Trump isn’t the enemy of all football. The National Anthem protests have been hurting football. The ratings have been declining badly, seemingly because of those protests. Trump may be trying to revive football, by demonstrating the strength of the support — among the real fans — for a harsh policy that would end the protests and bring the fans back. But it seems unlikely that football management will adopt that approach, as Trump must know, and so I imagine he’s thinking that he’s putting his personal stamp on the protest problem. He told management what it needed to do: Fire the protesters. They didn’t do it, and the decline of football continued. He told them. He showed them how to save football, and they wouldn’t do it, because they don’t respect their own fans. They listened to the elite media that has no respect for the people who really watch football (and who vote for Trump).

 

So, watch the liberal media endeavor to save football from bad old President Trump. He’s a racist. This is his racism once again, stirring up the stupid people who voted for him. Here’s the NYT today:

 

The tweet suggested that the president, who used an expletive on Friday night to refer to players who kneel or sit in protest during the anthem — a practice that took hold last season among some African-American players after Colin Kaepernick, the now-former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, did so to protest racial and social injustice — is bent on deepening a bitter culture-war fight with the N.F.L.

 

It is a highly charged debate, with unmistakable racial undertones, pitting advocates of free speech who argue that professional athletes should have a right to use their positions to call attention to social issues against those who contend that refusing to honor the anthem disrespects the military and the nation, and that sports is no place for such displays.

 

Let the brain damage continue. We’ve got a culture war to fight.

 

Howie Carr in the Boston Herald notices the Strange New Respect for Goodell and the NFL among the media:

 

The NFL’s run of terrible press is over — when President Trump attacked the league Friday night in Alabama, 99.99 percent of the alt-left media reflexively fell into line in defense of a sport they were denouncing as barbaric as late as Friday afternoon.

 

You know that torrent of negative news the fellow travelers has been spewing out about pro football — the epidemics of CTE and spousal abuse, the league’s plummeting TV ratings, the half-empty stadiums in California, the $6 tickets going begging, etc., etc.?

 

Now that Trump has slammed the NFL, it is once again … America’s Pastime!

 

All it took was 90 or so seconds of the president fantasizing aloud about an NFL owner — like his buddy Bob Kraft, maybe, or his ambassador to the Court of St. James, Woody Johnson — reacting to the latest pampered prima donna to take a knee during the national anthem.

 

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” the president imagined one of his fellow billionaires bellowing. “Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!”

 

Which would be the owner’s right, obviously. And surely a huge percentage of what used to be the NFL fan base is fed up with the endless PC posturing, both on the field and in the ESPN studios and on the sports pages.

 

The NFL’s appeal has faded, but not just among the deplor­ables. There’s a reason they are called “soccer moms,” after all. They wouldn’t dream of letting Junior put on shoulder pads. A football field is the furthest thing from a snowflake’s safe space.

 

But now the lemmings of the left feel compelled to defend something they loathed a mere 48 hours ago, because if Trump likes something, it must be bad. And vice versa.

 

It’s amazing how quickly the 45th president can rehabilitate the image of any loathed institution or individual, just by jumping on the pile. If only he could apply this magical touch to, say, repealing Obama­care, or building the wall.

 

Others in the media are quick to call Trump a liar for his statement that NFL ratings are “way down”.  The truth squad at PolitiFact is on the job:

 

President Donald Trump blamed low National Football League ratings and attendance on unpatriotic players.

 

“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 24, 2017.

 – – –

Advertising Age media reporter Anthony Crupi told us he estimated a decline of around 9 percent in ratings since last year, although the only window to face a significant decline was the 1 p.m. regional games.

 

But we only have full data for the first two weeks of the season — the first of which was likely impacted by Hurricane Irma — making the data set too small to draw any conclusions according to Paulsen, editor in chief of Sports Media Watch. (Paulsen’s professional name is simply Paulsen.)

 

Average attendance for 2017 thus far is also down — by 5 percent, while gross attendance is off 8 percent from 2016.

 

Trump might be referring to 2016, a year when the NFL saw a significant drop in viewership, although average game attendance increased by 3 percent from 2015 to 2016.

 

According to ESPN, NFL game broadcasters saw an average year-on-year drop in television viewership last season of 8 percent. Fox saw the lowest ratings since 2008 and ESPN since 2005.

 

But that excluded Thursday Night Football games, which Paulsen said likely would lower the percentage, and alternate viewing platforms.

 

“A variety of factors made the comparison versus last year skewed, including streaming on Twitter and a new partner, NBC,” ESPN reported.

 

A new Nielsen study measuring audiences in bars, restaurants, gyms and other out-of-home venues showed that NFL viewership nearly matched 2015’s numbers. However, they didn’t compute out-of-home numbers for 2015, suggesting there might still be some discrepancy.

 

It’s still a modest decline, according to Paulsen, because the NFL’s ratings are usually so strong — the NFL is the most popular televised sports event in the United States. He also pointed out that isolating the NFL made little sense.

 

“I think it’s really important to note the NFL is not declining while other leagues are increasing,” Paulsen said. “NASCAR ratings are in the cellar right now. The NBA had some of its lowest rated games ever on network television last year … It’s an industry-wide phenomenon and the NFL isn’t immune to it anymore.”

 

Why the drop?

Trump spokesman Steven Cheung pointed to a Seton Hall Sports Poll that found that 56 percent of 841 respondents cited players not standing for the national anthem as a reason for last year’s ratings drop.

 

But as CNBC pointed out, the poll asked why other people — rather than respondents — aren’t watching football. About half the people polled said they either follow sports “not closely” or “not at all,” but coverage of Kaepernick’s kneeling was widely covered by the media.

 

A similar J.D. Power survey Cheung cited also reported national anthem protests as the main reason NFL fans watched less games last season.

 

“Among the 12 percent who watch less (sports), 26 percent of them say national anthem protests are to blame, however those respondents reflect only 3 percent of the full, nationwide sample,” the researchers wrote.

 

Various pundits criticized the survey results as negligible, pointing out that for every one person turned off by protests, 10 NFL fans tuned in.

 

“If a larger share of respondents claimed they watched more NFL, the fact that NFL ratings were actually down last year is good enough reason to discard this survey as meaningless,” Patrick Redford wrote in Deadspin.

 

Like the Seton Hall survey, the reasons for tuning out were offered as a list for respondents to choose from, so people weren’t necessarily offering the anthem protests on their own, and respondents could provide multiple answers.

 

Paulsen said that NFL rating drops aren’t unprecedented, with similar declines in the ‘80s, ‘90s and the first half of the 2000s.

 

“It’s only now that people are deciding it’s a political issue, that people are really focusing on it. There’s any number of reasons to believe that what’s happening right now is not necessarily political,” Paulsen said, including a loss of interest among younger viewers.

 

Our ruling

Trump said “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country.”

 

Ratings were down 8 percent in 2016, but experts said the drop was modest and in line with general ratings for the sports industry. The NFL remains the most watched televised sports event in the United States.

 

Ratings in 2017 so far suggest a similar year-on-year drop, but experts say it’s too early to tell, and external factors like Hurricane Irma, which coincided with the season’s first week, may help explain the drop.

 

NFL game attendance dropped slightly from 2016 to 2017, and rose from 2015 to 2016.

 

As for political motivation, there’s little evidence to suggest people are boycotting the NFL. Most of the professional sports franchises are dealing with declines in popularity.

 

We rate this claim Mostly False.

 

But this:

 

@jpodhoretz 

 So Politifact thinks a 9 percent ratings decline isn’t “way down”? Ask a network exec what a 9% decline means.

 

A couple of Clay Travis tweets:

 

@ClayTravis 

Players have forgotten that fans pay their salaries. Alienating half of your customers, regardless of politics, is just bad business.

 

@ClayTravis 

How do you kneel for your own national anthem overseas and stand for the British anthem? Bad day for NFL business.

 

But this pithy comment from Lions coach Jim Caldwell showed where Trump’s comments were a bridge too far for many:

 

“There are no SOBs in this league.”

 

—Lions coach Jim Caldwell