The Daily Briefing Wednesday, November 29, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

The NFL appeals officers, James Thrash and Derrick Brooks, decide that the miscreants in Sunday’s brawl in Oakland each deserve one-game suspensions, not the two that NFL Justice tried to impose.  The AP:

 

Oakland receiver Michael Crabtree and Denver cornerback Aqib Talib had their two-game suspensions reduced to one game after appeal hearings on Tuesday.

 

Derrick Brooks heard Crabtree’s case and James Thrash heard Talib’s appeal, and both decided to reduce the two-game bans issued Monday by NFL Vice President of Football Operations Jon Runyan.

 

The fight during Oakland’s 21-14 win on Sunday was a continuation of a dispute that started last season when Talib ripped Crabtree’s chain off during the season finale. Crabtree missed the first game between the teams this year but didn’t wait long to seek revenge.

 

Crabtree punched Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. while blocking him on the first play of Oakland’s second drive. He then aggressively blocked Talib on a running play and drove him to the ground on the Broncos’ sideline on the following play, starting the brawl.

 

Talib once again ripped Crabtree’s chain off his neck. He also took Crabtree’s helmet off and threw it, as well as exchanging punches with Crabtree.

 

“This did appear to be premeditated,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said earlier in the day. “It happened three minutes into the game. There’s a history there. It was prolonged. … Importantly, it put other people at risk. Sideline personnel. League personnel.”

 

Both players are eligible to return on Monday. Crabtree will miss Sunday’s game against the New York Giants but now will be eligible to play in a key AFC West showdown against Kansas City on Dec. 10. Talib will have to sit out this weekend’s game against Miami.

 

From Charean Williams at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Serving one less game saved Talib $570,934 and Crabtree $398,897. Each will forfeit that amount this week.

 

There is a thought that Talib, as the instigator, deserved more punishment than Crabtree.  Among those thinking that is Crabtree.  Another Crabtree, Curtis Crabtree, filed this at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree is still unhappy about the situation that led to his fight with Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and subsequent one-game suspension.

 

In an interview with Vic Tafur of the Athletic, Crabtree said he wanted his suspension to be completely annulled as he takes issue with the notion he instigated the fighting.

 

“The league said it was premeditated on my part,” Crabtree said. “You know what premeditated is? When you say you’re going to do something, do it, and then laugh about it with the media after the game. Like he did last year. That’s all on him. I’m not trying to get revenge. I’m trying to get a catch in my 122nd straight game and help my team win a big game. I don’t want to get kicked out. I know what’s at stake for my team.”

 

Crabtree was reprimanded by the league for punching cornerback Chris Harris in the chest on the play before the scrap with Talib began. The league said in its notice of suspension to Crabtree that the punch to Harris was part of the reasoning for the two-game suspension. Crabtree claims he was only attempting to block Harris and it was no different than the way he goes about blocking in every game. Then when Talib ripped his necklace off and Crabtree blocked him into the bench area, he was merely defending himself against an onslaught of Denver players.

 

“I am just playing ball, man,” he said. “ESPN said that I taped the chain to myself before the game because I was worried about it. I didn’t. I don’t care about no chains. I am just playing ball. Not worried about nothing. I don’t like how the whole thing got flipped and I am the bad guy.

 

“He took my chain off and I blocked him to the whistle. Yeah, I blocked him to the ground, but I didn’t jump on him. They jumped on me. It was seven against one.”

 

Crabtree continued to say he felt the need to speak up for himself about the incident and that he doesn’t know why Talib has any issue with him.

 

Both Crabtree and Talib were initially suspended for two games before having the duration cut to one game on appeal.

– – –

The NFL’s Compensation Committee met in New York Tuesday, looking to finalize the multi-year, multi-multi-million dollar extension that will secure Roger Goodell’s employment into the next decade.  No announcements or even leaks yet on what went on.

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

CB XAVIER RHODES will be tasked with trying to stop WR JULIO JONES of the Falcons on Sunday:

 

The Buccaneers couldn’t stop Falcons receiver Julio Jones on Sunday. In four days, the Vikings hope to.

 

Toward that end, the Vikings have something the Bucs don’t: cornerback Xavier Rhodes. During two prior meetings, Rhodes had done a nice job keeping Jones from taking over the game.

 

“It’s the same regimen, same thing,” Rhodes said earlier this week, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Go into the game, don’t believe in the hype, don’t be afraid of the name, just believe in the game. I know he’s one of the best receivers in the league, and I’ve just got to go out and play with the mindset of having confidence going against him.”

 

Via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rhodes held Jones to two catches for 27 yards while covering him only part of the time during a 2014 game. In 2015, Jones had another two catches for 18 yards when covered by Rhodes, again only part of the time.

 

This time around, Rhodes could be seeing Jones most of the time. And Rhodes knows it won’t be easy.

 

“[He’s] big, fast, physical,” Rhodes said of Jones. “I don’t believe he has any weakness at all. He’s focused. Doesn’t talk much on the field. So it’s hard to get in his head. Yeah, he’s just Julio.”

 

Julio being Julio was just enough to give Jones the third 250-yard performance of his career against the Buccaneers, who according to their head coach tried 14 different coverages to stop Jones.

 

“We had everything from the cornerback falling down, to a linebacker running out of [his] zone, to not getting pressure on the quarterback, to double moves, to them high-lowing us in a two-deep coverage and throwing over the corner’s head,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said. “Every way you can beat those different coverages, they all happened. Nothing worked, and it was frustrating for everybody.’’

 

Rhodes will now try to frustrate Jones by keeping him under 100 yards. Or maybe under 150. Or maybe 200.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Eli’s going.  That’s the conclusion as the longtime QB of the Giants heads to the bench after a discussion with Coach Ben McAdoo.  This is how the AP reported it:

 

The New York Giants are changing quarterbacks for first time in more than 13 years.

 

Yes, Eli Manning is not going to start.

 

The Giants announced on Tuesday that Geno Smith will start in place of Manning when the Giants (2-9) face the Raiders in Oakland on Sunday.

 

Rookie Davis Webb will also play, if not this week, then sometime before the end of the season.

 

“Geno will start this week,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “Over the last five games, we will take a look at Geno, and we will also give Davis an opportunity.”

 

Manning has started 210 consecutive regular-season games, the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, behind Brett Favre’s 297. He has started every Giants game since Nov. 21, 2004, when he took over for veteran Kurt Warner in the 10th game of his rookie season.

 

Manning has also started 12 postseason games, and twice led the Giants to Super Bowl victories.

 

Manning was given the option of starting against the Raiders to keep the streak alive, but declined.

 

“Coach McAdoo told me I could continue to start while Geno and Davis are given an opportunity to play,” Manning told CBS Sports. “My feeling is that if you are going to play the other guys, play them. Starting just to keep the streak going and knowing you won’t finish the game and have a chance to win it is pointless to me, and it tarnishes the streak. Like I always have, I will be ready to play if and when I am needed. I will help Geno and Davis prepare to play as well as they possibly can.”

 

The reaction from America’s sporting media and the bulk of Giants fans and alumni was overwhelmingly negative.  This collection from NFL.com:

 

The shocking decision stunned the former and current NFL players as well as pundits.

 

 

Osi Umenyiora

@OsiUmenyiora

Eli deserves much better than that. Much better. Class person, class player. That’s absurd

 

Plaxico Burress

@plaxicoburress

Damn! Bench Eli? Man showed up every week for 14 years.

 

Phil Simms

@PhilSimmsQB

– #EliManning can stand tall and proud and will for the rest of his life for all he has been to @Giants —Fans will never forget him #GiantsPride

 

Shaun O’Hara

@ShaunOHara60

The ambrosia of emotions right now!! Didn’t think the @Giants season could get any worse now THIS!!

😡😡😡🔥🔥🔥

 

David Diehl

@davediehl66

I’m absolutely speechless. I’ve watched every game & have sat through this rough @Giants season & this what you do to a man who has lead this team for 210 straight games

 

Ike Taylor

@Ike_SwagginU

Ah ELI Manning that is…kick your feet up till the offseason…then go to @Jaguars next season…Defense Running backs… #TomCoughlin

 

David Carr

@DCarr8

They’ve lost their collective minds.

 

Judy Battista

@judybattista

Kurt Warner on benching Eli Manning: “Shame on the Giants.”

 

Steve Smith Sr

@89SteveSmith

Wow so Eli Manning get benched. Is it me or is #BenMcAdoo running out of ppl to throw under the 🚌 Bus. He’s like a student who didn’t study for a test but keeps saying the teacher just doesn’t like me. No Son you failed yourself. Str8 donkey #facts

 

NFL_IRONMAN

@LFletcher59

Eli Manning has been totally disrespected by the @Giants.

 

Carl Banks

@CarlBanksGIII

I am very emotional about this Eli SHIT.. The guy who gave you EVERYTHING for better or worse NEVER missing a game and THIS how it ends?? Not #10! He deserves better, He gave is all when BETTER wasn’t there for him.. and this is how it ends?? I hurt for him

 

 

Eli’s longtime coach, also kicked to the curb by the Giants, has this to say.  NFL.com:

 

Tom Coughlin took to the airwaves in Jacksonville to critique Big Blue’s demotion of the ironman quarterback who started 210 straight games for New York.

 

“Surprised is not the word,” Coughlin, the executive VP of football operations for the Jaguars, told WJXL-AM. “My sentiments are totally with Eli Manning. I love the kid. He is a class act. He is a two-time Super Bowl champion. He is the finest, most humblest young man in that locker room.”

 

Said Coughlin: “I haven’t followed the Giants. I know it’s a disappointing year, but my thoughts are strictly with Eli. I was very upset … when I heard that.”

 

Coughlin coached Manning from his rookie year in 2004 through 2015. The pair won two Super Bowls together along the way as Eli became New York’s all-time leader in quarterback wins (110), passing yards (50,625) and passing touchdowns (334).

 

Heck, even Tiki Barber was surprised and disappointed.

 

Just the way that this is going down is very disheartening from Giants fan’s perspective and as a former teammate of his, and all the great things he achieved in his career,” he said. “You don’t want to see it end like this. It’s disappointing. I feel like it’s premature.”

 

Barber added that he feels like Manning is getting “scapegoated” and that he believes Manning will be playing elsewhere next season.

 

Steve Politi of the Newark Star-Ledger says this situation is on the owner:

 

This brilliant plan had to cross John Mara’s desk. Someone, presumably head coach Ben McAdoo or general manager Jerry Reese, had to walk into the co-owner’s office this week and run this decision past the man ultimately responsible for the biggest decisions facing the Giants.

 

Mara had to approve this cockamamie move. He had to rubber-stamp benching Eli Manning, the quarterback who put two of the four Lombardi Trophies in the lobby display case, and name Geno Smith — Geno Smith! — as the man who would end Manning’s ironman streak.

 

Mara is the one who agreed this was the right way to move forward as a franchise, that his loyal customers would accept giving the quarterback that the Jets rejected the job that Manning has held for 210 games. Mara signed off on this, because if he didn’t, then the Giants have an even bigger problem.

 

And that is just the latest in a long line of decisions that make you wonder: Has Mara lost his way?

 

This has not been a good few years for Mara. If you were drawing up a list of the best owners in professional sports after his franchise won that second unexpected Super Bowl with Manning, Mara would have been in the conversation. The Giants had an identity. They always seemed to do the right thing. Fans could believe in the decisions and the product.

 

Now?

 

Now the Giants look as dysfunctional as any other bad franchise, no better than the Browns or the Knicks or the Mets. Mara’s leadership has never looked shakier, and that comes just as the Giants will have to make three of their biggest decisions under his leadership.

 

Mara, with co-owner Steve Tisch, will have to decide whether to fire Reese and McAdoo and, if they pull the trigger, who they’ll tab to replace them? (Although you do have to wonder: With McAdoo talking about next season as he explained this decision, have he and Reese received assurances that — gulp — they’ll be back?)

 

Then comes the decision that was set into motion on Tuesday: What to do with Manning and the two years remaining on his contract?

 

Leading into Super Bowl 50, several players from Rutgers, the Giants and the Jets making our ranking of the best ever to take the field from the Garden State.

 

Do they try to trade him? Do they cut him outright? It seems impossible that they would bring him back now, after ending a streak that brought him so much pride to “take a look at Geno,” as McAdoo said on Tuesday, as if Smith was some great mystery.

 

Again: Mara had to sign off on this. He had to know the backlash would not be limited to wretches with microphones or laptops who overreact to everything. He had to know that a Giants legend like Carl Banks would react so viscerally, and that an already scarred fan base would lose its you-know-what.

 

Radio host Mike Francesca with the takedown:

 

Renowned New York City radio host Mike Francesa did not hold back in ripping Giants head coach Ben McAdoo for benching Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith for the last five games of the season.

 

Francesa, who will broadcast his last show on WFAN on Dec. 15, treated his listeners to one his best rants of 2017.

 

Here are some of the more notable quotes from Francesa’s takedown:

 

• “Geno Smith is not a running quarterback. Is he more mobile than Eli? Well a tree is. OK. We understand that. That is not Eli’s strength.”

 

• “McAdoo’s career is worthless. Jerry Reese’s career is built on Eli Manning. His success in those two games is why Jerry Reese has got a career. He doesn’t have a career by what he’s drafted here. He’s got a career because he won two Super Bowls won by Eli Manning, who went on the road and won all those playoff games and who won the Super Bowl MVP twice by beating the Patriots. Without that Jerry Reese is unemployed. Without that, none of those guys walk around that room with the swagger that they have. It’s built on his back! And you’re going to try and tell us that you have a better chance to win a game with Geno Smith over Eli Manning? Offensive line or no offensive line? That is your answer?”

 

• “This is a desperate move by a desperate guy who is clinging…And the fact that John Mara has not separated himself from this fool is hard to believe.”

 

• “We haven’t seen a game plan from this guy all year. Since he’s been the head coach, the Giants haven’t scored 30 points ever.”

 

• “You can’t run this clown out of town fast enough. The worst thing that’s ever happened is that Eli Manning had to be associated with you as head coach with the career he’s had here. Maybe on your way out, you can take a look at Eli’s rings. That’s the closest you’ll ever get to one too….with actions like this you’re going to try to tell us that Geno Smith is the answer?!”

 

Francesa also said that the Giants should release Manning and see how quick he may land in Jacksonville, where he could be reunited with his former coach Tom Coughlin, who is now the executive vice president of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

What’s puzzling to the Giants fan the DB spoke with is, why Geno Smith?  They know he is not the answer and need to find out about Webb.

 

After consulting with a horde of NFL insiders, Mike Sando of ESPN.com lays out the most likely 2018 employers of Eli:

 

Eli Manning’s benching this week could very well signal the end for him with the New York Giants following 210 consecutive regular-season starts and two Super Bowl titles. It’s unclear whether Manning will opt for retirement — he turns 37 in January — but if the Giants release him and he decides to continue, some landing spots make more sense than others.

 

Whatever course Manning’s career takes from here will affect multiple organizations and his own candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Supporters can point to his role in hoisting two Lombardi trophies and in leading 30 fourth-quarter comeback victories, tied with New England’s Tom Brady and Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger for the NFL lead since Manning entered the league. Detractors can point to all the interceptions and middling seasons, while contending that Manning was never even one of the very best quarterbacks of his era, let alone all time.

 

If the balance still needs to be tipped, Manning could conceivably do the tipping himself by claiming his third Super Bowl victory with a second franchise. This season has proved that Manning needs more help than the Giants have been able to give him. For that reason, he would fit best with teams that feel as though they’re a veteran quarterback away from winning big.

 

Eight potential landing spots stood out during conversations with coaches and evaluators throughout the league.

 

1. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have multiple key components the Giants possessed when Manning was winning Super Bowls.

 

They have a ferocious pass rush to rival the one New York had when Michael Strahan and Justin Tuck were dominant forces up front. They are committed to the ground game and have shown an ability to run the ball well (Jacksonville’s line coach, Pat Flaherty, was the Giants’ line coach for both Super Bowl victories). The Jaguars also have former Giants coach Tom Coughlin working as their top football executive.

 

What Jacksonville doesn’t have is a good quarterback. Blake Bortles combines the worst of Manning (high interception rate) without any of the upside (Manning’s vast playoff experience and the aforementioned fourth-quarter comeback mark). While Manning’s performance has declined, he hasn’t had the ground game or defense he enjoyed during his better seasons. The Jaguars could provide both, which could help Manning push for a third championship.

 

“Eli would love it — he could finally hand the ball off,” an insider said. “He hasn’t been able to do that in a long, long time. They could go draft a receiver high or another tight end because Marcedes Lewis is nearing the end. Just get whatever is the best value.”

 

2. Denver Broncos

Broncos general manager John Elway already lured one Manning to Denver with the promise of contending for a title. Peyton set records and won his second career championship with a huge assist from a Broncos defense that is now aging, but still potentially formidable. If the Broncos could fortify their offensive line and running game, they could put together an appealing sales pitch.

 

The Broncos do not have the same leadership ties to Manning that Jacksonville could offer, although that could change if Elway pushes through another staff housecleaning. It’s tough to envision Elway going into next season with Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch or Brock Osweiler figuring prominently into the starting equation.

 

“Denver, absolutely,” one of the insiders said. “They don’t run the ball well enough, but at least the defense is good, and you have that to start with.”

 

3. Arizona Cardinals

Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer could return for the final year of his contract. If he retires, or the team decides to head in another direction, and if the Cardinals see themselves as possessing the talent to make a championship run, Manning could be an appealing option.

 

“The head coach [Bruce Arians] needs a seasoned guy who can deal it,” an insider said. “He is making [Blaine] Gabbert look pretty good. He worked wonders with Palmer. You get Eli there and it would be a good fit. They will get [running back] David Johnson back. The defense is good. They are missing a trigger man.”

 

This insider thought Palmer was declining even when he still had the combination of Johnson, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and a decent defense. The Giants’ situation — specifically, the lack of a running game — was more difficult for a quarterback to overcome, this insider thought.

 

Fitzgerald recently signed an extension through the 2018 season, which drew me back to what a head coach said about Manning several years ago: “He is a guy that has the ultimate trust in a big wide receiver.”

 

Of course, Fitzgerald’s expected return could help convince Palmer to play another season. How excited would the Cardinals be to welcome him back?

 

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Current Buccaneers starter Jameis Winston ranks 20th in Total QBR, 31st in passer rating and 35th in interception rate since entering the league. While Winston has, by all accounts, established himself as an emotional leader and hard worker, the off-field concerns that followed him from Florida State to the NFL were revived when a female Uber driver accused him of touching her inappropriately in 2016. Winston has denied the allegation, which the NFL is investigating.

 

“They have talent, but they need maturity,” an insider said. “They are also in a tough division. They need to be bold to improve. Do you move Winston while you can still get something for him?”

 

Winston’s rookie deal runs through 2018. The team will have the right to exercise a fifth-year option for the 2019 season. In the meantime, March is when labor rules allow Winston and other members of the 2015 rookie class to negotiate second contracts. Could concerns over Winston’s performance and maturity lead the organization to reassess? If so, Manning then emerges as a shorter-term solution for a team flush with offensive weapons. But not everyone I talked to was convinced.

 

“I don’t feel this one as much,” another insider said. “They have a lot invested in Jameis.”

 

5. Buffalo Bills

The Bills tipped their hand when they benched Tyrod Taylor for a week. Their long-term plan is taking them in another direction.

 

“I don’t think Eli is the type of guy they want,” an insider said. “I think they want a young guy to develop and to make him their own. It is hard to get a guy better than Tyrod when you look at the numbers, but he is so limited. You are caught right on the edge, where if you go with Tyrod, you are 9-7 and will lose in the first round [of the playoffs] every time.”

 

Buffalo has stockpiled draft choices that could be used to find a quarterback and/or build a supporting cast. Backup QB Nathan Peterman could still be part of the picture even after throwing five first-half interceptions in his starting debut. Peterman can’t plausibly be the entire picture, however.

 

“They obviously aren’t happy with Tyrod,” another insider said. “They have a sound defense. They have some draft picks to play with. That wouldn’t be a bad location for Eli.”

 

6. Miami Dolphins

Jay Cutler will presumably head back into retirement. Ryan Tannehill will be returning from ACL surgery with three years remaining on his contract. Tannehill could be the leading option, but the Dolphins would save against the salary cap if they decided to move on from him.

 

“I could see them making a push for a guy like Eli,” an insider said. “[Head coach Adam] Gase feels like his offense has been just trash for a while. He has some pieces on defense. That would be a fair one to put on there depending on how they feel about Tannehill.”

 

7. Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota, like Jacksonville and Denver, has a winning defense already, but there is quarterback uncertainty beyond this season. The Vikings have options depending on how they feel about Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum. The dynamics could change based on whether offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur lands a head-coaching job.

 

“I see them bringing back one of the guys they already have got,” one insider said. “I think they let [Sam] Bradford go. If Case plays like this, they bring him back. And I think they want to keep Bridgewater. You might have to commit to one, but I don’t see them going outside those three guys to bring in a quarterback.”

 

The Vikings are on the list because they’re a winning team that has none of its current top three quarterbacks signed beyond this season.

 

“Eli is not necessarily Zimmer’s kind of guy,” an insider who has worked with the fiery Zimmer said, “but he is a veteran. Maybe that will overshadow everything. When you need a quarterback, you find ways to make it right. Zimmer played against Eli a lot when he was in Dallas. I could see that as a down-the-list kind of place.”

 

8. New York Jets

Manning could continue playing in the same stadium for home games if he made the switch to the Jets. The team would use an early draft choice for its future quarterback regardless.

 

It could be a tougher sell for Manning if he thought the Jets were a couple years away from contending seriously, or if he thought he would simply become a short-term bridge to a highly-drafted successor.

 

“I see the Jets going into the draft and getting their own guy,” one of the insiders said. “Just from an ownership standpoint, they could say, ‘We are getting the Giants’ leftovers.’ They want to forge their own identity. It would not be an absolute ‘no’ on Eli, but that’s how I see it.”

 

What about ELI’s hometown of New Orleans if DREW BREES moves on?  Baltimore, is he an upgrade over JOE FLACCO?  Cleveland, for instant credibility?  The Redskins if KIRK COUSINS flees?

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com says it is Jacksonville:

 

The Giants, no matter how they try to couch it and condition it, are done with Eli Manning. (And even if they’re not, he’s surely done with them.) So, come 2018, where will Eli Manning be?

 

Of all the options, Jacksonville makes the most sense. They have a great young defense, a great young running back, great young receivers, and a guy named Tom Coughlin running the football operations.

 

Coughlin, the former Giants coach who won a pair of Super Bowls with Eli Manning throwing some of the most memorable passes in league history, currently has an underachieving quarterback who, as Chris Simms often puts it, wasn’t put on earth to throw the football. The bond between Coughlin and Eli is strong, as evidenced both by Tuesday’s comments from Coughlin about Eli and by Eli’s tearful demeanor when Coughlin made his exit as the New York head coach less than two years ago.

 

Other teams will be interested, but the Jaguars will have the edge because they have Coughlin — and no one else does.

 

Sure, they may be other intriguing potential destinations. The Broncos, who employed Peyton Manning. The Saints, where Eli grew up (if Drew Brees moves on). The Jets, which would allow Eli to not move. The Cardinals, who seem to be interested in every aging quarterback. Washington, if Kirk Cousins leaves. The Steelers, if Ben Roethlisberger decides to walk away.

 

But the Jaguars make the most sense, by far. And if the choices are the Jaguars or the field, I’m putting a sawbuck on the team with the two-tone helmet.

 

 

WASHINGTON

The Redskins may or may not have T TRENT WILLIAMS available tomorrow night in the Big D.  His presence at practice on Tuesday could be good news.  Kimberley Martin of the Washington Post:

 

The veteran left tackle took part in individual drills for the first time since the team was preparing to face the New Orleans Saints in Week 11. Williams, who is playing through a knee injury that will require surgery, did not play in last Thursday’s win over the New York Giants. But despite chronic soreness, the lineman insisted in an interview with The Post on Monday that he doesn’t have any intention of shutting it down — even if Washington is eliminated from playoff contention.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

With a critical stretch of games upcoming, the Falcons get a key offensive component back.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Falcons are making a playoff push, and they’ll have their leading rusher back for it.

 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said on 92.9 The Game this morning that Devonta Freeman had cleared the concussion protocol, and would practice fully today.

 

Quinn said he was “pumped to have him back,” though Quinn seems pumped about pretty much everything.

 

Freeman has been out since Week 10, when he left the win over the Cowboys after two snaps. Getting him back on the field is good news for an offense that has begun to find itself, as they prepare for this week’s game with the Vikings.

– – –

Jesse Reed of SportsNAut offers this on the greatness of JULIO JONES:

 

Julio Jones had a monster game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, catching 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was one straight out of a Hollywood film and showed it’s tough to classify him as a human being (watch here).

 

We’ve known Jones was a freak among freaks since he came into the NFL out of Alabama back in 2011. He was so good that Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff traded five picks to move up from No. 27 to No. 6, and he’s lived up to the hype ever since.

 

Now here’s something that might surprise you, and it shows just how special Jones is compared to the great receivers in league history.

 

@RLiuNFL

Julio Jones has 3 games with 250+ receiving yards.

 

That’s more than all of the receivers in the Hall of Fame have COMBINED.

 

(Jerry Rice & Steve Largent each have 1)

 

Consider us floored.

 

That’s just incredible. Provided Jones can stay healthy and stays passionate about playing the game of football, we have no doubt he’ll one day join Steve Largent and Jerry Rice in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

In his seventh year as a pro, Jones has racked up 563 receptions for 8,649 yards and 43 touchdowns.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Now, it’s official.  QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO will indeed make his first start for the Niners on Sunday – back in his hometown of Chicago.  CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco:

 

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is scheduled to take the first-team practice snaps at practice Wednesday and make his first start for the 49ers on Sunday.

 

Coach Kyle Shanahan, who met with the quarterbacks on Tuesday, made the announcement that Garoppolo will start against the Chicago Bears. Garoppolo grew up in Arlington Heights, Illinois, approximately 30 miles from Soldier Field.

 

Rookie C.J. Beathard, who started the 49ers’ previous five games, sustained a knee contusion and hip strain late in Sunday’s game upon taking a low hit from Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. It is uncertain whether Beathard will be fully cleared to practice this week.

 

On Monday, Shanahan said he wanted his starting quarterback to be identified before Wednesday’s practice because both players needed as much preparation time as possible.

 

“One is a rookie quarterback and the other one basically is also, with him just being here,” Shanahan said. “To give those guys the best chance to be successful, you want to give them all the reps, which still isn’t enough reps. Any time you split those evenly, it’s kind of a disservice to both.”

 

Garoppolo arrived at 49ers headquarters on Oct. 31 after the team acquired him in a trade with the New England Patriots for a second-round draft pick

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

The reeling Texans are getting LB BRIAN CUSHING back after a 10-game suspension for PED use. 

 

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Some headlines say that Bill Belichick is “ho hum” about 17 straight winning seasons, others say he “has a lot of pride.”  Maybe it is ho-hum pride. Marc Sessler of NFL.com has the “ho hum” headline, but there is “pride” in Belichick’s quote:

 

Bill Belichick will undoubtedly take a minute this week to sit back, sniff the flowers and ponder his post-merger-record 17th consecutive winning season in New England, correct?

 

Vastly incorrect.

 

Asked this week if he and the team would gather around to celebrate the feat — perhaps over dainty slices of cake with an emotional slide show — Belichick flatly dismissed the historical benchmark.

 

“That’s what we’re here for — to win games. We take a lot of pride in it. That means a lot to us,” Belichick grunted ahead of Sunday’s clash with the likely doomed Bills. “But that being said, there’s probably another time to talk about that and reflect on it and so forth. None of those other — however many seasons it was or however many games it was — really makes any difference this week. I mean, nobody cares about that.

 

“This is just strictly a matchup between the Patriots and the Bills in 2017, and how these two teams compete against each other is really what it’s all about. So I don’t think living in the past is going to help us, and I don’t think living in the future is going to help us either.”

 

We’ve seen this act before: Reporter enthusiastically quizzes Belichick about the latest Belichick accolade. Belichick casually blasts said reporter into hyperspace. Patriots fans gloat, vicariously accepting the team’s accomplishments as their own.

 

Rinse and repeat until the asteroid lands.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

TIME MAN OF THE YEAR ODDS

With Donald Trump apparently out of the running, Bovada has an NFL-related personality among the favoties for TIME’s once-coveted Person of the Year honor.

 

Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played a down of football this year, but his presence across the news landscape in 2017 has him among online casino Bovada’s frontrunners for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

 

Kaepernick is currently listed as having +400 odds, which is tied for the third highest among Bovada’s candidates. Here’s a look at the top ten:

 

Emmanuel Macron: +150

#MeToo: +200

Donald Trump +400

Colin Kaepernick +400

Elon Musk +400

Mohammed bin Salman +400

Kim Jong-Un +900

Angela Merkel +1000

Conor McGregor +1500

Rodrigo Duterte +2000

 

The DB confesses to looking up Mohammed bin Salman.  He is the 32-year-old crown prince of Saudi Arabia who seems to be trying to take power under the guise of cleaning up his corrupt family.

 

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

Houston at Baltimore was the opposite of ratings gold for ESPN.  Dominic Patten of Deadline Hollywood:

 

It took the Baltimore Ravens awhile to get in the game against the Houston Texans last night on Monday Night Football, but in the end they grinded out a 23-16 victory, keeping the Super Bowl XLVII champs on track for their first playoff appearance in three years. However, now 12 weeks into the controversial season, it was only a dark victory for ESPN and the NFL that one might detect in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” poem.

 

With a 6.0 in metered market results, last night’s MNF hit a season low.

– – –

Now, the empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium might have been a warning sign for the first post-Thanksgiving MNF after yet another controversial weekend. Even though no player from either team protested last night, certainly avoiding showing the playing of the entire national anthem revealed how worried the league and networks are that politics has contributed to the near double-digit ratings declines this season. Or maybe it was just that neither team has a big national following, and injuries have depleted their ranks.

 

Whatever the reason or reasons, Monday’s MNF was down 17% from the close November 20 game that saw the Atlanta Falcons beat the Seattle Seahawks 34-31. Up over the previous MNF, last week’s game went on to deliver a 3.5 rating among adults 18-49 and 10.8 million viewers.

 

To add more context, last night’s MNF dipped 2% from the previous season low of the October 16 matchup between the winning Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts. Not sure a lot of that had to do with the Supergirl start of the latest Arrowverse crossover on the CW, if you know what I mean.

 

For instance, looking back over a year, the drop between last night’s MNF and the comparable one of November 28, 2016 is harsh. Ravens-Texans fell 33% in MM ratings from the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 win over the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago. (It might be added that the 2016 MNF also faced a Supergirl start to the DC heroes crossover of that year, and that the Packers and the Eagles have much greater national appeal.) Overall, that Week 12 game of last season saw a 4.2 rating in the key demo and 13.06 million viewers.

 

Even with last night’s now, ESPN looks to have won Monday in primetime.

 

 

MORE AWARDS

Kevin Clark of The Ringer suggests some more awards for the NFL Honors show:

 

When I was a few months out of college and working as a reporter, I asked Bart Scott, then a linebacker with the New York Jets, to tell me what the most important parts of football were that no one outside of football really understands. Scott explained that my question was nearly impossible to answer, since the truly important things in the sport don’t have names. They are abstract concepts. The nuances are the sport, and most of the things outsiders consider important—tackles, for instance—are simply a means of record-keeping.

 

There’s always been a vocabulary problem in football. The way we talk about and observe the sport is divorced from the way it’s played. Football diehards love to point out that wins are not a quarterback statistic—but winning quarterbacks are rewarded as if they are. If a pass rush forces a mistake that leads to an interception, the camera focuses on the defensive back who snagged it. Simply put, in order to truly understand the sport, the focus needs to be sharpened.

 

Much of that onus falls on the league—and there’s no better example of the outdated way we talk about the sport than its annual awards. We are about three-quarters of the way through the season, meaning we are about to enter an assault of MVP stories. On Monday, NFL.com asked whether Tom Brady or Carson Wentz would win the award. A large part of the media connects nearly all of Alvin Kamara’s accomplishments to the Saints running back’s offensive rookie of the year case.

 

The problem is not that the wrong people are winning the awards; Wentz and Brady are fine candidates given the rather dull parameters voters have established. In other words, they are quarterbacks on NFL teams that look particularly impressive in a given year. The awards are simplistic at best and meaningless at worst. Other sports have come around: Félix Hernández won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record in 2010, something that never would have happened earlier in baseball history. True dominance can be overlooked in NFL award seasons, though. Drew Brees has five of the top eight passing yardage seasons in history and has never won the award. Russell Wilson is on pace to break the record for the highest percentage of yards by one player on a team, and apparently no one cares.

 

The NFL Honors show, a glitzy gala launched in 2011 that’s already been hosted three times by Alec Baldwin, gives out a dull parade of honorifics: rookies of the year on both sides of the ball, offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, an award for sportsmanship, etc. If an individual award does carry some creativity, it’s because there’s a sponsor attached. I am not sure that anyone other than Courtyard by Marriott hotels care about the “Greatness on the Road” award, won by Le’Veon Bell last year. There’s a “Clutch Performer” award, because Castrol oil, like last year’s winner Derek Carr, is apparently also a clutch performer.

 

And so I bring to you a modest proposal: Let’s redo the awards. If the league must keep some of the simple awards because of tradition and the record books—MVP, All-Pro teams, rookie awards—it can, but it’s time to augment them with awards that help us better understand the sport:

 

Best Supporting Player

The NBA has the Sixth Man of the Year, a useful award designed to highlight the best bench player in the sport. It is impossible to give this award in the NFL; the player rotations ensure that there are no “bench” players, and “starter” is typically a cosmetic term. The solution is to single out players who do their specific role extremely well. The more specific the better. Saints tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has pass blocked on over 40 percent of the pass plays he’s been in for this season, and according to Pro Football Focus, he’s allowed one total pressure, meaning he’s been successful 98 percent of the time. He’s on the candidate list. Washington defensive back Kendall Fuller has played 301 snaps in the slot this season—holding opponents to a 54.4 passer rating, the worst rating in the NFL. And quarterbacks are throwing at him once every 6.8 snaps, an impressively high number.

 

Spotlighting these players would do wonders for fans understanding the nuances of the game. Pass blocking and coverage in the slot is important to wins and losses. I do not want to sound like a tape guru here, banging on pots and pans about the unheralded stars of the game, but it’s important we better identify the sport’s quiet badasses. Yes, there would be some problems—somehow Mike Alstott would have won like four of these awards for his 1-yard runs in the 2000s—but this award would be a net win for fans and unheralded players who do their job as well as any superstar.

 

Most Impactful Player

This is the award I feel most passionate about: I’ve joked on The Ringer NFL Show about how good Ryan Tannehill must be because when you watch the Dolphins without Tannehill, they’re awful. So, the award is simple: Which player’s injury or non-suspension-related absence led to his team falling apart the hardest? Last year, the Seahawks without Earl Thomas looked like they didn’t understand the rules of football, let alone have any experience playing it. The all-time example of this, of course, is Peyton Manning’s 2011 season, in which he missed all 16 games and the Colts went 2-14 after finishing the previous season 10-6.

 

The candidate list this year is as long as it’s ever been. The Packers have looked like garbage since Aaron Rodgers departed with a collarbone injury. Tyrod Taylor left the Bills for a half, via benching, and they looked like perhaps the worst team of the past decade. That is a MIP candidate performance. Tyron Smith’s back and groin injuries were such a blow to the Cowboys that Dak Prescott looked below-average when he was out. (When Smith returned, Prescott didn’t improve all that much, which suggests that the absence of Zeke Elliott might be the biggest in the NFL, but he’s of course suspended, not injured, and so he wouldn’t be eligible for this.) Again, we can throw Tannehill in there. If the Seahawks secondary is incompetent without Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman, both of whom are out for the year, maybe the pair of them will be candidates, too. With injuries being such an accepted and expected part of the game, this award would hit on a key narrative each season by answering the question: Whose team sucks the most without them?

 

Best Playbook

This is not about the dull “assistant of the year” award—last year’s winner was then–Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan—which follows the general arc of most NFL awards: Good coaches on improved teams win. Instead, the key here is to find the best set of plays—perhaps last year, that was Shanahan as well. This season, the Rams’ Sean McVay should win coach of the year and best playbook for his creative play designs, great use of play-action, and well, just consistently cool shit:

 

Andy Reid and Matt Nagy would be in the mix here for their creative designs if the Chiefs recover and ever get another first down, while Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson and Frank Reich would also be in the hunt for running Reid’s offense better than he does. This is strictly about play design—offensive or defensive. Jim Johnson, the former Eagles defensive coordinator, would have racked up these awards with his blitz designs. A good idea is all you need. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if you win a lot; it just matters if it looks good.

 

Chip Kelly would have unanimously won this award in 2013 for his uptempo spread offense that lit the league on fire that season and launched a parade of imitators, while Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman would have won for their innovative, pistol-heavy offenses in 2012.

 

Best Position Unit

There’s already an offensive line award, the shtick being that it’s “Built Ford Tough.” The Cowboys won last year. (What, you didn’t know who won the Built Ford Tough award?) The problem is that there’s no recognition for a dominant unit outside of the offensive line. Seattle’s Legion of Boom needed an award in 2012 and 2013. Jacksonville’s defensive line is reaching historic levels—they have 41 sacks as a defense, three more than any other team. Despite the fact that the pass defense has two of the best players in football this year in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, I would vote for the defensive line. Also considered would be Philadelphia’s defensive line for its all-around consistency; it leads the NFL in rushing yards against. But imagine the other possibilities, too: New Orleans’s running backs should be nominated, so too should the Vikings’ pass catchers. By highlighting how individuals within specific groups work together and make each other better, this may be the best way for fans to understand why, outside of a quarterback, teams win games.

 

Best Touchdown

FIFA has the Puskás Award, given annually to the best goal anywhere—doesn’t matter what the level or situation is. This is the same: I don’t care if it was dramatic or in a meaningless game; I just want to see the best score. Jerome Simpson’s flip? Yeah, that’s a winner. Michael Vick splitting the Vikings defense? Yeah, winner. This year hasn’t seen any historically great touchdowns.

 

Most Exciting Player

My boss, Bill Simmons, claims that Rob Gronkowski would already have three of these awards if it existed. In the same way that UFC’s “Fight of the Night” bonus encourages some flair from its participants, this award would do exactly what it says: reward players for causing excitement. At present, Kamara is the runaway favorite, replacing Kareem Hunt, who was the favorite for the first month of the season, and Deshaun Watson, the favorite for October. Antonio Brown is making a nice run for it. Barry Sanders would’ve won this award, like, five times. There are plenty of other candidates—Jalen Ramsey, Joey Bosa, Leonard Fournette, and Everson Griffen just to name a few. Watson would even have a case for the season-end award despite playing for only a month. Tom Savage would be last in voting. But there’s a long list of possibilities because the league is full of talented players with great personalities. Now it’s time for the awards to reflect that.