The Daily Briefing Wednesday, September 12, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Mark Maske of the Washington Post on the lack of hoopla over the new helmet rule in Week 1:
In truth, those who designed the rule never had intended for incidental contact to result in a
penalty. The sport’s rulemakers all along had envisioned a transition period for players, coaches
and fans to adjust to the new rule. They compared it to the adjustment period required when the
sport’s rules prohibiting hits to the head of a defenseless player first were implemented in the
That’s why the pattern should have been predictable: The calls would come early and often
during the preseason. Fans and some players would predict the demise of the sport. And then
the season would arrive, adjustments would be made by all, and everything would calm down.
“We know that they’re gonna over-officiate it in preseason,” Colts Coach Frank Reich said
during the preseason. “I think we welcome that because I think we all know that the helmet as a
weapon is not good for the game. Nobody wants it — coaches, players, fans. So if it takes overofficiating it a little bit in preseason to help us get it right, then I think we have to live with that
and just understand that’s gonna happen.”
The NFL does not want the new rule to fade away, though. League officials said they did not
want this to be a repeat of the implementation of a previous ban on using the crown of the
helmet to deliver a hit, a penalty that seldom was called.
This rule was enacted following a 2017 season in which concussions suffered by players were
up, and in which Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury on a
hit in a December game. The NFL does want this rule to prompt players to change the way they
hit, eventually trickling down to all levels of the sport.
It’s a delicate balance that the NFL is attempting to strike, changing the way the sport
fundamentally is played without having the quality of the on-field product on Sundays diminished
to a meaningful degree in the eyes of fans. It is a story line that is likely to remain prominent all
season, even with the lack of penalties assessed on the opening weekend.
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First in the roll call of states and first in the number of players on NFL rosters in 2018.
Alabama has been the top program in college football in recent years, so it’s unsurprising that the Crimson Tide have put more players into the NFL than any other college team.
Alabama had 44 players on Week One rosters, the most of any college.
After Alabama were a pair of other SEC schools, LSU with 40 players on NFL rosters, and Florida with 37. Up next were Miami and Ohio State with 36 each. Florida State (33) and USC (32) were the only other schools with more than 30 players on Week One rosters.
Clemson had 29 players on NFL rosters, Auburn and Georgia had 28, Stanford, Tennessee and UCLA all had 27, and Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame all had 26.
The Lions have parted ways with RB ZACH ZENNER who we believe is the only player in NFL history with the initials Z.Z. Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press:
The Zach Zenner era is over in Detroit.
The Detroit Lions waived Zenner off injured reserve Wednesday, two weeks after he suffered a back injury in the team’s final preseason game.
Zenner played the last three seasons with the team after signing as an undrafted free agent out of South Dakota State in 2015, but spent training camp in a backup capacity. He suffered a back injury in the Lions’ fourth preseason game, and was placed on injured reserve at the roster cut to 53 players.
More: Lions mailbag: Overreaction to one loss? Can things get worse?
By waiving Zenner with an injury settlement, the Lions allowed the running back an opportunity to latch on elsewhere – and possibly to re-sign with the team later this fall.
In 28 total games as a Lion, Zenner, who plans to go to medical school once his playing career is done, ran for 420 yards and five touchdowns.
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Has rookie Coach Matt Patricia already lost his hold on some of his Lions players? Kyle Schnitzer in the New York Post:
It’s starting to look like the Lions’ season-opening blowout loss to the Jets might have been a predictable start to the Matt Patricia era.
Just one game into his head coaching tenure, Patricia has upset some veteran Lions players due to his intense workload during training camp, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. In addition to players feeling overworked, they also are upset with new team rules implemented.
Monday night’s 48-17 loss to the Jets was the Lions’ worst season-opening home loss in franchise history.
Patricia, who joined the Lions after leaving his defensive coordinator post with the Patriots, said he didn’t feel like the Lions were outmatched or outplayed against the Jets. He thought they were simply “outexecuted,” an interesting revelation considering quarterback Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions, and the Jets scored 13 points thanks to the turnovers.
Several Jets players said they recognized numerous play calls by the Lions; the Jets are definitely familiar with Patricia, from his New England days.
During training camp, Patricia wanted to change the Lions’ culture, according to ESPN. His first change from Jim Caldwell, whom he replaced in Detroit, was amping up the physicality and intensity of practices.
While it’s too soon to say Patricia is the next Belichick disciple to fall short on his head coaching voyage, his next two weeks aren’t exactly cake walks. He plays at the 49ers on Sunday before the Lions host the Patriots in Week 3.
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DE ZIGGY ANSAH was not seriously hurt. Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:
Before they got run out of Ford Field by the Jets in the third quarter of Monday night’s game, the Lions saw defensive end Ziggy Ansah head to the locker room with a shoulder injury.
Ansah would not return to the contest, but it appears it won’t be too long before he’s able to rejoin the team. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Ansah’s MRI came back without any sign of a serious injury.
Per the report, the test results leave Ansah feeling hopeful that he will be able to play against the 49ers in Week Two.
Ansah had four tackles and a sack of Sam Darnold in 19 snaps before his injury.
The Lions also saw right guard T.J. Lang depart early on Monday. There’s been no update about the status of his back issue.
QB AARON RODGERS may be thinking of playing with a “sprained” knee. Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com:
Although he wouldn’t say specifically which ligament was damaged, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he has a sprained knee and that it has been “pretty sore the last three days.”
Rodgers was held out of practice Wednesday, and although he said he did not need any practice time in order to play in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, he could not yet commit to playing.
“I want to play obviously,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “You’re just taking it one day at a time. See how it feels tomorrow and see how it feels Friday, Saturday and then hopefully ready to go Sunday.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer expressed no doubt that his team would face Rodgers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“He walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Zimmer said on a conference call with reporters.
Rodgers said he got through Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears largely on adrenaline and with an assurance from team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie that he could not further injure his left knee. He returned from his first-half injury to rally the Packers from a 20-0 deficit to a 24-23 opening-night victory, matching the largest comeback of his career,
“Definitely wasn’t any pain meds,” Rodgers said. “I’m not a big believer in general in any type of opioid or any type of pain medicine. But yeah, obviously you want to be out there. I wasn’t very mobile there in the second half at all. Played like that, unfortunately, a few times in my career. Hopefully I’ll be able to be back out there.”
According to Jerry Jones, the ESPN report of DE RANDY GREGORY once again running afoul of NFL Drug Justice was Fake News. Clarence Hill, Jr. in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:
The mystery of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dodging the media following his team’s
disappointing 16-8 season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers has been solved.
And Jones said it had nothing to do with his team’s woeful performance in the season opener.
It had everything to do with an ESPN report before the game that defensive end Randy Gregory
had suffered a relapse in August and faced further scrutiny from the NFL, including possible
“I didn’t really want to get into any conversation about [Randy] Gregory,” Jones said on his radio
show on KRLD FM. “I had made my mind up really before the game that I wouldn’t visit because
I knew his situation would come up. It had nothing to do with, as far as I’m concerned, it had
nothing to do with visiting with the media regarding the loss. I’ve done that a skillion times as
you know. I really just didn’t want to get into the Gregory thing.”
More importantly, Jones said the report was unfounded and that Gregory will be available for
Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, absent any issues with a concussion and a knee injury he suffered against the Panthers.
A source close to Gregory also indicated he didn’t expect the NFL to address Gregory at all and
that they have received no notice from the league that he has run afoul of the drug policy again.
Gregory played against the Panthers for the first time since
No CARSON WENTZ this week as the Eagles head to Tampa Bay. Adam Wells of Bleacher Report:
When the Philadelphia Eagles take the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2, Nick Foles will be their starting quarterback.
According to Mike Jones of USA Today, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson announced the move Wednesday and added that Carson Wentz has yet to be cleared for contact.
Foles struggled in Week 1, completing 19 of his 34 attempts for 117 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, but he led the Eagles to an 18-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Pederson revealed on Sept. 2, four days before the season opener, that Wentz hadn’t been cleared for contact while recovering from a torn ACL.
“I don’t know how many times I can answer this question,” Pederson told reporters. “When they clear him, he’ll be cleared.”
In an interview with Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94 WIP, Pederson added Wentz was getting closer to coming back but wasn’t putting a timeline on it.
“Close,” Pederson said when asked when Wentz could return. “I’m no doctor, no expert. Still leaving it up to the medical team. He’s had some great workouts here in the last few days. We’ll see.”
CB VERNON HARGREAVES III, an underperforming first round pick until this year, has his promising 2018 campaign cut short. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times:
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has played his first and last game for the Bucs this season.
After undergoing an examination Wednesday by orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, it was determined that Hargreaves suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Bucs’ 48-40 win at New Orleans. He will be placed on injured reserve by the Bucs later today.
It’s a crushing blow for the Bucs and Hargreaves, the former Florida Gators and Wharton High School star whose career has been derailed by injury. He missed seven games last season with a hamstring injury.
Hargreaves, 23, caused a fumble by Saints running back Mike Gillislee that was scooped up by safety Justin Evans and returned for a touchdown Sunday. It was a momentum-changing play that gave the Bucs a 31-17 lead with 4:27 remaining in the game.
He also had seven tackles, on forced fumble and one pass defensed Sunday.
Hargreaves injury means the Bucs could be without both starting cornerbacks Sunday. Brent Grimes has a groin injury and did not travel with the team to New Orleans last weekend.
Hargreaves has struggled to fulfill his promise as the 12th overall pick in 2016. He has only one career interception, which came during his rookie year, when he became the only player to allow at least 1,000-yards passing.
S EARL THOMAS came off the street Sunday to make an INT in the opener in Denver. Brady Henderson of ESPN.com with more on his reluctant return:
Earl Thomas has returned to the Seattle Seahawks. But it wasn’t a completely happy reunion.
Last Wednesday, when Thomas ended his holdout, he wrote in an Instagram post that “the disrespect has been well noted and will not be forgotten.”
It was a stark contrast to how Kam Chancellor returned from his holdout in 2015. So obstinate was Chancellor initially that he missed the first two games of that season, yet he was able to put hard feelings aside right away. So much so that he stood next to coach Pete Carroll at the podium on the day he returned, wearing a Seahawks cap and talking to reporters about not taking business decisions personally.
Can Thomas do the same?
“I’m going to try to do the best I can, try to work my way through it,” he said when asked if he’ll be able to put his contract dispute behind him and focus on football. “I’ve got a great team behind me.”
That remains to be seen. The Seahawks’ first-unit defense in Sunday’s season opener against the Denver Broncos included a pair of rookies — linebacker Shaquem Griffin and cornerback Tre Flowers — at new positions from what they played in college.
Another player — defensive end Quinton Jefferson — was making his first career start, and alongside them were two other starters — defensive tackle Tom Johnson and linebacker Barkevious Mingo — who joined Seattle as free agents over the offseason.
All told, five of the 11 starters were either new to the Seahawks or new to their starting lineup. And maybe most indicative of how much Seattle’s defense has changed was that only three players who started Sunday were also in the starting lineup for last season’s opener against Green Bay.
You could tell.
“We showed some newness and unfortunately it got us,” Carroll said Monday on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show a day after the Seahawks’ defense allowed 27 points to Case Keenum and the Broncos in a three-point defeat.
Now try to picture that group without Thomas.
For Thomas’ case, Sunday’s opener is another exhibit in his argument for a new contract. On the Broncos’ first two possessions, Thomas broke up a pass and then picked off Keenum to set up the Seahawks’ first touchdown.
It underscores Thomas’ new importance that was evident Sunday. It wasn’t just because of the plays that he made but also because of how he’s now the most experienced and maybe the most talented member of a defense full of new pieces and question marks.
“It’s important to have Earl regardless if it’s new players or old players,” strong safety Bradley McDougald said. “Earl’s going to be Earl, and he showed it today.”
The Seahawks spelled Thomas with second-year free safety Tedric Thompson for 10 of their 74 defensive snaps against Denver. Carroll said they planned to give Thomas a few more plays off given that he was coming back so soon after missing so much time.
They say Jon Gruden hemmed and hawed about returning to the coaching ranks until he got an offer from a team with a “franchise quarterback.” They say he preferred the Raiders to the Buccaneers because he preferred DEREK CARR to JAMEIS WINSTON.
Then, we read this from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
When Jon Gruden’s name first emerged as the potential head coach in Oakland, an immediate concern emerged: Would Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr coexist?
The thinking was that Gruden would morph into Chucky, ranting and raving and cussing and generally wearing out Carr, who may not be able to take it. Gruden tried hard in the offseason to create the impression that he won’t take an over-the-top approach to his relationship with Carr, if Gruden believes that Carr won’t respond well to that approach.
Apparently, Gruden has decided that Carr will respond well to a more passive-aggressive strategy.
“You look at the film we had him open — wide open — deep, we didn’t go there,” Gruden told reporters on Wednesday. “He was open a couple times, and for whatever reason, we didn’t go that route.”
For whatever reason, we didn’t go that route.
The only person within the scope of the “we” in that example is Carr, the he who had the ball in his hands and the decision in his discretion as to whether to throw it to Cooper or to someone else. So when Gruden says “we” didn’t go there, he means Carr didn’t go there. And the phrase “for whatever reason” can be regarded as an expression of bewilderment or exasperation regarding Carr’s decision-making process.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Gruden has supplemented a public passive-aggressive play with a private aggressive-aggressive posture. Either way, the glass-half-full proclamations have quickly melted into 0-1 frustrations, with the head coach already aware that the quarterback made some bad decisions, and willing to say so.
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The Raiders are bringing back WR MARTAVIS BRYANT. Jerry McDonald of BayAreaNewsGroup.com:
Martavis Bryant officially rejoined the roster Wednesday and was joined by long-snapper Trevor Sieg in two transactions announced by the Raiders.
Bryant, whose agreed to terms Tuesday, was released at the cutdown to 53 for what coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie called competitive reasons. Sieg is a former Colorado State long-snapper originally signed by the Baltimore Ravens.
To make room on the roster, the Raiders waived wide receiver Keon Hatcher and placed Andrew DePaola on injured reserve.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
DE JOEY BOSA seems to be moving in the wrong direction in terms of his foot injury. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is considered week-to-week with a foot injury.
That’s the word from Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, who reports that Bosa visited specialist Dr. Robert Anderson today and did get some good news, which is that he’s not considered a candidate for injured reserve.
When healthy Bosa is one of the best defensive players in the league, and last year he started all 16 games. But this year the foot injury kept him out of the entire preseason and Week One of the regular season.
How many weeks Bosa will miss is up in the air, but the Chargers would love to get him back on the field, especially after their defense was torched without Bosa in Week One.
Saints QB DREW BREES has high praise for the guy who is not good enough to start for Hue Jackson at the moment. Pat McManamon of ESPN.com:
“I think he can be a lot better than me,” Brees said on a conference call Wednesday.
The statement came from a quarterback headed to the Hall of Fame, and was made about a guy who began the season as the backup to Tyrod Taylor.
Mayfield was the first overall pick in the draft, but he has yet to throw an NFL pass. Brees, meanwhile, has thrown for 70,884 yards, completed 67 percent of his throws and won a Super Bowl in a 13-year career.
Brees, who will lead the New Orleans Saints against the Browns on Sunday, has his reasons, though.
“Man, he’s got all the tools,” Brees said. “He’s more athletic. He probably can run around better. He’s got a stronger arm.”
Brees has never met or spoken to Mayfield, though the two grew up in Texas and went to high schools that are about 12 miles apart in Texas.
“I followed his college career,” Brees said. “Couldn’t have been more impressed with what he was able to accomplish, especially last year. Really impressed with the way he plays the game. I think he’s a great competitor.”
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is among those who noticed a change in Pittsburgh’s depth chart.
From the moment the Steelers unveiled their online depth chart for 2018, Le’Veon Bell appeared on it as the first-string running back. Now, two days after James Conner generated nearly 200 yards from scrimmage in the Week One game against the Browns, Bell’s name is nowhere to be seen.
The team has removed Bell’s name from the depth chart, as his holdout lingers.
It’s unclear why they did it. Maybe it’s a way to apply pressure to Bell, via a “we’re moving on without you” vibe aimed at getting him to choose to climb onto the train as it rolls away. Or maybe they finally realized that Bell shouldn’t have been on the depth chart in the first place.
Although the Steelers hold the exclusive right to enter into a contract with Bell, there is no contract. He isn’t an employee of the Steelers. And he won’t be until he signs a contract.
When that happens remains to be seen. The reasoning that prompted him to miss one regular-season game (a desire to avoid being overused) should prompt him to miss as many as he can while still preserving his ability to become a free agent next year. Which means that he may be off the depth chart until the Tuesday after Week 10, the latest day on which he can sign the franchise tender and as a practical matter win his freedom for 2019.
Bell has taken his talents to South Beach per TMZ.com:
Probably safe to assume Le’Veon Bell ain’t coming back to the Steelers this week … ’cause dude seems pretty busy livin’ it up in Miami — HITTING THE CLUB UNTIL EARLY TUESDAY MORNING!!
TMZ Sports has learned the star running back partied it up at Rockwell in South Beach … and wasn’t shy about it — kickin’ back at the DJ booth and taking pics with clubgoers.
We’re told the Pittsburgh RB got there around midnight Monday and didn’t leave until the wee hours of the morning Tuesday. He also partied at Gold Rush Cabaret Saturday night with friends.
Sources say he did look to be in great shape … so at least there’s that, Pittsburgh fans.
Fantasy owners need to keep an eye on RB LEONARD FOURNETTE this week. NFL.com:
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been waiting for their Week 2 showdown with the New England Patriots for more than seven months. They’ll begin preparing for a repeat of the AFC Championship Game without one of their top offensive weapons.
Running back Leonard Fournette did not practice Wednesday because of a minor hamstring strain.
“We’re just going to give it some time and see where we are and when it’s time we’ll start testing it,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said.
The bruising back went down in the first half of the Jaguars’ 20-15 win against the Giants last week. Fournette carried the ball 14 times for 41 yards and caught three passes for 14 yards before exiting in the second quarter.
He was primarily relieved by T.J. Yeldon, who finished with 51 yards. The Jaguars’ offense scored on three of their first four possessions with Fournette but was shut out in the second half.
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Coach Doug Marone is not among those who sit in front of a TV set on Super Sunday. Michael DiRicco of ESPN.com.
Jaguars coach Doug Marrone did not watch last year’s Super Bowl, but it wasn’t just because it was too painful after his team lost to New England in the AFC Championship Game.
It has been a long time since he watched any Super Bowl. Decades, in fact.
Not since he began coaching, because it’s just a reminder that his team failed to get there.
“When you aspire to go there, and you’re not there, I just don’t want to go through the whole season again in my mind, and not being there,” Marrone said Wednesday on a conference call with New England media. “… I’m usually so pissed off, I can’t handle it.”
Not only does Marrone not watch live, he said he doesn’t watch it on tape, either. He wouldn’t even admit to watching last year’s Super Bowl to help prepare for Sunday’s game at TIAA Bank Field against the Patriots, if only to see how Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson attacked New England.
In his recently released book, Pederson was critical of the Jaguars’ lack of aggressiveness late in the first half of last season’s AFC title game.
“I think our defensive and offensive coaches obviously have watched it,” Marrone said of the Eagles’ victory over the Patriots.
So when was the last time Marrone did watch a Super Bowl?
“Probably when I wasn’t coaching and I was allowed to gamble,” Marrone said. “Probably when I was like 12 — when I had a little money on it.”
So the question is – what does he do on the first Sunday night of February if he is not watching?
Although he did not finish Sunday’s marathon in Miami, MARCUS MARIOTA seems ready to go this week. Kyle Newport of Bleacher Report:
When the Tennessee Titans host the Houston Texans on Sunday, Marcus Mariota is expected to be under center for Tennessee despite suffering a shoulder/elbow injury against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel announced on Tuesday, per Jim Wyatt of Titans Online, that Mariota “is feeling good” and will start in Week 2 barring a setback.
Mariota participated in Wednesday’s practice.
The 2015 No. 2 overall pick acknowledged to reporters that he was able to practice without much issue.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Mariota told reporters on Wednesday, per The Athletic’s Travis Haney. “… I was able to go through practice today.”
Mariota was injured during a play in the third quarter, when he was hit by Dolphins defensive lineman William Hayes after handing the ball off to running back Derrick Henry.
“I just couldn’t feel my fingers, couldn’t feel my hand,” Mariota said after the 27-20 loss to Miami, according to TitansOnline.com. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t grip the ball and all that stuff.”
The fourth-year quarterback was replaced by backup Blaine Gabbert. Mariota finished the game having completed nine of his 16 pass attempts for 103 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 15 rushing yards on three carries. Both interceptions came after he was injured.
After the game, he revealed he thought Hayes’ hit was questionable.
“I thought it was late and low, but that’s not a decision for me to make,” Mariota said, per TitansOnline.com. “… I guess it’s within the rules, but again, it is a referee’s determination, and I was just making sure he saw it.”
The league, per Haney, later told Vrabel that the play should have drawn a flag for roughing. According to Haney, Hayes apologized to Mariota for the hit, saying he did not mean to go low.
According to Laura Wagner of Deadspin.com that fact that QB NATHAN PETERMAN is not starting Sunday against the Chargers means his chances of starting again, barring controversy, are nil.
The Buffalo Bills have finally stopped trying to make Nathan Peterman happen. Head coach Sean McDermott said today that rookie quarterback Josh Allen would start this Sunday for the Bills’ game against the Chargers.
Head coach Sean McDermott was a little defensive when asked to explain why his starter sucked so hard that he was benched after one game:
Peterman completed 5-of-18 passes for 24 yards, threw two interceptions, and earned a 0.0 passer rating before he was yanked early in the second half of the Bills’ 47-3 loss to the Ravens in Week 1. (As dismal as this is, it still doesn’t come close to his five-interception first half from last year.) At the time, McDermott said he needed to review the tape in order to assess Peterman’s performance.
He must have reviewed the tape.
NEW YORK JETS
The acting owner of the Jets is happy with his rookie QB, but he’s not taking credit for him. Daryl Slater of NJ.com:
Sam Darnold’s pick-six, on the first play of the Jets’ season, happened so fast that acting owner Christopher Johnson didn’t even get a chance to see it live.
Johnson was still riding in an elevator up to his luxury box, from field level, when Darnold began his NFL career with that brutal throw. From the elevator, Johnson heard the Lions’ crowd going crazy. Then he looked through the elevator’s glass wall and saw a replay of the pick-six.
“And my heart sank,” Johnson said Wednesday. “My heart stopped.”
Darnold, of course, gathered himself and played well after that, as the Jets went on to destroy the Lions, 48-17.
“I had great faith in him, even after that pick-six,” Johnson said. “I thought, ‘OK, he’s been punched in the face. Let’s see how he responds. I think he’s going to do a good job.’ I did not lose heart entirely.”
Johnson and everyone inside the Jets have long admired how Darnold responds to adversity. And this was yet another example. So Johnson thinks Darnold will do just fine with playing in a pressure-filled environment like the New York market.
“He’s wise beyond his years,” said Johnson, who hadn’t spoken to reporters since Darnold was named the starter. “Certainly his decision making to this point has indicated so. He’s very steady. I’m really impressed with the way he has handled himself. This is a tough town. A lot of good and bad will be thrown his way. I think he’s unique in his ability to handle the pressures of New York.”
After the game, Johnson said he had a simple message for Darnold: “Good game.”
Darnold’s response, as Johnson recalled: “Thank you.”
Shortly after the draft, Johnson made a bolder, longer statement about Darnold.
“I think people are going to look back 20 years from now and say that this is the moment that the Jets shifted into a new gear and became a great team,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve got a real future with this kid, and he isn’t even 21 yet.
“We might have a long time with this young man. I hope so, because right now, I think he is really our future. I absolutely think that he can be our quarterback of the future. I’m not the GM. I’m not the head coach. But I can recognize a great football player.”
Johnson (sort of) backed off those comments Wednesday.
“In the aftermath of the draft, I was maybe a little more enthusiastic than I should be, and things got away from me a little bit,” he said. “But hopefully, time will prove me right. I think that the fans can legitimately be excited. They should be. But it’s one game.”
THIS AND THAT
Hall of Famer Gil Brandt has a list of teams that he feels could replace, sooner or later, the Cowboys as America’s Team. One could be playing in the UK, sooner or later.
What does it take to be America’s Team?
For the Dallas Cowboys, it came down to a simple choice by NFL Films to use the term in the voice-over and title of the Cowboys’ end-of-season highlight film following the 1978 campaign. Of course, the label grew to mean much more than that, becoming one of the most famous monikers in sports.
I was working for the team when that happened, and I remember coach Tom Landry was chagrined, because it brought too much pressure; imagine traveling to play in other cities as America’s Team. General manager (and marketing genius) Tex Schramm loved it, because it brought additional visibility to our team and to a league that was still scrapping with college football and pro baseball for the public’s attention. I liked it because it helped boost our profile, but I wasn’t crazy about the way it made an already difficult task — winning football games — that much harder, giving our opponents extra motivation to put us in our place. (I can still remember a sack of Roger Staubach being punctuated by this mocking question delivered by the sacking player: “How do you like that, America’s Team?”)
In an interview with NBC’s Peter King last week, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers suggested the Packers are America’s Team. Personally, I still feel the Cowboys are the rightful owners of that title, buoyed by tradition and the fervor of a fan base that passes its love for the organization down from generation to generation. However, Rodgers’ comment inspired me to consider which other teams could be candidates to become America’s Team, in a hypothetical ranking behind the Cowboys.
Below, I’ve ranked the five candidates I’d slot after Dallas. Two notes before we begin: 1) This is obviously a highly subjective exercise. 2) Dallas is my default No. 1, so for the purposes of this piece, we are setting the Dallas Cowboys aside. They are America’s Team, and that is not changing because of one season-opening loss. The teams below are ranked 1-5 as the candidates who are next in line.
1) Green Bay Packers
Other than Canton, Ohio, there is no city more closely associated with professional football than Titletown. Nearly 49 years after he last coached in the NFL, Vince Lombardi’s name is still synonymous with winning among the football-watching public. This team has an unbelievably rich history, populated by a cast of legends (Lombardi, Bart Starr, Brett Favre) and punctuated by legendary moments (like the Ice Bowl and Favre’s unforgettable tribute to his father, when he threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns the day after his dad passed away). And, of course, the Packers are currently led by arguably the NFL’s best player in Aaron Rodgers, who keeps them in Super Bowl contention year after year. For evidence of Rodgers’ impact on the football world, look no further than his jaw-dropping comeback win against the Bears on “Sunday Night Football.”
Whenever I’m taking calls on Sirius XM Radio, the Packers are among the top five in terms of teams people want to talk about. America loves an underdog, and the idea of rooting for a team from such a relatively small city as Green Bay likely appeals to folks who aren’t from the area. And, of course, there is a special tie between the fans and the publicly owned team, going back to the 1920s, when a stock sale was organized to save the Packers from potential dissolution. Entering their 100th season, the Packers are still going strong.
2) Jacksonville Jaguars
Owner Shad Khan is the embodiment of the American Dream, as an immigrant from Pakistan who transformed himself into a businessman worth $7.6 billion (according to Forbes) and took the reins of a now-ascendant American pro sports franchise. Thanks to Khan’s global vision, the Jaguars are also the NFL’s unofficial ambassadors to London, in the midst of an agreement to play annual games in the city. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that, to a large percentage of NFL fans overseas, the Jaguars are America’s Team.
The organization would seem to have a relatively limited geographical area from which to draw in Florida, hemmed in by the Falcons to the north, the Dolphins and Buccaneers to the south and the sea to the east and west. And yet, the Jags seem to be among the teams experiencing the biggest leaps in popularity. Of course, it can’t hurt that this talent-rich group went from three wins in 2016 to the doorstep of the Super Bowl last season. Jacksonville likely still carries some of the goodwill that is often extended to reformed lovable losers while also boasting one of the best defenses in the league.
3) Philadelphia Eagles
Yes, it might seem shocking for me to include another team from the NFC East on this list. But let me remind you that I’m putting the Cowboys aside for the moment. The Eagles are interwoven with the fabric of a city that is dripping with American history. Their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, transformed himself from a relatively scrawny high schooler with a big arm (as a third baseman on the baseball team, he couldn’t see first base, but he could get the ball there with some steam on it) into a powerful athlete. It probably doesn’t hurt his popularity with a certain segment of the fanbase that he’s an avid outdoorsman. Head coach Doug Pederson, meanwhile, remains relatable even as he directs one of the league’s up-and-coming crews. The Eagles still must prove that they have staying power beyond last season’s surprising run to their first Super Bowl title. But the “underdog” theme that they adopted in 2017 is as American as it gets, embodying a spirit that has been associated with the city since “Rocky” hit theaters in 1976.
4) New England Patriots
At this point, the most successful U.S. sports franchise of this century is like the Dallas Cowboys (or New York Yankees): The Patriots have a lot of lovers and their share of jealous haters. But you can’t deny New England’s staggering record of success under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And while this team might not be everyone’s cup of tea, the Pats have aligned themselves with the national consciousness at times. Who could forget owner Robert Kraft’s inspirational words — “We are all Patriots” — after his team won the first Super Bowl to take place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001? And then there’s the mantra that was popularized during the 2014 season: “Do your job.” Not only did Malcolm Butler’s heroic interception on the goal line to close Super Bowl XLIX grab the attention of the country, but the spirit of no-nonsense hard work that drove that title run seemed to dovetail nicely with American ideals.
5) Los Angeles Rams
A generous dose of Hollywood chic boosts the Rams’ stature in this conversation. The franchise is a reflection of its surrounding community, directed by an aggressive young coach-general manager combo in Sean McVay and Les Snead and bankrolled by ownership that is willing to spend whatever it takes to field a winner. Stan Kroenke has written several big checks over the past few months, and it’s resulted in a star-studded roster — highlighted by Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley — that has them squarely in contention for a Super Bowl title.
Their visibility is probably enhanced nationally by the fact that, as a West Coast-based team, they tend to play in the late-afternoon games on Sundays, when, I’d imagine, the bulk of the football watching audience is parked in front of the television. The Rams are building a new stadium that could eclipse Dallas’ AT&T Stadium as the most celebrated in the league. And they have a strong history. The Rams pioneered the use of logos on their helmets with the famous ram horns, while they also helped reintegrate the NFL in 1946, breaking a longstanding color barrier by signing African-American player Kenny Washington.
We would have thought the Steelers would be on that list. And as a long shot play, we wonder about SAM DARNOLD and the Jets. When and if the Patriots go away, CBS and the NFL will need a team in the AFC.
Joe Streeter of SBC Americas reports the NFL is making inroads vis a vis Spanish and Italian soccer in the UK.
As both Serie A and La Liga are absent from mainstream UK television this season,
broadcasters are looking for alternative sports to fill key segments of their channel guide.
With the NFL’s popularity amongst the UK market growing exponentially, American Football
could be in prime position to become the UK’s number one sport on a sunday evening.
Furthermore, for betting operators thrusting NFL further into the mainstream can have clear
benefits, given how enthusiastic UK fans are about America’s most adored sport, as well as how
much Sunday evening NFL lends itself to betting.
Stephen Baumohl, co-founder of Redzonesports.bet, commented on how Sky Sports scheduling
changes can help accelerate the constant rise in popularity of NFL amongst a UK audience: “No
question. NFL interest and viewing figures have been on an upward curve for several years now
and the sport had already overtaken La Liga games on Sky’s Sunday nights ratings charts, so
this reduced choice is a golden opportunity to win more fans for American football.
NIKE AND KAEP
The sales have surged in the days after Nike anointed Colin Kaepernick, no longer an active athlete, as one of its key spokespeople. The stock has stabilized.
But if there is damage to be done to the brand it will be by those who swear off purchasing Nike gear in future purchases. Most will do so quietly, but when the City of Kenner, Louisiana announced it would no longer do business with the Oregon-based retail giant, Saints players called them out. Khadrice Rollins of Sports Illustrated:
On Monday, four members of the New Orleans Saints attended a rally in Kenner, La. to protest Mayor Ben Zahn’s decision to ban booster clubs at all of the city’s recreational facilities from purchasing Nike products, according to Hanna Krueger of The Times-Picayune.
Terron Armstead, Chris Banjo, Cameron Jordan and Craig Robertson came to the “Unity in Community” rally in response to a memo dated Sept. 5. In the memo, Zahn says, “all purchases made by any booster club operating at any Kenner Recreational Facility for wearing apparel, shoes, athletic equipment, and/or any athletic product must be approved by the Director of Parks and Recreation,” and “Under no circumstances will any Nike product or any product with the Nike logo be purchased for use or delivery at any” of the city’s recreational facilities.
“It didn’t seem real to me,” Armstead told reporters Monday about the ban. “I don’t know how you can ban a product to a whole community based on personal whatever, but I’m just here to support the people.”
The ban was a response to Nike’s recent ads featuring Colin Kaepernick as part of the
company’s 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign.
Jordan told reporters he plays pick-up basketball at Kenner recreation facilities and the ban is “directly affecting the community,” so he and his teammates wanted to show up to “understand exactly what’s going on and how the people feel about” the situation.
Most of those who choose to no longer purchase Nike gear won’t announce it like Kenner did. They will just do it.