These are strange days in the NFL, and not just because of COVID-19.
New England, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas: 6-21.
Tampa Bay, Arizona, Buffalo, Pittsburgh: 21-6.
The starting Dallas quarterback this morning is named Ben DiNucci. Cam Newton, benched. Baker Mayfield, five TD passes in 34 minutes. Michael Thomas, hurt and doghoused. No one in a key NFC South win for the Saints over Carolina caught more passes for more yards than an undrafted Thomas understudy, Marquez Calloway. Three backs exceeded 100 yards Sunday: two undrafted free-agents (Jeff Wilson Jr., of North Texas and the Niners; James Robinson of Illinois State and the Jags) and one draftee, Antonio Gibson of Washington. For the last 30 minutes of Bills-Jets, New York gained all of four yards, and the only person who scored was Tyler Bass (admit it: you don’t know who he is).
One unbeaten team, the 6-0 Steelers. One winless team, the 0-7 Jets.
Browns 37, Bengals 34, with 738 passing yards. Cards 37, Seahawks 34, with 748 passing yards.
Play of the week in the NFL’s COVID season: a wide receiver sprinting 114 yards to catch a safety sprinting 90 yards. In Arizona, Russell Wilson threw an interception to Arizona safety Budda Baker at the Cardinals’ two-yard line. Baker, a 4.45 sprinter in the 40-, was off the races up the left sideline. DK Metcalf of Seattle, a 4.33 sprinter who was about seven yards to the inside of Baker and a couple of yards behind, just started running at him, trying to cut down the angle. Metcalf caught Baker at the Seattle 8-yard line.
I mean, are you freaking kidding me?
— Sunday Night Football (@SNFonNBC) October 26, 2020
“We’ll be talking about that play for years!” Cris Collinsworth said on TV.
“High school coaches will be showing that play for years,” said Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“One of the most remarkable plays I’ve ever seen,” Russell Wilson said. “I love him for it.”
At 12:41 ET this morning, a Tweet was issued from the @buddabaker32 account that read: DK HAWKED MY ASS . . . #RESPECT
Game respects game.
Amazing: The 90-yard return by Baker meant nothing. Arizona didn’t score, and Seattle drove 97 yards for a touchdown. It’s like the 90-yard return and five minutes between deep Seattle drives never happened.
Jimmy Garoppolo went home, and Atlanta had a loss fit for a kindergartner, and the Patriots look far worse than the Bengals, and the Cowboys are far worse than the Bengals.
Quite a day in the NFL’s 101st season.
The Bucs are 5-2. They played close to a perfect game in dismantling Green Bay last week, then went to Las Vegas on Sunday and put up 45 on the men of Gruden. The last two weeks the Bucs of 2020 look like the in-stride Patriots of 2007, the team that clobbered good teams every week on the way to 16-0. And now, well, now the Bucs are inviting the fox into the henhouse.
“What,” I asked Bucs coach Bruce Arians, “was the thought process on bringing in Antonio Brown?”
“Injuries,” Arians said. “I mean, we got two Pro Bowl receivers [Mike Evans, Chris Godwin]. We went to Chicago with none of them, really. They were hurt. And here’s a guy that’s a Pro Bowl type player . . . We’re on the hook for nothing in this deal. He screws up one time, he’s gone. I don’t think he will because he wants to play.”
All three of the Bucs’ key wideouts—Evans, Godwin and smurfy tough sprinter Scotty Miller—are playing hurt. Arians asked all of them before Sunday’s game, “What percent are you physically—what do you think, 90, 95 percent?” Arians said Evans (ankle) said 80, Godwin (hamstring) said 80, and Miller (hip) said 85.
“They’re hurting,” Arians said, “they’re playing, but they’re nowhere near full speed. I think we can get better and better.”
More about the risk in signing Brown later in the column—I’ve seen this movie too often to think Antonio Brown is a smart signing by anyone—but in talking to Arians, he insisted on three things: It wasn’t Tom Brady’s call, his players are on board with it, and he will not allow Brown to derail the good things the Bucs have going.
Signing Brown could be a seminal moment for this franchise. It’s a classic deal with the devil. Women will be furious (many already are, and they should be) because of the abuse allegations Brown is currently fighting. The Bucs have this harmonious thing going on—you haven’t heard one skill player complain about not getting the ball enough, and Brown is a player who historically has demanded the football. (Rightfully so, really. He’s a great player.) And Brady fell for the guy in limited exposure to him last year in New England. So there are a lot of competing egos at work here, and all these high draft picks with great football résumés had better be okay with throwing their stats out the window, Brown included, if this thing is going to work.
“Mike never bitches,” Arians said. “I love Mike. Today he didn’t touch the ball till the fourth quarter, but he just wants to win. Chris Godwin, same way. Gronk, same way. If AB’s not that way, then we’re going to have a problem.”
Now a riff from Arians:
“I know everybody wants to say Tom Brady lobbied us to get this done. Tom Brady lobbied me back in, gosh, June, July, August. I said no. It didn’t fit then. Now, we’re in the hunt. I owe it to the rest of my players—if there’s a guy that fits our salary cap cheap, who’s a Pro Bowl-type player, let’s bring him on our squad. Who says he has to start? I mean, we just got another Pro Bowl player to put in if one of those guys go down. AB brings another dynamic to our team that we don’t have. I owe it to the rest of our players to put the best team out there possible. I don’t foresee any problems. I don’t anticipate any situation where he and I are gonna have a problem. He knows that if there is, it’s a very short-lived contract.
“Offensively we’ve been struggling all year with injuries. I wanna be able to make that playoff push with whoever’s available. Kinda the same thing we did with [veteran center] A.Q. Shipley. We brought him in just in case. So, we got a dominant center sitting on the bench. This team’s too good not to make that run and give our guys, our locker room, every chance. This move wasn’t made without me talking to every single one of our veteran players. Do you want this guy? Do you want this guy in our locker room? Every man said yes.”
Let’s spitball a minute. The Bucs are at the 1-6 Giants next Monday. A win there, and Tampa is 6-2 at the midpoint with a huge scheduling dichotomy in the second half: A killer quadrant of games (New Orleans, at Carolina, Rams, Kansas City), then the bye, then a soft last quadrant (Minnesota, at Atlanta, at Detroit, Atlanta). Brown is slated to be eligible to practice before the Saints game. So a cynical fan would say, If he implodes, at least he might be able to contribute in the brutal part of their schedule.
But if this blows up and hurts the team, the Bucs have to own it. No matter how tempting the shiny object is, Arians and the franchise are tempting fate. Arians and Brown need to have a crystal-clear understanding, with no blurred lines. If Brown so much as jaywalks, the experiment is over. There’s no other way to do this.
Sunday night, back home in Pittsburgh, Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt was grinding his teeth about the narrow win at Tennessee, even though that win gave the Steelers their first 6-0 start to a season in 42 years. “We won, but we’re not happy,” Watt said. “They just made too many plays on us in the second half, and it definitely should not have come down to them missing a field goal for us to win.”
I get Watt’s mood, but they pay the other guys too. Pittsburgh and Tennessee entered Sunday’s top-of-the-AFC showdown game 5-0. This was a game of so many swings. The Steelers ran 29 of the first 32 plays, outgaining Tennessee 161-1 by early in the second quarter to go up 14-0. Then ebbs and flows and three Ben Roethlisberger picks and the Titans got within three and then sprint-drove 67 yards at the end for Stephen Gostkowski’s 45-yard . . . miss, wide right by a foot with 14 seconds left.
I loved the game. There was so much to love about Steelers 27, Titans 24. A great game for football, a very good game for Pittsburgh, and a good game for Tennessee too.
The Steelers are 6-0 for the first time since the third Super Bowl team (the 14-2 Steelers of 1978) started so strong. This Pittsburgh team is so interesting because of the playmakers everywhere. Remember when JuJu Smith-Schuster was the next huge thing for the Steelers? Well, now Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool and James Conner (13 touchdowns combined in six games) all can be the next big thing. Any week. They can because Ben Roethlisberger is the distributor.
Speaking of that, Roethlisberger was fuming with himself after the game for his three picks, and I’m assuming he saves some special steam for the last one. With a 27-24 lead at the Tennessee 19-yard line with 2:40 left in the game, Roethlisberger had Smith-Schuster on a post route. If it’s complete, the game’s over. But linebacker Jayon Brown reached into Smith-Schuster’s grasp and deflected the throw into the air. Backup safety Amani Hooker was in the right place at the right time, nine yards deep in the end zone. Roethlisberger probably got greedy, thinking he could drop the ball into Smith-Schuster at the back of the end zone. I get that—but the line of sight just wasn’t clear enough to take that risk. Even so, not a horrible decision. You think it’s Smith-Schuster’s ball or no one’s at the back of the end zone, and a fluky tip into the air resulted in an interception.
So Gostkowski pushed a 45-yard try that would have sent the game to OT. The breaks of the game, on both sides.
I mentioned the offensive pieces that defensive coordinators have to worry about. But there as many on defense who can make plays. That’s a huge reason why the Steelers are where they are. Even with key linebacker Devin Bush going down for the year last week, Pittsburgh has Watt, Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree (sign him, Steelers) and Minkah Fitzpatrick. My favorite defensive play of the game showed why the Steelers will be a tough out in any game between now and February:
Late in the second quarter, the Steelers had just kicked a field goal to go up 17-7. Tennessee took over at its 10-yard line with 2:44 to play. On first down, Ryan Tannehill handed to Derrick Henry for a common-sense sweep around right end. Get out of the hole, see if you can get some momentum and put up some points before halftime. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith put the ball in his playmaker’s hands. Watt, at left outside linebacker, saw the play. He knew precisely what was coming.
He knew what was coming because of his big brother, Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
On this play, T.J. Watt knifes inside the tackle-guard hole, inside right tackle Dennis Kelly. He has a direct shot at Henry, who has zero time to react as he tries to escape around right end. Boom! Watt slams into Henry. Loss of four. Three plays later, the Titans punt, Ray-Ray McCloud returns it 57 yards, and there’s time for Roethlisberger to hit Diontae Johnson for a touchdown before half. Steelers, 24-7.
— That Blitz Guy (@ThatBlitzGuy) October 25, 2020
“Watch my brother’s game last week,” T.J. Watt told me. “You‘ll see the same play. You’ll see it twice.”
Well, let’s look at the tape. I fired up NFL Game Pass to watch Tennessee-Houston last Sunday in Nashville. Sure enough, in the second quarter, J.J. Watt was lined up opposite Kelly, at left defensive end, a step or two from where T.J. would be lined up a week later on the same turf in Nashville, and at the snap of the ball, Henry took it from Tannehill and began to move right to find a hole. Slam! J.J. Watt floored him. Loss of three.
“So when I first moved to defense [from tight end, to outside rusher, at Wisconsin in 2015], I knew how to play the game, based on how my brother played. But I can’t rush exactly like him, because he’s 290. [T.J. Watt is about 252.] So I watched him and learned, but I watched lots of players. I watched their steps, their rush, TV copy, coaches film. Coach Tomlin says, ‘We don’t care where good ideas come from.’ So this week, I’m watching my brother rush Derrick Henry, and I get some ideas.”
T.J. Watt doesn’t want to give away what ideas he got, but it’s clear that when he takes a jab step to the outside, then darts to the inside of a slower tackle, he can win one-on-ones with offensive tackles. He won this one, in a very big way. “From my study,’ T.J. Watt said, “I had a really good idea he’d run my way. The tackle got a little wider, I knocked his hand down, got inside, got upfield fast, and got to Derrick.”
That’s the kind of study, and the kind of play, the Steelers will need to stay unbeaten this week. The Steelers face the 5-1 Ravens, coming off a bye, in Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens put so much stock in this game that they made sure to acquire defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in time to prepare and practice fully for the game. Last year, Roethlisberger missed both Ravens games with his injured elbow, and Baltimore ran away with the division. This year, the Steelers have the weaponry to compete with Lamar Jackson and his tools. “That was a miserable experience in Baltimore last year, and it left a bad taste in our mouths,” Watt said. Now they might be able to do something about it as the last unbeaten team in the AFC.
For three years, this day hung in the back of Jimmy Garoppolo’s head—through a torn ACL in 2018, through a sky-high start to a healthy 2019, through a slumping Super Bowl run, through rumors that his team might be interested in Tom Brady supplanting him, through the weirdest offseason a modern football player could have, and through another injured month off in 2020. Back to Foxboro for the first time since the hurried trade from New England to San Francisco three years ago this week.
Finally as the team bus pulled up to the Gillette Stadium lot early Sunday afternoon—the empty lot, which was weird too—it got real. Niners, 3-3, at Patriots, 2-3. Important game. All the other stuff, Garoppolo tried to compartmentalize. That was hard.
“I tried to tell myself all week that it was just gonna be a normal game,” Garoppolo told me after the game. “Tried to mentally prepare like that. Honestly once the bus pulled up and I saw the stadium and everything, it kind of all hit me right then. I don’t know, just seeing familiar sights. The Patriots still play the same songs that they played for like the intros and between quarters.”
Crazy Train. Ozzy Osbourne.
“Yeah, just brought back a ton of memories,” he said. “I was looking up in the stands. But it was crazy. Nobody there. A lot of emotions. Still thinking about the stuff. It was a really fun night. Couldn’t imagine it going any better. I didn’t think it would turn out exactly like this one did, but I couldn’t picture turning out that much better.”
Routing the Patriots 33-6, seeing the quarterback who would have been him (Cam Newton) benched, watching the great Bill Belichick—who did Garoppllo a solid by dealing him to Kyle Shanahan’s team instead of a lousy franchise with unsteady coaches—flounder all day . . . just very weird for a sentimental guy like Garoppolo. Things have changed massively since he was back in his first pro stadium.
Garoppolo hugged Patriots owner Robert Kraft before the game and had a fairly mortal game full of short passes: 20 of 25, for 277 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He completed one downfield throw, to rookie Brandon Aiyuk. It’s still hard to judge Garoppolo, and whether he’ll be the Niners’ quarterback for a decade or a few years. But for this day, he rode the emotions and a 197-yard running game to the sweet win.
Now that it’s over, he sounded relieved he could concentrate on football only. Which is good, considering the Niners embark on a killer 15 days this weekend: at Seattle, Green Bay, at New Orleans. “I can’t lie to you,” he said. “I do want that. Today had a different feel obviously without Tom being here, without the fans being here. Kind of built it up in my head a little more. It was just . . . I mean, talk about just an emotional roller coaster. Then the game happens—it just seemed like it flew by. Honestly, it happened in the blink of an eye. Before I knew it, we were in the fourth quarter running the clock out. It was everything I could’ve asked for to come back here, really just get back to where it all started. But you’re right—it’ll be good to be all football now.”
A few notes on why the trade deadline matters this year, and why I think teams will pursue deals hard:
First, a little history. The NFL trade deadline was a snoozer a few years ago, even after it was pushed back two weeks (in 2012, from Week 6 to Week 8) to encourage movement. Trades by season within two weeks of the deadline, with impact players dealt in parentheses:
COVID has accelerated the trade deadline from Nov. 3 to this Thursday, for many teams. When Yannick Ngakoue went from Minnesota to Baltimore for a third-round pick and a conditional fifth, Baltimore insisted on the deal getting done so Ngakoue would be in Maryland by last Thursday night. Why was this so important? Because under the current COVID rules, a player needs to test negative five straight days and be bubbled in his new city before he can take part fully in team activities. The Ravens, who were on their bye over the weekend, wanted Ngakoue to have a full week of participation and practice before they faced division rival Pittsburgh for the AFC North lead next Sunday. So the deal got done Thursday, Ngakoue flew to Baltimore that night, and he had his first COVID test Friday. Test four is today, test five Tuesday, and if he passes all tests, he could walk into the Ravens facility for the first time Wednesday morning and be part of the game plan for the big Steeler game next Sunday.
As for how this affects the other 31 teams: The trade deadline is Nov. 3. But if a team wants a player to get in a full week of work and be available to play in Week 9, the deadline is really Oct. 29—this Thursday. That would give a hustling team time to get the player his five consecutive daily COVID tests and be with the new team for a full practice week before the game in Week 9.
The 2021 salary cap will play a part in deals. Let’s use Ngakoue as an example for how a team improves its cap situation in what could be a dire year for the cap in 2021. The cap has been increasing about $10 million a year for the past several seasons, and teams have had built-in expectations to plan future salaries. This year’s cap is $198.2 million. But the league and players association agreed this year, because league revenues will be down significantly in the COVID economy, that the cap could drop to $175 million for 2021. That, of course, would be a shock to lots of teams’ bottom lines. The Saints and Eagles, per the Over The Cap, are on the books each for about $260 million in 2021 cap spending; major surgery on their caps was already on the agenda after this season, and now it’ll be tougher for them.
Back to the Ngakoue deal. As of last Monday, Ngakoue was due $5.2 million in salary for the rest of the 2020 season. By offloading that $5.2 million to the Ravens, the Vikings can add that to their 2021 cap, thus giving them $5.2 million more to spend. A word of caution: It’s not certain the league will have a $175-million cap in 2021, or whether it will change if, say, the league decides that a $23-million collapse of the cap will be too much of a hardship for teams, or if there’s a sudden windfall of cash the league might not have seen coming. Whatever, the Vikings will have $5 million more to work with in 2021 because of this deal. “That’s why I think you could see a lot of trades,” one GM told me the other day. “If you can find a team to take salary, that becomes much more of a motivator than in a normal year.”
Julio Jones very likely won’t be moved. Source close to the situation told me, “Forget it.” Though his next 3.5 years have manageable salaries ($6.58 million to finish this year, then $15.3 million, $11.5 million, $11.5 million), dealing Jones would sink the 2021 cap. According to Over The Cap, dealing Jones would cause $23.3 million in dead money to hit the 2021 cap—offset slightly by the $6.6 million they’d save in 2020 salary by dealing him. All a moot point.
Who will be? In calls around the league, the toughest commodity to buy this trading season is tackle. The position is so important, with so few playing at a high level who might be available. The best one: Minnesota’s Riley Reiff, who would cost an acquiring team $3.5 million for the rest of this season with one more year left on his contract at a reasonable $11.7 million in 2021
• Guards can be had for a price: Kevin Zeitler of the Giants would cost $5.9 million for the rest of 2020.
• Best player/best value who I’d pursue if I were the pass-rush-needy Seahawks or Niners or Patriots: Washington outside ’backer Ryan Kerrigan, due $6.8 million for the last 10 weeks of his contract, averages 9.9 sacks a year in his career, always available (four games missed due to injury in 10 seasons), great team guy. A perfect stretch-run add for a contender.
• As for Saints wideout Michael Thomas, I’d watch that situation. Doesn’t seem he took his one-game ban for punching a teammate well, and now he’s got a hamstring issue. Problem is, even if the Saints would listen, the cost would be at least a first-round pick. But four years at $62 million for a player of his caliber? Reasonable.
Three questions with Cris Collinsworth, NBC analyst and host of the Cris Collinsworth Podcast featuring Richard Sherman, on his leader of the pack for the 2021 NFL head-coaching derby, and what he’d do with the first pick in the 2021 draft if he ran the Jets and possessed it.
FMIA: You’re running a team, and your owner says, “Pick the coach who’s going to turn us around.” Who is it?
Collinsworth: [Kansas City offensive coordinator] Eric Bieniemy. I would’ve done it last year. All these owners and GMs, they call you. Because we meet everybody. Bieniemy’s a dynamic personality, obviously he’s been in the room with Andy Reid, with the most creative of offenses. Is he the play caller? No, but it’s about play design. It’s about play creation. It’s about knowing the type of athlete you need to put together those kinds of creative offenses. And he’s a great guy.
FMIA: What’s the hang up been with Bieniemy? Why doesn’t he have a job yet?
Collinsworth: I’m gonna give the league the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure there are other people that say that the Rooney Rule is not effective enough and that’s the reason he didn’t get a job. [Bieniemy is Black.] I can’t explain it because in my mind, I know him. I’ve had a ton of conversations with him. I know his character. He’s like [Tennessee coach] Mike Vrabel. He’s one of those in-your-face kind of guys. I was stunned. I told Al [Michaels] before our opening broadcast in Kansas City, ‘I’m gonna go after [teams that didn’t hire him] because that is wrong that the guy didn’t get a job.’
But anyway, then, to me, I’m taking [Clemson QB] Trevor Lawrence with the first pick. I watched that kid play the other day. Talking about it with Richard Sherman, and he was saying, ‘You know, you got Sam Darnold, he’s been a top 5 pick. You could trade away the number one pick and you could set up your franchise for the rest of your life.’ I’m like, no way. In New York City? If they pass up the number one pick? If they don’t draft Trevor Lawrence, for the next six months, there is only one headline on the back pages of every one of those newspapers that you blew it, and that was the chance of a lifetime and you didn’t take it.
FMIA: So you’re Joe Douglas, GM of the Jets, and it sounds like you pick Bieniemy, no question?
Collinsworth: Yes sir, and I’m re-creating Kansas City. Everything. Trevor Lawrence is the same kind of player that Patrick Mahomes is. He can move. He’s creative. He’s been good for a long, consistent period of time. And then I’m going out and I’m finding all the Kelces and Edwards-Helaires I can find. I’m just re-doing Kansas City.
A history lesson about the new Buccaneer:
Pittsburgh, December 2018. The week after Brown’s last full game as an NFL wide receiver—19 targets, 14 catches, 185 yards, two touchdowns at New Orleans—the Steelers announced JuJu Smith-Schuster as the team’s MVP for the season, which annoyed Brown. For that and other reasons (he didn’t like Ben Roethlisberger either), Brown went AWOL. Agent Drew Rosenhaus called Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on the weekend of a playoff-implication game in Week 17, saying Brown was ready to play. Tomlin told Rosenhaus that Brown shouldn’t bother; he wasn’t playing.
Oakland, March-September 2019. Steelers traded Brown for a third-rounder and a fifth on March 13. Brown reported to Raiders training camp with frostbitten feet from cryotherapy gone wrong. Twice he left camp without permission, filing a grievance with the league when his old helmet got banned for safety reasons. Lost the grievance. Got fined by Raiders for missing a walkthrough and unexcused camp absences. Brown, furious, posted the fine letter on Instagram with an anti-team diatribe. Apologized to team. Still angry. Recorded phone call with coach Jon Gruden and posted it online. Got fired by Raiders before ever playing a game for them, costing Oakland the 66th and 141st picks in the 2019 draft and untold millions.
New England, September 2019. Raiders announced the firing of Brown on Sept. 7. Patriots reached a deal with Brown by nightfall. Played one game with New England—24 snaps and a touchdown at Miami. Fired after only 13 days as a Patriot, amid allegations against Brown of sexual assault and sending threatening text messages to a woman who accused him of harassment. Those 13 days cost New England $5 million.
General craziness, January 2020. Hollywood (Fla.) police cut ties with Brown, who had supported local PAL football, after he peppered them with 14 curses when they arrived on his property on a domestic call . . . Drew Rosenhaus, agent to the stars, who could not have been more supportive of the troubled Brown, fired him. Said he would work with Brown again but not till he gets “help” first . . . Brown threw a rock at a moving van, and the van driver accused him of assault, when the van delivering Brown’s property from California arrived and Brown at first refused to pay the $4,000 fee for the move. He was found guilty in the incident five months later and sentenced to two years’ probation and 13 weeks of anger-management counseling.
NFL ban, July 2020. NFL suspended Brown for the first eight games of the 2020 season for multiple transgressions.
Tampa Bay, October 2020. Despite Bucs coach Bruce Arians saying a few months ago he wouldn’t consider signing Brown (“Too much diva,” the coach said), and despite Brown sniping at Arians on Twitter in 2019, the Bucs signed Brown to a deal for the last eight games of 2020. If he passes COVID protocols, he’s eligible to play Nov. 8 against the Saints.
What could go wrong?
Now, maybe Brown, who (intelligently) has been off Twitter for a month, is a changed man—or at least changed enough that he can fit into a team environment without blowing up for the next 10 to 15 weeks, depending on the length of the Tampa season. Maybe he’s gotten good counseling, and he can pull out the old Costanzaism “Serenity now!” Maybe he’ll realize he’s got two strikes on him and one more strike ends his career. Maybe Tom Brady can be Brown’s sensei. Maybe. Former GM Mike Tannenbaum sounds bullish on Brown’s chances. “This one’s easy,” Tannenbaum, now of ESPN, told me. “This decision is being owned, controlled and managed by Tom Brady, and he [Brady] is going to do everything he can to make the next three months go smoothly. Antonio Brown knows he’s out of chances. In this case, I think fear will do the work of reason.”
Mike Tomlin and Jon Gruden and Derek Carr did everything they could do to make football with Brown run smoothly too. I’ve just seen this movie too many times over the past two years. It never ends well, and those who do not learn from history are usually doomed to repeat it.
Offensive Players of the Week
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland. He came through at a crucial point in his team’s season. Mayfield laid two eggs against division rivals in the first six weeks, and he was poor in the first quarter (0-for-5) at Cincinnati on Sunday. Then he came alive, completing 22 of his last 23 throws for five touchdowns, including the best stretch of his young career on his last five drives: a three-yard TD pass to Harrison Bryant capping a 75-yard drive; a six-yard TD pass to Bryant capping a 75-yard drive; a 16-yard TD pass to David Njoku capping a 79-yard drive; an eight-yard wheel route TD to Kareem Hunt capping a 75-yard drive; and, to win with 11 seconds to go, a 24-yard TD pass to sixth-round rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones capping a 75-yard drive. I’m not saying this game will change Mayfield’s career; one game never does that for a player. But it’s a hell of a start to change the narrative on him.
Davante Adams, wide receiver, Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers was magnificent after being uncharacteristically not Rodgers last week in Tampa. He could be in this space 10 times a year and no one could say anything about it. But as natural as Rodgers is at quarterback, the Adams factor makes him even greater. Able to get open against any coverage, Adams had one of his best days Sunday in Houston in Green Bay’s 35-20 win, catching 13 balls for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit. Stafford’s put up his share of sick numbers over the years, but the 23-22 win at Atlanta was about being great when he absolutely had to be. Stafford, taking advantage of a dumb strategic error by Todd Gurley, took the Falcons 75 yards in eight plays to win, capping it as time expired with an 11-yard TD pass to last year’s first-round pick, tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Lions are 3-3, and with a survivable five-game stretch coming up (Indy, at Minnesota, Washington, at Carolina, Houston), dreams of the seventh seed dance in their heads.
Defensive Players of the Week
Isaiah Simmons, linebacker/safety, Arizona. Been a tough start for the eighth pick in the draft, but Simmons made a huge leap in overtime to help the Cardinals stun the Seahawks late Sunday night. In the seesaw game of all seesaw games, Seattle had a game-winning touchdown pass to DK Metcalf nullified by a holding penalty with 1:04 left in overtime. On the next play, Russell Wilson tried a quick pass up the right seam—and it looked like Simmons was the intended receiver. Simmons picked it off, and ran to the Seattle 49, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Devin White, linebacker, Tampa Bay. When I watch this instinctive and confident leader of the Bucs’ defense with the green dot on the back of his helmet, I wonder: do people realize Devin White is 22 years old? White was all over the field in a three-sack, 11-tackle tour de force performance in Las Vegas as the Bucs swarmed the Raiders 45-20. My favorite play was his last sack when, on fourth-and-one with 5:35 left and the Raiders down 18 points, Derek Carr was running toward the sideline and White blasted him out of bounds—right near the feet of Jon Gruden—for a two-yard loss. The Bucs have a long-term keeper in White.
Devin White just crushed Derek Carr on 4th-and-1. Sheesh. pic.twitter.com/0Ds1UZDd1m
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 25, 2020
Fred Warner, linebacker, San Francisco. “I try to find a flaw in Fred Warner,” Tony Romo said Sunday. “I can’t.” Warner shined with seven tackles and a diving interception of a befuddled Cam Newton. (And maybe he was befuddled, at least in part, because the 49ers made him befuddled.) Warner was all over the field in Foxboro, and at one point, the injured Richard Sherman tweeted, “ALL PRO FRED.” Might be his time.
T.J. Watt, pass rusher, Pittsburgh. Steelers up 17-7, late first half in Nashville, Titans ball at their 15-yard line, trying to get one scoring drive before the half. Watt swam inside right tackle Dennis Kelly, burst into the backfield and slammed Derrick Henry down for a loss of four. That was his best play on a day of a lot of them—five tackles, one sack, three tackles for loss and a pass defensed. Those days are pretty commonplace for one of the 10 best defensive players in football.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Byron Pringle, wide receiver/kick-returner, Kansas City. It’s an embarrassment of riches for the Kansas Citians at the skill positions. Pringle is a spare part in the receiving corps, but he proved his value for special teams coach Dave Toub on a slippery field in snowy Denver. Pringle returned a second-quarter kickoff from Brandon McManus 102 yards to give KC a commanding 24-9 lead at halftime.
Tyler Bass, kicker, Buffalo. The Bills’ sixth-round rookie from Georgia Southern did miss two field goals in the Meadowlands, but I have a rule in FMIA: If you score all of your team’s points, and you win, and you kick field goals of 53, 48, 46, 37, 29 and 40 yards, you will be my special teams player of the week. Congrats to the young fellow from Irmo, S.C.
Coach of the Week
Bobby Turner, running backs coach, San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan was 15 when he met Turner, the RB coach on his dad’s Denver staff in 1995. Terrell Davis thanks his lucky stars he was coached by Turner on his way to the Hall of Fame. And when Kyle Shanahan got the Niners’ job in 2017, he had to have Turner come with him. Now 71, Turner is excellent at finding low-valued running backs and making something of them. With injuries plaguing the backfield in San Francisco, Turner got two undrafted free-agents, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty, ready for a road test at New England. By halftime, they combined for 112 tough rushing yards and the 49ers had a commanding 23-3 lead. For the game, Wilson and Hasty ran it 26 times for 169 yards and three TDs. (H/T to Scott Pioli for his Bobby Turner story last week; it reminded me that Turner’s still around, making a major impact on the game and on the 49ers.)
Goats of the Week
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas. This award is for the entire week, not just Sunday. I listened to Elliott fall on his sword during the week, saying the two first-half fumbles against Arizona were all on him, and he’s got to fix it, and he would fix it. Huge point for the plummeting Cowboys in Sunday’s vital road game at Washington: 7:55 left in the second quarter, Dallas down 15-3 to WFT, Cowboys ball, third-and-nine at the Dallas 36. Elliott, a sidecar to Andy Dalton in the shotgun, was his personal protector on the play. Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb rushed through the middle of the rebuilt Dallas offensive and charged at Dalton. I don’t know any other way to described what happened next, except Elliott looked totally unprepared to block the hard-charging Holcomb, and the second-year linebacker from North Carolina just blew up Elliott.
RIP ZEKE pic.twitter.com/CDsN5lvqRh
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) October 25, 2020
Embarrassing enough for Elliott . . . but Holcomb finished wrecking the drive by sacking Dalton for a loss of eight. Late in the half, a Dalton pass threw slightly behind Elliott bounced off Elliott’s hands and into Holcomb’s. Interception. For the running back with the most guaranteed money in any rusher’s contract in NFL history, Ezekiel Elliott is killing the Dallas Cowboys.
Raheem Morris, coach, Atlanta. The Falcons lost to Detroit by one point on the last play of the game. With 12 minutes left in the game, and Atlanta up 14-13 with a fourth-and-five at the Detroit 13-yard line, Morris chose to go for it instead of kicking the chip-shot field goal. Matt Ryan threw an incompletion, three free points were lost, and, well, you know the rest. Fourth-and-one? I get it. Fourth-and-five? Why? Why? Let’s extrapolate. Even if the Falcons score a touchdown on this drive, unless they make a two-point conversion, it’s still a one-score game with at least two possessions left for Detroit. Seemed bold for no reason.
Todd Gurley, running back, Atlanta. Detroit led 16-14 over Atlanta with 72 seconds left in the game. Detroit had no timeouts left. Atlanta had the ball, first down, at the Detroit 10-yard line. The prescription here was clear: run the ball a couple of times, leave it in the middle of the field, call a timeout with five seconds left and give Younghoe Kim a field goal of around 25 yards to win the game 17-16. But Gurley, who looked like he was trying to stop in the field of play, nonetheless did not, coming down on the goal line and scoring a dangerous touchdown with 64 seconds to play. Of course Matthew Stafford led the Lions downfield and won it on a TD pass with :00 left. Good decision for the fantasy community, Todd. Bad decision if, you know, you’re trying to win a football game.
“The truth is, the whole team stinks right now. I’ve never seen worse run defense on the perimeter.”
—Rob Ryan, the former longtime NFL assistant coach, commenting on the Patriots on Sky Sports in Great Britain Sunday, when New England trailed San Francisco at home 23-3 late in the first half.
At the half, San Francisco had outgained New England 301-60.
“How sh—y this year has been.”
—Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, asked what he was thinking after a woozy Andy Dalton was knocked out of the game at Washington, two weeks after Dak Prescott was lost for the season with an ankle fracture.
“The internet is undefeated.”
—Giants coach Joe Judge, on the jabs the team took after Daniel Jones stumbled over air and fell shy of an open-field touchdown as New York lost to the Eagles 22-21.
“I hate to say it, but it’s probably not the last time it’ll happen this year.”
—Fred Gaudelli, executive producer of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” on the NFL decision Thursday to change the Week 7 Sunday night game to Seattle-Arizona for COVID reasons.
“I basically got fired yesterday, and today my day consisted of Zoom meetings with the guy that fired me and sitting in a room with the guy who replaced me for four hours. My heart just hurt all day.”
Jadeveon Clowney, who had three teams chasing him in early September to shore up their pass-rush, chose Tennessee, signing a one-year contract that is worth approximately $13 million, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
Clowney has not had a sack this season.
In fact, Clowney has not had a sack since Week 10 of 2019, for Seattle against San Francisco. That means:
• Clowney is sackless in nine straight games.
• Clowney is sackless in his last 37 quarters.
• Clowney has made more than $6 million to play football since his last sack.
The Patriots are 2-4. The last time the Patriots were multiple games under .500 happened on Oct. 7, 2001, when they were 1-3.
That day 19 years ago was Tom Brady’s second NFL start. Brady and the Patriots lost by 20 to Jay Fiedler and the Dolphins.
What a difference two decades makes:
From 1997 to 2000, against Dallas and Philadelphia, the Giants were 14-3.
From 2017 to 2020, against Dallas and Philadelphia, the Giants are 0-13.
Saturday morning, 10:45, walking the dog, down the block from Barclays Center, Brooklyn.
The line to vote early stretches four long blocks to the voting entrance at the huge basketball arena on Flatbush Avenue. Hundreds of people, some in portable chairs, some reading books, some with children in tow either babysitting or giving a history lesson. Maybe a couple thousand people in all. Half a block from the well-guarded entry on the first day to vote in New York state, a middle-aged man stands alone, newspaper in hand.
“How long you been in line?” I asked him.
“Since 8:30,” he said.
Guessing he was 30 to 45 minutes from getting in. Imagine these thousands of people, here and all over the United States, so hungry to have their voices heard that they’d invest three hours (shorter time in some places; longer in many places) on a Saturday.
I read Sunday morning that 92,000 people voted in the first day of early voting in New York City. It’s going to be a historic couple of weeks in the United States.
DK Metcalf chasing down Budda Baker after an interception was the most amazing think I’ve seen this season. Baker runs a 4.45! pic.twitter.com/OWA6VUMqR5
— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) October 26, 2020
In recent weeks, Patriots learning the hard way what life is like without a quarterback who was one of the all-time greats from a ball-security perspective. Way too sloppy at QB right now.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 25, 2020
Reiss, tweeting after a second-quarter Cam Newton interception Sunday in the loss to San Francisco, covers the Patriots for ESPN.com.
Let me get this straight: I’m flying to Vegas tomorrow to cover a Raiders home game and will prob talk about Antonio Brown, but he’s not on the Raiders, but he’s catching passes from Tom Brady, but he’s not on the Patriots and he’s signing with the Bucs? That’s a helluva 2 years.
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) October 24, 2020
Darlington covers the NFL—and now, Antonio Brown, evidently—for ESPN.
From a three-year deal worth up to $54.125M with the Raiders to a one-year deal worth up to $15M with the Patriots to a one-year deal worth up to $2.5M with the Buccaneers for Antonio Brown in a year and a half. https://t.co/jthGaK1lQi
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 25, 2020
Yates covers the NFL for ESPN.
to remind you https://t.co/M6YwRDZ1PB
— Alanis Morissette (@Alanis) October 22, 2020
Alanis Morissette is a singer—in this case, of “You Oughta Know.”
I’m going to do a little bit of a different email/Twitter section today, to respond to questions I get every week, mostly unhappy ones, about how I choose what to write about. I thought I’d do that because this was a particularly heavy week for the complaints, and I’d just like you to know where I’m coming from. First, your thoughts on last week’s FMIA:
From T. Hartley: “Barely a word on the Bears, 5-1 and ahead of your beloved Packers. Wake up!”
From Bob Stock: “No mention of the Pats anywhere in your column. Have we reached that incredulous moment where the Pats have become irrelevant?”
From Joe Soltis: “The Steelers dominate the Browns and yet there’s nothing about them, only the negative on the Browns. I have been thinking for some time that you seem to have a vendetta against the Steelers.”
From Nick Vipperman: “Stop ignoring the Dolphins please.”
From Khalid Minhas: “For the past couple of weeks, not a word about the Ravens. I know you don’t like talking about the Ravens.”
From “Jim from Greeley:” “Best win of Vic Fangio’s run in Denver, and nothing from you. You don’t cover the Broncos nearly enough.”
So I write about 9,500 to 12,500 words in an average week. (It was 12,111 last Monday.) Usually I file maybe 4,500 to 5,000 to my editor, Dom Bonvissuto, Sunday morning—a chunk of 10 Things I Think, maybe a factoid, some stat stuff, and maybe one chunk of the top of the column. So that means I’ve got maybe 5,500 to 8,000 words to write in the 10 hours between 5 p.m. ET Sunday and 3 a.m. ET Monday. I try to use most of the time from 4:15 to about 6 p.m. to report (I might talk to two or three newsmakers) and think whether anything happened in the early games that could be a top to the column.
Most weeks, I enter Sunday with a tentative plan. Last week, I had prepared some stuff on Pittsburgh-Cleveland and the renewal of a once-great rivalry. Looked like that might be valid. Interviewed Bill Cowher—who grew up four miles from Three Rivers Stadium, played for the Browns, coached for the Browns, and head-coached the Steelers. Then the Steelers won by 31 and the idea of the reborn rivalry was out the window.
At the same time, I had some reporting ready on Ryan Tannehill on the one-year anniversary of him taking the Titans’ QB job, and how good he’s been; he played great, as did Derrick Henry, in the wild win over Houston. I was able to talk to Tannehill and do a little more fact-finding independently on him and this game. By then it was about 6:30 p.m. As I work, I have RedZone on, so I was following the Bucs’ rout of Green Bay, and thought of leading with that too. I got Bucs corner Jamel Dean, whose pick-six started the landslide over Green Bay, on the phone to explain his great play. But the story of Tannehill, I thought, was richer and better, and I had a good idea what happened on each of the final two drives, to send the game to OT and to win it in OT.
I ate dinner, then sat down to write at about 8:30 p.m. I monitored the Sunday night game but didn’t watch—I find I can write faster and more cogently if I work in quietude—and knew I’d only tear up this idea if something really compelling happened in Niners-Rams. (I DVR SNF.) I sent the first half of the top to Dom at 10:07 p.m., the second half at 11:40 p.m. Sometimes, if I have a lot of reporting to do during the late afternoon and evening, the top doesn’t get done till much later. But after that, I had the awards, part of the column top about the newsmakers of the week, five of the remaining 10 Th
- Patriots reportedly trade Demaryius Thomas to the Jets for 2021 sixth-round pick after signing Antonio Brown
- LOOK: Antonio Brown posts photo of himself in Ravens jersey on Snapchat
- Antonio Brown posts photo of himself in Ravens jersey on social media
- What the Texans didn't do in the 2020 NFL Draft, and one thing they definitely got right
- Winston: Pursuit of Saints back-up role a sign of maturity
- FMIA: 2020 NFL Draft, Stripped Of Glitz And Replaced By Humanity, Is A Successful Diversion Amid Pandemic
- FMIA: With So Much Unknown, NFL Can Expect Imperfect 2020 Season
- Steelers 2020 offseason tracker: Key dates, free agency scorecard, NFL draft results, latest updates and more
- NFL news: Drew Brees and Saints agree to two-year extension
- Jameis Winston reportedly signing one-year deal with New Orleans Saints as Taysom Hill extends contract
- NFL Draft 2020: Wrap of first round picks
- Bucs, Eagles among teams beginning virtual workouts as majority of NFL opens stay-at-home sessions, per report
- Report: Saints sign QB Hill, close in on deal with Winston
- 2020 NFL Draft: Grades and complete analysis for every player selected in third round
- 2020 NFL Draft NFC East reset: Division odds, team grades, best picks, 2021 mock draft and more
- On this day in sport: Rudolph slays Tigers on debut, Luck and Mayfield number one
- 2020 NFL Draft: Grades and analysis for every player selected in fourth round
- Top 10 NFL coaches of all-time: Don Shula's place among the greatest in league history
- Browns exercise contract option on star DE Garrett, TE Njoku
- Who Mastered (And Muffed) The Virtual NFL Draft
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