I like this new Wednesday system—when there’s not one overriding story in the news, I’ll skip around to a handful of topics, and then let your mail take over.
Oh, one quick point first: Today, as a service to The MMQB’s hearing-impaired readers, we are going to begin posting a transcript of The MMQB Podcast With Peter King. The link for all who want to read this week’s pod, with Drew Brees and Doug Baldwin, is right here. My thanks to those who pushed to have this service start on our site. Thanks for your interest. Now the midweek topics of note:
1. Great game plan and execution by the Cardinals on Monday night. Bill Parcells used to say rushing yards wasn’t the most important stat about the run game; rushing attempts was. With Carson Palmer struggling throwing the deep ball, Bruce Arians went to short and intermediate stuff early and often, and stuck with the run even when David Johnson was getting stuffed. The result: 36:02 in possession time, 35 rushes (for 171 yards), and a 28-3 rout of the Jets. Arians loves to throw it deep. He also loves winning by 25 more.
2. I’m liking Sean McDonough.I’m not liking the blizzard of flags. Twenty-three flags Monday night (15 in the first half), including this three-play sequence in the first quarter: defensive holding, defensive holding (declined), offside, defensive holding. On three plays. “The way this game has been officiated is not something anyone wants to watch,” ESPN play-by-play man McDonough said at one point, as America nodded. It’s always dangerous to generalize about officiating, but as someone who watches chunks of every game and most of three or four each weekend, the game is being officiated in an increasingly ticky-tack way. Take the Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie pass-interference call for the Giants, for instance. Clearly, Rodgers-Cromartie did not interfere with Breshad Perriman. Whereas Richard Sherman, on the potential game-deciding play of Atlanta-Seattle, had control of Julio Jones’ right arm on a ball Jones could have caught. No flag. Again: too many flags, but if there are going to be so many, let’s be sure the real penalties get called too. This is a hard game to monitor, and the officials mostly do a good job. I’m stuck between wanting officials to let players play and being angry when they miss a huge call. There’s a fine line, and it feels like officials aren’t straddling it in the first third of the season.
3. Congrats, Grandpa. Bill Belichick’s a grandfather, which is cool. Son Steve, the Patriots’ safeties coach, and his wife had a little girl this week. Tweeted San Jose Mercury Newsexecutive sports editor Bud Geracie: “On to Pittsburgh.”
4. Speaking of Pittsburgh … It’s the Tom Brady-Landry Jones showdown we’ve all been waiting for. Jones has started two games in his life; Brady 257. Call me crazy: I think the Steelers will play well—they always do after a bad loss under Mike Tomlin. This is the kind of game Tomlin and his team love, regardless who’s playing quarterback. They’ll try to shorten the game (allow the Pats only eight or 10 possessions) and run Le’Veon Bell a lot. “Awesome challenge,” Tomlin said Tuesday.
5. I agree with Ron Rivera. I’d give Graham Gano, who’s missed two huge kicks in the first six weeks, one more shot to get straightened out. But probably not more than one.
6. The fact that Chuck Pagano was “encouraged” post-Sunday meltdown is weird. That’s the word he used after the Colts blew a 14-point lead midway through the fourth quarter and lost in overtime at Houston. I get that he doesn’t want to say the sky is falling. But “encouraged?”
I do not disagree that Ben Roethlisberger’s abilities give Mike Tomlin a great case for going for two after an early touchdown. However, since you pointed out Tomlin is “one smart coach,” I would counter with a very unsmart thing he also did yesterday in another loss to a losing team on the road (5-11 in last 16 games against a sub-.500 team). Tomlin leaving in Big Ben until the end of the game on a gimpy knee (that was surgically repaired on Monday morning) seems less than astute. I strongly believe Tomlin has had the great fortune of coaching a team with a franchise quarterback in his prime for his entire head coaching career. Why on earth would you trot Roethlisberger out there in the condition he was in, let alone the until the very end when the Steelers were losing significantly? Hardly smart.
No coach is without fault or should be immune to criticism, and you have a point in decrying a quarterback at less than 100 percent staying in a lost game late. But as long as you’re throwing out stats, I’ll give you one: The Steelers under Tomlin are 8-7 in the regular season when Roethlisberger doesn’t start. When your team is 8-7 with the backup quarterback playing, someone’s doing a good job; the team’s not on auto-pilot.
Thanks for devoting some space to the ridiculous celebration penalties this year. This has been the No Fun League on a whole new level. I'm all about punishing taunting, and some of the old Terrell Owens / Chad Ochocinco pre-planned, prop-assisted celebrations. I think these should be the criteria for what's unsportsmanlike:
1) Is the celebration directed at an opponent? That's taunting. Fifteen yards.
2) Did the celebration affect the officials' attempts to set up the next play? That's a delay of game. Five yards.
3) Similarly, is there a personnel change before the next play? A celebration on a second-down sack should be brief. But give them more time to relish a touchdown, turnover, or third-down stop!
I'm eager to hear your thoughts!
Agree, mostly, Dan. Your points are well-reasoned. The only thing I’d question is when a player should be gleeful and celebratory. I think going nuts in celebration when you team is down 20 is selfish. All the other stuff doesn’t bother me much, but to each his own.
EXCESSIVE CELEBRATION IS NOT OKAY
It’s true that Vernon Davis’ celebration penalty was a joke in isolation. However, in context the officials had to call it. I’m sick of these artificial celebrations where the ball is cuddled like a baby or a pen comes out and the ball is signed or the ball is pretend excrement. These are not spontaneous and are meant to grab attention. In response, the league said you can’t use the ball as a prop. Davis did and received the penalty really for the transgressions of others before him. Marshawn Lynch scored a lot of TDs and his celebration was to shake his teammates hands. More of that please.
—Craig Meyer, Santa Fe, N.M.
It’s just not common sense that a violent spike of the ball is okay and calmly shooting a free throw over the goalpost when no one is around is not. I’m not a fan of telling a player after he scores a touchdown to act the way we want him to act. I think as long as you’re not embarrassing anyone, let the players do what they want.
A quick note before this next email: Robert Klemko of The MMQB tweeted a video from a Buffalo tailgate Sunday, featuring a tackling dummy in a Colin Kaepernick jersey and afro wig. Klemko said the words “tackle the Muslim” were yelled before a woman hit the dummy.
I was at that tailgate when this video was taken. Robert's characterization of a fan screaming "tackle the Muslim" is completely, 100 percent false. There were a lot of vulgar things being said, individual fans calling Kapernick a piece of s--- and how much he "sucks" and should "stand or leave this country" and hope that he "breaks his legs," but again, nothing crossing a racial category. I honestly didn't know much about The MMQB or Robert, but a simple Google search showed me his past incident with a Muslim taxi driver and his using of racial slurs. It's clear to me he made up this story of a fan saying to "tackle the Muslim" to generate a false story/controversy. "Tackle the Muslim" isn't even heard in the video he posted to Twitter, but he later claimed he heard a fan say that before the incident. I hope as an extension of Sports Illustrated, a news outlet my family has consumed for years, some investigation and appropriate action is taken against Robert.
I have spoken to Robert about the incident, and I back his version of what happened. When we send reporters out into the field, we have to trust that they will write what they have heard and witnessed accurately. This is the fourth season I have worked with Robert, and I’ve always found him to report accurately. When he tells me he heard, “tackle the Muslim,” I believe him. At such a raucous and noisy event as a football tailgate, lots of things can be hollered, and I doubt those present hear everything. I trust Robert’s version of it.
You are sleeping on Matthew Stafford. Playing at an elite level with Jim Bob Cooter. Playing without the top 3 running backs, top 3 tight ends, starting two rookies on the line. No defense. Not to mention no Calvin. Without Stafford, the Lions are the Browns.
You are right. In the last two weeks, Stafford (seven touchdowns, no picks) has beaten two good defenses in the Eagles and Rams. We’ll have more on Stafford and the Lions soon at The MMQB.
ROMOIS MUCH BETTER THAN BLEDSOE WAS
I know people like analogies but this has to stop. Drew Bledsoe was a league average quarterback at best. The last time Tony Romo played a full season he should have been MVP and was statistically the best QB in the league. The injury risk is a concern but no QB is truly safe—look at Big Ben this week. The ceiling is higher with Tony and to win a Super Bowl the Cowboys need to be at their ceiling. Dak has yet to play from behind except against an inept 49ers team. That's where the lack of deep ball accuracy will hurt.
You know what happens when you read something and get really angry at it—the way you did with my Tom Brady-Dak Prescott stat? You write something you’ll regret later. Like saying Bledsoe was “a league average quarterback at best.” Drew Bledsoe, with the 12th-most passing yards of all time. Drew Bledsoe, with more touchdown passes than 20 Hall of Famers. You ruin any semblance of an argument when you start with that. At the time of his injury, the Patriots had just made Bledsoe the highest-paid player in football. No dog in the fight here—in 32 years covering the NFL, Romo is one of my favorite people—but to denigrate the accomplishment of Dak Prescott over the first six games of his career is juvenile at worst, a severe reach at best.
A SIMILAR QB CONTROVERSY
I blame Coach Marty Schottenheimer for his firmly-entrenched rule that any starter who went out with an injury would get his job back once healthy enough to play. Thus, high dollar veteran Elvis Grbac came back at the end of the 1997 season to replace hot hand and winning relief quarterback Rich Gannon in their 1998 playoff game against Denver that Grbac proceeded to lose. And all of us Chiefs fans know how good Gannon was when he left KC at the end of the season as a free agent and signed with the AFC West Division rivals Raiders.
Well, I doubt the Cowboys will re-insert Romo in the lineup barring an injury to Prescott or a drop in his play. I remember that Grbac thing, but I had no idea Gannon would do what he did in Oakland. None. In fact, I think the Gannon renaissance with the Raiders is a great reason for teams to always have an older quarterback on the roster. I think employing a Josh McCown or Brian Hoyer is smart in the right role, and maybe even to save your season if need be.
ON KAEP’S PRIORITY
You wrote regarding Kaepernick on social issues and playing football: “I don’t get why he’s more strident about this—after the game—than he is about the football game.” Maybe because Colin Kaepernick believes that the societal issue (you know, people being shot by those who are supposed to protect them) is extremely more important than a football game. Have we seen any significant changes in this problem since Mr. Kaepernick began his protest? Maybe he believes he needs to raise this awareness to a higher level. (He’s got you, Mr. King, writing about it in a widely read sports column.)
Jerry, I’ve backed Kaepernick every step of the way—except a couple of times, such as calling the presidential candidates “evil,” and this time. I am all for players using their platforms for good. And there was a chorus joining you in condemning my reaction to his post-game press conference. But here’s my opinion: A player has all week, and has had most of six weeks, to make his case about his personal beliefs about the flag and what it stands for. He’s not started a game since last season. His team, which pays him $11.9 million this year to play quarterback, and which has been highly supportive of his decision to not stand during the anthem, is teetering on the brink of 2016 extinction, and his team gets routed by 29, and he’s significantly more eloquent post-game about the flag issue than the game. That would bother me if I ran the team, coached the team, played for the team, or rooted for the team.
Thank you so much for the nice write-up about Dennis Byrd in today’s column. As a Jet fan, I am heartbroken. It’s a long-suffering franchise with long-suffering, frustrated fans and Dennis was someone that all Jet fans looked up to, admired, and were inspired by. I was at that game against the Chiefs when Byrd was paralyzed and I was there when he walked onto the field the next season and I was there when his jersey was retired in 2012. The tributes and articles the past two days have been comforting and I am grateful to all of the writers who have written about Dennis the football player and Dennis the man. I haven’t heard anything from Rex Ryan yet regarding Dennis. I hope he will take a moment to say something this week. Thank you again Peter. I enjoy your work very much and look forward to your column every week.
—Vincent Martell, Oakdale, N.Y.
Thanks a lot, Vincent. I have said this a lot over the years, but Dennis Byrd is one of the most memorable subjects I’ve written about, and I barely knew him. May his acts of kindness be remembered forever.
STAY OUT OF POLITICS PETE
I'm a long-time reader of The MMQB. Like many of your readers I enjoy the NFL and its distraction from the reality of our daily lives. Sports are complicated and nuanced, but primal in their win-or-lose, mano-a-mano simplicity. It's one of the few arenas that Americans on the left and right can join arms, in support of our favorite team. "Neanderthal Donald Trump" puts you at his level, and if you could only hear my sigh at your inability to resist the temptation to tell us all how righteous the views of the liberal left in the echo chamber of New York City. Every day it's Fox News or CNN telling us all how wrong the other side is. Tell us about sports Peter, the ugly, the beautiful, the drama, the passion. It's why we read The MMQB.
Eddie, thank you very much for writing. I mean it. I need to hear when readers think I’m wrong. But part of this column for the last 20 football seasons has been that I’m going to give you my opinion on lots of things I have an opinion about—football, life, Bob Dylan, Donald Trump, Clayton Kershaw, beer. It may be wrong. You obviously think it is—at least when it comes to politics. A couple of years ago, the editor of this column, Dom Bonvissuto, whose opinion I value as highly as anyone who has ever edited me, asked me to please refrain from political commentary in the column. Mostly, I have, because of the rabbit hole it leads to, and because I’m not immersed in politics. But there are times, quite honestly, when I am so angry by what I witness and hear that I am driven to make a comment. And for Donald Trump to ridicule the “softer NFL rules’’ and “a little ding on the head” is simply infuriating. I will call him out on that nine days a week.
YOUR SCOUTING ARTICLE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ON THE COLTS
Not the team I would have chosen for this article. The disjointed Colts are not exactly a model for scouting. Wasn’t Ryan Grigson, who is on the way out, the GM who said, “We spent too much money on resigning Andrew Luck?”
What Grigson said, Les, to radio host Jay Mohr was, referring to making Luck the highest-paid player in football: “When you have to tighten up, once you pay Andrew what we did, it’s going to take some time to build on the other side of the ball.” About my judgment of which team to shadow for a scouting meeting … People in the NFL do not line up to have me sit in on draft meetings or scouting meetings or any meetings. Every year, I ask multiple people I have relationships with if I can show what really happens in their jobs. I bet I get the okay on one out of 20 asks—and remember, I only ask people I think I have a chance with. When I do a week in the life of Gene Steratore’s officiating crew, or the nitty-gritty of how Carson Palmer absorbs a game plan, or three hours inside the Officiating Command Center watching the replay system work, or four hours inside a Colts’ scouting meeting, the setup began weeks or months earlier, so whether the Colts are 5-0 or 0-5 when it runs, or whether Palmer played like crap in the game I used or is having a bad year, those things are not important to me. I’ll keep trying to do these stories. I hope you understand it’s about the content and the real jobs of these people.