On a day during which four early-afternoon games went down to the wire, it was an event that occurred before any of the kickoffs that was the big news story of the day in the NFL.
And that story is just starting to get going.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and starting quarterback Josh Freeman are locked in a stare down that is expected to come to a head in the coming days during the team’s bye week.
Freeman told FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer on Sunday morning he’s now asking the team for his release if the Bucs are unable to trade him. Meanwhile, multiple sources tell FOX Sports that Freeman has been careful about his behavior and the way he’s reacted to his recent developments, such as losing his starting job to Mike Glennon, being deactivated for Sunday’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals and being asked to watch the game from a private suite instead of on the sideline.
Head coach Greg Schiano said the team and Freeman reached a mutual agreement for him to watch the game from high above. A source said that’s a bit of semantics at play, and the idea for Freeman to be in the suite was the team’s. Freeman would have been willing to stand on the sideline but agreed to the team’s proposal and didn’t push back.
Sources said Freeman’s carefulness to not cause any ripples of late is his way of not giving the Buccaneers an opening to suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team.
The Bucs owe Freeman more than $6 million in base salary the rest of the season. That number is hampering their ability to find a trade partner. If they cut Freeman, not only do they have to pay him what he’s owed, they also lose the right to any compensation in the form of a trade or compensatory picks. In other words, cutting him is not an ideal option.
That said, plenty of information has leaked in recent weeks about Freeman missing a team photo as well as multiple meetings. There was also a report from ESPN on Sunday that indicated teams are looking into whether Freeman is in the NFL’s substance-abuse program.
Would any of the above constitute conduct detrimental to the team? Ordinarily, no. But sources say Freeman is wary of the Bucs trying to build a case to suspend him or deactivate him with pay, as the organization did when Keyshawn Johnson yelled at former coach Jon Gruden.
Either way, Freeman will try to get a ticket out of town this week. If he doesn’t get one, it’s hard to imagine a player the Bucs didn’t even want on their sideline to help out Glennon would be welcome back into the facility in the coming days and weeks.
ROOKIE OF THE MONTH?
Without question, it should be Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, who had two interceptions on Sunday, including the one of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco that sealed the Bills’ victory.
Alonso joins former Green Bay Packers first-round pick John Anderson as the only rookie linebackers with four interceptions in their first four games since 1960. In fact, only 15 rookie linebackers ever have had four interceptions in a season (Hall of Famer Dick Butkus is one of those players).
"I’m just in the right place at the right time," Alonso said by phone Sunday afternoon before leaving Ralph Wilson Stadium.
After a pause, he added: "A lot."
A second-round pick in April, Alonso has been credited with 32 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a sack to go along with his four interceptions.
On his first interception on Sunday, Alonso dropped into coverage and didn’t do anything special. He laughed and said, "(Flacco) threw the ball right at me. You can’t drop those."
The second one — Flacco’s fifth interception of the day — was a much tougher play. With the Ravens trying to mount a comeback and facing a third-and-8 from the Bills’ 48 with just over a minute to play, Alonso got a piece of Ravens tight end Dallas Clark and then turned around to dive for the ball after safety Da’Norris Searcy deflected it.
Alonso was falling on top of Searcy and managed to control the ball, even though it appeared to touch the ground. He turned to the official as if he wasn’t even sure he’d made the play.
He had. And the Bills, who have taken every game down to the wire, are a rather surprising 2-2.
"That’s how it is in the NFL. Every game is going to be a fight," Alonso said, sounding a lot wiser and more experienced than a guy who has yet to complete his first month in the league. "That’s how it’s going to be all year. We’re just going to have to keep fighting."
THE LOOK IN DEXTER’S EYES
No, not the serial killer. The Kansas City Chiefs’ running back/wide receiver/punt returner/do-everything guy.
Andy Reid noticed it as soon as he arrived in Kansas City.
"When he first came here, we sat down and he said, ‘You still have that look you had when I met you at the combine.’ He really wanted me to be a big part of his offense and I’m ready for the challenge," McCluster said by phone a few hours after the Chiefs’ 31-7 thrashing of the New York Giants. "I love Big Red. He’s a great coach."
Everybody loves everybody in that locker room right now, with the 4-0 Chiefs already doubling last year’s win total.
Sunday’s win was much tougher than the final score indicated. A proud, scrappy bunch of Giants were trying to somehow get over last week’s blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers and turn their season around. They hung in there and were trailing by only three points with 1:55 to play in the third quarter when Giants punter Steve Weatherford kicked to McCluster, who fielded the ball at his own 11.
McCluster made the gunner miss, did a spin move to avoid another Giants player, split two defenders, juked one, juked another and then outran Weatherford to the end zone for an 89-yard touchdown. It was the play that pretty much broke the Giants’ spirit.
McCluster also had five catches for 48 yards, and it’s easy to see why Reid wanted the 2010 second-round pick to be more involved this season.
"It feels good to not only score on special teams but to also be involved in the offense, make some third-down conversions. I know it’s still early in the season and there’s more to come but I’m very excited about it," said McCluster, who is in a contract year.
He added, "I know what I can do. I never lost confidence in what I can do. I just knew when the right situation and time came, everybody could see it. They really trust me, whether making plays on offense or on special teams. They have the trust in me and hopefully I showed them today when you call my number, I’ll be there."
WIN ONE FOR DAN
That’s what the Arizona Cardinals did on Sunday in Tampa.
With nose tackle Dan Williams out for a second straight game following the tragic death of his father in a car accident, the Cardinals beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-10, thanks to two late interceptions by cornerback Patrick Peterson — the second of which was made possible by defensive lineman Frostee Rucker’s pressure on rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
Rucker had no voice after the game, so defensive end Calais Campbell spoke to FOX Sports instead. Campbell, Rucker and six other defensive teammates were flown by licensed pilot (and team president) Michael Bidwill to the funeral for Williams’ father on Saturday before heading to Tampa.
"Just to see the smile on Dan’s face, because we surprised him, it was definitely a blessing," Campbell said as the team was headed for its flight back to Arizona. "The funeral was about celebrating his dad’s life and that’s what we did. Then we went back to work and we can’t wait for Dan to rejoin us (this) week."
Williams told his teammates to get the win for him.
"Amongst the D-line, we definitely said, ‘Make sure we remember the family,’" Campbell said, "because his dad is family to me."
FIVE QUICK TAKES
Patrick Peterson: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, "I would argue he’s the best (cornerback) in the league." Calais Campbell said, "He’s up there with Darrelle Revis, and I mean that with all my heart. The way he approaches this game, his work ethic and his natural God-given ability, he’s a smart dude, he earns everything he’s ever gotten." Clearly, the debate about the best cornerback in the league, which used to consist of only Revis and the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, now has a third entrant. All three had interceptions Sunday.
The hit by Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard on Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor reverberated throughout the league. Fellow read-option quarterbacks surely noticed it and defensive coaches, as well as personnel guys, definitely noticed it. The league had said quarterbacks wouldn’t get special treatment once they became runners, as Pryor did on what seemed to be a designed draw, and the fact Woodyard wasn’t penalized or fined for helmet-to-helmet contact was proof of just that.
Asked what the message was, one head of personnel said, "To the quarterbacks, it’s that you’d protect yourself." More teams are running the read option this year (per STATS LLC, there were 172 option plays run in the first three weeks, as opposed to 44 at this point last year) and the effectiveness seems to be up (5.0 yards gained per read-option play vs. 4.4 yards per play last year), but the fact Pryor missed a game following a legal hit will have offensive coaches and quarterbacks thinking twice.
More on that point: One defensive coach thinks that, while the number of read option plays is up overall, the percentage of true reads might be down. In other words, the coach believes quarterbacks are making designed handoffs to the backs look like read options to keep one defender honest. Offensive coaches know defenses must honor the read option, so by giving that look, they can slow down a defensive end or outside linebacker without having to block him. One team that might have been doing plenty of that coming into this weekend was the Buffalo Bills. While they ran a bunch of plays that looked like read-option runs in the first three weeks, quarterback EJ Manuel only kept it twice.
Sunday was a day of crazy, juggling interceptions. Alonso, the Giants’ Antrel Rolle, the Colts’ Vontae Davis and the Seahawks’ Earl Thomas were among those who had unconventional interceptions. The one by Thomas was the most eventful, as it deflected off four players before Thomas made the diving play on it. Then again, it might not have been the most entertaining interception of the game. Sherman’s pick six, during which he lost a shoe, was fun to watch. Unless you’re Matt Schaub.
The 1966 Dallas Cowboys had the most points through four games in NFL history with 183 points, four more than this year’s Denver Broncos. But in their fifth game, the Cowboys only scored 10 points. Expect the Broncos (at the current Cowboys on Sunday) to pass Don Meredith and his crew. But the team with the most points through five games is the 2000 St. Louis Rams, who scored 217. The Broncos will need 38 on Sunday to catch Kurt Warner & Co. Either way, they’re on pace to score 716 points this season, which would crush the 2007 New England Patriots’ league record of 589.
10 EVEN QUICKER TAKES
Jake Locker: No matter how bad his injury winds up being — and he’s expected to miss at least a few weeks — a hip issue for a mobile quarterback is never, ever a good thing.
Dashon Goldson: The Buccaneers’ safety escaped a suspension on appeal after his last illegal hit. This time, he might not be so lucky.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Only the third team in the last 10 seasons to score fewer than 10 points in three of their first four games. (The 2004 Miami Dolphins and ’09 St. Louis Rams are the others.)
Matt Schaub: He’s probably taken more of a bashing than he’s deserved over the years, but there’s no excusing that poor decision and throw on the interception by Sherman.
Chris Myers: FOX’s own had a terrific call on that interception when he saw Sherman with an escort of Seahawks: "He’s got followers … and not just on Twitter."
Brandon Weeden: The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback is likely out of a starting job after a second straight solid performance by Brian Hoyer. While it might not be a situation that matches the Freeman/Bucs standard for drama, it could get interesting.
Ben Roethlisberger: Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley told FOX Sports before the Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals that he’s had talks with Roethlisberger about when to hold the ball and when to not hold it. We’re guessing Haley would file Sunday’s game-deciding fumble under the "not" category.
Philip Rivers: Peyton Manning (76 percent) is the league’s most accurate passer. Rivers is second at 74 percent. His career high is 66 percent.
Aqib Talib: The Patriots’ cornerback, who sealed the win over the Falcons with a pass defensed, is setting himself up for a much longer and more lucrative contract this coming offseason.
Reggie Bush: Imagine if the Miami Dolphins, who put their undefeated record on the line against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, had held onto him.