FOXBORO, Mass. — Just before he left Gillette Stadium this morning, a few minutes before 1, Tom Brady ducked into the foyer of his team’s locker room, away from the madding crowd of former teammates, coaches, Patriots employees and curious media in the concourse he’d walked 10,000 times.
“I’m tired,” Brady told me in a voice that started the week hoarse and stayed that way. This is the kind of week it was for Brady: When his voice was very scratchy and soft at his weekly Thursday news conference in Tampa, Entertainment Tonight called the PR staff and wondered if there was any chance Brady was getting sick. No, it was just the weight of the hardest non-Super Bowl game Brady has ever played, his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returning to play his old one, the New England Patriots.
“I am really tired,” he said again. Suddenly, he looked and sounded his 44 years, the intensity of Tampa’s tight 19-17 win taking its toll. “For a regular-season game, that was pretty intense.”
There was the emotion of the week, of course—Brady returning to the place he put on the football map with two decades of greatness, and playing the coach who was his boss for 20 seasons. This place was nuts Sunday night. A crowd of 65,878, including a man in one end zone dressed in a goat costume and bleating like a crazy person, stood for most of a rainy New England night and at least three times broke into “BRAY-dee, BRAY-dee, BRAY-dee” chants. But there was exhaustion, too, because of the detective work Brady and his Tampa buddies did to beat the odds. I’m not talking about the odds of a betting line. I’m talking about the odds of figuring out Bill Belichick.
Brady walked into work Tuesday morning in Tampa and told quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, “You know, this is the first time I’ve ever really studied New England—studied them like an opponent. I can see now it’s gonna be an unbelievable challenge to try to figure them out.” So Brady, backup quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin and veteran Christensen spent the week mining old Patriots game footage going back to 2013, to try to divine clues into how Belichick would play Brady. The mission struck gold on Thursday when Brady got the video guys in Tampa to unearth a New England-Minnesota game in 2018—but more about that later. Point was, Brady over-prepared for this game because he knew his rival for the week, Belichick, would be doing the same 1,325 miles to the north.
The extraordinary night ended with Belichick himself walking into the Tampa Bay locker room to seek out Brady for a face-to-face they never had in the 18 months since Brady phoned him one night in March 2020 to say he’d be moving on in free-agency. Gabbert was sitting in the locker room with receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin when they saw Belichick walk in. “We were like, Did we see what we all think we just saw?” Gabbert said. Sure did. One Buc source said he thought Brady and Belichick talked for about 15 minutes; Brady declined to get into specifics about their meeting. He did, however, push back against those who have characterized their parting as acrimonious.
“It was a very personal, private thing,” Brady said. “We’ve always had that type of relationship where we can say things to each other. You know, whoever characterizes our relationship is completely wrong. People want to focus on so much stuff that’s so unimportant. You know? We were together for 20-plus years and we were so productive and successful and I learned so much from him. Loved my experience here, loved my relationship with him.”
Brady and Belichick. pic.twitter.com/l5IDEt5t32
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) October 4, 2021
Both men could be magnanimous Sunday night, because both men—both teams—won here.
Brady won because he came back to his two-decade home and his team won, and Tampa Bay is 3-1, and he doesn’t have to come back to this emotional maelstrom . . . perhaps forever. The Bucs are shaky and beat up and Brady was just okay all game, but that’s the way good teams win sometimes. Belichick won because his quarterback was equal to the moment, and the post-Brady rebuild seems on-track. Mac Jones completed 19 passes in a row at one point, and it’s arguable that a batted pass by a Tampa rusher with a minute to go was the difference in the game. Instead of a reasonable, say, 48-yard field goal try by Nick Folk, he had to try from 56—and the ball loudly clanged off the left upright.
It was almost justice for the fans who sat through the rain. The New Englanders watched their team outplay the Super Bowl champs for much of the night, and watched the next automaton quarterback put aside whatever nerves he might have had to play very well.
It felt like old times, really: Brady won, the Patriots look like they have a quarterback for the long term, and New England’s defense confounded a strong offense. Patriots fans can wake up this morning feeling good about the past, present and future.
Strange game, as you saw. It’s not often—or ever—that you hear Tom Brady’s coach describe his play as “very careful.” That’s how Bruce Arians saw it. “He wasn’t going to make mistakes that cost us the game.” Usually it’s Brady attacking the opposition. But the way Brady played showed the immense respect he had for Belichick.
One Buc operative put it this way: “Remember the Super Bowl against Seattle, when everybody’s screaming in the last minute for Bill to take a timeout, but he won’t take it because he knows the Seahawks aren’t sure what they want to do. So he’s putting pressure on them, and he figures maybe that pressure will cause a mistake. And Russell Wilson throws the pick to Malcolm Butler at the goal line. In this game, Tom wasn’t going to make the big mistake. He knows Bill thrives on forcing good players and coaches into mistakes.”
One of Brady’s confidants, Christensen, said Brady’s misses were on the conservative side. But he overthrew Tyler Johnson in the first quarter, negating a big gain. He missed two easy passes in the flat to open receivers. On a night he broke the NFL record for career passing yards, he finished 22 of 43 (52 percent, his low in 20 regular-season games in Tampa). His best throw of the night got wasted. On the first series of the third quarter, Tampa trailing 7-6, Brady rainbowed a perfect 44-yard strike to Antonio Brown. That would have put the ball on the Patriots’ 38-yard line and changed the momentum of the game. But tackle Donovan Smith got a hands-to-the-face call, and the Bucs were pushed back to the Tampa 9. That was a 53-yard penalty, in effect, and wrecked the Tampa drive.
The Bucs just weren’t in sync all night—but one of the plays they researched hard came to fruition. Late in the first quarter, Brady lined up to see seven New England defenders milling around the line. Who’d rush? Who’d drop? He didn’t know, but he knew he’d seen this before. This is the kind of defense Belichick played in 2018 against the Vikings, and it’s one of the defensive formations Brady and his band of football researchers found when doing their homework.
“What we did this week was look at games throughout the last 10 years of opposing elite-level quarterbacks,” Gabbert told me. “We looked at how Belichick played Denver and Peyton [Manning] back in 2013. We found this defense against the Vikings in 2018, sort of like a walk-around, a lot of DBs on the field. We picked games and tried to get as much knowledge as we could of what we could potentially see. It was fun. It was great. At least we felt prepared.”
Gabbert, like Christensen, clapped back at my take that completing 52 percent with no TDs was an issue for Brady on this night. “He’s the best ever at mitigating risk in playing the quarterback position,” Gabbert said. “What he did tonight I thought was surgical. He knew where his issues could potentially be, he knew where to attack and when to attack, and there was a couple of big plays that got called back.”
Now for the personal side of it. Brady’s mom, dad, wife, kids and extended family were here. Just before the game, some tears were shed in the box; the emotions hit a few in the family as kickoff neared.
On Saturday night, Christensen told Brady he wouldn’t blame him for being emotional in the game. Brady’s whole adult life, post-college, was here from age 22 to when he was nearly 43. His had three children while living here. He married one of the world’s most famous women while living here. He used to be able to scalp a ticket and walk over to Fenway Park in the first summer or two here without being noticed, or take the train to New York City for an off-day without being noticed. Then he won three Super Bowls early in his career, had a decade-long drought, and won three more. From the 199th pick in the 2000 draft to being called the great player of all time by 2019 . . . that’s some heavy stuff.
To return to the scene of his prime, while still being in his prime (odd as that sounds, at 44), is something that very few great ones have done. “I just think it all weighed on him,” Christensen said. “I think he went between feeling tremendous pride, tremendous emotion and tremendous pressure.”
During the week, Brady told Christensen how much respect he had for teams that came into Foxboro and won games. And when Christensen first saw him after the game, Brady smiled and sighed.
“God,” Brady said, “is it hard to come in here and win a football game.”
It was a weird week of nostalgia and fans in New England not being sure what they wanted. There was a sector of the crowd that bemoaned the loss of Brady after the 2019 season, including the teacher in Vermont who told me last week fans viewed Brady as a traitor for not returning. But if Brady came back in 2020, how to fit at least an eighth of the team’s salary cap into the quarterback—keeping in mind the Patriots desperately needed an offensive infusion? I thought the lobsterman I saw on the Maine coast, Craig Simons, had it right when he told me: “You knew the Patriots didn’t have the depth or the money to get anyone to help him. If he had stayed, it would have been sad to watch.”
Brady wished he could have stayed, but by the time 2019 was reaching its end, he actually wanted to leave. Simons had it right: Brady knew the team needed so much, and for him to take up an eighth of the salary cap, or whatever his contract would have cost, just seemed like staying for staying’s sake. Plus, as he told me 14 months ago, he was energized in his 30th year of playing high school, college and pro football by playing for an offensive head coach, Arians, for the first time in those three decades.
That’s why it was best for everyone to move on, and for the Patriots to draft a quarterback in 2021. Mac Jones handled the pressure and the task Sunday night. One thing this night proved was that it was smarter, for the continuum of a great franchise, to move on to Jones. Belichick had to drive away from the stadium early this morning feeling he’d turned a corner with his team, brawling with the Super Bowl champs with only the clanging of a ball off the upright the difference between winning and losing. (Though I’m not sure he’ll be as sanguine about having Nick Folk try a 56-yard field goal in the rain and a slight wind, instead of having a quarterback who’d gone 31 of 40 attempt to convert a fourth-and-three. Not smart, in my opinion.)
As Brady left the stadium early this morning, I’m sure the meeting with Belichick filled his head. “We’d known each other for 20-plus years,” Brady said, “and when I left here, we just didn’t have a chance—he was out of town—to meet. When I went down to Tampa it was Covid. I was thinking about my season and so was he. It was just, we’ve known each other for a long time, and we didn’t have a chance to talk, and tonight we did, and it was great.”
I thought of a conversation I had last week with Wayne Gretzky. His career reminds of Brady’s in one very big way. He won four Stanley Cups in Edmonton before being traded to Los Angeles in 1988. Brady won six before leaving the Patriots in free-agency. Manning won one before leaving Indy, Favre one before leaving Green Bay. Winning four, as Gretzky did, and still being great? That’s Brady ground.
“I don’t see any end in sight,” Gretzky said. “I’m not so sure he’s just playing one more, or two more years.”
But there was something else.
Said Gretzky: “Me and my coach, Glenn Sather, weren’t best friends when I played. Magic Johnson and Pat Riley might not have been best friends when he played either. I don’t know, but from what I’m seeing and hearing, Tom and Bill might have a couple of issues. But the one thing about great coaches—they push us to be great. From the outside, it seems like Bill did that with Tom. I know this: Glenn pushed me harder than any coach ever pushed me in my life. He made me better.
“Great coaches drive us to be better. When you’re done, I think that’s what you’d hope your coach was for you.”
Because I was occupied reporting in New England, I asked my friend Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus to weigh in on the big game between the Rams and Cardinals. His report:
The NFL is going through a transitional phase at the quarterback position. The time has largely come and gone for Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan in the NFL; Philip Rivers and Drew Brees retired this past offseason; Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are still playing at a high level, but their years are numbered. Young players are taking over the position rapidly, and while people cite Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert as the next great players at the position, Sunday we saw a coronation of sorts in the NFC West. Kyler Murray went on the road and handily defeated the previously unbeaten, and preseason divisional favorite, Los Angeles Rams 37-20. The win pushed Arizona’s record to 4-0 for the first time since 2012—when Kevin Kolb was the Cardinals’ starting quarterback—and Murray became the first QB in Cardinal history to have three straight games with at least 75 percent completions.
After watching the Rams defeat the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday, the betting markets installed the Rams as six-point favorites to open the week. The betting population, however, moved the line to four points, showing some confidence in the third-year pair of coach Kliff Kingsbury and Murray. This confidence was rewarded throughout Sunday’s game, as Murray earned an 81.3 Pro Football Focus passing grade, completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 39 on the ground. Murray’s presence as a passer and his gravity as a rusher helped Chase Edmonds and James Connor put up another 170 yards on the ground on 30 carries, including two touchdowns by Connor. The Cardinals defense, much derided at times during the offseason and the preseason, surrendered only one touchdown when the game was in the balance, allowing just 280 yards to the previously hot Matthew Stafford.
After a 2020 season where Murray was the league’s highest-graded rushing quarterback (90.6) and the 16th-highest passer (74.5) before a shoulder injury slowed him after week 11, Murray has improved in almost every category as a passer in 2021. His yards per attempt have increased by almost two-and-a-half yards; the percentage of “big-time-throws”—throws that earn the highest distinction in the PFF grading system—have almost doubled; his turnover-worthy play rate has decreased by 20 percent. This was on display against a Rams defense that was first in yards per play allowed in 2020 and boasts two of the best players in the league in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. Murray committed zero turnover-worthy plays and was sacked just twice, while engineering seven scoring drives in the Cardinals’ first nine times with the football.
While Murray possesses elite-level arm talent on par with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert, what sets Murray apart in the current Arizona offense is his ability to break the pocket and make plays with his speed. In 2021 that has been an advantage he has used in the passing game, where his three passing touchdowns when on the move and after 3.5 seconds in the pocket is tied for the league lead; and his three big-time throws are the second-most we’ve charted. Mahomes (10.4 yards per attempt) is the only starting quarterback with a larger yards per attempt in such circumstances than Murray.
Against the Rams on Sunday, Murray turned such a circumstance into a scramble. With the Cardinals leading 14-10 with 9:38 left in the second quarter, Murray stutter-stepped Rams linebacker Kenny Young to pick up a first down on a third-and-16, on a drive that later resulted in a Connor touchdown and a two-score lead for the Cards.
99.9% of QB’s in NFL history don’t gain a 1st down on this play. Kyler Murray does. He’s QUICK pic.twitter.com/bcTSp5763k
— Andrew (@AndrewLeezus) October 3, 2021
Questions remain for the Cardinals, and specifically Kingsbury, as to the sustainability of the Cardinals’ attack. Last season, due to Murray’s shoulder injury, along with what has been described as a stale approach, the Cardinals went from being in the top-five in the NFL in terms of offensive efficiency in Weeks 1-11, to 28th during Weeks 12-17. With that decline in offensive production went their playoff hopes in 2020, to increased pressure in 2021. This season, the Cardinals are back in the top five in efficiency, but haven’t needed to lean on Murray as much in the run game, or on superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, whose share of the Cardinals’ targets has fallen from 29 percent in 2020 to 18 percent in 2021. Rondale Moore looks to be a fantastic draft pick out of Purdue, while former Bengal A.J. Green has been very active, including gaining 67 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. If Murray can stay healthy, and Kingsbury sharp, the NFC West crown could be in play for Arizona for the first time since 2015.
There’s a lot to write about and to consider with the NFL near the quarter point of the season. (Some 63 of 272 regular-season games have been played, 23 percent of the season, as of this morning.) So much to love about Kyler Murray and Derek Carr and others, and I don’t write about Joe Burrow here because he’s been the best quarterback in the league. I write about him because he is everything the Bengals needed. Cincinnati owner Mike Brown’s decision to not trade the number one pick in 2020 and stay put and pick Burrow will turn out to be great for the franchise for a long, long time.
A quarterback playing in Cincinnati doesn’t always have it easy. Since the Bengals got lucky in the 1984 draft and Boomer Esiason fell to them with the 38th pick, their quarterback draft choices have been a bit star-crossed, aside from Carson Palmer in 2003 and Andy Dalton in 2011. After Esiason, David Klingler (sixth overall, 1992) and Akili Smith (third overall, 1999) led to a dry spell at the position. Palmer lasted seven years and Dalton nine, and neither led the Bengals far into the playoffs. I don’t know if Burrow will either; Cincinnati is not a place that free agents flock. But there’s so much to like about Burrow after 14 NFL starts, even though he’s just 5-8-1 in those starts and he’s already survived one major knee surgery as a Cincinnati rookie.
One play showed me everything that’s good about Burrow in Cincinnati’s comeback from a 14-0 deficit against Jacksonville on Thursday night. Mike Florio and I discussed it Friday morning on his Pro Football Talk TV show on Peacock. Lo and behold, NFL Films had Burrow wired for sound in the game, and Films picked the play Florio and dissected Friday to feature on social channels over the weekend.
You may recall it: Second-and-13 for Cincinnati at the Jags’ 46, with 1:09 left in a 21-21 game. On the play, Jacksonville showed blitz, and the Jags followed through. At the snap, Jacksonville defensive coordinator Joe Cullen brought the house—a zero blitz, leaving every Cincinnati receiver single-covered with no deep help from safeties. To Burrow’s right, young receiver Trenton Irwin set a legal pick for tight end C.J. Uzomah, who broke free right near the line of scrimmage, with Burrow under heavy pressure.
A millisecond before getting plowed to the turf by Jags defensive end Dawuane Smoot, Burrow spotted Uzomah and delivered a throw to him in the right flat. Uzomah nabbed it and steamed 25 yards upfield, setting up the winning field goal as time expired.
NFL Films caught Burrow getting up, moving toward the huddle before the next play. “Can’t zero me!!” he said to no one.
On the bench, before the winning kick, Burrow was pumped. “Put it in my hands!” he said. “Put it in my hands. It’s over!”
“Just put it in my hands. It’s over.”
Joe Burrow was THAT confident at the end of TNF 🥶️ (via @NFLFilms) pic.twitter.com/5uTRn6x5tN
— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2021
They did, and it was over. The Bengals have some protection issues, and they don’t always run it like a playoff contender should. But they’ve got a quarterback. Burrow (25 for 32, 348 yards, two TDs, no picks, 132.8 rating Thursday night) is the right man at the right time for a team that exits Week 4 in a three-way tie for first place at 3-1 in the AFC North. I said it at the beginning of the year: The Bengals have a Dan Fouts for the future. As long as Burrow stays upright, Cincinnati is going to win more games than you’d bet they would.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas. Leaving no doubt that he’s back to form after season-ending injuries last year, Prescott threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Cowboys handed the pesky Panthers their first loss of the season. It was an efficient performance against what was the league’s top defense entering Week 4.
Daniel Jones, quarterback, N.Y. Giants. Not a bad time for your first 400-yard passing game, Mr. Jones. The Giants quarterback threw for 402 yards in his team’s 27-21 overtime win over the Saints. Jones also had two touchdown passes over 50 yards: a 52-yarder to John Ross and a 54-yarder to Saquon Barkley.
Cordarrelle Patterson, receiver/running back, Atlanta. Three touchdowns for the man they call Scoredarelle wasn’t enough for the Falcons in their 34-30 loss to WFT, but it was as impressive an individual offensive performance as any on Sunday. Patterson had five catches for 82 yards and the three scores, and also added 34 yards on six carries and a 32-yard kick return for good measure. His third touchdown of the game was easily the most impressive, fighting off cornerback Kendall Fuller for the 14-yard pass from quarterback Matt Ryan.
Make that THREE touchdowns for SCOREDARRELLE PATTERSON!
📺: FOX | @ceeflashpee84 pic.twitter.com/6iOYZjp3Yy
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 3, 2021
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. Everyone was talking about Mahomes’ underhanded touchdown pass in the first quarter of KC’s 42-30 win over Philadelphia, but his game was much more than that. Mahomes finished with five touchdown passes—including three to Tyreek Hill—as the Chiefs made a statement following their mini two-game losing streak.
Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Dallas. Has any defensive player had a better first four games than Diggs? The Cowboys cornerback picked off two Sam Darnold passes on Sunday, and has had an interception in each game this season. Diggs is the first player in Cowboys history to record an interception in each of the first four games, and he’s just 24 years old. His five interceptions on the season leads the league. Diggs did miss the fourth quarter with some back tightness, which McCarthy said was bothering him after taking a cleat to the back just before halftime.
DeAndre Carter, kick-returner, Washington. Carter, with his eighth team in seven years, is a 5-9 whippet who made one of the year’s best special teams plays. He returned the second-half kickoff 101 yards for a sprinting score, giving WFT the lead.
🗣 HEY MR. CARTER
🗣 TELL US WHERE YOU BEEN
📺 » FOX | #WASvsATL pic.twitter.com/ki072pr8FB
— Washington Football Team (@WashingtonNFL) October 3, 2021
Joe Judge, head coach, N.Y. Giants. Things were quickly heading in the wrong direction for Judge’s Giants, but beating the Saints in overtime for their first win of the season could be a turning point. If nothing else, Judge has arguably the team’s best player believing. “We have a special group,” running back Saquon Barkley said after the game. “I say it every week and it’s not really easy to believe me after a loss. But I think that locker room is starting to believe in each other and see what we have.”
Andy Reid, head coach, Kansas City. A health scare after last Sunday’s loss and a return to his old team—quite the challenging week for Reid. Fittingly in Philadelphia where he coached for 14 seasons, Reid became the first coach in NFL history to win 100 games with two teams when his Chiefs knocked off the Eagles on Sunday. After the game, Patrick Mahomes said he thinks when people look back at Reid’s career, “You’ll think of him as a Kansas City Chief.”
“It’s getting real old.”
—49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, on getting injured again during San Francisco’s loss to Seattle on Sunday. Garoppolo left the game with a calf issue and hopes to only miss a couple weeks. Garoppolo has missed 23 games since 2018 due to injury.
“I said my butt cheek when I did the flip, not my back. I never said anything about my back.”
—Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, on what body part he landed when he somersaulted into the end zone in Week 2. Jackson missed practice time this week with a back issue.
“Thank you Lord.”
—Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians, on what he was thinking when Nick Folk’s 56-yard field-goal try for New England clanged off the left upright late in Tampa’s 19-17 win Sunday night.
“I might be the only one, but I feel very comfortable in saying, Cam Newton could be doing a better job than what Mac is doing currently.”
—Hall of Fame tight end and Fox NFL analyst Shannon Sharpe, with a wow statement during the Bucs-Patriots game Sunday night.
“You couldn’t cut the head off. They kept coming.”
—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, on the plucky Panthers hanging in on the road Sunday in a 36-28 Cowboys victory.
“In the end, the best thing about ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ is that it makes you think about ‘The Sopranos,’ but that’s also the worst thing about it.”
—Manohla Dargis, with a lukewarm review of the new Sopranos prequel movie in the New York Times.
This stat made the rounds on Sunday afternoon after San Francisco’s first touchdown against the Seattle, and it is a wow:
The 49ers have scored 12 touchdowns this season. Twelve different #49ers have scored touchdowns. That is Ross Dwelley’s first. And the 49ers take a lead.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) October 3, 2021
Let’s run ’em down:
1. WR Trent Sherfield, 5-yard reception (Week 1, first quarter, against Lions)
2. RB Elijah Mitchell, 38-yard run (Week 1, second quarter, against Lions)
3. RB JaMycal Hasty, 3-yard run (Week 1, second quarter, against Lions)
4. LB Dre Greenlaw, 39-yard interception return (Week 1, second quarter, against Lions)
5. WR Deebo Samuel, 79-yard reception (Week 1, third quarter, against Lions)
6. WR Jauan Jennings, 11-yard reception (Week 2, second quarter, against Eagles)
7. QB Jimmy Garoppolo, 1-yard run (Week 2, fourth quarter, against Eagles)
8. QB Trey Lance, 1-yard run (Week 3, second quarter, against Packers)
9. WR Brandon Aiyuk, 8-yard reception (Week 3, third quarter, against Packers)
10. RB Trey Sermon, 1-yard run (Week 3, fourth quarter, against Packers)
11. FB Kyle Juszczyk, 12-yard reception (Week 3, fourth quarter, against Packers)
12. TE Ross Dwelley, 21-yard reception (Week 4, first quarter, against Seahawks)
Deebo Samuel’s 76-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter Sunday snapped the sharing streak. What a run.
So you think Josh Gordon is a good candidate to make beautiful music with Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Maybe he will, but history says it will be difficult. This history, since being drafted by the Browns in 2012:
June 2013: Suspended for the first two games of the NFL season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
July 2014: Arrested for driving while impaired in Raleigh, N.C.
August 2014: Suspended for the 2014 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. This was later reduced to 10 games.
December 2014: Suspended by the Browns for the final game of the season for violating team rules.
February 2015: Suspended for the 2015 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
March 2016: Gordon’s application to re-enter the NFL was denied after reports that he failed a drug test.
July 2016: The NFL reinstates Gordon, but suspends him for the first four games of 2016.
September 2016: A week away from being able to play again, Gordon enters an in-patient rehab program, a decision he said he hopes “will enable me to gain full control of my life.”
March 2017: Denied reinstatement to the NFL. Finally let back in November, Gordon played the last month of the year for Cleveland. Caught 18 balls in five games.
September 2018: After playing one game, the Browns benched Gordon for “violating the team’s trust,” then traded him to New England.
December 2018: With New England on it way to a sixth Super Bowl win, Gordon left the team, he said, to focus on his mental health. League later said he’d been banned indefinitely for violating terms of his reinstatement.
October 2019: After reinstatement, Gordon played six games for New England, got hurt, was placed on IR, was waived, and claimed by Seattle.
December 2019: Suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
September 2020: Signed as a free agent with Seattle. Conditionally reinstated by the NFL in December, and added to Seattle’s active roster on Dec. 20. On Dec. 21, the NFL said he violated terms of his reinstatement, banning him from playing.
January 2021: Suspended indefinitely for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
September 2021: Reinstated by the NFL. Signed to Kansas City’s practice squad last Tuesday.
Totals: Six NFL suspensions, two team suspensions, twice announcing he was leaving teams for personal reasons.
At some point, does anyone say, Why does the NFL keep giving Josh Gordon chances?
Gordon has played 63 games. He has been suspended for a total of 63 games.
His last of 247 career catches, in December 2019, shows why teams refuse to fall out of love with him. With Seattle backed up, second-and-18, Russell Wilson threw deep down the right side for the tall and speedy Gordon. Gain of 58.
Very late to the party on this one, but in case you have not seen it: Jared Goff is 0-11 in starts when Sean McVay is not his head coach.
Three things about the trip from New York to Boston on Saturday, mid-day:
• The new train station in Manhattan is a thing of beauty. I took a short video to illustrate:
NEW YORK CITY-Train travel in and out of Manhattan has become absolutely pleasant. pic.twitter.com/h57Xksnt6Y
— Peter King (@peter_king) October 2, 2021
• On the train to Boston, listening to a mom and a daughter from somewhere down south on their first train trip into New England, visiting colleges for the daughter, a high school senior. They were excited about the journey, looking forward to seeing a few colleges in the Boston area, and struck up a conversation with a seat-mate at their four-seat table. When you travel New York to Boston on the train, the first stop in Connecticut is Stamford. The mom wondered, “This is not where the college is, is it?” No, the seat-mate said; Stanford is in California.
• I highly recommend the margherita pizza at Eataly in the Back Bay. Don’t mean to be boring, but that is some great thin crust.
NFL: We have this incredible once in a lifetime game for SNF with Brady back in NE to play against Pats…nothing could ruin it
NFL Officials: Hold My Beer
Just stay out the way stripes
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 4, 2021
The ubiquitous Rovell reporting on Sunday’s best sideshow.
I really have watched Ben Roethlisberger play quarterback enough for one lifetime. He looks like Tevye’s horse at this point.
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) October 3, 2021
Pierce is a writer at Esquire, and apparently a scholar of the musical Fiddler On The Roof.
I’m betting Ben Simmons isn’t vaccinated; he definitely wouldn’t take the shot.
— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) October 1, 2021
Vecsey is a veteran NBA scribe.
First, my apology for not addressing the missed delay-of-game call in Baltimore-Detroit last week, when the clock expired, at least a full second ran, and no flag was thrown. It was a huge call that would have resulted in a 71-yard field-goal try instead of the 66-yarder Justin Tucker made. Bad miss by the officiating crew in Detroit, and there’s no excuse for me missing it. Woke up Monday morning and saw the outcry and said, “Well, I blew that one.”
As always, you can reach me at [email protected], or on Twitter @peter_king.
About the missed delay-of-game call I. From Ken McManus of Kokomo, Ind.: “Regarding the antiquated technique of expecting back judges to watch the play clock and then shifting their glances to whether the ball has been snapped in time. Since NFL officials wear headsets now anyway, why not equip the back judge with a device that’s synchronized to the play clock and beeps 4-3-2-1 with one pitch of tone and zero with a different pitch? In baseball, first base umpires use two senses on ground balls — watching the foot of the batter on the bag and hearing the clap of the ball in the first baseman’s mitt. This is the 21st century. Surely the technology exists.”
About the missed delay-of-game call II. From Randy Schorfheide, of New Baden, Ill.: “With regard to the apparent missed delay-of-game call that preceded Justin Tucker’s game-winning and record-setting 66-yard field goal against the Lions, why can’t the NFL implement a system that when the play clock hits zero, red lights outlining the play clock box light up and a buzzer sounds?
Both are excellent ideas. Thanks for suggesting them. I know the NFL will say that such fixes would address only a few plays a year. What I would say is that one of said plays essentially determined the outcome of one of the NFL’s 272 regular-season games—Justin Tucker’s 66-yard field goal try would not have been good from 71 yards, which would have been the distance with a delay-of-game call—and could be the difference between the Ravens making the postseason and not. Who knows?
A bit of Brady perspective. From Robert Daicy, of Maine: “I think when it comes to Patriots fans, a lot of us have lost perspective (not all, mind you). I’m approaching 40, been a Mainer my whole life, and have been watching the NFL since I was a child. When Tom Brady left, of course I was heartbroken, but I also understood. We simply didn’t have the ability to surround him with weapons, we weren’t offering him the kind of deal he wanted in terms of years, and there is one other thing I think people overlook: How much was Brady looking for a new challenge? There are grown adults now who are in college (or out of college even) who have never seen the Patriots have a losing season until last year. The man dedicated 20 years of his life to our organization and brought us to heights no one thought possible.”
Good to hear that from a New Englander. Some of your neighbors might need to read it.
A bit more perspective, regarding the NFL Films story on me writing a letter to my father. From Levi Petree: “I’ve often wondered what it would take for me to finally write in and convey my appreciation for your column. Your ‘Letter to Dad’ piece on NFL Films greatly moved me and, unbeknownst to you, spoke to me at a most impactful time. My father is currently in the ICU and we’re not sure what’s going to happen. Like you, my father instilled in me a love for football, newspapers, and the sound of an AM play by play broadcast. These past few days, it’s been painful to wonder whether he’ll see my own children grow up, whether we’ll take in a game together again, or whether we’ll just have a chance to sit in each other’s company. The video you shared was a much-needed reminder that, though the day may come where he’s no longer physically here, the conversation will never end.”
Beautiful sentiment, Levi. A lot of people have written to me or sent me texts talking about how the story talked to them. I wrote the letter, but it needed the genius of Todd Schmidt and his NFL Films crew to come to life. I am appreciative to him and his crew—as are family members who miss my Dad to this day.
Greg would like it to be Football Afternoon in America. From Greg Narvid of High Point, N.C. “Is it time to re-think Football MORNING in America? I’m wondering because after watching one of the best games and clutch performances of the year by the Packers—on NBC, no less—I was eager to read your comments in FMIA. There weren’t any, though. No awards for Aaron Rodgers or Mason Crosby or Matt LaFleur, or even Trenton Cannon, whose kickoff return turned the game around for the Niners. The only mention of the game was a single quote from Rodgers. I understand that this isn’t necessarily your fault. You have a deadline. That’s my point. Does FMIA really have to be there first thing in the morning?”
Thanks for writing, Greg. I hear you. I ended up writing 12,300 words last week, which is a lot of words. I got approximately 100 emails like yours, unhappy that I hadn’t covered other things. As I say to people a lot: I’m one person, and when there are 10 to 12 games in a week that deserve discussion, unfortunately, I am going to miss some. It happens every week. If I did make it Football Afternoon in America, and I covered everything worth covering, and I wrote 18,000 words a week, I believe I’d either be retired or dead, because sprinting through that much copy in a couple of days is not sustainable. Thanks for reading.
Great note, Steve. From Steve, of Orlando: “When Tom Dempsey kicked his then-record-setting 63-yard field goal, it was against the Lions, and it resulted in a 19-17 final score. When Justin Tucker kicked his 66-yard field goal, it was against the Lions, and it resulted in a 19-17 final score.”
Are you sure you don’t write a column that competes with mine? That is such a cool note.
Unhappy about my New England emphasis. From Corey Livermore, of Henderson, Nev.: “You typed 2,471 words related to a trip you took through New England. Assuming your column is roughly 10,000 words, you spent 25% of it talking about New England. That isn’t all that bad, except you missed talking about Seattle not scoring a point in the second half, the officiating in the Sunday Night game (and at that, you barely talked about that game), the Raiders overtime win, or the Cardinals hitting 3-0. Twenty-five percent of your column on fluff surrounding the area where the game NEXT WEEK will be played. Nice job.”
I sort of liked taking the temperatures of people throughout New England, but not everyone did. I hear you Corey, but I think the different angle in the only column I write all week was worth it.
He liked the ER nurse from Providence who isn’t overwrought with Brady leaving. From Dan Hoard (Bengals play-by-play voice), of Cincinnati: “ ‘Do all good things come to an end? I work in the ER. I can tell you they do.’ ” Holy crap, what a quote! And what a great idea for this week’s column. I lived in Charlestown (R.I.) for five years when I was broadcasting Pawtucket Red Sox games. The Patriots fans you talked to sounded like everybody I encountered at a Dunkin’ Donuts along the way.”
Dan, great to hear from you. Did you know Joe Burrow is Dan Fouts reincarnated?
1. I think the week cannot end without acknowledging the day of Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke. A year ago, he was living in the home of his sister and brother-in-law in suburban Atlanta, without much hope that he’d ever get another legit chance to play in the NFL. On Sunday, in Atlanta, Heinicke threw two touchdowns passes in the final four minutes to lift WFT to a 34-30 win over the Falcons. And after the game, he had to rein in his emotions while talking to Laura Okmin on FOX in the on-field interview. “I’m trying not to get emotional,” said Heinicke, who was clearly emotional. “[My sister and brother-in-law] put up with a lot with me living at their home. For this to happen at the end here, and for them to be here to experience it, it’s really special.” Such a great moment for a guy who is carving out a starting niche in Washington.
2. I think Sam Darnold is better than I thought he’d be in Carolina. Despite the loss in Dallas, he’s a commanding presence and playing with confidence. He could make the decision of owners David Tepper and coach Matt Rhule on the 2022 quarterback a difficult one.
3. I think I have three comments about the Cowboys:
a. Dak Prescott has never played better. Four TDs/zero picks against the top defense in the league after three games? He is just terrific. Never thought he’d look this good coming off such a mega-injury.
b. One sartorial point: That sweatshirt/jacket Mike McCarthy wore on the sidelines Sunday was one of the ugliest garments a coach has worn in NFL history. Nothing personal, but yikes.
Mike McCarthy is dressed as delicious sprinkles pic.twitter.com/vb2IiaBg5M
— ParakHEAT Cortes (@Ryan_Cortes) October 3, 2021
c. Is there some rule that, daily, some Dallas exec or coach or player, pumps offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for an NFL head-coaching job? Lord, I’ve never seen or heard such a collective push in September for a guy to get a head-coaching job.
4. I think the more I watch the Minnesota passing game, the more I appreciate the almost innate sense of both Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen to get open in tight spaces, particularly in the red zone, when inches can be so huge. Case in point: In the first quarter against Cleveland, on third-and-goal from the Browns’ 12-yard line, Jefferson ran a seam route up the right side, cornerback Denzel Ward to his right, safety Johnny Johnson to his left. Both really good players. Jefferson walled himself off from Ward, Kirk Cousins zipped a line drive exactly between the two defenders, Johnson was a half-second late to tip the ball away. Bill Bradley, the great New York Knick of the sixties, used to talk about having a sense of where you are—in fact, he wrote a book with that title—and this was such a perfect example of how Jefferson knows where he is, knows how to make himself open in the smallest spaces. Thielen’s a pro at that too.
5. I think the one lesson I’d harp on today with Jalen Hurts if I were Eagles coach Nick Sirianni is, Secure the ball. Hurts has played too much football, and at a high level, to be carrying it like a loaf of bread, the way he did late in the second quarter when it got swatted away by the Eagles. That cannot happen.
6. I think this is another example of how the people who put the NFL schedule together, led by Howard Katz, do not miss a trick. In the first four weeks of the season, the number one crew of each partner network got to see the new stadium jewel in Los Angeles, SoFi Stadium. Week 1: NBC had Bears-Rams on Sunday night. Week 2: CBS had Cowboys-Chargers as the national doubleheader game. Week 3: FOX had Bucs-Rams as the national doubleheader game. Week 4: ESPN has Raiders-Chargers tonight on “Monday Night Football.” That’s smart programming, four straight weeks of a national audience seeing what the NFL wants you to see—football’s back in Los Angeles in the newest jewel of a stadium.
7. I think kudos are in order for Andy Reid, the first coach in history to win 100 games for two teams. Ironic that he won his 100th with Kansas City on Sunday afternoon in the city where he won his first 140 as a coach, Philadelphia. After his post-game health scare last week, nothing is guaranteed about career longevity. But I’ll guarantee you that he wants to hang around as long as he can to coach Patrick Mahomes, especially now that Mahomes is signed through 2031.
8. I think many of you wonder about Richard Sherman’s availability to come off the street and play Sunday night for Tampa Bay, his new team, after the incident with relatives in July, a wildly out-of-character series of threats, resisting arrest and alleged drunken abuse. The league has the matter under investigation, and in such cases, players are usually able to play while events are investigated and adjudicated. Pretty safe to say Sherman would not have signed with Tampa if Tom Brady wasn’t there—and didn’t appeal to him to join the team. “I always thought it would be really cool to play together if we ever got the opportunity,” said Sherman.
9. I think of all the interesting roster notes you could have conjured up two months ago—Sherman on the Bucs, Josh Gordon on Kansas City, the Giants adding every warm-bodied available offensive lineman they can find—none is as downright weird as Le’Veon Bell, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman all being on the Ravens’ 53-man roster in Week 4.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Sad Journalism Passage of the Week: Julie Bosman and Lauren Leatherby of the New York Times on the death toll from Covid-19 passing 700,000.
An overwhelming majority of Americans who have died in recent months, a period in which the country has offered broad access to shots, were unvaccinated. The United States has had one of the highest recent death rates of any country with an ample supply of vaccines.
. . . Other families have expressed sorrow mixed with profound remorse that their dead relative was not vaccinated.
The Rev. Joy Baumgartner, a minister in Beloit, Wis., presided over a recent funeral that she described as “the saddest, most grief-stricken I have ever experienced.” The woman who died of Covid-19 was a 64-year-old church member, talented baker and frequent volunteer during group dinners on Thanksgiving. Her adult children had advised her not to receive a shot.
When they arrived at the church, Ms. Baumgartner said, the woman’s children were full of regret, despairing over their actions and searching for a rationale. “They condemned themselves,” she recalled.
“I had to hold these people in my arms in front of this urn of ashes, asking God to help them through this. It was a never-ending week of excruciating pain.”
b. There’s nothing more to say, really.
c. Important Sports Story of the Week: Meg Linehan of The Athletic, with the story that blew up women’s professional soccer in the United States, and rightfully so.
d. Linehan documented the slimy behavior of a veteran coach, Paul Riley, and his possessive, mind-bending and ruinous treatment of midfielder Sinead Farrelly:
In Philadelphia, during her rookie season, Riley gave her special attention and gradually lowered the boundaries between player and coach. When he took the team out drinking, he’d sit next to her at the bar. He’d hand her cash to buy shots. He’d tell her she was beautiful, that the guys who tried to buy her drinks weren’t good enough for her. On those nights, he asked her probing personal questions, and he really seemed to care. She shared information about her past relationships, how she got along with her parents, and his responses shored up her confidence, “making me feel like I was really rare and special,” Farrelly said.
. . . Early during her first season in Philadelphia, Farrelly accepted a call-up to the U.S. women’s national team. Riley told her when she returned to the Independence that she had been disloyal to her actual team and to him. She deserved to be on the national team, Riley said, but only if he was coaching it. A couple of weeks later, when the U.S. team’s coaching staff called again, she turned them down — and gave up the final spot on the 2011 World Cup roster.
At the end of that season, after the Independence lost the WPS championship, and following hours out drinking and commiserating over the loss as a team, Farrelly said she felt that Riley, who at the time was 47 years old and married, coerced her into his hotel room and they had sex.
After WPS folded in early 2012, most of the Independence — including Farrelly — went to play for Riley on a Long Island semi-pro team, where the alleged sexual coercion continued, Farrelly said. She had sex with him and a teammate on one occasion, she said, also following a night of excessive drinking. After each encounter, she tried to pretend it had never happened, and repeated Riley’s mantra, told to her after their first night of sex, that they would be “taking this to their graves.”
After that season, Farrelly joined FC Kansas City in the newly formed National Women’s Soccer League, but Riley haunted her mentally and emotionally. When he became the coach of the Thorns in December 2013, Farrelly knew he would trade for her. She could feel it coming.
e. It came. These are the kinds of stories that must be told. The women’s pro league postponed all games over the weekend after this story was posted, and other ugly details of men harassing female players surfaced, and the commissioner was dismissed. Reporting like this is so crucial. Kudos to Linehan for writing it, and to Farrelly for telling her truth.
f. Story of the Week: Steve Politi of NJ.com, reporting from Mexico, on a New Jersey basketball player who was accused of murdering a woman, stunning those who knew him.
g. As Politi writes, there’s a very good chance the delusional, basketball-marginal Logan Kelley was out to kill a different woman than Isis Montoya in a sketchy part of Tijuana, Mexico. Politi discovers that Kelley actually wanted to kill a woman his pseudonym’ed “Isabella.” Some great reporting here by Politi, particularly when he found a woman in New Jersey, Kendall Sellinger, who’d previously been the focus of a Logan Kelley obsession. No matter what Sellinger did, she couldn’t prevent Kelley from seeing her. Politi, in first-person, writes:
I had come to tell [Sellinger] about what I had found in Tijuana, and when she hears the story of Isabella, she sobs. Like the woman in Mexico that she has never met, she wonders if she also escaped her death. The similarities are striking. Kelley, in both cases, had become obsessed with a woman and convinced that the relationship was far deeper than it really was. This fits into a broader pattern with his behavior.
Kelley believed he had a future as an NBA player when he was just a walk-on at Rutgers, was convinced he would become a rap star while producing his own CDs, and even once told Sellinger that he would be governor of New Jersey someday.
“This is a classic example of what we would typically refer to as a delusional disorder,” said Samantha Farris, an assistant psychology professor at Rutgers.
Her long ordeal with Kelley left Sellinger with deep emotional scars. She quit her job and left school for a semester, and when she tried to protect herself and hold Kelley accountable for what he did, she found the legal system unhelpful and unresponsive.
h. College Football Story of the Week: Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, embedded for a week with the upstart Cincinnati Bearcats. The decision to dive deep into the Bearcat program certainly looks good after Saturday’s beatdown of Notre Dame in South Bend.
i. Thamel’s so good at telling you things you didn’t know about the inner game. As he writes here, before UC’s September game at Indiana, he learned about the inside knowledge of the Cincinnati coaching staff, and about the precociousness of UC quarterback Desmond Ridder:
Indiana’s reputation as a prolific sign-stealing operation — a completely legal competitive advantage — forced the Bearcats to abandon their typical no-huddle offense and attempt to counter Indiana’s thievery by huddling. (The Bearcats identified the Hoosier sign-stealer and joked about putting the low-level staffer’s mug shot on a cardboard sideline sign with the caption: “I STEAL SIGNS.”)
These days, Ridder has a coach’s mastery of the offense. By the end of his sophomore year, he’d developed enough confidence in his arm to throw hole shots – the sweet spot between safeties in a deep zone – against Memphis’ Cover 2. In a quarterback meeting earlier in the week, Ridder’s rat-a-tat cadence as he chats play options with [passing game coordinator Gino] Guidugli is indicative of his mastery.
“We’ll go Quad-Straight-Hawaii-Warm-Tempo-Coffee”
“We’ll go Fives-Down-Grease-Chair-Plane-Maine”
“We’ll go Solo-Cold-Straight-Gronk-Hot-Q-Rock-Post”
j. Obit of the Week: Dale Anderson of the Buffalo News on the amazing and unknown life of a university professor and prison reformer in Buffalo, Teresa Miller.
k. Too often we miss people like Teresa Miller, who died the way she lived—without fanfare. Her death was not noted for nearly a month. In her life, she rose to a provost job at the University at Buffalo, starting a program called DIFCON (Difficult Conversations) to encourage people of all races to discuss their racial feelings. What a life: As a district judge’s clerk in Miami, she helped extradite Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. She was a masters level springboard and tower diver. She taught sailing at Buffalo. She came to her justice work because of family: Her great-great-uncle defended Rosa Parks. As Anderson wrote, she became fascinated with the Attica State Prison in upstate New York:
Ms. Miller led students on dozens of visits to Attica Correctional Facility and was a volunteer adviser to the Attica Lifers Group, inmates serving life sentences. She produced short documentary films, “Encountering Attica” and “Attica, The Bars That Bind Us,” which was shown at a prison film festival in England.
Beginning in 2015, she arranged for singers from the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown to come to Attica annually to perform opera.
l. I just think we need to celebrate people like Teresa Miller.
m. Pro Football Story of the Week: Bob McGinn of Go Long (Tyler Dunne’s Substack site) with a vivid series about Brett Favre’s life and times.
n. Normally I would say two things about such a piece: There’s not a lot you can tell me about Favre that I don’t know. And, Favre’s old news. But this has so much stuff I didn’t know and hadn’t read, including about his first lousy NFL season in Atlanta, when he was buried by coach Jerry Glanville and deemed a misfit for the offense by coordinator June Jones. And, even though GM Ken Herock tried to get Glanville to lighten up on Favre, it never worked, and he was traded to Green Bay in a fairly daring move by GM Ron Wolf the next year.
o. McGinn’s Packer history is vivid and important here too. McGinn writes this about the end of Favre’s rookie year in Atlanta and the trade to Green Bay:
On Dec. 7, the day before a game against the Rams on the West Coast, the Falcons were conducting a walkthrough at empty Anaheim Stadium.
“I can still hear Jerry,” Herock said. “’Hey, ‘Mississippi,’ let’s see how strong your arm is.’ Brett’s on the sideline. He throws the ball and it hits the press box up there. Nobody else could come close. Jerry goes, ‘Mississippi,’ that’s about the only thing you’ll hit.’ They treated him like the clown of the team. What it amounted to is, I’m going to show Ken Herock that he doesn’t know what the f— he’s doing.”
After the Falcons were eliminated at Washington in the NFC divisional round, four men met to discuss Favre: Herock, Glanville, Jones and Taylor Smith, the executive president and son of the owner.
“Jerry says, ‘This guy can’t play,’” Herock remembered. “June says, ‘Well, he doesn’t fit what we’re doing in this (Red Gun) system.’ They’re telling me all these negative things. I didn’t see anything that I could defend him in any way. I saw what was going on in practice. I say to myself, ‘You could be wrong.’ So I conceded when they said this guy’s gotta go.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll try to trade him.”
. . . Herock grew up outside Pittsburgh. He was 14 in 1955 when the Steelers released quarterback Johnny Unitas, their ninth-round draft choice that year, late in training camp. Within a few years Unitas was in the midst of his all-time career with the Baltimore Colts.
“Johnny Unitas was my worst nightmare,” said Herock. “I didn’t ever want Johnny Unitas to happen to me, and it did. I gave up on Brett Favre.”
With a trade agreement in place but nothing official, Wolf appeared before the Packers’ seven-man executive committee to explain the trade. Bob Harlan, the team’s second-year president who hired Wolf, accompanied him.
“I told them he was going to wear No. 4 and be like Lou Gehrig,” Wolf remembered.
p. NFL Quiz: Who did the Falcons pick with the first-round pick obtained for Favre? (Answer in 10 x, below.)
q. Things that surprised me in baseball, 2021 (no particular order): Mike Zunino, 33 homers . . . Five batters hit over .310 . . . Every game was dominated by the infield shift . . . No one had 200 hits . . . Nats traded Trea Turner . . . I knew Marcus Semien was good, but 45 homers, 102 RBI, 115 runs? That’s 22 homers, 44 RBI and 22 runs more than Mookie Betts produced in LA . . . Five pitchers won 15 games or more. Five! . . . Adam Wainwright, at 40, re-became a staff ace for the Cards . . . The Giants won more games than any team, and no one east of Vallejo can name three players on that team . . . The Mariners got relevant again . . . The Rays winning in triple-digits after the devastating early removal of Blake Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series . . . And, well, not so much a surprise, but just a nice thing: Atlanta pitcher Jacob Webb beaned Mets outfield Kevin Pillar in May. Looked bad, and many fastballs to the helmet do, but Pillar was okay. On Friday in Atlanta, they faced off for the first time since then. Before the first pitch of the at-bat, Pillar tipped his cap to Webb, and Webb tipped his cap to Pillar. That’s the kind of stuff I’m here for.
r. Baseball Quiz: Who’s the only 20-game winning pitcher in 2021? (Answer in 10 y, below.)
s. How great is this Mariners moment from their eighth-inning rally to beat the Angels Saturday night:
“HEY NOW! HEY NOW! HEY NOW!” pic.twitter.com/w05djv7yON
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) October 3, 2021
t. Way to go, Dave Sims.
u. I am a baseball nerd, so humor me on the American League playoff situation with one day left, 44 years apart. In 1967, only one team went to the playoffs—the A.L. champ, which, of course, went to the World Series. In 2021, five teams go to the playoffs—three division winners plus two Wild Cards. On the last morning of the two regular seasons:
• 1967, with one team advancing: Boston 91-70, Minnesota 91-70, Detroit 90-70, Chicago 89-72
• 2021, with two teams advancing via the Wild Card: Boston 91-70, New York 91-70, Toronto 90-71, Seattle 90-71.
v. 1967: Boston wins, Detroit splits a doubleheader, Chicago loses; Red Sox advance to World Series. 2021: Boston wins, New York wins, Toronto/Seattle results inconsequential; AL Wild-Card Game on Tuesday: Yankees at Red Sox, loser heads home.
w. So many good podcasts out there right now. Bill Simmons with Seth Wickersham on his Patriots book “It’s Better to be Feared,” on The Bill Simmons Podcast is great. It’s lengthy and smart and never boring. The last couple of episodes of False Idol (Religion of Sport/PRX) is a perfect end to the seven-episode series. What I love about this podcast is the host, Tim Rohan, allows the Oscar Pistorius story to be told in an unvarnished way, with no hero-worship. It’s just great journalism, and leave you thinking what a bad guy he is—and how the idolatry of him in South Africa is very much part of the reason why he got that way.
x. NFL Quiz Answer: Tony Smith, a running back who, like Favre, hailed from Southern Miss. The Falcons traded the Favre pick, 17th overall, to Dallas for the 19th pick to select Smith. Favre and Smith had something else in common: Both were buried by Jerry Glanville. After carrying the ball 87 times for a 3.8-yard average as a rookie, Smith never touched the ball from scrimmage again in an NFL game. Heck of a trade by the Falcons.
y. MLB Quiz Answer: Julio Urias of the Dodgers went 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA. (Adam Wainwright, with 17 wins, is the only other pitcher in the reliever-mad game who won more than 16.) Urias is from Mexico, 25 years old, earned $3.6 million this season. Eligible for arbitration in 2022. Scott Boras is his agent. Julio Urias will not be making $3.6 million next year.
L.A. Chargers 30, Las Vegas 25. So much going right for Vegas:
• Raiders are 3-0, and haven’t started 4-0 since 2002.
• Derek Carr and Jon Gruden are making beautiful music together. Entering October, Carr led the league with 1,203 passing yards.
• Young players, so many under fire before the season, look more than competent.
• Pass-rush, also under fire in the preseason, looks good, and a sober Maxx Crosby is disruptive on almost every play.
I could see the Raiders going into their third home (Vegas, Oakland, L.A.) and playing very well and winning. I’m picking the Chargers in the wake of what I think will be a season-changing victory in Kansas City. The Chargers know their coach is not the same old decision-maker after his two big-guts calls in the last minute at Arrowhead gave the Chargers a boost in the 30-24 win.
This should be the third in a long series of fun shootouts between two very good quarterbacks who should be in place for the next 10 years (Justin Herbert vs. Derek Carr is 1-1, composite score: Raiders 58, Chargers 56). The Chargers, I say, make one more stop than Vegas tonight.
Rarity of the week: Second straight week that all four NFC West teams play division foes.
Buffalo at Kansas City, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. Last year, in 14-point and nine-point KC wins over the Bills, Patrick Mahomes had a composite 128.0 passer rating, five TDs, no picks. Sacked twice. Here’s looking at you, Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa. Time to change the narrative in this series.
L.A. Rams at Seattle, Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX/NFL Network. Tough turnaround for the Rams, coming off Sunday’s sour performance against Arizona and now they have to travel to the land of 12,000 decibels on a short week. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson, fresh off his 100th career win on Sunday, will now start the next hundred.
Cleveland at L.A. Chargers, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS. I love this game. Represents all that the NFL has to offer that is young and so interesting. Offensive brain Kevin Stefanski, 39, at defensive brain Brandon Staley, 38. Baker Mayfield at Justin Herbert, Myles Garrett at Joey Bosa, Odell Beckham Jr., at Keenan Allen, Browns Fans West at SoFi (they’ll be there in droves).
Chicago at Las Vegas, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS. Khalil Mack Bowl. Raiders, for now, getting the last laugh.
N.Y. Jets vs. Atlanta in London, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network. Bonus football! (Sort of.) NFL returns to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after going London-dark in 2020. BTW, attention Zach Wilson Fan Club, Provo, Utah: Your guy is playing at 7:30 a.m. local time next week. Plan accordingly.
Thank God Brady Bowl’s over.
Thirty teams rejoice.
You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.