GREEN BAY, Wisc. – That passes. Let Aaron Rodgers pass. It is still there. It still has it.
I came to Green Bay wondering about Rodgers. (Stupidly, apparently.) Although he is 36 years old – six years old as Tom Brady junior and four years old Drew Brees – Rodgers had been a quarterback of 500 at the end of the McCarthy era. He pitched 28 yards less per game this year than last year, with the second lowest accuracy rate of his career, and his QBR – that advanced metric quarterback skill score invented by ESPN – was the most low of his NFL life. But the Packers were back. They were Northern NFC champions. So the numbers, well, who cares about the number when you’re 13-3.
Green Bay hadn’t won a playoff game in three years when the freezing cold soared into the low boys’ night Sunday night. Green Bay 28, Seattle 23, third and eight on the Packer line 22 yards and 2:19 left, after the Seahawks cut the first half lead by 18 points to 5, and Seattle with two timeouts left and Marvelous Mister Wilson it heats up for another miracle. “He always knows he will win,” said Pete Carroll later. “It can’t work in any other way.”
“We really didn’t want to return the ball to Russell,” Green Bay manager Matt LaFleur later told me in his office, just outside the locker room.
Well, who would do it? You don’t cover LeBron in one game with the game in play, you don’t give Trout anything good to hit late in a 1-1 game, you don’t play DB against Derrick Henry in third and short. Common sense. So this was a third and eight Rodgers needed for the conversion if the Packers wanted to win their first playoff in three years.
And of course Rodgers changed the game. Wideout In front of Adams he was supposed to perform an internal curve, LaFleur told me, but Rodgers changed the game in a double move and what was a classic fade. At the snap, Adams stopped and started, then overtook the security of Ugo Amadi, who had been momentarily confused by the double move. Rodgers threw a ball so soft and easy, 30 yards into the air, with Amadi a courtyard behind Adams. The ball was positioned so perfectly that if Adams hadn’t expected it, it would have fallen over his right shoulder and hit him in the arms.
“He had a great route ahead,” said Rodgers, “and I had a lot of space, I felt like, to put it in.”
No. No, he didn’t. Amadi was at most a step behind Adams. When you throw a 30m ball into the air on a stamp, it is special. When you do such a shot and do another third position conversion shot that was a little less demanding, and you run the clock and keep Russell Wilson eagerly grabbing the sidelines, you win. And the team won.
“I can’t wait to go back and watch the recording of that comedy,” LaFleur told me, 50 minutes after the biggest win of his life, his first win in the playoffs. “I wasn’t anticipating it. But you know Aaron. He’s been doing it for a long time. He knows.”
I was struck by the playoff weekend: the playoff teams are back to the future. This year the NFL has recorded an average of 41 percent of consecutive games in the regular season. On the split weekend (what a stupid name, “split weekend”, for the biggest weekend of the professional football season), the four winners got 57 percent. It’s not even Tennessee. The Niners had a run-pass ratio of 69-31 on Saturday on their Vikings route. “Football playoffs,” said LaFleur. “You must be able to run in January.”
So now begins Tennessee in Kansas City. Green Bay in San Francisco. Both championship games are supposed to be fun, although the Packers have work to do to turn a 29 point loss in San Francisco in November into a competitive game. Titans-Chiefs is a matchup of the two most compelling offensive forces left in the playoffs: runner Derrick Henry against passerby Patrick Mahomes. More information on those matchups in a few paragraphs and how the Giants and the Panthers and a confusing train station and Mississippi State and Josh McDaniels and Mike Leach and Key West all met for 40 hours last week and how to resolve the Rule of Rooney.
Rodgers and his awakening were key this weekend. But he also has a good partner. This year LaFleur has done a good job massaging some comedies so that they look like new to defense. And one of those comedies helped the Packers win more than anyone else in the second largest Lambeau crowd ever (78,998) would know. Return to Green Bay’s first touchdown, the 20-yard Rodgers-to-Adams TD on the game’s first disc. It was a thing of beauty.
Today in the NFL, each team has legal drawdown routes. They are called “rubbing paths”, the type of pass games that feature two receivers that run at a good speed very close to each other so that, ideally, two defenders collide or slam each other off the track. coverage. Four minutes into the game, Adams and Geronimo Allison lined up on the left, four meters away. Instantly, they ran towards each other as if it were a route. But as they converged perhaps four meters along the field, each rotated and ran along the field – they were falsifying a rubbing course and Adams, on the left, ran diagonally to the left pylon and Allison ran towards the pole. The defensive shoulders, Tre Flowers and Amadi, were momentarily distracted and, when they stood up, Adams took two steps on them.
Rodgers to Adams, touchdown. Easy as a cake. The crazy thing was, if Rodgers had waited a split second, Allison would have been more open. The two defenders of the Seahawk both followed Adams. Nobody covered Allison. You can say that Seattle ruined the cover. Okay true. But LaFleur’s job is to invent comedies that confuse D. And this absolutely did it. This is the kind of game Rodgers has to see and say, I am dealing with a guy who has next-level knowledge of the offense, just like me. “That play,” said LaFleur, “is not what we used. We just added it about a week ago, to be honest. It made sense. When you put so much of a similar game on tape that opponents can see and you decide to change it a little bit, hopefully you can take the defense. This is what you have to do today in offensive football. “
I don’t know if the Packers have it to go to San Francisco and win on Sunday, but I think they will be more competitive than they were in the November 37-8 loss against the Niners. The burgeoning LaFleur-Rodgers partnership should do it. . . as long as the Packer offensive line can protect Rodgers a tick better than last time. It was interesting to see Rodgers linger a bit in his post-game press conference, speaking with Marshawn Lynch (who scored twice for Seattle in what may be his last NFL game) and the offense and his quest changes. ‘year. And nostalgia. When you’re 36 and in the playoffs for the first time in three years, it’s natural enough to wonder if this might be the last time. Rodgers stayed on the pitch for a few minutes after the game, greeting the fans and immersing him. Fantastic moment.
“We have such a special relationship with our fans,” said Rodgers. “It’s a different connection. We don’t have an owner. We have thousands of people who have a piece of paper that is an equity certificate. But people have the feeling of being invested in what we’re doing. Being able to get out of it again that field, victorious, did not want to. I stopped in the second quarter and I was just looking around when there was a timeout on TV and they were waving towels, and at that moment I was just grateful for the opportunity, loving what I do. “
Rodgers the sentimentalist. This is not the usual Rodgers.
I doubt it’s near the end. Not close, looking like Sunday’s game. And from the sounds of it later.
Tennessee 28, Baltimore 12: who will stop Henry?
The top five precipitators of all time – Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Frank Gore, Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson – played 46 NFL playoff games combined, with only two games of 140 yards or more. Derrick Henry, who just turned 26, has played four post-season NFL games. . . is has an average of 140.3 yards running per game. Do you know what I find most interesting? Henry is almost disdainful of his achievements. Whenever asked about these unprecedented results, he will stage a diversion. I caught up with him 75 minutes after the game on Saturday night and his response was almost different.
“Dude,” he said, “I don’t care. Statistics. We have won. We have won. We have advanced. This is what interests me.”
The coolest thing about winning in Baltimore: Henry channels his inner Tebow with a classic Florida Gator jump pass for a touchdown in the middle of the third quarter. The game was surprising: a 6-8 lb 248 lb road roller that made a direct shot to the 9-yard line in Baltimore, approaching the line as if it were going to feed it, suddenly stopping at 7 and jumping to throw at Corey Davis eight meters deep in the final zone. By the way, Henry can always say that he beat (possible future Hall of Famer) Earl Thomas for a touchdown pass. . . as if he didn’t have enough to boast of such a strong performance against the best AFC team. “Definitely similar to what [Tebow] did it in college, “said Henry.” I failed to launch it a few times [in practice], so I practiced it. “Think about it: it’s not an easy pass for someone who has never been a quarterback – and Henry was asked to launch a 17-yard jump pass in the air over a Pro Bowl security.
Henry is now the most compelling single figure in the last four of the 2019 season. Weren’t we entering an era of interchangeable racing backrests, backrests that couldn’t and shouldn’t have dominated the games? Nobody said to Henry. In week 17, which needed a win to be the AFC’s sixth seed, Tennessee got a 211-yard run from Henry to win in Houston. Then the 182 and 195 yard games to beat New England and Baltimore, and Henry is now on the verge of becoming a legend. And not just in Nashville. “For the good of the team, I’m happy,” he said. “Individual goals are a little selfish for me. My goal is to win for this team. We are moving forward. This is what matters to me. “
As for the Ravens, who played stale and unstable in a surprisingly poor performance, there are questions about John Harbaugh resting seven veterans for the senseless games of Week 17, which means that Lamar Jackson and others have had 19 days off between games. It has happened in the past with mixed results; the Colts did it and had a couple of daunting house losses after long breaks; the Packers lost to the Giants in a 2011 division game after dominating the NFL during the regular season. “It’s unanswered,” said Harbaugh after the game. I’m not so sure. Baltimore is one of the most welcoming franchises in sports (not just in football) in analysis. If I were GM Eric DeCosta and Harbaugh, I would assign one of the young mathematician logicians to study if it is truly unanswered, or there is some knowledge to be gained by studying teams that have rested boys and those who played at Week 17 as usual.
Kansas City 51, Houston 31: What a weird game
“Really strange, ”said chief defender Tyrann Mathieu from Missouri after Houston scored the top 24 and Kansas City the next 41 in what was ultimately a shameful display of Texans all around. A playoff team allowed touchdowns on seven straight Chiefs units. In a divisional playoff game. The Bengali would have played the toughest KC on Sunday. “I was part of teams where you scored two and people are on the sidelines, hitting each other and getting angry. Our coordinator, coach [Steve] Spagnuolo, he said something to us when it looked ugly that it was really useful: “Don’t dwell on bad games. Don’t dwell on good plays. Dwell in the next comedy. ‘Also, we have Patrick.” Mahomes, he meant. It’s a pretty sure feeling.
This helps. . . A lot. In 20 minutes of bench in the first half, Mahomes had the ball six times and the series went: TD pass, TD pass, TD pass, TD pass (three straight to Travis Kelce) and TD run, TD run, both by Damien Williams. To say that the Houston D was a sieve would be almost a compliment. Meanwhile, Houston, who built some sort of unfortunate 24-0 lead, managed to manage only six of the 20 conversions in the third and fourth downs. The Kansas City defense holds the fort while Mahomes Mahomesed.
Now, the expectation of trying to stop the hottest race in the late NFL times, Derrick Henry of Tennessee. Not many soccer players, in any position, can be unstoppable when you know exactly what’s coming. But in the past three weeks, Houston, New England and Baltimore, all at home, have been unable to stop Henry. And the leaders had a porous defense this year, allowing 4.9 meters per run. “I’ll be in my kids’ ears all week, I can guarantee you,” said Mathieu. He is a good defensive leader, even in his first season as Chief, as Kansas City did. “It’s classic, old-fashioned football. We have to face Derrick Henry. That’s all. You have a chance, you have to face it. I watch the Patriots game last week and the Ravens game this weekend, and you can only say that they really believe they can do it. against anyone. My mentality is, and all my boys will know, there is no next week. We have to face Derrick Henry. “
Seems so easy. So start the game.
San Francisco 27, Minnesota 10: This is a bit of a D
Six pockets of San Francisco defensive linesmen on Saturday, in a game that seemed like the Vikings had never entered. Let’s examine the looters. First round pick Arik Armstead (2015) with one, first round pick DeForest Buckner (2016) with one, first round pick Solomon Thomas (2017) with one, first round pick Nick Bosa (2019) with two, and 2019 takeover (for a second round choice) Dee Ford with one. Together with the acquisition of the precious veterinarian Richard Sherman – at 31, completely recovered from Achille’s surgery, he is experiencing one of his two or three best seasons – the 49ers have built the best defensive front in football. The important season of Sherman’s fountain of youth means that one third of the field is closed for most offensive games. What the Niners have done with the line shows how each team can go around the franchise, assuming it breaks off consistently. This is a part of the difficulty here. Trent Baalke designed Armstead and Buckner; John Lynch continued the strong race by catching Thomas and Bosa and acquiring Ford. Some teams say they will rebuild the pass-rush. For five years, the Niners have shown this every spring. And now watch them: the first seed in the NFC, which hosts the conference title game for the first time in eight years.
Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins spent his fair share of time wandering around and did nothing for four quarters. The defensive front was the reason. Minnesota, with a top-five running in Dalvin Cook, had zero first down rushes. The defensive line had 23 destroyed looting, pressure or cousin strikes. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine the Niners having a big dropoff this week against the Packers. In week 12 in Santa Clara, Aaron Rodgers had a 104-yard day on a Packers Niners 37-8 route. If anything, the 49ers are healthier now, with Dee Ford returning from seven weeks of inactivity with a quad injury. Just what the Packers need: reinforcements for a front that gave them the best in November.
Three games left in an NFL season of 267 games. How games 265 and 266 align:
Tennessee (12-6, 6th suit) in Kansas City (13-4, 2nd suit)
Sunday, 3:05 pm ET, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, TV: CBS
Favorite: Chiefs of 7
The first game, on November 10 in Nashville, was supposed to be the outgoing party for the reworked and ready Patrick Mahomes after a two week break due to a sprained kneecap. But the Titans, triggered by a 68-yard TD managed by Derrick Henry (there’s that man again) in the third quarter and a one-meter TD in the fourth, beat the Chiefs late, 35-32. This was when Kansas City had a terrible defense and it seemed that Mahomes had to be Dan Fouts to go deep into the playoffs. Since then, the garments have improved on D.. . but Henry is also at the peak of his career.
The Titans have gone from a slobberknocker novelty to a very dangerous contender for the Super Bowl after their convincing victories over the three-seed Patriots and the one-seed Ravens. You can dedicate a spy or a heavy front or whatever you want, but really impressive defenses in Foxboro and Baltimore have been chewed and spit by this humble sequoia of a back. They know it is coming, but it continues to churn 5.9 yards per race (64 leads in two playoff games). It’s surprising that, here we are, predicting the titles of the conference titles, and the biggest problem is that anyone in football can stop the return leg of the team that entered the postseason deemed 12th out of 12 playoff teams.
Although Henry is a great point of view in this game, Tennessee will have to find a way to frustrate Patrick Mahomes. It is interesting to see how Tennessee reacts against multidimensional passersby. The secondary, with Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard, crafty of whipping, feeds on being put in passing situations and has made huge plays against stud quarterback in two consecutive playoff games. I think the Titans will stay in this game, they will have to make a couple of long trips in advance, keep Mahomes off the pitch and turn him over a few times. I absolutely think the Titans have a chance, but all they have to do is watch the Kansas City tape that fell 24 behind Houston to see how fast the Chiefs changed the game. Tennessee cannot afford many mistakes on Sunday in Arrowhead.
Green Bay (14-3, 2nd seed) in San Francisco (14-3, 1st seed)
Sunday, 6:40 pm ET, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California, TV: FOX
Favorite: 49ers of 7
Fifty days ago, the 8-2 Packers went west to play 9-1 in San Francisco. Both teams showed signs of falling on the ground slightly. But tonight, the Niners delivered Green Bay’s worst defeat of the season, 37-8, a game so bad and so hopeless that Eastern Kentucky colonel Tim Boyle scored Aaron Rodgers. This is what happens when the franchise’s quarterback is becoming so mistreated and seems so overwhelmed; the coach just wants to get him out of there. In that game, San Francisco showed the kind of relentless pass-rush that rested Niners showed Saturday against Minnesota. So expect coach Matt LaFleur to mix up his protections against his old friend Kyle Shanahan so that he is able to give Rodgers a fighting chance. The way I saw the San Francisco front on Saturday, Green Bay will often have to use an extra block, make sure Rodgers quickly gets rid of it and play his best game of the year, by far, to score enough to win. On the other hand, I’m curious to see if the Packers can have more pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo than they had in the first meeting. They had four bags, but only four hurries, for PFF. They will have to swarm more Garoppolo to influence his game.
The history of the fairy tales / nightmares (depending on the winner and the loser) of the 40 hours that indelibly influenced two franchises, two major football universities, an offensive Super Bowl coordinator and the main college football coach who guide the nation in swag:
Sunday 5 January
Providence, R.I .: In a hotel adjacent to T.F. Green Airport, Mississippi state athletic director John Cohen arrives to meet the 38-year-old defensive coordinator of patriots Joe Judge, who had quickly become a prominent name in the coach market. Before they spoke, Cohen spoke to Bill Belichick on the phone. Belichick was on top of the judge. The interview with Cohen-Judge went very well; both are alumni of state of Mississippi. But the judge told Cohen that before going ahead with MSU, there had been the matter of Monday’s interview with the giants in New Jersey. “I’m not sure there has ever been a situation like this in college football: Starkville and the SEC compared to a historic franchise in the country’s largest city,” said Cohen. “But after about two and a half hours talking to Joe, I knew he was going to be the coach of the New York Giants. It is so impressive. “Neither Cohen nor the judge would have recognized that an offer had been made, but I think it’s likely.
Monday 6 January
Providence: After a short night’s sleep, the judge boarded an Amtrak Acela train at 6:43 am for New Jersey, headed for his 11 o’clock interview with the Giants, a 20-minute journey from Newark’s Penn Station.
Manhattan: At 9:43 in the morning, the judge landed at Penn Station in New York. (Madness about East Coast train stations. New York, Newark and Baltimore train stations are all called “Penn Station.” The judge just heard “Penn Station” and got off the train. The Giants were sending him a car, and the judge went to what he thought was the designated place. No car. The judge called his retirement man. “Where are you?” The boy said, “I’m here. Where am I you?“The judge looked around and told him about 34th Street, and the representative of the Giants said,” You went down to the wrong Penn Station! “The judge pulled out the phone and picked up an Uber for East Rutherford. He was at the giants’ headquarters by 10:45. All right.” I didn’t know there were two Penn Stations, “said the judge. There are none there are two. There are three. “No problem,” he said. “I got there just in time.”
East Rutherford, N.J.: I had never heard of it before: the judge had never seen a note during a three-hour meeting with President / CEO John Mara, GM Dave Gettleman and GM assistant Kevin Abrams. “That’s correct,” said the judge. “I went to the interview with the approach that everything I was going to say came from the heart. I wasn’t trying to sell them anything. If he doesn’t like me during the interview, then it’s best to find out right away. “The judge was straight, looked the three boys in the eye, spoke of the fundamental principle of the discipline, said that he would practice at full speed to face freely and in detail how he would build a staff and a camaraderie organization. When he left around 2 to have lunch with a staff of Giants, the three Giants officials were hooked. Mara has spoken. “Wow,” he said. “This must be our boyfriend.”
Waco, Texas. At 3:00 PM, a strong candidate for the Giants’ job, Baylor’s coach Matt Rhule, began his interview with a Carolina delegation led by the aggressive owner of billionaire David Tepper. Rhule was thrilled with the prospect of interviewing the Giants on Tuesday; city boy, he used to take the subway to Madison Square Garden to live and die with the Knicks. Fate and unprecedented money were about to intervene. “The more I listened to Mr. Tepper, the more I realized that we believe in the same things when it comes to team building,” said Rhule. “I got excited. We see things the same way. “
East Rutherford, N.J.: The judge felt good about his chances with the giants. Even Mara. He was not yet offering the job, but around 4pm, before Judge left for the correct Penn Station this time, Mara pulled Judge into her office and closed the door. “I told Joe how personal this was for me,” Mara told me. “I told him,” This has been our family business since 1925. It SHOULD make this turn around. We cannot be wrong about this assumption. “Mara said the judge assured him that if chosen, he could do the job. As Mara said,” Joe is very confident, but not arrogantly. So we loved it. And honestly, we’ve had a little deadline. Joe loves the state of Mississippi and they were pressuring him to let him know. “As the judge boarded his train to Newark to return home, he knew that time was running out on his future. Within 24 hours, he was never interviewed for a coaching job in his life to be on the precipice of having his choice of offers in the SEC and NFL. The judge, privately, could have had a HOLY TEAM! moment that evening on the return journey. But he said to me, “I don’t consider the process as something extraordinary.” Well, the rest of the football world has done. Before Judge had finished with the Giants, on Tuesday he had another morning assignment: meeting co-owner Steve Tisch, flying to Providence to do due diligence with Judge. Should sign the agreement.
Tuesday 7 January
Providence: Tisch met the judge in a hotel in Providence, liked what he saw and heard and called Mara. “Wow,” said Tisch to Mara. “I was really impressed. Let’s do it. “
Carlotta: Things were happening quickly overnight. Rhule’s agent, Trace Armstrong, was about to conclude an agreement on a seven-year contract worth an estimated $ 62 million with the Panthers. Before it was official, she called Mara around 9:10 “Trace made it clear that we should match or do better,” said Mara. He said he would call Armstrong back. Mara asked the rest of the Giants’ brain confidence, and they agreed that seven years was a bridge too far. Also, they were about to hire the judge or let him walk in the state of Mississippi; realistically, they probably couldn’t have waited to talk to Rhule that day.
East Rutherford, N.J.: At 9:50 am, when Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel broke the news of Rhule to the Panthers, the contract for Judge was rapidly reuniting, negotiated by Agent Jimmy Sexton and Mara himself. The news leaked around 11:13 am of the judge’s pact with the Giants, through Adam Schefter.
Key West, Fla.: Imagining that he must be ready to proceed with his job search, Cohen left Starkville on a private plane towards dawn for Key West with a three-person delegation from the MSU. The goal: Washington State coach Mike Leach decompressed after his football season at Pullman. Lash braggart, experienced and daring and offensively exciting, was a great and irreverent option for a school that had to compete with SEC giants. Shortly after hitting the bass, Cohen’s phone rang. It was the judge who told him that he had gotten the job with the giants. Cohen was thrilled for him and thrilled for MSU, because the New York Giants coach had deep bulldog roots. “In the end,” said Cohen, “I felt that we were both where we were supposed to be.”
Foxboro, Mass. Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had a double slap in the face. Having had to leave Massachusetts for a Tuesday interview with the Panthers – and thought to be Carolina’s fallback option if the Panthers hadn’t had Rhule – McDaniels saw his Tuesday and Wednesday interviews fall apart. With the unknown Judge landing the job of head coach with a flagship franchise and with the knowledge that his boss has highly recommended Judge to Mara, McDaniels must ask himself what his place is in the Patriots hierarchy and perhaps even his future with the Patriots.
East Rutherford, N.J. A day and a half after being an unknown special team manager under Bill Belichick’s control, Joe Judge answered a call from John Mara. He was the co-owner, offering him the job to revive the New York Giants. For Mara, this was the judge’s response: “I am honored, Mr. Mara. I have enjoyed the history and tradition of the franchise. There are many franchises in the NFL, but there is only one New York Giants.”
Postscript, Friday 10 January
East Rutherford, N.J. “That was the right answer,” said Mara.
Having known Dan Rooney long before he died in 2017, I can say without hesitation that he would be ashamed of what happened to the well-meaning 17-year-old Rooney Rule. The rule dictated that every NFL team with a manager opening should interview at least one minority candidate. But the rule is a mockery of a fiction. Questo grafico è tutto ciò che devi sapere, che risale al primo anno di attuazione della Rooney Rule, ora che tutte le assunzioni per la stagione 2020 sono state fatte con i Browns d’accordo con Kevin Stefanski domenica.
Afro-americani nella gerarchia della NFL
2003: 3 allenatori, 1 GM, 0 proprietari di maggioranza
2020: 3 allenatori, 1 GM, 0 proprietari di maggioranza
Fatto: il 9,4 percento dei 1.600 giocatori della NFL, che è circa il 70 percento afro-americano, sarà guidato nel 2020 da un uomo di colore. . . lo stesso di 17 anni fa con l’adozione di questo presunto punto di riferimento della nuova lega.
Parliamo di pratiche di assunzione, 2020. Ci sono stati cinque cambi di head coaching e molti altri cambiamenti di coordinatore dalla fine della stagione regolare. Ron Rivera, che è ispanico, è stato licenziato da Carolina e assunto da Washington. Altre quattro assunzioni di allenatori finora. Tutto bianco. Dodici assunzioni di coordinatori in campionato dalla fine della stagione, 11 bianche.
Il sistema è rotto, ovviamente. Il proprietario influente John Mara dei Giganti mi ha detto venerdì: “Stiamo ovviamente usando la regola di Rooney per i candidati allenatori, ma penso che dovremmo usare la regola per le posizioni feeder, specialmente sul lato offensivo della palla perché ecco da dove vengono così tanti allenatori. A dicembre abbiamo discusso con il comitato sulla diversità sul posto di lavoro di alimentare ulteriormente la pipeline. Posso dirti: questa è una vera preoccupazione per il commissario e la lega. “
Non dubito che Mara creda che qualcosa debba essere fatto. Dubito che i 32 proprietari bianchi faranno l’intervento chirurgico importante che è necessario sulla regola. I miei consigli:
Aumenta le interviste con i candidati alle minoranze obbligatorie da una a due e fai incontrare i proprietari a ciascun candidato di minoranza. Trova un modo per aumentare il pool di intervistati. Perché la maggior parte delle interviste deve provenire da Eric Bieniemy e Jim Caldwell e dai soliti nomi? Nessuno ha visto arrivare Joe Judge. Una settimana fa, il 90 percento dei tifosi moderatamente seri non aveva mai sentito parlare di Joe Judge: non l’avevo mai incontrato né parlato con lui. Quindi, da parte afroamericana, chi sono quei candidati emergenti? Sentiamo l’allenatore del cornerback di Rams Aubrey Pleasant, il coordinatore offensivo di Tampa Byron Leftwich, l’allenatore di Niners all’interno del coach DeMeco Ryans, l’allenatore dei Ravens Bobby Engram (guarda la produzione dei suoi ragazzi quest’anno), l’allenatore della sicurezza Rams Ejiro Evero. Trova un modo per imporre un modo in cui almeno una delle interviste di minoranza sia di un allenatore di posizione anziché di un coordinatore, o di un pool di allenatori che hanno avuto, diciamo, un’intervista di capo allenatore o meno nel loro tempo in campionato . Perché i proprietari nella stanza? Perché i proprietari alla fine sono quelli che devono essere il cambiamento.
Mandare in minoranza una delle tre posizioni della pipeline su ogni nuovo personale di coaching. Washington si è alzato presto, assumendo Ron Rivera come capo allenatore due giorni dopo la stagione regolare. Assunse Scott Turner, Jack Del Rio e Nate Kaczor come coordinatori offensivi, difensivi e delle squadre speciali, poi Ken Zampese come allenatore dei quarterback e Luke Del Rio come allenatore offensivo del controllo di qualità. Cinque uomini bianchi. Ma in particolare, i tre lavori offensivi sono posizioni importanti nella pipeline: coordinatore, coach del QB e controllo offensivo della qualità. My rule: Mandate that one of those three on every new staff be a minority hire. If you want to get serious about increasing opportunity, draw up rules. “Super provocative,” one prominent agent called this idea. Desperate times require such things.
Expand the Rooney Rule to coordinator positions. Often, coordinators are long-planned quick-hit hires by new coaches. So, interrupt the oft slam-dunk process. Expose a minority candidate to the interview process. “So much of this is about introducing young coaches a head coach or owner wouldn’t know to a new group of influencers,” one club president told me last week. Might not lead to many jobs, but it would lead to decision-makers meeting coaches they don’t know.
Make January a dark period for coaching interviews and hires. New rule: No coaching interviews till 9 a.m. on the Monday after the Super Bowl; violators face a loss of a draft choice. The insanity of allowing assistants to interview during the playoffs came into focus Thursday. In a short week for preparation—for a road playoff game 1,900 miles away against a team with a voracious pass-rush—Minnesota offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski spent time Thursday interviewing for the Browns head-coaching job. (Imagine how head coach Mike Zimmer felt about that.) Teams in the playoffs hate the coach-interview rules; at the peak time of importance for a coaching staff, to have a key member of the coaching staff distracted by preparing for a head-coaching interview or reaching out to peers to gauge interest for positions on a potential coaching staff . . . it’s crazy. So you say it’s unfair to losing teams with coaching openings to waste a month? Well, it’s not optimal, but how much did it hurt the Colts in 2018, hiring Frank Reich on Feb. 11? Not much. Colts won 10 regular-season games and then won a playoff game. It would give minority coaches a chance to polish their presentations in advance of the interview period post-Super Bowl—and also give teams more of a chance to unearth little-known coaches of all colors.
Ramp up (with NFL funding) program for developing minority coaches. Imagine every coaching staff in the NFL having a one-year “developmental coach”—either from college football, or a prospect interested in entering coaching—on staff for a full off-season and season. Expose young coaches to the overhaul of a playbook, how the teaching period works, the grind of training camp, and the weekly work in the regular season. Maybe some coaches catch the bug.
This is not time for more words bemoaning the sad state of NFL minority hiring. This is time for action—starting with something concrete at the NFL owners meetings in Florida in March.
Offensive Players of the Week
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay. Seattle had snuck to within 28-23 with 10 minutes left in the game, and then Rodgers, needing to bleed the clock dry, converted third-and-10, third-and-eight, and third-and-nine situations into first downs in two late series. Knowing that at 36 he doesn’t know how many January chances he’ll get, Rodgers won his first playoff game in three years with the kind of deft touch passes that will land him Canton on a first ballot one day. His numbers were pedestrian (for Rodgers): 16 of 27, 243 yards, two TDs, no picks—but this was not a numbers-nerd kind of game. Rodgers made great throws when he needed, like the 32-yard conversion to Davante Adams that’s one of the prettiest throws, a dime, you’ll ever see. Rodgers sure looked like a young 36 on Sunday.
Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City. Entering Sunday’s against Houston, we had no idea which Kelce we’d see—the athletic and powerful touchdown machine, or 70 percent of Kelce, with a reported knee issue. He added a hamstring strain during the game. But Kelce was his dominant self when he played, with five, six and five-yard touchdown receptions from Patrick Mahomes in the last 10 minutes of the second quarter. Three touchdowns in eight minutes. Nice day.
Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee. In the span of four third-quarter plays for the sixth-seeded Texans against the top-seeded Ravens, Henry had a 66-yard run and a three-yard touchdown pass. And for the third straight game—the win-and-in Week-17 test at Houston, then New England and Baltimore in the playoffs—Henry exceeded 200 yards from the scrimmage. He had 30 carries for 195 rush yards, echoing his last two games on the ground (34 for 182, and 32 for 211). WHO DOES THAT? No one. That’s the first time in NFL history a running back has had three straight rushing games exceeding 180 yards. The best thing about it? Henry doesn’t seem to care if he rushes for 10 yards or 210.
Defensive Players of the Week
Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco. Big players make big plays in big games. (Can’t believe I blurted a cliché, but it’s so apropos.) With the Niners up 17-10 early in the third quarter, Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen had a miscommunication, or maybe Thielen got a little lax on his incut, but whatever, Sherman stepped into the breach and picked off the ball. It was the single biggest Niners defensive play of a crushing beatdown of Minnesota. “Kirk threw a very catchable ball. I appreciate it,” Sherman said, with only a slight dagger in his voice. For the game, Cousins targeted Sherman just three times, with one completion (for nine yards) and the one pick. That’s what I call a shut-down corner.
Jurrell Casey, defensive tackle, Tennessee. Want to see a great defender against the run and pass at defensive tackle? Watch Casey. He was huge in the win over Baltimore. He was in the middle of stopping two fourth-and-ones at vital times, and his two sacks crippled the Ravens. The first, late in the first half, set Baltimore back eight yards and contributed to a taking three points instead of the seven the Ravens needed. In the third quarter, with the Ravens down 21-6, Casey strip-sacked Lamar Jackson, leading to the Titans’ fourth TD of the night. The clincher. Casey’s such a good player, and he was as important as any Titan but Henry in the stunning upset.
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, outside linebackers, Green Bay. Combined for four of Green Bay’s five sacks of Russell Wilson, and they even finished each other’s sentences. The two free-agent pass-rushers, the gems of GM Brian Gutekunst’s 2019 class, have this shtick of holding press conferences together. So they stepped to the microphones after this game in the Green Bay locker room and had a nice act going.
Preston: “Got our cardio in today, running after Russell.”
Za’Darius: “What’s that thing you said about chasin’ him?”
Preston: “Oh yeah . . . Like chasin’ a chicken in a field with no fence.”
Special Teams Player of the Week
Daniel Sorensen, safety, Kansas City. Made two plays in the span of a second-quarter minute that prevented a 24-7 Houston lead from getting out of hand. With the Texans in punt formation at their 31-yard line on fourth down and no one but Sorensen apparently expecting a fake, the Texans did indeed try to run for the four yards—and Sorensen nimbly stopped the up-back, safety Justin Reid, two yards short of the first down. The Chiefs followed with a quick TD, and on the ensuing kickoff, Sorensen forced a fumble that turned into another quick Patrick Mahomes TD. Sorensen didn’t score the touchdowns, but he was the biggest factor in turning a 24-7 games into 24-21 in the span of eight plays.
Coaches of the Week
Dean Pees, defensive coordinator, Tennessee. In two straight weeks, the forgotten Tennessee defensive boss has shut down two former employees. Against the third-seeded Pats last week, the Pees D held New England to 13 points, had a memorable goal-line stand, and consistently thwarted the Brady passing game. Against the top-seeded Ravens on Saturday night, Tennessee held the most explosive offense in football to 12 points and stymied Lamar Jackson on all four fourth-down attempts. For the first time in forever, Lamar Jackson was totally frustrated. Said future coach Logan Ryan: “We wanted to give him loaded boxes all night to get him out of the run game. . . . Once we had the lead, they had to go to the pass game, and that’s our strength.” Smart plan.
Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator, Tennessee. Anyone who play-designs a Derrick Henry touchdown pass from the 3-yard line will win this august award. And again next week, if Smith calls something so outrageously imaginative in the AFC Championship Game.
Goat of the Week
Bill O’Brien, coach, Houston. I actually didn’t mind kicking the field goal on fourth-and-one from the KC 13 to go up 24-0 in the second quarter. But from playing it safe to playing it crazy is not the way to win a playoff game. I’m sure there’s some reason why the Texans tried a fake punt from their 31-yard line with a 24-7 lead on fourth-and-four, but I can’t for the life of me figure it out. Of course the Texans failed to gain four yards, and of course the Texans allowed a quick Kansas City touchdown to get the Chiefs back in the game. Not a good day for O’Brien.
“This team’s identity right now is to get to the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. That’s the hard truth.”
—Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, after Baltimore lost for the second straight year at home to open the playoffs.
“I LIKE THAT!”
—San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman, coming off the field Saturday after his third-quarter interception of Kirk Cousins. The pick led to a 49ers touchdown and a 14-point—and insurmountable—Niners lead. If you don’t get “You like that,” it’s a pretty big trademark-ish statement of Cousins, dating back to his Washington days.
Sherman’s had some great quotes in his career. This one’s top three.
“I think it’s ridiculous! He wrecked games!”
—Former longtime NFL special-teams coach Mike Westhoff, on Steve Tasker of the Bills not being in the Hall of Fame, to Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio.
“Bill Polian wanted to make Lamar Jackson a wide receiver. What does anybody know? They don’t know anything.”
—Avid NFL (and Jets) fan Larry David, of all people, on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio in New York.
His point was a good one: Scouting quarterbacks might be the most inexact practice in the NFL yesterday and today, with no sign that it’s getting much better for tomorrow.
“The NFL has done a horrendous job [in hiring black head coaches]. Essentially, we’re going to be left I believe with three African-American head coaches. Three. That’s just embarrassing. You just see the faces of the guys pop up over and over of the hires and it’s like another white guy, another white guy, another white guy. It’s always a white guy. It just is. It’s just unbelievable.”
—Adam Schefter, on the NFL being stuck in the equal-opportunity stone age on hiring black coaches, to Denver radio station 104.3 The Fan.
“They need to be taking care of their chicken right, you feel me? . . . Take care of y’all body, take care of y’all chicken, take care of y’all mentals. Because we ain’t lastin’ that long.”
—Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, on his advice to young Seattle teammates.
Matt Rhule • Carolina head coach • Photographed in Charlotte, N.C.
What led you to this moment, being handed the reins of an NFL team by David Tepper?
“I think probably all of the different experiences that I’ve had. Having a chance to be a defensive line coach, an assistant offensive line coach, a special teams coach, an offensive coordinator. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. I took whatever job I could get, scratched and clawed, and worked my way up the ladder . . . getting into places and taking whatever promotion they would give me to try to have different experiences. I think that’s allowed me to be successful as a head coach. Plus, I think being in a place like Temple—when you’re at Temple, you can’t sit there and spend any time worrying about the things you don’t have. You better find the things you have and be really proud of them. I’ll never forget [like Rhule, a former Temple coach] Bruce Arians told me one time: ‘Just remember this. The best thing, the best asset you have at Temple is the people. And that’s all you need.’ He was right. It wasn’t your facilities. I met some of the best people I knew at Temple, and I learned that facilities don’t win; people and players and coaches win. So then I went to Baylor. And Baylor had great facilities and all those things and we had to rebuild it. I think I just said to myself, Hey, remember what you learned at Temple and try to build it with relationships and people.”
Another learning experience, presumably, was being an undersized walk-on linebacker at Penn State in the nineties.
“The biggest thing I learned from Joe Paterno, and it was such an important thing, was that he held his best players the most accountable. And not everyone does that. I was a lowly walk-on at the time. Found a way to play some. But Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, those guys got held to the highest, highest level of accountability. Which in turn reminded me, well, I better do that as well. That was Joe’s gift—his best players were the hardest-working. The rest of us fell in line. Since I got into coaching, I’ve tried to always hold my best players to the highest standard
“During my interview, I asked Mr. Tepper about the things that made him successful in business. He used the word ‘process,’ which is all I ever talk about. I think I said at one point to him, I think I said, ‘If we’re a 7-9 football team, then when you watch us play that last game, we should be playing to be the best 7-9 football team in the history of football. We will have a mentality of trying to be the very best at everything regardless of the circumstances. The process will be the same. He said, ‘That’s exactly right.’ I think we see things the same way. And so I think his commitment to process in his business life, his commitment to process here as he builds this, and then him recognizing that that’s what I believe and I think that was the synergy that made me realize that hey, we see things the same way.”
Anything heartbreaking to you about not being hired for your dream job, a New York City boy coaching the New York Giants?
“No. I’m so excited about this. I coached at Western Carolina. My son was born here in North Carolina. I had a chance to recruit Charlotte for four years. I knew from my meeting with the Panthers—my wife felt it too—this was the right place for us.”
Lots of 31-other-owners-will-be-pissed-at-Tepper comments swirling around the league in the last few days, after Carolina owner David Tepper gave Matt Rhule a seven-year contract with an estimated total value of $62 million. (Tepper reportedly also paid off the Baylor buyout of $6 million to hire Rhule.)
I don’t think that anger is well-placed.
Of course a seven-year contract for a first-time NFL coach, at first blush, is outlandish—as is the money. But the Panthers weren’t hiring an NFL coordinator working on a two-year, $4-million contract. They were competing against the Monopoly money of college football, and they were hiring someone to become the front-facing CEO of the football operation, not just the titular head of the team.
Rhule’s contract at Baylor had eight years remaining, and he earned a reported $7.5 million in salary and associated perks on the deal in 2019. So let’s assume—I do not know if there are automatic escalators in the contract—that $7.5-million annual figure for the last eight years of the deal. That would mean Rhule had eight years and $60 million left on his deal. So seven years and $62 million is in that ballpark. The NFL contract is not exactly a parallel financial commitment, but it’s close. So now you know why the Panthers blew up the coaching salary structure for rookie NFL coaches.
Desperation of the Giants Dept.
Worst records in the NFL over the past three seasons:
Sandwiching halftime, Baltimore ran 14 plays to end the first half, 13 to start the second half. The futility of those 27 plays, and of the evening for Baltimore:
One measly field goal for the Ravens in 27 plays.
On the 27th, Lamar Jackson was stopped on fourth-and-one. Three minutes later, the Titans finished a snappy 81-yard drive with the Derrick Henry jump-pass TD.
Overall, Tennessee scored 28 points on 53 plays. Baltimore scored 12 on 92.
The 2020 cap number of Carolina center Matt Paradis, PFF’s 36th-rated NFL center in 2019: $8.80 million.
The average annual salary of new Carolina coach Matt Rhule: $8.86 million.
Records after Halloween this season: Miami 5-4, New England 4-5.
Three notes from a trip to the Tundra:
• Stayed in the relatively new Intercontinental Hotel inside the Minneapolis airport on Saturday night, where I decamped for a good night’s sleep prior to flying to Green Bay on Sunday morning. The one thing I want out of a good airport hotel? Quiet. Don’t want to hear takeoffs and landings. Just want peace. Kudos to the designers of this place, inside one of the busiest airports in the country. I felt like I was in the Montana countryside, and this may have been quieter. Never heard a thing from 10:20 p.m. to 7:15 a.m. I realize air traffic is light at the time, but still. Silencio.
• Delta flight, Minneapolis to Green Bay, Sunday morning, 12 degrees in Minneapolis-St. Paul. “Beverage, sir?” flight attendant said. I asked for water. She handed me an eight-ounce bottle of Dasani water. Frozen solid.
• Seahawks fan on the connecting flight wore a cheese-grater hat. Seriously.
Dustin Fox, tweeting after the Browns’ hire of Kevin Stefanski as head coach, is a radio host in Cleveland and ESPN college football analyst.
Steven Jackson is a former Pro Bowl running back, and tweeted with the Titans up on Baltimore 14-3 in the second quarter.
Smith, speaking of 49ers offensive assistant Katie Sowers and NFL official Sarah Thomas, covers the NFL for Pro Football Talk.
The team website of the Carolina Panthers, documenting the first day of Matt Rhule as coach . . . in six minutes.
Rovell covers the business of sports for the Action Network.
A site devoted to studying the Tennessee Titans on tape.
Says my news judgment stinks. From Anthony Gribben, of Lubbock, Texas: “All of the great wild-card games, and all of the coaching changes and we get another ode to Tom Brady as the lead of your column. I haven’t read this much ‘Homer’ since 10th grade.”
Let me take you back 25 years, Anthony. If my column had existed on wild-card weekend 1994, and I was at the game that could have been the last game of 38-year-old Joe Montana’s career (rumors were that he was going to retire at season’s end), and I got Montana alone after the game to talk about his future, and I got the owner of the Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, to break his season-long silence to discuss Montana’s future, and then, if I led my column with Brett Favre’s Packers edging Detroit, or the Browns with a rare playoff win over the Patriots, what would you have thought? Lead with the game you weren’t at, even though you got exclusive time with maybe the best quarterback of all time after what may have been in his last game, or his last game with this team, with the story that everyone’s going to be talking about Monday morning? In other words, you are certainly entitled to think what you think, but I dispute your criticism of my news judgment.
Says my absolution of the Jadeveon Clowney hit was awful. From James North: “I am disgusted by your take on the Clowney helmet to helmet hit on Wentz. That hit requires a penalty regardless of timing or intent. He should have pulled up. This is the same player who last season grabbed Nick Foles’ facemask and nearly took his head off. Incredibly, Clowney was not penalized. Later in the same game, he speared Foles in the chest with the crown of his helmet, finally drawing a flag. He’s the worst I’ve seen since Vontaze Burfict; he should have been tossed from both games. And you have the gall to name him your defensive player of the week and compare him to Willis Reed?!?! Shame on you. I was a fan of your writing; not anymore, I’m done with you.”
This is what I saw, watching on TV, when the play happened: With 9:35 left in the first quarter, Wentz scrambled right and was going down when Clowney dove into his back to finish the tackle. Wentz was helped up, and from the TV, you could not see any reaction from the Eagles—no one screaming at Clowney, for instance. It might have happened, but we never saw any of it. Wentz took the next five snaps for the Eagles (six, but one was negated due to penalty), looked fine, then the Eagles punted. There was about 15 minutes in real time between the hit on Wentz and the time we saw him, walking off the field to be checked in the locker room. I do agree that there could have and probably should have been a leading-with-the-helmet infraction. But I didn’t see it as a hit that Clowney made to intentionally put Wentz out of the game, and apparently Wentz’s teammates didn’t either.
Says I’m a heck of a guy. From James Motley, of Dubai: “I just wanted to drop you a line to say how much I enjoy your column and podcasts. Thank you for your incredible dedication to providing us NFL fans—wherever we are in the world—unmissable and unbeatable insight, views and opinions on the game we love so much. I absolutely relish your insights into players, coaches and execs and what we can all learn from them and how we can interpret these into our own lives. I’m often on the beach in Dubai enjoying the podcasts! Please keep up the good work, and thank you for all that you are doing educating and entertaining us all.”
James, that’s so nice of you to say. Truly appreciate it. Greetings to you in Dubai!
Might not be the best year to ask that question. From @canuhndl, via Twitter: “How can an organization like the Broncos only have seven in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? It’s gross neglect and all should be held accountable. Steve Atwater deserves to be in and so does a lot more Broncos.”
Oh stop. The Broncos have had six people enshrined in the last 12 years, more than any team in the NFL, and I’m not including Brian Dawkins, who played his last three years in Denver. (Peyton Manning, who won a Super Bowl in Denver, will get in next year.) This question would have been valid 10 years ago, but today? There’s no way. Atwater certainly is a deserving candidate, but there are a lot of deserving candidates.
1. I think I’ll withhold judgment on the hire of Kevin Stefanski by the Browns, and not because I don’t like Stefanski. I do. But it’s because I wasn’t able to do the kind of reporting Sunday evening that I’d like to do to have a qualified opinion on the hire, which the Browns should make official after they hammer out the contract with the Vikings offensive coordinator. This I know: The fact that the Browns want some degree of front-office involvement in some areas that traditionally have been the total province of the coach—such as the integration of advanced metrics and analytics into weekly game-planning—did not scare off Stefanski, who is an advocate of max information even if some come from non-traditional avenues. I don’t know how another prime candidate, Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, felt about that approach, but I do think it worried Josh McDaniels. “Worried” does not mean McDaniels wouldn’t have taken the job even with some analytics involvement by the Browns; I believe he would have taken the job if offered. But before I form hard-and-fast opinions about Stefanski taking the job and what exactly this job is, I want to find out the truth about it. I plan to have more to say next Monday.
2. I think the pre-game TV moment of the year has to be Bill Cowher finding out he was a Pro Football Hall of Famer on “The NFL Today” on CBS live Saturday night. The capper: his family surprising him on-set with big hugs. For all who wonder, Hey, the Hall of Fame class always gets revealed the day before the Super Bowl. What’s with Cowher getting in on Jan. 11? A quick reminder of what the Hall of Fame has done this year for its so-called “Centennial Class:”
• A different mode of selection: The Hall’s board of directors voted to elect a special class of 15 in the Centennial Class: 10 senior candidates, two coaches and three contributors, in an effort to clear some of the backlog of qualified candidates and—I thought—to address all those from the first 30 to 40 years of football who time forgot.
• A separate voting panel: The Hall empowered a special voting bloc of 25, including some regular Hall of Fame voters and some smart legends of the game, including Bill Belichick, Ron Wolf, Ozzie Newsome and longtime NFL personnel maven Joel Bussert. Those 25 gathered in Canton last week for a day-long meeting, and each voted for their top two coach, top three contributors and top 10 seniors (long-retired players). Cowher was joined on Sunday night by former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson. The remaining 13 Centennial Class members will be announced Wednesday on NFL Network. (I am on the regular Hall of Fame selection committee, but was not on the special panel to elect the Centennial Class.)
• The regular Hall class of 2020: There will also be the customary group of 15 modern-era finalists, and those will be debated with as many as five being selected for the Class of 2020 when the regular voting panel of 48 meets on Feb. 1 in Miami.
• My hopes: That the committee of 25 would be attentive to the first 40 years of the NFL. The Cowher pick might be a sign that the committee wasn’t as keen on the early history of the game as the original intent of the committee was supposed to be—or at least what I thought the intent was.
• My fear: The key to this Centennial Class should be the old timers. We stress out about the people in our lifetime who we think have been bypassed in the process. The selection of two modern coaches closes out any chance for strong candidates like Buddy Parker, a running back for Detroit who won one championship as a player in the thirties and two more as Lions coach in the fifties—beating Paul Brown in both in the process. As I wrote when this process was announced, this should not be the cleanup class for hotly debated candidates of the last 30 years.
But that’s just my opinion. If others feel differently, so be it. One other note on the coaches: Though I wasn’t in the room and don’t know the substance of the discussion, Johnson is a unique person in recent NFL history. He coached only nine years in Dallas and Miami, winning 89 games—including two Super Bowls. But the Johnson résumé has to include his team-building skills. The Cowboys that he took over were a moribund group; Tom Landry stayed too long, and the three-decade administration left a bare cupboard for Johnson. He was the major architect for a three-time Super Bowl winner, plus he built a different kind of team, bringing speed on all three levels of the defense. After he retired, a stream of coaches, club officials and even owners made pilgrimages (still do) to the Florida Keys to pick Johnson’s brain. It’s an annual event for Bill Belichick, who doesn’t have a lot of people he can use as mentors. Johnson’s one.
There might be one other unintended consequence of the coaching picks. Including playoffs, for instance, Cowher won 161 games, with one Super Bowl title and two conference titles. I would expect the momentum now to build for Mike Shanahan (178 wins, two Super Bowls, two conference titles), Tom Coughlin (182 wins, two Super Bowls, both over Bill Belichick, two conference titles) and Mike Holmgren (174 wins, one Super Bowl, three conference titles). The irony of the Centennial Class is that it could end up creating more of a logjam than it fixes.
3. I think I like Mike Zimmer as a head coach, to be sure. But punting with 8:59 left in the fourth quarter from his own 40-yard line, down three scores, is the worst head-coaching decision of the playoffs. Against a team that runs the ball as effectively as the 49ers, there was absolutely no way the Vikings would get the ball three times in the final 8:59. (They got it twice.)
4. I think the NFL should learn one thing from the Minnesota postseason experience—and not just that the Vikings were altogether outplayed by the Niners. It’s unfair, when the league has scheduling in its control, to have any six seed play two straight road playoff games with the second on a short week. Maybe the best way to do it is to not assign dates for the divisional games till Sunday evening of wild-card weekend. That way, in this case, the Minnesota-San Francisco game would have been scheduled for Sunday, with the Texans-Chiefs played Saturday. That way, each of the wild-card survivors would have had a full week between games, instead of the six days Minnesota had. Not that it would have mattered, most likely. It just seems more fair to not make a wild-card road team play a short week road game against a rested higher seed.
5. I think I’m getting ahead of the game here a bit, but I think a great alternative for Andy Dalton in 2020 would be New England, if it moves on from Tom Brady. Dalton has one year left on his contract, and the Bengals would surely try to recoup something for him. But with everyone in the league knowing Cincinnati would be moving on from him in 2020, what would fair value be? A third-round pick? (Too high.) A fourth? Maybe. It’d would be interesting if the Patriots viewed Dalton as a one or two-year bridge to Jared Stidham or a future draftee.
6. I think two things surprise me in the wake of Brady’s possible final game with the Patriots and his clear statements since (including to me, saying, “I think I still can play at a championship level; I’m motivated to get back to work and training”) that he will play football in 2020:
• The feeling from loyal Patriots fans and voices in the media everywhere that if Brady is going to play in 2020, he should play for the Patriots. Why? Because you want him to? As the key piece for nine Patriots trips to the Super Bowl and six rings, Brady became a beloved piece of the furniture in every living room from Bangor to Bridgeport. A good deal for all sides—Brady, owner Robert Kraft, the Kraft empire, coach Bill Belichick and the fans who hadn’t seen such an extended run of sports greatness since the Auerbach-Russell-Cousy Celtics of 60 years ago. Brady gave the franchise 20 years of greatness. Now it might be over. Of course it would hurt a rabid Pats fan to see Brady in another uniform next fall. That’s understandable. But his reward should be more than the freedom to do what he wants at age 42. His reward should be accompanied by the collective well-wishes of a region. Good luck. Do what you want. You’ve earned it. If you choose another team, we’ll always be grateful for the greatness you’ve brought us. Let the man do what he wants.
• The acceptance in some quarters that Brady has become some tawdry piece of yesteryear-quarterback merchandise, that his ability is plummeting, and teams should be very careful in committing big money to him for his age-43 season, 2020, and beyond. Well, I’d be careful what I paid a quarterback of that age. Of course. You’d have to be. My contract offer to Brady would have significant incentives in case he falls off the passing cliff. But he has not done that yet.
Fifty-one weeks ago, Brady played all 94 snaps in the AFC title game, an epic duel with NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, then 23, won by the Patriots 37-31. In the last 13 minutes of the game, Brady directed touchdown drives of 60, 60 and 75 yards. He completed passes to four wide receivers or tight ends on those three touchdown drives; three of them (Rob Gronkowski, the underrated Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson) were not on the 2019 Patriots, and their replacements were part of likely the worst group of skill players the Patriots have had in the Belichick era.
I re-watched the playoff loss to Tennessee this week, to see exactly how Brady played. I saw receivers not getting much separation against Tennessee. On Brady’s first completion of the day, on a 21-yard sideline route, Ben Watson was blanketed and the defender had his arm inside Watson’s arm, but the throw was perfect and complete. His 49 and 33-yard downfield throws were incomplete, with receivers having no breathing room—Brady was just trying to make a play. He threw a Hail Mary 64 yards in the air. He threw what should have been a medium gainer to N’Keal Harry early in the third quarter; dropped. “The Patriots do little things that really kill them,” Tony Romo said on CBS. Brady threw a scramble-drill 36-yard strike to Watson that was nullified by penalty. He threw a “perfect” (per Jim Nantz) 21-yard out to Edelman. On second-and-six, 3:28 left, Titans up 14-13, he threw to Edelman, right in his chest, for what would have been a gain of about 10; dropped. They do little things that really kill them.
I’m sure we could find multiple bad throws in big spots by Brady this year, but he didn’t have many in the Tennessee loss. He simply got little help from players who should have made plays. And he didn’t have much help last offseason from the player-acquisition side, because the Patriots did not have the difference-makers in the passing game they’ve had.
7. I think there is a good chance that, with Derrick Henry, we’re seeing the early stages of a Hall of Fame career.
8. I think there is a very good chance that, with Richard Sherman, we’re seeing the late stages of a Hall of Fame career.
9. I think Steve Wyche is doing a great job for NFL Network covering the minority-coach issue. After the first four openings were filled last week (pre-Cleveland), there was a net gain of zero minority coaches this year, and Wyche lit into the process of the supposed open pipeline to contention for jobs for minorities. “This supposed pipeline we’re hearing about . . . it is now a drinking straw,” Wyche said. “And some of the voices [of black candidates], the tone I’ve heard [from them] it’s more the eye of a needle.” Blunt and real.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
un. Congrats, North Dakota State. The Bison went 16-0 this year, the first time a college football team has done that since the 1800s, and won its eighth FCS (Division I-AA) national title Saturday against James Madison. Man, the pride North Dakotans must take in their college football dynasty.
b. Roy Williams (“Fire me,” he said Saturday after losing to Clemson) needs a six-day sabbatical. Unplug, Roy. Get away from it.
c. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of CBS News, on finding the family he never knew he had.
d. Hartman, the CBS News raconteur, is this generation’s Charles Kuralt.
is. Football Profile of the Week: Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post on Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, whose career advisers stretch from Joe Gibbs to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Stubbs writes:
“He’s a voracious reader, known to often devour the Wall Street Journal, and he’s constantly looking to learn from figures outside of football to help fine-tune his leadership of the Titans’ offense, the franchise’s highest-scoring unit in 16 years.”
f. Story of the Week: Tim Layden of NBC Sports on a 2020 Olympic medal contender Jack Hatton and his unexplained and sudden demise. Layden’s chilling words:
The biggest season of Jack’s career seemed likely to end at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
It did not.
His life ended instead, in the small closet of a second floor bedroom in a two-story athlete house managed by Jack’s coach on a quiet, narrow, sloping residential street in Wakefield, Massachusetts, a town of 27,000 near the Atlantic coastline, north of Boston. It was in this closet that Jack took his own life sometime between midday on Monday, Sept. 23 and early the following morning, when his body was discovered by another of the young judo players who lived with him. More than 600 people attended a wake five days later, near Wakefield, and four weeks after that, hundreds more attended a memorial service at the Brooklyn church where Jack would attend Sunday services with his family as a toddler.
But there has been no closure. Jack left no note, and no other clues at the site of his death.
g. Lord. People need to be fired at Boeing.
h. I wish I could boycott, for a short time anyway, all planes manufactured by Boeing.
i. The Harry and Meghan story about wanting to withdraw from British royalty would be funny if it were not mostly disturbing. The dire quotes from British newspapers miss the mark, such as this from the Evening Standard: “Harry and Meghan will be punished for this.” Ooooooooh! That’s really going to turn around those rebels. Something to consider, from Afua Hirsch, writing for the New York Times. Writes Hirsch:
“If the media paid more attention to Britain’s communities of color, perhaps it would find the announcement far less surprising. With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving. From the very first headline about her being ‘(almost) straight outta Compton’ and having ‘exotic’ DNA, the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee.”
j. Beernerdness: This is not going to be cool with the beer cognoscenti, but I love a margherita pizza—light cheese, extra basil, with arugula—accompanied by two freezing cold Heinekens.
k. Go ahead. Slay me.
Tough Raven lesson:
Hard to be sharp at football
with 19 days off.