$.01--No Le’Veon Bell, no problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Days after the running back decided not playing at all this season and not earning one cent was better than swallowing some pride and collecting close to $7 million for the rest of the year, the Steelers went out and won once again. Their stunning 20-16 comeback over the Jacksonville Jaguars is a ringing endorsement that playing hardball with Bell was the proper choice, even on a day where the team rushed for just 26 yards.
The final one of those 26 was Ben Roethlisberger diving just over the goal line for the game-winning TD.
Pittsburgh’s rousing rally on the road to stun the collapsing Jaguars was an emphatic case of a team circling the wagons around itself. It would have been easy for the Steelers to pack it in down 16-0 in the third quarter, on the road against a good defense and after Roethlisberger had thrown three INTs. That’s not what good teams do, and the Steelers didn’t get to 7-2-1 by accident. A couple of defensive penalties on the Jaguars helped too, including one which nullified another Roethlisberger interception on the penultimate offensive play for Pittsburgh.
Back to Bell. His erstwhile teammates reacted to his no-show by pillaging his locker and expressing appreciation for those who are trying to help the team get better. The Steelers are a better team without him. Don’t think that fact will be lost on other teams Bell hopes will offer him the moon once he hits free agency.
$.02--After Sunday’s thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles are in serious peril of not reaching the postseason to defend their title.
At one point halfway through the second quarter, the Saints had more points (17) than the Eagles had yards (15). That was after the Eagles lost yet another defensive back, this time impressive rookie CB Avonte Maddox. Drew Brees and the Saints were tearing apart the hastily cobbled together group of practice squad refugees.
Even at full strength, most defenses have major trouble with the high-powered Saints offense. With DeVaunte Bausby and Cre’Von LeBlanc as the top two CBs, the Eagles didn’t stand a chance. Philadelphia’s most impressive play was a tackle by punter Cameron Johnston on Alvin Kamara, a play which so surprised the Saints standout he earned a taunting penalty for flipping the ball at him.
When the highlight of your day is your punter earning a 15-yard penalty from the opponent, it’s a very bad day. That’s how bad of a mismatch this once-promising matchup turned into. The Eagles were able to overcome myriad injuries last season, but the magic simply has not been able to persist. Against good teams, they don’t have the depth to hang. This Saints team is far beyond just “good”, too.
Drew Brees & Co. showed no mercy in their dojo. Brees was still firing strikes well into the fourth quarter with the team up by more than 30. The TD which put them up 45-7 came on fourth down, going for it while already up 31. It was a vulgar display of power and offensive opulence, creating the largest margin of defeat ever for a defending champ.
$.03--The Houston Texans are the hottest team in the AFC. Bill O’Brien’s Texans have now won seven in a row after starting 0-3, squeaking past Washington, 23-21 in a battle of division leaders. In the process, they became the first team in the Super Bowl era to start 0-3 and improve to 7-3.
It was tooth and nail all the way. The game ended when Dustin Hopkins came up about 5 yards short on a 63-yard field goal attempt. The turning point in the game was rookie Justin Reid’s 101-yard pick-6 to put the Texans up 17-7. What could have easily been six points for Washington instead turned into paydirt for the visitors.
Reid was one of a few Houston rookies who played key roles, an impressive feat for a team that did not have a draft selection before tabbing Reid at the beginning of the third round. Wideout Keke Coutee was their leading receiver, though DeAndre Hopkins did catch the only TD from Deshaun Watson. Tight end Jordan Akins played well as a receiving presence. Martinas Rankin filled in at guard and (barely) kept Watson alive. It’s a testament to rookie GM Brian Gaine for finding instant contributors without much draft capital.
Unfortunately, this game will be remembered for the gruesome ankle injury suffered by Skins QB Alex Smith. On the 33rd anniversary of Joe Theismann’s brutal broken leg courtesy of a Lawrence Taylor sack, the exact same injury happened to Smith when J.J. Watt bowled over him. Smith broke both his tibia and fibula and will be out for the season, with Colt McCoy taking over for the first-place Skins. McCoy actually led the team to a touchdown drive and set up the final FG attempt and can do a lot of the things Smith has, so it’s not as dire as it could be.
$.04--The NFC North destiny now belongs to the Chicago Bears after their convincing win on Sunday Night Football over the visiting Minnesota Vikings.
I’d say the win was impressive, but that’s not exactly the word anyone would use to describe the on-field action. The two teams traded mistakes all night. The Bears defense was the best unit on the field, and that carried them to victory. Kirk Cousins was complicit in the defeat, however; his pick-six to Eddie Jackson was a telegraphed overthrow of a well-covered Laquon Treadwell.
Each team had three turnovers, and other than Tarik Cohen’s fumble, all were more about bad offense than anything great from the opposing defense. That doesn’t mean the defenses were not good, but it is possible to have both good defense and bad offense. This game epitomized that. The officiating was more on the side of the bad offense, unfortunately. It doesn’t detract from dominance by Bears DT Akiem Hicks, however.
Chicago, which has finished in last place in the division four straight seasons, now seizes the lead with a 7-3 record to the Vikings’ 5-4-1. Detroit at 4-6 and Green Bay at 4-5-1 need a lot of help even in an NFC where that Minnesota epitome of averageness still qualifies as the No. 6 seed.
$.05--Any Given Sunday, Week 11 edition
There are a few candidates here, including my Lions pulling out a 20-19 squeaker over the Panthers when Carolina coach Ron Rivera elected to go for the two-point conversion instead of the game-tying extra point, and Cam Newton’s pass sailed high and wide. Graham Gano’s earlier extra point had done the same, and Detroit’s abysmal 3-game skid mercifully ends.
But the most stunning outcome came with the Los Angeles Chargers handing a victory to the Denver Broncos at the soccer stadium in Carson. The Chargers had this game in the bag...until they let the cat, err Bronco, out of it with some abysmal play choices and clock management late in the game.
Denver used its final timeout, trailing 22-20, with 2:39 left on the clock and the Chargers with the ball. The next play brought an aborted handoff by Philip Rivers and a 4-yard loss on 2nd-and-3 and the 2-minute warning. On 3rd down, with the clock the bigger foe than the Broncos defense, the Chargers elected to throw a quick pass to Keenan Allen. It fell incomplete and burned just two seconds, setting up the Broncos with an extra 30-plus seconds for their final drive. They needed every tick.
The Broncos attacked the middle of the field for a big gain in part because they didn’t have to worry as much about the clock. Case Keenum spiked the ball to kill the clock with three seconds left and Brandon McManus nailed the game-winner. It never should have come to that and the Chargers only have themselves to blame.
Even worse for the Chargers, they lost underappreciated DE Corey Liuget for the season with a torn quad late in the game. They just got Joey Bosa back for the first time and now they lose one of their glue guys on a solid all-around defense.
$.06--I got into a discussion with an old friend during the week about the NFL’s trade deadline and the possibility of moving it back to this coming week instead of where it currently sits, just after the end of Week 8. This was spurned by a debate about the Golden Tate and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix trades from the NFC North teams of our fandom (I’m a Lions lifer, he’s a Packer backer).
“What if they moved it back to now?”, he asked. The implication is, a contender suffering a devastating injury later would be able to more adequately replace that player. Houston was able to do this by acquiring Demaryius Thomas right after Will Fuller got hurt. Washington can’t do that with OG Brandon Scherff, as an example, because he got injured after the trade deadline.
And teams out of contention might be more willing to part with a veteran who likely won’t be on the team in the future. He believes (and I concur) there is indeed a psychological difference between being 2-4 and being 3-7, at least as a fan.
The problem that comes up is the NFL is not designed to handle teams doing the “tanking” that is much more prevalent in the NBA or MLB, where the deadlines are later and there are more games to absorb the changes. The NFL -- rightly-- thrives on the competitive balance and the chance that on any given Sunday, any one team can beat any other. Let’s say the Buccaneers realize it’s over now after losing again (to the lowly Giants) and they would opt to trade away Mike Evans and Gerald McCoy with just six games to go.
That’s not fair to the teams who are done playing Tampa Bay compared to the teams still on the schedule. It’s not fair to the teams who would face the late buyers in the trade game, either. The NFL is not set up to have one team with such an intentionally serious talent deficiency, nor should it be.
Anyway, it was a fun exercise of a “sitting at the bar” topic style of sports radio. Thanks for the discussion, Tom.
As I started last week, this is my FWAA All-American ballot. The ballot get divided up over two weeks. Last week (in this same spot in the $.10) I revealed the defense and offensive line choices. This time it’s the offensive skill positions, specialists and coaches. I believe in open balloting, so here are my choices.
Note that I completed my ballot on Thursday night, so Saturday’s action did not factor in.
Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
He does a little more with a little less than Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
If Henderson played at a more prominent school he’d be a Heisman candidate. Taylor validated my vote by going off for 321 in a win over Purdue. They are 1-2 in the nation in rushing yards.
Andy Isabella, UMass
Tylan Wallace, OK St.
Isabella subsequently went off against Georgia. He’s been doing it all year, the best WR you’ve not seen. Wallace has filled James Washington’s shoes quite nicely and with more route versatility.
Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Not a particularly strong position. I’ll admit to seeing more TAMU football than a lot of the other top candidates and he’s very good at what he does. The Iowans cannibalized each other in my voting mind.
Andre Szmyt, Syracuse
Ryan Stonehouse, Colorado State
Mecole Hardman, Georgia
Stonehouse is having a marvelous season. Szmyt, a freshman, is 28-for-31 on field goals. No other kicker has made more than 23, and his 90 percent rate is legit.
We also get to nominate three coaches for the Eddie Robinson Award as the nation’s top coach. My threesome was (in alphabetical order):
Dino Babers, Syracuse
Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
Nick Saban, Alabama
After Saturday’s romp over Babers’ Orange, I would like to formally change my vote from him to Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly. Deftly managing his QB situation and crafting a killer defense is praiseworthy.
--In the span of about three real-time minutes, Denver beat the Chargers, and the Raiders rallied to knock off the Cardinals, both with game-winning field goals. The Chargers pissed away the lead with abysmal clock management choices. Oakland buried earlier sideline strife between Jon Gruden and Derek Carr to mount a legitimately impressive game-winning drive, albeit against a bad Cardinals team. For two games that were clunkers in theory, they wound up producing some compelling and entertaining action.
--Those outcomes impacted the top of the draft order. As it stands now:
3-way tie for the #1 pick in the 2019 @NFL Draft.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) November 19, 2018
San Francisco 2-8
Raiders beat the Cardinals.
Cardinals beat the 49ers twice. 49ers beat the Raiders.
Keep in mind none of those three are in any position to select a quarterback. It’s going to be a very interesting draft season.
--Want to know why Odell Beckham has so many fans? Check this out…
pregame odell is always fun pic.twitter.com/o508kp6nkI— trey (@treyzingis) November 18, 2018
--I’ll never understand why the NFL has not banned players celebrating big plays by hitting their teammates in the helmet. This was reinforced on Sunday night when Bears TE Adam Shaheen caught a 2-pt. conversion and was obviously woozy as he got up slowly. Two different Bears immediately responded with open-hand celebratory slaps to Shaheen’s helmet. About five minutes later it was revealed Shaheen was put into concussion protocol. Stupid.
--Didn’t even see one highlight of the game yet, but the Colts curb-stomping the Titans is something I’m anxious to get caught up with soon. The 5-5 Colts are threatening to crash the incredibly crowded AFC playoff picture.
--UCLA beat rival USC, a nice win for Chip Kelly in his first year running the Bruins. It’s probably the (deserved) end of the line for Clay Helton as head man of the Trojans (insert Trojan man ad joke here).
--Cross off West Virginia from the College Football Playoff chase. The Mountaineers fell to Oklahoma State, giving them their 2nd loss. In a Big 12 where a 1-loss team will have a hard time convincing the selection committee they belong, that second loss is a death knell. Congrats to the Cowboys for turning around the heartbreaking outcome a week earlier with the crushing loss to rival Oklahoma.
--Ohio State nearly got crossed off as well. The Buckeyes survived in overtime against Maryland, 52-51, when the Terps 2-pt. conversion pass just missed a wide open receiver. As bad as the Ohio State defense was, it was encouraging to see Dwayne Haskins have a fantastic game and get the Buckeyes offense rolling. They don’t stand a chance of beating Michigan and capturing the B1G East title if Haskins and the offense cannot put up at least 30 points against the Wolverine’s outstanding defense. Prior to Sat. I had very little confidence they could do that.
--Senior Bowl acceptances are trickling in. One player I’m anxious to see in Mobile: Delaware safety Nasir Adderley. I’ve seen exactly one half of one Blue Hens game this year, so my own slate is largely blank on Adderley, but he’s got some serious respect from a lot of people I respect.
I enjoy taking in those lesser-known players without much background on them when I hit the all-star game circuit and use what I see in Mobile and St. Pete (Shrine Game) to go back and watch their game tapes. More often it keeps me from wasting time on guys (think Antonio Pipkin or Ramses Barden) than it does leading to false positives from a great week of practice.
$.10--Thanksgiving is this week. It’s a short work and school week for many. In that spirit, I’ll keep this short…
Be thankful for those around you. Appreciate what you have and what they give to you. Let them know you appreciate it. Celebrate what you share instead of fighting over what you don’t, if only for a day. Make the world a little better, a little happier, a little more grateful and a little less divided. We can all be thankful for that.