$.01-- On a weekend with the college football playoff team being decided and with several key NFL matchups, Kareem Hunt dominated the headlines. The Kansas City Chiefs cut the 2017 NFL rushing yardage champ on Friday, hours after a disturbing video of hunt attacking a woman in a Cleveland hotel last February surfaced.
The Chiefs cited a lack of trust and dishonesty on Hunt’s part in their decision to dump their second-year standout. After seeing the video, it’s not hard to blame them for severing ties. Hunt aggressively goes after a female companion in the hotel hallway and pushes her despite being restrained by others. After a violent push sends both a man and the woman stumbling to the ground, Hunt kicks the woman while she’s down. It’s not the most malicious of kicks but more of a message, and it’s completely reprehensible. The whole scene is stunning, disturbing, and flat-out inexcusable for Hunt.
In his Sunday morning interview on ESPN, Hunt didn’t try to duck responsibility. He was contrite and obviously embarrassed, noting he was ashamed of himself. His sit-down with Lisa Salters came off as sincere and honest. He said what he needed to say. Just as important, he didn’t say anything dumb or come across as staged or threatening. Good.
Hunt should not play for the rest of 2018. I initially hoped no team would claim him, but the thing is, if he winds up hitting the open market he’ll get a hefty pay raise from this grievous misdeed. As it stands, Hunt is a bargain in the second season of a four-year, $3.2M deal signed as a third-round pick. Any team claiming him will inherit that deal. Pragmatically, a team interested in signing him will save millions by claiming him now instead of waiting. It also doesn’t reward Hunt for getting thrown off his team for his crime.
Make no mistake, Hunt will play again...presuming the fresh allegation that the Cleveland native and Toledo grad also punched another person this offseason comes up unfounded.
The NFL let Greg Hardy play again, after all. Reuben Foster got snatched up right away after his release despite a lengthy list of legal malfeasance, some of which is more severe than what we saw Hunt commit.
Frank Clark continues to thrive for the Seahawks despite a pre-draft incident that made Hunt’s horrible acts look like kittens play-fighting.
Nobody seems to raise an eyebrow about Joe Mixon in Cincinnati anymore even though his assault video was far more heinous than Hunt’s. That doesn’t make it right or take away from Hunt’s gross act, but if there is any sense of consistency or justice from the NFL, he’ll be in uniform by Week 4 next year.
That, of course, presumes the NFL will handle the situation. That may be a poor presumption...
$.02-- Hunt’s incident happened back in February. While it quickly washed through the legal system with no charges being filed, the NFL still had an ethical and moral responsibility to dig into the situation. On that front, the NFL egregiously dropped the ball.
The NFL’s “investigation” was akin to hangry me opening the pantry door in a search for ice cubes, not finding anything melted on the kitchen floor and just assuming there was no ice. They didn’t even try. According to both ESPN and FOX, the NFL never interviewed Hunt about the incident. They never interviewed the victim either, and still have not. Hunt confirmed in his sit-down with ESPN that the NFL never even approached him or his agent for any information or to even discuss the potential of an interview.
That’s a despicable fumble by the image-conscious NFL. The league goes out of its way to tell you how great of a job it’s doing in “protecting the shield” and proactively taking steps to make the game safer and its players more responsible. Yet they completely overlook this?!? They never had the video or even came looking for it, but TMZ somehow winds up with it? Terrible look, NFL. At some point the litany of embarrassingly, hypocritically mishandled situations like this by Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to cost the commish his job. And it should. The buck stops at his desk. If that buck never gets to his desk, that’s on the people he appointed to make sure it gets there. I do believe Goodell is sincere when he talks about trying to weed out the violence both on and off the field, but sincerity cannot trump utter incompetence any longer.
$.03-- The Dallas Cowboys honored legendary team architect Gil Brandt by putting the Hall of Famer into the Ring of Honor in AT&T Stadium on Thursday Night. The current Cowboys players honored Brandt by stunning the visiting Saints, 13-10, to end the NFL’s longest winning streak at 10 games.
It was a masterful defensive display by Dallas. Coordinator Rod Marinelli smothered, chopped and covered the normally tasty Waffle House hashbrown that is the Saints offense with a sweet recipe for success. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were seemingly everywhere, showing incredible range and positional discipline at the same time. The corners appeared to be running the routes for the Saints receivers. When Jourdan Lewis picked off Drew Brees’ final attempt, the dish was complete.
A lot will be made about how the Cowboys showed the blueprint for slowing down the Saints. They did. But few other chefs have the ingredients the Cowboys and Marinelli do to cook up such a game plan. Dallas has speed and range in the middle of the field and corners capable of playing man coverage on the outside. The pass rush up front helps cover for the plays where those DBs aren’t in optimal position. Good luck trying that if you’re Atlanta or Carolina or even the Rams, who have Aaron Donald but not much else consistently working on defense.
Give credit to the Cowboys for winning in an unconventional manner in the 2018 version of the NFL. They’re a run-first offense with uneven QB play paired with an excellent defense that is built around just two first-round regulars, CB Byron Jones and the rookie Vander Esch. Dallas has hit home runs on several picks on defense beyond the first round with guys like Chidobe Awuzie, Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Lewis and Xavier Woods. They’re now a first-place team that has proven they can knock off a superior foe.
$.04-- The Thursday Night game featured yet another case of negligent officiating which makes the NFL look hypocritically inept at best. In the 4th quarter, Saints RB Alvin Kamara turned up the field on a screen pass and subsequently got hit in the head by Jaylon Smith. The Dallas LB was a head-first missile, launching himself to an almost horizontal plane and initiating contact with Kamara’s helmet with his own helmet. It’s an obvious infraction that would be an instant ejection with no arguing in the college game.
Yet Walt Anderson’s crew somehow missed it. No flag even though Kamara got up staggering like he just finished a second fifth of vodka. No flag even though that has been the NFL’s point of emphasis, often to extreme caution in the other direction. We’ve all seen ridiculous calls where a tackler grazes the bottom of the helmet with his shoulder and gets 15 yards, but Smith does everything he’s not supposed to here in plain view of multiple officials and they let it go? Hell no, that’s not acceptable.
Anderson’s crew was an absolute disgrace. They later missed an obvious facemask penalty on the Saints.
It’s been a brutal season for the officiating. Remember the ham-handed “therefore allowed to be hit in the head” call when Baker Mayfield got thumped illegally? Or the league moved a spot in the Raiders/Browns game on review to artificially give the Raiders their first win? Or picked up a flag thrown by the referee himself in Detroit’s Thanksgiving loss to Chicago that allowed a Bears TD to stand? Those are just in games I’ve covered myself.
Because a good man (RIP Ty Adams) once taught me not to come to him with a problem without also presenting a solution, here’s one thing that can help the humans in the zebra costumes: simplify the rules. They are looking for so many different things all at the same time that they often don’t see anything.
Here’s another: it’s long past time to have GPS microchips implanted at both ends of the football to determine the proper spot. Modern technology can tell me when my cat jumps from her perch in the office window to nestling in on the couch below it some 2 feet away and tell me which way she’s laying. Surely, they can implement that technology into a pigskin. That would free the side judges and umpire up to look for things besides obsessing over the proper spot...which they frequently botch anyway.
$.05-- Mike McCarthy is no longer head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers pulled the plug on McCarthy after Sunday’s lifeless--but not strifeless--loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals in Green Bay.
McCarthy andd Aaron Rodgers were increasingly at odds, often visibly so, about the offensive system and choices. Rodgers should win that battle every time as the greatest QB of his generation. Puzzling play calls and personnel choices deserved criticism, and McCarthy handled them poorly and stubbornly.
McCarthy had many good years in Green Bay since taking over in 2006. His record of 125-76-2 includes a Super Bowl title. His teams made the playoff nine times and McCarthy’s playoff record of 10-8 is impressive. Yet there was seldom the feeling that McCarthy was responsible for the team’s success. Especially in the last few seasons since the Super Bowl win, it’s felt more like McCarthy was along for the ride with Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson et al. At times it seemed like he was barely a passenger. In 2018, he’s been the brakes.
It was clear the best players on the team were no longer listening to McCarthy, and that starts with Rodgers. The relative apathy and lack of inspired effort from many players was troubling and signaled the end was close. When Mason Crosby’s potential game-tying FG sailed wide right and the Packers players left the field looking emotionlessly resigned instead of upset, the time was nigh.
It will be interesting to see where the Packers go now. Remember, they just overhauled their front office with longtime GM Ted Thompson retiring and top lieutenants Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith now in Cleveland. If new GM Brian Gutekunst is looking to make a big mark on the organization, this is his chance. It’s still an attractive job for an experienced coach who believes he can work with Rodgers, who is not always the easiest guy to work with. The roster has considerable talent but also considerable holes. Interim coach Joe Philbin seems unlikely to be a serious candidate.
As for McCarthy...it’s easy to project him rejoining old cohorts in Cleveland, which happens to have a coaching vacancy. He’ll certainly get an interview, but for his sake, I’d prefer to see him step back a bit and take over another team’s offense. His gross mishandling of the personnel and failure to craft a winning strategy with Rodgers the last few years needs some washing away before I want him as a head man elsewhere. Consider it the Gary Kubiak path. And I do think McCarthy can become a successful head coach again in the NFL, just not right away.
$.06-- The College Football Playoff is set following championship weekend. Alabama will face Oklahoma and Clemson squares off with Notre Dame in the two semifinals.
Alabama and Clemson were no-brainers as undefeated major conference champions. Clemson hasn’t won by less than 20 since September and blasted everyone in the ACC along the way. They feature as many as five guys on the defensive front who will be top-75 draft picks when they come out. Frankly, I’ll be quite surprised if it isn’t Clemson and Alabama playing for the title yet again.
The final two spots were the subject of a debate which was both contentious and utterly pointless. The committee was about as likely to exclude an undefeated Notre Dame as watching a sporting event and not seeing a car insurance commercial. It simply cannot happen. Are the Irish more likely to beat Clemson than teams like Georgia, Ohio State or Michigan (which finished 5-6-7 in order)? Probably not. But they earned the right by beating everyone on their schedule, including Michigan.
Ohio State had no legit argument to be included despite winning the B1G over a pesky Northwestern team. They have the most impressive win of any team all season in their absolute thrashing of rival Michigan, but the Buckeyes also have what is likely the worst loss of any team that finished in the top 15 in their blowout loss to a Purdue team that went 6-6. That outcome kills any rationalization that the Buckeyes belonged in the final four.
Georgia had a better case than Ohio State in my mind. They lost twice, but losing at LSU and playing Alabama to the final gun are quality losses. The problem for the Bulldogs is that sentence required a plural form.
As for UCF, once again undefeated and once again an afterthought with a No. 8 finish: last year’s team had more quality wins and a better overall roster. When Mackenzie Milton went down in the win over USF with a serious knee injury, any glimmer of hope was gone. Playing LSU in the Fiesta Bowl is about as prestigious as their season merits.
$.07-- Alabama cemented itself as the top team heading into the College Football Playoff in dramatic fashion. The Crimson Tide rallied behind backup QB Jalen Hurts to attain the comeback win over Georgia in an entertaining SEC Championship Game.
Hurts and his ability to flip the script on the Alabama QB situation from last year is an amazing story. Remember, he was the SEC Player of the Year in 2016, carried the Tide masterfully through 2017 but got benched in the playoff for Tua Tagovailoa. Tua spearheaded the national championship and kept the starting gig for his sophomore season. Hurts, a senior, could have transferred to just about anywhere and starred. Instead, he chose to remain loyal to Alabama and Nick Saban. That’s not a typical decision from a youngster with post-collegiate football aspirations.
Alabama doesn’t beat Georgia without Hurts and his heroics. Tagovailoa did not play well even before he finally left after getting his ankle stepped on by a teammate. He had been hobbling around and ineffective, and that facilitated Georgia storming out to an early lead. They held that into the fourth quarter until Hurts changed everything. America is a sucker for redemption stories, and during this schmaltzy time of year, we got one in Jalen Hurts and Alabama.
--Any Given Sunday, pt. 1: Jacksonville shut out the Colts 6-0, ending the Jaguars 7-game bender and snapping Indy’s win streak at 5. That they did so with Cody Kessler at QB is even more impressive...and yes I’m aware they scored just 6 points.
--Any Given Sunday, pt. 2: The New York Giants upended the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears in overtime. It took a gadget pass from Odell Beckham and 3 Bears turnovers to happen, but that just shows how slim the margin is between teams with 4 wins (like the Giants) and 8 (like the Bears) in the NFC.
--Aaron Donald basically beat the Lions by himself. And he needed to because the Lions defense gave the Rams offense fits. Really.
Aaron Donald had 4 QB hits a forced fumble and 2 sacks today, and had another sack nullified by penalty. He might be MVP of the entire NFL, not just Defensive MVP.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 2, 2018
--Phillip Lindsay continues to thrive for Denver. The undrafted rookie RB ran for 157 yards and 2 TDs in the Broncos 24-10 win over the Bengals. This year’s rookie RB class remains ridiculously rich, and it’s a shame Lindsay gets overlooked by some because he went undrafted out of Colorado. He could wind up leading the NFL in yards per carry.
--The Panthers are teetering on playing their way out of the NFC playoffs. Losing TE Greg Olsen to a foot injury won’t help a team that is as consistently bad as anyone when they play away from home.
--Congrats to UAB for winning the C-USA title game less than two years after rising from the ashes of having the program disbanded. THe 10-3 Blazers won at Middle Tennessee to capture the conference title. Now they’ll aim for the first bowl win in Alabama-Birmingham history. Great story.
--I don’t have a Heisman vote, but if I did my final three ballot would have looked like this:
1. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma
2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
3. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State
--Northern Illinois winning the MAC over Buffalo genuinely surprised me. It probably shouldn’t have, given the Huskies’ defense and the Bulls propensity for erratic play. This is in no way meant to disparage Northern Illinois’ accomplishment, but this was the weakest season from top to bottom of #MACtion that I can recall.
--Finally got a chance to study UC Davis WR Keelan Doss, and the FCS standout definitely merits draft consideration in the middle rounds. Doss is big and comfortable being big at 6-3 and about 210 pounds. He’s very adept at creating space for himself with strong strides and quicker feet than expected for his size. Love his hands and how quickly he secures the ball away from his body. He doesn’t strike me as a primary weapon in the NFL but he can make a quality complementary threat or second banana for a pass-happy team.
$.10--RIP George H.W. Bush
Our 41st President passed away Friday night at 94. Bush was an exceptional American patriot and a decent and noble man. Even in declining health for the last few years, Bush continued to show class, dignity and wisdom.
I miss those qualities in our politicians. Both sides of the aisle have by and large devolved into hyper-partisan hacks out for the interests of themselves and their wealthy benefactors who funded their largely gerrymandered positions. That was never true of Bush. Like his policies and decisions or not (and collegiate me most certainly did not during his term), you knew that what H.W. did he did because he thought it was the best for the country he loved. There was no chest-thumping, no sanctimony, no personal profiteering, no sense he ever had anything but America first and foremost. He didn’t need to keep saying it because his actions reflected it.
I feel blessed to have learned much more about Bush when I moved to Houston in 2010. He was out sight and out of mind for most of America by that time, but Houston loved it’s most famous resident and he loved it right back. I met so many people who weren’t crazy about his Presidency but genuinely loved the man, the private citizen, the war hero, the skydiving aficionado with a disarmingly wicked sense of humor and a killer sock game. His post-Presidency benevolence is enviable. I never met him but I’ll miss him.