$.01--Hopefully this is the last time we ever have to lead anything with Antonio Brown and his bizarre trip into NFL infamy, but here were are once again. The enigmatic wide receiver was released by the New England Patriots on Friday after more allegations of more serious off-field legal issues continued to surface.
Brown’s Patriots tenure ends after just one game where he caught four passes for 56 and a TD against what very well could be the worst team in the history of organized professional sports, the Dolphins. For many of us who have followed the Brown saga over the last 18 or so months, it’s about damn time. His considerable talent just isn’t worth the even more considerable problems surrounding his behavior, his reliability and perhaps even his sanity.
A text implying threats to a witness’ children was apparently the final straw for the Patriots, though to be fair there are several other camels with shattered spines from carrying Brown’s weight. It doesn’t really matter why the Patriots did the right thing, it just matters that they quickly came to their senses and did it.
Brown has forfeited his privilege of playing football with his increasingly strange and disturbing behavior. Shame on any other team that enables his downward spiral any longer. Brown has been such an incredibly productive and difference-making talent, so there will be temptation even after his Sunday morning tirade on Twitter, where he attacked Ben Roethlisberger, Robert Kraft, Shannon Sharpe and the laws of dignity. Enough needs to be enough.
Back to football and the men who want to play it...
$.02--Kansas City held off Baltimore in the marquee matchup on Sunday to improve to 3-0 and seize control of the mantle of “best AFC team not named New England” (with apologies to the Bills).
The Chiefs blitzed out to an early lead, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives in the second quarter and showing their dynamic ability to strike from anywhere. No Tyreke Hill? Okay, Mecole Hardman blazes in from 83 yards out. Demarcus Robinson makes a filthy toe-tap TD. Patrick Mahomes continues to prove why he’s the reigning MVP and the early favorite to repeat.
The Ravens adapted and came back to make it interesting. It would have been even more interesting if not for some, well, interesting choices on conversions by Ravens coach John Harbaugh. It can be nitpicky to question those calls in a game where the teams combined for almost 1,000 yards of offense (503 for KC, 452 for BAL). This is the kind of display the NFL should have front and center and in primetime. It’s a game that fans would like to see again in January, and based on the way the season is progressing in the AFC, there seems a distinct possibility we get that.
The win vaulted Andy Reid into sixth place on the all-time win list, passing Steelers legend Chuck Noll. Reid has been continuously employed by the Chiefs (since 2013) and Eagles going back to 1999 and has had just three losing records, including the first year. He’s the best coach to not win an NFL Championship and Reid is not done yet.
$.03--The most unlikely of the unbeaten teams are the Detroit Lions. Matt Patricia’s team somehow advanced to 2-0-1 with an improbable road win in Philadelphia over the self-destructive Eagles.
As a Lions fan, and the “long-suffering” modifier is implicit in that status, this was a very unexpected result. Detroit sure tried to lose it, too. Up 27-24, a miserable job of trying to eat clock ended with a long Matt Prater FG attempt getting blocked and nearly returned for a TD by the Eagles. But Philadelphia wanted to lose the game just a little more.
An iffy offensive pass interference call on Darren Sproles negated a clutch conversion. On the final gasp, Carson Wentz’s heave came up a little less than heroic. The flashbacks of Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers danced in Lions fans’ heads, but the ball fell to the Lincoln Financial Field turf and Detroit escaped with the win.
They might be winning, but they’re doing it ugly. No matter. The Lions organization doesn’t need style points. They need wins, and they’re quietly racking them up by forcing opponents to look dreadful. It worked in Week 2 against the Chargers and it worked again in Philadelphia. If not for blowing a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in Week 1 at Arizona (that game ended as a tie), the Lions would be right there with the top teams at 3-0.
These are games the Eagles cannot afford to drop. Now 1-2, they’re looking way up at the 3-0 Cowboys in the NFC East. Losing an NFC conference game two weeks in a row sure waters down their potency in potential tiebreakers down the road, too. Injuries definitely played a role in this loss, but the poor execution and inattention to detail doomed Doug Pederson’s Eagles on Sunday.
$.04--Congratulations are in order for New York Giants rookie QB Daniel Jones. In his first career start, Jones validated coach Pat Shurmur’s decision to make the switch and led the Giants to a much-needed victory over Tampa Bay.
Jones was impressive in a game where he needed to make some plays to lead his team to the win. With no run game at all to help and a dilapidated receiving corps, Jones showed great touch and vision on his throws. He stood in the pocket and faced down the rush, though at times to his own detriment. His TD scamper as the Pewter Sea parted was a savvy play...one Eli Manning could never do.
Jones ran for two TDs and threw for two more, completing 23 of his 36 passes for 336 yards. Evan Engram’s big day helped out, but Jones set up his skilled TE to make plays too. It’s a cathartic win for Jones and the Giants, who were horribly outclassed in the first two weeks. They needed some help from the Buccaneers to make it happen, too.
Rookie kicker Matt Gay just missed a game-winning field goal attempt. The ball just missed hitting the outside of the right upright and would have been good from five yards shorter...which is exactly where Tampa Bay had the ball before taking a pointless delay of game penalty. After the game, coach Bruce Arians declared he took the penalty to help his kicker get an easier attempt from further out. It’s that kind of counterintuitive logic that either looks brilliant or asinine, and now Arians’ trademark Kangol hat has donkey ears.
The Giants survived a dominant performance by Bucs WR Mike Evans, who caught 8 passes for 190 yards and three TDs and snagged the pass which set up the ill-fated FG attempt. They also survived losing RB Saquon Barkley, and that is an injury that might make the next New York win tough to come by. Barkley left with what appears to be a high ankle sprain and was on crutches and a boot after the game. As good as Jones played on Sunday, it’s unfair to expect him to do it again without Barkley, who figures to be out at least a month. Still a good day to be a Giants fan and have some hope restored.
$.05--Jalen Ramsey is still a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played, and played well, in Jacksonville's Thursday night win over the Titans (more on that later). It’s no surprise the cornerback showed out on national television. It is a bit of a surprise Ramsey will get more chances to do the same while still wearing a Jaguars uniform.
Ramsey demanded a trade after Week 2 and a sideline blow-up with coach Doug Marrone. The All-Pro DB has not meshed well with Marrone or GM Tom Coughlin, two old-school football gruffs. The Jaguars seemed inclined to grant him his wish, too. Every national NFL media insider had reports of multiple teams making very attractive offers for Ramsey's services. One of those had the Ravens offering two first-round picks and a third-rounder, an astronomical return even for a player of Ramsey’s caliber.
Turning down that reported offer was a strong indication that the Jaguars are comfortable keeping him and challenging for the AFC South title on the backs of an oft-awesome defense. Most of those same national reporters now declare Ramsey is not for sale, not until after the season anyway.
That’s good for the Jaguars and good for the NFL. Star players forcing their way off teams they simply don’t like is a bad precedent. While I appreciate players trying to capitalize on whatever leverage they have, whining off a team because the coaching doesn’t appease your considerable ego should not be one of them. Ramsey can get a bidding war for his services after the season, and expect the Jaguars to get a major return.
$.06--I did not watch Thursday night’s AFC South battle between the Jacksonville Minshews and the Tennessee Mariotas. I had better things to do, namely taking my daughter to see our favorite Swedish metal band, Avatar. Other acceptable alternate means of entertainment than watching that game would have included:
--An epic comeback by Tulane over Houston in a great college football contest
--The 117th meeting this year between the Yankees and Orioles, or Tigers and Indians
--Reading the instruction manual for your parent’s vacuum cleaner, which for some reason I have despite not living with my parents since 1993...
At least the game, or more specifically Tennessee’s moribund offense, could have helped with the last suggestion. The Jaguars sacked Mariota nine times. Eight of the Titans’ first nine drives ended in a punt, with the other a failed 4th down.
The next time Tennessee plays, they could be the Tannehills and not the Mariotas anymore. The former No. 2 overall pick continues to struggle at challenging defenses, reading coverages, throwing players open and handling pressure. Backup Ryan Tannehill wasn’t very good at most of those things either in his years as Miami’s starter, but the change might be the jumpstart the Titans need in a division race where 9 wins could very well seize the crown.
$.07--Not many things bother me more in the world than sycophantism. I despise blind devotion and willful ignorance of evidence and facts contrary to the devotee’s beliefs. It’s true in politics, it’s true in religion and it’s true in sports. When sycophants finally see the light and discover the folly of their obsequiousness, it’s often an ugly and dramatic reaction.
Such is the case with many a Michigan Wolverine fan and their unwavering faith in Jim Harbaugh. It’s a very difficult time for them to come to terms with the realization that their messiah isn’t so holy after all. And make no mistake, even the hardcore Harbaugh fanatics are realizing the halo is gone.
That’s what happens when Harbaugh’s Wolverines show up in Madison to play Wisconsin and are completely unprepared for the Badgers...off a bye week...against a Wisconsin team that hasn’t changed offensive style since Harbaugh was playing for the Wolverines. It’s the latest in a series of the steak not meeting the sizzle for Harbaugh, and the adoring masses are starting to consider using the anointing oils to light torches and burn it down instead.
It takes considerable and repeated effort to convince the hardcore believer that what they don’t want to hear isn’t Fake News but rather the hard truth. And that’s what Harbaugh has done in his fifth season at Michigan. He’s made even the most obsequious Wolverine fans believe that it’s time to question their obnoxiously off-base professions that we must kiss Harbaugh’s (non-existent) rings and bow before The Chosen One.
I feel for those folks, I really do. I’m closely related to some. Now comes the hard part. Is the backlash from the apostates, those whose blind faith Harbaugh has violated with his underwhelming results and oft-embarrassing in-game coaching, is that going to cost Harbaugh his job? For a program and fanbase that venerates the Bo Schembechler’s “The Team”speech by unironically putting Harbaugh over the team, there is no easy fall from glory.
--Do the Panthers have themselves a QB controversy after backup Kyle Allen showed precision and swagger in his start replacing Cam Newton? No, Cam is still the man when he gets healthy. But Carolina has a backup they can trust. That’s invaluable for the Panthers with Newton seemingly always battlingsomething. Really nice win for the Panthers to rout the Cardinals.
--Pittsburgh is 0-3 after blowing a potential win at San Francisco and falling 24-20. The comeback win for the 49ers improves San Francisco to 3-0. The 49ers outplayed the Steelers on both sides of the ball but still had a chance to win. It was very weird to type those sentences with those teams in that context.
--Freddie Kitchens calling a draw play on 4th-and-9 in the 4th quarter, down 4 at the Rams 40, is the sad new poster child for rookie coaching mistakes. Unacceptable, coach.
--Huge road win by the Saints in finding ways to score outside of the offensive box in thumping Seattle in the rain. It won’t be easy without Drew Brees but they did exactly what they needed to in overcoming the Seahawks.
--Good observation here from Danny Kelly, one of my favorite NFL writers:
Falcons, Eagles, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Ravens all lost. very tough week for birds— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) September 22, 2019
--I didn’t see one second of it; I went to bed before it started. But I cannot wait to watch the UCLA epic comeback against Washington State. The Bruins so desperately needed anything positive in what has been a dreadful season. Scoring 57 points in the second half against a conference foe and stealing a win will do for Chip Kelly.
--This is hilarious:
It’s also an example of one of my major football pet peeves. In an era of heightened concussion and brain injury awareness, way too many players continue to beat one another in the head in celebration. Stop doing that, kids. By the way, Rutgers lost to Boston College here.
--I need to rewatch it, but the Georgia/Notre Dame game had a lot of future NFL talent squaring off. For my money the best OT is Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, but I saw the Irish get some wins on run reps by slow-playing the ball and letting Thomas expose himself a bit. Again I need to rewatch it but it’s an interesting tactic, one defenses used to try to use against Jason Peters early in his Eagles career. Thomas remains an elite tackle prospect.
--As bad as things are getting at Michigan, at least the Wolverines are playing good teams. Arkansas got run off the field by a San Jose State team that hadn’t beaten a Power 5 team in over a decade.
--Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa became the first Crimson Tide QB to ever throw four TDs two weeks in a row. As far as the NFL is concerned, there wasn’t much to take away from the annihilation of Southern Miss. Tua had all day to throw and receivers running wide open. It only would have been noteworthy had he missed some throws. Still a very high-end potential prospect, but that game was fluff.
--My Ohio Bobcats fell at home to Louisiana (you probably know them as UL-Lafayette) to fall to 1-3. It’s a bitterly disappointing start for the Bobcats, who came into the year as the prohibitive favorites to win the MAC East and perhaps even the first MAC title since 1968. The conference season hasn’t kicked off yet, but Frank Solich’s team has underachieved thus far. Time is running out for Solich to prove he can get Ohio to take the next step, and this year has been a big step backward thus far.
$.10--Officiating discussion has dominated the NFL this season. When we’re not discussing serious injuries to key players, or the bad teams not even trying to win, we’re talking about ponderous officiating in way too many games. The plethora of penalties through the first weeks of the season has sucked the life and flow from too many games.
It’s been bad enough that Tom Brady complained about it on Thursday night:
The calls have been terrible, and consistently so. How the officials missed Lions LB Miles Killebrew nearly decapitating Eagles RB Miles Sanders with an obvious facemask on a kick return, I’ll never know. It’s inexplicable how many plain-sight calls the officials keep missing. How about Vontaze Burfict punching Vikings tackle Riley Reiff as a play concluded with the umpire on camera staring right at him? Or Giants LB Alec Ogletree getting hurt on a play that was an obvious forward pass by Jameis Winston but called a fumble on the field?
These are errors that simply cannot continue. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions...and we as fans are partly to blame. Go to a college game and listen to what the officials hear. High school games are even worse because the zebras can actually hear the distinct, profane, triggered attacks. I even heard some things that would make a Tarantino movie Samuel L Jackson character blush at my son’s middle-school games.
Why the hell would anyone want to be an official and take that abuse?
Guess what: that’s part of why the top-level officiating has devolved into the embarrassing situation we find ourselves in. The pipeline is drying up. The NFL just endured a wave of referees retiring. By and large, the best of the best are already working on Sundays. As much as I ragged on Jeff Triplette and his years of sheer incompetence, the retired Triplette was (gulp) better than some of the work we’re seeing now.
Think about that the next time you’re at a high school game--in any sport--and declare a personal jihad on the officials from the opening kickoff. We can’t play without them.