$.01--The NFL week began with a shuddering bang. The Cleveland Browns destroyed what’s left of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-7, in a game that should be remembered for Browns LB Joe Schobert playing one of the best games you’ll ever see from a defensive player. Nobody will ever remember that, alas…
Myles Garrett striking Steelers QB Mason Rudolph over the head with Rudolph’s own helmet is all anyone will think of when this game gets mentioned. It’s a horrible situation that deserves the national scrutiny and ugly spotlight. And it’s shameful.
Garrett had quickly endeared himself as one of my favorite NFL players. I loved his game, his blend of speed and power, his ever-improving technical skills. But what really drew me to Garrett was the man behind the anime eye shield. A poet, a dinosaur enthusiast, a big kid who reveled in being different, being smart, being more than just an incredible physical specimen.
I need to use past tense because after Thursday night's despicable act, I'm not so sure anymore. I'm certainly not wearing his No. 95 jersey again anytime soon. Maybe ever.
What Garrett did cannot be defended. No matter the provocation, no matter what was said or done leading up to it, what Garrett did is abhorrent. There is, was, and never will be any justification or defense of hitting another player over the head with a helmet. I could not sleep after watching it.
And therein lies the dilemma. What do you do when one of your favorite players, one of your heroes, does something so insanely intolerable?
I don't know how to reconcile it just yet. It's going to take some time. I watch the incessant replays of the incident and I cannot believe it's the same Myles Garrett I shared a fun laugh with on the sideline at training camp in August, joking about Devaroe Lawrence's dancing of all things. This cannot be the same guy who spontaneously shows up at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and hangs out with school kids on field trips.
I think back to the first time I met Garrett. At the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, I stood in front of his interview podium and asked him a question about his ankle injury. He smiled and gave an honest answer.
I remember thinking, how can this giant human be so calm, so erudite? He looked like he was flexing out of his dark Under Armour top like he had just finished a set of impossibly heavy power cleans, but he had the demeanor of the favorite 5th grade teacher at the elementary school.
We relish the violence of football until it becomes too violent. I’m still struggling with how to reconcile someone I respect and cherish watching so deeply doing something so sinister. I’m anxious to see what the reaction will be when Garrett gets back on the field next fall, but also when I trek to Berea for the first few days of Browns training camp...presuming he’s cleared by the commissioner by then.
Portions of this cent were previously published by me at Browns Wire in a piece entitled “Myles Garrett and the fan dilemma.”
$.02--Garrett has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL, with the earliest possible return coming in 2020. That’s a deserving punishment for the unprecedented act. It shouldn’t be a lifetime ban, but it needed to be punitive enough to prevent someone from ever doing it again. I have no problem with Garrett not playing again in 2019.
I do have a problem with nothing more than a small monetary slap on the wrist for Mason Rudolph, however. The Steelers QB escaping punishment and responsibility for his prominent part in the fracas is inexcusable negligence on the part of the NFL.
Rudolph attempted to rip off Garrett’s helmet while the two were entwined on the ground. Garrett’s hit on him was legal, and Garrett even purposely twisted so that he would not land on the QB to get a penalty. But Rudolph immediately starts clawing at and pulling Garrett’s helmet.
As Garrett gets up--with his hand on Rudolph’s facemask--the QB deliberately kicks Garrett where no man wants to be kicked. That lit Garrett’s fuse into attack mode, but he still allows himself to be led away by Steelers guard David Decastro.
But Rudolph won’t let it go and he charges at Garrett. If he doesn’t do that, Garrett never strikes him. Rudolph was both the match and the gasoline to the fire that became No. 95. It does not excuse what Garrett did, not one bit. But how is Rudolph skating away without punishment?
Just because Garrett finished the fight in horrifying fashion should not excuse Rudolph from being at least equally culpable in starting it. Isn’t that the lesson we teach our kids, to be responsible for their actions? Rudolph gets nothing for being implicitly complicit in inciting the incident.
There is still time for the NFL to do the right thing here. Suspend Rudolph for the rematch between these two teams in Week 13. It’s justifiable and it should help the officiating crew handle what is sure to be an impossible game to manage.
$.03--The primary early afternoon game I wanted to watch on Sunday was Baltimore against Houston. I was stoked to watch Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson and the two most viable AFC contenders to keep the Patriots from making yet another Super Bowl. I devoted one full eye of attention to that screen.
I quickly closed that eye to avoid the horror that was the beatdown the Ravens put on the Texans. The Ravens absolutely annihilated the visitors from Houston, 41-7.
The hotly anticipated duel between the two dynamic young QBs never materialized. Watson played his worst game of the season, looking erratic and ineffective. His mistake-prone offensive line did him no favors, nor did any receiver not named DeAndre Hopkins. Baltimore’s defense took away everything the Texans wanted to do. It was almost as if they were hitting the right button on the Super Tecmo Bowl play screen to counter the offensive calls. Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson thrived up front.
Then there’s Jackson. MVP leading candidate Lamar Jackson, thank you very much. He just missed a third perfect QB Rating on the season, finishing at 139.2 on 17-of-24 passing, 222 yards, four TDs and no turnovers. He also ran for 86 yards on just nine rushes, breaking tackles and Texans defender’s ankles along the way. The Ravens did not have a single 3-and-out possession all afternoon.
The top of the AFC has become a two-team race. And right now no team in either conference is playing better than the Ravens. The Texans are generally a good team and should be expected to win a playoff game, but they were not even close to Baltimore in Week 11.
$.04--There was still something noteworthy, or rather cent-worthy, from the Texans loss: the complete repudiation of the new pass interference challenge system.
If you didn’t see it yet, you might want to munch on a blood pressure med or two...especially if you’re a Texans fan. Here’s the play in question, with DeAndre Hopkins breaking into the front right corner of the Ravens end zone and Marlon Humphrey trying to stop him from catching the ball.
ESPN’s John Buccigross nicely encapsulated it in this tweet:
I know you probably don’t care, but because they did not reverse this obvious pass interference (in a game I don’t even care who wins) I’m turning the game off and getting caught up on my DVR recordings. I’ll watch the highlights on SportsCenter tonight (which I’m anchoring) pic.twitter.com/9VnVvwh9rv— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) November 17, 2019
Or as Dan Fouts said on the CBS broadcast, Humphrey was clearly guilty of three different instances of obvious pass interference. But not a single yellow flag was thrown. Texans coach Bill O’Brien subsequently threw his red one to challenge the play. O’Brien was perfectly in the right to challenge the non-call even with the poor record of having pass interference decisions overturned. This one was obvious.
Except it wasn’t. Upon further review, the officiating crew determined they didn’t want the Baltimore fans to riot against them and swallowed common sense and the laws of football.
If that call can’t get overturned on review, having a review available for coaches is akin to men having nipples. It serves no purpose other than to give the advertisers an extra block of commercials in the middle of a game, or to further enrage fans who still aren’t quite sure what a catch is and now surely have no idea what pass interference is either. Make the game less abstruse and stop making stupid rules that you don’t even follow anyway, Mr. Goodell...
$.05--The Colin Kaepernick saga has once again been dragged into the collective conscious. Saturday’s debacle should be the end, as far as the NFL is concerned.
It’s a lengthy and complicated story for something that unfolded in just a handful of days, so I’ll try and summarize:
On Tuesday, the NFL hastily announced a workout on Saturday in Atlanta for Kaepernick that all 32 NFL teams could attend.
Hue Jackson, the least-successful coach in NFL history, led the workout. The receivers were unknown as of Friday afternoon, and there were no defenders brought in.
At least 24 teams showed up at the Falcons training facility to watch. But disagreements over the receivers, the structure of the workout but especially media access and who would be filming made Kaepernick balk.
The QB then held a workout an hour away at a high school, which either 6 or 8 (depending on your source) NFL teams attended. He threw some passes with no defenders, did not talk to the teams, filmed at least one Nike commercial, and defiantly challenged NFL owners to “stop running” and hire him while he wore a shirt referencing a slave from the novel "The Roots".
The whole thing felt way too contrived by both sides. I understand the sentiment that the NFL was setting Kaepernick up to fail. This charade certainly was not conducive for the QB’s success. NFL owners have stridently kept Kaepernick outside the league for his controversial image and being the progenitor of the kneeling movement. Call it blackballing if you like. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. And the special liability waiver the NFL asked him to sign to participate in the Falcons’ facility would make many a player and agent balk; I don’t blame Kaepernick one bit for not agreeing to those terms.
But the way Kaepernick handled this whole situation is the net effect of microwaving a ball of tin foil. He made sure the NFL--and the favorable media covering him--knew it was all about Kaepernick, that he’s only doing things on his own terms. He refused to sublimate his ego or play nice. Wagging a middle finger in the air in the faces of the NFL personnel who might have had honest intentions in checking out his workout? Kaepernick is more than smart enough to know what he was doing.
That is simply not how the NFL operates at any level. An organization that bans nonconforming uniform socks sure as hell won’t respond well to being defiantly called out, certainly not by a player who has already driven many fans away. They wanted to see if he would “play ball” and he instead threw the ball back at them, angrily and publicly. That was a carefully orchestrated media spectacle on Kaepernick’s part. Being the anti-hero is obviously more important to Kaepernick than playing the NFL again...which admittedly was an extreme longshot anyway.
For that aspect, I don’t really fault Kaepernick for keeping himself in the news and furthering his proud martyr cause. It’s his brand and his life now. It’s still a sad NFL ending to a once-promising career.
$.06--We almost had a big shakeup at the top of the NFC standings in Week 11. Almost…
The upheaval was thwarted thanks to stirring comebacks by the Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers. Thanks to their late-game heroics, five of the six NFC playoff teams are almost set in marble after just 11 weeks.
Minnesota was down 20-0 at home to Denver. The Vikings had just 47 total yards and 4 first downs at the half. Then they woke up. Four second-half possessions, four Minnesota TDs. The Broncos managed just one FG and missed another. It was the first time the Vikings had trailed in a game by 20 points and come back to win since 1992. On a day with zero run game (Dalvin Cook finished with 26 yards) to help, Kirk Cousins furiously rallied his Vikings against one of the league’s best defenses. Cousins tossed 3 TDs in the 27-23 win.
San Francisco’s comeback against Arizona wasn’t so huge, but it was wildly entertaining and just as dramatic. There were four lead changes in the second half, the last coming on a crazy defensive call by the Cardinals that Jimmy Garoppolo smartly (and barely) exploited. Arizona blitzed the safeties and asked Chandler Jones, one of the NFL’s best pass rushers, to drop in coverage. He fell down, running back Jeff Wilson somehow trapped the ball in his outstretched fingers and sprinted into the end zone. The 49ers added some sauce with a fumble recovery TD on the final play.
The top of the NFC looks like this:
No offense to Rams fans, but Jared Goff and his 6-4 band of merry men aren’t making up three games in six weeks, not with their schedule and certainly not with their offense as it exists lately. The East champ (likely Dallas) will fill out the NFC playoff picture.
$.07--Tua Tagovailoa’s college football season ended in a painful crumpled heap in Starkville. Alabama’s all-world QB--and a presumptive top 5 2020 NFL Draft pick--suffered a devastating injury that muddies the waters of not just Alabama’s playoff fate but Tua’s ability to play football again.
Tagovailoa dislocated his hip and fractured his posterior wall, part of the hip that holds the ball/socket in place. It’s the same injury Bo Jackson suffered and ended his career. And Tua’s could be just as serious. We won’t know until weeks into the recovery from the surgery he’ll have on Monday.
It’s a rare injury for an athlete, and the worry is complications in the healing process will set in. That’s what happened to Jackson; the blood supply to the joint wasn’t sufficient and he suffered osteonecrosis. I have that in my right knee and I’m reminded I have it every time it’s cold or raining. I can’t fathom how much it would hurt in my hip. Early-onset arthritis is a major worry, too (see Todd Gurley’s knees). Wish nothing but the best for Tagovaiola in his recovery.
For his future football prospects, it’s troubling. He has already had surgery for high ankle sprains twice, last year and this. He’s had a sprained knee that he kept reaggravating by trying to play through it in 2018. If he declares for the draft, it’s unlikely he will be progressed enough in his surgery rehab to work out for teams before April. That’s asking for a huge leap of faith from an NFL team, and trusting in his extensive injury history makes it even more difficult.
As for the Crimson Tide, their case for making one of the four spots in the playoff was already specious. They have one win over a ranked team, No. 24 Texas A&M. Barring some freakiness, they will not play for the SEC Championship thanks to their loss to LSU. Beating Western Carolina (really) next Saturday won’t move the needle, and Auburn’s progressive fall (they’re 2-3 in the last 5) makes a Bama win in the Iron Bowl less impactful to the selection committee.
The Crimson Tide don’t have a better resume than Oklahoma or Minnesota or Penn State, the other 1-loss teams with viable shots. They won’t have a better resume than a 1-loss PAC-12 champ, either (my $$ is on Utah). That’s with Tua at the controls. Without him? Let’s put it this way...if you took the names off the jerseys and did a blind look at the resumes, Alabama isn’t even in the first 4 teams left out. They’re behind the winner of the Cincinnati/Memphis game, or rather they should be behind that AAC victor.
--Frequent readers know I hate nothing more than poorly paced football productions. This example from the Dolphins game should never, ever happen:
Timeout, commercial, punt, commercial, one play, end of quarter commercial here in Miami.— Kyle Crabbs (@GrindingTheTape) November 17, 2019
--The Jets doubled up hapless Washington, 34-17, in a game rife with 2020 NFL Draft implications. These two teams are the most likely suitors for Ohio State’s Chase Young, the best defensive player in the draft. Washington is now 1-9 and holds the No. 2 pick. Go ahead and pencil in Young to join Buckeye teammates Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin in Washington come April. Haskins is off to a very rough start to his career.
--The touchdown might not have survived the replay, but the Colts OL going with a keg stand is the single greatest TD celebration ever. I will accept no substitutes.
Quenton Nelson runs for a touchdown, does a keg stand. Beauty. pic.twitter.com/BFJcowZcNQ— Mike Cole (@MikeColeNESN) November 17, 2019
--I wind up writing a lot of this column during Sunday night’s game. As I’m watching, Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro just missed his second FG of the first quarter in a dreadful start to the game. But the NBC production crew deserves major kudos for having Phil Collins’ “I Missed Again” as the music heading to commercial after the second Pineiro miss. That’s friggin’ brilliant!
--Another week, another Bengals loss. They kept it close with the Raiders, but no team with that OL and that LB corps can win without a lot of help from the opponent. They’re a real threat to go 0-16 and I’ll be surprised if they don’t, quite honestly.
--Miami’s Kalen Ballage was a darling of the SPARQ set, a tremendous physical specimen coming out of college. He’s yet the latest in a LONG line of outstanding athletes who made terrible NFL running backs. Ballage is now, in fact, statistically the worst RB in modern NFL history:
Of the hundreds of running backs who’ve totaled at least 60 carries in a season post-merger era, Kalen Ballage’s 1.91 yards per carry would rank dead last. The closest to him was Deji Karim's 2.06 yards per carry in 2011. Outside of those two, no one else finished below 2.25 YPC.— Mike Tagliere (@MikeTagliereNFL) November 18, 2019
Remember him when the Combine rolls around and you get wowed by size/speed scores...
--Still haven’t seen anything but quick highlights from the game, but the Falcons blowing out the Panthers a week after they spanked the Saints in New Orleans certainly raises an eyebrow. The league’s 2nd-worst defense through the first eight games has allowed two teams with winning records a combined 12 points in the last two weeks.
--It’s award season time, and this week was the deluge of emails containing ballots for all sorts of honors. I am not a Heisman voter, but I do vote for just about every other college honor, including the All-American teams. Here’s my ballot I submitted for the defense (we vote in stages, the offensive skill positions, specialists and coaches come next week):
Chase Young, Ohio State
Derrick Brown, Auburn
Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky (this year’s Sutton Smith)
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Evan Weaver, California
Dele Harding, Illinois
Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State
Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota
Paulsen Adebo, Stanford
We are not obligated to select two CBs and two safeties so I loaded up on corners.
--Both Baylor and Minnesota lost this weekend, yet the previously undefeated teams likely gained some credibility in their losses. Minnesota came close in a hard-fought loss at Iowa, while Baylor blew a 28-3 lead to Oklahoma. Sure they lost, but they didn’t embarrass themselves as frauds in blowout losses as we often see. I’d love to see these two play in the Cotton Bowl.
--Convincing and dominating win by Michigan over Michigan State, and it should push Mark Dantonio out the door in East Lansing. His Spartans have had a great run, but the time has come for both parties to move on for the best. If Michigan State is smart, and that university has not demonstrated much positive of late, they’ll look to nearby Ypsilanti and Chris Carson. He has turned Eastern Michigan from the worst FBS program for more than 20 years into a consistent winner.
$.10--In my quest to remain sane as I age, I’ve decided to stop watching national news of any kind. I consume local news and I do read international news from international media, but in terms of American news or politics, I have simply turned it off.
And I am so much happier of a person for doing it.
I’m not unaware of the major news stories. Working in media, it’s impossible to stay in a bubble. But I grew incredibly fatigued of the bloviating yelling at me from the networks. I got tired of FOX and CNN telling me how I should think about issues I probably shouldn’t care about. On the issues I do care about, I got sick of the utter lack of nuance or historical context in the presentation. That is especially true of all things Trump-related, from both sides.
So I turned it off. I was long a devotee of the national morning news shows (CBS was my personal fave, but I surfed around). Now I watch my local affiliates and listen to the BBC or NPR--which is (mostly, outside of 1A) about as nonpartisan of reporting as you can get in America if you can ignore the wildly leftist sponsorship.
No longer do I storm around my house angry at what I’m watching. I don’t yell at the TV anymore. I don’t view my neighbors as potential political adversaries any longer. I smile more. I listen more when I’m in conversations. I read more. My cats are more interested in sitting in my lap. And I just feel so much lighter mentally.
I encourage you to do it if you can. Stop feeding the beast, even for a long weekend. It might be the best way to keep your sanity.