$.01--Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, watching “Dallas” meant J.R. Ewing and slickly produced dysfunctional family drama with a humorous, campy twist. My parents often congregated with friends and watched it in big gatherings. The show is now but a distant memory, but the drama in Dallas never stops thanks to Jerry Jones and his splendidly chaotic football team.
Dallas is full of drama after the Cowboys dropped an uninspired game to the badly wounded Eagles. In the process, Philadelphia seized control of the NFC East and its own playoff destiny. The Cowboys now need to win and hope that Fantasy Island isn’t a repeat of this week’s episode.
The Cowboys could not get anything going on offense. Like a bad spinoff series, the familiar star power just didn’t equate to a product anyone would want to watch. Dak Prescott starred in one of the worst performances of his career, and he wasn’t alone in earning raspberries from the Cowboys faithful. The secondary couldn’t contain an Eagles receiving corps that was playing guys who didn’t even know where the home locker room was inside Lincoln Financial Field.
Heck, they couldn’t even travel right. The Dallas team plane had issues and remained stuck at the Philadelphia airport, leaving the team stranded in Pennsylvania while American Airlines scrambled to find a jet big enough to hold all the team’s gear and Jerry Jones’ considerable ego.
Where is Charlene Tilton when you need her?
With the possible exception of the Cleveland Browns, no 2019 team has done less relative to the talent on the roster than these Cowboys. It’s an unacceptable outcome for Jones, head coach Jason Garrett and a group of players who are collectively much less than the sum of their parts. The ensemble drama figures to end loudly next weekend...or will the Cowboys survive the cliffhanger and somehow earn a bonus postseason game? Stay tuned...
$.02--About two hours after last week’s cents were published, news broke of the NFLPA winning its case against the Jacksonville Jaguars for grievances filed by players for unfair treatment by the team. The subsequent progression of the story resulted in the team firing GM Tom Coughlin.
This is a much bigger story than it has been made out to be. Jacksonville doesn’t move the national meter much (sorry, Duval), which is too bad because if this happened with a higher-profile team you’d see it in the B-block of the national news broadcasts and Sportscenter specials devoted to it.
The NFLPA effectively proved that Coughlin and the Jaguars illegally fined players for activities specifically permitted in the CBA. They violated strictly enumerated rules about injured players and how they can, and cannot, be dealt with. Included in the NFLPA’s public statement was this very damning paragraph:
“25% of the grievances filed by NFL players have been filed by players in the entire league have been filed against the Jaguars. You as players may want to consider this when you have a chance to select your next club.”
Read that carefully. That is the player’s union telling players “stay the hell away from Jacksonville unless you have literally nowhere else to go”. Under those circumstances, the Jaguars organization had no choice but to pull the plug on Coughlin. They did so in a manner that left coach Doug Marrone exposed in the twisting wind, which is a pretty good indication that coaches who have other options should explore those as well.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Jaguars lost to the Falcons, 24-12 in a game that meant nothing but NFL Draft position jockeying.
$.03--The weekend’s first game helped sort out the AFC playoff picture. Houston clinched the AFC South by surviving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-20.
It was not an impressive victory for Bill O’Brien’s Texans, not even with CB Bradley Roby scoring on a pick-6 on Jameis Winston’s first throw of the game. The Buccaneers turned the ball over four times in the first half, Houston (Angelo Blackson, for the 2nd week in a row) blocked a field goal and held Tampa Bay to just 3 first downs on the first 7 drives, but Roby’s romp was a rare capitalization by the Texans offense. It took another late INT from Jahleel Addae and a crucial 4th down stop by the Houston defense--on a terrible drop by Bucs TE Cameron Brate--to seal the win and the division.
The Texans went all-in this season, trading away every draft pick before the 4th round to load up and make a run. And while it’s resulted in a division title and the potential for much more, games like this one and the whooping they took in Denver in Week 14 indicate the gamble is unlikely to fully pay off. They’re still capable of beating anyone, anywhere, but it’s hard to have confidence in such an erratic squad.
Tampa fans feel the same way about Winston, who cemented his grasp on the league’s INT title by throwing four more in this game. Reports that the Buccaneers were committing to another season of the Jameis thrill ride were debunked after the game, but the enigmatic Winston truly places the franchise between Scylla and Charybdis. It’s doubtful they can find anyone who can offer what Jameis does as positives, but his negatives so often cancel them out. He’s far too often the reason the team loses games, as he was on Saturday. But the way they’re built right now and with the aggressive Bruce Arians as head coach, there’s nobody else who gets this Bucs team to win better, either.
$.04--New England wrapped up the AFC East by doing what they always do: beating the Buffalo Bills. This one was closer than most of the last 16 meetings, but it ended the same way, a Patriots victory.
The Patriots captured the division for the 11th straight season and the 17th in the 19 years of the 21st century. Tom Brady beat the Bills for the 32nd time, running away from the pack for the most wins versus a single opponent in NFL history. And this came when the Patriots and Brady appeared vulnerable to a team designed like these Bills.
Brady and the offense had been sputtering for weeks, but they got it working against a talented Bills defense that had been playing great football. New England converted 7-of-14 on third downs, critical plays that kept the chains moving and denied the Bills the offensive snaps needed to keep up. New England’s defense withstood the Josh Allen thrill ride just enough to come away with the 24-17 win.
Just what the rest of the AFC wanted: a Patriots team figuring itself out in Week 16 and pounding a fellow playoff adversary in the process. Buffalo had a chance to prove it belonged in the conversation with Baltimore, New England and perhaps Kansas City with a win, but now they’ll lick their wounds in a meaningless Week 17 before heading to Houston (likely) and needing to play much more consistently effective on both sides of the ball to even hope for a rematch in Foxboro.
Interesting side note from my friend Paul from Otsego--the QB for the Jets team that won the AFC East in 2008 is the same guy who bested the Patriots for the division in 2002: Chad Pennington. He and Brady are the only starting QBs to win the AFC East since 2000.
$.05--The Cincinnati Bengals officially clinched the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Yes, Bengals fans, it’s now safe to preorder your Joe Burrow jerseys.
The Miami Dolphins needed every second of overtime to vanquish the Bengals and complete the “Bury for Burrow” campaign. It seems odd that a game featuring just under 1,000 yards of offense would produce two teams in dire need of new quarterbacks. However, that’s a clear sign that Burrow will need a lot of help around him to succeed in Cincinnati and whomever the Dolphins draft with one of their two first-round picks (they also have the Texans’ pick) will as well.
Miami fell from No. 3 to No. 5 overall with the win, which leaves them vulnerable to another team angling to land the second QB off the board. Washington at 2, Detroit at 3 and the Giants at 4 (with one week to play) won’t take QBs; the Skins and Giants took QBs in the 1st in 2019 and the Lions have Matthew Stafford. But a team wanting to trade up to land Jalen Hurts or Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa will find teams willing to deal. Miami might need to maneuver up to guarantee their pick of the QB litter.
Washington seized the second spot by losing to the Giants, also in overtime. The fantasy of having three teams with matching 3-11-1 records (joining the Lions) was narrowly averted when Daniel Jones tossed his fifth TD pass of the day deep into overtime. If Washington remains at No. 2, they are a major candidate to trade back for a team desperate to land Ohio State DE Chase Young. They have 2019 first-rounder Montez Sweat at that exact position and crying needs at OT, CB and another WR to pair with fantastic rookie Terry McLaurin. They also need a head coach to help make that decision.
It’s going to be a very fun and unpredictable draft season!
$.06--Josh Gordon has been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell for another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Again. This had better be the last time we ever hear of Gordon and playing in the NFL ever again.
Gordon failed yet another drug test. The Seahawks wideout was popped for violating the policies of both illicit substance abuse and performance-enhancing drugs shortly after he made a spectacular catch in Seattle’s win over Carolina.
It is at least the 11th drug test Gordon has failed since 2011, and it comes after missing most of four seasons for his addiction. His immense physical talent keeps giving him chances, but his inability to shake the demons of drug abuse keep taking them away. And it’s time for the NFL to stop enabling Josh Gordon the addict by letting him be Josh Gordon the wide receiver.
That doesn’t mean giving up on Gordon as a man. He should be entitled to whatever treatment he can get, and it should be part of his NFL health care. Gordon has publicly been forthright with his nearly lifelong history of drug abuse, and it involves substances far beyond marijuana--though he has admitted to smoking pot compulsively since middle school too.
Playing in the NFL needs to be a privilege, and Gordon has forsaken that privilege. Root for Gordon the man to conquer his addiction, as I am praying he does. But his NFL career needs to be over; 11 strikes is more than enough.
$.07--The Pro Bowl rosters were announced this week, to considerable media fanfare and primetime specials on both the NFL Network and ESPN. At my other employer, USA TODAY Sports Wire, we had to force-feed coverage of the Pro Bowl angles for our teams. Who made it? Who got snubbed? Who got contract bonuses? Who are the alternates?
It’s one of those situations where I understand the hubbub and I get why it’s something sports editors believe is important. Being a Pro Bowler is indeed a big deal for a player. It’s recognition of a positive, popular reputation. Who doesn’t want that?
What flummoxes my noodle is how intensely we try to make fans care about the Pro Bowl this week only to exhort these same fans to ignore an exhibition game nobody wants to actually play in next month. The Pro Bowl is to professional football what Mad Dog is to a sommelier in a wine bar. Stop playing the game and stop trying to keep it as a thing. I haven’t watched it in years, and judging by the “Buy 1 get 3 free” deals on Pro Bowl tickets that sprout every year in the days before the game, nobody else does either.
Respect the players for receiving the honor. Celebrate the good performances. Argue about who should have been honored *coughFrank Ragnow*. But please do away with the actual game.
--During the Eagles’ win over the Cowboys, Joe Buck stated that Carson Wentz now has 47 career fumbles. It came in just his 54th career game. In his first 54 starts, the NFL’s all-time leader in fumbles, Brett Favre, had just 41.
--Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to lead the Dolphins in rushing this season. The 37-year-old QB has 228 rushing yards heading into Week 17. The next active player on the Dolphins rushing list is Patrick Laird, who has just 147. That is an astonishing statistic.
--The Detroit Lions activated oft-injured RB Kerryon Johnson off injured reserve to play in the final two games, weeks after they’ve been eliminated from the postseason. Yet they kept QB Matthew Stafford and his broken back (!!) on the active roster for seven weeks before mercifully acquiescing to depth concerns and placing him on I.R. The Lions front office badly mismanaged the injury situation on the roster all year, one of the myriad reasons they’re picking in the top-3.
--The Chiefs are playing some really good defense of late, and that’s not good news for the rest of the AFC. They haven’t allowed a touchdown in the last two weeks and have surrendered just three (2 to New England) in the last four games after smoking the Bears on Sunday night. The Chiefs got their bye in Week 12, which is normally way too late. It might have helped them regroup and get healthy for a playoff run instead.
--Seattle’s running back situation closely follows Spinal Tap drummers. Chris Carson is the latest casualty, something I’m sure your friend who is too enthusiastic about his fantasy football team yelled at you on Sunday. C.J. Prosise also went down, joining Rashaad Penny among the non-walking wounded. The Seahawks will be playing for the NFC West title and possible playoff home-field advantage next weekend with Travis Homer and Xavier Turner (currently on the practice squad) as the running backs.
--Carolina has lost seven games in a row. The Panthers defense has allowed at least four offensive touchdowns in the last six of those. There’s a lot more wrong in Charlotte than Cam Newton’s health, folks...
--Congrats to the Kent State Golden Flashes for the first bowl win in program history. Kent St. bombarded Utah St. 51-41 in the Frisco Bowl. They were 3-6 and needed to recover two onside kicks against Buffalo to rally and become bowl eligible and still managed to come up victorious.
--Congrats to the Buffalo Bulls for the first win in their program history, too. Buffalo zonked Charlotte, 31-9, in the Bahamas Bowl to also capture the first bowl game of the season. It’s hard to look ahead in the MAC, but nearly everyone returns to Buffalo next season and they could be on a bigger stage next December.
--Liberty also won the first bowl game in program history as Hugh Freeze’s redemption tour continues. The Flames have quickly ascended since moving up from the FBS level two seasons ago. Good job by the independent school to fight off Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl. You get bonus points if you have any idea where the Cure Bowl is played…
--Bowl games tend to get trumpeted up as a chance to check out draft prospects from schools not normally featured on TV. And while it’s great exposure, be careful to read too much into an evaluation based off a bowl game. There are too many false positives and negatives to cite from the exhibition games. Just enjoy the football and getting to see a little of the players.
--National signing day was this week. I say it merely as a note; football recruiting is an animal I want no business petting or feeding. But a friend (hi Phillip) at the gym this week gave an analogy I can embrace:
“Recruits are like having a big (male genitalia). It’s great to show off but if you don’t harden it up the only people it’s gonna (insert euphemism for coitus) is the guy who did the recruiting.”
As a Michigan fan who graduated from Texas, he knows of what he speaks...
$.10--Christmas is coming quickly, enough that I need to scurry to finish writing this so I can finish shopping and get the gifts wrapped and under the tree. It would be less stressful if my wife was easier to buy for.
Don’t get me wrong--she’s not picky. It’s just that women’s clothing is a baffling mystery. She asked for a top she can wear to her work office.
“What size?” I asked, trying to be a conscientious husband.
“Where are you buying it from?” she snapped back.
“Uh, Macy’s? Maybe Target? I might order it from Athleta?”
It is at this point when I was reminded why the second item on my Christmas list was beer…
“Well the size depends on where you buy it,” she declared as if she was telling me the sun sets in the west.
Men’s clothing doesn’t have this problem. About the only sizing choices I make in shirts or jackets is if there is a tall size. I’m a tall large or a regular XL. That’s it. Not so with my wife…
I looked through her wardrobe. She has tops that range from small to large, sizes 6 through 12. She’s a fit, athletic, long-legged 6-foot-2 so I get that her pants cannot be bought in stores, but how can shirt sizes vary so much? How can one brand be a small and another be a large and they’re the exact same freaking size?!? How can I possibly be expected to remember that she needs a tall large from the Gap family of stores, except Banana Republic where she’s a regular medium? I...just...can’t...
So my plea to you, fair readers: if you have any influence at all in the women’s fashion world or clothing sales, establish some uniformity and sanity and make the sizing more universal. I’ll happily accept that as a Christmas present.
Happy holidays, and may you spend good times with those important to you over the end of the decade!