$.01--The Pittsburgh Steelers further validated themselves as the NFL’s best team through the first half of the season. On Sunday, they punched that ticket by out-punching their biggest rival, the Ravens, on the road in Baltimore. 

Pittsburgh is the last of the unbeatens, and they earned it with an impressive comeback victory. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it came down to a final and controversial (at least for Baltimore fans) play. When Lamar Jackson’s end zone pass to Willie Snead fell to the turf, the Steelers escaped with the win in the best rivalry in the NFL. 

Baltimore’s offense dominated the game. But an early pick-six by backup Robert Spillane gave the Steelers life, enough to hang around until their defense rolled into functional form. Pittsburgh’s offense never really got it going, but they made plays. The same was true of Pittsburgh’s defense; Baltimore racked up well over 400 yards of offense but turned the ball over four times. The Steelers offense cashed those takeaways in for two TDs. It facilitated Ben Roethlisberger waking up at halftime and throwing for nearly all his passing yards in the second half. Making big plays trumps making more small plays, and this game proves it. 

The Steelers now draw three games in a row where they will be heavy favorites: at Dallas, home for Cincinnati, at Jacksonville. That’s a likely 10-0 start in a season where many doubted them being a playoff team. Then comes a rematch with Baltimore, and you can bet the Ravens won’t turn the ball over four times in the next meeting...

On the final play: I’ve seen that called as a penalty before. Had a flag been thrown on Minkah Fitzpatrick I wouldn’t have argued it too hard, even though he was quite clearly trying to catch the ball himself. As a fan of football, I don’t want that called as a foul. Now had Fitzpatrick not been playing the ball? Obvious penalty. That needs to matter in that situation.  

$.02--Tua Tagovailoa made his much-anticipated debut as the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins. The first-round quarterback played well enough not to lose the game for his Dolphins, but he certainly didn’t do much to help their cause in the 28-17 win over the visiting, self-destructive Los Angeles Rams. 

Tua (he’s earned one-word moniker status already only because his last name is a handful to type) completed 12 of his 23 passes for 93 yards. Aaron Donald blasted him on his very first dropback and caused a fumble, a “welcome to the NFL” moment for the ages. He did uncork a great tight-window TD pass to DeVante Parker that serves as Tua’s only real highlight from the game. Miami netted just 145 total yards on offense and eight first downs.  

Miami’s defense won, err, the Rams bad offense lost this one. Jared Goff threw two bad INTs and missed an odd amount of throws for a guy who finished 35-for-61 on the day. Dolphins LB Andrew Van Ginkel scored on a long scoop-and-score, and the Dolphins also returned a punt for a TD. He made some good ones too, but much of Goff’s 355 passing yards came as mashed potatoes and Texas toast on a steak dinner--empty calories. Give Dolphins coach Brian Flores credit for scheming Goff into trouble in key situations all afternoon. 

The record book says Tua got the win. Don’t believe the dreaded “QB Wins” argument. Tua didn’t screw the pooch, but he didn’t exactly show a lot of the right stuff, either--nor did he get much help from his supporting cast. Give him time, this is a process and the Dolphins know it. That they happen to be in the thick of the AFC playoff race at 4-3 is coincidental to Tua Time. 

$.03--I stumbled into the game between the Bears and Saints only because the counterprogramming was professional tractor pulling and political doomsaying. I stayed to the very end of the terribly played but oddly compelling game between two inexplicably surefire NFC playoff teams.

The Saints eventually prevailed in overtime, 26-23, when a first-down field goal attempt sliced through the blustery Windy City night sky. It put a merciful bow on a game neither team appeared to want to win. Chicago’s clock management and execution on third downs was just a little worse, and that was enough to give the Saints a win they tried very hard to give back with gimmick plays and blown opportunities of their own. Memo to Sean Payton: stop trying to make Taysom Hill as a gadget QB a thing. Taking the NFL’s all-time best passer off the field for a hybrid TE/RB to play QB is like drag racing with a Prius against a Corvette when you’ve got an Audi R8 ready to roll on the sideline. 

The game took an odd detour in the second half when Bears WR Javon Wims blew a gasket and attacked Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson without provocation. It’s the weirdest random act of idiotic violence since Ike Turner didn’t like Tina’s pot pie and let his fists do the talking. This is Alex being a droog, bringing Kubrick’s random violence from the big screen to the football field:

As karmic retribution, Bears (lousy) QB Nick Foles threw an interception on the very next play. Wims was ejected, though there is no truth to the rumor he’s been remanded for a psychiatric evaluation. Yet... 

$.04--Any Given Sunday, Week 8 edition

Joe Burrow got his first big pelt on the wall as the Cincinnati Bengals stunned the Tennessee Titans, 31-20. The Bengals improve to 2-5-1 while sending the Titans to their second straight blemish on their 5-2 record. 

What’s odd about this one is that it didn’t really feel like an upset throughout the game. Burrow and the Bengals offense played with the poise and manner of a team that expected to beat up a Titans defense that doesn’t pressure well and is vulnerable on the outside. Cincinnati smartly attacked the Tennessee weaknesses, with Burrow making good decisions and, just as important, avoiding the bad ones. Counterpart Ryan Tannehill wasn’t sharp early and threw a costly red zone INT on the Titans’ first drive. The Titans were good the rest of the way, but the Bengals were just consistently better.  

Coupled with the Colts’ impressive domination of Detroit, the AFC South is now crowded at the top. And with the win, the Bengals leapt ahead of several other teams clustered at the bottom of the AFC. Burrow is the real deal, folks. The way he carried himself and carried his team to the upset win was no fluke. And in Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate, he’s got a capable young receiving corps to grow with. Better days are coming soon to Cincinnati. They got one of those on Sunday. 

Give a strong honorable mention here to the Minnesota Vikings for running past the Green Bay Packers. The previously one-win Vikings dominated the previously one-loss Packers on the ground with four first-half TDs and (barely) made it stand up. Dalvin Cook ran for 163 yards and 3 TDs in the impressive win, Cook’s first game back in a month. 

$.05--The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday afternoon. With another, more prominent event also taking place on Tuesday, you’re forgiven for not realizing the big day for the NFL.  

Moving the deadline back to later in the season has been a smart move by the NFL. Sliding it back from mid-October of years past to three weeks later facilitates more action. More teams know whether to be buyers or sellers. It’s a league where just four teams end Sunday’s action with 3-4, 4-4 or 4-3 records overall, after all.  

Here are some teams who figure to be doing some selling and players who should at least merit phone calls from teams that consider themselves buyers. The Pittsburgh Steelers already jumped on the market, plucking away LB Avery Williamson from the Jets for a late-round pick.  


New York Jets: QB Sam Darnold but really anyone other than rookies should be available

New York Giants: WR Golden Tate, TE Evan Engram, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, OG Kevin Zeitler

Houston Texans: Any WR but especially Will Fuller, LB Zach Cunningham

Dallas Cowboys: CB Chidobe Awuzie, LB Jaylon Smith, WR Michael Gallup

Detroit Lions: LB Jarrad Davis, WR Kenny Golladay (maybe), RB Kerryon Johnson

New England Patriots: CB Stephon Gillmore, OL Joe Thuney

Washington Football Team: QB Dwayne Haskins, EDGE Ryan Kerrigan

It will be interesting to see how many moves get made. Remember, COVID-19 protocols make every trade an exercise in delayed gratification. The Lions traded for Dallas DE Everson Griffen in the middle of last week but he wasn’t able to get on the field in Week 8. 

$.06--The No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft will almost certainly be Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence. What could possibly stop the most heralded prospect since at least Andrew Luck from being the top pick? There’s very little outside of a major health concern. 

Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen, but the specter was made a little more real with the news that Lawrence was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was experiencing some symptoms. Lawrence missed Clemson’s game on Saturday against Boston College. The Tigers missed Lawrence badly, too. 

Boston College took advantage of the absence of “sunshine”, as well as three Tigers defensive starters, and raced out to a 28-10 halftime lead. Clemson was error-prone and sloppy in the first half before they remembered all the other 5-star and future NFL starting talents on both sides of the ball just needed to play their games. BC had no answer after the break, failing to score and even surrendering a late safety that effectively ended the game. Clemson rode freshman D.J. Uiagalelei and standout RB Travis Etienne to a 24-0 second half to win, 34-28. It was the second-largest halftime deficit ever overcome by a No. 1 team. 

It was a much closer call than expected even without Lawrence. That should only elevate his status, though he won’t get a chance to further cement himself next week either; Lawrence will not play in Clemson’s showdown with Notre Dame next Saturday either due to the ACC’s requirement of a heart screening following any COVID-19 positive tests. The winner of that game is almost guaranteed a CFB playoff berth, and the biggest star in college football will miss it. Hopefully Lawrence recovers quickly and reaffirms his status as the top prospect in next year’s draft...if he really does want to become a New York Jet. 

$.07--In the first week of Big Ten football, Michigan blasted a top-20 team in Minnesota while Michigan State turned the ball over 7 times in getting gashed at home by lowly Rutgers. A funny thing happened on the way to Paul Bunyan’s trophy staying in Ann Arbor in Week 2. 

The Spartans outplayed, outhustled and outcoached the Wolverines in a stunning 27-24 upset at an empty Big House. In Mel Tucker’s second game as Michigan State’s head coach, inheriting an absolute disaster from apathetic predecessor Mark Dantonio, he guided his lesser-talented Spartans to a colossal shot across the bow of Jim Harbaugh’s sinking ship at Michigan. 

Take nothing away from Tucker and his Spartans--they had a smart gameplan and adjusted to the officiating nicely, with QB Rocky Lombardi connecting on just enough deep throws to win. But this game is about Harbaugh and his ongoing inability to win any meaningful game for his alma mater, ever. Asinine decisions littered the Michigan performance on Saturday, from taking off a dual-threat QB to have a small RB throw an option pass in the red zone (it failed) to continually trusting his (very bad) outside corners in man coverage down the field to stop quite literally the only thing Michigan State’s offense does well.  

The (latest) ultimate coaching malpractice sin from Harbaugh came on Michigan's final offensive drive. Down 10, it took the Wolverines a meandering 4:34 to nickel-and-dime down the field to score on a 93-yard drive. That included 3 designed runs inside the Michigan State 40 that all bled off at least 20 second from the clock. The drive displayed the urgency of a high school student heading into a math test he didn’t study for. No designed spikes, no hurrying to the line, no trying to get out of bounds by QB Joe Milton on a couple of his keepers.  

Even the most ardent Wolverine Harbaugh sycophants--and they were everywhere not long ago--are ready for the failed experiment to end. Despite his relative failure at his beloved alma mater, I still think Harbaugh could make a good NFL coach if he’s serving under a strong GM who will hold him accountable for his numerous too-cute mistakes. It’s time for Michigan to make that happen.  

$.08--NFL Quickies 

--For the second Saturday in a row, the entire NFL tested negative for COVID-19. No new cases the day before games is a big accomplishment. Denver’s defensive coordinator did test positive on Sunday and missed the Broncos’ comeback win, and the Texans had enough positives while on their bye week to get their facility shut down. Not perfect, but good enough to keep the season progressing. 

--Didn’t even see one highlight yet, but the Chargers Charger-ing in coming from way ahead to lose to the Broncos is cringeworthy. Los Angeles led 24-3 with just over 20 minutes to play and lost 31-30 when Drew Lock hit rookie WR K.J. Hamler for a TD as time expired. Broncos fans plastered social media with calls for benching Lock throughout the game, but in the end he made the plays that the Chargerts never seem to make to win games.  

--The Patriots made a game of it, but the Bills effectively buried the longtime AFC East champs chances of winning yet another division title. The mathematical chances seem a lot more optimistic than the reality of these Patriots rising up from a 2-5 start and overcoming a 3-game deficit and a lost tie-breaker to Buffalo. 

--Carson Wentz threw two more INTs on Sunday night and also lost two more fumbles. The Eagles QB is having a miserable season protecting the ball. That’s seven fumbles and 12 INTs in Philadelphia’s eight games. He’s not getting much help outside of WR Travis Fulgham, but Wentz has got to do a better job. Even so, his Eagles seized the NFC East with an ugly win over the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. 

--In a game I sincerely hope you didn’t waste time watching, the Raiders beat the Browns 16-6 in a blustery affair in Cleveland. Pay attention to the narratives on the game. If anyone brings up that the Browns missed Odell Beckham Jr. and that’s why Cleveland lost the game, you will instantly know that person did not watch this one. Was OBJ missed? Of course. His absence doesn’t even crack the top 20 reasons why Cleveland played so poorly. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling something you don’t need, like a 2-for-1 WaxVac. 

--This is the second pregame injection complication we’ve had this season, after the Chargers team doctor collapsed QB Tyrod Taylor’s lung with a misplaced shot. This. Cannot. Happen. 

$.09--College/Draft quickies

--I’ve been a Joe Tessitore fan for a long time. This is a great moment for the veteran play-by-play man:

--Nick Saban turned 69 on Saturday. He celebrated with an easy Alabama win over Mississippi State, burying Mike Leach’s Bulldogs. It’s nice to get the birthday win, but it’s also fair to wonder how many more birthdays Saban will celebrate while coaching the Rolling Tide.

--The Big 12 is all but out of the CFB playoff. Thank Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai. He almost singlehandedly knocked Oklahoma State from the ranks of the unbeaten. Ossai sacked the QB on the game’s final play. It was his third sack. Ossai, a speed-based OLB, also had three TFLs among his 12 total tackles and a forced fumble. He’s improved his economy of movement and tackling power in 2020 and is playing his way into a top-50 draft spot. 

--I haven’t yet watched this game, it’s on the DVR. But this is why box score scouting doesn’t fly when you’re evaluating prospects:

--The MAC returns this week. Life is good. Go Ohio!

$.10--Sean Connery passed away on Saturday morning. And with the 90-year-old actor’s death comes the flood of memories and remembrances. Mine comes in the form of my 10 favorite Connery flicks.  

These are not based on cinematic value or even the quality of his performances. It’s based on my level of enjoyment in Connery’s role and the rewatch factor. 

10. Family Business. As the patriarch of a crime family trying to steer his beloved grandson (Matthew Broderick) from the titular phrase, Connery is convincing and touching while also trying to convey a hardened attitude. It’s a movie that generally tries too hard to be neither a comedy nor a drama, but that’s on director Sidney Lumet. The tension between Connery and Dustin Hoffman (in what’s probably his worst role) as his son showed Connery’s subtlety. I watched it a lot in college and it has always stuck with me.  

Favorite line: “Come on. Let's pay our respects to the grieving widow before she falls flat on her face drunk.” 

9. Dr. No. This one is before both he and the Bond series really hit their respective strides. It’s more violent and much more character-driven than a typical action flick. It’s a suave introduction to the new Bond and I remember my grandfather loving it, though Ursula Andress might’ve had something to do with that... 

Favorite line: Bond pulls up to a valet with a dead guy in the car. “Sergeant, make sure he doesn't get away.”

8. A Bridge Too Far. An ensemble war epic from the mid-70s that I didn’t appreciate until well later. It’s a visually beautiful film that doesn’t hide from the violent drudgery of war but it’s also not reveling in the violence. Connery is commanding as Maj. Gen. Urquhart, though for me the star of the film is Anthony Hopkins.  

Favorite line: “I thought everyone knew that God was a Scotsman.” 

7. Rising Sun. One of the very first movies where I had read the book before seeing the movie, and Connery pulling off the John Connor role as a seasoned vet assisting his “Kohai” Wesley Snipes accurately portrayed the vision I had in my head. It’s Snipes best performance outside White Men Can’t Jump and Connery is a big reason why.  

Favorite line: “The Japanese have a saying, "Fix the problem, not the blame." Find out what's f****d up and fix it. Nobody gets blamed. We're always after who f****d up. Their way is better.”

6. The Hunt For Red October. As the ambiguous motivated Ramius, Connery plays both sides of the Soviet/American coin at a time when the aftermath of the Cold War was still very fresh and unknown how it would play out. That he doesn’t even try to hide his Scottish brogue while speaking poorly accented Russian remains off-putting, but it was around this time where Connery was cemented as a legend and it just worked anyway. It’s the worst of the Jack Ryan series in my estimation and it’s still a very good movie. 

Favorite line: “It reminds me of the heady days of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin when the world trembled at the sound of our rockets. Now they will tremble again - at the sound of our silence. The order is: engage the silent drive. 

5. Time Bandits. One of my very favorite movies, this one made a massive impression on me as a kid. Connery has a minor role as Agamemnon as well as the earnest fireman in the weird, whimsical tale of a wallflower boy who time travels with a group of villainous dwarves. I remember seeing it in the theater when I was about 9 and immediately wanting to see it again. I still watch it often when I’m sick and laying on the couch.  

Favorite line: After asking several unanswered questions to Kevin, “Well now, you're certainly a chatty little fellow, aren't you?”

4. Goldfinger. This is the best Bond movie from top to bottom. Connery is fantastic. The interplay between Bond and Goldfinger is excellent, the best hero/villain back-and-forth in the Bond series with the possible exception of The Man With the Golden Gun (my favorite Roger Moore entry). The golf course scene is rewatchable every dang day.  

Favorite line: Bond, anxiously: “Surely you don’t expect me to talk”. Goldfinger, “No Mr. Bond I expect you to die.” 

3. Diamonds are Forever. His last of the original run of Bond movies is also my favorite of his turns as 007. It’s a ridiculous plot, but that’s why it’s great and specifically why Connery is a master: he had a cheeky performance that showed he knew it was ridiculous and he was just going to have fun with it. The perfect-10 swan dive off the exploding oil platform--after straightening his tie--is sheer brilliance.  

Favorite line: Buxom woman leans in and greets Bond with “I’m Plenty O’Toole”. Bond glances at her ample chest and promptly responds, “Of course you are.”

2. The Rock. It’s an absolutely absurd movie, perhaps the best example of 90s-era action bloat. Connery as an ex-Alcatraz inmate who helps an oddly terrific Nic Cage break back into the island prison to thwart a rogue military...alright the plot doesn’t really matter. Everyone chews scenery, seemingly except Connery, who lends an air of dignity and thespian integrity to the popcorn chomper. It’s so bad, it’s timelessly awesome. 

Favorite line, perhaps of any movie ever: “Your best? Losers always go on about giving their best. Winners go home and f*** the prom queen.”

1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s in my top-5 all-time movies and Connery’s sheer brilliance as Henry Jones is a big reason why. He’s absolutely perfect as the senior Jones, a self-absorbed professor thrust into action with his estranged son. He and Harrison Ford had great chemistry, but even better was his more lighthearted moments with Denholm Elliott’s Marcus Brody. 

Favorite line: “I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne” with nonchalance after he scares birds with an umbrella to force a plane to crash. 

RIP Sean Connery. The world is a better place for experiencing your life.