$.01--Sunday night promised to be an epic matchup with tantalizing storylines. Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady. The return of Michael Thomas. The return of Antonio Brown. The NFC South lead was on the line in Tampa with the Buccaneers and Saints squaring off.
Instead of a classic matchup of legit contenders, we got a primetime version of Alabama vs. Louisiana-Monroe. The Saints dominated from the first possession, facing little resistance from the Tampa Bay defense in racing out to a 31-0 halftime lead. Brady threw two interceptions, Rob Gronkowski had a couple of drops, the run game was nonexistent--and that was just in the first half.
It didn’t get better. The score didn’t change much, but that was more of the Saints just toying with the Bucs the way a leopard occasionally bites into the maimed kudu it dragged up into the tree just to remind it who’s the boss.
Sometimes the maimed kudu deserves the bite. Antonio Brown sure did. This is his reaction to catching a pass, down 31-0 in the third quarter:
Bucs are losing 31-0.— Randy Scott (@RandyScottESPN) November 9, 2020
About 4:15 to play in the third quarter.
Antonio Brown: pic.twitter.com/R9ReGRvI6S
I won’t directly blame Brown’s controversial arrival in Tampa for this humiliating 38-3 whipping. That would discredit the Saints and that’s not fair. But the negative karma brought on by a pariah that Tampa Bay’s own coach, Bruce Arians, so recently professed to want nothing to do with, it cannot be ignored. As Brown showed in the “highlight” above, he will always place himself above the team. For a team that was as loaded as the Buccaneers already were at his position, bringing that upon yourself is asking for the blowback.
How bad was it? It was Brady’s third-worst QB rating (40.4) of his career. The Buccaneers set an NFL record for the fewest rushing attempts by a team, with 5--and that includes a kneel-down on the final play. New Orleans lit up the Bucs for 420 yards to just 194 for TB. That is as lopsided of a game between two playoff contenders can be. Enjoy it, Saints fans.
$.02--The COVID-19 pandemic had taken a welcome back seat in the NFL news cycle for a couple of weeks. Alas, the virus bit back with virulence in Week 9.
Nearly every game featured at least one team impacted in some way by the coronavirus. From key players testing positive (Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey, Cowboys QB Andy Dalton) to close contacts forcing last-minute testing to play (Lions QB Matthew Stafford) and all sorts of daily additions to the reserve/COVID-10 list across the league, it was hard to keep track of who was available and who would be out.
Even teams not playing in Week 9 got hit by the virus. The Browns put QB Baker Mayfield on the reserve list on Sunday morning because of close exposure to a Cleveland staffer who tested positive. The Bengals also assigned two players, including starting CB Trae Waynes, to the list despite being on a bye and no contact with any other players since Wednesday.
No games were moved or rescheduled, which in and of itself is a small miracle. But the rate of positive testing and the breadth of impact across the league makes it difficult to see the NFL getting through another week without doing something drastic. The idea of pausing the entire league schedule for a week has been floated around on various mediums, and it’s not a bad concept. Freeze everything for Week 10, have teams isolate and “bubble up” a la the NBA and NHL, and then get back to action. It’s not like anything else will be happening in the stadiums, and the television revenue is still there. Kill the needless, pointless extra week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl--there can’t be a radio row or fan experience anyway.
It might seem radical to stop everything. It might also be the only way to finish the season.
$.03--Few teams in recent memory have been hit harder by the injury bug than the San Francisco 49ers. Between the myriad injuries and the latest COVID-19 scare that sidelined most of the WR corps for Thursday night’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, it’s hard to keep track of who is in uniform for the defending NFC champs.
They won’t make it that far this year. At this point, finishing the season with more wins than losses appears to be a lofty goal. Playing without (in no particular order) starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo, All-Pro TE and top weapon George Kittle, CB Richard Sherman and All-Pro DE Nick Bosa, the Niners of a year ago are but a faded memory. They called up six players from the practice squad just to field a full team against Green Bay, with 13 players on injured reserve. They’ve had 71 different players take the field on offense or defense, by far the most in the NFL and on pace for the most in NFL history in a single season.
San Francisco got no sympathy from Green Bay, which has battled injury and COVID-19 issues of its own. The Aaron Rodgers-to-Davante Adams connection is the best in the league this year, and they struck the dilapidated Niners for 10 completions, 173 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers has vaulted himself back into MVP prominence. Check out his last three weeks: 75-of-106, 879 yards, 11 TDs, 0 INTs. Adams has caught 30 of those passes for 422 yards and 6 TDs in that stretch. The 49ers aren’t the only team with no answers for stopping that lethal combination.
Where does Rodgers sit in my personal MVP standings through Week 9? He’s no lower than third, in a mix with Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Tom Brady (Sunday night hurts).
$.04--The NFL’s trade deadline came and went this week. You might not have heard much about it unless you really pay attention closely, because very little happened. And some of that is a function of a terrible decision by the NFL itself.
The league moved the trade deadline to Tuesday, Nov. 3rd. Election Day. Not just any Election Day either, but the one with the highest turnout in American history. The NFL graciously turned several stadiums into polling facilities and has been working on voter registration drives and initiatives. They even closed all league offices and team facilities, with practices canceled across the entire NFL.
It’s a great and worthwhile effort on the NFL’s part to rock the vote, but moving the trade deadline to that date? It’s tough to execute a trade when the league mandates that you’re effectively closed for business on that day. It’s not like they didn’t know the date of Election Day. Heck, you can look right now and find Election Day for 2024. The NFL botched this badly, unless they were deliberately attempting to undermine the trade market.
A couple of minor moves, both by the Miami Dolphins, constituted the only action at the deadline. Many players who should have been moved, among them Giants WR Golden Tate, Football Team EDGE Ryan Kerrigan and Texans WR Will Fuller, wound up staying put instead of helping out contenders as half-year rentals. Granted that trade timelines are already skewed by the need for COVID-19 protocols, but the NFL effectively trapped good players on bad teams with its timing. That’s an egregious fumble by the league.
$.05--Now that every team (except the Patriots on MNF) has played eight games, it’s time for the midseason power poll. I group these in tiers and then rank within the tier, with a view beyond what happened in just Week 9.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Buffalo Bills
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Seattle Seahawks
7. Baltimore Ravens
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Arizona Cardinals
10. Tennessee Titans
Tier 3, and sort this one at your own preference
11. Miami Dolphins
12. Los Angeles Rams
13. Indianapolis Colts
14. Las Vegas Raiders
15. Cleveland Browns
16. Chicago Bears
17. Philadelphia Eagles
Too good to be awful but no chance at winning in the playoffs tier
18. Carolina Panthers
19. Minnesota Vikings
20. San Francisco 49ers
21. Los Angeles Chargers
22. Atlanta Falcons
23. Denver Broncos
24. Cincinnati Bengals
25. Detroit Lions
26. New England Patriots
27. Dallas Cowboys
28. Washington Football Team
29. Houston Texans
30. New York Giants
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
32. New York Jets
$.06--The New York Jets are firmly ensconced at the bottom of those power rankings. If you’re looking for more depth as to why the Jets are bottom-feeding in a year with so many terrible football teams, I offer you this report from my colleague, and friend, Doug Farrar at Touchdown Wire.
Sources confirmed to Farrar, and to Manesh Mehta of the New York Daily News, that the Jets installed hidden cameras throughout the locker room. The Jets dispute the allegation that they are “hidden”, but Jets players sure seemed shocked to find out about having their sanctuary being filmed. That would represent an arrestable crime in the vein of peeping toms.
The legalities will get sorted out, probably without a great deal of recourse against the Jets because of some ambiguities in the recently enacted COVID-19 protocols as they relate to locker rooms. That doesn’t make it right, it just spares the Jets further embarrassment and legal exposure.
The only reason the Jets didn’t lose on Sunday is that they play Monday night...when they’ll surely lose to the worst Patriots team of the 21st century. Yet they still already took a massive loss. That’s a damning indictment of the Joe Douglas/Adam Gase regime, one handily winning the race to the bottom in a season where there are more legit bad teams than ever before.
$.07--There will be a new No. 1 team in the NCAA after Notre Dame upset Clemson in double overtime. The loss in South Bend snaps the nation’s longest winning streaks, and one of the longest in NCAA history, at 36 regular-season games.
Notre Dame survived a barrage of Clemson backups, including impressive freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei (ooh-ee-AHN-guh-luh-lay, thanks to the Clemson athletic department I will not call him Ukulele anymore). WIth momentum swings left and right, Ian Book and the Irish held on to stake their claim as the best team in the country.
The game was not without controversy. There were several calls made that raised eyebrows, such as Dabo Swinney getting a pass interference penalty call changed by the official furthest away from the play--but closest to the Clemson coach on the sideline. I think they just had another review; the game dragged thanks to several tedious reviews of obvious plays.
The default mindset is to elevate Notre Dame, previously ranked No. 4, to the top spot. You beat the man to be the man, to channel Ric Flair. But the Irish didn’t impress enough in knocking off Clemson as Alabama has done. The Crimson Tide have impressive wins over Georgia and Texas A&M on their resume. It’s more of an accomplishment than what Ohio State can claim over three weeks in what looks like a bad Big Ten, or Notre Dame’s win over Clemson. However, the best football team I’m seen all year is Ohio State with Justin Fields, the best player in the nation thus far.
Clemson and Notre Dame should meet again in the ACC Championship, and the winner there will get one of the playoff berths. If it’s Clemson that wins the rematch, don’t be surprised if Notre Dame also makes it--provided they can run the table. If you want someone besides Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame, root for Florida and Indiana. And cast a longing eye at Cincinnati, unbeaten and ranked No. 7. The eye test says the Bearcats would roll through the Big 12 or Pac-12, but sadly they’ll not get a chance to prove themselves unless chaos happens above them.
--The Miami Dolphins seized the temporary control of the final AFC Wild Card spot with a stirring win over the Arizona Cardinals in a game I wish I could have watched more. Tua Tagovailoa impressed in his second start, outdueling Kyler Murray in a 34-31 road win that made both teams 5-3. Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez came up short on a 49-yard field goal that would have tied it, a wretched way for the entertaining game to end.
--The New York Giants beat Washington because that’s what they do. It’s about the only thing they do well…
Since 2017:— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) November 8, 2020
Giants vs. Football Team: 6-2 (.750)
Giants vs. everyone else: 8-41 (.163)
--I did think upon first glance that the Chargers’ third-string TE in question, Donald Parham, made the catch, but Matt’s point here stands:
The Chargers have the best route-runner in the NFL and ran two fades including one to a third-string TE.— Matt Verderame (@MattVerderame) November 9, 2020
Anthony Lynn is a great dude, but might be looking at the final few games of his tenure in L.A...
--Lightly-regarded rookie Jake Luton acquitted himself in his debut as the starting QB for the Jaguars. They lost to Houston, but Luton played capably. His TD run to close the margin to within a 2-pt. conversion late is a highlight-reel keeper:
--I was very bullish on Jerry Jeudy as a draft prospect; I would have taken him No. 3 overall in Detroit. The rookie WR and Broncos first-round pick showed why on Sunday, catching seven passes for 125 yards and a TD. He flashed the complete package: hands, speed, route running, strength. It wasn’t enough, alas; the Broncos somehow failed to come back against the Falcons and lost 34-27 after trailing 34-13. Admit it Falcons fans, you knew you were nervous…
--Dez Bryant was signed to the Baltimore practice squad this week to considerable fanfare. The former Cowboys WR has been out of football since 2017 when he returned too quickly from an injury and ruined his speed. Bryant was activated for the game but did not see a pass thrown his way in the Ravens’ understatedly impressive 24-10 win over the Colts.
Side note: I typed Baltimore as “Blatimore” 11 times before I got it right in that above paragraph.
--I haven’t seen more than a couple of highlights of Buffalo’s resounding win over Seattle, but I’ll say this: forcing Russell Wilson into red zone turnovers is a great sign for the Bills defense. They’re playing great ball on offense and defense and have embraced the gritty sizzle of their leader, QB Josh Allen.
--Maryland lost its opener at home to Northwestern, 43-3. That put the Terps in the running for worst Power 5 conference team. Since then, Mike Locksley’s Maryland team pulled a big upset by edging Minnesota in the second week of Big Ten action. They pulled another massive upset by running all over Penn State on Saturday. Maryland is the first team that was at least a 15-point underdog in both games to outright win two games in a row since at least 1978, per FOX Sports.
The context that both Minnesota and Penn State are significantly worse than expected across the season notwithstanding, that’s a very impressive rebound for Locksley and QB Taulia (brother of Tua) Tagovailoa after an astonishingly bad start. Next up: Ohio State.
--This is as heartbreaking for Virginia Tech as it gets. Coach Justin Fuente deserves the criticism, not only for the ill-timed timeout but for how he played the next snap. He essentially gifted Liberty another 10 yards to make the game-winning kick that much easier.
Virginia Tech blocked the FG and appeared to win the game on a scoop and score...BUT the Hokies called timeout before the kick.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 7, 2020
Liberty then made the FG to win.
College Football. pic.twitter.com/tSLFPCq5ez
--MACtion kicked off with Akron trying an onside kick on the opening kickoff against Western Michigan. It didn’t work, but that’s the kind of fun the MAC brings.
--Staying in the MAC, my Ohio Bobcats lost the opener at Central Michigan in disappointing fashion. The Bobcats oddly rotated quarterbacks with no sense of rhythm and an obvious tell of the play call. It’s a transition year in Athens for Frank Solich’s Bobcats and my expectations are lower than they have been, but that’s a tough loss.
--Indiana smoked Michigan, beating the Wolverines for the first time since 1987. I expected the Hoosiers to win. I didn’t expect them to have the better talent on the field on both sides of the ball. Michigan had some injuries, to be fair, but IU was better at QB, WR, OL and every position group on defense. As someone who spent a few years living near IU in the Bobby Knight hoops heyday, that’s a stunning sentence to write.
--Gary Andersen is out--again--at Utah State. His career arc, from inspiring young up-and-comer ni his first USU stint to flaming out in epic fashion at Oregon State, Wisconsin and now USU once again, is fascinating. I really expected him to be a great hire in Madison. He might need to drop to the FCS or D-II level now to get a job.
--I’ve been very impressed with Tulsa LB Zavien Collins as a prospect in my limited viewings. Sadly, my viewings are so limited because the Golden Hurricane have now had three games postponed due to COVID-related issues. Saturday’s game against Navy was the latest. Interestingly, all three of the postponements have come as a result of the other team having issues. Here’s hoping their games against a ranked SMU team next Saturday gets played...
$.10--Our election is (probably) mercifully over in America. Barring any unforeseen legal challenges from the Trump camp, Joe Biden is the President-elect.
This isn’t about the voting, or who won or lost. This is about healing as Americans, coming back together. And I know of a good way to help go down that road.
Stop the hate-watching.
It’s a peculiar phenomenon that I truly do not understand, but it’s very real. Overindulging in worrying about the “other side”, crying foul and getting incensed--on purpose--by focusing on media you hate has never made sense to me, but it’s become a common national pastime in the last decade or so.
It needs to stop.
People to my left watch a lot more FOX News, the self-appointed mouthpiece of the mainstream right, than people to my right do. People to my right compulsively watch CNN, much more than the left-leaning viewers that network is aiming for. My Facebook timeline is often completely filled by Trump sycophants whining about what they’re seeing on CNN and Trump haters carrying on obsessively over the last two hours of FOX News programming they’ve digested.
It’s the old Howard Stern axiom. To paraphrase the libertarian shock-jock’s autobiography, people who like Stern listen for 30 minutes. People who hate Stern listen for two hours. They’re waiting to be offended or angered, not entertained.
That’s fine for AM drivetime entertainment. It’s not fine for basing your political philosophy and dominating your mindset. Put it in another context. If you hate country music, you’re not going to program all of your car’s presets to country stations, are you? Stop doing that with your politics. Stop feeding the beast. Stop making that business model work for the media outlets you profess to hate. America will be better for it.