A few days ago, in a Giants’ full team meeting, coach Brian Daboll showed the team a clip from ESPN’s documentary “The Captain” on Derek Jeter. In the doc, there’s a play with a 1998 outfield miscue that prompted Yankees pitcher David Wells to throw up his hands in disgust. Jeter, just 24 then, went to the mound and said to Wells: “Hey, we don’t do that s— around here.”
Daboll knew the kind of team he had. To be kind, his first edition of the Giants is not exactly a Super Bowl winner. He knew there could be some tough days ahead, and maybe lots of them. So he followed the clip by telling the team: “We don’t do that s— around here either.”
So now it was Sunday in Nashville, halftime, and the Giants weren’t doing much right, and the outside world had already given up on the ’22 Jints. “My god the Giants are bad,” Tweeted Pro Football Talk managing editor Michael David Smith. “Dave Gettleman left behind as bad a roster as I can remember any GM leaving any team.” Smith wasn’t alone. Tennessee was up 13-0 at halftime, and fans watching Big Blue on TVs from Asbury to Ansonia, from New Paltz to New London, clicked over to find something, anything to take their minds off the start of another miserable year.
Ninety minutes later, they were clicking back. Ninety minutes later, as the Giants, down 20-13 with three minutes to play, were driving for a touchdown, Daboll asked five defensive players, separately, “Hey, when we score, we’re going for two — you okay with that?” Five for five, yes. His team’s not a democracy, but as Daboll said later, “Those are the guys out in the battle, laying it on the line. I want to make sure they’re okay with going for it all right there. They were like, ‘Hell yeah.’
“The one thing I’ve said to them is, ‘I’ve been called a lot of things in my life. But I can guarantee you the one thing you’ll never call me is afraid.’”
So right then, with the Giants 22 yards away from the end zone, Daboll said into his headset to offensive coordinator and offensive play-caller Mike Kafka, “Get your two-point play ready.”
One of the reasons the NFL, at the dawn of the league’s 103rd season, has cornered the market on ratings and just plain fun is because of days like Sunday. Fourteen games, and how many were chalk? Kansas City pantsing the Cardinals, one. Baltimore routing the Jets, two. Washington outlasting the Jags, three. The Chargers nipping Vegas, four. Those you could figure.
But who saw the Cowboys scoring three points against Tampa Bay, or the Falcons building and blowing a late 16-point lead on the Saints, or the Steelers going into Cincinnati and forcing Joe Burrow into five turnovers, or the Bears in the muck and mire of Soldier Field beating the Niners by nine, or the Dolphins having zero trouble with the Patriots, or a kicker you’ve never heard of booting what could have been a 70-yard field goal to lift the Browns over Baker Mayfield, or the Colts tying Houston, or the Packers playing like the 2008 Pack in a 16-point loss to Minnesota, or the Giants being competitive with last year’s AFC one seed, Tennessee?
In training camp, the Giants had their share of very bad offensive days. Quarterback Daniel Jones struggled, as did supposed franchise back Saquon Barkley. Some of it, Daboll said, was by design. He explained why on the Giants’ team bus to the Nashville airport Sunday night.
“I think you owe it to your team to teach them how to deal with adversity,” Daboll said, the humming of the bus on the road audible behind his voice. “In camp, we put the offense in some terrible, terrible situations — I knew it’d be a miserable day for the offense. That’s okay. I want to see how Daniel and Saquon and the coaches, even, respond. I think I owe that to the team. So they all get through that, and they’re better for it. Will we always win on a two-point play? No. But like I told them last week, I have confidence in you guys. I want you guys to be aggressive out there. I want to be like I tell the quarterbacks to be — aggressive, not reckless.”
So the Giants, with 66 seconds left, made it 20-19 on a one-yard Jones to Chris Myarick TD flip. The Titans are stout in the middle of the defense, led by the irrepressible Jeffery Simmons. But to Daboll, it made more sense to try to make two yards with a hot running back and a quarterback who’d played well save for a nightmare interception…than to risk overtime. Remember his last game in Buffalo? The Bills lost the toss in overtime, Kansas City took the ball, and Daboll’s red-hot QB, Josh Allen, never touched the ball again.
You can try to make two yards with a back who’s gained 194 yards on the day already, or you can cast your fate to the wind of the overtime coin toss.
“The play Kafka called is one we’ve worked on since the spring, and there’s a lot of different ways to do it, but Mike called a good version of it,” Daboll said. “Me going for two, I think that was aggressive, not reckless.”
To go or not to go…Next Gen Stats analytics had it close, but liked Daboll’s call. NGS says going for two and succeeding — because there was still 66 seconds on the clock for Tennessee — the Titans had a 46 percent chance to win the game with a field goal. But had Daboll chosen to kick the PAT, Tennessee would have had a 61 percent chance to win the game in regulation or overtime.
Also: NGS estimated a 60-percent chance of success going for two with the ball in Barkley’s hands, slightly better than a Jones pass. Interesting, the shovel pass technically was a Jones pass — even though it was more of a shovel-handoff that so many quarterbacks use these days and counts as a pass.
The play had a major false flag, with backup wideout Richie James speed-motioning from left to right. Total decoy. Jones took a shotgun snap and took a couple steps to the right, while Barkley ran toward the middle of the line as if to block. Suddenly Jones underhanded a shovel-pass to Barkley, who grabbed it, evaded linebacker Dylan Cole (who grabbed Barkley’s facemask briefly at the five-yard line) and catapulted himself near the goal line between corners Roger McCreary and Kristian Fulton. Barkley battled through the traffic and burst past the goal line into the end zone, landing on his back. Giants, 21-20.
“Do or die,” Barkley said. “I really don’t know how it happened.”
At halftime, Daboll gave his team what more and more coaches are telling their players these days, in all sports: “Let’s not worry about the scoreboard. Let’s play the next play. That’s it.” The Giants won a big game Sunday, but you wouldn’t be reading this if Tennessee kicker Randy Bullock hadn’t hooked his 47-yard field goal at the gun wide left. But think of the near future. The Giants play at home the next three weeks, with rookie edge-rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux due back from a knee sprain soon, in games they should be competitive in: Carolina, Dallas (without Dak Prescott) and Chicago. Play the next play. That’s it. With Barkley playing like the back of Dave Gettleman’s dreams, you never know.
I have no idea what to make of Steelers 23, Bengals 20. Except this: The reports of the Steelers’ demise may have been greatly exaggerated. I said that to new QB Mitchell Trubisky late Sunday afternoon and he responded quizzically. “What’s that mean?” Trubisky said. “I haven’t heard that.”
It means that the Steelers looked like they might be in for a correction season after losing Ben Roethlisberger and GM Kevin Colbert in the offseason and with a significantly improved (and healthier) AFC North. Then Pittsburgh went into Cincinnati, turned Joe Burrow over five times, exposed the reconstruction of the Bengals offensive line and won in a battle of whose kicker could win the survival pool.
This might be far too big a cliché, but that was a Mike Tomlin win. The Steelers scratched and clawed, overcame what might be a crippling injury to T.J. Watt, got a breakout game from third-year linebacker Alex Highsmith, and had reinforced to them how important a piece Minkah Fitzpatrick is to their team. Fitzpatrick’s pick-six on the sixth snap of the game and his amazing blocked PAT to force overtime at the end of the fourth quarter…those are the kind of plays Tomlin-coached teams make, and a big reason why he’s never had a losing season in 15 years atop the Steelers.
“He’s kind of seen it all,” said Trubisky, after his first Steeler win and Tomlin’s 163rd. “I saw him after the game, and he gave me a nice firm handshake and said, ‘Good work. Good work.’ “
The number of times this game should have been over…Count them:
1. The Fitzpatrick blocked PAT at the end of regulation, keeping it 20-20
2. The way-too-high Cincinnati field-goal snap with 3:37 left in OT, causing Evan McPherson to shank a 29-yarder wide left, keeping it 20-20.
3. Chris Boswell clanging a 55-yard knuckleball off the left upright with 2:27 left in OT, keeping it 20-20.
4. Joe Burrow getting sacked out of field-goal range to midfield with 1:34 left in OT, keeping it 20-20.
Then Trubisky made the two plays he needed — two passes to tight end Pat Freiermuth, for 26 and 10 yards, to get the Steelers into position to give Boswell another chance. Boswell drilled the 53-yarder straight down the middle. Trubisky looked up and saw :00 on the scoreboard, and he looked like Jim Valvano when he won the Final Four for N.C. State, looking for someone to hug.
“There are days you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ “ Trubisky said. “All the training, all the prep, all the stuff you put your body through. Sometimes you’ve got to play this long and make enough plays to keep putting yourself in position to have a chance to win.”
This week, FMIA introduces a partnership with Next Gen Stats (NGS), which covers the league’s new generation of advanced metrics and statistics. Next Gen relies on information gleaned from an estimated 250 tracking devices per game — on players, officials, pylons and in balls — to tell different stories about a complex game. Each week, I’ll use Next Gen Stats to help me tell the story of something important that happened in a game or games that week.
Today: Inside the very scary Buffalo pass-rush.
In the wake of Buffalo’s season-opening 31-10 domination of the Super Bowl champion Rams, much of the postgame attention went to mostly unstoppable Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen. Rightfully so. As a thrower and physical runner, no player in the game is more dangerous right now.
Another huge factor hit me watching the game: Buffalo’s pass-rush, which sacked Rams QB Matthew Stafford seven times and harassed him all night. The damage wasn’t done just by Von Miller, the 33-year-old edge-rusher signed away from the Rams in March. By Next Gen Stats’ measuring tools, a total of seven Bills had multiple pressures/sacks in the game — including the three edge players GM Brandon Beane selected between the 20th and 61st overall picks in the 2020 and ’21 drafts: A.J. Epenesa, Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham. Miller and that draft trio totaled 5.5 sacks, one interception and two passes defensed against L.A.
Let’s examine one of the seven sacks through the Next Gen Stats lens. It’s the sack I found the most significant — Buffalo up 10-7, 34 seconds left, second quarter, Rams’ ball first-and-10 at the Bills’ 29-yard line—and you can follow it through one of the features of NGS, one of the football diagrams I’ll call a Dot Play:
Trailing 10-7 late in the first half, the Rams had a chance to take advantage of the middle eight (score TD + receive 2H kickoff), however, the @BuffaloBills pass rush was just too much for Stafford & the OL to handle.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 10, 2022
As NGS reported, Buffalo never blitzed in the game, a rarity even in the Bills’ disciplined style that counts on the front three or four to provide enough heat on the quarterback. On this play late in the first half, the Bills lined up, left to right, edge-rusher Miller, interior players Daquon Jones and Jordan Phillips and defensive end Epenesa. The Rams countered with their five-man front. Smartly, they chose to block Miller with the right guard and right tackle. That left Epenesa on left tackle Joe Noteboom, Phillips on left guard David Edwards and Jones on center Brian Allen.
NGS has a cool device, pass-rush get-off time, that, through the tracking devices secured in player jerseys, clocks how long it takes the shoulder pads of rushers to cross the line of scrimmage after the snap of the ball. The best rushers combine snap anticipation and acceleration at the snap, and the fastest/quickest players average about 0.8 seconds. Here’s where the four Bills were on this rush:
Miller, 0.62 seconds.
Epenesa, 0.62 seconds.
Jones, 0.92 seconds
Phillips, 1.02 seconds.
Collectively, that’s very strong. On the edge, it’s absolutely superior. The Rams needed every bit of their two blockers to neutralize the speed of Miller on the offensive right. On the left, the quick get-off of Epenesa worked well; he ducked inside the block of Noteboom while Phillips ran an outside stunt around Noteboom. Jones bullrushed Allen. All three rushers met at Stafford, enveloping him for a nine-yard sack. This will be an embarrassing play to review inside the Rams’ offensive film room. The left tackle, left guard and center all got beaten badly. Instead of Stafford having the time to find a totally uncovered Cooper Kupp on a nine-yard curl, he took a nine-yard loss. Instead of the Rams charging toward a go-ahead touchdown before the half, they had to settle for a 57-yard field goal that was their final score of a frustrating game. Frustrating, really, because of the suffocating Bills rush that had an outsized impact on the game.
On Stafford’s 48 pass-drops, he had an average of 2.70 seconds to throw, per NGS. That’s worse, but not a lot worse, than Stafford’s 2021 average of 2.80 seconds to throw. But the story of his night was the pressure coming from the Bills’ front. One Ram (Aaron Donald, three) had three or more pressures in the game. Five Bills did. Those players, with the percentage of pressures to pass-rushes, per NGS figures: Phillips six (26.1 percent), Miller five (20.8 percent), Epenesa five (18.5 percent), Jones four (12.9 percent), Rousseau three (9.4 percent).
Two other notes, not necessarily in the Next Gen Stats realm. On the Dot Play I highlighted, the one with pressures by Jones, Epenesa and Phillips, I noted the combined salary-cap number of those three playmakers is $8.69 million…just 4.2 percent of this year’s NFL cap. Epenesa was the 54th pick of the 2020 draft, and Jones and Phillips were free-agent signings this year. That’s great production with great value generated by Beane.
Then there’s the conservation of resources. Buffalo’s eight leading defensive linemen/edge players played between 17 and 46 snaps in the game. No one played 70 percent of the 66 defensive snaps. Miller, who the Bills are trying to keep fresh, averaged 49.5 snaps in 19 games played last year. He played 35 snaps in this one. “We got Von to close games,” Beane told me in training camp. Miller might be able to for a long season if the Bills keep him to that number. Overall, the platooning is a way to keep players fresh, or to try to, for 17 games.
One ominous note for the Rams, per NGS, is that the abuse Stafford takes closely correlates with winning and losing. Four of his five most pressured games as a Ram have been L.A. losses. The games, ranked by pressures:
*Pressures divided by total pass drops per game.
Short stories from a strange Sunday:
Bad break for Dak. The Dallas offense was mostly putrid with Dak Prescott Sunday in the 19-3 loss to Tampa. What will it be like for maybe six games with Cooper Rush? The Cowboys managed 244 yards, one field goal and allowed four sacks and eight other hits on Prescott. Not as worrisome as the loss of Prescott but pretty damn worrisome: CeeDee Lamb, supposedly the franchise receiver, was targeted 11 times and caught two balls — for just 29 yards. ESPN’s Todd Archer estimated Prescott would be out about six weeks after undergoing a procedure to repair a break in his throwing hand. If so, it’ll be Rush who tries to slay the Bengals, Rams and Eagles over the next month-plus, after a nightmarish opener.
Why the Ravens balked. With ESPN’s Sunday report that talks on a new contract for Lamar Jackson broke down, at least in part, because Jackson wanted a fully guaranteed contract and the Ravens wouldn’t give it to him, some perspective: On Oct. 30, 2020, left tackle Ronnie Stanley signed the biggest contract ever for a left tackle; it included $64.2 in fully guaranteed money. Two days later, Stanley suffered an ankle injury against Pittsburgh. Since that day, and including the missed game Sunday against the Jets, Stanley has not played in 28 of the Ravens’ last 29 games. At 28, Stanley has to be considered a question mark for the short- and long-term future. In Lamar Jackson’s 62 NFL games entering Sunday, he’d averaged 10.7 rushes per game. I can’t imagine them ever considering a fully guaranteed contract for Jackson, especially given their recent experience with healthy guarantees. Remember the stat from FMIA last week: The new contracts for Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray and Aaron Rodgers, on average, contain full guarantees of 47 percent. The fully guaranteed Deshaun Watson deal is an outlier, and the Ravens are surely treating it as such. P.S. After the 24-9 win over the Jets: Maybe betting on himself will be a good thing for Jackson, who threw three touchdowns in the Meadowlands Sunday.
McPherson II. It was very hard Sunday, watching new Cleveland kicker Cade York kick the winning field goal from 58 yards out with eight seconds left at Carolina, to not think of Evan McPherson. The coolness of York, the huge leg of York (his 58-yarder would have been good from 70) were mindful of the Cincinnati kicking hero on the Bengals’ Super Bowl run last year. “I’m buddies with Evan,” York said from the Browns’ locker room Sunday afternoon. “Me and him both performed at a high level in college and it really isn’t much different, honestly, when you come to the NFL.” Last year, McPherson, chosen in the fifth round, was the only kicker picked in the NFL Draft. This year, York, picked in the fourth round, was the lone kicker too. Both are from the SEC — York from LSU. “Today felt like college still,” he said. The kick itself was a sort of dynamic curveball, starting out like a line drive just to the right of the right upright and drawing back till it hit the net, almost straight down the middle. “Pretty surreal moment,” he said of making a 58-yarder to win his first NFL game.
Buffalo’s schedule edge. Great schedule for the Bills now after an emotional and physical opener at the Rams. Eleven days between the first and second game (Monday night at home in Week Two against the Titans), and a big home-field advantage on “Monday Night Football” against 0-1 Tennessee. In all, Buffalo will play five games in 51 days — including the Week Seven bye — before facing Green Bay to start the 11-games-in-11-weeks home stretch.
Not a lot good for the Rams, except this. Good News of the Week (and perhaps the only piece of it): In the last 20 seasons, five previous Super Bowl champs opened their championship years with a double-digit loss: New England in 2002 (31-0 to Buffalo), the Giants in 2007 (45-35 to Dallas), the Giants in 2011 (28-14 to Washington), New England in 2014 (33-20 against Miami) and Tampa Bay in 2020 (34-23 against New Orleans). In the nervous but immortal words of Kevin Bacon in Animal House: “All is well!”
San Francisco remains a news hub, even at 0-1. Impossible to draw many conclusions from a game played in a gigantic mud puddle. But two things of note from Sunday, on the day the Trey Lance era began with a 19-10 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field:
a. Jay Glazer reported before the game on FOX that coach Kyle Shanahan and GM John Lynch, after Jimmy Garoppolo got re-signed, asked 15 team leaders to be sure they had Trey Lance’s back if times got tough this season. According to Glazer, they said words to this effect to the 15 team leaders: Guys, we need your support here. We’ve got to make sure that you get Trey’s back. There will be some bumpy roads ahead. We’ve got to make sure that people aren’t clamoring to move on to Jimmy. We’ve got to make sure we have your support.” Clearly, they recognized that Garoppolo has lots of friends in the locker room and wanted to prevent the fracturing of the locker room if Lance went through a bad run.
b. Lance had a third-and-five at his 41- with 10 minutes left when he made the kind of throw he just can’t make. He zeroed in on his target, wideout Jauan Jennings and forced a throw without seeing safety Eddie Jackson lurking just to the right of Jennings. The pick was easy, and it led to the insurance touchdown three minutes later. Young quarterbacks are going to make mistakes like this one, particularly in god-awful conditions. But with Lance, these mistakes are going to be magnified. Fair or unfair, that’s how the 49ers have set this up with the signing of a quarterback who has played in two NFC championship games in the last three years.
RENTON, Wash.—“It’s a movie,” Gene Smith told me recently. “It’s a script, right out of a movie.”
The movie is Smith starting at quarterback for the Seahawks tonight — not his training buddy and good friend Russell Wilson, who conveniently for a national TV audience will be starting for the other team, Denver. A few eyes in the Pacific Northwest should be on this matchup.
Said Smith: “He texted me at the start of camp, 4:30 in the morning. ‘Let’s be great.’ I texted back, like, ‘Best in the world.’ We always say that to each other. We always are motivating each other. Now, to go against him in the first game of the season, it’s such a beautiful thing.”
Smith, 31, has had a star-crossed career, which might be putting it nicely. In a long sentence: A second-round pick of the Jets in 2013, he earned the starting job, then got punched by linebacker IK Enemkpali and suffered a broken jaw over a disputed unpaid debt in 2015, lost the job to Ryan Fitzpatrick, tore his ACL playing in relief, signed with the Giants in 2017, got put in the impossible position of breaking Eli Manning’s 210-start streak late that season, disappeared with the Chargers and Seahawks for a while, then played in relief for Wilson (broken finger) and did enough to convince Pete Carroll he should get the nod to start this season. Backup Drew Lock lies in wait, but Smith, for now, will have the roar of the 12s behind him tonight in Seattle.
“This chance means everything to me,” said Smith, between morning meetings and afternoon practice at the Seahawks facility a couple of weeks ago. “As a person who entrenched his life into this game, I mean really put my life into this game, it’s an incredible story. Hero gets knocked down, nobody thinks he’ll get back up, and he gets up and gets another shot.”
Smith won’t emphasize the sock in the jaw, but he won’t run from it. Todd Bowles had just taken over as Jets head coach for Rex Ryan in 2015, and the new staff wasn’t married to Smith, and then…“The incident happened with the jaw, and I was out,” he said. “Once that happened, everything was up in the air. Ryan took over, played well, and the fans rallied behind him. The next year, I tore my ACL. Injuries and bad luck just kept happening at the wrong time.”
When Wilson broke his finger last season, Smith got three starts — his first in four seasons, since subbing for Manning. He completed 68 percent of his throws and had just one interception; efficiency and not turning it over are huge to Carroll, and so when Wilson got traded and the new guy, Lock, got Covid this summer, Carroll had no problem ending the non-competition by giving the job to Smith. Nights like tonight are huge in deciding if he can keep it.
“I like my chances,” Smith said. “Interestingly enough, this offense is a lot like the one I ran my last two years at West Virginia. This is a mixture of West Coast and different concepts. I’m comfortable with it.”
No guarantees for Smith. This could be his last shot at a significant NFL job, and I expect he’s going to play like every game’s his last, starting tonight.
The Buffalo quarterback was a regular post-practice signer in training camp. I asked why.
“I remember being that kid,” he said.
“There’s a really cool story. I don’t know if he minds me telling this story, but I was a big Giants fan — Giants, 49ers, Warriors. I went to a Giants game. I got a Buster Posey ball.
“He came by, he signed for me. I was so excited. I went to grab the ball and my finger swiped across the name, so it had like streak marks in it. You could barely make it out. But I still put it up in my room.
“Much later, I ended up going to my agency in Nashville, [Creative Artists Agency], and I actually talked to his agent and I told him that story. A week later, I’ve got a bat signed by Buster Posey. So, Buster, thank you, big fan obviously. That was pretty cool. That was probably my biggest one. We had a Jerry Rice [signed] ball. I think we had a Steve Young [signed] ball at one point. So, it was pretty cool.
“Again, I remember being that kid, wanting the autographs, looking up to guys in my position. It’s the least I can do to wave, high-five, fist-bump, maybe sign a little something here and there. I can’t sign everybody’s, but I try to.”
I’m adding two new sections here this season—“Hidden person of the week.” Who did something that wasn’t very noticeable but made a big play in the game…And “The Jason Jenkins award.” It’s a way to recognize a person who has some association with the NFL — maybe a player, but it could be anyone — for good work, and I’ve decided to name it after the selfless, magnetic and inspirational former Dolphins VP Jason Jenkins, who died suddenly 16 days ago.
Offensive players of the week
Saquon Barkley, running back, N.Y. Giants. He’d missed 18 of the Giants’ last 31 games due to injuries and had but one 100-yard game in the 13 he played. In the eyes of Giants’ fans, the second pick of the 2018 draft was washed, a past-tense dude. The narrative started to get rewritten in Nashville Sunday evening. He had 18 carries for 164 rushing yards (9.1 yards per rush against a significant Tennessee front), plus 30 yards receiving, plus the two-point conversion score that beat the top seed in the AFC last year, 21-20. “He’s had a good spring, a good summer. We have a lot of trust in him. It’s a player’s game,” said coach Brian Daboll.
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans. After the most prolific NFL receiving season ever in 2019, the Saints’ go-to guy missed all but five starts in 2020, and he missed the entire season in 2021 with the lingering, maddening ankle injury. Then he got a hamstring strain in camp this summer that threatened to derail the start of his season. But no. He played, and he keyed the Saints to erasing 14 points of a 16-point deficit with 3- and 9-yard TD catches in the last 12 minutes. The Saints had no business winning this game, but Thomas’ will helped do it.
Justin Jefferson, wide receiver, Minnesota. The first half of the first game was the ruination of the 2020 and 2021 NFC top seed, the Green Bay Packers. And so much of that was due to Jefferson’s performance in the first two quarters: six catches, 158 yards, two touchdowns. He finished nine for 184 with two scores, and the Vikings finished with a dominating 23-7 victory.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. All through the offseason, this question dogged KC: How will you survive the loss of Tyreek Hill? Mahomes digested that, understood it, and was determined to not let that sink the 2022 version of a powerful franchise. So the newbies — JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Skyy Moore — combined for 11 catches and 153 yards in a 44-21 undressing of the Cardinals. In all, Mahomes threw for 360 yards and five touchdowns. Typical him.
Defensive players of the week
Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety, Pittsburgh. No defensive player did more in week one to contribute to a win than Fitzpatrick. Start with the first-quarter pick of Joe Burrow in Cincinnati and the resulting 31-yard return for touchdown to make it 7-0. Continue with the biggest play of the latter stages of the game — Fitzpatrick burst inside the left end to block what would have been the winning PAT in a 20-20 game with two seconds left in the fourth quarter. And he had a game-high 14 tackles. Fitzpatrick’s had a few great games since his 2019 trade from Miami to the Steelers, but this was his greatest. In fact, there’s little question that this was the best game of his distinguished NFL career.
BLOCKED. WHAT A GAME.@minkfitz_21 said NOPE!
— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
Von Miller, edge rusher, Buffalo. In his emotional return to SoFi Stadium — Miller won a Super Bowl there seven months ago — Miller had two sacks and four pressures on his friend Matthew Stafford in a dominating 31-10 Buffalo win over the Rams. That was pretty clutch.
Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, L.A. Chargers. Maybe we should have listened to Mack when he said he’d be back to greatness in 2022 after missing 10 games with a foot injury last year in Chicago. He had three sacks for 17 yards worth of losses, plus six tackles, in his first games as a Charger. L.A. beat Las Vegas, 24-19.
Special Teams players of the week
Cade York, kicker, Cleveland. Nice debut for the 21-year-old rookie from LSU, the only kicker picked in the 2022 draft. After hitting from 26, 34 and 36 yards to help the Browns to a 23-14 lead, he burst the bubbles of Baker Mayfield and 72,205 in Charlotte by bombing a 58-yard field goal with eight seconds left. Cleveland 26, Carolina 24. Do we have another Evan McPherson on our hands?
Justin Reid, safety/kicker, Kansas City. When Harrison Butker sprained an ankle early in KC’s rout of Arizona, Reid — I mean, who knew? — kicked a PAT, then just look at what it said on the official NFL play-by-play of the game:
- Reid kicks 65 yards from KC 35 to end zone, Touchback.
Now that is cool. Very cool for a safety with no history kicking the ball in football games.
Chris Boswell, kicker, Pittsburgh. After shockingly shtoinking a 55-yard knuckler off the left upright with 2:27 left in OT, Boswell, mercifully, got another chance in what I would call one of the most dramatic Steelers-Bengals games in the 53-season history of the rivalry. As the clock expired, his 53-yard strike, straight down the middle, beat Cincinnati, 23-20.
Hidden person of the week
Robin DeLorenzo, down judge, Patriots-Dolphins game. In her first regular-season game as an NFL official, DeLorenzo showed the game is not too big for her. Eight minutes into the game, Miami had a fourth-and-one at midfield and chose to go for it. As the clock wound down but before the snap, there was action on both sides of the line. Flags flew. Patriots pointed at Dolphins for a false start. Dolphins pointed at Patriots for an offsides. DeLorenzo, from her position on the sideline at the line of scrimmage, ran in and appeared to decisively tell ref John Hussey it was a neutral-zone infraction by number 98, New England. First down, Miami. On the replay, it was clear: Before the Dolphins moved, Pats defensive tackle Carl Davis Jr., moved across the line and contacted Miami center Connor Williams. Good call. Decisive call. “Line of scrimmage officials are the kings and queens of multi-tasking,” DeLorenzo told WCBS-TV in an off-season feature on being the third woman official in the league. “We have to see a million different little things and assess them.” In her debut, she did it well.
Coach of the Week
Kevin O’Connell, coach, Minnesota. Game one couldn’t have gone much better for the latest branch of the Sean McVay tree. Last year’s Rams offensive coordinator orchestrated a well-balanced attack (28 runs, 32 passes plus one sack) in his NFL head-coaching debut. Plus, zero turnovers, 395 total yards, and a good 8.2 yards per pass attempt (to Aaron Rodgers’ 5.3). The Vikings clearly have responded well to the lighter, teaching-heavy approach of O’Connell after the hardline approach of former coach Mike Zimmer.
Goats of the Week
Mitchell Wilcox, long-snapper, Cincinnati. Needing a chip-shot 29-yard field goal to win the game late in overtime, the Bengals sent out Mr. Automatic, Evan McPherson. But Wilcox, the backup long-snapper, snapped the ball so high it almost went through the up-stretched hands of holder Kevin Huber. And when a discombobulated McPherson got to the ball, his mechanics were all screwed up and he yanked it wide left. That’s a game-changing gaffe right there.
Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. Hard to imagine any offense having as bad a first half as the Bengals did. How the first five Bengals drives ended: interception, field goal, Burrow lost fumble, interception, interception…and a fourth interception was negated by penalty. Burrow threw another pick in the second half, and just because the Bengals had multiple chances to win late doesn’t negate the hole Burrow put the team in.
Rodrigo Blankenship, kicker, Indianapolis. Perfect snap, perfect hold in a 20-20 game in OT with two minutes left…and Blankenship sliced a 42-yard field goal (a distance that has become virtually automatic these days) 10 feet wide right. A win turned into a tie, and Blankenship’s spot as Colt kicker suddenly is quite tenuous. “We go back and everybody gets evaluated,” coach Frank Reich said after a tie that felt like a loss. “If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s don’t rush into those kinds of decisions.”
The Jason Jenkins award
Jason Jenkins, senior VP of communications and public affairs, Miami. Most of you know that Jenkins, 47, died two weeks ago in his office at Hard Rock Stadium. He left his wife Liz, three children, and much of south Florida crushed by the loss of one of the NFL’s biggest doers and community heroes of all time. On Sunday, at the Dolphins’ opener, Liz Jenkins and the children were honorary captains for the team before the game against New England.
“He truly believed there was good in the world,” Liz Jenkins said Sunday night. “He saw the divisiveness that we all saw in recent times, but Jason just felt, ‘I’m going to be a catalyst for good.’ “
He founded a south Florida outreach, based inside the Dolphins, called “Football Unites,” and a team photo with all the 30-plus organizations it touched looks like the United Nations. That made Jenkins proud.
“What’s great about it,” Liz said, “is it represents Florida. It represents our country, all walks of life, all nationalities, all kinds of people. He loved that. Maybe some of those groups felt like they were on the outside of things, but with Jason, no one was on the outside.
“One day I’ll really remember with Jason is a day we went to three events in the community together. The first was an LGBTQ event. Then we went to a mosque; it was Ramadan, and it was important to him to honor the holiday. Then we went to Hard Rock Stadium for a [Dolphins alumni] Nat Moore event. He just loved pulling in all the cultures.”
That’s why, all season, I’ll recognize good people in and around the game with the weekly Jason Jenkins Award. If you’ve got ideas, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. And send great karma and prayer to Liz Jenkins and her family.
You guys wrote our obituary back in May. You’ll continue to write our obituary. Who cares? … Bury us again. We’ll get back to work.
— Atlanta coach Arthur Smith, perturbed about the local and national perception of his team, after the Falcons blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead and lost at home to New Orleans, 27-26.
They kicked our ass.
— Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray on Kansas City’s 44-21 blowout win in the desert Sunday.
I think the 12s, as they call ‘em up there, are gonna let him have it.
— Joe Buck, the new play-by-play voice of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” on the reaction he expects for Russell Wilson’s return for Seattle tonight as the Denver quarterback. He made the remarks on ESPN “NFL Live.”
I wish I hadn’t said that. I was probably thinking of what I would feel like. That was not one of my better statements.
— Bill Belichick, 70, to Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe, reflecting on this 13-year-old statement about how long he’d coach: “I won’t be like Marv Levy and coaching in my seventies, I know that.”
I have two girls now, and I want my girls to have all the opportunities in the world that little boys get as well.
— Andrew Luck, interviewed by ESPN Saturday night at the Stanford game, on the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
It was definitely some b—s—.
— Colts linebacker E.J. Speed, on tying lowly Houston in the first game of the season.
Kudos to Kevin Clark of The Ringer for pointing out in a story on Matt LaFleur that LaFleur entered the season one game away from qualifying for the all-time coaching winning percentage list (minimum 50 games.) Seeing that he coached his 50th game Sunday in Minneapolis — a disappointing 23-7 loss for the Packers — LaFleur jumps to number two on the list of coaches with the best winning percentages ever.
Updating the list through this morning:
Note: Jim Harbaugh (44-19-1, .695) is sixth.
As Clark noted, LaFleur took the place of “Guy Chamberlin, last seen coaching the 1927 Chicago Cardinals and retiring in his mid-30s to become a farmer.”
You mean football’s changed a bit in the last 95 years, and coaches don’t retire to the farm at age 33?
I have two Guy Chamberlin trivia questions for you:
1. What NFL coaching record does Chamberlin hold?
2. What’s the last job Chamberlin held before his death in 1967?
Answers in 10w and 10x of Ten Things I Think I Think.
Two members of the St. Brown family scored touchdowns for NFC Central teams 2 minutes, 14 seconds apart (in real time) on Sunday:
On the front page of the Dallas Morning News’ NFL preview section over the weekend: An illustration drawn by staff artist Michael Hogues showed left tackle Tyron Smith on crutches (he’s hurt), Sean Payton lurking in the background (he’s lurking in the background of this season), and the team’s five Super Bowl trophies covered with cobwebs (they haven’t won a Super Bowl in 27 years).
These two events, nine months apart, seem so strange:
In his last three games, dating back to January, Allen has led the Bills to 38 points a game, 16 touchdowns on 25 drives (excluding three kneeldowns at the end of halfs or games, completed 80 percent of his passes, converted 71 percent of third- and fourth-down attempts, and rushed for more than 55 yards in each game. You cannot play the position of quarterback better than he has since the playoffs began last January.
I am reminded of the text message from Allen’s offseason quarterback tutor, Jordan Palmer, sent to him before the playoffs began last year: “So proud that you’ve risen to the level of being a Pro Bowl alternate!”
“It was pretty simple. Tom hit me up on Instagram.” – Julio Jones to Mike Tirico last night per Tirico on the broadcast.
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) September 12, 2022
Palmer, of NFL Network, on what motivated Jones to sign with Tampa Bay.
Bedard: Bill Belichick continues to live an alternate universe while his team is mired in mediocrity https://t.co/d0yQzzAv21
— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) September 12, 2022
Bedard is the editor of Boston Sports Journal and a longtime pro football writer.
— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) September 11, 2022
Longtime Titans beat man Jim Wyatt.
Man, we haven’t seen Neil O’Donnell; in a long time.
When the Visitor becomes the landlord. pic.twitter.com/LL514AGduO
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 11, 2022
Don’t get too cocky after that game, Saints social team.
Following the 2020-21 season, Russell calls me for my input on who Seattle should target for OC opening.
I said you NEED Ken Dorsey. Kenny interviewed.
They didn’t hire him 🤷
Tonight- Exhibit A
— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) September 9, 2022
The former Chicago, Carolina and Seattle tight end, a former Russell Wilson teammate, Tweeting as Buffalo offensive coordinator Dorsey had a terrific game in the Bills’ rout of the Rams Thursday night.
Checking in on Jalen Ramsey… pic.twitter.com/VQ95plH8hc
— Andrew Luck (@FauxAndyLuck) September 9, 2022
The Giants (1-0) have a winning record for the first time since 2016. Amazing to think that is the case.
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) September 12, 2022
Raanan covers the Giants for ESPN.
On Robert Kraft. From Stuart Bennett: “You wrote about Robert Kraft: ‘Kraft, from the reporting at the time, went to a place and paid for services, with no indication that those who provided the services did so against their will.’ Please take a moment and re-consider this statement. Do you really think that young women are performing sexual acts without any coercion? Coercion can come in many forms, either from a large, professional athlete physically intimidating someone or from an impoverished person being threatened with being kicked out on the streets and/or deported. Proponents of Robert Kraft [for the Pro Football Hall of Fame] will point to the technicalities of looking only at the football field. This is a myopic view of the world and all those involved know it.”
Thanks for writing, Stuart. And thanks to the 21 others who wrote chastising me for what I wrote in that sentence about Kraft’s visits to a massage parlor in south Florida. Before I wrote this, I read a few stories about the events in south Florida. In a Vanity Fair story, a Palm Beach assistant state attorney said, “There is no human trafficking that arises out of this investigation.” That’s what I based what I wrote on. But so much of the circumstantial evidence, and some corroborating evidence, gives more credibility to women in these businesses being coerced in some way, and very possibly being trafficked. So you and the other writers are correct in calling me out for my view of it. My mistake.
As far as the Hall of Fame stuff, you say it’s a “myopic view of the world” that voters should look only at football factors for election to the Hall. I disagree. Where should the line be drawn on a person’s record? Should a great player for 12 years be judged unworthy because he was suspended for four weeks for using cocaine? Does that opinion of the player change if the suspension is for testing positive once for PEDs and never again? Should a player, or a coach, be disqualified for a confirmed case of domestic abuse? Should an owner of a six-time Super Bowl champion who, against the advice of most in the game, hired a blemished head coach and built one of the best teams in football history be unworthy for twice visiting an illicit massage parlor?
Voters for the Hall of Fame should not be in the morals-judging business. They should be in the football-judging business.
Doesn’t like me picking the Packers to win the NFC. From Matthew J. Lemma: “I greatly, greatly respect your opinion, but why haven’t you realized yet that the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers do nothing but disappoint come playoff time? They won a championship at the end of the 2010 season, which was before they began throwing money at Rodgers, but times have changed.”
I heard this from a lot of people, Matthew. I can’t dispute the crushing disappointments of the last two playoff seasons for Rodgers and the Packers, losing in the playoffs at home after being the one seed each year. And when I tried to figure out what I thought of the NFC this year, my first thought was, I don’t love any team. I have questions about the Packers, to be sure. You know what team they remind me of? The 1997 Broncos. That year, Denver was coming off a 1996 season as the top seed in the AFC with a 13-3 record, and the Broncos lost their first playoff game to Jacksonville at home, a crushing defeat that made many in Colorado think: That’s it for Elway. He’ll never win the big one. Well, he won the next two big ones. Not saying Rodgers will, but I am saying he’s under that sort of pressure as this year dawns. You very well may be right. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to respond to the questions about him and about the loss of Davante Adams with a good playoff run.
I will do it. From John Darcey: “Your prediction article is always my favorite one of the year. But what I would really love to see is you revisit these predictions after the season. And it’s not to say how right you were or wrong, it’s simply to say, look how much changed or could change in five months.”
John, I will do that. I am putting it on my February calendar right now. I might even do it before then. Thanks for the suggestion.
I see. From @SgSmith33 on Twitter: “Your comments re: Russell Wilson contract extension are comical. Wilson is vastly overrated but a very good salesman. The economics of the NFL and the complete lack of quality depth at QB made this a moot point. He felt comfortable in Denver ? LOL”
That’s an interesting way of judging a quarterback who has missed three games due to injury in a 10-year career, has a 100-to-25 TD-to-interception ratio in the last three seasons (including playoffs), has never had a passer rating under 92 in any year, has led his team to the playoffs in eight of 10 seasons, led his offense to 113 points in his last three games in Seattle, and is 33. Wilson’s a good promoter of Wilson, and it’s always sunny and breezy in his world, and I get that he rubs some people the wrong way. But as far as football goes, my feeling is this: If Wilson is a salesman, I’m buying.
1. I think Aaron Rodgers had to be simmering on the short flight home from Minneapolis Sunday evening. The Pack has lost on opening day by a combined 62-10 over the past two years. Bad enough, but the young receivers are going to be frustrating to work through for Rodgers and LaFleur. The first offensive snap of the season for Green Bay portends bad things. Rodgers threw a deep pass down the right side for Christian Watson — Pack GM Brian Gutekunst traded two second-round picks to move up to draft him last April — and it could have been a stunning touchdown and affirmation of everything the Packers have been planning for the long term in the wake of losing Davante Adams. Instead, Watson, just as stunningly, dropped it.
2. I think it won’t get noticed much because of the zaniness of the game — Eagles 38, Lions 35 — but A.J. Brown, the new Eagles wideout, was a huge difference maker with his 10-catch, 155-yard debut. Odd as it was to see DeVonta Smith have zero catches and just four targets, you’ve got to figure that’ll get ironed out by coach Nick Sirianni, who had to be thrilled with a 455-total-yard day with two 90-yard rushers on the day.
3. I think someone’s got to explain to me how the Patriots — no idea what they can do on offense right now — are one-point favorites over the Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday.
4. I think Emmitt Smith might just have a nice heir in rushingdom. E.J. Smith, son of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, took the first snap of the Stanford season and ran 87 yards for a touchdown against Colgate nine days ago. On Saturday night against USC, with his dad in the stands, E.J. Smith caught a touchdown pass and ran for another one, accumulating 114 scrimmage yards. Other interesting college football progeny of great NFLers:
a. Marvin Harrison Jr., the Ohio State wide receiver, caught seven passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns Saturday against Arkansas State.
b. Joey Porter Jr., the Penn State cornerback, had six pass breakups in the Lions’ 2-0 start.
c. Frank Gore Jr., the Southern Miss running back, had 178 yards in 32 carries in the season-opener against Liberty — before being held to 10 rushing yards Saturday at his dad’s alma mater, Miami.
d. With dad Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott on the sideline at Stanford Stadium, USC wide receiver Brenden Rice caught one pass for 20 yards in the Trojans’ 41-28 win at Stanford.
5. I think the Bears absolutely, positively should not have a domed stadium. But that’s the plan if they move to suburban Arlington Heights and build an enclosed place — with no retractable roof because of the costs involved. Imagine the moments in Bears history we’d have missed with a stupid dome:
- We’d never have seen Gale Sayers score six touchdowns in one game, as he did in the muck and mire of a rain-swept Wrigley Field in 1965. On the last TD, on an 85-yard punt return, you could barely make out the “40” on the mud-caked uniform. (True, domes were just being invented in the sixties.)
- We’d never have seen the Bears edge the Packers 23-21 in minus-17 wind chill in 1983, Jim McMahon earning his stripes that day with a two-touchdown-pass performance.
- We’d never have seen the bizarre whiffed punt by Sean Landeta of the Giants on a windy day in the 1985 playoffs, helping the Bears win 21-0.
- We’d never have seen the Fog Bowl, the 1988 playoff game against the Eagles played in a pea-soup-thick fog. “Best game you never saw,” Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune.
- We’d never have seen the Tom Brady-Jay Cutler snow bowl in 2010, the Patriots routing Chicago in a December storm.
I mean, come on. Wake up, Bears. DO NOT plan a future with a friggin’ dome. The weather’s your heritage!
6. I think it’s interesting to see longtime former quarterback Matt Schaub begin to campaign to be DeMaurice Smith’s successor as executive director of the NFL Players Association. Smith’s term is due to end in March 2023, and he has said he will leave the job. Schaub told Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic he thinks the current leadership shouldn’t have made decade-long deals the last two times the union negotiated with the league. “It is unprecedented what we’ve done the last two CBAs, with the tenure of the deals, which is almost triple the average career length of most players,” he said. “These past two — it’s been too long based on what has shifted hands and shifted across the table.” The tough thing for Schaub, who will be seen as an outsider by those who remain in union leadership, will be to get any internal support when he criticizes the current deal. There’s no dominant favorite inside the NFLPA, yet.
7. I think I wonder why the NFL feels a need to have The Rock and his macho-macho-macho act star before mega-games. I mean, is that really appealing? Does it add to the coolness of the festivities?
8. I think it’s always interesting to note the fervor and the anger (mostly) that follows sportswriters making predictions. The reaction to me picking the Saints as a one seed, picking the Chargers to upend Kansas City in the AFC, choosing a Bills-Chargers AFC title game, picking Tampa Bay to finish behind the Saints in the NFC South, and predicting Jimmy Garoppolo would replace Trey Lance by week seven (how controversial!) was…well, predictable. On Twitter, @StevenSJacobsCA said, “Peter King is a blowhard who is way past his ‘use by’ date,” following it with a pornographic suggestion. (Amazing what some feel free to say in a public space, when people can actually see who a Steven S. Jacobs is.) There were five time-to-retire Tweets or emails, 13 questioning my sanity for having the Saints over the Bucs in the NFC South even though Brady is 0-4 in the regular season against New Orleans, with the closest margin in those games nine points. There was a general, Why do you hate the Bucs. I hate them so much I picked them to win the Super Bowl two years ago coming off a 7-9 season. When I picked the Bucs to win it all, after having signed the 42-year-old Brady, I had to bar my front door to prevent being shipped to Crazytown. Some of the best Tweets from two years ago, post-Bucs-pick:
- “You are delusional and a complete Brady suckup.” (@jamiegboro)
- “Buccs will go 9-7. Stop smoking crack.” (@CSHER_13)
- “Give Pete a break, he’s so busy being a woke SJW he doesn’t have much time to actually scout the teams.” (@SperdutiJ)
- “This is the year we see Brady’s age show.” (@hubie1988)
- “PK lost his mind awhile ago…..too bad.” (@sixtycent60)
I left out a few of the more entertaining ones.
Super Bowl 55: Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9.
9. I think this about predictions: The reason I guess at some odd things (Saints a one seed, Chargers topping KC, etc.) is that invariably odd things happen in the course of an NFL season. When I go on the road for a month to different camps in July and August, I try to discern what some of those odd things might be. “Might.” I try to judge if Mahomes and Rodgers will be dead in the water without Hill and Adams, respectively. I think one of the things that happens with reactions is that fan bases have been reading and hearing all offseason the optimism about their teams, mostly good news or good information coming out of camps, with media people who cover the game . Life has changed a lot since I started covering the sport in 1984, and when, as a writer in Cincinnati covering the Bengals, I did other things (some Bengals, some Reds, some college) after the football season ended. Anyway, I’ll be wrong on a lot of things, and we’ll know which ones in five months.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I was listening to the BBC World Service Thursday morning when this eight-word bulletin, read by a calm host with perfect British elocution, led its morning newscast: “Buckingham Palace has announced the Queen is unwell.”
b. That portended, of course, the news that came later in the day, the death of Queen Elizabeth II after her 70-year reign. But isn’t that a perfect British sentence? In retrospect, it’s so Queen Elizabeth-like. The way she lived her life, you can imagine, on her deathbed, she was thinking, I got the 15th Prime Minister ready to go. I’ve had a fine run, and now let’s all carry on. No tears.
c. I’ve got the same problem with a monarchy that so many do — it’s outmoded, it’s incredibly costly at a time when so many are hurting financially, it’s unnecessarily haughty. But there’s something else about it that I like, that the queen brought out year after year. The lesson of her life, simply, was to work for the common good, to be a beacon for perseverance. To be a conscience.
d. Being a conscience for a country…That’s a great legacy to leave.
e. The Queen saw an American football game. What a spectacle. Oct. 19, 1957, a Saturday afternoon in College Park, Md. Queen Elizabeth, on a state visit to America after reigning five years, expressed interest in seeing an American sports event. She was in Washington that weekend, preparing for a state dinner hosted that night by President Eisenhower, and Maryland was hosting North Carolina in football that afternoon. What a show. The craziest cover of a game program in football history was on sale at the stadium, with a painting of Queen Elizabeth in portrait, and underneath: “Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.” Before the game, each team presented the Queen and Prince Philip with an autographed football.
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Her Majesty Queen, Elizabeth II.
We had the honor of hosting The Queen for a football game on her first state visit to the United States in 1957.
We join those mourning across the world. pic.twitter.com/hm9DSrkHxX
— Maryland Terrapins (@umterps) September 8, 2022
f. The Queen wore a fur coat in the first row of the stands. Flanking her, the university president and governor wore suits, overcoats and fedoras, and most of the men in the stands nearby had suits on. She was given a gift by her Maryland hosts of a bejeweled brooch shaped like a Terrapin. The Maryland marching band played “God Save the Queen.” Reporters from England, India, Pakistan and Australia covered the game. Now that’s a fun story.
g. Public Service Story of the Week: Lomi Kriel and Zach Despart of the Texas Tribune and ProPublica on how the Texas Department of Public Safety — the state police officers, 91 of them — have somehow escaped any blame in the wake of the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas.
h. The investigation by Kriel and Despart, as DPS officials have dodged responsibility in the deaths, raise important issues that no one will answer:
The state police agency is tasked with helping all of Texas’ 254 counties respond to emergencies such as mass shootings, but it is particularly important in rural communities where smaller police departments lack the level of training and experience of larger metropolitan law enforcement agencies, experts say. That was the case in Uvalde, where the state agency’s 91 troopers at the scene dwarfed the school district’s five officers, the city police’s 25 emergency responders and the county’s 16 sheriff’s deputies.
The state police agency has been “totally intransparent in pointing out their own failures and inadequacies,” said Charles A. McClelland, who served as Houston police chief for six years before retiring in 2016. “I don’t know how the public, even in the state of Texas, would have confidence in the leadership of DPS after this.”
Instead of taking charge when it became clear that neither the school’s police chief nor the Uvalde Police Department had assumed command, DPS contributed to the 74-minute chaotic response that did not end until a Border Patrol tactical unit that arrived much later entered the classroom and killed the gunman.
i. Such important reporting. And more: Investigative Story of the Week: Yasmin Rafiei, writing for the New Yorker about a private equity firm buying a nursing home—and the disastrous results that followed.
j. The story is the writer, too. Yasmin Rafiei was in Stanford Medical School when she heard a story about a Virginia nursing home run by nuns taken over by an investment firm that reduced staff and the quality of life at the facility. So Rafiei put off school for a while to investigate this story…and thank the Lord she did.
k. Before the sale in mid-2021 Rafiei writes about what she saw at the nursing home, run by the Catholic Little Sisters of the Poor:
St. Joseph’s itself was pristine. The grounds were concealed behind a thicket of tall oaks and flowering magnolias; residents strolled in manicured gardens, past wooden archways and leafy vines. Inside the bright, two-story building, the common areas were graceful and warm—a china cabinet here, an upright piano there. An aviary held chirping brown finches; an aquarium housed shimmering fish. The gift shop, created in 2005, to fund-raise for tsunami relief in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake, sold residents’ handmade aprons and dish towels.
People gathered everywhere: in line for the home’s hair salon, over soup in the dining rooms, against handrails in the hallway, where the floors were polished to a shine. “Take a deep breath,” a resident, Ross Girardi, told me, during a visit in May of 2021. He reclined in a plush armchair. “Deeper! What don’t you smell? A nursing home.”
l. After the sale, Rafiei visited again. This is what she found:
The attentiveness of the nursing staff plummeted. Mary Cummings, a ninety-seven-year-old resident who had lived at St. Joseph’s for six years, went seven days without a bath. Betty Zane Wingo, a ninety-four-year-old resident, went several months without having her hair washed. A resident who suffered from a severe lung disease told me that, one evening, her oxygen tube slipped out, and it took an hour-and-a-half and a call to 911 to get it plugged back in. Several family members told me they called the nursing station to express concerns but that no one picked up. On morning shifts, the home’s nurse aides now changed briefs so saturated with urine they’d turned brown.
m Rafiei, studying to be a doctor, took time off to investigate and write this, and as much as we have a vital need for doctors in the country right now, this reportage was time vitally spent. Thanks to Rafiei for putting her personal life on hold to do this.
n. This is why reporting is so important now, in all walks of our society. I led with these two stories this week for a simple reason: the death of Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German. A local government official German was investigating was arrested in connection with the death.
o. Lomi Kriel. Zach Despart. Yasmin Rafiei. Jeff German. You want them on that wall. You need them on that wall.
p. Happy trails, Sue Bird. What a night her last game was, the playoff loss to Vegas in Seattle, the crowd chanting “THANK YOU SUE” and serenading her so she’d stay on the court. A wonderful touch.
q. “You kind of feel like the girl that beat Serena,” the New York Times quoted Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon said after the game. What a great line, Hammon channeling her inner Ajla Tomljanovic.
r. I love baseball instituting a pitch clock for 2023 — 15 seconds with no one on base, 20 seconds if any base is occupied—and mandating infielders actually play the infield, with two men on either side of second base. It’s cool to see brainiacs figure out the best places for fielders to play, but it’s also not the way the game was designed, which is why at the start of play Friday, 12 major-league players were batting over .300. American League All Star centerfielder Byron Buxton was batting .216 at the break.
s. I went to the Iowa-Indianapolis Triple-A game in downtown Indy on my camp trip. A pitch clock was in place. Time of game: 2 hours, 8 minutes. That’s anecdotal. I don’t know what the average time of game is in minor-league ball with a clock. But pitchers and batters who will complain about this — I say to them, You did this to yourselves. Tugging at gloves, stopped
t. Now this is something I find very hard to understand. Last Wednesday afternoon, I took a bit of a holiday and went to Twins-Yanks at the Stadium. In the top of the fourth, Twins catcher Gary Sanchez — a disappointing former New Yorker whom the Yanks traded in the offseason — was at bat when a thirtyish guy in the next section over screamed: “F— you Sanchez!!!!!” The words reverberated in the near-empty stadium.
u. I looked over. Sparse attendance at this makeup-game matinee. F-you guy was there with a woman and two children. Two boys, maybe 11 and 6. Two pitches pass and Sanchez singles to center. Usher-type security guy comes over, leans down, says something to the lout, and security guy starts laughing, and walks away.
v. I refuse to accept that this behavior is acceptable at an American sports event. It should never be acceptable at any sports event, or any event.
w. Guy Chamberlin trivia answers from Numbers Game, above: Chamberlin is the only NFL coach to win league championships with three teams. He won with Canton, Cleveland and Frankford.
x. Chamberlin’s last job was as a guard at the Nebraska State Reformatory in Lincoln.
y. Beernerdness: I found Al Dente Pilsner (Talea Beer Company, Brooklyn, N.Y.) at a restaurant in my Brooklyn neighborhood; I’d heard of the brewery, the first in the city’s burgeoning craft-beer industry founded by women and run by women. They make a damn nice pilsner. My favorite summer beer is an ice-cold Peroni, maybe ever colder than that. This one is tastier and surprisingly a little spicy, with a better head than a Peroni. Strongly recommended.
z. RIP Bernard Shaw. He should be remembered as the CNN anchor who gave the network gravitas. Shaw’s calm reporting from the war in Iraq in 1991 was memorable. At one point, in the middle of shelling of the capital, Shaw reported: “Clearly I’ve never been there, but this feels like the center of hell.” Shaw was present at the birth of hour-by-hour-from-ground-zero war reporting.
Denver 27, Seattle 18. Mr. Wilson Goes to Washington. Let’s see how he’s received. I’d understand if Wilson and the Broncos were booed lustily once the game begins; all’s fair in love and football. But I think it’d be small of the 12s to not give Wilson an ovation at the start of the night. In his 10 regular seasons quarterbacking the ‘Hawks, Wilson was 51 games over .500 as a starter; in the previous 10 seasons, Seattle was a composite two games over .500. I get that there’s hard feelings over the divorce, but I wouldn’t understand a vicious welcome, at all. Re the game: the Seahawks might be the biggest team of mystery in football this year. They’ll dress five nationally recognizable players tonight: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Michael Dickson. After that, who? Poona Ford? The most important newbie: left tackle Charles Cross, the ninth pick in the draft and first piece from the five-pick haul in the spring trade that sent Wilson to Denver. No one locally seems to know what to think of this team, but overall it’s an interesting time to be a ‘Hawks fan — particularly if GM John Schneider can work the same magic at quarterback next April that he worked in picking Wilson 75th overall in 2012.
L.A. Chargers at Kansas City, Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, Prime Video. Amazing that the Chargers, playing in the toughest division in recent NFL history, will be playing their second of six division games in the first five days of the season. But the biggest question about this game is: Will people be able to figure out how to watch it on Amazon Prime?
Cincinnati at Dallas, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. Suddenly a big game for both quarterbacks: Burrow, coming off his five-turnover day, and Cooper Rush, who the Cowboys plan to plug in for his second career start after the injury to Prescott.
Tennessee at Buffalo, Monday, 7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN. The first Monday night semi-simultaneous twinbill. (Vikes-Eagles kicks off on ABC at 8:30, the theory being folks will clock over to game two at halftime of game one, then go with the best game from then on.) I’m assuming most people who are able will have two screens alive in the second half of game one.
Carson Wentz threw for four scores.
Really needed that.