This season I’m running out a MMQB style column where I look at eight things that happened in Sunday’s games. I will break it down into four surprises, and four things that were absolutely expected. Let’s get right to it.
Surprise number one: Jon Gruden, we hardly knew ye
Jon Gruden is out of Las Vegas after reports surfaced that his corporate emails (which were very much not private apparently) were full of inappropriate comments that are offensive to a host of people. This came just days after a specific email showed that he used multiple racist tropes to insult the head of the NFLPA. He survived the first wave, but the second wave, as noted by Adam Schefter, had some other groups the league cares a little more about, like the “Roger Goodells”. Of course, hearing Adam Schefter represent ESPN in condemning Gruden is pretty rich, given that Gruden was an ESPN employee at the time of most of these emails, and ESPN almost certainly knew he was into this game. The Raiders owner who fired him, Mark Davis, was also on the receiving end of several of the emails and did nothing for years (other than given him a 100 million dollar contract), so Davis pretending that this is “unacceptable” to him is ridiculous. Racism, misogyny, homophobia and more are welcome in the NFL arena, as long as it isn’t public. This firestorm just shows what many black people and women in positions of authority in the league have often noted, which is the secret antagonistic environment they all have to work in. The league will treat this like an isolated incident. It isn’t.
Surprise number two: I’m rooting HARD for Dan Campbell
Look, I make fun of the Lions in this space a lot. It’s an easy punching bag. They are the runt of the litter. I have even made fun of Dan Campbell’s intense devotion to being a tough football guy. But I want to be clear. I love Dan Campbell. He is such a breath of fresh air compared to the buttoned up corporate coaches and their coach speak. He is honest, he is hard working, he is charming in his own meaty way. After another brutal loss that they probably didn’t deserve, Dan came out and showed the real emotion of being an NFL coach. He wants his team to win so badly, not just for himself but for his players. It must feel incredible for Lions players to have someone working so hard and caring so much for them after years of the self-serving and narcissistic regime of Matt Patricia. Coaches of America, listen. This is how to be a coach. You are there FOR your players. They are not there for YOU.
Surprise number three: NFL kickers suck
Two weeks ago in this space, we celebrated the greatest kicker ever, Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens. It feels like 100 years ago. The NFL had 12!!!! missed extra points this weekend. We gather here to bemoan the celebration of Evan McPherson, who celebrated this game-winning kick against the Packers that… missed. If you think that is weird, listen to this… The Packers Bengals game has 5 CONSECUTIVE missed game winning kicks. That stat should not be possible or real, and yet here we are. It was ended on a sixth kick by Mason Crosby, but this makes me wonder a larger question. Why did they keep trying? Good teams, like the Chargers, have forward thinking coaches who realize touchdowns are better than field goals. The Chargers went for it on fourth and 2 on their 24 in the middle of the game. They went for it on fourth and 8 or more twice in field goal range. They barely won, and all those attempts (and conversions) won them the game. Going for 1 and missing repeatedly hints that maybe teams (especially long shots) should just be going for 2. More coaches need to start thinking aggressively. Make your luck.
Surprise number four: The Texans might actually remember the Alamo
I love the job David Culley is doing down in Houston and he deserves credit for getting this group ready to play each week. This week, Davis Mills had monster performance with over 300 yards and three TDs against a Patriots defense that is usually hell for rookie QBs. The Houston roster is a mess, and David Culley has very little to work with, yet you get the sense this team will be just as good as last year’s unit, that was lead by the unquestionably talented Deshaun Watson. While he does it without all the flourishes of Dan Campbell, it is clear David Culley has his team bought in, trying hard, and finding a measure of success every week. I love an actual underdog story, and this one is the biggest one of the NFL this season to me. I find myself occasionally checking the roster for Davy Crockett, but the closest I have seen is Hjalte Froholdt.
Expected thing number one: The Bills are the best team in football
I have said it for weeks. I rode the Bills all of last season to cover after cover. The Bills are the best team in football this year, and it’s not close. Does that mean they will definitely win the Super Bowl? Of course not. It’s still early. Injuries happen, teams ebb and flow. Matchups can be good or bad. But right now, (or, even better, two weeks ago), I would put a fair amount of money on the Bills to win it all. They are a complete team. Josh Allen is locked in again. The Chiefs defense simply had no shot of stopping them. Frankly, it’s surprising it took this long for people to take them seriously. Their division is a cake walk, and I will be shocked if they lose more than one more game this year. Western NY has had a lot of hard times, but right now, everything’s coming up Bills’ house for the playoffs this year.
Field Yates @FieldYatesLook closely at Darius Leonard and the football here. This was ruled an illegal forward pass? https://t.co/JZP3XD95Ab
Expected thing number two: inertia defeats the Colts, lives inside Lamar Jackson
The Colts-Ravens game was another Monday Night barn burner, with the Ravens coming all the way back to win the game in overtime behind another peak Lamar Jackson performance where he nearly lost the game and then almost singlehandedly won the game at the same time. This time it came with a quirk. Darius Leonard lateraled the ball to a teammate on a fumble return (Lamar Jackson fumbled at the Colts 3 yard line while changing hands with the football). It was taken all the way back for a TD after the lateral. Yet the lateral, which passed maybe a yard from Leonard to a player clearly behind him was ruled forward. Why? Inertia. An object in motion stays in motion, and since Leonard was running forward, a ball that was seemingly passed backward, actually went forward too. This overturn took away a Colts TD and 80 yards, and was a critical catalyst for the Ravens comeback. Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson has just the right coaches around him for who he is. He had a terrible first half+ in this game, yet nobody on the staff got down on him. They just kept going to him, and he got it done. A lot of coaches would prefer the steady play of a lesser player, but the Ravens know with Lamar that the good plays far outweigh the bad, and eventually things tend to wind up in their favor. He is his own inertia, and he almost always stays in motion till he gets the outcome he needs.
Expected thing number three: Urban Meyer is just getting dumber each week
I’m not really even sure what else to say about Urban Meyer, the Coach Who Couldn’t, but this press conference really shows what an indelible blowhard he really is. Of course it would be nice to run for 250 yards every week. Yet teams don’t, and do you know why? Well, first, the other team stops them. Second, running is much less efficient than passing, which you can see, because the Titans (a team with no secondary, that just lost to the Jets) beat the Jaguars easily despite giving up nearly 200 yards on the ground. Third, random statistics don’t win games. If you run for 100 and throw for 400, you can also win. The point is efficiency, not random stat totals. Urban Meyer is a dinosaur who has no idea how to run, or execute, a modern professional offense with players who aren’t dramatically better than the players on the other team. Watching him talk, versus someone like Brandon Staley or Sean McVay, is shocking in it’s obtuseness. Urban Meyer is totally clueless. It’s rare that we find someone who is neither a good leader or good schematically coaching an NFL team, but here we are. We are in “Gase Protocol”.
Expected thing number four: Why do we keep doing this to London?
This stat is amazing. Part of this stat is the fact that we keep on sending the Jaguars, but still. So far we have sent Jets-Falcons. Next week, it’s Dolphins-Jags. Think about this. Imagine the NBA sending the Pistons vs. Wizards overseas every year or the Premier League growing the game in the US with Watford and Southampton every year. What’s even stranger is the obsession with London, which never had much interest when NFL Europe was happening, while Germany was a huge success. Plus Brazil has more NFL fans than any other country outside the US. So what are they doing? They are simply doing what they were promised when they paid for part of a new stadium for Tottenham, the Minnesota Vikings of the Premier League. In exchange, they get to use it for games, so they are. This sort of reminds me of someone who is granted use of a Army Hummer and uses it to commute to work 20 minutes a day and nothing else. The NFL is using it because they can, but it’s not what is was built for, and it’s a waste. Could you imagine the excitement if we sent over something like Bucs vs. Pats or Bills vs. Chiefs? I can’t either because it will never happen.