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FMIA Week 15: Chiefs Use Ancient “Heisman” to Jumpstart Offense; Ohio’s Bigtime Backup QBs

Week 15 recap: BUF runs over DAL, Mayfield perfect
Mike Florio, Devin McCourty, Jason Garrett, Matthew Berry and Steve Kornacki dive into Week 15, where the Bills blew out the Cowboys, Baker Mayfield had a perfect day at Lambeau Field and more.

FOXBORO, Mass.—The play that might have saved Kansas City’s season was called “Heisman.” It respected history.

That’s because it was 80 years old.

Kansas City’s offensive coordinator, Matt Nagy, is a football-history nerd, and he brings ancient plays to coach Andy Reid sometimes. Penn called this play in a game in the forties against Columbia. Nagy saw the grainy footage of it and fell in love. In this particular game, against the defensively astute Patriots, Kansas City was smitten with “Heisman” because the offense was struggling mightily, because even the great Bill Belichick couldn’t have his defense instantly stymie a play it couldn’t even imagine, and because KC had a college option quarterback, Jerick McKinnon, just dying to throw the first touchdown pass of his eight-year NFL career.

“Heisman” had been in the KC gameplan for five straight games but not called; Reid just felt the time hadn’t been right. But in a scoreless game, at the New England four-yard line, on a first-and-goal, Reid thought it made sense. He’d have two more chances on this series to get a TD if it failed.

The play looked weird. McKinnon lined up behind center, squatting low. To his immediate left was Patrick Mahomes, in a compact three-point stance. “Maybe the first time in that stance since I ran the 40- at the Combine,” Mahomes said later. Blocking tight end Blake Bell lined up behind left tackle, wideout Rashee Rice flanked left, tight to the formation. At the snap, McKinnon took the ball and Mahomes sprinted left; McKinnon faked a pitch to Mahomes while both Bell and Rice sprinted right—Bell to block and Rice to look for a shovel-pass from McKinnon. And McKinnon followed Mahomes, sprinting left.

But wait.

Before McKinnon began his leftward gallop, he pitched the ball onto the right hip of the hard-charging Rice, who took the ball and ran through the right guard-tackle hole for the easiest touchdown he’ll ever score.

You have to watch the replay four times before you get the full effect. What’s this weird Mahomes positioning? They’re not gonna snap it to McKinnon are they? They’re not gonna pitch it to Mahomes, are they? That’s why it worked. New England has a smart defense, but the Patriots can’t watch a replay four times to figure out what the offense is doing on a play no one, even the great Belichick, has ever seen called in a football game.

“It’s tough to stop,” Reid said. “When we thought about it, I’m going, ‘That one we can do.’ Those guys worked hours on the ball-handling and stuff. McKinnon, he was a quarterback, an option quarterback at Georgia Southern. He had the option to hand off, but he wanted to pass. So he does, and it works. He’s crazy. Comes up to me after the play, all excited. Does a chest-bump! He’s nuts.”

Kansas City 7, New England 0. On the way to 27-17, which could have been 34-17 but Reid called off the dogs out of respect to Belichick.

One more wrinkle, the kind of wrinkle that makes players love to play for Andy Reid. When they had the mechanics of the play down, Mahomes thought of left guard Joe Thuney, who played his first five seasons for the Patriots. This was his first game back in Foxboro. He’d played some center for the Patriots in 2020. Mahomes suggested: Hey, Thuney played for the Patriots, and now he’s going back to Foxboro. Let’s switch him and Creed Humphrey and let Joe snap the ball.

Reid thought: If Thuney can do it, cool; we’ll switch Thuney and the center, Humphrey, for this snap. It’ll be fun for Thuney.

Perfect snap, perfect everything. It hasn’t been that way often for the Chiefs in this star-crossed season, and plenty went wrong on a raw afternoon with Christmas in the air in eastern Massachusetts. But lots of teams would like to be suffering with a 9-5 record this morning, on the verge of an eighth straight AFC West title, with the imaginative Reid calling plays, with the great Mahomes executing them. Kansas City’s not perfect. But there are no perfect teams in the NFL in 2023. So beware of this flawed one.

Boldface Names

Week 15 boldface names/items:

The Bills might not win the AFC East. But just imagine the AFC division winner that draws Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs. This is a top five team in football right now.

Josh Allen completed seven passes and the Bills scored 31 points and there he was, up on the TV post-game, smiling ear-to-ear doing the on-field interview. These things happen when you engineer a 31-10 rout of the previously red-hot Cowboys.

Lamar Jackson is such a unicorn, and I mean that in a very positive way.

Joe Flacco, miracle-worker.

Miami has a two-game lead over Buffalo with three games to play. Problem for Fins: Their next two foes (Dallas, Baltimore) are 20-7. Buffalo’s next two (Chargers, New England) are 8-20. Then Buffalo at Miami in week 18.

Get well soon, Tyreek Hill.

Dak4MVP? Well, if you’re campaigning for that, Sunday at Miami is your game of the year.

I have great regard for the Rams. With the Saints and Giants coming up, they could be 9-7 entering week 18, with a playoff spot on the line against San Francisco in Levi’s. What if the Niners have nothing to play for?

Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay and Aaron Donald, playoff factors. Count me in. Who doesn’t want the Rams playing on Wild Card weekend?

Blank of America Stadium. Been covering the NFL for a long time. Never saw a stadium as empty as the one in Charlotte Sunday. Think David Tepper might have a little something to do with that?

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 17: Desmond Ridder #9 of the Atlanta Falcons looks on during the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Great job, Jets! The 30-point loss in Miami ensured the 13th straight season out of the playoffs! J-E-T-S! Jets, Jets, Jets!

Gotta be weird to be the Cowboys, get clocks cleaned by the Bills, get on the plane home and hear, “Great news! We made the playoffs today!”

Desmond Ridder: Rent, don’t buy.

Vikings-Lions. How great would it be if they faced off Dec. 24, Jan. 7 and Jan. 13? As of today, three meetings in 21 days is a distinct possibility.

Tee Higgins, with the Bengals’ season on the line and Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase on the sidelines hurt, made the catch-and-score to keep Cincinnati relevant. What a fabulous play.

Lions rebound. You know what’s impressive about Detroit’s offense? GM Brad Holmes has so loaded it with weapons that Kalif Raymond or Donovan Peoples-Jones will catch six for 120 one of these weeks and we won’t be surprised.

The Jaguars are not ready for prime time, or a deep playoff run. Two huge night games in 14 days against AFC neighbors at home. They lose to Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Cam Newton, one question: Was Tom Brady a “game manager”?

A 2024 Kickoff Weekend Thursday doubleheader? It’s being discussed. One exec told me over the weekend the possibility for the first NFL regular-season game in South America to be played sometime in week one next year is “strong.”

Imagine that. A Thursday twinbill in week one … or maybe a Thursday primetime game with the Super Bowl champ, and, a night later, a primetime game from South America—perhaps with Tua to Tyreek. Interesting options on the table.

“All options are on the table.” Someone Who Knows told me that over the weekend.

The Dan Campbell stat that’s no shock but will slap you in the face nonetheless.

Dean Spanos will start from ground zero on the GM and coach searches. Might be a good idea to consider the spinning head of Justin Herbert.

Offensive offside. Lord, the awful call made to negate a crucial Denver touchdown at Detroit Saturday night. No one was close to offside on the play. But I don’t blame down judge Frank LeBlanc, who made the call. I blame Walt Anderson and NFL officialdom for over-stressing the foul in the wake of trying to regulate the tush push.

Amon-Ra St. Brown is averaging 97 receptions a year in his first three seasons. He needs 10 catches in the last three weeks to average 100 a year over his first three years. He produces even when blanketed, which is the sign of a great receiver.

Shane Steichen is defining what good coaches do: get all 53 players ready to contribute to winning football every week. He’s had to do it all season, and the Colts are 8-6 as a result.

Tua, please come home. The Miami QB would have been pleased Sunday night. He loves Michael Buble, and the Christmas carols were rolling in over dinner at Fleming’s in Providence.

The seat’s toasty for Mike Tomlin.

Christmas football. Ten hours of pennant-race football a week from today. Next Monday ET, it’s Mahomes at 1 (Vegas-KC), Tommy Cutlets in the belly of the NFC Beast at 4:30 (Giants at Philly), and top-of-the-conference behemoths at 8:15 (Ravens-Niners).

Hoop Dreams. Giants-Eagles head-to-head on Fox with Celtics-Lakers on ABC/ESPN next Monday. Who ya got?

I love New Jersey. My family did too. There’s a moral to the Tommy Cutlets story involving softball you might like to know.

My travel schedule is a deep, dark secret. But I let you in on a few bits of it down in the email section.

Lede of the Week: “Last Christmas, 11-year-old Charlotte asked for art supplies. This Christmas, she wants face cream.” Pretty, pretty good.

Mike Fernandez, I’ll miss you.

New Ways to Win

When Mahomes left the Kansas City locker room to meet the press near dusk Sunday, locker mate Blaine Gabbert reflected on this week, and this season. KC came in 8-4, losers of four of six, and the offense was wounded. It continued Sunday, even in a win. Per Next Gen Stats, KC receivers have dropped 26 passes from Mahomes this year; the quarterback with the next-most drops has 19. Next Gen estimates that those 26 drops have led to 332 expected yards lost. The most egregious one Sunday was by Kansas City’s precocious offense-killer, Kadarius Toney, who bobbled a perfect throw from Mahomes with nine minutes left in the game—right into the hands of Pats linebacker Jahlani Tavai. A ridiculous, careless miscue that instantly cut a comfortable 17-point lead to 10 and caused an angry Mahomes to look like he wanted to make Toney walk back to Kansas City after the game.

Gabbert was Tom Brady’s backup on the Super Bowl Bucs. He’s one of football’s most thoughtful players. I asked Gabbert, Mahomes’ backup and confidant, how the best player in football was handling the constant miscues on offense.

“In any NFL season, in any player’s career, every team each season has to find new ways to win,” Gabbert said. “You have to evolve. They’re used to being extremely explosive here. They’ve been probably the best in the NFL in the last seven years at big plays. Defenses know that. It’s kind of a chess match back and forth. We’re just trying to find different ways to win. How can we attack this defense in a different way than, let’s say, in years past.

“Patrick knows every single season’s different and you have to find different ways to win. This year, we know that a punt isn’t necessarily the worst thing, right? We just gotta grind out these grimy wins.

“There’s eerie parallels between this season and the season that we had in 2020 in Tampa, where you gotta find different ways to win, and we ended up winning the Super Bowl. We had this conversation I think earlier this week.”

Mahomes, in a quiet hallway outside the locker room, surprised me a bit with his answer when I asked about Gabbert’s analysis, and this choppy, choppy offensive season. “I actually think it’s been really good for me as a player,” he said. “You want to score every drive, but we haven’t, obviously, and we’ve had our struggles. It’s helped me grow not only as a player but as a person. What I got from Blaine, who I think got it from Tom, is you gotta find a way to win the ugly games. Because there are going to be ugly games. I understand a little bit more now, so now let’s clean up these little miscues and transition into the rest of the year. That’s what we talk about. We can do it.”

Mahomes the sometimes obnoxious competitor has shone through on the last two Sundays. I came here to take his temperature after he went ballistic on the field at the end of the loss to Buffalo, bitching endlessly about an offensive-offside penalty on Toney that likely cost Kansas City the game last week.

He told me he never saw a replay of Toney’s infraction while he was still on the field. So clearly, Mahomes could not have seen what appeared to everyone else who watched it an obvious penalty by Toney. But whatever it was, he said, “I’ve got to learn from it. I’ve got to be a better person, a better man. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t go off on the ref the way I did. I’d calm down and just talk to him.”

The $50,000 fine levied by the league, he understood. “I saw how I acted,” Mahomes said, “and you’ve got to deal with the consequences of your actions. I was taught that at a young age. Now I move on. I try to be better from it.”

Mahomes trying to instill confidence in Chiefs WRs
Mike Florio talks about his discussion with Patrick Mahomes about eliminating the mistakes from his wide receivers, which boils down to his pass-catchers gaining more confidence.

What’s missing for Mahomes is the deep game he used to flourish in with Tyreek Hill. Rookie Rashee Rice is an excellent prospect, but with a 4.51-second 40 time, he’s not going to be a classic deep threat. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, in the absence of the injured Isiah Pacheco, gave KC one of his best games with 17 touches for 101 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. Edwards-Helaire’s not a make-you-miss back, but he, McKinnon and Pacheco can be a three-headed backfield to take pressure off the quarterback. Reid needs that.

But this is an imaginative team with the best quarterback leader in the game. Every new drive, Reid says, begins with Mahomes telling the other 10 guys in the huddle, “Let’s be great—right now.” What’s different is that every drive’s a struggle. Every one. When there’s isn’t an element of deep speed in an offense, even Mahomes is going to struggle being explosive.

That’s what makes the Kadarius Toney situation so vexing. The guy’s got 4.39 speed. He had a 65-yard punt return and crucial fourth-quarter touchdown catch in the Super Bowl 10 months ago. Reid leads the league in patience with him, and late Sunday, the coach seemed ready to give him even more chances after his totally careless missed-catch-turned-interception. Said Reid: “He’s really a good kid and a good teammate. But you can’t do what happened today. He knows that.”

It’s got to pain Reid—and Mahomes—that their fate could be tied to a player as risky as Toney. But in the words of that famous New Englander across the field Sunday, it is what it is. You remake your team in March and April, not December.

There’s a real chance Mahomes will have to go on the road for a playoff game or two to get to his fourth Super Bowl in five seasons. Discount the three teams tied for the AFC South lead, and discount Cleveland, two games behind Baltimore in the North with three to play.

Who’s got the edge for home field? Baltimore (11-3) is a game up on Miami (10-4) and two up on KC (9-5). But Kansas City (Raiders, Bengals, at Chargers) has an easier path than Baltimore (at Niners, Miami, Pittsburgh) or Miami (Dallas, at Baltimore, Buffalo). I say it looks like: 1 Baltimore, 2 Kansas City, 3 Miami, with the AFC South winner sliding in at four. Then: 5 Cleveland, 6 Buffalo, 7 Cincinnati. How delicious would a third Buffalo-Miami game of the year be on Wild Card weekend?

The Rest of the Story

Zebra update. The offensive offside call Saturday night on Denver right guard Quinn Meinerz at the Detroit one-foot line was offensive. The call was nonsensical. It negated a Broncos touchdown that would have made it an 14-point Detroit lead with 16 minutes left in the game. But instead of putting all the blame on the fourth-year official who made the call, down judge Frank LeBlanc, let’s give a good deal of the blame to the league office and senior VP of officiating Walt Anderson for so emphasizing the cleanliness of the line of scrimmage that he’s spooked his officiating roster and forced people like Frank LeBlanc to over-officiate what’s already an impossible game to call consistently.

In trying to get a handle on the Tush Push play—which has seen players from both lines crowd the line of scrimmage so much that violations could be called on virtually every QB-sneak try now—the league has created a dangerous cocktail. The league office hates this play but very likely won’t outlaw it because it’s not causing injury and would seem to be unfairly picking on the team that has virtually perfected it, Philadelphia. Instead the league has leaned on the line-of-scrimmage adjudicators, the down judges, to call this penalty no one had heard of a month ago, offensive offside, in an attempt to gut down on the mayhem at the line pre-snap on the Tush Push. So, instead of calling obvious plays (such as the Kadarius Toney offside eight days ago), officials are now staring intently trying to see if even the helmet of a player is shading the back end of the football at the line. That should never be the intent of this call.

So instead of Denver being down 28-14 as it should have been, the Broncos were down 18. The outcome almost certainly wasn’t affected, but that’s not the point. The point is, officials have too much to worry about in an increasingly microscopically watched profession than to be over-warned about flagging offensive offside.

I remember when I did my week-in-the-life-of-an-officiating-crew story 10 years ago listening to ref Gene Steratore talking to his crew at their Saturday meeting. “Remember,” Steratore told his crew, “we fish for whales. We don’t fish for minnows.” Fishing for minnows is hurting this profession right now.

Kudos, Bengals. The one thing that sometimes gets lost in analyzing quarterbacks coming out of college is the experience factor. But there’s little doubt that 46 college starts in a Power 5 conference helped Brock Purdy adjust quickly to NFL life. Ditto Jake Browning and his 50 starts at Washington.

Browning’s recent 3-0 run—putting up 34, 34 and 27 points—in relief of the injured Joe Burrow has featured throw after fearless throw against three teams that might make the playoffs. Great example on Saturday against the formidable Vikings D, when he’d put up three points through nearly three quarters, then engineered three long scoring drives to send the game to overtime. “If something goes negatively,” coach Zac Taylor told me, “he doesn’t let that bother him the next play. That comes from experience. He doesn’t overreact to good or bad things. Joe’s the same way. We’re fortunate to have two guys that are built very similarly there, because it’s a vital part of becoming a good quarterback.”

I like what Taylor told his team the night before the Minnesota game. “Last night I told our guys, ‘Who’s got the second-longest winning streak in the AFC? We do – with two wins.’ It just paints a picture of what’s happening around the AFC. I said, ‘Don’t worry about everybody else. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff. Just focus on us and let’s build this into a three-game winning streak.’” It’ll be a tough road to the postseason—at Pittsburgh, at Kansas City, Cleveland—but who thought the Bengals would be in position to get there when Burrow went down?

Dot dot dot. I told Mahomes after Sunday’s game that he’d just passed Joe Namath on the career yardage list. Mahomes 27,944 yards, Namath 27,663. “Wow,” Mahomes said. Big smiles. “That’s amazing. I met Joe at the Super Bowl one year, and he’s still as cool as ever. When I get mentioned with the icons of the game, it’s surreal every time.” Joe Flacco’s agent, Joe Linta, told me Sunday night he had “two or three” teams inquire about signing Flacco last Monday, when the Browns put him on the practice squad for a day or two, for roster-management purposes. “Joe didn’t want to hear it,” Linta said. “He absolutely wanted to stay in Cleveland. He loves the team. He really gets along well with the coach.” In fact, Kevin Stefanski and Flacco are borderline lookalikes Wish I could tell you something enlightening about Bill Belichick’s future, but I can’t. It’s most logical he and the Krafts “part ways” (such a milquetoast phrase) after the season, but no one’s told me they will I might have been a year early on the Jags when I picked them to win AFC home field last summer. The AFC North has basically kayoed them from any chance of it, with Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore handling them in the span of 14 days Some really interesting games on New Year’s weekend: Miami at Baltimore, Cincinnati at Kansas City, Detroit at Dallas, New Orleans at Tampa possibly for the division title.

What I’ve Learned

Jake Browning was a practice-squad player for the Vikings for two years, then moved to the Bengals in September 2021. He was mostly a practice-squadder for the next two seasons, until Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor saw enough of Browning this summer to make him the backup to Joe Burrow when the rosters were cut in early September.

Browning, on what he’s learned from Burrow:

“I’ve gotten to watch Joe, who moves around a little bit more, kind of like I do, and how he incorporated that into his game. Joe’s ability to take everything that’s going on and really narrow down the focus of like, here’s my job, like, if whatever run play doesn’t work, whatever happens, he really is able to isolate. Here’s what I’m responsible for. Here’s what I need to do to get better. The stuff outside of that, don’t take the blame for stuff outside of your control. Maybe with the media you do, but then just for your own sanity, no. I felt like in college, whenever maybe I threw a good ball and it got dropped, I start thinking, ‘Well here’s what I could’ve done to make it better,’ when really, at the end of the day, it got dropped. Just move on. It’s outside of your control. I learned a really valuable lesson there from Joe.”


A recurring element in the column this year: a video memory of one of my favorite memories of 40 years covering pro football.

Reporting for NBC’s Super Bowl pre-game show in 2012 (Giants-Pats in Indianapolis), I did a piece on Steve Gleason in the beginning stages of his battle with ALS. Doing the interview with Gleason and wife Michel Varisco Gleason for the story made me quite emotional. Two videos here—my remembrance of the story (below), and the story we ran on NBC (linked here). I hadn’t watched the story since that day. Memories flooded back. One of them: When I got up from the couch in their home after the formal interview, my dress shirt was practically wringing wet. The emotion just fatigued me and wore me out.

40-For-40: The enduring love of the Gleasons
As Peter King celebrates covering his 40th NFL season, he recalls talking to former Saints safety Steve Gleason at Super Bowl XLVI, where he was moved by the love shared between Gleason and his wife.

The Award Section

Impossible task in a long weekend of heroes to whittle down the best of the best. Insanity is naming seven OPOTW, but come now.

Offensive players of the week

Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore. If you watched Baltimore manhandle the Jags Sunday night, you watched peak Lamar. He has to be on this list. Threw for 171, ran for 97, total unicorn football. Jacksonville didn’t get a good hit on him all night. “That’s just God,” he told NBC’s Melissa Stark on the field in Jacksonville. He’s the most elusive, hard to tackle, dangerous quarterback there is.

Joe Flacco, quarterback, Cleveland. From off the couch in Audubon, N.J. a month ago to the hero of the Browns’ very big last two weeks. Flacco threw for 374 yards and put his team in some holes with three picks against an opportunistic Chicago defense. But with the Browns down 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, Flacco led the offense to 13 unanswered points on drives of 52, 80 and 63 yards. Crazy, crazy personnel thing of the year: How possibly did no one before Cleveland in November even bring Flacco in for a workout to see if he had anything left. This just in: He does. His throw to David Njoku under heavy pressure with the game on the line, late, was a thing of beauty.

Questions remain for Browns despite win over Bears
The Football Night in America crew recap the Browns' NFL Week 15 win over the Chicago Bears and discuss the unanswered questions that remain with Cleveland, including the running game.

Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Tampa Bay. Here’s what’s so impressive right now about Baker: He’s on a new team after being set free by Cleveland, Carolina and the Rams, and he’s mastered a brand new receiver room—to the point that in Green Bay Sunday, he threw four TD passes to four different receivers, and a fifth receiver, Chris Godwin, caught 10 balls for 155 yards in the 34-20 win over the Packers. Mayfield became the first visiting quarterback in the history of Lambeau Field to record a perfect quarterback ranking. He’s making a powerful case to keep this QB job for the next 10 years the way he’s playing.

Jared Goff, quarterback, Detroit. After a string of giveaway games (nine turnovers in the last four games), Goff played one of the best of his life Saturday night against Denver. Competing against a defense that had gotten the Broncos back in the playoff race, Goff had the second 5-0 of his career (five touchdown passes, zero interception), completing 24 of 34 throws for 278 yards and three TDs to rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. Just when we began to doubt the Lions, Goff brought the team, and his game, back from the brink.

Jake Browning, quarterback, Cincinnati. With the Vikings possessing a 17-3 lead late in the third quarter and in total control—and defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ men on a streak of 29 consecutive drives without allowing a touchdown—Browning continued his red-hot roll in relief of Joe Burrow. On the next three drives, he led the Bengals 75, 63 and 75 yards to three straight touchdowns to force overtime, then made a brilliant throw to put the Bengals in position for the winning field goal in overtime. Jake Browning’s a revelation, folks.

Aidan O’Connell, quarterback, Las Vegas. O’Connell could play in the league for 15 years and not have a 20-minute stretch like the one he had Thursday night in the last 20 of the first half. O’Connell threw touchdown passes of 30, 22, 11 and 20 yards (occasionally encountering Charger players who actually were trying) while leading Vegas to a 42-0 halftime lead. He finished with 248 passing yards and 120.7 rating in the 63-21 beatdown of L.A.

Tee Higgins, wide receiver, Cincinnati. Considering the situation and what was at stake, Higgins made one of the best plays I’ve seen a receiver make to help save Cincinnati’s season. The Bengals, fighting to not fall to .500 with three games left, trailed 24-17 with the ball at the Minnesota 21-yard line and 48 seconds left. Jake Browning threw a rainbow down the right side and Higgins, in tight coverage, caught it at the Minnesota one-yard line and somehow palmed the ball while being tackled and falling out of bounds and stretched it toward the goal line. The ball pierced the line. That forced overtime. Cincinnati won in overtime. There’s a very good chance the Bengals would be 7-7 today without that acrobatic, smart play by Tee Higgins.

Defensive players of the week

Bradley Chubb, edge-rusher, Miami. This Chubb, with three sacks and two forced fumbles and three more QB pressures and a team-high seven tackles, is exactly the Chubb Miami needs to have a good chance to make playoff noise with Jaelan Phillips out for the year.

Tanoh Kpassagnon, defensive end, New Orleans. The Saints stayed knotted atop the NFC South with a dominating 24-6 win over the Giants in large part because Kpassagnon dominated the line of scrimmage against the beleaguered Giants’ line. He had three sacks and four quarterback pressures—and he didn’t even start the game. The Saints held the Giants to 193 yards.

Ifeatu Melifonwu. safety, Detroit. Learn his name: ee-FAH-too mel-a-FON-woo. Drafted as a corner in the third round in 2021, the Lions now play the rangy 6-3 hitter at safety, but use him in coverage quite a bit. He had the game of his pro career Saturday night, strip-sacking Russell Wilson into a turnover on Denver’s first series, breaking up a Wilson-to-Lucas Krull deep pass that likely would have been a Denver TD, recording eight tackles and two passes defended. Detroit needed a strong defensive game after a string of shaky ones, and Melifonwu led the way.

Special teams players of the week

Ka’imi Fairbairn, kicker, Houston. This is a rule of the column that I just invented: You kick a 54-yard field goal at the gun in overtime to keep your team in playoff contention when your starting quarterback is out with a concussion, and you’re a STPOTW.

Texans 'steal win' to stay in AFC playoff picture
The Football Night in America crew discuss the Houston Texans stealing a win from the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 and how the victory kept them in the playoff picture in the AFC.

Connor Heyward, tight end, Pittsburgh. The younger brother of Steeler OG Cam Heyward (Rich Eisen’s phrase, and I’m stealing it) made his biggest play of his two-year run with Pittsburgh. On the first play of the second quarter at Indianapolis Saturday, on an Indy fourth down at its 25-yard line with Rigoberto Sanchez in punt formation, Heyward burst through the middle of the Colts’ line and got one extended hand on the punt. Great, great effort play and block. Steelers recovered at the Colts’ one-yard line and scored to go up 13-0 just 16 minutes into a crucial game.

D.J. Turner, wide receiver/special-teamer, Las Vegas. It shouldn’t be this easy to be this productive, but Turner, charging downfield on second-quarter punt coverage, literally ripped the ball out of the grasp of rookie returner Derius Davis of the Chargers and recovered the “fumble,” leading to an easy Raider TD.

Coach of the Week

Shane Steichen, head coach, Indianapolis. The Colts won a game with huge playoff implications Saturday without their number one QB, number one RB, and missing their backup running back and top wideout for much of the game. It’s clear Jim Irsay and Chris Ballard made the right choice in turning over the franchise to Steichen 11 months ago. The Colts, after an early season-ending injury to rookie franchise QB Anthony Richardson, are a surprising 8-6 with a good chance to make the playoffs with Gardner Minshew running the show under center. The Colts are averaging 24.6 points per game—nearly two points more than Kansas City—and they’re 5-1 since Halloween after the 17-point rout of the fading Steelers Saturday. Steichen’s been an excellent offensive architect without his number one QB and RB.

Goats of the Week

The Chargers. Every one of them.

Mike Tomlin, coach, Pittsburgh. An awful decision by Tomlin with the Steelers down 11 with 18 minutes to play. Pittsburgh had a fourth down at the Indianapolis 39-yard line with a kicker who’s made five of six from 50 and beyond this season. But Tomlin bypassed giving Chris Boswell a chance to make it a one-score game on a 57-yard attempt in an indoor stadium—with a bad offense in a game he had to have. And on the play before, instead of choosing to get Boswell closer on third-and-14, the Steelers, in a big offensive hole, threw incomplete deep for George Pickens instead of just trying to get it closer to make it a one-score game. Bad day for the Steelers and their coach.

Quotes of the Week


Who could have wrote this story? Not even Dr. Seuss.

--Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, after the Browns advanced to 9-5 using their fourth starting quarterback of the season, Joe Flacco.



--Cincinnati quarterback Jake Browning, screaming on the field after the Bengals beat Browning’s former team, Minnesota, in overtime Saturday in Cincinnati.


We kicked some ass today.

--Raiders coach Antonio Pierce, after Vegas put up 63 points on the Chargers Thursday night.


If you’re just tuning in, not a typo.

--Al Michaels, on Amazon Prime Thursday night, when the game returned from commercial at the two-minute warning of the first half, with the Raiders leading the Chargers 35-0 in Las Vegas. Sayeth Al a minute later: “If there’s a silver lining, the flight home is only 45 minutes.”


These are game managers. They’re not difference-makers.

--Former quarterback Cam Newton, on his “4th & 1 With Cam Newton” podcast, about Brock Purdy, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff and Tua Tagovailoa.

What was Tom Brady, Cam?


Tommy Cutlets has become the toast—or maybe the bruschetta—of the towns that lie in the shadow of MetLife Stadium.

--Corey Kilgannon and Mark Bonamo of The New York Times, in an A1 story on Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito, who is Italian-American and grew up in a town 11 miles from the Giants’ home field.

Numbers Game

Dan Campbell’s first 24 games as Detroit coach: 4-19-1.
Dan Campbell’s last 24 games as Detroit coach: 18-6.


Two notes about the transient nature of the game these days.

In four years of college football at Oregon, Justin Herbert had three head coaches, three offensive coordinators (two men shared the job when he was a sophomore) and two quarterback coaches.

In four years of pro football with the Chargers, Herbert has had three head coaches, three offensive coordinators and three quarterback coaches.

Herbert will be 26 in 2024, his ninth season in college and pro football. He will have his seventh head coach in those nine years, and likely his seventh offensive coordinator and sixth quarterback coach. The Chargers had no control over those first four years. But if the Chargers hand Herbert his fourth head coach, fourth coordinator and fourth QB coach since 2020, is that any way to maximize the talent of the most important player in your franchise?

Small edge for Vikings, Rams in NFC Wild Card race
The Minnesota Vikings, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints are tied at 7-7 in the race for the last two NFC Wild Card spots. On Football Night in America, Steve Kornacki analyzes who has the edge through Week 15.

In the last four calendar years, since Dec. 18, 2019, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has played for six teams. The teams, and number of games for each over the past 48 months: Jacksonville 2, Minnesota 6, Baltimore 11, Las Vegas 18, Indianapolis 15, Chicago 13.

There’s a good chance that Ngakoue, 28, who went on IR in Chicago last week with a broken ankle, will play elsewhere in 2024. That would be his seventh team in five calendar years. He would be 29 years old.

King of the Road

Lots of hubbub, and deservedly so, about the story of the Giants quarterback, Tommy DeVito, exploding on the scene with three straight late-season wins in what appeared to be a lost season for the team. DeVito’s from an Italian family in Cedar Grove, N.J., a few long spirals from MetLife Stadium. One thing struck me watching the Monday night win over Green Bay, and the aftermath. DeVito was totally cool on the eight-play drive that led to the winning field goal on the last play of the game, and after the game, asked whether he felt nervous at all, he all but scoffed. He said he wasn’t surprised. He’d been playing football since he was 5, and he knew he could do this, and he knew he belonged.

Immediately I thought of my daughters and sports in north Jersey.

My wife and I raised our daughters Laura and Mary Beth in Montclair, the next town over from Cedar Grove. We lived in Montclair for 19 years. Loved it. Great town, great people, great area. Laura and Mary Beth played on competitive softball and field hockey teams in high school. When Mary Beth was in high school, she was a pitcher. The big rival in her years was Cedar Grove High. Softball at the turn of the century was a very big deal in north Jersey. Highly competitive. If you wanted to pitch competitively in high school, you had to spend all off-season taking lessons. Starting in fifth grade, that’s what Mary Beth did. She and a softball friend from Cedar Grove, Kaitlynn Sweeney, took lessons alongside each other at a nearby indoor practice facility, coached by the Seton Hall head softball coach. They practiced together for years—five or six, at least, all through the fall and winter, until softball started in March. It wasn’t light-hearted. It was competitive, and serious. For a while, Mary Beth had major control issues, and we’d find this softball coach, Ray VanderMay, after one of his Big East games in the spring or at odd times and he’d diagnose her problems and get her back on track. Good coach, no-nonsense guy, tough when he had to be, veteran of the north Jersey softball scene. He knew what it took to be good, and he drilled Mary Beth and Kaitlynn weekly with everything they needed to be high school pitchers. Including toughness.

Two things stick out to me. In a game at Belleville early in her high-school life, Mary Beth took a one-hop liner off her forehead. She couldn’t get the glove up in time, and pitchers circa 2002 didn’t wear masks in the circle. Splat! She went down. We thought she was unconscious. But after three or four seconds, she got up, and with her coach running out to her, Mary Beth waved her off and said she was fine. She kept pitching. In her first really big game, a county tournament game in her sophomore year against Cedar Grove, Mary Beth outdueled Kaitlynn and Montclair won 2-0. It was her junior-year match against Cedar Grove that was more memorable. Mary Beth and Kaitlynn faced off again—2-2 after the regulation seven innings, and the game kept going. Mary Beth got out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the ninth, and on it went, and Mary Beth and Kaitlynn never came out of the game, and it headed to the bottom of the 13th, Mary Beth having thrown 176 pitches and feeling wasted. She led off the bottom of the 13th with a line triple to right. And this is what I remember: Crowd going nuts, parents going nuts Mary Beth standing on third base, emotionless, like, This is what I’m supposed to do. Her buddy Meg Mylan hit her in, and Montclair won in 13 innings, 3-2.

My point: To succeed in football-crazed north Jersey, Tommy DeVito had to work his rear end off, had to compete and beat all comers to start at quarterback and earn a job at prestigious Don Bosco High and then at Syracuse and later at Illinois. Everybody talks about the Italian ethos and how much it’s helped DeVito. I would bet regardless of nationality, a big part of undrafted Tommy Cutlets shocking the world and winning early with the Giants is that he grew up thinking: I can do this, and I will do this, so just get out of the way. It’s how competitive sports work in north Jersey high schools.


Reach me at

My travel schedule. From Lindsay Samson of Pittsburgh: “As much as I enjoy your main football themes here, I’m also interested in your personal angles of beer, coffee, and grandkids; but, more importantly, your travel schedule. How far in advance do you plot out your routes? How often do you then need to reconfigure depending on how important a team’s matchup becomes (or doesn’t)?”

I travel to games on about half the NFL weekends during the regular season and playoffs. This weekend, for instance, I wanted to write about the Denver-Detroit game Saturday night and fully intended to go to Ford Field; I haven’t written much about either team, and both are interesting. But then the Kansas City/Reid/Mahomes/Toney blowup happened. On Tuesday I thought about it, and I decided to do KC-New England in Foxboro. It was convenient: train from New York to Providence Sunday morning at 8:40 a.m., ride to Gillette Stadium at 11:30 a.m., cover the game, ride back to Providence at 6:45 p.m., quick dinner, write in a downtown hotel Sunday night. I’ll catch a train back to New York this morning. It’s great being a football writer and living on the East Coast because so many places are close by train, car or plane. I’m fortunate too because NBC, in a time when many of its peers are constrained by travel budgets, allows me to cover whatever game I think is best for this column.

Anti-Vick. From Nisar Tokhi, of Toronto: “It’s your 40-for-40 and you have every right to pick your moments. But doing it on Michael Vick is absolutely disgusting. You’re a dog owner and to see you hang out with him is something else. I’m a dog owner and every time I see or hear Vick my blood boils. I truly hate that man so much. Let me guess. Your next 40-for-40 is on O.J. Simpson?”

We’re different, Nisar. I don’t think a person who pleads guilty to doing really stupid, bad and anti-social things at age 27, then pays his debt to society, should be thrown out with the trash. I’ve always felt when a person admits his crime and is able to be rehabilitated—both of which Vick did—he should be able to resume his profession if an employer wants to hire him. What I saw in that prison in 2011 showed me what appeared to be a changed person. A lot of people, including you, disagree that Vick deserves a second chance. Such is life.

Playoff issue. From Clifford Traisman of Seattle: “You already teased your yearly complaint that I see coming—how ‘unfair’ it is that Dallas or Philadelphia has to travel to play at the NFC South winner in the playoffs. Stop before you start please! As a season-ticket holder of two NFL teams (hometown Bears and local Seahawks), even the remote chance to attend a home playoff each season is one of the incentives to be a ‘real fan’ and renew one’s tickets. Please think of it from the fans who shows up at each home game.”
Say the Falcons win the NFC South at 8-9 and Dallas finishes second in the NFC East at 13-4. That would send a 13-win team to play at an eight-win team in the Wild Card round. That’s insane to begin with. But what makes the fans in Atlanta more deserving to get a playoff game than a team that won five games more in the regular season? What about the “real fans” in Dallas? Imagine if your Seahawks won 13 games and had to fly five-and-a-half hours to play at a division champ with eight wins. Would you be as magnanimous about the playoff format then?

BUF rounding into form with new-look Brady offense
Chris Simms says the Dallas Cowboys' rout by the Buffalo Bills was "a little alarming" and breaks down what's gone right for Buffalo's reinvented offense under Joe Brady.

An idea about the 17th game. From Steve Kowalski, of Farmington Hills, Mich.: “With the continued 17th game, isn’t it time that every team plays eight home, eight away, and one neutral-site game? All 16 neutral-site games don’t have to be on other continents. Toronto, Lincoln, Neb., San Antonio, and Portland etcetera could also host. Maybe a field of dreams type game in a cornfield somewhere.”
It’s a cool idea, Steve. I like it. Problems: The quality of playing surface would have to be approved by teams and the league and the players association, so that could eliminate some sites. I love the field of dreams idea, or the idea of playing one game per year at a high school, the way MLB plays one game in Williamsport every year. The benefit to the high school would be that the league would likely install a pristine grass or artificial turf surface. And though attendance would mean gate revenue would be down, the back-to-the-roots attractiveness of, say, the Cowboys playing at Odessa Permian, or the Browns playing in Massillon, Ohio, would be gold in so many ways. I’d love to see it happen.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think a few points should be made about the NFL’s decision to play a 2024 regular-season game in Sao Paulo, Brazil:

  • The NFL is considering playing the Sao Paulo game in week one. Kickoff weekend is early this year—Sept. 5-9—because Labor Day is Sept. 2. Because the restrictions on interfering with Friday-night high-school games and Saturday college-football games don’t take effect until the second full weekend of September, the NFL could schedule a game on Friday night, Sept. 6, or Saturday the 7th. So it won’t be a surprise if the Sao Paulo game becomes part of a Thursday doubleheader, or a Thursday, Friday or Saturday standalone game—with the Super Bowl champ opening the season at home on Sunday night. It’s happened before.
  • It’s a hike to get to Sao Paulo. The game is likely to feature an NFC home team, because NFC teams have nine home games in 2024. Say the home team is Dallas. It’s a 10-hour, 10-minute flight from Dallas to Sao Paulo, which means a team likely would want to spend either a week there or most of a week before playing a game.
  • Miami is the only team that currently has made Brazil an international home marketing area, part of the NFL programs to increase individual teams’ profiles in foreign countries. So it would be logical to think the Dolphins would be one of the teams in Sao Paulo—except that the team flew nine hours to Frankfurt to play Kansas City this year. The league may want to showcase other teams in Brazil, and it’s likely that Miami would have to volunteer to go given it just went to Germany. If Miami is one of the teams, the Dolphins have three road games against NFC teams in 2024: Rams, Seahawks, and the parallel finisher in the NFC North. So maybe that team is Detroit.
  • Why Sao Paulo instead of other places? It’s the biggest city in South America (not just Brazil), with a metro-area population of 21.7 million. (New York City has 18.8 million people.) The stadium, Arena Corinthians, hosted the opener of 2014 World Cup and is nine years old. It has 89 suites and natural ryegrass. The city’s not a natural beauty, but NFL metrics pointed to a huge Brazilian fan base as a big reason why it was chosen for a 2024 game over Spain. That plus there was more enthusiasm inside the league to go somewhere new and intensely interested rather than choosing another site in western Europe. This broadens the league’s international footprint.
  • One last point about logistics: Say the game is played on Thursday of week one. The two teams would likely land back in their home cities sometime around mid-day on Friday. Players theoretically would have Friday night, Saturday, Sunday (and maybe Monday) to rest before beginning prep work for week two. It’s not too onerous.

2. I think my gut feeling is the NFL would be happy with Dolphins-Lions sometime on kickoff weekend in Brazil.

3. I think the funniest thing I read last week was from Entertainment Tonight, which reported: “Travis Kelce was noticeably absent during Taylor Swift’s 34th birthday celebration in New York City, but for a good reason. A source tells ET that he ‘remains committed to playing his best and doing his best on and off the field. The team practices are critical, mandatory to attend, and something he takes very seriously.’” Breaking news! A football player worked and practiced half-a-country away on a day when his girlfriend had a birthday party!

4. I think it’s so cool that Teddy Bridgewater wants to be a high-school football coach. He said the other day he’ll begin his post-playing life next year. From my conversations with the thoughtful Bridgewater over the years, he’ll not only be a good coach, but he’ll be an excellent influence on young people.

5. I think Kadarius Toney making excuses four days after his offensive-offside call, and blaming the officials, qualifies as the Dumb Alibi of the Year. Take the L and move on. And don’t turn a reception right in your hands with the game still in the balance into an interception, as Toney did in Foxboro Sunday. Amazing how much patience Kansas City has with Toney.

6. I think the more I see George Pickens loaf, the more I think I wouldn’t want the man on my team.

7. I think Nick Sirianni’s got some trust to rebuild with the Eagles’ press corps—not that this is front-of-mind for a coach whose team has allowed 34, 42 and 33 points in the last three games entering tonight’s important game in Seattle. He was asked at his press conference last Monday if he was considering any coaching changes in the wake of the recent defensive lapses. He said no. “I feel good with the people that we have in this building,” Sirianni said. “We’re 10-3. We’re in control of our own destiny, and we’re going to keep rolling and finding answers with the people that we have.” As Jay Glazer reported Sunday, defensive coordinator Sean Desai is the DC in name only now; Matt Patricia has begun running the defense and will be in charge tonight in Seattle. Maybe Sirianni, on his own, had a total 180 after he met the press Monday. Maybe, but it seems dubious that Sirianni wasn’t at least thinking about making a change seeing that this was a huge change. There’s also the chance he was forced into it by someone or some people above him. Whatever it was, this is a bad look for Sirianni.

8. I think I need to edit this original post. And I am, at 9:40 ET Monday morning. I was critical of Zach Wilson for his play in the Jets’ 30-0 loss at Miami. This was an unfair comment. Wilson was hit hard consistently early in the game, snowed under on the majority of his pass drops, the victim of a bad offensive line performance. And he was in concussion protocol Sunday evening. There’s no way Wilson can be blamed for what happened during his time in the game. When I cover a game, I often catch up on others that day with the highlight package on the games that are notable that I might want to comment on. And in this case, I jumped to an unwarranted conclusion. My apologies to Wilson for it.

McDaniel reflects meaning behind shutout victory
After last week's "punch to the gut," Mike McDaniel describes how the Dolphins' 30-0 win over the Jets did wonders for uplifting the team's mentality.

9. I think, re: the MVP, I am clueless. Truly. Glad I’ve got three weeks to shake out the vote. Lamar is involved now, in a big way.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Holiday Story of the Week: Inspired by CBS’ Steve Hartman, the king of good news, a teacher at a school in Phoenix got his kids to raise thousands so they, too, could be Secret Santas in this season of need—and giving.

b. If there’s a Kindness Hall of Fame, Derek Brown and his students should be in it. “I want this memory to be so strong that it now drives them, every day, in everything they do,” Brown said. These kids. So beautiful. So good.

c. “This was really a life-changer for me.”

d. Story of the Week: Tom Hallman Jr., of The Oregonian on two crucial meetings on two continents, six decades apart, that shaped a very important life.

e. This is the kind of story, with the kind of lede, that makes journalism important and rewarding. (H/T to reader Chris Lunt for bringing it to my attention.) Wrote Hallman to begin this great tale:

During their long lives, George Ting and Joe DeMarsh spoke to each other only twice.

The first time was more than 60 years ago in a Tokyo high school where Ting was a 16-year-old student and DeMarsh the principal.
It lasted less than a minute.

The two never saw each other again – until this past February, when Ting, now 76, solved a mystery of sorts and traveled from his home in San Francisco to DeMarsh’s home in Pendleton.

The former principal, 94, was on his death bed. Once again, their interaction lasted less than a minute. Ting held the man’s hand in his and said two simple words.

Thank you.

f. I don’t care what walk of life you’re in. There’s a lesson in this for all of us, and thanks to Tom Hallman Jr., for telling it.

g. I was not looking forward to season six of “The Crown” on Netflix, because I have little interest in the Diana-Charles drama, and the Diana stuff dominated this season. The best parts of “The Crown” are the educational ones about parts of history I never knew—the coal-smoke-prompted fog that enveloped and sickened London in 1952, for instance—and not the soap opera surrounding Chuck and Di. But I’ve seen the first six episodes of this last season of the show, and I liked them. Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki is really good as Diana, particularly in the way she cares for her sons, and Ed McVey is good too as William.

h. I see the reviewers panned it. Of course none of us know exactly how the end of life all went down, and I’m sure they know much more than I about what makes good TV. But the relationship drama and the Diana as mom seemed plausible and compelling to me.

i. TV Story of the Week: Meg Oliver of CBS Evening News, in part three of a series about education of America’s youth since the pandemic, on the impact of cell phones on young people in this country.

j. At a high school in Newburgh, N.Y., reports Oliver: “Cell phones are locked away for the entire day, including lunch.” Oliver finds students who are really glad about it. This strikes me as a valuable reminder that adolescents need time to explore and learn and read and discuss and be bored without a screen to distract them from real life. Valuable story.

k. Football Story of the Week: Katie Strang and Kalyn Kahler of The Athletic on the incredible story of how no safeguards were in place to stop a Jaguars employee from stealing $22 million from the team.

l. I’d never heard of virtual credit cards until I read this story. But allegedly the employee in an understaffed finance department, Amit Patel, became an expert at fleecing the company through them.

m. Wrote Strang and Kahler:

He allegedly created fraudulent charges on the club’s virtual credit card and then covered his tracks by sending falsified files to the team’s accounting department.

According to a charging document, he used that money to buy vehicles, a condominium and a designer watch worth over $95,000. He also purchased cryptocurrency, splurged on luxury travel for himself and others and used the funds to keep a criminal defense lawyer on retainer. Patel’s attorney said that the vast majority of the $22 million he stole were gambling losses; Patel allegedly placed bets on football and daily fantasy sports with online gambling sites.

How was Patel, working alone, able to steal more than twice the amount quarterback Trevor Lawrence counts against the Jaguars’ salary cap?

According to interviews with officials from other NFL teams as well as individuals working in finance at other professional sports franchises, the Jaguars may be an outlier in how little they were doing to monitor an employee with so much control over spending. Most of those interviewed were gobsmacked that one person would have unchecked oversight of the VCC setup. “Talk about having egg on your face. That’s a whole f—-ing omelet,” said a former finance specialist for an NHL team.

n. The “vast majority” of the money stolen went to “gambling losses,” his attorney said. This will not be the last time you hear of a life ruined by sports gambling. It might not be the last time this month you hear of it. The NFL’s in lockstep with spreading the gospel of gambling on its game, and thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of fans will suffer for it.

Jackson, Harbaugh leading Ravens into gauntlet
The Sunday Night Football Final crew preview the Ravens' upcoming gauntlet against the 49ers, Dolphins and Steelers and discuss Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh leading the way for the AFC-best Baltimore.

o. Lede of the Week: Chavie Lieber of The Wall Street Journal on this year’s big holiday ask for 11-year-old girls:

Last Christmas, 11-year-old Charlotte asked for art supplies. This Christmas, she wants face cream.

A wish list Charlotte made for her family includes a lactic-acid peeling solution, a beta-hydroxy acid exfoliant, an antioxidant cleanser, and a vitamin B5 serum.

“I just really love skin care,” said Charlotte, a fifth-grader who lives in the Central Valley of California. “Serums are my favorite because some cool down your face and others give you glowy skin.”

Tween girls, as defined between the ages of nine to about 14, have long experimented with mascara, lipstick, or whatever else they can get from moms and older sisters. But more recently, preteen girls have become enamored with skin care, from devising elaborate routines of layering on creams to researching which acids do what.

Tweens who haven’t even had their first pimple yet are asking parents to buy them presents from buzzy beauty brands, and are calling out complex ingredients.

“She is pronouncing words that I don’t even know,” said Abbie Geisel, Charlotte’s mom.

p. Another 11-year-old in this story said she was hoping someone in her orbit would get her a skin-care advent calendar. I really don’t know what to say about that.

q. Radio Story of the Week: Judith Kogan of National Public Radio on a smart way for middle schools—where grudges usually have long lives—to find peace among Brown Middle School students in Newton, Massachusetts.

r. Kogan reports that “Let Go and Move On” is a slogan every student in the school sees and hears every day, and principal Kim Lysaght explains why:

LYSAGHT: We talk about how tomorrow’s a new day. We learn from it, and then we let go and we move on. Nobody is defined by one action that they did.

REPORTER JUDITH KOGAN: Where there’s friction between students, they’re often brought together to hear each other out. Sometimes that involves an apology or at least ownership of their role in the situation. It helps them to pass each other in the hall later and not have that visceral reaction. Brown Middle School students like Ryana Nair have found the advice helpful in settling differences.

RYANA NAIR: Holding a grudge is like holding hot coals and expecting the other person to be burned. It’s pretty useless unless you just resolve the conflict.

s. Sounds pretty smart, particularly working on conflict resolution before high school.

t. Godspeed, Doug Farrar. The veteran football writer and editor needs help for his stepdaughter’s bone-marrow transplant.

u. For God’s sake, leave Kate Cox alone.

v. Retiree of the Week: Mike Fernandez, radio producer for the award-winning morning show “The Musers” on The Ticket in Dallas-Fort Worth for one month shy of 30 years, walked into the rest of his life on Dec. 1. For my money, I think Fernando (what everyone calls him) is the best sports radio producer I’ve ever dealt with. A breadth of topics—from digging deep into the Cowboys to the new J. Edgar Hoover book—found homes all over the morning show for hosts Craig Miller, George Dunham and Gordon Keith. That comes with arriving at work at midnight every weekday for 30 years (no wonder he wanted to retire) and poring over stories for the hidden gems way beneath the headlines. I was on the show for the past 12 autumns (Troy Aikman’s got me beat—he’s at 22 years), and I was always shocked to hear him reference some arcane note 8,400 words deep in one of my columns. But he knew. He read everything. He had the curious gene you have to have to be great in this business, and he was great.

w. Producers are the backbone of so many radio and TV shows in America. Good producers make good hosts great.

x. “Fernando’s a breed apart,” Aikman told me. “He was the standard. He engages. He’d text me a lot, and we’d have conversations about everything. You could tell why he was so valuable to the show. When I signed with ESPN, he sent me the big book about Monday Night Football, ‘Monday Night Mayhem.’ He just said, ‘I thought you’d enjoy reading it.’ He’ll definitely be missed. I talked to him on his last day, and I think he was most excited about getting on a regular sleep schedule.”

y. We should all appreciate people like Mike Fernandez. They make our sports experience so much better.

z. A note to readers of this column: Next week’s FMIA will be a different column. It will be much shorter, and it won’t focus on the games of the weekend. Last spring, when I signed a contract with NBC for this season, I was offered a rare opportunity. My big boss, Sam Flood, said I could take the weekend off on my choice of Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’ve never done that in-season before; if a work day fell on a big holiday, I worked. But this time, I thought about it. Thanksgiving’s not a holiday that cries out to be off; I mostly am anyway. But Christmas, especially when it falls on a Monday—that’s a different story. I figured that if I worked on Saturday the 23rd and Sunday the 24th, with the column going live in the wee hours of Christmas Day, I’d be absent for all but Christmas Eve dinner with the family, then a wreck when the grandkids got up on Christmas morning. So I got selfish. I said yes. On Thursday night I’ll file a totally different kind of column to Team FMIA, Sarah Hughes and Amelia Acosta. It will be edited Friday and posted on schedule in the wee hours of Monday morning. I’m planning to tell the story of a player who should be a beacon for others, with no news of the important games of the weekend. My thanks to Sam Flood for allowing me a quiet Christmas with family (knowing my grandkids, it will not be altogether quiet) in Berkeley, Calif. And thanks to Sarah and Amelia for doing the work that never gets recognized enough. The normal column will resume Jan. 1. Thanks for your understanding.

Games of Week 16

New Orleans at L.A. Rams, Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime. Normally the league doesn’t schedule such far-flung visitors for short-week Thursday games, but the Saints’ fate after a three-game homestand is to fly 1,800 miles and three hours, 43 minutes at mid-day Wednesday to play a game with huge playoff implications for each team.

Dallas at Miami, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox. You know the storyline: Miami hasn’t beaten a strong team all season (unless you consider Denver, early, in the middle of a 1-5 start, a good team) entering the last three weeks of the season. Now, three good foes will cap the season: Cowboys at home, at Baltimore, Buffalo at home, and we don’t have much of an idea if Tyreek Hill’s going to play in this game, or how much he’ll play down the stretch with his ouchy ankle.

Baltimore at San Francisco, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ABC. The two winningest teams in football (11-3, both) meeting in prime time is a rare gem. Nick Bosa and Chase Young trying to contain the elusive Lamar Jackson will be a treat to see. This will be Jackson’s Levi’s Stadium debut—he has faced the Niners once, in San Francisco’s Super Bowl season, 2019, in Baltimore. Jackson ran for 101 and threw for 105, and Justin Tucker won it 20-17 with a 49-yard field goal at the final gun. By the way, I wonder if I’ll be the only one to ask this question: How weird will it be for the Ravens to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 3,000 miles from home? Not that it’ll be a factor in the game, but this will be one of the strangest holidays these players will ever have.

The Adieu Haiku

Yo, Cleveland: Ten years
ago, Flacco won it all.
Can Joe turn back time?

Peter King’s Lineup