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FMIA Week 14: Dak Prescott, Confidence Man; The Flag Heard ‘Round Kansas City

Week 14 recap: Ravens top Rams in OT, Chiefs fall
Mike Florio, Devin McCourty, Jason Garrett, Matthew Berry and Steve Kornacki dive into Week 14, where the Ravens had an OT win over the Rams, the Bills defeated the Chiefs, the 49ers topped the Seahawks and more.

I try to define the difference in Dak Prescott this season, and I keep coming back to one word: confidence. Sometimes, he sets up to throw and lets one fly and it looks like a bad decision and it rarely is.

Prescott made such a tight-window throw midway through the fourth quarter Sunday night to Michael Gallup. Dallas led 30-13, and it was third-and-five from the Dallas 17-. Move the chains. End this thing. But Mike McCarthy wanted to take a deep shot—if it was there. Michael Gallup on a go-route down the left sideline, blanketed by rookie corner Kelee Ringo. Right end Josh Sweat steamed in on Prescott, seemingly affecting his arm angle as Prescott loaded up to aim for Gallup.

Why try this throw? It didn’t make sense to me, with a three-score lead, needing to simply drain the clock instead of taking this big shot and likely having to punt on the next play.

Likely, I said.

“It all starts with my confidence,” Prescott said from Texas 70 minutes after the game. “Where does the confidence come from? I credit for one the footwork of Mike McCarthy, the way that he’s been consistent in the footwork. I hit that back foot, and I’ve got the confidence to let it go because of the work we’ve put in in QB school going back to the offseason. Those [receivers] understand that I’m going to give them opportunities. On go balls, for instance, I’m putting the ball in the air and trusting them. It’s their job to run underneath and go make the catch. That’s what we did here.”

Precisely. Slightly affected by the speed-rush of Sweat, Prescott gave Gallup a shot on a high-arcing ball he threw 46 yards in the air. Gallup laid out just past Ringo, parallel to the ground, and caught the ball near the sideline. Gain of 39. Another deep vertical for Prescott, who’s killing them this year. On deep posts and go routes, he had six TDs and six picks last year; this year it’s 11 TDs and one interception, per Next Gen Stats.

The 33-13 win Sunday night tied Dallas with Philadelphia at 10-3 atop the NFC East, and the whole night felt to be a changing of the guard in the division. Philly’s lost to the best two teams in the conference by 23 (Niners) and 20 in the last two weeks. Dallas has won five straight. Seems crazy, but it’s actually the Eagles that have the inside track to the division title. Four games left, and the Eagles have a big schedule edge.

Philadelphia: at Seattle, Giants, Arizona, at Giants. Combined record of foes: 17-33.

Dallas: at Buffalo, at Miami, Detroit, at Washington. Combined record of foes: 29-22.

At Buffalo. At Miami. Yikes.

“That’s okay,” Prescott said. “That’s good. That’s what you ask for this time of year. You want the big games in December. We’re not sitting here celebrating because we won one game.

“That’s our standard. That’s our expectation. When you finish a game like this, you look up and you’ve got to go to Buffalo, a team that just won a tough one out there. They’re ready to play, too. It’s a hell of a matchup. We’ll be ready.”

Prescott (22 TDs, two picks in the last six weeks) certainly will. He’s come a long way since one of the most embarrassing days of his career in week five: Niners 42, Cowboys 10.

Boldface Names

Boldface items from week 14:

Whoa, Mahomes. I’ve never seen Patrick Mahomes blow his top the way he did late in the game, and after it.

Win of the year for Buffalo. Mahomes, I would bet, could play 20 years in KC and never have another team do what Buffalo has done: beat Mahomes three years in a row at home.

The Bears have to block out all the noise over the next four weeks and over the first four months of 2024. If Justin Fields plays down the stretch as well as he played in beating the Lions Sunday and has played often this season—if, if, if—GM Ryan Poles should auction the first pick in the draft for three ones and build a contending around the 24-year-old Fields.

Deep breaths, Chicagoland. Bear down.

Give me the headlines: Bears, Broncos turn heads
Chris Simms and Ahmed Fareed run through their headlines for Week 14, including why Simms is not surprised by the Bears upsetting the Lions and the strength of the Broncos defense vs. the Chargers.

Craziest truth in football: It’s Dec. 11, and the Denver Broncos are one game behind Kansas City for the AFC West lead.

Second-craziest: Six teams in the AFC are 7-6. They are seeded 6 through 11 in week 14 playoff seedings. The worst team, Pittsburgh, is sixth. The best or second-best team, Buffalo, is 11th.

The 53rd man. Baltimore’s sixth receiver, special-teamer and backup punt-returner out of training camp, Tylan Wallace, won a highwire-act of a game in OT against the Rams with a walk-off punt return. Wallace hadn’t returned a punt in a football game since his sophomore year at Oklahoma State in 2018 until Sunday. That’s a span of five years and two months. Worth the wait. Euphoria in Charm City.

3-0. An NFL game, played indoors in ideal fast-track conditions for the offense, was scoreless for 58 minutes. At Vegas, Vikes 3, Raiders 0. Nick Mullens-Aidan O’Connell, duel to the finish.

Denver. I’m starting to believe.

Deebo is turning into a one-named athlete. Like, there isn’t another Deebo in name, and there certainly isn’t another in performance.

TheNFCSouthisprettyclose. And one of those teams will host Dallas or Philly in a playoff game!

Kadarius Toney, you’re going to have to sit down now. Enough’s enough.

Joe Flacco, starter down the stretch for a playoff contender, 22 days after sitting on the couch in south Jersey, watching the games on TV. He’s a month shy of 39, and he’s got five TD throws in his two starts.

Matthew Stafford was brilliant in defeat at Baltimore. Warrior. Took quite a hit on a brilliant diving catch by Puka Nacua on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter from 296-pound tackle Justin Madubuike.

Football quiz: Which NFL player, who makes $14 million a year, has an agent who describes the player’s NFL gig as “his side hustle?” (Answer in Ten Things.)

Nine international games. NFL games outside the country could rise from five to nine as soon as 2025.

Good Morning Football. What would you think of an eight-game package of games in yet another TV/streaming window, 9:30 a.m. ET?

Kudos, NFL Films/HBO for showing every agonizing moment of Dolphin edge-rusher Jaelan Phillips tearing his Achilles on the in-season “Hard Knocks.” I’ve never seen video and (harrowing) audio like this in 40 years covering the game.

The sobbing. What TV this is.

Sean McDermott. I have thoughts.

Mitchell Trubisky is truly a nice, pleasant person. But imagine your playoff hopes resting on his shoulders. Yikes.

Michael Buble makes the column. You might be surprised to know the velvety voiced crooner has an NFL fan boy.

40-for-40. My series of memories of 40 years doing this job lands in 2011 this week, and seeing Michael Vick visit prisoners in solitary confinement in Florida. That’s a seared-on-the-brain memory.

The Shohei deal. Never seen a contract like that, in heft and impact, because I don’t think there’s been one like it in sports.

Weird retirement. Happy rest-of-life, Robbie Gould. Not sure I understand why you couldn’t find work this year.

Eli Saslow on ideas. Pretty good.

John Branch on climbers. Really pretty good.

Army-Navy karma. It’s real, and it’s spectacular.

Re: Army-Navy I wrote about the ’63 game last week, and got asked the other day why, in an NFL column, I’d write 1,000 words on a college game from 60 years ago. My answer was simple and slightly arrogant: “Because I wanted to.” Man, I just love stories like that.

Now for the rest of the story of week 14.

Dak Playing Free

That 32-point loss in Santa Clara in October left three lingering scars:

  1. Dallas can’t win the big one.
  2. Prescott can’t win the big one.
  3. The Niners have Dallas’ number.

“I went into that game thinking that I was gonna have a huge game,” Prescott said. “They beat us the last two playoff games that were close, and this time I really thought we’d kick their ass. The exact opposite happened. What bothered me more than anything was the lack of fight that we showed as a team, honestly. Me and Mike talked about it. Pissed us off more than anything. After that game, I said if we lose another game, I promise you it won’t look like this. I promise you we won’t allow a team to bully us or knock us around.”

Dallas won seven of the next eight coming into Sunday’s game, none against premier teams. So there was the nagging doubt—if not inside the team, certainly surrounding it. “Since that 49er game, we’ve come out with a different demeanor and mindset every game. We fight,” Prescott said.

Dallas had the ball nine times Sunday and Prescott led seven scoring drives: three touchdowns, four field goals from Mr. Perfect, Brandon Aubrey, the NFL rookie who’s made his first 30 field-goal tries. The best thing about the game, from the Cowboys’ perspective, is they didn’t let Philadelphia breathe. They got good pressure on Jalen Hurts, gave up only six offensive points and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes on offense.

Prescott was John Stockton Sunday night, a distributor with no fear. Twelve of his 39 passes were tight-window throws (defined by Next Gen Stats as having a cover player within a yard of the receiver), and his 99 yards gained on such throws was an NFL season-high. “That’s what it means to play free,” he said. “I miss a throw, they know I’m coming back to them. We’ve put in too much work, built too much trust, to play any different now.”

I asked Prescott if winning the MVP means something to him. His candidacy is pretty good. He leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes, his 107.5 rating is second-best to Brock Purdy, and his 3,505 passing yards is third. The numbers are there. Will the winning be? As I wrote last week, the last 10 MVPs have been quarterbacks on one of the top two playoff seeds in either conference.

“It’d be great,” he said. “Every now and then, that thought crosses your mind. It’d be cool. An award like that would be great for Cowboy fans and the people that doubted me more than anything. But my main goal has always been the Super Bowl.”

Great … for the people that doubted me. Behind the friendliest exterior in the NFL, Dak Prescott hears the skepticism. At Buffalo, at Miami, Detroit at home—those are the things that will determine this team’s fate this season. And Prescott’s.

Prescott, Gilmore explain how they shut PHI down
Melissa Stark is joined by Dak Prescott, Stephon Gilmore and Brandon Aubrey to explain what went into a "great team win," how Brandon Aubrey keeps a calm head and more.

The Rest of the Story

Kansas City seethes. Crazy scene in Kansas City as the clock wound down on Buffalo’s 20-17 win. Patrick Mahomes went uncharacteristically batcrap on the sidelines, enraged by a call that nullified what could have been the winning touchdown with 1:12 to play. Mahomes, on the play, threw from Buffalo’s 49- to Travis Kelce at the 25-, and before he could be tackled, Kelce threw a perfect backward pass to Kadarius Toney, who sprinted in for the touchdown. The crowd went bonkers at the oddity and the clutchness of such an incredible play, called at a perfect time.

Uh-oh. Flag. Offensive offside was called on Toney. An odd call—flagged once in 2021, twice in 2022, and 12 times this year, increasing because of the many times offensive linemen try to get an edge on the Tush Push maul of a quarterback sneak. Toney was clearly offside. “He was past the ball,” said NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay Sunday night. “It was not close. This had to be called. It was blatant.”

Andy Reid was steaming because he said officials always give teams warnings before violations like this. The replay on CBS showed Toney clearly over the line of scrimmage. One former official told me Sunday night it wouldn’t be uncommon early in a game for coaches and players to be warned on a play like this, but he said it wouldn’t happen later in the game, particularly on a clear violation such as this. The ref, Carl Cheffers, told a pool reporter: “Certainly, no warning is required, especially if they’re lined up so far offside where they’re actually blocking our view of the ball. We would give them some sort of warning if it was anywhere close, but this particular one is beyond a warning.” The pool reporter asked if it was an egregious violation. “Correct,” Cheffers said.

The play in this game that looked more egregious: the Latavius Murray bobbled catch ruled a catch on the field and not overturned. It’s ludicrous that was affirmed on replay review, because Murray never had clear possession. Another Sunday, another bunch of hissy fits over questionable calls. No end in sight.

Loss to Bills a blow for Chiefs' top seed chances
Steve Kornacki breaks down the Kansas City Chiefs' chances at the AFC's No. 1 seed before and after their Week 14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Will Patrick Mahomes play in his first career road playoff game this season?

The 53rd man. Bill Parcells used to spend a ton of time in training camp and during the season on end-of-the-roster players. He’d say once or twice every year, the last man or two on the roster would win or lose a game for every team in the league. Prescient words on Sunday. Tylan Wallace was that man for Baltimore at roster cutdown in training camp. For the Ravens, the last roster spot came down to sixth-round rookie corner Kyu Blu Kelly or Wallace, who was a wide receiver and special-teams player. Baltimore could have kept five receivers and an extra corner, Kelly. But Wallace, a fourth-round pick in 2021, had a great camp and just outplayed Kelly in special-teams roles. So Baltimore kept Wallace as the sixth receiver and special-teamer, and cut Kelly. On Sunday, regular returner Devin Duvernay got hurt and Wallace, for the first time since his sophomore year at Oklahoma State five years and two months ago, returned punts. Wallace’s 76-yard punt return for a touchdown in overtime beat the Rams 37-31. For a day, anyway, the 53rd man on the roster catapulted Baltimore to the top seed in the AFC.

3-0. What a crazy game in Las Vegas. Minnesota’s Greg Joseph kicked a 36-yard field goal with 1:57 left in the game, and those were the only points. Only one of the 23 drives in the game traveled 50 yards or more. The emerging star from the game was Vikings undrafted rookie linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who led all defenders with 13 tackles. He picked off Aidan O’Connell’s pass intended for Davante Adams on the first play after the Joseph field goal. The 5-10 Pace doesn’t lack confidence. “I knew they were throwing it to Davante,” Pace said. “He’s their best player. Best player out there. Bad throw. Bad throw by the rookie.” Good catch by the rookie. Pace has been so instinctive since arriving in training camp that when he won the middle linebacker job, defensive coordinator Brian Flores gave him the green dot on the back of his helmet—noting that he’d be calling the defensive signals mic’d in via headset from the sidelines. “Give a rookie that green dot is kind of wild,” Pace said. “Showed they’ve got faith in me. I know I can do it. I got that dog in me.”

Expanding Overseas

When the NFL played in Frankfurt last month, six delegations quietly attended one of the two games as guests of the league. They were representatives of the next wave of strong candidates to host NFL regular-season games overseas: Barcelona and Madrid (Spain), Rio de Janiero and Sao Paolo (Brazil), Paris (France) and Berlin (Germany). There are other candidates behind those, including Dublin (Ireland), where the Steelers would love to play a regular-season game.

I reported a month ago that the NFL would almost certainly expand its inventory of games outside the United States in the near future. Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal has now put a possible timeline on it, reporting that at league meetings in Texas this week, owners will be asked to vote on a measure that would require each team to play one designated home game outside the United States every four years. Currently, the league mandates each team play outside the country as a home team once every eight years.

This is significant, because it means that, as early as 2025, the NFL could play as many as nine games outside the country. In the last two years, and likely next year as well, the NFL has scheduled five games overseas. In 2022 and ’23, there were three games in England and two in Germany. Next year, the rotation is likely three in London, one in Germany and one in either Brazil or Spain. In 2025, Mexico City will return to the rotation after an extended period of renovation of Estadio Azteca for the 2026 World Cup, with an international lineup TBD.

I’m hearing the measure to require the 32 teams to play one home game internationally every four years instead of eight has a very good chance of passing. “I don’t sense any organized opposition,” one plugged-in executive told me. “I think it sails through.”

It’s amazing what’s happened in this movement over the past few years. As one club president said to me maybe five years ago at a league meeting: “I don’t know what we’d hate more—being on ‘Hard Knocks’ or having to play one of our home games overseas.” The change has happened because franchises are working on marketing deals and building fan bases in foreign markets, and these foreign markets treat NFL games with only slightly less fervor than if Taylor Swift had a gig there. At least the business sides of teams now very much want to play out of the country.

I wasn’t that surprised, then, to hear the president of the Super Bowl champs, KC’s Mark Donovan, tell me this in Germany last month: “We don’t want to wait another eight years to play overseas.” Donovan knows no opponent would want to give up a home game against Patrick Mahomes in the near future, so KC might have to surrender a home game to play in Germany again before the eight years is up. Kansas City seems willing to do that. Donovan said it’s all a long-term play: “The true benefits for us will be 30 years down the road.”

For those fans who don’t want to lose any home games, I get it. But the advent of the 17-game schedule means every team plays nine home games every other season. So teams (other than Jacksonville, which has a separate agreement to play at least once a year in London) should have eight home games, minimum, well into the future.

Let’s talk about one other factor that makes more games outside the country attractive to the league. Say the NFL, in 2025, plays three games in England, two in Germany, one in Mexico, one in Paris, one in Spain and one in Brazil. The Mexico City game would likely be a primetime game, possibly Monday or Thursday night. The other eight could be sold off as a new package of 9:30 a.m. games, either streamed or made a franchise anchor for NFL Network or for fledgling media property NFL+. (Brazil is two hours ahead, so a game there could, theoretically, start at 11:30 a.m. local time to fit into the 9:30 ET window.) So it’s not only the fact that more teams want to play overseas; it’s the fact that the NFL could turn the 9:30 window into a real, live new territory for media rights. I don’t think this is probable, but if the NFL wants to make this happen, it can.

Really Good TV

In the 40 seasons I’ve covered the NFL, I haven’t seen anything regarding the real story of a player suffering a serious injury that’s as good as what HBO’s in-season “Hard Knocks” just showed with linebacker Jaelan Phillips of the Miami Dolphins. The emotion, the drama, the tears, the poignant shots on Phillips pre- and post-injury, the impact on his teammates … it’s all there. Phillips tore his Achilles against the Jets on Black Friday. NFL Films had him wired for sound at the Meadowlands for “Hard Knocks: In Season with the Miami Dolphins.”

The precursor first. Phillips, a third-year, 24-year-old rusher, had been playing well entering the game. Coach Mike McDaniel told him in pregame: “You’re about to be a household name after today.” Before going down early in the fourth quarter, Phillips had a sack, three tackles for loss and a pass batted down. He felt like he was playing as well as he ever had. He felt, he said on the sidelines during the game, “like a pitcher throwing a perfect game.”

It’s odd to do play-by-play from a TV show, but this is so compelling that it’s exactly what I’m going to do. (My apologies for being one week late on this. I didn’t see it till Saturday.)

Early in the fourth quarter, Phillips, lined up outside, opposite the Jets’ right tackle, fired off the line at the snap. On his third step he went down without contact. The Jets’ right tackle, Max Mitchell, went from being ready for combat to putting a hand on the fallen Phillips. “Oh! You all right bro?” the stunned Mitchell said.

The camera work here was great. It stayed on Phillips, silent as he lay there leaning on his left elbow, making no effort to get up. For four, five seconds, the camera showed Phillips trying to come to grips with knowing he just tore his Achilles and his season was kaput.

Safety Jevon Holland and defensive tackle Raekwon Davis were the first ones to get to Phillips. “I think my s--- popped. My Achilles,” Phillips said, surprisingly calm. “I think my Achilles popped bro.”

“No-no-no-no-no!” Davis said, trying to talk the injury away. “You all right! You’re good, you’re good!” Holland laid a hand on his right shoulder.

“Nah,” Phillips said. “It’s gone. It’s popped, bro.”

Davis: “No it’s not! Shut up!”

Phillips: “My Achilles, bro—"

Davis: “Shut up!”

Phillips, now with the trainers gathering around him: “Felt like someone shot me in my f------ Achilles. I thought someone stepped on me.”

Just then, it was like a switch flipped. Phillips started to rock a bit in mental and physical pain. The magnitude of knowing his season ended 15 seconds ago was sinking in. “No f------ way bro,” Phillips said. “There’s no f------ way. Can you please stop grabbing on it? Oh my God it hurts bro.”

Mike McDaniel appeared, bending down to comfort Phillips. “My sh-- popped Mike,” Phillips said.

Laying there. Waiting three, four seconds. Breathing.

Then Phillips began to sit up. “What the f--- bro,” he said to no one.

He started weeping. Sobbing.

It’s excruciating to watch.

McDaniel knelt down as Phillips sobbed—audibly, uncontrollably. “Hey buddy! You’re okay! You’re okay, buddy,” the coach said.

Phillips got up. Got loaded on the cart as all his teammates laid hands and hugs on him.

Phillips: “Why bro! Why!”

Teammates in pain too. Phillips said to one: “Damn bro. I was hooping too.”

NFL Films caught teammate Zach Sieler on the sideline with Bradley Chubb.

Sieler to Chubb: “This literally hurts my heart. Best year of his life. Did everything right.”

On the day of Phillips’ surgery, his mates left his seat in the meeting room empty.

Football’s a great game. It causes grown men and women to yell at their TVs. You’re high, you’re low. Often, the rise and fall and rise and fall of your team rules your mood. But there’s an injurious human toll too. This scene is precisely why TV goes to commercial most times when a player goes down and stays down. It’s not just the economy of squeezing in commercials instead of the announcers talking about nothing. To the NFL, these are nothing-to-see-here moments. The league doesn’t want the focus to be on a star laying on the turf.

But the anguish this episode of “Hard Knocks” shows so openly is an important part of football. Kudos to Jaelan Phillips. He had to be okay with these agonizing few moments of his life being shown on national TV. Had he been adamant that HBO couldn’t show this stuff, we wouldn’t have seen this, because teams are allowed to preview shows like “Hard Knocks” before they air. But I’m told Phillips wanted the real sound and pictures of his injury to be shown. It’s tough to watch, but it’s a part of the game we need to see.

On Sean McDermott

For a team we thought might be in crisis Sunday, the Bills hung on to win a game they had to have. And for a coach whose job seemed to be on the line, it’s pretty telling that Buffalo played valiantly to beat Kansas City 20-17 on the road. More telling, perhaps, is that the Bills have now beaten Kansas City in three straight regular seasons at Arrowhead Stadium.

Telling, too: When Sean McDermott got in front of his team after this game, one player yelled out, “We got your back coach!” And a minute later, GM Brandon Beane put his arm around McDermott and said to the players, “We got this man’s back!”

Bills closer to postseason with win over Chiefs
Mike Florio, Devin McCourty, Matthew Berry and Jason Garrett recap the Bills "season-saving" win vs. the Chiefs at Arrowhead and credit Josh Allen as well as the Buffalo defense for the strong play throughout.

So any question that the team wouldn’t respond to McDermott, or play hard in a massive game, disappeared with the effort and result of this game. “I feel like anyone in the building who comes in contact with [McDermott] knows his character, and knows who he is as a man. We don’t pay a lot of attention to what people on the outside think.”

Much has been written and said about the speech McDermott made to his team in training camp in 2019 about communication and sticking together, in which McDermott used the 9/11 terrorists as an example of a cohesive unit. Veteran pro football writer Tyler Dunne broke the story of McDermott’s stunning four-year-old training-camp speech Thursday in his Substack.

It’s incredible that a human being who lives in the United States would use the actions of terrorists on our soil—in the same state as Buffalo—as an example of teamwork for his players. Obviously.

Dunne wrote a critical three-part series on his Substack on the failures of McDermott regarding Buffalo continually falling short in its Super Bowl quest. If you don’t subscribe, you can’t read it. But you can see enough of it to get the drift. Dunne’s main point about the 9/11 speech to his team in the story: “At St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, N.Y., McDermott’s morning address began innocently enough. He told the entire team they needed to come together. But then, sources on-hand say, he used a strange model: the terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. He cited the hijackers as a group of people who were all able to get on the same page to orchestrate attacks to perfection.”

That same day, he apologized to his team for saying it. He repeated that apology Thursday to the press in Buffalo after Dunne’s series was posted. He seems repentant to the point of being aghast over the mistake he knows he made. Can he come back from it? Well, he has. He’s four-and-a-half seasons beyond it, and I’ve not heard of the team rising up against him in any way. Indeed, in some of the toughest moments a team can have, such as the Damar Hamlin near-death experience on the field in Cincinnati last season, McDermott has had the clear support of his team—particularly after being clear in discussions with the league on the night Hamlin went down that the game should not be continued.

We’re in the madhouse of the season now, but I know what I’d do if I were McDermott to address this for good. Quietly next spring, I’d arrange a trip to talk to New York City firefighters—who must be seething over this—and make a direct, sincere apology. No cameras, no reporters. Whether the firefighters accept or not isn’t the point; McDermott should make the effort to put salve on the wound he created, as penance for his hurtful words.

In this world, it’s usually wins and losses that decide a coach’s future. I believe that’s how McDermott’s will be decided in this disappointing season. McDermott’s team is just 7-7 since the morning of the AFC divisional nightmare loss to Cincinnati. If the Bills continue to rebound from bad losses to the Jets and Patriots and Broncos, with solid performances like Sunday’s, there won’t be any question about McDermott’s future being in Buffalo. But if the Bills divebomb down the stretch, his future could be in doubt, and probably should be.

But I don’t favor firing a person for saying something profoundly inappropriate and apologizing (in a heartfelt way, seemingly) the same day, then apologizing to the world when it surfaces years later. We’ve gotten to an off-with-his-head point of anger on dumb things said in this country, in all walks of life. I don’t think it’s healthy, except in the cases of unrepentant hate speech. McDermott erred, apologized, apologized again. Now he should be judged on football, not retribution.

McDermott had a good day Sunday, and not just because of the win. The defense is his now, and in holding Kansas City to 17 points, Buffalo’s D made Patrick Mahomes uncomfortable with a series of disciplined blitzes. “Part of the plan,” middle linebacker Terrel Bernard said post-game, “was when you blitz [Mahomes], everybody be on a disciplined track. Make sure every game is accounted for. When we sent pressure, we didn’t want to let him extend plays.” So score one big one for McDermott and the Bills—but the reward is one of football’s hottest teams, the Cowboys, bringing the traveling circus to western New York Sunday. It’s still proving time for McDermott and the Bills, but give them a few minutes at least to soak in a very significant win in Kansas City.


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

One of the most interesting adventures of my career came in March 2011, when I accompanied Michael Vick and his mentor, Tony Dungy, and a group of other caring people to the Avon Park Correctional Institution in central Florida. This would be Vick’s first steps inside a prison since he left Leavenworth in Kansas, where he served his sentence in the dog-fighting scandal that took over not only the NFL, but the news world. Vick was nervous on the bus on the way there. I thought: What must he be thinking—about to step into that dark world again after what I was sure was a nightmare in his life. Well, don’t always believe what you assume. This was an incredibly enlightening trip for me. Just think what it must have been like for Vick.

40-For-40: An introspective moment with Vick
As Peter King commemorates covering his 40th NFL season, he recalls when he visited a prison with Michael Vick, who spoke to prisoners in 2011 about the mistakes he made in the infamous dog-fighting ring.

The Award Section

Offensive players of the week

Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo. Stop looking at numbers. Stop looking at turnovers. Look at the game. Look at the crucial moments of the biggest games. Look at the desperado pass he made, third-and-nine, 11 minutes to go in a 17-17 game, falling out of bounds, lobbed in the air for 21 yards to Latavius Murray for the first down. (Officials called it complete and didn’t overturn it, which was a dubious call. But history will see it as a completion.) Later in the quarter, Allen bled five minutes off the clock leading into Tyler Bass’ winning field goal. The command Allen has on the game, even when it’s not perfect, gives Buffalo a chance to win every Sunday.

Courtland Sutton, wide receiver, Denver. Again: don’t look at the numbers, which were modest (three catches, 62 yards) at the Chargers Sunday. Sutton has grown up before our eyes this year, becoming one of the premier receivers in football because of plays like the one he made in a 10-0 game midway through the third quarter. Russell Wilson lofted a 46-yard bomb to the end zone, and Sutton, with one arm being held (and not called for defensive pass interference), caught/cradled a very contested catch with one forearm for a touchdown. What a catch. That’s what we’ve been saying a lot this year about Sutton.

Justin Fields, quarterback, Chicago. His first rushing touchdown in nearly three months, plus his superb accuracy on some tough throws, led the Bears to a decisive 28-13 win over division leader Detroit. The numbers aren’t killer (19 of 33, 223 yards, one TD, no interceptions, 12 carries for 58 yards and a TD), but Fields was in control of this game and went field goal-touchdown-touchdown-field goal in an 18-0 second-half run that blew Detroit away.

Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Tampa Bay. With the division lead on the line (albeit a bad division) at Atlanta Sunday, Mayfield drove the Bucs nine plays for 66 yards to a touchdown pass to Rachaad White late in the third quarter, and then, with the game on the line in the last two minutes, capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with an 11-yard floater to tight end Cade Otton in the end zone with 31 seconds left. Heck of a comeback by Mayfield in a game the Bucs had to have.

Florio: Mayfield said he wants to stay with Bucs
Mike Florio reports on his conversation with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield, who said after beating the Falcons that he "cherishes" the underdog mentality and wants to stay with the team after this year.

Defensive players of the week

Ivan Pace Jr., linebacker, Minnesota. What a path to the game of his life for the undrafted, undersized rookie from the University of Cincinnati. The 5-10 Pace, in his ninth start, led all players in the defensive duel of the year—a 3-0 Vikings win at Vegas—with 13 tackles, a sack and game-clinching interception of Aidan O’Connell in the closing seconds. Not bad for a Sam Mills-sized player who’s had trouble all his life getting people to overlook his size.

Martin Emerson Jr., cornerback, Cleveland. The far less famous cornerback on Mississippi State’s 2021 team (Emmanuel Forbes, Washington’s first-rounder last spring, was the star in the secondary) had an enormous impact in the Browns’ win over the AFC South leaders. Emerson had two second-quarter interceptions of Trevor Lawrence deep in Cleveland territory—first at the 25-, then at the eight-. The two picks by the sure-handed Emerson stunted drives for the shaky Jaguars and were huge in the 31-27 Browns’ win.

Bryce Huff, defensive end, N.Y. Jets. On a rain-soaked afternoon in New Jersey, the underrated Huff and his more noted defensive mates made life miserable for Houston’s rookie phenom, C.J. Stroud, in the 30-6 Jets win. Per Next Gen Stats, Huff, an undrafted fourth-year player from Memphis, was on the field for more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps for the first time in his career. Huff had five pressures and a 14-yard sack of Stroud.

Special teams players of the week

Tylan Wallace, punt-returner, Baltimore. Baltimore’s backup punt-returner won a highly competitive game against the Rams with a walk-off 76-yard return of a Ram punt just 2:18 into overtime in Baltimore. Wallace was there only because Devin Duvernay had to sit with a back injury. Wallace juked two potential tackles in midfield, then veered to the left sideline, very nearly fell down as he ran, then sprinted to the winning TD—incredibly, his first ever in 33 career games with the Ravens.

Brandon Aubrey, kicker, Dallas. Aubrey never played college football. He was a soccer player at Notre Dame. Whatever he did before joining Dallas this year, it ought to be copied league-wide. In Dallas’ 33-13 win over Philadelphia Sunday night, Aubrey kept his perfect field-goal season alive, kicking 60-, 59-, 45- and 50-yard field goals. In his rookie season, he’s now 30 of 30, including seven of seven from 50 yards or more.

Braden Mann, punter, Philadelphia. Eagles down 10-0. Backed up at their 33-. Second play of the second quarter. Fourth-and-two. Very risky time for a fake, but Mann calmly took the deep snap and fired a 26-yard pass to Olamide Zaccheaus for a first down. That led to a field goal at a vital time of the game.

Nephi Sewell, linebacker, New Orleans. In the grand Superdome punt-blocking tradition of Steve Gleason, Sewell, undrafted out of Utah State in 2022, burst through the middle of the Carolina punt team midway through the second quarter and smothered a Johnny Hekker punt deep in Carolina turf. The ball got picked up at the eight- and returned for a Saints’ TD by linebacker D’Marco Jackson.

Coach of the Week

Zac Taylor, head coach, Cincinnati. The Bengals were on a three-game losing streak a week ago this morning, its franchise QB out for the season, hope of any sort in short supply. The head coach’s job is to keep his team out of the tank, number one. Number two: As play-caller, his job is to get the backup ready to play December football for a team still in the playoff race. What a job Taylor did (along with QB coach Dan Pitcher and coordinator Brian Callahan) in prepping Jake Browning to play Monday-Sunday games against contenders, and to win, and to score 68 points with Joe Burrow watching from the sideline.

Goats of the Week

Kadarius Toney, wide receiver, Kansas City. I don’t know how Andy Reid can play Toney anymore. So many mistakes and dropped passes, the biggest of which came inside the two-minute warning on what could have been the winning play in a huge game Sunday against Buffalo. Toney lined up clearly offside, though narrowly, and the officials threw the flag as a thrilling Patrick Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce-to-Toney touchdown followed. Nullified. Offside. The rare offensive offside, but Toney was absolutely offside. This is a talented player who wounds his team over and over.

Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Pittsburgh. In the span of five days, Trubisky did his part to jeopardize what once looked like a sure playoff season. Entering in relief to play the last 31 minutes against Arizona (2-10 entering the game) at home last Sunday, Trubisky came in with a seven-point deficit and turned it into a shocking 14-point loss. Starting against New England (2-10 entering the game) at home Thursday night, Trubisky played with zero confidence and was the biggest culprit in another shocking Steeler loss. In the first 18 minutes, Trubisky threw one pick that was called back on a defensive penalty, threw a pick into triple-coverage that led to a short-field New England touchdown, and had a third one dropped by Patriot corner J.C. Jackson. The crowd was in full throat by then, and it felt like garbage time for the last two hours of the night. Steelers couldn’t dig out of the 21-3 hole and lost 21-18. Someday, there will be a very intelligent, very deep dive into how Ryan Pace could have picked Trubisky six picks ahead of Christian McCaffrey, eight picks ahead of Patrick Mahomes and 28 picks ahead of T.J. Watt in the 2017 NFL Draft—and Pace traded up to do so.

Quotes of the Week


What the worst that can happen? I get benched again?

--Jets QB and New York punching bag Zach Wilson, to teammates. Wilson threw for 301 yards to lead the Jets to a 30-6 upset of Houston in New Jersey Sunday.


Words can’t express what we saw. That’s why we’re riveted by the game.

--Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, after watching backup punt-returner Tylan Wallace walk off a win against the Rams with an electrifying 76-yard touchdown.


Michael Buble’s a beast. I freaking love Michael Buble.

--Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, who reveals in “Hard Knocks” this month that he’s a huge fan of Christmas, and of Christmas music, and of Christmas movies.


This is intercepted by most people, as you see Kelce’s wife, Taylor Swift, in the audience
Not yet.

--First Tony Romo, and then Jim Nantz, on the CBS telecast of Buffalo-Kansas City, after Travis Kelce caught a contested pass from Patrick Mahomes for a first down, causing the cameras to show Swift in a box at Arrowhead Stadium. Fine rejoinder, Jim Nantz.


I need to push a little bit more. I’m just gonna need to be a little more irritable, which I can do that.

--Detroit coach Dan Campbell, after the Lions lost their second of the last three at Chicago Sunday.


MA-son RU-dolph! MA-son RU-dolph!

--Crowd at Acrisure Stadium Thursday night, after Mitchell Trubisky, the backup to injured starter Kenny Pickett, threw an awful interception in the second quarter against New England.

Numbers Game


In the last four seasons, Buffalo and Kansas City have met six times.

Wins: KC 3, Buffalo 3. Bills are one over .500 in Kansas City, KC’s one over .500 in Buffalo.

Points: KC 163, Buffalo 159.


Philadelphia’s defense is in trouble. Philly’s given up 34, 42 and 33 points in the last three weeks. Most disturbing: In those three games, foes have had 30 possessions. The Eagles have surrendered points on 19 of them: 13 touchdowns, six field goals. And only seven stops (five punts, one fumble, one interception). That is unsustainable football if you want to win in January and February.

Vikings suddenly control own destiny in NFC North
Steve Kornacki breaks down a suddenly real NFC North race, with the Minnesota Vikings now controlling their own destiny in the division chase with the Detroit Lions after gaining a game of ground in Week 14.



Maybe this is military gridiron karma, 60 years apart.

Dec. 7, 1963, Army-Navy game, clock running, Army ball, Army down by six and out of timeouts with eight seconds to play, fourth-and-goal at the Navy two-yard line Army quarterback Rollie Stichweh can’t be heard over the deafening crowd of 102,000 and can’t get a play off as the clock runs out. Navy wins by six.

Dec. 9, 2023, Army-Navy game, clock running, Navy ball, Navy down by six and out of timeouts with eight seconds to play, fourth-and-goal at the Army two-yard line Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai does get the play off and charges forward, trying to sneak in for the winning touchdown. He is stopped. Army wins by six.

I wrote about the ’63 game in my column last week, with perspectives of Stichweh on the Army side and the captain of the 1963 Navy team, Tom Lynch. Stichweh and Lynch are friends, and they sat side-by-side Saturday in Bill Belichick’s box at Gillette Stadium watching this year’s game. I called Stichweh Sunday to ask if the end of this game reminded him of the end of the game 60 years ago to the week.

“Peter,” Rollie Stichweh said, “the irony of it all.”


Former baseball star Johnny Damon has listed his 30,000-square-foot Orlando home for sale at $30 million. It actually looks like a collection of houses. Per The Wall Street Journal, the home has a hair salon with two chairs, a two-lane bowling alley, a cigar lounge, two gyms, a saltwater pool with a swim-up bar and grill, a zip line, a music loft and three guest apartments.


Reach me at

Not a Tomlin fan. From Ed Borkowski: “As a 50-plus year Steeler fan I wish you media guys would stop exalting Mike Tomlin. It’s like a parent bragging about a child never failing elementary and secondary school with a C average. He has no coaching tree, can’t win a challenge, plays down to the competition, waits three years to replace a useless offensive coordinator, wastes more talent than any head coach ever. Has had no playoff success except with Bill Cowher’s team. All I want is to replace my dinosaur head coach with an aggressive younger head coach who has some creativity.”

Ed, I was in Pittsburgh Thursday for the Steelers’ loss to New England, and you’re certainly not alone. Listening to talk radio a bit on my trip and feeling the fans there Thursday—with a second straight home loss to a bad team—I wonder if owner Art Rooney might be thinking of changing coaches. But I’m shocked, overall, at the lack of respect for a coach who has averaged 10.9 wins per year in 17 seasons. A “C average”? That’s insane. If Tomlin hits the open market, you’ll see how many owners in the NFL would be chasing him. Having said that, after seven years without a playoff win, and with the struggles now, and with the loafing you see on multiple plays from would-be star receivers, I do think it’s a legit question about whether he’s reached his expiration date with this franchise. But I’ll tell you why—if Tomlin would be on board with hiring an aggressive and cutting-edge offensive coordinator this off-season—I think he should stay.

One: He has not lost the team. The players still respect him, though he’s got to get more consistent effort from Diontae Johnson and George Pickens.

Two: It’s hard to win in the NFL. That sounds elementary, but it’s odd to me that so few people respect how hard it is to keep a team in contention every single season, and the Steelers have been first or second in the division in 13 of his 16 full seasons. Bill Belichick has eight losing seasons in 29 years of head coaching. Tomlin has zero in 16 seasons, with this one still in the balance.

Something else in the Tomlin column:

Tomlin post-Ben Roethlisberger: 16-14, .533.

Matt LaFleur post-Aaron Rodgers: 6-6, .500

Belichick post-Tom Brady: 28-35, .444

Arthur Smith post-Matt Ryan: 13-17, .433.

Joe Judge/Brian Daboll post-Eli Manning: 24-39-1, .383.

No one cares about the history, which I get. Do people care about free agents who come to Pittsburgh, in small or large part, because they want to play for Tomlin? Patrick Peterson did. I do think Tomlin’s got to have a plan for the offense that isn’t just cosmetic, and for trying to save Kenny Pickett. If he does, I’d vote for a contract extension for Tomlin. That’s important, in my mind. If he doesn’t, if he just wants to shuffle the current offensive staff without choosing an overhaul, then it might be time to move on.

Reporting something that happened, or observing something a player did, does not equal support for it. (Last week, I used a note on the “My Cause, My Cleats” week in NFL about Houston QB C.J. Stroud’s shoes, which said, “Free Pops.” His father Coleridge Stroud is in a California prison until at least 2040 for several crimes.) From Steve Behr of Tucson: “I hope you aren’t advocating for freeing a convicted criminal from his prison sentence just because you like how his son plays quarterback. Perhaps the victims of his crimes might see it similarly?”

I am not advocating for anything. I am making an observation about a star quarterback in the NFL using the big stage of national television to urge that his father be released from prison, which to me is very interesting.

Case II. From Jim Welch, of Denver, N.C.: “You contradicted yourself in discussing the merits of the Christian McCaffrey trade from Carolina to San Francisco. After enumerating the reasonable draft pick package that the Panthers received for McCaffrey’s services, and how he hasn’t missed a game for the Niners, mention is made of the 22 games in two years he missed as a Panther. How would the story go if McCaffrey had also missed 22 games in a two-year period with the Niners?”

I don’t believe I did, Jim. If McCaffrey had missed 22 games last year and this year, it wouldn’t be a very good trade, and I’d have said so. But McCaffrey’s been a relative iron man since the trade, so the Niners calculated right.

Rules question. From Mike Bray: “In overtime team A receives the kickoff and makes two first downs and punts. The punt hits team B returner on the helmet and team A recovers on the 20-yard line. Is team B credited with possession so next score wins rule is in effect or since it was a muff and possession never established does team B get a possession if team A kicks a successful field goal?”

A legal punt that crosses the line of scrimmage and touches a player on the receiving team counts as an opportunity to possess the ball for team B. At that point, next score wins.

Tepper’s at fault. From Hunter Fisher of Chapel Hill, N.C.: “Thank you for continuing to share our pain as Carolina fans. It has been downhill ever since Tepper purchased the team. We’re a dysfunctional mess, but I appreciate you bringing our small market troubles forward on the national stage. Please continue to reemphasize that Tepper is the problem here.”

Intelligent people learn from their mistakes. Tepper is ruthless, but he’s probably intelligent. Fans in the Carolinas like you have to hope he learns from his debacles.

10 Things I Think I Think

1. I think so many things overshadowed Jake Browning over the past seven days—but that shouldn’t diminish the performance of a backup quarterback who beat two playoff contenders Monday (Jacksonville) and Sunday (Indy)—and put up a 119.2 passer rating and 68 points in the process. It’s crazy. It speaks to the confidence Browning has in himself and that the coaches have in him. Now Browning’s got playoff-type games, potentially, four weeks in a row: Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, at Kansas City, Cleveland.

2. I think the Saints being in a three-way tie atop the NFC South is only one of the headlines in New Orleans today. The victory over Carolina was Mickey Loomis’ 200th victory as an NFL general manager, and he’s the ninth GM to reach that plateau. Loomis tied Ozzie Newsome with his 200th win Sunday; others on the list, which includes all who are GMs or have total control over football operations: Al Davis, Bill Belichick, Curly Lambeau, Bill Polian. Loomis has done it mostly with Sean Payton and Drew Brees, but for six years on either side of Payton/Brees he fielded competitive teams as well. “Having 200 wins speaks to his discipline, strategy and consistency,” said Saints linebacker Demario Davis. “I have been part of one of the most talented locker rooms in the NFL year in and year out, and that’s a testimony to Mickey’s understanding of the game, players and our team needs.”

3. I think there was this interesting tidbit from the Travis Kelce profile in the WSJ magazine of The Wall Street Journal. In a story by J.R. Moehringer, the writer points out that Kelce’s $14-million-a-year salary is about half of what the top wide receivers make, and since Kelce functions as a hybrid WR/TE, he’s underpaid. Moehringer writes of Kelce: “Nothing to be done, he says flatly. The Chiefs know, he says, that he would play for free. They know he loves his city, his quarterback. ‘Unfortunately, in this business, things gotta get ugly, they gotta be unpleasant [if you want more money], and I’m a pleasant son of a buck.’ Thank goodness for endorsements. At this point, says his co-manager Aaron Eanes, ‘the NFL is just his side hustle.’”

4. I think I want a $14-million-a-year side hustle. Know of any?

5. I think I love this little note from the week in Miami: The turf was replaced Tuesday night at Hard Rock Stadium, and the Tennessee-Miami game tonight will be the first NFL game played on the new grass. The turf comes from an 80-acre sod farm in Loxahatchee Groves, Fla., 61 miles north of the stadium. The Dolphins own the sod farm; the team bought the acreage and established the place in 2019 in a quality-control effort ensuring the best field they can have through the year. They can replace the turf, easily, on short notice, with trucks hauling it from an hour away. They change out the grass eight to 10 times a year. This farm can grow about 15 fields at once, and it takes about a year to grow one of the fields to full maturity before it is transplanted.

49ers were 'doing 49ers things' against Seahawks
Mike Florio, Devin McCourty, Matthew Berry and Jason Garrett recap the San Francisco 49ers' Week 14 win over the Seattle Seahawks, in which Deebo Samuel, Brock Purdy and co. overpowered a stumbling Seahawks team.

6. I think I’m assuming Joseph Person and Dianna Russini, reliable reporters, have the story nailed about there being a “Hunger Games” culture inside the Panthers, with various coaches/employees texting and talking to the owner, David Tepper, with scuttlebutt that was negative about Frank Reich. Two thoughts.

  • One: An owner who actively engages with multiple employees in opposition to what the head coach is doing is a big part of the problem. It’s not the owner’s job to encourage employees to undercut the coach. It’s reprehensible that the owner would engage in or encourage that.
  • Two: That franchise is a mess.

7. I think there should be blinking lights to warn every coach who interviews for this Carolina head-coaching job: Beware. If you trust yourself, and if you trust that some other trustworthy, smart owner—unlike what there is in Charlotte—will want you one of these days, just walk on by. Wait.

8. I think that was one heck of a strained hamstring for Justin Jefferson. It took 63 days to come back from it.

9. I think the retirement of Robbie Gould last week got me thinking about the very odd end to his career. Why didn’t anyone sign one of the most efficient kickers in the NFL? Why did the 49ers feel a need to spend a third-round pick on a kicker who’s had, at best, an inauspicious rookie year when Gould was there? This says it all about Gould not being in football this year: In regular- and post-season games in 2020, ’21 and ’22, Justin Tucker missed 14 field-goal tries; Gould missed 12.

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

a. First thing I thought about the Shohei Ohtani deal: The biggest contract in Dodger history had been the one Mookie Betts signed three years ago, averaging $30.4 million a year. Ohtani’s averages $70 million. Imagine a team paying a free agent – albeit one of the great free agents in any sport, ever – $40 million more per year than your highest-paid player ever, and $27 million more per year than any player in history. This is the kind of deal I’ve never seen in any sport.

b. Ohtani’s probably worth it too.

c. Hmmm. I thought Jon Rahm hated LIV golf. Guess he did have his price after all. What’s happening in golf and college football is hard to comprehend.

d. Man, the Yankees traded an awful lot of pitching for Juan Soto. But unless it turns out to be a one-year rental (Soto’s a looming free agent in 2025), that’s a tremendous acquisition for the Yankees. Scariest thing about the Soto trade for the foes of the Yanks: His career on-base percentage is .421. Aaron Judge’s over the past two years: .416. Assuming they bat 2-3 or 3-4, or anywhere in the lineup for that matter, they should lead the American League in runs. They’d better find some pitching before opening day.

e. Story of the Week: John Branch of The New York Times, on the inspirational story of the most challenging climb by rock climbers ever. I care very little about ventures like rock-climbing and mountain-climbing, but John Branch, who is always enlightening and terrific, makes this a story for everyone. It’s about the human drama of taking on the seemingly impossible, like climbing the sheer north face of Mount Jannu in the Himalayas.

f. Have a great challenge in your life? Regardless what it is, you’ll be inspired by this tale of Alan Rousseau, 37, Matt Cornell, 29, and Jackson Marvell, 27, who used no aides, no oxygen, no super equipment in making the climb. Wrote Branch: “They used only what they could carry on their backs.”

g. Wrote Branch of the 25,295-foot climb:

“We did something we didn’t think was possible,” Rousseau said. “It gave us the realization that we can climb in one of the biggest arenas out there.”

They called their expedition “Round-trip Ticket,” in a nod to Valery Babanov and Sergey Kofanov, who completed an Alpine ascent of Jannu’s west pillar in 2007.

“Perhaps some day, a pair will climb a direct route on the north face in Alpine style,” Kofanov wrote in 2017, “but they’ll need to accept the likelihood that they’re buying themselves a one-way ticket.”

They carried dehydrated food. They had one stove, one pot and one two-pound sleeping bag, wide enough to fit three men, the better for body warmth.

h. That’s correct. For six nights, three men slept in one sleeping bag, the better for body warmth and lightness. Just imagine the trust and friendship you’ve got to have in your partners in the venture, sleeping night after night using body warmth from fellow climbers to survive.

i. The climb happened in October. Now they’re home in Salt Lake City. “Healing continues,” Branch reported, “and the men are hoping not to lose any fingertips.”

j. Incredible Napping Story of the Week: Carl Zimmer of The New York Times, with a gem: “Penguins take thousands of naps every day.” In 2019, researchers traveled to an island north of Antarctica and studied chinstrap penguins for 11 days after outfitting them with electrodes and tracking devices.

k. Scientists are amazing.

l. Wrote Zimmer:

Although animals have a wide range of sleeping styles, penguins easily take the record for fragmented sleeping.

“It’s really unusual,” said Paul-Antoine Libourel, a neuroscientist at the Neuroscience Research Center of Lyon in France who helped make the discovery. “This just highlights the fact that we don’t know much about sleep, and all animals are not sleeping like the way we read in textbooks.”

… For chinstrap penguins, microsleep is the norm.

m. Kudos, Time Magazine, for making the obvious choice for Person of the Year. It’s Taylor Swift, in a landslide.

n. She’s too famous, she’s too hung up on her old boyfriends, she’s too materialistic, she’s too mainstream. Go ahead. Hate her. My feelings: My daughter Mary Beth plays her music all day, every day up in Seattle. It’s too much for me. Any music all the time is too much for me.

o. But I admire the woman. She worked and worked and worked and took control of her music and her life and made something of herself. A great something, a worldwide something.

p. Cool essay about the impact of Swift.

q. Wrote Peggy Noonan:

Taylor Swift is the Person of the Year. She is the best thing that has happened in America in all of 2023.

Ms. Swift brings joy. Over the summer I was fascinated by what became familiar, people posting on social media what was going on in the backs of the stadium as Ms. Swift sang. It was thousands of fathers and daughters dancing. When she played in downtown Seattle in July, the stomping was so heavy and the stadium shook so hard it registered on a seismometer as equal to a magnitude 2.3 earthquake.

People meaning to compliment her ask if she’s Elvis or the Beatles, but it is the wrong question. Taylor Swift is her own category.

Friends, this is some kind of epic American thing that is happening, something on the order of great tales and myths. Over the past few months as I’ve thought about and read of Ms. Swift my mind kept going back to phrases that are . . . absurd as comparisons. And yet. “When John Henry was a little baby . . . ” And a beautiful lyric I saw years ago that stayed with me. “Black-eyed peas asks cornbread/ ‘What makes you so strong?’/ Cornbread says, ‘I come from/ Where Joe Louis was born.’ ”

There is just something so mightily American in Taylor Swift’s great year.

r. Then there’s this story about someone, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never heard of. Virginia Kraft was the first star female writer at Sports Illustrated, and yet she has nothing near the rep of the Tex Maules, Dan Jenkinses and Frank Defords.

s. Gee, I wonder why.

t. Read this story from Emily Sohn of Long Lead about Virginia Kraft. From a Kraft story in Sports Illustrated in 1962 headlined: “A lady hunts with the Shah:”

For the first time since I had stepped from the cab at the palace gates, the guards, soldiers and servants mysteriously vanished, and I found myself entering the imperial reception room alone. Before I realized what had happened, a gray haired man in a double-breasted suit was striding toward me with the long, smooth steps of an athlete, his hand outstretched and a broad smile on his surprisingly young face, fixing his warm brown eyes directly on mine, the Shah of Iran said in a soft, low voice, “I have been waiting a long time for your visit.”

u. Pretty, pretty good. Thanks, Emily Sohn.

v. RIP Norman Lear, who died last week at 101. Lear created one of the most important TV shows (and one of the funniest) of my life, “All in the Family.” And he made a bigot, Archie Bunker, a tremendous teaching tool for society. Lear took a lot of chances, and we’re lucky he did.

w. I have extolled the work of a great American journalist, Eli Saslow, for a couple of years now. Saslow is the best journalist at reporting deep and important topics in our society. You may remember his 2022 story when he worked for The Washington Post on the grind of the Denver bus driver. More recently I wrote about Saslow’s story in The New York Times about the son who turned in his father for the elder’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The depth and detail and human feeling of his stories is impressive. No matter what walk of life you’re in, we can all learn from his process.

x. Saslow on ideas:

“I’m trying to think about the big pressure points in America. For instance, the story of the bus driver in Denver … In the last couple years, I’d say post-pandemic, a lot of American cities have changed in major ways and not necessarily for the better. We’ve had downtowns empty out increasingly because of remote work. A historic fentanyl epidemic has arrived into a lot of these cities. We have a lot of people in mental-health crises in ways the country hasn’t figured out how to solve. And particularly, on the West Coast, a really rapidly rising unsheltered homeless population. Cities have become kind of a tinderbox. All the data shows it. Instead of writing about the data, or the trend in a way that might feel important but a little bit dry, how can I write about that story in a way that feels intimate and human and really personal? And so for me that’ll start with a day or two where I’m looking at the data saying things in cities have really changed in Denver, in Seattle, in Portland, in Austin. And then I’ll think, who is somebody who’s in proximity with these problems all the time? People who drive buses. That’s where a lot of these sort of incidents are escalating. Then I’ll – you know – I’ll research the bus lines in places … I figured out the Denver buses is the place where I want to do this story.

“The Denver buses had gone from being a very safe and very popular mode of transportation to being considered a city-wide embarrassment and a trainwreck. The main bus station in Denver—the city had spent a ton of money creating this beautiful downtown bus station—there was no longer public use of the bathrooms because they’d been taken over by fentanyl. Rising crime rates in that area had become basically the mayor’s number-one issue. And then I look at the different bus lines. After researching crime on the different bus lines, I realized the number 15 line that goes up and down Colfax Avenue right past Mile High Stadium or Empower Field, whatever it’s called now, that line is where things have really ratcheted up and where drivers are experiencing more assaults. Then I figure out who are the 15 people who drive the number 15 bus? I have conversations with six, seven, eight of them. One of those conversations in that case ended up being with Suna, who was an immigrant to the United States who loved Denver. For a long time, who had been such an ambassador to the city that her face was on the side of some of the number 15 buses that she drove, sort of welcoming people into Denver. Now, what she felt every day when she went to drive the bus was a rising sense of despondency and fear. She’d been assaulted eight times in the previous year. Increasingly, she was driving people who had no place to go. And although she felt a huge amount of empathy for the people on her bus, she also was starting to feel afraid of them.

“Then I ride the number 15 for six, seven days and I’m talking to Suna of course but I’m also talking to all the people on the bus. I’m watching. I’m observing. I’m videoing. I’m capturing what the day-to-day is like and then writing a story about that—a story that hopefully feels personal, where you really get to know Suna and you really get to understand her experiences, but also by understanding Suna and what she’s dealing with, you understand something bigger about what’s happening in the country at that moment.

“Journalism is often really misunderstood. I’m asking for a huge amount of trust from the people that I’m writing about. What I’m asking them is, ‘Is it OK if a stranger comes in and essentially lives inside your life for a while? And then tells everybody about it?’ … I’m asking them for their text messages. For all of these things that allow a story to feel intimate and lived in, because that’s what makes stories powerful. But that is so much to ask of people. As a journalist, ethically, I can’t give them anything in return. Nobody that I write about is ever paid for me to be writing about them. They can’t see the story that I’ve written until it’s published. If I was to write a story about somebody and hand it to them to edit, I would be empowering them to be the editor of their own story and those are never the most fair or honest stories. Instead, all I’m saying to people every time is like, ‘I think this really matters. I think you’re living out a version of a life in this country that more people should know about and more people should understand.’ It’s a huge act of trust and faith every time for people to invite me in.”

Games of Week 15

I like games late in the season that are playoff games for one or both of the contestants. Here are three in the week before Christmas.

Pittsburgh at Indianapolis, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network. Well, the Steelers, in the span of two disastrous home losses in five days, have blown their clear path to the playoffs. Instead of being ensconced as the 5 seed in the crowded AFC playoff race, the Steelers enter this midday Saturday game as one of six teams with seven wins in the conference with four games to play. And with a finish at Seattle and at Baltimore, the Steelers have to treat this game as a must-win.

Denver at Detroit, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NFL Network. I remember sitting in on a Saturday night meeting of Saints offensive coaches in 2018 at the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans. Sean Payton ran the meeting in a big conference room, of course, and Dan Campbell, his assistant head coach/tight ends coach, was chipping in thoughts. They meet again, with thoughts of playoffs dancing in both of their heads. Good schedule quirk for the Lions down the stretch: Sunday’s game at Soldier Field was their last outdoor game of the regular season. Detroit finishes the regular year with four indoor games (Denver, at Minnesota, at Dallas, Minnesota).

Why the Bucs have an edge atop a crowded NFC South
With three teams tied at 6-7 in the NFC South through Week 14, Steve Kornacki explains why the Bucs have the best chance to win the division despite a challenging upcoming schedule.

Dallas at Buffalo, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox. The Cowboys’ reward for winning five straight, capped by a fate-controlling conquering of the Eagles Sunday: two straight road games against desperate (Buffalo) and powerful (Miami) teams.

The Adieu Haiku

Dak’s just different.
Huge upgrade on downfield throws.
Confidence man too.

Peter King’s Lineup