“Interesting year in the NFL,” Eagles center Jason Kelce said an hour after one of the most interesting games of the year—Philadelphia 37, Buffalo 34, in 68 minutes, on a raw, rainy evening in south Philly. “It feels like there’s a big middle of the pack. Very big. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen the NFL.
“Feels like more than ever, it’s an Any Given Sunday league.”
Six weeks to go. Philadelphia, 10-1, with a two-game lead in the loss column over seven three-loss teams. Not dominating, but the Eagles find ways to win the nerve-wracking games. Wins by three over Buffalo, four over Kansas City and five over Dallas in the last three games, a play or two deciding every one of those games. (Sunday’s was a gem. More in a few grafs.) The Eagles and Bills looked like Super Bowl teams for swaths of Sunday’s game, and both have lost to Zach Wilson and the 4-7 Jets this year.
It’s such a weird, ridiculously tight league. The TV ratings are up, even as some of the biggest names (Burrow, Rodgers, Watson, Cousins, Jefferson, Chubb) get kayoed. I say it’s because every week, in all different windows, there are ratings magnets. In this month alone: Miami-Kansas City, Dallas-Philadelphia, Buffalo-Cincinnati, Denver-Buffalo (surprisingly), Cincinnati-Baltimore, Philadelphia-Kansas City, Jacksonville-Houston, Buffalo-Philadelphia. Next week is full of clunkers, but Niners-Eagles and Patrick Mahomes at the resurgent Packers will drive huge audiences.
The four teams best able to challenge Philadelphia:
The other top teams? Jacksonville’s won seven of eight, but the Jags had decisive home losses to Kansas City and San Francisco; a bit of a mystery there. Detroit looks to have peaked. Hard to put the Dolphins near the top when they’ve lost to the three best teams on their schedule. Pittsburgh and Cleveland? Quarterback issues. Houston and Denver are intriguing, and hot at the right time.
For long stretches Sunday, 6-6 Buffalo (505 total yards, four TDs produced by Josh Allen) looked better than the Eagles. When Allen threw a seven-yard strike to Gabe Davis with 1:52 to play in the fourth quarter, Buffalo led 31-28. Then it turned into the Kelce/Elliott/Hurts show. As the Eagles drove to at least tie it, Kelce twice in four plays got called for false starts. He barely flinched. The second time, it left the Eagles with a third-and-17 at the Buffalo 41-yard line, with 30 seconds left.
Who admits guilt at a time like this?
“I think they were good calls, if I’m being honest,” Kelce said. “I flinched. That’s the bottom line. You know, our stadium, our fans are incredible. But it’s kinda been some of the problems sometimes when we go no-huddle. The fans are revved up. It’s a game! Big game! The fans are really excited and you’re trying to make a play and all of a sudden it’s difficult sometimes to hear the quarterback.
“Matter of fact, we went silent snap-count right after that second one. We should’ve gone silent right after the first one to be safe. Especially with [Bills coach] Sean McDermott, he likes to blitz in the last two minutes. Now all of a sudden, I’m looking and trying to make sure I pick up things. We were doing a phenomenal job of getting things directed and then you’re expecting the play to happen quicker, and you’re not ready for that cadence, it can be an issue. That was exactly what happened on the first one. The second one I just flinched. Not good.”
Kicker Jake Elliott saved the Eagles, sending the game into overtime with his 59-yard field goal through the rain and dank crosswind. Buffalo won the toss, scored a field goal, and now the Eagles had their chance. Jalen Hurts threw for 32 yards and ran for 15 more to get the ball to the Buffalo 12-yard line late in overtime.
Hurts was in shotgun at the Buffalo 18-. It was a Hurts run all the way; Kelce’s job was to erase the flotsam on the front side of the play—either a rusher who came free on the line or a blitzer. Said Kelce: “It wasn’t until right before snapping it that it became evident the inside linebacker [Tyrel Dodson] was going to blitz off that front-side [left] edge. It’s one of those things, for us, where that can either be a home-run shot, which it ended up being, or it can get stuffed. It ended up operating really well.”
Kelce erased Dodson at the 17-. Hurts ran straight up through the gap to the goal line, through two Bills around the three-yard line for the score. Ballgame.
Philadelphia’s 10-1, and a Rocky Balboa-like survivor, because it’s a deep team with a championship pedigree. The quarterback never gets rattled. One of the all-time centers errs twice on a big drive in the fourth quarter, and makes up for it with the block of the game in overtime. Winning at the highest level of the NFL requires great chemistry at the defining moments. The Eagles have that. Someone’s going to have to play four very good quarters (maybe plus an overtime) to beat them.
“I guess it’s surprising that nobody else is up there with us at this point of the season, because the disparity between great teams and good teams is less than I’ve seen in my time in the league,” Kelce said. Maybe that’s because the one great team always finds a way to beat the good teams in the biggest moments.
Boldface names/items for week 12:
Equality. The NFC East division leader is 10-1. The NFC South division leader, Atlanta, is 5-6. The other six division leaders have three losses.
Jags-Texans. How crazy is it that this could morph into one of the game’s best rivalries? Lawrence vs. Stroud … Give me that matchup twice a year forever.
Honesty. I love Trevor Lawrence’s.
Shaq Leonard, in a luxury box at Lucas Oil, cheering on his old teammates. Now that’s a sight Indiana never thought it’d see, five days after the team whacked him.
The Steeler juggernaut rolls on. How crazy is it that they could be 11-4 and in the playoffs on Christmas morning? The next four are exceedingly winnable: Arizona, New England, at Indy, Cincinnati.
Derek Carr, you’ve got a memory like an elephant, which is cool. But it won’t help prevent you from sharing Goat of the Week.
Bill Belichick is the other goat, and I don’t mean Greatest of All Time either. I don’t blame Chad Ryland for blowing that game in New Jersey Sunday on a kick I’m sure he made multiple times in high school in Pennsylvania. I blame Belichick for jettisoning a sure thing, Nick Folk, for a very unsure one. Which all rookies are.
Gronk gets tough. “Mac Jones should have thrown four picks already,” Rob Gronkowski, Pats alumnus, said at halftime of Giants-Pats on Fox.
David Tepper is not happy. Well, boo hoo. Hedge-fund money can’t buy wins.
Tommy DeVito, a year ago this month at quarterback at Illinois, threw zero touchdowns in two straight games against Michigan and Northwestern. He’s thrown four in his last two NFL games, against Washington and New England. Maybe the competition was more fierce in Champaign.
Re: Aaron Rodgers: I think I have a pretty good idea what is driving him to come back even if the Jets’ playoff chances are about the same as the Giants’.
Jordan Love, 5-6. Keep that record in mind as you read the column today.
The Bills lost that game in Philadelphia, but please, please, please do not bring out some goofy stat to blame Josh Allen. That’s one of the best games he’s ever played.
Oh, and one more rule about stats. Sometimes they’re more coincidental than real. Like the one about Kansas City being crappy at scoring in the second half. KC scored 31 points in the last 37 minutes Sunday when the offense couldn’t hear a thing in Vegas, including 17 in the second half. Professional receivers won’t drop the ball forever.
Mark Sanchez, with some excellent analysis on Cleveland-Denver on Fox. After the Browns lost a chance to stay at the top of the AFC North with a goofy double-reverse fumbled by a third-string running back, Pierre Strong Jr. of South Dakota State, Sanchez was disgusted, and rightfully so. “Why are we getting so cute?” he said. “This isn’t the Harlem Globetrotters right here. What are we doing? The way you’ve won games—you’re 2-1 with P.J. Walker as a starter. You gotta go win this game. You’ve got 15 minutes to put this game away and you’re gonna flip the ball around to different players? I just don’t understand it.”
Andy Reid’s not a big stat guy, but I am. All-time winningest coaches in the history of two franchises, including playoffs:
Myles Garrett left Denver with a sling on his left arm. Uh-oh.
The Broncos allowed 70 points in week three. They’ve allowed 80 in their last five. Here’s a surprise: They lost the 70-point game. They won all five of the reborn ones.
Denver, 6-5. Remember when we all thought they’d be in the Caleb Williams Derby in September?
Jessie Bates talks to me about instincts. It’s educational. Did you see what the Atlanta safety did to New Orleans? He stole 14 points from the Saints.
The Lions lost, perhaps because Dan Campbell laid waste to fresh turkey, real cranberries and stuffing.
The Ravens have a major schedule edge upcoming: one game in the next 20 days. Gotta love the week 13 bye.
Cognac. Super Bowl week. What could go wrong?
The Kraken, the Woodland Park Zoo, Third Place Books. Man, Seattle has some nice things.
Jaelan Phillips, with another Achilles tear out of nowhere. As one wise NFL team medical person said to me over the weekend: “That Meadowlands turf is cursed.” The Dolphins suffer a bad, bad blow.
The 18th game. Don’t even think of voting to approve it down the road, players.
Ohio State: Don’t even think of firing Ryan Day.
Now for the news of the week.
No question there are issues about the Jags on the biggest stage: They’ve lost at home to KC, Houston and San Francisco by a combined 59 points. But they avenged one of those losses by winning 24-21 at Houston Sunday. Watching this game, I got the feeling that this year’s the birth of one of the great new rivalries in the game: Trevor Lawrence, 24, and the youthful Jags versus 22-year-old C.J. Stroud and the suddenly electric Texans. “It’s gonna be a fun matchup hopefully for years,” Lawrence told me after Sunday’s game.
But that’s not really the way Lawrence would prefer the division rivalries to go. “I always want every team in our division to be as bad as possible,” Lawrence said. “That’s better for us. But no, I do think it’s gonna be fun to play them twice a year.”
The most interesting sequence in this game, and I think it’s a sign of things to come, happened with Houston up 14-13 and Jacksonville on the Texans’ one-yard line late in the third quarter. Calvin Ridley ran a rub post-route, got free of his man, and Lawrence hit him for a well-designed one-yard TD. At 19-13 now, Doug Pederson decided to go for two. Ridley again lined up left, alone this time. He juked the corner off the line and ran the same post-route. Again, easy. The two-point conversion made it 21-14, and Jacksonville never trailed. It’s a great example of why the Jags traded for Ridley last year when he was suspended for gambling. He’s a number one receiver, smart and competitive, and he was huge in this game. “In games like this,” Lawrence said, “you gotta make those plays down the stretch. It’s players, not plays. It’s about the guys you trust and have faith in just going and making a play.”
Also impressive: Lawrence wasn’t sacked and faced a low 18-percent pressure rate against a good pass-rush team. The Jags are 7-1 in their last eight, but the one (Niners 34, Jags 3) won’t easily be forgotten.
Five things about Rodgers and his possible return to play:
1. Wednesday is the 10-week anniversary of the surgery to repair his torn Achilles. No NFL player has come back from a fully torn Achilles (despite what some have said, Rodgers’ injury was definitely a complete tear) faster than running back Cam Akers, who got the all-clear to return to play four months and two weeks after his surgery. If Rodgers does return to play for the Jets in late December, his return would be in approximately three months and two weeks.
2. Rodgers turns 40 Saturday. He knows the clock is ticking on his football life. Most people would think it’s nonsensical to return to football without a longer time to rehab the injury, and it may be nonsensical in the grand scheme of things. Rodgers is famously his own person on most things. I think it’s highly unlikely he’d return if his surgeon or the Jets’ doctors are strongly against it—particularly the highly respected surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache. But Rodgers also has pangs about how much the Jets bent their organization, team and locker room to his desires when the Packers traded him to New York. He believes in the ethos of the locker room and knows other players play with pain and sometimes risk further injury by playing. If he can be sure he is reasonably recovered, without a significant risk of re-tearing the Achilles, I think he’d strongly consider playing, whatever the Jets’ record is. I think he may feel a personal need to come back to a team that remade itself for him and is struggling incredibly with terrible quarterback play since he was lost in the first game of the season.
3. You and I might think that’s stupid. But you and I are not Aaron Rodgers. And I don’t think ElAttrache would put his reputation on the line by letting Rodgers play if he felt there was a major risk of tearing the Achilles.
4. Re: returning to practice, which Rodgers may do this week or next: A quarterback can practice at different levels of intensity. He’s not going to be hit. He’s not going to be running full speed to escape the rush. Rodgers would be able to manage his effort during practice, and I’m sure he would be aware of what is going too far when he gets on the field.
5. No one knows for sure if Rodgers’ injury will be healed enough so he can play, say, in the week 16 home game on Christmas Eve against Washington. No one, including Rodgers, knows if he’ll be fit enough to play a month from now. He, and the doctors, will see if the repair can tolerate the kind of physical activity playing quarterback would require. That is the huge key: Will the doctors, after he practices and tests the Achilles over the next month, give him the green light?
As Rodgers has said all along, he just wants to have a chance to make it back. This next month will be about giving him that chance—however short-sighted it seems to the rest of the world.
In another football lifetime, Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates baited Raiders quarterback Derek Carr at the Coliseum in Oakland, stepping slyly in front of Hunter Renfrow for a diving interception. That was on Nov. 17, 2019. On Sunday, Bates was a Falcon and Carr a Saint. Late in the first quarter in Atlanta, Bates did the baiting again, waiting till the right moment when Carr threw to Rashid Shaheed. The throw was a mistake, a tad behind the well-covered Shaheed, and Bates timed it perfectly, picking it off at the eight-yard line and running 92 yards for a touchdown.
“That’s the same play you made in Oakland, right?” Carr said to Bates after it happened. Amazing he recalled, and amazing how right he was. Each was a middle-of-the-field throw and each had the element of surprise from Bates. “I’ve been a step late on a bunch of plays this year, and I thought I needed to be more aggressive,” Bates told me. “This was kind of a risk. The coach tells [me], ‘Play the middle of the field,’ and I do, but I’ve been watching a lot of film on the Saints and I thought there was a play to be made there.”
On the last play of the third quarter, Bates made another play—punching the ball out from Taysom Hill’s grasp near the Falcons’ goal line. Atlanta recovered and drove for the insurance score. Two huge plays, leading to 14 points in a 24-15 win. Atlanta’s tied for the NFC South lead with New Orleans at 5-6, but the Falcons have a huge edge with a 3-0 division record to the Saints’ 1-2.
“These are the kinds of games you dream of as a kid,” said Bates. “Playoff atmosphere, full house, a game we really needed. The division’s open, but we’re in the front seat now.”
A recurring element in the column this year: a video memory of one of my favorite memories of 40 years covering pro football.
The Whitney Houston-anthem Super Bowl, at the Big Sombrero. (H/T, Chris Berman.) So many memories of this game, and this week. Giants edged Niners to get here, Bills beat Raiders by 48 to make it. There wasn’t an extra week between the championship games and the Super Bowl, so the Giants flew in as though on a red eye from San Francisco, landing in Tampa in the wee hours. But here’s the other thing (and I should have, but did not, put this in my video memory of this game): when Giants players got hurt and were not playing in the upcoming game, they didn’t have to go to all the meetings. So on Wednesday night, I went to the famous Bern’s Steak House with Phil Simms. He broke his foot in a December game against the Bills, and so Jeff Hostetler quarterbacked the Giants in the Super Bowl. Simms had his weeknights free, and I used to cover the Giants and knew him, so I asked him to dine one night. Here we were at this great restaurant, and here I was, on a Sports Illustrated expense account, and we decided to have an after-dinner drink. We got some cognac from a dusty bottle … $75 per glass. Luckily for me, the SI business manager looked the other way on the $150 investment in alcohol.
Offensive players of the week
Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Philadelphia. His first seven drives of an epic day ended with seven points. His last six resulted in 30 points, including taking the ball down three in overtime, traveling nine plays for 75 yards and ending it with a 12-yard TD run. In the span of seven days, Hurts led the Eagles to huge wins over Kansas City and Buffalo, by four and three points.
Garett Bolles, tackle, Denver. Held Myles Garrett sackless in the 29-12 victory over Cleveland, and Garrett generated just two pressures of Russell Wilson in 13 matchups when they were one-on-one, per Next Gen Stats. Cleveland has been terrorizing quarterbacks, and Bolles led a strong day of protection against the Browns’ front seven, which generated only one sack.
Jordan Love, quarterback, Green Bay. All along, the 2023 season has not been about winning the Super Bowl for Green Bay; it’s been about developing the fourth quarterback in the last 32 seasons for the Packers. So Love isn’t in this space altogether because he had a three-touchdown, no-turnover game in stunning the previously 8-2 Lions Thursday in Detroit. It’s because he capped a terrific November, the month of proving he belongs, with a 103.1 rating and with a 3-1 month, the only loss a four-point decision to the Steelers.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas. What a roll Prescott’s on—even though the last three games have come against the Giants, Panthers and Commanders. In his last five games, he’s completed 71 percent of his throws with 17 TDs and two interceptions. Dallas has produced 33 or more points in four of the last five games, including his 331-yard, four-TD, no-pick Thanksgiving Day rout of Washington.
Defensive players of the week
Jevon Holland, safety, Miami. Craziest play of the season, and of course the Jets were involved. Holland plucked a Tim Boyle Hail Mary at the Miami goal line, landed at his 1-, and sped/zig-zagged 99 yards for a touchdown.
Josh Allen, edge-rusher, Jacksonville. Two huge second-half sacks were part of Allen’s 2.5-sack day in the 24-21 win over the Texans that gave the Jags a two-game lead in the AFC South with six games to play. A 12-yard sack of C.J. Stroud was the first one, killing a Houston drive when Jacksonville had a 21-14 lead late in the third. And a 15-yard sack at the two-minute warning helped force Houston try a 58-yard field goal—which clanged off the crossbar, ensuring the victory. The less-famous Josh Allen now has a career-high 12 sacks—and six weeks to jack that up.
Jessie Bates III, safety, Atlanta. Two huge plays in the Falcons’ division-tying win over the Saints, both with the Saints deep in Atlanta turf, threatening to score. Bates’ 92-yard pick-six on a bad decision by Derek Carr was the first, late in the first quarter. The second: Bates punched the ball out of Taysom Hill’s grip at the Atlanta nine-yard line late in the third quarter, and the Falcons recovered. Two huge plays leading to 14 Falcon points.
Rashan Gary, outside linebacker, Green Bay. Played the game of his career, on a national stage, just over a year after tearing his ACL and missing half of the 2022 season. Gary had three sacks of Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, forced two fumbles, recovered one, and had seven tackles. Great video of an emotional Gary post-game, saying he was so tired of crying. Crying days are over, Rashan.
Special teams players of the week
Jake Elliott, kicker, Philadelphia. His 59-yard field goal through steady rain and a 6-mph crosswind tied the epic game against Buffalo with 20 seconds left and sent it to overtime—one of the biggest kicks in the career of the seventh-year kicker from Memphis, plucked off the Bengals’ practice squad by Howie Roseman in 2017. “That coulda been good from 65!” Tony Romo yelled on CBS. And Jim Nantz said, “59 yards in these conditions?” That’s what clutch kickers do.
Daniel Whelan, punter, Green Bay. Four punts in Detroit Thursday, four inside the 20-yard line. They landed at the 16-, 3-, 9- and 9-yard line of the Lions, and only one resulted in a Detroit scoring drive. Whelan’s a great story. He grew up in Ireland, and moved to the United States when his mom, who worked in the hotel business, got a job at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel in California. A football coach saw him booming kicks as a center fullback and asked if he could try kicking a football. He hit a 52-yard field goal, and one day hit the crossbar from 65 yards out. A prospect was born.
“I couldn’t have written it up any better,” Whelan said recently. “I just love football. I went to a lot of kicking camps once I got to the U.S., and I concentrated on looking at the competition and just trying to be better than the other guys wherever I went. I think it’s possible there can be more kickers and punters from Ireland, if they’re willing to put in the time, the effort and constantly work on their craft.” He’s 22nd in gross punting, with a 46.8-yard average. His net average, 38.9 yards, isn’t good. But he’s had only five touchbacks in 45 punts.
As for what Whelan thinks of Green Bay: “I love it. Green Bay’s a lot like Ireland, a lot like Enniskerry.”
Coaches of the Week
Eddie Faulkner, offensive coordinator, and Mike Sullivan, quarterbacks coach, Pittsburgh. The Steelers broke a 58-game streak of offensive futility, gaining over 400 yards (421) for the first time since week two of 2020 in the 16-10 win at Cincinnati in the first game after the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Sullivan called the plays; Faulkner rode heard over organizing this week’s gameplan. Though he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, this was a productive day for Kenny Pickett after a few unproductive ones; he threw for 278 yards and completed 73 percent of his throws.
Goats of the Week
Bill Belichick, coach, New England. The absurdity of Belichick letting Nick Folk walk for a rookie kicker cost the Patriots dearly when Chad Ryland yanked a chip-shot 35-yard field goal with three seconds left that would have sent Sunday’s game to overtime. Instead, the Giants won a game the Patriots lost about 65 different ways, 10-7. The simple numbers tell the story of the bad decision by Belichick to send Folk to Tennessee. In Folk’s last three seasons in New England, he missed five of 87 field goals inside 50 yards. In Ryland’s first season in New England, he’s missed four of 15 inside 50 yards.
Derek Carr, quarterback, New Orleans. His shaky first year as a Saint took a very bad turn against the Saints’ arch-rivals Sunday. Carr tossed an awful pick-six in the first quarter, thrown behind his receiver in traffic, and returned 92 yards by Jessie Bates III. And in nine possessions, Carr led zero touchdown drives. I guess $60 million (the fully guaranteed money Carr signed for with the Saints last spring) doesn’t buy what it used to. In 11 games, Carr has 10 TD passes and the Saints have exceeded 24 points just twice.
--Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, after Houston kicker Matt Ammendola’s 58-yard attempt to tie the game hit the crossbar with 29 seconds left in Houston Sunday.
--Giants coach Brian Daboll, in what might have been (was?) the message of the weekend in the NFL, giving defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale the game ball after the 10-7 win over New England—and after Jay Glazer reported on Fox about friction between Martindale and Daboll.
--Carolina owner David Tepper, leaving the Panthers’ locker room after the loss in Tennessee Sunday, per Joe Person of The Athletic.
--Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, after the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada was announced.
I don’t know what that means, but it is entertaining in a Tomlin way.
--Detroit coach Dan Campbell, on his Thanksgiving meal preferences.
Dan, let me just tell you this: You’ve never, ever had Ann King’s Thanksgiving cranberry sauce.
Eleven games into the debut seasons of the last three Packer starting quarterbacks:
The more I watched Love the other day, the more I thought how smart the Packer way of developing quarterbacks is. We don’t know yet if Love is going to make it. But the signs are promising. Obviously Favre didn’t sit when GM Ron Wolf traded for him in 1992, but Rodgers did and it helped him mightily. Love sat the same three years, and watching him beat the Lions in Detroit on Thanksgiving and make some of the downfield throws he made, it’s clear his apprenticeship under Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers was a big help.
Second quarterbacks taken in the last three drafts: C.J. Stroud (second overall, 2023), Desmond Ridder, (74th overall, 2022), Zach Wilson (second overall, 2021).
In their 46 career NFL games, Ridder and Wilson have three 300-yard passing games.
In his last four NFL games, Stroud has four 300-yard passing games.
In Bill Belichick’s 29 seasons as a head coach, this year’s 2-9 record is his worst ever after 11 games. That really shouldn’t be much of a surprise for a guy who is 157 games over .500 as a head coach.
Had a delightful long Thanksgiving weekend in Seattle. I went to see the Kraken for the first time Wednesday night at Climate Pledge Arena with daughter Laura and grandson Freddy—his first hockey game. Everything about that arena—sightlines, food (sandwiches with sustainably fished local salmon), beer variety, pro shop—was top notch. Great experience.
On Saturday, I missed most of Ohio State-Michigan for a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo with my wife, daughter Mary Beth, husband Nick and grandson Peter. Tremendous zoo. A thick pane of glass was all that separated a fascinated Peter with one of the zoo’s two bears for two minutes. The bear put his paw on the glass, and Peter put his hand on the glass, and the bear stared at him. I’ve never been that close to a bear. Great otters and penguins too. I recommend that zoo highly on your next trip to Seattle.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your turn on the story of Charissa Thompson twice saying she would make up sideline reports in her days working NFL sidelines for FOX, then saying the next day she used the wrong words (?) and has never lied about her work:
From Bob Soccol, of Garfield, N.J.: “I find it amusing that you call out Charissa Thompson for making up sideline stories. You are right about every point. Unfortunately, she maybe learned from the best—the national political media of this country where lies, half truths, half stories and selected criticism is the way of the land. This country is going to hell but many people don’t know what is going on because of the influence of the corrupt media of this country.”
From J. Breittling: “I’m shocked you’d go after a journalist the way you have with Charissa. The more I think about it, I guess it does make sense since you Democrats just love to cancel people and kill their livelihood.”
From Dave St. Claire, of Libertyville, Ill.: “I say ‘meh’ to the Charissa Thompson story, simply because I believe journalistic integrity sailed far away, a long time ago.”
From Jon Asher, of Glorieta, N.M.: “As a journalist for almost 60 years I can say without hesitation that Ms. Thompson has given every journalist, from your neighborhood high school newspaper to the New York Times, a bad name. There is no possible excuse for making up quotes or any other part of a story you’re filing or broadcasting. I’ve told every young reporter I’ve worked with to use a recorder to make sure you quote your subject accurately and completely, and never lie in print or on the air or your reputation, along with the reputation of the outlet you’re reporting for, will never recover. If Fox knew of her antics and did nothing the negative reflection is on them. For Amazon to continue using her in any on-air capacity is inexcusable after her admissions.”
From Ted Washington, of Ohio: “The story’s pretty simple to me: She lied, her own bosses treat it like nothing to see here. An incredibly sad commentary on the media.”
A note from me: The reactions to what I wrote about Thompson, in order of volume, went like this:
1. The media is totally untrustworthy, so who cares.
2. Sideline reporting is useless.
3. A big black eye for the media. She deserves to be fired.
Disappointing that probably three-quarters of the emails had the who-cares or no-big-deal sentiment. My note had nothing to do with this idiotic concept of canceling Charissa Thompson. If the most basic tenet of the job is telling the truth, and a reporter doesn’t tell it, the reporter must be held to account. This story’s a thousand miles from cancel culture. Either we can trust what you say, or we can’t. Thompson twice said she made up stories, then she said she misspoke, and said she has never lied or been unethical. Those statements cannot all be true. I guess it’s going to go away, sadly. But it shouldn’t.
On full-time officials. From Gary Cummings, of Manchester, England: “Just a word about [full-time] professional referees in our football. The argument for making them full-time was fitness would improve and without them having other employment they could focus on officiating and, thus, their performance would improve. Trust me they’ve gone from being utterly incompetent to well-paid and utterly incompetent. The standard deteriorates every single year which is particularly hard to achieve given the staggeringly low bar.”
Interesting. My feeling, a strong one, is it’s fine to try full-time officials, but I doubt it will improve the craft much. I don’t think being full-time will improve officials’ calls on a game traveling so fast.
Football’s okay in Europe. From Otmar Hackl, of Vienna, Austria: “The last few weeks the topic of American football in Europe has come up and one (or more) readers said it does not make sense for the NFL as it would not beat out soccer. This should not be the goal of the NFL. Just because many Americans watch football, does that mean that they do not watch basketball, baseball or hockey? If somebody in Europe is passionate about soccer, chances are he/she is generally fond of sports and if you can win them over, the NFL has one fan more. Actually most football fans I know over here are also soccer fans.”
Wish I’d thought of that in my rebuttal to those who don’t like the NFL exporting its product, Otmar. Thank you.
JFK. From David Reihman, of Cincinnati: “Your JFK story got me to write. I was also in first grade, in teeny, tiny Amana, Iowa. I will never forget it. Mrs. Trumpold was called out of class. That never happened. She returned, streaming down tears, to give us the bad news. Did I mention Nov. 22 is my birthday?”
Of all the events in my life, the assassination of President Kennedy still bugs me the most.
1. I think Lloyd Howell’s biggest job as the new executive director of the NFL Players Association is to ensure the NFL doesn’t force through an 18-game season at some point in his tenure. When the league went to 17 games in 2021, it was clear Howell’s predecessor, De Smith, very much didn’t want 17 games but he let the players vote their consciences, and the new CBA narrowly passed, with a 17th game on every schedule. The 18th game cannot happen—unless the owners agree to three provisos:
2. I think it’s easy to think if players voted for 17 games including more money per player, they’ll vote for 18, with more money per player. That’s where the NFLPA has to come in. In visits to teams—the executive director visits all 32 at least once a year—Howell has to convey to them that this is about their short- and long-term health. Smith didn’t want 17 games. But the middle-class and lower-paid players viewed it as a chance for another game check, and when you’re worried about how long an NFL life you’ll have, that’s an important consideration. That’s why Howell and the union have to get in front of this now, not in the heat of negotiations in six years or so.
3. I think seeing cornerstone players like Joe Burrow, Mark Andrews and Jaelan Phillips—not just good players, but top, top leaders on their teams—go down in an eight-day period puts an exclamation point on the fact that every player is playing Russian Roulette with his health in every game. An 18th game for a regular starter provides 65 more chances (the number of plays for each unit, on average, in a game) to get hurt. Easy for me to say, but if the players vote for an 18th game sometime down the road, they’ve lost the empathy factor from me when it comes to injuries.
4. I think I’ve got an NFL quiz for you: and no cheating! Which future Pro Football Hall of Famers were drafted 88th, 89th and 129th in the 1964 NFL Draft? (Answer in 10v of Ten Things I Think.)
5. I think if Brock Purdy can make a few more throws like this—36 yards in the air, layered over one DB, threaded between two others, perhaps the most beautifully placed and timed throw of this football weekend, maybe he can dream of being a top-15 quarterback one day. He might be able to be rated higher than Derek Carr even, or Geno Smith.
6. I think at some point soon—if it isn’t happening right now—the Steelers are going to have to ask themselves: Are the dogging-it and drops by Diontae Johnson really worth the trouble?
7. I think the most fascinating, interesting, mysterious and dangerous team down the stretch of this season will be Denver. I could see the Broncos finishing 8-9. I could see them going on the road and winning a Wild Card game. Or more.
8. I think the Lions are regressing, which is an odd thing to say about an 8-3 team. But they can’t get defensive stops the way they did early in the year. I thought after last week, with the three picks thrown by Jared Goff, that it was a fluke event. But it’s worrisome that the Lions have turned it over 11 times in the last five games after turning it over six times in the first six. They’ve given up 29.0 points per games over the last five games. The massive comeback against Chicago may have been a mirage.
9. I think when you give up 38, 14, 38, 26 and 29 points over five games, that’s not going to put you in league with Philadelphia and San Francisco. I found myself wondering on Thanksgiving whether GM Brad Holmes will regret not going hard after a pass-rusher to bookend with Aidan Hutchinson down the stretch, or maybe corner depth; it’s one thing to get strafed by Justin Herbert, but another to get torched by Jordan Love.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Eli Saslow of The New York Times with a tremendous piece headlined by words that say it all: “A Jan. 6 defendant pleads his case to the son who turned him in.” It is most definitely worth your time.
b. Quite simply, Eli Saslow is the best storyteller of very serious things in America today.
c. Saslow wrote about father and son sitting at the kitchen table, going over the evidence of father’s actions at the Capitol on Jan. 6, father trying to justify actions to son, and son not buying it at all. Amazing that Saslow was there to witness it.
d. Saslow wrote:
They’d spent almost three years relitigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, trying to make sense of what that day meant for their relationship, for the country and for the future of American democracy. Now another divisive presidential election involving Donald Trump was less than a year away, and they were still staring at the same screen and interpreting different realities, each of them coming away with more questions than answers. A.J. searched the video for clues as to how the single father who’d been an advocate for the homeless and supported A.J. when he came out as gay had become the man pressed against police barricades alongside Proud Boys and neo-Nazis. Brian studied his son’s reactions and tried to understand how the one person he trusted most — who he had put in charge of his home and his finances when he left that day for Washington — was also the person who’d turned him in to the F.B.I.
In July, a federal judge found Brian guilty of 11 charges related to the riot, including four counts of assault against law enforcement officers, stealing riot shields and obstructing an official government proceeding. Lawyers told him to prepare for the possibility of several years in prison, but first he’d been sent home to await a sentencing hearing in January. He had at least a few more months to try to put his life in order and make amends with the people he loved.
He took out a blank piece of paper and drew a diagram of the National Mall, the Peace Circle, the Capitol building and the food truck where he stopped that day for lunch.
“Because of course you needed tacos to storm the Capitol,” A.J. said.
“What, you expect me to overthrow the government on an empty stomach?” Brian joked.
e. The stuff about how the son came to decide he needed to turn the dad in … riveting. That’s putting it mildly.
f. We’re in a pretty serious time in this country, and it doesn’t go away by putting your hands over your ears and pretending things either didn’t happen or ignoring that we’re facing a monumental next year in the history of the country.
g. There’s not really much of a segue from that.
h. Beer Can of the Week: Stealing Signs Hazy Pale Ale, Saucy Brew Works (Cleveland). You can always count on brewers in football hotbeds like Ohio to come up with clever digs.
i. Beernerdness: Went out for a post-Thanksgiving beer Friday and had the Chuckanut Kolsch German Ale (Chuckanut Brewing, Burlington, Wash.). I can see why it’s won a bunch of awards. Tasty, light and incredibly easy to drink. I had a couple of Kolsches on my trip to Germany this month, and this topped both.
j. The site of said beer, Third Place Books in the Seward Park neighborhood south of Seattle, is one of the best bookstore/cafes I’ve seen. Warm and welcoming. Beer and bar food (tater tots recommended). A jillion beers on draft, books on two levels, excellent kids section for books and learning toys. I’ll be back.
k. Coffeenerdness: Olympia Coffee in Columbia City, south of Seattle.
l. Congrats, Steve Johnson, on a rich, winning and important 34-year head-coaching career at Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn. Johnson took a perennial loser and won 251 games in 34 years, and molded players into good people. “I can’t put into words the impact that he’s had on me,” offensive line coach Chad Richards said. “It’s a transformational experience—just the way that he runs his program, the way that he treats his players, the way that he treats his staff. He loves us.” Isn’t that how any coach would want to be remembered?
m. I see Maurice Clarett wants to fire the Ohio State coach, Ryan Day, who is 56-7 during his Columbus tenure, including 1-3 against Michigan. Here’s an idea: Instead of firing a coach who’s won 89 percent of his games, can we have maybe a 10-day cooling-off period instead of 10 minutes?
n. And then can we please not fire a coach who is 56-7?
o. I saw only the final five minutes of the game, but man was that a bad decision by Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, under heavy pressure, to throw a pick into triple coverage with less than a minute to play.
p. Did Auburn actually have a, you know, defensive plan on fourth down and forever, single-covering the leading receiver on Alabama with only three rushers rushing, and giving Jalen Milroe seven seconds to wait-wait-wait and find Isaiah Bond for the game-winning 31-yard TD?
q. Crime Story of the Week: Eren Orbey of The New Yorker, with a headline and tag line that describes the story so well: “Piecing Together My Father’s Murder: I was too young to remember what happened to my dad, and no one explained it to me. So I tried to assemble the story myself.”
r. Wrote Orbey of his dad, a Turk who settled his family in the United States and was killed on a trip back to Turkey:
Much of what I knew about my dad I learned on the Internet. When I typed his name into Google, the first suggested search term was “cinayet,” which an online dictionary informed me was the Turkish word for “murder.” A short obituary in the Boston Globe noted only that he’d died, on vacation in Ankara, “at the hands of an intruder.” The phrasing seemed to me strangely intimate, as though someone had suffocated him in a tender embrace. Like my mom, he’d been a professor of chemical engineering. He was eulogized in one scientific journal as “warm and decent,” with an “easygoing, modest, and upbeat personality.” He sounded nothing like me, an odd, caustic child who preferred horror movies to Saturday-morning cartoons. When my mom drove us around, I made a point of leaving my seat belt unbuckled; in the event of a deadly crash, I didn’t want to be left behind.
s. Must be darned frustrating when no one in your family wants to know the truth except you.
t. Answer to the quiz in number 4 of Ten Things: Three Pro Football Hall of Famers. The 88th pick was Florida A&M wide receiver Bob Hayes, who went to Dallas and sped his way to Canton. Number 89: Wichita State tackle Duane Charles “Bill” Parcells, who didn’t have an NFL playing career, but he won two Super Bowls and took four teams to the playoffs as a head coach. Number 129: Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, who, because of his military commitment in the Navy, entered the NFL as a 27-year-old rookie in 1969.
u. Staubach will be in the column next week when I tell the story of one of the most interesting football games ever played.
v. I really need to find out an answer to this question. Someone out there in college athletic administration must know the answer: How can some of these college basketball holiday tournaments be even remotely profitable—and how can they continue?
w. Some posted attendances at college tournaments over the Thanksgiving weekend, with the attendance listed first (and keep in mind, if some figure like “100” is listed, you should be dubious that 100 people were really there to watch):
x. Happy 50th, Jon Runyan. And happy 73rd, Don Strock.
Meh six-bye week, coming off a bye-less Thanksgiving weekend of games. When Aidan O’Connell and Tommy DeVito get the weekend off, there goes the schedule.
Seattle at Dallas, Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Amazon. One of the quirks of the schedule surfaces here—the Seahawks and Cowboys playing two straight Thursday games (Dallas two straight Thursday home games), and this doesn’t count as a short-week game because it’s a regular-rest week for both. Highlight for me in this one: the physical Devon Witherspoon matching up against CeeDee Lamb. Also notable: Seattle’s in the midst of a brutal quad-box of games: Niners, at Cowboys, at Niners, Eagles. Those two losses to the Rams could end up crushing Seattle’s postseason dreams.
San Francisco at Philadelphia, 4:25 p.m., Fox. Maybe Brock Purdy gets to finish a start at Lincoln Financial Field after he lasted one series 10 months ago. Purdy was four of four in the NFC title game when his elbow blew up on a hit from Haason Reddick. I’m not saying the Eagles would have advanced to the Super Bowl had Purdy made it through that game. But I am saying the outcome wouldn’t have been 31-7 if Purdy played the whole game, not just six snaps.
Eagles, 2 and 0
v. KC, Bills. Now Niners.
No rest for the best.