Watching week one of the NFL season reminds me of the years when I was 8 or 9 or 10 and I went through a phase of telling my mother—when she asked what I wanted for Christmas—“Surprise me.” You think she’s going to get you Stratego or Monopoly, or the 1967 Ford Mustang model that takes a day to build. And what shows up? The Carl Yastrzemski-model bat and a new ping pong paddle. Cool, and I had no clue.
(Move along, old man.)
This was an engaging week one, with the usual surprises. The Browns, those pesky little elves, totally embarrassed the richest man in NFL history in a rivalry rout of the Bengals … and the 49ers, after an offseason of torment, looked like the Montana-to-Rice Niners in a 10 a.m. body-clock game in Pittsburgh … and the Rams (projected to win, what, three games this year?) unveiled two receivers available in 100 percent of every fantasy league in a beatdown at Seattle … and Jordan Love out-Rodgersed Rodgers, putting up 38 to beat the hated Bears at Soldier Field … and my goodness, Dallas totally undressed the Giants … and Tua Tagovailoa, under the microscope for months, played damn near a perfect game, finishing it off with a Picasso of a pass.
The Dolphins putting up 36 points and 536 yards wasn’t the most amazing thing about this day. But what impressed me so much about Miami was this: Week one’s usually an adjustment week, a stop-and-start week after prime-time players skipped the preseason games and haven’t played hard in eight months. But this was one of Tua’s best games at any level, ever. That was impressive. This game just felt so significant, even giving up so much ground to the Chargers in a 36-34 win at SoFi Stadium, because Tagovailoa has been such a lightning rod and no one knows if he can stay healthy for 17 weeks. Here, Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked, wasn’t abused, threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. He was in command. You could just see it.
An hour after the game, Miami coach Mike McDaniel was on the team bus to the airport for the long trip home. He had five minutes.
“What’d you say to Tua after the game?” I wondered.
I was sure McDaniel would praise him to the heavens. His answer, to me, showed he doesn’t have to do that. Tagovailoa is self-assured enough that he doesn’t need pump-up words from his coach, and a win over a defensively shaky team in week one is not a January win. Or a February win.
“I told him, ‘This is gonna be a fun season. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s keep pressing forward.’ You know? That’s really it. Just because he’s in such a good spot. The best thing in the world for a guy like that is to take control over things in his life and that’s all he’s done since last offseason.
“People were scoffing at him about jiu jitsu. He understood the value of it and really, really put a lot of time into that. (Jiu jitsu study helped Tagovailoa learn how to fall and do less damage to himself.) He put time into his body. He knew exactly what he wanted and he’s taken control. He’s in a spot where he’s not vulnerable to too much success and having a big head. I’m telling you, this is the most mentally-tough dude that I’ve ever been around. And the most coachable. It’s gonna be fun to watch him play, them play, and see what they’re able to do with this season.”
McDaniel was almost done.
“‘Adversity is an opportunity’ is like our mantra,” he said. “This was a good day to prove that.”
Names of note on the first weekend of the NFL’s 104th season:
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati QB. Yikes: One day after becoming the highest-paid player in the history of the NFL, Burrow played the worst game of his pro career in Cleveland. The 24-3 loss to the Browns was Burrow’s 50th NFL start, and he had career-lows in yards (82) and passer rating (52.2). No sign that the calf injury that wrecked his summer bugged him, but Burrow looked stale. “Nobody’s panicking in here,” he said after a defeat stunning in its decisiveness.
Jalen Carter, Philadelphia DT. Take a victory lap, Howie Roseman, for getting Carter ninth overall last April. How about this for Carter’s NFL debut, per NFL Next Gen stats: In 32 pass-rushes at Foxboro Sunday, Carter had a sack and six pressures as the Eagles held on to nip New England. (I can pretty much guarantee that Howie Roseman won’t be taking a victory lap about this.)
Rookie QBs. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson: 0-3.
Coaches with new teams. Shane Steichen, Jonathan Gannon, Sean Payton, DeMeco Ryans, Frank Reich: 0-5.
Bobby Wagner, Seattle LB. He’s 33. He was supposed to be an ornament on a Seattle evergreen this year in his 13th (and perhaps final) victory-tour year. When I asked him three weeks ago if he thought he still had a great year in him, he said very quickly: “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I?” Chapter 1, Sunday in Seattle: 19 tackles, the most of any player in 15 games this weekend.
Jordan Love, Green Bay QB. Well now, here’s a big test right out of the chute. Aaron Rodgers owned Chicago and won his last eight Packers starts against the Bears, by an average of 13 points a game. Chicago was reborn, full of vim and vinegar to open a season with Sears Tower-sized hopes. The result: Pack by 18 … Love with the highest passer rating (123.2) of the NFL weekend.
Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco RB. Big question around the time of the big trade from Carolina last October: Would McCaffrey—who missed 23 games due to injury in 2021 and ’22—hold up and be worth second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks? Watch the 30-7 win at Pittsburgh in the season-opener, with McCaffrey’s power and speed and in-line toughness, and tell me he wasn’t worth a five in 2024 and overall picks 61, 93 and 132 this year. With 169 rushing-receiving yards, a healthy McCaffrey was at peak effectiveness. And, by the way, he’s played in 21 of 21 games in the past 12 months.
YouTube TV. In the first Sunday of Sunday Ticket not on DirecTV, YouTube aced the test. The streaming quality was great, the quadbox feature was pristine (though you can’t choose your own games—you’ve got to take what YouTube provides), and overall the sound and picture were consistently strong. Quibble: Quadbox not available on desktop or mobile. I don’t think people should be beefing about the choice of games on Quadbox. You don’t get to choose what game/games are shown on RedZone either, and that’s a great product.
Matt Patricia, Philadelphia senior defensive assistant. After 16 years coaching in New England (interrupted by the dubious 2.5-year interlude in Detroit), Patricia was the beneficiary of the league’s sense of humor on opening weekend. Patricia finished his time with the Pats last year coaching Mac Jones, who regressed significantly as an NFL soph. Now a senior defensive assistant with the Eagles, Patricia, presumably, had say in an Eagles’ gameplan that frustrated Jones early and pressure4d him throughout.
Frank Steratore, side judge. The rookie side judge on Craig Wrolstad’s crew, debuted in Soldier Field at the Packers-Bears game. Yes, cousin of Gene Steratore, the retired ref and CBS rules analyst.
Joe Buck/Troy Aikman, ESPN announcers. They start their 22nd season together tonight, beating the Madden-Summerall team (21 years) for longest-tenured booth in league history. The longtime Fox number one team begins a second ESPN season on “Monday Night Football” with the Aaron Rodgers Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Neither guy seems close to the end either. Buck is 54, Aikman 56, and they could put the record pretty far out there if they choose.
SOG, Same Old Giants. One game might be too early to say that, but the total debacle Sunday night (being shut out, giving up 7 sacks amounting to 47 lost yards, turning the ball over 3 times, allowing 2 defensive/special teams TDs) set the stage for continued frustration in New York. The Jints are 1-12 against Dallas since 2017, and 2-11-1 in division games in the last 24 months. As they say, it’s not a rivalry if you can’t beat a team, and the Giants can’t beat Dallas or Philadelphia right now.
Aaron Rodgers, N.Y. Jets QB. This is the day the Fireman Eds of the world have waited for since—well, maybe not since the prime of Joe Namath, but for a long, long time. Erin Andrews asked Rodgers about his anticipation of playing his first post-Packer game at 39 tonight when the Bills come to the swamps of Jersey. “There’ll be a lot of butterflies,” Rodgers told Andrews. “But it makes you feel like you’re alive.”
Pretty strong end to week one.
I didn’t see Baker Mayfield and the feisty Bucs going to Minneapolis and beating the Vikings, and I didn’t see the Giants pulling the no-show of the year. But three games surprised me a lot.
Browns 24, Bengals 3.
No very good team got embarrassed the way the Bengals did this weekend. Imagine if Deshaun Watson played well instead of playing a C-minus game, bouncing balls in front of receivers the way he often did in his forgettable six-week run late last season. If he was peak Deshaun, this would have been 40-3, not 24-3. There will be time to dissect Watson. This is the week to praise a marauding defense and its new coordinator, Jim Schwartz, for making Joe Burrow and a great offense look so bad.
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, the Browns preferred to emphasize coverage against Joe Burrow in his previous five meetings against Cleveland. In those five games, Cleveland blitzed Burrow 18 percent of his pass-drops. Seeing that the Browns were 4-1 against Burrow, why change? And considering that last season Burrow was the second-best quarterback in the league against the blitz—with a 114.7 passer rating—it seemed logical that the Browns would rush with four, try to get pressure with Myles Garrett winning his battles, and let a fortified back end cover Cincinnati’s strong receiver group.
But Schwartz didn’t do that. Obviously wanting to see whether Burrow—who’d been sidelined six weeks with a strained calf—could move normally in the pocket, the Browns sent more rushers. Per Next Gen Stats, Schwartz sent extra rushers on 13 of Burrow’s 33 pass-drops, or 39 percent. Smart move. Burrow wasn’t immobile, but as he said afterward when asked about his calf: “It was good enough.” Code phrase for “still not great.” And this was Next Gen’s most revealing number about Burrow: His average speed when on the move out of the pocket is between 16 and 18 mph. On Sunday, his average speed was 15.85 mph. Not terrible, but the fourth-lowest in his 50 NFL games … and a possible sign that this calf could nag him for a while.
“Our main focus,” said linebacker and defensive captain Anthony Walker, “was to change up looks on him. We wanted to make it as cloudy as possible for him, and then obviously get some hits on him and get him off his spot. I think that’s what this blitz was able to do. Our plan wasn’t really, you know, pressure, pressure, pressure—but just change up the picture.”
The clinching play of the game saw Cleveland rushing just four, up 16-3 with 10 minutes left, and the Bengals with a last gasp. On fourth-and-four from their 31-yard line, the Bengals slid extra protection to the right in running back Trayveon Williams to help tackle Jonah Williams against Garrett. Good concept. But this play is why Garrett is a prime Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He swam past Jonah Williams, then swatted away Trayveon Williams and went on the hunt to the right of the pocket for Burrow. The QB had zero chance. Down went Burrow. Loss of 13.
“You can’t coach that,” Walker said. “You can’t coach that energy. That took whatever life they had away.” One more series, and Bengals coach Zac Taylor raised the white flag. He took out Burrow.
This slap in the face might be a one-off, or it might be a sign that Burrow’s not near whole; the Bengals may have to make him purely a pocket player. But with a line that’s been leaky at times, that may present its own problems. Not the best time to see a team that knows the Bengals so well, Baltimore, come to Ohio for the home opener Sunday. That game’s going to answer a lot of questions about how effective Burrow’s going to be able to be this year.
Rams 30, Seahawks 13.
All summer, there was a rebuilding vibe around the league about the Rams. Rebuilding, with three keystone vets—Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp. When a hamstring issue sent Kupp to IR last week, the vibe shifted to Uh-oh. With strong playoff contenders on the schedule in September—at Seattle, Niners at home, at Cincinnati—the Rams looked to be a lot closer to Arizona and the bottom of the NFC West than to San Francisco and the top.
That’s the thing about week one. There’s been a crapload of talk and no playing for eight months. How can anyone really know what kind of team anyone has?
Who on earth could have figured a previously invisible 2021 second-rounder, Tutu Atwell, and this year’s fifth-round pick, Puka Nacua, would have twin 119-yard receiving games. Nacua, from BYU, is a lithe, 6-2, 205-pound strong route-runner with okay speed but an intense love of the game. Crazy for a rookie’s first game in the NFL: 15 targets, 10 catches, 119 yards. “This is football heaven for me,” Nacua said after the game. Those in the locker room said he couldn’t stop grinning and laughing.
“I’ll say this,” Stafford told me from the locker room. “Every year is a new year. Until you go out there and play the games, there’s always a little bit of the unknown. For us as a team, I was really confident in the guys that we were gonna go out there and play with. Whether that was gonna end up in a 17-point win, I can’t tell you that I knew that was gonna happen. But I definitely felt that if we just played the way we’ve been playing in practice, we were gonna have a good shot.
“Puka’s come in and we’ve asked him to do a lot. Every time we put something more on his plate, he does a great job making it come to life. Obviously has great run-after-catch ability and he’s a physical player. The game makes sense to him, if you know what I mean. And he grinds. I trust him.”
The Rams outgained Seattle 426-180. Stunning, too, was the Rams’ five second-half drives: TD, field goal, TD, field goal, field goal. And the 39 minutes of possession time. It all reflected what Sean McVay tried to institute this off-season—a more physical style of play in practice. For the Rams to win, McVay knew he’d have to be able to use multiple styles of play, particularly in the run game. The Rams rushed for a modest 92 yards Sunday, but the 40 rushing attempts chewed the clock and helped limit the Seahawks to 46 offensive snaps, 18 or 20 below the NFL norm. Smart coaches know sometimes you’ve got to play clockball. And McVay’s a smart coach. If week one is any indication, the Rams could be one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams.
49ers 30, Steelers 7.
Best team in the NFL after 15 games: San Francisco. (Hard to say Dallas, because of the Giants’ incompetence.) The Niners went into Pittsburgh for an early game, rushed for 188 yards, played efficiently and mistake-free in the passing game, held the ball for 37 minutes, sacked Kenny Pickett five times and intercepted him twice, and got a great all-around game from Brandon Aiyuk.
It’s not a surprise San Francisco won. It’s a surprise they dominated what appeared to be a physically imposing team with a deep defensive front. And the Niners did all this after a strange summer—trading Trey Lance out of nowhere, promoting Sam Darnold to backup QB, not signing franchise edge rusher Nick Bosa till 48 hours before the opener. But some teams can function well in a bubbling cauldron. Kyle Shanahan certainly can.
I mentioned Aiyuk. What a game he played. He caught an easy eight-yard TD pass from Brock Purdy in the first quarter—the corner slipped—and then physically battled cagey vet Patrick Peterson for a second touchdown, a contested 19-yarder in the second quarter. But his play of the day came on Christian McCaffrey’s 65-yard TD run in the third quarter. When McCaffrey broke free at the line, Pittsburgh safety Damontae Kazee loomed about 12 to 15 yards past the line—until Aiyuk broke past McCaffrey and absolutely snowplowed Kazee to the ground.
“Christian or anyone say anything to you after that play?” I asked Aiyuk.
“He told me, ‘Bro, I saw that. I love you,’” Aiyuk said. “You know, that’s kind of cool on a deep run, especially when it leads to a touchdown. When we do something like that, it’s always cool when see it [on film] in the receivers room.”
That’s the style the 49ers have become known for under Shanahan. It’s a physical, unselfish style. You might remember GM John Lynch telling me in training camp that the Niners have changed the style of receiver they’re looking for. They’ve gone away from the 4.35 guys, sacrificing speed for physicality.
As Lynch said: “Every one of our scouts could tell you we wanted separators. That was huge for us. But then, the league evolves and people start holding and playing physical on the separators. The response to that became Deebo Samuel, a guy who’s thick and strong and powerful. We kind of started playing bully ball because what you realize in today’s football, power and oomph kinda translates.”
That’s the way the Steelers have traditionally played. On Sunday, the 49ers beat the Steelers at their own game.
You really don’t need a more expansive headline. Mort, of course, is Chris Mortensen, the 71-year-old NFL insider, the first-ever NFL insider at ESPN who announced his retirement last week. He said he decided to do so after his 33rd NFL draft in April, and kept it under wraps until this month.
As someone who, years ago, was in competition with the original insiders—Will McDonough and Mortensen on TV, Fred Edelstein in a weekly faxed or mailed newsletter (sounds quaint now, but Edelstein mattered in the late eighties and nineties)—I learned this was a tough and highly competitive business. Mortensen battled McDonough on the network pregame shows and had his share of wins. I always thought the difference Mortensen made was in his team-player ability as the NFL coverage grew into a giant at ESPN. On draft telecasts, he might have been 85 percent sure of a pick, but he wouldn’t call it unless he felt he had it impeccably sourced. “One of the five most influential hires in ESPN’s history,” longtime NFL producer Fred Gaudelli said last week—and he should know. Gaudelli hired Mortensen to cover the NFL at ESPN in 1991. Look where ESPN is now in covering the biggest league in sports. It’s a trailblazer, and Mortensen’s reporting and counsel to legions of producers, on-air talent and young and influential reporters like Adam Schefter was crucial in paving the way.
Mortensen battled stage IV throat cancer seven years ago, and his health continues to be a priority. He hasn’t been specific about his reasons for stepping away, and other than a brief statement last week, has said nothing and has not been available to discuss his decision.
This is how people in our business feel about Mortensen: In 2016, he was deep into treatment for his cancer. On March 6, a Sunday morning, at 7:03, he tweeted from his “@mortreport” account that Peyton Manning would announce his retirement the next day. Seventy minutes later, one of his major rivals, FOX’s Jay Glazer, tweeted this:
“Happy for Peyton Manning riding off on his own terms … happier that @mortreport kicked my ass on this story!”
An officiating debacle.
The NFL is lucky that the continued ignored infractions of Kansas City right tackle Jawaan Taylor didn’t cost Detroit the game Thursday. The 27 million people who watched Detroit-Kansas City in the opener saw Taylor consistently break the NFL rule of how deep he can line up behind the line of scrimmage, and at least occasionally break the rule for false starts; he began his pass- or run-sets a split second before the snap of the ball more than a few times.
The way officiating works in the NFL, when either of these things happens, an official is supposed to warn the player and his coach about the violations. An official might say to Taylor, You’re lined up at least a half-yard behind what’s legal, and if you do it again, I’m throwing a flag for it. NFL rules say the helmets of guards and tackles “must break a vertical plane that passes through the beltline of the snapper.” As one NFL rules analyst told me over the weekend, “I’d be surprised if Taylor was legal on one snap all night. He was a good yard-and-a-half behind the snap of the ball.”
The down judge and line judge are responsible for policing these calls. What’s amazing to me is that one of these officials Thursday night was line judge Carl Johnson, a 21-year veteran official and the NFL’s former VP of officiating. How he and down judge Frank LeBlanc let those things slide most of the night is something the NFL can’t be happy with. No way it continues.
The Patriots honored Tom Brady at their season-opener Sunday against Philadelphia, an emotional ceremony on the first September Sunday Brady, 45, hasn’t been under contract to an NFL team since 1999. There were lots of memories about Brady’s immense contributions to the Patriots’ six Super Bowl wins in his career there.
He had an impact elsewhere. Just a few months ago, on Jan. 8, Brady threw his 649th and last regular-season touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. It was the only TD catch by Rudolph in his final season of play—and the 50th of Rudolph’s career.
Though Rudolph was personally disappointed in his 12th and final season in the NFL, he took a lot from it. What Rudolph learned from Brady:
“I went to the Bucs to try to win a championship with the best QB ever, who wanted me in Tampa. I came in with expectations, and then never even played. (Figuratively. Rudolph played 79 snaps in nine games as a Buc.) I was a healthy scratch most of the year, and, honestly, it was really disappointing.
“But my experience with Tom was incredible. First, the way he treated people. The way he treated the Glazer family [Bucs owners] is exactly the way he treated the janitor at 6:30 at night when he and maybe one or two other guys were the last players in the building. Second, the way he treated his teammates. Tom had an empty locker next to him. I would look over there and every day, guys would put helmets, jerseys, pictures, footballs, all the stuff they wanted Tom to sign for them. There’d be notes on the stuff, a post-it note on a football—‘Sign this for Jimmy, it’s his birthday.’ At the end of the day, almost every day, he’d sit there and sign everything.
“If anyone had the right to sometimes be an a—hole, it was Tom. He never was. Think of how tough a year it was for him off the field. (Brady was in the throes of a divorce.)
“For me, he was such a great teammate. I went to Tampa to play with him and to win a Super Bowl. It just didn’t go the way I wanted it. But all season, he’d put his arm around me and keep me positive. He made me a better football player, not because of the games, but because of the practices Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. When you’re a 33-year-old former Pro Bowler playing scout team, you’ve got two ways to go. You can be bitter and a distraction, or be a hard worker and try to get better every day. He said to me, ‘Keep working, keep working, I’m gonna give you a chance, I’m gonna get you the ball.’ I think he was appreciative of how I went to work. And when I look back on it now, I can’t tell you how much I loved Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
“So we’re in Atlanta, last regular-season game of Tom’s career. And on the first drive of the game, I’m on the field, and he throws me the last TD pass of his career, his regular-season career. It was a big catch for me—my 50th touchdown in the NFL. That ball’s painted and in my office here in Tampa right now. It means so much to me.
“The most amazing thing to me was, with all the negativity swirling around his life outside of football, he never carried it into the building. Always positive. I didn’t think it’d be possible when I walked into the team to be more impressed with Tom. But I was.”
In my 40th season covering the NFL, I’m doing video look-backs at some of my favorite stories. This week, it’s an odd one. (Well, many of these are, actually.) This memory, 16 years old, comes from Peyton Manning’s first of two Super Bowl victories in February 2007. But it’s not from the game. It happened two days before the game. I was the pool reporter assigned to Colts practices, which were being held at the Dolphins’ training facility in Davie, Fla. The pool reporter is assigned by the Pro Football Writers of America, watches practice, and writes an only-the-facts-ma’am report of what occurred. Who practiced, who didn’t, and a post-practice comment or two from the coach. I’ve always loved being the pool reporter, because it gives you a view into six hours of practices for one of the teams in their biggest week of the season.
In this week, it also gave me a view into what Manning did with the 128 league-assigned game balls and 16 helpers after the Friday practice. The view was exceedingly Manning, anal to the max:
Offensive players of the week
Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami. There is no more explosive combination in football than Tagovailoa to Tyreek Hill (11 catches, 215 yards), and the 36-34 win in LA over the Chargers was so tantalizing when Dolfans dream of this combo platter for a full season. Tua threw for 466 yards behind an offensive line that was under fire before the game but kept him clean all day. A terrific debut for this quarterback and this team—and don’t worry, new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio won’t let his unit allow 34 points too often, if ever, the rest of the year.
Brandon Aiyuk, wide receiver, San Francisco. Opened the scoring at Pittsburgh with an easy eight-yard touchdown pass from Brock Purdy. Opened the second quarter with a contested 19-yard touchdown catch in the end zone on Steelers corner Patrick Peterson. But Aiyuk’s best play of the day was a crunching, crushing block on Steeler safety Damontae Kazee, about 12 yards into Christian McCaffrey’s 65-yard scoring run early in the third quarter; without the block, McCaffrey likely would have had a nice run, but with it had a game-breaking TD. For the day, Aiyuk had eight catches for 129 yards.
Defensive players of the week
Jessie Bates III, safety, Atlanta. Twice baited the top pick in the draft, Bryce Young. Twice timed his jump ahead of the intended receiver perfectly. Twice picked off Young with throws the Carolina quarterback will be agonizing over when he sees the film. (I’m sure he’s seen both 16 times already.) Superb veteran plays by the former Bengal, who signed the big $16-million-a-year deal to jump to Atlanta in March.
Osa Odighizuwa, defensive tackle, Dallas. On a night when the Cowboys tormented Daniel Jones consistently, Odighizuwa had two sacks, four QB pressures and four tackles. The Dallas defense is deep.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Amani Hooker, safety, Tennessee. On the first kickoff of the Titans’ season, Hooker made one of the memorable plays of week one. With Saints kick-returner Rashid Shaheed trying to sprint by coverage up the left side, Hooker made contact with him near the 20-yard line—and tackled Shaheed by the football. The officials missed the turnover and called it Saints ball. But Hooker really did rip the ball out. Amazing: First play of the season, Mike Vrabel throws the challenge flag, wins, the Titans take possession and get a field goal on the first series of the year—thanks to Hooker.
Goat of the Week
Kadarius Toney, WR, Kansas City. Name one non-QB (and maybe even include QBs) who cost his team 10 points or more in week one. Toney handed Detroit rookie Brian Branch a pick-six. Then his wide-open drop with 2:45 left in Lions territory wrecked KC’s chance for a gimme go-ahead field goal or maybe the go-ahead touchdown.
Coach of the Week
Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Cleveland. “The story of the day was our defense,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said after his defense suffocated the Bengals. The Bengals have finished the last two seasons sixth and eighth in the NFL in scoring, and their first-half drives ended punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. The Browns blitzed Joe Burrow all day, which is a Schwartz trademark. Great debut with the Browns for the veteran defensive coach.
--Seattle QB Geno Smith, caught by a field mic in Rams-Seahawks with Aaron Donald running full-speed at him.
--Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, to Colts rookie QB Anthony Richardson, who took a beating in the Jags’ 31-21 win Sunday, via Zak Keefer of The Athletic.
--Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who infamously called the Browns “Elves” during the week, after Elves 24, Bengals 3.
--CBS play-by-play man Andrew Catalon, at halftime of Bucs-Vikings, with telecast partners Matt Ryan and Tiki Barber alongside.
Matt Ryan, first game in the booth after a decorated 15-year NFL career, and the score “28-3” is mentioned.
Catalon couldn’t have chosen 27-7, maybe?
--Miami coach Mike McDaniel, on the comeback story of quarterback coach Darrell Bevell, as told by Jori Epstein of Yahoo Sports.
Bevell, recovering from a detached retina, had to spend multiple days coaching while lying on his stomach, unable to stand upright while his eye healed during training camp.
--Mitch Rales, one of the new owners of the Washington NFL franchise.
Personally, “Washington Football Team” was really growing on me.
Big contract news last week, with the Nick Bosa and Joe Burrow deals. Burrow’s deal, for $55 million per, was the next step in the quarterback hopscotch game. But Bosa’s deal blew me away. He eclipsed the highest-paid edge guy in the game, T.J. Watt, by $6 million a year. Nick Bosa’s the NFL’s first $2-million-a-game defensive player. The evolution of the edge-rusher market is fascinating to me. Per Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com, how the average salary of edge player has risen by nearly 80 percent in just over five years, since Von Miller held the throne on New Year’s Day 2018:
Top-of-edge-market increase over seven years: 78.2%.
You never want to make too much about one game, particularly one game that’s the first of a 17-game season. But I’m going to make an exception for the New York Giants after the worst performance by any team in week one.
The Giants are 0-8 against Dallas and Philadelphia since December 2021.
Average margin of loss: 19.6 points.
First two major-college starts:
Patrick Mahomes, 2014, Texas Tech: 40 completions, 502 yards, four TD passes.
Shedeur Sanders, 2023, Colorado: 69 completions, 903 yards, six TD passes.
New England is 25-27 in the post-Tom Brady Era.
I slept in the Detroit airport Friday night.
Well, two white lies in that sentence:
1. I didn’t sleep—maybe got 90 minutes of nappage.
2. It wasn’t Friday night. It was the early hours of Saturday morning.
How does it come to pass that a 66-year-old man, a business traveler for 43 years, a fairly respectable human who appreciates the finer things, sleeps scrunched up in an airport seat at gate A-54 in the Detroit airport? A few things had to go waaaaay wrong. Weather in Detroit and New York contributed to my late-afternoon Delta flight home to LaGuardia (I was in Michigan for a funeral) being delayed and then delayed some more, until finally it left around 8:40 p.m. Packed plane. We got somewhere over central Pennsylvania, started circling, and the pilot came on and said the New York airports were closed because of weather and we’d have to head back to Detroit. Oh. We landed around midnight. I tried to get a room at the Westin inside the airport, but it was full.
First I had to see about getting home Saturday. No flights till late Saturday night, Delta said. So after 45 minutes on the phone with Delta, on-hold, off-hold, looking at flights to Philly and Hartford, I booked a Saturday morning flight to Philadelphia, scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m. Then I got on the Amtrak site and got a seat on the 10:25 train to Manhattan. By that time it was 1:40-ish. Booking a hotel, finding the van, schlepping to the hotel—what time would I be in bed? Three? For 2.5 hours of sleep? Skip it. I found a power outlet, sat at gate A-54, and decided to do 15 minutes of writing before closing my eyes. I could get my Jets-Bills Monday night note done.
Flashback: Around 6:30 p.m., I’d gotten a Caesar salad with a Bell’s Oberon (gotta support the Kalamazoo beer when in Michigan) in the restaurant next to my gate. Robert Saleh called. I’d reached out to talk to him about the emotion of coaching on 9/11 (his brother was in one of the towers that day and survived; that’s further down in the column) and how it changed his life—and, of course, about the electricity of the looming Monday night game with Aaron Rodgers on his team. I took notes in my blue 2023 season notebook that I’d used since the start of my training camp trips, finished the salad and beer, paid, and went back to wait for the (ill-fated, as turned out) flight.
Fast-forward: Now it was 1:40 in the morning, and I thought, “Get the Saleh stuff written and see if I can sleep for a bit.” I reached into my backpack, foraged … no notebook. Well, %&@#. I thought and thought, and I realized: I must have left it on the table in that restaurant. Lotta good that realization did me now.
But maybe I’d catch the very early shift at the place in the morning, and maybe someone found the notebook and turned it in, and maybe before I boarded my plane at 6:50 a.m., I’d get the notebook with all my camp notes, and the Thursday night game notes, and then the Saleh notes and quotes. Riiiiight. Odds of getting it back: 11.48 percent.
Saturday, 6:30 a.m., very much the worse for wear. I walked to the restaurant. I noted some signs of life behind the closed metal gate. “Excuse me?” I said, and a woman looked up. I told her about the lost notebook, and she yelled to someone in back, “Anyone find a blue notebook left here last night?” Negative. I said thanks anyway.
I went to my gate. A couple of minutes before boarding, this airport-y voice came over the loudspeaker: “Will the person who left a blue notebook at the restaurant next to Gate A-56 please come to the gate to claim it. Blue notebook. Gate A-56.”
I jogged over. There it was. My blue notebook.
Owe you one, karma gods.
Periodically this fall, I’ll write about football books new to the market.
This week: The NFL Off-Camera: An A-to-Z guide to the league’s most memorable players and personalities, by Bob Angelo (Temple University Press).
Over my time covering the league, I’ve tried to get as close to players and coaches at the biggest moments possible. But I’ve not come close to the access and stories of Bob Angelo of NFL Films. You probably don’t know him. Recently retired, Angelo spent 43 seasons on the sidelines and in the locker rooms and on special shoots with every NFL player, coach and executive of substance, lugging a camera on his shoulder, often the closest person to the biggest stars in the biggest moments—and also as a producer, putting together programs and stories for NFL Films. He pioneered Hard Knocks. I was intrigued when he said he was writing a book with stories about the moments he remembers most.
His stories and interviews span the history of the league. Literally. There’s a conversation with George Halas, a story with Andy Reid, and most everyone in between. One little sample I liked, from his story about Sam Wyche from the Super Bowl field after his mentor, Bill Walsh, beat him. Wyche, captured by an NFL Films mic, said to Walsh:
“That was a good game, huh?”
Wrote Angelo: “Imagine this kind of exchange today with any number of win-at-all-costs NFL head coaches.”
Angelo was one of the few in the media who got to know noted recluse Jack Lambert, the Hall of Fame Steeler linebacker. Angelo and an NFL Films crew shot him in 1986 at his football camp in Ohio. But first, a night with beer.
The Michelob flowed that night. Lambert told me about a Pro Bowl in which he glanced around a defensive huddle and counted seven other black Steelers helmets in addition to his own: “One of the proudest moments of my career.” Several beers later, he confessed that by the end of most seasons, he barely weighed two hundred pounds and that Mel Blount, Pittsburgh’s Hall of Fame cornerback, actually outweighed him.
My final Lambert encounter took place the day the Steelers played their final game in Three Rivers Stadium. Lambert was among the last players introduced. As Pittsburgh’s all-time greats took one final victory lap and Lambert approached, I placed my camera on the ground. Lambert hugged me, then said, “In case I never see you again, Angelo, it’s been good knowing you.” Colleagues standing nearby seemed stunned. “Is he sick?” they asked me. Nope! But he was through playing games. He was headed back to his country home to hunt, drink beer, and savor his solitude. That’s Jack Lambert.
Cool idea for a book in this short-attention-span world. None of Angelo’s stories exceeds three pages.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hall of Fame standards. From Brian Antkowiak: “Have you gotten the impression that the standards for induction to the NFL Hall of Fame have been lowered over the last few years? It seems to me that at least the media and the public are putting more pressure on voters to induct very good or historically memorable candidates. I think some of this may stem from members of the media wanting to be seen as sympathetic and consistently pro-player, perhaps in part to get better access to current players, perhaps as a reflection of our so-called participation trophy society.”
The standards definitely have been lowered. Look at the numbers: In 1972 to ’74, 11 men were inducted. A half-century later, from 2021 to ’23, the Hall enshrined 25. Now, it could be that the gatekeepers 50 years ago were unduly harsh. The floodgates opened with the expanded class of 2020, when instead of paying homage to the greats from the first 30 or 40 years in the league, only four of those (Duke Slater, Mac Speedie, Ed Sprinkle, Bobby Dillon) were enshrined, and many spots went to players and coaches who’d fallen short in recent years. Also, when Bill Cowher (161 wins, one title) was elected in the Centennial Class of 2020, it made a new line of demarcation that seemingly opened the door for at least eight more coaches with similar or better credentials: Tom Coughlin (182, two titles), Mike Shanahan (178, two titles), Mike Holmgren (174, one title) and active Super Bowl winners with similar or better victory numbers like Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Mike McCarthy and John Harbaugh. I think voters have to ask whether that’s what they want for the Hall of Fame.
Acknowledging reality is not bandwagon-jumping. From Bob Oberlander of Issaquah, Wash.: “I’m sad to see you jump onto the Deion Sanders bandwagon, especially based on your past comments about how NIL and the transfer portal are not good developments for college football. How Deion Sanders has built the CU football team almost totally using the transfer portal is a shame. Sanders has thrown out the concept of building a culture and team spirit and instead will have a revolving door of player mercenaries each season who don’t care about the school or program.”
Maybe. Let’s see how it goes. The reality of the college football world right now is you can understand the way it works and lean into it and try to win, or you can stand on principle and very likely lose. Sanders is in the first camp, obviously.
Why thank you. From Scott Bell: “So great to be starting another season with you. Nobody writes like you. And as a western Nebraska native, you captured more in your quotes from Amie Just’s story than anything my Facebook friends shared about that moment. You bring the feels and lead me to great content.”
So good of you to say, Scott. Amie’s story was the kind of piece I love to highlight, because it gives the reader such a you-are-there vibe.
Not a fan of the predictions, or of me. From Matt Thomas, of Houston: “Quite honestly, I could’ve drawn up your playoff predictions without opening this week’s FMIA. Baltimore easing in as a WC (so you don’t upset your Bengals faithful, I presume, you rightly picked them first). San Fran and Buffalo—one coached by your one of your favorite humans and the other QB’d by your favorite ‘hot take’ in the Super Bowl. Dallas and KC representing, as of course you have to give props to America’s Team. And of course, ol’ standby Pittsburgh toughing and Mike Tomlin-ing their way into the playoffs. Of course your counter will be Jacksonville, which represents your one deviation from one of your normal teams you cheerlead for all season so you dedicated a good portion of your column, maybe thinking this would make your column seem different from previous years. Alas, same old, same old.”
Glad you were able to crack the code, Matt. My one question: There are 9,000 choices you have for reading about the NFL; why bother reading this pablum?
1. I think Jeff Darlington’s piece for ESPN on Miami coach Mike McDaniel was most valuable for McDaniel admitting he almost lost his career because of alcohol use. McDaniel told Darlington he went to an alcohol rehab program for three weeks in 2016 when he worked for the Falcons as an assistant coach. He said he was way too concerned with his place in the pecking order of bright coaches like Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Sean McVay. What McDaniel told Darlington was raw and real. “Why am I drinking alcohol in the office on a Wednesday night, which is what was happening in Atlanta in 2015,” he said.
2. I think it’s great to see people on top of the world admit they were almost knocked off the pedestal, and that’s what I told McDaniel Sunday night after the Dolphins won in L.A. “I was fortunate to have people give me another chance,” he said. “You can make what appears to be the worst thing the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”
3. I think one thing about this story that’s important is the value of journalism. I know Darlington pretty well. We’ve talked a lot about stories. The Dolphins, like every team and every public entity, like to control the narrative of what’s in the public sphere about their team. And Darlington worked to get time with McDaniel, private time. When so many people cover a team so closely, that effort to get private time is accomplished only with consistent effort and hustle and proving to the subject that you’re the best person to do this story. Obviously, Darlington did that, and hat’s off to him.
4. I think if I’m Baker Mayfield this morning, I’m feeling damn good about winning a road game against a 2022 playoff team when everyone gave up on me.
5. I think the only thing the Giants can do now is shut up, be thankful that the next game on the schedule is out of town, and at Arizona (both very good things right now), and think back to horrible openers for teams that weren’t that bad. Probably not a bad idea for Brian Daboll to tell his team this week that in 2003, the New England season started with a 31-0 loss at Buffalo—and ended with a victory over Carolina in the Super Bowl.
6. I think Jerry Jones’ reaction to Dak Prescott being sedated for 11 hours to get a hugely involved leg tattoo was priceless: “It further explains to me why I don’t have a tattoo.”
7. I think these are my thoughts on Detroit 21, Kansas City 20:
a. Detroit deserved it, because you get what deserve in the NFL. Kadarius Toney did hand it to the Lions on a silver platter, but the Lions did so much well. They’re stout defensively, they can run with power and speed, the secondary is feisty. The Lions are absolutely not overrated.
b. Best player on the field for Detroit: Aidan Hutchinson. How fortunate for them that Jacksonville passed on Hutchinson with the first pick in the 2022 draft. After a terrific rookie year, Hutchinson in Kansas City influenced the pocket for four quarters, pressuring Patrick Mahomes seven times, per PFF. “I was thinking I’m not letting this dude get out of the pocket,” Hutchinson said afterward. That’s how it looked. Even with right tackle Jawaan Taylor getting away with false start after false start, leaving his stance early to prep for Hutchinson’s rushes, the defender still had a huge edge.
c. Jared Goff’s interception-less streak is at 359 (44 away from breaking Aaron Rodgers’ record of 402), and though he didn’t spot a wide-open Amon-Ra St. Brown for what would have been an easy TD, Goff played efficiently on 91- and 80-yard TD drives. His protection was good too.
d. St. Brown’s a marvel—202 catches now in 34 career games. Tough and physical, he’s the perfect leader for that receiver corps.
e. David Montgomery’s the tough inside runner Dan Campbell craves, but Detroit will need to feature Jahmyr Gibbs (nine touches in 70 Lions snaps) more.
f. Mahomes lost 111 catches and 1,239 yards in 2022 after the trade of Tyreek Hill; Mahomes survived that and won the Super Bowl. On Thursday, he was without Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman (213 catches, 2,568 yards, 19 TDs between them last year) and nearly survived that.
g. Big mistake, I thought, by Andy Reid, going for it on fourth-and-20 from his 35-, then fourth-and-25 from his 30-, with 2:09 left. No reason for it. Punt it there, use timeouts, make a stop, and if you succeed, you’ve got the ball back with Mahomes needing to go 30 yards or so for the game-winning field goal. Don’t get that one.
8. I think Kansas Citians bummed about week one should remember six seasons ago. KC stomped the Patriots 42-27 in Foxboro on opening night, there was gloom-and-doom all over the league about New England, and the champs responded by making it to the Super Bowl.
9. I think there’s got to be more than we know to this weird story of Chandler Jones going off on the Raiders. Bad way to start the season, and I do not think it’s meaningless at all.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. What a great event, Coco Gauff’s three-set U.S. Open championship win over Aryna Sabalenka Saturday. To have that athletic greatness, determination and post-match grace, at 19, is such a tribute to Gauff and her family. Best wishes to her for a run that I hopes lasts as long as Serena and Venus Williams’.
b. Good line by Chris Evert, as Gauff and Sabalenka dueled and volleyed and smashed and lobbed-overhead: “This is a new level of women’s tennis.”
c. Quote of the Week that isn’t in the Quotes of the Week section: Andy Reid on the new State Farm commercial, saying, “Explain it again, with those nuggees.” Reid saying “nuggees” to Patrick Mahomes and Jake from State Farm, with his right hand sneaking toward the chicken nuggets to steal them, was, well, pretty different.
d. Can’t Miss TV Story of the Week: Courtney Kube of NBC News, on Vietnam War hero Larry Taylor receiving the Medal of Honor from President Biden at the White House for an incredible act of valor a half-century ago.
e. Taylor was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. One pitch-black night, he got a call to aid four trapped soldiers, and he went up in the air toward the area in question. Kube reported Taylor used all his ammo to give support to the four trapped soldiers. They were surrounded, in an area the size of a football field. Taylor’s commanding offer ordered him back to base and out of the impossible situation, to reload and try again. But Taylor told the commanding officer to get off his radio—he was going in or these four men would not survive.
“Before I started the approach in,” Taylor said, “I thought, ‘This is a good idea.’ When I got about halfway through it, I thought, ‘What the hell am I am doing?’”
He landed under heavy enemy fire. With no extra seats, the four soldiers clung to the outside of the chopper.
Taylor got them all out safely.
Kube: “Did you get in trouble for defying the order?”
Taylor: “What were they gonna do? Send me to Vietnam?”
f. “We never lost a man. And we never left anybody behind, for any reason.”
g. Such a great American, Larry Taylor.
h. “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” going off the air is a huge loss for the sports public. So many important sports stories will go untold now. Kudos to Gumbel and his staff for so many great pieces over the years. Here’s the story of the series’ demise after 29 years, from Deadline.
i. Thirty-seven Sports Emmys! Big, big loss. I’m looking at you, Andrea Kremer. I will miss your stories.
j. One day, Jose Altuve will walk into the Hall of Fame. That day, the Houston second baseman should remember the best seven innings of his life. In the last four innings Monday night at Texas and the first three innings Tuesday night at Texas, Altuve came up six times in big, big pennant-race games against the Rangers. The results:
Monday: Home run, single, home run.
Tuesday: Home run, home run, home run.
k. Five homers in seven innings. Twenty-one total bases in seven innings.
l. Then there’s this 15-game swath for Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez, ending last Wednesday: 34 hits, eight homers, 22 RBI. Some good baseball being played right there.
m. Have you seen these (fairly) new flies all over the country? The lanternflies with the bright red body parts?
n. Science Story of the Week: Jason Bittel of National Geographic on the race to kill the spotted lanternfly.
o. How great are scientists, like this biology professor from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.? How lucky are we to have people like this prof. adding to the Spotted Lanternfly Invasion Archive, while the rest of us just go about our lives?
p. Writes Bittel:
Native to China, this striking, black-and-red planthopper showed up in the U.S. for the first time in 2014, perhaps stowed away on an international shipment of decorative stone bound for Berks County in eastern Pennsylvania. The species has also been found in South Korea and Japan.
Over the last nine years, spotted lanternflies, which use their straw-like mouthparts to slurp the juices out of trees, have colonized 51 counties within the Keystone State and established satellite populations in 14 other states, from Connecticut and North Carolina as far west as Indiana. They’ve also invaded the public consciousness. In 2020, a spotted lanternfly crawled across President Joe Biden’s shoulder at a campaign stop in Wilmington, Del. And in October 2022, the species made a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live.
As the insect spreads, it has the potential to wreak havoc on crops and other agriculture, feeding on over 70 different kinds of plants and trees in the U.S. alone. They have a taste for certain species, namely tree of heaven—also an invasive species from Asia—as well as native species, such as black walnut, several species of maple, hops, and grapevines.
q. No wonder they want us to stomp on these flies.
r. Football Story of the Week: It’s paywalled, but if you get ESPN+, Seth Wickersham on Sean Payton is worth the time.
s. Lots of nuts and bolts about what drives Payton, which is well worth it, and also a good bit on how he can never, ever forget a slight.
t. My favorite part of the story comes at the end, when Wickersham sits with Payton getting ticked off about what he sees on tape in a training-camp practice against the Rams. This is so Payton.
u. Writes Wickersham:
He tilts his chair back toward the flat-screen on the wall, finding it hard to believe anything but the worst of his team. He knows himself well enough to realize that this emotion will pass, part of a process. He hopes … He pulls out a yellow legal pad and kicks his feet up.
“All right,” he says. “I’m going to be pissed off watching this.”
Two hours pass and he utters only disparate thoughts, 10, 20 minutes apart ... Helluva throw by Russ … Horrible route … What are we doing … I hate this … clicking through plays, rewinding over and over and over. The Rams seemed more invested than the Broncos, both in the outcome and in one another. They jump and yell after a big play. The Broncos are flat. He’s frustrated about pre-snap penalties and that the receivers aren’t blocking downfield on screen passes, killing any chance of a big gain.
What troubles him more is something he sees on film but isn’t sure how to fix: It’s that the Broncos, after a bad play, are discouraged on the snaps that follow. They can’t forget …
He writes in all capital letters on his pad:
4 OFFSIDES DEF
4 FALSE START OFF
1 FALSE START ST
He walks out of his office, and into a team meeting. The room quiets when he enters. He’s at the front, looking out on the players, his tone urgent but diplomatic. He shows some slides, detailing the Broncos pre-snap penalties last year. “Let’s not lose track of the part about knowing how to win first,” he says. “We’ve gotta fix that.”
He then shows plays from today’s practice, of mental errors and lack of effort, and his calm evaporates. He starts to simmer. “You false start, I’m pulling you out. Take a lap around the whole f---ing complex …”
v. You can just feel Payton simmering.
w. This is why Wickersham is so good: He figures out a way to get inside a guy. He gets inside the guy. He witnesses the crucial nugget that explains everything about a guy and his current lot in life. He explains the nugget (in greater detail than I’ve just given). And you know, now, about a guy who is famous and what ingredients have brought him that fame.
x. Feeling guilty over the past few days about wondering why Bruce Springsteen’s concerts on this tour are an hour shorter than classic Bruuuuuuce shows. Reasons for guilt: The man is 73, for crying out loud. And he just postponed his dates for this month after being diagnosed with an ulcer. Seems that he must have gutted out his last three shows at the Meadowlands—I saw the second.
y. Thanks, Boss. I’ll be keeping that ticket stub.
z. Headline of the Week: “A Three-Legged Bear Walks Into a Bar,” from The New York Times. The first two grafs of the story are not bad either, from Christine Hauser:
A three-legged black bear wandered onto the patio of a house in Florida. He trudged by the pool. He ambled up to a fish tank and gnawed on a container of guppy food. Then he went for the refrigerator, grabbed two cans of White Claw hard seltzer and tossed away a third.
It was a typical day in the neighborhood of Magnolia Plantation — a subdivision of about 500 houses in Lake Mary, just north of Orlando — where the three-legged bear makes himself at home so often that residents have given him a name befitting a creature with just a trio of limbs: Tripod.
Kansas City at Jacksonville, 1 p.m., CBS. Pretty odd to think that Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes are at risk of being two games behind for AFC home-field in the middle of September. But that’s what’s at stake with 0-1 KC at the 1-0 Jags.
Seattle at Detroit, 1 p.m., Fox. Practice that silent snap count this week, Geno Smith. A cacophonous Lions’ home opener, combined with the irrepressible pass-rush of Aidan Hutchinson, is going to make it difficult for the Seahawks to hear and for Smith to perform.
New York Jets at Dallas, 4:25 p.m., CBS. No wonder CBS’ Sean McManus was thrilled with the NFL schedule in May. Aaron Rodgers at America’s (Ratings) Team in the first standalone doubleheader of the CBS season, and Jets-Belichick and Jets-Giants on CBS also in the first half of the season.
Today, on the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center that killed 2,996 people, one transplanted New Yorker will have an emotional and special day just nine miles from the site of the World Trade Center.
“That day changed my life forever,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said Friday. “I always replay that day. Our family was one of the lucky ones, because my brother made it. And it caused me to change my path.”
When the Jets run onto the field at MetLife Stadium tonight to open the franchise’s most hopeful season in years, Saleh will think of that day. On Sept. 11, 2001, his older brother David Saleh was training to be a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley on the 61st floor of the second tower. Luckily for David, he was able to get down the stairs to the lobby, and run several blocks before the building collapsed. At the time, Robert Saleh was 22, recently out of college at Northern Michigan, in a job he hated—a bank credit analyst. A few months later decided he had to get out.
“Sitting in a cubicle, doing a job I didn’t want to be doing—my heart wasn’t in it,” Saleh said. “Is this what I want out of life? I missed football so much, and as I reflected on David, almost losing his life at 24, 25, I just said, ‘I’ve got to do something I want to do.’”
That was coaching. He started on a winding road, 10 jobs in the next 16 years, landing in San Francisco as defensive coordinator in 2017. And onto the Jets in 2021. Two lean seasons begat this one, with Aaron Rodgers the new Jets’ quarterback, with the league making the Jets one of the NFL’s major national TV teams this year, with the Jets having a legitimate hope to break a 55-year championship drought.
“How will you feel coming out of the tunnel Monday night?” I asked Saleh Friday.
Three-second pause. “Good question,” he said. “Before games, I get chills that run through my spine. I tell my wife: ‘We’re so lucky. I get to experience almost every human emotion you can experience in a four-hour period. The ultimate highs and lows.’ What a gift to be able to do this for a living. And in this game, the electricity, hearing the J-E-T-S Jets chants, on an emotional day for New York. It’s gonna be special. Very special.”
One last thing, about this edition of the Jets. Saleh wanted to be sure to mention his GM, Joe Douglas, and the team they’ve built together. “Joe and I have worked so hard to bring guys in who are intrinsically motivated,” he said. “What I love about these guys is they’re confident—and their confidence has not been overtaken by arrogance.”
The tests start tonight, and they continue unabated for the first month of the season. Buffalo tonight. Then a trip to Dallas, then the arch-rival Patriots and then Patrick Mahomes, all in the first 21 days of the season.
Go figure the Rams.
Admit it: You never heard
Of Puka Nacua.