MMQB Mail: One inspirational fan, McCown gets his big break
Cardinals fan Jason Taylor's story serves as an inspiration to everyone
Ryan Fitzpatrick is showing signs of being a legitimate NFL quarterback
The Redskins' passing game looked much better in the Shanahans' second year
Pyrotechnics galore over the first weekend, and we'll see if that becomes a trend, or a one-week phenomenon. I'm surprised Tom Brady threw for 517 yards last night. I'm stunned Chad Henne threw for 416. We'll be watching to see if spreading the field becomes the way of doing business on three downs, not just third.
For today, quick hits on three things: Luke McCown finally getting his chance, Buffalo on the rise, and a fan you're going to love. At least, I'll be surprised if you don't.
I'll begin with the story of Jason and Mandy Taylor.
Not that Jason Taylor. This one's a 33-year-old Cardinals fan who I met on the sidelines of the Packers-Saints game at Lambeau Field last week. Cardinals president Michael Bidwill introduced Taylor and his wife, Mandy, to me. They were there to take the Cardinals flag hoisted on the field that day back to the Cards' home opener Sunday.
"You should talk to Jason,'' Bidwill said to me. "He is one inspirational story.'' I met the Taylors and then spoke to them by phone on Saturday.
Just after midnight on the morning of March 26, Taylor, a speaker and recruiter for a Phoenix college, walked out of a bar in Glendale, not far from the Cardinals stadium, to hail a cab, leaving Mandy inside. Outside, he met two men smoking cigarettes, and he made small talk with them. They were talking about serving in the military. "I always wanted to do that,'' Jason said, but life took him on another path. If he ever did serve, he said, he'd have wanted to be a Marine, because he so admired their ideals.
At that moment, one of the men pulled out a pistol and shot Jason Taylor in the head.
Taylor had been standing with the men for 30 seconds, max. The other man in the trio said Taylor's comment was completely innocent. That's all he said. For that he was shot in the skull.
The shooter, Jeremiah Pulaski, a 24-year-old Arizona man recently back from Army duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, fled on his motorcycle. Police eventually located Pulaski on his bike, and he died in a firefight with a police officer, who was not hit. Pulaski's parents told police they believe he was suffering from war-related stress.
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Taylor lay on the street, gravely wounded. Mandy heard the pop of the gun and rushed out. "Somehow,'' she said, "and it was like an out-of-body experience, but people were rushing inside because of the gunshot, and I went out and saw him, and I had the presence of mind to call 911. Then a couple of people took me back inside because they didn't want me to see Jason like that.''
Doctors spent three hours removing most of the exploded bullet from Taylor's brain. "They got most of it,'' Mandy said. "They had to replace part of his skull with a sort of bridge, made of silicone and titanium. That was the longest three hours of my life, but they got as much of the bullet as they could.''
For days Jason lay in a coma. They didn't know when he'd awaken. Finally, about 13 days later, he woke up. A nurse gave him a greaseboard and pen to write, so he could communicate, because he couldn't speak.
"WHAT HAPPENED?'' Taylor wrote.
Mandy told him the whole story. She told him how long he'd been out, and what the doctors did.
Then he asked for board again.
He wrote: "APRIL 15 -- DEADLINE FOR CARDINALS TICKETS!''
"He put an exclamation point on it,'' said Mandy. "When he did that, my family thought, 'Oh, he'll be just fine.'
"It's funny. We had our season-ticket form from the Cardinals at home in the stack of bills, and I knew how much Jason loved the Cardinals. I didn't know what to do. You know, how is Jason going to be by then? I asked my mom, 'Should I pay this? Are we even going to be able go?' ''
Jason Taylor barely remembers it. "I love the Cardinals so much, and we've had so much fun over the past few years going, and getting to know the people in our section. It's like a little community. We're friends. And when I found out what day it was, I just figured I wanted to be sure we kept the tickets.''
The Cardinals, of course, were floored when they heard, and when the story was reported, eloquently, by columnist Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic. In the middle of the lockout, Boivin wrote: "Most fans see this league as more than a corporate entity. It's a friend. Now is no time to abandon them.''
The Cardinals put players, Larry Fitzgerald and others, in touch with the Taylors. Long-snapper Mike Leach and his wife hosted the Taylors at training camp in Flagstaff this summer. And Bidwill invited them to the NFL's kickoff game in Green Bay. When I met Taylor, he was smiling like a 7-year-old on Christmas morning. Then he brought the flag on the field Sunday, before the opener with Carolina. The team he loved so much loved him back.
Jason Taylor is rehabbing these days, hoping to get in mental and physical shape well enough to resume his recruiting life for Brown Mackie College. "I'm about 70 percent right now,'' he said, "and I hope to get back to 100 percent. I've got some memory issues, and balance issues -- big time. It'll take a while, but I'm determined. It's hard. I read where 92 percent of all people who get shot in the head do not survive.'' He played poker Saturday night for the first time since the shooting; that's his big leisure activity. That, and the Cardinals.
What makes his story compelling to me comes next.
"How do you feel about the shooter?'' I asked. "Are you angry?''
"No,'' Taylor said, and he started to laugh. "I think I'm about the only one who isn't. One of the people treating me said to me, 'Eventually you'll have some anger about this, and it's natural when you do.' Except I haven't. I don't think I will.''
"Why?' I said.
"Because it can't help me get better.''
He paused then. "It's pretty hard to be mad at the guy,'' Jason said. "He was obviously tormented by something. He was probably having the bad day of all bad days.''
Besides, he said: "I don't want this to define me as a person, or to define my life. Getting shot outside a bar is not going to be the biggest thing in my life. I want to be a great husband and father and do something good in my life. And I will. I really don't see this as a negative. I see this as something I can learn from, and will learn from. I won't spend a lot of time using negative energy on it. It just can't help me.''
I just thought you would be helped by that today. I know I have been.
Luke McCown knows this might be his last chance to show he belongs. The Jaguars thought so much of McCown, a 30-year-old journeyman with one previous career starting victory with the Browns, Bucs and Jags, that they didn't even play him in the third preseason game of the summer last month. So a week ago today, he wasn't sure (but wasn't thinking the worst) when coach Jack Del Rio called him into his office. "I had no idea,'' said McCown. "Maybe he was going to ask me my opinion on something.'' Nope. Del Rio was telling him David Garrard was being let go, and now he -- McCown -- was the starting quarterback. Not the rookie bonus baby, Blaine Gabbert. But McCown, who hadn't started a game in four years.
He came through very well as a game manager/drive-starter, completing 17 of 24 for 175 yards, with no touchdowns and no picks, in the Jags' narrow opening win over Tennessee. "My chance is here, albeit in a funky kind of way,'' McCown told me Sunday night. (Interesting: a starting quarterback using the word "albeit.'') "I don't know if I can put into words what it means to me, but the way I look at it is like a Bible verse that means a lot to me. It's Proverbs 16:9: 'A man's heart plans the way, but the Lord directs his steps.' So that's what this opportunity means to me.''
McCown knows he's a caretaker for the unprepared Gabbert, but he also knows he's auditioning for 31 other teams at the same time. There are worse things in life than being a career NFL backup. "I've trained myself over the last seven years to prepare every week like I'm the starter, because you never know what's going to happen in a game. I talk through situations with the other quarterbacks every week and just get my mind right, whether I'm the starter or not. My routine didn't change last week.'' Now he'll have a chance to stave off Gabbert ... as long as he keeps playing turnover-free and directing a good ball-control offense.
I told you the Bills are dangerous. I keep hearing reasons why a 34-point win at Kansas City is cheap. The Chiefs stink, they came out of the lockout unprepared, blah, blah, blah. Sorry. Not buying it. I don't care how bad the Chiefs looked this summer, and how awful they were Sunday. A 34-point road win in the NFL is a big deal. And watching the eminently underrated Ryan Fitzpatrick lead it, I'm convinced more than ever that Fitzpatrick has a chance -- a chance, now, not a guarantee -- to be a long-term starting quarterback in the NFL.
"Fitz is so smart,'' Chan Gailey told me. I guess he should be; he went to Harvard. "I can tell him anything once, and he executes exactly the way I want. You don't have to hammer things into him, he just gets it. And I don't know if he told you this, but he said this game was the first time he's ever finished by kneeling in the victory formation.''
What's impressive to me is how Fitzpatrick has taken a group of lightly regarded college receivers -- Stevie Johnson (seventh round, 2008), Donald Jones (undrafted, 2010), David Nelson (undrafted, 2010), Marcus Easley (fourth round, 2010), and tight end Scott Chandler, a waiver pickup from Dallas last season -- and merged them with veteran speedster Roscoe Parrish. All Fitzpatrick did in Kansas City was go 17 for 25 for 208 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. "No one out there knows how talented those receivers are, but I do,'' said Fitzpatrick. "I know they can perform on this level.'' As, we're finding out, so can Fitzpatrick.
Now for your email:
FIRST BASHING OF THE YEAR ABOUT THE FINE FIFTEEN. "I can't believe I'm about to argue over power rankings, but I read MMQB every week for knowledge and insight and I really need some help understanding how you got to your inaugural Fine Fifteen. Atlanta at #10 and New Orleans at #12? Really? Both teams played on the road. New Orleans lost by 8 points to the Super Bowl Champions, your top ranked team, and had a chance to tie it at the end. Atlanta lost by 18 to Chicago, your 4th ranked team, and was really out of the game by the 3rd quarter. Chicago ran up 377 yards of offense against Atlanta's defense. Green Bay, widely regarded as the most prolific offense in the NFL, managed only 22 more yards against the Saints. If the criteria is 'Who would win on a neutral field if the teams faced each other,' I don't see how you can possibly have the Falcons in your Top 10 and two spots ahead of the Saints, and I especially don't see how saying 'I go by what I see' explains it. Can you make sense of this for me? Is it possible you're letting your Super Bowl pick influence 'what you see?' ''
-- Alan, New Orleans
Very possible. And Alan, don't feel like you're the only Fine Fifteen nerd to have complained about my placement of the teams. Here's how I made my picks (and don't say "by throwing darts''): simply by gut feel, and not based solely on what we saw in Week 1. I had great faith in the Falcons this summer, and that faith wasn't dashed by one poor performance in the first game of the season. If they play poorly for a second week in a row, that will influence me quite a bit, obviously. But I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I figured, if I like both of these teams, and I like the Falcons to win the Super Bowl, I'm not going to let one road loss against a tough defensive team drop them way down. Re: the Saints, they could well be a better team than Atlanta. But they have some defensive holes they've got to fill.
GOOD POINT, FRAN. "I noticed one person missing in all the media mentions of NFL ceremonies running up to and during 9/11. Maybe it's because his death, and the ensuing coverup, were so shameful and messy. But he gave up his career -- and his life -- because of 9/11 and because of his sense of honor and duty and idealism. And while everyone was waving flags yesterday and all that, I was hearing him screaming his last words on that ridge in Afghanistan: 'I'm Pat ----ing Tillman!' ''
-- Fran Fried, Fresno
HE LIKES MIKE. "I watched part of the Washington game on Sunday and had the thought; how did we forget that Mike Shanahan has been a really good coach for a very long time? That team looked a LOT better than I expected.''
-- Ken; Edna, Texas
Agreed. The combo platter of the Shanahan father and son, along with Jim Haslett's aggressive defense, might be the right tickets for the 'Skins. Let them play a few games, but that passing offense, which took advantage of a porous Giant secondary with all of its injuries, looked better than I thought.
A COMMON THEME THESE DAYS. "Re: Manning being out nearly all season. Indy has put itself into this position of not having a viable backup to Manning. As stated many times in many articles, Manning has started every game for 13 years. And Indy never thought that viable backup might be needed? They never seemed to pursue someone who could fill in for Manning. Andrew Luck won't be available when Indy picks next April, unless they have a REAL bad season, which I don't believe they will. Collins is no Manning but still very capable. They'll get it together and be mid-pack or better (just not what they'd be with Manning under center). Also, your comment about Manning winning the MVP without playing is exactly how I felt when Tom Brady went down for the 2008 year. But Matt Cassel filled in more than adequately, because the Pats knew Brady going down at any moment was a real concern. Seems like Indy didn't take heed.''
-- Kevin Bedard; Wesfield, Mass.
I've written that Colts GM Chris Polian told me in camp the story of a veteran quarterback who the team was negotiating with to be Manning's backup. The guy (I don't know who it was) told the Colts, in effect, that if he went to Indy, he knew he's be going there just for a paycheck and not to play. As he said, "I'd just rust there.'' So understand that there hasn't been a line of good quarterbacks wanting to play there. Could they have done better than Curtis Painter? Yes. And they should have. But they thought Painter was better than he has turned out to be. So it goes.
STEELER NATION CHECKS IN WITH A SLIGHT TAUNT. "I was curious how the Steelers beat the Ravens in every game that matters and have been in three Super Bowls since 2006, but a week one win was revenge or got the monkey off the Ravens back? Call me when the Ravens and Flacco win one in January.''
-- Bill, Pittsburgh
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