1. I think Bill Belichick paid proper homage to Larry Fitzgerald the other day, saying he might go down as the best ever before he's finished playing. Not saying he will or he won't, but I'll make the point I talked with Fitzgerald about on my first podcast of the season a couple of weeks ago: Fitzgerald is 29. He's been very healthy. He wants to play a long time. On Sunday in Foxboro, he was held to one catch for four yards, giving him 698 for his career -- 851 behind Jerry Rice's 1,549. If anything holds Fitzgerald back, it will probably be the quarterbacking inconsistency a player like Rice never had to deal with in his prime.
2. I think the Chicago offensive line -- and the Bears trotting out many of the same characters on it week after week, year after year -- defines the great Albert Einstein quote: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Football fans who watched the Bears the other night had to wonder, "When are these idiots going to do major surgery on that offensive line?"
The Bears felt they had three priorities in the offseason: get a big receiver or two, get a young pass rusher to take some of the heat off Julius Peppers and get a building block (or two) for the offensive line. Those were new GM Phil Emery's goals and here is what I wrote about what they did in May in this column, about the significance of fixing the line on the heels of the work the team did getting Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey at wideout and Boise State rusher Shea McClellin:
" ... Just as important, I believe (and maybe more) is the state of the offensive line. Emery, when he took the job, did a needs analysis of the team. He felt he needed to get weapons for Cutler. He felt he needed a pass rusher opposite Julius Peppers. He felt he needed offensive line help. 'We just didn't feel, at the time we picked, that the list of players on the offensive line was as good as the players elsewhere,' he said. You can't solve every problem in the same offseason, and Emery has certainly addressed two need areas with good prospects and one good (if his head stays on right) veteran wideout. But the success or failure of the Bears could come down to how well they run -- assuming Forte is that runner -- and how well Cutler is protected, so he can be the premier quarterback he's shown signs of in Chicago. Emery has done well so far, but a lot of teams look good in May. His report card will come when we see how the offense produces.''
There is no question in my mind that Emery felt Jeffrey was the kind of jewel he couldn't pass up, especially in comparison to the second level of the tackle class -- guys like Mike Adams and Bobby Massie. That doesn't make what you're feeling any better this morning, however, Bear fans.
3. I think David Shaw of Stanford is the leader in the clubhouse for the hottest NFL coaching candidate from college football come January.
4. I think, however, I wouldn't be taking Matt Barkley out of your 2013 draft top five just yet. Or your top one. I know nothing, and watched most of the second half of the USC debacle Saturday night during which I questioned some of Barkley's decisions. But his offense line is hapless. Absolutely terrible. The left tackle shouldn't be playing at a Juco.
An NFL coach or scout will ask Barkley at the Scouting Combine next February, "Why couldn't you beat Stanford in four tries?'' Guarantee it. And when he does, if I were Barkley, I'd say all the right things. "Yup, it's something that really bothers me,'' and "I needed to make more plays,'' and "The responsibility falls on me." But somehow, I'd find a way to let the coach or scout know that in those four straight losses, USC's defense gave up 42 points a game. There's only so much one man can do.
Having said that, Barkley didn't play well Saturday night, and though he was pretty consistently under pressure, that's a game he needs to do better than 20 of 41.
5. I think this is what I liked about Week 2:
a. Mike Mayock's right. That Tim Jennings, the small corner for the Bears, is a heck of a player.
b. Good camera work by NFL Network, capturing Jay Cutler reaming out J'Marcus Webb (smiling stupidly) on the sidelines in the second quarter Thursday night.
c. Green Bay fullback John Kuhn's picture-perfect, put-it-in-a-time-capsule tackle of Devin Hester on a third-quarter punt return.
d. Fantastic punch out by Charles Tillman, forcing the Jermichael Finley fumble.
e. How smart, the play by Jordy Nelson to dive down at the 45 while the Pack was trying to run the clock out with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter instead of getting two or three extra yards and bolting out of bounds. Nelson knew time was more valuable than yards at that point.
f. The headline and lead from ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith after former Bucs offensive lineman Ian Beckles was busted Friday night for improper touching of a police horse (apparently while intoxicated). The headline: "Ex-NFL player Ian Beckles arrested in altercation with police horse." The lead: "In what is believed to be the first case of ex-NFL lineman-on-horse crime since Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles,' touching a police horse got former NFL player and current sports talk radio host Ian Beckles arrested." Fine work, Mr. Smith.
g. Good job by the Patriots, inducting Troy Brown in the team's Hall of Fame. He was Wes Welker before New England dealt for Wes Welker -- Brown in 2000-02: 281 receptions -- and he went on to be a legitimate nickel corner for Bill Belichick. One of Belichick's favorite players ever, and that is saying something.
h. Jacoby Jones, with a perfect move on Nnamdi Asomugha, and a well-lofted throw by Flacco. That's the way to throw a touchdown pass right there.
i. Steve Smith shuts out traffic and makes tough catches as well as anyone in football.
j. Doug Martin is a big-league running back. What a great move on his touchdown end sweep against the Giants.
k. Houston's running back depth. Ben Tate gave the Texans six yards per touch Sunday at Jacksonville, and Arian Foster ran for 110 yards. And so it goes for a team that should be playing deep into January.
l. Seattle's special teams. Michael Robinson forced a Dallas fumble on one kickoff, and Malcolm Smith blocked a Cowboy punt.
m. Russell Wilson's efficient 75 percent passing day, on the heels of a shaky opener.
n. Frank Omiyale. Remember him, Bear fans? Now a backup Seattle tackle, he helped hold down DeMarcus Ware with regular left tackle Russell Okung out with a bone bruise in his left knee.
o. A good comeback day for Brandon Weeden, the worst of the rookie QB starters last week. In Cincinnati, he was an efficient 26 of 37 for 322 yards, with no turnovers. Pat Shurmur will take that game every week.
p. Good to see Trent Richardson (19 carries, 109 yards) run well for the first time in his NFL career.
q. Nice ceremony by the Chargers, honoring the late Junior Seau by retiring his number.
r. Good scoop, Chris Mortensen, with the story of the NFL yanking the side judge off the Saints-Panthers game Sunday because he was a Saints fan. As I said on NBC Sunday night, NFL VP Ray Anderson told me official Brian Strapolo "will still be an official for us. He just won't be assigned to a Saints game from now on."
6. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 2:
a. The Bears not targeting Brandon Marshall for the first 35 minutes Thursday night. Not acceptable. Not smart.
b. Jay Cutler bumping J'Marcus Webb. Not smart.
c. Awful pick by Drew Brees early at Carolina. That's something you never see, a pressured Brees taking way too big of a chance. Whatever he had with Sean Payton, it's missing now.
d. You're not going to get many more chances to catch touchdown passes when you miss one like that, Will Beatty.
e. Absurd lack of control in the Eagles-Ravens game by the officials, particularly after an obvious shove-down by Anquan Boldin, then what appeared to be taunting by Vonta Leach, then an offsetting penalty call for what was more than a shoving match between DeSean Jackson and Ravens cornerback Cary Williams. Jackson threw a punch. At some point, you've got to throw someone out -- and this crew should have done that.
f. Leaving Michael Coe without safety help against Vincent Jackson. That's a losing game plan, Giants.
g. "There is no love lost between these teams." Keep hearing that. Stop the cliché madness, announcers.
h. The phantom pass interference call late in Jets-Steelers on Ike Taylor. I mean, there were so many shaky calls Sunday. This one was one of the worst.
i. An inglorious start to the Steve Spagnuolo's reign in New Orleans. The Saints D has allowed 68 points so far (not including the interception return, of course).
j. Kansas City at New Orleans next Sunday. Someone's going to be 0-3 after that one -- someone whose season will be over in September.
7. I think we're seeing an early emphasis on offensive tight ends, and how to cover them, in the season's first two weeks. Dennis Pitta of the Ravens could be the latest tight end to emerge as a star. And teams will continue to value safeties who can cover far more than they valued the same safeties five or seven years ago. "I think that's where the game has been going, and is going even more,'' said Tampa Bay coach Schiano. "With the tight ends being so athletic, who do you cover them with?''
8. I think if football is going to have a long life from here on out, youth coaches are going to have to be better, and more conscious of the latest intelligence on safe teaching techniques. That's why it's good that USA Football has come up with an app for youth coaches, parents and players on concussion awareness, proper coaching methods and the right equipment. Find it here.
With an estimated 3 million kids playing organized tackle football before high school, and 420,000 coaches teaching it, the standards should be raised across the board. "Youth football is fragmented and chaotic, and we're trying to get our arms around it,'' said USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck. "We have to make sure it's a safer game, and we have to make sure parents know that. We can do that by implementing safer practices.''
9. I think, as you know, I'm not much of a fight fan, and I'm totally in the woods on Mixed Martial Arts. But there's a good story this weekend, when Jon Jones fights at UFC 152 in Toronto. The story: There are three Jones brothers. Arthur, 26, is a defensive end with the Ravens. Jon, 25, is the fighter. Chandler, 22, was the Patriots' first-round draft choice last April, and is starting at defensive end.
Jon will fight sometime after 11 Saturday night on pay-per-view and, win or lose, will get on a plane Sunday morning for Baltimore. That night, Jon will watch Arthur and Chandler play each other in Baltimore. Jon told me the other day he didn't play much football "because I stunk ... I was 6-4 and about 170 in high school, and I had the frame to be a wide receiver, but I couldn't catch.''
Imagine telling your mom you're not getting into the football business, but the cage-fighting business instead.
"Yeah, my mom and dad were totally against it. My mom said she thought she'd have to take care of me the rest of my life,'' Jon Jones said.
I asked which sport was more dangerous. "Football's a lot more dangerous,'' he said.
I don't know about that. If you're kicked in the head in football, there's a helmet. Anyway, interesting family story in Toronto and Baltimore in a 24-hour period this weekend.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I want to be Chris Matthews when I grow up.
b. The Big Least ought to disband.
c. If you grew up in Connecticut, which I did, you understand the affection for Jim Calhoun, even though he had a good bit of horse's ass in him. Nobody in Connecticut ever won anything big in sports. I mean, there never was anything big in sports until Calhoun copped national titles at UConn. So Godspeed into retirement, Jim Calhoun.
d. Schedule Oddity of 2013: Yankees play at the Red Sox nine times in 58 days next year, and never until after the All-Star break.
e. Having spent five baseball seasons in Cincinnati, a hotbed of National League tradition, I think it sure will be strange to see an American League team, the Angels, open the season in Cincinnati on the first day of the season next April.
f. Watched a good bit of the O's-A's Saturday night while writing, and I know baseball wants a new stadium in northern California, maybe in Santa Clara, for the A's. But the spirit and drums and cowbells and the chants ... not sure any of those will follow with the same volume and intensity to a more expensive venue down the coast.
g. Derek Jeter, 38, has more hits than Willie Mays, more singles than Honus Wagner, more doubles than Babe Ruth, more triples than Kirby Puckett, more home runs than Joe Torre.
h. Saddest thing about the baseball playoffs, however: Say Oakland wins 95 games and wins the first Wild Card spot in the American League. Say the A's beat out the Angels by six games. So the one-game AL Wild Card playoff would be in Oakland. By my very imprecise calculations, Jered Weaver could be in line to start that one game. This year, Weaver has allowed one run and 14 hits in 29.2 innings against Oakland, probably the best individual performance by a pitcher against one team in three or more starts this year.
If Oakland has a typical day against Weaver, the A's are out. Poof! Just like that. That's why I detest the one-game Wild Card playoff. Always have, always will. It's cheap and patently unfair to consign your entire season to three hours after playing 162 games and rightfully earning a playoff berth with the second- or third- or fourth-best record in baseball.
i. Anybody see the Ben Zobrist-to-Ryan Roberts-to-Carlos Pena double play Saturday? Wow. Roberts bare-handed the backhand toss from Zobrist, just as he was pirouetting to avoid the breakup slide of Alex Rodriguez. Just an incredible play.
j. Buster Posey, in two months since the All-Star Break, is batting .390 with 50 RBI. How's he not the MVP?
k. Ohio Bobcats, 3-0. Tyler Tettleton, 7-0 TD-to-pick differential.
l. Two two-point conversion backward-pass/forward-pass by Western Kentucky ... classic.
m. Did Erin Andrews really say, at 8:15 Pacific Time on a Saturday night, after Stanford stunned USC at Stanford, that the overjoyed and partying-hard Cardinal students wouldn't be attending classes tomorrow? I should hope not, unless class was held in the chapel.
n. Coffeenerdness: I know I'm way too partial to Starbucks Italian Roast, but trust me on this one. Without two huge cups this morning between 3 and 7:30, this column would be 1,000 words shorter and much less brilliant.
o. Beernerdness: A trip up to South Windsor, Conn., to see my niece Laila run cross-country for the South Windsor Bobcats (go Laila!) allowed me to try a Hartford beer, which I believe is a first: City Steam Blonde on Blonde Pale Ale. And may I say, wow, that is one bitter beer -- but in a good way. A very good pale ale, brewed about 18 miles from my boyhood home. Good job, City Steam.
p. Mark Twain once said the best thing about writing is having written. I believe the best thing about running is having run. That comes after an eight-mile training run Saturday for the Hamptons (N.Y.) Half Marathon on Long Island Sept. 29. I'm running to help ALS victim Steve Gleason, the former Saints' special-teamer, raise money to build an ALS Residence in New Orleans, and if you'd like to contribute to help me reach my goal of $50,000, here's the site.
q. I'm going to get emotional if I start thinking about all of you who have contributed to the cause thus far. We're 54 percent there, at just under $27,000, but there are only 12 days left to get to 50 grand, so there's still work to do. I'm humbled that so many have helped. I'll try not to break an ankle on the 13.1-mile run, and if I do, I'll crawl to the finish line. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
r. Amazed at the reach of my SI NFL podcast. In the past week, I've heard from people in six countries (that I know of) saying they were listening to Greg Schiano, Mike Mayock and Dan Pompei in the last week. Got a direct message on Twitter from a Llyr Gravell in Wales Sunday, saying he'd listened while walking his dog on a beach in Wales. What a world.
s. Bruce at the Meadowlands Wednesday. Tempting. Very tempting.
Each week, I'll credit a media member for a job well done, then pick the game of the night.
At first, it seems to be a dumb idea,the Packers trading Greg Jennings in the next month, by the trading deadline. Think about it: He's been hurt, the Pack likely won't re-sign him because of the huge money involved, and there are a few teams (Miami, Seattle, San Diego, most notably) that might give a second-round 2013 pick to get Jennings in the fold this year and start building the offense of the future. The story is worth your time.
Denver 33, Atlanta 24. I think back to the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, in Indianapolis, on a Saturday night around 11, and Matt Ryan shows up for an interview with me in a gray suit, light blue Oxford shirt and dress shoes, and I think: Never seen anyone who reminded me so much of Peyton Manning.
Ryan approached the talk with me, and with a bunch of NFL teams earlier in the evening, as a business interview. I reminded Mike Mayock of NBC and NFL Network of that this week, and Mayock knew what I was saying. He's know Ryan since he was a Philly-area high schooler.
"When he came out in the draft, the reason I had him so high is that I felt like he was the closest guy from a mental aspect, from a mental toughness, from a Type A, control perspective, [as] Peyton Manning,'' Mayock said. "That's his makeup. His makeup is, You can't outwork me. Give me more and more responsibility because I'll embrace it. You can talk to his teammates back at Penn Charter High School, at Boston College, the Atlanta Falcons, they will all say he's the toughest guy they've ever met and the hardest working guy they've ever met.''
That'll help tonight, but unless he can cover too, and defend against Peyton Manning, I don't think he can do enough, even at home, to beat the great Manning.
It's gone far enough,
games with replacement zebras.
Please: Don't make us beg.
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