Middle Tennessee Builds Big Lead, Holds Off Marshall 34 28

There was still time for the Bills to come back Sunday in sleety Orchard Park, N.Y., down 24-7 to the Colts early in the third quarter. Indianapolis had the ball, first down at the Buffalo 31, and coach Frank Reich loved this play-action call, and he called it. Incomplete. Penalty. The Colts got pushed out of field-goal range and had to punt. After the series was over, Reich decided to do something no coach in modern football does, and something he never does.

“Never, never, never,” Reich told me Sunday night.

“I decided I was going to run the ball on every first and second down from there on,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Why?” he said. “Because every time we ran it, good things were happening. Every time we ran it, the pile was moving forward. And when you have Jonathan Taylor on your side, you know the pile’s going to keep moving.”

On the next 18 first and second downs, Reich was true to his words (almost perfectly). He called 17 runs on those 18 plays, and the lead ballooned to 41-15, and Taylor, mostly, bled the clock, finishing his 32-carry, 185-yard, five-touchdown day.

The Colts, in their most decisive win of the four-year Reich era, a win that catapulted them back into AFC South contention, had a 70-30 run-pass ratio while holding the ball for almost 38 minutes. Running it 70 percent of the time is unheard of in today’s football. The Colts played football the way Jim Brown and Jim Taylor used to: by imposing their will on the opponent. The Colts put up 41 points on a legit Super Bowl contender—and threw for a grand total of 106 yards along the way.

“This was an old-school football game,” Reich said.

And this was the coolest part: On the fourth play after Reich’s first-and-second-down run declaration, Indianapolis had a first down at midfield. Carson Wentz handed to Taylor, who burst off right tackle for 40 yards. First down now, at the Buffalo 10. As the playclock ticked down, Reich called another run, this time where Taylor could choose his own hole to the left. And he felt his coaches wondering, Aren’t you going to give him a break after running for 40? “Earlier in the season, he had an 83-yard run, and I gave it to him the next three plays, and we got a touchdown,” Reich said. “The coaches wondered about that, and I said, ‘If he was tired, he’d come out.’ “

The clock bled down to :03, :02, with Taylor a single back behind Wentz.

“Gotta go! Gotta go!” Wentz yelled, and the ball was snapped at :01.

From the 10, Wentz handed it to Taylor. At the 9, Taylor juked to the right of corner Levi Wallace, who went flying to the wet turf. Close to the goal line, there was safety Micah Hyde waiting for him. “That’s when you really have to dig deep,” Taylor told me from the locker room post-game. “When a play is perfectly designed, you usually have one man to beat. Here there was a second guy. So you have to fall back on the work you’ve put in, the study of that team during the week.”

Hyde’s a good safety, and here he was, waiting to end Taylor’s dance around the 3-yard line. Taylor whacked him in the helmet with the base of his right palm, a forceful stiff-arm, and Hyde went flying too, and Taylor juked to the left and scored.

FOUR TOUCHDOWNS FOR JONATHAN TAYLOR 😤 @JayT23 #ForTheShoe

📺: #INDvsBUF on CBS

📱: NFL app pic.twitter.com/e7AI8swOxd

— NFL (@NFL) November 21, 2021

Such a forceful, confident run, with a make-‘em-miss touch of Barry Sanders.

“We’re watching it,” Reich said, “and the whole sideline is saying, “Wow! How’d that happen!’ “

It happened because Taylor is as strong as he is shifty, as athletic as he is physical. The Colts are 6-5 this morning because of Taylor’s five-TD day in Buffalo, and because he has a coach willing to ride the hot hand, no matter how different the game is. Jonathan Taylor is the best back not named Derrick Henry in football, and because Henry is likely out for the rest of the regular season at least, Taylor owns the title. He is the best running back playing.

The Lead: Colts

I have more tales to tell about the NFL’s newest very big hero, and, well, I want to tell you one now, before I get to the 10 Things I Love About This Week in Football.

Indy GM Chris Ballard went to Wisconsin. He has a soft spot for Badgers. And when the 2020 draft came along, and Ballard thought he needed a franchise back, he and his scouting staff got fixated on the 5-10, 226-pound Taylor, who averaged 151 rushing yards in 41 games at Wisconsin—after, amazingly, bypassing a strong pitch from Harvard to play and study there. (Taylor was tempted.) Early in the second round of the draft, with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and D’Andre Swift gone and the Colts still seven or eight picks away from the spot they thought they’d take Taylor, 44th overall, owner Jimmy Irsay piped up.

“Uh, Chris,” Irsay, “you’ve been talking about this guy Jonathan Taylor all spring. Don’t you think you ought to go get him?”

Ballard obliged. He got on the phone, not really worried that Taylor would get plucked before 44, but understanding that a team that might love him could swoop in with a trade to get him. So he dealt his fifth-rounder to the Browns to move from 44 to 41 to pick Taylor. And everyone in the draft room, he said, exhaled.

“I’ve worked four drafts with Chris now, since 2018,” Reich told me. “And I don’t think there’s ever been a player he liked more than Jonathan Taylor.”

Okay. More Colts in a moment. But now . . .

10 Things I Love About This Week in Football

1. Houston 22, Tennessee 13. The top seed in the AFC, Tennessee, on six-game winning streak, got outplayed and out-turnovered by the the worst team in the AFC, Houston, on an eight-game losing streak. In Nashville.

2. The Patriots had a wonderful day, sitting on their couches. New England shut out Atlanta on Thursday night and had a nice Sunday, presumably. Doing nothing, they moved into first place in the AFC East. In the last five games, they’re 5-0 and have outscored foes, on average, 35-10. The Bills are 2-3 in their last five. So New England has a half-game lead on the Bills—this was supposed to be Buffalo’s time—with two December games against the Patriots set to determine a division we all thought was Buffalo’s. All of us except Bill Belichick.

3. Imagine the Bills having zero home-field edge in January. Buffalo’s the seventh seed right now, and to get to the Super Bowl, the Bills would have a road death march (at Baltimore, at Tennessee, at New England, perhaps?) to make the Super Bowl their fans were sure was in their grasp.

4. Sunday night incredulity. The Chargers led 27-10 with 15 minutes left Sunday night in what sounded like a Steeler home game. (Steeler Nation travels, even to L.A.) In the next 12 minutes, Pittsburgh scored 27 points to take a 37-34 lead. The Steelers had all the momentum. But Justin Herbert doesn’t know about no stinkin’ momentum. His 53-yard TD strike to Mike Williams won it with 2:09 to play. The Steelers have a tough playoff road: They’re the eighth seed right now, and they don’t play a team with a losing record in the last seven games of the season.

5. Colt McCoy’s a big-time winner. We’re a couple of weeks away from the 10-year anniversary of one of the most vicious hits in NFL history—James Harrison’s helmet to McCoy’s facemask, at full speed, on a Thursday night in 2011. From then to this season, McCoy drifted from San Francisco to Washington to the Giants, starting only nine games in nine seasons. This year, with Kyler Murray missing three games due to injury on the team with the best record in football, McCoy has been excellent. He’s 2-1, including road wins at the Niners and the Seahawks in the NFC West, completing 81 percent in those two games. “I feel like I’m the best player I’ve ever been,” the 35-year-old McCoy said Sunday night. “I’m just so happy right now.”

6. Could this be the end for the Packers’ QB dominance at their arch-rivals? The Packers and Vikings have been playing each other for the past 61 years. For 30 of those, including Sunday’s 34-31 Vikings win, Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers has played quarterback for Green Bay. Now, no one knows if Sunday’s game in Minnesota would be Rodgers’ last; he could force a trade after this season. Imagine you’re 35 years old, a Vikings fan, and you’ve followed them for the last three decades. You know what it’s like for the Lions or Bears to have a bad quarterback, because that’s almost all they’ve had. You have no idea what it’s like to have the Packers come to town with a bad QB. What a streak.

7. Drama in Cleveland. Baker Mayfield is mad at the world, and he’d better snap out of it after a 13-10 win over the winless Lions and mighty Tim Boyle. Next three weekends: at Baltimore, bye, Baltimore at home.

8. Tyler Huntley is a boldface name. With Lamar Jackson sidelined with an illness that had him curled into a ball on the plane from Baltimore to Chicago on Sunday, Huntley, undrafted from Utah last year, started his first game, and drove the Ravens to the winning TD in the final minutes. Chicago blitzed Huntley 28 times, but he still completed 72 percent of his throws. Though Huntley plays the running and mobile game that Jackson plays, the Ravens hope this is a one-time thing.

9. KC’s back. The 19-9 win over frustrated Dallas and Dak Prescott puts Kansas City alone in first place in the AFC West. From 3-4 to 7-4 is as much on the rejuvenated defense as on Patrick Mahomes.

10. Thanksgiving joy. All six teams playing on Thanksgiving lost Sunday. A special place will be left at the table for Chicago and Detroit, who play the opener of the Thursday tripleheader. They’re 3-16-1, combined, and we could be seeing a Tim Boyle-Andy Dalton duel. For the record, Boyle, of Detroit, played the first three years of his college career at UConn, where he threw for one touchdown and 13 interceptions.


So much drama in Orchard Park on Sunday—good for the Colts, nightmarish for Buffalo. Think of Reich. Twenty-nine years ago, he was playing for the Bills as a backup quarterback (starter Jim Kelly was hurt) in the AFC wild-card game against Houston. Buffalo trailed 35-3 in the third quarter and won 41-38. Now, think of Reich the coach, going into Buffalo as a 5-5 team struggling to stay in the playoff race. And they skunked one of the teams favored to reach the Super Bowl, the same team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

Perhaps that’s why Reich stood in the middle of his players post-game and said this:

“I know we got a long way to go . . .”

Now screaming as loud as he can scream . . .

“BUT OH MY GOODNESS THAT FELT GOOD!!!!!!!”

Then Reich was about to give the game ball to Taylor, who ran for four touchdowns and caught a Wentz pass for a fifth, when he decided he wanted to make this a family affair.

“Can we do this together?” he asked his players, who roared in approval.

They started . . . “One! Two! Three! Four! Five” in unison. And when Taylor came for the ball, the players cried, “Speeeeech! Speeeeech!”

“Like we mentioned all week,” Taylor said, “we owed those dudes something.”

Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. (Getty Images)

Taylor’s a Jersey kid. When he was growing up, he loved space and sometimes thought how fun it would be to travel through it. In high school, he was a late bloomer in football, to the point that Harvard coach Tim Murphy was convinced he had a good shot at winning a middling recruiting race for Taylor. But Taylor wanted to prove to himself he could be a great football player, and so he chose Wisconsin. “Once I got to high school and lifting weights and working at it, football grew on me,” Taylor said.

To the point that Ballard now calls him one of the five biggest offensive weapons in football. “It makes me want to go out every week and work hard so I can back him up,” Taylor said.

But 15 touchdowns now, and, barring injury, a great chance at winning a rushing title. Taylor is bright and optimistic, but he doesn’t love hearing how great he is.

“We know it’s a 1-0 mentality each week,” Taylor said. “Anytime you look too far ahead or reminisce in the past too long, that’s how you get lost in the sauce. So just understanding that we have the defending world champions coming up next week [Tampa at Indy next Sunday] and we have to take care of business to even think about our goals at the end of the year.”

But others will speak for him. “I was around Devin Hester in Chicago,” said Ballard, “and ever time he touched the ball, I thought he’d score. I’m feeling the same way about Jonathan.”

On one of Taylor’s five scores Sunday, tight end Mo-Alie Cox said:  “One play at the goal line I’m blocking and I turn my head and see him fly through the air like a f—ing superhero.” Get used to it. The Colts are going as far as Taylor can carry them.

Vikings-Packers

10

I hope Sunday wasn’t Aaron Rodgers’ last time piloting Green Bay in Minnesota. The Vikings and Packers have been playing each other for 61 seasons. The last 14 featured Rodgers starting. The previous 16 had Brett Favre playing. In the 30 times, combined, that Favre and Rodgers played in Minneapolis, the Vikings are 17-13, including a great game on Sunday. Vikes 34, Pack 31.

Vikes up 13 in the third. Pack up one. Vikes up seven. Tie. Greg Joseph field goal to win at :00. The big spot was with 2:17 left when Kirk Cousins survived a good hit to throw the touchdown to put Minnesota up seven with 2:17 to play.

Too much time left for Rodgers. Cousins knew it.

“I’ve played against number 12 enough to know that 2:17 on the clock is too much,” Cousins said from the locker room post-game. “I never feel safe against him. But then they scored right away [on a 75-yard TD pass from Rodgers], and certainly, when we got the ball back with two minutes left, you felt like it was plenty of clock.”

But Cousins threw what looked to be a diving interception to Green Bay safety Darnell Savage, and if it had stood, Green Bay would have had time to drive for a field-goal try to win the game in regulation. “The Green Bay corner took the out route by Adam [Thielen],” Cousins said. “It was actually originally my first choice, trying to rip it to Adam. The corner seemed to take that. So I just replaced him by throwing it inside to Justin [Jefferson]. I thought Darnell made a good play. In hindsight I would’ve liked to have thrown the ball higher.” Cousins certainly thought it was a pick.

Savage looked like he had it, and acted like he had it. “I was walking to the sideline,” said Cousins, “thinking the interception would count, thinking, ‘Okay, the only way we go to overtime is now the defense holds them with the field position where they were.’ “ But the officials ruled a trap, giving Cousins life. He drove Minnesota 64 yards to the winning field goal.

So the Vikings survive. At 5-5, they’re in play for a wild-card seed, in part because of the three games remaining with Chicago (two) and Detroit (one). They need to keep Justin Jefferson, the best receiver in 2020 draft, involved; he’s so tough to cover one-on-one. The Vikings would be a tough wild-card game for anyone. Getting there will be tougher than winning in the first round.

Judging A Mega-Trade

With the news that Chicago’s Khalil Mack would miss the rest of the season with foot surgery, it seems like a good time—four seasons—to pass judgment on the Bears-Raiders trade that shook the NFL on Sept. 1, 2018. The Raiders traded Mack plus second-round and seventh-round picks (originally a conditional pick that turned out to be a seventh-rounder) to the Bears for two first-round picks and third-round and sixth-round choices.

It’s so interesting to analyze the trade. The Bears thought Mack would be the missing edge-rush piece they needed to chase and compete with the Packers in the NFC North. But since the trade, Chicago has zero playoff wins and is 1-6 head-to-head with the Packers. The Bears record in the seven Green Bay-Chicago meetings prior to the trade: 1-6. The Raiders got two useable offensive pieces out of the deal—Josh Jacobs and Bryan Edwards—but in all other ways for the franchise, the trade has been a disaster.

The scorecard:

• RAIDERS: The team used the first-round picks on Jacobs in 2019 and cornerback Damon Arnette in 2020, selected wideout Edwards with the third-round pick and used the sixth as a small piece in a trade that sent Kelechi Osemele to New York for a fifth-round pick. When the deal was made, Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who had personnel control of the franchise, said if you’re going to pay a quarterback like Derek Carr franchise-player money, you can’t also pay another player that kind of money and still build a strong roster. Not true, but the Raiders chose to spend the cap money they saved by not paying Mack on a slew of players acquired in the 2019 offseason who turned out to be crushing failures: Trent Brown, Antonio Brown, Lamarcus Joyner, Tyrell Williams. The Raiders got nothing but headaches with Antonio Brown, and wasted $85 million on Williams, Joyner and Trent Brown. Hmmm . . . $85 million. That’s about what it would have cost to keep Mack for these four seasons. Three failed players cost that much for two seasons.

Jacobs is a good NFL back, seventh in the league in rushing yards since being drafted. Edwards is a good piece on the Vegas receiver depth chart (32 catches in 1.5 years), middling value for a third-round pick. But overall, surrendering Mack and the 40th pick in the 2020 draft for massive cap room and two first-round picks should have yielded the backbone of a franchise. It hasn’t.

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack. (Getty Images)

• BEARS: Mostly, they won the trade, because Mack’s production has been vital is lifting the Bears to third, eighth, 11th and 12th in yards allowed in his four seasons. And the added pick, tight end Cole Kmet, has been solid in his first 1.5 seasons. But the Bears have paid Mack $22.5 million a year in cash, on average. And, on average, Mack has been PFF’s 15th-rated edge-rusher over the past four years.

It’s hard to quantify how much a very good pass-rusher contributes to a team’s bottom line. After Mack’s infusion of energy and great play in 2018 lifted the Bears to the NFC North title, the Bears are 19-24 since. Certainly he can’t have the impact of, say, a quarterback, and he can’t make up for the Bears’ poor quarterback play in the last three seasons. But overall, I’d have expected more from the Bears than this combined record atop the NFC North since opening day 2018:

Green Bay, 42-20-1

Minnesota, 31-28-1

Chicago, 31-29

• MACK: Losers galore in this deal. One winner: Mack has played 54 games as a Bear—and made $90.1 million in these four seasons.

So many lessons:

1. Without a top-tier quarterback, acquiring a very good non-quarterback at any position is not enough to propel a team to greatness. So for the Bears, missing on Mitchell Trubisky was more of a negative for the franchise than acquiring Mack was a positive. Now the Bears will sink or swim on the Justin Fields pick.

2. The late George Young, when GM of the Giants, used to say, “Players don’t play better when you pay them more money.” Trent Brown was an okay tackle for New England in 2018. He was PFF’s 37th-rated tackle in 2018, playing for New England, allowing 37 sacks/hits/hurries of the quarterback. But the Raiders signed him to a four-year, $66-milion contract in 2019. He was a terrible investment, and reportedly undisciplined too; Vic Tafur of The Athletic reported he ballooned to 400 pounds while a Raider. The team paid him $37 million for two poor seasons—he missed 16 of 32 games due to injuries—then traded him back to New England. Investing in Trent Brown is a big reason why the Raiders gave up a top pass-rusher. These personnel mistakes make it difficult to build a team with a solid base.

3. Big trades pump energy into franchises that are treading water. But they can be fool’s gold without smart teams either building around a great new player, or using high picks to build a future. This offseason could be a period of unprecedented veteran QB trades. Deshaun Watson is likely to be dealt by Houston, and Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson might be traded too. So many of these trades—three or four high picks for a great player—look lousy for the team getting the bounty a few years down the road. The GM pulling the trigger, and the scouting infrastructure he has built, will be on the line. Houston GM Nick Caserio has never made a huge trade before, and he’s never had a single first-round or second-round pick, never mind a slew of them. There won’t be time for him to make rookie mistakes if he trades Watson.

4. Jimmy Johnson used to gather multiple picks. In most cases after the Cowboys drafted Troy Aikman first overall in 1989, Johnson would rather have had, say, the 30th and 45th picks instead of the 10th. He once told me he was more comfortable with more picks because he knew he was going to make mistakes in every draft. The Raiders were taking a chance with a character risk in 2020, Ohio State cornerback Arnette, with the 19th pick. Say they dealt that pick for similar value on the draft-trade value chart on draft weekend. The 19th pick has similar value, combined, to two Miami picks, 39 and 56. These are all pie-in-the-sky inventions, of course. But imagine the Raiders today, after using the 39th pick on cornerback Trevon Diggs of Alabama, and the 56th on linebacker Logan Wilson. Two reliable, long-term building blocks. My point: Unless it’s on a quarterback, I’m not taking character risks in the first round, ever.

The Award Section

20

Offensive Players of the Week

Justin Herbert, quarterback, L.A. Chargers. Yes, this goes to Herbert—even though Austin Ekeler scored four touchdowns in the 41-37 survival test over the Steelers at SoFi Sunday night. Hebert threw for 382 yards, ran for 90, completed 73 percent of his throws, threw three TD passes and, when the Chargers had blown a 14-point lead with six minutes left, he threw a perfect strike to Mike Williams for the winning 53-yard touchdown pass. What a game. What a player.

Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. Taylor touchdowns Sunday in the 38-15 beatdown of Buffalo: five. Dalvin Cook touchdowns this season: four. See above for more on Taylor.

Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Philadelphia. The Eagles said they were going to give Hurts a legitimate chance to stake his claim to the starting job before the 2022 offseason rolled around, with the Eagles having enough draft capital to trade for a quarterback or to move up to draft one. He’s capitalizing on that promise, and in a very big way recently. His game Sunday depicted his dangerous versatility well. He finished Philadelphia’s first two drives with 1-yard and 3-yard TD runs, got an insurance TD scamper of 24 yards in the fourth quarter, and in between threw for 147 yards without turning it over. Two impressive games in a row for the mobile Hurts.

Colt McCoy, quarterback, Arizona. What a backup quarterback. In fact, what a quarterback. In his three games subbing for the injured Kyler Murray, McCoy has won twice—both big division road games. McCoy put up 54 points in those two games, and Arizona won both by double digits. What else do you want your quarterback to do, other than to keep the train moving till the starter returns? In those two wins, McCoy completed 81 percent of his throws with zero picks.

 

Defensive Players of the Week

Kamu Grugier-Hill, linebacker, Houston. What a game for the Texans, beating the AFC’s top seed on the road, and what a game for the well-traveled Grugier-Hill. On the last play of the first quarter in rainy Nashville, Grugier-Hill picked off Ryan Tannehill at the Houston 12-yard line and rumbled 82 yards to set up a Houston field goal. Later in the first half, with Houston up 12-0, Tennessee had fourth-and-one from the Houston 31-yard line and decided to go for it. Grugier-Hill burst through the line and corralled Adrian Peterson. No gain on the play, and it stayed 12-zip at the half. He’s rangy and instinctive, and those were huge traits in the Texans’ 22-13 win.

Looooong Tannehill pick by Kamu Grugier-Hill, almost a pick-six. Shades of 2019. pic.twitter.com/BGxJbWXIah

— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) November 21, 2021

Kyle Van Noy, linebacker, New England. In another dominating defensive performance for New England, Van Noy led the Patriots in tackles (eight), sacks (two) and TDs on interception returns (one), the final one a 35-yard return with a pick from the lost-at-sea Josh Rosen in the final two minutes of the 25-0 win over the Falcons on Thursday night. Every week, five New England defenders could be in this award section, a tribute to the depth they’ve got in what could turn into a special year.

 

Special Teams Player of the Week

Evan McPherson, kicker, Cincinnati. Of the 40 players picked in round five last April (32 regular picks, eight Compensatory Picks), guess which has been the most impactful in the first 11 weeks. It’s actually easy: the fifth pick in the round, McPherson, a kicker out of Florida. He continued the strong start to his NFL career with his best day yet. Though he missed a PAT in Cincinnati’s 32-13 win at Las Vegas, McPherson connected on field goals of 54, 47, 53 and 51 yards, the best day by far of any specialist in football.

Coach of the Week

Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator, Kansas City. Dallas arrived at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday as one of the most explosive offenses in football, averaging 32 points a game, and Kansas City seemed to just be getting its defensive legs after spending the first half of the season as a very bad unit. Using varied rushes and blitzes, Spagnuolo confused Dak Prescott all game. In the first 40 minutes, Dallas had the ball eight times and managed just two field goals and just one drive over 35 yards. Remember the 2007 Super Bowl, when Spagnuolo, the Giants’ defensive coordinator, sent such different rushes all game at Tom Brady and shocked the Patriots? That’s the kind of front Prescott saw Sunday.

Nick Sirianni, head coach, Philadelphia. Sirianni gave his players an analogy about growth recently, telling them that no one sees the growth of a flower under the soil because the roots grow first, and if they’d just stick with the plan, they’d see the growth eventually. After the Chargers beat the Eagles two weeks ago at the Linc, a fan threw a bouquet at Sirianni leaving the field, and he had to be held back by security from going after the doofus. The patience is paying off, particularly on offense. The Eagles had a 33-7 lead over the Saints after three quarters and now have a quarterback who can run and pass explosively.

 

Goats of the Week

Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee. When your best player is out, your other top players need to play well to make sure the six-game winning streak doesn’t go down the drain. Tannehill’s one of those players, and he fell flat Sunday in the stunning loss to Houston. This was the 131st game of Tannehill’s NFL career, and the first one in which he threw four interceptions. Three came in the last 12 minutes, when the Titans had a legitimate chance to come back on the Texans.

John Franklin-Myers, defensive lineman, N.Y. Jets. His truly thoughtless roughing of Tua Tagaovailoa on third down at the Jets’ 5-yard line with 11 minutes left in a tie game gave the Dolphins a fresh set of downs and an easy touchdown for a 21-14 lead. It probably didn’t make the difference in who won the game, but it very well could have. This penalty happened way after the play. Just a brain lock.

Isaiah McKenzie, kick-returner, Buffalo. With the Bills down 17-7 near the two-minute warning before halftime, McKenzie took the Colts’ kick at his 3-yard line and looked to have some room to run in the cold rain in Orchard Park. But he slipped/tripped on the turf, fumbled and handed it to the Colts at the 2-yard line. Easy touchdown from there, and the Colts were up 24-7 at the half. Killer of an error by McKenzie.

Quotes of the Week

I

“For those just tuning in, too bad.”

—NBC’s Al Michaels, in the middle of a wild 41-point fourth quarter Sunday night between the Steelers and Chargers.

II

“Our offense was, certainly, you know, its own worst enemy.”

—Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel, after the Titans threw four interceptions and fumbled four times in a ridiculous loss to Houston.

I mean, the Titans outgained Houston 420 to 190 and lost by nine points. How does something like that happen, other than handing it to the opponent a bunch.

III

“Sickening. A punch to the gut. Sickening, the fashion that we lost. We had an opportunity to close the game as a defense and we didn’t … God!!!”

—Chicago linebacker Robert Quinn, after the Bears allowed a winning drive to Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley in his first NFL start.

IV

“We’re a nasty group. We want to be a-holes on the field and good guys off the field.”

—New England edge rusher Matt Judon on the Patriots defense.

He actually used “a-holes.”

V

“No one better say anything bad about Baker Mayfield after this game. I don’t think I have seen toughness like this in a while. Maybe the rest of our team should take the hint and get tougher.”

—Emily Mayfield, the Cleveland quarterback’s wife, in an Instagram post after the Browns barely beat winless Detroit.

This is NFL Week 11 Exhibit A of why players—and their wives—should never tweet or ‘gram when angry after a game.

Numbers Game

30

In the 2020 draft, the Patriots used a fifth-round draft pick on a kicker, Justin Rohrwasser of Marshall. Rohrwasser couldn’t beat out Nick Folk and eventually was released.

Last summer, undrafted free agent Quinn Nordin beat out Folk for the New England kicking job, then was put on injured-reserve with an abdominal injury before Week 1. Folk was signed to be the Patriots’ kicker, again.

That tenuousness for Folk, who had kickers imported to New England in 2020 and 2021 to beat him out, provides the backdrop for this comparison with a kicker likely headed for Canton one day, Justin Tucker.

Field-goal accuracy since opening day 2020

Folk: 52 of 56, 92.9 percent.

Tucker: 46 of 51, 90.2 percent.

Tucker is six of eight from 50 yards and beyond. Folk has made six of nine long ones in the last two years.

Factoidness

I

Per a Harris Poll, eight in 10 Americans prefer Thanksgiving leftovers to Thanksgiving dinner.

That seems off, and the Harris Poll did not call my house.

II

There is a Turkey, N.C. (population 292), and a Turkey, Texas (population 378).

III

Today is the nine-year anniversary of the Butt Fumble, Jet fans. Plan your commemorations accordingly.

Tweets of the Week

40

I

wth is this pic.twitter.com/rKkbkIHRbQ

— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 22, 2021

Warren Sharp runs Sharp Football Analysis and is an NBC contributor.

Cam Heyward had this to say after the game. Upon further review, I bet the NFL dips into Heyward’s wallet on this one.

II

I think if you had told any Cardinals fan in advance that Kyler Murray was going to miss three games, they would've gladly taken a 2-1 record with Colt McCoy.

— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) November 22, 2021

Michael David Smith is the managing editor of Pro Football Talk.

II

Baker Mayfield declined to talk to the media after the game today.

— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) November 21, 2021

Cabot covers the Browns for Cleveland.com.

Three thoughts:

1. Barring some significantly extenuating circumstances, totally bush league by Mayfield.

2. Unless a quarterback got concussed or couldn’t finish the game, a quarterback always talks after a game. Always.

3. His team won!

III

Cue the cavalcade of criticism of refs for enforcing a stupid penalty. If the speed limit is 55 and you know you’ll get a ticket if you go 56, don’t go 56. How hard is it?

— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) November 21, 2021

Tom Curran covers the Patriots for NBC Sports Boston.

IV

Michigan running back Blake Corum used his NIL money to purchase turkeys distributed today in two Ypsilanti communities in what he calls “Giving Back 2 Give Thanks” pic.twitter.com/bXSPKagiUS

— angelique (@chengelis) November 21, 2021

Angelique Chengelis covers Michigan football for the Detroit News.

 

VI

Parsons for president😂😂

— Charles Woodson (@CharlesWoodson) November 21, 2021

The Hall of Fame DB is impressed with Dallas rookie defender Micah Persons. We all are.

Newman!

You can reach me at [email protected], or on Twitter @peter_king.

On the Jon Gruden case v the NFL and Roger Goodell. From Drew Cloutier (an attorney): “Gruden’s legal team will probably get the entire database as the NFL maintained it in order to determine the ease or difficulty of isolating the leaked Gruden emails. There is a strong presumption of public access to courts records so it may be very difficult for the NFL to protect the confidentiality of most of that database. Also, when the NFL/Goodell deny leaking the Gruden emails, Gruden will pursue discovery about and from everyone else with access to those emails . . . How happy will the other 31 teams going be paying their share of the NFL’s fees if they suspect that Dan Snyder is behind the leaks? To channel the great Yogi Berra, I think Gruden has opened a box of Pandoras.”

Never thought of that, Drew, and it’s fascinating to think that if the NFL loses the case (still find that hard to believe) and has to pay damages to Gruden, you’re correct—it will be split 32 ways, in effect. I can tell you that more than a few people around the league think the leaks came out of the WFT area, and owners will be furious if they have to pay a big bill over this case.

Explaining the Elon Musk thing, in which I got angry that my Jet Blue flight was three hours delayed because of a rocket launch in Florida. From Stevan Stipanovich: “The fault lies with Jet Blue on this one, not SpaceX. The launch that messed with your flight was the Crew 3 launch for NASA that sent four astronauts to the International Space Station. The launch time was set on Sunday/Monday for 9:03 p.m. on Wednesday. Jet Blue should have known that and planned accordingly ahead of time. Knowing how these things work, I’m sure that whomever the pilot was talking with at the Ops center for Jet Blue probably tried to make it seem like it was unexpected, and the pilot, not knowing the whole story, just conveyed that information.”

Could be true. I got eight or 10 similar notes after my travel note last week. If my anger was misplaced, I apologize. But when the pilot comes on and explains something about an “unexpected” flight forcing us back to the gate to add more fuel, you take the pilot at his word. What bugs me, as well: Our flight would have passed the launch area three hours and 20 minutes before launch. Are you telling me no flights should be able to pass nearby for three to four hours before a rocket launch? What is the purpose of that rule?

The Process: Writing on Sunday nights. From Eduardo Valente, of Brazil: “Simple question on procedures: How do you operate around the possibility that your main story on a given Sunday might come out of Sunday Night Football, like this week with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs? Do you have an alternative piece developed and then wait to see how the game plays out? It would be fascinating to hear about the thought/work process.”

Hi Eduardo. Thanks for reading over the years—I appreciate your loyalty to the column. I enter most Sundays with an idea of how I think the column will go, and then I adjust on the fly. The adjustment knocks my original plan out of the box probably 75 percent of the Sundays. In this particular week, I knew my editor, Dom Bonvissuto, and I would have to be mindful of the Sunday night game, because if Kansas City either stumbled badly (again) or Patrick Mahomes reversed his slump, we’d have to respond. If not, I thought it was most likely that Seattle-Green Bay would be the highlighted game, because of the news swirling around both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. When that game ended, I arranged to speak with A.J. Dillon, figuring he and the defense were the stories of the day. I intended to lead the column with that, barring something very big in KC-Vegas. So I wrote that, and then, while noticing Mahomes going wild in the late game, I called Dom and we discussed it, and I said I thought we needed to re-route the column to Mahomes, with Dillon/Rodgers/Packers second. That’s how it worked.

I always try to think, What’s the thing I know best, or who is the player or coach I’ve spoken to who can best illuminate one of the big stories from Sunday? The hardest thing about my Sundays is the balancing act between watching the games and writing. The more I focus on the games and taking notes while doing so, the harder it is, of course, to focus on writing something worth reading Monday morning. There’s no easy way to do it while keeping the words flowing to Dom.

Thanks for reading for so long, and thanks especially for your service. From Brian Sharman, of Severna Park. Md.: “Reading MMQB/FMIA on Mondays has become as routine to me as lacing up my combat boots in the morning. After 25 years of service as a U.S. Air Force officer, this week I am retiring and transitioning back to civilian life. I did some challenging tours in the Middle East/Central Asia through the years. I always found comfort reading your piece on Monday as a distraction from whatever particular challenge I was dealing with and as a bridge to home. Thank you, Peter, for being part of my journey and the support you’ve shown to our military community over the years (USO tour, kind remarks in your writings, etc). Happy holidays to you and yours.”

How nice of you to write, Brian. Thanks. It’s so meaningful to me that this column had that kind of impact. Thank you very much.

He thinks I’m brave. From Todd Lance Abramson: “I have read a lot of awe-inspiring things in your column, which I greatly enjoy. But the most amazing thing I’ve cast my eyes upon is you not moving from your airplane seat for almost five-and-a-half hours. At age 64, how did you pull that off? Does The Elias Sports Bureau keep any records on this subject?”

Todd, I chortled when I opened your note. And yes, my 64-year-old bladder was barking, and I know it’s not the right thing to do, but I curtailed my liquid intake, with the exception of one light beer late in the flight. I have applied to the FAA for a medal of valor.

10 Things I Think I Think

50

1. I think this is how nutty the AFC pennant race has been: Fifteen mornings ago, the Raiders were prepping at their Jersey City hotel to get on the bus to play the Giants. Vegas was 5-2. Only one team in the conference, Tennessee, had more wins (six). The Raiders were a game up on Los Angeles and Kansas City, and one-and-a-half up on Denver, in the AFC West. Not exactly a comfy lead, but a lead nonetheless. Starting in the Meadowlands that day, the once-potent Raiders—playing without speedy wideeout Henry Ruggs for the first time after his apparent alcohol-fueled death crash in Las Vegas—have scored 43 points in three games, and lost them by 7, 27 and 19 points. Derek Carr: four touchdowns, four picks, low impact. Now Dallas on a short week, and they still have Kansas City and Indy on the road in the last five weeks.

2. I think I’ve heard a lot of discussion in recent days about how bad the officiating is (it’s dodgy, but not worse than in past years) and how full-time officials are the answer to this issue. I’m dubious. Over the weekend, I asked two of the people whose opinions I trust most about officiating: Would full-time officials make the craft better?

• Dean Blandino, FOX rules analyst, former NFL VP of officiating: “A lot of people don’t see it as a solution. But I think it would certainly be, from a perception standpoint, a positive. Officials wouldn’t have other jobs taking away from the NFL job. Exactly what they’d be doing all season, I am not sure. But people who spend more time on their craft are going to be better at it. Overall, I don’t think you’d move the needle all that much, but even a small improvement would be worth it because there’s so much at stake. There is no quick fix, and I don’t think this would immediately change the quality. Over time—three, five, seven years—you might see overall quality of officiating improve.

“One other thing is the opportunity to improve in the offseason. Right now, officials have a dead period between the end of the season and April 15 where they’re not supposed to be doing anything on officiating. That’s a missed opportunity that could be addressed if officiating is a full-time job.”

• Terry McAulay, NBC rules analyst, three-time Super Bowl referee: “I don’t believe it would make officiating better in any way, shape or form. The only way it would possibly improve an official’s life is there wouldn’t the stress added to your life that a full-time job adds. I used to get home from a Sunday game maybe 11 or 12 o’clock at night, and I’d be at my desk [as a computer scientist] at 6 the next morning. There really wasn’t much downtime. That really would be the only pro. A few years ago, the NFL had a program where some officials were full-time employees. [In 2017, 21 officials were hired full-time, and that number increased to 24 in 2018. I should point out that the NFL and the NFL Referees Association couldn’t agree on a path forward for the full-time officials and so the program was discontinued.] If the NFL was seeing improvements with those officials or their crews, I doubt the program would have gone away. I just think there’s only so much video you can watch, so many tests you can take. It gets to the point of diminishing returns, and I don’t think making officials full-time makes officiating better.”

3. I think if you’ve read me recently, you know I’m not a big fan of the taunting calls being emphasized by the league. But how stupid was it for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, knowing the officials are looking for any little thing to call taunting, to point at Dallas linebacker Luke Gifford as he crossed the goal line with a touchdown Sunday? That was the easiest call an official had to make in all of Week 11! It was a foolish decision by Edwards-Helaire.

4. I think the football-reporting story of the week was Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times on an accusation that Antonio Brown used a fake vaccination card. Stroud found evidence on what is suspected to be a problem around the league—fake vax cards. Wrote Stroud:

Brown’s girlfriend, model Cydney Moreau, told Los Angeles chef Steven Ruiz in a text message July 2 that Brown was willing to pay $500 if he could get a Johnson & Johnson vaccination card.

“Can you get the COVID cards?” Moreau texted Ruiz on July 2, according to a screen grab he provided to the Tampa Bay Times.

“I can try,” Ruiz responded.

“JNJ shot. Ab said he would give you $500,” Moreau texted.

The text exchange between Moreau and Ruiz does not refer to Brown by name. The wide receiver is often called A.B. by friends, coaches and teammates. Brown wanted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine card, Ruiz alleged, because it’s the only one that consists of a single shot and would require less paperwork.

A few thoughts:

a. A rep of Brown told Stroud the player has been vaccinated.

b. There are quite a few people in Brown’s past who read that last sentence and said, “Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.”

c. I am reminded of one of the great lines in movie history. It’s from Casablanca, when Captain Renault (Claude Raines) of local law enforcement in Casablanca, just before being handed his winnings by a croupier, closes down Rick’s Café (Humphrey Bogart is Rick) and says, “I’m shocked—shocked!—to find that gambling is going on in here!”

d. Stroud reported that, “To document the list of vaccinated players as quickly as possible, the Bucs would sometimes have Guerrero or others in the organization photograph the cards to send to head trainer Bobby Slater and eventually to their infection control officer.” So the Bucs very likely have the card, and of course they should have it. For those of you who have been vaccinated, you understand how easy it would be to check the validity of Brown’s card. Look at the front of your vax card. In each case, it lists where the shot was given and what batch the vaccine came from. All you have to do is contact the agency/site on the front of the card and check whether the person claiming he got a shot at that site and from that batch actually got it.

e. In my opinion, if Brown is confirmed to have forged his vaccine status, he should be suspended. And I believe a suspension will definitely be on the table, particularly since forging a vaccination card is a federal crime.

5. I think the most interesting remaining five-game stretch of the season belongs to the Buffalo Bills, and it starts Thanksgiving night. In order: at New Orleans (Thursday night), New England (Monday night), at Tampa Bay (Sunday), Carolina (Saturday or Sunday, TBD), at New England (Sunday). Five games in 32 days, all against playoff contenders or playoff locks. With three losses in the last five weeks, the Bills are in trouble and don’t have much time to figure things out.

6. I think one of those games, against Carolina, is part of an intriguing decision the NFL has to make, and will make as soon as today. The NFL has a doubleheader on NFL Network on Saturday, Dec. 18, with games at 4:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. The league has chosen five games to be in limbo that weekend, with two moved to that Saturday slot and three played on Sunday. I’d guess it’s unlikely that Jets-Miami and WFT-Philadelphia will be part of the standalone Saturday twinbill. The other three games, I’d guess, are the best candidates: New England-Indianapolis (the favorite), Las Vegas-Cleveland and Carolina-Buffalo. I’d guess the revived Patriots in primetime is an offer the NFL can’t refuse. Stay tuned for that call.

7. I think I’ve seen two episodes of “The Man in the Arena,” the ESPN+ 10-part series on Tom Brady’s 10 Super Bowl seasons, and if America wasn’t so Bradied out right now, and so worn out on all things Patriots/Brady, I’d write a lot more about it. Because the two shows I saw (Episode 3 with the win over Philly, Episode 4 with the first loss to the Giants) are really interesting and informative. The three nuggets I found compelling:

• The shows are Brady against a white screen, narrating what each season was like, with a couple of guests expanding on what exactly happened in that season. Series producer Gotham Chopra is a Patriots fan, a Brady fan, and is in business with him. “But as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, I might be more interested in the pursuit of greatness. How did this guy become the best? What were the component parts that pulled that together? That to me is the story that’s bigger than football. You don’t have to be a Patriots fan. You don’t even have to care so much about football to sort of appreciate it.”

• In Ep. 3, the guests are Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi, key players in the Super Bowl win over the Eagles. They explain something I’d never heard about that year—what made it special with the inner competition among the player-leaders who were called the “edgers.” Said series producer Gotham Chopra: “‘Edger’ was just like driving each other to the edge. It was this intense, never-ending internal competition that left the players exhausted at the end of the year.” As Vrabel said, “You could be as ruthless as you wanted to be.” At the end of the season, Brady said, “I was tired. I was tired. Everything comes with a cost.” That cost: a great team went 10-6 and lost to Denver by two touchdowns in the divisional round of the playoffs.

• Randy Moss is so important in Ep. 4. He reveals that, as a member of the Raiders, he secretly flew from the Bay Area to Minnesota after a Raider game to see Brady before a Monday night game at the Vikings, just to tell him how much he wanted to play for the Patriots. “Snuck into the Patriots’ team hotel!” Moss says. Brady: “He said, ‘Bro, I wanna play with you.’ “ A year later, Moss to the Pats for a fourth-round pick, Brady to Moss for 23 touchdowns, and New England goes 16-0 in the regular season.

8. I think this is something I have wondered about for years and wonder if you ever have: In an era when head trauma is so well-studied and well-monitored, why do players bash helmets together to celebrate? Wouldn’t that actually be something players should never want to do?

9. I think one of the interesting things about being a Hall of Fame voter is letting time pass. Sounds silly, I know. But one of the things about the process that I like is taking time to let a player’s career marinate for a while. Like the career of Tiki Barber. When he retired following the 2006 season, not many thought of Barber as a Hall of Famer. Clearly, because he hasn’t gotten close, maybe people still don’t. But each year around this time, the Hall sends out a list of about 120 candidates, and the 49 voters pick their 25 favorites. Each year I look at every candidate, just to be sure I’m not forgetting something or someone, and the running back crop caught my eye this year.

What a rich group of 16 candidates: Barber, Eddie George, Fred Taylor, Herschel Walker (it’s not the NFL Hall of Fame, so USFL numbers count for something), Ricky Watters, Mike Alstott, Lorenzo Neal, Shaun Alexander (a one-time MVP) among them. I remembered Barber going out of the game on top, but I didn’t realize how high that was. So I went back and compared him to the two best backs of the past 20 years (maybe Derrick Henry will pass one or both, but he hasn’t yet) in scrimmage yards, all yards earned from rushing and catching the ball. The comparison is pretty striking. The most productive five straight seasons in scrimmage yards for LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson and Tiki Barber:

Tomlinson (2002-06): 79 games, 10,473 yards, 2094.6 yards per season, 5.11 yards per touch.

Barber (2002-06): 80 games, 10,274 yards, 2,054.8 yards per season, 5.44 yards per touch.

Peterson (2008-12): 75 games, 8,766 yards, 1,753.8 yards per season, 5.24 yards per touch.

Now that presents Barber in a different light, does it not?

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

a. This is what you do when you’re Arkansas, and you play at Alabama, and you’re a big underdog, and you’ve got to try everything you can to overcome the talent gap between the programs:

Run, pass, punt. BAUER POWER. pic.twitter.com/Cu6LM5dYMb

— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) November 20, 2021

b. That right there is one of the things that makes football so much fun.

c. Football Story of the Week: Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated, with a prescient and thorough story about the evolution of the quarterback position at breakneck speed.

d. So true, so smart. Conor Orr is one of the top football writers alive today. This is a story that would make Paul Zimmerman proud. It’s about a series of passes by some of the most athletic quarterbacks in the league—Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray—making throws off unscientific and non-traditional platforms, and making them work. Great example of the power of observation, and how it can lead to a great story. Writes Orr of these odd throws that would make lovers of great mechanics wince:

These throws, cultivated on practice fields, tell the story of a gridiron “cultural evolution,” a term scientists use to describe a change that is not genetic in nature but a learned adaptation acquired from other members of the species. Evolutionary experts are just now discovering how various species can adapt and change faster than ever expected. The same can be said for quarterbacks who, after years of stagnancy and groupthink, are opening their minds to achieve stunning results.

“This is a little bit different than how [Charles] Darwin envisioned evolution, which was a slow, gradual change over time,” says Hopi Hoekstra, a world-renowned professor of organismic and evolutionary biology and of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard. “We definitely know that evolution can act in a burst.”

Think of quarterback as its own species, and consider how hellish its natural habitat has become over the past three decades. There used to be only one Lawrence Taylor, a speed pass rusher who could not be contained by a single blocker—now there’s at least one on almost every team. Defensive backs have gotten taller and faster. Defensive tackles are 35 pounds heavier on average but run the 40 in times that compare favorably with old-school wide receivers’. The pocket, the quarterback’s oasis, has become a feeding ground for apex predators.

… In the wild, circumstances like these are how a species either reaches extinction or avoids that fate by evolving. “It’s like Jurassic Park—life finds a way, right?” says Shane Campbell-Staton, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Princeton. “At the same time, some species are going extinct. They are. But that is also part of evolutionary change.”

Campbell-Staton has studied the effect of urbanization on the anole lizard in Puerto Rico and the surge of tuskless female elephants emerging in central Mozambique following the civil war. His work has centered on the phenomenon that as the human race hurls curveballs at the plants, fish, birds, insects and mammals in this world, some find a way to overcome in a matter of a few short years. The lizards in Puerto Rico? They ventured into the heat of big cities and, over the course of a generation, sprouted longer limbs to adapt to the flat, smooth surfaces. They grew larger toe pads so they could better cling to concrete and metal. They got noticeably faster than their forest counterparts to avoid humans and cars racing through streets.

… “Quarterbacks have to evolve,” says John Beck, a former NFL quarterback who trains Zach Wilson, Matt Ryan and Trey Lance, among others, and is currently on contract as a consultant with the Jets. “Look what defenses can do. Pass rushes. Coverage. Everyone tries to use all their weapons. Athleticism is one of those weapons. Everyone is going to use it. So the quarterback cannot stay the same.”

e. No one knows what the future holds. But as Orr writes, it’s going to be fascinating to watch. The defensive response will be fun too.

f. This is a question I’ve wondered about for a long time. Now I’ll ask all of you who are familiar with doing crossword puzzles, or familiar with the strange ways of the human brain, or both: Why is that you can be doing a crossword puzzle, get stuck on one particular section or clue, then walk away and come back seven hours later and read the clue again and say, “Got it!”

g. The other day, this happened. We do puzzles in oddball order sometimes, with the Sunday puzzle, a longer one, sometimes taking a while to get to because, well, Sunday is not really a crossword day for me in the autumn. The clue in the Oct. 24 New York Times crossword, 100 across, was “Orangish shade.” Nine letters. I had the first letter, T. I had the eighth letter, N. And I had no idea. That was around lunchtime. Then life interceded. After dinner, puttering around, stacking some newspapers in a pile, I saw the half-completed puzzle. Saw the clue “Orangish shade” again.

h. TANGERINE. Knew it right away.

i. I don’t understand why the brain works that way. Help!

j. Feel Good Story of the Week: KODE-TV in Joplin, Mo., on the freshman long-snapper at Pittsburg (Kans.) State who fixed the broken-down team bus on the way to a road game so the team could, you know, actually play in the road game.

k. The snapper, Timmy Malinowski, is an automotive technology major.

l. Say no more.

m. My favorite things about the Texas Tech radio crew—Brian Jensen, John Harris—being suspended for a week for dog-cussing the officials on the air last week, in part for a goal-line pick/trap by Texas Tech that was ruled incomplete, against Iowa State: Tech actually won the game 41-38. Each team was called for five penalties. “The Big 12 doesn’t want Iowa State to lose this game,” Hansen said at one point. Some evidence would be nice.

n. Oral History of the Week: Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman, in a story for Air Mail, on how “The Office” came to be.

o. If you can cope with the 64,000 ads breaking up the copy, it’s a fun piece by the actor who played Kevin (Baumgartner) and the producer of the show (Silverman).

p. The story recalls the early reviews in 2005, including the one from NPR that said: “Steve Carell is all noise and stupidity. He’s like a sketch comedy character, not a real person. Not just foolish but a fool.”

q. How Phyllis got her gig:

PHYLLIS SMITH (“Phyllis Vance”): “I was working as a receptionist in an aerospace-defense company in Sherman Oaks. A friend of mine … called and said, ‘Phyllis, they need a mousy woman for a court show.’ I really didn’t want to, but I had one hour for lunch, so I drove over the hill [into the San Fernando Valley] to do this audition.”

r. The rest is history. I love how so many cool things happen because of happenstance.

s. So many reasons to worry about our country right now, but I’ll give you one: In the most recent Congressional election in Arizona’s 4th district, 69.7 percent of the voters cast ballots for Paul Gosar. That’s 278,002 people who voted for a man whose website posted a photoshopped cartoon depicting him killing a figure of fellow U.S. Congress member Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. That caused him to be the 24th politician in U.S. history to be censured by the House of Representatives. Soon after the censure, Gosar retweeted the same anime from a conservative podcaster who supported him. I wish this was just crass and crude, but it’s so far beyond that, and such a sad day for our country to know that thousands and thousands of Arizonans almost certainly still have this creep’s back.

t. I’ll get 50 emails this week on that Gosar note, and I predict the majority will be in support of a United States congressman proud of an image of him killing a member of Congress, then doubling down on it after being disciplined for it.

u. Prove me wrong, readers. I pray you do.

v. Got the Pfizer booster the other day. Sigh of relief headed into Thanksgiving with the family in Seattle.

w. Fifty-eight years ago this afternoon, the world changed. President Kennedy was assassinated. School ended early in a little town in Connecticut, the students walked home, and a first-grader opened the door to his house and found his mother crying.

x. Next week I plan to have a holiday book section in the column, to make your holiday gift-giving simple. You’ll thank me for these gems.

Monday, Monday

Tampa Bay 30, N.Y. Giants 24. Fairly sure this was not a pleasant week of practice for the 6-3 Bucs. They’ve lost two straight, allowed 65 points and an average of 36:12 in possession time to the Saints and WFT, and have been mediocre on offense as well. I asked this question in training camp, but perhaps did not harp on it the way I should have: Is it necessarily smart to re-sign every contributing player on a team trying to repeat as Super Bowl champs? The Bucs, of course, did that, and kept every coach and front-office person of import as well. And now, the season is on the precipice. I think what bugs me the most watching Tampa is that the defense was supposed to be rock-ribbed, not one that gets track-shoed by Trevor Siemian and Taylor Heinicke. Crazy to say a Week-11 home game against a 3-6 team is crucial, but here we are.

Regarding the Giants, barring a surprising pair of negative Covid tests in the 36 hours before the game, a huge piece of the New York secondary will be missing. That piece is safety Logan Ryan, who played with Tom Brady in New England, intercepted Brady on his last pass ever as a Patriot, leads the Giants in tackles, and is the most experienced Giant defender. No Ryan would be a big loss.

Hat tip to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe for the reminder that tonight will be the 100th straight start, including postseason games, for Tom Brady. Think of it. When he turned 39 in the summer of 2016, Brady served his four-game Deflategate ban. He started Oct. 9, 2016 at Cleveland, and since then he’s started every one of his team’s games, and he’s 76-23 entering game 100 tonight.

Week 12 Lookahead

40

Where does the time go? We’re already at the time of year for the annual Thanksgiving tradition that makes us all retch, and I don’t mean Nana’s Ambrosia Salad. I mean the Detroit Lions in the early-window Turkey Day game. In the last 20 years of Thanksgiving games, where home-field disadvantage reigns, Detroit is 5-15. This year, it’s another gem between teams with a combined 3-16-1 record: Bears at Lions. This is the fourth time in the last eight years (2014, 2018, 2019, 2021) the NFL has fed us Bears-Lions for the early dinner.

L.A. Rams at Green Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. The Odell Bowl, between the winner of the Beckham derby and the loser. Rams will need Beckham to be some semblance of early-career Odell, because Green Bay’s defense is one of the surprises of the 2021 season.

Tennessee at New England, Sunday, 1 p.m., ET, CBS. Best game of the weekend, and I’d expect it to be going to about 60 percent of the country (with only Jets-Houston and Steelers-Bengals as competition) in the early window. All those who had the Titans and Patriots in the AFC’s top three (four?) a month ago, raise your hands. Bueller? Bueller?

Buffalo at New Orleans, Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. Mike Tirico and Drew Brees on the call for NBC. How eerie will it be for Brees, analyzing Sean Payton in his first-ever NFL color job, in front of a huge TV audience.

Las Vegas at Dallas, Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS. Last time the Raiders played in Dallas was in the late-afternoon window on Thanksgiving day 2013. Trivia! Guess the quarterback matchup (no peeking!) in that 2013 classic between the 4-12 Raiders and 8-8 Cowboys (as their seasons turned out). I wonder if even the family of the Raiders QB would know that one. Answer below haiku.

Minnesota at San Francisco, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. My gut feeling: One of these two teams will make the playoffs, likely as the seventh seed in the NFC, and there’s a very good chance this game, with both teams 5-5 and showing signs of life, will be the major determining factor in that seventh seed.

The Adieu Haiku

The Chiefs: Reports of

their demise have been greatly

exaggerated.

Trivia answer: It was Matt McGloin at Tony Romo.

Source : https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2021/11/22/jonathan-taylor-nfl-week-11-fmia-peter-king/

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FMIA Week 11: The Best RB Playing In The NFL Put On An Old-School Show; 10 Things To Love About Wild Sunday

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