$.01--One of the most thrilling finishes to an NFL game in recent memory steals the headlines for Week 10.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Hail Murray:
HOP CAUGHT IT!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/lyAG9gWYPn— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 16, 2020
Arizona pulled that off to stun the visiting Bills, 32-30. Kyler Murray to DeAndre Hopkins for the win is absolutely the play of the year thus far. It capped one of the more entertaining games of the 2020 season, too.
Buffalo had jumped in front with just 34 seconds to play on a spectacular throw from Josh Allen to a sliding Stefon Diggs, who had broken free from the coverage of one of the best in the business, Patrick Peterson, to give the Bills the lead. Allen’s drive to set up that go-ahead TD was brilliant. Perilous but brilliant, as is often the case with Allen and the Bills offense this year. That statement applies to the Cardinals and Murray as well.
Both quarterbacks are exceptional runners and occasionally very good passers. Both also made some terrifying mistakes that ruined good opportunities. It makes for a maddening experience if you’re a fan of one of the teams, but for those of us with no skin in the game, it creates quite the thrill ride.
This game highlights what having a great receiver can do for a young quarterback. The Cardinals stole Hopkins from the Texans this offseason for next to nothing, while the Bills capitalized on Diggs’ rift with the Vikings to acquire a much-needed alpha receiver for Allen. Those bold acquisitions have raised the level of play from the young QBs and launched each team into first place in its respective division. Give the quarterbacks credit, but don’t ignore the impact of having two of the best wideouts in the league dropping into their laps.
$.02--What a difference a week makes in this crazy NFL season. In Week 9 a national television audience watched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get emasculated in prime time by the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs were blown away on Monday night, 38-3, in one of the most anemic offensive outputs any team will post all year: 194 total yards, 46 plays, 13 first downs, and an NFL-record low 5 rushing attempts that gained just 8 yards.
Six days later, the bitter ineptitude was but a distant and faded memory. The Buccaneers completely flipped the script in storming past the Panthers, 46-23. That’s right, a 43-point swing from one week to the next. Just days after being on the business end of the weakest rushing effort in league history, Tampa Bay rolled up 210 yards on the ground. Ronald Jones provided 98 of those on one play. The Bucs never punted and only failed to score on an opening-drive fumble and end-of-game kneel-downs.
They set season-highs in points, yards (544), rushing yards, first downs (30) and time of possession (36:05). And it could have been even more; Ryan Succop kicked three field goals of less than 25 yards when the Carolina defense stiffened in the red zone.
Meanwhile, the Bucs defense did unto the Panthers what had been done unto their own offense on Monday: 13 first downs, 187 yards, 47 total plays. Carolina did string together three straight scoring drives in the first half but managed just 4 first downs and 40 totals yards in the Panthers’ final seven drives.
It’s hard to fathom that radical of a change in such a short time. The true Bucs lie somewhere in between the two extremes, but at 7-3 and in second place in the NFC South--and holding the conference’s top Wild Card spot firmly in their grip--they’re a lot closer to the Week 10 reality than the embarrassing aberration that was Monday night in Week 9.
$.03--Alex Smith was the starting quarterback for the Washington Football Team on Sunday. It’s the feel-good story of Week 10 even though Smith’s effort came up just short in Washington’s 30-27 loss in Detroit.
This was Smith’s first start in almost exactly two years. Back in Nov. of 2018, Smith suffered one of the most grotesque injuries you’ll ever see in sports. He very nearly lost his leg from the combination of a nasty compound fracture and an infection that developed after the surgery to set the leg and keep his blood vessels intact. Resuming any football activities seemed a pipe dream; there was a viable concern he could lose his life.
Yet there he was, leading the 2-6 Football Team onto the field and playing pretty well. Smith completed 12 passes in a row at one point as the Football Team rallied from a 24-3 deficit on the road. He wound up throwing for a career-high 390 yards and engineered a game-tying drive that culminated with a field goal with just 16 seconds left. Alas, that was too much time to leave for the master of the fourth-quarter comeback, Matthew Stafford.
Stafford pulled it off for Detroit, aided by a dumb penalty on rookie DE Chase Young and an absolutely gorgeous 59-yard field goal from heretofore struggling Lions kicker Matt Prater. His long-range bomb pierced the Ford Field uprights as time expired to thwart Smith’s heroic efforts.
Smith’s play was impressive, even in the loss. The path he took to getting back to be able to play is still a happy ending.
$.04--I live in a house of Houston Texans fans courtesy of our years (2010-2013) living in Houston. This was a tough week for them to maintain their fandom, especially for my daughter and wife.
The Texans fired Amy Palcic, the team’s longtime P.R. Director, this week. Palcic has won awards for how well she performed her job with the team, including the 2017 Rozelle Award for the best P.R. and media relations staff in the NFL. Having worked with them extensively in covering the team for Texans Wire in 2017-2018, I can attest that both Palcic herself and her staff are second to none. They were fantastic in helping me cover the team while living remotely. So when acting GM Jack Easterby fired her in the middle of a disappointing season and cited “lack of cultural fit”, it was pretty easy for me to side with Palcic.
So did everyone else. Social media exploded in her defense with the general tone of “If Palcic doesn’t fit your culture, your culture is the problem and not her.” In this case, it’s very legit. Easterby is punching way above his weight class in his position, and his lack of credentials to win power struggles with deposed coach/GM Bill O’Brien and now Palcic deserves serious scrutiny. Easterby lied, or at least exaggerated, about his experience to land his job and has shown all the hallmarks of being a Machiavellian charlatan in his rise to power.
It’s not going to end well for Easterby or new owner Cal McNair, who has consistently bungled decisions since taking over for his late father. The Texans are an embarrassment of an organization and now face a potential lawsuit from Palcic, who will have an armada of character witnesses at the ready. A team desperately in need of good public relations just canned the most qualified person for that very job.
$.05--The Indianapolis Colts kicked off the weekend with one of the most impressive victories, tying up the AFC South by toasting the Titans, 34-17. Indianapolis scored the final 24 points to cruise to 6-3 and earn the tie-breaker over the sagging Titans, who have now lost three of their last four games.
The Colts pulled this win off thanks to special teams, Philip Rivers being efficient at quarterback and the defense not allowing the Titans offense to spring big plays. That’s checking the boxes of a good--and ascending--football team. Rivers had seven different receivers catch at least three passes, smartly picking on the best matchup and avoiding the risk nicely. When Rivers has done that well, the Colts are as good as any team in the AFC not named Pittsburgh. That’s where the rest of the team and coach Frank Reich’s savvy game-planning comes into play.
T.J. Carrie scooped and scored on a blocked punt. The defense keyed on Derrick Henry and allowed the powerhouse Titans back just two runs over 8 yards. It helped that A.J. Brown dropped an easy early TD pass from Ryan Tannehill. But that’s the difference between the Colts riding the elevator up and the Titans being stuck in the one going down.
$.06--Just when everyone was ready to bury the New England Patriots, they go out and snatch the shovels from our hands and club us over the head with them. Sunday night’s rainy upset win over the Baltimore Ravens proves there’s still life in New England.
Granted it took a lot of variables to keep the listing ship afloat. The Ravens were dealing with COVID-19 issues and injuries, and they suffered a couple more key losses (DT Brandon Williams and TE Nick Boyle to a sickening knee injury) during the game. The weather was a subtropical storm with steady winds over 30 MPH and deluges of rain often blowing sideways and making the high-def camera shots look straight out of 1977. The Patriots executed the ground-and-pound gameplan better and also mixed in a beautiful gadget play TD with WR Jakobi Myers hitting RB Rex Burkhead with the option pass.
Where some see gimmickry and conditionals, I see a team finding ways to win where the other team failed. The Ravens oddly kept trying to throw the ball down the field in the unsavory conditions. The weather favored the more powerful team and that was the Patriots, not the Ravens.
New England improves to 4-5 and is still looking way up at the bottom of the AFC playoff picture. Buffalo (7-3) and Miami (6-3) are both well ahead in the AFC East, and the Patriots are still two games behind a slew of 6-3 teams that also includes Las Vegas, Tennessee, Cleveland, Indianapolis and now the Ravens. They’re still strong enough to keep the shovelfuls of dirt at bay, however.
$.07--It didn’t get much publicity for the enormity of the deal, but the Green Bay Packers quietly made David Bakhtiari the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history over the weekend. The relative anonymity of both the stellar left tackle and the manner in which the Packers rewarded him for his consistent outstanding play at tackle are right on brand.
Bakhtiari inked a four-year, $105.5 million extension to stay with the Packers. The “new money” in the deal, tacked onto his old contract, will pay Bakhtiari over $23 million per year. That tops what Laremy Tunsil got from Houston.
People outside the NFC North viewing area probably don’t know too much about Bakhtiari, but the 29-year-old has been a dominant blocker for the Packers. His ability to keep Aaron Rodgers safe finally got a tangible price tag, and it’s well worth it for the current NFC No. 1 seed.
Green Bay rose up to the top spot, at least temporarily, by barely edging a feisty Jaguars team, 24-20. Jacksonville returned a kickoff for a TD and benefitted from a couple of costly Packers turnovers to scare Bakhtiari and Co., but there are reasons why Green Bay is 7-2 and the Jaguars are 1-8. Having key players like Bakhtiari, not to mention some guy named Rodgers at QB, is chief among them. Locking up one of their own is a good sign to the Packers players that they’re still valued beyond just the immediacy of 2020. It’s an under-the-radar move but a brilliant one for the NFC North powerhouse.
--With Washington’s loss in Detroit on Sunday, the NFC East has a record of just 2-18-1 outside of the division. One of those wins was the Cowboys’ miracle comeback win in Week 2 over Atlanta. The Eagles beat the 49ers, a win that looks less impressive by the week, and tied the Bengals. That’s the list. It’s the worst collective record outside a division through Week 10 since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970. After the Giants beat the Eagles on Sunday to keep the leader with just 3 wins, there’s a very real chance the Eagles win the division--and host a playoff game--with a 5-10-1 record.
--Just give Myles Garrett the Defensive Player of the Year award already. In Cleveland’s 10-7 win over Houston, Garrett stopped the Texans first drive with a TFL and then a sack. He ended their second drive by slipping a block, lifting Deshaun Watson off the ground and blasting him backward on 4th-and-goal. Watson scores there without Garrett being superhuman and the Texans win that game. No defensive player is more valuable to his team than Garrett.
--Staying in Cleveland, Nick Chubb angered many a gambler and fantasy owner by veering out of bounds at the 1-yard line at the end of a 59-yard game-sealing run instead of scoring. The line on the game was 3.5 points, and Chubb’s decision--directed to him prior to the drive by coach Kevin Stefanski--meant the Browns didn’t cover the spread.
--Andrew Whitworth has been one of my favorite players to watch for a long time. The Rams left tackle has quietly been a great player for a very long time. His season might be over after Whitworth suffered a torn MCL. That’s a huge loss for the Rams, who continued the Seahawks’ downward spiral with a 23-16 win that makes both teams 6-3 on the season.
--The MVP race is really jumbled now. With Russell Wilson crashing back to earth, Josh Allen cooling a bit, Patrick Mahomes idle and Lamar Jackson not playing great, I’d put Aaron Rodgers on the top line right now. Tom Brady reinjected himself into the prominent conversation. So did Myles Garrett. All I know is it’s going to be a great stretch drive to see who comes out on top.
--John Schlarman was just 46. RIP. Good on the Wildcats for this...
This is powerful. @UKFootball left the LG position open on the first play of the game to honor late OL coach John Schlarman who died on Thursday. Vanderbilt declined the penalty. pic.twitter.com/hRA5bYTPaJ— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 14, 2020
--Michigan football in 2020 is not going well. Kudos to Wisconsin for thumping the inept, meek Wolverines enough that even the most sycophantic Jim Harbaugh supporter in Ann Arbor (hi Shaun) is ready for their messiah to depart:
From @ESPNStatsInfo: #Michigan’s defense has zero sacks and has forced zero turnovers in their last five halves of football. They\\\'re the first Big Ten team over the last 15 seasons to not record a sack or a takeaway in five consecutive halves.— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 15, 2020
--South Carolina pulled the plug on the Will Muschamp coaching experiment. It started out well for Muschamp but has soured like buttermilk left on the counter of late. The Gamecocks have consistently underachieved since 2018 and enough was enough. Muschamp’s Florida tenure ended much the same way, a good sign that maybe he shouldn’t land another high-profile gig.
--Cincinnati remains unbeaten and ready to crash the playoff party if any of the big boys above them falter. They’re No. 7, but two of the teams above them (the ND-Clemson rematch and the SEC title game loser) will lose. The Bearcats aren’t loaded with future NFL talent but they’re very good at what they do and don’t have any real glaring weaknesses either. Coach Luke Fickell will be the hot candidate in the power 5 conferences if he chooses to leave.
--Many games across the country, notably in the PAC-12 and SEC, were postponed due to COVID-19. It was a dark reminder that we’re still in a pandemic and it’s not getting better in far too many places.
$.10--Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the Southern Airways Flight 932 plane crash that killed 75 people, including nearly all of the Marshall University football team. The tragedy is the basis for the excellent film, “We Are Marshall”, and I made a point to watch the film about the impact of the crash on the university, the surviving players who weren’t on the flight and the rebirth of the football program.
It’s one of my favorite movies. It’s also impossible for me to get through it without crying. The scene where Anthony Mackie--snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor award--emotionally tests his shoulder is an instant stream of tears every time I watch it, and I’ve probably seen it 15 times.
That got me to thinking: what movies are my favorite tear-jerkers? I’m a notorious crier in movies, which is one reason why I rarely see them in theaters anymore. My wife learned early on that I well up in emotional moments even in screwball comedies. I’m also a crier when I’m happy, as anyone who has ever been in my presence when Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals comes on knows well. But the dramatic moments are the ones that always get me.
The five other movies that always make me cry, in no order:
Hoosiers - Filmed where and when I lived in the Indianapolis area, I knew several people in the film. That helps the emotional attachment for me. When Jimmy Chitwood calmly says, “I’ll make it” and then he does, open the floodgates…
How To Train Your Dragon 2 - Yeah, a “kids movie” and a sequel at that. Watch it. The scene where Hiccup’s father and long-lost mother reunite after years of being apart is spectacularly touching.
Saving Private Ryan - The ending cemetery scene, when an old Private Ryan asks his wife to “tell me I’ve lived a good life” at Capt. Miller’s grave. Damn. Powerful.
Good Will Hunting - “It’s not your fault”
Braveheart - When William Wallace discovers the betrayal from Robert the Bruce and the subsequent scene between the two men. It’s not the part where most lose their tear duct control but the deep humanity of the moment gets me every time.
Be good to one another, we’re all we’ve got right now...