Each week the Washington Post’s Mark Maske provides in-depth Monday morning NFL analysis with “First and 10,” a dissection of the league’s most important developments from a weekend of action.
First and 10: Oct. 6
1. Hoyer keeps Manziel waiting | 2. Smith still Jets starter
3. Meet Branden Oliver | 4. Owners to meet Wednesday
5. Lions kicker woes | 6. Saints salvage season
7. Raiders eye Gruden, Harbaugh? | 8. Cards’ QB issues
9. Coaching gamesmanship | 10. HGH testing starts
The demise of quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots didn’t seem quite so imminent Sunday night.
Just six days after practically everything went wrong for Brady and the Patriots in a 41-14 loss at Kansas City that was their second-most-lopsided defeat of Coach Bill Belichick’s tenure, much went right for them Sunday night. Brady threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots knocked the Cincinnati Bengals from the unbeaten ranks with a 43-17 victory.
Rookie backup Jimmy Garoppolo finished a second straight game in Brady’s place. But this time, Garoppolo’s mop-up assignment is unlikely to prompt widespread speculation that Brady’s days in New England could be numbered and that Garoppolo is being groomed to take over for the three-time Super Bowl winner in the not-too-distant future.
Yes, Brady remains a 37-year-old quarterback. But he looked more like the Brady of old Sunday night, rather than the old Brady he’d resembled last Monday.
“Hopefully we can build on this,” Brady said at his postgame news conference. “It’s one game. As disappointing as last Monday night was, this one is great. We all feel great. But we’ve also got to get back to work tomorrow because we’ve got a huge game this week against Buffalo.”
Brady had plenty of help. The Patriots rushed for 220 yards and Brady’s offensive line allowed him to be sacked only once. But after so much talk during the week about a decline in Brady’s skills, this night was bound to be mostly about him, one way or the other.
“It’s hard to be oblivious to things,” Brady said. “We all have TVs or the Internet. The questions I get and the e-mails that I get from people that are always concerned, and I’m always e-mailing them back like, ‘Nobody died. It’s just a loss.’ I think we’ve always done a great job putting losses behind us quickly and trying to move forward. It doesn’t always go right. Football season, you don’t go undefeated every year. You’re trying to build something. We’re trying to build something that is gonna be tough to compete with.”
The Patriots had a quick tempo on offense. Brady was sharp from the outset and both of his touchdown passes went to tight ends, one to Rob Gronkowski and the other to Tim Wright, who was obtained from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the season in the Logan Mankins trade. Brady had a passer rating for the game of 110.7, his best such mark this season. He became the sixth NFL quarterback to surpass 50,000 career passing yards.
The defense also held up far better that it had done against the Chiefs. Cornerback Darrelle Revis followed Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green all over the field and won their individual matchup. Green had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, but his touchdown came when Revis exited the game briefly because of a hamstring injury.
“I thought the players really went out and played hard tonight,” Belichick said at his postgame news conference. “It wasn’t perfect — certainly a lot of things we need to do better. But we played hard. We made a lot of plays against a good football team. … Tonight was just kind of our night. A lot of things went in our favor. We made a few things happen and that was good.”
The losses by the Bengals and by the Arizona Cardinals earlier Sunday at Denver left the NFL without an undefeated team this season on the first weekend in October.
… AND TEN
Just when it appeared that it might be Johnny Manziel time in Cleveland, Brian Hoyer again did something to keep the rookie quarterback biding his time.
The Browns trailed the Tennessee Titans, 28-3, Sunday and it seemed that their record was well on its way to dropping to 1-3. Surely at that point, it would be time for Cleveland’s first-year coach, Mike Pettine, and new offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, to turn to Manziel over Hoyer at quarterback, right?
But hold on. Hoyer engineered the largest comeback by a road team in NFL history as the Browns prevailed, 29-28. They evened their record at 2-2 entering next Sunday’s game at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Once more, there is no reason for the Browns to make a move away from Hoyer, who has six touchdown passes and one interception on the season and has posted a passer rating of 97.7. He threw his first interception in 189 passing attempts Sunday, the longest such interception-less streak by a Browns quarterback since Bernie Kosar’s 308-pass string in 1990 and ’91.
Manziel had his chance during the preseason to wrestle the starting job from Hoyer. He failed to do so. It initially seemed that the Browns having their bye week three games into the season would provide a natural re-evaluation point for Pettine and Shanahan and a clear opportunity to make the switch to Manziel.
But while the two other quarterbacks selected in the opening round of the NFL draft in May, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater, have become starters, Manziel continues to sit and wait his turn, and for now there’s no end in sight to Manziel’s apprenticeship.
There is no end to the New York Jets’ downward spiral in sight, and no solution to their quarterback woes in immediate view.
The Jets lost Sunday at San Diego, 31-0, to extend their losing streak to four games and drop their record to 1-4. Jets Coach Rex Ryan benched starting quarterback Geno Smith and went to Michael Vick in the second half, a week after fans at the Meadowlands were chanting for such a move.
But it didn’t help much. Vick completed eight of 19 passes for 47 yards and had a passer rating of 49.7. The amazing thing is that actually was an improvement on Smith’s performance. Smith had a passer rating of 7.6 in a 4-for-12, 27-yard, one-interception day. He now has eight turnovers in five games this season, with six interceptions and two lost fumbles. Even so, Ryan announced after the game that he’s sticking with Smith as the starter this coming week.
The Oakland Raiders already have made Dennis Allen the first NFL coach fired this season, a campaign that began as a seemingly win-or-else year for Ryan in New York. The scrutiny on his job security — or potential lack thereof — is likely to intensify in the coming weeks.
Quarterback Philip Rivers has emerged as a legitimate NFL most valuable player candidate with the Chargers off to a 4-1 start. But he received some assistance against the Jets from an unlikely candidate, undrafted rookie running back Branden Oliver.
Oliver isn’t even the most celebrated NFL rookie from the University at Buffalo. That distinction belongs to Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack, the fifth overall selection in the NFL draft in May.
Oliver got his chance Sunday after the Chargers lost another running back, with Donald Brown exiting the game with a concussion. Two other San Diego running backs also are sidelined, Danny Woodhead for the season because of a broken leg and Ryan Mathews indefinitely due to a knee injury. Oliver, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 208 pounds, did his best Darren Sproles impersonation Sunday. He was a dual threat by rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and adding four catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
Rivers added a pair of touchdown passes to tight end Antonio Gates. Rivers had a passer rating of 125.3 Sunday and has topped 120 in four straight games.
The owners of the 32 NFL teams are scheduled to meet Wednesday in New York. The meeting comes at a sensitive time because of the controversy the league has faced in recent weeks following the off-field legal issues of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and others. But few major developments are expected, other than the ratification of the sale of the Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula.
The $1.4 billion sale of the Bills from the Ralph Wilson estate to the Pegulas already has been approved unanimously by the members of the NFL’s finance committee. That makes final ratification by at least 24 of the 32 owners a mere formality. The Pegulas have pledged to keep the franchise in Buffalo.
The owners seem to remain strongly supportive of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell despite the criticism that Goodell has faced from media members, fans on social-media platforms and women’s rights groups. There have been numerous calls for Goodell to resign. But he has made it clear that he has no intention of doing so. And it continues to appear that the owners would give serious consideration to ousting Goodell only if the report generated by the investigation of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III finds him guilty of willful and egregious misconduct in the Rice case.
Several people within the sport said in recent days they don’t believe that Mueller’s investigation will be completed in time for the owners’ meeting despite Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy raising that possibility.
The other scenario by which Goodell’s job security could be threatened is if the league’s handling of its off-field controversies causes substantial economic harm to the sport. But there is no evidence thus far of that happening. In fact, the NFL continues to complete big-money deals. Last week it agreed to an extension of its “NFL Sunday Ticket” deal with DirecTV. A person familiar with the situation said the eight-year extension is worth about $1.5 billion per year to the NFL, a 50 percent increase from the $1 billion a season being generated by the current Sunday Ticket contract. Such ongoing prosperity strengthens Goodell’s standing with the owners.
The owners are expected to discuss the league’s efforts to deal with its domestic violence issues. The owners also might receive training on dealing with such issues within their organizations.
There could be discussion among the owners of the economic implications that teams are facing in dealing with players who are in legal trouble. Peterson is being paid by the Vikings and Hardy is being paid by the Carolina Panthers although neither is playing. Both players agreed to be placed on the previously obscure exempt-commissioner’s permission list while dealing with their legal issues. Peterson was indicted in Texas on charges stemming from him disciplining his 4-year-old son by hitting the child with a switch. Hardy was found guilty by a judge of threatening and assaulting his former girlfriend and is awaiting a jury trial as part of his appeal.
A system for how such cases will be handled — including a plan for whether players will be paid while facing legal charges — is expected to be created as part of Goodell’s promised overhaul of the sport’s personal conduct policy. But those pending changes probably won’t prevent owners from expressing their concerns Wednesday.
There also could be further discussion among the owners Wednesday about expanding the NFL playoff field from 12 to 14 teams beginning in the 2015 season. Goodell said in May he expects such an expansion of the postseason field to take place next year. However, there is little urgency for the owners to take a formal vote at this meeting. That could be postponed until the annual league meeting in the spring.
Under the measure, seven teams in each conference would qualify for the playoffs instead of the current six. Only one team in each conference would receive a first-round postseason bye rather than the current two. There would be six first-round playoff games league-wide instead of the current four, and one of the opening-round games likely would be played on a Monday night.
The new playoff system would be intended to raise additional television revenues for the sport and would not necessarily be accompanied by a reduction in preseason games. In fact, there appears to be little to no interest among the owners at the moment for cutting the preseason.
The Detroit Lions released rookie kicker Nate Freese three games into the season and replaced him with Alex Henery. Freese made just three of seven field goal attempts. Going to Henery seemed like a logical move, given that he’d connected on 86 percent of his field goal tries in three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s not exactly working out. Henery has made one of five field goal attempts in two games with the Lions. He missed all three of his field goal tries in Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the Bills, including a 50-yarder with 21 seconds to play and the game tied at 14. The Bills took possession, got a tremendous catch by rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins of a pass by quarterback Kyle Orton, and won the game with a 58-yard field goal by kicker Dan Carpenter with four seconds to go.
The Lions could be headed to employing their third kicker of the season. Matt Prater, a Pro Bowl selection last season after connecting on 25 of 26 field goal attempts for Denver, is available. He was released Friday by the Broncos just as he was about to be reinstated this week following a four-game suspension by the NFL for a violation of the substance abuse policy.
It was a bad day all around for Detroit. The Lions’ record fell to 3-2 and two key members of the offense, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, failed to finish the game because of ankle injuries. The early speculation is that each could be sidelined for a week or two.
The Bills’ quarterback switch from EJ Manuel to Orton paid off. Orton completed 30 of 43 passes for 308 yards. The Bills’ day included defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, fired as the head coach of the Lions after last season, being carried off the field by his players following the victory over his former team.
The New Orleans Saints potentially salvaged their season by overcoming a 31-20, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Buccaneers, 37-31, in overtime Sunday at the Superdome. The Saints already have lost three games on the road this season and their record would have plummeted to 1-4 if they’d lost to the Buccaneers. Instead, they’re 2-3 and only a game out of first place in the NFC South.
Even so, all does not seem well with the Saints. Nothing has come easily all season and tight end Jimmy Graham exited Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, the severity of which could become clearer after tests Monday.
The defense already is without safety Jairus Byrd, who was placed on the injured reserve list last week. The Saints signed Byrd to a six-year, $54 million contract in the offseason as a free agent. But he underwent back surgery in May and he, like the entire Saints defense around him, struggled in the early going this season. Rafael Bush replaced Byrd in the starting lineup. The New Orleans defense surrendered 249 passing yards Sunday to Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon but did contribute a safety to the fourth-quarter comeback.
7. Raiders’ Coaching Carousel
The Raiders just had their bye weekend and already fired Allen as their coach last week following a 0-4 start. Tony Sparano has been appointed the team’s interim head coach. But there already is plenty of speculation within league circles that once the Raiders get around to conducting a search for a more permanent replacement, Jon Gruden and Jim Harbaugh could be very much in the mix.
Raiders owner Mark Davis has not hidden his fondness for Gruden as a coach nor his intention to potentially pursue Gruden as a candidate in the not-too-distant future. Gruden coached the Raiders between the 1998 and 2001 seasons before being sent to Tampa in a rare coaching trade that cost the Buccaneers $8 million in cash and four draft choices, two first-round picks and two second-round selections. Gruden won a championship for the Buccaneers in the 2002 season, beating the Raiders in the Super Bowl. He lasted seven seasons in Tampa before being fired following the 2008 season, and he has not coached in the NFL since.
Gruden is only 51, and many within the league have assumed that he will return to coaching at some point. But it hasn’t happened yet despite persistent speculation about it in recent years, and it could take an overwhelming offer to induce him to leave the relative comfort of ESPN’s “Monday night Football” broadcasting booth. Who needs the pressure and long hours of NFL coaching? Well, Gruden perhaps does, some associates say.
“I do think he’ll coach again at some point,” one person with ties to Gruden said. “But it’ll take the right situation.”
That undoubtedly means a lot of money, and it could mean a team with a franchise quarterback to make Gruden’s offense work. The Raiders don’t have a franchise quarterback in place, although Gruden is said by associates to like the potential of rookie Derek Carr.
If Gruden can’t be lured back to the sideline, that potentially could leave the Raiders waiting to see if Harbaugh becomes available. Could another coaching trade be pieced together? The Browns reportedly considered trading for Harbaugh last offseason. Harbaugh remained with the San Francisco 49ers, which whom he reached three NFC title games and a Super Bowl in the last three seasons.
But the speculation has been ceaseless this season that Harbaugh has lost the faith and trust of 49ers players. He rejected that suggestion last week in reaction to a report by Deion Sanders on the league-owned NFL Network. Jed York, the chief executive officer of the 49ers, wrote Sunday on Twitter: “Jim is my coach. We are trying to win a [Super Bowl], not a personality or popularity contest. Any more questions?”
The 49ers improved their record to 3-2 with Sunday’s 22-17 win over the Chiefs. That prompted former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, now a football analyst for the CBS Sports Network, to write on Twitter: “How good could the 49ers be if they ALL loved their Coach? Hopefully that BS dies for a while.”
The evidence continues to mount, though, that the end of Harbaugh’s stay with the 49ers is in sight, and the Raiders potentially could provide a Bay Area landing spot for him if he wants to stay in the NFL.
Former Green Bay and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren also was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Raiders during NBC’s pregame show Sunday night.
The Cardinals were down to their third quarterback when rookie Logan Thomas took over Sunday for backup Drew Stanton after Stanton suffered a concussion.
Thomas had an 81-yard touchdown pass to running back Andre Ellington. But that was Thomas’s only completion in eight passing attempts.
The Cardinals had won Stanton’s two previous starts in place of Carson Palmer, who’s been sidelined by an ailing right shoulder related to a nerve issue. There had been hope at one point that Palmer would return to the lineup this weekend, following the Cardinals’ bye. But that didn’t materialize when Palmer’s shoulder didn’t progress as hoped during the bye week.
Hopes remain that Palmer could play in the next week or two. Fox reported Sunday that Palmer experienced a breakthrough last week when he visited another specialist. But clearly, the past few weeks have demonstrated that the Cardinals can’t necessarily count on Palmer’s return to follow a predictable timetable.
Sometimes the gamesmanship, paranoid subterfuge and in-front-of-the-media maneuvering of NFL coaches are amusing.
Sometimes it’s all just silly.
The Vikings did their best to keep the Packers guessing last week about which quarterback, injured rookie Bridgewater or Christian Ponder, would start Thursday night’s game. It ended up being Ponder, with Bridgewater sidelined by a sprained ankle. The Packers reportedly had prepared exclusively to face Bridgewater.
So how did that work out for the Vikings? Ponder threw two interceptions and had a passer rating of 45.8 as Minnesota lost to the Packers, 42-10.
Would the Vikings really have played worse if they’d said all along it was pretty clear that Bridgewater was unlikely to be ready and Ponder was in line to start the game?
On Friday, Belichick was asked about a Boston Globe report that wide receiver Aaron Dobson had been inactive for two games because of at least one loud disagreement with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Belichick said no, and added that he’d have a comment on the subject later.
The Patriots issued a written statement from Belichick later in the day that said: “In my year and a half with Aaron Dobson, he has always been respectful to me and to the rest of the coaching staff. He has never once been argumentative or confrontational. The suggestion and reporting that his playing time was in any way the result of a ‘loud disagreement’ with a coach is completely false.”
Fine. Belichick is entitled to his denial, and people can decide for themselves what they choose to believe.
But why, exactly, couldn’t he have just said that when he was asked about during his news conference rather than issuing a written statement?
That, of course, was at the end of a week that Belichick began by saying repeatedly, “We’re on to Cincinnati,” to deflect questions about the team’s sorry state in the aftermath of the loss Monday night to the Chiefs. But apparently it was okay to talk about the past year and a half when it served Belichick’s purposes. So then, after the statement on Dobson was put out, it really was on to Cincinnati.
Dobson played Sunday night against the Bengals.
Blood-testing of NFL players for human growth hormone is set to commence Monday.
The league and players’ union last month completed arrangements for the testing to begin more than three years after they originally agreed to such testing as part of their 2011 labor deal. HGH already is on the sport’s list of banned performance-enhancing substance but players, until now, have not been tested for it.
There is no game-day testing and a total of 40 players (five players per team on eight different teams) are to be tested per week, according to a memo to players from Eric Winston, the president of the NFL Players Association.
“We negotiated to ensure that the methodology of testing be conducted in the most professional and safest manner for players,” Winston wrote in the memo. “Importantly, after three years of negotiating, players won the right to challenge any aspect of the science behind the HGH isoforms test in an appeal of a positive test.
“Our goals during the long and hard process of collective bargaining were fairness, transparency, and safety. We are proud to say that as a result of our new agreements, the game is cleaner, but also that players’ rights have been significantly advanced.”
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