It took more than two decades for the NFL to return to Los Angeles. The league’s explanation during much of that time was that it wanted to make certain that when it did go back, it would be done in a way that would ensure lasting success.
It took all of two weekends into the first season with two L.A. franchises to make it fair to wonder whether the league’s decision to permit the Chargers to join the Rams in Los Angeles was misguided.
“No one is covering what a massive mistake that the league and Chargers have made by moving this team to LA,” Joe Banner, a former executive for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, wrote this week on Twitter.
The concerns bubbled to the surface after the Chargers drew a crowd of just 25,381 to the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif., for last Sunday’s loss to the Miami Dolphins in their home opener. It’s one thing to play in a tiny, 27,000-seat temporary home. It’s another thing to fail to fill it.
The Rams drew 56,612 to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Sunday for their loss to the Washington Redskins. That made for a combined attendance of 81,993 for the two NFL franchises in Los Angeles last weekend. The USC-Texas game last Saturday at the Coliseum drew 84,714.
“Did we do the wrong thing with the Chargers? It’s probably way too early to say that,” a high-ranking executive with one NFL team said. “Let’s see how it plays out. Let’s see how they both do when they get into the new stadium. But I guess it does make you start to think a little bit.”
The league likewise is taking a long-term view.
“They knew going in this wasn’t a one-game or one-year solution where they could turn a light on and get the support they expect to get moving toward the opening of the new [stadium],” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said during a conference call with reporters this week. “We remain confident the city of Los Angeles can support two franchises and committed toward making that happen.”
The $2.6 billion stadium the Rams and Chargers will share in Inglewood, Calif., is scheduled to open in 2020. It is clear that in the meantime, the Rams and Chargers have work to do.
The owners voted in January 2016 to allow the Rams to move from St. Louis to L.A. and gave the Chargers the option to join them. Some within the sport thought that the option was granted as a consolation prize to Dean Spanos, the chairman of the Chargers, by owners who respected Spanos but preferred the Inglewood stadium proposal by Rams owner Stan Kroenke to the Carson project put forth by the Chargers and Oakland Raiders. The Chargers exercised their L.A. option in January of this year after failing to secure public funding for a new stadium in San Diego.
But was the NFL simply leaving San Diego because it could not secure a stadium solution there, rather than putting a second team in Los Angeles because it actually believed that was a good idea? It’s an interesting question. Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, told “The Dan Patrick Show” this month that he would have been fine with the Chargers remaining in San Diego and the Rams being the lone L.A. franchise.
“We embrace any team that comes,” Garcetti said in that radio interview. “We’re certainly happy to have the Chargers in L.A. But I think we could have been happy with just one [team], too.”
The Chargers have another chance this Sunday when they host the Kansas City Chiefs at StubHub. The biggest number to come out of that game won’t be quarterback Philip Rivers’s passing yardage or pass rusher Joey Bosa’s sack total. It will be the attendance figure.
“We know going into this new market, it’s going to take time to really authentically ingratiate yourself,” John Spanos, the Chargers’ president of football operations and a son of Dean Spanos, said in training camp this summer. “It’s something that’s going to take time. And that’s something that we plan to do. And we also know that in an L.A. market, nothing’s ever given to you.
“We don’t show up expecting a red carpet, expecting anything to be given to us. We know that anything we gain, we have to earn. And so that’s our approach. We have to work hard and earn the community’s respect and earn their trust, and we look forward to doing that.”
Around the League
Back in London … The NFL plays the first of its four games in London this season when the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars play Sunday in Wembley Stadium. The Dolphins and Saints play Oct. 1 at Wembley, and there are Cardinals-Rams and Vikings-Browns games at Twickenham Stadium later in October. All four games are sold out.
“Everything is on track,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president overseeing international play.
By season’s end, 26 of the 32 teams will have played a regular season game in London. The Ravens and Cardinals are playing their first games there. Waller said the NFL’s attempts to spread its appeal internationally are having an effect in the United Kingdom, with more than 100 universities there now fielding registered American football teams.
“We’re starting to see really good growth in grass roots participation in the sport,” Waller said.
This season’s games will be played in the aftermath of a series of terrorist events in London in recent months. Cathy L. Lanier, the former D.C. police chief who is the NFL’s senior vice president of security, said there are “no specific or credible threats to our games.”
Lanier said the league “of course” has adjusted its security plans based on recent events in London.
“We’re always trying to make sure our security efforts are in line with what is happening globally,” she said. “We’re constantly changing our security tactics.”
Belichick and O’Brien … The Patriots and Texans held a series of joint practices this summer at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia before playing a preseason game against each other in Houston. They get back together Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., for a game that actually matters.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick used the occasion of this week’s game to offer words of support for his former assistant, Texans Coach Bill O’Brien, during a midweek conference call with the Houston media.
“I think Bill does a great job,” Belichick said. “He’s a very good fundamental coach. He does an excellent job of teaching the quarterbacks fundamentals. He’s an excellent play-caller and game-planner, game-plan coach, does an excellent job of attacking weaknesses. But he also brings a physicality and a toughness element to the offense and the team that I think is important. So I mean, look, I would say he took over a 2-14 team, a team that wasn’t very good that had a lot of problems. He’s had three straight winning seasons, won the division twice, won a playoff game last year. I think he’s done a pretty good job in that organization with what he’s had to work with and I think he’s one of the best coaches in the league. So that’s my opinion.”
The “what he’s had to work with” line is interesting, given the Texans’ nearly constant search for stability at quarterback. Of course, O’Brien hasn’t exactly helped in that regard. He chose Tom Savage over rookie Deshaun Watson as his starter entering this season, then benched Savage after one half of the opening game and went to Watson. Doesn’t that mean he should have gone with Watson in the first place?
Goodell and D. Smith … The NFL and the NFL Players Association got their houses in order this week. Player leaders of the NFLPA voted to retain Smith as the union’s executive director, extend his contract by three to five years and bar challengers from vying for Smith’s job during this election cycle. The owners’ competition committee appeared to iron out any wrinkles during a conference call Wednesday regarding Goodell’s pending five-contract extension. The deal, which would run through 2024, is expected to be completed, according to a person familiar with the league’s inner workings.
That person said the deal never was in jeopardy despite the reported efforts by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to influence the decision.
Another person familiar with the dynamics said later in the week of the speculation that Jones attempted to hold up the deal: “He definitely tried. He just found out he didn’t have as much influence as he thought he did.”
The owners and the union now can, if they choose, get started in earnest on discussions about an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which runs through 2020.
Thursday Night Rewind
Of course Rams vs. Niners on a Thursday night was the most entertaining game of the NFL season so far.
Did anyone expect anything different?
The early stages of this NFL season have been plagued by poor offensive play resulting in dull, low-scoring games. And the Thursday night games never have been exactly known for their crispness and can’t-turn-away watch-ability.
But the Rams and 49ers put on a superb show Thursday night. The offenses of the two youthful head coaches, the Rams’ Sean McVay and the Niners’ Kyle Shanahan, were impressive. McVay eventually prevailed in the square-off of former Redskins offensive coordinators, 41-39.
There was a lot that went on in this one.
McVay is already working wonders with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns Thursday in a 22-for-28 passing display. Goff didn’t have an interception and had a passer rating of 145.8. Goff was not capable of such a performance last season as a rookie. He is being turned into a franchise quarterback by McVay.
And that might end up helping Shanahan, oddly. If the Rams indeed have their quarterback already in the fold with Goff, that would mean they wouldn’t be a bidder for Kirk Cousins this coming offseason if and when the twice-franchise-tagged Redskins quarterback becomes available. That would remove one potentially viable Cousins competitor for Shanahan and the Niners.
Shanahan doesn’t have a franchise quarterback yet. But he made his offense work well Thursday with Brian Hoyer, who threw an interception on the first play — setting up a Rams touchdown 12 seconds into the game, putting them temporarily on pace to score 2,100 points on the night — but settled down to pass for 332 yards and two touchdowns.
The Niners might have forced overtime if not for a missed extra point by kicker Robbie Gould. (The longer extra point decides a game!) That forced them into a two-point conversion attempt with just over two minutes left, trailing by two. It failed. The Niners got the ball right back on a successful onside kick. But their last-gasp drive was undone by a questionable — to put it kindly — offensive pass interference penalty. (An officiating controversy!)
The NFL can only hope for more games like this one.
Remember when Tony Romo retired and everyone wondered if there might be a comeback at some point? Well, Romo has been terrific in the broadcast booth. He’ll only get better. Everyone loves him already. There are raves about his ability to tell you what play is about to be come. Does all of that ensure that he’ll never play again? Perhaps. …
As the NFL and NFLPA await a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on the league’s request for a stay of the injunction that is keeping the six-game suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott on hold, Lockhart said the league would have “some discretion” on Elliott’s playing status if the suspension is reinstated by the appeals court late in a week. …
The league chose not to place an on-field official, Carl Johnson, on paid leave via use of the commissioner’s exempt list while Johnson reportedly is being investigated for domestic violence in Louisiana. “I don’t expect the commissioner’s exempt list would be invoked here,” Lockhart said during the week. …
One of the big questions entering this season was whether J.J. Watt, as he returns from his latest back surgery, would still be the same dominant player for the Texans who won three NFL defensive player of the year awards. Through two games, Watt has zero sacks and seven tackles. …
Washington attorney Cyrus Mehri intended to run for executive director of the NFLPA against Smith. He was highly critical of Smith and the union’s new election procedures. He has not given up his candidacy despite Tuesday’s reelection of Smith, vowing to continue to get the word out to players. But Mehri was not the only person planning to oppose Smith next year. There also was a former NFL player who intended to run for the position before learning of the new voting rules. …
When the Lions won an instant-replay challenge regarding the spot of the football during their triumph Monday night over the Giants at the Meadowlands, the ball was re-spotted and then the officials remeasured for a first down. So, in other words, the NFL uses high-def replay to determine precisely where to spot the ball, then drags out two poles and a chain to guesstimate whether it’s a first down? Isn’t there a better way? …
The lack of scoring leaguewide has been an issue through the season’s first two weeks. But that’s not the fault of rookies. According to the league, rookies scored 19 touchdowns through the Week 2 games, the most since rookies had 21 touchdowns through two weeks of the 1978 season.
Games to Watch
Falcons at Lions … Two of the three 2-0 teams in the NFC face off. The Falcons have shrugged off their Super Bowl debacle and have made a strong early-season case they remain the conference’s top team. But the Lions just won a game against the Giants in which Matthew Stafford threw for only 122 yards. They’re a more complete team than they’ve been.
Buccaneers at Vikings … The Bucs go on the road and get a chance to show they belong in that conversation about the NFC’s best teams.
Giants at Eagles … Perhaps the Giants, at 0-2 and with their offense in disarray, aren’t playing for their season quite yet. But it’s pretty close to that.
Games to Miss
Browns at Colts … They’re the Browns. They’re the Colts. Enough said.
Dolphins at Jets … They’re the Jets.
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