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Takeaways From 'Hell in a Cell': Roman Reigns and Sasha Banks Shine, Randy Orton Crowned Next WWE Champion - Sports Illustrated
WWE has been on a hot streak with their pay per views, and that run continued at Hell in a Cell.
Seven months into his title reign, Drew McIntyre finally received the opportunity to close out a pay per view. McIntyre’s first time in the main event ended in defeat, as Randy Orton finished their match with an RKO to crown himself the new WWE Champion. Incredibly, a WWE title change was somehow the third most noteworthy part of the show. Roman Reigns and Jey Uso put on a storytelling clinic in the opening match. Reigns laid down a beat on both Jey and Jimmy Uso, officially becoming the head of the family in a post-match ceremony with family members–and wrestling luminaries–Afa and Sika. Sasha Banks and Bayley also combined for the match of the night. This was physical, violent and painful as both women continually put themselves at risk. The match ended with Banks enacting revenge on Bayley, using a steel chair in her favor and taking Bayley’s prized SmackDown title. A gold standard in wrestling is the Bayley-Banks match from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015, but it is impossible to compare the two matches, especially since the TakeOver match helped redefine the standard of a match throughout the industry. But this was special in its own right, and still leaves an opening for the story to continue to build toward WrestleMania. WWE flexed its muscle with an elite card at Hell in a Cell. All three of the cage matches could have main-evented a pay per view, and it was certainly different to see Reigns work the opening match. Another important development occurred when The Miz seized control of the Money in the Bank contract, giving WWE a new “Mr. Money in the Bank”. Here are the results from Hell in a Cell: -- 24/7 Champion R-Truth defeated Drew Gulak on the pre-show -- Universal Champion Roman Reigns defeated Jey Uso in a Hell in a Cell “I Quit” match -- Elias defeated Jeff Hardy by disqualification -- The Miz defeated Otis to take control of the Money in the Bank contract -- Sasha Banks defeated Bayley in a Hell in a Cell match to become the new SmackDown Women’s Champion -- United States Champion Bobby Lashley defeated Slapjack -- Randy Orton defeated Drew McIntyre in a Hell in a Cell match to become the new WWE Champion And here are my takeaways from the show: Randy Orton is now a 14-time world champion Closing out the show in the main event is an honor, but this match had the challenge of being different from the Reigns-Uso and Bayley-Banks cage matches, which were both outstanding. Drew McIntyre and Orton were the only two to climb to the top of the cage, which was important, as it led to Orton taking control and then capitalizing upon a vulnerable McIntyre. Orton finished McIntyre with an RKO for the win, but the momentum of the match shifted once McIntyre crashed off the side of the Hell in a Cell cage. After winning the title at WrestleMania, McIntyre redefined himself in his run as WWE Champion. He had the added difficulty of performing the role of champ amidst an empty Performance Center each week on Raw, but he brought meaning to the belt and remains in position for another run with the belt. Orton now begins his first reign as WWE Champion since 2017 and seeing him appear on Monday’s Raw as champ will be a familiar sight for wrestling fans. Sasha Banks and Bayley combine to deliver a tremendous Hell in a Cell cage match Banks forced Bayley to tap, ending her run as champ at 380 days. The finishing sequence saw Banks lock a Banks Statement with Bayley’s head stuck inside a steel chair, a fitting callback to the manner in which Bayley used a steel chair to turn on Banks and injure her neck in September. This is one of the best feuds in wrestling, and the match did not disappoint. The most compelling part was the solitary, undeterred pursuit from both Bayley and Banks toward the SmackDown title. In an era with an abundance of championship belts, this entire feud has been based around Bayley’s unremitting desire to stay champion, contrasted with Banks’s chase of the gold. A title only has as much meaning as its champion gives it, and this belt feels incredibly important with Bayley and Banks competing for it. This was extremely physical. In addition to shots from a kendo stick and a Banks frog splash onto a steel chair, as well as Banks hitting a Bayley-to-Belly onto a ladder, both women put their bodies on the line with a pace that didn’t hold back. Symbolism was also visible in their gear, as Bayley wore black and Banks was adorned in all white–another reminder that these two perfectly portray their characters. There is still more story to be told between these two, and hopefully it continues to build to WrestleMania 37. Jey Uso once again stood his ground while sharing the ring with Roman Reigns One of the most remarkable accomplishments throughout the past year has been the manner in which Uso has been elevated into the main event picture. Even as recently as this summer, it would have seemed unrealistic for Uso to ever play a significant role for WWE as a singles wrestler, but that is exactly what has happened. Although they are adversaries in the ring, Uso has also rewarded Reigns’s faith in his ability as a performer. After Reigns took time off before WrestleMania, Vince McMahon wanted Reigns to return in August at SummerSlam. Reigns has had considerable input in the direction of his character since his return. After years of playing a more cartoonish protagonist, Reigns wanted an edge to his work and he wanted to be aligned with Paul Heyman, which were both approved by McMahon. He also wanted the chance to work a singles program with Uso, believing that Uso would rise to the occasion. So far, Reigns is correct—and WWE has a new singles star in Uso. This match opened the card. It was a back-and-forth battle, and the end of this Hell in a Cell “I Quit” cage match arrived when Reigns finally gained control, wrecking both Jey and Jimmy Uso, refusing to allow the match to end until he heard Jey state “I quit”. Reigns cut a tremendous promo atop Uso, reminding him he will always be better. The carnage stopped only briefly when Jimmy Uso came to the aid of his brother. Jimmy’s pleas brought Reigns to tears, and they appeared to reconcile before Reigns locked Jimmy in a guillotine. Jey then said “I quit” just so Reigns would break the hold on his brother. The entire scene ended in spectacular fashion, as longtime WWE stars and family members Afa and Sika arrived to anoint Reigns as the head of the family table. WWE has built a phenomenal story here, establishing Reigns as the best act in wrestling—and opening the door for a Jey Uso run with the world title. **** There were three matches on the main card–Jeff Hardy vs. Elias, The Miz vs. Otis, and Bobby Lashley vs. Slapjack—that did not take place inside a Hell in a Cell structure, which were necessary on a card with such intense feuds and high drama. The first of those three matches saw Elias defeat Jeff Hardy by disqualification. There is still a lot left to this program, so it is no real surprise that there was not a clean finish here. Will it be possible for WWE to enhance both talents in this program? Hardy is open about his desire to be part of a world title program sooner rather than later, and Elias remains one of WWE’s most underutilized stars. Following that match was The Miz challenging Otis with the winner receiving the Money in the Bank title contract. Putting the contract at stake is a concept that WWE should regularly employ, as it is a way to revive interest (or call an audible) in a Money in the Bank angle. Miz won the match and became the new “Mr. Money in the Bank” when Tucker turned on Otis, knocking him out with a shot from the briefcase. Clearly, there were clearly no long-term plans for Otis as champion. Otis’ new program is with Tucker, which is slightly complicated since Otis is on SmackDown and Tucker is on Raw, but WWE has the ability to rewrite rules whenever it is convenient. Personally, I would have preferred the two remained together as Heavy Machinery and returned to the tag division. As for Miz, he now has a new purpose with the possession of the briefcase and title contract. The only piece of the card that was unnecessary was Lashley defending the United States Championship against Retribution’s Slapjack. Lashley deserves more, as all this did was provide a break in intensity between the final two cage matches. The card would have benefited if the R-Truth-Drew Gulak match took place in this spot instead of on the kickoff show. Hell in a Cell marked a significant shift in the WWE storyline After a run with the title that kicked off in April, Drew McIntyre is no longer WWE Champion. That distinction now belongs to Randy Orton, who earned this title reign by putting in months of compelling work. It appeared that Orton’s window to defeat McIntyre had closed, but this decision opens up new opportunities—and allows Edge to emerge as a top contender for the title upon his eventual return. Sasha Banks also dethroned Bayley after her tremendous 380-day reign as champ. Five years after making magic at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, Banks and Bayley did it again in the Hell in a Cell cage. Roman Reigns was spectacular, building himself into an even bigger star while also guiding Jey Uso to a seat at the main event table. And The Miz is now also a bigger part of the story, as he gives new life to the Money in the Bank contract. WWE has been on a hot streak with their pay per views, and that run continued at Hell in a Cell. Justin Barrasso can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.
LSU Football Self-Imposes Penalties, Bans Odell Beckham Jr. from Facilities for Two Years - Sports Illustrated
They include a two-year facilities ban for NFL star and alum Odell Beckham Jr.
LSU is self-imposing penalties for rules violations and hoping the NCAA doesn’t levy more. The school is docking itself eight football scholarships over a two-year period and reducing recruiting visits, evaluations and communication after a nearly two-year investigation uncovered booster payments to the father of a football player, sources tell Sports Illustrated. The school is banning from its facilities for two years ex-LSU receiver and current NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., who distributed $2,000 worth of $100 bills during a wild scene that unfolded on the field following LSU’s win over Clemson in the national championship game in the New Orleans Superdome. Contacted this week about the news, LSU officials sent to SI a statement on Wednesday. “LSU has worked proactively and in cooperation with the NCAA to identify and self-report any violations that occurred within our football program," Robert Munson, LSU Senior Associate Athletic Director, said in the statement. "We believe these self-imposed penalties are appropriate and we will continue to coordinate and cooperate with the NCAA on this matter.” LSU officials notified the NCAA of its self-imposed sanctions earlier this month, sources said. The program will give up four scholarships in each of the next two years for a total of eight. Teams are normally allowed to have a maximum of 85 players on scholarship per year. The penalties will not impact the team’s ability to sign the maximum of 25 newcomers a year. Recruiting reductions include the elimination of 12.5% of official and unofficial visits, a 21-day reduction of the normal 168 days of allowable off-campus contacts and a six-week ban in communication with prospects. But the question lingers: Will it be enough to satisfy the NCAA? Former Tiger Odell Beckham Jr. will be banned from LSU's facilities for two years. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports According to previous correspondence between the school and NCAA, LSU believes its violations are Level 1 in nature, which is the most serious of the NCAA’s infraction ladder. However, there are three degrees within Level 1: aggravated, standard and mitigated. LSU’s self-imposed penalties are typical for a Level 1 mitigated, which normally does not carry a postseason ban according to the NCAA's sanction matrix. Aggravated and standard Level 1 violations carry, at the very least, a one-year postseason ban. LSU and NCAA officials communicated as recently as July about potential penalties. A postseason ban was part of the discussion, sources told SI. The school decided against self-imposing such a stiff penalty. The issue is now in the hands of the NCAA, where it is linked with a simultaneous investigation into the school’s men’s basketball program. The school has not yet received a formal Notice of Allegations from NCAA Enforcement. MORE: The College Hoops Scandal Promised a Reckoning. Where Is It? The football and basketball cases have been sent to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) as opposed to the traditional hearing panel, the Committee of Infractions, which is made up of school executives from other NCAA institutions. In its favor, LSU no longer employs two high-ranking athletic department members, athletic director Joe Alleva and football coach Les Miles, who were in their positions during the booster payments. The booster payments were the most serious of a three-pronged investigation into the program that began in late 2018. • The father of former offensive lineman Vadal Alexander received $180,000 in stolen money from LSU booster John Paul Funes, who admitted in 2019 that he embezzled more than half a million dollars from Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. The money was payment from 2012 to 2017 for what the NCAA characterized as a “no-show job.” • Beckham’s cash payments to players immediately after the Tigers won the championship. LSU officials initially told reporters that Beckham was handing out fake money, but later retracted that assertion after quarterback Joe Burrow acknowledged in an interview that the cash was real. LSU said the payments totaled $2,000, a Level III violation. • An impermissible recruiting contact in January 2019 by LSU coach Ed Orgeron. The school self-imposed recruiting restrictions on Orgeron. At the heart of the NCAA’s inquiry into the university is another sport entirely. The men’s basketball team and coach Will Wade have been in its crosshairs since opening a probe in September 2018. A July letter from NCAA vice president of enforcement Jon Duncan to the Committee on Infractions said his staff received information that “Mr. Wade arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men's basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or non-scholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects' enrollment at LSU.” SI also has received similar information regarding at least one recruit. There is disagreement from the two sides—LSU and the NCAA—on the handling of each investigation. LSU wants the NCAA to separate the two, according to correspondence between the two entities. And for a while, the governing body of college athletics had planned to rule on them separately, according to the documents. In fact, the school and the NCAA twice in the last year were nearing what’s termed as a “negotiated resolution” before an event stalled discussion. That resolution to the Funes investigation was being finalized before Beckham’s post-championship game stunt reopened the case. As recently as mid-July, the football issues, Beckham included, were again nearing a resolution before the NCAA surprised the program by halting negotiations. The NCAA paused its talks with LSU after a similar case with Kansas—also involving both basketball and football investigations—was referred to the IARP as a joint deal, against Kansas’s wishes. A week later, LSU received the NCAA enforcement staff’s request to jointly refer both investigations to the IARP like Kansas, where, coincidentally, Miles is now head coach. According to documents, LSU officials had been led to believe for more than a year that the football case would be handled separately and swiftly by the NCAA. Documents paint a picture of a frustrated university misled by the governing body. “Unlike the Kansas case, no notice of allegations has (been) issued in either the LSU football or basketball inquiry,” the school says in a response to the NCAA’s request to refer the case from the peer-review route to IARP. In an Aug. 18 response to the NCAA’s referral request, LSU outlines an assortment of reasons that the two sports should be ruled on separately. It’s in the school’s best interest that they’d be separated. Grouping two Level 1 cases together could result in the NCAA leveling against the university the dreaded “lack of institutional control,” which could further extend penalties. Also, the football investigation is complete, according to the university, while the basketball case is expected to drag on for as long as another year. “The football inquiry is finished and prepared for resolution,” LSU wrote to the NCAA. “The football inquiry should not sit idle and stall while the basketball inquiry proceeds over the next 6 to 12 months. ... Referral of the football inquiry to the IARP based on the alleged actions of the men's basketball coach is not logical.” More LSU Coverage From SI.com: LSU Doesn't Think QB Myles Brennan Will Be Ready for South CarolinaOrgeron Says Recruiting Going Strong Despite Rough 2020 StartThree Players to Watch: LSU vs. South Carolina
Two Stats That Show How Hapless the Cowboys’ Offense Was in Andy Dalton’s First Start - Sports Illustrated
These two stats show how hapless the Cowboys’ offense was in Andy Dalton’s first start.
Somebody has to win the NFC East I’ll be honest right off the bat: I didn’t watch the Cowboys-Cardinals Monday Night Football game. I watched most of the afternoon game while cooking and eating dinner because the Chiefs are always fun and the Bills are surprisingly feisty but decided I didn’t need to suck on a lemon peel for dessert by subjecting myself to more abominable NFC East football. (Sunday’s Giants-Washington stinker was enough.) Still, I think I have a pretty good idea of how the game went for Dallas after watching just this one play. Yikes. This one works pretty well, too. The Cowboys lost, 38–10. They fell behind 21–0 with just under five minutes left in the second quarter and never even made it interesting. Everyone knew there was going to be a drop-off between Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton, but Dalton’s performance was exactly the kind of game that drives fans nuts. He completed 34 of 54 pass attempts for just 266 yards, with a touchdown and two picks. While the Cardinals ripped off huge chunks of yardage (averaging 7.3 yards per play), the Cowboys dinked and dunked their way down the field to the tune of 4.1 yards per play. Put another way, the Cowboys were the first team to get blown out by 25 or more points when their quarterback completed at least 25 more passes than the opposing QB. History! Dalton’s stat line is rare in another way, too. Only 55 times in NFL history (since 1950) has a quarterback attempted at least 50 passes in a game and averaged five yards or fewer per attempt. The list of players to do that includes such luminaries as Mitchell Trubisky, Zach Mettenberger, Joe Flacco (four times!) and Ryan Mallett. In fairness, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers have also done it. So has Dak Prescott. But the thing that makes it interesting is that, out of the 55 games that match that criteria, only twice has that resulted in a win (Joe Flacco over the Vikings in 2013 and Donovan McNabb over the Steelers in 2000). Dalton even had the third-best completion percentage of any game on that list of 55, but that’s still not a recipe for success. You’re just not going to win a game with the death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach. It wasn’t all Dalton’s fault, of course. Stud guard Zack Martin left the game with a concussion, the latest blow to a depleted Dallas offensive line, and Ezekiel Elliott lost two fumbles. It was an all-around disaster for the Cowboys’ offense. The defense is also hot garbage. And yet, Dallas is still in first place in the division! Whoever wins the NFC East is going to lose by 35 in the first round of the playoffs. Who wants free stuff? American Licorice Co. How’s this for socially distant trick-or-treating? I’m giving away a whole bunch of candy over email. American Licorice Company makes all sorts of candies but is best known for RedVines and Sour Punch, which are the two that we’re giving away today. The special Halloween-themed “Mummy Mix” is a combination of three different varieties of Sour Punch candies. Winners will get a 46-oz. Mummy Mix bag, as well as a package of RedVines.
- Go back to Monday’s Hot Clicks
- Find the number of yards Joe Flacco lost on his ridiculous sack
- Send me an email ([email protected]) with the subject line candy giveaway and the correct answer in the body
- The 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th and 150th persons to email me following those instructions will win
Stephen Jones Says Dak Prescott's Injury Doesn't Affect His Contract Negotiation - Sports Illustrated
Plus, Kevin Byard talks about the Titans' two weeks without practice, power rankings, the Matt Rhule Effect and more.
Between the time Cowboys QB Dak Prescott’s right leg collapsed under the weight of Giants DB Logan Ryan, Prescott was carted back to the locker room, transported to a local hospital and operated on, there wasn’t much time for many of those involved to contemplate the injury’s long-term ramifications. At that point, concern was with Prescott, and the focus was on getting him everything he needed in the moment. Which is why Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and COO Stephen Jones left their box the minute the cart pulled off the field—as Dallas’s game against the Giants resumed—and headed for the elevators to meet their quarterback in the bowels of AT&T Stadium. They caught him just before he was loaded into the ambulance. The conversation was private. But the sentiment was obvious. “Anytime you see that type of injury that can happen in our game, we’ve had them from everybody from Alex Smith to Joe Theismann, to have it happen to somebody that’s your own—on your own team—it breaks your heart,” Stephen Jones said over the phone Wednesday night. “Dak being our leader in every way, it magnified the situation even more. It’s just very, very difficult, knowing how much he loves the game, how much he loves to compete, how much he wants to win for this team. “When you saw that, you knew that he was gonna be done for this year, you didn’t need to talk to a doctor or anything like that. There was finality as far as this year is concerned.” Now, four days later, the reality of the long-term situation can be considered. The Cowboys and Prescott’s camp have, for 18 months or so, tried to get a long-term deal done. Their failure to do so meant Prescott was playing on the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, at just over $2 million, and on the exclusive version of the franchise tag this year, with the price ballooning to $31.409 million. So no matter what happened with Dallas this fall, Prescott’s contract situation was going to linger over it. As Jones said, now everyone has finality on that part of it. We know Prescott won’t play again this year. We also know that when, by rule of the franchise tag, negotiations can pick back up after Dallas’s season ends, Prescott will still be rehabbing. And as Jones and I spoke, I figured that could cloud the situation come January or February. Instead, Jones told me the team’s approach to Prescott won’t be shaken, even a little. “Doesn’t change anything,” he said. “We’re all in on trying to get it done. Doesn’t change a thing.” Then, I raised another tag—which would cost $37.7 million—and the point was driven home. “Like I said, nothing changes,” he said “There is zero change in his contract negotiation status, how much we want to get him signed. Nothing changes. He didn’t lose value. Nothing. It’s a continually work in progress. Obviously, it’s been a challenge for us, in that we haven’t gotten it done, especially with how bad I know he wants to be a Cowboy. “And I know how bad we want him to be the leader of this team for the next 10, 12 years.” So in case you were wondering where the Cowboys stand, there it is. Dak Prescott with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports *** Week 6 has been retrofitted—we get no Thursday night game, and two Monday night games this week—and we’re here to prepare you for it. Inside this week’s GamePlan … • How the Titans’ players rallied, and what they showed everyone. • Who Matt Rhule might be helping with his Panthers’ breakthrough. • Power rankings! • Some football that will be played on Thursday night (you’ll like this one). But we’re starting with the Cowboys, Prescott and where the franchise goes from here. *** The next question here then would be fairly obvious: If the Cowboys feel this strongly about Prescott, why didn’t they already sign him? It’s a fair one, too, and there’s detail here—and this isn’t from my conversation with Jones—that may not be particularly entertaining for the average football fan thinking that contract disputes happen like Rod Tidwell’s did in Jerry Maguire. Basically, the heart of the problem between the Cowboys and Prescott came down to years. In most other sports, where contracts are fully guaranteed, players want longer-term deals because that means more security. In football, the opposite is true. Because the biggest deals for the brightest stars usually guarantee money through only three years, every year past that becomes a de facto team option. Accordingly, Prescott and his agents wanted a four-year extension, like the deals that Russell Wilson has done in Seattle—in fact, my understanding is something around Wilson’s deal (money and everything) would’ve been sufficient in the spring. The problem was the precedent Dallas had set in insisting on longer deals with stars like Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence. So the sides could never bridge that gap, which had very little to do with what the Cowboys thought of Prescott as a player and a person. That part of the equation wasn’t a problem. In fact, the Cowboys saw how Prescott handled the impasse—the kind that often can cause friction with players—as further affirmation of who their quarterback is. “It’s a full body of work,” Jones said. “He continues to build on how much respect he gets, how much we think of him, not only as a player but as a person, as a leader, a face of the organization, it only increases with each month that passes. You just continue to gain respect for him as you go. He handles adversity like no other. He’s just a special man.” And so Jones has no doubt that whatever Prescott can do to get back better than ever he will do in the coming months. “I don’t want to, in any way, underplay the severity of the injury. But the normal prognosis for something like this is four to six months. Betting on Dak, he always seems to be on the low side of something like that.” The scene on the field in the aftermath of the injury showed, again, why. The respect that Prescott commands, and has earned, was pretty clear. *** And this is where we can go back from the future to this year. What Dallas is losing was illustrated perfectly out there on the AT&T Stadium turf. It wasn’t just Cowboys teammates going over to see Prescott. It was the Giants, too. And not even just the guys who knew him—New York had more than a couple. “Obviously, the severity of the injury was very clear,” Jones said. “I know people who saw it, and could see it, just from a box in the stadium. You could tell immediately. And then you take the respect that this league has for Dak. Not even the people who know him, that goes without saying, [Giants and ex-Dallas coaches] Jason Garrett or Marc Colombo or Derek Dooley, the people who know him were there. “But just the overall respect from people who just admire what he’s done, and what a worker that he is and what a leader that he is, there’s just such respect for him. And that’s the reason.” Now, taking all of this into account, the flip side is that Dallas has been here before. More important than just that, the Cowboys learned from it. When Tony Romo broke his collarbone in Week 2 of 2015, a season that started with so much promise went careening into a ditch. There were plenty of factors (Greg Hardy was definitely one), but the biggest issue, without question, in Dallas’s inability to weather Romo’s injury was its depth issue behind the starter. Brandon Weeden got the first crack at it, Matt Cassel was then signed to replace him and Cassel was eventually benched in favor of Kellen Moore, with Romo also making a brief—and failed—bid at returning in the middle of all that. That was a big reason for the Cowboys to make quarterback depth a focus in 2016 draft, which is how Dallas wound up with Prescott. And the idea of building out the room past the starter was only reaffirmed with Mike McCarthy’s arrival in Dallas. The ex-Packers coach, Jones explained, made it clear from the start that he wanted to add a veteran and draft a developmental prospect at the position. So when Andy Dalton became available at an affordable rate, the decision to pursue him was academic. "Great news for us, Andy was ready to come back to Texas, so turned out it was in play,” Jones said. “Great opportunity for us, and he wanted to be here. Couldn’t have worked out any better.” So going forward, the Cowboys have a roster they believed could compete for a title in 2020 with Prescott at the helm—with the deep investment in the core as proof of that feeling—and now go to a quarterback who’s been to the playoffs five times, and is still just 32 years old. That’s why, when I asked Jones whether he feels fortunate to have Dalton, he didn’t even let me finish the question. “No, very fortunate. Very fortunate,” Jones said. “Same type of guy, class act, leader, been there, done that, obviously led his team to the playoffs. Not unlike the Cowboys as of late, hasn’t won a lot of playoff games. But he certainly got his team there with the opportunity to do it. We’re just fortunate to have that type of guy here ready to step in. I know his teammates have total respect for him and confidence in him.” And for that reason, he sees the season as far from over. “[Defensive coordinator] Mike Nolan made some adjustments that help our personnel and certainly our players are embracing and executing his defense better,” he continued. “And certainly, the offense has been good throughout. I think Andy gave you a glimpse there at the end, leading us down the field, I think he was 9-of-11. In the heat of the battle, crunch time, he played well. So I’ve got all the confidence in the world in this team.” So yeah, a lot did change on Sunday afternoon in Arlington. But, if you listen to Jones, plenty also stayed the same. The Albert Breer Show is back on its own podcast feed! Subscribe for Albert's insight and info, with guests including the biggest names in football. *** POWER RANKINGS 1) Green Bay Packers (4–0): This team is coming off a bye, and I can’t wait for Packers–Bucs on Sunday. Brady–Rodgers is always a fantastic show, and I expect nothing less from this one. 2) Seattle Seahawks (5–0): I’m a little uneasy about the Seahawks’ defense still, but what Russell Wilson is doing on a week-to-week basis is enough to keep Seattle moving up the list. 3) Tennessee Titans (4–0): That was impressive. Buffalo was down its starting corners, but the overall effort from Tennessee, and the style with which it won, says pretty loudly that Mike Vrabel’s crew isn’t going away after the team’s outbreak. 4) Pittsburgh Steelers (4–0): That Browns–Steelers is on the marquee this week is great. It’s been a long, long time since one of the NFL’s best rivalries held the sort of importance in the standings that Sunday’s game will carry. 5) Kansas City Chiefs (4–1): I’m willing to consider the loss to the Raiders as a blip, but concerns on K.C.’s offensive line remain. And the defense, for the first time all year, looked like the old Chiefs’ defenses (not a good thing). The Bills will provide a nice test late on Monday afternoon. *** Titans safety Kevin Byard after winning on Tuesday Night. Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports THE BIG QUESTION How did the Titans pull THAT off? We can start here: Football coaches will use just about anything for motivation, so the NFL put this one on a tee for Mike Vrabel. As his players saw it, on Monday night, he drove that thing 300 yards in addressing them in a way that humanized what they’d been through over the two weeks previous. Indeed, they were dealing with the stress of the team’s COVID-19 outbreak and fingers pointed squarely at the players and coaches for their handling of protocols. And no matter where you fall on how Tennessee has handled this (pictures surfaced of Titans players having a group workout at a local high school, which I wrote about in this space last week), it’s not hard to see how players would buy into the idea that they’d been turned into villains in an ordeal that put their own health in the crosshairs. “Mike, man, every single game, he tries to find something that gets the guys going,” said veteran safety Kevin Byard. “And obviously, with all the criticism we faced the past few weeks, he pretty much let us know, and not to use the exact words, Hey, it’s us against the world. We have to go out there and prove everybody wrong. Everything that was said about us, prove them wrong. At the end of the day, don’t have to say too much, let our play speak for us. “I think our play spoke volumes to how we prepared.” Sure did. After being locked out of team headquarters for 11 days, and having been without practice for two weeks, the Titans got two days of on-field work in, then bludgeoned the previously unbeaten Bills 42–16. Getting there required a lot of adjustments, obviously. Byard was nice enough the other day to give us a snapshot of his last two weeks. Managing emotions. Waking up day after day to news of coworkers testing positive and schedules being pushed back can take a toll on a player, to be sure. And in Byard’s case, it took him back to the summer and the fallout was felt all over his house. “Before the season started, we had the whole deal where guys were able to opt out. Me and my wife, we sat down, we talked about it and we thought it was best that I play this year,” Byard said. “But she was pregnant at the time, I just had a son in August, and I have a one-year-old daughter. Waking up and seeing, positive test, positive test, positive test, you’re just thinking, ‘Hey, am I gonna be next on the list?’ “I have a nanny that works in our house. She was kind of concerned. We didn’t know if she was gonna want to be around the kids. We had to send her home. … Coming home, my daughter’s one year old, she runs up to me, I’m thinking, Should I kiss her? Should I stay back? Should I quarantine and stay upstairs, because we all know the incubation period can take up to 12 days? It was challenging, man.” Managing his body. Under normal circumstances, almost anything an NFL player would need is there for him under one roof—and so players naturally become reliant on being under that roof. So what happens when the front door is closed? Byard took his Peloton out. During quarantine, he used the bike to stay in shape, going on challenging HIIT and Tabata rides a few times a week. And then, once camp began, and the rhythm of football season kicked in, he toned it down, but still found time to get in a 20-minute low-impact ride here or a 30-minute hip hop ride there. So over the last two weeks, he just pivoted and ramped that work back up. “The first week, I treated it like a bye week a little bit, so I did some low-impact rides,” Byard said. “But the second week, right before the facility opened back up, I was doing those HIIT rides, trying to get my body right. Also, just on my own, I went out to a park and got some striders in, because the Peleton works very well to keep your muscles and stuff good, but I had to stretch it out, make sure my legs were good.” Managing his mindset. There were obvious concerns going into game day physically, without all the work a player would normally get in. And those were addressed in a pretty interesting way, with Byard telling his teammates, “Take it back to them park ball days when you had to wake up Saturday morning, throw your pads on and go play football. It was one of those where guys said, Forget it, we’re just gonna play.” But beyond that, and maybe more significantly, there was also mental stuff people might not think about that weighed on Byard once he got into the 24 hours leading into kickoff. It takes a lot to be in the right mindset to play an NFL game. Which led the 27-year-old star to YouTube late Monday night. “I just started watching some Brian Dawkins highlights, some Troy Polamalu, some Ed Reed highlights, just to get my mind set so I could play unconscious. Don’t even think about nothing that happened before, just go out there and try to make as many plays as you can for your team,” Byard said. “And that’s what I preached to the guys before the game. It’s a blessing that we even have the opportunity to play this game. This game almost got, not necessarily snatched from us, but we almost weren’t there because of this COVID thing. “So I’m like, Take this opportunity for what it is and go out there and try to ball out.” The Titans did. *** So now the page is turned, and the Titans are getting ready for the Texans with, they hope, this episode behind them. But Byard says that, without question, he will be trying to lead in tightening up his locker room’s approach to managing the protocols. “The way we gotta look at, we used our lifeline already,” he said. “We used our bye week up. At this point, we don’t have any room to be lax on protocols or not take it very seriously. We were the first team to have an outbreak. Obviously, Dennis Kelly, our NFLPA leader, Mike Vrabel and really Jon Robinson, they’ve all been doing a great job making sure that we’re doing what we can—even during practice, spacing out on the sidelines. “We just have to continue to preach that, myself, all the coaches, all the players, leaders on the team, we used our lifeline. We have no more lifelines left. We have to continue to stay safe and do what we can. This is real.” Byard stood by the effort made by Vrabel and Robinson, too, saying, “People just trying to take from what they see—we should forfeit a game, the Titans are trying to destroy the NFL season, I think that was pretty unfair.” But he conceded complacency may have crept into places like the lunchroom. With full mask compliance, he hopes that everyone’s gotten the message now. If nothing else, the last couple of weeks showed the Titans how things can be taken away, just as Tuesday night proved how much the team has to lose if this happens again. “I will say that [Tuesday] night showed that the guys that we have in that locker room, from the coaches to the staff to everybody around the building, it’s Tennessee Tough, man,” Byard said. “We’ve faced a lot this year. Having the leaders we have on this team, having the coaches, and just us really staying locked in on the goal, we all want to be winners. That’s really the whole deal. We want to be winners by any means necessary. “You can throw anything at us, we’re gonna be able to take it and keep it rolling. At the end of the day, I think adversity makes the strong stronger. And I think [Tuesday] showed that.” *** Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT The potential Matt Rhule Effect. I’m not crowning the Panthers champions. But what we’ve seen so far? It looks pretty damn good. They were very competitive in battling back from double-digit deficits against Vegas and Tampa in Weeks 1 and 2, have won three in a row since and have done it after spring and summer circumstances that were supposed to make life harder on first-year coaches. Rhule has also pulled this off without more than a single season as an assistant offensive line coach of previous experience in the NFL. So I figured I’d ask around a little and see whether Carolina’s breaking through so quickly could impact hiring in pro football. “Absolutely,” said one exec who is well-connected in the college game. So we’re going to get you a list of guys in college who might be able to transition like Rhule has soon. But for now, it’s worth examining what someone like Rhule brings to the table that would work for any NFL team—and has worked in Charlotte thus far. Program building. In college, coaches have their hands in the pot of everything, from on-field stuff to player evaluations through recruiting to fundraising and business operations. So someone like Rhule comes thoroughly prepared to manage the football side of an NFL franchise, because he was responsible for so much in his college jobs. Practice structure. College programs deal with far more stringent rules around the work they get with players, so they have to be creative and efficient. You may remember Chip Kelly’s practices being a thing of legend on the scouting trail 10 years ago, which was a major factor in NFL teams’ interest in him. A similar dynamic existed with Rhule—and he’s told me himself coming from college served him well this summer in that regard (as I wrote at length in August). Crisis management. Rhule’s experience in this area is unique, of course, because of what he was tasked with at Baylor. But college coaches deal with extracurricular problems on a lot of different levels because, simply, their players are college kids. And so that part of being an NFL coach wouldn’t be foreign to a guy coming from a big-conference college job. Open-mindedness on scheme. This is fairly simple: Schemes in college lack the depth that NFL schemes do, but are oftentimes more diverse from school-to-school and more creative (if you’re at, say, Vanderbilt, you have to have a little extra against Alabama). Which means someone coming from that level is going to, naturally, be pretty open-minded. Rhule, for example, hired Joe Brady, with whom he had no history, because he liked his creativity. History with players. This is a short-term benefit, of course, but a benefit nonetheless. A lot of players that Rhule assessed leading up to the draft were guys he’s had his eyes on since they were teenagers (both guys he coached and guys he recruited who went to other schools). That, of course, creates an inherent advantage. And it’s one that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has cited repeatedly, in discussing Seattle’s success drafting in his early years. Now, does this mean NFL teams should just wildly swing at whomever the hot college name is come December? Of course not. A huge part of Rhule’s success is who Rhule is, regardless of his background. So nothing is automatic, and the drawbacks of hiring coaches from college are still out there. But if you’re asking whether Rhule’s success means teams will take a harder look at the college ranks this year than they have previously in looking for coaches, then my answer is yes, absolutely, I believe that’ll happen. *** Derick E. Hingle FINAL WORD Dying for some Thursday Night Football, with Chiefs–Bills moved to Monday? We’ve got you covered. Tonight, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2, Isidore Newman takes on Booker T. Washington. Why should you care about a Louisiana high school game? Newman’s sophomore quarterback, Arch Manning, has a couple of uncles you may have heard of. And he happens to be a player you’ll be hearing a lot about over the next few years. So enjoy, and you’re welcome.
Braves Spoil Dodgers' Plan, Smash Their Way to NLCS Lead - Sports Illustrated
Nobody has been able yet to knock the Braves off their confident stride.
ARLINGTON – The Dodgers turned Game 1 of the National League Division Series into the turf version of Texas Motor Speedway. One after another, Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts threw his best, fastest arms at the Atlanta Braves. Walker Buehler, Brusdar Graterol, Dustin May, Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen … the State Fair would have run out of stuffed animals if these guys ever showed up at the speed pitch booth. They threw 67 pitches at the Braves at 96 mph or better, the ninth most by any team in any game this year. Six pitches hit triple digits. Roberts’ plan to expend his best arms worked for a long while. The game between the two highest-scoring teams in baseball was tied, 1-1, heading to the ninth inning–until the Braves did what the Braves have done all season: swing their way to a win. “It’s only a matter of time,” Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “You saw it tonight. This offense is just so good. When guys are getting more comfortable and the swings are getting better good things happen.” When Dave Winfield won a World Series with the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays, he had a great line of what it was like for other teams to keep the Toronto offense at bay: “It’s like trying to hold back water with your hands.” Such is the task of trying to keep the Braves in check, especially if your plan is to do so with premium velocity. Those 67 pitches at 96 mph or better? Atlanta hit .385 against them, including every hit that drove in a run: a first-inning homer by Freeman (97.3), a ninth-inning tie-breaking homer by Austin Riley (97.9), an RBI-single by Marcell Ozuna (96.5) and a three-run homer by Ozzie Albies (96.3). The Braves are 6-0 this postseason. They have scored 11 of their past 12 runs smashing pitches at 95 or faster. Speaking of Riley, Freeman said, “That’s a pretty good nine-hole hitter we’ve got, huh?” Riley's homer off Treinen sent the Braves on their way to a 5-1 win Monday in the first 2020 baseball game played in front of actual, live paying customers. It was a beautiful sight. Riley joined Alfonso Soriano of the Yankees (2001 ALCS Game 4) as the only players to hit a tie-breaking postseason homer in the ninth inning out of the ninth spot in the batting order. It was the worst kind of loss for the Dodgers, and not only because the Atlanta Lumber Co. turned around their Grade A fastballs. Before the game Roberts spoke about the special kind of calculation it would take for a manager to get through seven games in seven days, an unprecedented postseason gauntlet. “What you don’t want to do is lose a game when you use your high leverage guys,” Roberts said. At 1-1 through eight innings, either Roberts or Atlanta manager Brian Snitker was going to wind up with one of those expensive losses. Snitker and his Braves won another bullpen game, once again because his relievers held the opponent while waiting for the inevitable strike from the offense. Atlanta made it to a bullpen game because its starter, Max Fried, was resilient. While the Dodgers’ pitchers bullied their way through the game, Fried was clinical and careful. He worked so hard just to get through two innings–it took 45 pitches–that Snitker said at the time, “If he goes four innings we’ll be lucky.” Fried made it through six, slicing up Los Angeles by tickling the edges of the strike zone with two breaking pitches, a slider and curve. And when the Dodgers looked for those, he had them late on his fastball. His only mistake was a hanging curveball that Kiké Hernández crushed for a tying home run in the fifth. “Nibbling and spinning us to death,” was how Roberts described Fried’s manner of stopping the highest-scoring offense in the game. The Braves are playing baseball as if they believe they are unbeatable, which actually happens to be the case this postseason. Their bullpen is impenetrable. Their defense rock solid. But the vibe for this club is set by the offense. It is relentless. It is jubilant. It is emotional. Hernandez noticed that special something early about the Braves. “Their energy was a little bit better than ours tonight,” the Los Angeles second baseman said. “They came right out of the gates. Freddie hit that ball really hard in the first inning. After that it put us on our heels a little bit.” Said Freeman, “It’s been this way for the past few years. We get to the seventh, eighth, ninth innings and we seem to have some magic. It’s a tough lineup to navigate.” Next up to try to stop Atlanta: Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ starter in Game 2 Tuesday. Maybe he’s actually the perfect candidate for Los Angeles to send out there. Kershaw has not hit 94 mph with any of his 1,068 pitches this year. He throws more breaking pitches as a percentage of his pitches than any starter in baseball. He better be on point. The Braves are 6-0 this postseason. They have outscored opponents, 29-6. They have trailed after only four of 58 innings. Nobody has been able yet to knock the Braves off their confident stride. Nobody has been able to hold back water with their hands.
NHL Free Agency Frenzy 2020: Signing Tracker and Analysis - Sports Illustrated
Follow along with all the big deals with live updates and instant analysis from The Hockey News' senior writers throughout the first day of the NHL's signing season.
It's not July 1, but with plenty of stars available and lots of teams looking for help, it will be madness. Welcome to NHL free agency day 2020. Stay tuned to this page throughout the day for minute-by-minute updates and analysis of every UFA deal. (Salary data via capfriendly.com.) 2:49 p.m.NEW YORK RANGERS: G Keith Kinkaid signs a two-year, $1.75-million deal ($875,000 AAV) THN'S TAKE: To come shortly. – Ken Campbell --- 2:46 p.m.EDMONTON OILERS: C Tyler Ennis signs a one-year, $1-million deal THN'S TAKE: Ennis gets another chance with the Oilers, who acquired him from the Ottawa Senators at the 2020 trade deadline. Playing primarily with Connor McDavid, Ennis picked up two goals and four points in nine regular-season games as an Oiler. His speedy, slick game meshed well with No. 97. Ennis added a goal and two points in three play-in games before breaking his leg. He should be fully healthy by the start of next season, which is projected for Jan. 1, 2021, and can play up and down the top nine in a scoring role. – Matt Larkin --- 2:32 p.m.PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: C Evan Rodrigues signs a one-year, $700,000 deal THN'S TAKE: The Pittsburgh Penguins fill out some forward depth with Rodrigues. He joined them along with Conor Sheary in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on deadline day in February, then went to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the August Kasperi Kapanen trade. The Leafs didn’t qualify him as an RFA, and the Pens liked Rodrigues enough to bring him back. He scored one goal in seven games and won 52 percent of his faceoffs. He has good speed, so he fits in well with coach Mike Sullivan’s schemes. Rodrigues didn’t dress for a game during the play-ins, though. On a one-way deal, he’ll stick with the big club but may bounce back and forth between the press box and the starting lineup. – Matt Larkin --- 2:25 p.m.PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: LW Mark Jankowski signs a one-year, $700,000 deal THN'S TAKE: In Jankowski, Pittsburgh gets a defensive forward with penalty-killing expertise who otherwise won't provide much by the way of offense. A first-round draft pick of the Flames, Jankowski was not qualified as an RFA by Calgary, thus putting him on the open market. For one year and just $700,000, Jankowski is certainly worth a try on one of Pittsburgh's bottom lines and he can play either left wing or center. – Ryan Kennedy --- 2:20 p.m.ARIZONA COYOTES: RW Tyler Pitlick signs a two-year, $3.5-million deal ($1.75-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: In nine seasons as a pro, Tyler Pitlick has scored more than 10 goals in a season only once. And it should come as no surprise that 14-goal performance came the only time he played a full season. Pitlick will be 29 years old by the time the NHL reconvenes and, on a two-year deal at $1.75 million a year, he gives the Coyotes a bottom-six forward who can move up in the lineup in a pinch and provide a modicum of offense and tenacious play. – Ken Campbell --- 2:02 p.m.FLORIDA PANTHERS: C Alexander Wennberg signs a one-year, $2.25-million deal THN'S TAKE: New Panthers GM Bill Zito swiped a castoff from his former team in Wennberg, who was bought out by the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week. At just 26, Wennberg, the 2013 draft’s 14 overall pick, could be a bargain in a fresh environment. The Panthers need depth at center after trading Vincent Trochek during the winter and with the center they got back in that deal, Erik Haula, a UFA. Wennberg isn’t a guy who wins you trench wars in the playoffs, but he’s a skilled puck distributor who once tallied 46 assists in a season. Adding him to the lineup will force a youngster like Henrik Borgstrom to earn his way up the depth chart. That’s a good thing. – Matt Larkin --- 1:50 p.m.DALLAS STARS: G Anton Khudobin signs a three-year, $10.5-million deal ($3.5-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: When Anton Khudobin was a 21-year-old rookie, he got a three-year entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild. He had to wait 13 years and five stints with four different teams to get another three-year deal. For the next three seasons, the Dallas Stars will be using $8.4 million in cap space on goaltending, with $3.5 million of it going to Khudobin. A lot of teams spend that much money on a No. 1 goalie, but with Khudobin and Ben Bishop, the Stars are banking having a platoon that gives them solid enough goaltending to keep them a contender. And from Khudobin, they’ll be looking for exactly what they got from him in 2019-20 – someone who can play 30-35 regular season games and fill in as the No. 1 in case of an injury. And we all know how that turned out when that precise scenario unfolded during the playoffs. – Ken Campbell --- 1:24 p.m.VANCOUVER CANUCKS: G Braden Holtby signs a two-year, $8.6-million deal ($4.3-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: With Thatcher Demko the clear starter-in-the-making, Vancouver adds a Vezina Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion in Holtby, who struggled his final years in Washington. Holtby can take the pressure off the ascending Demko, but it will be important for everyone to be on the same page here - the Canucks don't need a goalie controversy. The term is good (and perhaps foreshadows Holtby going to Seattle in the expansion draft) and the dollar amount is OK, though the Canucks do still have some work to do and not a lot of cash to throw around. – Ryan Kennedy (FULL ANALYSIS) --- 1:05 p.m.MINNESOTA WILD: G Cam Talbot signs a three-year, $11-million deal ($3.67-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: It was obvious the Wild were going to pursue a starting goaltender after they traded Devan Dubnyk to the San Jose Sharks earlier this week. They found their man in Talbot, 33. Did GM Bill Guerin aim high enough, though? Talbot was great this past season for the Calgary Flames, yes. Per naturalstattrick.com, he ranked in the upper third of the league in goals saved above average per 60 at 5-on-5, and only six goalies faced more shots per 60. He outduelled Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck to help Calgary defeat the Winnipeg Jets during the play-in round. But Talbot has not been a consistent goaltender year to year. He’s not a slam-dunk upgrade in goal. At least the Wild have good depth behind in with Alex Stalock and Kaapo Kahkonen. – Matt Larkin --- 1:04 p.m.EDMONTON OILERS: C Kyle Turris signs a two-year, $3.3-million deal ($1.65-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: Oilers GM Ken Holland takes advantage of an opportunity by signing Turris to a two-year deal for very little pain. Turris was recently bought out by the Nashville Predators, so his albatross contract is no longer a factor (at least for him - the Preds are still on the hook for some of it). Looking at this purely from an Edmonton perspective, the Oilers get a middle-six center for just $1.6 million a year for the next two seasons. That's great value for a player looking to get back on track after a disastrous tenure in Nashville. Perhaps Turris is only a 45-point guy at this point in his career, but the move gives Edmonton some nice flexibility down the middle. – Ryan Kennedy --- 12:45 p.m.FLORIDA PANTHERS: C Carter Verhaeghe signs a two-year, $2-million deal ($1-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: This past season, Carter Verhaeghe proved to the hockey world that he was a full-time NHL player. But that was not enough for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who allowed him to walk away as an unrestricted free agent after the team did not qualify him. The Lightning were clearly wary of going to arbitration with the 25-year-old and felt they could not afford to keep him in the midst of their cap crunch. So their cross-state rivals were happy to pick him up on a two-year deal that will either give them good value at $1 million per season or can be buried in the minors without the Panthers being penalized. Verhaeghe has been a very good secondary scorer in junior hockey and the minors, but has yet to establish himself in that role as an NHLer. He’ll have that opportunity as a potential bottom-six forward for the Panthers. – Ken Campbell --- 12:41 p.m.DETROIT RED WINGS: D Jon Merrill signs a one-year, $925,000 deal THN'S TAKE: Steve Yzerman continues to fill out Detroit’s depth with another one-year deal for a veteran who can be flipped later. Adding Merrill, 28, who plays a stay-at-home game, will force Detroit’s younger blueliners to earn roster spots rather than have them awarded by default. That bodes well for the Wings’ development plan. – Matt Larkin --- 12:34 p.m.FLORIDA PANTHERS: D Radko Gudas signs a three-year, $7.5-million deal ($2.5-million AAV) THN'S TAKE: New GM Bill Zito continues his remaking of the Panthers roster by adding a physical stopper in defenseman Radko Gudas. The veteran won't add much offense in Florida, but that's for others: Gudas will get the puck out of the zone and make the opponent think twice about going into the corners. Penalties and suspensions have dogged the defenseman over the years, but that's the biggest risk with him. This past season with Washington, he had some of the best possession numbers among Capitals defensemen, despite playing some decently tough minutes. – Ryan Kennedy --- 12:27 p.m.TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: D Luke Schenn signs a one-year, $800,000 deal THN'S TAKE: Schenn doesn’t bring anything flashy at this stage of his career, but he’s a reliable enough depth defenseman who can be a swingman in the No. 6 or 7 spot and bring physicality. Because he started his NHL career as a teenager, it feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s quietly just 30. He appeared in 11 post-season games during Tampa’s run to the 2020 Stanley Cup. Logging just 10:52 per night over that span, Schenn quietly led all NHLers in 5-on-5 hits per 60 minutes during the bubble tournament, per naturalstattrick.com (min. 50 minutes). You know what you’re getting with him: a meat-and-potatoes game. – Matt Larkin --- 12:26 p.m.TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: LW Patrick Maroon signs a two-year, $1.8-million deal ($900,000 AAV) THN'S TAKE: It worked so well the first time, why not try again? Maroon re-ups with Tampa Bay after the power forward and the Lightning combined for the Stanley Cup this season. Maroon's relationship with coach Jon Cooper goes all the way back to Maroon's junior days, so there was certainly a level of comfort when the St. Louis native originally signed with the team last year. Maroon brings size, toughness and some scoring back to a lineup that will have an even bigger target on its back next year as the defending champs. For $900,000 a year, Maroon is a good fit and he should still have enough in the tank to bring value in both years of the contract. – Ryan Kennedy --- 12:16 p.m.DETROIT RED WINGS: RW Bobby Ryan signs a one-year, $1-million deal THN'S TAKE: Ryan gets a fresh start on a rebuilding team. He spent the past season getting his life together and addressing his alcohol abuse issues, returned to the Ottawa Senators lineup with flair late in the season and won the Masterton Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to hockey. Ryan, 33, is far removed from his best years as a regular 30-goal scorer with the Anaheim Ducks, but he was still effective in spurts during his tenure with Ottawa and can be counted on for a double-digit goal total in a Detroit lineup that needs viable NHL players and revived Robby Fabbri’s career last season. Since Ryan’s contract is just for one year, he should be a flippable asset at the 2021 trade deadline for a Red Wings team still far away from contention. It’s a “prove it” season, and with Ryan’s personal life in its best place in a long time, he could have a nice comeback year. – Matt Larkin --- 12:10 p.m.CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: G Malcolm Subban signs a two-year, $1.5-million deal ($750,000 AAV) THN'S TAKE: The Blackhawks are giving Malcolm Subban the best opportunity of his career. Since they won’t be re-signing Corey Crawford, they plan to roll with a trio of Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen in what should be an open competition to win the role of starting goaltender going forward. Subban, 26, has about one full season’s worth of NHL experience in his career: 66 games, 60 starts, a disappointing 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. But he’s never started more than 20 games in a season. Goalies bloom later than skaters and defensemen, so the Hawks are hoping Subban shows his best self with a chance at a bigger role. – Matt Larkin --- 12:04 p.m.TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: LW Wayne Simmonds signs a one-year, $1.5-million deal THN'S TAKE: Toronto takes advantage of its geography by inking local product Simmonds to a one-year deal for a very reasonable cap hit. While Simmonds may no longer be the weapon he was in his prime, the veteran still gives the Maple Leafs exactly what they need: toughness. With Josh Anderson in Montreal and the Bruins always nasty, Toronto now has someone who can stick up for his teammates and maybe pop in some tertiary offense thanks to his netfront play. And for just $1.5 million, there is basically no risk in the deal for the Leafs. – Ryan Kennedy --- 11:35 a.m.WASHINGTON CAPITALS: G Henrik Lundqvist signs a one-year, $1.5-million deal THN'S TAKE: In New York, Henrik Lundqvist is known as The King. In Washington, he’s known as The Tormentor. As much as the Pittsburgh Penguins have been the Capitals’ post-season kryptonite over the years, Lundqvist was in the nets for the Rangers when they vanquished the Capitals in the second round in 2012 and 2015 and in the first round in 2013. Now Lundqvist is a Capital on a one-year deal at $1.5 million, which gives Washington a low-risk, low-price mentor and backup for Ilya Samsonov. And if you believe the Capitals are still a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, it gives Lundqvist an opportunity to chase that elusive championship at the age of 38. Lundqvist is not the same goalie who chased the Capitals from the playoffs three times in a four-year span and backstopped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup final in 2014 and the Eastern Conference final a year later, but he doesn’t have to be. – Ken Campbell (FULL ANALYSIS)
With the Lakers, J.R. Smith Is Just Another Guy - Sports Illustrated
J.R. Smith and the Lakers are one win away from winning the 2020 NBA Finals. He reflects on his basketball journey.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — There was a time when the man sitting here could do almost anything. “I have a lot of talent,” J.R. Smith says simply. “I could have probably gone professional at three or four different sports.” Smith is not bragging, and this is not hyperbole. Some athletes overstate their ability to play other sports—whenever an NFL player says he could have been an Olympic sprinter, be skeptical. But Smith is the exception. He really is that talented. He has played 16 seasons in the NBA, but he received high Division I interest in football before giving it up, and he was better at baseball than both. Basketball, Smith says, “was just always my first choice since I was 3.” Now he is 35. In 90 minutes, Smith’s Lakers will take the floor for Game 2 of the Finals. A starter would never do an extended interview so close to tipoff in the Finals, but these days, J.R. Smith spends most of his time watching from the Lakers’ bench. He is thankful to be there. Prodigies move fast, and Smith sure did. He went to the NBA straight out of high school in 2004. Since then, he has earned more than $80 million and has won a championship (with the 2016 Cavaliers). He has also made some prominent mistakes, ranging from comic to tragic. The mention of his name can elicit a snicker or a cheap joke, and it’s easy to forget both the breathtaking athletic gifts and the fact they belong to an actual human being. Sometimes Smith looks back on the prodigy he was, and he can’t quite believe it. Turning pro when you’re 18 sounds great when you’re 18. It seems crazy at 35. “You know, you turn 18, 19 you're thrown a s---ton of money and, you've been, quote, unquote, ‘the guy’ from a high school to AAU, and then you go to a team that hasn't won anything,” Smith says. “You're in a bad situation with a bad franchise, you don't know it at that point in time." Pro sports dangle the promise of what we think we want: Money, fame, adulation. Smith grabbed enough of all of it to think, at times, that it was real happiness. He knew something was wrong, but it was hard to know what it was. After all, it couldn’t be him. He was a success. He spent two seasons with the New Orleans Hornets and then got shipped to Denver. His talent was obvious, but nobody could quite figure out how to cultivate it. Immature is the catch-all word in sports, the one we use for a guy who did not see eye-to-eye with coaches; who did not always play defense; and who drove too fast. In 2009, Smith sped through a stop sign and hit another car, killing his passenger, his close friend Andre Bell. Smith was devastated. Only now, looking back, does J.R. see J.R. with clarity. “I would say I was lost now,” he says. “Then, I wouldn't say I was lost. I thought I knew exactly who I was, who I was going to be, where I wanted to be.” In 2009, a few months after the accident that killed Bell, Smith announced that he wanted to be known as Earl, his birth name. (He is Earl Jr..) It was an indication that he wanted a fresh start. He did not get his wish. “Everybody knows him as J.R., so nobody called him Earl,” Earl Sr. says. J.R.’s story was no longer his to tell. “I was trying to please my parents, I was trying to please the organization, trying to please my peers, trying to please my friends, trying to please my girlfriend at the time,” Smith says. “I was just trying to please so many different people and it just wasn't working out.” Maybe now it would be different. The NBA is a more understanding place than it was in 2004. A player can scream or sob and expect somebody to hear it. Ask him what he would tell young J.R., and he says: “More than anything, just be conscious of the words you speak. You know, the words you speak [are] just a thought process. And the thought process becomes your character … it just goes on down the line in life. You don't really want to fall into that into that rabbit hole.” His public image ran so far ahead of him that he could never chase it down. He had to find a place for his private self somewhere in his public life. Earl says, “Maturity sets in at a certain age. It could be at 18 or at 35. Maturity sets in gradually on everybody—some later than others. He realized certain ways things had to be done.” Smith says having three daughters changed him: “I wouldn't say I softened up, but I smartened up, because raising young women today in this generation, this day and age, they're not protected.” After a lifetime of action sports, he picked up golf as an adult and says his official handicap index is a 2.7, but he is probably playing closer to an eight now because he hasn’t had time to practice. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports There are fair questions about whether he has fully matured. (This summer he chased down a vandal who broke his car window and proudly declared that he “whooped his ass.” Smith did not face charges.) But he has clearly changed as a player and a teammate, and the proof is this: He has played just nine minutes in the Finals and the Lakers are still happy to have him. “I feel like I have to give just to the game,” he says. “Not to nobody else. Not to the players, not to the coaches, not to the refs, and not to the fans—not to anybody else. Just that ball and that court. If you love the game, the game will always love you back.” For most of Game 4, Smith stood in front of the Lakers bench—sometimes with his arms folded, more often bending over with his hands on his knees. Sometimes he exhorted his teammates to play defense. The guy who could do almost anything in sports is just another guy on the team now. He’s good with it.
NBA Finals Ratings Hit Rock Bottom: TRAINA THOUGHTS - Sports Illustrated
How worried should the NBA be about Lakers-Heat drawing the fewest viewers ever for the NBA Finals?
1. While the NFL is only suffering from a very slight ratings dip, the NBA has seen a severe viewer tune out. The question is, just how alarmed should the league be by this development? Here are the numbers for the first three games of the Finals between the Heat and Lakers. Game 1: 7.4 million viewersGame 2: 6.1 million viewersGame 3: 5.9 million viewers Those numbers for Game 2 and 3 are all-time lows for the NBA Finals. Now for the perspective. Game 2 took place on a Friday night. The NBA never plays a Finals game on a Friday night because viewership for Fridays is terrible. Game 3 took place on Sunday night going head-to-head with the NFL. That explains the dip of 3 million viewers from Game 1 to Game 3. The real issue is that the first game drew seven million viewers while last year's Finals between the Warriors and Raptors averaged 15.1 million viewers. Obviously, scheduling is a huge issue. The NBA Finals take center stage in June, when they have to compete only with the NHL and regular-season baseball. Now the Finals are competing with the NFL, postseason baseball and college football. As with the NFL, you can't discount how much cord cutting and cable news are hurting network television. Cable news ratings are up 37% from a year ago. Network prime time ratings are down 47%. Even with all these factors, the league has to be worried about the Finals having no ratings juice at all, especially with the Lakers and LeBron James in there. You don't need me to tell you this was far from a traditional season, and the games play differently on TV without fans in the building and the crazy atmosphere of an NBA crowd. You could've made the argument that with this being such an unusual season, the NBA could throw this year's ratings out the window and just focus on next season, but the viewership numbers for the past two games are so bad they have to worry the league. 2. Aaron Rodgers gave us the worst best flex you'll ever see last night. 3. As someone who gave up fantasy football three years ago, in one of the best decisions of my life, I especially enjoyed this tweet from injured Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. 4. This week's Bad Beats is worth your time as always. 5. If you love weird stats, here's a doozy about Alex Bregman. 6. Recent guests on the SI Media Podcast include Al Michaels last week, Dan Patrick two weeks ago and Kevin Harlan three weeks ago. If you missed any of the episodes, catch up today and subscribe to the pod. You can listen to the podcast below or download it on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. 7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: The great '80s Nickelodeon show, Double Dare, debuted on this date in 1986. Did you know Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan once appeared on the show? 8. SPORTS VIDEO OF THE DAY: Here is the Week 4 edition of Angry Runs. Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.
MMQB: How Week 4 Tested the NFL's COVID-19 Protocols and What Happens Next? - Sports Illustrated
This week saw games postponed, facilities closed, a false positive on the road and more. Here's what it all means for the 2020 season.
The NFL has done a really good job managing COVID-19, and the work it did in conjunction with the union in June and July has paid huge dividends. The two months from the start of camp through Week 3 was proof of that. And the last week? It showed that this bubble-less system is still far from perfect. We still got plenty of Week 4 action, to be sure. But the game between the 3–0 Titans and 3–0 Steelers didn’t happen, and won’t for another three weeks. The Chiefs–Patriots showdown hasn’t been played yet, and when it is—pending any more positive tests, at 7:05 p.m. ET Monday, as part of a thrown-together MNF doubleheader—it will be with Brian Hoyer starting at quarterback for New England. On top of that, a false positive late Saturday night threw a third game, Saints–Lions, into doubt as the country woke up for its football Sunday. This was not a good week for the NFL. Roughly a quarter of the league had games tossed into some level of doubt, thanks to positive COVID-19 tests, as pro football navigated its equivalent to baseball’s situation with the Marlins early in the MLB season. And yet, in reality, this is probably what everyone should’ve expected at some point all along. From the start, it was obvious the decision to stay outside of a bubble would create challenges that even the most stringent protocols wouldn’t eliminate. It was easier during camp, with guys logging 12-hour workdays. Once that was over, those days shortened and the variables multiplied—people’s kids went back to school, wives went back to work, etc. Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC; Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports; Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports So if you assumed what happened this week was inevitable, the next question was always going be, What’s next? “There's still a lot of information to come, but I think something that we've affirmed this week is that this is a very tough virus that is highly contagious,” the NFL’s chief medical officer, Allen Sills, told me late Sunday. “We've said all along that this is a tough opponent—this is hard—and that we know that we're going to have positive cases occur, and we have to work really hard to try to prevent spread. “I think in that sense, the events of the week are something we've been anticipating, and it's what we've built our protocols around. What we do learn, and the new information that we gain from the review of the situation with each of these teams, will help us to continue to improve those protocols as we go along." It’s been a wild 24 hours, and over that time we’ve had calls for bubbling the league, pausing the season or reevaluating everything altogether. Meanwhile, the NFL did what it’s done since the pandemic started spreading throughout the United States in March. It stayed the course. And on Sunday, that meant playing a dozen games, setting up for two more on Monday night and juggling the schedule in a way that’ll eliminate any margin for error with two teams that figure to be playing important games all the way into the new year. I was at my kid’s hockey practice on Saturday morning, and a bunch of dads who have kids that play with my son asked me what I thought would happen. My answer was similar to the one I gave people in July: I don’t know. Really, how could you? *** I promise we have a lot of football coming in this week’s MMQB—and I won’t be offended if you want to scroll past the COVID-19 stuff to get to it. If you do, you’ll find more on … • How the Vikings managed to score their first win after a hectic week. • The way that false positive messed with the Saints’ Sunday. • Tom Brady’s second-half bludgeoning of the Chargers. • The elite unit that no one is talking about. But we’re starting with where the 2020 season stands now that the coronavirus has sunk its teeth into the schedule. ••• We’re going to start with a quick recap of where things stand across the NFL. Here’s everything in a nutshell. • The Titans have had 17 positive tests over a 10-day period and have registered positive tests on six consecutive days. This started with positive tests to practice squad CB Greg Mabin and outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen last Thursday and Friday. The team’s traveling party was tested that Saturday, and came back clean the Sunday morning of Week 3, clearing everyone to play and coach. Subsequent tests Monday turned up eight positives on Tuesday morning. Around 5:15 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning, Tennessee shut its facility down. • Tuesday was the first of the six straight days of positive tests. The league, sources say, also found abnormally high contact tracing numbers in the Titans’ data, hastening an investigation into the team’s handling of the protocols. That review launched Friday, with NFL and NFLPA officials arriving in Nashville, to look into questions over the team’s practices on COVID-19. • Patriots QB Cam Newton and Chiefs practice-squad QB Jordan Ta’amu turned up positive on Saturday morning—those tests were taken Friday. The Patriots had a team meeting that morning at 8 a.m., then called a second team meeting at 10:45 a.m. to send the players home and tell them to sit tight. The Chiefs held a team meeting and walkthrough, then sent their players home. By midday, both teams’ facilities were shut down for the weekend. • The Patriots’ plan to fly to K.C. on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, obviously, was scrapped as a result. The league, union and teams worked through scenarios—with the NFL wanting players to clear two days of PCR and point-of-care testing before the Patriots traveled. That meant the earliest the Patriots could travel would be Monday morning. • The NFL and NFLPA had previously decided against having day-of-game travel amid the pandemic. But playing Tuesday would’ve put the Chiefs in a tough spot—with a Thursday game looming in Week 6 (which would have meant three games in 10 days). So the league and teams made the exception here, allowing for the Patriots to travel Monday morning and play at 7:05 p.m. ET on Monday night, pending continued negative tests. • Meanwhile, late Saturday night, the Saints got word that fullback Michael Burton’s PCR test from Saturday morning had come back positive. The lab reran the test, it came back negative and Burton took a point-of-care test that also came back negative. So he, and the Saints, were cleared to play in Detroit on Sunday. Now, for what’s next. *** To me, the most fascinating part of this whole thing, and the league’s handling of the situation, has been this—there’s a segment of the public, and the press, that really, really believes these guys shouldn’t be playing, for the sake of their own health. And the players themselves badly want to play, even now. When I asked one Chiefs player on Sunday how he felt about playing, he didn’t hesitate. “Fine,” he said. “I know it’s a small sample of one, but Minnesota wasn’t affected by the other team having it [the Titans in Week 3]. We’ll test tomorrow and if we’re all clear, I don’t see why there would be any worries [beyond what’s normal]. … We’re still in a hotel tonight like normal so I think guys will get back on track tonight. New England getting off a plane, driving 35 minutes to Arrowhead, then playing seems like much more of a changeup than whatever we have to deal with.” “We’d much rather play [Monday] than Tuesday or make it up during our bye week,” said a Chiefs staffer. “I don’t get the feeling our players feel [concerned]. Our guys have done a pretty good job following the protocol.” On the flip side, there were absolutely some Patriots players who were a little spooked on Saturday morning. And the fact that the team will be taking two planes to Missouri on Monday—one with Newton’s close contacts (there were around 20) and one with all other personnel—has to be unsettling. But one player hit me with his coach’s famous line, “It what it is,” before acknowledging that this was always likely to be someone’s reality. “Pretty crazy,” he texted. “Have to be ready to go through all of it. I figured something like this would happen this year. Never thought it’d be our team, but that’s the NFL in 2020.” This sentiment—that the players want to play, even after all this—puts us right in the place we were in the summer. The next question: Will they be able to? *** In talking to Sills, travel came up a few different times. There was one particular nugget he gave me that I thought was interesting—it relates back to the contact tracing devices all team employees have to wear (either as lanyards or bracelets)—that was raised as a big concern coming out of this week. “One of the things we've been focusing on a lot over the last week is travel,” Sills said. “And specifically, we've gone back and looked at data that we have from the KINEXON proximity tracking devices. And we recognized vulnerabilities in regard to airplane and bus travel. We've actually done calls with all 32 teams with some specific findings and some specific suggestions about additional ways to mitigate risk while traveling. “We've already seen teams employ some of those recommendations. Certainly, based on the knowledge from the current situation, we'll have some additional recommendations that we can pass along." Now, Sills emphasized that the league was already working to patch some of the holes in the contact tracing. Here’s the example he used to explain that to me: If a club had teammates who were roommates and one roommate tested positive, and the other didn’t come up in his contact tracing, he would still be considered a close contact. Point being, they’re not relying solely on the device. But it’s a hole, and it shows that none of this is 100% perfect. And another place where that shows up, of course, is in the testing, and this week’s timeline underlines that—with the Titans players and coaches having passed tests before traveling to Minnesota, only to encounter an outbreak within their ranks upon returning to Nashville. “What this shows is we can never become complacent and think, ‘Well, everyone's tested negative, so we're all O.K.,” Sills said. “We've said all along, we should behave as if someone has COVID-19 around us at all times. That's really kind of the golden rule of prevention. Because if you do that, you're going to keep yourself safe. And I think this even goes back to maybe a discussion that was popular last weekend, which is, 'Why are you making these coaches wear face coverings on the sideline?' This is why. “Just because everyone tested negative, you can't assume that someone's not infected in the team environment.” Of course, that doesn’t mean the protocols aren’t getting better, or that new ideas won’t continue to be implemented. They will be. And that’s where Sills and I went next, hitting a few topics that should paint a picture of the next couple months. Enhanced tracing. One area that Sills was optimistic about was in genetic sequencing. Because I’m no doctor, it took some dumbing down for me to get it—but in essence, this is a way of detecting a fingerprint for each infection, which can allow you to figure out if people have the same strain, which tells you if there’s a likelihood they got it from one another. In this case, once genetic sequencing is available to the NFL, the Titans could in theory figured out if the people who tested positive last week got it from Mabin and/or Bowen. “Did every single one of those cases have that same exact fingerprint?” Sills said. “That obviously would strongly suggest that you passed it from one person to another. On the other hand, if you find that there are three or four different strains of the virus, now you may be looking not just at one person that infected a number of individuals. ... Again, it's never going to be 100% perfect, but it at least allows you to have a little bit more information.” Rapid testing. The PCR testing still takes almost a day to turn around, which creates another layer of margin for error, on top of the incubation period. And I know the NFL’s initial decision to go with the PCR testing over the summer was because it was far more accurate. But since, the rapid testing’s gotten better. So, I asked Sills, if the NFL is getting closer to the point where it would use rapid testing for its daily screening, over PCR tests. “We still have concerns about the sensitivity and the specificity of that test,” Sills said. “We continue to look at it in conjunction with our own data. Because, again, remember that we are using it. We are using it for certain situations, and in doing so, we're continuing to gain experience and to see where it can be helpful and where it has limitations. But right now, we would state that we believe the PCR remains the most sensitive, the most specific and the most reliable for our day-to-day testing. “I think I've said to you before, also, we expect point-of-care testing to continue to improve, to continue to get better. There are always new test methodologies that are developing. And we and others will continue to get more experience with it. But right now, today, I think we're comfortable with the role that we have for point-of-care testing." Traveling and bubbling. I asked Sills if the Titans’ situation after last Saturday’s travel influenced the NFL’s decision not to let the Patriots travel this Saturday. Interestingly, he said the decision actually came down to the tracing: “In this case, it was felt at the time of the initial positive test that there were a very large number of close contacts." Sills said that was an example of how every decision made on travel (and he emphasized these aren’t just NFL decisions; they’re made in consultation with a panel of infectious disease doctors and epidemiologists) is made on a case-by-case basis. So then I asked if, in an effort to make everything more uniform, he’d be in favor of moving teams into hotels to create mini-bubbles in every NFL city. “As of this point today, no, I would not … for several reasons,” Sills said. “One is I think that we have a very long season. You're talking about a period of four months. That's an extremely long time to keep people sequestered away. And I think beyond the infectious disease considerations, you have to think about the mental behavior and health and emotional considerations of keeping people sequestered for that length of time. And I think that's a very important point that people often don't consider. “Secondly, it's not being sequestered together that keeps you safe. Because in any hotel or locked-down environment, you're still going to have people coming in and out of that environment. You're going to have food service workers and support staff and security staff. So there is still going to be vulnerability to the virus. … in some ways I would tell you you're actually at higher risk if you do get someone infected, and you've got people clustered together in one spot.” *** And that brought me to really my central question for Sills: Are you less confident than you were a week ago that the season will be completed? “No,” Sills said. “I still remain confident in the protocols that we have in place. And I remain confident in the systems that we have set up. I think that what we've said consistently is this is going to be very hard. And so we've expected all along that we'd have positive cases. Obviously, I'm distressed that we had an outbreak within a team, just like anybody is. And we want to always avoid those outbreaks. “And most importantly, I'm upset as a physician for the individuals who contracted the virus. Because you never want to see anyone with that virus, and we know that that has implications beyond each individual, to their family members and their household members. So upset and distressed, yes. Lack of confidence, no.” With that, Sills wanted to make a point. “I’ll tell you one more thing, Albert, and I don't think we've said this directly … At every point starting Tuesday morning when the results came in, every conversation I had with the commissioner and with all of our leadership at the NFL has been centered around only one thing, and that is what is the best thing to do medically,” he said. “No one has ever brought up game schedule, television schedule, playoff implications. “Those conversations have not been a part of the main focus, which is what do we think is the safest thing to keep not only each individual and team, but the entire league safe. So I think it's important to recognize that and say that has to be our North Star going forward.” So the league goes forward. The Chiefs and Patriots play Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET, the Packers and Falcons at 8:50 p.m. ET, and the Bears and Bucs just three days after that. The reality is, this is how the NFL has operated since March. More measures will be put in place on Monday to curb violations of the protocols, when the league has coaches, GMs and executives on a conference call. But the train will keep moving. Will it work? All along, I’ve thought it was O.K. to answer the question like I did at my kid’s hockey practice the other day, and I still feel that way. My answer is simple. I don’t know. *** Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC THE SAINTS' SCARE The weirdest situation of all this weekend might’ve been what confronted the Saints. Coming off consecutive losses for the first time since Weeks 1 and 2 of the 2017 season, New Orleans arrived in Detroit on Saturday afternoon facing a critical Sunday, at 1–2 and suddenly chasing Tom Brady and the Bucs in the NFC South, despite having beaten them in the season opener. And then, late into the night, news filtered through the team hotel that Burton’s last PCR test, taken Saturday morning in Louisiana, had returned positive. Stressful? Probably, as long as you were awake for that. "I woke up to a lot of text messages from people,” Emmanuel Sanders said, over his cell on the way to the airport after Sunday’s game. “The first couple things that I read was, ‘It's canceled,’ and then they changed their mind as they went. Then I saw—I got the ESPN app on my phone—that it said the game was going to be played. So after I saw that, I was like, 'What has occurred? What has occurred?'” And for Sanders, there was another twist. "Actually, I was sitting next to [Burton] yesterday at dinner, we were talking,” he said. “And so, when I first read that, I was like, ‘What the hell? I was just sitting next to this dude.’ But then when I saw it was a false positive, I was kind of excited about that, that I didn't have anything to worry about.” If it seems like Sanders did O.K. taking all this in stride—after sleeping through the initial news hit—it sure was reflected in his play. And eventually his whole team’s play, too. Just as the Saints’ start at Ford Field illustrated a team a little discombobulated, their flourish thereafter showed one that was resilient, and determined to pull itself off the mat after prime-time losses to the Raiders and Packers. After falling behind 14 –0 in the game’s first five minutes, with Detroit touchdowns sandwiching a Drew Brees pick (intended for Sanders, no less), New Orleans shook off the cobwebs to rattle off 35 straight points. They had to hang on at the end—they won 35–29—but they went to Detroit with a lot to prove. And given the circumstances, may have proven even more than that. "I mean, we didn't blink,” Sanders said. “Even when we were down 14, I knew we were going to be able to come back, because I know who's at quarterback and I know what kind of players we've got. So we just took it one play at a time, drove down, cut the lead to seven. Then we got the ball back and were able to tie the game. Once we tied it up, I knew it was a wrap. I don't really like how we finished, I felt like we could've kept our foot on their necks. “But at the end of the day a win is a win. And it's hard to win in this league. So we'll add that to the win column and try to improve next week." So the first thing you take from this one, for the Saints, is what they went through to get that win. From there, talking to Sanders, there were two other big points. One was the obvious—the team has heard its quarterback questioned plenty over the last few days. And this isn’t Sanders’s first rodeo with that sort of thing. He was in Denver down the stretch of Peyton Manning’s career, and remembers that, and this isn’t all that different. “At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter,” Sanders said. “And being in the National Football League so long, one thing I understand about this league is every week’s a wild week with the talk, with the fans, with the media. One week, they’re saying you're the greatest thing since oxygen. Then you lose and they say you don’t have it no more. Then you come back and you throw for five touchdowns, and they say, ‘Oh, he’s still got it.’ “At the end of the day, that's just how it is. The week is going to be like a rollercoaster. At the end of the year, we just want to be holding that Lombardi Trophy, we don't really worry about the outside noise, that's all we're focused on.” The second piece is just as interesting to me. The Saints have been without Michael Thomas since early in the Week 1 game against Tampa, leaving them a little out of sorts offensively. Sanders is new. Promising third-year man Tre’Quan Smith’s role has grown. And all that was an adjustment. The hope is that, Sunday, a corner was turned. Sanders had six catches for 93 yards and told me he felt like Sean Payton was starting to scheme for him. “I could just feel that he was trying to get the ball in my hands, and that felt good,” he said. “The previous games, I can't say that I felt that.” Smith scored twice on four catches (for 54 yards). And Brees, after his game-opening pick, went 19-of-24 for 246 yards and those two scores. Now, the thought goes, Thomas should return to an offense with more balance around him. “You’re talking about the best receiver in the world, in my opinion, getting him back,” Sanders said. “With me and Tre'Quan, getting our confidence up to be able to catch passes, I just feel like it's going to make for an even more lethal offense.” So maybe the Saints have finally found their stride in a most unusual way. Regardless, Sanders said the lesson from the scare overnight into game day was clear. “Just seeing the reports that Cam has it and the Titans have it, all the shenanigans that's going on, that's enough reminder for me,” he said. “The goal is to try to get through a whole season. We all knew it was going to be challenging. Right now, we're facing those challenges. Hopefully it gets better. I don't know if it will. We're going to take it one game by one game and see how it goes, see if we can grab the championship at the end of it.” *** Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports THE VIKINGS MAKE NO EXCUSES And the Vikings’ situation going into Sunday wasn’t totally unlike what the Saints were facing. Minnesota entered Week 4 at 0–3, and faced a COVID-19 challenge, too. The difference is, the Vikings’ challenge surfaced at the start of the week, not at the end. Minnesota, you’ll remember, played Tennessee last Sunday. So news of the Titans’ outbreak landing on Tuesday morning necessitated the Vikings closing their building for 48 hours, which threw their work week into a blender. Tuesday was already the players’ day off, but is always a big game-planning day for coaches, and losing the ability to do anything in person on Wednesday wasn’t going to be easy on anyone. Sunday’s game in Houston may well have been the biggest game on the schedule. Two teams that won playoff games last year came in at 0–3, with the knowledge that the last 0–4 team to make the playoffs was the 1992 Chargers. Thirty-year-old receiver Adam Thielen was all of 2 years old when Stan Humphries led San Diego on that epic run. So, even with the expanded playoff field this year, the stakes were pretty clear. “I think guys didn't look at it as a negative situation,” Thielen said. “They just kind of took it as a positive and took care of their bodies, locked into the virtual meetings that we had Wednesday. And then just took it upon themselves to prepare and do what each individual needs to do to be successful. The coaches as well, not making excuses, not worrying about what's happening, focusing on what we could control. “And I think they did such a great job of just kind of grinding and making it work.” Vikings 31, Texans 23 is good evidence of that. That Minnesota, after all that, hung on in the end, is an even better illustration of it. Mike Zimmer’s crew needed an overturn of a Will Fuller touchdown (they got it) on a fourth-and-goal with 1:12 to go to seal the win—the officials determined Fuller didn’t have control of the ball before it hit the ground, as he stretched out to keep his feet in-bounds. But in the end, really, how competitively the Vikings played throughout, and on that play, wound up delivering the win. And, in a funny way, Thielen explained that the upside-down-ness of the week actually might’ve helped his group. Remember what Thielen said about taking it as a positive? There’s a story to that too. Back in the spring, as a lot of other teams did, the Vikings helped their guys set up home gyms and recovery equipment at their houses, so they could stay in the sort of shape they needed to. In the process, Thielen wound up with a pretty sweet setup at his house. So in addition to getting extra classroom work in, he got to fit in a workout, and then tried to recharge his batteries, and mitigate the three weeks of game wear and tear on his body. “Sometimes you've got to go run a little bit and move around just to work out some of the kinks from the week before,” Thielen said. “And then when you’re in those meetings, taking advantage of being at home and being on a computer so you can put the NormaTecs on and get in the sauna, things like that. And still preparing, you kind of kill two birds with one stone of taking care of your body. That was the positive of that, for sure." He wasn’t the only one. This, he said, was a team-wide thing. And as a result, with the coaches treating the week like they would the lead-up to a Thursday night game, the Vikings got a strong full-speed day in Thursday, walked through Friday and Saturday, and had the legs to go four quarters Sunday. “It just helps you be fresh and go out there and play fast and physical," he said. That showed up in the Vikings outrushing the Texans 162-96, which set up Kirk Cousins (16-for-22, 260 yards, one TD) to be his most efficient, and put Thielen (eight catches, 114 yards) and Justin Jefferson (four catches, 103 yards) in a spot to star, and had the defense ready to push back when it matter most in the fourth quarter. The result: Now the Vikings, finally, have something to build on. “The first one's always the toughest one, so I think that's No. 1,” Thielen said. “Just getting out of the hole. And then, there's a lot of things throughout the game that we've been kind of needing. To win football games, you've got to play team ball. And we haven't had a whole lot of team football before today. There's a lot of things we can build on. Obviously, there's still things we need to work on and fix. “It's a lot easier to do that when you win, so you can go be critical and still have some joy.” And like Sanders said he and the Saints would, Thielen’s taking some reinforcement from this week on the COVID-19 front. “When things are going so well, you tend to say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Because it's different, you know? It's a lot,” Thielen said. “But at the end of the day, we know they're trying to protect us and our families and the coaches and their families, everyone in that building. And fans and people around us as well. We understand that. And yeah, you're right. It is a good learning moment to say, just so we don't have multiple guys if someone does get it. It's inevitable that people are going to get it. “When you take the protocols seriously and you do that, it limits that exposure and hoping that it's maybe one guy and you can move forward. Yeah, definitely it was a wake-up call.” *** Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports BRADY CATCHES FIRE That we’re talking about Tom Brady’s breakthrough performance as a Buc this deep into the column tells you what type of year it’s been—a strange one. But there’s very little question that Brady put a lot of folks on notice on Sunday. Fourteen quarters of inconsistency and frustration to start the season were, at least for a day, washed away in an overwhelmingly dominant flourish from the 43-year-old. Brady completed 16 of his final 18 throws against the Chargers for 269 yards and four touchdowns. That, very quickly, turned a 24–7 deficit into a 38–31 win, and put Tampa all alone in first place in the NFC South, at 3–1. “It just shows you a little bit about our team in general, offense and defense, and everybody, we put it together in that second half and showed everyone how good we can be and the potential that we have,” second-year receiver Scotty Miller told me Sunday night. “And then just as far as Tom goes, his fire and his willingness to compete means he doesn't want to lose at anything he does, especially not a football game, and you really see that at halftime when you're down 20-whatever, however much we were down. “It's really awesome to just follow his lead and try and make plays for him.” Yes, for now, it’s just one half of football. But for Brady and Co., it felt like more than that—a culmination of the work they’ve put in since the spring, when they were holed up at local high school fields, and the ups-and-downs they went through over the season’s first three weeks. If you thought it didn’t always look quite right against the Saints, Panthers and Broncos? The Bucs would actually agree with you. And it sure didn’t look right in the first half against the Chargers. But Brady projected confidence to the other guys that eventually it would, and they followed that. “I think that's been exactly it,” Miller said. “Tom's a new quarterback in the system and we didn't get the normal time that we would with OTAs and all that stuff, so we were trying to make up for that, getting together at local high schools and stuff like that. So every Sunday and every practice during the week that we can get, we just try to make up for all the lost time, and I think we've gotten better each and every game so far this year, so we're just trying to build on that and take advantage of every opportunity that we get.” And it wasn’t just Brady, either. Ronald Jones rushed for 111 yards on 20 carries. Mike Evans hauled in seven balls for 122 yards. Miller, for his part, was one of six guys with multiple catches, pulling down five for 83 yards. The biggest one, a 44-yarder, was, to Miller, the best example of how far they’ve come. It came with 1:40 left and the Bucs down 24–21, Tampa taking possession at the L.A. 37 after the Chargers missed a field goal. The call was for Evans and Miller to run go routes on opposite sides of the formation. Miller quickly saw the Chargers were in cover-3, and figured he could accelerate and catch the corner flat-footed. It worked, and so too did all the hours that Brady and Miller had put in. “I can't tell you how many times me and Tom have thrown that ball and missed it, honestly, but also I mean how many times we've completed it,” Miller said. “Just how many times we've thrown it in general over the summer, and then when we got here and we had to start the ramp-up period when we were just throwing routes on air, and then doing offense-only practices, all that time that we put in, throwing that route so many times. “And then to see it come to fruition today was just great. And that's what you work for, you put in all the work and run all the routes and he throws all those balls so we're able to execute those plays.” The ball was a dime, Miller hauled it in and got dragged down at the 19. On the next snap, Brady hit Miller on a seam route for a touchdown, giving the Bucs their first lead. Tampa would have to fight back one more time—Justin Herbert was a pretty worthy opposite for Brady—when the rookie hit Jalen Guyton for a 72-yard touchdown to give the Chargers the lead back. But by then, that was almost academic. At that point, the Bucs offense wasn’t going to be stopped. And yeah, it almost happened by accident, with a Chargers fumble at the end of the first half, setting up a 6-yard, Brady-to-Evans TD that ignited all this. But that’s O.K. too. “We got that momentum changer at the end of the first half, the defense came up with the fumble recovery and then Mike with the touchdown, we just all got on the same page,” Miller said. “The coaches did a great job of making little adjustments, they went to a lot of plays that they saw and that we liked and we were just able to make plays. So hopefully we'll just be able to build on them moving forward.” We’ll get to see soon if they can. The Bucs are in Chicago on Thursday night. *** Colin Boyle/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC THE COLTS' DOMINANT D In this column, I always want to offer you something you might’ve missed—and I think I’ve got something that fits the bill for you here. The Colts defense is ridiculous. Check this out … Total yards: 1stYards per play: 1stRushing yards/game: 4thRushing yards/play: 6thPassing yards/game: 1stPassing yards/play: 1stInterception percentage: 1stSack percentage: 7thFirst downs/game: 1stThird down efficiency: 1stPoints/game: 1st Now, it’s only been four games. But statistically, at least, Indy’s way out in front. And what’s more, the Colts’ players really felt like this was the way it would be before the fact. “I kept saying it, I kept saying it—the pieces looked great,” linebacker Anthony Walker told me postgame. “But until you put the whole picture together, guys going out there, making plays together, flying around, we have to do it. You have to go out there and put the picture together. It looks good on paper, but when you put the pieces together and start playing, we gotta make it happen.” They most certainly have. Following a rocky start in Week 1—the Colts got upended by the Jags, you’ll remember—the defense has been almost airtight, allowing a total of 29 points over three consecutive wins. And this doesn’t look like an accident either. It starts with guys like Walker and his All-Pro linebacking partner Darius Leonard (who got banged up against Chicago). But, really, you’re starting to see the vision for size/speed freaks that GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich have on that side of the ball come together, with those young (Leonard, Bobby Okereke, Rock Ya-Sin, Julian Blackmon) and older (Justin Houston, Denico Autry). And big-ticket addition DeForest Buckner really brings the whole thing into focus. “He's special, man, he's a special talent,” Walker said. “He's huge, man. He commands a lot of attention, being the player that he is, taking a lot of double teams, so guys can go out there and get singles and win on the pass-rush And he still wins. For us, it's huge, being able to stop the run, he commands a lot of attention, allowing us to be able to roam free as linebackers. And then in the pass game, making guys free up and get singles and when they single him, he wins his matchup every time. So yeah, he is what we thought he was.” So what the Bears got Sunday is what the Vikings and Jets got in Weeks 2 and 3—a fast, suffocating group. They’ll need a little injury luck now, with Leonard and Ya-Sin nicked. But if those guys are O.K., the belief is the ceiling for this group still hasn’t nearly been reached. And while Walker wouldn’t declare the defense the league’s best quite yet, his reaction to the late touchdown the Bears put on the board (a circus catch from Allen Robinson) was pretty informative as to where the team’s expectations are internally. “Definitely, we were mad,” Walker said. “You’re mad as a defense if you allow anything. We thought we had plenty of chances to get off the field before that one so, yeah, that's definitely one that I'm pretty sure that we're not going to like on film. The coaches, all the players, everybody was pissed off. Obviously, we understood that we won the game with the kickoff return team going out there and getting the ball back, but it still leaves a sour taste in your mouth.” Indy has the Browns next—and we’re about to get to the challenge Walker’s defense has in front of it. Both teams go in 3-1. Not sure anyone had Browns–Colts on the Week 5 marquee before the season started. *** Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports TEN TAKEAWAYS I love where the Browns are right now. And it’s not just about record. It’s about identity. For the first time in forever, probably since Mike Pettine and Kyle Shanahan were together there, it feels like they’re laying groundwork for something lasting on the field. It’s most vivid in how the Shanahan-styled run game is producing, with Kevin Stefanski, OC Alex Van Pelt and, maybe most importantly, line coach Bill Callahan collaborating to devise it. Here are the results: Week 1 at Baltimore: 27 carries, 138 yards.Week 2 vs. Cincinnati: 35 carries, 215 yards.Week 3 vs. Washington: 37 carries, 158 yards.Week 4 at Dallas: 40 carries, 307 yards. The going gets much tougher this week with that Colts defense coming to town. But what the evidence pretty clearly tells us through four weeks is that, no matter the opponent, Cleveland’s not going to waver in how it goes about its business this year—and maybe no matter the back, either. Bell cow Nick Chubb got rolled up on in pass protection after just six carries in Dallas (he’ll have an MRI on his knee Monday), was quickly ruled out, and the Browns didn’t back off in the slightest. D’Ernest Johnson (13 carries, 95 yards) and Dontrell Hilliard (5 carries, 19 yards) stepped right in behind Kareem Hunt and produced. Which is, really, a tribute to the job Callahan’s done rebuilding the line, the job Jedrick Wills has done stepping in at left tackle and the job guys like Wyatt Teller have done taking another step with their games. It’s helped the quarterback, too. Baker Mayfield is playing calmer, and that was a goal of the staff, to have him less frantic out there. That showed up big time on a handful of throwaways when plays weren’t there—throwaways the Browns don’t think would’ve happened last year. So, yeah, it’s early October. But so far, so good. While we’re there, the Cowboys defense can be declared a disaster. Valiant comeback effort, but Dallas can’t play this way every week—they’ve allowed 39, 38 and 49 points over the last three weeks, and there’s very little fluky about it. They’ve allowed more than 500 yards three weeks in a row. They’ve allowed triple-digit passer ratings three weeks in a row. So the question is simple: What’s next? Mike Nolan’s a really great guy, and a good coach, but he hasn’t been a coordinator in six years and turns 61 years old in March. It’s hard to blame everything on Nolan—Leighton Vander Esch is hurt, Jaylon Smith hasn’t played great and Byron Jones did leave a hole at corner when he left in free agency—but the numbers are too much to ignore. If Mike McCarthy wants to make a change, he does have ex-Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards on his staff. The head coach’s post-game comments (“Refuse to be a one-call defense, that’s not the path”) don’t seem to bode well for Nolan. And the thing is, it’d be pretty interesting to see where the team would go with even an average defense, because the offense, if it can get healthy on the line and get more consistent holding onto the ball, has a shot to be really good. Josh Allen is a very legit MVP candidate. Need me to repeat that? Josh Allen is a very legit MVP candidate. In Year 3, at 24 years old, he’s a different dude than he was in 2018 and ’19. When the Bills drafted him, they believed with better talent around him, his accuracy issues could be cleaned up—something a lot of NFL folks thought wouldn’t happen. The logic went that if he was no longer running for his life, as he did at Wyoming for three years as a starter, he’d be able to play with a calmer lower half. That’s why, on Sunday, I was more impressed with the stuff he did efficiently and on time than the every-week high-wire act we’ve come to expect. And his first big throw of the game was a good illustration. It was third-and-6, and Allen was in the shotgun. He took the snap and dropped three steps. Hung in there. Hung in there. Hung in there. Then, he calmly whistled the ball deep and outside the numbers to pick up 21 yards and, easily, the first down. It was one of five completions on the drive, and all five came within the design of the play and on target. And that, honestly, is where you’re seeing the next level of Allen’s game being unlocked. Matt Rhule says a lot of smart stuff. And here’s one thing I picked up from his postgame press availability: the importance of F.I.O. Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater was asked about his dodge-juke-and-dive18-yard touchdown run in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals. The seventh-year pro then pointed out that Rhule was using the three-letter acronym with him, which stands for Figure It Out. Rhule later expounded with the Charlotte media: “Great players are way more important than great coaches, and great players figure it out. And that was a great example of Teddy kind of figuring it out.” And even better, Bridgewater’s figured it out without Russell Okung and Christian McCaffrey the last couple weeks, as has the rest of the offense in wins over the Chargers and Cardinals. Now, I don’t know if the Panthers will win six, eight or 10 games when all this is said and done. But I do feel like I know they’re headed in the right direction, they’re tough to play right now and they’re bought into Rhule. Which is a really good start, and why they’re a lot better than I figured they’d be in the coach’s first year. I know everyone’s caught up in the coaching hot seat stuff. It starts earlier each year. But in the three cases that have continuously come up, there are some interesting dynamics in upper management that will dictate how much rope Matt Patricia, Adam Gase and Dan Quinn get. • In Atlanta, owner Arthur Blank has increased president Rich McKay’s influence over football ops. The former GM—he preceded Thomas Dimitroff in that role—was moved over from the football side when Dimitroff was hired in 2008. • In Detroit, Sheila Ford Hamp was installed as the Lions’ new controlling owner in June, allowing her mother, Martha Ford, to step away from the football business. • Jets owner Woody Johnson ceded control of the team to his brother Christopher in 2017 to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the UK, and he could be back from England and reinstalled as the boss by the end of the year. This, by the way, isn’t to say anyone is necessarily doomed or about to get a break. It just makes each situation a little less predictable. All the best to Ron Rivera. I know he knows there are a lot of people in his corner, and if anyone else ever had a question on that, Washington gave him a very literal, physical reminder on Sunday. The team created Coach’s Corner at FedEx Field and filled it with the cutout likenesses of 450 of Rivera’s friends and family. In there are former co-workers like Chiefs coach Andy Reid, Bills coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, and ex-players of his like Luke Kuechly, Greg Olsen and Steve Smith. And Rivera got choked up talking about it postgame, and in particular talking about the one representing his brother, Mickey, who died of cancer. Meanwhile, all his current players wore Rivera Strong T-shirts pregame. All in all, it was a really powerful scene from a franchise that’s had its share of bad ones over the last year. Rivera admitted that his battle with squamous cell cancer had him waning at points on Sunday—he’s been getting a weekly IV at halftime to help—after a really tough week (he had to leave practice on Thursday). Here’s hoping his days get a little easier from here on out, and he’s able to pull some strength from all those people who’ve got his back. Baltimore’s not dead. The formula for beating them, of course, has been well-established—get a lead, take the Ravens off their offensive script, and wait for the meltdown. That’s real, and something Baltimore will have to overcome at some point. And the time will come, again, when that needs to be confronted. But there’s another reality here that gets less attention: There aren’t many teams that can get on top of the Ravens the way the Chiefs can or the way the Titans did behind a red-hot Ryan Tannehill in last year’s playoffs. The defense is too good. The offense is too proficient at controlling the pace of the games. So I’m looking ahead to their Nov. 1 game against rival Pittsburgh as the next real test. Joe Mixon showed the value of a great running back.Bengals coach Zac Taylor said Sunday, in reference to Joe Burrow, “He is not a rookie.” And we detailed in last week’s GamePlan just what Taylor means when he says that. Burrow deserves that. He played well in his first NFL win. But Joe Mixon should get credit too—because he was absolutely the engine behind the team’s 33–25 victory over Jacksonville. Mixon finished the game with 151 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, plus 30 yards and another touchdown on six catches. More than just that, he took the burden of having to carry the team off Burrow, and so it’s no coincidence the benefit of that manifested in Burrow’s performance. Outside of a 50-50 ball that Myles Jack somehow stole right from the hands of tight end Drew Sample for Burrow’s lone pick, that was about as well played a game as you’ll see from a rookie quarterback. And if a four-year, $49.2 million extension for your star running back is a part of the equation in getting that kind of performance out of the most important position on the field, I’d say it was worth it. Hey, it sure worked for Jared Goff (Todd Gurley) and Dak Prescott (Zeke Elliott), when they were coming up. It looks like Sean McVay got his coaching staff hires right.And I liked his logic in making them from the jump. We can start with the defense. McVay basically went to the scheme that gives him the most trouble—Vic Fangio’s—and tried to find a coach who fit his program, which is what led him to pluck Brandon Staley from Denver. And though Staley’s unit isn’t at the top of all the rankings like Indy’s is, the details show a group that’s making big, game-changing plays, which has always been a mark of Fangio’s units. In Week 1, rookie Jordan Fuller made a goal-line stop on fourth down to ice a win over Dallas. In Week 2, Darious Williams and Troy Hill registered crucial picks. In Week 3, Aaron Donald was overwhelming in leading a comeback that fell just short against Buffalo. And in Week 4, Williams had another huge pick, this one to put away the Giants. So there’s lots to be encouraged with there. And then on offense, McVay wanted a coach to work closely with Jared Goff, who’d lost Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur. So he got Kevin O’Connell, who was McVay’s eventual successor as Washington OC, a coach who played quarterback in the NFL and has background in personal coaching at the position. Goff, in turn, is on track for a career high completion percentage (70.0) and passer rating (109.6), and that’s after losing Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley. Add all of this up, and the Rams are 3–1, with the arrow pointing up. The Eagles showed a lot of grit on Sunday night. And Doug Pederson said it: “It wasn’t pretty but it doesn’t matter. A win is a win in this league.” Carson Wentz still has a lot to work out. The defense sprung some leaks, and the offensive line is impossibly beat up. But the defensive line keeps flashing its potential, and the Eagles started to get contributions from weird places—linebacker Alex Singleton had a pick-six and ex-practice squad receiver Travis Fulgham had a big 42-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter comeback—which has been a staple in the resilience of Pederson’s teams the last five years. The hope now has to be that all of that, plus the tire fire that is the rest of the NFC East, will buy time for Wentz to get right and the line to get healthy. Even at 1–2–1, it looks like Philly’s got a decent amount of runway. *** SIX FROM SATURDAY 1) Seeing the Big 12 wilt the last couple weeks has been interesting. You see Lincoln Riley’s Oklahoma team stumbling, and Tom Herman’s Texas team bumbling, and it reminds you that Herman was Riley before Riley—the young offensive genius who the NFL had its eyes on. These things can change fast, and Oklahoma looks different with a younger, less experienced quarterback at the helm. (Saturday was a good day, on the other hand, for another apple of the NFL’s eye, with Iowa State’s Matt Campbell knocking off Riley’s Sooners.) 2) Florida TE Kyle Pitts gets a mention here for a second straight week, because the expected first-rounder scored two more touchdowns after notching four in the Gators’ opener. And, well, because he’s been as impressive a player as there’s been in the early stages of this season. Last week, I told you David Njoku was a comp I got for him from a veteran scout. This week? The name I heard from someone else was Jared Cook. 3) While we’re there, I’m going to start keeping an eye on Pitts QB Kyle Trask. I’m not saying he’s this year’s Joe Burrow, but what I’ve seen has been impressive (684 yards, 10 TDs, one INT through two games), he’s got a great backstory, and his measurables check out. There’s a lot of season left, so we won’t jump to conclusions yet, but I’m intrigued. “He was our top-rated senior QB, based off junior tape,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said, via text. “And he’s separated himself even more these first couple weeks. Don’t have the tape of [Saturday]’s game yet but Ole Miss game was impressive. He looks like an NFL starter.” For what it’s worth, Dan Mullen’s got pretty good track record developing NFL QBs too (Dak Prescott, Alex Smith, etc.) 4) Anyone stunned by the scene at Georgia probably didn’t have the college experience that I did. And any administrator who thought that wouldn’t happen if the door was left open for it to happen is clueless. 5) Speaking of Georgia, Zamir White sure looks like he could be the next great Georgia back to come into the NFL. He’ll continue a super impressive recent run that’s gone from Todd Gurley to Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to, now, D’Andre Swift in Detroit. 6) North Dakota State QB Trey Lance’s college career may well be over now and if it is, at least he finished strong. His start was shaky, and he finally did throw his first collegiate interception, but he came on in the fourth quarter as the Bison pulled away from Central Arkansas. He finished 15-of-30 for 149 yards and two scores, and rushed 15 times for 143 yards and two more touchdowns. And now, with NDSU playing the rest of its season in the spring, I’d say he’s locked in a race with Ohio State’s Justin Fields to be the first QB taken after Trevor Lawrence. *** BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET That’s Dolphins rookie Blake Ferguson, affirming what Ryan Clark is saying about quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Which is interesting and important context to his longevity as a starter in the NFL. A perfect Kevin Clark tweet for your Sunday. I was thinking about this the other day. It’s crazy how routine insane toe-tap catches have become. This is great. Best part: For all the crap Philip Rivers talks, he won’t curse. Which is hilarious to me. (Probably because I can’t not curse in those situations.) And this is the perfect picture. You can Google the backstory on this one. Stefon Diggs has been perfect for Allen. Credit to Bills GM Brandon Beane and the staff there for recognizing it, and going to get him. Smoke Brown’s pretty good too. I really don’t see how the Chargers can go back to Tyrod Taylor. I’ll leave this one without comment. That’s former first-round pick (and recurring pod guest) Bobby Carpenter on fellow Ohio State graduate Joe Burrow (that one’s for my buddy Rich Eisen). Burrow avoided his third loss as a pro Sunday. He lost three games total in 28 starts in college. Feels a little like the Super Bowl record Jerry was going for 10 years ago (you can look up how that ended). Very tough reality for Houston. Not cool, but kinda hilarious. This is really cool. Here’s hoping the Senior Bowl can happen in January—it’s one of the best events of the year for NFL people. *** Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT Each week, we’ll connect with a player set to climb atop the Monday Night Football stage to get answers to a few questions. This week, Packers running back Aaron Jones. MMQB: What’s the difference been in Year 2 of Matt LaFleur’s system? AJ: I think it’s just having time in the system. This past offseason, through Zoom and everything because of COVID, our coaches really did a great job of breaking down the offense for us, along with A-Ron. I think all the guys got a chance to really understand it for what it is, understanding why we’re running plays, the power of the play, where it’s designed to go and, against different looks how it’s supposed to play out. I think those things really played a key role in letting everybody come out and be able to play fast without thinking. MMQB: When you think about playing fast like that, is there a good example where it showed up the first three weeks? AJ: I think you put on the film, Week 1, how we were moving the ball up and down the field. Some are chunk plays, but some aren’t, and we were constantly moving it. The time of possession, I think that speaks to an offense being in sync and on the same page. MMQB: How about for you personally? That offense has great history with running backs going back to the ’90s, how has it worked for you? AJ: Definitely, coach LaFleur gave me an opportunity to showcase my skills. Being versatile, being able to do different things for my team, whether it be lining up out wide, lining up in the backfield, whatever it may be. I know coach LaFleur coming in told us he liked to get the backs involved a lot in different ways. We sat down and watched film with him, and he would point it out, and it’s stayed true. Me and Jamaal [Williams] have been pretty versatile. MMQB: How have you see a different Aaron Rodgers in Year 2 in the offense? AJ: I feel like he wants it more—or maybe not wants it more, because he wanted it last year, but I just have this feeling that we were so close to making it to the Super Bowl last year, NFC Championship, we fell one game short. We all have that ugly taste in our mouth. We need to do whatever it takes to get it out and I don’t think it’ll stop until we get that Super Bowl. MMQB: What’s the biggest challenge with Atlanta’s defense, and how does the way they blew those leads factor in, if at all? AJ: I see a fast-flowing defense. Just because you’re 0–3 doesn’t mean anything, it’s the National Football League. Like you said, their record could be 3–0, they just didn’t finish. We know that’s a good team, and we know all the weapons they have. They’ve got Grady Jarrett on the D-line, Deion Jones at linebacker, he’s a speedy guy. They like to penetrate, they have a penetrating front. We know what we’re facing. And I know we’ve done a great job in practice. We’ll be ready for it. MMQB: Football players say there’s always stuff you can get better at. Offensively, what aren’t you doing well through three weeks, because it doesn’t seem like there’s much to nitpick? AJ: Like you said, there’s always room for in improvement in execution. Down in the red zone a couple times, instead of kicking field goals, you wanna throw for touchdowns. So that right there. That’s the biggest part. And getting stopped on fourth down last week, I mean, you can’t do that. Gotta convert that, but our defense had our back on that one. MMQB: How big an adjustment has it been playing without fans? AJ: It’s definitely been different. Now, it’s the norm, after a couple weeks, you don’t expect anyone there. But Week 1 was different, it was strange. The weirdest part to me was when someone would score, you wouldn’t hear the fans—usually you’d hear the fans. And then you got the Lambeau Leap without fans, that was the weirdest one to me. But other than that, I mean, it’s good, as long as I get to compete and a chance to play with my brothers. MMQB: Is it actually an advantage for offensive players in a way? AJ: For sure. For sure. You’re not having to worry about the crowd noise, you’re not worrying about having to get in that huddle tight. You don’t need to worry about getting the quarterback’s play call because the crowd is so loud. Things like that, we can use to our advantage. MMQB: With everything happening across the league COVID-wise this weekend, how worried are you about it day-to-day, and how closely are you paying attention to the news on it? AJ: I definitely pay attention. For me, I go from the facility home, home to the facility. The only stop I’m really making is to pump gas, and if I do I have some latex gloves in the car. We know it’s bigger than us. All of us have families at home, that we’re going home to. We have to make sure we’re being safe for our teammates, and our teammates are doing the same thing. We understand. We all want to play this game, and that’s what it takes to play the game. MMQB: A bunch of backs you got drafted with have gotten paid this offseason—Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Christian McCaffrey—how close are you paying attention to that? And how much do you think of the life-changing money that might be coming? AJ: You definitely see it. You get the notifications on your phone, things like that. I’m happy for those guys. They’ve done nothing but help all the running backs in the game. So when I saw [Cook and Kamara], I told them both congratulations, as well. That’s big-time. It’s not something I think about. I know if I control what I can control, and that’s my play, everything else will work itself out the way it’s supposed to. So I just go out there and worry about my play on the field, not doing extra thinking on it. MMQB: Anything extra for you about playing on Monday night? AJ: I like night games, it kind of takes you back to high school, playing under the lights Friday night. But for me, primetime or not, I still feel like the whole world’s watching. Just gotta come ready. *** WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW I’m going to work on some quarter-season awards for Monday afternoon. So check out the MAQB for that in a few hours. See you guys then.
Notre Dame's Leadership Is Failing Its Students - Sports Illustrated
Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins and football coach Brian Kelly have not led by example on the coronavirus, and it could eventually cost the Fighting Irish their season—and much more.
For Notre Dame fans waiting for decades for the school to get back to No. 1, we have an exciting update. Go ahead and wake up the echoes, because the Fighting Irish finally made it this week. They are the national leader in COVID-19 angst. Saturday solidified the school’s No. 1 ranking. The undefeated football team did not play due to an outbreak that forced postponement of its game against Wake Forest. Meanwhile, school president Father John Jenkins went without a mask in a large crowd at the Supreme Court nominating ceremony at the White House for Notre Dame alumna and professor Amy Coney Barrett. “I think we may have gotten a little loose in some areas,” football athletic trainer Rob Hunt said on a media call Thursday. “I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask,” Jenkins said in an email to students, faculty and staff — an email that stopped short of an actual apology. Regrets, Notre Dame has a few. How many, ultimately? We’ll see. But video of head coach Brian Kelly’s talk to his team after a fateful South Florida game on Sept. 19 was telling. “The mask will beat this,” Kelly says, his own mask pulled down to his chin as he addressed the players. “The mask will beat it. If we don’t use our mask, we’re gonna get beat, and that’s silly. We’re too damn good.” By the time Kelly spoke those words, the virus was already running through his team — 39 players went either into quarantine or isolation days after Notre Dame blasted the Bulls 52-0. Contact tracing caution then forced South Florida to postpone its own game last week. The Irish were fortunate to have an open date this Saturday, or else that game likely would have been called off as well. STEINBERG: Game Postponements Forcing Double Byes The school has gone to extraordinary lengths to play football this season. With its schedule in danger of falling apart, the Irish interrupted 133 years of independence to join the Atlantic Coast Conference for one year only. When a general student outbreak in August led Jenkins to shut down all in-person classes for two weeks and stop on-campus extracurricular activities, football kept going after a brief pause. When the football spike dovetailed with Jenkins’ maskless White House junket, Touchdown Jesus should have changed his pose to a surrender cobra. University of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins leads a prayer without a mask during a celebration of Juneteenth by Notre Dame football players on Friday, June 19, 2020. Robert Franklin - USA Today Network Students at the school were so thrilled by Jenkins’ flouting of what he’d been preaching all semester that several of them reported their president via the school’s COVID incident reporting form. Others circulated a petition calling for Jenkins to resign. The Observer, the student newspaper, was sharply critical of him in an editorial that ran under the headline, “Frankly, this is embarrassing.” “On the same day a football game was canceled because of COVID, he went to this event without a mask,” said Observer editor-in-chief Maria Leontaras. “It was just a bit outrageous.” When virus numbers spiked on campus in August, Jenkins aired a video address to the students in which he said he considered sending them all home for the semester. He stopped short of that, but the school has threatened disciplinary action against students who don’t follow all the campus health protocols. Then lo and behold, the president travels off campus (which is discouraged) and appears in a crowd without a mask. The football outbreak has largely been traced to a team meal before Notre Dame played South Florida. For some reason, it didn’t occur to anyone that gathering in such a fashion could present a health risk — even though the team had been doing grab-and-go meals throughout preseason practice to avoid exactly that kind of large-group interaction. (Hunt also mentioned that the program is altering its operations in terms of locker room and sideline spacing.) Coach Brian Kelly also told ESPN earlier this week that a player throwing up on the sideline during the game wound up testing positive for the virus. (That incident did not come up on the program’s Thursday zoom call.) The player had been treated for presumed dehydration during the game, Kelly said. "Just being vigilant and understanding that this thing can hide in so many different areas to make it a tricky proposition, even if you're doing all of the right things,” Kelly told ESPN. One of the places the virus can hide: between the Friday test and Saturday kickoff. Players who tested negative one day might still have COVID incubating in their systems, ready to come to full fruition the next day. “A negative test on Friday does not mean … you’re free and clear from the virus at that point,” Hunt said. It was nice that Hunt said that part out loud, because college teams have blown off gameday protocols nationally throughout September. The situation at Notre Dame — and in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans — might be the reality check everyone needed. Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones at Camping World Stadium on Dec. 28, 2019. Jasen Vinlove - USA Today Sports Notre Dame officials were strong in their conviction that having a fall football slate would keep their everyone within the program motivated to continue following health protocols. That clearly didn’t work well enough, with the No. 5 Irish becoming the highest-rated team to postpone a game thus far. Now we’ll see whether they can piece a promising season back together. After roughly 10 days without a full-speed practice, they got back to it Thursday. Kelly said the plan is for another full practice Friday, a weight workout Saturday and then a live scrimmage Sunday in anticipation of hosting Florida State Oct. 10. Kelly compared diving back in after an extended time off to bowl preparation. Once again, the schedule is helping. The Seminoles are winless and damn near helpless. Next is a fourth straight home game, against 1-2 Louisville. Notre Dame should be back to fully operational in plenty of time for a trip to Pittsburgh Oct. 24 — if everything goes well. “We can’t afford another setback the way we had one the last 10 days,” Kelly said. To the school’s credit, it has been transparent about this outbreak and hardly cavalier in dealing with it. This is not Texas Tech casually mentioning that it had 75 positive players over the summer, or Ed Orgeron almost boasting that “more than half” the team at LSU has had the virus. But the football team’s defense against the virus wasn’t airtight, and the president has infuriated the student body, and now the school has missteps to own and recover from. That’s why Notre Dame is No. 1 in the COVID-19 angst ratings.