SportsPulse: On a Sunday that saw many upsets none were bigger than the Packers baffling loss to Cardinals which lead to the firing of Mike McCarthy. Trysta Krick recaps a crazy weekend in the NFL.
The 32 things we learned from Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season:
1. To borrow a favorite expression from teens and the Twitterati, “SMH.” The NFL just slogged through its worst week of 2018. However, unlike bad pub incurred from the national anthem controversy and/or exacerbated by one POTUS, the league’s issues of the moment are completely self-inflicted and utterly regrettable. Nothing like derailing what had been a feel-good season previously highlighted by bushels of points, resurgent TV ratings and emergent star players.
2. On one hand, at least many (maybe most) teams — specifically the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers — internalized some important lessons in the wake of the 2014 Ray Rice domestic violence incident.
2a. On the other, some clubs — namely the “small (Redskin) potatoes” — sadly still don’t get it.
2b. And, most unfortunate, Kareem Hunt certainly didn’t learn from Rice’s example, and new Washington (and former Niners) LB Reuben Foster allegedly didn’t, either.
3. I’m also so damn tired of the NFL pretending like it’s the industry leader in player safety while it fails again, and again AND AGAIN to adhere to its own rules — set forth in a grandstanding manner in the name of protecting the men who play the game. How many times have you seen helmet-to-helmet hits in the open field — any player, offense or defense, initiating such contact is supposed to be flagged — go unpenalized? I specifically wrote about Hunt spearing Broncos S Justin Simmons earlier this season. I did so again when Patriots rookie Sony Michel lowered the boom on Colts S Clayton Geathers in Week 5, knocking him from the game with a neck injury. My colleague Jarrett Bell picked up the baton after Thursday’s Saints-Cowboys game, after which Dallas LB Jaylon Smith touted football as “the last gladiator sport” after his illegal but unflagged helmet-to-helmet shot on New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara.
3a. Saints TE Dan Arnold suffered an equally dubious shot from Cowboys S Xavier Woods earlier in the game. You guessed it — no infraction.
3b. Adding to the farce, Smith won one of the league’s “Way to Play” awards earlier this season, ostensibly rewarded for being an example of how the NFL wants defenders to perform in a purportedly safety-conscious environment.
3c. No one expects officials to get every call right, and I’m not raving here about borderline fouls. To some extent, this is now a known occupational hazard players are highly aware of. And, to another extent, we don’t need borderline instances overlegislated — and, to be clear, numerous players are trying to adjust their style of play — just as they aren’t on for pass interference or holding. However, as Jarrett suggests, replay should be in play to ensure the egregious hits don’t go unpunished.
3d. But let’s end the hypocrisy. Roger Goodell and Al Riveron need to get on the same page. Maybe Rog needs to take Riveron, who’s in charge of the league’s rule enforcement, to task. But all we have right now is a league touting its guidelines to safeguard players yet summarily paying little more than lip service to them. Some example it sends to players and leagues right down the chain to Pop Warner even as they look to the NFL for leadership and practical solutions to a systemic issue that isn’t going to fade.
4. Rant over. The NFL is a great league with plenty of great people from its headquarters to team rosters to unsung support staffers in every city. Football also teaches great lessons, and the NFL can have immensely positive impacts in its communities. But no blind eye in this space, usually reserved for celebrating accomplishments on the field. Moving on …
5. The NFL can also be a cruel business. Just ask now former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, canned Sunday afternoon after Green Bay somehow lost to the Cardinals. McCarthy leaves having guided this franchise to postseason in nine of his 13 seasons while capturing the Super Bowl XLV title following the 2010 season.
5a. Still, this felt like a mercy killing. The writing was on the wall for McCarthy. And the Packers surely wanted to initiate the search for a replacement immediately given this job, which features the opportunity to coach Aaron Rodgers, will surely be the most attractive one to open up this year.
6. Per @NFLResearch, the last time the Cardinals won in Wisconsin, 1949, they were the Chicago Cardinals. Lambeau Field had not yet been built at the time.
6a. That’s what you get for looking past the 2-9 Cardinals, Mr. Rodgers.
7. Drew Brees’ worst game of the season made the MVP race a packed field once again. Amazingly, the Saints star has never won the award. His pursuit of single-season records for completion percentage and passer rating also suffered.
8. But it’s not as if Patrick Mahomes was fading from the MVP debate. The Chiefs quarterback hung four more TD passes on the Raiders, giving him an NFL-best 41 in just 12 games. As much as Hunt’s on-field absence could hinder Kansas City, it could wind up bolstering the MVP résumé for Mahomes, who also led the team with 52 rushing yards in Oakland.
9. Also still in the MVP conversation: Rams Todd Gurley (165 total yards 2 TDs on Sunday) and Aaron Donald (2 more sacks, 4 tackles for loss) as their team wrapped up the NFC West.
9a. Donald is now on pace for 22 sacks.
9b. Gurley has 19 TDs (tying his league-leading total from 2017) and is on pace to finish with 25.
10. And don’t discount Brees’ former understudy, Philip Rivers, as a bona fide MVP contender. Rivers, who’s never won the elusive hardware, either, had another big night (299 yards, 2 TD passes) as the Chargers upset the Steelers — they’re offsides again — in Pittsburgh. Nunc coepi, Phil. And congratulations on news that you’ve got another child on the way. Like Brees, your wife is a saint.
I can confirm that Philip Rivers and wife Tiffany are expecting their ninth child. Congrats to them both.
— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) December 3, 2018
11. Happy homecoming: Rams DL Ndamukong Suh had six tackles — and one surely satisfying lick on Detroit QB Matthew Stafford.
12. Unhappy homecoming: 49ers CB Richard Sherman was a non-factor in his return to Seattle, where his team got embarrassed by the Seahawks.
12a. Russell Wilson, whom Sherm shaded prior to the game, burned the SF secondary for four TD passes and effectively launched the Seahawks into the NFC’s top wild-card spot.
13. Miami’s Xavien Howard has intercepted four passes over the past two weeks. He now has a pair of INTs in three separate games this year and leads the league with seven overall.
14. All four NFC North teams lost Sunday. Black-and-blue division indeed.
15. Kudos to the Houston Texans for officially becoming the league’s hottest team with their ninth straight win even as they cope with the recent loss of owner Bob McNair and Friday’s death of their No. 1 fan, President George H. W. Bush.
15a. Meanwhile, the Saints, Colts and Bears all saw win streaks of at least five go up in smoke.
16. Airtight Case? QB Case Keenum was picked off in each of Denver’s first eight games, and the Broncos went 3-5. But he hasn’t committed a turnover in his last four outings, three of those wins, and his team is now a game back of the AFC’s final wild-card spot.
17. Jameis Winston threw a pair of TD passes in Sunday’s upset of Carolina. His 81 career touchdown throws make him the franchise’s all-time leader after he overtook Josh Freeman. (Bucs QB history pretty much in a nutshell, no?)
18. The Buccaneers gave away free tickets Sunday, boosting their paid attendance to 52,568 — an increase of better than 10K over last week.
18a. Remarkably, Winston did not give away any free footballs, going turnover-free for the second straight week. Winston committed at least one in his first five games this season (and a total of 12).
18b. Just as remarkably, Winston’s counterpart Sunday, Carolina QB Cam Newton — he claimed leading up to this game that he was playing the best football of his career — was picked off four times for the first time since his rookie season in 2011.
18c. Bucs S Andrew Adams pilfered Newton three times, tying a team record. Tampa Bay began Sunday having intercepted just three passes all season.
18d. While we’re on the topic of remarkable takeaways from Bucs-Panthers, Carolina backup QB Taylor Heinicke got the call on the game’s final play, a Hail Mary from his own 49-yard trailing 24-17 — and one of the plays you would assume the Panthers are paying Newton to make. (He didn’t say whether his shoulder was sore afterward.)
19. Related (but unrelated), as my valued colleague Mike Middlehurst-Schwartz so succinctly pointed out Sunday: “The one throw that the Bills pay Josh Allen to make …”
19a. ICYMI, on Buffalo’s final snap (the Bills trailed by four) from Miami’s 30-yard line, Allen — the rookie first-round quarterback was touted as having the strongest arm in recent memory leading up to this year’s draft — underthrew wide-open tight end Charles Clay in the end zone on a cross-field throw. Oof.
20. Week 13’s top rushers were both rookies: Undrafted Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay (157 yards) and Allen (135).
21. Kansas City’s Travis Kelce joined Greg Olsen as the only tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
22. Rams WR Brandin Cooks became the first man in league history to register 1,000-yard receiving seasons in three consecutive years with three different clubs. Somewhere, Brandon Marshall is sooo jealous.
23. DT Akiem Hicks became the first Bears defensive player to rush for a TD since … William “Refrigerator” Perry infamously stole Walter Payton’s thunder in Super Bowl XX.
24. The Jets blocked a PAT and a punt Sunday. They also remained blocked from the win column after coughing up a 16-0 first-half lead to the Titans.
25. Prior to Sunday, Falcons WR Mohamed Sanu (a high school quarterback and Wildcat threat at Rutgers) had a perfect 158.3 passer rating over the course of his seven-year NFL career — a stretch that included completions on all six of his throws, which produced three TDs and 228 yards.
25a. But that ended when Sanu misfired in Atlanta’s loss to Baltimore.
26. Giants WR Odell Beckham has a perfect 158.3 passer rating this season. His two throws have produced 57- and 49-yard TD passes.
26a. Eli Manning has zero TD passes covering 40 yards this season.
27. Congrats to Tom Brady. TB12 reached #TB1K, becoming the oldest player, at 41, to reach 1,000 career rushing yards since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
28. Congrats to Bill Belichick. He reached #BB250 — OK, that’s not really a thing … I checked. But Belichick does now have 250 wins, including playoffs, as New England’s coach.
29. Circling back to NFL problems, the league better hope China didn’t tune in to Colts-Jaguars. Jacksonville’s 6-0 win tied for the lowest-scoring game in the past dozen years … and probably set the league back 12 years.
30. In that vein, China, you might want to skip Jags-Titans on Thursday night — advice we might all be wise to heed.
31. We share your outrage, @BortlesFacts … Cody Kessler and 211 yards of offense was no upgrade in Jacksonville.
32. Dearest mother — @CaptAndrewLuck and his battalion were ambushed by the “Jungle Cat men.” Shockingly, his sidearm did not unleash a triumvirate of TD salvos and, instead, he was thrice overrun by the “Jungle Cat men.” Simply stunning. He was even snookered at one point by that devious malcontent, Corporal Ramsey.
32a. For those of you not into Civil War-era jargon — maybe it’s Civil War-era jargon anyway? — Luck’s streak of games with at least three TD passes was snapped at eight. He was also sacked more than once for the first time since Week 4.
Dearest mother —
My disappointment is immeasurable. Our unit fell to the Jungle Cat men. We simply were unable to gain the necessary ground to fortify a victory. I find myself flummoxed by the outcome of the final maneuver of the battle. We must learn and move onward.
— Capt. Andrew Luck (@CaptAndrewLuck) December 2, 2018
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis