On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Yeah, Totally … of Course
Chris Ryan: So here were are on a Monday morning and Nick Foles is on a list with Y.A. Tittle, and the Eagles are exciting again. If this is what "parity" means, I'm going to need some stronger Tums. Watching this Eagles season is actually more emotionally demanding than last season. Back then (alllll the way back then), the Eagles couldn't tackle and the offense couldn't stay healthy and they lost football games. This season, the defense still can't really tackle, the offense still isn't healthy, and every third week Chip Kelly is like, "Fuck it, let's play some cards," and throws this page of his playbook open …
And this happens …
So I don't even know anymore. The Raiders had the 10th-ranked defense going into the game, and now I'm not sure if the NFLPA will let any of these guys practice in the state of California ever again. I don't really know what this means. The Eagles are still in the playoff hunt, but after the taking-Mescaline-in–Joshua Tree performance of the first week, and the misery that followed, I'm trying not to get ahead of myself (other than looking at hotel rooms for the inevitable Panthers-Eagles NFC Championship Game).
No matter what happens the rest of the season, I do think this is the beginning of some sort of new chapter in the franchise's history. I heard the names Foles, Ertz, and [exhales unfiltered cigarette smoke] Cooper, and it was like we were truly watching a new team. Yes, DeSean and LeSean looked great (finally), but this was truly Kelly's team, and in a way, it may have been the first truly Kelly win.
"Today, we were good. If we could have fixed it with one thing, you'd do it. But it's not like the muffler is hanging, so you just take a screwdriver and tighten it up and go." Sure, Chip. I call "shotgun."
Cammy Cam Loves the Kids
Andrew Sharp: It was only 13 months ago that the Panthers were struggling and sportswriters were writing things like this: "Instead of acting like an NFL quarterback, Newton is acting like a child. … I think back on quarterbacks through Carolina’s history. Steve Beuerlein and Rodney Peete were as even-keel as they come. Jake Delhomme had a visible competitive edge about him, but never freaked out when things didn’t go well. In fact, Delhomme was at his best when things got tight. That’s part of being an NFL quarterback."
Peete, Beuerlein, Delhomme … Try taking some notes from the legends, Cam.
It wasn't just random writers. Everyone agreed, this kid had a lot to learn.
Great line from @SI_PeterKing: "i think Torrey Smith should teach Life Lessons 101 to Cam Newton."
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 24, 2012
The criticism wasn't completely off base. Newton really did have to learn. Mainly, he had to learn to control his sideline image better, so that he didn't make it easy for writers to invent stupid controversies. That responsibility comes with being the most visible player on the team, which is what some of the critics were saying. But just as often, that point turned into an excuse to belittle all the flash and confidence that made him fun in the first place.
A year later? The Panthers have won four games in a row, they've scored at least 30 points in each of those wins, and there are no more sarcastic cartoons in the Charlotte Observer, or national debates about whether Cam Newton "gets it."
He's just back to doing awesome things on a football field, and that's the only story that matters this year. He wasn't perfect Sunday, but a rough Panthers start turned into a dominant second half, and the Falcons went down 34-10. Maybe that was newfound maturity, or maybe Newton's just really good. Either way, Carolina's playing as well as anyone right now, Newton's at the center of everything, and it's a lot of fun to watch.
It won't be like this forever, because I'm sure all the stupid Newton criticism will come flooding back to the mainstream if/when the team struggles in the next few years. But that's all the more reason to enjoy right now. Newton has scored 77 touchdowns in two and a half years, and in case you've missed the past month, he's only getting more dangerous.
I don't know whether he has learned all the lessons the NFL media wanted him to learn, but he definitely hasn't turned into Steve Beuerlein. Thank god.
After the game Sunday:
Reporter: Watching you after three different touchdowns give the ball to three different kids. I know what they get out of it, what do you get out of that?
Cam: [Laughing.] I'm a kid at heart. Cammy Cam loves the kids. But you know on a serious note, it just gets everybody in this thing. Involved with the game. We need everybody's effort, including everybody in B.O.A. [Stadium], to continue to keep showin' up and showin' out.
Reporter: Did you just say 'Cam loves the kids'? Is that the slogan now?
Cam: [Correcting the reporter.] Cammy Cam loves the kids.
However you feel about Newton and the Panthers and where they're going, we're a long way off from reporters asking about his body language.
The most important Cam Newton Life Lesson? Show up, show out, and the bullshit takes care of itself. Cammy Cam juice for everyone.
Russell Wilson, Dream Haunter
Hua Hsu: A terrifying man once said that greatness is a lot of small things done well. In the case of a young quarterback, this can mean small things like throwing the ball away at the first sniff of trouble or crumbling back toward the line of scrimmage rather than trying to wriggle free from a sack. It’s about building up a pup’s self-esteem, shielding him from moments of spotlighted failure, ensuring that he sees every next snap as a fresh start. It’s why Alex Smith still possesses an ego and why John Madden thought Super Bowl XXXVI should have just gone into overtime. I’ve never seen Russell Wilson do any small things. Granted, I’m a fan of the Seahawks’ chief rival and it’s hard to see Wilson at all with my hands covering my eyes most of the time. The man terrifies me. I didn’t start watching the Seahawks-Bucs game until they were down 21-0. Lamborghini MRSA! Maybe Greg Schiano’s psyops campaign on Josh Freeman’s consciousness had all been worth it. When the Seahawks scored near the end of the first half, though, it started to feel inevitable that the magic of Mikes Glennon and James was beginning to run dry. Even more so as Schiano crept further and further onto the field whenever there was a break in play, as though he was trying to physically fast-forward to the postgame handshake.
With about five minutes left in the third quarter, the Bucs still white-knuckled that 24-7 lead. First down: The pocket dissolves and two Bucs appear to be racing to see who can sack Wilson first. Two more Bucs materialize, just for the sake of narrative. And so Wilson does the obvious thing; he keeps wheeling, wheeling to his left, cocks back, and, off his wrong foot, heaves a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin on the sideline. It’s 24-7 and the Seahawks are going to win. There’s actually one camera angle where you can see Wilson backpedaling and looking downfield toward Baldwin, and he shouts “Fuck physics!” as he releases the ball.
Holy [Insert Exclamatory Profanity Here]
Rules of Engagement
Katie Baker: A lot happened in football this weekend, but only one story made me hyperventilate. A Newsday Jets beat writer (engaged to a Bergen Record scribe!) inexplicably removed her engagement ring to wash her hands in the press box ladies' room at MetLife Stadium yesterday — note to the forgetful gals among us, of which I am definitely one, DO NOT DO THIS!!!! — and left the room as it remained gleaming on the counter. First to spot it? None other than Gayle Benson, the wife of New Orleans Saints owner Tom, who turned it into security and then delivered a line I could parse for days. "I suspected it was an engagement ring," she said. "Very beautiful." That needs to be etched into a crystal bowl at once.
On Second Thought …
Matt Borcas: Last week I expressed dismay at Jason Campbell’s competence in Kansas City. Competence was not what the Browns needed, not when landing a top quarterback in next April’s draft was on the line. Mock Brandon Weeden and his unparalleled ineptitude all you want, but at least he practically ensured Marcus Mariota’s future in Cleveland. I was gladly willing to accept losses in the short term for wins on wins on wins in the long term.
But maybe competent was the wrong word — maybe Campbell is actually good this year, as hard as that is to believe for anyone who watched last year’s 49ers-Bears game. His touchdown to interception ratio is 5:0 through two games, he usually hits his receivers in stride, and he admirably avoids flipping the ball underhand, a Weeden staple. At any rate, it’s impossible to justify tanking when you sit just two games out of first place in the AFC North, especially when you dominated the division-leading Bengals a month ago. Apologies to Jim E. Mora — with plenty of winnable games left on the schedule, it’s not unreasonable to start thinking PLAYOFFS.
Moreover, the Bucs and Jags simply refuse to be out-tanked. Their lead in the Mariota/Teddy Bridgewater sweepstakes is pretty much insurmountable at this point; the best the Browns can hope for is swapping first-rounders with a non–QB needy team (Atlanta? Pittsburgh?) and drafting Johnny Football or A.J. McCarron. Hell, as long as the plan doesn’t involve Zach Mettenberger, I’m fine.
In short, I completely disavow the plan I espoused last Monday because of Tandon Doss’s third-quarter fumble, which led to the Browns’ clinching score. Football!
Head of the Class
Belichick After Dark
Sharp: Maybe this is a fun Halloween photo, maybe it's a snapshot from a night of freaky role-play that was accidentally shared on social media, probably a little bit of both. All we know for sure is that we have a new favorite photo of Bill Belichick.
(H/T: Beckley Mason)
Good Things Come in Strange Packages
Robert Mays: I watched football yesterday afternoon with someone who doesn’t typically watch much of it. We were surrounded by TVs, and the early stretch of games was spent explaining scenes that were understandably confusing to the unfamiliar. Asked why no. 88 on the Cowboys seemed to be yelling a lot, I didn’t have a good reason. And I never really considered how strange the concept of a safety really is.
As I pointed out the moments of interest among the sensory overload, I realized I kept coming back to the screen showing Rams-Titans. No. 30 in the blue-and-yellow throwback uniform became “the Squatty Guy” after about the third reference, and that stuck for the rest of the afternoon. Taking in the games with someone whose slate is blank may be the best way to find out what makes us stop and pay attention, and right now, there are few players I’d rather watch than Zac Stacy.
For the first several weeks of the season, the Rams’ running game was a disaster. During the preseason, the two teams whose running back pecking orders remained muddled were St. Louis and Denver. Since, we’ve learned the Broncos were just playing games. The Rams really were just confused. Daryl Richardson was the starter and 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead was the backup — followed by Stacy. Or maybe it was Stacy, then Pead. And somehow, Benny Cunningham was also involved. Whatever it was, the Rams averaged 47.25 rushing yards in their first four games, and it was quickly apparent they owned the most anemic running game in football.
Before their Week 5 game against Jacksonville, Jeff Fisher & Co. made the move to Stacy, and he led the team in carries (14 to Daryl Richardson’s 13) for the first time that Sunday. From there, Stacy’s load only increased: 18 carries the next week, followed by 17, 26, and finally, 27 yesterday against the Titans. In the five games since Stacy took the load, St. Louis is averaging 133 yards per game on the ground, and that includes a game against Carolina, which is giving up less yards rushing per game than anyone but the Jets. What was once the weak point of the Rams’ offense has become its strength, and the only considerable difference is Stacy.
The central question that arose yesterday as I pointed out Stacy careening off Titans was how someone built like him could survive in a game of giants. This led to a conversation about running backs — again, a conversation born from thinking in the most basic terms. Stacy, who Bill Barnwell has described as “cube-shaped” more than once, can succeed because running back is a position in which physical makeup and pedigree have often mattered very little. Excluding Russell Wilson (and maybe Drew Brees), great quarterbacks typically have a similar build. Offensive linemen traditionally fit certain molds, and defensive players have their boxes as well. Only wide receiver comes with variation approaching what we see at running back, and even that spectrum is more about length than shape. No position features more shapes, sizes, and styles than tailback, and it allows for players as dissimilar as Stacy and Chris Johnson to have the same level of success on the same field on the same day.
Stacy is listed at 5-foot-8, but I’d like to see that. His playing weight is 216 pounds, and his headshot looks like this. Despite rushing for more than 3,100 yards on 581 carries at Vanderbilt, Stacy, who ran a 4.56 at the combine, went in the fifth round. Of course he did. Stacy doesn’t look like or move like Adrian Peterson, but the beauty is that he doesn’t have to. The same season the Colts traded a first-round pick for a running back (one who has subsequently been sent to the bench), the Rams have found their answer in a fifth-round bowling ball. It’s not that finding a running back is easy; it’s that you can find them in places you might not typically look. The Squatty Guy knows how to play, and playing the position he does, nothing else matters.