You demanded it! Thank You for Not Coaching is back in its usual Tuesday time slot to review the sprawling action of Week 13. Of course, while the NFL stretched out and played this week's games over a five-day stretch, the most-discussed decisions of the past seven days both took place on Saturday, when Michigan and Alabama made calls that had an enormous impact on the college football season. There wasn't a coaching decision quite as meaningful in the pro ranks this past week, but one team did critically injure its playoff hopes with a surprising misstep. As you might suspect, they're at the very end of this week's column, and as always, we'll start on the positive side of things.
Every season, Thanksgiving is about when we start figuring things out, and this year is no exception. Several teams made their playoff case last week, with the Saints, Panthers, Colts, and Eagles all gaining ground in either a division or wild-card race. But it’s also the time of year when teams finally come to the sad realization that it’s time to close up shop. Last week, with losses to a one-win Bucs team and a Matt McGloin–led Raiders team, respectively, those teams were the Falcons and Texans — two teams that came into this season with back-to-back trips to the playoffs.
Including Atlanta and Houston, there are currently eight teams down at least two games in the loss column for a playoff spot, and we know that for those fans, the holidays can be a cold, lonely stretch. So with Black Friday just around the corner, we wanted to give those teams a little something to keep them warm by putting together a holiday wish list for that one gift each needs as it looks forward to next year.
In case you were out realizing the road less traveled is less traveled because it goes to Buffalo, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Baylor's speed was too much for Oklahoma as the Bears throttled the Sooners, 41-12, in Waco. "They say speed kills, and it did a number on us here tonight," Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said after the game. "But I'm still alive." Stoops then looked around him; how did he get to this nondescript waiting room? Why was he talking to Bo Pelini? And what was the number "41” in his hand in reference to? "41," the talking skeleton behind the desk called. Stoops raised his hand. "Come on up, Bob," the skeleton said. "Welcome to limbo, Bob." Stoops looked around him, and saw the faces of Will Muschamp, Steve Sarkisian, and Mack Brown. "Limbo?" Stoops asked. "Limbo," the skeleton replied. "Now you can wait here for your second-tier bowl berth." Stoops raised his hand and said, "Now wait a minute, we're still alive for— " but the skeleton cut him off and said, "Limbo, Bob. Welcome to limbo."
As the days grow shorter, my fantasy team’s playoff hopes grow slimmer. The trade deadline is a week from tomorrow, and as I begin to accept my squad’s doomed fate, I'm faced with an ethical dilemma for the ages. Do I unload my few remaining healthy studs — Cam Newton, Matt Forte, and Josh Gordon — to my leaguemates for next to nothing and money on the side, or is my dignity more important? I’m leaning toward the former, but only because I really don’t want the dude currently in first place to win our league. That makes it OK, right? Good.
As I continue to ponder this question, here is your definitive Week 10 preview.
In case you were out giving the ol' trick-or-treat route a dry run, much to the chagrin of everyone on Greenleaf Street, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox opened the World Series in dominant fashion, beating a sloppy St. Louis Cardinals team 8-1. "We may have played sloppy tonight," said freshly shaven Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma after the game, "but at least we didn't look sloppy. I mean, seriously the Red Sox looked, whoops—" Kozma then fumbled the microphone he was speaking into and bent over to try to pick it up, only to somehow trip over his own shoes, leading to an awkward three-quarters front flip. Writhing in visible pain on the ground, Kozma then added, "As I was saying, seriously, they looked terrible. I could smell sneeze off of Jacoby Ellsbury's beard from the dugout. Have some dignity. Also, I think I just threw my back out."
More bad news for Cardinals fans: Outfielder Carlos Beltran, who was playing in his first career World Series game, was diagnosed with bruised ribs suffered while he was making a grand slam–saving catch. Beltran's injury, however, was good news for fans of correcting people who refer to things as being ironic, when what they mean is coincidental and tragic.
In case you were busy throwing your old iPad in the garbage like the trash that it is, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The University of Miami avoided major additional sanctions related to the Nevin Shapiro scandal, as the NCAA only revoked a small number of scholarships, deeming the school's self-imposed two-year bowl ban to be sufficient punishment. "Are you serious?" said former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel when asked for comment. "Nothing? Weren't they having crazy sex parties? My boys just got a handful of free tattoos and we faced worse. Well, I want to be very careful with what I say here. Because I know NCAA procedure is complicated, and we were not in the right when I was let go. But fuuuuuuuuuuuudge that." Only Tressel didn't say "fudge." He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word. Later, when asked by NCAA president Mark Emmert where he learned that word, Tressel refused to admit that it was from former NCAA president Myles Brand, instead blaming former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who is now himself under investigation by the NCAA.
In case you were busy keeping a drumroll sound going for 28 hours (and counting) in anticipation of the NCAA's announcement of its findings in the Nevin Shapiro investigation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
For some reason ESPN preempted coverage of the Monday Night Football game between the Giants and Vikings to show a blooper reel titled Monday Night High Passes and Soft Hits LIVE, a so-called Gaffe Battle in which The Jersey Boys outscored the Lake County Hornheads 23-7. In a particularly thrilling twist, after the Jersey Boys had scored big in the Fumblerooski-Off, surprise guest host Drew Carey emerged to tell both teams that the points they accrued didn't matter, and that Eli Manning and Josh Freeman would have to compete in a hoedown centered on the theme of "Weird First Dates" to determine the game's winner. While Manning was nervous, and turned in a lackluster performance in which he rhymed "wine" with "whine," he was bailed out by Freeman, who was unable to complete a single English word and found himself making guttural sounds and grunts for a soul-crushing 15 minutes.
In case you were busy preparing to take back a national park from the bears, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jim Leyland's decision to move Austin Jackson down in the batting order could not have worked out better, as the Tigers outfielder broke out of his slump, reaching base in all four of his plate appearances in Detroit's ALCS-equalizing 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. Or could it have worked better? See, Jackson's suddenly hot bat raises this question: Why did Leyland demote his best hitter, costing him a valuable fifth plate appearance? Leyland clearly must now rectify his obvious mistake and move Jackson back up to the top of the order. However, because the outcome of every at-bat is at least somewhat dependent on the context in which it occurred, the question arises as to whether Jackson would have been able to succeed were he given a different set of at-bats. Which means that it's quite clear Leyland should bench Jackson for the remainder of the series lest he make another huge managerial blunder. But doesn't that theory apply to every offensive player on the Tigers' roster? Who is to say any of them can be expected to simply slot into a batting order and play baseball effectively? Which leaves Leyland with only one rational choice as manager: forfeit the remaining games of the series and resign in disgrace. So I think it's fair to say Leyland's decision to move Jackson down in the batting order could have worked out better.
Adrian Gonzalez hit two home runs and Zack Greinke threw seven strong innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers staved off elimination in the NLCS by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4. "How dare they?" asked Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the game, as his lip quivered with rage. "We go to their stadium and we expect to be hosted with a little bit of decency. But no. Instead we're treated to home runs and fast pitching and no winning! Don't they know we deserve to win? Isn't that a thing they know? How much winning we deserve? We deserve it. Because we care and we're better and we're the best and honor and America!" Matheny then balled his hands into fists and exclaimed, "Ri-ooo! Poon-toe! Puuu-eeg!" as if swearing in short high-pitched bursts.
The Thank You for Not Coaching docket was pretty much all booked up by the time the 1 p.m. games were over on Sunday. Bouncers weren't letting any silly timeouts or fourth-down blunders into the column unless they had showed up for the early session. Plays that would normally be locks couldn't find a table unless they slipped somebody a 20. Pete Carroll calling for a spot challenge against the Jaguars? Nope. Mike McCoy's pair of fourth-and-1 punts inside Titans territory? Not this week. Rex Ryan's pair of spot challenges on consecutive plays? Believe it or not, we're all full up. It's a full #TYFNC slate for Week 3.
Let's start, though, with some of the better decisions from last week's action before working our way down to the three worst calls.
THE THREE NIFTIEST DECISIONS FROM WEEK 3
3. The Packers go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
How can a play that quite possibly cost Green Bay the game be a good choice? Well, because you have to evaluate the decision based upon the process that went into the call without evaluating it based upon its one outcome. And, in this case, the Packers were right to attempt a fourth-and-1 conversion: They were up 30-27 with 4:01 left and had the ball on Cincinnati's 30-yard line. They had been very effective running the ball in the second half with Johnathan Franklin, in for an injured James Starks, and had a chance to possibly seal the game by not handing the football back over to the Bengals.
The first thing you notice at Vikings training camp is, of course, Adrian Peterson. No man has ever been adored by another group of people the way that Adrian Peterson is by Vikings fans at camp. It's one thing for Peterson to get some applause during practice when he's handed the ball and bursts through the hole in a tackle-free scrimmage, of course, but All Day gets applause, well, all day. The crowd audibly oohed as he came to the front of the line and then ran through a drill. He tossed the ball briefly to his son, Adrian Jr., to the delight of all nearby. (Seriously, this was adorable.) I even saw Adrian Peterson get a steady ovation — like, parade-level applause — for crossing the street and running into the locker-room area before lunch. It was if Paul McCartney showed up at Shea Stadium in 1965, was handed the ball by Joe Namath, and immediately started trucking security guys to make out with every single girl inside the stadium at the same time. That's how loved Adrian Peterson is in Mankato, Minnesota.
Those fans are in the second-best emotional state a fan can be in, I think. After having just won or being about to win a championship, the second-happiest state for a fan is, "Nobody believed in us and we grossly exceeded expectations." It doesn't matter if you yourself were also of little faith. In fact, in a way, it's better if you had no expectations whatsoever heading into the season and ended up with a playoff season. The Vikings are basically freerolling this season, and you can see it in how happy their fans were just to be at camp. It seemed like nobody left last year with a bad taste in their mouths.
In recent years, running back, once football's glamour position, has been diminished beyond all recognition. Not so long ago, NFL teams routinely built around franchise running backs, but now the need to highly invest in the position is mostly gone. Late-round picks in established systems frequently explode onto the scene, only to be replaced by some other value pick in time. The franchise running back is dead.
Except, of course, for Adrian Peterson, who is the exception that proves the rule. Nearly every bit of modern football wisdom we’ve learned about running backs — running backs should be short and compact, running backs don’t return from major knee surgery as the same players — must be qualified with “… unless you’re talking about Adrian Peterson.” From his talent, to his results, to his importance to his offense and his team's success, Peterson is a throwback to an earlier time, a time when running backs still reigned supreme.
The NFL is a nearly perfect television product. But the way football is presented limits our ability to understand the game. On a 100-yard field populated by 22 men, a press-box camera fixated on the ball leaves us without a proper vantage point of the game’s stats-free players. The result is that for some of the NFL’s elite, their performance and reputation — both among fans and among their peers — remains uncelebrated or misunderstood. The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the sport’s 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven’t fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
The series begins with a player at one of the league’s most discounted positions — Vikings center John Sullivan.
A hulking stack of boulders. That's one description you might hear. Even when people don’t know the names of the NFL's men up front, they know their look. They are football’s towering, block-out-the-sun maulers, unmistakable and impossible to miss. It’s not easy to be nondescript among offensive linemen, but somehow John Sullivan manages to pull it off. A 6-foot-4, often-bearded man who spends most of his year in the Twin Cities, the Vikings center hasn't had many meals interrupted in his five years playing pro football. “Most of the time, people don’t see me and think ‘NFL football player,’” Sullivan says. “I’m not built like your traditional barrel-chested offensive lineman.” On the streets in Minneapolis, Sullivan seems, well, ordinary. Inside the Metrodome, he’s anything but.
The 27-year-old Notre Dame graduate is the second-longest tenured member of the Vikings offense, and like his MVP running back, Adrian Peterson, he has proven to be perhaps the NFL’s preeminent player at his position. For the most part — whether it’s his lack of that barrel chest or the plainest Irish name imaginable — that fact has gone mostly unnoticed. What’s remarkable about Sullivan’s success is just how unremarkable it appears — a product of acumen and subtle physical tools that, while easy to miss, have made him one of the best football players in the world.
What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
Last week, in a move that inspired five “What the hell is happening?” texts from my best (read: only) Packers-fan friend, Green Bay released inside linebacker Desmond Bishop. Two years ago, Bishop was the best inside linebacker on the Green Bay roster, but he missed all of last season with a torn hamstring. When healthy, Bishop would be an upgrade over both of Green Bay’s current starting options, but judging by the Packers’ choice to cut him loose despite having plenty of cap flexibility, it doesn’t seem like Bishop’s old team was buying his claims that he was good as new.
Not surprisingly, there were several teams in the market for Bishop’s services, including the Chiefs, Giants, and Vikings, but in the end, Bishop chose to be the latest Packer defector to head to Minnesota. When asked if the opportunity to play against the Packers played into his decision, Bishop said this: "It was part of the reason. And if I can get a chance to play against Aaron Rodgers, I think that right there, in itself, is a motivation. You know, you want to play against the best.” It wasn’t an answer that approached Favre-ian levels of bitterness, but that the question was asked at all seems to be all that matters.
OK, so I know what you’re thinking: If you’re going to start a countdown this far in advance (which is admittedly crazy), why not just wait to start on a round number? I’ll tell you why — because Simmons is the boss, and he wasn’t going to go another day without a reason to get excited about football season:
I want the countdown to the NFL season. EVERY DAY.
That was an e-mail from earlier this week. It was not a request.