Four years ago, Andre Smith got off a plane in Indianapolis as the best left tackle at that year’s NFL combine. The previous season, he was awarded the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s best interior lineman. He’d been named an All-American by every outlet with a printing press or an Internet presence. And come draft time, it was expected that Smith would be one of the first five players off the board.
Then he left.
Before completing any of his workouts, Smith was back on a plane to Alabama, without telling anyone. Later, his explanation was that in switching his representation, he’d lost some time to prepare for the drills. He didn’t feel ready.
This excuse was hardly enough for those involved. He was skewered — for a lack of maturity and a lack of attention to detail. Smith’s pro day in Tuscaloosa didn’t help much, either. The video of his jiggle during the 40-yard dash is still Internet legend. A tumble down hypothetical draft boards began. Smith went from the best tackle in the draft to the consensus no. 3. By March, Mel Kiper had him clear out of the top 10. In botching the “pre-draft process,” Smith had done himself in.
In case you were busy breaking the last of your New Year's resolutions, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Novak Djokovic became the first man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles in the Open era, topping Andy Murray 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-2. The match turned during the second-set tiebreaker when a feather fell slowly to the court, distracting Murray. Murray snatched the feather from the air, called time, went to his bag, pulled out his lucky copy of Curious George, and tucked the feather between its pages. He then took out a box of chocolates, and approached a random woman in the crowd. "Hello," Murray said. "My name's Andy, Andy Murray; you want a chocolate?" The woman shook her head at him. Murray shrugged and said, "I could eat about a million and a half of these. My mama always said, 'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.' Those must be comfortable shoes. I wish I had shoes like that." Murray then ate a chocolate himself, before returning to the court, double-faulting, and dropping the set on the way to losing the match, while complaining of terrible foot blisters.
The thought had lingered all weekend — for the past couple weekends, actually — but it took Matt Schaub’s trip to Foxborough for it to take hold. Houston had just completed another seven-yard pass on a third-and-8, and as it became clear that the Texans’ tailspin would end with nothing more than a death rattle, I wondered whether this was it for Matt Schaub.
This doesn’t mean I think Schaub’s time in Houston is over. Matt Schaub will be the Texans’ starting quarterback next season, and he probably should be. In every season in which Matt Schaub started 16 games, he’s thrown for 4,000 yards. He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice, the most recent trip being just last season. In the world, there are probably 15 men better than Matt Schaub at what Matt Schaub does. The problem for the Texans, and the problem for a handful of teams around the league, is that Matt Schaub’s competence may actually be their undoing.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.
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.
Field of Dreams
We are barely 12 hours from the end of the Washington Redskins' season. At the moment, I have no idea of the extent of additional injury (if any? *wishful*) to the knee of The Most Important Professional D.C. Athlete Since Gheorghe Muresan. The range of possibilities seems to begin with something like, "the already-existing sprain was more sprained and The Robert will be back in time for summer OTAs," and ends with, "a ligament was damaged and Black Jesus will be performing divine rehab all the way up to the start of the 2013 season, which means Kirk Cousins will be taking starter-snaps for at least the first couple games of the 2013-14 season." And the nagging, annoying hindsight-enhanced read of the situation is that it never should've come to that crappy, gut-turning moment in the fourth quarter, not after RG3 had shown through a full two-and-a-half quarters of ineffective play that he was so impaired as to be a hindrance to the team's best chances at a win.
With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning still dissecting defenses, this weekend’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins might not produce this year’s Super Bowl winner, but it may still be the key to the NFL’s future. Since their 3-6 start, the Redskins are on a seven-game winning streak, during which their already potent offense stabilized into one of the best in the league. Seattle, on its own five-game winning streak, has coalesced into arguably the best team in football. After outscheming the Chicago Bears en route to a dramatic overtime victory, Seattle pulled off one of the greatest three-game stretches in league history by bludgeoning the Cardinals, Bills, and 49ers, a stretch during which they outscored their opponents 150 to 30.
Among similar dominant stretches in NFL history, one that comes close was by the 1940 Chicago Bears, whose streak culminated in a 73-0 victory over the Redskins in the NFL Championship. That record offensive output followed totals of 47 and 31 points in the previous two weeks. The success was the direct result of a switch in offensive scheme by legendary Bears coach and owner George Halas, a switch that helped turn a 7-3 Bears loss to the Redskins earlier that season into the most lopsided championship game in any major professional sport. Halas, frustrated by his offense, turned to good friend and Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy for help.
At the time, every NFL team ran the single wing offense, a shotgun-based attack with an unbalanced line where the ball was typically snapped directly to the tailback. Shaughnessy — first at the University of Chicago, where he and Halas became friends, and later at Stanford — had revived the old T-formation, which placed a quarterback directly behind the center. Shaughnessy updated the T to include a variety of motions and misdirection to buttress the running game and bolted on an all-new passing attack. The combination made the offense nearly unstoppable — at least in college. Even as late as 1940, most pro coaches viewed the T formation and its reliance on the quarterback making fakes and dropping back to pass as a bizarre gimmick. That is until Chicago ripped through the latter part of its schedule, and, with Sid Luckman as the prototype for a new era of "T-formation quarterbacks," built a dynasty.
We're here: Week 16. For those of you lucky enough to still be around, there is boundless glory to be won. To help with the preparation during fantasy football's most sacred of times, we've compiled a short weekly schedule designed to draw from the good (and the bad) methods of readying yourself for the big time.
The Playboy parties, steakhouse dinners, and photo shoots can wait — today is a day for business, the final chance to improve your roster before Week 16. Celebrate your championship berth in style with these waiver-wire pickups.
QB: Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (available in 45.7 percent of ESPN.com leagues)
RB: Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers (81.2 percent)
RB: Curtis Brinkley, San Diego Chargers (99.7 percent)
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (48.9 percent)
WR: Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars (39 percent)
TE: Dennis Pitta, Baltimore Ravens (70.2 percent)
FLEX: Joe Morgan, New Orleans Saints (99.9 percent)
Each week, the Fantasy Island contestants will submit a preview for each of that weekend's games. The best preview from each game will be selected and combined with the others into one comprehensive guide, and points are awarded based on how many individual previews from each writer are selected. Get it? OK. We sorta do, too.
Of all the players in the NFL last Sunday, it was Russell Wilson who turned the most heads. Marshaling a 97-yard touchdown drive with 3:40 left in the game against Chicago to take a 17-14 lead was one thing, but after the Bears miraculously tied the game in the 20 seconds left for them on the clock, Wilson made a mockery of momentum in overtime and drove 79 yards in 12 plays to score a second game-winning touchdown. The first drive revolved around Wilson's abilities as a passer, as he went 6-of-8 for 77 yards, but the second drive saw the Seahawks use Wilson with Marshawn Lynch in the read option and rely on Wilson's work as a runner. He ran for 28 yards on the drive, and when he had to throw, he completed all three of his passes, picking up 12 yards on a key third-and-5 and then immediately following that with the game-winner to Sidney Rice.
It was a crucial road win for the Seahawks, who have now won three of their last four games and now have, according to Football Outsiders, an 87.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. Wilson's improvement has been cited as the key factor in that winning streak, and that's something worth looking at: Has Seattle's rise coincided with a dramatic leap in Wilson's play? Is there some particular aspect of Wilson's performance that has driven that improvement? And is that sustainable? Is this the real new Russell Wilson?
December 2007: Wichita East High School’s Bryce Brown, a five-star running back largely considered to be the nation’s top junior prospect, verbally commits to the University of Miami. With no-nonsense head coach Randy Shannon, dual-threat quarterback Jacory Harris, super booster Nevin Shapiro, and Brown, a dynasty appears to be on the horizon at The U.
February 2008: As it turns out, Brown’s verbal was anything but solid. Handler/cell phone salesman/self-proclaimed “most connected guy in Wichita” Brian Butler — a slimier version of Buddy Garrity, if such a thing is possible — reveals that Brown might instead opt to play in the CFL, likely because of his longstanding affinity for Saskatchewanian literature.
March 2008: After a month of careful contemplation, Brown decides against becoming football’s Brandon Jennings and narrows his college search to six finalists: Miami, Kansas State, Tennessee, USC, Oregon, and LSU.
March 2009: Lane Kiffin lures Brown to Tennessee. In retrospect, it’s a minor miracle that this marriage lasted as long as it did.
The scores weren’t high on the BQBL leaderboard this week, but the outstanding individuals occupying it performed acts displaying a level of ineptitude that we had yet to see in the BQBL.
Ravens (Joe Flacco), 79 points: With both teams coming into the game at 5-1, the buildup to the Ravens-Texans tilt on Sunday had an air of insincerity considering all the supposed eliteness and contenderism at stake. Regardless, at the outset, this was by far the most intriguing of the early slate, mostly in a “I might see the next AFC champion establish itself” sort of way. After the first half, it was the most intriguing in a “I might see Joe Flacco score 1,000 points today” sort of way.
Waka Flacco Flame’s Sunday started pretty well. His first drive of scripted plays was an effective mix of a few runs with a couple passes that moved the ball from his own 22 to the Texans' 33, eventually ending with a field goal. At that point you felt like Waka Flacco had what it took to move the ball against a Texans D that was ranked in the top five in total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. He did not. To appropriately capture the glorious disaster that was the rest of Waka Flacco’s first half, let’s have a look, dreadful drive by dreadful drive:
In Part 1, Cousin Sal joins Bill to commiserate over heartbreaking losses for both the Cowboys and the Patriots; then they turn their attention to the Week 7 betting lines. In Part 2, JackO and Joe House join Bill to talk baseball. JackO mourns the loss of Yankee captain Derek Jeter and Joe House mourns the loss of the 2012 feel-good Washington Nationals.
As I write this it is 7:46 p.m., Monday, October 8, 12, 2012 AD. I point this out because I am writing the introduction to this week’s BQBL post BEFORE Mark Sanchez takes the field against the Houston Texans. There is a 90 percent chance that I will rewrite this after Sanchez throws three picks and is sacked a bajillion times by J.J. Watt and the Texans defense; there is a 5 percent chance he has a great game and we post this intro just to prove how unpredictable the NFL is; and there is a 5 percent chance this column is canceled because Sanchez is decapitated on the field of play, somehow lives, but the NFL is taking a couple weeks off to draw up some rule changes. Regardless, I doubt that even the inevitable ineptitude Mr. Sanchize is sure to muster up later this evening will top the week that Yo Gabba Gabbert had on Sunday. He was so bad he forced me to completely re-imagine how I write this column.
Three and Out
Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert), 89 points: Each week, I usually give the BQBLers a little synopsis of the atrocious turnovers that each of the top scorers compiled. But I was thinking ... by doing that, I’m leaving too much shitty quarterbacking on the cutting-room floor. Blaine Gabbert was so terrible this week that he deserves the full treatment. Ladies and gentlemen, I will now go through Yo Gabba Gabbert’s tremendous Sunday against the Bears defense, incompletion by glorious incompletion:
After consecutive losses to the Falcons and Texans in Weeks 2 and 3, the buzzards began to surround Peyton Manning. His statistics — 7.1 yards per attempt with a 60 percent completion percentage — were pedestrian. His shocking three-interceptions-to-the-Falcons game lurked as a sign of how much Manning had lost, an opinion seemingly confirmed when a veteran scout told the NFL Network's Albert Breer, "Peyton Manning can't throw the ball anymore."
And then Peyton went 30-for-38 for 338 yards with three touchdowns and no picks against the Raiders, so all was well with the world. Right?