- Also, the Panthers could have easily been doing what Seattle has done, the MNF booth deserves another chance, the Jaguars still need to address what’s rotten in their building, and a heart-warming story about a Vinny Testaverde football card and mom. Plus, musical guest: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!
1a. Before we get into the on-the-field stuff (we don’t really get into that much on-the-field stuff), a quick but helpful clarification for Baker Mayfield, who seems to think folks are upset at his Hue Jackson beefbecause it was mean. No, no, no, people like me don’t like it because Baker Mayfield is going to be a star, and Hue Jackson is utterly irrelevant.
Take Batman, for instance. He fights The Joker. And Two-Face. Bane, definitely. Sometimes The Riddler. Bizarro Batman, right? Probably? And sometimes Superman. I bet he had his disagreements with Robin too—I’m not sure Robin counts as a “superhero,” but we can all agree that he’s a pretty impressive guy. Do you know who Batman doesn’t fight? Terry Gibbons, who was Bruce Wayne’s incompetent manager at Dairy Queen when he was in high school and mistreated his employees. There are neither graphic novels nor screenplays of any Batman iteration in which The Dark Knight stakes out the Gotham Adult Learning Annex where Gibbons, now a customer-care specialist at a Netscape call center, takes a night class (“Bedazzle Your Irregular T-Shirts”), and once every couple weeks The Caped Crusader gets the drop on his former boss, boxes his ears and kicks him in the crotch, after which Commissioner Gordon has to explain that it’s not a crime for the manager of a fast-food restaurant to demand an at-will employee clean the men’s lavatory multiple times per day, and even if it was the statute of limitations has surely expired.
The Browns, of course, have a chance to spoil the Ravens’ postseason plans (if the Steelers beat Cincinnati at home, the Ravens are out with a loss). Mayfield would have to overcome arguably the best defense in football right now (or, at least the best in the AFC), and he’d have to outduel the Heisman-winning first-round rookie on the other side of the field.
The latter is more relevant for the longterm. Right now, the Browns and Ravens are probably better bets for success beyond, say, 2021, than the Steelers (on account of the shaky prospects of a post-Roethlisberger offense) and Bengals (on account of being the Cincinnati Bengals). Mayfield is probably going to be a star. Lamar Jackson has a wider range of potential outcomes in the long-term because he’s such a work-in-progress, but if nothing else he’s a lot of fun to watch. The thought of those two facing each other twice a year for the next decade should warm even your ice-cold heart. It’s a rivalry about the future. And, of course, it’s a rivalry about the past due to Art Modell’s dirtbag move, relocating the Browns to Baltimore back in 1995.
1b. Also, Mayfield said, re: Hue Jackson stare downs: “Quite honestly, if you don’t like it, whatever. Football’s not meant to be a soft game. I could care less.” But!, saying you could care less suggests you do care about it.
2. Drew Brees is just fantastic. It’s a weird anomaly that he hasn’t won an MVP considering he’s been consistently historically great, and had his 2018 performance occurred during the 2017 season he probably would have beaten Tom Brady for the award. But, alas, it is 2018, and as great as Brees has been this season there’s no way to justify voting for him over Patrick Mahomes in the MVP race.
a. Team Records and Come-From-Behind Wins: The closest thing to a two-way quarterback in the NFL is Taysom Hill covering kicks. The effect quarterbacks have on their teams’ defensive performance is minimal. Average field position plays into it, but the Chiefs are actually second in the NFL in opponent averaging starting field position (25.8, the Saints are fourth-best at 26.4). Mahomes had two turnovers returned for touchdowns this season, Brees didn’t have any. You could argue that Brees was slightly more helpful to his team’s defensive performance (from a points allowed standpoint) than Mahomes was. But it’s not even close to closing the gap between the defenses’ performances. The Saints are a top-10 scoring defense this year (tied for eighth at 21.3 points per game), while the Chiefs are 29th (27.9). No one would put the Saints’ 48-40, season-opening loss to Tampa Bay on Brees’s shoulders, so it’s illogical to put the blame for Kansas City’s bottom-five defense on Mahomes.
As for come-from-behind wins, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s not true, I do know what to tell you: Winning a game you were leading the whole way is worth the same as winning a game you trailed in at some point.
If you must cherry-pick a box-score stat (and you shouldn’t, but if you must), go with yards-per-attempt, which actually takes into account how many yards those pass attempts lad to, which is a far more meaningful measure than the binary of catch or no-catch. Mahomes’s throws went for 8.7 yards per attempt, Brees’s for 8.2 (both very impressive numbers). Points is also a good box-score stats; the Chiefs offense has averaged more points (33.5 to 32.3) and, as mentioned above, have not had anything resembling the lows the Saints have had. Or, in an age where big plays decide NFL games, look at the big plays generated. Mahomes has 49 passes of 25-plus yards this year. Brees has 34.
c. Actual Arguments: A legitimate argument for Brees is that his 2018 season is a culmination of years of building and molding this Saints offense. He’s been like a player-coach for New Orleans, and the fact that he built this—whereas Mahomes had an offense built for him—should be taken into consideration.
However, you also have to consider the couple of times Mahomes won games that no other quarterback would have won under the same circumstances. The victory over Baltimore comes to mind, in which the Ravens defense thoroughly out-schemed and out-executed the Chiefs. The no-look throw got all the attention, but Mahomes made three or four plays that no other quarterback has the physical ability and mental acuity to make. And while I’m not going to lean on home/road splits since home wins and losses count just the same as road wins and losses, but I think there is something to be said for playing well on the road, the most difficult thing for an NFL offense to do. Mahomes threw an NFL-record 31 touchdowns on the road this season, where the Chiefs averaged 38.3 points per game and 36 offensive touchdowns, the second-highest all-time marks behind only the 2007 Patriots (39.3 and 36).
But the honor loses meaning if you give it to someone who didn’t rightfully earn it (you know, like every honor handed out in baseball). The Saints are the team of the year, but if league’s Most Valuable Player award is going to be awarded to the league’s most valuable player (as the name of the honor suggests), that is Patrick Mahomes.
3. “A long December and there’s reason to believe
“Maybe this year will be better than the last.”
—Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, in 1996, in anticipation of the Carolina Panthers’ winless final month of the season 22 years later
Instead they’re taking January off, in large part because Newton’s shoulder hasn’t been right the second half of the season, and in part because they couldn’t catch a break once things started to go downhill. There was the Graham Gano misses and the Newton overthrow that cost them in Detroit. Then there was the home loss to Seattle, a game in which they were the better team but came up short on fourth downs and in the red zone.
As for now, a bitter end to a once promising season—but I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower.
4. The “Collinsworth Slide” became self-aware earlier this month and is no longer worth anyone’s attention. Though, did you know, Monday Night Football experimented with a “Witten Slide” a few weeks ago? It resulted in three cracked vertebrae for Joe Tessitore. (I kid! But their chemistry wasn’t very good this season.)
5. From the moment the move was made, the promotion of Cody Kessler in Jacksonville made zero sense. After four excruciating weeks (and, in the Jaguars brass’s defense, multiple touchdowns!), the nightmare is over. But what the Jaguars can’t undo is the mistake of canning Nathaniel Hackett.
Someone made the call to insert Kessler as the starter, and at some point that person will have to be outed. Turning to Blake Bortles’s wholly less-talented veteran backup was a move devoid of logic, an aimless “change for the sake of change.” The Jaguars could have just as well opted to keep Bortles in the lineup but have him play left-handed, or put Jaxson de Ville at left tackle, or replaced the Gatorade with battery acid. It’s different, but it obviously wasn’t going to be better.
6. I’ll wrap the final Football Things of the 2018 calendar year—and the holiday season—with a heart-warming Christmas story: Every Boxing Day when I as a kid, my Uncle Dave and Aunt Jean would come over for a gift exchange, and Uncle Dave would always show up with a couple packs of the newly released baseball cards as well as a crapload of football card packs. And, as you do when four boys are opening packs of cards, you intermittently call out your best cards. Barry Sanders!, Oh, Steve Young…, Alvin Harper rookie!, etc. After a few packs, my 8-year-old brother piped up with: “Vinny Testicles…”—the nickname for Vinny Testaverde on the mean streets (or cul-de-sacs) around the nation back then. My mother reacted with a wealthy dowager-esque “Oh my, Timothy!” While she won’t admit it now, to this day I wonder if a small voice in the back of my mother’s mind was asking, “Is there a quarterback who goes by the name of ‘Vinny Testicles’?”
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