I wonder if anyone could have predicted that the Broncos would be 6-2 at the halfway point of the season with Trevor Siemian at quarterback and that the 2015 seventh-round pick would be voted the team’s offensive captain. The latter is what happened earlier this week in a vote of the team’s players. Check that: I know no one could have made that prediction.
Asked what earned Siemian the honor, offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said, “You’d probably have to ask the players that. I didn’t get the chance to vote.” He then added, “It seems like he’s taken on a bigger leadership role. He’s running the huddle well. People are looking up to him to help the tempo. I think he’s really taken a command of what everybody is doing.”
Second-year outside linebacker Shane Ray said, “Trev is my guy. We came in together and I’m just happy to see the development and everything that he’s overcome with his injury to come through and help lead the team and how he’s playing now. I feel like what happened with Trev, nobody expected that. He’s taken full advantage of his opportunity to be a great quarterback in this league. All of the love for him, I’m glad.”
For his part, Siemian said, “It’s a tremendous honor for me, it really is. It means a lot to me to first of all, be a part of this locker room and to know that some guys think of me in that light. A huge honor for me, really excited to be a part of this. I’m just trying to be myself throughout the whole thing. Going into a little bit of a leadership role, but again we have great leadership throughout the locker room so I’m kind of following suit with those guys.”
I hope all NFL fans remember what happened four years ago when the Colts last played the Packers. It was Oct. 7, and just days after Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. While he was watching the game from the IU Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, the Colts staged a remarkable comeback that almost seemed pre-ordained.
Green Bay led 21-3 at halftime, but the Colts came back to win, 30-27. There were “CHUCKSTRONG t-shirts everywhere, and both teams wore them during pregame warmups. An emotional interim head coach Bruce Arians said afterward, “I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys in all my life” and the game ball was later delivered to Pagano.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 31 of 55 passes for 362 yards and after running for a touchdown patted a “CHUCKSTRONG” sign on a wall near the end zone. It was that kind of day.
So it was this week as the two teams prepared to meet again that memories were rekindled of that memorable afternoon.
Said Pagano, “I was heavily dosed up on meds so I don’t remember anything other than the final. Blame it on Dilaudid – it’s pretty good stuff. The team was feeling pain at half but I wasn’t. It was a different team (in the second half). It was a great win. One of the great comebacks by this team and that locker room by those players that are still here. That’s what it is, it’s a great memory, but I certainly had nothing to do with it.” Not many would agree with that.
Luck said, “I do remember (the week) was weird. It was bizarre in a sense. I think the gravity of the situation hit guys maybe at different times. You have BA (Arians) stand up there and tell you that Chuck’s sick and is in the hospital and then you have a doctor come into a team meeting, which is unprecedented in my career, and tell you what he’s going through. But it didn’t hit me then. I remember it hitting me when I walked out to practice and coach Pagano wasn’t there. ‘Ok this is real life,’ you know. It certainly provided a lot of perspective I think on football, on life and just thankful that coach is healthy really at the end of the day.”
Luck’s and Pagano’s counterparts also were asked about it this week. Said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, “I know there were a number of us wearing the ‘CHUCKSTRONG’ T-shirts. Unfortunately, I remember the outcome. We started off fast and had things going and turned the ball over a couple times in the second half and they got back into it and beat us. But yeah, I remember that and the atmosphere. This league is a connected league, when a coach or player deals with something much like you saw with (Eric) Berry last year on Kansas City, they have a big support system in the league and it was great to see Chuck beat it and obviously Eric come back and play so well last year after his battle with cancer. It’s good to see those guys doing better.”
Added Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, “I think it hit home for all of us. I can recall being in a meeting on Friday and I was talking to one of our vice presidents, Russ Ball, and he made me aware of the purchasing of the t-shirts and what it was for and the idea of us purchasing t-shirts for our players for the pregame. I addressed it in the team meeting and everybody was excited about it. I think it just shows you the solidarity of the National Football League. It is a family and I think it hit home for everybody, not only what he was dealing with and when. That’s probably the one positive thing I remember about that game because it didn’t end up very well. It was definitely a game that changed momentum and they obviously won it there in the end. I am just glad to see Chuck doing very well.”
I know that Giants kicker Robbie Gould knows a thing or two about playing in rivalries as he prepares to play the Eagles Sunday. During his career with the Bears, which ended when he was released at the end of the preseason, Gould played in 19 games against the Packers. Green Bay and Chicago have played 191 times in the regular season.
This week, the Giants play the Eagles, two teams that have played 162 times.
Said Gould, “There’s a lot of similarities. I think this rivalry is just as big as that one. I haven’t played in this game yet, but the feeling I get around here is that it has the same kind of feel, the same sense of energy and urgency that we put into the rivalries in Chicago. This seems to be the same type of atmosphere.
“It’s going to be fun, for sure. Obviously, the rivalry means a lot to this organization. If you look at the rich tradition and history of the NFC East, these games matter. We talk about it being times two. I think it’s going to be fun to go out there in front of our crowd and have some fun.”
Gould was signed when Josh Brown was placed on the exempt list, and had to quickly jet to London for the team’s game against the Rams. He stayed with the team when Brown was released amid additional allegations of domestic abuse with his ex-wife. Last Sunday, the Giants were on their bye, but Gould stayed in the area to try and become accustomed to MetLife Stadium.
He said, “Every outdoor stadium with wind and cold conditions always has some factors that you have to deal with. We’ve been over to MetLife Stadium to kick a couple of times. It was a big reason why I stayed here in the bye week. I got a good feel of what the stadium does on both ends of the field. That could change. It could be totally different come Sunday. I think it’s something that I enjoy doing and something that I look forward to the challenge. Kicking in Chicago, it wasn’t the easiest, but I think having that experience will help me on Sunday.”
I wonder if Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be on the sideline or in the coach’s booth for Sunday night’s game against Oakland. Phillips was back at work Monday after being run into on the sideline by Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. Phillips knows he was lucky because there were no injuries from his head hitting the ground, but he did suffere a fractured rib. At mid-week, Phillips was leaning toward being in the booth.
He said, “I am thinking about being in the box this week because I am in some pain and I really don’t want to get hit again.” Phillips was in the booth in 2011 when he was defensive coordinator in Houston when Gary Kubiak was also the head coach. He was there because he’d had his gall bladder and kidney removed.
Phillips said there are some advantages to being upstairs. “It’s clear up there,” he said. “It is obviously quiet and you can see well. I pretty well know what’s going on, on the field anyway, but you can’t communicate with the players as well. Now they have made it where you can communicate from the box to the signal-caller so that makes it easier, too. That’s an important thing. Rather than relaying it down and then somebody else relaying it to the signal-caller, I can go straight to him so it makes it easier for the guy and the box. They changed that, which is better than the last time I was in the box.”
I hope for the Browns’ sake their acquisition of linebacker Jamie Collins isn’t a one-and-done deal. Collins can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Head coach Hue Jackson claimed Collins was showing no signs of being frustrated at being traded from a Super Bowl contender to a team that is 0-8.
Said Jackson, “You walk in this building, I don’t think our players come off like that. I don’t think our staff does. I don’t think anybody within our organization does. It is not where we want to be, but we understand where we are and the only people who can change it is us. No one is beating themselves up. We just want to get it right. He is part of the process to helping us get it right. We welcome him with open arms. He is also letting us in. It goes both ways, and we are going to see if we can make this a good marriage as we move forward.”
Quarterback Josh McCown, who is a backup again Sunday with Cody Kessler returning from a concussion to start, acknowledged the challenge of being winless is on players’ minds, saying, “I think it is naïve to say anything else because certainly, every week for us now, that is a challenge. I think it is one that you hate to be in that situation, but it is kind of if you look at the challenges that you can face in this league, it is probably the hardest one and the toughest one. To me, when you are building something you want to lay a great foundation so not ideal, but the way that you can lay that foundation to build tough-minded people is to be able to have a group of guys that comes to work every week and works hard and does what they are supposed to do no matter what.
“If you can build that kind of inner toughness that it does not matter what the record is and you want to keep coming to work, you want to try to work to get better, I believe wholeheartedly that that can sustain success long term, but you have to have a lot of tough guys to learn that and to carry that. It is not the best situation right now. None of us would have asked to be in it, but this is what we are and we are going to keep fighting. Everybody in this locker room is going to keep fighting, and that is the head coach’s mentality and we will follow his lead. When you have an unfortunate year like this where things have not gone your way, you have to find value in it. I think the value for us is the ability to keep coming to work, keep detailing out our work regardless of what our record says because that in and of itself is going to build toughness that I think we will benefit from in the future.”
One of those tough-minded guys is left tackle Joe Thomas, who has never missed a snap in his 10 seasons with the Browns, and insisted he didn’t want to be traded amid speculation that could happen. Asked if Thomas is happy to remain in Cleveland, Jackson said, “Absolutely. I told you he was going nowhere. I told you that. You guys didn’t believe me. Jump on. No, I am very excited about Joe being here. Joe is a blessing, in my opinion, to me and to our coaching staff. Anytime you have a guy who has been through so many different situations here, I have a great respect for that. It is not easy being Joe Thomas. It is not easy going through what he has been through, but at the same time, I think he understands where we are and what we are trying to do, and I think he truly, honestly wants to be a part of where we are headed. Maybe everybody else can’t see it, but I think he can, and I am very thankful for that.”
I know Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo understands the challenge his unit is facing going against Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on Sunday. Spagnuolo would normally be happy to face a rookie quarterback, but not this one.
He said, “Everyone gets excited about playing a rookie quarterback if you are on defense. (But) he doesn’t look like a rookie quarterback to me. He really doesn’t. Not the way he functions. I think he is a pretty good football player.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, because I hadn’t studied him. And then as you get deep into it with the extra week (during the bye), you have a lot of film. I am impressed with him; our players are very impressed with him. He is a big, strong, athletic quarterback that shows a lot of intelligence.”
Added defensive end Olivier Vernon, “You wouldn’t think that he’s a rookie quarterback just watching the plays, how he progresses into his throws. Just the decision-making. He’s a good player. Good football player.
“You wouldn’t expect him to make it as far being a rookie but he makes good throws. He plays like he’s been in the league for a few years already. That’s a credit to him.”
Getting more specific about Wentz, Spagnuolo said, “I’ll give you one thing that impressed me right off the bat – he throws the ball as good going left as I have ever seen a right-handed quarterback do it. He is really good at that. He is well-coached. I didn’t see any of the college games because I didn’t study him, but obviously he won a lot of games. I know that. He is pretty good. He is really good.
“Sometimes, you see rookie quarterbacks that worry more about getting the ball somewhere than worrying about moving a safety with his eyes, and he does that. (Offensive coordinator) Frank (Reich) and (head coach) Doug (Pederson) obviously are both former NFL quarterbacks, so he is getting some really good coaching there. I think they have been real efficient with what they have been doing with him. They have been in a lot more manageable situations because of the run game and the things they are doing, so I think that has helped them have that completion percentage. And he obviously was ready to go out there and play. They made the move, pulled the trigger, and it has worked out pretty good for them.”
I wonder if the Rams’ coaches are on the same page with rookie quarterback Jared Goff still on the bench. Head coach Jeff Fisher has been insisting for weeks that Goff isn’t ready to play, but then contradicts himself by admitting that he is comfortable with having Goff as the backup to Case Keenum in games. That obviously means Goff is one play away at any time of replacing Keenum if there is an injury.
Then, offensive coordinator Rob Boras said this week, “I think he is ready, and I know he believes that he’s ready, and I believe the coaches and his teammates know he’s able, if he’s called upon, to go out there and do it. That’s the thing since we’ve all met Jared, is the confidence that he has. He’s a great teammate, he’s helping Case. But if his number gets called, we know he’s capable and ready to go out there and play.” Those sentiments make it unfathomable that Goff isn’t getting experience by playing.
The Eagles are ahead of the game from having Wentz play immediately. It goes without saying that Fisher doesn’t share the philosophy of Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson, who said, “There was a little bit of risk, obviously with a rookie quarterback who didn’t have many reps in preseason. But at the same time, we drafted him No. 2 overall for that particular reason. We felt that he was that type of quarterback for us and we also felt that if there were going to be any bumps in the road, let’s get him going now and get him working with the guys and get him comfortable with the offensive line.
“Plus, I felt comfortable with our defense. I felt like defensively we were in a good spot coming out of training camp, special teams were playing well and sometimes you rely on that just a little bit, so I think there is a little bit of a calculated risk, but what we had seen throughout OTAs and training camp also gave us confidence that Carson was going to be OK and that he was going to be able to handle anything that came his way.”
I hope former Jets quarterback Joe Namath doesn’t have to apologize for any more misguided tweets. For two straight weeks, Namath jumped the gun with tweets about quarterback Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick only to do a mea culpa each time.
Earlier this week, after tweeting that Fiztpatrick should be benched during the team’s game against the Browns and replaced by Bryce Petty, Namath said on ESPN NY Radio, “I do regret sending that out, but that was the way I felt at that time. I do feel ashamed for doing it. It breaks kind of the team-player code and no good can come of it. … (I’ve) gotta remind myself: I haven’t even seen Petty play; he’s played so little. I don’t know where the rookie is. Fitz is the best we have to get out there and win. And so again, I lost trust. I forgot that fact.”
I know Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is confident he has a chance to make history Sunday against the Jets. Ajayi has rushed for at least 200 yards in two consecutive games and no player in history has done that three times. Furthermore, if Ajayi falls short of 200 yards, but reaches 182, he would become the third player in history to rush for 600 yards in a three-game stretch. In 1976, O.J. Simpson had 647 yards with Buffalo and the Bears’ Walter Payton totaled 6-4 yards in 1977.
If he can rush for 200 again, Ajayi said, “To have that for ourselves, the o-line – myself included – I think it would be a great accomplishment. At the same time, that’s not our main priority and focus. We want to win the game. We know that as our running game goes, so does our offense. Our priority is just like it’s always been, set the tone at the line of scrimmage, be physical upfront and just run hard. At the end of the game, we’ll see what the stats are.”
Ajayi also noted the help the team’s receivers provide in creating big runs. He said, “That’s been huge. Just talking with the receivers and talking with coach Jeff (Shawn Jefferson), the receivers coach, we’ve been talking about it through practice – how we’re going to work on finishing runs, how they’re going to make it a big emphasis to finish their blocks and get me to the second level and the other running backs. We all know that we all work together as a team on offense.”
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase revealed that Ajayi had come to him where there were some struggles and said, “If you let me run these plays, I’ll get you yards. I’ll get you guaranteed.”
Explaining why he did that, Ajayi said, “I felt like he didn’t really understand what I was best at yet, because we were still getting to know how we will work in this offense during the preseason and everyone was kind of getting in the groove of things. I kind of felt like he still didn’t know what my favorite kind of runs in the scheme are and the things that I can be productive (at). I felt like I wanted to let him know (that) given the opportunity, whenever you decide, if you decide to put me in there, these are the plays that I feel like I’ll be most successful at.
“He was very receptive and took notes down. That’s one thing about coach Gase. When it comes to our offense, he’s always receptive to advice (and) things that we’re saying, because we’re out there on the field and we know what’s going on. I just made an effort to reach out to him and let him know.”
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was asked in a conference call by Los Angeles media this week how many different ways people have pronounced his name. He said, “Oh my goodness gracious, there’s a lot of them. I haven’t been asked that question in a long time, and it makes me laugh a little bit, I like that. KEEK–lee, CATCH–lee, KOOK–lee, anything that starts with a ‘k’ and ends with like an ‘ly’ and maybe a hard ‘k’ there at the end, is how it gets pronounced. But, when I was in grade school and high school, I had a brother who was a year older than me. So, I’m sure he got all the mispronounced names more than I did, because they had already had them. So, he’s the guy to ask on that. But, I think anything that starts with a ‘k’ and ends with an ‘ly’, I would usually respond to when I was a little kid.”
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett on how beneficial it is for quarterback Dak Prescott to play with such a talented offensive line: “What you try to do is you try to create an environment where everybody makes each other better. There is no question that our offensive line really helps to make our skill guys better, not only our quarterback but our tight end, our receivers and our runners. That is where it starts, winning the line of scrimmage. By the same token, hopefully, our skill guys are helping make our offensive line better – the quarterback, the tight ends, the receivers and our runners. Hopefully, it works hand in hand and they are both benefitting from the other part of the unit. That is what we strive to do. There is no question the game starts up front. Those guys do a great job. They help make our team better.”
Browns head coach Hue Jackson on if he is surprised Prescott has been playing well and accurately, given his accuracy issues in college: “No, I am not. He is playing with a tremendous supporting cast, arguably one of the best offensive lines in all of pro football, one of the best receivers in all of pro football and one of the best tight ends in all of pro football. I am not saying that is just what it is. It is a combination of all of those things that have made him execute at a high level. He is getting great coaching. Obviously, they have created the right environment for him so I think when you factor all those things in, you have a chance to have success. I think that is what he is doing. He is taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Prescott to the Cleveland media on how surreal it feels to be a rookie quarterback leading a 6-1 team: “It is fun but I do not really think about the surreal part of it. It is where I expected to be. I have a high expectation for myself. I want to do great things for this organization. I felt like I could start at some point. It just happened sooner rather than later.”
Prescott on why teams may have been hesitant to draft him and if that motivates him: “I am not really sure, but I have definitely used it as motivation. Everybody that has passed on me just motivates me to wake up every morning and prove everyone wrong.”
Rams quarterback Case Keenum on whether he is bothered by persistent talk that rookie Jared Goff should be the team’s starter: “When I don’t listen to you guys, I don’t hear you. It doesn’t. I’m sorry to disappoint you. But I’m out here doing my job. If I do listen to that stuff, then I’m not able to do my job the way I need to do my job. We have a heck of an opponent coming in this weekend; that’s the Carolina Panthers. If you guys want to ask about that, that would be good.”
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher of whether it’s disturbing when Panthers quarterback Cam Newton claimed he isn’t having fun playing football: “It’s hard to comment on someone’s emotional status after a game; everybody’s emotional after a game. I find it highly unlikely that Cam is not having fun. Just watch him warm up, watch him when he scores a touchdown; it looks like he’s having a blast. He’s a passionate player, that’s why he’s successful, he was successful in college at Auburn. You’re talking about a returning MVP. Off the field, there’s something to what he said, I understand that it’s not fun when you think you’re hit and you shouldn’t be hit or it should be penalized and it’s not, I understand that. That transcends our game. We’ve got DBs that disagree with defensive pass interference calls and the same thing with receivers and holding calls, it’s a human nature of our game, from an officiating standpoint. I can assure you this – the league’s doing everything they possibly can to improve officiating.”
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich on running back Darren Sproles having 20 touches last Sunday against Dallas: “Probably last week might be the max — that’s a lot. I mean this in the most complimentary way possible: He’s a freak, as they say. He is a genetic and physical specimen. We all know the size thing (5-foot-6, 190), but he’s probably the strongest guy pound-for-pound on the team. There’s something to be said for that. He can handle a lot. Now, as you said, his age (33), is that a factor? Absolutely. I know coach (Doug Pederson) has mentioned that to me.
“I mean, that’s probably the max we want to use Darren in the game. But he needs to stay in the mix. He’s an explosive playmaker. It’s fun to see him out there. He creates energy for the whole team. I think he creates energy for our fans. He draws attention from defenses. So he’s got to be on the field his lion’s share. When he can’t handle anymore, I’m sure he’ll retire. But in the meantime, we have to find that blend of how much can we use him without overusing him.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on problems with the offense this season: “When you have so many moving pieces, it’s going to be a work in progress. This is a what have-you-done-for-me-lately league. With the need to be overstimulated with our fan base as a whole and the need for instant information out there, there is going to be a lot of knee-jerk reactions at times in this business. You have to stay focused. There are a lot of questions about what I needed to do differently and I am confident in my routine and not changing that week-to-week and it has proven to work over the years. A lot of this league, the beauty in it is that it’s a team sport. You have to have 11 guys on the same page and doing their job and I am one of those 11 that needs to play well for things to click. I have confidence in my abilities to do it every week, but it has been a work in progress.”