1. The NFL season is only five weeks old, yet there have been three assistant coaches fired. The scrutiny of the sport and the immense urgency in a 16-game season leads to head-scratching decisions.
The latest was the sacking Monday of Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman by head coach John Harbaugh. Quarterbacks coach Marty Mornhinweg takes over as coordinator with an apparent mandate from Harbaugh to run the ball more. Seems the head coach could have communicated that to Trestman. Mornhinweg, by the way, becomes the team’s fifth offensive coordinator in as many years.
Said Harbaugh, “It’s less about the record, and it’s less about anything you see as far as play-calling, it’s more about direction. It’s a big picture-type of a feel thing. Are we heading in the right direction? Do I see us getting there doing the things we are doing right now? As a coach, you have to assess that and make that call. At this level of football everybody understands that. Everyone wants to win. We have to put the best players and coaches in place to do that. This is part of that.”
Previously, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Week 2 and the team has won three straight. Tennessee fired special teams coach Bobby April after Week 4, and the Titans won Sunday.
Maybe Harbaugh is looking for that same lightning in a bottle.
2-3. Gore jumps ahead of Brown.
2. Colts running back Frank Gore needed only 20 yards to pass Jim Brown on Sunday, and he did it easily, gaining 75 yards to give him 12,368 rushing yards in his career, good for ninth on the all-time list. Tony Dorsett is eighth, so Gore needs 372 to pass him.
While Gore has talked about being humbled by passing Brown, he said Sunday when asked about the reality of the situation, “I’ll be honest, because I’m playing now, I’m really not thinking about it because I am still active and I want to be successful here.”
He added, “I want to be remembered as a football player. Running back is just a position. The reason why I say football player is because my (position) coach Tom Rathman, when I was a younger player and he started coaching me, I used to care about stats. He made me change my mind for the game and made me worry about being one of the best football players by doing everything. Being great in the locker room, working hard in practice, blocking, catching, being a good teammate. I tip my hat to coach Tom; I look at him like a father to me. He was one of the guys who really helped me to play the way I’m playing right now.”
3. Speaking of Brown, after the Patriots defeated the Browns Sunday, several players took photos of themselves in front of Brown’s statue outside the stadium. It turns out head coach Bill Belichick made sure the team visited the statue and while Belichick is often a man of few words, he gives passionate answers about subjects important to him. So it was that Belichick was asked Monday about the legacy of Brown, and the result was a 489-word answer.
Belichick said, “Well, I think honestly any person, football player or otherwise, can learn a lot from Jim Brown and what he represents and what he stands for. But particularly as it relates to our football team, Jim Brown is in my opinion the greatest player that ever played. I’ve had an opportunity to have known him for over 20 years now. I met him when I was the coach at the Browns and just had so much more respect and appreciation for him knowing him well as a person and as a friend, even just as an observer from a distance, but I think he’s meant so much to this game. He’s paved the way for all of us; players and coaches. (He’s) part of many people who have made professional football, the game of football, the great game that it is.
“I just felt like it was an opportunity for us as a team after the game to recognize and pay a tribute to Jim and all that he stands for, both in and out of football. But in particular, what he has meant to the game of football and how much he has done for us, for the game, which means for all of us. That statue was recently put there. It’s kind of remarkable that it hadn’t happened sooner, but regardless, I’m not sure how many of our players really understand or appreciate what he meant to the game and what he has meant to the game through his continued involvement not only with football, but with young football players, be they Browns players or just other youth that he interacts with primarily on the West Coast but as we know he’s been involved in projects through his Amer-I-Can program throughout the country, which I’ve been very fortunate to witness and be a small part of. That’s why we did it and I’m glad they appreciated it and hopefully that’s something that’s part of their football career (and) will be one small memory (as) just the recognition of a great player and a great person and somebody who has really made the game better for all of us.
“Honestly, I wish Paul Brown’s statue would’ve been right there with it because then we could have knocked out two birds with one stone. Paul Brown’s name is up there. Obviously, that’s who the franchise is named for and his name is up there on the stadium as part of the players that are recognized on that ring of honor there in the stadium. It’s a little special quirk for me when you think of Paul Brown, and you think of Jim Brown, and the Cleveland Browns who were named for Paul Brown and being in that stadium, not because I was the coach there, but because of what Paul Brown and Jim Brown did for professional football in that city. It’s a special place in my heart.”
4-5. Speaking of the Browns …
4. The quarterback carousel won’t stop spinning. When Cody Kessler left Sunday’s loss to the Patriots with injuries to his ribs and chest, Charlie Whitehurst became the fourth quarterback to play in the first five games of the season, five if wide receiver Terrelle Pryor is included. Then, Whitehurst suffered a knee injury.
Head coach Hue Jackson called Kessler “day-to-day” and said “there’s a good chance that he will have an opportunity to be out there (in practice) this week.” Meanwhile, Josh McCown is expected to practice after being out since breaking his collarbone in Week 2.
McCown said he has a good chance to be ready to play next Sunday against Tennessee. “That is the plan,” he said. “I’m going to work through the week and practice and see how it goes. I’m looking forward to practicing, though, and taking the next step.”
5. A McCown jersey collection. Meanwhile, McCown had some fun with a photo his daughter took with several of her friends wearing jerseys from the different teams he’s been on. The count is seven teams.
He said, “My daughter just shot me a text and she said, ‘Hey, it is jersey day and my friends were going to wear some of these jerseys that I have of you.’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I kind of thought, ‘I hope you have enough friends.’ They went ahead and did it and went to class. Then, we were sitting at dinner. They flew up here Friday night or Friday afternoon. We were sitting at dinner Friday night at Burntwood (Tavern) in Crocker Park and we were talking.
“We were talking about tweeting it. Some people in the room suggested I should tweet it maybe. I was talking to them about it. I’m not a huge presence on Twitter by any stretch, but my daughter was like, ‘Yeah, it would be cool.’ We kind of talked about it. She kind of formulated what we should say, and we sent it out.”
6-7. Next man up …
6. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Rams head coach Jeff Fisher clearly have different ways of communicating their message about persevering in the face of injuries. While it is true injuries can have a debilitating effect on teams, some teams handle it better than others, especially teams that are good at roster building and have quality depth.
It’s also something of an unwritten rule that it’s for others to point out the injury factor, but not coaches.
In the Steelers’ win against the Jets on Sunday, linebacker Vince Williams led the team in tackles for the second straight week as the replacement for the injured Ryan Shazier. Said Williams, “The standard is the standard. You know we believe in that. That’s real. That’s it. I don’t know what else you want me to say. Nobody on this team believes they are a backup. Everybody just believes they are waiting for their opportunity to put their hand in the pile and help this team win football games.”
In addition to Shazier, eight players were declared out for the game and three other starters. Defensive end Cam Heyward was added to the casualty list when he left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Echoed linebacker Jarvis Jones, “It’s the next man up. Coach Tomlin is really serious about it. Guys take pride when they’re the next man up. When you get that helmet you have to take full advantage of it. The guys did great this week and we got a great win together.”
7. Then there’s Fisher. After two questionable coaching decisions that contributed to a 30-19 loss to the Bills, Fisher was asked about the play of the team’s defense, which was playing without starting ends Robert Quinn and William Hayes and tackle Michael Brockers. “It’s a combination,” Fisher said. “We don’t make excuses, but three of our starting four defensive linemen were watching the game today.”
Classic. Say there are no excuses then give one. Fisher did the same thing after the season-opening loss to San Francisco when he also claimed he wouldn’t make excuses and immediately noted how the relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles had the team moving practice sites four times in seven months.
Those that were shocked by the Rams starting 3-1 obviously don’t have good memories. Two of the wins were against division rival Seattle and Arizona, teams they defeated last season. The Rams were 4-2 in the division in 2015 and 3-7 in non-division games. In 2012, they were 4-1-1 in the NFC West and also 3-7 outside the division.
In Fisher’s four full seasons, the Rams were 11-12-1 in division games and 16-24 in their other games. Their next eight games are played outside the division before finishing with their three division rivals.
8. Wake compares losing to eating poop …
That’s how bad things have gotten for the Dolphins. After Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, defensive end Cam Wake said of the persistent losing, “Poop still tastes the same, I’m sure, no matter if it’s the first time you’ve had it or the fifth time or seventh.”
Head coach Adam Gase didn’t go that far, simply saying about his offense, “We’re inept right now. We’ve just got to figure something out. We tried to slow it down today, and huddle, and we only had 41 plays and eat up 23 minutes. We’re not getting enough first downs. We had a chance there on the third-and-1, and the ball gets batted down. We think we’re in the end zone to be down by three and we get a holding call. It just seems that we can’t get out of our own way right now.”
Adding injury to insult, rookie guard Laremy Tunsil missed the game after he claimed to have injured his ankle stepping out of the shower Sunday morning. Said Gase, “From what I gathered was he slipped in the shower and when he fell he jacked his ankle up. I don’t know how it actually happened. Sometimes when something like that happens to you, you really don’t know exactly how you did it. You just know you’re in pain.”
9. Rivers also frustrated …
It should have been a memorable day for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who had 4 touchdown passes against the Raiders to give him 292 for his career, passing Johnny Unitas and Warren Moon to move into ninth place on the all-time list. But Chargers rookie punter Drew Kaser fumbled the snap on a potential game-tying field goal on a play that began with 2 minutes, 7 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Rivers said, “You can’t make this stuff up. You think, ‘Is there any other way we can find a way to do this?’ ” The Chargers have lost three consecutive games by a total of eight points, and their fourth loss was in overtime to Kansas City in the season opener. In the AFC West, they have lost 10 straight games.
As for his touchdown exploits, Rivers said, “You all know I’m all about the team and I’m all about winning, but I think certain names that you either pass or are up next to, I can separate the two and appreciate. I never met my grandfather — my dad’s dad — but (Unitas) was his favorite player. My dad would say to me, ‘I see you up near Johnny Unitas. My daddy loved Johnny.’ ”
10. Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had 300 receiving yards in Week 4 against the undermanned Panthers secondary, but they knew that likely wouldn’t be duplicated against a Denver secondary featuring cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
So, 7 of quarterback Matt Ryan’s 15 completions for 167 of his 267 yards were to running backs Tevin Coleman, who had 4 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown, and Devonta Freeman, who added 3 for 35 yards. Jones had just 2 receptions for 29 yards. He said, “They came out and doubled me. They basically took me away and said, ‘You’re not going to beat us today.’ That’s fine, because if I’m taking two guys, then everybody else is going to step up. We have a lot of weapons.”
Said Ryan, “We felt our best matchup was getting our backs out of the backfield. There’s not many guys in this league that can run the football, pass protect, motion out and run routes like wide receivers and we’ve got two of them. So we’re really fortunate and lucky to have them. They did a great job today.”
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak agreed, saying, “They spread us out. For their backs to get down the field the way they did is going to take some time. You can’t ask (our linebackers) to hold up that long. It was a very good job on their part.” Perhaps that’s what gave Kubiak the migraines he was hospitalized for after the game and that will force him to miss Thursday’s game against the Chargers.
Broncos safety T.J. Ward noted Coleman and Freeman didn’t do their damage lining up as running backs. He said, “They didn’t really catch anything out of the backfield. They were lined up outside like receivers. It was empty, they’d slot them, there were a lot of delays and one go (route). They were lined up at the receiver position. They had a good plan for us.”
Asked if other teams would try the same tactic, Ward said, “Not every team has their personnel. You’ve got two good backs in Atlanta. They’ve got good personnel that match up against us well.”
12. Are Cutler’s days numbered?
Bears head coach John Fox deftly side-stepped questions about the team’s quarterback situation Monday after Brian Hoyer passed for 397 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Hoyer completed 33 of 43 passes and has a passer rating of 120.0. He also has a string of 140 attempts without an interception. Fox claimed Monday, “We don’t have a plan. Right now we’ve got two guys healthy in Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer, and those are our quarterbacks right now. I think all our focus is there right now. I think we’re managing it well. It kind of is what it is and everybody on the team knows that Brian Hoyer is the quarterback right now and that’s where all our focus is going.
“I think Jay understands that, too. Moving forward, I can’t predict the future, otherwise I’d be in a different line of work. But I think everybody’s handling it professionally.”
Cutler is out with a thumb injury, and when Fox was asked about predicting when he would be healthy, Fox said, “It’s like what’s the weather going to be tomorrow? Moving forward, I can’t predict the future.” Truth is, he probably can, but simply refuses to.
13-15. Raiders for real?
13. The Raiders are 4-1 for the first time since 2002, the last season they made the playoffs, and they also won the Super Bowl that year. A big play in Sunday’s win against San Diego came when head coach Jack Del Rio decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Chargers 21-yard line with 1:15 remaining in the third quarter and San Diego leading 24-19. Not only was the decision to try for the first down, but quarterback Derek Carr went for it all, connecting with wide receiver Michael Crabtree for a touchdown. Then, a two-point conversion gave the Raiders a 27-24 lead.
Said Del Rio, “You make the call what you think is best for your team and then you count on our guys going out and executing.” Asked for more on his thought process, Del Rio laughed and said, “Usually you don’t have to ask a question about ‘why’ when you get it. I mean, especially a touchdown. I mean, come on.”
Said Carr, “We love that he believes in us and the empowerment of the offense that he believes in us to get it done. I’m just thankful I didn’t overthrow it. … I’m starting to kind of think like him. I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to go for it.’ He looked at the kicker and said to get off. And in my head, it’s just natural. I’m starting to think we’re getting on the same page. Which is pretty cool.”
14. Winning the close ones. The Raiders have won three straight games and their four wins have been by a total of 12 points. Said Carr, “This league is designed for everybody to go 8-8. It really is. It’s that close in talent and coaching in everything. Sometimes you just have to find ways to win and get it done at the end. It would be nice if we didn’t have to do all the stress and drama at the end. That would be nice.
“It’s nice but the road still goes through Denver. They are Super Bowl champs, division champs. I will always pay respect to them because that’s what they’ve earned. We have earned absolutely nothing yet. We’ve earned four wins in five games, which is a great feeling. It feels very nice, trust me, but we haven’t done anything yet.”
In the win against the Chargers, the Raiders allowed 359 passing yards, which includes three plays of 50 yards or more. Asked how they can get better, Del Rio said, “Stop playing Santa Claus. Stop giving out presents. We gave out a couple today, a couple of 50-yard passes gift-wrapped and placed them under the tree. At some point, we’ll stop doing that.”
15. The life of Riley. Inside linebacker Perry Riley Jr. started 71 games for the Redskins from 2011-2015, but sustained a foot injury last December. He was released in the cut to 75, and was signed by the Raiders last Tuesday because Malcolm Smith has a quadriceps injury. All he did was start and play all 51 snaps Sunday, leading the team with 7 tackles and forcing a fumble that led to a field goal. Said Del Rio, “He did good. A veteran guy. He’s got fire. You could see the fire in him and his desire to soak up everything he could this week, and he prepared to help us today.”
16. A nice homecoming. Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman played at Southern Cal, and was excited about going back to the area for Sunday’s game against the Rams. He ended up with 2 interceptions in key situations. His 41-yard return for a touchdown gave Buffalo a 23-16 lead with 3:43 to go in the third quarter and then ended the Rams’ final possession with an interception.
“That play, I feel like it sparked us,” he said of the touchdown. “I feel like it gave our defense some juice, gave the team some juice, gave the sideline some juice and sometimes that’s what you need to bring everybody together. Somebody’s got to make a big play. Once someone makes a big play, that’s when everybody starts honing in and start making plays.”
17. A spiritual Caldwell. Talking about his team’s win against the Eagles on Sunday, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell delved into unusual territory. Caldwell said, “It’s not like any great revelation, except a friend of mine, Alan Harvith, told me that he thought it was going to be a new turn of events for us this week because it was the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. My mom sent me a scripture from Joshua 3:5 and so that was kind of two people saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to have a bit of a turnaround.’”
When asked if he thought a higher power affected the outcome of the game, Caldwell said, “I don’t want to get into all those kinds of things. (And then he did.) It’s not a platform, but I think you understand and know what I believe. I told you the first day I came here I’ve always believed in providence, make no mistake about that. Nothing happens by accident, I don’t believe.”
18-22. By The Numbers
18. The milestones pile up for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott has 1,239 passing yards and Elliott 546 rushing yards, making the Cowboys the first team in NFL history to have a rookie quarterback with at least 1,000 passing yards and a rookie running back with at least 500 yards in the first five games of a season.
Prescott also has 155 passes without an interception, 7 short of the record set by Tom Brady for most attempts without an interception to start a career.
Meanwhile, the debate continues about whether Tony Romo should return as the starter once he’s healthy. Monday, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Romo will be the starter. On the CBS Sports Network show NFL Monday QB, Rich Gannon said, “I’m curious to see what the coaching staff feels about this decision. I just think it would be tough to go back to Romo at this point. Remember Wally Pipp? He asked for the day off and Lou Gehrig came in. We may not see Romo again this season.”
Countered Steve Beuerlein: “Dak Prescott; that story is absolutely amazing. But this is Tony Romo’s team. If Tony does get healthy enough to come back and play, you let him play.”
19. Broncos linebacker Von Miller has sacks in six consecutive games, dating back to the 2015 season.
20. It wasn’t unusual for quarterback Tom Brady to pass for 406 yards Sunday against the Browns. The last time the Patriots played the Browns, Brady passed for 418 yards against them in 2013. Meanwhile, Brady now has 38 games with at least 350 yards passing, second most in history behind Drew Brees, who has 51.
21. In five games this season with Shaun Hill at quarterback in Week 1 and Sam Bradford playing since then, neither has thrown an interception. That makes the Vikings the second team since 1933 to start the season 5-0 without an interception,. The other was the 1969 Los Angeles Rams.
22. On fire quarterback Ben Roethlisberger already has 15 touchdown passes, the most by a Steelers quarterback in the first five games of a season. He also has a touchdown pass in 41 consecutive home games, the third-longest streak in league history.
Chargers rookie defensive end Joey Bosa on his first game after missing the first four because of a hamstring injury: “It’s football. It’s the same as college, except players are a lot better. I’ve been doing it my whole life. It felt pretty natural. It’s nice to get the butterflies out because I was pretty nervous coming into this game. A lot of tension leading up to this moment. I’m happy the way I played. I know I could play a lot better. But until we start winning, it really doesn’t matter.” Playing just 27 of 72 snaps, Bosa had 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits and 5 tackles, 3 of which were for loss.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn on the 3.5 sacks linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. had Sunday at Denver: “The get-off jumped out at me today. He really looked quick off the ball and playing here. We knew it was going to be a good environment and the speed off the ball was what set him off today.”
Bills head coach Rex Ryan on whether his support changed for presidential candidate Donald Trump because of the video that created a stir last Friday (Ryan introduced Trump at a rally a few months ago in Buffalo): “Well I can honestly tell you this. I might be the only guy in America that hasn’t seen the video, that hasn’t seen the debates or anything else. My thing is, I’m under a rock. I’m focused on whoever we’re playing and that’s it. So, I don’t call myself, I don’t know a whole lot about politics or anything else. But, right now, I’m strictly a football coach and that’s all I am.”
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden on wide receiver Pierre Garcon and defensive end Ricky Jean Francois traveling Monday to hurricane ravaged Haiti to deliver medical supplies: “First class, first class. You know, a lot of guys want to stay home and play video games or what have you and spend time with their families, but to go to help others in need is big time. Talks about their character and I’m proud to be their coach when you see guys do things like that that don’t get publicized a whole lot, but in-house we are very happy for those guys.”