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The NFL rolls into the stretch run


12/07/17



 Normally the week after my annual Thanksgiving trip behind enemy lines I write about what’s happening in the Evil Empire. But, given their sad state of football affairs, it’s no fun to pick on them. So instead I’ll give a State of the NFL as it enters the regular season’s stretch run, which still gives ample opportunity to crack on the mess that is the Jets and Giants.

Hard to believe anyone could make me root for Roger Goodell, but snake-in-the-grass Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has pulled that feat off with his transparent ploy to punish Goodell over the Ezekiel Elliott suspension. Hope the inept Cowboys owner loses worse here than when Jimmy Johnson quit as his coach/GM amid their feud in the mid-’90s.  
NFL 101: Who is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play in the Super Bowl? 
How are my picks for Jacksonville and Philadelphia to win their divisions looking now? I got a lot of emails telling me I didn’t know anything about football for that. But now they sit atop the AFC South and NFC East, so I’ll try to be presidential in responding to all yous guys out there while sticking out my tongue and saying, so there!
Lost in all the Tom Brady G.O.A.T. chatter is Drew Brees. While Brady took back the TD passes lead (482-481) on Sunday, Brees has a big lead in passing yards (69,140 to 64,956) despite coming to the NFL a year later. Plus, with the surprising Saints off to an 8-3 start, the 38-year-old isn’t going away anytime soon. So the race to Brett Favre’s 508 for second all-time in TD passes is on. 
As for the 40-year-old Brady, he leads the NFL in passing yards and with 26 he’s on pace for his seventh season with 30-plus TD passes with 37. That puts Favre in range by mid-2018 and Peyton Manning’s 539 in 2019.  
NFL 101 Answer: It’s 1956 winner Paul Hornung (Notre Dame) — sorta. He was with Green Bay when they won the first ever Super Bowl. But the end-of-the-line Hall of Famer declined Vince Lombardi’s offer to go in when their win over Kansas City was in hand. So the first Heisman winner to actually play in a SB was LSU’s 1959 winner, Billy Cannon, for Oakland when they lost SB 2.
NFL 102: So, who was the first Heisman winner to play in the game when his team won the Super Bowl? 
Looks like I was dead wrong about Jared Goff. Last year against the Patriots he looked like an over-matched bust. This year he’s in the MVP conversation as the L.A. Rams are the NFL’s biggest surprise. 
Joining Goff in that conversation are Brady, Carson Wentz and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, even with teammate Le’veon Bell leading the league in rushing yards after missing all of pre-season camp.   
Given how the Rams have looked under the eight-years-younger-than-Brady Sean McVay with virtually the same teams they had during last year’s dumpster fire, what does that say about Jeff Fisher? Well, that the once well-thought-of Fish should enjoy retirement because he clearly stayed at the party way too long.
With New Orleans and Carolina at 8-3 and pulling-itself-together Atlanta 7-4, looks like the NFC South is the league’s toughest conference. If you’re interested: The Patriots went 3-1 against its four teams. 
Speaking of Atlanta — how can anyone not think the classic black jersey and helmet with white pants throwback uniforms they wore Sunday are not far better than the garish red and brown trim deals they currently wear? 
After they coughed up that lead to Pittsburgh Sunday night, I have another reason not to like the Packers. Yes, they are playing without the league’s second-best QB, but they’re to the NFL what Notre Dame is to college football — always rated higher in pre-season than at year’s end. In other words, perpetually O-ver-RAY-ted. 
That loss sets up the Patriots in Pittsburgh on Dec. 17 to be the game of the regular season, with the winner getting home field throughout the playoffs.
Alumni News: Jimmy G threw a TD pass with his first 49ers pass on Sunday, Jacoby Brissett has been sacked (43) more than any QB, and the NFL leader in (gulp) sacks is Chandler Jones with 12.  
All-Name Team: The best exotic NFL name hands down goes to Rams kick returner Pharoh Cooper.
Can we put the “Stephen Gostkowski is an over-the-hill liability” talk to rest? He’s first in PATs, second in field goals and making 89.75 percent of his FG tries. But if the latter isn’t good enough for you, maybe the Pats could get that young fella Adam Vinatieri, who’s hitting on 95.5 percent in Indy.   
NFL 102 Answer: Roger Staubach (the original Roger the Dodger) was the earliest Heisman winner (1963) to win a SB ring. He did it in Dallas’s 24-3 SB 6 win over Miami. But while USC tailback Mike Garrett won his Heisman two years after Staubach in 1965, he got his ring two years earlier when the Chiefs clubbed the Vikings 23-7 in SB 4.
Speaking of Kansas City, what happened to all that talk of Alex Smith for MVP? It went down the drain faster than Anthony Scaramucci. Which makes KC’s opening night win in Foxboro and soon after demise the latest example of why it’s unwise to overreact to any early season Patriots loss. 
The worst coaching move of the year goes to Bills Coach Sean McDermott — whom we’ll see this week — for benching Tyrod Taylor while squarely in the playoff hunt. It worked so well, replacement Nathan (Mr.) Pederman threw five picks in the first half, with two going back for scores, in a 54-24 San Diego, er, L.A. beatdown. Pulling Bills legend Jackie Kemp back from the grave would have been a better choice. 
Now for the Evil Empire football report. I got nothing except that by early January both NYC football teams will be looking for new head coaches. 
 
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com. 





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