NFL Run & Shootaround: Rock and a Hard Place

AP Photo/Nick Wass

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.

Defining Dirty

Robert Mays: Yesterday afternoon, there was a football play that I am guessing we’ll see at least a few more times before this season ends. As Randall Cobb streaked down the seam and hauled in a pass from Aaron Rodgers, he was met by Ravens safety Matt Elam. Five years ago, it would have been the perfect chance for the type of de-cleater kill shot that sends the crowd into a ravenous frenzy. These days, that hit dings your team 15 yards and you about $50,000. Elam knows that. So instead of aiming high, he went low. When the play ended with Cobb rolling on the ground in agony, I said, repeatedly, the only thing that came to mind: “That really sucks.”

That sentiment starts with Cobb. The 23-year-old was averaging more than 100 yards from scrimmage per game before Sunday, and before the injury, he already had 53 receiving yards on the day. When it happened, I figured Cobb would be done for a long time. Luckily, it may have looked worse than it was.

But the sympathy extends to Elam.

Mathis2

I don’t know whether Elam’s intention was to injure Cobb, but I do know the evidence suggests otherwise. When Rodgers confronted Elam about the play, the reaction wasn’t indignant. It was defensive. My guess is that Elam went after Rodgers — for whatever the quarterback said — because his emotions were already heightened. He felt guilty, but I’m also guessing he felt somewhat helpless.

Elam didn’t comment on the play after the game, but both Rodgers and safety James Ihedigbo did. Rodgers said that right after he made his comment to Elam, Ihedigbo reminded the quarterback that defensive players have been placed in a difficult position. “Yeah, on the hit, it’s part of the rules,” Ihedigbo said after the game. “We try to play within the rules of football. That’s on [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell. He wants us to hit low, we’ll hit low, and guys will keep getting injured.

“God forbid, I don’t know what Randall Cobb suffered, but I’m praying for him because it’s unfortunate.”

It is unfortunate, but it’s where we are. At some point, the rules for receivers in the open field will be what they are for the quarterback. Nothing above the neck, nothing below the knee. For the stationary pocket passer, those rules are easier to follow. To hit someone running at 4.4 speed down the seam, who at some point is going to twist his body to catch a football, eight square feet of torso isn’t much of a landing strip.

I do think it will be necessary, and I do think that players will adapt — as they have with the most recent set of rules. I just know that right now, the state of flux has left defenders in an unenviable spot.

The Road to Hell

Mathis2

Matt Borcas: This pass deserves its own “30 for 30,” so let’s give it one.

What if I told you … the worst pass of all time was made with the best of intentions? That Brandon Weeden — Brandon Weeden! — was mounting a comeback and just wanted to avoid a crippling sack. That the quarterback you see above actually thought he was making a smart decision, no matter the “boneheaded” result. That the ball looked sort of beautiful as it left Weeden’s hand, fluttering like a newborn butterfly — before ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. That the dude who threw this interception was a FIRST-ROUND NFL DRAFT PICK, not Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. That I feel privileged to have witnessed such a grand spectacle live and will save my ticket stub to pass down to future generations. That, frankly, I’d still rather be buttfumbled.

You know you’d carve out an entire evening to watch this documentary, especially in IMAX 3-D. Call it Gravity 2: The Ball That Fell Back to Earth. That’s a surefire box-office smash.

Where’s the Beef?

Walter Thurmond Wins Postgame Fashion

Mathis2

Our Brand Is Crisis

Chris Ryan: Most of the text messages I got about the Eagles yesterday weren’t about the fact that they had won their second consecutive game, remaining in the hunt for the NFC East title and a playoff spot. They were about Mike and Nick and Chip and Philadelphia.

Every football town goes through quarterback controversies differently, but all quarterback controversies are basically the same. It doesn’t matter how happy your marriage is to the starter, or how badly you felt when an injury brought him down; this new guy — who you’ve always liked, by the way, ever since he was at Rutgers/BYU/Arizona State — does it even better.

I have lived through this. I have seen A.J. Feeley go 4-1. I have seen Jeff Garcia guide the Eagles to the playoffs while Donovan McNabb rehabbed a knee injury; I have heard people chant Mike McMahon’s name; I have listened to 610 WIP and heard fans pray for Kevin Kolb.

I’m sure your town, your team, is no different. I’m not going to lose any sleep over Foles vs. Vick. I’ve seen this movie before, and it usually has a habit of working itself out through injury or obvious choice.

Nick Foles does not take sacks. In Chip Kelly’s offense, this is a huge star on your homework. Before the season, Kelly said, “In our offense, every sack is the quarterback’s fault.” Foles is mobile and accurate, and has a better deep ball than I thought.

Mike Vick is Mike Vick. It’s more feast or famine with him, which I am kind of for as a fan, and kind of against as a man in his 30s who is going to start needing Lipitor soon.

Foles will either play so well against Dallas that Kelly will have no choice but to leave him as the starter, or he’ll play poorly and Vick will get his job back. Asking Kelly about it for the next six days isn’t going to change anything about it. After all these years, and all these quarterbacks, I just can’t get too worked up about the latest controversy.

Besides, what do I care? I have them both in fantasy.

“Hey … Oh … No? OK, Cool.

Joseph-Fauria

Joseph Fauria, National Treasure?

Joseph-Fauria

Mallory Rubin: America, meet Joseph Fauria. Who is Joseph Fauria? Glad you asked!

Joseph Fauria is an undrafted rookie tight end out of UCLA. He’s becoming a gift to the Detroit Lions, and also quite possibly a gift to all of humanity. Allow me to explain.

The Lions beat the Browns on Sunday, 31-17. Fauria caught three passes, which might not seem impressive, until you examine the box score a little more closely and realize all three went for touchdowns. He’s caught seven passes on the year, five for scores. For the mathematically challenged, that means 71 percent of Fauria’s receptions have put six points on the scoreboard. That’s insane, but it’s also huge news for Matthew Stafford and the Lions, who look dangerously close to pulling a Baltimore and allowing a running back to be the team’s leading receiver. Calvin Johnson is banged up; Nate Burleson broke his arm reaching for a pizza (yes, really); Ryan Broyles has yet to emerge as an impact threat after returning from ACL surgery; Brandon Pettigrew is terrible. The Lions need someone to step up, and Fauria is doing just that.

And, lordy, does he know how to step. Fauria’s touchdown dances are so choreographed, so ostentatious, so glorious, he has bypassed local legend and instantly become an Internet sensation. Jimmy Fallon donated $10,000 to charity after one of Fauria’s touchdowns … and that was before Sunday’s three-TD explosion.

Fauria’s targets might be judicious (for now), but he’s allowing us to appreciate him in so many ways.

Like photos:

Joseph-Fauria

And GIFs:

Joseph-Fauria-Dance

And videos:

And tweets:

And box scores:

Lions-Box-Score

He’s a gift. Unwrap him across multimedia platforms, and cherish him as you do.

Top Five Things Peyton Manning Says After Throwing an Interception

Mathis2

Brian Phillips: 1. Dang it I mean gosh DANG it oh HECK HECK HECK fudge MUNCHKINS.

2. Stay cool, now. Stay cool, Big P. Nobody’s perfect. Nobody. Except you, after you watch the replay of this for 76 straight hours next week.

3. [Sends opposing linebacker a text reading, “Hey, that’s a nice start. Here are some tips to improve your positioning on that fade route.”]

4. ## Fatal memory error. [R]etry [A]bort [Q]uit?

5. This … this hurts even worse than it did the only other time it happened.

WHOOPS

Mathis2

Stepping Out on the Giants

Katie Baker: My secret fling of a football team is the Cincinnati Bengals. Like so many other random and ideally discreet relationships, it all started in New York, specifically at the bar Phebe’s in the East Village. Did you know Phebe’s is a bigtime Bengals bar? Go there on a Sunday and you’ll see: They’re all there, all of them, every Bengals fan not currently residing in Cincinnati. (Except maybe Alex Pappademas, though he should be.)
They’re festive but serious in the way all shared enthusiasts who gather for ongoing meetups eventually become. They have their routines, and their orange-and-black outfits, and their passed-around sign-up sheets for Graeter’s ice cream delivery (particularly with the holidays coming up!) and their annual day(s) of collective heartbreak and/or disgust.

Two of these people happen to be good friends of mine: a buddy from high school in New Jersey who inexplicably always liked the Bengals (he was also a Timberwolves fan — dare to dream!) and whose hamster, Chad Johnson, had to be renamed Ochocinco; and a good Midwestern girl I met in college who shared (OK, shares) an affinity for day drinking to help ward off the evil Sunday Monster.

It was with her that I first went to Phebe’s. It was just blocks from my apartment. The organization and community of it all — the thoughtful Tupperwares of Skyline chili — made it feel more like the booster VIP lounge at a college football game than one of the nearby bars stuffed with obnoxious Giants fans in Shockey jerseys. Speaking of the Giants, the celebration I witnessed after one rare Bengals come-from-behind victory circa 2007 was pretty on par with the way I reacted to New York’s first Super Bowl win over New England.

Because of all this I always sentimentally go for the Bengals in pick-‘em, to my usual peril, and when the Giants aren’t playing (like all of this season! hey-o!) it’s the team I get into. Which is how I found myself tuning in yesterday at 10 a.m. local time to a Bengals-Bills matchup for the ages. I felt awful rooting against Bill Barnwell’s Thad Lewis Challenge, but I would have felt worse cheering against the good people at Phebe’s.

Is it lame that I feel this affinity? Most certainly. I might be like the gentile who joins JDate for the self-deprecating humor. But whenever Andy Dalton threw a touchdown, I happily imagined the rounds of shots being purchased and slugged back at Phebe’s, and when the Bills scored twice in the fourth quarter to tie things up, I could just see my two friends swaying silently with their arms crossed, scowling.

When Mike Nugent saved Cincy from a great deal of embarrassment with his 43-yard field goal in overtime, I texted one of my friends to share in the joy. “I’m not at Phebes,” she wrote back. “My mom is in town.” WHO DEY.

Interpretive Dance With Steve Smith

Mathis2

Funnel Cake > Matt Schaub

Mathis2

Shea Serrano: I went to the Texans game Sunday with my father. He drove a motorcycle 200 miles in the rain to get to Houston for it, which is only surprising to hear if you’ve never met him. Some little notes from the game:

• The Texans are in a rough place right now, obviously. They started last season 11-1. This season they’re 2-4 and Matt Schaub has thrown 14,000 interceptions and all of them have been returned for touchdowns. People are saying mean things about him and are even showing up to his home to say these things to his face, I hear. It’s crazy to watch on TV. But it’s even more treacherous in person. People are just so mean. The loudest cheers of the game actually came when Schaub was injured late in the third quarter, and that’s pretty terrible. I don’t know. The worst thing I’ve done so far was hide my son’s Matt Schaub jersey. Shame on me for buying a Matt Schaub jersey, though, probably.

• When T.J. Yates came in as a replacement for Schaub, which is what a lot of people have been begging for, a sizable portion of the stadium exploded in their pants. Several plays later, Yates threw an interception and that interception was returned 98 yards for a touchdown. There was a lot of sighing. Later in the game he threw another interception, this time in the end zone. There was even more sighing. I didn’t sigh though. I ate a funnel cake. Funnel cakes are so fucking good.

• The most enjoyable part of the game was when Schaub was sacked and the human who sacked him stood up and did the Southside, which is a semi-famous dance in Houston from the late ’90s. It was the most meta thing I’ve ever seen in real life.

• There’s this in-game video they play at the Texans games about unruly behavior. It’s J.J. Watt, and he’s going through a list of things that fans are not allowed to do. Afterward, I kept finding myself looking around at strangers making sure I wasn’t out of line: “Hey. Hey! Are we allowed to use our cell phones? What did J.J. say about that? Are we good or not? ARE WE GOOD TO USE OUR PHONES OR NOT? Fuck it. I’m gonna smash it on the floor just to be safe.” Watt is terrifying. If they had him read a list of things each morning humans aren’t allowed to do, I’m sure the Earth would be a more palatable place.

• The Texans had more pass plays, more run plays, more first downs, and a larger time of possession than the Rams. The only thing they had less of was points. So, really, if you think about it, the Texans won the game 4-1. Go Texans.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Bryan Curtis: One of the strangest things about being a Cowboys fan (and this is sort of a long list) is going to a home game. I went to the newly named AT&T Stadium on Sunday night after being away for a while. I’d forgotten just how big the place is. Actually, big is the wrong word — all football stadiums are big. The word is imperial. Watching a game in AT&T Stadium feels like you’re debating the invasion of Naboo.

No one orchestrates a football game like the Cowboys. The anthem featured a giant flag in the shape of the United States. Kyle Wilber’s strip-sack of RG3 was celebrated by a 160-foot-long Wilber staring down from the video board. Wilber was one of many Cowboys suffering from gigantism last night. Before third downs, a supersize Dez Bryant would glance down and exhort us to be louder, like our very own Dear Leader.

Every sound in AT&T Stadium is produced within an inch of its life. When Jon Bon Jovi was shown sitting with Roger Goodell, “Livin’ on a Prayer” kicked in loudly enough to drown out any potential boos.

Jerry Joness wife was going on about the Cowboys’ latest modern-art piece. The restrooms are a miracle. You can slip in at any time except halftime and see rows and rows of empty urinals. People who go to lots of NFL games will understand this is more beautiful than anything at MoMA.

But what you lose is any kind of feeling of being at home. Cowboys fans are visitors in their own stadium. I was with my uncle, a season-ticket holder who knew about a secret stairwell that got us down from the upper deck in five minutes. But otherwise we were just guests with urinals to spare.

Gio & A.J. & Thaddeus & Kiko & HOPE

Mathis2

Andrew Sharp: For the Bengals: They won on the road, in a game they were supposed to win, and they remain firmly in control of the AFC North. It doesn’t matter that it was closer than it should’ve been, just winning a road game against a bad team was a big step for them as a contender. And of course, GIO.

The combination of Gio Bernard and A.J. Green is like RedZone crack. If Andy Dalton can just be decent, this Bengals team should be awesome.

And then the Bills. The Bills! The Bills are better than you think. They’ve got an endless supply of playmakers on offense (C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Scott Chandler) plus Kiko Alonso, who should count as a playmaker even if he plays defense. Throw in an offensive scheme that has now made E.J. Manuel AND Thaddeus Lewis look good (but not you, Jeff Tuel), and the Bills are way ahead of schedule in the rebuilding process. Who knows what happens the next 10 weeks, but right now, they might be the best bad team in football.

Now: Is it weird to be getting excited after a Bills-Bengals game? Definitely. Is it stupid to get excited about the future after the 10,000th close Bills loss at home that counts as a moral victory, or a Bengals game in which they somehow went to overtime with Buffalo? Probably.

But screw it. Both these teams have been horrible for the better part of my lifetime, and … Exciting things are happening in Buffalo and Cincinnati? It still doesn’t feel right to type that sentence, but I swear, that’s exactly where we are after Sunday.

Rob Ryan Lives the Tom Brady Struggle

Mathis2

Sharp: HOBO SUPERHEROES BLEED TOO.

Filed Under: Aaron Rodgers, Brian Phillips, Chris Ryan, Cleveland Browns, Katie Baker, Michael Vick, NFL, Robert Mays