NFL Run & Shootaround: Sad Song

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.

How ’Bout Them Cowboys!

Andrew Sharp:

1. There were bright spots, definitely.

2. Then Dez went Michael Douglas–out-the-car-now on the Dallas sideline.

3. And I think that actually helped. After that Dez freak-out, Romo went out and threw two touchdown passes totaling 110 yards on the next two drives: one to Terrance Williams and one to Dez. There’s no way anyone would ever give Troubled Wide Receiver Dez Bryant credit for lighting a fire under the offense that’d been wheezing along all day, but that’s sort of what happened, right? Even as Calvin Johnson disemboweled the Dallas secondary, the Cowboys offense was clicking for most of the fourth quarter and the game was in hand, thanks in large part to a spark from Dez. It was actually pretty refreshing to see things play out like this.

4. And as a Cowboys fan, that should’ve been the first red flag, just like Romo’s day against the Broncos a few weeks ago. Things were too encouraging. Dallas fans wouldn’t just walk away from Sunday feeling like they’d survived; they’d actually walk away feeling good about the team. This is not something the universe allows.

5. So, Calvin Johnson kept the game close …

And then …

6. FLAWLESS COLLAPSE EXECUTION.

7. By this point, when they gave the ball back with a minute left, every Cowboys fan on earth knew what was coming. The Stafford end zone belly flop was really just a formality.

8. Ditto for the Dez-Witten shouting match.

9. Because it’s not an authentic Cowboys loss if there’s not some stupid controversy guaranteed to waste everyone’s time for 48 hours afterward. The sideline footage above will probably be looped a thousand times on sports shows over the next couple days. Not the Monte Kiffin defense that gave up 330 yards to the one guy they knew they had to stop, not the miserable play calling on the final two drives that should have put away the game. Instead, there will be lots of talk about Dez’s maturity, whether he was a distraction, etc. Please ignore all this. The Cowboys’ problems are so much bigger than Dez Bryant. Look at this Barnwell article. God. Every minute we spend gawking at Dez Bryant is a minute we should all instead spend gawking at Jerry Jones.

10. You know how people in St. Louis talk about The Cardinal Way? This is The Cowboy Way. Games exactly like Sunday. They were probably the better team, they played better, there was drama on the sideline, and then at the end it all fell apart in the most heartbreaking way possible. The Cowboy Way!

That’s life with Jerry Jones. If you for some reason still like this team, you’ve accepted this will happen four or five times every year, and the only hope is that they get into the playoffs and get hot at the right time. And if you’re not a Cowboys fan? It must be pretty amazing to watch. Sunday wasn’t the most exciting day in pro football history, but Lions-Cowboys couldn’t have been better. Thanks to bad defense, dumb penalties, and sideline shouting matches, a standard Cowboys win turned into a classic loss. Because of course that’s what happened. Say what you want about Jerry Jones and his team, but there’s nothing in pro football more dependable than The Cowboy Way.

Lance Is More

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The Short, Strange Trip of Peyton Hillis

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Katie Baker: Football players have notoriously short careers, but not too many NFLers have packed as much of a narrative arc into as few games as Giants running back Peyton Hillis. The 27-year-old was plucked from his farm in Tennessee about two weeks ago and brought in after the team had suffered injuries to one rusher after another and gotten off to an 0-6 start. As the New York Times put it, he went from watching Monday Night Football on his couch to scoring a touchdown in a Monday Night Football game. Not bad.

In his second game with the Giants yesterday, his stat line was solid if unremarkable — 70 rushing yards on 20 carries — but most importantly, he was there, providing at least the specter of a running game and thus allowing Eli Manning slightly more breathing room. (Which he definitely needed — it’s kinda hard to inhale through such a majestic porn ’stache.) All in all, it’s been an impressive showing for Hillis — though he probably didn’t expect, back circa 2010, that things would end up quite like this.

That was the year that Peyton Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and became so briefly beloved in Cleveland that he won a fan vote to grace the cover of Madden. (“Even I had never heard of me,” he said on David Letterman after he won.) Of course, you know how this movie ends. In this case, the Madden Curse took the form of a contract dispute, an injury-ridden 2011 season, and an overall bad attitude. Browns team captain Joe Thomas would later call the 2011 season “toxic.” Hillis never got the hefty contract he sought with the Browns. He left Cleveland, played a whatever season with the Kansas City Chiefs, and this summer went through a revolving door with the Buccaneers. You know that when Tampa cuts you things are bleak.

Now, after believing he was probably done with football and buying a soybean farm with his wife (whom he married on a Tuesday midway through that tumultuous 2011 season, to his teammates’ annoyance), Hillis is getting another shot. His first few days in New York were such an unexpected whirlwind that his wife had to buy them extra clothes at Old Navy. At one point, he trudged a mile and a half along an NJ highway near his hotel room in search of food.

“I’ve been very humbled over the past couple of years,” he told the Star-Ledger. “I’ve really found my place.”

LOL

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The Plight of the Quarterback-Needy Fan

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Matt Borcas: I take back everything I’ve ever said about Brandon Weeden. Right now, the Browns need him more than ever. Oh, that doesn’t make sense? Well, let me explain.

The Browns laid bare their plan to play for 2014 in last April’s draft, when they traded out of the fourth and fifth rounds for picks in next year’s third and fourth rounds. On the surface, this made perfect sense — due to a historically weak crop of draft-eligible quarterbacks, the Browns were stuck with Weeden for another season, and consequently they were doomed to suck. Why not make the most of it? Dealing Trent Richardson for Indy’s first-rounder after an 0-2 start, while shocking and gutsy and nearly unprecedented, was simply the latest manifestation of their quest to land a franchise signal-caller and end this horrid list once and for all.

Then Brian Hoyer morphed into HOYER THE DESTROYER, leaving the then–AFC North–leading Browns with no choice but to deviate from the long-term plan … for all of five minutes. After Hoyer tore his ACL, the tank-fest was back on. Say what you will about Weeden, but at least he makes tanking a supremely easy task. The same cannot be said for Jason Campbell, who looked perfectly competent in Kansas City yesterday — competent enough that I’m sure he’ll win a few meaningless games by season’s end, landing the Browns Zach Mettenberger instead of Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota or Johnny Football.

I wasn’t remotely upset about the Browns’ 23-17 loss. The benefits of tanking should be obvious to NFL fans by now, if only because of the Colts’ stunning turnaround from 2-14 doormat to Peyton-slaying Super Bowl contender. Do you think Colts fans wish their 2011 squad would have won a little bit more, allowing Andrew Luck to end up elsewhere? Of course not, and the idea that a Browns fan should be rooting for wins and not draft position is equally dumb, especially with the scar of missing out on RG3 still fresh in everyone’s mind.

A popular counterpoint to this argument is that too much losing cripples organizational morale and establishes an irreversible culture of losing. To that I ask: Is another 4-12 season really gonna be the breaking point for these players? I mean, all but one of Joe Thomas’s six professional seasons have been 4-12 or 5-11 affairs, yet he still manages to be one of the best left tackles in the game. I think he can handle one more. Then again, if the Browns front office is truly a forward-thinking bunch, they’ll do everything in their power to make 2014 horrendous as well. With Jameis Winston available, I can’t blame them.

Tip Drill

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Dez

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Bryan Curtis: Some salient bullet points from the life of Desmond “Dez” Bryant:

1. Bryant had a rotten childhood. As one profile noted, “Bryant was raised off and on by Angela, a convicted drug dealer, and in other unstable environments that contributed to his frequent emotional outbursts.”

2. Bryant lost a whole year of college football due to a staggeringly dumb NCAA ruling that punished him for lying about a meeting that was not, in fact, an NCAA violation. Few in the media cared.

3. In 2010, Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland asked Bryant if his mom was a prostitute.

3a. There are still sportswriters who think this question was warranted.

4. Before the ’10 draft, NFL people leaked stuff to make it clear they thought Bryant was an idiot. “They lined him up on the side closest to the bench so they could talk to him,” one scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If he gets with a real sophisticated offense, he’s going to have problems.”

5. NFL people also leaked stuff to make it clear Bryant was a head case. From the same profile: “Even if he was the only receiver in the draft I would never bring him into the building … His play is like his personality — flashes of brilliance and flashes of awfulness. Bad routes, dropped passes, headache both on and off the field.”

6. In 2011, Bryant was banned from a Dallas mall for wearing baggy pants.

Has anyone in the modern NFL been subjected to this kind of character assassination? I understand Bryant later got in a violent altercation with his mom. I understand Bryant got into it in a club in Miami. Both these things happened after Bryant was set up to be a mentally deficient, uncoachable son-of-a-prostitute by the league that employs him and the media that covers him.

Yesterday, Bryant started yelling at Jason Witten on the Cowboys sideline. CBS’s Brian Billick said, “Dez Bryant pulling his spoiled-child routine again.” Just think about that for a second. Dez Bryant is a spoiled child … whose mom might have been a prostitute. There are so many slanders against Dez Bryant that they’ve begun to contradict one another.

Irony: The #hottake on the Cowboys is that they play too casually, that they lack the essential testicular fiber of the ’90s teams. So in the midst of another excruciating loss, Bryant does a Michael Irvin impression and gets labeled a team cancer. Holy Christ, I hope he hangs 250 and four TDs on the Vikings next week.

Must-See TV

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Robert Mays: There are a lot of drawbacks to the length of the NBA season, but one of my favorite parts is how it inevitably forces us to experience some games more casually. No matter how much you want to, there’s no way to live life without missing a Friday-night Warriors game here and there. But somewhere there’s always someone watching, and in this age if that game eventually turns into a classic, we’re going to find out.

If Steph Curry or Kevin Durant have 35 points at halftime and the basket looks like it’s the size of San Francisco Bay, we’re going to hear about it. Maybe it’s from Twitter, maybe it’s from a text from a friend. But it’s going to happen.

Football is different. The games are stacked in one place in one time, and because fantasy is so immediate and sports bars are showing 10 games at once, there’s a smaller chance that anything great — historic — can spread slowly. That’s why yesterday was such a rare and wonderful experience.

I watched the worst game of the weekend from the press box in Philadelphia, cut off from the wall of televisions that typically defines my Sundays. I’d been paying attention to the Calvin Johnson stat line for much of the day (hooray, fantasy football), but it was clear that for others, it was trickling in. “Wait, Calvin Johnson has 190 yards?” someone said out loud at one point. The Twitter mania began, with the circumstances of Detroit’s comeback only adding to the magnitude of Johnson’s day.

There was that undeniable “He’s on fire” buzz so common during basketball season, and as it happened, I thought, Who else in pro football could do this? Quarterback numbers barely exist anymore. Five-touchdown games seem like a formality these days. Maybe Adrian Peterson could, but even then, ripping off seven-yard gains with a 60-yard touchdown sprinkled in doesn’t have the same effect. For whatever reason, this player, at this position, seems like the only one who can do this. When you finally do click over to the game, there’s something about both the way the yards come — in huge chunks — and the moment before they do. Seeing the ball hang in the air as Johnson positions himself between two defenders builds that same half-second of doubt that comes from Curry launching a 30-footer. There’s just enough time to mutter, “No way.”

For me, the basketball factor has one specific, final tie-in. I’ve always considered Johnson the closest thing football has to LeBron James. James’s singular greatness is as much a product of his understanding of the game as it is his physical superiority, but there’s a similar quality to how both of them move and look in relation to the players around them. They’re on a different plane, and we can see it. That’s why it was ironic yesterday to see that among those drawn in by Johnson’s record-setting day was this guy:

That’s the thing about “Are you watching this?” games. By the end, everyone is.

Filed Under: Andrew Sharp, Bryan Curtis, Katie Baker, NFL, Robert Mays