By DERON SNYDER
On an early episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher summoned wideout Deon Long to the office. Turns out that Long had brought a woman to his dorm room during training camp, a violation of the Rams’ strict no-visitors policy.
He was cut on the spot and Fisher later explained the decision in a team meeting. “I’m not f—ing going 7-9 or 8-8 or 9-7 … we have too much talent here for that,” he said. “We had some 7-9 bulls— this morning and we can’t have that. Deon is gone. That is 7-9 bulls— and we don’t need that.
Fisher was right. He doesn’t need a rule-breaker to go 7-9.
He’s a master all by himself.
News broke early Sunday morning that Fisher is getting a two-year contract extension. Although the agreement reportedly was reached during the preseason, the timing was odd because he recently emerged from a public spat with Rams legend Eric Dickerson, who isn’t a fan of the coach.
In fairness, Dickerson isn’t alone. Fisher is unlikely to find many supporters outside of family and team management.
By DERON SNYDER
Misery loves company but the Browns are in a world by themselves. Cleveland currently doesn’t enjoy comfort from the world’s greatest salve when life doesn’t go your way, the ability to point elsewhere and say: “They’re doing worse than us.”
No other team even qualifies for “as bad as us” when it comes to Cleveland this season.
The San Francisco 49ers have lost 10 consecutive games since opening with a 28-0 pasting of the Los Angeles Rams. The Browns have lost 11 consecutive games since opening with a 29-10 defeat against Philadelphia. They enter their bye week just four games shy of completing the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 campaign.
First-year coach Hue Jackson nearly cried but quickly composed himself after Sunday’s defeat against the New York Giants. “Being 0-12 is probably … the hardest thing ever,” he told reporters in his postgame news conference. “It’s been a long 12 weeks.”
Maybe the break will help. And a familiar face might return at quarterback, which can’t hurt.
Robert Griffin III wasn’t expected to be Cleveland’s savior when he signed a two-year contract in March. RG3 was looking for a place to relaunch his career while the Browns were placing a low-risk wager for a potential high return. The experiment was put on hold when he broke his collarbone in the opener.
Now Griffin might be Cleveland’s last hope this season, the only thing standing between infamy and a victory.
By DERON SNYDER
Most folks never land their dream job. Some come close, working in their desired field but not with their preferred organization. Others land with their company of choice but not in the position they want.
The odds seem even longer for coaches who aspire to run the show at specific places. Positioning yourself to be a candidate is difficult enough. But actually beating out other established coaches and/or up-and-coming hotshots is a testament to hard work and good timing.
Tom Herman and Ed Orgeron completed their treks to fulfillment over the weekend, winding up with two of college football’s biggest jobs. Their journeys, like those of every coach who summits the 128-school FBS mountain, make for fascinating life studies in determination and dedication.
Herman, named head coach of Texas, had previous stops with Houston, Ohio State, Iowa State, Rice, Texas State, Sam Houston State and Texas (as a graduate assistant). Hs first job was with Texas Lutheran, in 1998, earning $5,000 and a dining hall meal card.
Orgeron was picked to lead LSU after Jimbo Fisher reportedly wanted too much money to leave Florida State and Herman opted for the Longhorns. At 55, Orgeron is 14 years older than Herman and has a resume that’s 50 percent longer. His prior stints include USC, Tennessee, the New Orleans Saints, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Nicholls State, Miami (Fla.), Arkansas, McNeese State and Northwestern State.
By DERON SNYDER
If you choose to count your blessings and be thankful just one day per year – though I suggest adding another 364 – you might as well go with the last Thursday in November. That way you should get a nice meal, a day off work and, if you’re truly blessed, some time spent with relatives you don’t despise.
Weekend shopping sprees with splendid sale prices are optional.
I strive to not take my universal assets for granted, recognizing that not everyone enjoys life, health and strength; food, clothing and shelter; family, friends and loved ones. Then there’s my very own super trifecta, my wife and daughters, Vanessa, Sierra and Sequoia.
Thanksgiving also means an NFL tripleheader, big rivalries in college football and the occasional flash point in college basketball – like Fort Wayne shocking No. 3 Indiana on Tuesday. But whether victims of huge upsets or underdogs walloped as expected, everyone can be grateful that this is just sports. It’s supposed to be fun and games, not life and death.
With that in mind, I’m thankful …
*For Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys’ rookies have been a joy to watch and could revitalize NFL ratings. The nation was familiar with Elliott from the 2015 National Championship game. But few folks knew Prescott and none predicted the fourth-round pick would take Tony Romo’s job while leading Dallas to a 9-1 record. Now everyone knows the answer to: “Who’s Dak?”
*For Kirk Cousins and Robert Kelley. Washington’s answer to the aforementioned duo has us envisioning a Thanksgiving shootout. Cousins ranks third in the NFL in passing yards (3,091) and has a monster game Sunday against Green Bay. Kelley has rushed for 321 yards in three starts, for per-game (107) and per-carry (4.7) averages just behind Elliott’s (110 and 4.9). Kelley just needs to stop treating passes like they’re greased turkeys.
By DERON SNYDER
The game over here is called football. Unlike the international version, we don’t watch this sport for kicks.
But that’s beside the point.
We watch for long, beautiful passes, like when Washington’s Kirk Cousins hit Pierre Garcon in stride for a 70-yard touchdown Sunday night against Green Bay. We keep an eye out for lengthy, exhilarating runs, like when Skins halfback Rob Kelley burst into the secondary and raced downfield on a 66-yard dash. We tune in for the thrill of “Fumble!”, like when cornerback Josh Norman executed a patented punchout against Packers tight end Jared Cook.
Ultimately, we watch and wait for the sport’s most satisfying moment when your team has the ball, like when Cousins took a knee in victory formation after a 42-24 rout. Those are the plays that keep us coming back to stadiums and our TV sets again and again.
The conversion kick?
Not so much.
For something that’s considered an “extra” point, it adds little to the game and less to our excitement. Even with the longer attempts implemented last season – when the NFL moved kicks from the 2-yard line to the 15 – the point-after has remained the perfect time for a bathroom break.
Nothing has really changed … except the fact you might miss a miss.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – For a franchise that won the NFC East last season and five of its last seven games entering Sunday night, Washington had a lot to prove as the Green Bay Packers visited FedEx Field.
The national TV audience – or whatever portion still watches NFL games – had been unimpressed recently whenever the burgundy and gold took center stage. Locals hadn’t been thrilled with the primetime showings, either.
But at least our idea of the franchise’s standing is based on weekly observations instead of occasional nights in the spotlight.
Sunday was Washington’s chance to prove these aren’t the same old Skins, an opportunity to show they’re for real against an established, albeit limping, NFL power. Green Bay has reached the playoffs in seven consecutive years but flew in with a three-game losing streak. The Packers departed on the wrong end of a 42-24 blowout as Washington avenged last season’s loss in wildcard round.
The Skins picked a great time to play their best game. That’s usually not the case when they’re part of the only show on the dial. Washington had lost 20 of its last 25 night games and six of eight appearances on Sunday Night Football. It’s no wonder the team’s national reputation is middling, at best.
But nothing about Sunday’s performance was run-of-the-mill.
By DERON SNYDER
For the rivalry’s sake and the prospects for its continuance, a split would’ve been much better. Instead, the reward for Georgetown coach John Thompson III agreeing to renew the intra-DMV clash with Maryland is two losses by a combined five points.
Here’s hoping he isn’t dissuaded from doing his part to make Hoyas-Terrapins an annual affair.
Tuesday’s game perfectly demonstrated one reason Thompson might be averse. Georgetown was the home team, but Maryland’s fans were louder by the end of the game. With a student body twice as large – and an alumni base that’s presumably just as disproportionate – Maryland is unlike typical visitors the Hoyas host in downtown D.C.
While Verizon Center doesn’t become a hostile environment for Georgetown when Maryland is in the building, it’s not much better than a neutral site, either. Certainly it doesn’t compare to the Terps’ home court advantage when they host the Hoyas at Xfinity Center on the College Park campus.
The Hoyas could’ve been on the road Tuesday as they blew a nine-point lead in the final 2:21. Half the crowd (or more) wouldn’t cheer wildly if Georgetown melted down against an out-of-town, non-conference foe early in the season. But that’s what happened as Maryland cut into the margin and eventually went ahead on Melo Trimble’s free throws with seven seconds remaining.
This is the second consecutive “Maryland at Georgetown” contest that ended with a one-point victory in a building the Washington Wizards call home. Granted, the last one was in 1993, when the Terps won on Duane Simpkins’ last-second shot in overtime at the USAir Arena. But 2016 might have the same effect on JT3’s taste for the rivalry as 1993 had on his father, Big John, who never scheduled Maryland again.
By DERON SNYDER
Of Washington’s four finalists in the National League’s major award categories, Trea Turner was the least-likely to win but arguably had the greatest impact.
It helps when you arrive largely as a mystery to opponents, who know little besides the fact you have blazing speed. It helps when you play only 73 games – about half the amount Daniel Murphy played – avoiding some inevitable slumps or, worse, injuries. And it helps when you deliver exactly what the team wanted when it called you up for good on July 10, sparking the offense from atop the lineup.
Turner had no shot at winning the NL Rookie of the Year award, which fittingly went to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ strapping shortstop, Corey Seager. He easily beat the Nationals’ center fielder for the honor, based on playing a full slate (157 games) and producing one of the league’s best all-around seasons.
But Turner’s inclusion among the finalists reflects the brilliance of his half-season. Even though he was stuck in the minors for the first three months, Turner led all rookies in triples (eight) and stolen bases (33), while finishing among the Top 10 in runs (53), hits (105), batting average (342), on-base percentage (.370) and slugging percentage (.567).
Don’t bother projecting what those numbers could look like over a full campaign. That practice – like the stat line he might’ve produced – is insane.
If Seager hadn’t been so dominant this season, Turner would have a better argument to be the winner. His selection wouldn’t have set a precedent, either. San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey was a unanimous NL ROY selection in 1959, despite playing a mere 52 games. Another short-timer this New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, received strong consideration for AL ROY after playing just 53 games.
Turner didn’t come away with the trophy Monday, but he played a key role in general manager Mike Rizzo’s unofficial award for “Heist of the Century.” By acquiring Turner and right-hander Joe Ross for Steven Souza and minor-league lefty Travis Ott, Rizzo endeared himself to Nats fans and provided the team with a pair of building blocks moving forward.
While Ross’ contribution will be as a back-of-the-rotation starter or intriguing trade chip, Turner’s roster spot is cemented even as his position remains fluid. He’ll definitely bat leadoff when manager Dusty Baker fills out the lineup, but that’s the only certainty.
By DERON SNYDER
LANDOVER, Md. – The real issue isn’t whether Washington’s glass is half full or half empty. Because no matter your perspective, the fact is there’s space for more.
More improvement in the red zone. More get-off-the-field stops. More focus, more consistency, more dominance.
There’s a better question to ask about the Skins: What’s keeping them from the brim of their potential? Sunday’s 26-20 victory against the Minnesota Vikings beats the alternative, but it doesn’t provide any answers.
“We just have to try to put a complete game together,” safety Will Blackmon said after Washington went up by two touchdowns, fell behind at halftime and rallied to win. “I don’t know if we’re doing it for ratings, but when we have a team down, we have to take advantage and finish them off.”
We wouldn’t know how to react if that happened. Coach Jay Gruden said every game would come down to the wire and this team seems intent on proving him right.
Washington opened with 159 yards and two touchdowns on its first two possessions, while Minnesota countered with 27 yards and two punts. But that wasn’t the beginning of a trend – unless you mean the Skins’ tendency to make each outing a white-knuckle affair.
If only they could bottle those high-efficiency periods, such as four scores on four second-half possessions (not counting the victory-formation knee to end the game). Such as the defense holding Minnesota scoreless … aside from a five-minute and 39-second span just before intermission.
The letdown was eerily similar to Week 6, when Washington dominated Philadelphia in the first half yet enjoyed a slim lead, thanks to yielding touchdowns on a kickoff and interception return. It’s all part of a disquieting pattern appears to be unavoidable.
By DERON SNYDER
The family of Junior Seau didn’t get a ring and gold jacket when the star linebacker was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. Neither did the family of former Los Angeles Rams great Les Richter (inducted in 2011) or any other player who was enshrined after death.
That includes the family of legendary Raiders quarterback and 2016 HOF inductee Ken Stabler. But they became a cause celebre last week when the Hall of Fame held a ring ceremony at halftime of the Bears-Vikings game. In response to a fan who wondered about Stabler’s jewelry, Kendra Stabler-Moyes tweeted: “Sadly, my Dad goes not get a ring.”
Former Raiders CEO Amy Trask tweeted her disbelief, which led Stabler-Moyes to add another nugget: “Yes, seriously,” she tweeted. “No jacket, no ring. My Dad deserves it, dead or alive! He gave so much to the game we all love.”
Yes he did. I was never a Raiders fan but I loved “The Snake,” who died from complications of colon cancer last year. The way he played and personified Oakland’s outlaw image in the ‘70s was very cool to a boy 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn. Stabler, Fred Blietnikoff, Cliff Branch and Mark van Eeghen are characters in some of my earliest and most-indelible NFL memories.
Raider Nation sprang into action upon learning of the Hall’s longstanding policy, which we’ll address momentarily. In a tweet with the image of a Stabler trading card, coach Jack Del Rio implored: “Do the right thing!!” Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks weighed in as well: “No football HOF ring for The Snake’s family? That ain’t right,” he tweeted. “Throw deep, Baby.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN he was working behind the scenes to have the policy lifted. “No way I should have my dad’s ring and Bruce Allen doesn’t have his dad’s,” Davis said. “No way I should have my dad’s ring and Junior Seau’s family doesn’t have his. Same with Dick Stanfell’s family, and Kenny’s family. The guys earned it and their families should get to enjoy it,” he said. “This is an injustice that has to be rectified.”
But I’m not convinced the Hall is wrong for its stance, reiterated Tuesday in a statement.