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This Week in Football – Accountability and Antonio Brown, Replacement QBs, Khalil Mack

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Football fans, really sports fans in general, crave accountability. We want our athletes to have it when they don’t perform well. We want our coaches to have it when they call a bad game. We even clamor for it from the television talking heads who spew absurd predictions and takes with the sole intention of riling us up, knowing full well they will never need to answer for said opinions.

It’s time to start demanding more of it from organizations themselves beyond what happens on the field.

After Sunday Night Football this week, Cleveland Browns coach Freddie Kitchens held a slog of a press conference but took (some) responsibility for poor play calling at the end of his team’s loss. When a quarterback throws a costly interception, we want them to take responsibility for it. We look up to that and expect that from the faces of the league. If we don’t hear something like that, a player or coach gets flamed for their comments and rightfully so.

Why don’t we demand accountability for organizational failures like we do gameplay failures?

The New England Patriots screwed up by signing Antonio Brown. At the time, it was a funny thing to joke about, what with the evil empire of the NFL signing this year’s ultimate bad guy, who just so happens to be one of the greatest ever at his position. Then he played well in his first game with the team, catching a touchdown pass and joining in the beatdown of the hapless Miami Dolphins.

Naturally, he got in trouble again because he’s proven that he’s a bad, untrustworthy person. That’s not harsh, that’s a fact. Good people don’t do what he has done both to his teams and to people outside the game. The Patriots knew more than enough about that before signing him yet did it anyway. Even with the stories and allegations that came out after his signing, such as the rape allegation or the unpaid doctor’s fees or the intimidating texts he sent to an artist, there was plenty of pre-existing evidence that should have advised the Patriots to stay away from the All-Pro.

They didn’t.

And then coach, general manager and notorious stoic Bill Belichick had the gall to act indignant when asked fair questions about Brown and New England’s decision to sign him.

Dana Jacobson did nothing wrong here. She asked a pertinent question, one that deserved an answer, and Belichick acted as petulant as ever in response.

It’s high time that we stop ignoring failures and blatant mistakes by organizations and their refusal to acknowledge that they did something undeniably wrong. To be sure, this goes beyond the Antonio Brown disaster. Broadcasters, writers and fans still glorify Adrian Peterson, a man who physically abused his own children and has shown no remorse ever since. This is a pervasive problem in sports.

Belichick has developed this persona as an enemy of the media, a guy who acts ludicrously on a weekly basis because he doesn’t want to give even milquetoast answers to questions. Some questions are either worthless or unnecessary, and those deserve to be treated as such. But questioning why you finally cut a player who you had ample reason to ignore from the jump is as fair as it gets.

Outrage culture is a real thing, yet it’s selective. Politically it turns normal men and women into savage animals, but it brings out an ugly side of the sports world too. We get tribal and violently defensive about things that rarely deserve that kind of vitriol.

This is different. This situation calls for open, loud questioning of New England.

In fairness, some outlets have called for more answers. Megan Moriarty of SB Nation has made the same calls for action that we have here, for example. It’s not loud enough, though.

Patriots fans have earned the reputation as a vicious fan base, with a small but vocal sect of particularly vile homers frequently going after anyone who says a bad word about their team and its players, even when they are clearly in the wrong.

Brown never should have gotten another chance after leaving Oakland. New England was willing to mortgage what little goodwill it had left with the public to sign a man who throws furniture of out windows in infantile tantrums and disrespects every human he interacts with, and when it inevitably blew up the organization has refused to face the music.

The aura around “the Patriot way” is great for shallow discussions about why New England wins a lot of Super Bowls and why they make the shrewdest personnel moves in the NFL. It’s not an excuse for inappropriate conduct in the face of justified questioning. Just because the Patriots refuse to be accountable for the undeniable mistake of signing Brown doesn’t justify the rest of the football-watching public backing down. Hold the franchise accountable for its personnel mistakes the same way the social media world tried to hold Baker Mayfield accountable for the Browns losing to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night: relentlessly.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Unfortunately, the Antonio Brown news doesn’t end there. Brown went on a Twitter tirade Sunday morning before the early kickoffs, blasting anyone and everyone before eventually deleting the messages in what can only be described as either cowardice or under supervision of legal counsel. He went after Robert Kraft, Ben Roethlisberger and Shannon Sharpe in a series of tweets, mentioning their lascivious off-field behavior in an apparent attempt to deflect blame from himself. The biggest mistake was attacking one of the most powerful men in the league in Kraft. If you anger the NFL’s second most powerful owner (after Jerry Jones) your future is going to look bleak. Brown is enrolled in college again, taking a few online classes at Central Michigan in an attempt to finish his degree, apparently. It’s either that or another half-baked attempt to hold the spotlight hostage while the rest of the league moves on without him. In a way, he’s getting what he clearly always wanted with all this attention. Losing your career is quite a cost to achieve that.

*Week 3 was the week of the replacement quarterback, yet after the dust settled it was still Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew who stood atop the Mount Olympus of reserves pressed into service. Daniel Jones looked sensational in his debut for the New York Giants, performing better than almost anyone except the most blindly optimistic Giants fans expected. Kyle Allen made the second start of his career and put up big numbers in a win for Carolina over Arizona. There were also some more forgettable performances in losing efforts, such as those from Mason Rudolph, Luke Falk and Teddy Bridgewater. Even with all of those new faces (some fresher than others) Minshew is still generating the biggest buzz around the NFL. He was a constant topic of discussion during Saturday’s absurd UCLA/Washington State game and The Checkdown is making hype videos all about him. It pays to wear jorts, apparently. It helps that he can actually play, performing as well as you could possibly expect from the sixth-round pick who was dreadful in the preseason. The content machine will probably turn on him at some point this year, getting upset that he’s “overexposed,” but as long as he keeps playing well and dragging the Jaguars to wins he’s going to be on our screens. More unique characters means good things for the NFL.

*A world of suck. That’s how Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders described where his team is living as they dropped to 0-3 on the year following a loss to the Green Bay Packers (who remain undefeated, for whatever that’s worth). It’s a hysterical quote, but he’s also completely right. The Broncos aren’t usually singled out as one of the more dysfunctional teams in the NFL, but there’s no denying at this point that they are. It starts at the top with the depressing mess that is the franchise’s ownership situation. Aside from attracting Peyton Manning back in 2012, John Elway has largely been a failure as a general manager. The team hired an old, defensive-minded coach and the team has no sacks or takeaways through three weeks. To top it off, that previously mentioned clueless GM signed Joe Flacco for reasons no one can understand. Sanders’ voice carries weight in that locker room, and you have to appreciate the bluntness. It’s incredible how much the non-Chiefs teams in the AFC West have collapsed on themselves. It’s not like Kansas City and its unstoppable offensive machine needed any more help dominating that division.

SECOND-HALF KYLER

This could have turned into one of the most unique and fun storylines of the season. After Week 3, it may meet an abrupt demise instead. The first two games of the season featured stellar second-half performances from Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and his offense under Kliff Kingsbury, but this Sunday’s loss to the Panthers was a disaster. As mentioned above, Kyle Allen played a great game for Carolina, but after a strong start to the second half the wheels fell off for Kyler.

He went 12-of-21 for 78 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions after the break, which is hardly encouraging. For the whole game he averaged just four yards per attempt; that’s dreadful. He provided a spark with his legs, rushing eight times for 69 yards, but he needs to be better in the passing game going forward.

KHALIL MACK DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

Khalil Mack reminded everyone why he’s one of the two best defensive players in the NFL this week.

The Washington Redskins have one of the worst offensive lines in the league right now due to injuries and Trent Williams’ holdout, but Mack would have clowned almost any line on Monday night.

Three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble versus the Redskins. Watching him rush the passer is almost scary from your couch. He’s a monster of a man with absurd speed. He didn’t get off to a particularly fast start this season, but with the nation watching on Monday night he was the best player on the field once again. He now has six sacks in six primetime games since coming to Chicago (per ESPN Stats and Info); for a historically awful primetime team, the Bears will happily take that.

FOOTBALL FOLLIES

We need to revisit a laugh-out-loud funny moment from Monday’s Bears/Redskins game, when Chicago cornerback Prince Amukamara refused to be on the bad side of a highlight play.

A couple weeks back, Washington tight end Vernon Davis showed off some old-man athleticism with a hurdle in the open field. Amukamara knew what was coming and wisely stayed upright. Big man telegraphed this one a little too much.

STAT OF THE WEEK

It’s unusual to watch Aaron Rodgers play at such a pedestrian level. The future hall of famer has done that for most of this season, though, one reason why the brand-new Packers offense has been slow to get off the ground. In spite of that, amazingly, Green Bay is 3-0 this year. For the first time in what seems like eons, the Packers aren’t just good defensively, but they are elite. They lead the NFL in turnover margin through three games at +6, which is a full +2 above anyone else. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his group have been among the best units in the league, and both the counting stats and advanced numbers agree. The +6 is the stat of the week, but it speaks volumes about where this team is that they had six sacks and three takeaways in Week 3. Green Bay’s defense was supposed to be better, but it was hard to predict it would be this good.

WEEKLY RANKING: TOP 5 IRREPLACEABLE NON-QUARTERBACKS IN 2019

Giants running back Saquon Barkley is out for at least four weeks with a high ankle sprain, which is a killer blow to an already struggling offense. In honor of that, here are five players, excluding quarterbacks, who would be the most devastating to lose this season.

  1. Amari Cooper – The Dallas Cowboys have been fantastic offensively to start the season, but that would be derailed quickly should Cooper miss time. Dak Prescott is playing with more confidence and the stalwarts of the offense (Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line) are as good as ever, but Dallas needs its quarterback to have a trustworthy No. 1 option, especially with Michael Gallup hurt.
  2. Alvin Kamara – The NFC South is going to be a slugfest this year, and the Saints are already starting behind the eight ball due to Drew Brees’ injury. He’ll be back eventually, but if Kamara goes down it severely limits what their offense can do in the air or on the ground.
  3. Julio Jones – A lot of the prior blurb for Kamara applies here. Atlanta hasn’t looked particularly good offensively in 2019, but Jones is still one of the top five best receivers in the NFL at worst. He’s someone Matt Ryan can trust, which may not be the case for the Falcons’ other weapons (he barely even looked at Calvin Ridley in Week 3).
  4. Cooper Kupp – This one seems different than all the others given the plethora of weapons the Rams have, but Kupp is Jared Goff’s safety blanket. Goff looks far more comfortable when the versatile Kupp is on the field. It’s fair to assume the offensive production for LA would have looked different in Super Bowl LIII had he played, and the Rams don’t want to see what life without him is like again.
  5. Khalil Mack – The only defensive player on this list and another one that seems somewhat out of place considering all the playmakers on Chicago’s defense. However, there are none that can single-handedly take over a game like Mack can from the edge. Guys like Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith are excellent, but they can’t change the complexion of a game on their own. Mack can. The Bears drop from fearsome to simply formidable without No. 52.

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