1. I think fans always complain about Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes getting all the calls—I hear it every week. Well, he got a bad call in his favor Sunday night, and a terrible non-call went against him. Either way, two terrible officiating decisions marred the end of the game. With 57 seconds left, down eight, Mahomes scrambled toward the right boundary and got drilled by safety Jonathan Owens. The replay showed both of Mahomes’ feet were still inbounds as Owens hit him after a gain of 10, but the flag came out and added 15 yards to the end of the play. Now KC had first down at the Green Bay 45-yard line. Absolutely not unnecessary roughness on Owens. Then Mahomes threw deep down the middle for Marquez Valdes-Scantling in his return to Green Bay. Valdes-Scantling reached for the ball and got mugged by rookie corner Carrington Valentine. Both Cris Collinsworth and Terry McAulay said no question it was interference. Would have given Kansas City a first down at the five-yard line. Should have given Kansas City a first down at the five-yard line. Back judge Greg Yette simply can’t swallow the whistle on a potential game-changing play like that.
2. I think there are nits to pick with Jordan Love’s game Sunday night, but he’s shown in the second half of the season he deserves the benefit of every doubt as Green Bay’s long-term quarterback. A 69-percent passer with eight TDs and no picks and a rating over 115 in Green Bay’s three-game winning streak reflects well on Green Bay for drafting him and patiently developing him.
3. I think I don’t write about officiating much, because it always seems like a fruitless venture to me. But the end of that Sunday night game could not have been more affected by huge calls. Disgraceful.
4. I think it’s safe to say Nick Sirianni doesn’t like the San Francisco 49ers.
5. I think I don’t remember the last time a schedule flex said as much as the one announced the other day for week 15 (Dec. 14-18). The details:
The first Monday night flex ever moved Kansas City-New England from Monday night to the early Sunday window at 1 p.m. How the mighty have fallen. The NFL moving Patrick Mahomes out of prime time is revolutionary—and then moving him to a regional Sunday game is almost as startling. That’s how bad the Patriots are now. I’m sure Andy Reid loves the sanity of a Sunday early window game; KC now gets back home Sunday night around 9 p.m. CT, instead of 3 a.m. Tuesday.Too strong a game in the late Sunday window Dec. 17 (Dallas at Buffalo) to shoehorn Mahomes into the doubleheader game.Philadelphia at Seattle was a logical move to Monday night, but the logistical implications are major. For Seattle, it’s probably a good thing to bolster the home-field edge for a must-win with a Monday night game. Philadelphia, though, certainly didn’t count on getting home at 6:30 a.m. ET Tuesday for a normal game-prep week. Good thing for the Eagles is they finish with a pretty easy home stretch: Giants, Cardinals, at Giants.This is the weekend the NFL picks three Saturday games from five designated games to move when the schedule was announced in May. Vikings-Bengals at 1 (slight surprise to me over Bears-Browns), Steelers-Colts at 4:30 (good choice), Broncos-Lions at 8:15 (the only choice). Not a bad day of games, but I would have preferred Chicago-Cleveland to lead the day. It seems better, Justin Fields trying to win the Bears’ QB job for 2024 against a team playing for the playoffs while scotch-taping the quarterback situation.
6. I think I don’t understand why the Patriots, obviously going nowhere with two shaky quarterbacks (that’s being kind) don’t start the versatile Malik Cunningham at least a couple of times before the end of the season. What’s there to lose?
7. I think Tommy DeVito has turned into a good story and perhaps even a prospect to keep on the Giants’ roster for 2024. I like his presence and confidence. But the hype around him is a bit much for me. He’s put up 19 points a game in his three starts, one against a good team (Dallas) and two against Washington and New England (combined record: 6-19)
8. I think Ron Rivera has to know it’s over.
9. I think of all the injuries suffered in week 13, Houston rookie receiver Tank Dell being lost with a fractured fibula has to be the most damaging to a contender. Seven touchdowns, a 15.1-yard average, a true deep threat (not bad 12-game production for the 69th pick in the ’23 draft), lost. “I’m hurt,” said C.J. Stroud. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” That ratchets up the pressure on Nico Collins, having a superior year, to be a true number one in the last five weeks.
Texans’ youth movement powers Houston to win
The FNIA crew discusses the Texans defeating the Broncos, and how Houston’s talented young players are leading the team to playoff contention.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Michigan, Washington, Texas, Alabama. Understandable. But Georgia wins 29 in a row, including two championship games (by a combined 73 points), then loses the SEC title game to the great Saban by three points and is left out. Seems wrong. But I get it—how can Alabama not be in after winning the SEC title, and how can Texas not be in after winning the Big 12 and winning by 10 at Alabama and going 13-1?
b. Pretty amazing, KISS playing its last show after 50 years Saturday night. It came 51 years after key guy Paul Stanley brought friends to see Elvis Presley at MSG and said, basically, one day I’ll be playing on that stage.
c. Even more amazing, Dolly Parton, at 77, selling more albums than ever out of the chute with her 49th, “Rockstar.”
d. How about Dolly Parton getting Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to sing “Let It Be” with her? Who could manage that? She’s fantastic. What a good person.
e. Baseball Story of the Week: Tyler Kepner of The Athletic on Joe West, the controversial umpire who is a contender for Cooperstown.
f. Kepner is so good. Thoughtful, an excellent reporter, with good nuggets, like this one: West ejected 196 people in his umpiring career. Everything Kepner writes I read. Writes Kepner:
West, whose career began in 1976, could be outspoken and sarcastic, confrontational and aggressive. He did not embody the adage that the best umpires are the ones you never hear about.
In the 2004 American League Championship Series, West called interference on Alex Rodriguez for slapping the ball from Bronson Arroyo’s glove in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. In the 2016 World Series, West halted Game 7 in Cleveland for a brief rain delay after nine innings; the dazed Cubs, who had lost the lead in the eighth, regrouped during the break and won.
And, yes, that was West trying to reason with Leslie Nielsen in “The Naked Gun” in 1988. “You can’t throw an umpire out of the game!” West cried — but Nielsen (or was it Enrico Pallazzo?) did just that.
Umpiring has changed significantly since West’s debut, an Astros-Braves doubleheader on Sept. 14, 1976, before just 970 fans in Atlanta. For years, Barrett said, umpires essentially designed their personal strike zone, and the goal was to keep it consistent. Now they strive to match the computerized zone that grades performance.
g. Football Story of the Week: Jody Rosen of The New York Times on what goes into putting on the highest-rated TV show for the last 12 seasons, NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
h. Incredibly detailed story by Rosen. Best thing I can say about it is I bet everyone who works in the industry will learn multiple things about how to put a big game on TV. NBC had 10 trucks with a crew of 200 at the season-opener, which Rosen writes about.
i. Writes Rosen:
Then there were the microphones. There were mics mounted on many of the cameras. There were six parabolic mics, contraptions resembling satellite dishes that operators strap on like sandwich boards and schlep around the sidelines to soak up sounds. The N.F.L. is particular about what audio can air — no conversations on the bench allowed — but for each game, the league mics up several offensive linemen, allowing broadcasters to catch the quarterback grunting his cadence and the crunch of pads colliding after the snap.
The person responsible for the sonic personality of “Sunday Night Football” is Wendel Stevens, the lead audio engineer. That morning, Stevens was getting ready at his station, a 144-channel mixing console in the show’s main production truck. What viewers might assume to be an unmediated flow of in-game audio is more like a live D.J. mix, sculpted spontaneously by Stevens, who blends sounds from dozens of sources. “You don’t want this constant roar and thunder,” he said. “Football is a dynamic game in terms of sound.” He has other rules. One is: You mustn’t miss “the doink,” the percussive thump when an errant kick strikes the goal posts, which resonate like a giant tuning fork. Stevens was in the chair for NBC’s 2019 broadcast of the Bears-Eagles wild-card playoff game, which ended with a Bears field-goal attempt that rebounded from the left upright to the crossbar — an event that entered N.F.L. lore as the Double Doink.
j. TV Story of the Week: Anne Thompson of NBC News, reporting from Churchill, Manitoba, on the Polar Bear Capital of the World.
k. Twice as many Bears have come into the northern Manitoba town, looking for food, because the ice sheets that should be formed in the waters around the area haven’t formed yet due to climate change.
l. One more thought about the detritus of the college football weekend.
m. My feeling after watching the highlights of the great Pac-12 championship game between Washington and Oregon: disgust.
n. This is very old, I know. But the anger came bubbling up watching two great regional rivals play for the regional conference championship. For the sake of money, one of the great regional conferences in American sports gets thrown down the toilet, and schools like Oregon State and Washington State are left in the cold. The stupid, absolutely stupid rejiggered 2024 Big Ten football schedule will have UCLA traveling to State College, Pa., on Oct. 5, to Piscataway, N.J., on Oct. 19, and to Lincoln, Neb., on Nov. 2. And how about that Central Florida-Utah rivalry in the Big 12? What a great regional hookup Stanford-Boston College is for the ACC. They’re separated by only 3,132 miles.
o. Palo Alto to Boston is 160 miles farther than Boston to Dublin.
p. I hope disenfranchised alums continue to tell Big Ten-bound USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington, “What you’re doing is categorically insane.” We haven’t even talked about the idiotic logistics of forcing kids in sports who are supposed to be students to be traveling 10- and 12-hour round trips on planes to play games. How, logistically, is it remotely responsible for Cal to play a midweek softball game at Clemson? It’s all a great example of adults making dumb decisions for money alone, and forcing 20-year-old kids to pay for those decisions.
q. Imagine you’re the parent of a bench player on the USC soccer team, and your kid tells you he’s missing 2.5 days of school to go to Rutgers for a game.
r. RIP Henry Kissinger. I am reminded of this story Linda Zimmerman passed along about her husband, the late Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman, and Henry Kissinger, who was a Jets fan. Dr. Z and Kissinger, at different times, lived in the same Manhattan neighborhood, Washington Heights. Kissinger went on to positions of political power. Zim went on to cover the Jets and later the NFL. Zim, as it turns out, didn’t much like Kissinger. One day in the Jets Super Bowl era 50 or so years ago, Kissinger went to a Jets’ game and some reporters were asking him about pro football. One asked if soccer was Kissinger’s favorite sport. Kissinger said “the honest truth” was that American football was his favorite sport. Zim asked him: “Can you define truths that aren’t honest?”
s. Has there ever been an occasion for which Dr. Z didn’t have a great rejoinder?
t. Now seriously … Obit of the Week: Tom Gjelten of NPR on Henry Kissinger, who died last week at 100.
u. RIP Sandra Day O’Connor, the country’s first female Supreme Court justice. Her connection to football came in 1985, when, at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, she was seated at a table with John Riggins, who followed pre-dinner beers with two double Scotches, then a full bottle of red wine, at the gala. And Riggins thought she was being a bit too straight-laced. “Loosen up, Sandy Baby!” he said. “You’re too tight.”
v. And as told by Riggins after the death of O’Connor, they were together at an event in Washington a decade or so ago, and O’Connor was the speaker that night, and at one point she said: “There’s one thing I’ve wanted to say for years: Loosen up Johnny Baby!” Riggins loved it.
w. Coincidence of the week: Between 2000 and 2012, the College of William & Mary in Virginia had two chancellors: first Henry Kissinger, then Sandra Day O’Connor. They died two days apart.
x. Thanks to the Houston Texans and communications czar Omar Majzoub for donating sneakers emblazoned with the cause I’m passionate about, New Jersey-based youth literacy charity Write On Sports, just in time for our holiday auction, our final fundraiser for the year.
y. Key item: four lower-bowl tickets to the Cardinals-Eagles New Year’s Eve game at 1 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. Our sincere thanks to the anonymous donor who gave these great seats as the Eagles strive for home-field in the NFC playoffs. Every dime from the winning bids will go to reading and writing programs and summer camps for adolescent students, mostly in middle school.