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Are the anthem protests done? Does Zeke get it now? Have the Jaguars figured out how to win despite Blake Bortles? All this to ponder, and it’s only Week 2.
1. All Quiet on the Protest Front
Opening weekend in the NFL was supposed to feature more than touchdowns and a mumbling Rex Ryan doing his first broadcast. It was supposed to be filled with images of players kneeling or otherwise protesting during the national anthem.
But something strange happened. The demonstrations were minimal. Players had told B/R and other outlets that the anthem protests during opening week would number perhaps in the dozens.
And now, after interviews with half a dozen current players, and several former players, many of them said they have reached the conclusion that the period of mass anthem protests is likely over.
“The anthem protests,” one veteran said, “are basically dead.”
Some will still make their feelings known, the players explained. One member of the Seahawks told B/R that Michael Bennett, who stated recently that a Las Vegas police officer put a gun near his head and threatened to shoot him, will likely sit during the anthem for the remainder of the season.
But, overall, players say the movement has slowed to a crawl.
The question is why?
The answer seems to be a simple one: complacency.
As far as I can tell, owners have not threatened any players. Nor have any coaches.
And while a large faction of older players wants to organize the anthem protests so they last through the season, they are meeting great resistance from younger players who don’t seem to care.
In other words, the players are not unified enough to keep the anthem protests going strong.
Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press
Some are still fighting hard, especially off the field. A statement from a group of politicians, artists and athletes (including the likes of former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Olympian Dr. John Carlos, tennis legend Martina Navratilova and Dr. Cornel West) given to a small group of media, including B/R, backed Bennett after his incident with Las Vegas police:
“Since Bennett publicized his encounter with the LVMPD, a spokesperson for the police has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation of Bennett to determine ‘whether Mr. Bennett was involved in the altercation at the hotel casino prior to his detention on Las Vegas Boulevard.’ This is clearly an act of retaliation against Bennett for speaking out against police brutality. It is also a gesture of intimidation against anyone else who would dare challenge the right of the Las Vegas police department to act with impunity. This is unacceptable.
“Michael Bennett has been sitting during the anthem precisely to raise these issues of racist injustice that are now an intimate part of his life. Now we stand with him.”
The statement is signed by a lot more people, from Dr. Angela Davis to Patrisse Khan-Cullors (co-founder of Black Lives Matter) to Eric Reid (49ers).
That is some heavyweight star power off the field—almost unprecedented in the sports world.
On the field, though, many seem content to just play football, and not address larger societal concerns, players explained to me, at least not in the form of anthem protests.
Some players want to continue the protests, others don’t care, and there is little leadership to move players to organize for something larger.
Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills articulated the problem in a series of tweets Tuesday evening:
Kenny Stills @KSTiLLS
Are you worried about sponsors or your contract? Do you not care?
Kenny Stills @KSTiLLS
How can we expect the league to care about something we’re not showing we care about?
As they have in the past, players are failing to realize the power they have, some said.
One player remarked that his NFL brethren could do for social justice what J.J. Watt did for hurricane relief in Houston. He raised more than $ 30 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
But that won’t happen. Instead, it seems, it’s all winding down.
2. Is Dez Bryant Still…Dez Bryant?
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
To me, Bryant is still a devastating presence who can wreck defenses.
But around the league, some are asking if Bryant is still as good as he once was, still as capable of changing a game. Indeed, there are those who think Bryant is breaking down physically. They say they see it on game tape, that he’s not the same receiver he was just two years ago.
Again, that’s not my belief, but I’m hearing this more and more.
3. A Necessary Wake-Up Call
Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
I spoke to a Cowboys veteran this week about Ezekiel Elliott, and he, for one, thinks the second-year star may finally understand the role he has to play now that he is facing a six-game suspension from the NFL for domestic violence allegations.
“Before, Zeke didn’t get the microscope he was under as a Cowboy or an NFL player,” the player told B/R.
“I think Zeke gets it now.”
4. The Look That Could Scare a Klingon
Sean Payton, Adrian Peterson on the sideline https://t.co/MMHfvJ3gcr
I saw the way Adrian Peterson looked at Sean Payton, and I was nearly scared for myself. That was one icy glare.
It was only a matter of time before Peterson expressed his displeasure at essentially being a part-time back. That’s his reality, though, and he needs to adjust to that. He’s not the same guy; Payton knows it and is trying to be smart with how he uses Peterson.
That may not be enough to put a smile on Peterson’s face, though.
5. The Cardinals Are in Big Trouble
Leon Halip/Getty Images
I’ve been searching for a way to explain that we are probably looking at the end, or close to it, of Carson Palmer’s NFL career. You could see it from his throws last week. He’s in rapid decline.
This isn’t exactly a secret to anyone who has watched him play of late, like former quarterback Steve Beuerlein, who offered his take on Palmer during the CBS Sports Network show NFL Monday QB:
“I am concerned about Carson Palmer. … He’s up there in years; we know that. I don’t think he’s the same quarterback who can carry a team on his shoulders like he once was. He needs a lot of help, and it’s not coincidental that David Johnson went out of that game [Sunday] late in the third quarter. From that point on, the Cardinals offense was really stuck in low gear. … He cannot make those non-rhythm throws like he used to be able to do it. In this league, you have to be able to make some of those throws. Carson Palmer is limited in his ability to do that these days.”
6. Another Watt Puts His Stamp on the NFL
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
You know who J.J. Watt is. At least, you should.
And some of us have been saying, or reporting, for a bit how some in the NFL think his brother, T.J., could end up being just as good, if not better.
T.J. has a long way to go before he reaches his older brother’s orbit, and he has much to navigate in a league that can be cruel in how quickly it can shorten a career with one hit or one personnel decision.
But, my goodness, is T.J. Watt on his way after a Sunday on which he become the first player to record two sacks and an interception in a Week 1 NFL debut since sacks became official in 1982, according to B/R research.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
7. Hooper May Have Falcons’ Opponents Seeing Stars
David Banks/Getty Images
Another delicious stat from B/R research: Falcons tight end Austin Hooper’s 88-yard touchdown catch against the Bears was the longest ever by a tight end in a season opener in NFL history.
If the Falcons can keep making the tight end position even close to this explosive, the Atlanta offense will be even more impossible to stop than it was last year, when it was more than four points better per game than any team’s in the league.
8. The Jaguars’ Winning Formula
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
That wasn’t so hard. In Week 1, the Jaguars showed that all they have to do to win is keep Blake Bortles from killing the offense.
The Jaguars’ plan had Tom Coughlin written all over it. Coughlin, Jacksonville’s executive vice president of football operations and former coach, had two talented quarterbacks in Mark Brunell (in Jacksonville) and Eli Manning (during his tenure with the New York Giants). Coughlin didn’t have to protect the offense from them. It was the opposite. Brunell was terrific, and Manning won two Super Bowls.
It’s different now with Bortles, a turnover machine. So what did Coughlin do? He drafted former LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who became the first Jaguars runner to reach 100 yards in his debut. And he embraced a defense that was already pretty good. That led to a simple formula: run the ball, play defense, keep Bortles from screwing up.
It’s a formula that’s been used time and again throughout NFL history, and the Jaguars are copying it to great effect so far.
It can work for Jacksonville, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In their 29-7 win over Houston in Week 1, the Jaguars became the fourth team ever to record 10 or more sacks in a season opener, per B/R research (I love our research group; it’s awesome). And it’s a big reason why they were the only team in the AFC South to win last week.
9. The Forgotten Holdout
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press
The Rams’ Aaron Donald recently reported to the team after an extensive holdout. That leaves one player who still hasn’t reported: Texans left tackle Duane Brown.
There was a sense inside the Texans that Brown wasn’t going to be back for a while, and that continues to be the case.
You never know when these things will end, but there’s little indication, at least for now, that Brown will be back this week. Or the week after. Or the week after that.
10. Randy Moss Was as Good as Advertised
Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press
On Monday, Randy Moss became the 22nd person inducted into the Vikings’ Ring of Honor. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame one day.
His induction reminded me of a story I’ve told several times, but it never gets old. When the late Dennis Green drafted Moss 21st overall in 1998—a highly controversial pick at the time—Green called me and said Moss was going to be one of the more special receivers of all time.
Lots of coaches say that about some of their draft picks. Green really meant it, and it was one of the only times a coach who spoke like that about a draft pick turned out to be right.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.