The 32 things we learned from Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season:
1. To borrow a favorite expression from teens and the Twitterati, "SMH." The NFL just slogged through its worst week of 2018. However, unlike bad pub incurred from the national anthem controversy and/or exacerbated by one POTUS, the league's issues of the moment are completely self-inflicted and utterly regrettable. Nothing like derailing what had been a feel-good season previously highlighted by bushels of points, resurgent TV ratings and emergent star players.
2. On one hand, at least many (maybe most) teams — specifically the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers — internalized some important lessons in the wake of the 2014 Ray Rice domestic violence incident.
2a. On the other, some clubs — namely the "small (Redskin) potatoes" — sadly still don't get it.
2b. And, most unfortunate, Kareem Hunt certainly didn't learn from Rice's example, and new Washington (and former Niners) LB Reuben Foster allegedly didn't, either.
3. I'm also so damn tired of the NFL pretending like it's the industry leader in player safety while it fails again, and again AND AGAIN to adhere to its own rules — set forth in a grandstanding manner in the name of protecting the men who play the game. How many times have you seen helmet-to-helmet hits in the open field — any player, offense or defense, initiating such contact is supposed to be flagged — go unpenalized? I specifically wrote about Hunt spearing Broncos S Justin Simmons earlier this season. I did so again when Patriots rookie Sony Michel lowered the boom on Colts S Clayton Geathers in Week 5, knocking him from the game with a neck injury. My colleague Jarrett Bell picked up the baton after Thursday's Saints-Cowboys game, after which Dallas LB Jaylon Smith touted football as "the last gladiator sport" after his illegal but unflagged helmet-to-helmet shot on New Orleans RB Alvin Kamara.
3a. Saints TE Dan Arnold suffered an equally dubious shot from Cowboys S Xavier Woods earlier in the game. You guessed it — no infraction.
3b. Adding to the farce, Smith won one of the league's "Way to Play" awards earlier this season, ostensibly rewarded for being an example of how the NFL wants defenders to perform in a purportedly safety-conscious environment.
3c. No one expects officials to get every call right, and I'm not raving here about borderline fouls. To some extent, this is now a known occupational hazard players are highly aware of. And, to another extent, we don't need borderline instances overlegislated — and, to be clear, numerous players are trying to adjust their style of play — just as they aren't on for pass interference or holding. However, as Jarrett suggests, replay should be in play to ensure the egregious hits don't go unpunished.
3d. But let's end the hypocrisy. Roger Goodell and Al Riveron need to get on the same page. Maybe Rog needs to take Riveron, who's in charge of the league's rule enforcement, to task. But all we have right now is a league touting its guidelines to safeguard players yet summarily paying little more than lip service to them. Some example it sends to players and leagues right down the chain to Pop Warner even as they look to the NFL for leadership and practical solutions to a systemic issue that isn't going to fade.
4. Rant over. The NFL is a great league with plenty of great people from its headquarters to team rosters to unsung support staffers in every city. Football also teaches great lessons, and the NFL can have immensely positive impacts in its communities. But no blind eye in this space, usually reserved for celebrating accomplishments on the field. Moving on …
5. The NFL can also be a cruel business. Just ask now former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, canned Sunday afternoon after Green Bay somehow lost to the Cardinals. McCarthy leaves having guided this franchise to postseason in nine of his 13 seasons while capturing the Super Bowl XLV title following the 2010 season.
5a. Still, this felt like a mercy killing. The writing was on the wall for McCarthy. And the Packers surely wanted to initiate the search for a replacement immediately given this job, which features the opportunity to coach Aaron Rodgers, will surely be the most attractive one to open up this year.
6. Per @NFLResearch, the last time the Cardinals won in Wisconsin, 1949, they were the Chicago Cardinals. Lambeau Field had not yet been built at the time.
6a. That's what you get for looking past the 2-9 Cardinals, Mr. Rodgers.
7. Drew Brees' worst game of the season made the MVP race a packed field once again. Amazingly, the Saints star has never won the award. His pursuit of single-season records for completion percentage and passer rating also suffered.
8. But it's not as if Patrick Mahomes was fading from the MVP debate. The Chiefs quarterback hung four more TD passes on the Raiders, giving him an NFL-best 41 in just 12 games. As much as Hunt's on-field absence could hinder Kansas City, it could wind up bolstering the MVP résumé for Mahomes, who also led the team with 52 rushing yards in Oakland.
9. Also still in the MVP conversation: Rams Todd Gurley (165 total yards 2 TDs on Sunday) and Aaron Donald (2 more sacks, 4 tackles for loss) as their team wrapped up the NFC West.
9a. Donald is now on pace for 22 sacks.
9b. Gurley has 19 TDs (tying his league-leading total from 2017) and is on pace to finish with 25.
10. And don't discount Brees' former understudy, Philip Rivers, as a bona fide MVP contender. Rivers, who's never won the elusive hardware, either, had another big night (299 yards, 2 TD passes) as the Chargers upset the Steelers — they're offsides again — in Pittsburgh. Nunc coepi, Phil. And congratulations on news that you've got another child on the way. Like Brees, your wife is a saint.
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