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Here is What Have We Learned from Week of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- NFL anthem protests evolve past Kaepernick’s original intent–
What began more than a year ago with an NFL quarterback protesting police brutality against minorities by kneeling silently during the national anthem before games has grown into a roar with hundreds of players sitting, kneeling, locking arms or remaining in locker rooms — their reasons for demonstrating as varied as their methods.
Yet people rallying to defend players or decry the protests aren’t talking about police brutality, or the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is no longer employed by an NFL team. Especially after President Donald Trump weighed in repeatedly to say that players should stand for the anthem or be fired for their defiance.
Before NFL games began Sunday, the discourse had morphed into a debate over the First Amendment, Trump’s insults, how much the NFL has been paid by the U.S. government for its displays of patriotism and the overall state of race relations in America. Support and criticism came from fields well beyond the gridiron, including NASCAR, the NBA, MLB, activists, journalists, entertainers and politicians.
Some worry that the expanded reasoning for the protests — fanned by the president’s incendiary stance — could dilute the passion and the permanence of its original cause, drawing attention to interactions between police and minorities.
“The issue has morphed beyond that because Mr. Trump has interceded,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said.
More than 200 NFL players and owners — even anthem performers — found ways to show dissent during pro football games over the weekend. Raised fists and other gestures came after Trump’s comments at a Friday night rally in Huntsville, Alabama, where he mused to the crowd: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. Fired!'”
Trump continued to criticize protesters Tuesday, saying in a news conference at the White House that he was “ashamed of what was taking place” with the kneeling protesters. Trump said Americans have died and been injured in defense of their country.
“They were fighting for our flag, they were fighting for our national anthem and for people to disrespect that by kneeling during the playing of our national anthem, I think that’s disgraceful,” the president said.
Trump’s remarks set off a firestorm on social media. Ken Miles, a community organizer and entrepreneur living in Harlem, created a petition on Saturday around the emerging #TakeTheKnee hashtag in response.
“This weekend was just a reminder of the role that power plays in this conversation,” said Miles, 32. “The president of the United States leveraging his influence to call out players exercising their rights is an abuse of power.”
The topic continued to dominate discussion in sports Monday as NFL players reflected, NBA teams met with reporters and Trump doubled down on his position with tweets, saying the issue had nothing to do with race and using the hashtag “#StandForOurAnthem.”
“He doesn’t understand the power that he has for being the leader of this beautiful country,” Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James said.
Trump has rallied those to his side who are less interested in athletes’ opinions than a perceived lack of patriotism. The American Legion has called the protests and protesters “misguided and ungrateful.”
“It wasn’t political when it was written and it shouldn’t be political today,” American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan said Monday. “Having a right to do something does not make it the right thing to do.”
Fans are also noting the mixed messages.
“The original issue was police brutality,” said Myles Conley, 42, a sales consultant from Atlanta. “The issue has moved past police brutality. Now it’s … racism in the NFL.”
Conley said fans watch the NFL for entertainment and “now it’s turning into an activists’ platform,” referring to domestic violence, player safety, race and other issues.
“All of these issues the NFL is making part of their program,” he said. “No one wants to hear that.”
Protesters have supporters as well, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “This isn’t about football; it’s about freedom,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s about the ability of Americans to utilize their constitutional rights without punitive actions from their employers.”
It’s unclear whether — or how — the momentum will continue. On Monday, Jackson called for a boycott of the NFL — some African-Americans have been doing that since the start of the season earlier this month — and picketing at pro football stadiums.
Some want the original intent of the protests to become the focus again.
Congressional Black Caucus chair Cedric Richmond noted that while some NFL owners, coaches and officials put out statements rebuking Trump, they didn’t include why players originally felt the need to protest.
“They are taking a knee to protest police officers who kill unarmed African-Americans — men and women, adults and children, parents and grandparents — with impunity,” the Democrat from Louisiana said. “They are taking a knee to protest a justice system that says that being black is enough reason for a police officer to fear for his or her life.”
Jozen Cummings, a columnist at VerySmartBrothas.com, wrote in a column Monday that the #TakeTheKnee movement has evolved into an “all-lives-matteresque, watered-down version of NFL players and owners against Trump.”
“Kaepernick’s cause got distorted into a protest about flags and against Trump when it was never intended to be against anybody,” Cummings wrote. “It was for people of color.”
Miles said that while the support has taken various forms, people are leveraging their platforms to keep issues of systemic racism top of mind.
“Folks are elevating the conversation,” Miles said. “It’s all connected, and there’s a long list of things that have been going on. This is about recognizing that the responsibility is on all of us and there is a role for all of us to play.”
Corey Williams in Detroit and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report. Williams, Holland and Whack are members of The Associated Press Race and Ethnicity Team. Holland reported from Washington and Whack reported from Philadelphia.
- Packers rookie defenders make key plays in OT win-The Packers got a glimpse of what their top two draft picks are capable of during Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, with hybrid safety/linebacker Josh Jones and cornerback Kevin King making their first NFL starts.
And they did not disappoint.
“Anytime you can get your young players in there and get that experience, (it’s valuable),” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, one day after the team’s 27-24 overtime victory over the Bengals.
“The plan is to win the game but you’re always, always very cognizant — I always have been — of getting these young players in.
“Let’s face it, when we get to November, December, there’s a very high probability that these guys are going to be playing major roles in these game plans and these big games.”
King and Jones had an impact on an unseasonably hot September Sunday, too.
Also among those impressed by the two youngsters, especially with Jones: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who led a 75-yard fourth-quarter touchdown drive that forced overtime, then hit Geronimo Allison for a 72-yard catch-and-run to set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
Jones, who didn’t play a single snap on defense against Seattle in the Sept. 10 regular-season opener for his NFL debut, registered a team-high 12 tackles and had two sacks and three total tackles for loss.
“He was fantastic, he really was. It’s fun to watch him play and get confident,” Rodgers said of Jones. “(That’s important) for young players like that, and for Josh especially.
“He got a lot of action and he made the most of it. He was huge for us with the sacks, with the stops, with the coverage. I’m really happy for him. It was the stuff that we saw in training camp.”
Jones played the hybrid linebacker position as one of four safeties the Packers played for most of the game Sunday.
With safety Kentrell Brice (groin) and inside linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion) out, Jones played the linebacker role, veteran Morgan Burnett worked in the slot and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Marwin Evans served as the traditional safeties.
The approach worked, as the Packers limited the Bengals to just 109 second-half yards and did not allow them to convert a third down (0 for 5) after halftime.
“It’s satisfying to know that your preparation paid off, but this is a long season,” said Jones, who made a crucial tackle on a third down to end the Bengals’ only possession of overtime, leading to a punt and setting up the game-winning field goal.
“This is just one game. I expect to continue to do that throughout this season.”
King (No. 33 overall) and Jones (No. 61 overall) were both taken in the first round by a Packers team that clearly needed to upgrade the defensive personnel, particularly in the secondary.
With veteran cornerback Davon House (quadriceps) not playing Sunday, and with third-year corners Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins each having struggled the previous week against Atlanta, defensive coordinator Dom Capers gave King the task of covering Bengals six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.
Although Green did catch 10 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown — the 10-yard TD, however, came against zone coverage, not against King — his longest reception went for 20 yards.
Given the kind of game-changing plays the Packers secondary has had a penchant for giving up against top receivers, keeping Green from breaking the game open was an accomplishment. King figures to start again on Thursday night against Chicago, even if House is cleared to play.
“I think I did well. I think I did well,” King said. “Like every game we just want to improve. It’s a quick turnaround on Thursday. Good plays, bad plays, you’ve got to move on to the next.”
- Titans showing signs of growing up with best start since 2013- Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker smothered the ball on the onside kick attempt inside the final two minutes.
And then the Titans were set up to punt with 11 seconds left on the clock. But the Seahawks were penalized for having 12 men on the field. And when the final flag flew, the Titans celebrated by signaling the game-clinching first down.
Not too long ago, the Titans botched those crucial plays while finding new ways to lose as one of the NFL’s worst teams. Now they are showing signs they have learned how to make the plays that finish off victories.
Call it a sign of growing up.
“I think we have,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. “It’s been a pretty good schedule here these first three weeks, and it’s just going to continue on. They’re competing, they’re not intimidated by anybody, and I think that says a little bit about the maturity.”
The Titans finished last season 9-7, a six-win improvement from going 3-13 in 2015 to pick up the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
General manager Jon Robinson flipped that selection into a handful of other players , and Mularkey has tried to mold the Titans into a physical group that competes hard every minute.
The combination has the Titans off to a 2-1 start and atop the AFC South. It’s the franchise’s best start since opening 3-1 in 2013, though that squad finished 7-9 with coach Mike Munchak fired at the end of the season.
The Titans are doing it in the “exotic smash-mouth” approach Mularkey wants too. They rank second in the NFL averaging 156.3 yards rushing after running all over Jacksonville in a 37-16 win in Week 2 followed by 195 more in a 33-27 win over Seattle . They also have allowed quarterback Marcus Mariota to be sacked only twice this season.
“That’s our smash-mouth football,” right tackle Jack Conklin said. “The first half, we are trying to break teams down, trying to wear them down. That’s what we did last week. We came out here, and that is what our plan was for this week and we were able to carry it out and stay physical the whole time.”
Credit Mariota with perhaps the biggest growth. Mularkey said Monday the third-year quarterback managed to get the Seahawks, better known as the “Legion of Boom” on defense, to jump five times.
Frank Clark jumped offside, and the Titans took advantage with Mariota’s screen pass to Rishard Matthews. The receiver finished off a 55-yard TDthat put Tennessee ahead to stay.
The added bonus came with the Seahawks not managing even one hit or sack on Mariota.
“Not only do you get obviously the penalties, but you also get them to a point, how aggressive do they want to come off the ball based on the cadence,” Mularkey said.
Mularkey also said Mariota helped coaches get their receivers to run better routes after a struggling start on eight of the Titans’ first 12 plays.
The Titans face their next test Sunday when they visit Houston (1-2), the two-time defending AFC South champs, in the first of a two-game road swing.
Mariota said the Titans are expecting to win games now thanks to the culture Mularkey and Robinson have built.
“As we continue to get better, that’s the expectation and the standard,” Mariota said. “We’ll find ways to improve and always get better.”
- Houston’s Watson impresses in 2nd NFL start–
The Texans couldn’t close out their game against New England, but Houston is encouraged by the marked improvement of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson in his second NFL start.
Watson threw for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and ran for 41 yards in Houston’s 36-33 loss to New England on Sunday.
“Each rep, each snap I take in practice, meetings on the game field is always a rep I try to get better at and try to get some experience,” he said. “Just continue that each and every week.”
Watson started the season backing up Tom Savage, but took over at halftime of Houston’s season opener when Savage struggled against the Jaguars.
The 12th overall pick in the draft has looked increasingly comfortable leading the offense as he’s gained more experience.
“He does a lot of things well for a young player,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s a very smart player. It would be hard for me to tell you he did this thing better than others. The key for Deshaun is now building on it.”
He’ll have a chance to do that on Sunday as the Texans (1-2) return to AFC South play when they host Tennessee (2-1) in the first of three straight home games.
O’Brien has been impressed with Watson’s ability to adjust quickly when problems arise and that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice.
“His first two starts on the road, he’s played pretty well,” O’Brien said. “So now it’s, OK, what do I need to do to get ready for another really good team, obviously, and a new defense and a Dick LeBeau-designed defense — which is something he’s never seen before. So, he just needs to take each week as a new week and a new challenge.”
Watson is the most mobile quarterback the Texans have ever had, and his teammates rave about his ability to extend plays with his feet.
That skill was on display in Sunday’s game when he evaded four tackles before launching a 31-yard pass to D’Onta Foreman in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a guy that can create plays,” Foreman said. “I’ve seen him step out of three, four tackles and still get the ball off. To me that’s amazing just to be a rookie and be able to step in and throw like that. It’s been fun playing with him.”
Another impressive quality about the 22-year-old quarterback has been the confidence he’s shown since the moment he stepped on the field in the third quarter of Houston’s opener.
He continued to show the same unflappable nature that was on display last season when he led Clemson to a national title.
“His poise is wonderful,” said Foreman, a fellow rookie. “I never can tell if he’s nervous or not. He just goes out there and plays hard every down. So I definitely respect that.”
Watson said he’s been confident all his life and that he isn’t going to change simply because he’s now playing against the best football players in the world.
“You can’t have (any) doubt when you step on the field at this level,” he said.
This week he and the Texans could get a boost with the possible return of speedy receiver Will Fuller. The second-year player, who was a first-round draft pick, has missed the first three games after breaking his collarbone early in training camp.
“I think that’ll be something that we’ll see starting on Wednesday, but I’m hearing some good things,” O’Brien said.
- Bengals’ special season starts 0-3, winless Browns up next–
The 50th season in Bengals history started with banners and on-field honors for some of the franchise’s greatest players. It’s quickly turned into a reminder that the last half of their history has been more frustrating than anything else.
The Bengals remain winless after the Packers rallied for a 27-24 overtime victory at Lambeau Field on Sunday. They’re 0-3 for the 14th time in franchise history, leaving them with long odds of ending their most stubbornly enduring streak.
Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest stretch of postseason futility in league history. The Bengals are 0-3 for the first time since 2008 , when they finished 4-11-1. Odds are they’re not going to be able to pull out of it.
No NFL team has lost its first three games and reached the playoffs since the 1998 Buffalo Bills. The Bengals have never finished with a winning record after losing their first three games. The best they could muster were 8-8 finishes in 1984 and in 2003, Marvin Lewis’ first season as head coach.
Lewis is in the final year of his contract, so this 0-3 carries a lot more weight. There’s a chance to stop the tailspin next week at Cleveland — also 0-3 — before a home game against Buffalo (2-1) and a bye week.
The offense in Green Bay was better under new coordinator Bill Lazor, who took over for the fired Ken Zampese after a 13-9 loss to Houston . A.J. Green caught 10 passes for 111 yards and his first touchdown after getting 10 catches in the first two games combined.
The Bengals scored a touchdown on their first possession, ending a drought of 25 series without getting into the end zone. But they managed only three points in the second half, a familiar problem from last season when they’d have fast starts and accomplish little after halftime.
“Everything is a process,” said Green, who had openly lobbied to get more passes after the 0-2 start. “I feel like we took a step forward.”
The historically bad offense was the main problem in the first two games, while the defense played well overall. In Green Bay, the defense contributed William Jackson III’s interception return for a touchdown that helped the Bengals surge ahead 21-7, but they couldn’t contain Aaron Rodgers when it mattered.
He completed 10 of 12 passes for 71 yards during a 12-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in his touchdown to Jordy Nelson with 17 seconds left, tying it 24-24. Rodgers’ 72-yard completion in overtime set up the winning field goal and got his first career victory in overtime — he’d been 0-7, including the playoffs.
“We should have stopped them,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “This one is going to hurt.”
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is eligible to return after completing a three-game suspension from the NFL for his latest egregious hit. He’s expected to start in Cleveland. Last year, he also served a three-game suspension, started the fourth game and was on the field for 34 of 45 plays during a 22-7 win over the Dolphins.
Bengals players locked arms as a sign of unity during the anthem in Green Bay. Lewis said he was proud of their gesture. He’s not sure whether they’ll do it again in Cleveland.
“I think this (anthem gestures) was something that had gone away and it got brought back to the forefront, for whatever reason,” Lewis said Monday. “This has got to be football, and our state of the union is urgency here, winning football games. And it’s very urgent right now.”
- Giants’ chances of making the playoffs dim after 0-3 start-
The New York Giants have fallen into a deep pit three games into the season, and their chances of getting out are not good.
Only five teams that started the season 0-3 since 1980 have rallied to get to the postseason. The last was Buffalo in 1998. Compounding the Giants’ problem is that they are now 0-2 in the NFC East.
Coach Ben McAdoo on Monday reiterated the Giants’ problems are mostly self-inflicted in discussing their heart-breaking 27-24 loss to the Eagles on a last-second, 61-yard field goal by rookie Jake Elliott.
There were 10 penalties; a dropped touchdown pass by Sterling Shepard; a failed fourth-down run from the 6-inch line; a shoddy run defense; bad tackling; a 28-yard punt with the game on the line; and no running attack.
McAdoo, who last year led the Giants to an 11-5 record and their first playoff berth since the 2011 season, isn’t worrying about missing the playoffs.
“We need to keep fighting through,” said McAdoo, whose team will face the Bucs (1-1) in Tampa on Sunday. “I believe in this team. I believe in the potential of this team. It starts with me and we need to keep fighting to get better and we need to keep fighting to get the win. Got to get that first one.”
After 11 miserable quarters, the offense finally woke up and scored 24 fourth-quarter points with Eli Manning throwing for two touchdowns to Odell Beckham Jr. and one to Shepard . Aldrick Rosas gave New York a 24-21 lead with a 41-yard field goal with 3:08 to play, but Elliott kicked two in the final 51 seconds.
“We just have to get a win. That’s number one,” McAdoo said. “We can’t accomplish going to the playoffs or getting a playoff berth or anything like that this week. All we can focus on is the way we prepare so we can go down and perform well.”
McAdoo refused to say much about the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Beckham following his first touchdown catch. The dynamic receiver, who had nine catches for 79 yards and two TDs, including another one-handed one , was flagged for pretending to urinate like a dog.
“We should be talking about the way he played,” McAdoo said. “He made some great plays in the ballgame yesterday, some tremendous plays, game-changing plays. I’d rather be talking about that than the celebration penalty.”
When asked if the team was embarrassed by Beckham’s actions, the coach said he had given his answer.
McAdoo took the blame for the Giants’ failure to get into the end zone on the fourth-down play from the goal line in the first half. He called a run against a nine-man front and Orleans Darkwa lost a yard.
“I need a better call there,” McAdoo said, noting that his two outside receivers were better targets on the play.
NOTES: DE Olivier Vernon is going to be day to day with an ankle injury. … There was no update on Darkwa’s back injury. … McAdoo refused to comment on an allegation made by an Eagles’ fan that Giants WR Brandon Marshall spit at him during pre-game warmups.