There is something romantic, or maybe maniacal, about a man who comes to work every day, pours his heart and soul into preparing for a game and does so well that he grades off the charts, but loses that game nearly every week and still comes back every Monday for more.
In Greek mythology, a guy named Sisyphus was punished by being forced to roll a gigantic boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back repeatedly, for eternity. That’s Joe Thomas, seemingly. But Thomas didn’t do anything wrong to warrant his boulder.
- ESPN columnist Elizabeth Merrill
Cleveland Browns offensive tackle
From the Birds nest in Seattle down to the Black hole in Oakland over to the house that Jerry built in Texas to the Dog Pound in Cleveland. Down Broad street in Philadelphia up to the bars in New York and Boston. The opening of the NFL regular season is like nothing else in sports. Globally it’s loved and getting more popular by the season but in the United States, NFL Sunday of the opening week is celebrated like a national holiday. On this day, every team is undefeated. Every ball club has so much talent with proven veterans and young players with so much skill and promise. Every franchise has a front office and coaching staff that bleed confidence and believe with little doubt that they have a formula and scheme that will trump every other and that winning the Lombardi trophy is just a matter of executing their plan. Basically, In week one everyone has ”Hope”.
By week six however, the weaker fans will have jumped ship. Some coaches may get fired, those proven veterans are not looking so proven, the young players with skill and promise are looking lost in the schematics or the transition from college to the professional game and most of the front office and coaching staff have started to look for answers in the bottom of a bottle. However. There’s also a flip side to that coin. There will be extra fans on the band wagon for some teams. There will be veterans thriving. There will be young players fitting the scheme and there will be rookies living up to the billing. Some late round picks and free agents will be surprising everyone with their ability in the professional game compared to their time in college and they’ll be out-performing players that were paid millions more than them entering the draft. The NFL is a league and a force unto itself. It’s almost completely unpredictable because of the competition level and the parity throughout the league becomes obvious every season. The term ”Any given Sunday” has meaning because on any given Sunday any team can win and any team can lose. Momentum is vital. It’s a fact that the team with the worse record can beat the team with the best record on any Sunday. The talent level on every team allows this and every game is a true case of who wants it more. That’s the beauty of the NFL.
We have to remember that just because something happened early in the season, it doesn’t mean that it’s the truth. We’ve seen the New England Patriots lose before in week one and go on to win a Superbowl. We’ve seen teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars win big in week one and go on to have a losing season so we have to remember that not everything we see early is actual evidence.
Here are five things that I think is definitive evidence and five truthful facts that I’ve learned over the first few weeks of the NFL season.
1… Whether or not he succeeds or fails, Jared Goff has been given a fighters chance with the Los Angeles Rams. They’ve up-graded their coaching staff with it’s play design and schematics. They’ve given him an above average receiving corps. They have good tight ends and a top flight running back in Todd Gurley and the biggest and most significant move for me was the additions of center John Sullivan and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.
They’ve brought experience and great ability to that offense and having them itself is a massive boost to Goff’s confidence. I don’t feel like he had a fair shot last season but this season I think he does. He grew up in Nevada but played college football in California so he has his home soil and weather. He’s got a division where the San Francisco 49ers are re-building and the Arizona Cardinals are closer to re-building than they may like to be in my opinion. Their pass protection last season was ranked in the top ten but this season it just seems better already. He has legitimate weapons all around him and I truly believe he’s going to set up a special rapport with rookie receiver Cooper Kupp who I think will be in the running for the associated press offensive rookie of the year award. Kupp has a sensational 3 year college career at Eastern Washington. He holds 15 FCS records but the 3 most impressive NCAA records he holds for me are his 428 receptions.
His 6,464 receiving yards and his 73 receiving touchdown records. He has a great offensive mind and this has helped him so much with the transition from college into the NFL. I think he’ll have a 100 reception season and I think he’ll be a 3rd down dynamo.
So that’s the first thing I’ve learned already. I’ve learned that Jared Goff’s success or failure will now fall on his shoulders and not the shoulders of his coaching staff. He can now create his own legacy because he now has a fair shot. A great job this off season by Sean McVay who’s the youngest NFL coach in NFL history at just 30 years old. McVay comes from a great cradle of coaches at Miami of Ohio. The names that he has before him are so legendary. We have Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Weeb Eubank, Sid Gillman, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Jim Tressell, John Harbaugh and Sean Payton. I hope Sean McVay has a great and long career as an NFL head coach and starting so young with a great talent like Goff could be a huge blessing and perhaps we’ll be mentioning his name alongside these legendary Miami of Ohio coaches that’ve come before him.
2… The second thing that was made clear to me over the first few weeks of the season is the greatness of Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas. He’s the epitome of the word ‘ durable’ . In week two Thomas eclipsed 10,000 consecutive snaps. It’s such an incredible record in this day and age and in such a physical position on the front line and in the trenches. I wondered how close that streak came to ending so I looked into it a little.
He’s played through a grade-two LCL tear, three MCL strains, and two high ankle sprains. “In 2012 I got the LCL tear mid-game in the last game of the year, and I was able to hobble through it. If it wasn’t the last game, I might have missed some time.” Thomas said. Drafted in 2007 Thomas has never missed a snap. He’s been to 10 pro bowls and has protected 21 starting Quarterbacks including current rookie starter Deshone Kizer who was in 6th grade when Thomas was drafted. The sad thing for me Sunday was that no one acknowledged his 10,000th straight snap during the game in Baltimore. It happened on a nine-yard Isaiah Crowell run … to the right side, on the fourth offensive play of the game. “We were in the middle of the game,” Thomas said afterward. “It was just a regular play, like so many others. Not like you ignore it, but no one really says anything. It wasn’t ’til later in the game that a couple of guys on the Ravens said something. Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, they both congratulated me on the field.”
The streak came closest to ending on Oct. 12, 2014. Near the end of a rare blowout win over Pittsburgh, the Browns were subbing in backups to rest vets. Earlier in the game, center Alex Mack broke his leg, so there was more motivation to keep everyone else on the line healthy. “Yeah, the famous Vinston Painter incident,” Thomas said, laughing, on Sunday. “I was not hurt, but they sent Vinston in to replace me. I think they were just paranoid after Alex Mack got hurt. But Vinston got out there, and I wasn’t leaving.” By that time—he began to realize the rarity of playing every snap of every game in 2012 or 2013—Thomas knew he was doing something great.
What does it mean? Thomas tries to not overthink this. “I just hope it means I’m a regular guy who gets up every morning and goes to work, and plays as hard as he can, and is a good teammate. I hope that’s what they say about me.” He says so humbly. I think this means certain hall of fame and an absolute calling to legendary status. Probably my favorite offensive lineman of all time alongside Larry Allen of the Dallas Cowboys. That’s the second thing I’ve learned. Joe Thomas is an absolute warrior and one of the most unselfish, professional, toughest and most loyal players the game has ever seen. He deserves a run at the Lombardi trophy but I don’t think it’s going to come in Cleveland. His loyalty may very well be tested to it’s limits when he becomes a free agent in 2019. I’d expect a trade before this except he’s just not that guy. I have so much respect for him.
3… The Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis era is over in Cincinnati. I love Marvin Lewis as a coach and I think he’s an even better person. He took over a chaotic Cincinnati franchise and brought stability to it. He made them legitimate and a force to be reckoned with in every game they played and against anyone they played. They were a laughing stock when he got there and he turned them into contenders in the most physical division in the NFL. He’s made great players of guys like Vontez Burfict and Pacman Jones. Those are two players I don’t think anyone else in the league could’ve had success with. Both himself and his defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had a way of bringing in troubled young guys with talent and making them successful. He has so much success with that Baltimore defense that won a Superbowl in 2001 and came to Cincinnati from there. He’s a great coach but when you start the regular season against a division rival and get shut out, it’s obvious that there hasn’t been much of an improvement in the off-season. It’s so difficult when your starting quarterback is struggling to make NFL type throws. Dalton has flashed goodness from time to time and he’s had a Geno Atkins and Vontez Burfict defense that’s given him the ball to succeed but he just hasn’t got it done. He’s not that mobile. He doesn’t have an exceptional arm and he makes crazy decisions very often. He’s like Eli Manning without a quarter of Eli’s talent and decision making qualities. He’s completely limited when he’s under pressure from a good pass rush and it’s become clear to me that he just can’t get it done in the NFL. He just can’t. I enjoyed watching him at TCU and he’s had a few good NFL moments but overall I’ve just seen enough and I think it’s time to shake things up there in Cincinnati. If Marvin Lewis gets fired then he’ll almost certainly get another NFL head coaching job. He’s absolutely earned that and I think he can have great success. I just think that the Dalton and Lewis era is over in Cincinnati.
4… I’m not saying Andrew Luck is the best Quarterback in the NFL but I will say that he’s the most valuable player in the NFL. JJ Watt is great in Houston but they made the playoffs without him. Tom Brady sat out for the first 4 games of the regular season last year and the Patriots went 3-1 without him. Without Aaron Rogers the Green Bay Packers can win games with Brett Hundley and the roster talent. For me. The Detroit Lions would really suffer without Matthew Stafford but they just have a better roster than the Colts. Andrew Luck has been the glue and duct tape holding this Indianapolis Colts franchise and it’s insecure roster together for the last 5 years. Don’t even ask me how he got them to that AFC championship game. That question is the Bermuda triangle of sports. Nobody can explain it. Stuff just disappears there. Like cornerbacks, linebackers and interior offensive linemen. They actually looked like a Canadian league team with a Canadian like talent level on their roster against the Los Angeles Rams in week 1. Jacoby Brissett steadied the ship a bit in week 2 but they still looked bad. They have a new General manager named Chris Ballard who I think is pretty smart. I’m expecting him to start making some moves as early as week 6. I’m expecting him to fire head coach Chuck Pagano by week 8. I love Chuck Pagano as a defensive coordinator but I don’t like him as a head coach. He’s battled hard through illness and I have all the respect in the world for him but I just don’t think he’s a head coach. There’s something he lacks offensively for me and he just hasn’t done a great job with that defense. It’s nowhere near the group he had in Baltimore. He’s on the hot seat already in my opinion.
Most valuable doesn’t always mean the best in most cases. It means how valuable you are to the team and how different things would be without your presence. It’s obvious to me that they’re lost at sea without him. There is no player more valuable to their team than Andrew Luck is to the Indianapolis Colts. He’s everything to them and they go from zero to contender as soon as he’s in that building.
5… The fifth thing I’ve learned early this season is that Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford is worth every penny, dime and nickel of his $135 million contract. We often forget the situation people inherit in life. Personally I’ll think more of you if you succeed in life after coming from chaos, poverty or any harsh struggle. If you’ve been bullied and had to move home a few times or if you’ve overcome serious injury or illness. It’s the same for me with Quarterbacks in the NFL. Carson Palmer having to win in Cincinnati 15 years ago was impressive to me. Payton Manning winning after the Colts struggled for years was impressive to me and Matthew Stafford doing what he’s done in Detroit after they were the butt of every joke was especially impressive to me. Everybody freaked out when he signed that contract and had that money but I was there in Detroit the year they became contenders finally and everyone knew that it was long term and not just one game. Detroit has been through so much adversity as a team and as a city. We saw the winless season, the retirement of Barry Sanders, the Joey Harrington’s and the revolving door for coaches in the game. In the city we’ve seen the collapse of ford and the motor industry, the empty schools, the violence on the streets and the abandoned buildings that were like palaces to people in the cities prime. Detroit was well and truly on it’s knees and suffering both on and off the field in the worse way. We then saw Matthew Stafford get drafted from Georgia. A kid that went to the same high school as the great Bobby Layne. He was the hope of a franchise and he’s completely delivered. He’s put the franchise back on track. He’s had the help of Calvin Johnson but Johnson’s retired now and when was the last time you thought of a good Detroit running back without thinking of Barry Sanders ? Stafford hasn’t had a solid running game to depend on and he’s hardly had the 85 Bears on the other side of the ball. Matthew Stafford has done almost everything himself. When coach Jim Schwartz came in from the Tennessee Titans I loved the mentality he brought. I thought General manager Martin Mayhew did a fantastic job with the decisions he made. He was the catalyst in many ways. I spoke with defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham the day before they blew out the Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field and he said that they were ready to be great. He was right. You could just feel it the next day. I knew during that game that the tides had changed. We’ve seen Matthew Stafford fight for games. His 4th quarter comebacks and his ability to out will his opponent is amazing. But it all comes down to his ability. You don’t have to like Matthew Stafford if you support another team but you have to respect him and you have to pay what the market says. Whoever signs the newest Quarterback contract was always going to become the highest paid. We defended the Eli Manning and Matt Ryan deals and I think Matt Stafford is more talented than the both of them. He didn’t inherit Tom Coughlin and that Giants defense when he was drafted. He didn’t get Kyle Shanahan and that great Falcons ownership and front office. Matthew Stafford has proved that you don’t have to have multiple playoff wins to have great value in this league and I personally think the guy is worth every dime of the $135 million contract he’s just signed.
So, In review.
*Jared Goff will have a chance.
*Joe Thomas has achieved greatness and is the epitome of durable.
*The Andy Dalton & Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati is over.
*Andrew Luck is the most valuable player in the NFL.
*Matthew Stafford is worth every dime of his $135 contract.