NFL Observations

The good, bad and ugly from the NFL this weekend

Aaron Rodgers finally matched up with Tom Brady. It did not go well. Getty Images

Week 9 of the NFL was highlighted by several key matchups. Some decided conference supremacy, while others were clashes of quarterback titans. Here’s how I saw it all go down:

The Good

-In what was billed as the two G.O.A.T.s, Tom Brady’s Patriots bested Aaron Rodgers’ Packers 31-17 Sunday night. It’s not often that we get to see two of the very best duel in prime time. It reminded me of the September 20, 1993 Monday Night Football game between the Chiefs and Broncos that pit Joe Montana against John Elway. I watched that game on a TV my parents plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car as we drove back to Atlanta.   

-So much is made of older quarterbacks like Brady, Rodgers, and Drew Brees that we tend to sleep on what Philip Rivers is doing with the Chargers. He now has 19 touchdowns, only three interceptions with a 69.1 completion percentage on the season. He only completed 50% of his passes in the win against the Seahawks Sunday, but his two touchdowns made up for it.

- Much has been made of Chief’s quarterback Pat Mahomes and his historic start. I truly think it is Kareem Hunt that provides so much versatility to that offense. The 141 total yards from scrimmage on 18 touches and three touchdowns in their 37-21 win over the Browns proves my point.

The Bad

-The Ravens were 4-2, leading the AFC North and had a feared defense. Since then, they’ve lost three straight by an average of less than eight points per game. No longer are they leading the division, they’re now looking up at the Steelers and Bengals with little to no hope of making the playoffs.

-Jon Gruden continues to play Madden with the Raiders. His latest move was to release veteran pass rusher Bruce Irvin. Irvin was their highest paid remaining defensive player. He’s been seldom used as if he turned into an out of date version of the popular football video game Gruden seems to be replicating in real life. Part of me hopes he can turn the moribund franchise around, but part of me loves the trainwreck.

-Monday Night Football featured two 3-4 teams in the Titans and Cowboys. I know those teams may be popular around Texas given one is located here and the other used to be. But they’re both trash and don’t deserve my attention outside the +6.5 I put on the Titans in the pick ‘em challenge.

The Ugly

-The Redskins lost at home to the Falcons 38-14. They were down at one point, two or three starting offensive lineman. Had they lost one more, defensive tackle Matt Iaonnidis would’ve been thrust into duty. The fact that they had almost twice as many penalty yards (147) as they had rushing (79) is something I don’t recall seeing happen very often...

-…until I saw what the Bills did against the Bears. They managed to actually double their rushing yards (64) with penalty yards (129). I’m imagining this happens more often than what I care to notice. Bad football gives me cooties.

-The Dolphins beat the Jets 13-6 in a game that set football back 30 years. The teams combined for 450 total yards and a collective 5/29 on third down conversions. The only touchdown scored was off a pick six with 11 minutes left in the game. 

Week nine went down as the week the Rams finally lost (’72 dolphins are popping champagne), Brady emerged victorious over Rodgers, the Chiefs machine kept rolling. Dolphins/Jets set a new low for performance, and Monday Night Football rendered itself ineffective. Teams continue to establish their positions as others fall further into irrelevance. Question is: whose built to last and who’s scouting for the draft? 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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