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The Heroes of 2020
Don’t feel bad for the San Francisco 49ers. Having to play their next two home games on the road probably helps them.
Even if they have to borrow the home stadium of one of their division rivals, the Arizona Cardinals.
The Niners are 4-2 on the road this season, and 1-4 at home.
If you missed it on the weekend, public-health officials in Santa Clara County — where the 49ers’ headquarters and home stadium are located, about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco — issued an emergency, pandemic-battling directive that has gone into effect for the next three weeks.
It bans all sports practices and games involving player-to-player contact. That means football, of course.
The Niners were scheduled to play home games at Levi’s Stadium this coming Monday, against Buffalo, and on Sunday, Dec. 13 against Washington.
On Monday the 49ers announced they reached an agreement with the Arizona Cardinals and the NFL to play host to their home games against Buffalo and Washington at State Farm Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, where the Cardinals call home.
“The Cardinals organization, State Farm Stadium and league officials have been supportive and accommodating as we work through the many logistical issues involved in relocating games,” the Niners said in a statement.
Still to be determined by late afternoon Monday is where the 49ers will hold practices until the Santa Clara COVID-19 directive expires at 5 a.m. PST on Monday, Dec. 21.
Another quandary for the club could be that the county’s “mandatory directive” includes the requirement that “persons entering the county” must “quarantine for 14 days upon return from travel of more than 150 miles (242 km).”
Glendale, Ariz., is some 700 km away. So must all 49ers team personnel leave the county — and their families — for the next three weeks? And whether they do or don’t, must they all quarantine for 14 days upon their return? If so, how are they supposed to play their final two regular-season games?
Answers to those questions were still unknown publicly by late Monday afternoon.
The timing of Santa Clara County’s bombshell on Saturday afternoon caught everyone employed by the 49ers off-guard, from ownership on down. They learned literally when everyone was boarding their flight to Los Angeles.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan still didn’t sound happy about it following Sunday’s win over the Rams, when asked where the team would practise and play through Dec. 20.
“You guys want to know the answer. So do our wives, so does everyone who knows us,” Shanahan said. “We’re working our tails off to try to figure it out.
“For all our players and coaches and everyone on that plane — and our wives — to find that out while we’re getting on a plane, and no one to tell us, it was just extremely disappointing … We can handle anything, and we understand how big of a deal this virus is …
“But to find that out through a tweet or a press conference, where I have an entire plane coming up to me, I have all wives, everyone’s girlfriends, everyone’s family members, kids, saying what they heard … ‘Are we going to be gone for the entire month of December? Are we going to be quarantined for 14 days when we get back?’ That’s all we could talk about for the last 18 hours.”
Meantime, latest reports by late afternoon Monday said Tuesday night’s twice-delayed Baltimore at Pittsburgh game was still a go, at 8 p.m. EST (CTV2 and TSN4, via NBC). This, even though reports said yet another Ravens player had tested positive Monday for the coronavirus.
Elsewhere, the Denver Broncos’ coronavirus test results Monday morning all came back negative. The team’s three quarterbacks parked Saturday on COVID-19/reserve — Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles — tested negative Monday, along with the rest of the team.
All three were in quarantine Sunday and unable to play against the New Orleans Saints. The Broncos’ emergency QB, practice-squad wide receiver Kendall Hilton, took most of the snaps with only a few hours of preparation. New Orleans won 31-3.
The still-quarantined trio might be punished further for breaching protocols late last week, head coach Vic Fangio said Monday.
All NFL teams but Monday-night combatants Seattle and Philadelphia, plus the Ravens and Steelers, were ordered by the league on Saturday to work remotely this week until Wednesday, to try to stem the coronavirus tide. More than 40 players last week were parked on COVID-19/reserve, either for contracting the virus or as a high-risk close contact of someone who had.
FIVE FAST FACTS
Since Oct. 18 Cam Newton has thrown two TDs, seven picks … Since Oct. 18 Patrick Mahomes has thrown 17 TDs, one pick … The NFL’s TD-reception leaders since 2014 both play on the Bucs: Antonio Brown (60) and Mike Evans (59) … Andy Reid’s Chiefs teams have had at least a five-game win streak every season since he took over in 2013 … Philip Rivers has attempted 391 passes, and Mitchell Trubisky has attempted 259 fewer passes, yet both have been sacked 10 times.
Embattled Chicago head coach Matt Nagy on Monday said his team’s 41-25 loss at Green Bay on Sunday night “was flat-out embarrassing (and) ridiculous and can’t happen. And that obviously starts with me.” Correct … Nagy would not definitively say QB Mitchell Trubisky would start this week … Las Vegas RB Josh Jacobs suffered an ankle sprain at Atlanta but NFL Network said it doesn’t look serious … New York Giants QB Daniel Jones has an “outside” chance of playing this week as his hamstring pull isn’t as bad as feared, NFL Network said … New York Jets QB Sam Darnold will remain starter … Cleveland DE Myles Garrett should come off COVID-19/reserve by Wednesday … Miami’s rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa is day-to-day with his throwing-thumb injury … This coming Sunday’s Green Bay at Detroit game has moved from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. EST.
DEAL WITH IT
If he wasn’t before, fourth-year Los Angeles head coach Anthony Lynn for sure is on the hot seat now.
He has a rookie quarterback, Justin Herbert, playing about as well as any rookie quarterback has ever played through 10 starts, and at a near-elite level by any barometer.
Yet Lynn’s Chargers are 2-8 with Herbert (and 3-8 on the season), almost weekly coming up with new, dumb ways to lose that aren’t Herbert’s fault. Sunday’s game at Buffalo was there for the taking, but the Chargers somehow lost by double digits, 27-17.
Lynn yet again combined a rare penchant for horrible clock management with joke-worthy clutch-time play-calling. Look up the last minute of this game for the shocking proof.
Lynn’s Chargers since are 29-31 (.483) since he got the job in 2017.
Speculation is ramping up that former San Francisco 49ers head coach and seemingly doomed University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh — whose Wolverines are 2-4 and in danger of losing every home game for the first time in UM’s 141-season history — would be a top candidate to replace Lynn.
Some think John’s younger brother would be the leading candidate, and regardless might soon be targeted by the Bears and Jets.
Harbaugh got to know the Chargers-owning Spanos family when he finished his 14-year NFL quarterbacking career in San Diego, 1999-2000, and further when he coached the University of San Diego from 2004-06.
That’s speculation, for now. Clarity should emerge by the Holidays.
TAKING A KNEE
If the timing sounds odd of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ firing of GM Dave Caldwell on Sunday night — and it does — consider this.
The move creates the fourth GM vacancy this season, after Houston fired Bill O’Brien on Oct. 5, Atlanta fired Thomas Dimitroff Jr. on Oct. 11, and Detroit fired Bob Quinn on Saturday.
Perhaps behind the scenes the race already is on for the top candidates, and the Jaguars didn’t want to be left behind — or at least start their search late. News often gets out when a club starts inquiring about candidates, and to do so before firing your current GM would be a bad look. That concern is gone.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan said in a statement: “Dave was exceptionally committed and determined to bring a winner to Jacksonville, but unfortunately his efforts were not rewarded with the results our fans deserve, and our organization expects. Our football operation needs new leadership.”
Almost certainly, too, it will get a new head coach. Doug Marrone is doomed, even though his team has been competitive in most losses, and even though Khan announced Monday that Marrone and his staff won’t be let go before regular season’s end.
That’s one short stay of execution.
But there is hope for Jaguars fans, so long as their 1-10 team keeps losing, so as to finish either dead last or second last in the overall standings, depending on how the 0-11 New York Jets fare down the stretch.
That hope will come next April, on the first night of the NFL Draft, when the Jags almost surely will select one of two top quarterback prospects coming out of the college ranks: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
Up-and-down Vikings have a playoff pulse
Don’t discount the Minnesota Vikings from reaching the playoffs again.
Since starting 0-3 and 1-5, Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have won four of five. They’re now 5-6.
And with three of their last five opponents being Jacksonville, Chicago and Detroit, their post-season hopes might rest on how they fare against Tampa Bay on Dec. 13 and New Orleans on Christmas Day.
“We’ve still got a lot of football left to play,” Zimmer said.
NFL finalizes Boxing Day tripleheader
The NFL on Monday firmed up its Christmas weekend schedule.
Since April, five matchups had been under consideration for three time slots on Boxing Day — Saturday, Dec. 26. The league has settled on Tampa Bay at Detroit (1 p.m. EST), San Francisco at Arizona (4:30 p.m. EST) and Miami at Las Vegas (8:15 p.m. EST).
Don’t complain. You didn’t want to go out shopping anyway.
The two rejected matchups — Denver at Los Angeles Chargers, and Cleveland at New York Jets — are punted forward to Sunday, Dec. 27 to join nine other matchups, including the delicious Tennessee at Green Bay prime-timer.
The first game that weekend, to kick off Week 16, is Minnesota at New Orleans on Christmas Day — Friday, Dec. 25. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. EST.
All 32 starting QBs, after Sunday games, with last week’s rankings in brackets:
- Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (1). 30 TD passes, 2 INTs.
- Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (2). 33 TD passes, 4 INTs.
- Russell Wilson, Seattle (3). Played Monday night.
- Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (4). Plays Tuesday night.
- Deshaun Watson, Houston (12). OK. I believe. Elite again.
- Tom Brady, Tampa Bay (5). Awful starts a disturbing trend.
- Josh Allen, Buffalo (6). Quiet day but blunder-free. That’s OK.
- Justin Herbert, LA Chargers (10). What more can the kid do?
- Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee (13). How Jared Goff should play.
- Philip Rivers, Indianapolis (9). Kept pace with Titans for a bit.
- Derek Carr, Las Vegas (7). Just when you think he’s arrived.
- Kyler Murray, Arizona (8). When he can’t run, he’s limited.
- Matt Ryan, Atlanta (14). So, so much better with a lead.
- Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina (NR). Nearly got his revenge.
- Jared Goff, LA Rams (11). Can’t. Stop. Turning. It. Over.
- Matthew Stafford, Detroit (15). His last month in Detroit?
- Lamar Jackson, Baltimore (16). He’s on COVID-19/reserve.
- Baker Mayfield, Cleveland (18). Did enough. Barely. At Jax.
- Kirk Cousins, Minnesota (19). Most. Enigmatic. QB. Ever.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami (NR). Reliably gets the win as temp.
- Cam Newton, New England (20). No TD passes. Yet again.
- Alex Smith, Washington (25). Thanksgiving W all gravy.
- Carson Wentz, Philadelphia (23). Played Monday night.
- Daniel Jones, NY Giants (24). Bum hammy sidelining him?
- Andy Dalton, Dallas (26). So much is misfiring on this team.
- Drew Lock, Denver (28). Didn’t play; on COVID-19/reserve.
- Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago (NR). And that’ll do it.
- Nick Mullens, San Fran (27). Those floaters are scary.
- Mike Glennon, Jacksonville (NR). Not bad. Blew off cobwebs.
- Sam Darnold, NY Jets (NR). Broken, perhaps beyond repair.
- Brandon Allen, Cincinnati (NR). As good as one could expect.
- Taysom Hill, New Orleans (32). Disagree with this? Too bad.
Quick thoughts on Week 13 games. All on Sunday except where noted. Because of a pandemic-caused shuffle, there is no Thursday game but two Monday-nighters:
- Saints at Falcons , 1 ET: Saints defence will have to shut down the Falcons attack like two weeks ago to win.
- Lions at Bears , 1 ET: Two bad NFC North teams looking for a new head coach, if only one officially.
- Colts at Texans , 1 ET: Interesting matchup. Deshaun Watson and Texans offence is red hot; Colts pass D still fab.
- Bengals at Dolphins 1 ET: So much for Joe vs. Tua. Can you dig Brandon Allen vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick? Me either.
- Jaguars at Vikings , 1 ET: Mike Glennon probably gets the start again at QB for the GM-less Jaguars.
- Raiders at Jets , 1 ET: Jeepers, who know’s what to expect from the Raiders now. Even vs. the Owen Elevens.
- WashingtonFT at Steelers , 1 ET: Washington’s league-best pass defence will be a test for Big Ben and crew.
- Browns at Titans , 1 ET: There will be running. And more running. Tannehill vs. Mayfield the difference.
- Rams at Cardinals , 4:05 ET: Kyler Murray’s funk unlikely to be solved against Aaron Donald and crew.
- Giants at Seahawks , 4:05 ET: Looks like it’ll be Colt McCoy starting for New York at QB. In Seattle? Nope.
- Eagles at Packers , 4:25 ET: Short turnaround for Philly, while Green Bay’s pass rushers lick their chops.
- Patriots at Chargers , 4:25 ET: Rookie QB vs. Bill Belichick? We know how that ends. But Justin Herbert is special.
- Broncos at Chiefs , 8:20 ET: Even presuming Denver can play an actual QB this week, expect another K.C. romp.
- Cowboys at Ravens , Monday, 5 ET: Rescheduled from Thursday. Can Lamar Jackson even play? If not, coin flip.
- Bills at 49ers , Monday, 8:15 ET: Buffalo returns to Glendale stadium where it lost on the ‘Hail Murray’ two weeks ago.
BYES: Buccaneers, Panthers. Last ones.
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