How a Rolex helped keep the Los Angeles Rams perfect

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LOS ANGELES — When you’re undefeated, you need some luck along the way. The Rams’ luck Sunday was Ty Montgomery, two yards deep in the end zone, choosing to run the ball out—instead of giving the ball to one of the best quarterbacks ever at his 25 with two minutes left, needing just a field goal to win. Montgomery fumbled. Rams recovered. Wisconsin threw a brick through its collective TV set. Game over.

But that’s too simple. This game was actually a vivid illustration why the Rams, at 8-0, sit atop the NFL mountain approaching the midpoint of the NFL’s 99th season. They will have contenders to the throne, contenders from New England and Kansas City and rising New Orleans (8-0 Rams at 6-1 Saints, next Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET), and maybe even from Minnesota, Carolina, Washington or down the street; the Chargers seem pesky. It’s a good illustration because of Todd Gurley, the friendly guy with the long dreads and skinny wire-framed glasses, who does everything right and fits in on a team with a smart young coach and unassuming young quarterback and a team that plays complementary football.

One tight game, two exemplary plays.

I always look for the plays that explain precisely why teams are what they are, and I found two in the Rams’ locker room after the 29-27 victory.

One: Todd Gurley’s 30-yard touchdown reception in the middle of the third quarter, which looked so ridiculously easy. How does the best back in football, the legit MVP candidate, go untouched out of the backfield, go untouched on a crossing route, and go untouched running all the way for a touchdown?

Two: The “Rolex Play,” Gurley’s 17-yard run with 65 seconds left, the one when he just stopped running and went down at the 4-yard line, much to the chagrin of Vegas and fantasy fiends alike. You’ve got to hear the Rolex story.

So … were you watching Sunday? What a tremendous game in a tremendous setting, the 95-year-old Coliseum with the classic peristyles, with a quarterback certain to go down in history waiting for one more shot to win that never came. And the atmosphere. When the Packers came out of the ancient tunnel where so many of the greats in football history have entered, it sounded like Lambeau West—truly, maybe louder than if this game had been at Lambeau Field. “I didn’t really expect that in L.A., but that crowd was fantastic,” Aaron Rodgers said. Sometimes, you’re witnessing an event that’s just different—and this was just different, and great. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see another classic Rodgers late drive, but that’s football. The dumb Montgomery play—it happens.

But that should not obscure what else we saw in the 29-27 L.A. victory. Namely this: The Rams are not going anywhere. They survived Sunday, but every great team has to survive on days when it’s not at its best, or when the foe is really good. Look back at every champion, and you’ll see a shaky win or two. There is no shame in edging Aaron Rodgers instead of dominating him.

On Sunday, two plays taught us so much about this team. A touchdown and an oddity. Understand those, and you go a long way toward understanding this team.

As the NFL reaches its midpoint, the 8-0 Rams and 7-1 Chiefs are the headliners. They meet three weeks from tonight, in Mexico City. We’ll have time to blow out that story.

First, two plays. I want you to understand the Los Angeles Rams.

The Gurley Touchdown

The Rams have a jillion weapons in the passing game. Gurley is third in targets. Often, he feels first. He’s so good out of the backfield that coach Sean McVay tries to get him the ball in space three or four times a game, and he uses the legal picks that so many teams use. When they work, they’re things of beauty. When they don’t, the ball might be incomplete, or the back might get waylaid coming out of the backfield.

“The key is Higbee,” Gurley told me at his locker after the game. That’s Tyler Higbee, the Rams’ Bavaro-like 255-pound tight end. “Higbee’s a beast.”

On this play, Gurley is split left in the slot, and he runs out just past the line, then does a crosser to the right. The Packers’ precocious inside linebacker, Blake Martinez, spies Gurley and makes a beeline for him. But here comes Higbee. All he wants to do is “accidentally” knock the Gurley cover guy off his course. Higbee puts an “accidental” shoulder into Martinez, and suddenly, Gurley is wide open. Martinez, who would have been hopelessly behind Gurley, now covers Higbee, hoping one of his mates sees the legal pick play.

Somebody get Gurley!

Nobody got Gurley.

McVay, afterward, didn’t want to give away the store, but he did tell me, “That was by design.” Of course it was. So many things the Rams do are by design, ghost-like maneuvers you don’t see clearly but when they’re over, you wonder, “How’d that happen?”

At his locker, Gurley was almost sheepish about it, like his coach. “Their guy [Martinez] was off me a little bit,” Gurley said. “My job is just be patient and then go across, come underneath him. It was wide open. We were practicing this play for probably a month.”

“A month?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Never called it once. Not in a game. Just in practice. In practice, our guys haven’t been able to pick it up, not one time in practice. We’re like, ‘Yeah, this is gonna work.’ “

“You mean the pick part of it?” I said.

“Yup,” he said. “It’s a natural pick. Higbee’s the best. He’s one of the best shift blockers in the league. He does a lot of great stuff that gets unnoticed on this team. He’s our sixth offensive lineman and he’s always doing great job in play action passes, everything. His work does not go unnoticed by his teammates—tell you that.”

The team, the team, the team.

The Rolex Play

So we shouldn’t go crazy in praising a player for getting down in-bounds and giving up a touchdown for the good of the team, when the clock can be run out. We won’t. But it’s worth pointing out because it illustrates a lot about how symphonic this team is, and how the players and coaches listen and learn.

In training camp, McVay works on special plays. Odd plays, plays that might come up once a year or maybe once in 10 years. Or never. In camp, McVay and the staff worked on the play they christened the “Rolex Play.” Meaning this, as McVay told me: “Time is more important than the points. Time means everything there.”

It’s part of the McVay program. Each week, the special teams coach, John Fassel (the ultra-slim man’s nickname is “Bones”), gathers plays from around the league—either good ideas on weird plays, or plays teams messed up by simply not using common sense. “Bones has a meeting every week where we compile situations, try to educate ourselves as coaches and our players on, If this happens, how do we handle it? Rolex was one of those. In Rolex, if we got a first down there, that was one of those get-down-in-bounds situations. As long as we hang onto the ball, they can’t score. But we score, then they get the ball back.”

In the huddle, on third-and-10 with 65 seconds to play, multiple guys said one of three things: “Rolex,” “Get down,” and “Don’t score.” That, as guard Rodger Saffold told me, is a group of players who understand what’s required there, all thinking in unison. Again: It’s not stunningly smart. It’s just sensible, and shows the how unified and well-drilled the team is.

So McVay called the power sweep, pitched to Gurley. Classic power football. And it worked. From the 21, Gurley broke through the line and sprinted toward the goal line. “I could have walked into the end zone,” Gurley said. “But we talked in the huddle about being situationally aware and just getting down and winning the game.”

It almost looked like the Green Bay defensive back, vet Tramon Williams, tried to lift up Gurley and keep him going. Strange, unless you understand the story.

“They want the ball in 12’s hands, of course,” Gurley said. Aaron Rodgers, he means.

A Jared Goff kneeldown, and game over.

I said to Gurley: “You realize every fantasy player who has you on their team is screaming, “Score! Score!”

Players, many of them, hate the fantasy football pollution on the game. Gurley gave me a little bit of a snide look. He said: “They should be happy about all the performances I gave them in the weeks before. They need to be humbled as well.”

So there.

“Lots to like about today,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Honestly, this game showed a lot about how we’re about team and family before it’s about anything. The most special things the Rams have going on offensively is that some of their best players are really some of the most special people. Jared and Todd. Really, two special human beings as far as their humbleness, their attitudes, really just the way they come in every single day to work as hard as anybody else if not harder. We’re in good hands with those guys.”

They’re in good hands, period. “Teams are testing us now, trying to figure out what to do to beat us, and they’ve got a lot of film to do that,” Whitworth said. “It’s a test for us, but …”

He trailed off. I can complete the sentence.

But they’re passing the test.

Read the rest of Peter King’s Football Morning in America here

Why the New York Jets deserve the controversy, dysfunction surrounding them

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1. I think the Jets architecture job is not the one to take if you want to run a franchise, Peyton Manning. To be charitable, the Jets are not close to contention.

2. I think I won’t be the first to use this rationale for my opinion about what happened when Mike Maccagnan got dismissed the other day as Jets GM, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me: The Jets truly deserve this controversy. A few points:

• I have no sympathy for Maccagnan, who lorded over a 14-35 team since New Year’s Day 2016. Only Cleveland and San Francisco have won fewer games since then. But by my math, Maccagnan just spent $235 million in free agency this offseason, a gargantuan sum. He just had the keys to the draft and, apparently with minimal input from the head coach, made Quinnen Williams the third overall pick in the draft. He was fired 19 days after the draft. What owner in his right mind allows a GM he figures he may well fire run a crucial off-season? Christopher Johnson, that’s who.

• Adam Gase is going to have a major say on who becomes the next GM of the Jets. Gase was 23-26 in his three-year stint coaching the Dolphins, and, though the quarterback position was plagued by injuries while he was there, he’s supposed to be a quarterback guru, and the Dolphins, again, are starting from scratch at the position after firing Gase four-and-a-half months ago. I like Gase well enough. But what exactly has he done, first, to earn a head-coaching job after his three years in Miami … and, second, to play a significant role in picking the architect of the new Jets?

• I assume the reports of Gase not wanting Le’Veon Bell for $13.5 million a year are true. (I don’t blame him.) But the leaks in that building are never-ending, and in this case, the leaks could drive a wedge between a guy who doesn’t seem very happy to be a Jet in the first place, Bell, and the guy who’s going to be calling his number this fall. Gase better figure a way to tamp that down. I don’t know if he can.

• How do you have faith in the Jets to get this GM thing right now? And what smart GM-candidate type (Joe Douglas or Louis Riddick or Daniel Jeremiah) would want to take his one shot—because most GMs get one shot at running a team—working for Christopher Johnson?

• If I were Mike Greenberg, I’d be burying my head in my hands this morning, wondering why oh why did I get stuck loving this franchise? How can season-ticket-holders send in their money this year thinking they’re going to see the turnaround season of a team that’s won 5, 5, and 4 games the past three years?

• Sam Darnold doesn’t coach.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

The lessons Chris Long learned from playing with Patriots, Eagles, Rams

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Chris Long, who retired over the weekend after an 11-year NFL career that ended with two Super Bowl rings (in 2016 with New England and 2017 with Philadelphia), and an NFL Man of the Year Award (in 2018) for his work in U.S. social justice and building fresh-water wells for thousands in Africa, on the lessons he takes with him into retirement:

“I learned to never make a decision based on just one thing. The decision to retire was complicated. It was based on health, which is still very good, and family, we have two small children, and football fit, which includes a chance to win and my role and geography. Philadelphia is where I wanted to play a couple more years. I love Philadelphia. But as a player I learned the most important thing to me is Sunday, and having a chance to be a big part of it. It seemed like player-coach was kind of the role that was going to be carved out for me—maybe playing 10, 12, 15 plays a game. I’m a rhythm player. I need to set people up, I need to be in the flow of the game. If I sit on the bench for three series, I can’t get rhythm, and I’ll get cold and maybe I’ll hurt myself. Some people think that’s great—play less and you won’t get hurt. Man, I want to play ball. In Philadelphia, it didn’t seem there was much of a chance to compete there. But they were honest with me the whole time. I appreciate the honesty. I’ll always love Philadelphia and the Eagles, but I didn’t want Week 4, 5, to come around and people think, Whoa, where’s Chris? Did Chris retire? I’d rather do it this way than just fade out. And I didn’t want to start over again across the country somewhere.

“I learned so much in my career. Getting drafted second overall, and going to St. Louis, and the fact that we were losing, I just thought, I am not gonna fold. I am not a loser. I am gonna be a bright spot. I am gonna give these fans, who I deeply appreciate for their dedication, the respect they deserve . Anyone playing in that era in St. Louis knows how bad it was at times. It was carnage, in so many ways. It was a test of my will. Do I get irritated by the no-Pro Bowl thing, never making a Pro Bowl? Yeah, I do. Fifty sacks in the first six years, with no one watching, on a bad team. I just felt the narrative should be, That kid panned out. But that’s okay—it was a labor of love. I have zero regrets.

“In New England, I learned so much about football. I always thought I was a smart player, even though I never thought about anything but the six inches in front of my face. In New England, I was forced to learn so many schematic concepts. In my career playing football, nobody asked me to do as much as Bill Belichick did. I might be 3-technique, or a linebacker, or a linebacker dropping into coverage more than ever, or playing inside more than ever. I’ll always remember how much I learned watching Bill in practice. He can coach any position as good as any position coach in league. He can walk around the field and stop drills and coach each position—at the highest level. And the quality of the dudes. Solid men. The right kind of people.

“Tom Brady blew me away. Who’s the most famous athlete of our generation: Tom Brady? LeBron? Messi? Ronaldo? Serena Williams? Maybe I haven’t been around enough to know how the biggest stars really act. But Brady is a normal guy. When I got there, here comes Tom. ‘Hey Chris, I’m Tom, nice to meet you.’ Well, yeah, I know you’re Tom. A lot of people want to hate him for all the success, and I understand how you can dislike the Patriots, but I cannot understand how you can dislike Tom.

“That Super Bowl against Atlanta … when we were way behind, I’m thinking, ‘I waited my whole life to be here, and this is a nightmare. This is the worst nightmare I have ever had.’ If we lost that night, I very possibly would have retired a bitter man. But winning it breathed life into me.

“Going to Philadelphia, I felt I found a home. Best sports city in America. But how different my situation was. I went from team captain with the Rams two years before that to winning the Super Bowl in New England to starting on the bottom in Philly. I was an average Joe. I was challenged. I learned how much being a team, being together, really means. We were a case study for whatever you believe. Either we were an anomaly or we proved you could do good things and win in pro sports. We happened to have guys who were good players who cared. I remember winning a Monday Night Football game, falling asleep at 4 or 5 o’clock, and waking up for a train to Harrisburg to work with state legislators on policies. It just showed how much we could make changes in things that matter, and play really good football too. You can be a football player and a citizen. It’s gratifying when young players come up and say they’re inspired to do more because of things that Malcolm Jenkins or Torrey Smith have done, or me.

“I’ve always tried to be me first and a football player second. When I came into football, I didn’t want to be this piece of wreckage who couldn’t move or have a normal life. But I learned you can’t predict the future. I thought I’d play eight years. I thought I’d retire at 30. But I played 11, and now I’m 34.

“NFL Man of the Year … I never felt deserving of it. I am not the best person in the NFL. I never want to get up there promoting myself as some infallible person. I was very honored. But I was also conflicted that people saw me as this community service guy, not a player. Nobody saw me as the player I was in my prime. I don’t want to be known as Community Service Guy; I want to be known as a guy who busted his ass for 11 years at his craft. But I do appreciate the fact that people saw that I played for free for one year, that I was part of a group that built 61 wells for people to get fresh water in Africa, and that we’ve got 220,000 people drinking from our wells. I will not downplay that stuff. But I am not some angel, believe me. I don’t have a brand. My brand is me.

“Retirement is interesting. It is something I feared for a long time. It is an existential crisis. I’ve been doing something since high school, working toward a goal. I fantasize about crossing the threshold, but at the same time it’s something you can be deathly afraid of.

“I am excited about the next phase of life. I’m launching a digital media company. I will have my own pod. I’m just excited about being able to control the narrative. I like to create. Maybe I’ll work at a network. Whatever I do, I’ll be me.”

Read more from Football Morning in America here