NFL

Players kneel prior to a game between the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders Sept. 24. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.

The saga of the NFL player protests extends further into the abyss. In the most recent development surrounding former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the resulting police brutality protests, several individuals, including NFL owners Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, will be deposed by Kaepernick’s lawyers and asked to turn in their cell phone and email records regarding allegations that the league blackballed Kaepernick, according to The Washington Post.

The request for deposition is simply the latest in a long line of happenings surrounding NFL player protests, started by Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, and the resulting pushback from various NFL owners. With player-owner mistrust growing across the league, a resolution to this complex conflict seems only to stretch further and further out of reach.

According to a Yahoo Sports report, Kaepernick’s legal team intends to target Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, President Donald J. Trump, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL teams the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans. This comes at the tail end of of a long month in the world of NFL protesting.

The rocky road between some NFL players and owners has resulted in several arguments, which will likely continue to until a resolution is reached.

According to a USA Today report, some owners view the protests as business losses, with overall viewership falling to 10 percent since the season began. Television ratings this NFL season have been at their lowest in a few years. During the first three weeks of the 2016 season, 17.6 million people tuned in to watch games, but only 15.8 million have done so during the same time span in 2017. Some owners suggest that anthem protests are to blame, but there is little concrete evidence to support this claim. Some viewers have turned away from the NFL in solidarity with Kaepernick, though others have tuned out due to moral reasons concerning player safety in light of evidence that the hits football players endure each game can cause severe, long-term health effects.

Players involved in the anthem protests see the demonstrations as a way to bring awareness to racial problems in the United States. With players showing support for Kaepernick, and owners like Jones threatening to suspend players who protest, the relationship between NFL executives, owners and players is reaching dangerously high-levels of instability. With Kaepernick’s legal battle looming, it’s likely that owner-player relations will only grow worse in the interim.

In an Oct. 17 meeting, NFL owners met with players to find common ground on the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem. League executives attempted to acknowledge that they understood the social justice issues driving players’ protests, and it appeared that plans were in place to reach a mutual understanding about the protests.

However, just one day following this reportedly productive meeting, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair made the comment that “We can’t have the inmates running the prison” in regards to player protests, according to an ESPN Outside the Lines report.

McNair’s comment sparked criticism from some NFL players and sports commentators.

Showing true colors allows [people] to see you for who you are,” Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman wrote in a series of tweets Oct. 27.I wish more [people] would do that. So the world could ostracize those who don’t want to see EQUALITY. Otherwise they will continue to hide.”

McNair later apologized and attempted to clarify the true intentions of his remark.

“I regret that I used that expression,” McNair said in an Oct. 27 Houston Texans press release. “I never meant to offend anyone and I was not referring to our players. I used a figure of speech that was never intended to be taken literally. I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.”

However, some Texans players were not satisfied with McNair’s response and planned to walk out of practice Oct. 27. Ten players left, but most of them returned after the coaching staff persuaded them to come back. Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins did not.

“I think the comments were disrespectful, I think it was ignorant, I think it was embarrassing,” former tackle Duane Brown said, according to The Washington Post. “I think it angered a lot of players, including myself.”

McNair met with Texans players Oct. 29 to apologize. However, the apology did not stop the majority of Houston’s team from kneeling during the anthem at a game later that day. The demonstration at the Texans’ Oct. 29 game against the Seattle Seahawks was part of the continued protests against police brutality with the added intent to defy McNair.

Not everyone reprimanded McNair for his “inmates” comment. A few sportscasters defended him, including Fox Sports Radio broadcaster Doug Gottlieb.

The inmates can’t run the asylum, the prison, the football team,” Gottlieb said. “And if you’re bothered by the use of the word inmates, sorry, that’s a you problem. You don’t understand the expression. When you come up to speed on the expression, I’ll fill you in on the business acumen that you don’t have.”

It will take more than just a few meetings and apologies to patch the relationship between all the parties involved. It will be up to the players’ union, NFL owners and Goodell to find middle ground. News of Kaepernick’s legal plans is yet another wild card in the field, a catalyst with the potential to push player-owner relations to the edge if unleashed. For now, the story of this NFL season remains what happens off, rather than on, the playing field.

The Atlanta Falcons found their footing and survived 25-20 against the New York Jets on a wet Sunday, Oct. 29, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

After a three-game losing streak, the Falcons overcame multiple turnovers caused by soggy conditions to bring their overall record to 4-3.

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for two touchdown passes, one to tight end Austin Hooper and one to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. The biggest play of the afternoon came at 12:22 in the fourth quarter when Ryan sent an 8-yard touchdown pass to Sanu, putting the Falcons in the lead, 22-17.

From there, the Falcons never looked back.

Ryan, who threw for 254 yards with a passer rating of 113.3, struggled to hold on to the football throughout the game due to the rainy weather conditions. He fumbled three snap exchanges with center Alex Mack, losing two of them in the first quarter. Wide receiver Andre Roberts followed suit with a fumble of his own but succeeded in recovering it to maintain Atlanta’s possession.

“That was some of the hardest conditions I played just for the length of the game,” Ryan told ESPN. “I have played in situations where we had some heavy rain or tough wind or anything like that for a little bit. From kickoff to the end of the game it was coming down pretty hard.”

The Jets (3-5) started the game strong, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive when a 20-yard pass from Josh McCown found receiver Eric Tomlinson. McCown later connected with receiver Robby Anderson for a touchdown on a 24-yard strike in the second quarter.

But the Jets had some turnovers of their own.

McCown, who threw for 257 yards with a passer rating of 119.3, fumbled twice. Returner Jeremy Kerley made a costly turnover as he muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, allowing the Falcons to tack on another field goal.

“It sailed a little bit,” Kerley told ESPN. “It was wet, raining and the ball was more slippery than I thought it was. … It messed up momentum a little bit.”

This marks the third consecutive game that the Jets lost despite leading in the fourth quarter.

Leading 17-16 early in the fourth quarter, the Jets missed a chance to add to their lead when kicker Chandler Catanzaro (2/4 on FG for the day) missed a 48-yard field goal wide right.

That gave the Falcons great field position, and with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter, running back Falcons Tevin Coleman evaded multiple defenders and burst for a 52-yard run. Ryan capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Sanu.

On the next drive, the Jets cut the lead 22-20 on a 46-yard field goal by Catanzaro.

But the Jets’ best chance at a comeback ended when returner Jeremy Kerley muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, turning the ball over deep in Jets territory.

The Atlanta Falcons hope to maintain their winning ways when they battle the Carolina Panthers (5-3) in Charlotte, N.C., Nov. 5. The New York Jets hope to rebound at home against AFC East rival Buffalo Bills (5-2) Nov. 2.

It was no ordinary opening to the NFL season between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sept. 7 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The Patriots were determined to put on a show for their fans to celebrate last February’s improbable Super Bowl comeback victory, the team’s fifth world championship since 2001. Yet, for all the lengths to which the Patriots went to make the night about their past accomplishments, their celebration was upstaged by a running back who was still carrying the football for the University of Toledo (Ohio) when the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

The Patriots honored their victory with Super Bowl LI patches stitched to every one of their blue jerseys. Rapper Flo Rida performed before the game, followed a by a display of all five Vince Lombardi Trophies, a new Super Bowl banner and a hyperbole-filled speech from super fan and actor Mark Wahlberg, detailing the insurmountable odds the Patriots overcame to win the Super Bowl last year.

The celebrations appeared to roll seamlessly into a strong start for the defending Super Bowl champs. They jumped out to a 7-0 lead after an impressive 73-yard drive on their first possession of the season. On the ensuing Chiefs possession, running back Kareem Hunt, a third-round pick playing in his first NFL game, fumbled on his first carry of his young NFL career, something he never did even in college. However, that was the last moment that Patriots fans were happy to see No. 27 of the Chiefs on the field.

From that point on, Hunt torched the Patriots defense, compiling 148 rushing yards on 17 carries, five receptions for 98 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Hunt’s 246 all-purpose yards were the most ever in an NFL debut, and according to ESPN Stats and Info, he is one of only three players in NFL history to have 150 total yards and three touchdowns in his debut.

What made Hunt’s play even more impactful was the timing with which he delivered big play after big play. With just over two minutes left in the first half and the Pats up 17-7, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith led his team 92 yards down field, but it was Hunt who punched in the touchdown off a screen-pass, trimming the Patriots’ lead to three.

Then, with the Chiefs down six to begin the fourth quarter, Hunt ran a beautiful go route up the seam. With a perfect throw from Smith, edge-rusher Cassius Marsh had no chance of catching Hunt on his way to a 78 yard, game-tying touchdown. With the extra point, Kansas City went up 28-27 and the Kareem Hunt show was in full swing.  

Two drives later, Hunt capped off another drive by stiff-arming safety Duron Harmon to the ground and diving past the pylon into the end-zone, stretching the Chiefs’ lead to eight.

After exhibiting his pass-catching and tackle-breaking skills, Hunt showed he isn’t a one-trick, or even a two-trick, pony. With 4:15 to go in the game, Hunt took a toss from Smith, darted around the edge of the defense and sprinted upfield 58 yards before Patriots safety Devin McCourty mercifully pushed Hunt out of bounds. The run sucked the life out of the Patriots defense, put an exclamation point on what may be the greatest debut in NFL history and emphasized that, for now, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Besides a season-ending Achilles injury to Chiefs safety Eric Berry, there’s a lot to be excited about if you are a Kansas City fan. Beyond Hunt’s historic performance, Smith had a career day, completing 28 of 35 passes for 368 passing yards and four touchdowns, dramatically outplaying future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady on Brady’s home field. The Chiefs also got significant contributions from second-year wide receiver Tyreek Hill, (seven receptions, 133 receiving yards, one touchdown) and edge-rusher Justin Houston (two sacks).

The Patriots, meanwhile, are walking away from this game with big losses off the field as well. Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower left the game midway through the third quarter with a minor right MCL sprain. Receiver Danny Amendola also left the game in the second half with a head injury after compiling six receptions for 100 yards. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Patriots are hoping that Hightower will recover in time to play the New Orleans Saints next week, while Amendola is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol. The Patriots need these players to recover quickly as they are already without key playmakers in receivers Julian Edelman (torn ACL) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee).  

The Patriots have been the team to beat in the AFC for some time, but after Thursday night’s performance, it’s looking like the Chiefs hold that honor, for now.  

All stats from pro-football-reference.com unless otherwise stated.