Ryan still trying to overcome the infamy of 28-3

The Indianapolis Colts have one of the strangest quarterback rooms in the league this year.

Their starter, Matt Ryan, is one of the most prolific passers in league history, but he has made only one Super Bowl and that resulted in the infamous 28-3 meltdown against the Patriots in 2017.

Ryan has started all 222 regular season games he has appeared in during his career and missed only three games while passing for 59,735 yards. He has 367 touchdown passes and just 170 interceptions, but no rings.

Their No. 2, Nick Foles, is in his familiar role as a backup, but he did beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl the year after the Atlanta meltdown while filling in for Carson Wentz. They even have a statue of him in Philadelphia.

They both wound up in Indianapolis this year. Ryan became expendable in Atlanta after the Falcons tried and failed to sign Deshaun Watson. The Colts only gave up a third rounder for him. The Colts then signed Foles to be his backup. Coach Frank Reich was the quarterback coach in Foles’ Super Bowl winning year.

Now Ryan is at a crossroads. In the AFC, he faces a lot of young guns like Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert and a Super Bowl winning veteran in Russell Wilson, who was within a yard of claiming a second consecutive Super Bowl two years before the Atlanta letdown and is now in Denver.

And he faces high expectations in Indianapolis. Can Ryan cap his career by finally winning a Super Bowl or will his legacy be 28-3? That is the question.

The loss to the Patriots is remembered for the New England comeback, but the Atlanta offense’s inability to score in the final period opened the door for the Patriots. All the Falcons needed was one field goal to put it out of reach but they were blanked in the fourth quarter.

After the Patriots cut the deficit to 28-9 with a third-quarter touchdown and missed a two-point conversion, the Falcons had the ball three times. On two of the drives they were just outside the Patriots 40 and 20.

They got just two firsts downs those three drives. And Ryan took a sack on each of the drives. And two critical holding penalties played a big role in the killing two of the drives along with some shaky play calling by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. On two of the drives, they had a second-and-1 and a third-and-1 and didn’t get a first down either time. And the Falcons defense wore down because they were on the field too much.

After the Patriots cut it to 28-9 late in third period, they tried an onside kick that the Falcons recovered just past the Patriots 40. After a nine-yard run, they were virtually in field-goal range, but a holding call made it second-and-11 and a dropped pass and a sack pushed them back to midfield and they punted.

The Patriots then kicked a field goal to cut it to 28-12. On the ensuing drive, an eight-yard run made it second-and-2, and another run made it third-and-1. Shanahan called for a pass instead of a run. Instead of making a quick throw, Ryan took a five/yard drop and a sack fumble gave the Patriots a short field and they made it 28-20 with 5:53 left.

The Falcons were pinned back on their nine on the ensuing kickoff but Ryan completed two passes – the second a spectacular catch by Julio Jones to give them a first down on the Patriots 22 with 4:38 left. All the Falcons had to do was run three plays and kick a field goal for an 11-point lead to clinch the win. But after the first-down run lost a yard, Shanahan decided to go to the air. A sack and holding penalty made it third-and-33, and the Falcons punted again.

The Patriots then drove for another score against a gassed Falcon defense that had been on the field too long and won the overtime toss, scored again and it was over.

The Falcons never really recovered. Both GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn were both eventually fired, and now Ryan is starting over in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, Foles doesn’t know if he will see much action. He is likely to play only if Ryan is hurt. 

Ryan has continued to put up big numbers. He has averaged 4,485 yards a season since 2018. If he does it again for the Colts, he will be fifth on the all-time passer list and that virtually guarantees him a bust in the Hall of Fame.

He is currently eighth with 59,735 and has a shot at passing Dan Marino, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger to move into fifth on the all-time list behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, who has 71,838.

But for all his passing yards, Ryan’s legacy isn’t that he is likely to throw for more yards than Marino, who also lost his only Super Bowl appearance but not in the meltdown fashion Ryan did. San Francisco simply had a better team than the Dolphins, so Marino’s loss isn’t remembered the way Ryan’s is.

Ryan’s legacy is still 28-3.

He gets a chance to change that legacy in Indianapolis.

New book on ‘72 Dolphins is an entertaining must read

There wasn’t a lot of celebrating in the Miami Dolphins locker room after they beat then Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII to become the first and still the only team to record a perfect season.

“It was a mature team that just took everything in stride,” said Doug Crusan in the new book “Seventeen and Oh” about that perfect season. “Although to be honest, it was a relief more than anything. We had finally done it.”

This is the 50th anniversary of that historic season and still no other team has done it. And now that the schedule has been increased to 17 regular season games (it was 14 when the Dolphins did it), it looks unlikely any team will go 20-0 to have another perfect season.

The closest any team has gotten to it since then was in 2007 when Patriots went 18-0 before losing the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

The book written by Marshall Jon Fisher, who was a young fan growing up in Miami in 1972, and published by Abrams Books, is a sweeping history not only of that Dolphins season but of what was happening in Miami and the rest of the country at that time.

They went to training camp in a year in which both political conventions were in Miami Beach and the Watergate break-in had just taken place. And the Vietnam War was still raging. It was a tumultuous time. And in an era before million-dollar salaries, he writes the players considered themselves ordinary working guys who lived in the community.

Some of the author’s school friends got the courage to knock on Howard Twilley’s door and ask him to throw the football with them. His friend said Twilley was too nice to say no although his wife may have been annoyed.

The Dolphins went to camp with a chip on their shoulder because they had been blown out by the Cowboys in Super Bowl VI and were on a mission to win it this time and they did it. That is almost as hard to do as having a perfect season. A team that lost the Super Bowl has only won it once since when the Patriots beat the Rams in 2019 after losing to the Eagles the previous season.

The book is divided into 21 chapters, one for each of the 17 games, two at the beginning for what he calls Preperfect I and II and one for Super Bowl pregame and one Post Perfect chapter.

Each chapter not only includes the story of each victory, but has mini bios of the players and what they were like. For example, he pointed out quarterback Bob Griese is an introvert. I remember covering their two Super Bowl wins and he was one of the worst interviews on the team. It was annoying at the time – especially when he later became a TV analyst – but I guess it was his personality.

He also provides inside details of how Joe Robbie, who really didn’t have the money to own an NFL team, kept it afloat and as Mike Ditka once said of George Halas, he treated nickels like manhole covers.

Robbie even fired the caterer providing the food in the press room because he wanted to save money. The author doesn’t mention it but he did spend money hosting a dinner for the New York media before the Giants game in an effort to promote the team before the days of the Internet and ESPN and the NFL Network.

The author is also candid in talking about Robbie’s drinking problem, which was no secret in the NFL. I once saw him passed out at the hotel bar in a league meeting. And he quotes Larry King as saying Robbie wasn‘t a very likeable person.” The author doesn’t sugarcoat how things were.

Robbie also had a contentious relationship with city officials over their refusal to build him a stadium to replace the Orange Bowl. He was so upset that he signed off when the league decided to give Super Bowl XVI to Detroit when it was Miami’s turn in what was a Miami-New Orleans Los Angeles rotation in the early years.

They were trying to prod Miami into replacing the Orange Bowl. The move was announced at a Hawaii meeting and when I interviewed Robbie, he was candid in saying the stadium issue was costing Miami the Super Bowl.

The Miami Herald didn’t cover the meeting and when a staffer called to ask what happened, I gave them the Robbie quotes. The next day, Robbie said, “I didn’t realize I was talking to the Miami media.” Miami wouldn’t budge and went nine years without a Super Bowl until Robbie built a privately funded stadium by inventing the PSL concept.

The author also notes that the doctors passed out painkillers like they were candy and didn’t seem to realize that too many cortisone shots made them less effective.

He also notes the team had only five black starters, which wasn’t unusual in those days. The league had a gentleman’s agreement to ban black players from 1934 to 1946 when the Rams and Browns, who were then in the AAFC, signed two each.

The book said the Rams did it In 1947 and hopefully that will corrected in later editions. Coach Don Shula, though, did make an effort to have the players cross racial lines and create harmony on the team. But times were changing. By 1974 when the Steelers started their Super Bowl run, they had seven black starters on defense because they mined the black colleges for talent. When the southern colleges integrated, more black players were showcased and the league is now over 70 percent black or multi-racial.

Although the book is likely to fly off the shelves in Miami, it is a must read for any sports fan and is likely to be included in the future in any list of top books about the NFL. But there is one paragraph the Miami fans won’t like.

He points out that even though they a perfect season, they weren’t the best team ever. They probably weren’t as good as the 1973 team that lost the second game in Oakland and then lost a later game when they had clinched the playoff spot and rested Griese and some other starters. But they were more dominant in 1973, particularly in the playoffs.

The Dolphins, particularly Shula, usually contended having a perfect record made them the best team. He was upset a few years ago when ESPN put together a tournament using a computer and had the Steeleers beating the Dolphins in the title game.

Shula ignored the fact that they weren’t a team of the decade and a lot of things went right for the Dolphins that year. For example, Green Bay, which won the first two Super Bowls, and Kansas City, which appeared in two of first four, had grown old.

Dallas, which beat the Dolphins in the Super Bowl the previous year, lost Roger Staubach for much of the year and lost to Washington in the NFC title game. Staubach returned the previous week to lead a comeback win over the 49ers but he was still rusty.

And the Redskins had Billy Kilmer at quarterback because Sonny Jurgensen was injured. Pittsburgh didn’t become a great team until 1974 when they added four Hall of Famers and signed a fifth as a free agent to give them10 HOFers. They won four of the next six Super Bowls.

And Oakland, their toughest rival in those years, lost to Pittsburgh in the Immaculate Reception game so the Dolphins played a young Pittsburgh team instead of Oakland.

The Raiders ended their win streak in 1973 but then lost to them in the playoffs before beating them in the Sea of Hands game in 1974 that ended their bid for a fourth consecutive Super Bowl appearance and a third consecutive Super Bowl win.

So the Raiders beat them twice in three games in 1973 and 1974. We will never know if they would have beaten them if Pittsburgh hadn’t pulled off the Immaculate Reception

The next year Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield jumped to the WFL and their run was over. Robbie could have tried to keep them, but he always looked at the bottom line. The Dolphins went 10-4 in 1975 but missed the playoffs and slid to 8-8 the following year.

Shula never won another Super Bowl after 1973, coaching 23 more seasons and making it to the Super Bowl twice but lost to Washington and San Francisco. That left his title record 2-5. He had four Super Bowl losses and the 1964 title game to Cleveland when he was in Baltimore in the pre Super Bowl era.

Things weren’t the same for Shula once he didn’t have Joe Thomas and Bobby Beathard finding his players and he couldn’t build a title team around Dan Marino. Still, he wound up being the winningest coach of all time.

The post perfect life of the players was mixed. Some had successful careers. Doug Swift for example went to med school at an Ivy League school (Penn). But others suffered the effects of playing in a run oriented era when there wasn’t much emphasis on player safety. Too many had to deal with CTE and dementia and addicted from taking too many painkillers. Two wound up in jail.

And Robbie’s heirs wound up selling the team after he died.  When he died, he singled out three of his nine children to act as trustees and manage the Dolphins. Others disagreed and a legal fight started that ended with them selling the team. Each of the Robbie children wound up with $6 million after taxes. If they had kept the team in the family, they would be worth billions. 

The Dolphins have been poorly managed and coached in recent years and have had only nine winning seasons in 21 years.

Still, to paraphrase Bogart in “Casablanca,” they will always have the perfect season. For one brief shining moment, they were perfect. This book tells the story of what it was like when they did it and how they did it.

Mayfield just the latest top QB pick to go fizzle out

Baker Mayfield is the latest quarterback to show that being the first pick in the NFL draft doesn’t guarantee success.

He was traded to the Panthers after the Browns gave up on him and signed Deshaun Watson to a $230 million guaranteed contract despite his off-field issues.

Mayfield was so happy to get out of Cleveland that he even took a $3.5 million paycut to go to the Panthers, where he will battle Sam Darnold for the starting job.

Even if Mayfield puts his career back together, he no longer has a shot at winning the Super Bowl with the team that drafted him first.

If you don’t count Eli Manning, who technically was drafted by San Diego, the last No. 1 overall pick to win a Super Bowl for the team that drafted him was his older brother Peyton.

Mayfield was drafted in 2018 and Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow and Trevor Lawrence were drafted with the first pick the following three years.

Burrow is the only one of the four to make the Super Bowl, although it is too early to judge Lawrence because he didn’t have a chance to develop under the coaching of Urban Meyer. With quarterback whisperer Doug Pederson now the Jaguars head coach, Lawrence will likely have a better chance to live up to his billing.

The Mayfield-Darnold duel pits the first and third quarterbacks drafted in 2018. They are both trying to resurrect their careers. The Jets gave up on Darnold a year ago when they drafted Zach Wilson.

Mayfield and Darnold are proving that judging quarterbacks coming out of college is an inexact science. The third and fifth quarterbacks drafted on the first round that year, Josh Allen, who went seventh to Buffalo, and Lamar Jackson, who went 32nd to Baltimore, have proved to be better quarterbacks.

The fourth quarterback drafted on the first round that year, Josh Rosen, who went eighth to Arizona, was dumped after a year when they decided to take Murray. Rosen is currently with his fifth team in Atlanta.

Now Mayfield and Darnold both get a second chance. It remains to be seen if they make the best of it.

Scandals can’t dent NFL’s enduring popularity

The NFL appears to be the Teflon League.

As the NFL prepares for the start of another season, it is facing numerous problems.

It starts with the safety of the game itself. Demaryius Thomas, who died at age 33 last December, was the latest deceased player to be diagnosed with Stage 2 CTE.

There were other complications because he suffered from seizures brought on by a 2019 car crash, so it is impossible to tell what factor CTE played in his death. But the fact that he suffered CTE at such a young age is another sign that safety remains an issue.

Then there is the issue of the Washington Commanders, which has now reached the halls of Congress.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a recent hearing about the Commanders many problems, including rampant sexual harassment of the team’s female employees.

Not surprising owner Dan Snyder was a no-show, leaving commissioner Roger Goodell to claim the team has transformed its culture.

But with Snyder in charge, that is debatable. The committee also revealed that the team conducted a shadow investigation designed at intimidating witnesses.

The obvious solution would be for the NFL to remove Snyder, but Goodell quickly pointed out he doesn’t have the power to do that — although he is not pushing the owners to do it, either. He doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Meanwhile, what was an iconic franchise has turned into a dumpster fire, which is not good for the league.

And then there is the lack of diversity in the coaching ranks, which led to the Brian Flores lawsuit. And there’s also the Jon Gruden lawsuit over the leaked emails that cost him the Raiders job.

On top of that there is Deshaun Watson, who will eventually play but isn’t going to help the league attract more women as fans.

And the league also got away with banning Colin Kaepernick, which will be a stain on the league in the future.

Despite all of these problems, they seem to have no effect on the league. The fans seem addicted to watching the games on TV and the TV money keeps exploding, especially with new platforms entering the bidding.

So as long as all the money keeps flowing in, the NFL can brush off all of its problems.