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Overreactions: Should Mike McCarthy be on the hot seat? What about Cam Newton?



If you finished bagging the leaves early enough Sunday that you got to watch the early window NFL games, you had yourself a treat. Wild finishes, comebacks, close games and star-caliber performances on every screen you could muster.

The Lions pulled out an impossible victory over the Falcons with a last-second touchdown. The Steelers held off the Titans in a battle of the unbeatens. The Panthers made the Saints sweat it out. Baker Mayfield beat Joe Burrow in a back-and-forth battle of No. 1 picks. Heck, for a little while it looked as if the Jets might upset the Bills.

And also, the Cowboys played.

If you missed the Cowboys’ game, congratulations. It was pure garbage. Sunday’s early window slate was a museum hall filled with Picassos and Rembrandts, and the Cowboys’ 25-3 loss to Washington was a spot on the wall where somebody sneezed. They were out of it almost immediately, falling behind 2-0 — quarterback Andy Dalton fumbled into the end zone on a sack — and never really challenged.

Dallas ended up with 142 total yards, which is a lower number than the individual Sunday yardage totals of Davante Adams (196), A.J. Brown (153) and Alvin Kamara (148). The Cowboys possessed the ball for 23 minutes, 36 seconds of the game’s 60 minutes and had 12 first downs to Washington’s 21. They were outclassed, uninterested and embarrassed.

In short, they were practically begging to lead this week’s overreaction column.

Mike McCarthy will be one-and-done in Dallas

Oh, there are plenty of excuses. Dallas is missing four starting offensive linemen and its starting quarterback. Backup quarterback Andy Dalton got knocked out of the game because of a concussion on a dirty hit and was replaced by rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci. The Cowboys clearly have not picked up new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme, which must involve some sort of hyper-advanced calculus that Nolan just invented this past March or something.

There are plenty of reasons why the Cowboys are 2-5 and ahead of only the Giants in the historically weak NFC East, but regardless of any or all of them, they expected to be a lot better than this.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Look, Jerry Jones’ reputation as an owner who fires coaches willy-nilly is outdated and, frankly, was never really deserved when you look at the history. And no one likes to admit a mistake. But if we get to the end of the season and the NFC East champ has only six or seven wins and the Cowboys aren’t it? They would have to be considered the biggest failure of any team in the league.

McCarthy was brought in, after a year off from coaching following his firing in Green Bay, to replace longtime coach Jason Garrett. The issue with Garrett was that his teams were generally good but not good enough. McCarthy was supposed to get them over the hump. This team has somehow got itself stuck under the hump.

Admitting a mistake can be tough, but isn’t it worse to double down on one? We have more than half a season to go, but if the Cowboys get to the end of it and still look like this lackluster bunch that hasn’t connected with the new staff, it’s not at all wild to think McCarthy could end up being a footnote in team history.

The Patriots need to bench Cam Newton and find out what they have in Jarrett Stidham

Newton was terrible on Sunday, for the second game in a row, and he didn’t have two weeks’ worth of COVID-related rust to blame this time. The 49ers scored 33 points in Foxborough — five more than the total number of points the Patriots have scored over their past three games combined. In those three games, New England has turned the ball over 11 times and scored only two touchdowns. The run game that was so impressive in the season opener mustered only 94 yards on the ground Sunday.

Newton didn’t even finish the game — it was so out of hand in the fourth quarter that Bill Belichick put Stidham in at quarterback. Asked after the game whether Newton was still the starter going forward, Belichick said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

But the Patriots are 2-4, in third place in the AFC East, 2.5 games behind the first-place Bills, whom they play next week in Buffalo. If they lose that game, they could be too far behind to think about the postseason. And if that’s the case, they need to think about whether they need to draft a quarterback or find one in free agency. Knowing what they have in Stidham could help them make that decision.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. As long as he’s healthy — and he insists he is — Newton still gives the Patriots the better chance to win. They have a run-based offense, and the running threat Newton presents enhances the run game when it’s working. New England isn’t out of it yet, and a win next week in Buffalo would change the narrative.

What it does at quarterback next year remains a mystery. Newton is on a one-year deal and Stidham hasn’t shown much, so all options are on the table. But a team that has won its division 11 years in a row and 17 of the past 19 isn’t in a position to give up on its season and think about the future while it’s still mathematically alive in the playoff race.

While his old team was getting smoked by the Niners, Brady was in Vegas throwing four touchdown passes in a 45-20 victory over the Raiders. (He ran one in, too.) Nine different players caught passes from Brady on Sunday. Four different Bucs caught touchdowns. He’s not even using Mike Evans, really. The leading receiver in Sunday’s win was Scotty Miller.

But the rich get richer, and last week the Buccaneers agreed to terms with Brown, the former Steelers, Raiders and Patriots receiver who’s serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Brown, who was the best receiver in the NFL not long ago, is eligible to join the Bucs in Week 9 assuming no more league discipline is coming.



Tom Brady connects with Rob Gronkowski, who goes up to take the ball away from the defender and score a 5-yard touchdown to give the Buccaneers a 14-10 lead over the Raiders.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Brown is a luxury in Tampa, not a necessity. Coach Bruce Arians can say whatever he wants about “Tom had nothing to do with this,” but the facts are that Brady and Brown have stayed in touch and Brady was so impressed with Brown in the one game he played with him last season that he’s eager to work with him again.

What that means for the rest of the Buccaneers’ receivers is anyone’s guess. Brady probably will keep throwing to whomever’s open, and more games where he spreads it around like this are likely with or without Brown. What it means for the Bucs’ competition probably isn’t very good. If Brown is even 80 percent of what he was two or three years ago in Pittsburgh, he’s the final Infinity Stone that should empower Brady to wipe out half the universe with a snap of his fingers. Or at least get the Bucs to the Super Bowl.

After a week in which outside speculation (though no inside information) had Mayfield in danger of being benched for Case Keenum, the Browns’ quarterback started Sunday’s game against the Bengals 0-for-5 with an interception. Worse, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left the game early because of a knee injury.

Mayfield rebounded and went 22-for-23 after that rough start, including 21 completions in a row, with five touchdown passes. The last of the five put the Browns ahead for good with 11 seconds left after Burrow had put the Bengals ahead a minute earlier. It was the kind of game the Browns need to see from Mayfield — one in which he put the team on his back and delivered in the clutch without his running game carrying him and without his best receiver.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. What are we talking about here? Mayfield isn’t going to complete 21 passes in a row and throw five touchdowns every week. And the Browns’ offense will function better when running back Nick Chubb returns from injury and they can lean on the ground game. But Mayfield’s coaches have stood by him through the tough parts of this season, and they believe he can be the quarterback they need him to be.

Sunday was evidence that they might be right. The Browns are 5-2 and in the hunt for the postseason. There’s no reason to do anything with Mayfield but keep working to make him better and more consistent. Which is their plan, and has been all along.

Todd Gurley is the reason the Falcons lost Sunday

Let’s set the scene: Atlanta trailed Detroit 16-14 with the ball at the Lions’ 10-yard line and just over a minute to go in the game. The Lions had used all of their timeouts, which meant that the Falcons could run down the clock run to almost zero, call their own timeout, and kick a winning chip-shot field goal.

Instead, Gurley ran 10 yards for a touchdown — he tried to stop at the goal line — to put the Falcons ahead. A 2-point conversion gave them a 22-16 lead, but it also left Matthew Stafford the 1:04 he needed to take the Lions down the field for the winning touchdown.

It was the Falcons’ third loss this season in a game in which they had at least a 98% chance to win, according to ESPN’s win probability metric. The other 31 teams in the NFL have played a total of four such games this season.



Todd Gurley bursts up the middle toward the end zone and tries to stop himself from scoring in an attempt to run time off the clock, but the ball breaks the plane of the goal line for a touchdown.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. I never like the idea of not scoring when you’re behind. The short field goal is nearly automatic, sure, but it’s not actually automatic. What if the snap goes wrong? What if it’s blocked? You’re behind and you have a chance to take the lead, you do it. Plus, there’s nothing in the rules that says the Falcons’ defense isn’t allowed to stop anybody in a big fourth-quarter situation.

The Falcons told Gurley not to score there, so yeah, that’s a bonehead play by him. But it’s tough to rein in a player’s instincts (especially one who scores as much as Gurley does) to get to the end zone. And again, they were behind in the game. If they were tied or ahead, I see the logic. But when you’re behind and you have a chance to take the lead, I have always thought the right thing was to do it.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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