Finally, the 2019 NFL season is underway. As the first Sunday of the new campaign nears, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
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NFL: Ironing out pass interference review rule. With just one fairly straightforward pass interference review Thursday -- as Al Michaels put it, "If that's clear and obvious, I'm an astronaut," about Packers coach Matt LaFleur's hope that a non-call would be changed to offensive pass interference -- the NFL got through its season opener with a nationally broadcast lesson to coaches about the parameters of the rule.
Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president for football operations, anticipates that by Week 2 or 3, the NFL will have a much better idea of how the new rule is panning out.
During the preseason, when coaches were clearly testing how the replay review of pass interference would work, there were 54 replay reviews of pass interference, all but four because a coach threw the challenge flag. None of the penalties called on the field were reversed, an indication of the very high bar that will have to be met before Al Riveron changes a call his on-field crew made. And of challenges when a penalty was not thrown on the field, there were seven reversals on 39 reviews.
"I wasn't surprised," Vincent said before the Thursday night kickoff. "What I saw was a ton of false positives. I saw coaches actually seeing how and looking for how Al was going to call it. There was some, why did the coach drop that flag? Weeks 1 through 3, we'll have a really good feel, are we seeing more penalties, are the games longer?"
Still, Vincent believes pass interference is likely to be the hardest penalty to review, because there is so much subjectivity to the call.
"We don't want to get into the chicken fighting," Vincent said. "That's not the intent of the PI call. Was someone significantly hindered on their ability to make a play on the ball?"
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The Bills and Jetsopen the season Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told me Wednesday that Darnold is so dangerous when he's out of the pocket because "his feet are moving, but like (Seahawks quarterback) Russell (Wilson), he keeps his eyes downfield." The Bills want to make Darnold uncomfortable -- while keeping him in the pocket.
Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley noted Allen's big arm and his remarkable mobility. Not only does that mobility make him a threat to run, Mosley said, "but he'll take off and try to hurdle somebody." The inference: The Jets will try to avoid allowing Allen to hurdle a defender, as he did last September against the Vikings and linebacker Anthony Barr.
Allen said he and Darnold talk and text regularly, and that will continue this week. They have a lot in common, of course, on the field and off. Their personalities are not unlike; both are friendly and willing interviews. Neither is prone to headline-making proclamations. They have plenty of talent. Their teams love them.
Allen suggested that the loser of Sunday's game likely will be staked with a dinner tab in the relatively near future. Darnold, with a laugh, agreed that was "definitely possible."
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: McCoy happy to team up with Reid once more.LeSean McCoy always thought he'd reunite with coach Andy Reid -- and actually, Shady thought it was going to go down last season, when Reid's Chiefs released Kareem Hunt, who was seen in a video shoving and kicking a woman. McCoy believed he was going to get a phone call and be back playing for Reid, for whom he'd played in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012. It didn't happen. Instead, McCoy had to wait until last week, when he was released by the Bills after four seasons in Buffalo. Shortly thereafter, he signed in Kansas City.
McCoy is a six-time Pro Bowler who led the NFL in rushing yards in 2013 and in rushing TDs in 2011. But he's also 31 years old and coming off a 514-yard season in Buffalo. He will not be THE guy in K.C., and everyone involved is fine with that. Quietly, the thought in the building is that McCoy won't be drawing the majority of the attention from opposing defenses for the first time, maybe, in his career, because of the additional presences of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and some guy named Mahomes. In turn, that might allow McCoy to be extremely dynamic in his role, acting as just a piece within a talented offense that Reid told Shady is the fastest he's ever had. And McCoy remembers when Big Red had DeSean Jackson, Mike Vick, Jeremy Maclin and himself all at his disposal at once in Philly.
Will Mahomes adjust and still surprise?Patrick Mahomes will hit the field in Jacksonville as the reigning MVP. And what a fitting opponent to kick off the season with. Mahomes had 50 touchdown passes in 2018, but zero versus the Jaguars when they met in Week 5. Jacksonville was the only team to hold the 2018 MVP without a touchdown pass last year. The Jaguars also held Mahomes to a career-low 62.7 passer rating.
"They are going to play fast, they are going to play sound, and I have to take what's there when it's there and take the shots when they're there," Mahomes told me this week. "I felt like last year, I just kind of missed the shots when they were there, and I kind of tried to force some things that didn't work out in my favor. When you play against a great defense like that, you have to make sure that you're on top of your game the whole entire game. That is something that I'll have to do this year."
Mahomes has a photographic memory, and he told me he remembers every play in the same fashion. Whether a play was good or bad, he breaks it down in his head and finds ways in which he could have been better, no matter what actually happened. What he'll have to do Week 1 against Jacksonville is adjust. Andy Reid is well aware that defensive coordinators have had an entire offseason to study his star quarterback's first season as a starter -- something defensive coordinators couldn't do last offseason. The element of surprise is gone, and we're now going to see how Mahomes adjusts.
Remodeled defense ready for first road test. The Kansas City Chiefs know they'll have an elite offense. Come Sunday, in their season opener against Jacksonville, they'll get a better sense of whether their defense really has improved. The Chiefs ranked 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed in 2018. They've made some major additions -- including new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, defensive end Frank Clark and safety Tyrann Mathieu -- but Spagnuolo is preaching patience.
"It is natural when you're in something new, that if things go the right way early, confidence builds," Spagnuolo said on Thursday. "Now, [if] the flip side of the coin happens, I think we need to protect against that. If it doesn't go great out of the gate here -- and I'm not just talking about one game -- the challenge will be to trust what we're doing, trust each other, etc. I think it's good to talk about that. I call it, 'Managing the downside,' because this league is ups and downs. There is no such thing as perfect, and it won't be perfect. We just have to work out the kinks."
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: White just scratching the surface?Patriots running back coach Ivan Fears has been coaching in the NFL for 29 years, the last 23 spent in New England. He has seen a litany of pass-catching backs come through Foxborough, but judging from his words and reaction, none as good as the one currently on the roster, James White.
"Oh my gosh, yes. Yes. No doubt about it," Fears said before catching himself. "The best is hard to quantify. But let's put it this way, he's good. That's what counts. That definitely counts."
Kevin Faulk is in the PatriotsHall of Fame for his work as a third-down back. Shane Vereen could have very well been the MVP of Super Bowl XLIX, when he caught 11 passes for 64 yards. Danny Woodhead was plucked off the waiver wire and quickly became a matchup nightmare with his quick feet, soft hands and toughness. But White, entering his sixth season after being drafted by the Patriots in the fourth round in 2014, more than measures up.
"When you say those [other] guys' names, you have to say James White," Fears said. "Now Kevin (Faulk), Kevin was the first and did some spectacular things. James White has done some awful good stuff and has a lot ahead of him. And it's yet to be seen where this is going to end when it comes to James White. I think we have a lot to see, and I think there is a lot for him to show us. And I'm kind of waiting to be a part of that. I can't wait to see it."
That's some pretty heady stuff, especially when you consider how good White was a season ago. He reeled in 87 passes for 751 yards and seven touchdowns. At one point, when the Patriots' offense was scuffling, Tom Bradypublicly begged for more White. Lest you think he's a one-trick pony, know that the affable White also rushed for 425 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and five more scores on the ground. When I asked him what Fears was alluding to -- what more he can show -- White laughed.
"I don't know. You gotta ask him." But, displaying the work ethic and attention to detail that has allowed him to carve out a large role in this offense, White added, "All of us as players, there's always room for improvement, always things we can work on. We're constantly trying to work on our games, things that the coaches think we can do better, that we think we can do better on our own."
Pressed one more time for an answer, White just smiled. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
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NEW YORK GIANTS: Manning ready for another ride.Eli Manning is beginning his 16th season -- and it likely will be the most intriguing of the quarterback's career.
Manning is the Giants' starter, though Jones impressed considerably during preseason, completing 85.3 percent of his passes and capturing the imagination of sports-talk radio callers and the New York media.
The move to Jones, whenever it happens, will be emotional for the franchise; owner John Mara said recently he hopes Jones does not take the field this season, because that will mean Manning is playing well and the Giants are winning.
"I guess it is something to be proud of," Manning said Wednesday. "Just blessed to be with this organization."
One way or another, the clock is ticking.
Focus on Barkley in post-Beckham era.Giants brass has championed a team-first approach following the departures of several high-profile and highly productive players over the offseason. During training camp, Giants staff, coaches and players wore T-shirts bearing the words "All Ball." At a press conference this week, coach Pat Shurmur emphasized, "This is a team sport."
The 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year was named a Giants captain this week and is everything the Giants hoped. But last season, when he led the league in scrimmage yards (2,028), Barkley's two lowest totals came in games Beckham did not play: 56 scrimmage yards in Week 15 against the Titans and 77 scrimmage yards the following week at the Colts.
More notable numbers from last year, via Next Gen Stats: Barkley averaged 8.1 yards per rush against light boxes (six or fewer defenders) in 2018, and he averaged 3.8 yards per rush against stacked boxes (when there were eight-plus defenders in the box).
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NEW YORK JETS: Still seeking stability at kicker. Former Jets GM Mike Maccagnan's decision not to re-sign Pro Bowl kicker Jason Myers this offseason continues to reverberate. The Jets signed Kaare (pronounced Cory) Vedvik on Wednesday, after he was cut by the Vikings, who acquired Vedvik from the Ravens earlier in August. Vedvik is the Jets' third kicker in less than a month; one (Chandler Catanzaro) retired, the other (Taylor Bertolet) was cut.
"I'm beyond excited, get to go in here and be the starting kicker for the Jets," Vedvik said Wednesday. "It's great."
Perhaps it could be better. The Jets hoped Vedvik would have the chance to practice at MetLife Stadium this week ahead of the opener against the Bills; he's never kicked there. But a U.S.-Mexico soccer friendly -- to be played on a temporary grass field -- is scheduled for Friday night, so the stadium that the Jets and Giants share is unavailable.
Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer said it was "fair" to assume he'd feel better about his new kicker if he had a chance to practice at the stadium.
"We'll get plenty of warm-up kicks in" on Sunday, he added.
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OAKLAND RAIDERS: Gruden, Renfrow express appreciation for Brown. From helmet grievances to an unusual foot injury, we thought we'd seen it all as the Raiders prepare to start the 2019 season with their new star receiver, Antonio Brown. But now, just days ahead of Oakland's season opener vs. the Broncos on "Monday Night Football," Brown is once again away from his team. GM Mike Mayock was confident, clear and concise when he addressed those of us in the press corps on Thursday afternoon following the heated argument that he and Brown had the previous day, as reported by NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Head coach Jon Gruden, however, was emotional in his response, saying he's frustrated but ultimately feels for Brown, who, Rapoport reported, the Raiders are planning to discipline. Rapoport added that the team is not expecting Brown to be with the team for Week 1.
"I think a lot of this guy," Gruden said. "I think Antonio is a great receiver and I think deep down he's a really good guy."
The players I spoke with in the locker room echoed that sentiment. Rookie receiver Hunter Renfrow said he "loves AB." The former Clemson standout said learning from Brown has helped him tremendously. There's no denying the caliber of play and exceptional ability Brown brings to the table. Unfortunately, his talent can't help anyone if he's not in the building or on the field with the Raiders.