“It might have changed the balance of power in the AFC North…And it did something else. It proved you can accomplish big things with COVID slapping your organization to the core.” – King on Cleveland’s win over Pittsburgh
“I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been in the real world. I’ve been taking classes, you know. That’s great and all but it’s not as fun as playing ball.” – Washington QB Taylor Heinicke to King on starting in the Wild Card game
“Rodgers is an all-timer by any measure, and this season was an absolute masterpiece.” – King on voting for Aaron Rodgers as MVP
STAMFORD, Conn. – Jan. 11, 2021 – Peter King discusses the Wild Card weekend games and outlines the Browns’ COVID-impacted week leading to their upset of the Steelers in this week’s edition of Football Morning in America, available now exclusively on NBCSports.com. King also speaks with Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, previews the Divisional games, and hands out his weekly awards.
Across NBC Sports, Peacock’s weekday block of NFL programming from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. ET includes PFT Live featuring Mike Florio and Chris Simms live at 7 a.m. ET, followed by The Dan Patrick Show at 9 a.m. ET, The Rich Eisen Show at Noon ET, Brother From Another, with Michael Holley and Michael Smith, at 3 p.m. ET, and PFT PM at 5 p.m. ET. On Monday, Safety Blitz, featuring Rodney Harrison and Jac Collinsworth, streams at 6 p.m. ET, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned streams at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday-Friday. ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest offseason news, and the Rotoworld Football Podcast and Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast discuss Wild Card weekend.
The following are highlights from this week’s edition of Football Morning in America:
King on the Browns: “The story of the weekend was the virus-debilitated Browns, with a positive (but asymptomatic) head coach watching from 130 miles away in his basement, putting the Steelers to shame with a whip-cracking performance that seemed like more than a football game. It might have changed the balance of power in the AFC North…And it did something else. It proved you can accomplish big things with COVID slapping your organization to the core.”
King on Cleveland’s week: “A week in the corona-wracked season of the Cleveland Browns begins, actually, on the Saturday before the week started…GM Andrew Berry was worried. Cleveland’s two offensive line coaches, Bill Callahan and Scott Peters, tested positive for COVID-19…Berry phoned Jets GM Joe Douglas, a friend, in New Jersey at 9:38 a.m.”
King on Browns offensive lineman Blake Hance: “Berry explained (to Douglas) about the line coaches, and his fear that there might be a spread, and he needed an insurance tackle, and he liked second-year practice-squadder Blake Hance of the Jets…Douglas understood. In fact, he had Jets personnel coordinator Christina Wedding print Hance’s Jets termination letter and his agreement with Cleveland, so Hance could sign them and they could be filed with the league.”
King: “Tuesday, 5:15 a.m. Phone rings in GM Andrew Berry’s home. He’s gotten used to the pre-dawn calls from club infection control officer Joe Sheehan…Sheehan says coach Kevin Stefanski has tested positive for COVID, as well as Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio. They’re out for the team’s first playoff game in 18 years. The head coach. Out.”
A Browns player on Stefanski: “Kevin is so serious about wearing the mask that I have barely seen his face this year. The mask is always on. I think I’ve heard him yell four times all season – once at a ref and three times at players about wearing masks. For him to get it is unbelievable.”
King: “Thursday: Facility still closed. Morning install meetings, afternoon virtual walkthrough. No on-field practice for the second straight day…Seven players, six coaches on the COVID list, no practice.”
King: “Friday: With the league ruling the danger of spread among active Browns players to be low enough, the Browns open their facility, sort of, for players and coaches to return in three shifts of 10 minutes each for practice…Players will dress in the chilly fieldhouse, then practice for about 90 minutes, their first time together in five days…On the field during practice, (Case) Keenum is not close to (Baker) Mayfield. Maybe 15 feet away most often, or further. In fact, Mayfield’s not near anyone for any length of time.”
Keenum on practicing and distancing: “I need to stay as far away from Baker as I can. If there’s any two people who shouldn’t be close, it’s me and Baker.”
King: “Saturday: Perhaps the strangest travel day in the august history of the Cleveland Browns…Two planes ferry about 60 players and staff per plane on the 26-minute flight to Greater Pittsburgh International Airport…To be even safer, all 19 coaches who will be available for the game are picked up at their homes by drivers from a Cleveland car service…To be even safer, five players were also picked up at their Cleveland homes in five private cars.”
King on the cost of the private cars: “Cost for the 24 limo rides: $445 per coach and player; $10,680 total. Plus tip.”
Browns QB Baker Mayfield to NBC Sports’ Michele Tafoya in postgame interview: “We had Michael Dunn step in at left guard for Joel Bitonio, and then Michael got hurt, and then a guy named Blake that I introduced myself to literally in the locker room before the game stepped up in the fourth quarter.”
King on Hance and the Browns: “When the emergency guy who’d driven 443 miles to join the team rushes onto an NFL field for the first time and blocks Cam Heyward, you get this strong feeling: Things might be turning for the Cleveland Browns.”
King: “On Sunday, I spoke with Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who gave Tompa Bay fits Saturday night…(Heinicke) was studying math remotely at Old Dominion in the fall with no football job – until Washington called with an offer to join the practice squad five weeks ago. The rest is living history.”
Heinicke on his first experience in NFL Playoffs: “It’s definitely something to be proud about. It’s definitely something my dad would be proud of me about. It’s one of the things, you just keep this ball rolling. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve been in the real world. I’ve been taking classes, you know. That’s great and all but it’s not as fun as playing ball.”
Heinicke on his diving touchdown: “I’ve seen a video of the dive. I didn’t know I dove from the four-yard line. That was pretty cool. But again, that was one of those things I just wanted to go get. I knew our team needed it. I thought it was gonna be a huge spark for our team and again I’ll never forget that. Unfortunately, that’s when I hurt my shoulder. At least it came on a pretty cool play.”
Heinicke on speaking with Tom Brady after the game: “It’s always really cool when you’re talking to a future Hall of Famer. Probably the best quarterback to ever play the game. It’s a neat experience. He just told me I played a hell of a game, showed a lot of grit out there. And just to keep working. Again, for that to come from him, it’s pretty neat. Not a lot of people get to experience that.”
Listen to the full conversation on The Peter King Podcast here.
King on Rams-Packers: “The Rams’ hopes might lay in the middle of prospective Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald’s ribcage. He was limited to 30 snaps in Seattle because of the mid-game rib injury, and who knows how effective he’ll be Saturday in Wisconsin.”
King on Browns-Chiefs: “Can the Browns keep the miracle alive? It’ll be tough to beat the rested Super Bowl champs, obviously. But I’m not a big fan of resting healthy players for three weeks before the playoffs, which is what Kansas City did with Patrick Mahomes…Hard not to like the defending champs, but it’s also hard to love them unconditionally entering their Super Bowl playoff defense.”
King on Buccaneers-Saints: “All week, you’re sure to hear that the first two games this year – Saints, 34-23 and 38-3 – don’t matter now. I don’t buy it for a second. The second game, when Brady threw three picks and looked very 43, is the worrisome one.”
King on Ravens-Bills: “The game of next weekend? Baltimore at Buffalo. The revived Ravens have been playing playoff games since the weird Wednesday afternoon loss in Pittsburgh; they’ve won six straight. Buffalo’s won seven in a row. Both quarterbacks, hot. Both defenses, hot.”
Ravens DE Calais Campbell to King on their win over the Titans: “I don’t usually get that emotional. Part of it is I’m a lot closer to the end than the beginning. I don’t know if I’ll ever have an opportunity like this again. If this was gonna be my last game, how did I want to play it? Giving everything…And even though I’ve only been on this team a year, I know we’re special.”
NEWS & NOTES
King on voting for Aaron Rodgers as MVP: “I’ve never seen a quarterback who makes the game look as easy as Rodgers. This is the best overall crop of quarterbacks starting now that I’ve seen in 37 seasons covering the NFL, and sometimes I think we play down Rodgers’ greatness because of how good all the new kids are, particularly Mahomes. But Rodgers is an all-timer by any measure, and this season was an absolute masterpiece.”
King on voting for Derrick Henry as Offensive Player of the Year: “Henry’s greatness in recent times must be recognized…Until the AP sets parameters for differentiating between MVP and Offensive Players, the 50 voters will have to do so themselves. This year, Henry’s meteoric play gets my vote here.”
King on voting for Aaron Donald as Defensive Player of the Year: “Tough call, with Pittsburgh pass-rusher T.J. Watt and Miami cornerback Xavien Howard very close…Donald, to me, continues to be the most dangerous defensive player in football.”
King on voting for Kevin Stefanski as Coach of the Year: “Stefanski, the rookie head coach, wasn’t just along for the ride in Cleveland’s first playoff season since 2002. He’s smart…Bringing the best out of Baker Mayfield (21 picks last year, eight this year) in a crucial third season…just adds to the value of a coach who had an 11-5 season, the first time the Browns have won 11 or more in 26 years.”
King on Rams QB Jared Goff: “Lots of startling events of the weekend, none more than Heinicke-mania. But this was number two: sudden backup Rams QB Jared Goff, with 1:24 left, taking the last two snaps of a surprising road win over the NFC West champ Seahawks in victory formation…Now it’ll be interesting to see, with a trip to Green Bay looming, if they came play the same style: opportunistic on defense against Aaron Rodgers, and balanced on offense with Goff well enough to play.”
King on Texans and Deshaun Watson: “At times like this, the best thing for a team and its new GM is not to jump to conclusions about anything. Nick Caserio inherited this mess, and, seeing that he’s been on the job for a grand total of four days, I’d like to give him two months – till the start of the 2021 league year – to fix it…When no one’s looking and Caserio can confidently meet Watson in absolutely privacy with his new coach, then try to surgically repair the relationship.”
King on Eric Bieniemy: “With the climate in this country and this league right now, and with Bieniemy having been passed over recently, I think if the 51-year-old right-hand man to Andy Reid doesn’t get a job in this cycle with six openings, the league will face heavy pressure internally and externally…If Bieniemy is passed over again, I think players will be very vocal about it.”
KING’S WILD CARD WEEKEND AWARDS
Offensive Players of the Week: Taylor Heinicke, Washington, & Lamar Jackson, Baltimore.
King on Jackson: “Evidently he can win the big one. That’s what the highly emotional game in Nashville proved Sunday afternoon. Jackson should play more often exactly the way he played Sunday, taking off when the opportunity presents itself.”
Defensive Players of the Week: Karl Joseph, Cleveland, & Aaron Donald¸ Los Angeles Rams.
King on Joseph: “Player of the Week? I could have split it among 45 Browns.”
Coach of the Week: Brandon Staley, defensive coordinator, Los Angeles Rams.
King: “I’ve never seen Russell Wilson more uncomfortable than he has been against the Rams this season, in Staley’s first year as L.A.’s defensive boss. No wonder the Jets and Chargers want to talk to him about a head-coaching job.”
Goats of the Week: Anthony Weaver, Houston defensive coordinator, & Adrian Hill, referee.
King on Weaver: “I don’t know whose fault it was that on the biggest play of the Tennessee-Houston game, there was no deep safety in the game for Houston. But that buck has to stop with the defensive boss, Weaver.”
The following are additional highlights of NBC Sports’ NFL coverage:
- Football Night in America: Wild Card Weekend Recap with Liam McHugh, Tony Dungy, and Mike Florio.
- PFT Live with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio and Chris Simms streams live on Peacock from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ET on weekdays, followed by The Dan Patrick Show at 9 a.m. ET, The Rich Eisen Show at Noon ET, Brother From Another at 3 p.m. ET, PFT PM at 5 p.m. ET. At 6 p.m. ET, Safety Blitz streams on Monday and Chris Simms Unbuttoned stream Tuesday-Friday.
- ProFootballTalk.com continues to provide the latest news and updates.
- The Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast and Rotoworld Football Podcast discuss Wild Card Weekend and look ahead to the Divisional games.
A new “Football Morning in America” posts every Monday morning exclusively on NBCSports.com through the NFL season. It was announced in May 2019 that King signed an exclusive agreement with NBC Sports Group that included writing a weekly Monday morning NFL column for NBCSports.com; making regular appearances on PFT Live with Mike Florio; and continuing to contribute to Football Night in America, the most-watched studio show in sports.