ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 7

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ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown Notes and Quotes: Week 7

ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis previewed today’s NFL games with insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Some comments from today’s show:

On being surprised wide receiver Percy Harvin was traded …

Jackson: “He is a difference maker. I’m trying to imagine the magnitude of the problems and baggage that he would have to bring to the Seattle locker room in order for them to get rid of this difference maker … They were willing to give him away – ‘we want him out of our locker room.’ I am hesitant to be the next team to bring him into the locker room. Seattle is less of a football team today than they were on Friday because of letting this guy go. They are less dangerous because this guy is not playing for them.”

Lewis: “You are talking about a very, very special talent – home run hitter when it comes to breakaway speed and what this guy can do. He is a mismatch problem for a lot of teams. He’s one of the biggest reasons Seattle has so many misdirection plays … The players have to understand this is a business at its highest level. Going into these locker rooms, you have to understand that you don’t have to get along with everybody. But you have to find a way to work with anybody. Percy (Harvin) – as well as other guys – needs to understand that.”

Ditka: “There’s nothing worse than a fractured locker room. I’m not sure I agree that they have the big loss here. With production on the field, yes. But, what he’s doing in that locker room is undermining what the coach and that football team is all about. They won a Super Bowl last year, not because of Percy Harvin. The leader of this football team is the quarterback.”

Carter: “For any player that has previous issues, there is always a moment in time that you get the chance to change or alter your history. It is all in your hand. There is always a fork, right on the road, that stops you and you have the opportunity to either go left and go about doing things your own way. Or to go right and make the right decisions and try to do something special with your life. Percy Harvin is not a bad person, but he has had issues in high school, in college and now, with two professional teams. I’m not looking at the scheme, I’m looking right at Percy Harvin because it is really up to him. He is a phenomenal talent. Right now, this league, we have less tolerance for people with great athletic ability and the inability to work in an environment. Everyone should feel safe at work, especially, one of your teammates, who you trust.”

Berman: “(Seahawks head coach) Pete Carroll, if you can’t play there, and he has a winning team, where are you going to play? Now the Jets, hopefully, can give him support, both on- and off-the-field.”

On the Dallas Cowboys and their turnaround …

After showing video from a past Countdown segment where Keyshawn Johnson and Ray Lewis ranked the Cowboys as one of the league’s worst teams, the panel today discussed the team’s turnaround.

Johnson: “(QB) Tony Romo is doing more with less in terms of attempts … You go back to the Super Bowl winning years of Troy Aikman, they had 30 or less attempts per game for Troy Aikman. That is what Tony Romo is right now. He is completing 71 percent of his passes, the highest in the National Football League since week 3. This is why the Cowboys have now gotten up there with Seattle on potential talks about going to Arizona (Super Bowl XLIX).”

Jackson: “What Jason Garrett, that coaching staff, Tony Romo, have all accepted is that ‘we have something that we can depend on,’ and we can depend on it everywhere. They are patient. That’s what the running game takes. So, San Francisco, the four turnovers, they lose that game. But they turned it over three times against the Texans. They stick with the run. They are down 21-nothing to the Rams. They stick with the run. They were down 10-0 in Seattle. That tendency to go back to Romo throwing the ball 45-50 times in order to win the game, it didn’t happen. So, they are patient and confident in what they are doing. The defense is benefitting because they are not on the field as long. Tony Romo benefits because of play action pass.”

Lewis: “History proved exactly what Key (Keyshawn Johnson) and I said. For many a years, the Dallas Cowboys was a very bad football team when it comes to making it to the playoffs. What has changed? What has changed is they went back to the Super Bowl formula. Tony Romo is not throwing 30-plus passes per game. Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls doing the same thing. DeMarco Murray, what this guy does with the football in his hand, is the reason why the Cowboys are winning.”

Ditka: “You can’t win in this league without a defense. I know what we said about the Dallas defense over the years, and everybody was right. They’ve really changed. They are playing much better. The Cover 2 they are playing makes sense – playing with a man under. The middle linebacker is able to get depth. It is a different looking football team. That enables the offense to do what they want to do. They are not trying to catch up all the time.”

Carter: “The thing that is most important is what (defensive coordinator Rod) Marinelli is doing with the defense. He has these players, not better players than they had last year, playing in a scheme that they can perform … Also, (OL coordinator) Scott Linehan and how he has put the stamp on this offense as far as what they are going to be.”

On whether Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray’s workload will eventually catchup up to him …

Johnson: “I don’t care beyond this year, if I’m in the Dallas Cowboys staff. I will run him till his feet start bleeding, till the wheels fall off. Because, I have an opportunity now, with my best football player touching the ball on offense, of doing something we’ve been trying to get to for a very long time which is the playoffs, winning the Division, playing in the Super Bowl. If you’re talking beyond this year, we can deal with that in the off-season. I played with Curtis Martin back in 1998, he led us to the AFC Championship game carrying the football 367 times, touching it 400-plus times. You want to be able to get the ball in the right guy’s hands that can help you.”

Jackson: “This is a team that’s been 8-8 for two decades, we’ve got a chance to win the Super Bowl, I agree with you, I am going to run him and I’m not worried about what the aftermath is going to be. I want him to get paid. Jerry (owner Jerry Jones) has always rewarded guys when they produced for him. You hope he is one of those special guys down the stretch who can carry the ball. The number that we’re looking at, 400-plus carries, usually changes a back’s life – not for the better.”

Lewis: “When you talk about hard-running players, you think about Larry Johnson, Jamal Anderson, Eric Dickerson, even Eddie George. After that year (with max carries) their numbers dropped drastically and throughout the rest of their careers. I get it. This year is special. Use him how you can use him. There was a formula the Baltimore Ravens had in 2000. They had the same type of beast with Jamal Lewis. The complement to that beast was a Priest Holmes. Anytime you can have a two-headed monster that can take a little bit of that, who has almost the same ‘it factor,’ it can be huge for the team.”

On the cusp of Peyton Manning breaking the touchdown record, Tom Jackson reflects on the quarterback’s place in history …

“I was around when Johnny U (Unitas) played football. People think that quarterbacking is exciting now. Back then quarterbacks called their own game. We don’t have enough time to go into his entire legacy, but part of his legacy is that he is the last of these guys who basically are calling the game from the line of scrimmage. When he’s gone, we are not going to see it again, and that’s just part of his legacy.”

Ray Lewis on 49ers defense vs. Peyton Manning’s attempt at the touchdown record …

“The first thing you are saying is – ‘it is not on my watch. It will not happen on my watch. People can talk about these records all day long or you throw fireworks.’ But if you are (49ers defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio, you’re talking about ‘we’re going in to win a football game. Do not get flustered with what’s going on with this record.’

“I had this same opportunity in 2006, I looked at Rex Ryan and said we’ll go to the Super Bowl if we hold Peyton Manning without a touchdown. We gave Peyton Manning five field goals that day. So, it can be done. But they have to have the right mindset to go win the game. And to do it and not worry about the record.”

Inside Slant: The thin line between playing hard and playing dirty …

Following a report by NFL senior analyst Chris Mortensen that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is appealing a league-imposed $25,000 fine for twisting the ankles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and tight end Greg Olsen last week, Carter, Jackson, Johnson and Lewis discussed the fine line between aggressive play and hurting opposing players.

Jackson: “I don’t think you want to be habitually creating plays that could be defined as dirty. People need to understand a dirty play doesn’t make you a dirty player. Very few of us have been on a football field for any number of years and not done something that you didn’t feel bad about … Burfict did some dirty plays. Let’s not make too much of it.”

Lewis: “There’s a lot that goes on underneath that pile … Is he such a bad player? When you watch an offensive lineman dive at somebody’s knees, I always say: ‘Listen, don’t go to my knees. This is where I make my money.’ There are certain things that you don’t go that far.”

Jackson: “We used to police our own game.”

Johnson: “I was always trying to take advantage or get an advantage for me and my team the best I could on the football field. I’m not going to hit somebody, 30 yards away, who had nothing to do with the play. I am not going to peel back on him and knock him out. That, to me, is a dirty play.”

Carter: “So, we all believe in playing a little bit beyond the whistle. But the one thing we all agree on — no hit that is going to cause an injury, to stop a guy from making a living, that’s where you cross the line. And that’s what you call dirty.”

–30–

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Mac Nwulu

I joined ESPN in 1998 and since then, it's been a great experience managing PR and communications for a range of ESPN initiatives and properties, including soccer, NFL and The Undefeated, ESPN’s site focusing on sports, race and urban culture and how they intersect.
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