Week in Review: The ultimate wild card in the AFC is... Jonathan Taylor

Also inside: D.J. Chark's words to live by, Mario Butler's surreal childhood, how AJ Dillon changes the Packers and a lively Episode 4 of the Go Long Podcast.

Welcome to the best month on the football calendar.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Granted, before we know it, the commish will be personally throwing pizza parties and giving all 53 players on all 32 teams a trophy for their participation. I still think adding another playoff team is a little ridiculous. But, still, playoff football is upon us and there is so much intrigue everywhere you look in Week 17.

A ton is up grabs:

  • Will the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC go through frigid northeast Wisconsin? Or could the Chicago Bears stun their rival to ensure everyone keeps their jobs, too? What a moment this is for Mitchell Trubisky.

  • Will the Cleveland Browns make the playoffs once and for all? Finally? Covid-19 seems to be doing everything in its power to extend the curse hanging over this franchise but if the Browns win, vs. Mason Rudolph, they’re in. Simple enough.

  • Can the Baltimore Ravens take care of business against Cincinnati and keep their momentum rolling into the playoffs? Lamar Jackson sure looks like an MVP again and that defense is ruthless.

  • Could the New York Giants win the NFC East at 6-10? It’s very possible.

We’ll be sure to analyze it all in The Thread on Monday morning. In the meantime, here is what went down this week in case you missed anything. You can click the hyperlinked headline to read the full story. And as always — if you’re on the free email list — feel free to ding this button below to get everything at Go Long.

AJ Dillon arrives. We know Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate in the midst of a career year but Rodgers also has had some real duds in the postseason. It’s hard to ask any elite quarterback to be perfect for three or four straight games. So it sure doesn’t hurt for this monster of a rookie running back to emerge right about now.

In The Thread on Monday, we took another look at how Dillon changes the Packers.

As written at Go Long a month ago, the master plan was genius all along. Now, we’re seeing that genius put into action. Building two teams within one is something most all teams don’t even consider but the Packers had that luxury. Now, the second-round pick few fans even wanted could play hero a la James Starks in 2010.

He’s just a tad larger. With only 7.8 percent body fat. And runs a 4.53 in the 40. Who also benched 225 pounds 23 times at the Combine. Yeah, Dillon is rare. Here’s what he told me when asked why so many teams are afraid to draft backs his size:

“It’s so uncommon, that people get nervous about it. They get scared and try to figure out everything wrong with a guy my size. So you hear all the knocks: ‘Well, he has tread on his tires. Well, he’s not as fast. Well, he doesn’t catch the ball so much.’ You have to play to your strengths. Not everybody has this size and speed so, yeah, they’re going to hand off the ball more because defenses aren’t used to tackling it. It’s not easy to be 250 and be able to run and jump and be athletic and stay in good health and be an explosive player and a game-changer. … I didn’t just wake up and was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m super strong.’ A lot of work went into staying in shape. Do you know how hard it is to carry these legs around? I could probably feed a family of five with one of my thighs.”

D.J. Chark’s 2020 message. The Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver knows there are millions of people suffering from anxiety and depression and was not afraid to share his experience with both to Go Long. Since childhood, depression has been a part of Chark’s life. A therapist helped. His then-girlfriend, now-wife helped. And, most of all, embracing his passion (football) helped, even with the Jaguars about to finish 1-15 on the season. Chark knows it is not easy to shake that sense of raw fear. But I think his words can do a lot of good for a lot of people out there who may be struggling through this pandemic.

That CDC survey in our piece is quite alarming, too. We need to take the mental health of our country seriously.

It’s not easy to tell all like Chark did, but he believes speaking out can help somebody out there.

Part of that convo:

“This year has shown us that you have to expect the unexpected. I think the biggest thing is to continue to have fight — never lay down. No matter what obstacle you’re going through in life, it can be overcome. That’s the biggest thing I would want to explain to people. We’re all going through a tough year together. It’s like we’re all on the tree and we all have different branches. But we’re all connected to the same tree. I think we all can continue to lean on each other and get better, then the world would be a better place.”

Mario Butler’s perspective. I’m guessing most readers out there have no clue who this former Buffalo Bills cornerback is, right? He was cut several times over, finally played in 2015 and has been out of the league since. Football does not come close to defining Butler’s life, though.

In sum: When Butler was a kid in Jacksonville, his father was found murdered, chopped to pieces in his own refrigerator and the family never found out who the killer was. In this Q&A — which we’re calling “Throwback Thursday” now so you know when to expect it — Butler explains what he did next.

His willingness to forgive is mind-blowing:

“So that’s very important to me — how can I look at the situation. And find the positive out of it. How can I impact someone’s life through what somebody would call a “negative situation.” Now, that I’m older, I really do believe things happen for you, not to you. So I look at my Dad’s death and wonder, ‘How can this help me?’ I see now that it makes me a better father. I want to be present for my kids. I want to be at every sporting event, every gymnastics practice, every swim practice. It matters to me to be present all the time. Without that, I don’t think I would be the father I am today. I don’t think I’m Superman by any means but kids probably do. They don’t know any better. They think I’m the best Dad ever because I’m present. And that’s what I’ve definitely been focusing on. Being present in their lives and spending time with them because time is not guaranteed.”

And here comes Jonathan Taylor! The Indianapolis Colts blew it last week in Pittsburgh but their season is not dead yet. The key now? Feeding their rookie back early and feeding him often. In our Friday feature, the former Wisconsin great explained in detail how he busted out of the doghouse to get to this point. He’s as cerebral a player as you’ll meet, someone who considered attending Harvard to study astrophysics.

At Wisconsin, Taylor majored in philosophy and he truly views the running back position through that philosophical lens. He’s constantly asking How? and Why? and that is how he became the ultimate wild card in the AFC.

In the conference of Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen and Derrick Henry, just maybe Taylor is the player who elevates this very, very strong roster. The Colts don’t have any glaring weaknesses but they do need a star to rise with Philip Rivers fading fast. For while, Taylor couldn’t even win over his position coach, the former 49er great Tom Rathman. He wasn’t playing “big-boy football,” as Rathman put.

Now? Taylor has the team’s trust. Taylor is in a groove.

“Whenever you have a huge game coming out, just make your world small. Just focus in on the smallest of small details possible. Because when the game gets really big and you start trying to put the weight and the pressure of a big game (on your shoulders) — as well as the weight and the pressure of what your job and assignment is to do — the game is too big and the game is too fast and it will eat you up. So the bigger the game, the smaller your world. If you just lock in and say, ‘I know every single coaching point on this play and that’s how I’m going to execute,’ that’s how not only myself, but my team, takes the approach in those big games.”

A huge THANK YOU to all subscribers who participated in our first discussion thread and first Zoom Happy Hour. Both were a riot and I cannot wait to do it all again next week. Be on the lookout for the Zoom log-in information every Monday morn inside The Thread.

Also, from Christmas Week, here’s a look at why Zack Moss is the secret to the Buffalo Bills winning a Super Bowl — Moss broke down the effects of “Moss Mode” — and Lamar Jackson’s private quarterbacks coach took everyone through Jackson’s up ‘n down third year in the NFL. Joshua Harris provided some fascinating detail on Jackson’s game. And what a fun fourth episode of the Go Long Podcast this was with longtime personnel man Jim Monos at Hamburg Brewery here in Western New York. Many stories are shared, from the Saints choosing between Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez… to Tim Tebow’s pro day… to La’el Collins’ crazy draft-day plunge… to Josh Allen entering the MVP conversation.

We hope you enjoy. Feel free to rate, review and share the pod with a friend.

Thanks for reading, too. Your support makes this all go.

Never hesitate to reach out at golongtd@gmail.com.

Give a gift subscription