Monday Morning Jones: Pacquiao-Mayweather still needs to happen

Al Bello

Manny Pacquiao got knocked out, and we'd still watch him fight Floyd Mayweather. Robert Griffin III got hurt, and the Redskins still won. And the Jets can still go to the playoffs. Seriously. That and more in the Monday Morning Jones.

With the NFL's emphasis on head injuries, football games are bittersweet when players lay motionless for minutes. Oh, well, good thing we don't do that with boxing! Manny Pacquiao got laid out!

Yes, to the weekend...

I don't think Floyd Mayweather is scared of Manny Pacquiao now. Pacquiao's bout Saturday with Juan Manuel Marquez wasn't Hagler-Hearns, but it was as exciting as one could ask a six-round bout to be. Marquez dropped Pacquiao with an incredible overhand right in the third round, only to have his nose broken soon after. He'd been knocked down in the fifth, managing to fight back as he struggled to make it to the bell. Just before the end of the sixth, Marquez put him to sleep.

Chances are this will lead to Pacquiao-Marquez V, but the story is always whether Pacquiao and Mayweather will ever get into the ring. Another Pacquiao loss, this one indisputable, has taken some luster off what many thought would be a battle between the two best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. But does Marquez landing the best punch of his life make anyone want to see someone kick Floyd's ass any less?


Even in the face of this defeat, many believe Pacquiao could beat Mayweather. More importantly, they think he's the only one who can. They sure can't think it's Marquez, given the way Floyd dismantled him in 2009. And ultimately, much of the world just wants to see someone humble Money. And if there were anyone they wanted to see do it, it would be the understated Pacquiao. That's enough to sell pay-per-views and make people plan fight parties, and it's enough for even an amateur promoter to use to create a mega-event. And as Pacquiao's stock continues to slip, it might be enough to get Mayweather and Pacquiao to figure out how to share what would be one of the greatest paydays in sports history.

Where to start with the Redskins? With Robert Griffin III's status for next week up in the air after a knee injury late in the fourth quarter of Washington's 31-28 overtime win over the Ravens, it's hard not to look ahead. But how could we forget everything that happened Sunday? From the great back-and-forth between those two offenses, another demonstration of Griffin's precocious poise and Kirk Cousins' perfect relief appearance, the Skins teem with an electricity unseen in the franchise since 1991. Mike Shanahan looks like an offensive genius again, and his son Kyle looks like a real-live NFL coordinator (what a great call on the game-tying two-point conversion). Oh, and Washington is one game out of the lead in the NFC East with games at Cleveland and Philadelphia before closing the season at home against the Cowboys.

But even with Griffin, beating the Browns -- winners of three straight -- wasn't guaranteed. Without him? We're talking about going from the man second in the NFL in quarterback rating, who helped take the Skins from 26th in points in 2011 to eighth this year, to a rookie who has thrown 11 passes all season. How long could Washington -- both the team and the city entranced by its quarterback -- survive without the franchise player? And though I hate to remind Washingtonians of the Stephen Strasburg shutdown, how careful must Shanahan be with his star quarterback when the coach's first playoff berth with the Redskins is in his grasp?

The Year of Johnny Football. There was no flawless Heisman Trophy candidate this year, so it's hard to argue with a record-breaking quarterback of a Top-10 team who, in one year and without doing interviews, became the biggest star in college football. Johnny Manziel wasn't great against the two best defenses he faced this season, but he got it done when most of the country was watching, against a team that will play for the national championship. The legend-building has been a bit much, seeing how we've seen lots of quarterbacks with Manziel's talent (and the fact he's no more undersized than Michael Vick was).

But those of us -- and yes, us includes me -- who joked about how mightily Texas A&M would struggle in the SEC were made to look foolish. Unlike Missouri, the Aggies looked to belong in the nation's best conference in every game, and they were carried by their quarterback. It didn't matter that Manziel was a redshirt freshman because it shouldn't have. No matter what happens the rest of his career, we'll associate 2012 with Johnny Football like we think of Herschel Walker and 1980. In one afternoon in Tuscaloosa, it became his year, and that's why he left New York with his Heisman Trophy.

Does anyone in the AFC North want to win it all? Now that the Colts have nine wins, it'll be nearly impossible for all three of Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to make the postseason. After each lost Sunday, it's fair to wonder if any of them want to make the postseason.

Baltimore could have locked up the division. The Steelers got Ben Roethlisberger back, and they looked worse than they did with Charlie Batch under center. And the Bengals had a classic come-from-ahead loss against the Cowboys, who are usually on the business end of such things. And the Ravens -- with the Broncos, Giants and Bengals left to play -- lost their grip on the second seed in the AFC. After looking like it could put three teams in the postseason, another week like this in the North could leave with just its division champion playing in January. That's because ...

The Jets could make the playoffs. After beating Jacksonville Sunday, they're one game behind the Steelers and Bengals. They don't play another game against a team over .500. And... seriously, how is this possible?


Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when Cam Newton was a bust? Even in their wins, I've harped on the things that beat the Falcons in Sunday's 30-20 loss to the Panthers -- rushing and stopping the run -- so no need to do it again. It's necessary, however, to revisit Newton a few weeks after pundits questioned whether he was a bust, if he could be fixed, or whether he'd be the next Vince Young.

In his last six games, Newton has thrown 11 touchdowns against two interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pick in four weeks. Each of the last three weeks (and seven times in 13 games) Newton has led the Panthers in rushing, and his quarterback rating has been over 95 five of the last six weeks. And in a season when many have absolved Andrew Luck's statistical shortcomings because of how often he passes downfield, Newton entered Week 14 as the NFL's leader in yards per attempt and yards per completion.

Even when things looked their worst for Newton, he wasn't as bad as advertised. Since, he has improved. His team is playing better. His behavior in the face of adversity is more becoming of an adult. All those who were so quick to bury Newton less than halfway through this season may want to reexamine their takes. The Panthers still need to win more games. But those who were certain Cam had crashed to earth have, quietly, been made to look ridiculous.

Here's the only thing you need to know about Adrian Peterson. He's averaging more yards per rushing attempt than Christian Ponder averages per passing attempt. Past that, he might run for 2,000 yards one year after tearing his ACL, and lead this team to the playoffs. As for the Bears, Sunday's 21-14 loss to A.D. and the Vikings reminded the world the Bears run defense isn't just a weakness. After giving up 114 or more rushing yards for the seventh straight week -- and 347 in the last two weeks -- it's a full-blown problem.

Yeah, the Seahawks ran up the score. And? It got out of hand quickly in Seattle, so much so that Pete Carroll went to backup quarterback Matt Flynn (the most overpaid player in the NFL) in the third quarter of the Seahawks' 58-0 win over Arizona. So, seeing how Flynn hadn't gotten to throw a pass all season, why shouldn't he have gotten the chance to throw for touchdowns?

This wasn't USC playing some FCS school. This was a professional team playing against another. If the Cardinals couldn't stop the Seahawks' B-team, that's something they need to take care of in practice. Carroll and the Seahawks owed them nothing but fair play, and that's what they got. Even if it was more than the Cards could handle.

I'll keep it brief about the Lakers. After 10 games of the Mike D'Antoni era, the Lakers look like they were better off with Bernie Bickerstaff staying the f*ck out of the way than with a full-time coach. Which makes you wonder if the Lakers are paying two coaches for a performance that Mike Brown, whose teams have never finished short of the conference semifinals, could have produced himself.

What more can the NFL do about its players' drinking and driving? That's been the macro-level question asked since Josh Brent was charged with intoxicated manslaughter Saturday morning after driving in an accident that killed his teammate Jerry Brown. But the NFL does plenty to keep its players from driving under the influence of alcohol. Players have access to a NFLPA-provided confidential car service, and the league will also make sure a player's car is transported from a location back to his home. That's more than the NFL should even be required to do, and it makes it inexcusable when a player drives drunk. There is always another option.

So what could the league be expected to do beyond that? Players are grown men. They can be punished after they err, but how much can be done before they make mistakes? "Minority Report" was not real. Ultimately, men's decisions will be their own, no matter how grim the consequences of their actions may be. It's no easier to stop people from driving drunk than it is to stop them from drinking in the first place.

What happened to Brown was terrible. Brent will pay for what he did in many ways. But unless athletes -- and people -- stop drinking altogether, we'll always have to cross our fingers and hope they make good decisions when they're drunk. Sadly, there's not much else we can do.

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