PARIS — The transfer fee was eye-catching, the salary eye-watering, and the impact jaw-dropping.
It seemed to be the move and the moment that signaled a power shift, a change in soccer’s established order. One of the brightest South American talents of his generation, heralded as the next best player in the world, moving to a rising force in Paris, drawn by money and glamour to a club long on cash and short on patience.
Thirty years later, Neymar would have much the same effect, the Brazilian turned into the most expensive player on the planet by the untrammeled ambition of Paris Saint-Germain. But he was not the first to follow that path.
Six years before Neymar was born, in the summer of 1986, Enzo Francescoli, the Uruguayan forward known as El Principe, blazed the trail when he was snared by another club that believed it could combine the allure of Paris with apparently bottomless wealth to create, almost from scratch, a team of superstars. Before Neymar, before P.S.G., there was Matra Racing de Paris.
It would be too simple to present the grand project — fueled by Qatari money — at P.S.G. as simply a repeat of Racing’s boom and bust in the 1980s. The differences are too pronounced for the parallel to hold.
Racing’s benefactor, the industrialist Jean-Luc Lagardère, saw soccer as a way to win personal glory and commercial advantage; P.S.G.’s owners have turned the club into a pawn in a geopolitical game.
Lagardère’s ambitions were strictly domestic. The chairman of the Matra conglomerate — which made everything from magazines to missiles — he dreamed of restoring Racing, one of the oldest clubs in France, to its 1930s heyday, when it was crowned national champion and had a reputation for impossible luxury.
The modern P.S.G. is not concerned with Ligue 1. Instead, it gauges its strength on a higher stage. Its season will not be defined by a mere parochial triumph, but by whether it can overcome Real Madrid to earn a place in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
And the sums and salaries Qatar Sports Investment, P.S.G.’s financial engine, has lavished on the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé over the last seven years dwarf anything Lagardère ever spent: When Francescoli joined, just before the 1986 World Cup, he was paid 700,000 francs a month, given a house in Montmartre, and presented with a Peugeot 205. Neymar, presumably, drives something a little more impressive.
But there is an inescapable echo of Racing’s story in the very modern revolution at a club with which it once shared a stadium. If it is not a parallel, then perhaps it serves as a parable, an example from which P.S.G. might learn. After all, it is not just deploying the same methods Racing used three decades ago; it is under the same pressures, running the same risks.
“Patience does not exist in Paris,” said Alain De Martigny, once Lagardère’s coach at Racing. “We are much more in the spotlight than elsewhere in France. It has always been like that. A team in Paris cannot be average.”
A Grand Experiment
Lagardère’s grand experiment began in 1982. He had already enjoyed considerable success in auto and horse racing when he turned his attentions to soccer, hoping to merge Racing and another Paris club, Paris F.C., to create a rival for the still relatively young P.S.G. His initial plan was rejected; in the end, he had to make do with buying Paris F.C. and simply renaming it Racing, before the formal merger went through a year later.
The new team started life in France’s second division, but Lagardère had no time to waste. He set about building a team capable of winning promotion. “The recruitment was impressive for a second-tier team,” the midfielder Fathi Chebel said. “Our team was first-division quality, and De Martigny was one of the most valued coaches in France.”
Lagardère’s first coup came in 1983, when he managed to persuade Rabah Madjer, an Algerian striker of considerable promise, to join his club, then still in the second division. “He was a spectacular player,” De Martigny said. “His transfer was like Neymar’s to P.S.G.”
Chebel has “splendid memories” of that period, culminating in promotion in 1984; he describes a team where many of the players were friends, all living in the same areas: Colombes, near Racing’s atmospheric old stadium — Lagardère would install the team in P.S.G.’s Parc des Princes not long after taking charge — and Maisons-Laffitte.
Six of his teammates lived in the same apartment block as him. “Once a week, a player had to organize something and we would all go out together to a restaurant or a concert,” he said. Lagardère encouraged the bonhomie, but also treated his players to lavish dinners. His wife, Chebel said, often brought gifts for the players’ partners.
But when Racing was relegated after a single season in France’s top flight, Lagardère changed tack. “He was a success story, his name means success,” De Martigny said. “We could not fail.” He was fired. When Racing was promptly promoted again in 1986, Lagardère “must have thought it was time to get another dimension.”
That summer, Racing shocked the world just as much as P.S.G. would in 2017. Just before that year’s World Cup, Francescoli, then a star at River Plate in Argentina, joined. His Uruguayan teammate, Ruben Paz, and the West Germany winger Pierre Littbarski followed. So, too, most impressively of all, did Luis Fernandez, a French international and, at the time, the captain of P.S.G.
“We had 13 international players, something like that,” Littbarski said. “It was an interesting idea, the chance to build something up from nothing.”
The recruitment drive continued the following year: Lagardère appointed Artur Jorge, fresh from winning the European Cup with Porto, as his new coach and, with the club now known as Matra Racing, he kept signing players.
David Ginola played against Racing as a teenager for his first club, Toulon, in 1987. “It was amazing to see so many famous names,” he said. He played well that day; the following year, Toulon’s president called him to say he had been sold to Matra. “I wouldn’t have believed it.” He remembers, on his first day, taking part in the official team photograph, and seeing enough high-caliber players to fill “two first-division teams.”
The same year, Lagardère made a bid to sign France’s other bright young thing, Eric Cantona, from Auxerre. He invited the player and his wife to dinner at his home; Cantona recalled seeing servants in “wigs and carrying halberds: It was like the Middle Ages.”
Anger and Aggression
While everything on the surface was just as glamorous as Lagardère had wanted it — just as glamorous as Paris demanded — beneath it, Racing was not a happy place.
“The setup was not professional,” Littbarski said. “When you think about what was invested, you would have been surprised when you saw our training facilities. We were still having to wash our kit ourselves, that sort of thing.”
Littbarski enjoyed his time in Paris off the field — “I was close to Paz, Francescoli, the South American players” — but on it, he said, he was deeply unhappy. After only one season, he returned to Cologne. He was so desperate to go that he paid his own transfer fee. “The Racing guys were quite cool about it,” he said. “And after a while Cologne got me some of my money back.”
His was hardly an isolated case. Francescoli stuck it out for three years, but reportedly did so in a state of considerable despair.
“The level of aggression in training was incredible,” Ginola said. “The atmosphere was really complicated. There were a lot of big-name players who were not playing in the first team, and they were not happy. It was difficult for the manager, and it was hard as a young player. The dressing room was awful.”
In public, things were not much better. Racing’s results were moderate, if not spectacular — finishing 13th in 1987 and 7th in 1988 — but the team struggled to attract fans. By the end of the 1988 season, it was averaging gates of only 7,000.
“I remember one game, to try to fill the Parc des Princes, Matra invited lots of kids for free,” Ginola said. “We were playing St. Etienne, one of the historic teams in France. I went out to warm up, and all the kids had come in green St. Etienne jerseys. It looked like an away game.”
In the face of a toxic club culture and widespread public apathy, Matra Racing imploded. It narrowly avoided relegation in 1989 — surviving only on goal difference — but by then Lagardère had had enough. Under pressure from Matra’s shareholders, he announced he was pulling out.
The club became Racing Paris once more, and was forced to sell off its stars. Ginola left for Brest, and Francescoli for Marseille, where he would win a league title, and inspire a young fan called Zinedine Zidane to such an extent that he would name his first child Enzo. The club disappeared back into oblivion. It has not returned. The whole escapade had cost Lagardère, and Matra, more than $300 million.
Such a fate is unlikely for P.S.G., of course. The stakes are far too high, the money invested far too great, for Qatar Sports Investment simply to walk away. But that is not to say there are not lessons to be learned, caution to be taken, from the rise and fall of Matra Racing.
“Paris is a very special place,” Littbarski said. “It is maybe the same as Madrid: The football has to be entertaining. The people like entertainment. That is the most difficult thing.”
Like Matra, like Lagardère, P.S.G. has tried to cater to that demand. It has brought the biggest stars it can find, all in the hope of “creating a football mentality in Paris,” as Littbarski said. But that carries with it a risk, as those who remember Racing know all too well.
“You can have all the talent in the world,” Ginola said. “But the main thing is to invest wisely, not just to buy a lot of talented players. The pieces all have to fit together.”
Kareem Hunt Is Released by the Chiefs After a Video Showed Him Hurting a Woman
The Kansas City Chiefs released their star running back, Kareem Hunt, on Friday, shortly after the N.F.L. suspended him in response to the release of a video that showed Hunt knocking a woman to the ground and kicking her at a hotel in February.
The video was recorded at the Metropolitan at the 9 hotel, in downtown Cleveland, where Hunt has an apartment. The police were called, but no arrests were made and no charges were filed. The Chiefs knew about the incident — it had been reported by news organizations at the time — but it was not clear whether team officials or N.F.L. officials, or both, had seen the video until TMZ posted it on Friday.
The league, in a statement, said it had placed Hunt on the commissioner’s exempt list, which would not allow him to play, practice or attend games but would let him be paid. The statement said the league had begun an investigation soon after the incident in February and that the investigation would now include “a review of the new information that was made public today.”
The Chiefs, in a statement, said that several members of their management team had spoken directly with Hunt after the team learned of the incident in February. “Kareem was not truthful in those discussions,” the team statement said. “The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”
The case has joined a litany of questionable, and sometimes violent, off-season incidents involving N.F.L. players.
ESPN reported that Hunt, 23, who is in his second season, was sent home from a practice after the video came out. The league took no disciplinary action after the incident first came to light in February, and he has been one of the most dynamic players on the Chiefs, who are 9-2 and in first place in the A.F.C. West.
The video shows Hunt pushing a woman and being restrained by several men. Hunt then breaks free. The ensuing tumult sends the woman reeling, hitting a wall and falling to the ground, where Hunt kicks her.
One police report obtained by The Kansas City Star said a 19-year old woman from Ohio claimed she was “shoved and pushed” by Hunt, who was listed as a suspect. The Star reported that a second police report named the woman as a suspect.
Clark Hunt, the team’s owner, said in the off-season that he was hopeful that the player had learned from his past. “Kareem is a young man, second year in the league, obviously had a very big year on the field last year,” he said. “I’m sure he learned some lessons this off-season and hopefully won’t be in those kinds of situations in the future.”
The accusations against Kareem Hunt are a fresh reminder of the N.F.L.’s conflicted approach to players accused of assault and domestic abuse. The league has vowed to take a hard line on cases of domestic abuse since 2014, when the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was seen on video knocking out a woman who was his fiancée.
The league had suspended Rice for two games when the incident was first reported, but weeks later, when more graphic video was released, Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. A former federal judge brought in to adjudicate the matter overruled the permanent suspension because Rice was effectively being suspended twice for the same infraction.
Rice, though, never returned to the N.F.L.
After that controversy, the league introduced several new policies that included stiffer penalties for players found to have committed domestic abuse, less reliance on law enforcement for guidance and a more robust investigative team at the N.F.L.
Still, the response to incidents has been uneven. In 2016, the league suspended Josh Brown, a Giants kicker, for one game because it believed he committed only one act of violence against his wife.
The league later suspended him indefinitely with pay after police documents showed Brown wrote about being “physically, verbally and emotionally” abusive to his wife.
This week, the Washington Redskins were widely criticized for claiming linebacker Reuben Foster off waivers. Foster, 24, had been released by the San Francisco 49ers days after he was arrested in Tampa, Fla., on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
The league suspended Foster indefinitely with pay, but the Redskins decided to sign him anyway, though it is unlikely he will play this season. “The Redskins fully understand the severity of the recent allegations made against Reuben,” Doug Williams, the senior vice president for player personnel, said in a statement. “If true, you can be sure these allegations are nothing our organization would ever condone.”
While the Redskins were willing to await judgment on Foster, some former N.F.L. players were quick to condemn Kareem Hunt. “I thought I was a perfect example of what NOT to do!!!!” the former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who was convicted of domestic violence, said on Twitter. “I thought by speaking aloud about my pitfalls that players after me could see these situations before they happen.”
Ray Crockett, a retired defensive back who played a part of his career for Kansas City, lashed out at the league.
About six hours after that message, the league announced the suspension and the team released Hunt.
- ^ The video was recorded at the Metropolitan at the 9 hotel, in downtown Cleveland (www.tmz.com)
- ^ police report obtained by The Kansas City Star (www.kansascity.com)
- ^ he punched a man (www.tmz.com)
- ^ Clark Hunt, the team’s owner, said in the off-season (www.kansascity.com)
- ^ league suspended Josh Brown, a Giants kicker (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ wrote about being “physically, verbally and emotionally” abusive to his wife (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Foster, 24, had been released by the San Francisco 49ers (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Larry Johnson, who was convicted of domestic violence, said on Twitter (twitter.com)
- ^ he wrote on Twitter (twitter.com)
Doctors Said Hockey Enforcer Todd Ewen Did Not Have C.T.E. But He Did.
WILDWOOD, Mo. — The news at first seemed to shock the medical world studying the relationship between hard hits to the head in sports and a degenerative neurological disease called C.T.E.
Todd Ewen, one of hockey’s most aggressive fighters, who fatally shot himself at age 49 in September 2015, did not have the disease, despite displaying a wide range of symptoms for it.
That was the conclusion of doctors in Toronto. It turned out to be wrong.
Ewen’s wife, Kelli, was skeptical about the Toronto doctors’ conclusion and had her husband’s brain tissue tested by doctors at Boston University’s C.T.E. Center, whose findings were checked by researchers at the Mayo Clinic.
Ewen, they said Friday, did in fact have C.T.E., stoking the debate about the disease’s relationship to hockey instead of tempering it.
on the links between C.T.E. and the sport of hockey and to fend off lawsuits from former players who said the N.H.L. had misled them about the dangers of the sport.
Most of all, the diagnosis provides some closure for Kelli Ewen, who watched her husband’s life spiral out of control and who was mortified when the initial conclusion that he did not have C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, became a prop in the wider war over the disease between sports leagues and scientists.
“Now I have a reason for how and why all this happened,” Kelli Ewen said in her home outside St. Louis. “How could one expert find no C.T.E. at all? So we asked another expert, who said there is no way a 49-year-old man with repeated head trauma didn’t have signs of C.T.E.”
Kelli Ewen said she knew nothing about C.T.E. until Todd mentioned it a year before he died. By that point, he was forgetting even simple tasks and conversations, withdrawing socially and lashing out with little prompting. She had no inkling he had a corrosive brain disease. The couple sought therapy for a few years.
Todd Ewen, though, sensed something more serious was wrong, and began reading about C.T.E. and its links to other athletes who suffered repeated head trauma, including hockey enforcers.
During his career, Ewen, who played for the St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Mighty Ducks and San Jose Sharks, broke three knuckles and every finger on both hands. His nose was reconstructed three times and his eye socket was shattered. He blew out both knees. He had multiple concussions, black eyes and stitches on his face. Once, a player punched him so hard the screws on the inside of Ewen’s helmet were driven into his forehead.
“If a fighter got a concussion, it was just part of the game,” Kelli Ewen said of hockey enforcers in the 1980s and 1990s, when her husband played. “But I can tell you there were many nights he came home and couldn’t see, or was blurry out of one eye for days, or had headaches, or was confused for 24 hours after a serious fight.”
After he retired, Ewen became an investment broker, worked in real estate, received five patents for various inventions and earned a degree in information technology. He coached the St. Louis University hockey team for several years, but resigned in 2013 because he started to miss practices and forget plays.
Afterward, he became more reclusive, his widow said. He started carrying a yellow notepad so he could remember what errands to run. Doctors prescribed anti-depressants, but they made his moods worse, she said.
“In the morning, I’d wake up and wonder if I was getting the mad Todd or the sad Todd,” she said. “Todd knew there was something wrong with Todd. He kept saying, ‘There’s something wrong with my brain, I don’t know what it is, but there’s something wrong.’”
After he killed himself, a member of the St. Louis Blues alumni association asked Kelli if she wanted to donate her husband’s brain to doctors in Toronto. Eager for an explanation for her husband’s demise, she agreed. She said she spoke with Hazrati, the doctor, and asked if she was unbiased.
“I had read that there were a lot of C.T.E. naysayers,” Kelli Ewen said. Hazrati “assured me she was not on one side or another.”
When Hazrati called six months later with the results, Kelli said she was speechless. In a statement after the results were announced, the doctor said: “Our findings continue to show that concussions can affect the brain in different ways. This underlines the need to not only continue this research, but also be cautious about drawing any definitive conclusions about C.T.E. until we have more data.”
In her own statement, Kelli said, “We hope that anyone suffering from the effects of concussion takes heart that their symptoms are not an automatic diagnosis of C.T.E. Depression coupled with other disorders can have many of the same symptoms of C.T.E.”
Skeptics of C.T.E. and its link to repeated head trauma used the negative diagnosis to underline the need for caution. In July 2016, Bettman, the hockey commissioner, in a letter to Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, cited Ewen’s case to blame the news media for getting ahead of the science on the long-term effects of head injuries.
“This, sadly, is precisely the type of tragedy that can result when plaintiffs’ lawyers and their media consultants jump ahead of the medical community and assert, without reliable scientific support, that there is a causal link between concussions and C.T.E.,” Bettman wrote.
Kelli Ewen was livid. She knew firsthand what Todd had gone through, and “C.T.E. had to be the answer,” she said.
She asked that a sample of her husband’s brain be sent to Ann McKee, the chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University C.T.E. Center, who has diagnosed many more cases of C.T.E. than Hazrati.
In February, McKee called Kelli Ewen to tell her Todd had C.T.E. (The scientific link between C.T.E. and suicide is far from established.)
Kelli Ewen then asked for a third opinion, so her husband’s brain samples were sent — with his identity cloaked — to the Mayo Clinic, where doctors confirmed McKee’s positive diagnosis.
In a statement, McKee said Ewen was most likely misdiagnosed because “the samples were taken from unaffected brain regions.” Less severe cases of C.T.E. like Ewen’s are found in fewer areas of the brain, McKee said.
A spokeswoman for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where Hazrati works as a neuropathologist, said she was unable to elaborate on the new findings in Ewen’s case because the hospital did not have consent from the family. She confirmed that Hazrati provided expert testimony for the N.H.L., but said that “neither she, nor our organization, were compensated for her time.”
But in a declaration related to the N.H.L. concussion case, in which the league was sued by more than 100 former players, Hazrati said she had billed the league for $25,000, which she said was donated to a foundation at the hospital where she works. (The league and plaintiffs announced a settlement on Nov. 12.)
A spokesman for the hospital said Hazrati later decided to work pro bono for the N.H.L. and had not been compensated.
Ewen’s lawyer, Brian Gudmundson, questioned Hazrati’s objectivity. In court documents, the doctor was skeptical of whether C.T.E. was a disease, going beyond the questioning among some researchers on whether the disease was linked to repeated head trauma.
“I do not believe enough research has been performed to date to show that C.T.E. is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease, nor do I believe that the current research can explain the relationship between head impacts and pathology or head impacts and the symptoms described in the current C.T.E. literature,” she wrote in a declaration in April 2017.
“It is concerning to me that someone who won’t admit C.T.E. is a disease, or has any symptoms, so actively seeks to obtain these players’ brains,” Gudmundson said.
With the new diagnosis in hand, Kelli Ewen is trying to move on from what has been an emotional roller coaster.
“Looking back, it makes me sad because if I had known why he was sick, it would have changed things a lot,” she said. “Something good has to come out of Todd’s passing. I don’t want other families to have to go through what I had to go through.”
- ^ Derek Boogaard (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Bob Probert (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Steve Montador (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Gary Bettman, pointed to Ewen’s first test to cast doubt (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ Ewen’s statistics reflected his role (www.hockey-reference.com)
- ^ statement after the results were announced (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ announced a settlement on Nov. 12 (www.nytimes.com)
How Did He Catch That? A New N.F.L. Stat Can Confirm Your Amazement
Philip Rivers’s 4-yard touchdown to Keenan Allen in the Los Angeles Chargers’ 45-10 victory last Sunday tied the N.F.L. record for consecutive completions to start a game, with 25. It was the kind of play that warranted several viewings, just to marvel at Rivers’s synchronicity with Allen.
It also harbored another distinction: the most improbable completion of Week 12.
Just how improbable was determined within seconds, by tracking devices embedded in the football, the players’ shoulder pads and the goal-line pylons, among many other places.
Those devices collect data like the quarterback’s foot speed at the time he releases the ball, how much time he has to throw and the distance to the receiver. If, for instance, a quarterback is running faster than 8 miles an hour when he throws, his chances of completing the pass drop.
The devices also collect data related to the receiver, including the space between him and the nearest defender and the distance separating him from the sideline. The closer a receiver is to the sideline, the lower the likelihood of his catching the pass.
All that data is funneled through a machine learning model, which weighs those factors (and others) against similar information about more than 35,000 pass attempts to calculate the probability of a completion. Unveiled this season on the N.F.L.’s Next Gen Stats platform, completion probability is in the nascent stages of being unpacked for greater meaning — the frequency of improbable throws toward a particular receiver, perhaps, or a measure of a quarterback’s willingness to make dicey passes.
For now, completion probability is more frivolous than illuminating, a nifty bit of trivia. But it could eventually become a scouting tool.
“On a play level, it’s kind of fun to see how hard that pass was,” said Matt Swensson, the N.F.L.’s vice president of emerging products and technology. “At another level, it tells a story of these guys and their inclination to take risks and whether or not they’re able to convert that or not.”
The quarterbacks with that inclination this season run the gamut in pedigree, from Case Keenum to Aaron Rodgers, each of whom has delivered some of the more improbable completions in the league.
But since the model values certain factors more than others, Swensson said, there is not always a correlation between a spectacular catch and a low completion probability. If a quarterback throws from a clean pocket or if the receiver catches the ball in the middle of the field, the play’s success will not be viewed as unlikely as, say, that of Keenum’s 4-yard laser on the run to Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown in Week 1.
“There’s definitely a high degree of confidence in this,” Swensson said of the assessments, “but there’s not really a magic formula.”
In the case of Rivers and Allen, their touchdown contained all the elements. Rivers faked a handoff, looked left, then rolled right, almost reaching the sideline. He was running at 14.22 miles an hour when he fired the ball 16.6 yards through the air to Allen, who caught it on the boundary of the end zone, his feet dragging inbounds as his body fell out. At the time the pass arrived, Allen was actually 0.3 yards out of bounds.
Swensson said any catch with a 20 percent probability or less would be considered “pretty difficult.” The chances of Rivers’s completing that pass were a scant 14.5 percent.
Still, it ranks as only the seventh-least probable completion this season. Here are the top five:
Week 11 vs. Ravens
1. Bengals QB Andy Dalton to WR John Ross
Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey covered Ross step for step down the sideline so well that he probably thought there was no chance Dalton would throw his way. Dalton did, and Ross rewarded his conviction, securing the ball against Humphrey’s arm as he came down in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown. The primary factors contributing to the 12.3 percent completion probability, the lowest in the N.F.L. this season, were the 38.9 yards the ball traveled in the air, Ross’s 0.4 yards of separation from Humphrey and his 0.2 yards separation from the sideline.
Week 2 vs. Packers
2. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins to WR Adam Thielen
Late in the fourth quarter, with Minnesota trailing Green Bay by 29-21, Cousins dropped back to pass from his 22-yard line. Just as he got hit by defensive end Mike Daniels, Cousins released a throw off his back foot that went 42.2 yards in the air, sailing between two Packers defenders to nestle in the arms of Thielen, whose momentum carried him into the end zone as he caught it. The pass had a 12.4 percent of being completed, in large part because of Daniels’s proximity — 0.4 yards — to Cousins when he threw the ball and because of Thielen’s place on the field, 1.3 yards from the sideline and 1.2 yards from cornerback Jaire Alexander.
Week 2 vs. Bengals
3. Ravens QB Joe Flacco to WR John Brown
In the fourth quarter, Flacco connected with Brown on a 21-yard touchdown that defied belief. Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was draped on Brown from the snap to the end zone, but Brown grabbed the ball over Kirkpatrick, reaching around his right arm to catch it. The completion had a 12.6 percent probability because of the 37.5 yards traveled by the ball, as well as Brown’s minimal separation from Kirkpatrick (0.7 yards) and from the sideline (0.5 yards).
Week 7 vs. Lions
4. Dolphins QB Brock Osweiler to WR Kenny Stills
Since guiding the Houston Texans to an A.F.C. South title in 2016, Osweiler hasn’t had many highlights. One, though, came against Detroit, in his second start for the Dolphins in relief of an injured Ryan Tannehill. In the second quarter, Osweiler flipped a 5-yard touchdown pass to Stills, who was running so fast toward the back corner of the end zone that he flattened a security guard facing the stands. The pass had a 12.7 percent chance of connecting because of the 31.7 yards it flew but also because of Stills’s 1.2 yards of separation from cornerback Darius Slay and how close he was to the back of the end zone when he made the catch just 0.5 yards inbounds.
Week 2 vs. Patriots
5. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles to WR Keelan Cole
This might just be the prettiest pass of Bortles’s career. Bortles, since demoted, lofted a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter that soared over New England cornerback Eric Rowe and into the arms of Cole. The catch had a 14.1 percent possibility given Cole’s 0.8 yards of separation from Rowe and his 0.5 yards from the sideline; the 1.3 yards between Bortles and the nearest defender at the time of release; and the 43.9 yards the pass traveled in the air.