SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Lavonte Is Back For The Bucs

“He’s back!” said Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander following Tampa Bay’s 29-7 opening win against Chicago. “Lavonte David is back!”

David led the Bucs with nine tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery against the Bears, picking up where he left off from last year when he had six tackles, a tackle for loss and two sacks the last time he stepped foot in Raymond James Stadium for a regular season game in a 17-16 win over Carolina.

“Yes, I do see that,” said Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “I thought that Lavonte probably from Game One to Game 16 improved. I said this earlier on that I don’t know that he was 100 percent healthy. He had some nagging injuries that he was dealing with. He looks much quicker, more decisive all through training camp and through the first game of the season. He has a good feel for playing defensive football and he’s done a good job for us. He is a guy that through the last quarter of the season last year probably led our team in splash plays and he did a nice job coming downhill the other day.”

David is indeed back. He’s back to his playmaking ways.

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

David is back to the player that was leading the Bucs in tackles every year from 2012-2015 when he made the All-Pro team in 2013 and the Pro Bowl in 2015.

But did he really ever go away?

Statistically, you could make that argument as David’s tackle numbers improved each year he has been in the league from 139 as a rookie to 145 the next year to 146 in 2014 and 147 the following season. In his first year in Smith’s defense David recorded only 87 tackles in 16 games – 60 fewer from his Pro Bowl season in 2015.

In the second game of the 2016 campaign David failed to record a tackle – or any statistic – for the first time in his NFL career in a 40-7 loss at Arizona. David only recorded five or fewer stops in eight of the Bucs’ 16 games last year, which was unusual.

Late last season Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter was asked about David’s statistical slide.

“I’m not sure. You guys have had plenty of speculation yourselves on that and I’m not sure why, but in my eyes, I’m seeing the guy out there that made the Pro Bowl before that.”

Smith noted that Kwon Alexander’s team-high 145 tackles had something to do with it. While plays were funneled to the WILL (weakside) linebacker position in Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith’s defenses, oftentimes the MIKE (middle) linebacker is the free tackler in Mike Smith’s scheme.

“Well, they are different schemes and the WILL linebacker in the scheme that he played in, it was set up for him to be a tackler and make lots of plays,” Smith said last year. “It is somewhat different. I do believe this: I believe we all know that we can coach better and we can play better, but in terms of Lavonte, he’s been nicked up a little bit.

“Sometimes you can’t go strictly on statistics, the number of tackles, the number of assists. Sometimes you have to be in a – what we call and Dirk uses the term – you’ve got to be an ‘assist man’ on the play. You’ve got to be in your gap and you may not be able to make the play, but you’re going to put someone else in position to make it. And he’s made some, what I call, ‘game-changing plays.’ That was a game-changing play in the ball game [against Seattle], in terms of knocking the ball out, picking it up and running. Of course, we’d all like to see him score. He took a little ribbing there, but I think that’s natural, but those are the things that he’s been able to do for us and he’s like anybody. This time of the year, we’re all banged up and earlier in the season he was playing banged up and playing with some injuries, but he’s an integral part of what we’re trying to get done and will be for a long time.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images

While David failed to record 100 tackles for the first time in his five-year NFL career, he did have five sacks, a team-leading four forced fumbles, four passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, in addition to a key interception returned for a touchdown in a 28-21 win at San Diego. David’s 17 tackles for loss were tied for the most in the league.

That was good enough for David to be a Pro Bowl alternate and a second-team All-Pro last season.

“I don’t think he’s not the same player that he was last year – I think he is,” Smith said last year. “I think we’ve got to do a better job as a coaching staff, putting him in positions to make plays. I think he’s a very good player. He’s a Pro Bowl player in the past. His numbers don’t show that at this point and time in the season, but he’s doing everything that we’re asking and we’ve got to make sure that we put him in some positions where he can go make some plays.”

David did that down the stretch with a key forced fumble in a 14-5 win against Seattle, his pick-six the next week at San Diego and recording four sacks in the final three games of the year while racking up 22 tackles in that trio of games.

There were times last year when Koetter was downright annoyed with the media talk of David having a down year statistically.

“Different guys play a little bit different every week – we’re not complaining one bit about Lavonte David,” Koetter said. “So, I don’t know where it’s coming from, it’s all numbers-based. I don’t really look at it that way, I just look at it, if the guy’s trying to play our defense, he’s one of our leaders, he’s one of our captains, so I think Lavonte is playing fine.”

David admits that it took him a while to learn Smith’s new defense and become comfortable with a different role for the WILL linebacker in this scheme.

“When you look back and if you could have a camera in our meeting room last year, it was crazy,” David said. “Everybody had the big eyes when we were installing, but now it’s totally different. Everybody’s talking, the whole room is communicating from the D-line to the secondary to the linebackers, and that’s amazing. Coach Smith is getting really excited about that. So, that’s really cool to see and also it translating over on the field when we’re doing walkthroughs and things like that. Guys are talking, guys are knowing what each other’s supposed to be doing, so that’s a real cool thing. It kind of picked up towards the end of the season, but we wanted to start fast at the beginning and now we have the opportunity to do so.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

With nine tackles, which matched his season high from a year ago against Dallas, David got off to the fastest start of his Buccaneers teammates – although it should be noted that Alexander left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury after the first quarter and finished with just one tackle and one interception.

“I was sad being over there on the sidelines and I couldn’t turn up with him, but when I get back this week we’re going to get right back to it,” Alexander said. “We’re the best linebacker duo in the league.”

The key to David having a hot start to the season dates back to his sensational training camp and preseason.

“The guy that’s quietly having a tremendous camp is Lavonte David,” Koetter said back in August. “Lavonte didn’t have his best year he has ever had last year. He is really having a good camp right now. I think the fans will be able to see it when we start playing.”

David recorded a sack in the preseason against Jacksonville and is slated for more blitzes this year.

“He does do a good job,” Koetter said. “He is a lot better blitzer than maybe he is given credit for.”

Smith agrees and plans to use him more as a blitzer this season.

“Lavonte, I think, at the end of the year really came on as a pass rusher,” Smith said. “He became more effective as a pass rusher, we were able to design some things to allow him to get in a charge and rush the passer. I just think the overall knowledge of our defense is the thing that we’ve got to get better at across the board. I think we are light years ahead of where we were last year at this time.”

Believe it or not, David has 18 sacks in his Tampa Bay career, which ranks him second all-time for Buccaneers linebackers ahead of Derrick Brooks (13.5) and Shelton Quarles (13), and trailing only Broderick Thomas, who had 26.5 sacks from 1989-93.

Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

David is the only player in NFL history to record at least 450 tackles, at least 15 sacks and at least 10 interceptions in his first five seasons. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, David is one of only six NFL players in league history to post at least 15 sacks and 10 interceptions in his first five seasons and the latest to do so since William Thomas (1991-95). Since entering the league as the Bucs’ second-round pick in 2012, David ranks second in the NFL in solo tackles (480), second in total tackles (673), second in tackles for loss (86), tied for second in interceptions by a linebacker (10) and third in passes defensed by a linebacker (35).

Heading into his sixth NFL season, David is still well ahead of the pace set by Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks, who is widely regarded as the best player in Tampa Bay history. Through his first five years in the league, Brooks recorded 663 tackles, 51 pass breakups, eight forced fumbles, eight interceptions, 4.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries. In David’s first five years he has posted 673 tackles, 36 pass breakups, 18 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 10 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.

That’s 10 more tackles, 13.5 more sacks, four more forced fumbles, four more fumble recoveries, two more interceptions and two more defensive touchdowns for David.

Despite the amazing start to his NFL career, David admits that he had a down year last season and that 2016 wasn’t up to his standards.

“Last year I didn’t have my best year, so I just want to be able to get better and get back to my old self,” David said.

It’s so far, so good for the former Nebraska standout. David said that linebackers coach Mark Duffner made two videos for him to watch in the offseason. One was a highlight reel showing David all the splash plays he’s capable of making. The other was a lowlight reel, showing all of the mistakes he made and the plays he left out on the field.

Needless to say it was an eye-opener and served as motivation for the Bucs defensive captain.

“It’s what I needed, to be honest,” David said. “Since I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve ever had that. So, when I saw that, I really think it helped me out a lot. We got a chance to sit down with Coach Duffner and talk about things good, bad and what could be better. You kind of see the big picture doing it, too. It kind of helps you learn defense as well, what can be better, what you did good on this play and what you did bad on a certain play. Then they have lows – they have missed tackles, they have a whole bunch of things. There’s a lot of stuff to put in your bag of things to get better at.”

Bucs LB Lavonte David - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

David played a huge role in helping Tampa Bay’s defense force three takeaways and hold Chicago’s potent backfield of Jordan Howard, the league’s second-leading rusher last year, and electrifying rookie Tarik Cohen to just 20 yards rushing on 16 carries in Sunday’s win.

“It’s encouraging growing our confidence early and that’s what we need to start the season off fast,” David said. “You know, start the season off right the right way. Not trying to be down like how we were last year with our head in our hands. We’re trying to start fast and the sky is the limit for us. I’m just trying to keep making plays out there.”

David is off to a great start to the 2017 season, and currently is the top-rated linebacker in the NFL with a 91.3 grade, according to Pro Football Focus.

Sounds like he is starting off the season fast – as expected.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, another great fab 5. As to part 3 about the ratings. I agree with what you have but I have to add that I believe the athletes not standing for the national has had a major effect on the ratings. Following facebook and twitter I see many posts about how many Americans feel its disrespect to our military forces who are currently serving and have died for this country to not stand and honor them. I get that athletes want to protest and have the right to protest and them not standing is not to disrespect our military forces, but a lot of vets and other Americans don’t agree and unfortunately are boycotting the NFL as long as they continue to do so. I know this is a touchy subject and don’t want to start any arguments, but I do believe this has had a major implication on the viewing audience. The NFL needs to figure out a way to let the athletes protest without it seeming disrespectful to our military. Don’t know if its possible though.

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    • I am not a fan of hijacking the national anthem for a discussion on race relations or politics or policing, especially at the expense of offending those who have sacrificed and served. Also, football is my entertainment. It’s my getaway from the reality of everyday life. I am a white, middle aged, middle class guy who has served. I am not a racist.

      Colin Kaepernick is mixed. He is probably wealthy. He is a public figure with a platform, only because he is a part of the NFL. By taking a knee during the national anthem, he has risked his career, his popularity, his wealth, and painted a bullseye on his back with his silent protest against police brutality and racism.

      That makes him a hero.

      His wealth and his time on the field aren’t guaranteed. The one guarantee is he will be mixed forever. I can’t think of a more effective way for a man in his position to make waves and progress with his opportunity.

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      • I can think of a more effective way. You can do what the Dallas Cowboys did last night. I loved it. They protested before the national anthem, then stood up for the anthem so they didn’t offend anyone, while still holding arms. It was a non offensive protest that also promoted unity. My Grandpa Died serving this country. I never got to meet him. I was raised in a different era with respect. Majority of the kids now days don’t have any respect or morals. I was taught to always stand for the national anthem to honor those who are fighting, have fought, and or gave there life so I can live mine free. A lot of them are no longer able to stand so you stand for them and honor them. I realize not everyone sees it the same way or was raised that way. The main problem I had with the kneeling was it didn’t help the cause at all. If your protesting to fight inequality, then why would you protest in a manner the (seems) disrespectful to a lot of Americans? Instead of uniting people to fight for your cause you are dividing us and pushing people away from your cause. No ones talking about why they are kneeling, every ones arguing about whether its disrespectful or not and the whole point of the protest isn’t even being discussed. I believe in the protest, just not how it was done to begin with. So where a lot of people see Colen as a hero, I don’t. I see him as disrespectful and I see you and all who have served to fight for our great country as the true heros.

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  2. I was just shocked last year that David had no tackles in the Arizona game. I still find it unbelievable. He is too good of player for that to happen. I am definitely glad to see that he is back.

    My favorite touchdown celebration was Billy “White Shoes” Johnson of the former Houston Oilers. It was unique, yet simple. I also liked Barry Sanders. He get into the end zone, which was often, and just flipped the ball to the referee. He acted like he been there before and it was par for the course. To me, that was more annoying because he did it a lot against the Bucs. But, it was a part of his makeup which made him great.

    I spend less on entertainment because these events are becoming political. I couldn’t care less about your political views, whether I agree with them or not. I just want to be entertained. I am not a put my head in the sand type of guy. I just think there is an appropriate time and place.

    Opportunities will come for O.J. Howard. There will be a game (or games) where he will be huge in the offense help the Bucs win.

    Thanks for an awesome Fab5, Scott. Happy that the Bucs are off to a good start.

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  3. To chime in on #3, Scott… I would say that Goodell, over his tenure, has turned an institution into a commodity. I think that when you look at the overall arc of the popularity of the game, the NFL has reached, and is now surpassing that profit-pushing saturation point. NFL games don’t feel like they used to back in the day. I believe that when you are watch CFB these days, you get a feeling that those players are fighting for something a little more, even though it’s still a business. I agree that they need to only have one or two special Thursday night games during the season and only one Monday night game as well. Shortening the preseason would also be a great move. I don’t know if the NFL will ever be what it used to be when I was a bit younger and more entranced by the game, but I don’t think that it’s Goodell, who is always looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that going to bring back our old beloved institution.

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  4. Great Fab 5. It’s funny as a fan , when a player is so good for so ling, you kind of take them for granted. David is one of those players. We all agree he had a bit of a down year last year, but when you see his career stats so far, that is eye opening. I think he continues and has a big week this week with a pick.
    I love the f act that the NFL relaxed the rules on scoring celebrations. I love them. Scoring a TD has to be an exhilarating experience, let them enjoy it. Although three pumps will still get you that 15 yard penalty.
    The reason the NFl is losing ratings to me has much more to do with the whole kneeling thing than given credit for. Personally I don’t like it, but I still love watching football, and it’s within their rights to do it. However many thousands of people take it much more personally than I do.
    On a side note, that game last night was fantastic to watch.
    Looks like we might be getting to face our arch nemesis in Case Keenum this week. We can not lose to this guy a third time. Pound them into the ground and get an early lead and it should be gravy like last week.

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  5. Please, let’s not go down the road of college’s overtime rules. I hate how they take special teams play (save for field goals) out of the game, I hate how they gift the offense a shot at a makeable field goal without doing anything, and I hate how they artificially inflate scores (which you mention, but it’s important when scoring still factors into half of the NFL’s tiebreaker criteria, even if they’re the ones that are the last resort). The NFL’s existing overtime system has produced plenty of exciting and controversial moments, and is not screaming out to be messed with.

    What *should* be imported from college is automatic ejection for targeting (along with instant replay for it). Yes, there’s been plenty of poo-poohing such an idea in the past, but if the NFL were truly serious about cutting down on concussions and head contact, there’s no more effective deterrent than knowing you will be thrown out of a game if you go head-hunting on somebody. Certainly the ultra-stupid one-helmet rule has done absolutely nothing as far as deterring head injuries are concerned.

    Eliminating Thursday Night Football would also go a long way towards helping cut down on injuries of all types, including head ones. The kickoff game and the three Thanksgiving games… that should be all the Thursday football the NFL plays.

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    • The college football playoff system is fine, it’s very entertaining. But I don’t think it works so good for NFL.

      Better to keep but tweak the existing rule … no team should lose a playoff game just because they lost the coin toss, even if the other team scores a TD. After all, everyone knows that defenses are usually all gassed out at the end of four quarters, so whoever gets the ball first is most likely to win without the other team demonstrating whether it can score a TD too.

      After one possession and it’s still tied,then whoever scores next wins, TD or FG. After 15 minutes and still tied, book it as a tie.

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  6. Could the down ratings have anything to do with the fact millions of people were affected by two massive hurricanes? I know I didn’t have power for five days, and no internet, cable, for 12 days.

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  7. On making the NFL more entertaining:

    1 – too much of a good thing ain’t good … Thursday night football cheapens the product, get rid of it asap

    2 – adding more reviewable plays, nope … we spend far too much time watching flags fly, ref’s chin-pulling and staring at video screens, and waiting for the faceless person back in the review booth to issue the Ten Commandments. Speed makes excitment

    3 – too many late night games (again, partly “less is more”) … for people who have to get up early the next morning, an 8:30 kickoff results in a near midnight finish .. start SNF and MNF at 7:30 eastern, and the ratings will go up

    4 – get rid of all the social crap … just read where now the players union wants an entire month dedicated to social activism – that is guaranteed to deep six the league’s ratings. No matter how anyone feels about any given social issue, the league and the players must recognize that football is supposed to be relief from non-stop politicizing of everything. America is tired of being divided over stupid partisan politics and social engineering .. it has no place in football, which is an entertainment venue

    5 – fewer commercials .. and for those who produce commercial, please try to mix it up a little bit. In the average NFL game telecast we see the exact same commercial what, maybe a dozen times? Ridiculous. If you don’t get the message across after two showings, you’re only annoying and alienating your prospective customers.

    There … rant off.

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  8. #6: Stop the political baloney and Social Justice Warriors from alienating fans.

    As a former player and lifetime fan, the politics and SJW in the NFL the last couple of years just about has me ready to just walk away from it.

    That, IMO, is the #1 reason the NFL is slipping and unless the NFL draws a line in the sand, will continue its slide.

    The #’s 1-5 are peripheral problems to the core issue. Thay6 may be irritating, but #6 pi$$e$ me off.

    I am a football fan to get away from that crap. Why would I tolerate it in the NFL?

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  9. Next Owner/Player Contract requires both sides to wake up that they might be over pricing their product; younger people have more toys for options than in past decades. Kids aren’t playing football like they use to; therefore the present and future watching market is shrinking; it’s as simple as that. I have never supported individual celebrating when this is a team sport; it’s just not necessary. Just my opinion.

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  10. The biggest argument against the “we know the risks” is that is not the current players who submit the lawsuits. It’s either those who are now retired and broke or a family member after the fact. Case in point the concussion settlement. Do you honestly think that is going to be the last one?

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  11. This is an old-timer’s response to what I see as short sighted trends in today’s NFL. This is an open plea to the owners and the NFL brain trust.

    Eliminate the Thursday night games. Do NOT expand the schedule to more than 16 games.
    (After all the payers are just human beings. They are not really supermen.)

    Do not ruin this game. Don’t let greed ruin the product. Find some other CREATIVE way to squeeze out the extra $$ you think you need.

    Do not follow the lead of what happened to major league baseball. MLB used to be America’s number one sport!
    (If younger fans would like to see how MLB used to be, check out any of the various “minor” leagues across the country. That is where a family can still take their children to a good old fashioned baseball game, eat some hot dogs, have a Coke or a beer and have a really good time without spending a fortune.)

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    Go Bucs!!!!

    _______________________
    P.S. When I was growing up in the Midwest, I started out as a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, then a LA Dodgers fan. … That tells you how old I am. Now, I seldom watch any major league games and only the World Series in passing.

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  12. the NFL has plateaued… it’s as simple as that… has nothing to do with politics or social justice… kids these days are too busy playing in their phones & trying to be social media stars instead of watching or playing football… as profitable as the NFL has been and still is where murders, rapes, domestic violence, racists rants, DUIs, vehicular homicides & dog fighting didn’t make a dent in it’s popularity but a silent protest is it’s death knell? ROFL get the hell out of hear!!

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  13. The NFL might not be as popular as it was a few years ago, but it’s still one of America’s favorite pastimes. Almost as popular as posting stupid stuff on social media about which the recipients really don’t care. Instead of hitting the LIKE symbol, there should be a pile of bull crap symbol indicating that you don’t give a shit. And that my friends is what has happened to the NFL. Many former fans have become apathetic and no longer have the passion. Too much of a good thing.

    Back a few years ago most of us football fans were hungry for any sort of football news. There was excitement for every little tidbit we could gather. Nowadays, we are inundated with not only news, but one ill-informed, perception-biased factless opinion after another. It’s more fluff than substance piled on our serving plate round the clock.

    I still never miss a Bucs game, but I’ve become less and less of a fan of the NFL in general and I really don’t know why. I do know 10 things I don’t like.

    1.) The silliness of the pre-game, halftime and post-game shows
    2.) The Dallas Cowboys always crammed down our throats with Ex-Cowboy Troy Aikman calling the game
    3.) Thursday Night Football
    4.) Color Rush uniforms
    5.) Jerry Jones
    6.) Steven A Smith
    7.) Beast Mode
    8.) Cam Newton
    9.) “You Like That”
    10.) The Viking horn

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    • Scubog, we getting older and are more conscious in prioritizing our time. My hat is off to you four still going out there in the hot sun and supporting the Bucs; I myself passed this effort a few years ago. I still love the Bucs and support them.

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  14. By trying to be everything to everyone, and not being offensive in way, they end up being nothing to no-one.

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  15. Scubog, once again I agree with many things on your list, but the Vikings horn?
    Come on, I hate it when it’s blowing against us, but during the rest of the games I love it and I have even heard some players say they love it as well.
    So I’m going to quit watching NFL games because a washed up QB and Michael Bennett, who I respect as both a player and a person, decide to sit down during the National Anthem.
    Why” They don’t even play for the Bucs. What do I care what they are doing in San Fran or Seattle.
    I did predict ratings might go down if this continued but I don’t think they went down 8 percent because of this.
    I actually happen to enjoy the Thursday night games because a lot of times they involve inner division rivals which always makes for a good game, or at least is supposed to.
    As far a s the new rules instituted for the safety of the players, I support them.
    It’s little wonder 3 DBs for the Bucs would like to see them change.
    Yes players know the danger of the game but it doesn’t seem to stop them from suing the league 20 years after their career is over.
    Now we have a big mouthed idiotic doddering President who wants to enter the fray. Of course he wants to abolish the rules since he has no dog in the fight.
    Since he’s lied and been wrong about almost everything he has done since he got in office, is there little wonder which side he fell on.
    Him telling the basketball player he was uninvited to the White House after the player already told everyone he wasn’t going makes about as much sense as me asking out the prettiest girl in the senior class and having her tell me no and then me telling her I didn’t want to take her out.
    What a foul mouth buffoon that moron is. Such a great example for our children to follow.
    I’m no big fan of Kapernick’s, but I loved what his mom tweeted to the moron. “Proud to be the bitch.”
    See you guys later, I’m going to hang out with some good Nazi’s and white supremacists.

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