Scott Fowler

Forget 38-0: NBC’s Rodney Harrison says Julio Jones is still better than Josh Norman

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, left, held Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, right, to four catches for 33 yards – and disputes that one of those catches was on him – on Sunday. NBC’s Rodney Harrison was impressed – to a point.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, left, held Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, right, to four catches for 33 yards – and disputes that one of those catches was on him – on Sunday. NBC’s Rodney Harrison was impressed – to a point.

NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison told me Monday that he still believes Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones is a better player than Carolina cornerback Josh Norman but that Jones was limited Sunday in Carolina’s 38-0 victory because he doesn’t have a “quality quarterback.”

Norman’s response: “Are you kidding me?”

And then Norman said a whole lot of other things. But first, the context.

“Put it like this,” Harrison said Monday in a phone interview that I originally set up more than a week ago through NBC to talk about the difficulty of going 19-0 in an NFL season. “If the entire situation was equal, with Julio Jones having a quality quarterback throwing to him, then I think Julio Jones wins that matchup because I just think he’s physically more superior than Josh. That’s not taking anything away from Josh. ... Julio Jones is a hell of a football player. He’s one of the top five players in this league.”

Harrison added – repeatedly – that he believes Norman is the No. 1 cornerback in the NFL. But that didn’t mollify Norman when, later on Monday, I called him to get his response.

“You can insult my intelligence if you like,” Norman said in our separate phone interview. “You can even insult my little puppy. But please whatever you do, don’t insult my talent level. That is one thing I will not let you do. ... Who has gone up against Julio and has put him at pedestrian numbers like that? Who has done that? And if that’s not a talent, then what is?”

Jones had seven catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns in Carolina’s 38-0 shutout win, which pushed the Panthers to 13-0 this season. The majority of his yardage came when he didn’t go one-on-one against Norman.

According to the Pro Football Focus analytics website, Jones was targeted six times against Norman. Four of those passes were completed, for 33 yards. (Norman disputes one of those four completions, saying it was actually in a zone coverage when he didn’t have primary responsibility for Jones).

In any event, the matchup between Jones and Norman was undoubtedly won by Norman this time around. Norman also held Jones to mediocre numbers twice in 2014.

Harrison played 15 years in the NFL as a safety, winning two Super Bowls with New England (including a Super Bowl victory over Carolina). Harrison nearly earned a third ring when the Patriots finished 18-1 following an upset Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in the 2007 season. He retired as the only player in NFL history with at least 30 career sacks and 30 career interceptions.

Harrison had a meteoric rise to a high-profile TV studio analyst position with NBC after his career ended following the 2008 season. But he has drawn Norman’s ire several times this season for remarks Norman perceived as unfavorable to the Panthers.

Early last week, Harrison said on a TV show when asked whether Jones or Norman would have the advantage in their matchup: “I give it to Julio Jones. Josh Norman is playing fantastic. I think he’s the best cornerback in the league right now. But he has not seen a guy on Julio Jones’ level – the size, the speed, the consistency, the hands.”

Soon afterward, Norman wrote on Twitter that Harrison was “horrible at his job.”

On Monday, Norman said he wouldn’t back down from that comment. “I will restate,” Norman said, addressing an imaginary Harrison. “You are horrible at your job.”

Where does the truth lie? In this case, I’m going to let you decide. For the rest of this column, I am simply going to let these two men talk.

I will also point out a fact that may interest only me: The two men share a birthday Tuesday. Harrison will be 43; Norman 28.

OK, hold on – it’s kind of a bumpy ride.

‘Shut up’ and be ‘professional’

Harrison (on Norman’s tweet last week): “What I said (on TV a week ago) was he had not met a receiver on the level of Julio Jones. But at the same time I said, he’s playing like he’s the best corner in the league.

“Before he (Norman) sits there and he rips me and says I’m horrible at my job, which is very disrespectful, he needs to shut up and make sure he reads the entire quote. That’s what he needs to do. That’s being professional.”

Norman: “You are an analyst and that means reporting the truth, not some mythological thing that you have in your head that’s not factual information. ... That’s why I say you are horrible at it. ... If you had done your homework, you would have seen I played this guy twice last year and it was the same outcome. So I don’t know what you want to see that I haven’t done.”

‘I was Josh Norman’

Harrison (on Norman’s personality): “See, the problem with young guys, they become very emotional. I was the same. ... I was a fifth-round draft choice (in 1994, out of Western Illinois). I was Josh Norman. I get it, and I respect it. ... I’ve been there. He’s trying to get where I’ve been. I’ve played in Pro Bowls and I’ve been All-Pro and all those different things. So I’ve been a fifth-rounder just like him, overshadowed, people talking you down, not getting the credit.”

Norman (on Harrison’s pro career): “Look, I respect what you’ve done. You went to the Super Bowl. You went to four, you got two (championship rings). I give you that. You went to the Pro Bowl. You were All-Pro. Cool. I give you that. ... But guess what? That is not your profession anymore.”

‘I love the kid’

Harrison (on Norman’s chip-on-the-shoulder mentality): “That’s why I love the kid. And ultimately that will keep him at the level that he’s playing at.

“Because if there’s any advice I would give him (it is) ‘Keep that. Even when you get that $60-$70 million contract you’re going to get in the next year or two, keep that. When you keep that, it separates you from everyone else. And that’s going to be your edge. That’s going to be your work ethic.”

Norman (on Harrison saying he’s the best cornerback in the NFL): “The thing is he has no choice but to give me that. Look at the numbers. They speak for themselves. ... The facts are the facts, the proof is in the pudding. How can I not be?”

‘One good year?!’

Harrison on believing Jones is physically superior to Norman: “Josh Norman is hungry, he’s competitive and stuff like that. And he’s having one great year right now. ... Don’t put yourself as saying ‘I’m such a great player’ when it’s one year. You have seven interceptions in four years. You’re getting better. And that’s a good thing. But you have to respect the process. ... You have to give (Jones) his props.

“But it was no shot at Josh, and you can tell him I said that. If he has an issue, he can always pick up the phone and call me. But like I also said, he’s playing like he’s the best cornerback in the league. Now if that’s not props, if that’s not respect, what the hell is?

Norman: “One good year?! What happened to last year? Where was this guy? He was nowhere to be found. Dude, if you watch your film like the junkie you say you are, then you would know we did this last year. Twice! It’s not one good year, dude.

“I think he’s a bitter old guy, man. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s real. ... We don’t have to care for each other. I’m in Charlotte. You’re broadcasting wherever you’re at, wishing you could probably play again. I ain’t on that level. I’m trying to win a Super Bowl.”

Coming Sunday

The Observer will publish more from Rodney Harrison’s interview with Scott Fowler about the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s newspaper and online.