We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications. If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
1. Anyone else think that the Saints were more than a little excited on Monday night?
I talked last week about how Drew Brees is weirdly underappreciated. His breaking of Peyton Manning’s career passing yardage record on Monday Night won’t fix that, but it might help a little. The 43-10 primetime dismantling of Washington team that HAD been a top defensive unit was striking. (Washington dropped from second in points allowed all the way down to tenth after the shellacking) With history on the line, the Saints took no chances, and neither did Brees. The future hall-of-famer was flawless, throwing for 363 yards, three TDs and a 90% completion rate. The dude threw only three incompletions all night. Yes, that said incompletions, not interceptions. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Brees, with the benefit of hindsight, will be on the Mt. Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks. The question for me is; Can he get another Lombardi Trophy to cement his legacy? Right now, I see no reason why the 4-1 Saints can’t end up in the NFC title game. Brees is clearly on point, Michael Thomas is turning into a legitimate A-List threat, and that two- headed dragon running game is back with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (granted, more Ingram than Kamara this week). The only real question is on the defensive side of the ball. The Saints can stop the run…they’re the third best unit in the league in rushing yards allowed. However, they’re also the third-WORST team in the league in passing yards allowed, and in the bottom five in points allowed. If they can get that secondary sorted out, they’ll be in great shape to make a deep playoff run.
2. Graham Gano isn’t human
Y’all know how far away 63 yards is? Really, really far. To kick a football that distance, you have to absolutely hammer the ball, and you need to keep the launch angle low. Really. Really low. Like so low that the kick is well within then deflection range of the opposing team’s linemen as it (hopefully) goes over their collective heads. That’s why you don’t see many attempts that long, especially when the game is on the line. It’s super hard, and somewhat risky. But with the Panthers about to drop to 2-2 against a Giants team that has been snake-bitten all season, Graham Gano let it rip. What resulted was the second-longest field goal in the history of the NFL, and the longest to ever win a game, allowing Carolina to escape a home loss 33- 31. Gano is an absolute beast with a cannon for a foot.
3. Mason Crosby is
For every good game a kicker has, there’s inevitably someone who’s having a less than ideal day. Unfortunately for Green Bay, that someone in week five was Mason Crosby. The ten-year veteran placekicker has been a reliable asset for the Packers, and this one game won’t shake their faith too much, I hope. The lifetime 80% kicker has never had a game like this one, where he simply lost the boot. Crosby misfired on four of five field goal attempts and whiffed an extra point attempt, leaving thirteen points off the board, in a game they lost to the divisional rival Lions 31-23. With the Vikings stumbling out of the gate, the NFC North looks to be up in the air again, so the Packers will need Crosby to have a short memory and get back on the horse next Monday night against a San Francisco team that looks lost without their franchise quarterback. My money is on Crosby, and the Packers. To drop that game would likely end the Packers playoff hopes for this year.
4. The Jags know they need help
With Leonard Fournette struggling to get back on the field with a lingering hamstring injury, the Jaguars have been off kilter. The loss of Marqise Lee might have been manageable, if there was a running game to give Blake Bortles some cover. If everyone in the stadium knows that he’s passing, he simply doesn’t stand a chance. Based on some of the wildly errant throws in Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs, Bortles looked to be cracking under the pressure. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Chiefs defense has not been great thus far this season. I didn’t expect much, but to see that unit force the Jaguars QB into four interceptions and just over 50% passing on a whopping sixty-one attempts was crazy. Blake Bortles threw twenty-eight incompletions on Sunday. That’s one fewer than Drew Brees ATTEMPTED all night in a game where the Saints scored forty-three points!!!! The Jags CAN win with a defense-first mentality, but not if Bortles is passing that much. Enter Jamaal Charles. The former Chiefs and Broncos running back had been waiting for a contender to call and should work great as a stop gap measure if Fournette continues to be unavailable. He might not be the same guy he was a few years back, but I’m guessing that he still has plenty of tread on the tires for an eleven-week season. I’m not sure it’s enough to catch the AFC’s top teams once they’re running on all cylinders, but it should be interesting.
5. The NFC East is muddled
The New York Giants might be this season’s Bad News Bears, and not in the feel-good, heartwarming way. They might just keep losing exceptionally winnable games in all sorts of painful ways. This week’s installment came in the person of Graham Gano kicking the longest game winning field goal in history after the Giants defense did their job late in the fourth quarter, stifling Cam Newton and the Panthers offense. The Giants did what they needed to do to win, but Gano’s kick wiped away what had been the G-men’s best game of the season, dropping them to 1-4. The Super Bowl Champion Eagles look lost, and the season-ending knee injury to running back Jay Ajayi won’t help. Rumors are that they’re trying to lure LeSean McCoy back from Buffalo, but who knows if McCoy would even want to come back. The other somewhat obvious question is would Le’Veon Bell consider staying in-state. I doubt that the Eagles would want to spend that type of money for what is likely a one- year rental. The Cowboys look like a race car with flat tires, as the departure of Dez Bryant continues to haunt them, despite Jerry Jones and his rants. That senseless overtime punt that opened the door for Houston is the perfect metaphor for the Cowboys. No heart, and no belief in themselves, despite having the league’s leading rusher. Washington was likely exposed as a pretender Monday Night, despite their much-improved defense. So where does that leave us? Fun fact. Only four teams in the entire NFC are over .500. None are in the NFC East. Worse yet, no team in the entire division has a positive point differential. UGH.
6. San Diego mourns the end of an era
With the passing of Alex Spanos, the ninety-five-year-old owner of the Chargers, the league mourns the loss of a great American success story. Spanos was a self-made billionaire who purchased the majority (60%) stake of the Chargers in 1984. Since then, he’s continued to build his stake in the team, finally controlling ninety-seven percent of the team at the time of his passing. The Chargers Super Bowl run in 1994 was the pinnacle of Spanos’ career as an owner, and his son Dean has been the chairman of the Chargers since that time. The recent move to LA was controversial with some fans, but for the Spanos family, who needed to either move or sell the beloved team, the decision was an easy one. Spanos passed just two months after losing his beloved wife, Faye who was ninety-two.
7. The Watt brothers are pretty good at this football stuff
It’s cool to see families do stuff together. Like sacking opposing quarterbacks. Sure, it’s nice that three time DPOY J.J. Watt is back doing his thing, making a mess of the backfield, but I think it’s great that his kid brother T.J. is in on the act, too. The Watt boys are currently tied atop the NFL’s sacks leader list, along with Geno Atkins, with six sacks each. J.J.’s Texans have been uneven thus far, but are still very much alive in the AFC South, much like little brother T.J.’s Steelers who sit at 2-2-1, at the bottom of the NFL’s only division with no teams under .500, the AFC North. I’m wondering if Thanksgiving will be awkward if the brothers are still tied at that point…
8. Quietly, Richard Sherman is still really, really good
I know that the Niners aren’t great. I know that Sherman hasn’t been a human highlight reel as he recovers from his Achilles tendon injury. I know that he hasn’t had any interceptions yet this season, and that he only has two passes defensed thus far in San Francisco. Here’s the thing though. No one is catching passes while being covered by him. Per Pro Football Focus, Sherman is ranked first in the NFL with 146 coverage snaps per reception he’s allowed. That’s astronomical. QB’s simply aren’t even looking on his side of the field. At all. Want to know who’s ranked second? Aqib Talib. With 20.8 snaps per reception allowed. That’s wild, and it tells me that Sherman is still more than capable of doing the job at the highest level.
9. Mike Tomlin isn’t very happy with the referees
Despite blowing out the Falcons 41-17 last Sunday, Tomlin, in his post-game presser, took the opportunity to lambast not just the referees in his game, but pretty much the entire league. The topic was predictable for an old school coach like Tomlin. He doesn’t like the refs blowing whistles on sacks. Said Tomlin of the league’s stance on QB hits: “Man, these penalties are costing people games and jobs, we got to get them correct, and so I’m pissed about it, to be quite honest with you, but that’s all I’m going to say on it.” It wasn’t an F- bomb-laden tirade. But it was enough to cost the coach $25k. Mental note: Tomlin is on the competition committee. He knew that these rule changes were coming, and why.
10. Week five was a good week to be a rookie QB
Why? Because Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold ALL won last weekend. Granted, Rosen beat a floundering Niners squad. But the other three were all legit wins, upsets even. Darnold and the Jets beat a Broncos team that had come out hot and was playing well on both sides of the ball. The Bills pulled off their second major upset of the young season, miring the Titans in a defensive showdown and emerging victorious 13-12. The biggest shock, however, had to be Baker Mayfield and the Browns, hosting a Ravens team that looks like a contender and escaping with an overtime win. It’s rare in the NFL for four rookies to start in the same week. Rarer still for them to all win. Don’t go crazy with your fantasy teams yet, guys. All four started during week four as well…they all lost.
Check out previous editions of ‘Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week’ here
Image Source: Behind The Steel Curtain