$.01--Remember all the incessant whining about Thursday Night Football? The people complaining now are simply not paying attention. For the second week in a row, the NFL brought us a close, competitive and entertaining game to kick off the weekend.
Week 5 brought us an NFC West masterpiece, with the Seahawks surviving against the Rams, 30-29. The outcome was in doubt until normally reliable Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal to secure the Seattle win.
The win lifts the Seahawks to 4-1 and elevates Russell Wilson’s MVP candidacy. Counterpart Jared Goff threw for nearly 400 yards, but it was Wilson who dominated the game with his poise, precision and savvy. The TD throw to Tyler Lockett in the back corner of the end zone, with Wilson on a dead run to his left and no discernible throwing window, is one of the best you’ll ever see. Wilson threw four TDs and hit 268 yards on just 23 passes. The Seahawks look formidable and balanced.
The same cannot be said of the suddenly fading Rams. After an underwhelming win in Week 3, they have dropped two straight. Opponents have taken away Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams D has not compensated. Even when triple-teamed, Donald still winds up impacting the play more than his teammates who get almost no blocking attention. That’s a big problem for Los Angeles.
So is Jared Goff throwing the ball 117 times in the last two weeks. The elimination--by choice--of Todd Gurley from the offense is a peculiar strategy from Sean McVay. It’s not working. If it’s being done because Gurley just physically cannot answer the bell so much anymore, then fine. But if it’s because McVay believes Goff throwing over 55 times a week is their best path to victory, that’s coaching malpractice.
$.02--Mason Rudolph of the Pittsburgh Steelers was knocked out on his feet by a helmet-to-head hit in the game between the Steelers and the Ravens in one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen on a football field.
Here’s the hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas:
Mason Rudolph knocked out on this hit. No flag. pic.twitter.com/zjs92AI904— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) October 6, 2019
Rudolph was playing reasonably well as Ben Roethlisberger’s injury replacement. That brutal injury--quickly diagnosed as a concussion--forced the Steelers to dip deep into the QB well. Up came something called Devlin Hodges, an undrafted rookie from Samford I was aware existed but had never been compelled to watch until he was thrust into action against the Ravens.
Hodges also acquitted himself decently. He wasn’t the reason the Ravens won in overtime. Mike Tomlin choosing to go on defense first, followed by Marlon Humphrey punching the ball away from Juju Smith-Schuster, were far more complicit. Justin Tucker’s knuckleball swerved just inside the upright and the Ravens effectively made the AFC North a 2-team race between themselves (at 3-2) and Cleveland (2-2 and playing on MNF).
Rudolph’s injury further complicates any potential Pittsburgh climb from 1-4. No offense to Hodges, but it’s difficult to envision a soft-tossing undrafted rookie from an FCS school outdueling Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson or even Andy Dalton in the AFC North.
Adding insult to injury: the cart driven out onto the field to pick up Rudolph died and had to be helped off the field by several trainers pushing it. It was later revealed there was a backup cart, but the optics of seeing Rudolph stagger off with the help of two teammates as the cart is being pushed off is not something the NFL needs.
$.03--Longtime Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell passed away this week. Bidwell was 88 and had owned at least a portion of controlling interest in the franchise for an astonishing 57 years.
Most of those seasons were not easy for fans of the team. That included a controversial move from St. Louis to Phoenix (later rechristened Arizona) in 1988. In the 47 years since he became the sole owner, the team made the postseason just eight times. Four of those came in a 7-year period from 2007-15, including the team’s only Super Bowl appearance.
That Super Bowl (XLIII) was the highwater mark for the franchise and remains one of the most entertaining games in NFL history. They were so close to making the dramatic victory behind Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and an impressive defensive cast. A great 2015 season ended in a blowout loss in the NFC Championship Game, a loss which propelled them back to irrelevance. They’re still stuck there, just as they were for a majority of Bidwell’s tenure.
The road back up is not well-paved, even with No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and hotshot young coach Kliff Kingsbury. But between the emotional energy of remembering the late Mr. Bidwell and playing the pathetic Cincinnati Bengals, the Cardinals did break out of the winless ranks. It wasn’t pretty for the Cardinals, but it seldom has been. Congrats to the franchise, and RIP Mr. Bidwell.
$.04--Washington remains winless after being bombarded by the Patriots, 33-7. The merciful drubbing (the Patriots essentially didn’t start trying until the 2nd quarter) might have been the last time we see Jay Gruden coaching for Washington.
Gruden himself didn’t sound all that confident in his job security. His postgame quote is indicative that he thinks he might have more time to spend smoking and drinking with young ladies,
“If the key works on Monday, I’ll keep working”.
It might not, Jay. If the rumors of Snyder drafting QB Dwayne Haskins in spite of Gruden’s objection, and Gruden keeps choosing has-been/never-weres Case Keenum and Colt McCoy over Haskins while the team continues to pay the injured Alex Smith, there’s no real point in keeping Gruden. I understand not throwing the big rookie to the wolves, err Patriots, but Haskins is the future. At 0-5, there is nothing in the present to do but build for that future. And that future cannot contain Jay Gruden in Washington.
On the bright side for Washington, they play the winless Dolphins next week. One of those teams will get a win. It’s hard to see either getting more than two.
The Patriots have no such issues. They’re still unbeaten, still haven’t allowed a single TD pass and continue to bury inferior competition the way the Charles Barkley Dream Team treated Angola in 1992.
$.05--Only because the Atlanta Falcons are on the verge of total implosion is Jay Gruden not the mortal lock to be the first coach fired. Falcons faithful would love to see Dan Quinn beat Gruden to the unemployment line, especially after what Deshaun Watson, Will Fuller and the Texans did to them on Sunday.
Houston went 3-and-out on its first possession. Other than running out the final 22 seconds of the first half, they did not fail to score every other time they got the ball. Will Fuller hauled in 14 passes for 217 yards and 3 TDs. He had 14 receptions for 183 yards and no TDs in the first 4 weeks. Playing the Falcons is a panacea for all that ails too many teams.
The Falcons are 1-4 despite having the highest contract value of players of any team in the league. Owner Arthur Blank is not getting his money’s worth. Blank is not a meddling owner but he’s an involved enough one to know that his beloved team is getting worse each week and Quinn seems powerless to stop the slide.
I’m not sure any coach could stop Atlanta’s current slide. Injuries have taken their toll, but so has a downward slope in Matt Ryan’s career arc. A lack of a reliable run game has destroyed balance and taken away play action, his bread and butter. Ryan gets no blame for the defense being powerless to stop opponents on 3rd downs or generate a pass rush. However, being predictable and basic on defense is in Quinn’s control, and it’s something the Texans called the Falcons after the game.
In short, it’s not likely to get better for the Falcons whether they fire Quinn now or let him ride out the rocky season. Quinn has a 37-31 career record in 4-plus seasons. He’ll be lucky to keep that mark above .500 if the Falcons do let him finish 2019. They’re the most disappointing team in the league.
$.06--Oakland “hosted” Chicago at Tottenham in England. After running past the Bears, they might want to stay across the pond for more.
The Raiders beat the Bears, 24-21, with a comeback to trump the Bears’ own comeback. Oakland’s 97-yard game-winning drive didn’t go according to plan, but it elevated the Raiders to 3-2 and dropped the Bears to the same record.
Twice on that fateful drive, the Raiders lined up to punt on 4th down but got another chance thanks to a Bears penalty and a direct-snap fake with an overturned fumble (the correct call). Given new life, Josh Jacobs and the Raiders made the Bears royally pay for their mistakes.
That’s not the script most of us expected to read about these Raiders. They’re supposed to be the team making the mistakes, not capitalizing off them. Jon Gruden’s team dominated the time of possession and smartly forced Chase Daniel and the Bears to try and beat them over the air. That’s not Daniel’s game and it’s obviously something the Bears expected they’d need to do against the Raiders. Jon’s proving he might be the better brother on the family coaching tree once again. Maybe he can hire Jay sometime soon. Then again, why fix what ain’t broken?
Oakland hits the bye week with a winning record and confidence. Other than an ugly loss to Minnesota, the Raiders have shown resiliency and skill. They’re not great, but it’s time to take them seriously as an opponent that will not be an easy W for anyone.
$.07--Critics of the Dallas Cowboys love to point out their early 3-0 start came as a result of playing three different versions of the Washington Generals, including the winless one that calls Washington home. Wait til they play some “real” teams, they said…
Now 3-2, the Cowboys are doing their best to prove those critics correct.
Last week, the Saints defense shut them down and nearly shut them out of the end zone entirely in a 12-10 win. This week saw the Green Bay Packers head into AT&T Stadium and get the benefit of home cooking from the officials most of the night on their way to beating the mistake-prone Cowboys, 34-24.
This is one of those weird games where it was both much closer and much more lopsided than the final score indicates. Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones (4 TD runs) and the Packers raced out to a 24-0 lead early in the 3rd quarter. The fans in the stadium were cheering louder for the Packers. The fans on social media were cheering for Jason Garrett to get garroted on the field.
And then there was the inevitable comeback. The Cowboys scored on three straight drives to make it very interesting before a Dak Prescott INT (his third of the night) and a Brett Maher missed FG (his second) sealed the game for the visiting Packers.
Back to the officiating for a minute. It was inexcusably inept. The Packers got call after favorable call for three quarters before the crew got the bat signal that they were in JerryWorld and might want to show some semblance of equity. Then Dallas got call after favorable call. The Packers big early lead and then the Cowboys frantic comeback were both not possible without complicit officiating making them happen. Be better than that, NFL...
--Carolina is now 3-0 since Cam Newton left the lineup with injury. Kyle Allen has impressed in Cam’s stead, but the big boost has come from RB Christian McCaffrey. He might be the most valuable non-QB in the league thus far, and his huge Sunday (176 rushing yards, 61 receiving yards, 3 total TDs) is why the 3-2 Panthers beat the 2-3 Jaguars in a very entertaining game.
--The New York Jets are not very good on offense…
The Eagles' 10 sacks and 16 QBH today were both the most by any defense in a single game this season.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) October 7, 2019
In the first four weeks, the Eagles had 3 sacks and 20 QBH.
--To follow up on last week’s cent on Melvin Gordon’s pointless holdout, here’s how the Chargers RB workload broke down in LA’s dreadful loss to previously winless Denver:
Chargers RB breakdown today:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 7, 2019
Melvin Gordon: 31 snaps, 12 carries, 31 yards plus 4 catches, 7 yards on 6 targets.
Austin Ekeler: 41 snaps, 3 carries, 7 yards, 15 catches, 86 yards on 16 targets.
--Nice rebound win by Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. Boy they needed it too, with the Stefon Diggs trade rumors and the consternation over Cousins not living up to his fully guaranteed contract. An atypically salty Cousins struck back in his postgame press conference too. Good to see him step up and redeem himself, if (maybe) only for a week.
--A lot of folks are starting to consider Ohio State as the No. 1 team in the nation, including SEC suckboy Paul Finebaum. After watching the Buckeyes thrashing of a very good Michigan State defense, 34-10, I’m inclined to agree. Between Justin Fields as a dual threat QB and the depth of their talent in the secondary, Ohio State is really good. The Buckeyes are No. 4 in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
--Florida’s win over Auburn proved the Gators need to be taken seriously. Now if they’d ditch those terrible alternate helmets. They get an F for the F on the helmets.
--I wrote about Jordan Love’s struggles last week. The Utah State QB’s rough outing against a very good LSU secondary isn’t going to help salvage his draft stock, at least not for this evaluator. As I said earlier, there’s probably still enough to work with to merit a top-100 pick, but there’s enough work to be done to Love’s game that I can see why he shouldn’t go that high.
--I haven’t seen any of the game other than Tulsa’s freaky TD on its own kickoff, but SMU remaining unbeaten with a massive 4th quarter comeback and overtime triumph is one I’m excited to watch this week. The Mustangs are the best of the non-power conference teams this year, especially after UCF lost again.
--The D-II battle between Ashland and Grand Valley State earns a spot here for the thrilling finish. Ashland won at Grand Valley on this Hail Mary:
Here’s a look at the Hail Mary that lost Grand Valley the game — the Lakers had just taken the lead on a touchdown with 49 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/otY6OLlt0H— Zach Harig (@FOX17Zach) October 6, 2019
What’s also notable about this game: it was played in a deluge of a driving rainstorm Saturday night. I live less than 15 miles away from the GVSU stadium and it did not rain a drop at my house during the game. Weather wackiness!
--Maryland got back on track by pounding Rutgers, 48-7. The Terps scored 6 TDs on possessions of 1 play or less. I haven’t seen some of the lesser teams in the non-power conferences (UConn, UTEP) but it’s hard to imagine Rutgers being better than any of them.
$.10--My alma mater, Ohio University, made the national news this week for something that deeply bothers me. The school suspended the activity of all 15 fraternities on campus after seven of the chapters were found to be actively hazing aspiring members.
That hit too close to home for me and my fellow brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha. We were not one of the seven guilty parties, and our chapter has been vehemently anti-hazing since well before I joined in 1991. It’s what our charter demands and we take that very seriously.
Punishing everyone for the malfeasance of only some is a reactionary reach by the university. Did something need to be done to stop the ridiculousness of several houses on campus? Absolutely. Does that mean using a flamethrower to light a match is appropriate?
Even though the suspension of activities is (as of now) temporary, this will likely be the end of the Greek system at Ohio. It has already been in a steady decline of membership across all fraternities. The negative stigma associated with the houses that did haze and rape and drown in alcohol was very tangible across the campus, as it is at most campuses across the country. That stigma does not represent the Greek system I knew and enthusiastically joined.
My Greek experience saved me. I was aimless and irresponsible when a group of friends from my dorm recruited me to join them at Lambda Chi. The mandatory study tables, the mentoring from older brothers in my major(s), the structure of weekly meetings and assigned duties, they rescued me from dropping out or washing out of school.
I’ve been out of college for nearly 25 years now and the men I proudly called brothers back then remain some of my closest friends today. One of them introduced me to my wife, knowing we’d be a good match (thanks Jamie!). When I had open heart surgery, my first visitor that wasn’t immediate family was a fraternity brother (thanks Greg!). When I’ve needed guidance or comfort, various brothers have always been there. I’m saddened and disheartened that Ohio U. has decided to deprive that experience to young men who might need it. Killing the whole herd because isolated parts are sick is needless overkill.