$.01--Russell Wilson has never even received a single vote for MVP. It seems the Seahawks quarterback has taken it personally and is making sure that egregious oversight doesn’t happen again.
Wilson hit D.K. Metcalf with just under 2:00 to play to lift the Seahawks to a 38-31 comeback win over the shellshocked Dallas Cowboys. It was Wilson’s fifth TD pass of the game. He did that last week too. In fact, Wilson has thrown for 14 touchdowns in the first three weeks, setting an NFL record. He’s on pace to throw 74 on the season. As you might expect, that would obliterate the NFL record.
Then again, with all their injuries, Seattle might need Wilson to shatter Peyton Manning’s record. Safety Jamal Adams, who has been a godsend since coming from the witless Jets, left this game and did not return with a groin injury. Starting CB Quinton Dunbar was inactive with a knee injury. RB Chris Carson left late in the game with a knee injury when a Cowboys player fell on him. Two offensive linemen, Ethan Pocic and Mike Iupati, suffered knee sprains.
Wilson and the random Seahawks around him who were healthy enough to finish the game sent Dallas home at 1-2 and pointing a lot of fingers. Their offensive line, long a strength, looks terrible. It has ground Zeke Elliott to a halt too often. Heck, it couldn’t even stop a 3-man rush from getting two different defenders into Dak Prescott’s way on the game’s final play, a desperation heave into the end zone that the Seahawks picked off. Prescott and the passing game seem to be the only thing that’s working for Dallas, yet that also seems to be the focus of most of the Dallas fan negativity.
They don’t have that problem in Seattle. The 12th man is thoroughly enjoying being 3-0 thanks to the unquestioned NFL MVP of the first three weeks.
$.02--New York likes to think of itself as the epicenter of the Western world. Right now New York is more the epicenter of bad football.
Both the Giants and Jets are winless, and it’s hard to tell which is worse through the first three games. The Giants got blasted by what’s left of the 49ers, 36-9, in New York. The Jets crashed even harder, losing 36-7 in Indianapolis to a Colts team that had not looked very good through two weeks. Playing the New York teams cured what ailed their foes on Sunday.
The Giants have some injury issues of their own, namely missing star RB Saquon Barkley. But they didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as Nick Mullens throwing to Kendrick Bourne and Brandon Aiyuk. The G-men managed just 13 first downs against a Niners defense missing five regular starters including Richard Sherman and Nick Bosa. It was like watching a JV team beat up a seventh-grade squad hastily assembled at the last minute.
Even that ragtag middle-school squad isn’t low enough to describe the Jets performance. The Xs and Os aren’t great but aren’t the primary problem. You can sense it from watching the team on the sidelines. You can see it in how the oft-aggrandizing New York media approaches the coverage of the team. The Jets players look like a team being held hostage by a mad supervillain in coach Adam Gase and they simply can’t wait for the poorly-scripted horror movie to end.
I’ve seen that look before. Cleveland, 2017. An undertalented Browns team knew they had no chance with Hue Jackson coaching and played like it. That’s the vibe from the Jets.
Which team wins first? The Jets have the most winnable game on their remaining schedule next week, hosting winless Denver and its collection of random backups in key positions. After that, only back-to-back games against Miami in Weeks 10 and 12 (sandwiching a bye) offer any real hope of a victory. The Giants will be decided underdogs every week between now and a Thursday night game in Week 7 against the equally winless and troubled Philadelphia Eagles. They could conceivably beat Washington a week earlier if Dwayne Haskins decides to throw 4 INTs like he did Sunday, but that’s a low-percentage forecast.
It could be worse, New York...at least Buffalo is good!
$.03--The Watt family had a reunion in Pittsburgh on Sunday. No, they weren’t filming another episode of the underwhelming dodgeball show or another Subway commercial. This time the brothers Watt were squaring off on the gridiron. And they gave their proud parents, not to mention everyone else watching the Texans/Steelers game, an entertaining afternoon.
Well, at least half of an afternoon. The first half was a gripping, compelling scorefest. A late TD strike from Deshaun Watson to Will Fuller put the Texans up 21-17 at halftime. The game featuring the two defensive stars, T.J. and J.J, was instead being decided by Derek Watt and the offenses.
Perhaps the Watt’s Subway shack in the back yard reinvigorated the defenses at halftime. It certainly fired up T.J. and his Steelers defensive mates. Houston’s four second-half possessions:
3 plays, 6 yards, punt
3 plays, -2 yards, punt
8 plays, 42 yards, INT
3 plays, 5 yards, punt
Pittsburgh’s own offense wasn’t much better, but their one strong drive after the Mike Hilton (who had a whale of a game) INT was enough: 12 plays, 79 yards, over 7 minutes off the clock capped with a James Conner 12-yard TD run.
T.J. Watt helped set up the INT with pressure on Watson, and he also bagged a sack as well as a TFL just before the Hilton pick. J.J. didn’t do a lot for the Texans, recording just one solo tackle and not really impacting the Pittsburgh offense other than commanding some extra blocking scheming. Derek, an occasionally-used fullback, barely played.
The larger story involves the fates of the teams. T.J. and Derek’s Steelers are 3-0 and look ready to take on all comers. J.J.’s Texans are now a hard-luck 0-3, losing to the Chiefs, Ravens and now the Steelers.
$.04--Any Given Sunday, Week 3 edition take son an unusual twist. Normally it deals with a surprising upset, but this time it was the unbeaten Chicago Bears taking down the still-winless Atlanta Falcons. That’s how stunning the outcome was in Atlanta.
The Falcons comfortably led 26-10 midway through the fourth quarter. Chicago made a QB change, (finally) pulling the plug on the astonishingly incompetent Mitchell Trubisky to move onto Nick Foles. The Bears had committed nine penalties to that point, doing their own part in helping Atlanta stretch out to the seemingly insurmountable lead.
As the last two weeks of Falcons football have taught us, no lead is safe from crushing collapse by Atlanta. Last week it was a 29-10 halftime lead given away to Dallas in a 40-39 loss. Coach Dan Quinn and the Falcons did not learn that the first rule of stopping choking is to quit trying to eat more of your own feet.
Instead of milking the clock and nursing a 26-23 lead with under five minutes to play, the Falcons burned exactly 22 seconds in an abysmal 3-and-out that gave Foles and the Bears plenty of time to drive for the game-winning TD with little stress from the clock. Foles hit Anthony Miller in the seam with ample time to spare. Matt Ryan’s own desperate drive ended in an INT, and the Bears escaped with their unblemished record.
This one falls on Quinn and the Falcons decision-making braintrust. Holding a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, they offered up three straight 3-and-outs that took a combined 2:58 off the clock. That came after an Akiem Hicks sack pushed them just out of makeable FG range for Younghoo Koo, who missed his attempt to add more salt to the Bears’ scoreboard wounds. Atlanta ran the ball just twice on those drives.
It’s the second week in a row Quinn and the Falcons failed to realize that their opponent couldn’t beat the clock if they simply let it roll. That is inexcusable for Quinn, who has clearly exhausted any credit in the bank for his Super Bowl appearance after the 2016 season. Hey, what happened in that game...hmmm.
$.05--Justin Herbert made his second start at quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers. Last week’s debut was a surprise, and now we know just how big of a surprise it was.
It came out during the week that veteran starter Tyrod Taylor was poised to start in Week 2 against the Chiefs, but he needed a pain medication shot for his ailing chest. Except that didn’t go well at all. The Chargers’ team doctor unwittingly punctured Taylor’s lung while administering the shot. Instead of helping Taylor deal with the pain, the Chargers doc caused him a great deal more.
Taylor is now week-to-week but not expected to play soon with his lung status. It’s a rough break for Taylor but a much worse look for the Chargers organization. The team has battled critical injuries to key players for years, leading to (largely unfair) questions about the medical and training staff. Getting injured by the team doctor will not help that image, right or not.
As for Herbert…
The big rookie put up big numbers on the stat sheet but failed to translate them to the scoreboard in a dismal 21-16 loss to previously winless Carolina. Herbert threw for 330 yards and a TD, but it took him 49 attempts and also an INT to get there. He also raised blood pressures all over Los Angeles when he laid on the turf and appeared injured. Thankfully he returned to the game without further incident.
Herbert looks legit in those two starts. The Chargers around him need to help out the promising rookie. Losing to Carolina and five Joey Slye field goals is not the kind of loss Los Angeles can tolerate for long.
$.06--Something that has never happened before occurred in the matchup in Cleveland between the Browns and Football Team. No, nothing that any player did.
The game marked the first time in NFL history where both teams have a female on the coaching staff, as well as having a female official as part of the crew. Callie Brownson is the Browns’ Chief of Staff for head coach Kevin Stefanski, a role which she has described as “the fixer.” Jennifer King is a full-time coaching intern for the Football Team, coming to Washington with head coach Ron Rivera after being an intern in Carolina under Rivera the last two years.
Both Brownson and King played football in the Women’s Football Alliance. They were joined on the field by Sarah Thomas, a down judge on referee John Hussey’s crew. Thomas has been officiating in the NFL since 2015. It might not seem all that significant for the red-meat football fan, but it was something that made my wife and my 12-year-old, sports-mad daughter very happy.
As for the game, Brownson’s Browns prevailed 34-20 thanks to Myles Garrett’s strip-sack of Dwayne Haskins and some clutch running from Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who also made the catch of the year so far. The win is significant for Cleveland; now 2-1, it’s the first time the Browns have had a winning record since Week 11 of the 2014 season. That incredible, dubious string finally ends. The new longest streak belongs to the New York Giants, who haven’t sported a winning record since the end of the 2016 season.
$.07--College football normally gets relegated to the ninth cent for quickies, but what happened to defending champion LSU on Saturday deserves more than just a blurb.
The Bayou Bengals became the first reigning champ to lose their opener in the ensuing season since Michigan in 1998. Mississippi State blew the doors off LSU’s vaunted defense thanks to Mike Leach and K.J. Costello, two newcomers from the PAC-12. Leach’s “Air Raid” offense devastated the Tigers. The Bulldogs prevailed 44-34 and quickly turned this crazy season even farther into chaos.
Costello threw for 623 yards and 6 TDs, becoming the first opposing QB to ever top 500 passing yards at LSU. Not bad for a guy who was an uneven starter at Stanford over the last two seasons, eh? That’s where Leach and his patented system came into play, and Costello masterfully executed the puppet strings Leach puts on defenses with the pass-until-they-drop offense. His system and Costello set the SEC single-game passing record in their first game in the conference. It’s what Leach did at Texas Tech and then Washington State, which tired of his fun-and-gun offense after last season.
One of the reasons it was such easy sledding for Mississippi State was the absence of LSU CB Daryl Stingley. Arguably the best defensive player in college football, Stingley missed the game after a medical emergency, one not related to COVID-19. It’s a circumstance, not an excuse; Stingley can only cover one guy, and Mississippi State and Costello sprayed the ball all over the field. Three receivers went over 100 yards, which is why Mississippi State figures to be a problem in the SEC West under Leach. There’s a new sheriff in town and he doesn’t much care for the defensive mindset that has dominated that division for years now.
--Falcons rookie CB A.J. Terrell was placed on the team’s COVID-19 reserve list late in the week. The first-round pick from Clemson missed Week 3. In a show of just how effective the NFL’s protocols have worked, every Atlanta player and staffer contact traced to Terrell tested negative for the coronavirus. Players can be placed on the reserve list for exposure to a confirmed positive test, not necessarily testing positive on their own. It is unfortunate for Terrell but this is a massive win not just for the NFL but for everyone who desires a return to normalcy sometime in the next year.
--This is a team that gets “it”...
It didn’t help Denver win, but don’t blame Eric Cartman.
--Buffalo edged out the Rams after L.A. offered up a massive comeback. They left a little too much time and room for more Josh Allen heroics, and the much-improved Bills QB took advantage. If by some crazy happenstance Russell Wilson isn’t the September MVP, Allen has a very strong case to claim the (made-up) honor. He’s been great in leading the Bills to a 3-0 record.
--The Patriots held off the Raiders in Foxboro on Sunday, extending a dubious string. The Raiders franchise has relocated twice since they last won in New England. That was in 1994, when Bill Belichick was still coaching the Cleveland Browns before Art Modell moved them to Baltimore. Those Los Angeles Raiders moved to Oakland and now to Las Vegas.
--Philadelphia and Cincinnati played to a 23-23 tie in a game where the Eagles punted three times in overtime. Eagles coach Doug Peterson was very happy to settle for a tie rather than trying and failing to win. That’s not going to sit well with the Philly fans, methinks…
--Detroit broke into the win column in Arizona thanks to a terrible game from both Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (3 INTs) and coach Kliff Kingsbury. Force-feeding KeeSean Johnson instead of throwing to Larry Fitzgerald (1 catch, 0 yards) or DeAndre Hopkins in the fourth quarter was a baffling course of events from Arizona’s offense. This outcome made the Lions fan in me extremely happy but did wipe out my survivor fantasy team. I’m okay with that...
--The Mid-American Conference was the first FBS league to pull the plug on fall football over the summer as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, the MAC became the last of the conferences to announce it will reverse course and play in the fall after all. The teams will play 6-game schedules of conference games only beginning in November. Return of the MAC, indeed!
--Florida TE Kyle Pitts put on one heck of a show for scouts in the Gators’ 51-35 win over Ole Miss. Pitts showed great hands, smooth routes and versatility to play inline, flexed or even as a wideout. The 6-6, 240-pound Pitts hauled in 8 catches for 170 yards and 4 TDs. His two-play display just before halftime was outstanding, first breaking free from tight press (read: holding) coverage up the seam for a great all-hands catch and run, followed by a difficult low and outside catch for the TD. Scouting catnip.
--Louisiana will remain the highest-ranked team in Sun Belt history. Barely. The Ragin Cajuns pulled off a stunner when kick Nate Snyder nailed a 53-yard field goal as time expired to hold off Georgia Southern, 20-18. Snyder was just 2-for-6 on the season before nailing the game-winner. The Cajuns entered the game No. 19. Surviving such a tight game might not do much to move them up, but rallying to win a tough game where the opponent seized a lead with under a minute left is enough to keep them in the top 20.
--Virginia Tech blew out North Carolina State in the game that is perhaps more COVID-impacted than any other. The game was supposed to be played two weeks ago, but an outbreak of positive tests with the Wolfpack program postponed the game. The Hokies played Saturday without more than 20 players and coaches thanks to an outbreak of their own, but somehow still won 45-24.
--The B1G and Pac-12 returned to the Top 25 polls. Longtime readers will know my general disdain for polls before Halloween anyway, but this year? They’re about as reliably accurate as a tipless condom.
$.10--Outside of football, or perhaps because I cover the Browns and Lions, I enjoy drinking beer. Living in the craft beer mecca of the Grand Rapids metro area is a dream for beer connoisseurs.
With the changing of the season from summer to fall, the beer calendar also changes. The poolside summer beers, the light lagers and fruity ales are now done. Oktoberfest brews, including the marzens I’ve grown to love, are now on the way out too. It’s time for the pumpkin spice invasion.
It happens in the beer world too, not just the coffee aisle. Or the cereal aisle. Or the soda aisle, or dairy section or bakery. Hell, there’s even pumpkin spice cat food this year. Thankfully, beer is perhaps the best medium for the faux pumpkin flavoring that typically includes cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cardamon in various blends. I’ve already had a couple of excellent brews this year: Ichabod from New Holland and Farmhouse Pumpkin Ale from Brewery Vivant. Most regions will have local breweries that put out beers better than the macro-brewed swill with thin flavor and no soul.
Don’t be ashamed of embracing your pumpkin spice fix if you also happen to like beer. You won’t be criticized by Raquel the snooty barista and her pumpkin-colored hair for asking for extra cream when you crack one open. Cheers!