This was one of the most unusual weeks in the NFL in memory. As such, this week’s cents don’t include nearly as much actual football discussion.
$.01--Aaron Rodgers stole the national headlines this week in not just the sports section but the news section. Rodgers contracted COVID-19, rendering the Packers quarterback unable to play against the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 9. It’s not just the COVID that put Rodgers in the news. It’s the status of how he got it and his explanation and semantical gymnastics that have turned the world upside down.
When NFL players who are vaccinated test positive, they can return to action as soon as they produce two straight days of negative tests. There was a general presumption that Rodgers qualified for that status based on his summer admission that he was “immunized.” But that didn’t mean vaccinated, and now Rodgers is out for a minimum of 10 days--a status that threatens his availability in Week 10, too.
Rodgers had previously contracted COVID-19 and his claim that he was immunized as a result does not cut it with the NFL. He was not vaccinated. In listening to his weirdly unsympathetic, rambling appearance on the typically Rodgers-friendly Pat McAfee Show on Friday, his explanations left the impression that Rodgers is a lot more Kyrie Irving crossed with Tucker Carlson than he is a potential Jeopardy host and reigning NFL MVP. Rodgers washed away valid points he might have had about potential allergies to the mRNA vaccines and worries about clotting issues with his snowflake act.
It’s going to be very interesting to watch how the Packers handle the Rodgers situation the rest of the year. It’s no secret Rodgers has wanted out of Green Bay. His selfish act here exposed the team to potential heavy fines and loss of draft picks for violating NFL COVID-19 protocols. Yet Sunday’s 13-7 loss proved they’re not a good football team without him. Jordan Love wasn’t nearly as terrible as commentator Troy Aikman made him out to be, though he also wasn’t nearly good enough for the Packers to have much confidence in his short-term prospects.
$.02--The chemistry experiment in Cleveland failed. Despite the smart hypothesis that adding Odell Beckham Jr. into the offensive mix would result in an explosive passing game, OBJ never proved to be anything more than a catalyst for disappointment in two-plus seasons in Cleveland.
The Browns all but ended the experiment this week. After not finding anyone else who wanted to pay for Beckham’s services for the rest of the season, the Browns have declared they will waive the former Pro Bowl wideout on Monday. He was inactive for Sunday’s game, which not coincidentally wound up being Cleveland’s most impressive game of the season.
It’s unfair to just blame Beckham for the failure. It’s also unfair to just blame Browns QB Baker Mayfield, or head coach Kevin Stefanski or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt for that matter. The entire situation was too complex to levy the failure at any one set of cleats or coaching feet. But it absolutely did not work.
My abridged take as to why: Beckham’s more freelancing style of play wasn’t a good schematic fit for Stefanski’s timing- and spacing-based offense. Mayfield never trusted OBJ to be exactly when or where he needed to be, and game film backs up Mayfield’s hesitation there. Beckham himself was never an issue in the locker room, but the forces around OBJ didn’t handle his reduced production and role well. On his part, Beckham has yet to adapt his game to what he is now physically after so many major injuries over the years. He’s not the elite, smooth-gliding speedster he used to be, but he still plays like he believes he’s the same guy.
It’s that last part that makes it tough for me to see it working as well as hoped for Beckham wherever he lands (first guess: New Orleans, which tried to trade for him but didn’t have enough cap room for more than one game check). I saw Odell in person with the Giants and he moved unlike anyone else I’d seen play WR. I saw him in person in Cleveland and he’s absolutely not that guy anymore.
As for the Browns, they quickly stated their case that it was him, not them. Cleveland blew the doors off the Bengals in Cincinnati, 41-16 with their best all-around effort of the season. Donovan Peoples-Jones, the primary recipient of Beckham’s snaps, caught 2 passes for 86 yards, including a gorgeous 60-yard TD strike from Mayfield where DPJ had four steps on his defender on the deep post route. So far, so good for the 5-4 Browns, who needed a win a lot more than they needed the growing OBJ drama. Addition by subtraction is real, too.
$.03--The fact that an active NFL player killed someone this week doesn’t even make the top two cents is indicative of what kind of a week we’ve had. Sadly, the tragically preventable loss of life gets pushed out of the spotlight.
Shame on Henry Ruggs III, the former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver. Ruggs threw his own bright life away by needlessly extinguishing the life of Tina Tintor, a 23-year-old woman in Las Vegas in a drunken driving incident at 3:40 a.m. Tuesday. Ruggs was going as fast as 156 MPH in his Corvette in the seconds before he drunkenly, recklessly, unforgivably slammed into Tintor’s car. He also seriously injured his own girlfriend and appeared at his initial arraignment in a neck brace and wheelchair.
Going 156 MPH on a city street doesn’t happen by accident. Remove the blood alcohol content, which was double the legal limit, and it’s still horrible. With the .161 blood-alcohol that’s been reported, there should be zero mercy for Ruggs. None.
His NFL career is over. The Raiders quickly severed all ties with Ruggs, as they should. Former teammates like Derek Carr can pray for his well-being and outcome, that’s their prerogative. I’m not that compassionate. Ruggs killed an innocent person by using his car as a weapon. Never mind the loaded handgun he illegally had in the car at the time of the crash, which ironically enough will lead him to significantly more jail time than he would have received for just the vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges. He deserves every bit of the scorn, the anger, the suffering that should plague him for the rest of his life. As many as 46 of those years, double the age of the victim, will be spent in prison. Good. What Ruggs did is indefensible.
$.04--When the Denver Broncos traded their best player of the last decade, Von Miller, it sure seemed like the proverbial white flag on another disappointing season. Miller has been the bedrock of the Broncos defense and the NFL’s most prolific pass rusher since 2011, after all. Shipping him to the Rams in the most significant move at last week’s trade deadline appeared to be the death knell of hope in Denver.
Yet there go the Miller-less Broncos, absolutely steamrolling the first-place Dallas Cowboys in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 30-16 final score. The Broncos shut out the mighty Dallas offense, the one that had not scored less than 35 points in a game in Jerry World since last Thanksgiving, for the first 54 minutes of the 60-minute contest. It was even with Dak Prescott at the controls for Dallas.
Denver’s defense was one step ahead of everything Dak and Dallas tried to do. Rookie Jonathan Cooper bagged two sacks in Millers’ old role. The coverage was impressive behind him, too. Despite myriad injuries to the line, Teddy Bridgewater had his best game in a Denver uniform at quarterback to help run the score up early and force the Cowboys to abandon the run game, which also helped the Denver D. Prescott had some misfires and the offensive line didn’t play well, either.
Good for the Broncos, who did right by Miller in shipping him to a legit contender in Los Angeles. He wasn’t able to suit up for Sunday night’s Rams game, but Miller brings even more defensive firepower to the Rams and could help ease the constant pressure on Aaron Donald to play superhuman on every snap. It was a good trade from both teams’ perspectives. For at least one week, Testicles the Roman God of Football rewarded the Broncos with positive karma and a wildly unexpected win on the road.
$.05--Any Given Sunday, Week 9 edition (pt. 1)
Josh Allen led the Jacksonville Jaguars to a stunning upset win over Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. The third-year pass rusher outplayed the MVP-candidate QB of the same name in the Jaguars’ 9-6 win.
Jacksonville hadn’t won a game in North America since Week 1 of the 2020 season, but they stymied Allen’s Bills at every turn. After kicking field goals on their first two drives, the Bills never scored again. Three drives ended in Allen turnovers, including a brutal panicked pass that the “other” Josh Allen picked off. Jacksonville’s offense did very little without its best player, RB James Robinson, but Trevor Lawrence (15-for-26, 118 yards) avoided the crippling mistakes that his own Josh Allen forced upon the Buffalo Josh Allen.
Going into the weekend, I tabbed Buffalo as the AFC’s best team and Jacksonville in heavy competition to be the worst in the conference. The Bills were 14.5-point favorites on the road and it was hard to expect any outcome to the contrary. Give Urban Meyer’s home team some credit, they put a lot of flies into the typical Buffalo game ointment. These teams could play 50 times and the Bills would win at least 48, but this was one of the freak anomalies in a weekend full of them.
$.06--Any Given Sunday, Week 9 edition (pt. 2)
The New York Giants notched a much-needed win with a 23-16 victory at home over the Las Vegas Raiders. As was the case in Jacksonville, the underdog home team made fewer catastrophic mistakes and did enough defensively to create them from the shaky, uninspired visitors.
Given the tumultuous week the Raiders had after one of their starters drunkenly murdered someone with a speeding car, it’s not necessarily a surprise the road team struggled. After some solid early play, the Las Vegas sharpness faded badly after halftime. New York actually took over the lead despite not taking a single offensive snap in the third quarter. Xavier McKinney picked off Derek Carr and returned it for a TD. On the four remaining Raiders drives, Las Vegas gained 239 yards, netted 14 first downs but scored just three points. The Giants gained 89 yards in their subsequent four drives but scored 6. Yards are great, but points matter more.
New York has now bookended wins around a hard-fought loss to Kansas City where they played well enough to win. At 3-6, they’re not really a playoff threat, but these Giants are not to be mentioned in the same breath as the bottom-feeding teams. Remember, they’ve played without Saquon Barkley most of the year among several key injuries.
$.07--The College Football Playoff released its initial standings last week to the great consternation of anyone with common sense but lacking just enough of that common sense to completely ignore the pointless facade.
Seriously folks, stop paying attention to this CFP madness before the final standings after the conference championships are all done. Everything before then is meaningless and designed solely to draw ire that keeps the conversation. Based on the reactions from this week’s intentionally provocative posting, far too many of you (the collective you) are way too gullible.
The outcomes of the actual games mattered far more, and two of the outcomes completely rendered the first week’s committee rankings moot. Michigan State lost to Purdue in a very competitive game, wiping out the No. 3 team from last week. Wake Forest was the ACC’s last chance, but the Demon Deacons suffered their first loss in a barn-burning shootout with North Carolina, a game between ACC foes that was somehow a nonconference game. Cincinnati and Alabama each won in unconvincing fashion, victories that show legit vulnerabilities that could trip them up against better foes than Tulsa and LSU, respectively.
None of these rankings from the CFP matter, period. If you stop giving their contrived, attention-seeking little sparks the oxygen required to make a conflagration, the whole smoke-and-mirrors will go away. Quickly. Besides, nobody is beating Georgia and that’s all that really matters.
--Cam Jordan has been one of the NFL’s most unsung good players for a long time. Falcons fans surely know this of the Saints DE…
Atlanta won the war, however. Matt Ryan had himself a great afternoon in leading the Falcons back to 4-4 when Younghoe Koo’s game-winning FG cleared the uprights as time expired. That’s the third game-winning kick with no time left on the clock for Koo this season.
--Miami beat Houston and did so without injured QB Tua Tagovailoa. That’s not going to help the Tua advocates in Miami who don’t want the Dolphins to make the seemingly inevitable trade for Texans QB Deshaun Watson at some point. My condolences to anyone who watched this game and its 47 rush attempts for 110 rushing yards. Or Tyrod Taylor throwing 3 INTs and getting sacked five times in his first start in weeks for Houston.
--Buffalo’s unexpected loss opened the door for the Patriots to close the gap to just a half-game. Mac Jones and New England accomplished the mission in thumping Sam Darnold and the Panthers 24-6. Darnold vs. Bill Belichick is the football equivalent of trying to use a snowmobile as a jet ski.
--Kudos to the Titans for going into Los Angeles and beating the Rams in the first game after losing MVP candidate Derrick Henry to a foot injury. The Titans defense is playing some very impressive ball lately and it overwhelmed Matthew Stafford and the Rams.
--The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-6 but have a positive point differential for the season. The Los Angeles Chargers, who beat the Eagles 27-24 on Sunday to improve to 5-3, are still negative in point differential after Week 9.
--How up for grabs is the AFC? After Week 7 ended, the 5-2 Cincinnati Bengals were the No. 1 seed following their beatdown of the Ravens. As we wrap Sunday’s games in Week 9 the Bengals at 5-4 are the 10 seed and in last place in the AFC North.
--It was a rough weekend for coaches who are on disappointing teams. Well, not the head coaches. Scapegoating was in full effect at Washington, Florida and Oregon State. The most glaring example is the Gators, who are 4-5 and got smoked by a bad South Carolina team on Saturday. Dan Mullen fired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the Gators OL coach for good measure. It’s only a matter of time before Mullen follows them out the door in Gainesville after another bad loss in a week where he admitted he doesn’t believe in recruiting during the season.
--Draftnik eyes descended upon Oxford for Ole Miss and Liberty, a rare meeting between the presumptive top two QB prospects in the upcoming draft. Matt Corral outshone Malik Willis in the Rebels’ 27-14 win. Corral certainly had more help around him, but also looked like the more NFL-ready starter. His accuracy in on-schedule throws was superior, as was Corral’s poise under fire. That’s not to say Willis played poorly or looked overwhelmed, but the constant pressure early in the game--he was sacked 7 times in the first four possessions--weighed on him. Teams looking for an immediate answer at QB should have nothing to do with Willis, who is far behind Trey Lance or Justin Fields on the developmental curve entering the league.
--My Ohio Bobcats are not having a good year in the first season without coach Frank Solich. A lot of the negativity got washed away by beating rival Miami, 35-33, in midweek MACtion. Ohio might be 2-7 but they won the most important game on the schedule.
--There was another draftnik QB watch in the Wake Forest-North Carolina tilt. Wake’s Sam Hartman sure looked like an NFL prospect in the early going, but that buzz faded with several bad decisions later in the game. North Carolina’s Sam Howell had the opposite kind of day, sputtering early before playing like an NFL starter late. I still see some things to like with Howell, enough that he’ll be a first-round pick. As for Hartman, he’s got the trappings of a longtime NFL backup with enough ability to play and win as a fill-in on a good team.
--If you missed it, the Mock Draft 1.0 dropped last week.
$.10--On Friday, and the first part of Saturday for that matter, I got to do something really cool. I co-hosted the Detroit Lions Podcast 24-hour stream to raise money for St. Jude’s. My co-host Chris and I were live on YouTube from 9 a.m. on Friday until 9 a.m. on Saturday.
In the 24 hours, we raised over $27,000 for St. Jude’s. I’d love to take credit for the charitable benevolence, but this was Chris’ baby. I was very happy and proud to be part of it. We had many guests who joined us along the way and helped us pass the time quickly.
Nothing was better than being joined on live video by Lions legends Lomas Brown and Herman Moore. Chris arranged for their head coach in Detroit, Wayne Fontes, to call in and the Pro Bowlers surprised their old coach. We sat back and watched them reminisce, telling stories and sharing their love and respect for one another. The reverential way in which Moore and Brown treated Fontes, the only coach in Lions history to win a playoff game in the Super Bowl era, was so incredible to witness.
As for the rest of the show, we talked a lot of Lions football. A lot of quarterback draft conversation too. A couple of childhood cancer survivor stories were deeply inspirational, including one from a young man (hi Cameron Cousino!) who is a meteorology major at Ohio University just like I was some 30 years ago. I learned the hard way that Bean Boozled is not fun whatsoever. We had friends take pies to the face for charity contributions. And somehow we convinced enough people to donate that we beat our goal of $25,000. The number will only go up after the charity auctions end in December.
I’m truly overwhelmed that so many people gave so much to help St. Jude’s help families stricken with childhood cancers. Thanks to everyone who tuned in, supported us and gave us the energy to power through, too.