Quick Slants from NFL Week Six….
1. The probable season-ending injury that felled quarterback Aaron Rodgers is bad for the Green Bay Packers, and bad for the NFL. Rodgers is the circuit’s most entertaining performer, and that matters in a league that’s muddling through contrived off-field controversies, incompetent quarterback play, fussy and arcane rulings by anal-retentive officiating crews that are staffed with too many geezers. Is it any wonder why we’re seeing so many embarrassing TV-camera shots of all of the empty seats in game-day stadiums. It would help if the league was actually serious about protecting quarterbacks. Which, of course, was more about marketing (“We care about our players’ safety!”) than enforceable policy.
2. From a competitive standpoint, Rodgers’ broken collarbone will lead to opportunities for the Packers’ rivals in the NFC North … and for the multiple NFC teams that are trying to lift themselves from the pile to make a run at a playoff spot. I thought Green Bay had as good a chance as any NFC team to get to the Super Bowl … and now what? Philadelphia is off to a swell 5-1 start, and second-year quarterback Carson Wentz continues to impress. But does anybody see the Eagles as a dominant force? Too soon for that. Does anyone trust the 4-2 Carolina Panthers and the health and viability of QB Cam Newton? The Atlanta Falcons are dragging. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are overrated. Maybe we’ll see the Washington Redskins have a go at this. The Seattle Seahawks are always a menacing threat in the NFC. Or could it be … is it possible … is it crazy … to think that the 4-2 Los Angeles Rams could be on their way to NFC contender status?
3. In the NFC North: Minnesota (4-2) can win with defense, and probably will have to because the Vikings’ offense is diminished by injuries. Detroit is an enigma, and quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a disappointing season. But the Lions (3-3) have the most upside. Chicago (2-4) has turned the offense over to rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky. Unless Packers (4-2) quarterback Brett Hundley can take over and impersonate a former Green Bay quarterback named Brett, it’s going to be awfully tough for the Packers; Rodgers is one of those rare talents that elevates the play of everyone around him. This is a loss for anyone that loves to watch greatness.
4. This absurdly complex rule about what exactly constitutes a catch to the officials’ satisfaction … take it, toss it and the dumpster and set it on fire. Please. Thank you.
5. The Kansas City Chiefs lost for the first time this season, by six points (19-13) at home to a hungry and refocused Pittsburgh Steelers team that’s been roiling with ego eruptions and misuse of offensive personnel. But it was a matter of time until the talented Steelers — the consensus preseason choice as the No. 2 team to New England in the AFC — pulled it together. And the test in Kansas City figured to bring out Pittsburgh’s best side. That’s what happened. With the Steelers finally turning to the run game to balance an offense that was getting kooky with too many passing attempts, Le’Veon Bell lugged the ball 32 times for 179 yards rushing. The Steelers defense was incredibly fired up and simply overwhelmed the KC offense. Which, you know, is the sort of thing that exceptional defenses do on a day when everything is wired in. And the Chiefs still had the ball and a chance to win late. But based on the NFL-pundit reaction, you would have thought that the Chiefs lost to the Cleveland Browns 44-3 at Arrowhead. Many NFL media types suffered broken ankles by frantically jumping off the Chiefs bandwagon. Would everyone please relax? You thought KC was going 16-0? Save the Andy Reid, Alex Smith, Same Old January Chiefs material for January. This is October. Good grief.
6. Though I must acknowledge that Coach Reid unsettled me a bit by going for it on fourth down (fail) early in the fourth quarter instead of just settling for the chippy field goal that would have made it a one-score game at 12-6. Yes, this was indeed a haunting reminder of Coach Reid’s foibles in postseason game management. But I ain’t giving up my seat on the damn wagon.
7. The winless and receiver-obliterated NY Giants pulled off a stunning win at Denver Sunday night, and at least some of this victory was made possible by a critical decision from Giants head coach Ben McAdoo … who fired himself as the play caller. The good news for McAdoo: the Giants showed some life and finally won a game. The bad news for McAdoo: the bosses will take note that the head coach cost his team some wins by calling the offensive plays instead of delegating to the offensive coordinator.
8. I try to watch as many NFL games as possible on Sunday and make extensive use of the DVRs in our home. And one of my new favorite things to do is look in on the Jacksonville Jaguars to see rookie running back Leonard Fournette go hunting for linebackers and defensive backs that try to block his path. Fournette has some of that old Earl Campbell swag going for him; he will MESS a dude up if given the chance to road-grade a tackler. Fournette is second in the NFL with 596 yards rushing. And to think that folks were ripping the Jags for drafting Fournette 4th overall.
9. The San Francisco 49ers are 0-6 in the first year of the new regime featuring GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Niners’ futility was expected, but rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard (from Iowa) enlivened a dreary season with an energetic and exciting performance in a 26-24 loss at Washington. The 49ers were down 14-0 when Shanahan yanked journeyman starting QB Brian Hoyer (yawn) to go with the rookie. Beathard completed 19 of 36 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. Leading a fresh-look offense, Beathard brought the 49ers back to tie the Redskins 17-17. the Redskins reassumed control, but Beathard had a last chance for a miracle pass for the win — a desperation heave that was intercepted. The game at Washington had to be especially meaningful for the Beathard family. C.J. is the grandson of legendary Redskins GM Bobby Beathard, who expertly built the rosters that Joe Gibbs coached to Super Bowl championships in 1982, 1987 and 1991.
10. That’s 187 regular-season career wins — and an new NFL record for most career QB victories — for New England quarterback Tom Brady, the GOAT. Brady continues to handle emergencies with the usual poise and toughness, making money throws and piling up the points to overcome a Patriots defense that’s allowed every opposing quarterback to pass for 300+ yards this season.
GAME BALLS GO TO …
— Rookie Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who zapped the zombie Browns for three touchdown passes in a 33 to 17 win. Watson has 15 touchdown passes in six games … for perspective, consider this: last season Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler had 15 TD passes in 15 games. With his 15 touchdown throws, Watson tied Kurt Warner and Marl Rypien for the most TD passes in NFL history in the first six games of a career.
— Adrian Peterson is 32 years old, and that’s usually when running backs have reached the advanced stages of creakiness. Not this guy. The Arizona Cardinals may have seemed a bit desperate when they sent a conditional sixth-round draft pick to New Orleans to salvage Peterson from the Saints bench. In Sunday’s 38-33 victory over Tampa Bay, Peterson reminded us why he’ll be a first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by charging through Tampa Bay’s defense for 134 yards and two scores and an average 5.2 yards per carry. On his first drive as a Cardinal, Peterson ran for 54 yards — that was more yards than he had all season in New Orleans. Peterson had a direct impact on Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, who had received virtually no support from the run game until Peterson entered the backfield to instantly boost the league’s worst statistical rushing attack. Peterson’s running threat made it easy for Palmer to pick apart the defense with play-action passes; he completed his first 14 throws on the way to 283 yards and three touchdown throws on the day. I don’t know how, but the Cardinals are 3-3.
— The Pittsburgh Steelers defense. They went into Kansas City to confront the league’s highest scoring offense, and came out of Arrowhead with a victory. Yes, the Steelers offense had a good day, but this win was claimed by the defense. In one of the amazing stats of Week Six, the Chiefs had only 25 total yards of offense at the 4 minute mark of the third quarter. The Steelers gave up only three first downs on the Chiefs’ 15 plays on third/fourth down, got after quarterback Alex Smith, and limited rookie Kareem Hunt to 21 yards rushing on 9 carries. The Steelers are 4-2, and it seems silly to have downgraded them.
— Pass some game balls around to members of the Rams special teams. With Los Angeles going to Jacksonville for a skirmish pitting the Rams creative offense against the Jaguars disruptive defense, the special teams became the difference in the Rams’ 27 to 17 win. The Rams got the jump on the opening kickoff, with Pharoh Cooper going 103 yards for the score. And the Rams opened a 10-point lead in the second quarter on a blocked punt that was retrieved and converted into a touchdown by Malcolm Brown. Don’t look now but the Rams are 4-2, and the franchise hasn’t been 4-2 at the start of a season since 2006. That was Scott Linehan’s first year as Rams coach; that team finished 8-8 and then went into the full-scale destruct mode starting in 2007.
— How about some game balls for an unlikely group, the New Orleans Saints’ defense? Yes, visiting Detroit put up 38 points … but that’s missing the point … because the Saints defense burned the Lions by scoring three touchdowns on two pick-sixes and a fumble recovery in the end zone. With the marauding defense and a bullish rushing game, the Saints required only 186 yards passing from Drew Brees to take this one 52 to 38. With three consecutive wins the Saints are 3-2 and a factor in the NFC South, and in the wild-card race.
WITHHOLDING YOUR GAME CHECKS …
— Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter. Is there a more disappointing team in the NFL than the overhyped Buccaneers? I don’t believe so. A second consecutive loss, a stinker at Arizona, dropped Tampa Bay to 2-3 on the season. Koetter is supposed to be some sort of creative offensive designer who would develop Jameis Winston into an elite quarterback. That’s why Tampa Bay management fired Lovie Smith after Winston’s 2015 rookie season to promote Koetter from offensive coordinator to head coach. And despite loading up with extra playmakers this season, Tampa Bay is sitting at No. 22 in the NFL in offensive points scored.
— Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. How do the defending NFC champion Falcons blow an early 17-0 lead and lose a home game to Miami and Jay Cutler? By not scoring again. And for the second week in a row, Ryan was awful in the second half as the Falcons got upended at home by two AFC East teams, Buffalo and Miami. In the second half of those two losses, Ryan averaged only 5.37 yards per passing attempt, with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions and a sickly passer rating of 48.6. And in both losses, the Falcons’ last shot at winning ended with Ryan throwing awful interceptions. Ryan has only 6 TD passes this year, with 6 Interceptions. A year ago Ryan raided defenses for 38 touchdown throws. Last season he was intercepted only 7 times on 534 passing attempts. This year Ryan already has been picked off six times on only 170 passing attempts. Benefiting from two narrow escapes over Chicago and Detroit that literally were one play away from a defeat, the Falcons are fortunate to be 3-2. They could easily be 1-4, or even 0-5.
— The Denver Broncos … what the hell was that? The NY Giants come to the mile city without a win on the season… and the Giants were missing five injured wide receivers… and quarterback Eli Manning has been an easy target … … and you lose to the Giants 23-10? How? You couldn’t handle an opponent that hadn’t blocked anyone all season ? Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was intercepted twice by a Giants defense, coached by Steve Spagnuolo, that came to Denver with only two INTs on the season. The Giants also stuffed the Denver running game: 17 carries, 46 yards. By the way, that makes 2 TD passes and 4 interceptions for Siemian in his last three games.
— The Oakland Raiders lost their fourth consecutive game, with the Carson Chargers winning 17-16 on a last-second field goal. That’s 2-4 for the Raiders, and though it’s real nice for running back Marshawn Lynch to come out of retirement to play for his hometown Raiders, he has 257 yards and two touchdowns on the season. QB Derek Carr, still hurting, tried to push through in his return from a back injury. There was a lot of pro-Raiders buzz before the season, but that’s faded.
— A request for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco who is fossilizing before our eyes: is it possible for you to retire? Any chance? Just wondering. Thanks for considering it.
— Cleveland coach Hue Jackson texted Houston’s Deshaun Watson “to be ready” during the 2017 draft. Get ready for what? To avoid the endless dumpster fire that engulfs the clown-Brown franchise? Then Jackson and the Browns drafted pass rusher Myles Garrett first overall, and traded the 12th overall choice to Houston, which was thrilled to select Watson. Browns fans could have had Watson but ended up with DeShone Kizer instead. I’m sure the Browns’ faithful was thrilled to see the QB that got away (Watson) leading the rout over their team on Sunday as Cleveland backup QB Kevin Hogan aimlessly flung up-for-grab tosses all day … miraculously only three were intercepted.
Thanks for reading …