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. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a national treasure…he’s also probably a full-time NFL starter now
Say what you want about Fitz-magic. He’s a Harvard guy. He’s a little strange. He looks great in DeSean Jackson’s sweatshirt. He’s also in the process of taking Jameis Winston’s job. After that week one upset against the Saints, the Buccs knew they might have a QB controversy when Winston comes back from suspension. After Fitzpatrick handled the Super Bowl champs, however, its probably a controversy in name only. Fitzpatrick is 4-1 as a starter for the Buccs and seems to know how to get the best out of his new teammates. He’s thrown for eight touchdowns and over 800 yards in the past two games, with only one interception. And he’s got Tampa Bay at the top of the standings in the incredibly competitive NFC South. Jameis Winston can hardly compete with that. Scratch that. He can’t compete with that. Last year, Winston posted his career high QBR, but still threw only 19TDs to 11 INTs, and he’s never averaged over 300 yards per game for a season. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t making this choice hard for Buccaneers brass. He’s making it easy. Right now, Fitz-magic, hobo-beard and all, gives the Buccaneers the best chance to win.
2. Vontae Davis has terrible timing, or maybe perfect timing…
I’ve seen a bunch of stuff in my day, but having a healthy player refuse to exit the tunnel after halftime because he’d decided to retire on the spot is a new one to me. That’s exactly what the Bills new cornerback Vontae Davis did on Sunday afternoon. Trailing 28-6 at halftime, perhaps Davis had seen enough. Following Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, the Bills are an NFL-worst -55 in point differential, and they certainly won’t be the playoff contender that they were last year. If Davis thought he had a chance to play meaningful football at the end of the year with his new team, this first two weeks in Buffalo have certainly disabused him of that notion. Or, maybe he just heard from locals what the winters in Upstate New York are actually like. Either way, the former Pro-Bowl corner had agreed to a one-year deal with Buffalo, but has issued a public statement that he is, in fact, retiring effective immediately. So, an already deeply flawed team is losing a key component to the secondary. Bills fans bonus play: LeSean McCoy cracked some rib cartilage. It might keep him out of next week’s tilt at Minnesota. As if Bills fans don’t have it bad enough already…
3. Kickers are having a tough go of it
We’re only two weeks into the new season, but the kicker carousel is already spinning like a top. Cleveland, after missing a field goal to beat Pittsburgh in week one and leaving eight points on the field in a tight loss to New Orleans, has brought in former Dolphins kicker Greg Joseph to handle the kicking duties. Incumbent Zane Gonzalez hardly stood a chance after the start to the season he’s having. That being said, Gonzalez was still doing better than Vikings rookie kicker Daniel Carlson, who missed three consecutive attempts in Minnesota’s tie ugly with Green Bay this week. Carlson was waived outright today, in favor of veteran Dan Bailey. Interesting fact. Both guys that lost their jobs today have been part of something exceptionally rare. A tie in the NFL. Since the new overtime rules were adopted in 2012, there have been only five NFL games that ended in a tie…until this season. We’ve had two ties in the first two weeks. That’s seriously weird, people.
4. Clay Matthews is the NFL’s new poster boy for roughing the passer
I know, it looked like a clean tackle to a lot of people. I know it changed the outcome of the game in a meaningful way. But here’s the deal folks. The tackle that Clay Matthews made on Kirk Cousins is the very definition of a hit the NFL is trying to eliminate. So much so, that the league is using tape of the play as part of an instructional video…on how NOT to tackle. Sharp-eyed observers have noted that Matthews was careful to not drive Cousins into the ground and even used his arm to prevent his full weight from landing on the Vikings new signal-caller. That’s all true. But that’s not the point. The part of the tackle that’s illegal is the act of picking the QB up off of his feet, then plopping down on top of him. In short, a body slam. Green Bay fans should be familiar with this type of tackle. It’s exactly the tackle that Anthony Barr made on Aaron Rodgers last year, breaking his collar bone and effectively ending the Packers season. While I’m sure MANY people will disagree, this is all part of a concerted effort by the NFL to change the game. It’s not an accident, and it’s not a mistake. The NFL is clearly moving towards a more offensive style of play, where hard-nosed defense isn’t rewarded, in fact, it’s penalized. Sorry, grumpy old fans. Get with the new.
5. Patrick Mahomes is lighting it up
Two weeks into the season. Ten, count them, ten touchdowns. You know who’s done that before? In the history of the NFL…no one. Not Brady, not Montana, not big brother Manning, certainly not little brother Manning. No one has ever come out as hot as Patrick Mahomes. Oh, he also hasn’t thrown an interception yet, and I think we’re finally seeing exactly how dangerous Tyreek Hill is. Alex Smith is often the butt of jokes about being too boring or too conservative. (Guilty as charged) But in this case, I think we’re seeing the evidence, right now, that he was holding this Chiefs team back last season. Mahomes willingness to make aggressive plays downfield without being careless or sloppy is paying massive dividends already. I’m sure he’ll run into some stouter defenses than he’s seen thus far, but I see nothing to indicate that he can’t be a top-tier quarterback in the NFL.
6. Josh Gordon is on the move
Following a promotional shoot that ended with a tweaky hamstring, the Browns announced their intention to part ways with gifted, but problematic receiver Josh Gordon. Since he entered the league, Gordon has struggled with substance abuse, but when he’s on the field, the wide receiver has been among the league’s best, despite catching passes from a litany of terrible Browns quarterbacks. He’ll get a new perspective immediately, as the Browns have agreed to trade him for a fifth-round draft pick to the New England Patriots. It’s no secret that the Pats have struggled to pull together a crew of pass catchers for Brady this season, but Gordon would make almost any receiving corps significantly better. In fact, aside from Tampa Bay, I can’t think of a single team that wouldn’t have gotten better by bringing him in. He hasn’t had a full season in several years due to his sobriety issues and suspensions, but if he’s as committed to his sobriety as his offseason approach would indicate, he may have put the worst of his troubles behind him. Here’s hoping, because a Brady to Gordon connection could potentially remind fans in New England of the Brady to Moss touchdown machine…if they can get on the same page. If not, Gordon could be the latest in a string of receivers who couldn’t quite fit the mold in New England.
7. Antonio Brown just might be, too
Listen, I’m not saying that the Steelers are a dumpster fire yet. But if they lose next week to the suddenly white-hot Buccaneers, the match is lit. Sure, it’s easy to say that with Le’Veon Bell on the field, this team would be 2-0. But that doesn’t make it untrue. And if you think that teammates aren’t starting to see the untenable situation that the Steelers management has put them in, you’d be wrong. Antonio Brown responded on twitter to a former Steelers PR guy who indicated that Brown is only good because of Ben Roethlisberger. His response… “Trade me”. He’s got a point. If anything, Brown has boosted Big Ben’s stats over the past few years, as Roethlisberger navigated the part of his career when most QBs start to decline. Listen. Antonio Brown isn’t a rookie. He also isn’t a twitter novice. He knows exactly what he just did. The Steelers got into a staring match with Martavis Bryant last season, but in the end, they traded him away. With (at best) a disgruntled Le’Veon Bell and a frustrated Antonio Brown, this Steelers team might not be what we thought they were anymore. Add in the fact that Brown didn’t show up to work on Monday and we have the makings of a full-blown freefall on our hands.
8. Cleveland is still without a win…but that might not mean the same thing that it usually does
They haven’t won since Christmas Eve of 2016. I know. That’s bad. But here’s the thing. In earning a tie with the (admittedly problematic) AFC North bully Steelers and coming within a field goal of beating New Orleans DESPITE their issues at kicker (see number 3), the Browns are playing…yes…competitive football. Granted, they still haven’t won a game, but it will happen. Not sure when. But its going to happen. Stop screaming about Baker Mayfield. It’s not necessary. Give this team some time and I think you’ll see that they’re not the punching bag that they used to be. Especially on defense. I’m betting they give Sam Darnold and the Jets some serious issues on Thursday night. Don’t believe me? Fine. Vegas has them as a three point favorite.
9. The Jaguars are feeling themselves
And they should. They’re 2-0. They looked great beating up on a Patriots team that has looked uneven thus far this season. Blake Bortles looks to be more solid than could be anticipated, throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns against the defending AFC Champions. And all of that without Leonard Fournette. If this keeps up, I might have to issue an apology to the guy. But I’m not there yet. Why? Because they didn’t look great against a mediocre New York Giants team in week one, and because beating New England in September doesn’t mean as much as beating them in December or January. We’ve seen New England play against potential playoff opponents with an abbreviated playbook during the season, and that might have been the case this week. With all that said, the Jags just beat the defending AFC champs, and they look a lot like the unit that made a deep playoff run last year, despite the loss of top wideout Marqise Lee and the injury that kept top rusher Leonard Fournette on the sideline. The defense in Jacksonville made Tom Brady uncomfortable all day, despite only sacking him twice, and if they can keep up that kind of pressure, they will win a LOT of games this season.
10. The Broncos are on a roll
But does it mean anything? Frankly, I’m not sure. They brought in Case Keenum to solidify the quarterback position and he’s certainly an upgrade from last year’s QB situation. But he completed just over half of his passes, had no touchdowns and threw a pick in their one-point win over the Raiders, who probably aren’t as good as that 0-2 record would suggest. That win over the Seahawks in week one wasn’t exactly a domination, either. So, what are the Broncos doing well? First, Von Miller is looking like his old self, with four sacks thus far this season. More importantly, though, they run the ball. Really, really well. The rookie tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have combined to rank second in the league in rushing yards per game, trailing only the Texans. It’s too early to tell if Vance Joseph has gotten the Broncos back on the right track, but for now, they’re undefeated and tied with the Chiefs atop the AFC West.
Check out previous editions of ‘Ten Things We Learned in the NFL This Week’ here
Image Source: USA Today