Nine of Week 2's games were decided by less than a touchdown. But tight finishes and swelling parity are only a sliver of the story.
Nine of Week 2's games were decided by less than a touchdown. But tight finishes and swelling parity are only a sliver of the story.
Four 49ers players joined teammates Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in kneeling during the national anthem on Sunday.
Before San Francisco’s game against the Panthers, Antoine Bethea, Eli Harold, Jaquiski Tartt and Rashard Robinson all took a knee and raised their fists.
Dolphins linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who wrote in TIME earlier this week that he would stand for the anthem after kneeling last week, did stand. The three other Dolphins players who kneeled last week—Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Kenny Stills—kneeled again.
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters and Patriots players Martellus Bennett and Devin McCourty also demonstrated during the national anthem last week.
What’s the worse way for an offensive coordinator to be fired—days after his team scores 31 points and racks up 393 yards on offense? Or right after being asked to pose for the team photo?
For now-former Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman, the answer is both. Roman—who was canned after Buffalo’s putrid defensive performance against the Jets in Week 2—was let go after he posed in 2016 Bills team photo, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Apparently, coaching a great offensive game with a quarterback no one wanted a year ago wasn’t enough, instead the Bills wanted Roman to feel like his job was completely secure before firing him.
The Bills, of course, still employ the Ryan brothers, the defensive masterminds whose schemes have created a porous, undisciplined unit that made Ryan Fitzpatrick look like he was playing against an Ivy League defense. Roman, meanwhile, helped make a performer out of Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo after doing the same with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco.
Roman will probably have his pick of jobs next off-season. We’ll see what happens to Rex and Rob.
Former teammates aren’t the only ones happy to see Alfred Morris back in Washington this week.
During his four seasons in Washington, Morris made a habit of chatting with the FedEx Field employees before each home game. He called the group of ushers, security guards and guest services workers “my stadium fam” and they eventually started meeting up outside the stadium for meals.
Morris signed as a free agent with the Cowboys, who visit Washington on Sunday. Of course, Morris started his gameday with his stadium fam.
“He acts just like he’s one of us,” guest services worker Lorenzo Parker told The Washington Post last year. “I just look at him like a regular friend. It’s nothing different.”
Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo injured his throwing shoulder during the first half of Sunday’s game against the Dolphins and did not return, the team announced.
Rookie Jacoby Brissett, a third-round pick from North Carolina State, replaced Garoppolo. The Patriots hung on for a 31–24 win, with Brissett completing six of nine passes for 92 yards. He also carried four times for 12 yards.
Garoppolo was driven to the turf by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso and headed to the locker room with a shoulder injury. X-rays on Garoppolo’s shoulder were negative, MassLive.com’s Kevin Duffy reports.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, initial indications are that Garoppolo will miss at least six weeks.
Brissett took over for Garoppolo in the middle of a drive. The Patriots ran two running plays and Brissett’s pass on the third down was incomplete, leading New England to settle for a field goal.
Garoppolo had completed 18 of 27 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns before the injury. He threw for 264 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.
The Lions had one of the most thrilling wins of Week 1 last Sunday when they came from behind (after blowing a big lead) to defeat the Colts in Indy. It was almost the exact opposite story Sunday, as the Lions gut-wrenchingly blew a tight game at home against the Titans.
Fans of every NFL team experience varying degrees of misery every season, but few teams devastate their fans as effortlessly as Detroit. In their 16–15 loss against the Titans, the Lions had a whopping three touchdowns called back due to penalties. Particularly embarrassing was one sequence late in the first half, when the Lions had a first and goal at the one-yard line, but ended up having to settle for a 42-yard field goal.
As a team, Detroit was penalized 17 times for 138 yards. Adding injury to insult, Ezekiel Ansah and Ameer Abdullah left the game early, while DeAndre Levy didn’t even suit up. The Titans, who had won only three road games in the last two seasons entering Sunday, won despite 12 penalties of their own and their otherwise general ineptitude.
Even after the Titans took the lead on a fourth-down touchdown pass to a he’s-still-in-the-league Andre Johnson, all the Lions needed was a field-goal drive with one minute and 13 seconds left on the clock.
Instead, Matthew Stafford threw an interception to end the game.
Cam Newton is very good at playing football, but very bad at picking hats.
The reigning MVP has made nearly as many headlines for his postgame fashion choices as he has for his superb play. On Sunday, it happened again.
The Panthers rolled over the 49ers, 46–27, for their first win of the season, behind Newton’s 353 yards and four touchdowns through the air. All anyone wanted to discuss afterward, though, was his terrible throwback hat (coming in at No. 3 below).
That inspired me to rank Cam Newton’s six very worst hats. There are some bad ones here.
UPDATE (Sept. 25): This one is might be the worst, man.
LOS ANGELES — On the first NFL Sunday here in more than two decades …
8:37 a.m. PT
The parking lots around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum are mostly empty, but that doesn’t stop the tailgaters from tapping their pony kegs in Lot 2. Every other person is wearing a jersey, and their selections are heavy on running backs, with Eric Dickerson, Todd Gurley, Marshawn Lynch and even Shaun Alexander represented. There’s also one guy wearing (oddly) a Bill Belichick No. 1 jersey, women in bikinis, shirtless bros grinding through cornhole games, skaters on their boards and palm trees.
This is NFL football back in Los Angeles, the Rams’ regular-season return.
The sun is out, naturally, and the Juarez family is decked out in “Welcome Home” T-shirts. Gabriel is the family patriarch, a Rams’ fan all his life, at least until the team bolted after the 1994 season. He couldn’t root for the franchise for all the years the Rams played in St. Louis. But he bought tickets for the preseason and regular-season openers as soon as they went on sale. Then he brought his wife and two daughters from Hermosa Beach. They arrive earlier than most, and set to readying the grill. “I almost can’t believe this is happening,” Gabriel says.
The Rams’ return is big business for the neighborhood around the stadium. There are merchandise tents and venders selling sausages, hot dogs, pineapples, ice cream, water, soda and ice packs. Every business and home nearby is selling parking, the going rate anywhere from $30 to $100.
Even the pedicabs are busy. One driver, who declined to give his name unless I took a ride with him, says he’s made 10 trips around the sprawling grounds. His shirt is soaked in sweat, indicating he’s telling the truth. “Go Rams,” he says as he peddles off.
The scalpers seem frustrated as they peddle tickets on the outer fringes of the grounds. One says demand dropped significantly after the Rams were blown out in their opener, a 28–0 loss to the 49ers last Monday night. I took a picture of L.A. Rams signage on a dumpster, and it didn’t take long for Twitter to make the connection between the garbage receptacle and a franchise that last went to the playoffs in 2004. “Check back for the inevitable dumpster fire later,” one poster wrote. “Can you throw Jeff Fisher in there?” read another.
The scalper says he’s only sold a handful of tickets this morning, but he notes that this is L.A.; he expects a late arriving crowd. “Who needs tickets?” he shouts.
The Seahawks and Rams begin the warm up. Fisher, the L.A. coach, has spent some of the morning in the coach’s office, which used to belong to Pete Carroll when turned USC into a powerhouse. Now, Carroll is on Seattle’s visitor sideline for the NFL’s return to the market he once owned. “I doubt it’s a coincidence,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman told reporters earlier this week. “I’m sure the league had something to do with that.”
Fisher is happy to be home. The Rams played their last three games on the road, and they spent the off-season moving from St. Louis to Oxnard to Irvine to Thousands Oaks. On Thursday, Fisher said, “We’ve been through a lot. Not that the rest of the league cares. The guys are focused; they’re rolling with it.”
The parking lots are starting to fill up. Traffic clogs Figueroa Boulevard and the surrounding streets. Parking lots are almost full. Grill smokes mixes with the smog in the air.
Near the stadium, there’s a Fanfest, sponsored, naturally, by Bud Light. Fans throw footballs at targets, pound beers and lament another Rams season that hasn’t shown much promise. “This is great,” one fan says to his friend while in line at a taco truck. “Well, except for we have to watch the game.”
Three Rams fans walk by wearing construction hats affixed with horns. They came up from San Diego, a two-hour drive on Sunday morning. “I wouldn’t miss it,” says Bruce Miller, who works in construction.
Miller says he went to his first Rams’ game in this same Coliseum with his father in 1977. He didn’t watch the NFL as much when the team left. He hated when St. Louis won the Super Bowl. “Worst day ever,” he says.
Three Seahawks fans walk by Gate 1 wearing No. 4 jerseys. That number belongs to Steven Hauschka. The kicker. They’re either Hauschka family members or they’re really into field goals.
Those who believe in the notion that Los Angeles-area sports crowds arrive late and leave early should have seen the gates a little over an hour before kickoff. The lines are so long it’s hard to walk through. The fans know what’s at stake here. They lived 21 seasons without a football team. By kickoff, most of the seats are full.
A family of three is clad in Gurley jerseys, standing in line at the concessions stand. “We bought the jerseys when they announced the return,” says Johnny Xavier, who lives in the Hollywood Hills.
“My dad passed Rams fandom onto me, and I’m passing it on to my son,” he continues, as he gestures at his son, seven-year-old Ryan. They head into the stadium, to take their seats. They don’t want to miss anything.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers climb atop a makeshift stage on the field. Hundreds of fans surround them. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis performs shirtless, as they belt through three songs. This feels very California-y.
Players from both teams make their way onto the field. Cannons shoot fireworks into the air. California Love blasts over the field. The announcer generously calls the Coliseum the “most iconic stadium venue in America.” If he means old and in need of updating then that’s fair. Downtown L.A. looms in the distance, the San Gabriel Mountains behind in the far background. It feels a little like the NFL never really left.
The singer CeeLo Green performs the National Anthem. The Seahawks lock arms, same as they did last week, in what they say is a demonstration of unity.
Kickoff. The NFL is back. Another Hollywood sequel has begun.
The Rams take a 3–0 lead in the first quarter after a 39-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein. That score marks their first points of the season. It’s not a touchdown. But it’s progress.
Because this is Los Angeles, the video boards flash to one celebrity or another during every timeout . There’s basketball star LeBron James on the sideline wearing shades. There’s the talk show host James Corden dancing with the Rams cheerleaders (an image that you should Google and watch, and you will never be able to un-see it).
The Seahawks add their own field goal to the scoreboard, a 23-yarder by Hauschka that was undoubtedly applauded by the two people who wore his jersey to the game. A barnburner this is not. But don’t tell that to the stadium P.A. announcer. He makes 3–3 sound like the most exciting thing in the entire world. He shouts into the microphone after every play, like he’s announcing at Wrestlemania. This is the guy I want writing my obituary.
Rams quarterback Case Keenum finds running back Todd Gurley in the left flat, and Gurley turns up field and picks up 19 yards. The Rams had gained 67 yards in the full hour before that play. For the fans who might have been confused, the rest of the league calls that offense.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t understand why the Rams don’t feed the ball to Gurley every chance they get. They threw 35 times last week against the 49ers and 30 times on Sunday against the Seahawks. And while defenses undoubtedly will key in on Gurley, loading eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, 20 touches for last season’s NFL rookie of the year doesn’t seem like the smartest way to win.
There’s a lot of chatter on Twitter about the number of empty seats at The Coliseum. You can definitely see them. That said, it’s loud here. After big plays, the press box shakes. As the Rams drive down field in the second quarter, Keenum has to quiet the crowd on two occasions.
Rams fans even cheer when there’s not much to cheer for—like a 6–3 lead going into the half.
The Rams introduce their Hall of Famers during a halftime ceremony. The press box is mostly empty, because it’s halftime, and they’re serving Pink’s hot dogs, and the line is like something from Black Friday. (Hot dogs consumed: two; don’t judge.)
Rams defensive end William Hayes flattens Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. It’s fair to wonder, as it was last week when Wilson injured his ankle against Miami, how many players are as indispensible to their teams as Wilson is to his. His backup is an undrafted free agent rookie in Trevone Boykin. If Wilson goes down, so do the Seahawks, which is why Seattle’s offensive line will need to improve for the team to make a playoff run. Wilson looked less mobile than normal on Sunday, even as he insisted his ankle was fine and healed.
Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor who could pass for the actor Ty Burrell’s twin, is shown on the video boards. The crowd boos him. Think about that. They boo the mayor, but they don’t boo the Rams!
I talked to Garcetti a few weeks ago for a magazine piece. He had a good story I didn’t have room for. “There was this one guy who kept asking to get a stop sign put in his neighborhood,” Garcetti says. “I saw him at a party. He had been trying for years, and he finally got the sign. That affected the safety of his kids, but he was more excited about the NFL’s return.”
Greg the Leg knocks his third field goal through the uprights, a 47-yarder, and the Rams lead, 9–3. The PA announcer says 91,046 are in attendance, although that seems like a stretch. Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram is in attendance, and they show him on the big screen. The crowd cheers.
The Seahawks offense takes the field for one final drive, needing a touchdown to steal a comeback win. From the field, the stands look close to full, at somewhere around 90% capacity. Then Wilson uncorks a beautiful deep ball to receiver Tyler Lockett up the left sideline. The play goes for 53 yards and puts Seattle 35 yards from the end zone.
Cameramen scramble down the field, past the mist machines on the Rams’ bench. The crowd chants DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!
It’s so loud that Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham is whistled for a false start. Usually that’s what happens to opponents in Seattle.
Wilson throws to Christine Michael on third-and-10, and Michael, sensing the game is on the line, fights forward toward the first-down marker, only to fumble. The Rams recover. They run out the clock. They win.
Since the start of the 2014 season, the Seahawks are 22–7 against every NFL team except the Rams. They're 1–4 against the Rams in that span.
Fans stream toward the exits. They’re not leaving early. They’re leaving at the end. A helicopter flies nearby the field. “Let’s Go Rams,” the crowd chants. It’s the exact ending for the Rams’ first home game in L.A. that a Hollywood script writer might have written. (Although the game itself was all about punts and field position.)
The Rams still have yet to score a touchdown two games into their 2016 season. Still, they don’t plan to apologize for winning the way they did on Sunday. All wins matter. That’s the approach they took.
Seahawks defense end Michael Bennett stalks off the field. He looks upset. “California Love” plays again over the stadium speakers. Keenum runs by the fans in the front row near the Rams’ locker room, high-fiving as many hands as he can reach. One guy holds up a “Mob Squad” sign. Wideout Brian Quick throws his wristbands in the stands.
As the last players filter into their locker room, the fans that remain are dancing in the stands. They’re throwing up W’s. They don’t care about the score. They care about the win.
Fisher walks into his post-game press conference with a smirk spread across his face. “They’re killing me,” he says, and he means his team and how they let Seattle back in it. He wore a blue polo shirt and those khakis that every coach seems to wear that are a size or two too big and pleated and almost always gray. It’s like they give you a closet of those khakis when you become an NFL head coach.
Someone asked Fisher about his team’s “domination” of the Seahawks. “I wouldn’t call it domination,” he says.
Besides, the Rams still need to score a touchdown. They need to get Gurley the ball more. That’ll happen, Fisher says.
The crowd of reporters around linebacker Alec Ogletree’s locker is five deep. That’s because he recovered that Michael fumble to seal the Rams’ victory. That’s because he’s a star. So many writers crowd around his locker they block the entrance to the locker room. It’s possible that’s a good thing since there’s no air conditioning in there and everyone is sweating like they just ran marathons. Employees pack up the Rams' equipment. The televisions are already showing highlights from the game.
Behind Ogletree the snippet of his fumble recovery plays as he talks. The defensive players are careful not to say anything negative about the offense. “I feel like our offense is going to come through,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson says.
At his locker, Hayes is being asked about how the Rams have the “Seahawks' number.” He says he doesn’t agree with the premise of the question. It’s weird, then, to hear these players on this team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004 being asked about “dominance” and having “someone’s number.” But that is the weird thing about the Rams. They always give the Seahawks fits.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald walks by en route to the shower. “Can we get some AC in here?” he asks no one in particular.
A crowd waits for Gurley as his locker as he dresses, tugging on some spiked gold high-tops. Les Snead, the Rams general manager, watches all this unfold.
One of his sons asks Snead, “Did you get to meet LeBron?”
“I did get to meet LeBron,” Snead says.
The stadium is mostly empty now, as Gurley talks to reporters. He’s not surly, and he’s not complaining, but it’s easy to see the frustration on his face. He mumbles out his answers. He says “clearly that wasn’t our best game” and “obviously we can do a lot better” and “we gotta score.” As the questions keep coming, Gurley sighs when they’re asked.
“I can’t predict the future,” is how he ends the interview.
The stadium is empty now, save for the workers who are cleaning up the pretzel crumbs and beer cans. A man drives a lawnmower over the field. The TV reporters sit or stand in the end zone, beaming back reports about the game and what it meant.
For the Rams, victory was better than the alternative, even if victory was boring, or ugly, or Rams-ian. Los Angeles may be a city of celebrity, but on Sunday the Rams knocked off one of the NFL’s best teams with punts (!) and field position (!!) and a crowd that was so loud the roar echoed to downtown in the distance. They won because they grinded, and, on the first NFL Sunday in Los Angeles in more than two decades, there was some beauty in that, too.
PITTSBURGH — The Steelers and Bengals play again on Dec. 18. If you were looking for a repeat of last season’s contentious playoff showdown between the two teams, maybe check back then. There was not even anything all that close to going over the line Sunday, when Pittsburgh held off Cincinnati for a rain-soaked 24–16 win.
But that doesn’t mean the rematch will be all puppy dogs and rainbows.
“I know the guys in my locker room, all we can do is keep working hard,” said Cincinnati cornerback Adam Jones. “We’ll see them mother f******s again, I can’t wait to see them again. I take my hat off to Ben [Roethlisberger] and Pittsburgh.”
The reaction was vintage Pacman, yet a long way from Jones’s outburst following Pittsburgh’s dramatic, controversial win in Cincinnati last January. Jones went off on the game’s officials that evening, after the Steelers moved into field goal range on the strength of two 15-yard penalties—one on Vontaze Burfict for a high hit on Antonio Brown, the other on Jones for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Bengals’ home fans were borderline riotous as the events unfolded, their team’s locker room charred by raw emotion afterward. This time for Cincinnati, there was disappointment, but little more.
The atmosphere matched what went on during Sunday’s game. All week long this matchup was billed as a slugfest, with talk of the officials being on high alert in hopes of snuffing out any extracurriculars.
Turns out, there was little reason for those concerns.
Burfict’s absence may have lowered the temperature a bit. He remains suspended for another week for the dangerous shot he landed on Brown. “Who knows?” Pittsburgh tight end David Johnson said. “Could be. It could be a guy like that that could pump them up a little more.”
There were a handful of big collisions without him, a couple of them initiated by Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay. Both quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton, had a play after which they needed an extra breath before popping back to their feet. Otherwise? Nada.
No personal fouls. No thrown helmets. No brawls. It was, by these teams’ measures, rather cordial.
“I tried to set a tone early in the game, being physical with hits,” Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell said. “They were trying to be physical. I was proud of both teams how we kept it in between the white and in between the whistles. That was old-school AFC North football.”
At the heart of it were the defenses, particularly Pittsburgh’s. The Steelers shut down Cincinnati’s vaunted run game, holding Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to a combined 39 yards on 16 carries. They also kept A.J. Green in check, disguising their coverages and throwing a variety of zone looks his way to keep him to two catches and 38 yards.
The Bengals made a game of it late anyway, despite facing a 24–9 deficit. Dalton found Bernard for a 25-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 3:34 left, and the Bengals were driving for a potential tying score late when rookie receiver Tyler Boyd coughed up a fumble.
There was drama in that moment—if Boyd’s knee wasn’t down before the ball came out, it was very close. The play was ruled a fumble on the field and stood after replay.
“I mean, I knew it was close,” Dalton said. “We thought we were going to get it but I guess that wasn’t enough. I wasn’t paying super close attention to the replay, but what we heard on the sideline was that we were going to be getting it back.”
They didn’t. The Steelers subsequently managed to run out all but eight seconds on the remaining clock.
Pittsburgh’s key plays Sunday came from Sammie Coates, Jessie James and Xavier Grimble. Cincinnati limited DeAngelo Williams to 2.9 yards per carry (94 yards on 32 attempts) and took Antonio Brown mostly out of the plan, as Pittsburgh did with Green.
“How many yards he have?” Jones asked after the game. “How many touchdowns? Looks like we did our job. This morning my wife called me and told, ’Do what you can do and let the Lord handle the rest of it.’ Clearly, I’m content. Whatever y’all want to write, y’all write.”
Let’s try this: The Steelers were happy with the outcome but far from thrilled with their performance. “We got an ugly win,” Roethlisberger said, “but a win in the AFC North is never ugly.”
Meanwhile, the Bengals were ... nonplussed, perhaps is the right word. Improving to 2–0 by stealing one in Pittsburgh, where they won last season en route to an 8–0 start and AFC North title, would have been a significant early statement. They’re still 1–1 despite a pair of tough road games out of the gate, with four of their next six at home.
When they lost to the Steelers in January, it was the end of the line. Sunday, it was just a small piece of the entire season’s puzzle. And it was treated as such, from the opening kickoff on through a hard-fought but rather mundane afternoon.
“We fell short today, we’re 1–1, that’s where we are,” Cincinnati DT Domata Peko said with a shrug. “We’ve got the Super Bowl champions next, so we’ve got to get ready for them and continue to get better.”
This rivalry is as heated as the NFL has to offer. Or at least, it usually is. Sunday, the hype promising a bloody brouhaha never emerged in reality.
“I mean, it’s kind of early in the season and things haven’t really gotten heated yet,” Johnson said. “The battle for the conference was not on the line, who knows. Today, we were all just out there playing respectful ball.”
Just wait, though. Until, say, Week 15. Burfict should be back in the lineup, the division title and a playoff berth could be up for grabs, and this all should get back to being the hatred-filled Steelers-Bengals showdowns we’ve all come to know.
Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall sustained an MCL injury after falling awkwardly during Thursday night’s win over the Bills, NBC Sports’ Mike Florio reports.
The news comes after coach Todd Bowles told reporters on Friday that Marshall’s knee was “fine,” and “sore or slightly sprained.”
Marshall left the game in the second quarter, but returned for the Jets’ next drive. It’s unclear if he will be able to play on the knee when New York visits Kansas City on Sept. 25.
Quincy Enunwa got an increased look in the short time Marshall was sidelined and would likely receive more targets should the veteran miss Week 2.
– Kenny Ducey
Jeff Fisher earned his stay in purgatory on Sunday, coaching up the Rams to a 9–3 win vs. the Seahawks in his team’s first regular season game in Los Angeles since leaving St. Louis.
Fisher, who hasn’t won more than eight games in a season since George W. Bush was president, is reportedly up for a three-year extension, one that will likely be announced soon after this big win against a divisional opponent. And at first, Sunday’s victory may seem like a statement game for Fisher and the Rams. They have won four of their last five against Seattle, even though the Rams have been at the bottom of the league while the Seahawks compete deep into the playoffs. But consider this: What if Seattle isn’t very good this season?
Obviously, the Seahawks were limited by a less-than-100% Russell Wilson on Sunday. Wilson played with a bum ankle, and it showed. But this is Seattle’s second straight close game after struggling with the hapless Dolphins in Week 1. Outside of Wilson, the Seahawks’ defense still looks strong, but the offensive line is a major issue, creating a chain-reaction of problems on that side of the ball. Wilson and Doug Baldwin are still star players, but Jimmy Graham may be the best blocker on the team, which is not ideal.
I would not at all be surprised if Seattle reeled off something like nine straight wins after this game and rendered these thoughts not only moot but foolish in hindsight. After all, the Seahawks started last season 0–2 (with a loss to the Rams!) and still made it within a whisper of the NFC Championship Game.
But there’s no doubting that struggling with the Dolphins (0–2 after a rough go in New England) and the Rams (who were blown out by Blaine Gabbert and the 49ers in Week 1) in back-to-back weeks is not exactly a good look for a team with Super Bowl hopes—even if Fisher looks at the Seahawks’ 1–1 record with wanderlust.
It was a night of long-awaited beginnings and potentially premature endings on Sunday night in Minneapolis. It was the beginning of the Vikings’ time inside U.S. Bank Stadium, one that they rang in with a 17–14 win over their division rival Packers. It was possibly—though hopefully not—the end of Adrian Peterson’s season, or at least the end of a good chunk of it. But even amid the unwelcome sight of Peterson unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was assisted off the field and into the locker room by trainers, there was still a sense of optimism about the Vikings' season—because the most important beginning of all may just be the one that Sam Bradford ushered in as he took the field for his first start on his third NFL team.
Here are the stat lines of the two quarterbacks tonight:
QB1: 20/36, 213 yards, 5.9 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT, 5 sacks. 70.7 rating.
QB2: 22/31, 286 yards, 9.2 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT. 4 sacks. 121.2 rating.
QB 1 is two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. QB2 is the perennially hurt and disappointing Bradford, who everyone has been waiting on to have that golden year, and who never seems to be able to stay on the field long enough to have it. What will come for the rest of this season, nobody knows yet. But on Sunday in Minnesota, the new Vikings starting QB at least had himself a golden night.
Yes, those are admittedly some big, laudatory words to use about a quarterback whose team only scored 17 points. But this was arguably the most important start of Sam Bradford’s career. He’s been a member of the Minnesota Vikings for all of two weeks, and he was able to take control of an offense whose run game was stuttering for the entire game. He found instant chemistry with the soon-to-be superstar Stefon Diggs. Diggs, who deserves an entire section of this piece full of nothing but laudatory words, finished 9/11 for 182 yards and a touchdown, and the pair looked like the newest QB/WR tandem that’s going to give defenses headaches all season long.
That's not to say that things were perfect for the six-year veteran QB—and they’re about to get a lot harder without Peterson. But even when Peterson was in this game, he and the Vikings’ offensive line were getting manhandled by the Packers’ fierce D-line, and so it was on Bradford to deliver. (Peterson had six carries for 19 yards when he was injured in the third quarter). The offensive line didn’t do him many favors—they left him very little time and he was hammered all night long for four sacks. The line is a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later, but, most importantly, Bradford didn’t let the pressure force him into a backbreaking decision, something we saw him do too often last year with the Eagles.
This already seems like a story that's been told before. Sam Bradford looked really good! It’s finally his year! He looked really good at Oklahoma, too, which was why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. He looked really good when he was Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Rams in 2010, and in 2013, before he tore his ACL and missed the entire year. He looked good enough for the Eagles to trade Nick Foles to the Rams for him in 2015, and then for the Vikings to trade their 2017 first-round pick for him once Teddy Bridgewater went down. But on Sunday night, it all felt a bit different. Maybe it’s because he has something he never quite had before—an explosive receiver in Diggs—or maybe it’s because he has a newfound confidence because he’s comfortable trusting his truly outstanding defense to bail him out when his drives stall. But Bradford’s throws were well-timed, he showed poise and authority, and he, quite simply, looked like a veteran. In the absence of Bridgewater, that’s exactly what the Vikings will need to compete for the division title again, and that, paired with the defense that wreaked havoc on Aaron Rodgers and the dangerous Packers offense all night, is exactly what they used to get a crucial divisional win over rival Green Bay.
If you compare Bradford’s numbers to Teddy Bridgewater’s last year, they’re eerily similar. In 2015, Bradford had a 65.0 completion percentage, with 3,725 yards and 19 touchdowns and 14 picks, while Bridgewater in 16 games had a 65.3 completion percentage for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns and nine picks. Bridgewater also had the luxury of Peterson last year, something that it’s looking like Bradford will have to live without for at least a couple of games (Peterson is set to undergo an MRI on Monday, which will determine the extend of his injury). But if Bradford can continue to eliminate those interceptions, and, of course, stay healthy, it looks like he and that fearsome defense can lead the Vikings pretty far.
“Staying healthy” are the key words here. There was a moment in the second quarter, just after the Vikings had tied the score on a beautiful pass from Bradford to Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone, when this story seemed like it was going to reach the same old ending. When the game returned from commercial, cameras were on Bradford, who was walking off the field and into the locker room, clutching his distorted-looking hand. After less than two quarters of really strong play, it looked as though Bradford had already gotten hurt. Again. The Sam-Bradford-Is-Made-Of-Glass tweets flowed through timelines. Is this what the Vikings were giving up their first-round pick next year for? This same old ending?
But that’s not what it was. His hand was not broken, he won’t end up being out for months after just over 15 minutes of play. A couple of minutes later, Bradford trotted back onto the field, lined up under center, and two drives later, led the Vikings to a field goal, highlighted by yet another pretty 44-yard completion to—who else?—Diggs.
Instead, in a twist of fate, it was Peterson who would head to the locker room and not return, and it was Bradford who, despite being knocked around all game long, withstood the adversity of losing his top running back and continued to perform well.
Did he break quarterback records? No. Did he look like a world-beater? No. But on Sunday night, Sam Bradford played better than Aaron Rodgers. After having only a little bit of time to learn the ropes of a brand new offense and team, Bradford came into U.S. Bank Stadium, made it his stage, and used it to show that perhaps, this time, the ending of his new story will actually be different.