Welcome to Week Under Review, where even though we’re still in Week 3, a Super Bowl champion might as well be crowned. Plus, a public show of support for Colin Kaepernick, and more thoughts from a fascinating weekend of NFL action. But let’s start with the inevitable.
Feb. 5, 2017. Houston. Roger Goodell presents the Lombardi Trophy to his friend turned Deflategate enemy turned friend turned enemy about-to-turn friend again Robert Kraft. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady smirk in unison in the aftermath of New England’s perfect season and its fifth Super Bowl win in this still-young millennium. Social media is never the same. So how did we get here?
After three weeks, the NFL appears log-jammed with contenders. Carson Wentz is unequivocally the real deal, and the Eagles boast one of the league’s most potent group of run-cloggers. The Broncos defense hasn’t skipped a beat from last year, and Trevor Siemian has only reinforced the “trust in Elway” mantra. The Vikings defense may be the best in football, while the Seahawks are always a postseason threat. The Giants, Packers and Panthers can easily ride of streak of offensive prowess any time. But none of these teams have a chance because the Patriots are riding a wave that can’t be game-planned for—destiny.
The Patriots’ perfect season will continue in one of two ways.
The easy way: Jimmy Garoppolo gets that throwing shoulder needled up with painkillers and easily decimates the Bills in Week 4, who barely shows up after its version of the Super Bowl (winning an actual game and putting the Rex Ryan hot-seat rumors on hold for a week). Then, Brady makes his majestic return carrying the biggest chip of his career on his well-sculpted shoulder. He and Belichick make a vow—no more close games!—and start running up scores like it’s 2007 again.
Only because he’s 39, Brady has a few blips of exposing himself as a human, most notably in Week 10 against Seattle and Week 15 at Denver. But this Patriots team is an army on a mission: avenge bogus Deflategate ruling. No losing allowed. Luckily the layers of talent on this iteration of the Patriots’ roster run far deeper than the quarterback slot.
Their defense, led by linebacker Jamie Collins, is stacked and can already claim a slot alongside some the league’s best. Belichick used his devil magic to convince offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia to come out of retirement, and improvements on that unit have already paid dividends patching up what was thought to be a team weakness. The Patriots running backs, most notably LeGarrette Blount, are taking advantage of the space and hurdling to high-yielding results. The signing of pass-block/pass-catching tight end extraordinaire Martellus Bennett pays dividends as he and Gronk form the most formidable tight end duo since the days of, well, you know. Add in Belichick’s genius as a strategist—like making a mockery of the NFL’s new touchback rule —and a perfect season seems more probable than not.
The hard way: First, the Patriots barely eclipse the Bills in Week 4—with 0:20 remaining trailing by three points, QB Julian Edelman throws the ball seemingly to the moon allowing just enough time for WR Julian Edelman to grab it in the end zone. But Edelman shouldn’t put away his quarterback hat just yet.
With Brad and Angelina calling it quits, Tom Brady and Gisele officially become America's most dissected celebrity couple. The typically cool Brady is unable to grapple with the newfound pressure to be even more perfect—he does have a day job, after all—and the quarterback, upon discovering that his Uggs don’t match his Beautyrest mattress, loses it and punches one of the 12 full-length mirrors in their bedroom. The broken hand extends his absence another ten weeks.
But have no fear, Patriots fans. Edelman, Brissett and Garoppolo form the NFL’s first quarterback triumvirate. Belichick, ever the mastermind, announces a different starting quarterback five minutes before kickoff each week making game planning impossible and victory collection for the Pats automatic. Belichick is having such a great time that he dresses up like a pirate for Halloween again and smiles three times this season.
Brady returns for the playoffs rested and more motivated than ever. After blowing through the AFC, the Patriots are dismayed to learn they will face the team the New York Giants, the team they feel robbed them of Super Bowl titles in 2007 and ’11. So Belichick neutralizes their secret sauce and hires Tom Coughlin as another assistant head coach for one game only. Super Bowl secured. What was Deflategate again?
Party of five: Most infuriating QB performances of Week 3
We're bringing back an item from the summer. It's a listicle—nothing more, nothing less—and the category is subject to change. I'm generally up for ranking anything from Shark Tank panelists to offensive lines, so tweet me at @thefootballgirl with your requests.
This week we’ll keep it fairly simple and rank the most infuriating QB performances of Week 3.
5. Cam Newton for taking a safety when the defender was clearly closing in. This was the moment the Panthers lost momentum for good.
4. Carson Palmer for throwing four interceptions against a Bills defense that was entirely ineffective in Weeks 1 and 2.
3. Blaine Gabbert for managing to throw just 117 yards even though the 49ers were in garbage time mode from the second quarter onward.
2. Jameis Winston for his lack of awareness on the final play of the game. Deep in Rams territory, down 37-32, Winston had no one open so he nonchalantly crossed the line of scrimmage. Five yards removed from a legal pass he was still scanning for an open receiver before realizing he had to scramble. At that point Robert Quinn was there to officially end it
1. Kirk Cousins for holding the ball and taking a sack as time expired in the first half. Washington started the play on the Giants four-yard line with six seconds remaining.
The worst team in the NFL
A dawn in Dallas
When Tony Romo returns from the compression fracture in his back—whether it be for the Nov. 6 game against the Browns or later—he will get his starting gig back, and the world will go on. But I realized something while watching Dak Prescott do his efficiency thing Sunday night. At least to me, admittedly far from the inner circle of Dallas, this kind of feels like Prescott’s team now. Green Bay and Philadelphia are pendulum-swinging tests between now and November. If Prescott can pull out even one of those wins, perhaps Romo will be strongly encouraged to really nurse his back back to health over the winter.
I stand with those who kneel
On Friday night I got a phone call from a media colleague who said a few NFL writers were joining in solidarity by tweeting ‘I stand with those who kneel’ at kickoff Sunday to show support for players who have protested. I was selected because not only did I utilize this column last month to explain how Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protest had nothing to do with disrespecting the military, but I also frequently tweet related sentiments.
Many others fit the profile but I still wondered about the turnout. Trying to explain meaning in prose is a vastly different animal than flat-out saying this is what I think. No optional tarnish.
What happened at 1 p.m. ET and the minutes that followed was incredibly powerful. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of writers, social justice warriors, veterans, the oppressed, the non-oppressed, household names and regular folks all tweeted the same message. We utilized the glorious freedom to express our beliefs. We were not categorized by job titles, income classes or race—we were one. This movement has had endless layers of impact. For me, the thirst for knowledge reigns supreme. I’m hardly oppressed but want so much to understand (as much as I can) the mindset of living with daily oppression—and, of course, help.
I also stand with Chip Kelly
What a moment of leadership last Friday from Kelly. Lowell Cohn, a long-time Bay Area columnist who has previously expressed displeasure with Kaepernick, aggressively and inappropriately tried to get Kelly to admit that Kaepernick should be discussing his protesting narrative far away from an NFL locker room Kelly did no such thing.
You can watch the entire exchange here:
A million claps for Kelly. Some things are more important than wins and losses.