SI Staff
Sunday October 16th, 2016

Week 6 of the NFL season showed us a reunion between Odell Beckham Jr. and his favorite kicking net, featured a reinvigorated Rob Gronkowski at the center of the Pats' rally, and even further diminished the Panthers' already ridiculously slim playoff hopes. Here's a look back at some of the biggest storylines from yet another week of NFL action, as selected by's editors.

Sunday October 16th, 2016

All summer long, Ron Rivera preached to his team about fighting off complacency.

Rivera spoke to people from John Madden to a retired Navy admiral on dealing with the after effects of Super Bowl 50. He maintained a countdown of days until his Panthers met the Denver Broncos in season kickoff.

After today's 41-38 loss to New Orleans, his team is now 1-5 and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Actually, “in danger” denotes there’s some chance of the Panthers making the playoffs. There’s really not.

Panthers vs. Saints: Complete Box Score

At 1-5 and 0-3 in the NFC South after Sunday’s 41-38 loss to New Orleans, the Panthers will almost certainly not be playing in January. And really everyone not named Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly and punter Andy Lee can share in that blame.

The lowest-hanging fruit of all is the defensive backfield. The Panthers started fifth-round cornerback Zack Sanchez against Drew Brees less than two months after they decided he wasn’t good enough to make their 53-man roster. That they ended up in this position was entirely of their own volition. They rescinded Josh Norman’s franchise tag, put their chips on a trio of rookies and cut Bene Benwikere on a Friday despite second-rounder James Bradberry being out for who-knows-how-long with turf toe.

Kuechly and Thomas Davis have played well, but what does it matter when no one behind or in front of you is? Carolina’s pass rush has been anemic. Defensive end Kony Ealy went from the team’s Super Bowl MVP to zero sacks through six games. The team leader in sacks is free safety Tre Boston, who got benched three weeks ago.

Carolina’s offense hasn’t looked like itself since the Week 2 shellacking of the 49ers, and yes, Cam Newton can shoulder some of that blame. Only Sunday against New Orleans did he looked like his MVP self. Not all eight of the sacks he took against the Vikings were his fault, but he could have gotten rid of the ball quicker. I won’t blame him for getting concussed against Atlanta, but he didn’t learn his lesson about walking into the end zone like he said last year in New Orleans when a similar play occurred. This isn’t the first time Newton has dealt with porous offensive line play or drops in his career, but it’s the worst that he’s looked with them.

Redskins TE Vernon Davis flagged for ridiculous excessive celebration penalty

And while the players make the plays that leave them 1-5, the common thread in all this has been general manager Dave Gettleman. His cost-saving approach that was so effective for his first three years as Carolina’s GM is catching up to him. With newly extended Michael Oher missing his third straight game due to concussion, Gettleman’s inability to find suitable depth at tackle is biting him. Taking away Norman’s tag continues to boggle the mind. But the biggest failure was not having enough competition at training camp.

The only legitimate competition for a starting position was at punter, and not one of the three players Carolina brought to Spartanburg ended up punting in Denver Week 1. The starting lineup projected in late July was essentially the starting lineup against the Broncos. A few starters really competing for their jobs would have likely curbed any lingering complacency.

Only two teams since the merger have started 1-5 and made the playoffs: the 1970 Bengals and 2015 Chiefs. The biggest difference between these Panthers and last year’s Chiefs is that, by Week 7 of 2015, the Chiefs had played five playoff teams and would only face two more for the remainder of their 11-5 season. The Panthers have played—and lost—to three (probable) playoff teams and still have teams like Arizona, Seattle, Oakland and Atlanta ahead of them.

Take a look around the NFC. Carolina’s division title hopes are on life support, meaning it will have to rely on a wild card spot. An NFC North team is posied to claim one of the two, and the Panthers will have to pray that their best-case scenario of 10 or 11 wins beats out any NFC East team.

Perhaps this is proof of the difference between winning and losing in the NFL. Carolina lost Norman but gained Kelvin Benjamin from their 15-1 season, and just about everything else is the same. A made field goal in Denver by Graham Gano, another miss by Roberto Aguayo on Monday Night Football and just one defensive stop against New Orleans and this team could be 4-2. But Ron Rivera is quick to remind you that you are what your record says you are.

The Panthers’ record says they’re a bad team. And history says their playoff dreams are shot.

Sunday October 16th, 2016

Cam Newton didn’t feel like talking following the Panthers’ 41–38 loss to the Saints on Sunday, deciding to cut his postgame press conference short after just over a minute.

Newton replied to six questions with very brief answers before saying, “next question,” in response to a reporter asking about his frustration level. After one more, he was asked again about his level of frustration, and said, “next question” again before leaving in the middle of the next question.

The veteran quarterback was widely criticized for walking out of his post-Super Bowl press conference early.

In his return from a concussion, Newton completed 27 of 47 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. He ran twice for a yard and a touchdown.

Carolina is now 1–5 on the year.

– Kenny Ducey

Sunday October 16th, 2016

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but one can generally get a sense for how Rob Gronkowski is feeling by watching his celebrations. So, while the 109 yards receiving he had last week and the 162 he posted in Sunday’s win over the Bengals were nice, the biggest signs that the Patriots have their Gronk back came after the whistle.

First, there was the signature Gronkowski power spike, which came after he and Tom Brady connected for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Later, as hostilities grew between the Bengals and Patriots, Gronkowski exchanged words with multiple Bengals and then was flagged for taunting as he sauntered near the Bengals sideline.

Gronkowski is not the most important player on New England’s roster—Tom Brady still holds that title by a substantial margin. But he brings the swagger.

“I felt a lot better out there this week, just throughout the week,” Gronkowsi said after New England’s Week 5 win in Cleveland. “Just was improving every single day, every single week. Now I’m getting back to my old self, so it feels great.”

New England Patriots 35, Cincinnati Bengals 17: Complete box score

Great for him, and great for the Patriots. Sunday started rocky for them, in Tom Brady’s first 2016 home game after his suspension ended last week. The Bengals kept the New England passing game under wraps for two-plus quarters, forcing Brady into multiple sacks and throwaways.

Linebacker Dont’a Hightower turned the momentum by sacking Andy Dalton for a safety in the third quarter, trimming Cincinnati’s lead to 14–12. The Patriots kept the ball rolling by feeding their ludicrously talented TE tandem of Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. That duo combined for 176 yards and three touchdowns (all of the latter from Bennett) in Brady’s return seven days ago.

In the drive which followed Hightower’s safety, they totaled 69 yards, capped by a four-yard Gronk touchdown and the aforementioned emphatic spike.

And from there, the Patriots’s offense took over. Brady’s next pass was another completion Gronkowski’s way, for 38 yards. The connection was the 5,000th of Brady’s career and gave Gronkowski his 22nd career 100-yard game.

Redskins TE Vernon Davis flagged for ridiculous excessive celebration penalty

No one ought to pretend the Patriots are infallible. Up until Dalton took that sack in his own end zone, the Bengals had dictated the game’s arc rather well, especially considering the challenge they faced playing in Foxborough with Brady returning. There is a huge challenge, though, in having to face Gronkowski and Bennett together—no other team comes close to matching that 1–2 punch at tight end. The amount of attention they demand frees up their teammates, too, as has been the case with James White (eight receptions, two touchdowns) and Chris Hogan (four catches for 114 yards last week, a key 39-yard grab Sunday).

Brady’s total line since rejoining the lineup proves why he deserves to be excited over the Patriots’s offensive talent. In two games, both wins, he has thrown for 782 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

It all sets up a crucial coming two weeks for New England: at Pittsburgh next Sunday and at Buffalo on the 30th. Despite a half-hearted loss to Miami this week, the Steelers are one of the Patriots’s main challengers in the AFC. The Bills, meanwhile, have run off four straight—including a win over the Brady-less Pats—to keep the AFC East race cooking.

For either of those teams to knock off New England, they’ll have to start by first slowing Gronkowski and Bennett. That’s about as tough a task as there is defensively, especially when Gronkowski is feelin’ it like he is right now.

Dan Gartland
Sunday October 16th, 2016

Odell Beckham’s romance with the kicking net continues. 

The couple hit a rough patch a few weeks ago against Washington, but they shared a tender moment after Beckham’s impressive touchdown grab in Green Bay last week. 

After Beckham caught a touchdown to put the Giants up over the Ravens on Sunday, Beckham did... uh, something. 

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What is that? Is he building a fort? Is he pretending he’s a fish?

After a 66-yard catch and run that ended up winning the game for the Giants, Beckham dropped to a knee and appeared to ask for the net’s hand in marriage.

We wish them a long and happy life together. 

Sunday October 16th, 2016

Washington already had a bizarre run-in with the NFL’s excessive celebration rule earlier this season, when Josh Norman was flagged 15 yards for “shooting a bow and arrow” after an interception.

The Redskins probably won’t be too thrilled with the league’s crackdown on shows of exuberance after Sunday, either. Following his first touchdown catch since the 2014 season, tight end Vernon Davis mimicked a free throw and shot the ball through the uprights. He was given a 15-yard penalty. (You can see his celebration at the 10-second mark of the video below.)

An annoying penalty turned more sour for Washington on the ensuing kickoff. Dustin Hopkins had booted his first two attempts for touchbacks, but having to kick off from his own 20 because of the Davis penalty, he came up short. Philadelphia’s Wendall Smallwood fielded Hopkins’s kick and took it back 86 yards for the first kick-return TD of the 2016 season.

A few plays later, Kirk Cousins tossed a pick-six, thus erasing what was left of a Washington lead that had been 14-0 before Smallwood’s run.

Rule 12, section 3 in the NFL rulebook is what bit Davis on his post-score incident. Among the listed “prohibited acts” under Unsportsmanlike Conduct is: “Using the ball or any other object including pylons, goal posts, or crossbars, as a prop.” So, by the letter of the law, Davis violated the rule. Spiking the football is, of course, still allowed.

SI’s Jonathan Jones took a look earlier this season at the increased attention officials have been paying to player celebrations. Norman’s bow-and-arrow and Antonio Brown’s pelvic thrusts had been the most prominent examples prior to Sunday, but overall we’re spending way too much time discussing all of this. For a sport built on dazzling, highlight-reel plays, the league office really has gone out of its way to temper its players shows of emotion.

Davis didn’t do anything obscene and he didn’t show up the Eagles in any way. In the same way that arguments against the NFL’s catch rule often beg for common sense, fans are doing the same on the celebration penalties.

Let the players have a little fun.

Sunday October 16th, 2016

49ers head coach Chip Kelly wouldn’t say whether or not quarterback Colin Kaepernick will remain the team’s starter for next week’s game against the Buccaneers.

“We’ll see,” Kelly said postgame in response to a question about the veteran’s job moving forward.

San Francisco fell to 1–5 with Sunday’s 45–26 loss to the Bills. In his first start of the season in place of the struggling Blaine Gabbert, Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, adding 66 yards on the ground.

Before Sunday, Kaepernick’s last touchdown was a 21-yard pass to Quinton Patton against the Ravens in Week 6 last year.

– Kenny Ducey

Sunday October 16th, 2016

Colin Kaepernick offered a succinct retort to his critics after Sunday’s game against the Bills.

In his postgame press conference, Kaepernick responded to those who say his decision to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality is “un-American.” 

“I don’t understand what’s un-American about fighting for justice and liberty for everybody,” Kaepernick said, according to USA Today’s Chris Biderman

Kaepernick was also asked about how he was received by Bills fans and said some approached him to offer their support. 

Several groups of fans tailgating before the game mocked Kaepernick and his protest, though others expressed support. 

Niners head coach Chip Kelly refused to say whether Kaepernick would start against the Buccaneers next week. 

Sunday October 16th, 2016

The Giants and Steelers both dodged a bullet when they had star players leave Sunday’s game with injuries.

Odell Beckham was sidelined for much of the second quarter after being diagnosed with a hip pointer but returned for the final drive of the half. 

Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of the Steelers’ game against the Dolphins with a left knee injury, the same knee that caused him to miss four games last season. He returned at the start of the second half. 

Elsewhere, Bills running back LeSean McCoy injured his leg but was cleared to return for the second half. 

A full list of injuries we’re tracking is below. 

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers — Knee, returned

Landry Jones replaced Roethlisberger under center at the end of the first half. 

Odell Beckham, Giants — Hip, returned

With Beckham sidelined, Eli Manning threw a touchdown pass to Roger Lewis. 

LeSean McCoy, Bills — Leg, returned

McCoy was injured late in the first half but was back on the field after halftime. 

Carlos Hyde, 49ers — Shoulder, returned

Shaun Draughn is Hyde’s backup.

Jordan Poyer, Browns — Concussion, out

Poyer was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation and diagnosed with a lacerated kidney, in addition to the concussion. The fourth-year player is the starter at free safety. 

Dion Sims, Dolphins — Concussion evaluation, returned

Sims has been the starter at tight end while Jordan Cameron continues to recover from a concussion. 

Eddie Royal, Bears — Toe, out

Royal has more receptions this season than Alshon Jeffery. 

Michael Bennett, Seahawks — Knee, questionable

Seattle is struggling against Atlanta.

Davante Adams, Packers — Concussion evaluation, questionable

This would be a big blow for a Packers offense that is already reeling due to poor play.

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