Plus, Hue Jackson working on the defensive side of the ball in Cincinnati, Dalvin Cook is ready to return in full, Joey Bosa should be on the field, O-line woes for Dallas and Washington, and the Eagles need Sidney Jones right now.
Maybe we shouldn’t treat Lamar Jackson as a curiosity anymore. Maybe we shouldn’t see his implementation as an NFL quarterback as some sort of experiment. Maybe we should look at him in the context of Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the guys drafted with him, rather than reaching back for the Robert Griffins and Tim Tebows of the world.
And my impetus for thinking about that is this: Jackson’s two long touchdowns to Ravens first-round pick Hollywood Brown, both in the first quarter of yesterday’s opener in Miami, weren’t pulled from some bag of tricks that offensive coordinator Greg Roman brought with him for the Dolphins. Nor were they part of the so-called revolution that the Ravens were supposed to lead this fall to accommodate Jackson’s different skill set.
“Actually, we had those plays in,” Jackson told me from the locker room postgame. “The guy is just fast. He beat the coverage. Got open. I just had to deliver a good ball for him to score on, and that’s what he did.”
Not new plays, you say?
“Those were not new plays,” Jackson said. “We had been running those.”
I’m not going to overreact too much to what we saw yesterday, and that was a pretty bad Dolphins team that the Ravens happened to shred, too.
But there’s significance in what Jackson is saying. For months now we’ve heard that Roman and the Baltimore staff were going to turn the league on its ear by leveraging Jackson’s road-runner-level legs. The implication was that the 22-year-old, at this point in his development, needed it to be that way.
So when it turns out that he didn’t? I think that means something.
Football is all the way back now, and so are we with our Sunday night all-nighters to give you wall-to-wall MMQBs when you wake up for the work week. And in this week’s edition, you’ll find …
• The renaissance of Sammy Watkins, who could be more important to the Chiefs this morning than he’s ever been to any other team before.
• The relationship between Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers, and how the Thursday night season opener could provide a couple examples, through some fits and starts, of its growth.
• A recap of the big contracts teams did this week.
• The Patriots’ shellacking of the Steelers.
• Dak Prescott’s breakthrough against the Giants.
But we’re starting with the guy whose 1 p.m. start during Week 1 was the kind that had you refreshing your browser, over and over again, to see just how gaudy his numbers could get.
Those two touchdowns from Jackson from Brown were just as Jackson explained them—football plays that he’d run before.
The first, the 47-yarder, was actually a product of something Jackson has worked on with his receivers for a while now. Last year, as he saw it, he wasn’t hitting his targets in stride like he should, which handicapped the receivers’ own ability to turn shorter throws into big gains.
“That was a big emphasis,” Jackson says. “I’ve been saying that what I want them to do is finish out the plays and score touchdowns. That’s what we did today.”
On this play, a first-and-10 from the Dolphins 47, Jackson took the snap, faked to Mark Ingram, pulled the ball (it looked like RPO action), and hit Brown between the ‘1’ and the ‘5’ on his jersey, which set him up to take the slant and turn upfield for the long score.
The next one, an 83-yarder, was actually even easier.
“Five-step dropback, it looked like they dropped to Cover 2,” Jackson said. “[Brown] was one-on-one with the safety, I just had to give him a great ball and let him run under it. And you guys seen him in college. You were able to see it on that play. He has the speed to run to the ball, track the ball down and score a long touchdown. That’s what he did.”
This doesn’t mean Jackson’s going to be league MVP. We can take it slow, at least for now, on that. But it does mean that just maybe we’ve all looked at this the wrong way.
Both the above plays, and a bunch of others, showed Jackson operating concepts that any other NFL quarterback would, and making NFL quarterback decisions. On the Brown scores, Jackson saw matchups he liked, and took them. No smoke-and-mirrors. Just the quarterback carrying out the plays and showing his own growth in the process.
Now, here’s the scary part about that : He didn’t even have to use his generational talent as a running quarterback to accomplish it.
The game itself got out of hand quickly. It was 42-3 with two minutes left in the first half. So Jackson took his final snap in the third quarter, finishing with 324 yards and five touchdowns on 17-of-20 passing. And he did it while recording just three rushes for 7 yards, which made this his first regular-season start with fewer than 10 carries.
When I asked Jackson if that marked progress, he didn’t hesitate.
“Definitely—I don’t plan on running [as much] this year,” Jackson said. “Coach threw out there, ‘We’re gonna do whatever it takes to win.’ Today, three rushes and probably 20 passes was what it was. We came out with success.”
That said, Jackson’s day wasn’t perfect. On one of his three runs, he told me, he pulled the ball when he should’ve let the back take it. On one of his three incompletions, he missed Willie Snead, and then figured out he had someone open elsewhere. In both cases, he felt there were big plays to be made, and so he’s going to work to correct those, like he worked to become a more evolved quarterback, and worked to better hit receivers in stride.
But what matters now, to him, is that what we all witnessed on Sunday signifies genuine growth—for him and for a team that’s overhauled its defense and reworked its receiver group on offense.
“We’re just playing ball right now, man. We’re having fun,” he said. “We bonded with each other a lot. Got our chemistry down pat. But there’s always room for improvement. All of us, each and every position, has been working very hard from last year’s playoff loss. We had that chip on our shoulder from that. We know we just have to stack right now, and it started in Miami. Our goal is to finish in Miami. We started on the right foot.”
Of course, you know what’s happening in Miami in February. Long time before we get there. But this was, most certainly, a good positive step in that direction for Baltimore. And how their quarterback took it certainly got my attention.
SAMMY WATKINS TAKES OFF FOR THE CHIEFS
The NFL world held its breath at 1:57 p.m. ET. The league’s reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes, limped off the field with the help of trainers, after Jaguars star Yannick Ngakoue pulled him to the turf with Mahomes’ left foot planted in it. It looked bad, and concerns only escalated when the quarterback entered the medical tent on the sideline.
Turns out, as all our radars went up, Sammy Watkins didn’t even notice.
“Honestly I didn’t even see it,” he told me on his way to the airport after the Chiefs’ win in Jacksonville. “I was so deep into the game. After a while I looked down at his ankle and I saw he had tape on it. That’s what you expect out of a quarterback with those injuries. They get hit maybe 10 times a game. They’re getting sacked. I want to keep going out there playing and leading us to win.”
Watkins was locked in. The fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft (ahead of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham) went off in an impressive 40-26 victory, hitting for 198 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches.
This, as he sees it, isn’t a coincidence. Coaches and staff have been buzzing about Watkins’ spring and summer, giving the Chiefs hope that this would be the year he’d finally live up to his draft position and contract (three years, $48 million). Watkins, for his part, held that hope out too.
“Just opening myself up and trusting everybody around me, I think that’s the key to it,” he said. “And knowing that it starts with me, but I’m not the only one out there doing it by myself. I’m accepting that. I think everybody around me, my teammates, my coaches, giving me the confidence and the ability to go out there each play and dominate. I think that’s where I’m at with my spirituality even so. I’m receiving help from other people.”
Likewise, Watkins explained that to live up first to his draft position and then to his contract, he’s pressed in the past and tried to do too much—on the field, in the weight room and elsewhere. This year he resolved to try to fix that, and on the field that means letting the offense come to him.
That’s easier when Andy Reid is calling the shots and Patrick Mahomes is pulling the trigger. And it showed Sunday.
Watkins’ first big hit came on an underneath route that he reached up to snag, before weaving through defenders for a 68-yard score.
“Just playing fast,” Watkins said. “It was like the third play, but Pat made eye-contact with me and I knew it was coming. After I caught the ball, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is what I do. I’m gonna finish this play.’ That’s something I worked on: my focus in the offseason. The same things I was doing in high school and college, I think I got that mojo back. That confidence to go out there and make plays and make moves.”
Wherever he got it, that Zen landed him in the end zone. And it wouldn’t be long before he’d visit again.
Later in the first quarter, Reid’s play design worked, and Watkins got himself a lay-up.
“Wide open,” he said. “We just executed the play, and everything worked out the right way. Mecole [Hardman] pulled the safety and literally took one for the team. For me, I was really walking by myself. I didn’t have to do too much but literally run, hide and get open.”
Watkins wasn’t done producing (or scoring—he had a three-yard touchdown later), and it’s going to be incumbent on him to keep that going. Tyreek Hill hurt his collarbone late in the game and is expected to miss considerable time.
What’s interesting here is that the old Sammy probably would have forced things if thrust into this situation, having to replace his team’s biggest threat. The new Sammy, in his mind, is far more prepared for the challenge.
“I think we got the same roles,” he said. “The same particular roles. Same for me. I think we got the other guys to step up. We got Mecole Hardman in the second round. We got Demarcus Robinson. We got so many guys that can step up and play that position. I’m not really worried. Do we need 10? Do we need Tyreek? Yes, we do. I don’t think I would’ve scored a couple touchdowns without him affecting the defense.
“I think he has an intricate part. We’re gonna have to find a way to win in the next six, seven weeks with him being out. I think we have the coaches to do that.”
And maybe the receiver, too. Finally.
THE PROMISE IN THE PACKERS’ START
Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers have heard others pick their relationship apart for eight months, so there was a moment in the delirium of the Packers locker room post-season-opening win that others in there took note of, a moment that came after the new Green Bay coach had delivered what was a relatively boiler-plate address to his team following a 10-3 win in Chicago.
Hold on, hold on, hold on, Aaron Rodgers shouted. Defense should probably be giving him this, but it’s not every day you get your first win as a head coach.
The 35-year-old quarterback then buried the game ball in his 39-year coach’s chest.
“It meant a lot,” LaFleur said from his office on Saturday afternoon. “He obviously didn’t have to do that. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. And you know I’m so appreciative of all those guys. And for him to do that, because he was voted captain by his teammates, and to get it from one of the captains, and specifically him, somebody I work with so closely on a daily basis, it meant everything to me.”
Thursday night, to be sure, didn’t go as LaFleur and Rodgers planned. Yes, they won. But both know that, regardless of how good the Bears defense is, a 213-yard, 10-point effort probably won’t carry many NFL Sundays. While giving proper deference to Chicago, LaFleur emphasized, “Our standard can’t change based on the opposition.”
That said, there were signs that LaFleur, Rodgers and the rest of the Packers coaches and players on offense will get there—and that the coach and quarterback, in particular, are on schedule on the topic we’ve been covering all offseason. LaFleur identified a couple situations that showed the offense working the way it should.
The first one came on Green Bay’s lone touchdown drive of the game. Consecutive completions to Marquez Valdes-Scantling (for 47 yards) and Marcedes Lewis (for 9) untracked a group that was coming off three straight three-and-outs to start the game. Then on second-and-1, Rodgers saw Chicago’s Kyle Fuller playing way off Davante Adams. The quarterback signaled an alert to the backside, and dumped it to Adams, who ripped off 10 yards. Rodgers then got the offense to the line, caught the Bears with 12 men on the field, and threw up a jump ball, knowing he had a free play, which tight end Jimmy Graham pulled down for 6.
“That was a really good drive,” LaFleur said. “Here’s what I’ll tell you—I just liked the fact that although things weren’t going great, I felt like our communication was there the whole game.”
There was an even better example later. Before the game, Rodgers and LaFleur had discussed what they would do if they were backed up against their goal line—and the coach was a little worried about some of the protections they had in, if they wanted to go downfield in that kind of spot. He suggested a play that the Packers hadn’t run in practice last week. Rodgers was amenable.
On second-and-9 from Packers 6, with 11:07 left, LaFleur called it. Hard play fake. Deep drop. Rodgers planted his foot in the end zone and found Trevor Davis sitting in a hole in the Bears zone, 20 or so yards downfield. The play went for 28, and became the catalyst that ended in a field goal and took 6:28 off the fourth-quarter clock. Even more impressive, the call and throw came with Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling out.
“That was a good moment for us in terms of him trusting the fact that, hey, here’s a play that we may not have repped, but he went out there and you trusted that it was the right call and executed,” LaFleur said. “It really helped us out because that was the only other drive we scored points on.”
So in that regard, this was a good start. And that’s really what LaFleur is concerned with. As for all the digging into where he and Rodgers stand?
“I’m numb to it, man,” he said, laughing, then bringing up the previous Tuesday’s press conference, where some thought he was upset over being questioned about the relationship.
“I was just joking around, I wasn’t really pissed off or anything like that,” LaFleur says. “Yeah, it’s just noise to me, it’s total noise. I don’t give it two seconds of thought.”
GOFF, ELLIOTT AND THE OTHER BIG CONTRACT EXTENSIONS
The most surprising contract extension of the week before the season—always a big one for those kinds of things—was probably the least controversial. Rams QB Jared Goff’s four-year, $134 million extension wasn’t met with a global argument over positional value (like Zeke Elliott’s), and it wasn’t a team tying its reputation to a player who’s had very recent legal issues (Tyreek Hill).
But few expected the Goff deal to come down the pike when it did, largely because the vibes given off by both the Rams and Goff’s camp indicated that everyone was comfortable waiting another year on a player who was under contract through 2020.
What changed? Well, as the Rams reported to camp at the end of July, the team’s brass quietly let Goff and his agents, led by Ryan Tollner, know that there may be an opportunity to get something done at the end of the summer. The wait, actually, was a matter of course.
The Rams have done this in the past. (One example was right tackle Rob Havenstein last year.) Every summer the team has a certain amount of money set aside as a sort of rainy-day fund. They want to get a look at their roster. They also want to see what veterans from other teams might come available (Khalil Mack was one they kicked tires on last year). Then, if the money’s still sitting there, they might move to extend one of their own early.
So that’s where Goff’s windfall came from. His reps and the Rams worked out the terms of the deal over time, and the team came to a comfort level with its roster, wasn’t overly enticed with any of the vets who were on the block, and moved forward to lock up Goff through the next half-dozen years.
That they’d do that, of course, wasn’t a decision that happened yesterday. On Friday, COO Kevin Demoff made clear that there were mileposts along the way that sold the team. One was the press conference at the end of 2016, with a coaching search looming, in which Goff stood up and took responsibility for the season.
“He promised that we were going to get it right,” Demoff said, noting that Goff was still 21 and didn’t know who his coach was going to be. “From a leadership perspective, you just knew, he had an unbelievable ability to rally his teammates. From a football perspective … we started 2017 on fire.”
There were two 40-point efforts in September, a comeback win in Dallas, and then a really cool moment in a tough-fought 16-10 loss to Seattle in which the Rams felt like they outplayed the then-kingpins of the NFC West. Near the end of the game, with L.A. driving, Goff looked off Earl Thomas, and hit Cooper Kupp in the hands for what would’ve been the go-ahead score. Later, Thomas conceded to Rams players, “He got me.”
“At that point, you’re like, ‘OK, we’re good,’” Demoff said.
Since then, it was really a matter of time—or in the case, of timing—until the Rams would re-affirm their decision to take Goff first overall in 2016.
Now, since we’re here, we can give you a look at, and a nugget on, the big contracts of the last week.
Rams QB Jared Goff
New years: Four
New money: $134 million
APY: $33.5 million
Full guarantee: $57 million
Nugget: Goff won’t make much more than he was set to this year, and the $57 million he’s set to take in between now and the end of 2020 is short of what Jimmy Garoppolo got in San Francisco over his deal’s first two years, and $10 million shy of the mark that Eagles QB Carson Wentz hit. That sacrifice, I’m told, paved the way not just for Goff to get done, but also for the team to extend one of Goff’s best friends on the team, TE Tyler Higbee.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott
New years: Six
New money: $90 million
APY: $15 million
Full guarantee: $28.1 million
Nugget: The rolling guarantees in this deal tie Dallas, realistically, to Elliott for the next four years, with the final four years of the deal (2023-26) essentially serving as team options. For the Cowboys to get out after one year, they’d have to pay $28.8 million. To get out after two, it’d cost them $37.7 million. After three, the four-year total of $50.1 million. That’s strong for Elliott. And yet, the team’s OK here too. The $12.5 million APY over the guaranteed part of the deal is manageable, and the four years on the back end basically mean the team controls the rest of Zeke’s prime.
Colts QB Jacoby Brissett
New years: One
New money: ~$28 million
APY: $28 million
Full guarantee: $20 million.
Nugget: Indy’s view on this—they’re giving Brissett the franchise tag now, in exchange for a year of control and the ability to tag him at the normal QB number (rather than at the cost of a second tag) in 2021. This is, in essence, identical to what the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb in 2010 (we discussed this in Thursday’s Game Plan), after trading Donovan McNabb. And that move allowed Philly to trade Kolb for a second-round pick and a 25-year-old Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie the following spring, after Mike Vick took Kolb’s job.
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
New years: Three
New money: $54 million
APY: $18 million
Full guarantee: N/A
Nugget: I’ll plead ignorance here—I haven’t seen the fine print yet. But what I’d heard is that negotiations in February (before the allegations of child abuse against Hill) fell apart, at least in part, because of some of the protections the Chiefs sought in a new contract. So it’ll be interesting to see what sort of trap doors are built in here.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
This is true. Minshew initially intended to transfer to Alabama from East Carolina in early 2018, because he wanted to get into coaching and believed playing for Nick Saban would be a good step in that direction. Had he gone, he’d have backed up Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts last fall. Instead, he relented to Washington State coach Mike Leach’s sales pitch. And the rest is history.
This was after Browns LT Greg Robinson got caught kicking Kenny Vaccaro in the head, and was thrown out of the game as a result. And it’s perfect Vrabel.
So this was in the first half of the early games, and I actually liked what we wound up seeing from the Bills. But not bad by my old co-worker Chris Brockman.
Minshew’s taking over.
I love Ohio tailgating.
Some came from the crown this summer (looking at you, Mike Garafolo). But the Ringer’s Kevin Clark proves here, once again, that if you come at the (Tweet) King, you best not miss.
And another one.
This tweet actually came before the Raiders/Antonio Brown relationship was blown to smithereens on YouTube.
… and this was right after.
Too good not to throw it in there.
Quick notes on each NFL team.
The scary thing for Atlanta wasn’t in the score in Minnesota, though that wasn’t good. It was that the offensive line, after massive offseason investments there, wasn’t better. Matt Ryan was sacked four times. And if you take away two 12-yard Ryan scrambles, the Falcons rushed for just 49 yards on 15 carries. Which obviously isn’t good enough.
Gotta be impressed with what Kyler Murray did for Arizona. Down two touchdowns at the half, faced with a cousin of the Patriots defensive scheme, the rookie got the Cardinals to OT, and a first-and-goal away from a big comeback win. And that throw to Larry Fitzgerald in the extra session was bananas.
Sometimes camp stars become real stars in the fall—and Baltimore TE Mark Andrews took a step in that direction on Sunday, taking his progress in camp on to the game field with an eight-catch, 108-yard effort in Miami.
Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense’s start was a train wreck. The Bills had six possessions before a kneel-down to finish the first half—fumble, pick, punt, punt, fumble, pick. So coach Sean McDermott was absolutely right to point to the resolve that Allen and company had coming back in the second half on the road.
Once the Carolina offense got going, my lord, it’s easy to see how hard Christian McCaffrey’s going to be to stop. And while they’ve talked some about managing his workload, his governor was off Sunday—he went for 128 yards on 19 carries and 81 yards on 10 catches. A thousand/thousand year seems like it’s in reach.
Chicago might have another defensive star on the come. “[Roy] Robertson-Harris, holy cow,” Matt LaFleur told me. “I haven’t played against the Bears in a really, really long time, and everybody knows about it Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack, but this Robertson-Harris guy—he’s a bona fide game wrecker. Did you see some of the stuff he did? 95?” I did. We all did. And he’s definitely worth watching going forward.
If you weren’t worried about the Cleveland offensive line yet, you should be now. They have two really solid pieces, in center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio. And questions everywhere else. (Don’t forget the Browns’ penalty issue, either).
Hard not see how Andy Dalton and John Ross played in Zac Taylor’s first game as Cincinnati coach as progress. Even if the Bengals couldn’t get past the Seahawks on the road. And we’ll have more on this in a minute.
Jerry Jones on Dallas’ convincing 35-17 win: “I want to speak to Kellen Moore, I thought he made that game exciting, made it a challenge for the Giants’ defense.” The Cowboys staff has exhibited quiet confidence in their first-year offensive coordinator the last two months. Now we all know why.
You can have your Joe Flacco debut. I’m more excited to see what Von Miller and Bradley Chubb look like playing in Vic Fangio’s defense tonight for Denver.
The clock management at the end of OT has to be killing Detroit coach Matt Patricia this morning. With less than 40 seconds left and a first down in hand, Danny Amendola stayed in-bounds and looked for a few extra yards, which forced Patricia to call the team’s last timeout. On the next play, Matthew Stafford took a sack, which essentially ended the team’s bid for a game-winning field goal. And then the Lions took a needless delay penalty. Bad way to wrap up a tough finish in Arizona for the Lions.
Two things that stood out from the Green Bay’s defense eye-popping effort on Thursday night. One, Jaire Alexander, a top-five corner waiting to happen, was everything the Packers expected him to be. Two, free-agent imports Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith lived up to their contracts. The rest fell in place.
Weird offseason in Houston. And for teams that endure those, Week 1 is always interesting. It won’t be easy for the Texans going into the Superdome tonight.
It probably doesn’t feel like much consolation now, but Jacoby Brissett really showed something in bringing Indianapolis back from a 24-9 deficit on the road against a very good Chargers team. The numbers (120.7 passer rating) reflected it, and I still think the Colts are going to be good.
Maybe I’m the only one, but I’m excited to see what Gardner Minshew can do in Jacksonville, as much because quarterbacks coming from Mike Leach college programs are uniformly considered products of their systems as anything.
It looks like Kansas City’s defense might take a bit to come together. To be fair, this has to be as much turnover as one contender has on one side of ball since maybe the 2001 Rams overhauled their defense.
The L.A. Chargers’ win over the Colts didn’t do much for Melvin Gordon’s case to get paid in the Zeke neighborhood. Without Russell Okung at left tackle, and with other offensive line pieces in flux, Austin Ekeler rushed for 58 yards on 12 carries, and Justin Jackson for 57 yards on six carries. That proves, again, that Gordon’s problem wasn’t that he’s not a good player. It’s that he’s not irreplaceable.
The L.A. Rams’ handling of Todd Gurley the next few weeks bears watching. He split carries with Malcolm Brown on Sunday. From here it’s going to be a feel thing for the staff with the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, based on how he holds up in games, and how he recovers in the aftermath of them. I don’t think they know exactly where it goes next.
Not much to say about Miami. Other than this is going to be a tough road to hoe for Brian Flores. His program is tough and demanding, and results might be difficult to come by early on, which will make it harder to sell. He’s a really good coach. His work is cut out for him.
Based on what he flat out said about the offense last year, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has to be thrilled with the team’s 38-10 run-to-pass ratio. And the Vikings in general have to be pumped with how explosive Dalvin Cook looked in going for 111 yards on 21 carries.
I picked a Chiefs/Eagles Super Bowl. I don’t know how you could walk away from Sunday thinking anyone but New England is the favorite. That was one thorough beatdown.
New Orleans should be right in a sweet spot—banner draft classes from ’16 and ’17 hitting their prime, and a well-rounded roster that doesn’t need Drew Brees to throw for 5,000 yards anymore. We’ll see how it looks tonight.
Among the N.Y. Jets’ statistical anomalies—Sam Darnold threw for just 175 yards on 41 attempts, Jamison Crowder had a line that looked like it was a tailback’s rushing total (14 catches for 99 yards), and Le’Veon Bell was held to 3.5 yards per carry. It all points back to the team’s trouble area along the offensive line. Tough to work around that.
The N.Y. Giants were outclassed by the Cowboys, talentwise, on Sunday. So what should we pay attention to? That Pat Shurmur got Daniel Jones reps. The rookie only played one series, but he threw the ball four times. And that he’s the primary backup means the team is implicitly saying they’re comfortable with him in the game for more than just that, if it comes to that.
Big test as to where Jon Gruden’s program stands in Oakland tonight. That team’s been through a lot the last couple weeks. And some around the league are wondering how the locker room has digested their coach’s handling of the Antonio Brown saga.
Lots to like about Philadelphia coming out of its opener, in which the Eagles turned a 17-0 deficit into a 32-20 win, and validated the optimism that swirled around the spring and summer. And I gotta say, the fact that DeSean Jackson (eight catches, 154 yards, two TDs) is still toasting guys like he did Sunday is amazing. He turns 33 in December.
The most bothersome part of Pittsburgh’s ugly loss in Foxboro: How they got those three points. With third-and-goal inside the 1, the Steelers dialed up a low-percentage fade to the corner of the end zone, to a player, Donte Moncrief, in his first year on the roster. That, predictably, didn’t work. Then they kicked a field goal, even though they trailed by 20. For a team with an excellent offensive line and a really good back, that’s hard to swallow.
San Francisco came away with two pick-sixes, which accounted for the difference in a 31-17 win in Tampa, and guys there attributed it to the pressure the front four brought. They’re not getting home enough yet (three sacks), but their presence is being felt. Or at least it was felt by the Bucs.
That Jadeveon Clowney could create a little trouble (one sack, one hurry) eight days after being traded to Seattle says something. And that he played more than they planned for him to—48 snaps in all—does too. I’m excited to see where that goes.
Jameis Winston’s passer rating for Tampa Bay: 45.4. And Bruce Arians’ big-play scheme created just one play of more than 20 yards all afternoon against the Niners.
The Tennessee defense—with a star-studded secondary and intriguing front—looks like it’s got a shot. Cam Wake, at 37, was particularly impressive during the Titans’ bludgeoning of the Browns’ offensive line.
I’d love to know what Adrian Peterson was thinking, as a healthy scratch for the first time in his football life, after Washington rushed for 28 yards on 13 carries.
1. Dak Prescott’s probably getting his new contract soon—Dallas owner Jerry Jones said as much postgame—and if it happens this week, he’ll have arrived at that milepost on a good note. Kellen Moore, the new OC, wanted to get Prescott playing off play-action more, since it was what he did so well at Mississippi State, and Prescott was nails when Moore gave him those opportunities against the Giants on Sunday. Three of his four touchdown passes came on play-action on first or second down. And beyond just how it happened, Prescott spread the ball around and led the offense like he needed to, getting five different players three or more catches on the afternoon. “He just had a great command of everything,” one staffer said. If this is who Prescott’s going to be in 2019, the Cowboys really are in business.
2. The Patriots’ depth was on display again Sunday in Foxboro. The team went out there against a really strong Steelers roster without two key leaders—LB Kyle Van Noy and C David Andrews—and it hardly made a difference. At the half, the Patriots led 20-0, had 275-84 edge in scrimmage yards, and had 15 first downs to Pittsburgh’s four. This, remember, is the team that’s adding Antonio Brown this week.
3. Speaking of Brown: It’s worth reiterating what we reported in March. There were four teams the Steelers were unwilling to trade him to. Three are in the AFC North. The other was the Patriots. Through that process, New England made its interest in Brown clear, enough so that he might have had it weighing on his mind as he shot his way out of Oakland. And in a way, that makes Brett Favre an interesting parallel. When the Packers were shopping Favre in 2008, he badly wanted to go play for his old coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota. So the Packers declared, more or less, that they wouldn’t trade him within the division. Favre wound up with the Jets, played a year there, then wiggled free from his deal and landed with … the Vikings. The difference? Favre went and played for the Jets for a year, then made his move, where Brown didn’t have to wait.
4. Chalk the Bengals’ opponents Sunday up as impressed with what Zac Taylor brought to the table as a play-caller. Good sign for Cincy too, since this was his first game doing it. The Seahawks were challenged by how Taylor wasn’t shackled by a need to find balance, even in inclement conditions—the Bengals called 56 pass plays and 14 runs. And it was apparent how that approach instilled some confidence in the guys, especially with A.J. Green out. It’ll be fun to track them from here.
5. Tough to watch Colts K Adam Vinatieri miss two field goals and an extra point on Sunday. "I was lousy," Vinatieri told the media out in L.A. “Obviously, I did not kick well today and let my team down. They played well. Proud of the guys who fought their butts off and came back. ... I feel like that loss is 100% on me. You play a team like the Chargers, who obviously are a good team, can’t come in here and miss three kicks and expect to win. That’s too many points to give away.” Those points, of course, would’ve made up the difference in Indy’s loss.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
1. Trevor Lawrence has his moments of young quarterbacking, and those have been there in Clemson’s first two games. But then he does things like this and this, and you remember how happy some NFL team is going to be in April 2021.
2. Disclaimer: I graduated from Ohio State, and this is not a homer note. After having the first defensive player to be drafted in 2016, ’18 and ’19, the Buckeyes are a good bet to make it four in five years. At this point, it’d be an upset if junior DE Chase Young wasn’t a top-five pick.
3. Sometimes, you hear things in the spring, and they manifest themselves in the fall. We told you in the spring that Alabama WR Henry Ruggs (a complement to star Jerry Jeudy in the Tide offense) ran in the 4.2s for scouts at the school’s junior pro day. Then this happened on Saturday.
4. I remember hearing about LSU’s receiver tandem in the fall of 2013, so I started paying more attention to Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. Well, Saturday night, I’m watching LSU/Texas, and texting with some scouts, and I think the same sort of buzz is starting build around the Tigers’ current tandem of Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. The former is draft-eligible this coming spring, the latter in 2021.
5. Potential first-round WR Laviska Shenault had a pedestrian day by his standards—five catches for 31 yards, and three rushes for 6 yards. But it’s hard not to watch him and see, from a toughness standpoint, a little bit of guys like Jarvis Landry and Anquan Boldin. How high he goes in April likely rides on how much faster he times than those two.
6. Army coach Jeff Monken, brother of Browns OC Todd Monken, has done a fantastic job, leveling the playing field with rival Navy and putting together a winning program in general. And the Black Knights were thisclose Saturday to winning at the Big House.
MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT
Each week, we’ll hit a player set to climb atop the Monday Night Football stage to get answers to a few questions. This week, Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins.
MMQB: What difference do you see in Deshaun Watson?
HOPKINS: I’ve seen his maturity with defenses. Him being able to recognizes defenses, and the way he studies. He studies different. He studies like he knows exactly what’s going on, like a pro’s pro.
MMQB: How has that translated on to the practice field?
HOPKINS: When the defense tries to disguise things, and show a blitz, he knows the blitz is coming before it’s coming. And that helps us out a lot, because we’re able to get on track with what route we want to run, based off what they’re showing. Him being able to decipher that, that’s maturity, that’s growing.
MMQB: You, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, are getting a little up there in age. Is there urgency to win now as a result of that?
HOPKINS: Of course. We can’t sugarcoat it. We know we have some veterans on this team that aren’t going to be here all that long, and we’ve got some veterans in their prime, and us being close to it, I think we got a taste of what we want. I’d be lying to say that the urgency isn’t there. That’s the way we practice. That’s the way we prepare. We don’t really dwell on the past, but we know when those situations come again, that we gotta be perfect. I think the effort is going to be there.
MMQB: Where did rating as a 99 in Madden rank among your career achievements?
HOPKINS: Oh man, that’s up there, man. I’m in the 99 Club—not too many people can say they made 99 overall in Madden. So it’s an honor. Those guys, there’s a lot that goes into that.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
I’m writing this at 4:30 a.m. ET. Chances I make it through both MNF games tonight? Compelling games as they are, and I’m looking forward to both, I’d say those are slim.
Knock on wood if you’re with me.
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