Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened on Sunday afternoon. Get the full Sunday breakdown from Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling on The Monday Morning NFL Podcast. Subscribe to The MMQB Podcasts now and it will be in your feed first thing Monday morning
Good afternoon, football fans. I’ll be subbing in for resident song and dance man Gary Gramling while he scouts out new locations to buy graphic tees. I’m only slightly less hungover than the Jaguars’ secondary but am ready to go nonetheless.
THINGS THAT MADE ME GIDDY
• Fitzmagic has risen. In a freewheeling, pinballing effort to save his job and extend his time in Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has turned to a man he doesn’t fully understand. Some men, like Ryan Fitzpatrick, are not motivated by money or power; they just want to watch the world burn. Before that happens, though, he will treat Buccaneers fans to another month of wild, 70-yard touchdown throws and gritty, out-of-pocket scrambles (...I typed this before he nearly converted a third-and-21 on the ground and tossed a 72-yard touchdown to Mike Evans on subsequent drives).
On a practical level, it’s fair to wonder whether this ended the evaluation of 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. Speaking specifically of his football acumen, this was his third career four-interception game and second four-interception game of the season. It rounded out what seems to be Winston’s tendency to spiral. His most consequential throws carried a mix of blame, though it was hard to ignore the lifelessness that had taken hold of Tampa Bay’s offense with him under center. For Buccaneer management, it would be hard to look at the complete story this team has told during the Lovie Smith/Koetter era and not believe they could use more consistency at the quarterback position. Plus, he’s lost Dan Orlovsky. He’s not mad, he’s just disappointed.
The odd thing is that, a lot of the on-field negatives you can attribute to Winston, you can also pin on Fitzpatrick. He has two career four-interception games, a five-interception game and a six-interception game. If football were part of the scientific community, there would be a paradox named for his ability to light the NFL world on fire, only to come screaming back to earth a few weeks later. Koetter essentially has to choose between two quarterbacks with immense boom-or-bust potential every week. At this point, the decision boils down to something beyond schematics. It’s a real, visceral gut move with survival being the chief motivator.
• On the first drive of Hue Jackson’s organic offensive infusion: Browns run on third-and-three into the teeth of a direct-hit run blitz. Cleveland settles for a field goal and kicks off what would become their 11th straight game without a first-quarter touchdown. The Browns are playing exactly like you thought a team whose head coach backhandedly insulted the offensive coordinator during a miniature meltdown then tried to collaborate on a game plan that following week would. Meanwhile, ominous reports of both Jackson’s and Todd Haley’s demise continue to pop out from beyond the hills like the world’s saddest, self-serving fireworks show.
• Rams 29, Packers 27: That was fun as hell, wasn’t it? It’s also proof that the NFL is not a fixed, pre-choreographed sport. How badly was the league drooling over the prospect of having Aaron Rodgers with the ball at his own 25, down by two to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams? This season of the NFL feels like Friday Night Lights after Eric Taylor moves to East Dillon High School. The show lost some people who couldn’t keep up with all the new characters (and who didn’t think Kyle Chandler looked as good in red), but it was still enjoyable and, at its best, damn good. I know people who can’t stomach not flipping on their TV on Sundays to Manning-Brady or whatever comfort-blanket rivalry they came to love, but there are some incredible new rivalries developing. The Rams, Chiefs, Packers, Saints, Vikings (and several others) are appointment viewing right now.
• Adrian Peterson with a touchdown reception! That was his first touchdown catch since Sept. 8, 2013. His streak without a receiving touchdown was as old as North West, but nothing like a matchup against the Giants to knock it down.
• Our Robert Klemko was way ahead on this, but the Shaquem Griffin inspiration tour is one of the greatest, most pure things happening in the NFL right now. A rarity for a league that tends to squeeze every once of commercialism out of their best organic moments.
• The James Conner experience in two clips:
• The Jaguars’ 24–18 loss to the Eagles in London was not the Blake Bortles redemption game we had hoped for. Even though the Jaguars are admittedly quarterback-agnostic—and for good reasons, as we wrote about last week—the QB Winz society continues to place the weight of Jacksonville’s struggling offense on poor Bortles Combat. Meanwhile, the team’s new lead back rushed six times for 1.8 yards per carry.
• One has to feel for Vance Joseph, who is trying to appease a demanding general manager amid a brutal stretch of football games. They came within seven points of the Chiefs on Sunday and three of the Rams two weeks before. Outside of a flukey, uninspired loss to the Jets which exposed a fatal flaw in their run defense, they have not been blown out of any games this year. Next up? The surging Houston Texans.
• Sleeping on Frank Reich and the Colts was a major mistake. Look at their remaining slate after the bye: A reeling Jaguars team, Titans, Dolphins, Jaguars, Texans, Cowboys, Giants, Titans. While the Raiders are becoming target practice for aspirational teams in 2018, the Colts flexed a little muscle on the ground inside the 10 and Luck’s non-T.Y. Hilton wideouts are starting to make some plays.
Enter MO ALIE-COX, the name receivers have in Madden when you simulate so many years in advance that the computer runs out of combinations.
Also, props to the GOAT, who went all Wilt Chamberlain on everyone Sunday:
MOMENTS WE’LL TELL OUR GRANDKIDS ABOUT
• Is there a more enjoyable at-war group of football conspiracy theorists than the New York Giants’ fanbase? Eli Manning and Odell Beckham have sliced the team’s loyalists in half and scattered them like mutual friends in a turbulent breakup between early 20-year-olds. Every time Manning shrugs his shoulders and slings an eyes-closed fastball to an opposing defender, his legion fires up Twitter to criticize the spacing on Beckham’s splits. Every time Beckham completes an 11-foot horizontal grand jeté to get open before ultimately dropping the ball, his army is dissecting Manning’s release point and calculating ideal velocity. Meanwhile, poor Saquon Barkley wanders aimlessly in the flat, wide open and waiting for action like the loneliest puppy.
Seriously, 10 years from now when the remnants of this team’s skill position players win a combined five Super Bowls in different, more functional offenses, people are going to wonder what the hell was going on.
• We were (almost) there for the first 5–3 game in NFL history, then the Cardinals and 49ers started scoring a few points. Give credit to Kyle Shanahan, who is taking this time sans Jimmy Garoppolo to cement his backup quarterback of the future as well. It’s odd how some fanbases have come to embrace pragmatism and a rebuilding effort, while others still expect the general manager to spend like a stressed-out dad with some gambling debt his family doesn’t know about.
• This Kareem Hunt touchdown run was insane. The proper mix of balletic athleticism and hard-nosed truckin’ that could possibly unite the NFL’s avocado toast future with its spam and truck grease sandwich past.
WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT THIS WEEK
• Sports Illustrated alum Maggie Grey suggested earlier this week on Twitter some type of Eli Manning “The End” tour that could start if things don’t change. What was once an unfathomable idea three years ago sounds entirely possible now. Perhaps the Giants announce that Manning and the team will part ways at season’s end, giving the fans one last time to admire his wonderful cornucopia of facial expressions and occasionally fruitful but impeccably accurate deep balls.
• One more Giants point before we move on: If you’re Dave Gettleman, do you put anyone aside from Beckham and Barkley in the untouchable category leading up to the trade deadline? Watching this defense get ripped apart by a game-sealing Peterson touchdown run, one stands to reason that it really won’t matter who they keep until the rebuild is well underway.
• Don’t be surprised if there’s some buzz about the way the Packers matched up with the Rams defensively, especially early. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming weeks, but I was speaking to a few college coaches with practice stopping a lot of the collegiate concepts that have informed the Rams’ system and they said Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has the scheme, just maybe not the personnel just yet. Oddly enough, his emphasis on simulated pressures, which was a driving force behind the great Rex Ryan defenses of 2009-10, has come back en vogue because it allows teams to rush fewer defenders but attain a similar result with more bodies in coverage.
• Speaking of trades, Pro Football Talk had an interesting nugget at the end of the 1 p.m. games. One league source said there was an above-average number of players asking their teams to deal them. In the public eye so far, we've heard whispers about Patrick Peterson and DeSean Jackson. Could there be more? The NFL is already pouring rocket fuel on their explosive renaissance season. Another robust trade deadline couldn't hurt.
• Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.