Baker Mayfield Plants His Flag: Week 12 in the NFL

Baker Mayfield Plants His Flag: Week 12 in the NFL

The brash Browns rookie made a statement—about himself, his team, and Hue Jackson—in a resounding win in Cincinnati. Plus, Philip Rivers’ big bounce-back, the Broncos’ trick to upset Pittsburgh (and get back in the playoff hunt), the Vikes’ adjustment that shut down Aaron Rodgers, and much more as the season hits the homestretch.
November 26, 2018

The sentiment really started circulating through the Browns’ offensive meeting rooms and locker room on Thursday, and it built on Friday, during the short Saturday flight downstate to Cincinnati and into game day. But it’s one thing for guys to quietly talk about their grudges amongst themselves. It’s another to go public with them.

Leave that to Baker Mayfield.

After tearing through the Bengals for 258 yards and four touchdowns on 19 of 26 passing en route to a 35–20 win, the No. 1 overall draft pick was visibly cold toward former Browns coach Hue Jackson, who joined the Cincinnati staff less than two weeks after being ousted in Cleveland. And when he was asked about the post-game exchange afterwards, he made clear that it was no mistake: “I didn’t feel like talking.”

“I don’t know. Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati, I don’t know,” Mayfield explained at his press conference. “It’s just somebody [who] was in our locker room, asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everyone can have their spin on it, but that’s how I feel.”

Frank Victores/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Maybe this doesn’t register quite like Mayfield’s flag-planting did two Septembers ago just down the road in Columbus, after his Oklahoma team upended Ohio State at the Horseshoe. But the idea wasn’t far off.

In each case, Mayfield felt disrespected, carried an edge shared by his teammates, exacted his revenge and then made the opponent eat it.

Those in the Browns’ facility over the last few days could see it coming, too. Once that seed was planted—Hue asked us to play for him, then went to a division rival without hesitation, and that’s BS—the quarterback had a little extra for this one, and that quickly became contagious.

“We weren’t losing that game,” said one Browns staffer Sunday night. “No way in hell were we losing that game.”

Mayfield wouldn’t let them. It’s a new day in Cleveland.


Week 12 gave us a mediocre slate, but a host of juicy storylines that you’ll get to sink your teeth into here. Including:

• How Philip Rivers achieved near perfection as the Chargers bounced back by blowing the Cardinals out of their Los Angeles bandbox.

• How the Broncos baited Ben Roethlisberger into a backbreaking mistake at the wire, and improbably lifted themselves back into the playoff chase.

• The way the Vikings used a halftime adjustment to shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

• Why Sean McDermott’s Bills are going to be a pain in the rear-end for teams in December.

• Why the Rams’ 2017 draft class has become a key to the team’s renaissance, and promises to help keep a top-heavy salary structure sustainable.

But we’re starting in Ohio, with a No. 1 overall pick who’s becoming every bit the culture-changer that GM John Dorsey hoped he’d be on draft day.


So here’s the thing about Mayfield’s swagger—it’s not empty. He’s a football junkie, which is reflected in the time he spends on his game, and in a work ethic that naturally has become a big part of why players, young and old alike, follow him. That, and the fact that he can really play.

That work and ability show up in how Mayfield is improving on an almost daily basis. As much as anything, his first-half flourish in Cincinnati—he was 17 of 22 for 245 yards and three touchdowns as the Browns raced to a 28-0 lead—was a remarkable display of that improvement, with evidence surfacing in subtle but effective ways.

GRAMLING: Week 12 Takeaways—Seattle Keeps Rolling, Steelers Give One Away, Bills-Jags Brawl, More

• The Browns ran different personnel groupings on the field on just about every snap of their game-opening, 10-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, which gave Mayfield and the coaches a look at how the Bengals would react and adjust. What they found was that Cincinnati was sold out to stop Nick Chubb and the run game, which led to the aerial assault to come.

• On Cleveland’s second possession, the coaches empowered Mayfield by going empty backfield straight through. Doing that puts the onus on the quarterback to get his protection calls right—since there’s no last line of defense with a pass-blocking back—and the staff trusted that Mayfield would accomplish that. The benefit is that, with the defense spread out, the quarterback has a clearer view of where rushers are coming from, which helped Mayfield pick the Bengals apart. And the amazing thing is that Mayfield had almost no experience in this area coming into the NFL.

• Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens and his staff worked to attach run-action to plays out of all those personnel groupings, which helped in making Mayfield comfortable and getting him playing fast—another sign that this is increasingly becoming the rookie’s offense. The approach was effective Sunday, even though the run game (2.4 yards per carry) really wasn’t.

• Mayfield has also started to follow a directive to incorporate Chubb into the passing game. The second-round rookie wasn’t considered much of a threat in that area coming out of school (he had nine catches in 28 games over his last two seasons at Georgia), but the coaches liked what they saw from him in practice and believed using him as a pass-catcher would help open up the run game. Chubb had three catches for 44 yards on Sunday, including a spectacular 14-yard touchdown on which the rookie reached around and pinned the ball to the back of Bengals safety Brandon Wilson.

Frank Victores/AP/REX/Shutterstock

In essence, the recent success is a combination of the staff finding concepts that Mayfield feels good running, and Mayfield improving at a breakneck pace. And in the end, the results looked like this …

Drive 1: 10 plays, 78 yards, touchdown
Drive 2: Four plays, 56 yards, touchdown
Drive 3: 12 plays, 96 yards, touchdown
Drive 4: 11 plays, 59 yards, touchdown

The score was 35–7 in the third quarter before the Browns would punt. And once that finally happened, a Cleveland offense that probably could have piled on the points and yards went into protection mode—Mayfield threw just three passes the rest of the way, completing one, for seven yards.

MORNING HUDDLE: Vindication for Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Ben McAdoo, more

Here’s one other nugget to take with you: I’m told that last week wasn’t a great week of practice for the Browns offense. In the past, that would’ve been a killer for a team that was searching for confidence and to find its way.

Thanks to Mayfield, it now looks like Cleveland isn’t that kind of team anymore, and the way they stuck it to an old coach of theirs on Sunday only serves as more proof.


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(ALMOST) PERFECT PHILIP

How do you respond to your first loss in two months? Philip Rivers did it by hitting his first 25 (!) passes, for 224 yards, as the Chargers turned an early 10-0 deficit against Arizona into a rollicking 45–10 win. And as Rivers’ coach saw it, it was no accident that this performance came on the heels of a loss to the Broncos that was sparked by a costly interception (Von Miller the perpetrator) that sat on Rivers’s back for a week.

“His consistency was impressive,” Anthony Lynn said from the victorious locker room. “That’s something that you only get from preparation. And if you’re around him every day and see how he prepares, it doesn’t surprise you, that he goes out and has a day like this. He’s a fierce competitor, and he could not wait to get back on the field after what happened last week.

“So I think you saw a combination of a guy playing extremely focused, playing at a high level, and he prepared extremely well.”

The way the game played out showed where the whole Chargers team’s focus was, too.

A heavy favorite coming in, and coming off that Denver loss, the Chargers immediately yielded a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. A three-and-out to follow gave Arizona field position and helped set up the field goal that made it 10-0. Just a week out from having their six-game win streak snap, via a blown 12-point lead, the Chargers looked like they’d allowed Week 11 to bleed into Week 12.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

But Lynn saw something else—little mistakes causing bigger problems. The Cardinals were hard-counting the Chargers’ aggressive pass rush, which was an issue, and communication breakdowns led to poor run fits. Ideal? No. Correctable? Yes. And if the team was as resilient as Lynn has always thought, the fixes would come quick.

“We sign up to play four quarters, and really that was just the first 12 minutes of the game,” Lynn said. “And the first 12 minutes did not go our way, for sure. But it didn’t surprise me that these guys kept fighting and kept competing, because they are very resilient. That’s what they’ve always done. So I was fully expecting that.”

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The Chargers didn’t allow another point, and scored 45. And now they head off to Pittsburgh for a huge AFC showdown at 8–3, just a game behind the Chiefs in the division and firmly in the running to capture one of the conference’s two playoff byes.

A lot of us have had that Dec. 2 game circled for a while. Since it’s here, the Chargers can finally circle it to.

“It’s a great place for a football game,” Lynn said. “It’s gonna be fun. They flexed it, which is going to make it even rowdier, and we’re looking forward to it. My focus was clearly on this game today, but as soon as the game was over? Yes, I did think about Pittsburgh. And we’ll get to them first thing in the morning, if not tonight.”


BRONCOS BAIT BIG BEN AND ARE BACK IN THE HUNT

Down 24–17, the Steelers’ high-octane offense had first-and-goal from the Denver three-yard line coming out of the two-minute warning. Believe it or not, it really took just one defensive call from the Broncos to get the three stops they needed to send Ben Roethlisberger and company packing with their first loss since September.

The front the Broncos rolled out there is a variation of Buddy Ryan’s old Bears defense. We’ll let Denver coach Vance Joseph take it from there.

“It’s our inside-the-five defense—we call it Cub Free,” Joseph said over the phone after the win. “It’s really a 46 defense with an extra defender in to fill. And it’s designed to stop the run game obviously, and then play leverage on the slot. Our D-linemen obviously play the run game first, and then they pop [into coverage] for the pass. So we knew the pass rush wasn’t going to be our premium for that call, but if he threw it, it was gonna be short and across the middle.

Eric Lutzens/The Denver Post via Getty Images

“So we have a low-ball player, and we have a guy popping in the hole. It was a great call by [coordinator] Joe Woods, something we practice all the time. On first down, it was the same defense, Chris Harris makes the play on the inverted fade. The second down, we stop the run. And the third down was Shelby’s play.”

Shelby is Shelby Harris, who spent the first three years of his career on and off practice squads (and became a father for the first time three days ago), before finding a home in Denver in 2017. On the play, he was working off Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, subtly falling into a spot where Roethlisberger might lose him.

And lose him Roethlisberger did. Big Ben floated the ball just above Harris’ head, and Harris extended up to snag it for an end-zone interception and put a 24-17 win to bed. The victory pumped more life into this year’s Broncos, who were left for dead by many (I’ll include myself here) a few weeks ago.

It’s the second straight week that a big defensive play (after Miller’s pick against the Chargers) has pushed Denver through—last week sparking a comeback, this week blunting an opponents’—and Joseph doesn’t see that as a mistake.

“Our team has put a lot of work in, and we played some good football the last two months, and we’ve come up short against some very good opponents,” Joseph said. “I told the guys, ‘This is a reward for your work and your belief in what we’re doing.’ There was no way the work we put in and the good football we’ve played the last two months wasn’t going to be rewarded.

“Some of the calls and some of the balls were bouncing the wrong way against us, but now we’re getting some of those calls, we’re getting the ball bouncing our way.”

VIKINGS-PACKERS: Cousins, Cook Shine in Critical NFC Showdown on Sunday Night

And it’s setting up for an interesting December in Denver. The Broncos now sit one game out of the AFC wild-card position, with the rest of the slate looking pretty manageable—at Cincinnati, at San Francisco, vs. Cleveland, at Oakland, vs. Chargers.

It’s also interesting that the Broncos are here now, given that so much of this season in Denver has been spent discussing the future of the franchise, with Joseph’s place in doubt. He’s heard that stuff too and seems aware that there is one way he can effectively take care of it.

“I’m fine. My focus is now on the Bengals,” the second-year coach said. “It’s never about my job, it’s about the players and the coaches. That’s who I focus on. When you’re putting in good work and you’re playing good football, you will get rewarded. So I am not focused on anything but the Bengals and our football team and winning every day and winning every play. Whatever happens after the season happens.

“It’s about the Broncos now.”

And the Broncos are, once again, relevant in the AFC.


Episodes 1 through 5 available now: An exclusive True Crime podcast series from SI, re-examining the murder of Titans great Steve McNair. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you download your podcasts. And visit the podcast homepage for additional materials and updates. 


BILLS-JAGS: TWO TEAMS GOING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTIONS

Buffalo is one team not going to the AFC playoffs. But any team that’s played them will tell you that Sean McDermott’s got that group fighting its ass off. And this week they were given a cause: to defend their starting quarterback.

You’ll see in the Tweet of the Week the specific shot that Jalen Ramsey took at the Buffalo rookie in the spring after he was drafted. Rest assured, Allen’s teammates saw it, and it resonated with them, which is part of why Sunday’s date with the Jaguars got chippy to a point where, late in the game, Jags running back Leonard Fournette and Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson squared up like boxers, and took their scuffle all the way up the tunnel.

Jeffrey T Barnes/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“I don’t think anyone wants some of the extracurricular stuff we had, especially when it breaks out into a skirmish like it did,” McDermott said over the phone on Sunday. “But when you’re trying to build a team, and some things are said about your young quarterback before the young man even steps on the field, it says something about this team, and the people, that they’re gonna come to his defense.”

MNF PREVIEW: Andy Benoit with what to watch for in Texans-Titans

The good news is that Buffalo found a way to channel that energy correctly during the game, controlling the action most of the way, building a 14–0 lead, then getting out in front 24–14 in the second half before hanging on for the 24–21 win.

That puts Buffalo at 4–7, which is modest until you consider the circumstances of 2018. This, as we’ve detailed in this space before, is the year the Bills take the bullet for the mistakes of previous regimes. There are just five Buffalo draft picks still around that predate McDermott’s arrival. The Bills are carrying more than $50 million in dead money, meaning nearly a third of the cap is taken up by guys not on the team.

They expected to struggle. But the effort’s been consistent, in part because of the cultural foundation the Bills laid last year in making the playoffs in McDermott’s first season, and in part because of the types of guys they’ve focused on bringing in.

ORR: Why Gronkowski Remains Essential for the Patriots

“It’s human capital—it’s people,” McDermott says. “People willing to work through these types of moments, that can build strength. You look back to my early days in Philly, early days in Carolina—we learned from the bumps as we grew, and those things make you stronger in years to come. You’ll have those to fall back on in years to come. Some teams would go south, and that’s what I’m most proud of now.

“This is a resilient group, and it’s only going to get stronger And the cool part is, these guys are the ones that are going to teach next year’s crop.”

Wins haven’t been easy to come by, of course. But consider that the Bills are getting through the hard part now, and in the standings just passed a Jaguars team that knocked them out of the playoffs last January. Those same Jaguars, by the way, were all in for 2018.

And as a result, it seems pretty clear who’s in a healthier spot going forward.



SECRET TO THE RAMS’ SUCCESS: THE 2017 DRAFT

How can the Rams afford all these guys?

It’s a question you heard in the spring as L.A. signed or traded for a number of big-name, high-price veterans, and one that seemed relevant again last Monday as the Rams came at the Chiefs in waves over the course of a 54–51 thriller of a win. Because that game resonated so much, I figured a week later it was worth explaining how an NFL team can make such a top-heavy salary structure work.

The answer is pretty simple, too. You have to be efficient with the cap space you have left over, and the best (only?) way to do that is to draft well, which is where the story of Los Angeles’s 2017 rookie class comes into play. The Rams were without a first-round pick (traded as part of deal to move up and get Jared Goff in 2016), and coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead were just getting to know each other.

The Rams’ first pick was 44th overall. Their second pick was the 69th selection. And they knew how they could mitigate the disadvantage—with McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips being very specific with what they wanted in each position. That way, the Rams wouldn’t be looking in all the same places as other teams, and might find players who were of greater value to them than others later on.

“Our job is to draft players who have the potential to fulfill a specific role,” Snead explained, via text, on Sunday. “When our players get an opportunity to actually fulfill that role, it’s up to them to apply what our coaches teach, and that [equals] production.”

It has so far …

TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama (44th pick): The Rams liked his athleticism to generate to create mismatches, his ball skills and his run-after-the-catch ability, in seeing him as a Jordan Reed-type in McVay’s offense. He’s only got 18 catches this year but scored the game-winning 40-yard touchdown against K.C. and is considered to have a very bright future.

WR Cooper Kupp (69th): The Rams saw Kupp as a legit slot with the flexibility to play outside, which is important given how much McVay moves his receivers around. Kupp has more than delivered—he had 40 catches for 566 yards and six touchdowns through eight games this season before blowing out his ACL a couple weeks back.

S John Johnson (91st): Safety wasn’t a pressing need, but Johnson’s grade was excellent, and he projected right into the back end of Wade Philips’ defense. From a cultural standpoint, the Rams saw Johnson as a fit thanks to his tough, hard-nosed style of play. He’s since started 22 games, including all 11 this year, and has three picks, 74 tackles and eight pass breakups.

WR Josh Reynolds (117th): Coming out of the second day of the 2017 draft, the Rams saw a receiver marked as starter-caliber sitting there, and their determination to fix the position pushed them to double up behind Kupp. Like Johnson, the grade was too good for the team to pass. Reynolds has 13 catches for 178 yards and three touchdowns this year, and is moving into a larger role with Kupp’s injury.

OLB Samson Ebukam (125th): Was going to be the pick at 117 if Reynolds wasn’t there, so L.A. traded up to get a guy they saw with potential to be an explosive, urgent edge rusher. He wasn’t invited to the combine, so the Rams brought him in for a top-30 visit. Ebukam has validated all the work the Rams did on him by becoming a starter and scoring twice on defense in the K.C. showdown.

That’s five draft picks, all outside the top 40. Want to guess the price tag for those guys?

It’s $4.482 million on the cap, 2.5 percent of the 2018 limit for teams. If you can swing such a success—and it’s not easy to hit on picks that far down in the draft—that’s how you can handle having 10 guys making more the $7 million on your cap, without the bottom of your roster being a problem.


… OF THE WEEK

QUOTE

There was no close second to Patriots receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson’s explanation for grabbing the nether regions of Jets defensive lineman Henry Anderson. We’ll have more on this important story in a couple paragraphs.

TWEET

I can appreciate a good grudge—and as it turns out, the Bills hold a good grudge, as does their 22-year-old quarterback, Josh Allen, who mocked Jalen Ramsey’s “flexing” celebration after he ran through Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack for the go-ahead touchdown in yesterday’s win. Buffalo’s official account wasn’t through with Ramsey either, after digging up that post-draft shot of his …

CLIP

I usually go into the football weekend with the expectation that anything can happen. And that expectation was fulfilled on Sunday when I wound up tweeting with the fiancée of a football player who had his, uh, manhood twisted on national television on Sunday. S/O to to Sarin Rorie for making this whole thing even more … nuts … than it already was.

MEME

Not a great afternoon at the office for Hue. A better one, though, for the Seahawks, who punctuated a gigantic win in Charlotte with the NFL’s best touchdown celebration through the season’s first three months …

S/O to …

Bryson Thompson, the courageous seven-year-old Saints fan who helped found Helmets4Helmets with his brother Brock. Bryson’s story—very well told on Thanksgiving morning by my buddy Jane Slater of NFL Network—is pretty incredible. Bryson, who suffers from epilepsy, has up to 100 epileptic seizures a day, and because of that, he has to wear a helmet as protection. When he was diagnosed, his grandfather, former Saints tackle Stan Brock, called the team to tell them about the situation, and the Saints responded by making a custom helmet for Bryson. Since then, he and his brother came up with the idea to collect sports memorabilia, including signed football helmets, to auction off so other kids with the same condition might have helmets like his. It’s a pretty remarkable story of a pretty remarkable kid, one that’s plenty worth the seven minutes of your time to watch.


SIX FROM SATURDAY

NFL takeaways from the college football weekend.

1. I’m not gonna gloat, I’m not gonna gloat, I’m not gonna gloat

2. One big takeaway from Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan showdown was how Buckeyes QB Dwayne Haskins—given protection—was in complete command. While questions are out there about his mobility and pocket movement, his arm talent alone has put him in the discussion to be the first quarterback to go in April, should he declare. And he has help. One veteran evaluator hit me up on Sunday to say this: “Ohio State’s trio of senior receivers—[Parris] Campbell, [Terry] McLaurin and [Johnnie] Dixon—all have NFL talent. It’s hard for scouts to properly evaluate a school’s receiver group in the fall if they have more than two, so all three of those guys could rise during the pre-draft process when [scouts] have more time to go through ‘all targets’ cutups.”

KLEMKO: Former Alabama players think the Tide could win in the NFL

3. And while we’re there, it’s worth mentioning that Buckeyes OC Ryan Day was the man Mike Vrabel wanted to run his Titans offense. Day, who was in his fourth job in four years, stayed in Columbus, in part for family reasons. But he’s got NFL experience, having coached in Philly and San Francisco under Chip Kelly, and I’d expect him to draw NFL interest in January.

4. A couple other names whom NFL guys have been high on, and who could potentially modernize someone’s offense: Fired Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, and West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. Both have deep Air Raid roots, and both have a ton of experience as play-callers.

5. Alabama held Auburn’s vaunted run game to 130 yards on 43 carries, and registered three sacks and five hurries on Jarrett Stidham, further cementing the rep of the interior duo of Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis. One exec was quick to point to those two when I asked what stuck out over the entirety of the college football weekend.

2019 DRAFT: Team Needs, Targets at the Top Half of the NFL Draft

6. Along the lines of that question, from one AFC college scouting director: “[Oklahoma WR] Marquise Brown solidified himself as a top-40 pick—stepped up when his team needed him.” I asked if the 5'10", 168-pound burner compares to DeSean Jackson (just the name that popped in my head). “To some, he would,” said this evaluator. “DeSean had the return factor, DeSean was a little scarier with the ball in his hands. But Brown has better hands and is a little better of a route runner at the same point.” Translation: Brown, who went for 243 yards and two scores on 11 catches, can play.


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was just 9 of 15 for 104 yards in the second half on Sunday, and Green Bay didn’t get in the end zone over those final 30 minutes. Part of that was thanks to a small emphasis the Vikings coaches pressed at the break. The visitors and their QB were trying to get the Minnesota defense with motions, misdirection and play-action, and so eye discipline became a focus—because the Packers had gotten the Vikings a little on “flash” plays in the first half. “They were messing with our eyes,” Vikings DE Danielle Hunter told me post-game. “If they don’t have that, then we’re pretty fundamentally sound to do the other things and prevent them from going down the field.” The rest, really, was academic for Minnesota. Throughout, the Vikings followed Mike Zimmer’s plan to use his ends to pin Rodgers in the pocket, and his tackles to create pressure. That third piece, to eliminate the flash plays, forced Rodgers to make lower-percentage throws from tight quarters, which isn’t a great way for any quarterback to win. “You affect the quarterback, you’ve got a chance,” said Hunter. And now the Vikings, at 6-4-1 with a trip to Foxboro on heck, have one too.

2. Hard to say the same for the reeling Packers who have now lost six games in four straight seasons and are at serious risk of missing the postseason for the second straight year, after eight consecutive appearances (2009-16). There’s certainly a train of thought out there that both Mike McCarthy and organization could benefit from a change. Remember, this is where Andy Reid was in Years 13 and 14 in Philly, and McCarthy’s now in Year 13 in Green Bay. Maybe some new scenery would be good for McCarthy, like it was for Reid.

BENOIT: Who’s to Blame in Green Bay—McCarthy or Rodgers?

3. Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett and his teammates noticed something on tape this week that they felt would be fairly simple to exploit—how the Panthers, in effect, switch on a pick play like you would in basketball. That led to a little improv on Sunday that wound up winning Seattle the game. Facing third-and-5 in the last two minutes, with the game tied at 27, Lockett lined up outside on Carolina CB Corn Elder. At the snap, he ran a hitch, and Doug Baldwin, inside of him, ran a seam. Lockett saw the switch coming—Elder went deep with Baldwin, and Captain Munnerlyn raced from the slot to get Lockett. “That’s something we talked about, and I remembered it on the fly, so when I ran my route, I saw the nickel guy ran to buzz out on me, and the corner left me and went to Doug,” Lockett. “When I saw it was time to scramble, I didn’t see anybody deep and so I took a shot, went deep, and Russell [Wilson] was able to find me.” As Lockett explains it, there was no guarantee Wilson would look his way. But with the right protection, and without another great option, the QB figured out where Lockett was. Forty-three yards later, Seattle was lining up the game-winning field goal.

JONES: Seahawks Seize the Upper Hand in Wild-Card Race With Win in Carolina

4. Speaking of Carolina, it’s starting to feel like the Panthers are at risk of losing a great Cam Newton season because of that spotty defense. Newton was excellent against Sunday—25 of 30, 256 yards, two TDs, one INT. What’s more, the Panthers rushed for 256 yards on just 25 carries, and Christian McCaffrey had his most productive day as a pro (17 carries, 125 yards and a TD; 11 catches, 112 yards and another TD). And somehow it wasn’t enough.

5. Since it seems like we saw the value of paying a backup quarterback in how the Bears’ Chase Daniel played on Thanksgiving for an injured Mitchell Trubisky (Daniel is making just over $4 million this year), I figured I’d ask his coach, Matt Nagy, what jumped out at him about Daniel’s performance. “Biggest impression is just his complete command in our meetings, in the huddle at practice, and with us coaches reviewing the game plan each day,” Nagy texted Sunday. “We knew he’d play well and just be himself. He stayed composed all game long and made some great decisions and throws throughout that game. He’s a natural born leader, and we’re very lucky to have him.” I asked Nagy if he had to change anything to accommodate Daniel, and he responded, “Not one thing.”

ORR: Cordarelle Patterson, Henry Anderson, and the Stuff That Goes on Under the Pile

6. The Rueben Foster case is another example of how talent affords football players second and third and fourth and however many chances. In April 2017, the 49ers moved swiftly to cut corner Tramaine Brock after he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence. Those same Niners have been much more judicious with Foster, a first-round pick, because of his prodigious talent. And in being judicious with him, I can see where they got close to him, before finally cutting the cord after his arrest at the team hotel in Tampa on suspicion of domestic violence over the weekend. “I can tell you it’s extremely disappointing for me, for Kyle [Shanahan], for ownership, for everybody in here, because we care a lot about Reuben,” Lynch told reporters. “I can tell you it’s a situation where we laid out some very specific ground rules for Reuben, as we do all our players. We have a set of standards in place that the players were involved with developing. In this case, it was communicated and made exceptionally clear, to the point, what we expected out of him. And unfortunately what transpired yesterday, this isn’t a comment on that, because that would be mere speculation on our part. It’s more a comment on him not living up to what we had communicated, and to the energy and the time we’ve invested in him. That doesn’t mean that we don’t love him, we all do. But we feel like it’s in the best interest of our organization to move on at this point.”

7. The Bucs being unafraid of Jameis Winston getting hurt tells me the door is still ajar for him to be in Tampa in 2019. He threw the ball 38 times on Sunday against the Niners, and ran it another seven times, all of which put him in a harm’s way at a time when even a moderate injury could trigger his $20.9 million option for 2019 vesting, which would make it fully guaranteed.

8. John Harbaugh’s call on Lamar Jackson is going to be complicated—the rookie completed 14 of 25 throws on Sunday for 178 yards, a score and two picks, and he ran for 71 yards on 11 carries in a 34–17 win over a bad Oakland team. Organizationally, it probably behooves the Ravens to get Jackson playing time, but Harbaugh might not be around for the fruits of that experience, making this situation a tad more complex.

9. Credit to the Eagles for showing some fight. Their injury issues in the secondary are bad, and offensive line could use some improved health too. But to be able to come back from a 19-3 deficit against the Giants with their season more or less on the line isn’t nothing. The problem is, the road gets much tougher for Philly from here—Redskins twice, Cowboys, Rams, Texans.

10. I wrote on Friday night about Bob McNair, who leaves behind a legacy that was complicated significantly over the last year, for obvious reasons.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

What’s fascinating about tonight’s Texans-Titans matchup on ESPN? I’m more than a little interested to see Mike Vrabel, the defensive coach who faced Deshaun Watson every day in practice during Watson’s rookie year (when Vrabel was Houston’s DC) reach into his bag of tricks to try to slow the super soph and his red hot Texans.

I do like the Texans at home, in a close, low-scoring one—let’s say 23–20.

And as a PSA, Thursday Night Football isn’t half bad this week, with the Cowboys hosting the Saints. Just so you don’t inadvertently skip it.

See you guys in a few hours for the Monday Afternoon QB!

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)