For some, Cleveland’s throttling of the Bengals with Hue Jackson on the sideline was pure schadenfreude. Jackson made no friends amid his departure from the Browns and was reminded of such when Damarious Randall picked off a pass, ran it to the sideline and sarcastically handed it to his old coach.
The team was vindicated on Sunday in the way that most NFL teams can vindicate themselves from someone or something each week. There’s usually a winner and a loser, and this late in the season, losing has dire consequences. The winner is right. The ball don’t lie.
But there’s also long-term vindication, which can be so, so much crueler. This takes place over the course of a season and has the potential to nag at a coach, team, player or owner like a recurring head cold. This may only be a warmup for Jackson, which is scary to think.
What about the rest of the NFL? Through 12 weeks on the NFL calendar, here are some of the best vindicating performances thus far:
Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper
One is lifting the Dallas Cowboys out of the doldrums and the other is making a case behind Aaron Donald as defensive player of the year. Khalil Mack has eight sacks, a career-high five forced fumbles, an interception and a touchdown. Cooper, meanwhile, has caught 22 of 32 targets for 349 yards and three scores since leaving the Raiders.
Jack Del Rio
Ah, vindication by relaxation. I thought this was an interesting line in Jenny Vrentas’s recent coaching search piece: “the current dismantling of the now two-win Raiders has only served to boost his stock.” While, as Vrentas notes, this will more than likely lead to a coordinator role, there will be people talking about Del Rio as a head coach again because of how poorly the Raiders are performing. This was a roster Jon Gruden deemed incapable of success. Del Rio was a broken leg away from a serious playoff run one year, and during the second season, despite some injuries, the team at least appeared to be functional.
Rarely do you see a fan gripe come to fruition and prove the fans correct so quickly. Hearing a Green Bay fan say “we need to abandon the predictable running back rotation and feed Aaron Jones” is like hearing Giants fans say “we need to protect Eli Manning better” or Panthers fans say “Cam Newton should run more.” While this hasn’t translated to wins, or really made this broken Packer offense any smoother, Jones has been great. Perhaps the only bright spot amid this lost season.
The now-Broncos offensive coordinator was jettisoned from Oakland after getting the best from Derek Carr and is now making chicken salad out of a Broncos offense full of disjointed parts (but some damn good running backs).
Sunday notwithstanding, they stared down one of the league’s most revered offensive weapons and gambled on their offensive line to produce another one. James Conner has, for the most part, been fantasic. Meanwhile, the Steelers carry over some serious cap space and boost a locker room that seemed intent on playing without Le’Veon Bell.
Ben McAdoo and Tom Coughlin
Hey, how about that. You guys aren’t the only ones in trouble for not being able to work well with Odell Beckham. After a summer spent mending bridges, Pat Shurmur dealt with the receiver’s ESPN feature interview. Now, after a decisive loss to the Eagles on Sunday, Beckham continues to pontificate on the game plan.
Lamar Jackson and Ozzie Newsome
The Ravens have won two straight with Newsome’s final first-round pick. The outgoing general manager had the courage to at least peel the Band-Aid off the Joe Flacco era by bringing legitimate competition aboard. Amid complaints about Jackson’s perceived limitations, the quarterback has proven to be a sparkplug who has, to this point, kept Baltimore afloat in the playoff race.
Forever demonized in Detroit for being the guy who was picked ahead of Odell Beckham, Ebron has 11 touchdowns this year and has emerged as Andrew Luck’s go-to guy in the red zone. The former North Carolina standout pinballed through his first NFL contract but is now doing some serious damage.
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1. How vintage Andrew Luck kept the Indianapolis Colts alive
2. Baker Mayfield is, um, doing way better now that Hue Jackson and Todd Haley are gone.
4. Jalen Ramsey still thinks Josh Allen is trash, even after the Bills downed Jacksonville Sunday.
5. More inside the Browns’ locker room after their satisfying victory over the Bengals.
6. The Packers need to run the table in order to salvage their season.
7. Sean Payton and Drew Brees are in lockstep. As for Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy? Not so much.
Since I didn’t get to do this on Thanksgiving, just wanted to say I’m thankful for this performance by Van Morrison and The Band from 1976, The Last Waltz.
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