Miracles, Mistakes and Playoff Momentum: Week 14 in the NFL

Miracles, Mistakes and Playoff Momentum: Week 14 in the NFL

The Dolphins pull off a ridiculous last-second win (with some help from Gronk and company), the Bears show 2018 what a defense looks like, Patrick Mahomes summons up more highlight-reel magic, the Cowboys take charge and the rest of the news from a truly wild NFL Sunday.
December 10, 2018

Kenyan Drake knew he had a shot when you and I did—the moment the Dolphins running back saw it was him versus Rob Gronkowski to decide the winner and loser Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium. And that’s Rob Gronkowski not playing tight end, but safety.

“It kinda shocked me, like, ‘It’s Gronk!’” the third-year tailback told me, calling from dinner in South Florida a couple hours after the final gun sounded. “I understood that, ‘Hey, if anything, I’m gonna catch hell if I don’t score now.’ At that point, the pressure was on me.”

Gronk would stumble. Drake would hit the jets.

And somehow, inexplicably, the Dolphins would win, and in the craziest way you could possibly imagine—a convergence of clutch play by Miami, situational screw-ups uncharacteristic of New England, and a circumstance at a Saturday walkthrough that set the stage for the whole thing to go down in spectacular fashion.

“I promise I don’t know the name of the play,” left tackle Laremy Tunsil told me afterward. “I don’t know the name of the play. I’m just gonna call it Boise. Whatever it is, it worked. So whatever you want to call it.”

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By the time you read this, plenty of people knew the call. Like Tunsil said—Boise.

And at this point, everyone knows the stunning result, too. Dolphins 34, Patriots 33. The topper on a Week 14 Sunday that was packed with more drama than we had in the previous month combined, and tightened the race for playoff spots and positioning in both conferences. We’ve got a wild ride ahead, too.


There’s plenty to digest from Week 14 in the NFL, and among the things we’ll take you through in this morning’s MMQB:

• The Cowboys getting just enough out of Dak Prescott and more than they could’ve imagined from Amari Cooper on a day that their defense carried, with the archrival Eagles on the other sideline.

• Patrick Mahomes’ wild propensity for outdoing himself in the department of theater and drama this week against what’s arguably the NFL’s best defense.

• The Bears staking their claim to that throne, with a Khalil Mack-fueled unit absolutely suffocating the previously impossible-to-stop Rams offense.

• What impressed coaches the most about Baker Mayfield vanquishing a desperate Carolina team in Cleveland.

• The Saints riding a different formula out of a rut, and to the first repeat division title in franchise history.

And we’ll also hit you with some notes from the college game, and go through the performance of the rookie quarterbacks on Sunday. But we start—where the hell else would we?—in Miami Gardens.


For the Dolphins to run Boise, the coaching staff has to have confidence the players can run Boise. And 24 hours earlier, the Miami staff still had its doubts.

As Drake explains it, there really are two calls for that situation—in a last-ditch spot, too far from the goal-line to even think about a Hail Mary. One call is Boise. The other call is Steeler. The two are so similar that over the course of the season Dolphin players would routinely mix up the assignments during Saturday walkthrough, which is the only time they’d run the plays regularly.

Both start with a hook-and-lateral. Steeler calls for Drake to get the lateral off the hook. Boise calls for DeVante Parker to get the lateral.

“We almost always have to re-walk through it, because the first time we do it we mess it up,” Drake said. “Somebody’s out of position, somebody forgets their responsibility. This week was really the first week where we did it one time and it was smooth and worked in practice. We walked through it, and everyone took care of their responsibilities.

GRAMLING: Week 14 takeaways—Miami’s lateral, Dallas’s tip drill, Mahomes’s magic

“And lo and behold, game-time, we had to do the exact same thing.”

So this was the spot the two teams were in: seven seconds left, Dolphins ball, first-and-10 on the Miami 31, Patriots up 33-28. All New England had to do was keep Miami out of the end zone, 69 yards downfield, and the Patriots would have a season sweep of the Dolphins and their 10th straight AFC East title.

That’s where the fun began.

Ryan Tannehill took a deep drop, and calmly found Kenny Stills, who hooked up about 15 yards downfield. Stills did a 180 and shot what looked like an option pitch out to Parker. Parker took a couple steps, then pitched it out, similarly, to Drake, streaking up the right sideline. That’s where Drake cut it back, and to that point it looked exactly like it had in the walkthrough.

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“There was chatter, ‘Who going to make it bust this time? Who’s gonna be out of position this time?’” Drake said. “But we actually went through the play [Saturday] and everyone was in position, where they were supposed to be. Kenny catches the hook, laterals to DeVante, who pitched it to me, and that’s it. That’s the only part we have scripted. After that, it’s keeping the ball alive, trying to make a play.”

Accordingly, on game day, that’s where it went from script to scramble.

Running laterally, Drake saw left guard Ted Larsen rumbling downfield and got inside of him. Larsen sealed off Patriots safety Patrick Chung, and Drake burst upfield, putting himself in a race to the pylon with Gronkowski. Once Gronk stumbled, it was effectively over.

“It’s me and Gronk,” Drake said. “Gronk’s a great offensive player, Hall of Fame-caliber tight end. But his forte is not tackling anybody. I knew at that moment, I had to get in the end zone. When he stumbled, I was like, ‘I just gotta kick it into high gear.’ I’m known more for my speed than he is. So I had to make the play.”

The play marked the end of a bizarrely mismanaged afternoon for the Patriots. At the conclusion of the first half, the coaches didn’t call a timeout ahead of the two-minute warning to set up a final run at the end zone, with the team up 27-21. And after a blocked punt gave New England great field position moments later, Tom Brady took a sack to run out the clock with the team in chip-shot field-goal range.

ORR: Sorting through the playoff scenarios after Week 14

What happened at the end of the second half was, obviously, worse than what happened at the end of the first half—and the Patriots can be faulted for that, too. Gronkowski was in the game as a jumper, to swat down a potential Hail Mary attempt.

The problem with that? The Dolphins were 69 yards from the Patriots’ goal line, meaning the chances that Adam Gase and company would call for that sort of heave were low. That this would be a lateral play was actually pretty predictable, and those call for tacklers, not jumpers. So it’s fair to wonder if the result would have been different had, say, free safety Devin McCourty been in the game, rather than Gronkowski.

The Dolphins, of course, will take it, and their scrappy group is now squarely in the middle of the playoff race, alongside Baltimore, Tennessee and Indianapolis at 7-6, jockeying for the final spot in the AFC bracket. Drake, too, doesn’t have much sympathy for New England—having been on the other end of a similarly freakish final play.

“The kick-six against Auburn my sophomore year, back in 2013,” Drake said, referencing his Alabama past. “It feels good to be on the winning side of it.”

Also, there’s one other thing he’d like to take care of, before we move on. Upon arriving in the end zone, he sent the ball flying up into the lower bowl of Hard Rock Stadium. And he says now, given the chance, he’d probably do it the same way all over again. But he does want the ball back, if anyone out there reading knows where it is.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Drake said. “We’ve got one last home game. If they don’t have tickets already, I’ll give them tickets to the game, whatever they need. I’d love to have the ball back. I don’t regret throwing it, but now that I’m level-headed, I’m sitting down thinking about it, having the ball back would definitely mean a lot to me, and the team as well.”

So if you’ve got the ball, or know who does, and want to go to the Jaguars/Dolphins game on Dec. 23, you can hit us up at talkback@themmqb.com, and we’ll find a way to hook you up with Drake.


THE MMQB MONDAY PODCAST: Gary Gramling and Andy Benoit break down all of Week 14. Subscribe on iTunes. 


CHICAGO’S D FREEZES OUT THE RAMS

The Bears defense has been really good all year, outside of a couple hiccups. But what we all saw on Sunday night was different. And when I caught up with Matt Nagy as he pulled out of Soldier Field in the wee hours of Monday morning, he was willing to concede as much, especially when the respect he has for the Rams was raised.

“It was an off-the-charts performance,” Nagy said. “You never know how these games are going to go. And you’re dead on, I have so much respect for Sean [McVay] and that team. I mean, I watch them every week, just like a lot of other people do. He does so many good things. But I know that our defense, all year long, they’ve been having really good games, special games all year.

“Now, we’ve had a couple letdown games, but for the most part they’ve been doing great stuff. Tonight, I mean, to play like that, against that offense, that was special. That was different.”

“To be honest, I was a little surprised, just because when you turn on the film and watch them play, they’re an explosive offense,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara told me. “When they get their run game going, their passing game going, they look unstoppable. But when you come out here with the fans, the cold, you have a team that got wounded last week and is scratching to get in the big dance, all those factors went into it.”

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So how different was this one? Consider the numbers:

• The Rams offense’s previous low-water mark for points this year was 23 (at Denver), and they scored 30 or more points in 10 of their first 12 games. Against the Bears on Sunday night, they mustered just six.

• Likewise, the Rams’ previous worst for scrimmage yards was 339 (at San Francisco) and they’d bested 400 yards on nine occasions. In Chicago they wound up with 214—19 of which came on a meaningless final play.

• The Rams’ previous high for turnovers in a game was two. On Sunday night the Bears picked off Jared Goff four times.

BASKIN: Shocker! A defensive struggle in the NFL in 2018

So … could Nagy see this coming? Sort of. The coach was curious all week about how the players would manage a heart-breaking loss to the Giants the previous Sunday. He saw them handle it on the flight home from Jersey with a “we got this” ownership that he’d witnessed after previous losses. He also got a good week of practice out of them. But it wasn’t until Saturday night at the team hotel that he really knew.

“You know what it was? I noticed a looseness, and a calmness, which I thought was really neat,” Nagy said. “Going into a game like this, where you get flexed, and it’s against one of the best teams in the NFL—we haven’t been in that situation before. So for them to react the way that they did—I could feel it out on the field, they felt confident, they felt good playing together.”

How dominant were the Bears? The Rams were held to less than 20 yards on 11 of their 13 possessions, and didn’t pick up a single first down on six of those. NFL rushing leader Todd Gurley gained 28 yards—his lowest total in three years—on 11 carries; both Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods were held to under 10 yards per catch; and Jared Goff’s passer rating was a career-low 19.1.

That’s the Rams team, you’ll remember, that scored 54 points three weeks ago on Monday Night Football, which happened to be a game that got the Bears jacked for this one.

“I’m excited when they’re scoring points like that, because then I know they’re gonna be throwing the ball a lot, and that plays into our game,” Amukamara said. “This is an offensive league. The standard has changed for most people. If you hold a team to 20 points, that’s a good game. But that’s not our standard.”

A few weeks ago, Nagy actually talked to his team about how that standard was changing—and how they’d go from being the hunter to the hunted. If this game was any indication, and last week was a learning experience, the Bears are starting to handle their new place in the pecking order pretty well.


EVEN CHIEFS TEAMMATES HAVE TO WAIT FOR REPLAYS TO REALLY UNDERSTAND MAHOMES’ MAGIC

As an offensive lineman, Mitchell Schwartz doesn’t get to see all the ridiculous trick-shot throws his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, is making in real time. But because they go viral almost instantly, he usually doesn’t have to wait long to get a second chance at a first look. This week it was his brother, former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz, serving up the Did You See That?!?

The play in question (which I’m sure most of you have seen, and we’ll show you again in the Video of the Week) was a first-and-10 with 1:05 left in the first half agains the Ravens. Mahomes rolled left, then scrambled back right on the play, before no-looking a throw sidearm into a tiny window 20 or 25 yards downfield, where Demarcus Robinson was waiting.

“That’s one I didn’t even know happened,” Schwartz told me via text. “My brother asked if I saw it, and I had no idea what he was talking about.”

That’s where we are with Mahomes now—the over-the-top has become routine, and so an impossible throw like that one has, somehow, lost its shock value. So too has how he’s performed on big stages with high stakes.

2019 MOCK DRAFT: Bosa No. 1; Herbert, Haskins go in first round

So think about this—that sidearm highlight throw wasn’t even his most impressive holy-cow moment. In the final minutes, with the Chiefs trailing 24-17, Mahomes converted a crucial fourth-and-9, then registered the game-tying points on a fourth-and-3 on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that forced overtime, before piloting a drive to kick the game-winning field goal—all of this against a defense that came in ranked No. 1 in the league. He finished with 377 yards, two touchdowns and a pick on 35-of-53 passing.

Along the way, Mahomes was making jaws drop, and nowhere more than on that fourth-and-9, when he bought time before throwing a dart across his body to Tyreek Hill to keep the Chiefs alive.

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“I knew he flushed out of the pocket, and was watching that, and he did his gathering step, so I knew he was chucking it,” Schwartz said. “Then I saw Tyreek flying across, and it looked like he had the angle and a step. I didn’t realize how far across his body and how far downfield he threw until replays way after the game. But I was running downfield with another offensive linemen, who was saying something to the effect of, Holy crap, that was insane!

It’s made it so now what’s really fun for Schwartz and the other linemen is getting to see what all the fuss is about after the game—they know something crazy happened, and like anyone else, they have to see for themselves.

“It’s fun going back and watching the highlights,” Schwartz said. “You don’t realize how special the throws are in the moment, and then you go ‘Oh wow, he threw from that arm angle and put it where?!?’ Like the no-look pass, I didn’t even know that happened. The funky throw to Spencer Ware down the left sideline, didn’t realize how crazy that was until I saw the highlight after the game. The one to Tyreek.

“I’m sure he had a couple others. The fact that he can do them in the biggest moments is the best part.”

And it’s pretty exciting for the rest of us too, seeing as we’ll all get to watch it in a playoff setting in a few weeks. And then watch the highlights after.


Episodes 1 through 7 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. 


DEFENSE—AND COOPER—LIFT DAK AND DALLAS

There’s really no sugarcoating how Dak Prescott played through three quarters of Dallas’ showdown with Philly on Sunday: He was killing the Cowboys. Dallas was terrible in the red zone, and the quarterback had two picks, which is why, despite a 233-70 edge in yards, the Cowboys led just 6-3.

Now, here’s what’s different about this year for Dak—Dallas’s defense is capable of buying him time to ride out those bumps. Flush with young talent, and keyed by ascending 26-and-unders like Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Demarcus Lawrence and Chidobe Awuzie, the Cowboys have held opponents to 19 points per game over the five-game winning streak they’ve ridden into first place in the NFC East.

That means if Prescott struggles, as he did early Sunday, he gets time to get right.

“We love him, and we’re behind him one thousand percent,” Smith told me over the phone late Sunday. “We’re rocking with him all the way. I love him so much. He’s got a great heart. The one thing that he is, he’s a winner.”

On Sunday, Prescott repaid the love and the time to get untracked by going 17-of-20 for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, in getting Dallas a 29-23 win that puts the Cowboys one victory away from dethroning the Eagles as division champs.

To make the comeback happen, Prescott led a trio of 75-yard touchdown drives. The first took nine plays and necessitated a third-and-12 conversion, which Prescott picked up with a throw to (yup) Amari Cooper. The second took one play—a 75-yard bomb that Cooper took to the house. The third came in overtime, with a Prescott throw ricocheting off Eagles DB Rasul Douglas and to Cooper for the game-winner.

Cooper’s impact is, of course, as obvious as the criticism of the trade for him looks silly now. “He’s dynamic,” Smith said. “He’s a two-time Pro Bowler. He’s the No. 4 pick out of Alabama. I personally was always a fan of his.”

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But without the defense choking the Eagles out early on, he might not have had a chance to make a difference. Through three quarters, Philly had seven possessions. Here’s how those went:

1. Seven plays, 36 yards (punt)
2. Three plays, minus-1 yard (punt)
3. Three plays, 8 yards (punt)
4. Four plays, 27 yards (fumble)
5. Three plays, 1 yard (punt)
6. Five plays, 19 yards (punt)
7. One play, two yards (touchdown)

And right there in the middle of all of it is Smith, whom few figured would be here three years ago when he suffered a devastating knee injury in his final college game that led to nerve damage.

“My biggest thing is just being there for my team,” Smith said. “Me being a leader in the defense, I’ve got to make sure everybody’s lined up and ready to go, and playing at a high level. And for myself, it’s just dominate, show them why they drafted me. That’s what I’ve been able to do this year, being all the way back, I’m just thankful for every opportunity I get.”

JONES: How Amari Cooper saves the Cowboys’ season

Things did come undone a little for the defense in the fourth quarter, but by then, the offense was rolling, which is how the Joneses saw the team back in the summer.

It has, of course, taken some tweaking since (i.e. Cooper) to get here. And we’re still only a few weeks separated from when people were preparing coaching eulogies for Jason Garrett.

But take the Cowboys for what they are now, and you’ll see a far more complete team than they’ve been in their recent past.



… OF THE WEEK

QUOTE

 “The way it ended sucked. I’ve never been a part of anything like that. I feel like it’s going to test our character big-time. I have to make that tackle.” —Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

I appreciate Gronk’s accountability after a bad road loss, but the fact is there’s simply no way he should be put in position to have to make an open-field tackle on a guy who’s significantly faster than he is. Or make an open-field tackle in a last-second situation period. So that one’s on Bill.

TWEET

That’s from Kevin Clark of the Ringer, whom Twitter should hire just to watch games and tweet things.

MEME

Because if you get a chance to clean the kicker’s clock, you gotta take it … Actually, wait a second, that’s Henry Anderson. Check that, I can understand why he might be playing football with a little bit of an edge these days.

CLIP

This looks like a pretty crazy throw. And then somehow, Mahomes topped it with this no-look throw

Mahomes told me back in September that playing shortstop growing up gave him the ability to make all these crazy off-platform strikes. To see them on display in an NFL game continues to be amazing.

S/O TO …

I created this section to try to make sure we had a reminder that most NFL players are really good guys, despite what perceptions may be out there. And that’s the idea of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. So rather than picking one guy this week to shed light on, we’ll present to you the 32 players who were honored by their teams as nominees for the big award, which will be presented at the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

The 2018 WPMOY nominees: Antoine Bethea (Cardinals), Grady Jarrett (Falcons), Brandon Carr (Ravens), Lorenzo Alexander (Bills), Julius Peppers (Panthers), Trey Burton (Bears), Carlos Dunlap (Bengals), Christian Kirksey (Browns), Dak Prescott (Cowboys), Von Miller (Broncos), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Kenny Clark (Packers), Whitney Mercilus (Texans), Jabaal Sheard (Colts), Blake Bortles (Jaguars), Dustin Colquitt (Chiefs), Corey Liuget (Chargers), Andrew Whitworth (Rams), Kenny Stills (Dolphins), Kyle Rudolph (Vikings), Devin McCourty (Patriots), Mark Ingram (Saints), Michael Thomas (Giants), Kelvin Beachum (Jets), Marshawn Lynch (Raiders), Chris Long (Eagles), Cameron Heyward (Steelers), Robbie Gould (49ers), K.J. Wright (Seahawks), Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers), Jurrell Casey (Titans), Vernon Davis (Redskins).

As a bonus, here’s a pretty cool video related to all this (And seriously, watch it, it’s amazing):


SIX FROM SATURDAY

The college football news through NFL eyes.

1. I love Heisman winner Kyler Murray as a player, but as we intimated last week, he should honor his contract and go play baseball. Murray’s guarantee, as the ninth pick in the June baseball draft, was $4.66 million. That figure sits in between what Colts rookies Darius Leonard ($4.83 million) and Braden Smith ($4.60 million) got last year as the 36th and 37th picks in the NFL draft, respectively. I don’t think, if he were to enter the April draft, he’d go in the first 37 picks—which would mean he’d be giving up money and taking on a lot of injury risk. As a quarterback, he could make up that money down the line, but if he’s not a first-rounder his opportunity to do that may be limited. And if he’s what the Oakland A’s think he is as a baseball player, he’ll likely be paid like a quarterback playing centerfield. So he’s making what I think is the right decision.

2. Why isn’t Murray a first-rounder? His size is part of the problem—scouts believe he’d measure out at 5’9”, and he’s not stocky like Baker Mayfield or Russell Wilson. And as a one-year starter he’d still have to convince those in the NFL community that his style of play would translate (you’d have to adapt to him system-wise), and be sustainable, at his size, in the pros. A number of scouts I’ve talked to believe Murray was the best college player of the three Heisman finalists, but behind both Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins as an NFL prospect.

3. Last Heisman thought: It’s no fluke that Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley has produced consecutive winners of the award. And for that reason, until he actually goes to the NFL, he will be the white whale for NFL teams looking for new coaches.

4. Under-the-radar potential hire to pay attention to: Houston OC Kendal Briles to Tennessee. Briles was passing-game coordinator for his father, Art, at Baylor, and OC for Lane Kiffin at Florida Atlantic in 2017 before joining Major Applewhite’s staff this year, and he interviewed with Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt this week. An AFC exec put him on my radar earlier in September, with the acknowledgment that the scandal at Baylor slowed down what had been a meteoric rise through the ranks for the 36-year-old. “He just scores points. If his name was Kendal Johnson, it’d be interesting what people would say.”

5. Easton Stick, Carson Wentz’s successor at North Dakota State, is worth keeping an eye on. Stick was a tidy 14-of-19 for 205 yards and three touchdowns in the Bison’s 35-0 blowout of Colgate, and is in his fourth season starting (he started for most of Wentz’s final year, while Wentz was hurt). He’s seen as a likely Day 3 pick, and is under consideration for the final of the eight quarterback spots at the Senior Bowl—which, if you remember, is where Wentz’s rise as a draft prospect kicked into overdrive. Also, Stick’s got a mean crossover.

6. If this doesn’t get to you a little bit …


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. It’s not like anyone needs to look too deep to be impressed with what Browns rookie Baker Mayfield has done, but here’s what Cleveland’s coaches walked away really happy with after Sunday’s win over Carolina—the way Mayfield shook off bad drops by Rashard Higgins (for a touchdown) and David Njoku (on a deep shot) as if nothing happened. On a day when the Browns defense had trouble getting a stop, and the offense only got 45 snaps as a result, those plays could’ve been especially frustrating. But Mayfield kept firing, and the Browns averaged 7.7 yards per offensive play. Oh, and the quarterback himself completed 18-of-22 throws for 238 yards and a touchdown, for a sparkling 126.9 passer rating. All of this is why, if you ask me, Cleveland will be the most attractive of the head coach openings in January.

2. It might sound crazy, but I think the Saints winning the way they did, in messy conditions, against a feisty opponent with nothing to lose, was pretty impressive. For a good half of Sunday’s game in Tampa, it sure looked like New Orleans was going to let the previous week’s Cowboys loss beat them twice. Down 14-3 at the half, the Saints shut the Bucs out in the second half. Over those 30 minutes, they sacked Jameis Winston three times, picked him off once and held him to 83 yards on 6-of-17 passing, while limiting the Bucs to 29 yards on the ground on seven carries. And the offense did wind up coming around in time. What did it prove? That the Saints can be more than a schoolyard bully. “A lot of times we forget that this game is not perfect,” Alvin Kamara told reporters afterwards. “A lot of people expect us to come out and be perfect, but that’s just not reality. People make mistakes. We may start slow sometimes, but when adversity hits, it’s how you respond to it.”

3. Giants coach Pat Shurmur deserves a ton of credit for the fight his team has  shown. Remember, there are a lot of players who endured last year’s grease fire, and the fact that they’d gone through that, then started this year 1-7, and then rallied is damn impressive. As such, they’re now winners of four of five, with the lone loss having come by a field goal at Philly. And by the way, Saquon Barkley’s pretty good. On an afternoon after which Eli Manning conceded that the offense is beginning to run through the running back, Barkley exploded for a career-high 170 yards on 14 carries, his fourth straight game getting into triple-digits on the ground. For the season, he has 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns at a 5.4-yard per carry clip, with 78 catches on top of that, for another 629 yards and four touchdowns. Between Barkley and Mayfield, Offensive Rookie of the Year is going to be a tough call.

4. As for the Redskins … I don’t know how badly Colin Kaepernick wants to play, or what kind of playing shape he’s in, but I’d suggest Washington bring Kaepernick in for a workout and find out. At this point, the situation at quarterback has got to be very, very difficult to sell to the locker room. I can understand the logic, too, in saying, “We’re not going anywhere anyway, so we’d rather just play out the string as anonymously as possible.” I just don’t know if it’s very good for your young players to get the message that you’re not pulling every lever to try to make the team better. The truth is, Kaepernick wasn’t a very good quarterback over his last three years in the league. At the time there were very few inside the league who thought he was capable of being anyone’s long-term starter. But Josh Johnson and Mark Sanchez are the guys on the Washington depth chart right now.

ORR: Washington deserves its blowout loss to the Giants

5. If anyone has any questions left on Andrew Luck, I’d like to hear them. He finished with 399 yards, two touchdown passes and a pick (which bounced off his receiver’s hands) on 27 of 41 passing on Sunday against the Texans’ elite front seven, ending Houston’s nine-game winning streak. And he’s now completing 67.7 percent of his throws on the year, with 34 touchdown passes and 13 picks. An underrated piece of this: He’s worked on getting more comfortable mechanically after reworking his footwork and delivery coming out of shoulder surgery, which caused a little hesitancy early this year. That, as far as I can tell, is gone now.

6. “He’s going to be a great football player. I’ve said that, and I’ll stand on that.” That’s what Jets receiver Robbie Anderson said about Sam Darnold to the New York Daily News after his team’s 27-23 win over the Bills in Orchard Park on Sunday. The game itself was a reminder of why so many in the NFL were so high on the 21-year-old coming out of USC. Even more amazing is how the Jets seemed in disarray all week, and came out flat, and the rookie was able to pull them out of that with plays like this one:

Here’s hoping the Jets spend the next few months getting their impending coaching search right, with someone who can help Darnold grow, and put the right people around him, with almost $100 million to spend.

BENOIT: Philip Rivers and the case for MVP

7. As for the other rookie quarterback in that game, I won’t forget a conversation I had with ESPN’s Todd McShay back in June 2017 about then-Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. McShay compared him, athletically, to Cam Newton. And Allen’s combine numbers wound up matching up nicely with what the Panthers’ franchise QB did in Indy in 2011. Interesting, then, to see Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who ran a spread at Alabama in 2017, deploy Allen this way over the last three weeks: 13 carries, 99 yards vs. Jacksonville; nine carries, 135 yards at Miami; nine carries, 102 yards vs. the Jets. Allen’s now up to 490 yards rushing, which leads all quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson has 475 yards, Cam Newton has 448, Deshaun Watson has 408 and Mitchell Trubisky has 386). And he’s gotten there at a gaudy 4.7 yards per carry.

8. Speaking of Jackson, the Ravens rookie acquitted himself fine in a very difficult environment at Arrowhead. He has a long way to go as a passer, but the stage didn’t seem too big for him, and I think it’ll be tough for John Harbaugh to go back to Joe Flacco. Why? The Ravens don’t give defenses a lot to worry about with Flacco back there. If it’s Jackson, they’re not perfect, but they are a headache to deal with.

9. It’s fair to wonder if Sunday’s loss to the Niners is the one that costs Vance Joseph when John Elway sits down and decides what to do with his Broncos coaching staff. If Elway does make a change, it’s worth mentioning that he’s spent some time with college programs studying up on the explosion of offensive innovation that’s begun to trickle up and into the NFL.

10. Is Aaron Rodgers back? Well, his numbers were efficient, the Packers won, and his throw to Randall Cobb down the sideline for a touchdown was a thing of beauty. And maybe it’s all a reminder, ahead of the coaching search, of what could be if the right guy lands there. The idea of a partnership with Patriots OC Josh McDaniels remains intriguing—in part because very few people have experience coaching quarterbacks with the accomplishment and know-how of Rodgers, and McDaniels does.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

Let’s start with tonight. My eyes will be on Vikings RB Dalvin Cook, with Minnesota visiting Seattle. My understanding is that, after all the talk this week, OC John DeFilippo will make a concerted effort to establish the running game behind Cook, a week after Cook was probably their best offensive player, but only got nine carries in New England.

This kind of stuff can obviously go sideways in midstream—because of the score, bad down-and-distance situations, etc.—but getting Cook his carries against Seattle goes beyond just leaning more on his talent and appeasing a defensive-minded head coach. It’s also about covering holes on the offensive line, and getting quarterback Kirk Cousins in rhythm. Some in Minnesota have noticed that Cousins has played a little uptight of late and believe taking pressure off him could help. The run game is usually an effective way to pull that off.

So yeah, I think it actually will work tonight, with Cook having a big night, and the Vikings pulling off a mild upset to keep their title hopes alive. Vikings 23, Seahawks 20.

And after that? We have a league meeting on Wednesday, and then an absolutely titanic episode of Thursday Night Football on tap, with the Chiefs hosting the Chargers in a game that could well decide the AFC West.

We’ll have more on those things in the Monday Afternoon Quarterback in a few hours—so I’ll see you all then!

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)