Matt Ryan wasn’t really paying attention to the TVs in the Falcons locker room, tuned to Rams-Saints ahead of Atlanta’s Sunday night showdown with the Eagles. Or he wasn’t, at least, until he peeked over and saw Teddy Bridgewater in the game. The 12-year vet had a pretty good idea what that meant, and it wasn’t good.

A closer look showed Ryan’s chief football rival over his time as an NFL quarterback, on the sideline and helpless to stop a key NFC game from slipping away.

“Knowing him, you just hope he’s OK, first and foremost,” Ryan said, after climbing in his car for the drive home from Mercedes-Benz Stadium at about 1 a.m. on Monday morning. “You never want to see anyone have to deal with that.”

Therein lies the story of Week 2—the one no one wanted to hear coming out of Sunday.

On a third-and-8 on the Saints’ second possession, Brees hit the right hand of reigning Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald with his throwing hand. It wasn’t the kind of gruesome injury that’s evident when it happens. But it didn’t take long before it was obvious something was wrong. Brees actually came out of the locker room for the second half having shed the tape job over his thumb, but there’d be no getting back in the game. The cameras at that point showed the 12-time Pro Bowler couldn’t even grip the ball.

“I have so much respect and appreciation for what he’s meant to this game, what he’s done over the course of his career, watching the way that he and coach [Sean] Payton have consistently produced some of the best offenses in the league year in and year out,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, driving home from the Coliseum. “I hope he’s alright. Injuries are the worst part of this game.

“And even when it happens to an opposing player that could potentially benefit when you don’t have to play against him, you never want to see that in this league. Hopefully he’ll be back sooner than later.”

The loss of Brees would be a loss for the NFL. So a lot of people are holding their breath waiting for MRI results on Monday. And Brees’s test results won’t be the only ones being anxiously awaited.

Image placeholder title

There is happier news to sort through here, and I promise we’ll get you to that in this week’s MMQB, which will include:

• McVay on the resolve and toughness of his Rams.
Ryan explaining the play call that beat his hometown Eagles.
• New Cowboys OC Kellen Moore on the progress of his prized pupil, Dak Prescott.
Bills coach Sean McDermott on his also-doubted quarterback.

But we’re starting with the bad stuff this week.

Image placeholder title

The Saints will wake up this morning in Seattle, where they’ll be spending the week ahead of next Sunday’s game against the Seahawks. Brees remains in L.A., where, as ESPN reported Sunday, he’ll meet with specialist Dr. Steve Shin. Brees confirmed that he’s concerned that the injury is significant. Much is hanging in the balance.

The manual test Brees underwent on the sideline appear to be to check the integrity of the ulnar collateral ligament in the thumb. We’ll see if he needs surgery or not. The timetable, the Saints maintained postgame, is completely up in the air until Brees meets with the specialist and gets a diagnosis.

drew-brees-aaron-donald-saints-rams.jpg

So for now the Saints could be relying on Teddy Bridgewater to keep them in contention for a while, with a roster that’s as championship-ready as any Brees has played on since, and maybe including, the one that won him his only Super Bowl title, in the 2009 season. It’s not exaggerating to say that this could swing the Saints’ division and conference races.

And earlier in the day, Ben Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury against Seattle. Details on that were even more vague, but the signs were also ominous. The 37-year-old Steelers QB took a simple three-step drop out of the shotgun, threw the ball to his right, and grabbed his right elbow as it came down on the follow-through. Like Brees, Roethlisberger’s getting an MRI, and we’ll know more today.

There were also a couple scares beyond those more serious situations. At one point Sunday, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was working his grip and wincing in pain. And, later in the evening, Eagles QB Carson Wentz, beaten up pretty good by the Atlanta pass rush, retreated to the sideline medical tent. Thankfully, those two QBs were OK.

Lots of people are holding out the same kind of hope that Ryan and McVay were when we talked overnight—that Roethlisberger and Brees are alright too.

OK, now we can get to all the crazy things that happened on the field Sunday.

Image placeholder title

THE RAMS WILL TAKE THE TITLE-GAME REMATCH WIN, HOWEVER IT CAME

We’ve been talking for eight months about the missed pass-interference call on Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC title game, and that made me consider something as the Rams started to pull away from the Saints on Sunday night.

Was it possible that McVay’s crew had grown a little sick of hearing how their trip to the Super Bowl was stolen from someone else? You’d think that, at the very least, the simple implication attached to all that talk had to get a little annoying. Or maybe, it didn’t?

“I know that a lot was made about that, but our guys just did a good job of ignoring the noise,” McVay said on his ride home from the Coliseum after the 27-9 win. “And really, we don’t want to ignore the fact that that was a play that definitely helped us. Whether it decided the outcome, who really knows? For us, our guys were just focused on just winning the game today, and we know that this season has a totally different feel than last year.”

So the Rams are on message. And on this day, that feel McVay referenced had some edge.

The defending conference champs slogged through a 6-3 first half, and even the touchdowns that were to come weren’t going to be scored easily.

The first came on first-and-goal from the 4, with 5:43 left in the third quarter. Todd Gurley took a toss left and simply outran Trey Hendrickson and A.J. Klein to the corner, then dove for the pylon. The next one was on a slant, on second-and-goal from 2, where Jared Goff found Brandin Cooks, who outmuscled Marshon Lattimore to the ball. And the final one came courtesy of Cooper Kupp, who took an in-cut, stiff-armed Lattimore, fought past Marcus Williams then P.J. Williams, and dragged Klein into the end zone to make it 27-6.

Or it at least looked like that made it 27-6. On review, Kupp was called down at the 1. On the next play, Goff took it in on a sneak.

goff-mcvay-2.jpg

“There were a lot of instances of guys creating on their own or making plays that maybe weren’t necessarily there and they just kind of just added to it,” McVay said. “Whether it be Cooper or the Cooks touchdown pass. But Todd’s touchdown run, what a gutsy run it was when we run a little tool crack to the left sideline and he just found a way to have a nose for the end zone, like he’s done for so many years. So I thought the guys did a good job of responding and finding a way to win. That’s the biggest thing.”

Now, Brees being absent for three-and-a-half quarters certainly adds a different context to the Rams’ win, and it could make this one look a little different two months from now. But there were important takeaways, regardless of the circumstances or opponent.

Goff got knocked around a little bit and still finished 19-of-28 for 283 yards and that touchdown to Cooks. Eric Weddle (more on him later) helped bringing the sort of on-the-fly flexibility to the defense that he used to for Baltimore, with all his know-how. The Rams got to flash their depth, too, with Jamil Demby subbing in when starting guard Austin Blythe went down. And then there’s Gurley, who was a huge question mark coming into the season.

He didn’t explode on Sunday. But he did carry a heavy load, going for 63 yards on 16 carries and four yards on three catches, perhaps a sign that the coaches are becoming a little more comfortable hitching their wagon to him again, after how last year ended.

“It’s going to be something that’s by game,” McVay said of the plans for Gurley. “And really, it’s more in the flow and the feel and how he’s doing it as much as anything else. Because Todd’s a big part of our offense, he’s going to continue to be a big part of our offense. And the nice thing is that we feel good about Malcolm Brown being able to spell him. Because of the confidence we have with those two guys, it’s been a good deal the first couple weeks.

“And in all seriousness, [I can’t] tell you that’s going to be what it is, because then Todd gets the hot hand and you feel like he’s going to end up with 25 carries. I don’t think that’s out of the question either.”

At the very least, however the Rams adjust from here, they’re doing it from a position of strength, at 2-0. And they’ve already shown an ability to make it work, when things might not be like they drew them up.

Image placeholder title

RYAN TO JULIO: THAT OLD FAMILIAR FEELING

With 2:20 left and facing a fourth-and-3 from their own 46-yard line Sunday night, the Falcons were staring 0-2 in the face. And this is where Matt Ryan and Julio Jones having their old coaches back became meaningful. Mike Mularkey, the new de facto run-game coordinator, was Atlanta’s OC from Ryan’s first year through Jones’s first year in the NFL. Dirk Koetter, the new/old OC, took over for him in 2012 and ran the offense through 2014.

Everyone, it seemed to the quarterback, knew what to do.

“It’s familiarity,” Ryan said, postgame over his cell. “It’s knowing how guys react, how you can count on them. You’ve been through it before with them. And those experiences help us. You don’t know about people until you go through it with them. Once you go through these things, you’ll know how handle it.”

Koetter’s knowledge of how to handle it, as it turns out, wasn’t complicated. Really, it entailed a pretty simple idea: Get the ball to Jones.

The OC had a feeling that Eagles DC Jim Schwartz was going to bring pressure, as he had all night. So he sent in two play calls. One for the possibility that Philly played coverage. The other for what he believed was the likelihood that the Eagles would try to get into Ryan’s face.

Ryan saw the look almost immediately, checked out of the original call and into Koetter’s call to beat pressure. At the snap, Ryan backpedaled and dumped it right off to Jones, who went inside blocks from Mohamed Sanu and Jake Matthews and simply turned the rest into a track meet there was no chance he’d lose.

“One-hundred percent,” affirmed Ryan. “It’s rare for us to get those opportunities. Their game plan was to pressure us, and it was perfect timing to get to that call. When Julio’s using his athleticism like that, there’s no one better.”

That made the score 24-20, and the defense held on through a wacky final two minutes (Wentz converted a fourth-and-14 with 1:11 left on a 43-yard strike to Nelson Agholor), to get the Falcons back on level ground after last week’s season-opening loss to the Vikings.

The interesting thing is earlier in the game, faced with a similar circumstance, Ryan was picked off. That was midway through the third quarter—Philly threw another aggressive blitz at Ryan and he got hit as he delivered the ball downfield, where he saw Jones one-on-one with Ronald Darby. The blow shortened his follow-through, the ball floated on him, and Darby easily fielded it.

Safe to say, Ryan atoned for that one. And the Falcons atoned for their ugly Week 1 loss.

“There was definitely urgency,” Ryan said. “I thought our preparation was good before the Minnesota game—we just didn’t play well. That happens. And there’s definitely a mindset when that happens where you have to find a way to get it done.”

Given how Carolina looked the other night, and what went down with the Saints, it’s fair to say the Falcons’ outlook comes off as pretty different than it did a week ago.

Image placeholder title

INSIDE THE KELLEN MOORE-DAK PRESCOTT MAGIC

When Kellen Moore and I spoke after the Cowboys beat the Redskins 31-21, the first-year coordinator was fast to say that the real challenges for the team’s offense were ahead of them. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see that a little adversity has already struck the group through two games—and the quarterback has shown himself to be equal to the challenge of it.

On the road Sunday, the Dallas attack started the game with a pair of three-and-outs and a pick. The level approach of the guy breaking the huddle and taking the snaps carried the players past that.

“That’s Dak’s demeanor,” Moore said. “There’s naturally maybe a little frustration, but there’s no panic. It’s simply, ‘Hey, we’re fine. Just keep plugging along. An NFL game’s three hours long.’”

That approach was apparent as those three hours wore on. Prescott led drives of 97 yards on seven plays and 74 yards on 11 plays, to get the Cowboys out of the rut and into halftime with a 14-7 lead. Coming out of the half, the quarterback piloted a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Then he led an 11-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a field goal, and after that a fifth straight scoring drive that covered 54 yards in 10 plays and pushed the lead to 31-14.

In that five-drive stretch, Prescott’s numbers sparkled: 23-of-24 for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

Of course, that’s about more than just perseverance. It’s also about progress, which Moore has pushed with his renovation of the Dallas offense. While he downplays the idea that the changes are wholesale, the OC concedes there’s more motion, and there’s more synergy between the pass game and the run game—which has allowed Prescott to play off his wheels a little bit more.

dak-prescott-cowboys-redskins_0.jpg

You can see that plainly in Prescott’s stats. Four of his seven touchdown passes sos far have come off of play-action on first or second down.

“At the end of the day, we want to run the football,” Moore said. “So we got those guys to do it. And at the same time, we’re not going to be stubborn about it and just pound it all day. Hopefully the play-action can complement that and create a kind of dual-threat, and we can continue to mix that up and create things that look the same, and have multiple ways to attack them off of that.”

But maybe Prescott’s most impressive throw of the day was of a different genre. With 13 seconds left in the first half and the game tied, the Cowboys lined up spread out, with two tight ends detached from the formation to Dak’s right. He calmly took the snap, read the coverage on that side, with Blake Jarwin running to the back pylon and Jason Witten running to the front pylon, and put it just to Witten’s outside, where only he could grab it.

“Really good throw, really good route,” Moore said. “Basically, Witten was on the front pylon, Blake was going to be on the back pylon and you know you had a little advantage, slight, he was ahead of the ’backer by a step. Dak threw a really good ball and Witten made a really good catch.”

Now, Moore cautions that there’s adversity coming, and how he and Prescott adjust as teams build a new book on them will be key. But they’ll take the 142.9 passer rating they’ve got to this point. And it’s not out of the question that all of this could push along what’s been a relatively slow process in getting the QB’s next contract done.

Image placeholder title

JOSH ALLEN IS EARNING RESPECT—AND WINS

The momentum from early on was gone, the Giants had closed to within a touchdown, and the Bills needed a spark. There was 11:56 left. This one, certainly, was in position to get away from Buffalo. Josh Allen wouldn’t let it happen.

Allen’s numbers on the Bills’ next possession weren’t killer—he was 2-for-6 for 29 yards, with a scramble for another 9. But they didn’t need to be. What the team needed from him was to manage a drive, and make the plays that were there. Thirteen snaps and 75 yards later, the Bills were making it 28-14 and leaving the Giants with just 5:53 to play with.

That wound up being the final, with the Bills sweeping two games at MetLife to open the season 2-0.

“It was a big drive,” coach Sean McDermott said. “Because momentum had shifted, we were on the road, the deck was stacked against us from a momentum standpoint. And they kept their poise, were mentally tough and it wasn’t easy. The Giants were doing a good job in making us work for everything.”

josh-allen-bills-giants.jpg

Allen was equal to the challenge, and at no point more so than on a third-and-6 with 8:23 left, forced from the pocket and made to improvise. Scrambling to his right, Allen found new Bill John Brown, who picked up the conversion and more, going 17 yards deep into Giants territory. That, for all intents and purposes, was it.

And so it is that Allen and Lamar Jackson are now 2-0, with the other three first-round quarterbacks from the Class of 2018 still searching for their first wins of 2019.

Allen and Jackson, of course, were doubted more than Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold coming into this season. But that doubt, as McDermott saw it in Allen’s case, was never coming from inside his building.

“I don’t think that’s wavered one bit with those guys,” McDermott said. “I think Josh is the type of young man who understands he has to earn their belief, and their trust, and that takes time. He’s only in his early part of his second season, and so he understands he has a lot of work to do yet, and he also understands that he has to earn that. And nothing’s given in this league.”

McDermott emphasized that it all remains a work in progress. And as for whether his Bills have turned the corner after rebuilding in 2018?

“Call me back on that, man,” he said, laughing. “Call me back.”

Image placeholder title

THE ALL-32

A quick thought on every NFL team.

I’ll say this for Bears coach Matt Nagy—the intention of all that went into the kicker competition was to generate pressure on each player ahead of the season. So, of course, that was the first thing I thought of when Eddy Piniero coolly lined up and drilled a 53-yarder to win the game Sunday. Chicago always believed Piniero had the highest ceiling of any of the kickers it brought in this offseason. And that certainly showed in Denver, too.

The Bengals were really good in Week 1 against a good Seattle team, and so I’m willing to give them a mulligan for Game 2 of the Zac Taylor era. But that one got ugly.

The Bills’ price-conscious shopping spree this offseason landed them their leading rusher (Frank Gore) and two leading receivers (John Brown, Cole Beasley) on Sunday. The total 2019 cap charge of those three: $16.4 million. That’s good work by GM Brandon Beane.

The Broncos have every right to be angry over the roughing call on Bradley Chubb. The call moved Chicago from its own 30 to its 45, and allowed a margin for error when Mitch Trubisky couldn’t connect on his next three throws. Trubisky’s 25-yard strike to Allen Robinson, on fourth-and-15, set up Piniero’s 53-yard winner.

Amid all the hysteria over the Browns’ acquisition of Odell Beckham in March, it was easy to ignore how the trade meant Cleveland would be losing its fourth top-shelf lineman in four years. Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz bolted as free agents in 2016, Joe Thomas retired in 2018, and Kevin Zeitler was traded to New York in the Beckham deal. That’s a lot of attrition from what had been a really good group, and it was evident in Week 1. We’ll see if it’s any better tonight.

So much of the focus was on Cam Newton, but I think the Buccaneers defense deserves some attention—as does coordinator Todd Bowles, who’s proving once again to be one of the game’s best on that side of the ball. I asked a high-level staffer in Tampa what Bowles has done particularly well there, and he brought up Bowles’ ability to teach, and his feel for what an offense is bringing. It’s showing up big-time. The Bucs were 27th in total defense last year. It’s two weeks, but Tampa is allowing 80 fewer yards per game than in 2018 and held the Panthers out of the end zone completely.

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals may be 0-1-1, but Arizona has to feel good about how the quarterback keeps coming on late in games. That said, the Ravens felt like they got between his ears a little in the fourth quarter Sunday. With 8:56 left, Brandon Carr came free off the edge on a corner blitz, and Murray tried to duck him before hitting the ground. On the next two snaps, Baltimore believe it got Murray to unload the ball far quicker than he would’ve liked. That should be a learning experience for Murray, to be sure.

Anthony Lynn’s crew won’t use it as an excuse, but what the Chargers have gone through (for what seems like the 55th consecutive year) is ridiculous. Against the Lions, L.A. was without its left tackle (Russell Okung), tight end (Hunter Henry), star safety (Derwin James) and tailback (Melvin Gordon, though that’s for a different reason). And we’re not even halfway through September.

We’re at the point where ChiefsQB Patrick Mahomes can go 30-for-44 for 443 yards and four touchdowns, and it’s not even notable anymore.

If this is it for Adam Vinatieri—and his exchange with The Athletic’s Stephen Holder after the Colts’ win in Nashville suggest it might be—then I think he should be an easy evaluation for Hall of Fame voters. The kick he made for the Patriots to force overtime against the Raiders in January 2002, a 47-yarder in horrific conditions, may be the greatest in NFL history. He then kicked the game-winner in that one, and in two Super Bowls. And after a decade-long run in New England, this is Year 14 in Indy, and he won a fourth Super Bowl title there. It’s tough to get kickers into the Hall. Not this one.

If the Cowboys’ duo of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch isn’t the best linebacker pairing in the NFL, they’re right there. Best part? Smith just turned 24. Vander Esch is 23.

Tough spot for Dolphins coach Brian Flores. That’s a demanding program he’s running, and a hard one to sell after two losses by a combined score of 102-10. It doesn’t help, either, that players have seen some of their best teammates dealt away. And just as people, I’d imagine it’s hard to give your all for this year if you don’t believe your management is doing the same and have no idea how long that management will keep you around. As we’ve said here, Flores is earning his money this year. And that’s coming from a guy who believes that GM Chris Grier’s roster rebuild is, mostly, the right call.

Maybe I’m the only one, but I thought the Eagles’ offensive line play was a little alarming on Sunday night. I have them winning the Super Bowl, and that group, whupped by Atlanta on the road, can’t play like that if they’re going to get there. It’s worth keeping an eye on, with three of the team’s five starters in their 30s, and another starter eight months from hitting that milestone.

Which means we have to give credit to the Falcons’ defensive line. Takk McKinley, in particular, was a handful for Philly.

Week 1, coming off a torn ACL, may have been a little early for people to be burying 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo. He looked plenty better this week—and San Francisco was impressive in general. Before a garbage-time score by the Bengals, the defense had held the hosts to 255 yards and 3.9 yards per play. The Niners, conversely, finished with 572 yards and 8.4 yards per play.

When will we see Giants rookie Daniel Jones? The history of first-round quarterbacks who are supposedly “red-shirted” says that it’ll happen when the team falls out of contention. Until then, getting the ball to Saquon Barkley would probably be advisable.

So that Jaguars’ call on the two-point conversion? I’m told it was a run-pass option, and Gardner Minshew read it right, giving the ball to Leonard Fournette. Heck of an effort by Fournette, too, who, on replay, appear to be very close to knocking it in to give Jacksonville the lead with 30 seconds left. Now, as for the decision to go for two, it seems that, based on the makeup of the team, the Jags would want to take their chances with their defense in overtime. Especially after some of the sideline tumult we saw.

Tonight’s game is more than a little important to the Jets. The next four: at Patriots, at Eagles, vs. Cowboys, vs. Patriots. So a loss to Cleveland would make 0-6 a distinct possibility. And you have to wonder, at that point, with a first-year coach and GM, if the team-building focus wouldn’t start moving towards 2020.

Score one for the Lions’ middle class today. Rashaan Melvin handled a tough assignment with Chargers WR Mike Williams fairly well (Williams made a couple circus catches). Linebacker Devon Kennard was a rock in the middle of the defense. And 2018 fifth-round pick Tyrell Crosby ably stepped in for Taylor Decker at left tackle.

The Packers staff loved Aaron Rodgers’ toughness hanging in there against a rugged Vikings defense on Sunday. It’s not where they want it yet, but the quarterback and Matt LaFleur are making progress.

It’s not panic time yet for the Panthers. And it’s not like Carolina’s that far off—there were moments on Thursday night when receivers were there for Cam Newton, and he was getting hit as he saw them. So this is more than just Newton. But there’s no doubt that inconsistent accuracy (one crosser to Curtis Samuel in the second half was particularly glaring) cost Carolina. Maybe this is what it was with Andrew Luck early last fall, when the Colts QB needed time to get reps with his reworked mechanics, coming off shoulder surgery. Maybe it’s something else. At 0-2, time could start to run short on figuring things out.

Not sure what the Patriots’ reason for running up the score on Flores was, but it was pretty clear what was happening as New England threw out of the shotgun in the fourth quarter, up 37-0, and called an all-out blitz up 43-0 on the game’s final snap. These aren’t accidents.

RIP to the Raiders’ infield dirt. My generation grew up seeing the slow phase-out of multi-purpose stadiums that had baseball markings into the early parts of NFL seasons. The Coliseum in Oakland is the last one to go. The Raiders don’t get back home until Nov. 3. The A’s season will be over by then and, thus the infield dirt will be gone from the NFL forever.

We led with Lamar Jackson last week and, honestly, we could’ve done it again, because he was even better in Week 2. One piece of evidence to which I was pointed by a Ravens staffer: his play on third-and-long. Jackson converted a third-and-6, two third-and-7s, a third-and-11 and a third-17, and almost picked up a third-and-20, scrambling for 19 on that play. Last week against the Dolphins, Baltimore had to convert just two third downs, and both were third-and-short, to get to 28-0. So this wasdifferent.

The Rams couldn’t be happier with what Eric Weddle has brought to the table. We mentioned in the summer that the team was putting the green dot on its new safety’s helmet, meaning he’d have the radio communication with the coaches for the defense. That’s happened, and Sean McVay told me he regards Weddle as “the quarterback” on that side of the ball now.

Bright spot in the Redskins’ 0-2 start: rookie receiver Terry McLaurin. Washington coaches loved his versatility, speed and toughness from the start. He has 10 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns to show for the impression he’s made thus far.

It’s almost comical that another call went against the Saints. On this one, in the second quarter against the Rams, the ball slid from Jared Goff’s hand as he was hit, and Cam Jordan scooped it up and went 87 yards for a touchdown. But the call on the field was an incomplete pass, a whistle blew, and the score didn’t count. That score obviously would’ve been pretty important on the day Drew Brees went down.

The Seahawks got their $35 million worth from Russell Wilson against Pittsburgh. He spread the ball out effectively to Tyler Lockett, Will Dissly, D.K. Metcalf and Malik Turner, and, as a result, the quick passing game got the running game untracked. Which is a good development for now 2-0 Seattle.

Devin Bush didn’t start for the Steelers, but that won’t last long. He flashed his athleticism in registering seven tackles and a fumble recovery, and it’s clear Pittsburgh needs to get him a full-time home in its defensive front.

I’d argue they overpaid to do it, but two games in, you have to appreciate the effort the Texans made to patch their tailback situation together with trades for Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde. The two have combined for 296 scrimmage yards on 50 touches.

Stat of the day for the Titanswithout question: 1-of-10 on third down. Match that with the four three-and-outs, and that’s how you wind up with 243 yards. And I’m not sure we’re far from questions being raised on how quick a hook the team would have with former second overall pick Marcus Mariota, whose final stat line looked OK, but who averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt.

If Kirk Cousins made that throw on fourth-and-goal, then fine. But with theVikings down 21-16 and in first-and-goal with 5:17 left, I don’t get throwing an off-balance prayer into the corner of the end zone. To his credit, Cousins said afterward there was “no justification” for his decision.

Image placeholder title

TOP FIVE

Newsmakers from around the league.

It was a rough day for the Saints, but there was good news too. As Fox’s Jay Glazer reported, Sean Payton has agreed to a five-year extension that takes him through 2024, which would be his 19th season in charge in New Orleans. For what seems like forever, there have been rumblings that Payton would eventually go back to Dallas, where he coached from 2003 to ’05 and where his kids went to high school. Payton’s close with the Joneses, who’ve never hidden their affection for the Super Bowl-winning coach. In fact, it was assumed in NFL circles last winter that if the Cowboys were to move on from Jason Garrett, there’d be two guys at the top of Dallas’ list: Payton and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. So you can strike the first name off that list. And if the Cowboys keep playing like they have, it may be a while before they’re reaching for the second one.

The Antonio Brown off-field saga isn’t close to over. And that’s even as his on-field debut for the Patriots was impressive. Brown had four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, just six days after his deal to join New England was formalized. The woman accusing Brown of rape, Britney Taylor, is set to meet with NFL officials on Monday, and the league will meet with Brown himself soon thereafter. As ESPN reported over the weekend, Brown and Taylor had been in settlement talks for nearly half a year, and a tentative agreement that would pay Taylor out around $2 million was drawn up over the last few weeks. Brown had until last Sunday to sign it—I’m told Taylor was initially asking for much more than $2 million, for what it’s worth—and decided, at the end, not to. Taylor’s lawsuit was filed two days later. There will be more on Brown on our site coming soon. Keep your eyes out.

CBA are talks on hold for right now. That doesn’t mean there’s been any sort of blowup between the sides—the last summit was held back on Sept. 3 in Chicago. It’s more that league and union were stuck on the big topics, the season was starting, and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith had committed to doing his team visits, which will run through Oct. 10. So barring a breakthrough offering from one side or another, it’s unlikely there’ll be another meeting before then. In a nutshell, the NFL wants the same revenue split and more games (17 or 18), and the union wants a bigger percentage of the revenue pie (it’s currently at around 47.5 percent) and the same number of games. The good news is that talks have remained amicable, and the parties have chipped away at smaller issues while the big ones remain unresolved. I’m told the league does want to make another run at a deal between now and Thanksgiving, because it hopes to open talks on new broadcast contracts before the first of the year.

The Jalen Ramsey/Doug Marrone confrontation was pretty interesting. Also interesting—that neither guy expounded afterward on what happened. Ramsey bolted from the locker room before the media got in. Marrone said he couldn’t remember what precipitated the very public shouting match. This would be less of a problem if it was the first time. It wasn’t. And so it’ll be interesting to see what Ramsey has to say, whenever he addresses it. (It was also interesting seeing D.J. Hayden and Jarrod Wilson get into the mix when Ramsey got agitated.)

That Minkah Fitzpatrick has pushed back against Brian Flores’ program is interesting to me. And that’s mostly because I saw him as a really good fit for it—he’s versatile, a leader and came from a demanding college program at Alabama. But I had someone say something interesting to me about that this week, which I think has applied to certain players. Some just play in that sort of environment in college and consciously decide, ‘Hey, I don’t want to do that again.’ Landon Collins, another Alabama product, is like that, and it was apparent when he pushed back on the Giants, his team at the time, when it was looking at the idea of hiring Patriots assistants to replace Ben McAdoo.

Image placeholder title

BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

Like we said, good day overall for Garrett.

Like we said, tough day overall for the Eagles line.

That one’s mesmerizing.

At this point, who can blame the Saints?

Here’s the video of the Marrone situation.

There’s the roughing call on Chubb we mentioned.

When you see freak things like Brees’s thumb injury, it makes how Brady has for the most part stayed on the field for the last 11 years pretty amazing. And how Brees had to that point, too.

Pretty cool, if real.

Hall of Famer Gardner Minshew, to you.

Big air off that one.

I guess we can’t totally rule it out.

Image placeholder title

SIX FROM SATURDAY

Takeaways from the college football weekend.

1. It’s hard to live up to expectations when you’re a high first-round quarterback prospect coming back to school. But Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is doing it. He has 13 touchdown passes without a pick through three games and was insanely efficient in the Tide’s SEC opener against South Carolina—going 28-of-36 for 444 yards and five scores. Of course, throwing to Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and Devonta Smith helps. But Tagovailoa’s looked sharp early on.

2. While we’re there, keep an eye on Tide junior RB Najee Harris. One exec brought up his involvement in the passing game against the Gamecocks (he finished with five catches for 87 yards) as a pretty interesting development. Harris’s talent has never been in question. He was the No. 1 recruit in the country coming out of high school. But he has struggled to get in the lineup to this point, which is explainable given that he was behind Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris the last two years.

3. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts through three weeks: 49-of-61, 880 yards, nine TDs, zero INTs. At this point last year, after he’d lost his job to Tagvailoa, some NFL people were starting to evaluate Hurts as a running back. Things have obviously changed since. And while he’s not yet considered a first-round talent, his production and a reworked throwing motion have him on the NFL’s radar as a quarterback. So score one more for Lincoln Riley.

4. Name to watch in Notre Dame/Georgia: Irish TE Cole Kmet. He hasn’t played yet this year, after breaking his collarbone in camp, and is expected to make his return in Athens. He’s massive, athletic and loaded with potential. Some scouts believe he’s the next in the Kyle Rudolph/Tyler Eifert line at Notre Dame. This will be a good showcase for him to prove it.

5. There was a weird circumstance at the end—Michigan State got caught with 12 guys on the field, via review, on an overtime-forcing field goal—but give Herm Edwards credit. That wasn’t a popular hire, that’s a tough Spartans team, and Edwards’ Sun Devils head into Pac-12 play at 3-0.

6. The current starting quarterback at Florida did not start for his high school team. And yeah, that’s because Houston star D’Eriq King was a teammate of his. But still.

Image placeholder title

MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

Each week we hit up a player set to climb atop the Monday Night Football stage, to get answers to a few questions. This week, Browns LB Christian Kirksey:

MMQB: Any aspect of the Week 1 loss that made you feel sick to your stomach?
KIRKSEY: The penalties. The penalties. Not being disciplined. That wasn’t good to see. We’ve got to get over that hump, and we’re gonna be more disciplined.

MMQB: How do you work on that, something that abstract?
KIRKSEY: Technique, fundamentals, and being in the right spot. With holding calls, things of that nature, it’s putting your hands in the right place. Jumping offsides, you’ve got to make sure you see the ball. It’s things like that, you can take care of it, by working on your fundamentals.

MMQB: Anything that a coach or player said afterwards that stuck out?
KIRKSEY: No. Coach Freddie [Kitchens] just said it was unacceptable, to have 182 yards in penalties. That’s not the type of team we want to be, and we have to hold each other accountable for it. There was no special formula, no special speech to be given. We’re all grown men. We’re all professionals. We know that’s not acceptable.

MMQB: Tough at all to have to switch which QB you’re getting ready for mid-week?
KIRKSEY: No, man, they’re just jerseys to us. We’re preparing for a starting quarterback, we’re preparing for the next quarterback on their roster as if there was just one. Whoever’s back there, we’re gonna treat them the same. At the end of the day, [Trevor Siemian is] an NFL quarterback we’re going against. You have to be pretty good to play in the NFL. He can make the throws, he can make the proper checks. So we gotta prepare normally, like we would if Darnold was playing.

MMQB: Does having had Le’Veon Bell in the division help you prepare?
KIRKSEY: Yeah, we know what type of runner he is. He runs with a lot of patience, he’s got great balance, you can flex him out, you can put him at receiver, he runs just about every route in the route tree. So it helps having played against him, knowing his style of play. We have to make sure we eliminate him from the game, and make him as uncomfortable as possible.

MMQB: Do you know the significance of this game, why the league put this game on?
KIRKSEY: Only thing I can think of is Gregg Williams being the defensive coordinator here, and now he’s there.

MMQB: The history is the first Monday night game was Cleveland vs. the Jets.
KIRKSEY: You learn something new every day!

MMQB: Anything you need to be ready for with Gregg, knowing you, and telling them what he knows?
KIRKSEY: It’s even. We have strengths and weaknesses of his, too. It’s the same thing. We’re going to be prepared. It’s going to be a good game.

MMQB: Did you see what he said about Odell?
KIRKSEY: No, I just try to stay out of the media. I don’t too much try to get into it.

Image placeholder title

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

We looked at the Jets’ schedule earlier, and showed you how easily they could get to 0-6. Cleveland isn’t exactly a cakewalk either. Coming up:

9/22: vs. Rams
9/29: at Ravens
10/7: at 49ers
10/13: vs. Seattle
10/27: at Patriots

Suffice it to say, 0-2 would be a bad place for the Browns to be, headed into that stretch.

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