I can’t sit here and say that, 30 days ago when Andrew Luck retired, I’d have seen coming what Jacoby Brissett did to the Falcons on Sunday. Nor would I have forecast that morning that the 26-year-old Colts quarterback was going to start his afternoon with 16 straight completions, and finish it with 310 passing yards, a 118.1 rating, and two scores in a shootout of a win, riddling a defense that punished Carson Wentz a week earlier.
But I do know someone who did.
“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m really not,” Colts coach Frank Reich said over the phone, fighting through traffic to head home in the 5 o’clock hour. “Jacoby and I were talking [Saturday morning], and I told him he had about as good a week of practice as a quarterback can have. I mean, in our Thursday practice, it’s like it was perfection from the quarterback position.
“We meet every Saturday morning. I just felt like, ‘Man, you are in the zone.’ He was in the zone all week. The way he practiced, it certainly showed up in how he played.”
Did it ever. By the time the Falcons got on the board, Brissett had already engineered three scoring drives, two of more than 90 yards, putting his Colts firmly in control at 13-0. And when that control wavered in the fourth quarter, it was the quarterback himself who put his foot on Atlanta’s throat.
This wasn’t a team managing a quarterback with its running game. The Colts finished with just 79 yards on 24 carries, after rushing for 203 and 167 yards the first two weeks of the season, respectively.
It also wasn’t a team building margin of error for its young signal-caller with a signature defensive effort. A good Indy defense yielded touchdown drives of 75, 78, and 71 yards on the Falcons’ first three possessions of the second half.
No, on this day, the Colts needed Brissett to load the team on his back. And he obliged.
“The Falcons did a great job early on of stopping our run,” Reich said. “Obviously, we think that’s hard to do. He was hot. We just rode his hot hand. What’s optimal is when you can go in and have an offense where, if we’re running it and it doesn’t seem like they can stop us, we’ll run it to win. But today was the first win that Jacoby had to play great for us to win this game. And he did.”
On a day for young quarterbacks across the NFL—surprise!—it might’ve been the one no one was touting, or even paying much attention to, a month ago who came up biggest.
Week 3 was the kind of Sunday we’ve all longed for through spring and summer. So we’ve got a lot of ground to cover on this Monday morning. We’ll be looking at:
• Teddy Bridgewater’s re-entry to the world of starting quarterbacking, and what it means to him and the Saints to be here again.
• Daniel Jones’s come-from-behind performance in Tampa, which should quiet all his critics in New York (for at least 48 hours or so).
• Another quarterback no one’s talking about, who shone on Thursday in Florida.
• The Matt Patricia redemption game.
But we’re starting with Luck’s replacement in Indianapolis, and how all the self-assuredness coming out of that place in the aftermath now makes more sense.
Last Sunday in Nashville, there was a moment when Brissett made his way over to Reich and made a concession—I’m struggling right now. The exact moment in which it happened during the Colts’ hard-fought 19-17 win over the Titans doesn’t really matter. What does is that in this moment when a lot of young quarterbacks might project false bravado, Brissett not only figured out he needed a hand, but he actively pursued help.
Ultimately, coach and quarterback got things straightened out. And to the guy on the receiving of the questions, it was just another example of why he and the rest of the Colts brass were able to turn the page, even if it hurt, when Luck walked away.
“He just has a maturity about him that is rare and a leadership quality that is rare,” Reich said. “It’s a deep belief and conviction in the player he is, but he’s a really, really humble human being.”
And in the next breath, Reich reiterated, on how Brissett has handled all this: “It’s just not surprising to me.”
As for how Brissett played on Sunday, specifically, that didn’t stun Reich either, largely because he’d seen that perfect week of practice—the kind of week during which a quarterback’s accuracy shows up because he’s fundamentally where he needs to be, locked into his preparation, and working with urgency.
So how did it translate on Sunday?
First, there were examples where Brissett had to be patient and buy time for his receivers, when plays didn’t develop as planned. One happened on a sticks-moving crossing route to Deon Cain in the second quarter; another came on a 16-yard catch-and-run to Mo Alie-Cox in the fourth quarter, to convert a second-and-15.
Second, there were points where Brissett had to make the right reads and checks—and that happened, most critically, on the game-clinching play for the Colts. That was a third-and-4, with less than two minutes to go. The Colts had called a modified RPO. At the snap, Brissett stuck the ball in Marlon Mack’s belly, pulled it quickly, saw the defense closing on him, and popped it over two defenders and into Jack Doyle’s hands in the right flat.
Doyle easily collected the first down, slid, and the game was over.
The call itself was another example of the coaches’ growing faith in their new starting quarterback. In fact, even a week earlier, they showed they weren’t quite ready to put that trust in Brissett—they ran three straight times around the two-minute warning, to bleed clock and force Tennessee to burn its last timeout. On this afternoon, they went the other way, and Brissett rewarded it.
"It’s complete trust and confidence in him and in our offense,” Reich said. “Last week we went for it on fourth-and-half-yard and got the quarterback sneak. That was a big deal, but we were mad. We were mad we didn’t finish the game with the ball in our hands. We gave the Titans a chance to come back. When we got in to talk about that, it was good, but it wasn’t good enough. We need to finish the game with the ball in our hands.
“[Coordinator] Nick Sirriani and I talked before that series and then talked with Jacoby and said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be aggressive right here. We’re not gonna hold back. We’re not gonna be afraid to call passes.’ But you’ve got to put that in Jacoby’s hands. And he handled it flawlessly.”
Reich, himself a former player, concedes now that Brissett’s teammates probably needed to see a game like this from their quarterback to grow the confidence in him they’ll need down the line. And there was plenty for them to like on Sunday.
The 16 straight completions to start the game included some shots—it wasn’t all dink-and-dunk. There was a deep back-shoulder throw to T.Y. Hilton, and a deep over to Eric Ebron that reinforced what everyone had seen during the week.
Then there was the aforementioned play when it was time to close the Falcons out, and that set-out goal accomplished. As they’d hoped, Indy kept Atlanta from getting another shot, after the Falcons closed to within 27-24 with 4:11 left. The Colts’ next possession ended witb Brissett taking three knees.
It was all there to see for teammates who are still less than a month out from having lost Luck.
“The short answer is yes,” Reich said, when I asked if was important that the players get this kind of evidence from their quarterback. “He’s played well in two games. Part of the development of a quarterback, or at any position, is ultimately you’ve got to be able to have that kind of big-time performance. Today was a big step in that direction.”
The best part, for Indy, is that there weren’t many bumps to ride out to get here. With September winding down, the Colts are tied for first in the AFC South.
BRIDGEWATER’S LONG WAIT PAYS OFF
Teddy Bridgewater had been through too much to get back here, to the doorstep of his first meaningful start in nearly four years, to stand emotionless on Sunday afternoon. The Saints’ for-now starter wasn’t about to hold back on whatever hit him.
“Yeah, I definitely thought about it,” he said over the phone on Sunday night. “And during the pregame, they were singing the national anthem, I had a couple tears roll down my eyes, and I just had a moment there.”
It was September 2016 when Bridgewater, the third-year QB who’d taken the Vikings to the playoffs the previous season, suffered a torn ACL, a knee-joint dislocation and other structural damage to his left leg in a freakish practice injury. There was concern he’d never play again. He missed all of 2016 and most of 2017 before settling in as a backup to Case Keenum for the playoffs. He signed with the Jets in March 2018, played well enough in the preseason that the Saints traded for him that August, and he’s now in his second year in New Orleans.
So after all that time, and more than a year backing up Drew Brees, Bridgewater earned that emotional moment. And with Brees on the shelf probably until early November after thumb surgery, he was going to appreciate it.
“Whenever you have that opportunity, you just want to make sure you cherish it and take full advantage of it,” Bridgewater said.
He did on Sunday by keeping the Saints going in Brees’ stead, operating efficiently and effectively, completing 19 of 27 throws for 177 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. The defense played well, too, and Alvin Kamara (25 touches, 161 yards) took plenty of pressure off the 26-year-old quarterback.
That leaves New Orleans at 2-1, with Dallas coming to town next week for a big one. After that, the Saints’ schedule is pretty manageable to the Week 9 bye—Bucs, at Jags, at Bears, Cardinals—after which Brees will likely be in play to return.
So Bridgewater’s got the team in good shape, considering how he played, and how the Saints controlled the game in Seattle from start to finish. But there were also signs of personal growth from the 2014 first-round pick that might have gone unnoticed—and a lot of that came from Brees himself.
"A while back, he just told me—‘Completions are good,’” Bridgewater said. “That’s something I’ve been able to learn over this past year, and that’s something different in my game from a couple years ago. Where a couple years ago, I might’ve scrambled to keep the play alive and end up taking a sack or messing up small things on third-and-long, I know now that it’s OK to get six yards on third-and-13 and change the field position.
“I have a better understanding of field position and the flow of the game.”
A great example came at the start of the second half against the Seahawks. Facing a third-and-13 with 11:56 showing in the third quarter, Old Teddy might’ve taken an unnecessary risk with the ball. Conversely, New Teddy found somewhere to go with it, throwing underneath to Kamara, who chewed up 9 yards to get the Saints into fourth-and-4 and field-goal range.
Then, on Will Lutz’s 53-yard attempt, the Seahawks were flagged for an illegal formation, a five-yard penalty that gave New Orleans a first down.
“Just understanding the flow of the game and how things happen,” Bridgewater said, “I think that’s one of my advantages now.”
Bridgewater did have some time to prepare, by the way. While Sean Payton played coy in public about whether he’d start Bridgewater or Taysom Hill, Bridgewater said he knew he’d be the No. 1 quarterback for this game in Seattle “from the jump. Right after the game last week, we knew. … I guess [Payton] just didn’t want to give the opponent some insight.”
And Bridgewater knows, as we do, now who’ll be starting next week and for the foreseeable future. He’s looking forward to that, just like he’s looking forward to everything else—right down to studying himself on tape back in Louisiana on Monday morning. But he also knows there’s something about Sunday in Seattle that’ll stick with him.
“I haven’t really looked at my phone yet, but I was able to get the game ball and leave a message with the guys and just cherish these moments, man,” he said. “You never know and you can’t take it for granted. This is a great team. I love being in this locker room, and I told them that. There’s no other place I would’ve wanted to experience this feeling.”
Truth is, it’s pretty cool that he got that feeling, regardless of where it happened.
THE DANIEL JONES ERA BEGINS WITH A BANG
The backlash in April to the sixth overall pick really had very little to do with Duke’s Daniel Jones. It was more about the slipping trust the public had in the Giants, a rough-around-the-edges GM who traded away the team’s most flamboyant star, and the way each news cycle works in New York City.
But Jones had to hear it, regardless. He had to hear how the Giants were supposedly clueless for taking him, and how he was a knockoff of new teammate Eli Manning. He had to hear people who hadn’t seen a snap of his from the ACC say he had no shot. And no, it was no use trying to shut it out.
“I think you’re aware of it,” Jones told me from the Giants’ charter late Sunday. “In this day and age, with as much social media and everything, you’re aware of it. I certainly don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. I don’t try to listen to a whole lot of it. I just try to focus on what I’m doing. So after the draft, it was on to rookie minicamp and working toward the season. That’s what I was focused on.”
Whatever he’s been doing, Jones sure looked ready for his first start.
He looked reasonable in the first half, completing 12-of-19 passes for 123 yards, and an 81.7 rating. Problem was, his counterpart, Jameis Winston, came out firing, throwing for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 30 and staking the host Bucs to a 28-10 lead at the break.
It didn’t take long for Jones, and the Giants, to catch up. He hit Evan Engram on a crosser for a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown on the first play of the second half, then an eight-play, 80-yard drive to cut the deficit to 28-25 late in the third quarter. But his best moment was still to come.
After rock-fighting the Bucs through the rest of the third quarter and most of the fourth, the Giants got the ball on their own 25 with 3:16 left, down 31-25. Jones promptly connected on five straight, good for 68 yards to get the Giants to second-and-5 at the Bucs 7. Two misfires made it fourth-and-5, and then came Jones’ moment.
"We had a play on there to kind of spread it out to the corner,” Jones said. “They were matched up with us, so no one manned the middle. I kind of scoped the space and took it. I had a good pocket and good protection, so I was able to step up and fill the space.”
That space, of course, was a wide-open patch of grass, a virtual freeway to the end zone, which gave Jones room to get in standing up, once he decided to fill it.
“I was just excited,” he said. “I don’t know if I can really say what I was thinking. I was just excited. I think—opportunity to drive down there and win the game. I think we did a lot of good things. A lot of people were getting open, we were protecting really well, great team finish to the game.”
A furious comeback bid from Jameis Winston fell short, with Bucs kicker Matt Gay missing a chip shot at the gun, and Jones had his first win.
Afterwards, as you can imagine, there were plenty of people he wanted to thank—and the guy he replaced was one of the first. When I asked if things were awkward or weird between him and Manning when the move was made, Jones simply said, “It was different. It was a different week, certainly a little bit different.” But never, he added, was there going to be a problem between him and the Giants icon now backing him up.
“He’s been awesome,” Jones said. “ I’m very grateful and appreciative of his support. Really since the first day I got up here, he’s been tremendous. And I can’t say enough how much I appreciate that. This week was different, [but] we prepared the way we always do. We spent the time watching film and getting ready.”
And ready he was.
GARDNER MINSHEW PLAYS FAST. CAN THE NFL KEEP UP?
There are so many things that are interesting about Gardner Minshew—from his impressive job filling in for Nick Foles to his Boogie Nights fashion leanings, mustache, and, uh, creative stretching routine. But to me, it is intriguing to dig into just how a kid who looks so prepared and ready for the NFL stage could possibly have fallen to the sixth round last April.
So the first thing I asked when I talked to Jaguars offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Saturday was, when did it become clear that Minshew might be worth more than the 199th overall pick?
“When we first sat down and installed with him at the rookie minicamp, the way he really quickly grasped football, grasped protections, you knew he was further ahead,” DeFilippo said. “I was shocked, because he was coming from an Air Raid system [at Washington State]. I don’t know how many protections they use, how much they do at the line of scrimmage. I don’t want to speak of something I don’t know. But from what you hear from other guys you’ve been around, he was really, really quick with the protection piece.”
That was just the tip of the iceberg. Once the Jags got him out to practice, they saw what they considered off-the-charts field vision, something that’s pretty hard to get a definitive idea on through the scouting process, and an ability to process information—telling his coaches what he was seeing, and applying what he was being taught.
“The game does not move fast for him—it moves at a slower pace for him than a lot of young quarterbacks I’ve worked with,” DeFilippo said. “He can tell you everything he sees. He’s very confident in himself. He’s very confident in his teammates, he’s confident in our system.”
On Thursday, DeFilippo reciprocated that confidence.
On the Jaguars’ first offensive snap of the second half, the OC called a double-go, with Minshew expected to take a shot off a straight seven-step drop. Minshew did, putting the ball right on the back shoulder of rising star D.J. Chark 37 yards downfield. That wound up leading to a field goal that pushed the Jags’ lead to 17-0 over the division-rival Titans.
Even better, no one was really surprised that he delivered—Minshew finished with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-30 passing—because it was more of what they’d seen.
“With young quarterbacks, you’ve got to be careful, because once you think they can handle a ton, at times, they’ll take a step back,” DeFilippo said. “It’s a fine line. But I’ll tell you this: The fact that we opened it up a little bit the other night, and let him be him, gives us the ability to do even more. I don’t want to say this whole game plan is going to be around him, because I don’t know if any rookie would be there yet. But we need him to play well.”
The coaches are helping in that regard, too. DeFilippo has engaged in the same sort of conversation he did with Nick Foles in Philly—figuring what Minshew likes and doesn’t like, so he can tailor the offense to his quarterback—and is doing more to move the pocket to get the athletic 23-year-old playing fast.
It’s pretty crazy that Minshew’s even here. It was less than two years ago that he planned to transfer from East Carolina to Alabama, to back up Tua Tagvailoa and Jalen Hurts, and learn from Nick Saban, to set up a career in coaching. At that point Washington State’s Mike Leach asked him if he wanted to lead the nation in passing, and Minshew decided to play in Pullman rather than learn in Alabama, and the rest is history.
Of course, it takes confidence to pull that off, and Minshew has confidence in abundance. The Jags knew as much before they drafted him, even though they didn’t even attend his pro day and DeFilippo had only talked to him for 15 minutes in a combine interview before drafting him.
“You can tell when a guy’s a gunslinger,” DeFilippo said. “He just lets it rip, loves playing football. That’s what came across to me—It’d be really fun to coach this guy. He’s just an interesting dude.”
Minshew has made that much, as least, clear to all of us.
ARE THE LIONS STARTING TO GET MATT PATRICIA?
Remember all the heat Lions coach Matt Patricia took for making his guys run laps a couple summers ago, and for instituting old-school techniques (he had a running hill installed on the team’s grounds) to harden his team?
Sunday, I believe, was a pretty good barometer as to why he did it.
The game temperature in Philly was 84 degrees, and the humidity made it all the more stifling. Detroit’s opponent came into the season as perhaps the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC. The Lions had to close the Eagles out more than once in the fourth quarter. They had to overcome their own mistakes. And maybe if they hadn’t had all those fully padded sessions under the August sun, it would have seemed impossible.
As it was, the Lions wound up getting maybe the biggest win of the Patricia era, outlasting and outpunching the Eagles, 27-24, on the road. Detroit is now 2-0-1, with a monster game with the unbeaten Chiefs next week, and a date with the Packers on the other side of a Week 5 bye.
“The one thing about this group, so far in three weeks, I think these guys have worked really hard every single day,” Patricia said, after getting back to Detroit on Sunday. “They get ready to go play against an opponent and really try to understand how we need to play the game and how we need to win that week, and it’s going to be different from week to week. That part of it has been really good.
“They’re a tough group. They’re resilient. They really care. That’s fun. We’ve just got to do better on the field for 60 minutes. We’ve go to be more consistent.”
That may come off as coachspeak, but there’s something philosophically deep tucked inside it. Patricia wants his Lions to be adaptable to do different things from week to week in order to make them, like the Patriots teams he once worked for, capable of being a game-plan-specific outfit.
During this particular week, it meant knowing that the Eagles would be aggressive, go downfield and play with tempo on offense, and it meant keeping Philly’s tendency to gamble and get similarly aggressive on defense at bay by staying on schedule with down-and-distance on offense. And most of all, it meant to keep swinging late, because Patricia knew how the Eagles had a way of owning the second half.
That, suffice it to say, is where the Lions shined brightest, ugly as it might have been at times.
Philly cut the Lions’ lead to 27-24 with 7:03 left, on a drive extended by a roughness call against linebacker Jarrad Davis. Detroit responded with two first downs before punting it back to the Eagles with 3:16 left. From there, the Lions defense got a stop, forcing a turnover on downs, before Matt Prater missed a 46-yard field goal. Detroit’s defense stood tall again, forcing another turnover on downs to seal the win.
Just like Patricia drew it up? Not exactly. There were the roughing penalties, and another for lining up wrong on a kickoff, all in a hostile environment. And there was also resolve that might not have been there at quite the same level a year ago.
“It was certainly good for today,” he said. “It won’t be good enough for next week, we know that. We gotta just try to get better. I’m proud of the players. I think they handled the situations that presented themselves today with great poise, and that was positive."
Another positive: Patricia now sees his guys as getting what he’s trying to sell them.
“We talk about the holistic approach to the game, and how we all get to be on the same page,” he said. “There are going to be points in the game where that changes, and you get into it. I think the guys are doing a great job of understanding that. I think they're doing a great job of seeing it better. That's probably the biggest difference. It’s not always easy to see the things we talk about through the course of the week. I think they’re doing a good job of seeing it better in the game."
And the results are starting to follow.
A quick note on each NFL team.
I’m excited to see Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky tonight. It feels like he’s hitting some adversity now—shouldering some blame for the team’s uneven start. And it’s always interesting to see how young quarterbacks respond to that. I’ll say that he has as strong an infrastructure, given Matt Nagy’s presence there, as he could hope for.
I like the Bengals’ fight. I’m not sure that’ll be enough to overcome the enormous offensive line issue they’re working through.
I’m bullish on the job Bills GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott have done team-building, and it really does show up in the young core on a week-to-week basis. This week, 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year Tre’Davious White (two interceptions) and 2019 third-rounder Dawson Knox (first career TD, 49-yard catch on which he ran through two tacklers) were the ones illustrating it in the home opener against the Bengals. We’ll see who steps up next for 3-0 Buffalo, with the Patriots coming to town.
The Broncos have a top-10 defense, still (they rank ninth in total D as of this morning). And it’s fair to wonder now if the offense is going to be good enough, fast enough, to capitalize on what’s left of that defense’s upside. The team’s struggles in identifying a quarterback and constructing an offensive line are, obviously, the biggest issues.
It’s very hard to hide offensive line issues. And it’s no secret that the Browns had them coming into this season. Over the last four offseasons, Cleveland lost Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Joe Thomas and Kevin Zeitler, while only taking two offense linemen with top-150 picks. And right now it looks like both those picks (Shon Coleman and Austin Corbett) were swings and misses. So there shouldn’t be a ton of mystery over how nights like last night happen.
I’m going to give Bucs DC Todd Bowles credit here for a second straight week, for being able to pull what he has out of linebacker Shaq Barrett. On a one-year deal, Barrett has eight sacks through three games. That 2.5 more than his previous career high. It’s also an absurd number this early, for any player.
One of the concerns regarding Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury coming into the league was his ability to implement a pro running game, and Arizona has certainly struggled in that area. David Johnson is the fourth highest-paid back in football, in a clear upper financial tier with Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell, and has rushed for 133 yards on 36 carries through three games.
Definitely fair to wonder if attrition is catching up to the Chargers, finally. Melvin Gordon’s just a part of the story, and not as big a part, in my opinion, as left tackle Russell Okung and safety Derwin James. The latter’s do-everything ability has been missed, no doubt. And Okung’s stand-in at left tackle, Trent Scott, drew a devastating holding flag on Sunday, one that negated a Philip Rivers-to-Mike Williams connection that would’ve converted a third-and-4 and put L.A. on the Houston 7 with a chance to tie. Instead the Chargers were backed up to third-and-14 at the 34. Two plays later the game was over.
We’re now seeing what Mecole Hardman can do. The bullet of a receiver, drafted in the second round in April as a contingency in case the Chiefs lost Tyreek Hill, has shown crazy burst and speed, evident in 42- and 83-yard touchdowns the last two Sundays, where he simply outran everyone. When Hill comes back from injury, teaming him with Hardman and Sammy Watkins is going to be a pretty significant problem for defenses.
The depth of the Colts’ young talent continues to show up, and this week it was Deon Cain getting in the mix, and rookie Bobby Okereke posting eight tackles. When Indy lost Andrew Luck, a lot of people seemed to lose sight of the job they’ve done on that roster the last couple years.
Sleepy Sunday for the Cowboys, but there was an interesting under-the-radar development in their game. The coaches lightened Jaylon Smith’s snap load a little bit, so they could use him as a down pass-rusher in certain spots. There aren’t many players in the NFL who can toggle between middle linebacker and edge rusher, but Smith it as a collegian, and it should be really interesting to see Dallas resurrect that part of his game, something the Cowboys can do because of the depth Sean Lee and Joe Thomas give them at linebacker.
Because we’re so positive around here, we should point out a bright spot in the Dolphins’ demo. Rookie receiver Preston Williams generated buzz during camp, and he’s showing signs now that his ability was no mirage. He had four catches for 68 yards in Dallas.
It sounds simplistic, but so many of the Eagles’ problems are injury-related, and it’s right there on their star-studded game-day inactive list for everyone to see. Things aren’t going to be perfect when DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey and Timmy Jernigan are on there.
Losing Keanu Neal is an awful blow for the Falcons. But even more so for him. This is his fourth year. And next year, his fifth-year option year, is a contract year, which Neal will enter coming off ACL and Achilles tears in back-to-back years.
Pleasant surprise for the 3-0 49ers—the play of former first-round pick Arik Armstead, who’s finally become a force in a havoc-wreaking group. That D-line has five first-rounders, and should only get better from here.
The Giants have to be holding their breath waiting on Saquon Barkley’s MRI results today. Believe it or not, medical was another area where Barkley had huge plus grades coming out of Penn State. I remember one scout telling me his team had as clean a medical grade as anyone he’d ever evaluated at a position where few guys are ever completely healthy.
The four-year, $60 million deal Calais Campbell did with the Jaguars in March 2017 seemed crazy—he would turn 31 later that year, and made only two Pro Bowls in nine years in Arizona. And all he’s been is the most consistent player on the team since, and a constant disruptive force for the Jags’ defensive line. We often point out the big free-agent expenditures that don’t work. This one did.
It’s hard to find a ton of positives on the Jets right now, but Gregg Williams’ defense played respectably the last two weeks under pretty impossible circumstances.
Sometimes you hear the pride coaches have in individual players, and I definitely picked that up in Matt Patricia when I asked about Lions return man Jamal Agnew, who bounced back from muffed punts in Weeks 1 and 2 to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in Philly on Sunday. “Absolutely awesome,” Patricia said. “The biggest thing for me was his resiliency from last week to this week, and the way he approached the week of work. He worked his butt off. Just built that confidence in himself to get going. I thought he did it right from the start.”
The Packers defense has been everything the coaches could ask for. And the coaches believe the offense still has a little ways to go, which is good news when you figure there’s been progress each week, and Green Bay is 3-0.
Count Panthers QB Kyle Allen among the young quarterbacks to star on Sunday—the coaches were thrilled with his poise, his accuracy, his ability to throw the ball on time, and how he was judicious in using his legs to get the team out of trouble.
Crazy stat: The Patriots have held their last two opponents under 100 yards through three quarters, and to a total of less than 300 yards from scrimmage. That’s crazy. Just as nuts? The age of the group. Seven of the team’s 11 defensive starters were 29 or older on Sunday, and an eighth was 28. And in a certain way, my hunch is that all that experience works to unlock Bill Belichick’s genius as a defensive coach.
Silver lining for the Raiders—all the Darren Waller buzz from the summer appears to have been accurate. The tight end ripped off 134 yards on 13 catches on Sunday and looked explosive as hell doing it.
The results of the Rams’ plan to play Gurley’s situation by ear early in the season: 44 rushes, 203 yards, TD; four catches, 8 yards. By comparison, last year at this point, he had 255 yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries, and 121 receiving yards and another touchdown on 11 catches.
It does seem like Lamar Jackson was a little looser with the ball in the Ravens’ loss to the Chiefs. And for the most part he got away with it. Probably just a product of playing from behind, but worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Player to watch tonight, and not because he went to my alma mater: Redskins receiver Terry McLaurin. He may wind up being better at the position as a pro than he was as a collegian.
I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: Alvin Kamara is a great weapon to lean on for the Saints and Teddy Bridgewater. He’s averaging 130 yards from scrimmage over the first three games, fourth-best in the league.
Seahawks tight end Will Dissly is become interesting, in that he was considered a blocker coming out of the University of Washington, and he’s proving to be more. The last two weeks, he has 11 catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
I don’t think Steelers rookie Diontae Johnson is any fluke. He was atop the team’s receiver board in April, a player they believe is a natural at as a receiver. And on Sunday, with the Steelers ramping up his role, he caught three passes for 52 yards, and toasted Jason Verrett for a 39-yard touchdown. If Mason Rudolph winds up taking Pittsburgh anywhere the next three months, I’d bet Johnson will be a big part of it.
I love how Deshaun Watson is playing for the Texans. And we’ll have more on him soon on the site.
If I’m the Titans, I’m keeping a close eye on Philip Rivers’s status in Los Angeles. He’s not signed for 2020, and Tennessee is close to home—in fact, it’s the NFL team nearest where he grew up in Alabama. The Chargers will surely tag Rivers in February if he’s not signed. Would the Titans, with GM Jon Robinson going into his fifth year, considering forking over two first-round picks for a short-term QB? It’s a question worth asking, with Marcus Mariota struggling.
Kirk Cousins was excellent for the Vikings on Sunday—going 15 of 21 for 174 yards and a touchdown. And the team believes it’s the offense that has gotten better executing nakeds and bootlegs off the running game. It helps too when the running game churns out 211 yards.
News and newsmakers around the league.
1. Coming out of the weekend, it’s status quo on Jalen Ramsey. Last week the Jaguars were seeking two first-round picks for their star corner. And now, with owner Shad Khan having gone on the record, things are complicated a little, mainly because there’s rampant speculation that Khan really doesn’t want to trade Ramsey. I did ask around a little on how Ramsey’s playing, and the consensus remains that when he’s at his very best, he is the very best at his position. We’ll see where this goes.
2. After diving into this topic last week, and in particular the willingness of some teams to pay a high price in trade for established veterans, a thought came to mind—could we have action on franchise players this spring? When a guy is slapped with the non-exclusive tag, anyone else can swoop in and sign him to an offer, so long as they’re willing to fork over two first-round picks if the player’s original team doesn’t match. Among the potentially tagged 2020 free agents: Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, Chargers QB Philip Rivers, Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney, Chiefs DL Chris Jones and Cowboys WR Amari Cooper.
3. At this point, I think it’s fair to compare the Trent Williams situation to Carson Palmer’s in Cincinnati in 2011. Palmer’s situation got a little personal, like this, and the team held his rights as a matter of principle, after Palmer announced he was done with football. That’s why I believe if the Redskins are going to trade Williams, it will have to be like what happened with the Bengals—where the Raiders simply made an offer, in the wake of their owner’s death, that Cincinnati couldn’t refuse (a first-rounder in 2012, and a second-rounder in 2013). We’ll see if someone wants a top-shelf left tackle that badly.
4. We’ve touched a lot on Antonio Brown here on the site the last few days (shoutout to Robert Klemko for all his great work). And there is a last piece of the Patriots’ side of this to cover: What becomes of the $9 million signing bonus? Brown is due $5 million of it today, and another $4 million on January 15. And the language for recovering signing bonus money (since the union considers it “money earned”) is much narrower than what would void future guarantees. The one shelter I think the Patriots will seek, and have spent some capital building the last two weeks, relates to non-disclosure, with the specific claim that Brown didn’t tell them about the pending lawsuit. My sense is that argument, even if it’s proven true, will have trouble holding up since the Patriots put him on the field five days after the suit was filed.
5. It’ll be interesting to see Brown’s Hall of Fame case in a few years. He’s 34th in career receiving yards and 28th in receptions. But he spent a good part of his career as a top-five player at his position, which would be a major factor for me, if I had a vote.
BEST OF THE INTERNET
God bless Dana Jacobson for withstanding the daggers coming from Bill’s eyes.
You gotta appreciate Saquon’s enthusiasm for his teammates.
Buccaneers LB Shaq Barrett had a $250,000 incentive for reaching 8 sacks this season.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 22, 2019
He's earned it before Week 3 is even over.
… Like we were saying earlier, this Shaq Barrett story is kinda crazy.
This sounds like a man who’s had the pressure on him lifted by the best defense he’s had in almost a decade.
Tom Brady will be playing in the Hall of Fame Game the weekend Daniel Jones is inducted.— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) September 22, 2019
Tweet King tweeting king things.
Lamar Jackson’s escapes look far from planned, and mostly spectacular.
Nothing keeping ol’ Pete off the field on a Sunday.
Pretty bad miss by the officials.
•kyléALLÊNSgôtTHis,yàll.•— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) September 22, 2019
I don’t know how Darin found Cam Newton’s hieroglyphics. But I’m glad he did. And jealous.
Feb-Sept: Talk about missing football, count weeks until start of football— Joe Fortenbaugh (@JoeFortenbaugh) September 20, 2019
Beg of Sept: Celebrate return of football
Mid-Sept-Feb: Complain about football, with specific emphasis on officiating
Feb-Sept: Talk about missing football, count weeks until start of football
And that’s a wrap.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
The college football weekend, with a special eye on the draft.
1. Lots of Notre Dame players helped themselves on Saturday—no one more than the tight end we told you about last Monday, true junior Cole Kmet. He had just 17 catches for 176 yards in his first two years on campus. But scouts were told about his immense potential, and that showed itself between the hedges. Against Georgia, in his first game action of the season, Kmet went for 108 yards on nine catches and scored his first career touchdown. He’s big, fast, and is now producing.
2. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift showed toughness and resourcefulness—not to mention eye-popping athleticism on that hurdle—in grinding out 98 yards on 18 carries against a stout Notre Dame front. We’ve been writing that he’s got a shot to go in the top half of the first round next year. So how would he compare with super elite tailback prospects on the last few years, like Zeke Elliott and Saquon Barkley? “I wouldn’t put him in their class just yet,” said one NFC exec. “Not as elusive as Barkley, but hands do compare. Not as fast as Zeke, but similar mentality and strength as ball-carriers.” Which is to say he’s not that far off.
3. Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. left Saturday’s win over Arizona State, and this one is worth watching. Shenault has had injuries, and his physical style has scouts wondering how he’ll hold up in the NFL. This isn’t a great sign on that front.
4. This is the time of year when NFL teams will start quietly monitoring true sophomores, or at least those who are freakish enough to stand out, and make the league notice, despite being two years out from draft eligibility. LSU sophomore Ja’Marr Chase is that kind of guy, and I know because his name came across my desk after he went off against Vandy. He finished with 10 catches, 229 yards, four touchdowns, and a spot on the NFL radar for 2021.
5. I still think Chip Kelly’s a good coach, and I think Saturday night was an example of it. The bigger question will be whether or not he can get the kind of talent he needs to win at UCLA before the posse comes from his job.
6. Ohio State’s Chase Young has been virtually unblockable through four games. He’s already got seven sacks, which is just 1.5 fewer than the Nick Bosa’s high in any single year as a Buckeye. And Young has eight regular-season games left, plus whatever the postseason holds.
MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT
Each week we’ll hit a player set to climb atop the Monday Night Football stage to get answers to a few questions. This week, Redskins QB Case Keenum.
MMQB: You’ve had different experiences with teams—what’s stuck out about being a Redskin?
KEENUM: That’s a tough question, man. It’s the next step. I’ve been through a lot, been in a lot of situations, a lot of teams. I love what I do though, that’s what stands out. I love playing quarterback, I love being on a team with guys like we have here. I love working, I love perfecting my craft, and I love to win. I want to win more than anything. We’ve got to get going, we’ve got to score some points and we’ve got to win some football games.
MMQB: How do you balance playing pretty well individually against starting 0-2?
KEENUM: As far as stats go, the only stat that matters is winning and losing. I’d be OK with handing the ball off every time to Adrian Peterson if that meant we were going to win the game, and I know the coaches would too. That being said, we have some positive things happening. We’ve been able to throw the football, offensive line is protecting really well, we have some young guys playing really hard outside. We just have to keep getting better.
MMQB: How does Jay Gruden’s offense fit you?
KEENUM: I really like it. He has a great way of looking at the field. And I think I’m slowly but surely getting to the point where I see it the same way. Kevin O’Connell is another guy who’s been crucial to me seeing it that way. Tim Rattay’s been great, Matt Cavanaugh too. So it’s been really good. I like the way their offense works, what they do on that side of the ball. And I’m looking to get better with it.
MMQB: I know Kevin’s seen as a rising star—has it helped having a guy who’s played the position?
KEENUM: Yeah, everybody in that room has been in my shoes, they’ve played quarterback in the NFL. That makes a huge difference. They know what it’s like when you get absolutely plastered on a second down, get sacked and get up and try to call a third-down play and convert. They know what that feels like, and they do a good job communicating what they expect out of that position.
MMQB: What do you see from the Bears? Different from last year’s defense?
KEENUM: It’s a lot different, in some ways. They have a new defensive coordinator, obviously, with Vic Fangio not being there. Chuck Pagano’s the guy there now, so we can go back and look at personnel stuff. I’ve played those guys before, it’s a lot of the same guys coming back But [the defense] is quite a bit different.
MMQB: Anything special about playing on Monday Night?
KEENUM: Yeah, man. If I told you there was nothing special about playing on Monday Night Football, I probably need to be doing something else. It’s big-time. It’s awesome. I love it. Our whole team loves it. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s been going on for a long time. There’s really nothing else like it.
MMQB: How’s your relationship with Dwayne Haskins, and what do you see your role being in his development?
KEENUM: Well, first of all, my job is to be the best quarterback for this team that I can be. Converting on third downs, getting in the right plays, getting the ball in the right people’s hands, scoring touchdowns, and winning football games, ultimately. That’s my No. 1 job. But everything I’ve learned in this league has been passed on from somebody else, so that’s part of my process, I hope, and I think he is, he’s growing as a player, and as a person too, and learning stuff from how I do things, because I learned it from people before me.
MMQB: You see pretty good potential there?
KEENUM: Oh yeah, no doubt. He’s gonna be really good for a long time.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Bears defense hasn’t slipped much‚—they’re fourth in the NFL in total defense and third in scoring defense—and that means you might not notice one major change that did happen there, if you weren’t paying attention. Vic Fangio is gone, off to Denver as head coach, and Chuck Pagano is in.
Both have Ravens roots, so there’s some carryover. But they have a different spin on the scheme, and so I figured I’d give you one man’s take on it. And that one happens to be Bears star defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, whom I asked about this over the summer.
“I think [Chuck’s] No. 1 strength is that he understands people really well,” said Hicks. “He’s very observant, and he figures a guy out. So he knows what you like, he knows what your strength is. And so he’ll do things, he wants to play to our strengths, he wants to play to this defense’s strengths as well. So it’s just a balance.
“That’s one thing, that’s a great similarity between the two. I’ve never had a coach that has put me in positions where I felt strong all the time. And not just muscle strong, but I feel like my body’s in a good position to start the play, I feel like if I’m going in a certain direction, this is the direction that I would want to go. So how would they be similar? No. 1, the wealth of wisdom. They both are just super knowledgeable.”
I think that’ll be enough to carry the night in DC. Give me the Bears, 17-10.
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