Lamar Jackson Is Quickly Becoming the NFL’s Must-See Quarterback

Nothing—not the rain, not the Seahawks’ defense, not the fact that he’s only 22 years old—could slow Lamar Jackson, who turned in another spectacular performance in the air and on the ground for the 5–2 Ravens. Also, inside Jalen Ramsey’s return, how Frank Reich has the Colts thriving two months after Andrew Luck’s retirement, and who might be sellers at the trade deadline.
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Lamar Jackson doesn’t turn 23 years old until January, and there he was on Sunday, locked in a 13–13 tie, in one of the most difficult environments in pro sports, in inclement conditions, telling his coach to trust him. It was fourth-and-two, with less than 17 minutes left to play. And it’s a good bet that every piece of coaching logic in John Harbaugh’s head was telling him to get whatever points he could in that spot.

Thing is, logic doesn’t run a 4.2 40-yard dash. Logic also doesn’t have Jackson’s penchant for playmaking, nor does it have the resolve the Ravens have seen in their quarterback.

And that resolve is what Harbaugh saw just after he sent his field goal unit on to the field with 1:50 left in third quarter in Seattle. Some quarterbacks might have retreated to the sideline satisfied with the Houdini act Jackson pulled in weaving and bobbing through the Seahawk defense for 13 yards, to turn third-and-15 into that fourth-and-two at the eight-yard line. But not this one. All Jackson showed Harbaugh was genuine disappointment that he couldn’t finish the job.

“We weren’t getting in the end zone, we kept kicking field goals,” Jackson recalled from the visitors’ locker room at Century Link Field. “I didn’t want [kicker Justin] Tucker on the field again. We needed to score. The Seahawks had scored. Russell Wilson was doing a great job driving downfield. When it was our turn, I told coach, ‘We need to score. We can’t kick no field goal right now.’”

That was enough for Harbaugh to pull the plug on logic. As the clock hit 1:24, he called timeout, pulled Tucker and Co. off the field and reached back to what offensive coordinator Greg Roman had told him all week: Quarterback power would be there.

Harbaugh was at first hesitant with the idea, because it was an inside run and the Ravens were trying to limit damage on Jackson. So he and Roman agreed only to call it in a critical situation, like the one that was at hand. Harbaugh explained later, as the Ravens headed for the airport, the call was “All G-Ro [Roman]. 100%.”

The rest was academic. Left guard Bradley Bozeman pulled to the right and came up behind right guard James Hurst and tight end Nick Boyle, and the three walled off a cutback lane that Jackson quickly found and exploded through. Jackson picked up the first down untouched and accelerated through safety Tedric Thompson into the end zone.

“It was fourth-and-short and I believe in our offensive line,” Jackson said, in his usual, matter-of-fact way. “I believe in myself and my team. Coach believed in us, obviously, because we went for it.” And just as they figured, Jackson continued, “The defense overflowed to the outside, the offensive line did a great job giving me a hole. And I just hit it.”

The Ravens wouldn’t trail again. But the call itself, and everything that went with it, said more about where the 22-year-old is right now than the scoreboard ever could.

***

Great entertaining week of football to get to here, and we’re gonna do that. What you have to look forward to in this week’s MMQB…

• Jalen Ramsey on his debut with the Rams, and what he left behind in Jacksonville.

• More fallout from the Ramsey trade—including who was involved at the end.

• Frank Reich on his surging post-Andrew Luck Colts.

• What the Packers like most about Matt LaFleur, through nine months.

We’ve also got detail from all 32 teams coming out of Week 7. But we’re starting, again, with this burgeoning young Ravens star who’s quickly becoming Must-See TV for fans of every team.

***

The final score in Seattle was 30–16, with the Ravens bumping their record up to 5–2.  Jackson finished with 116 rushing yards and that game-winning touchdown on 14 carries, running the ball nearly as much as he threw it (he finished with 143 yards through the air on 9-of-20 passing). And that, most certainly, was not part of the plan when Baltimore started its preparation for the trip to Seattle.

In fact, it was less than a month ago that Jackson himself said, “I hate running”, emphasizing he’d rather win throwing the ball than pulling the rip cord on his eye-popping athleticism.

That, of course, I thought was important to bring up him in the aftermath of his third straight game carrying the ball 14 times or more. As it turns out this one, like the previous two, was circumstantial. Only this time, Mother Nature was the antagonist. Early on, he put a couple balls in the turf, missing low to his receivers, and that illuminated the reality of the situation.

“It was just one of those things, man—we didn’t practice in the rain,” Jackson explained. “We didn’t do any wet ball drills, and a lot of passes were out of whack. So we weren’t what we are usually. We had to go with the run game. And the defense gave us some running lanes and we took advantage of it, came out with success.”

So after running it just five times in the first two-and-a-half quarters, Jackson knew he’d have to saddle up late and turn on the jets when his team needed it most. And it started with the third-and-15, and a called throw that turned into one spectacular run.

“The pocket broke down, I just didn’t want to take a sack,” he said. “I’d rather get closer to the field goal if anything, or try to get the first down or touchdown—just ran the ball and make guys miss. I tried to hop my way to the first down. I couldn’t. I fell short.”

But it was close enough—he landed two yards from the sticks—that he could throw his best sales pitch at Harbaugh. The fourth-down TD run ended up being the first in a series of runs that put the game away.

On the team’s next possession, he converted a third-and-eight with a 30-yard run, and a second-and-six with a 13-yard run, which helped Baltimore bleed nine minutes off the clock and kick a field goal to extend its lead to 23–13. On the possession after that, with the Ravens’ edge pushed to 30–16 (following Marlon Humphrey’s fumble recovery returned for a touchdown), Jackson converted a third-and-seven with an eight-yard run to finish off Seattle.

And no, this still isn’t exactly the way he wants to do it. But on this soggy day in Seattle, it’s what he knew would work, so that’s what he was going to do—and he’ll take a valuable lesson from it too.

“We’ve just got to get in the lab and work on that. When it's raining outside, we’re gonna have to be prepared for any kind of storm,” Jackson said.

In a certain way, they were prepared, in that they had a player that’s malleable enough to change his game on the fly. And that they beat a team with another guy like that, in Russell Wilson, made it all the more meaningful to Jackson.

“Definitely, he’s a great quarterback, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a dynamic quarterback at that,” Jackson said. “I watched him coming up in college. It was fun competing against him, ’cause that guy don’t give up. He’s known for winning.”

A few more afternoons like this one and Jackson will be, too.

And he won’t have to wait long for another shot to match his skills with a legend at the position. Next up for his Ravens? A bye, and then the best defense in football, with the defending champion Patriots set for a Week 9 trip to Baltimore.

***

COLTS: NO LUCK, NO PROBLEM

There’s a lot of guesswork that goes into game-planning, and Colts coach Frank Reich was ready to make a pretty big wager in Indianapolis’s offensive meeting at the team hotel north of the city on Saturday night. His bet was that Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel—a coach who morphs his unit from one week to the next to fits the opponent’s strengths and style—would load up to stop the Colts’ run game.

As Reich saw it, that would be implicitly challenging Jacoby Brissett to beat them.

Reich was right and, even better, Brissett was up to the challenge, to the surprise of no one in the Indianapolis organization. He finished with 326 yards and four touchdowns on 26-of-39 passing in an enormous 30–23 win over the reigning division champs.

“My hunch was that their game plan would be, ‘We’re gonna make their passing game beat us,’” Reich said, on his drive home Sunday. “You can infer that that’s Jacoby, but really it’s everybody. That's a reasonable game plan. If I was playing us at this point in the season, we’ve had a couple games where we’ve really run the ball exceedingly well, we’ve had some games we threw it O.K., but we haven't just lit it up.

“Even [GM] Chris Ballard and I talked about it the other day—just had a feeling that Jacoby was gonna have to play his best game today for us to win this game. And he did."

And there was a moment in the game that, to Reich, said everything about how the Colts have gotten here, now all alone in first place at 4–2, less than two months after Andrew Luck shocked the football world by retiring and propelling Brissett into this position.

It came right after Brissett fumbled a snap on a third-and-14 in the fourth quarter, inside the Colts 15. The Texans recovered at the Indy four-yard line. The Colts defense responded with a huge stop to force a field goal, which kept Indianapolis in front, 7–6.

“We’re getting ready to go out to the next series, I look over at him and say, ‘Hey, just shake it off,’” Reich said. “He looked at me, and I really don’t think he was kidding, he said, ‘Shake what off?’ Like he had already moved on. I could tell it was real. He was unfazed by it.”

If Reich needed any more proof, it came right away. Brissett went 6-for-6 on that possession, directing a nine-play, 75-yard drive during which the Colts faced just one third town. It was capped with a two-yard scoring strike to T.Y. Hilton, pushing the lead to 14–6.

And as he did it, he was accomplishing just what Reich hoped he would in talking through during the Saturday night meeting: loading the Colts on to his back and guiding them past a defense that was built to challenge his progress as a quarterback. Reich said that through the first half, the Texans played man coverage almost exclusively in an effort to free up defenders to help in the run game.

To combat that, Reich needed chunk plays from Brissett, and the fourth-year QB gave his coach that, hitting five different receivers for gains of 15 yards or more in the first half alone. And then, in the third quarter, the 27-year-old made the throw of the game, threading the needle to set up a circus catch from tight end Eric Ebron—one so tough to fathom that it was initially ruled incomplete by the officials, then overturned on replay.

Eric Ebron's one-handed catch was originally ruled incomplete.

Eric Ebron's one-handed catch was originally ruled incomplete.

“Of course it was a great catch by Ebron, but that touchdown [throw was just as impressive],” Reich said. “It’s third-and-short, we go goal-line and throw a play-action pass, they cover it up and he makes an unbelievable throw.”

That capped an eight-play, 74-yard drive, which was followed by another long march that ended in a touchdown. That one covered 75 yards over 12 plays and gave the Colts a 28–16 lead going into the fourth quarter. It wasn’t over at that point. But that gave an Indy defense that had played well against Deshuan Watson the cushion it needed.

Ultimately, it landed the Colts in a position that few thought they’d be in two months into the season, and with a fan behind the scenes that few know they have—Luck himself.

As it turns out, Reich and Luck still communicate regularly—more than once a week, according to Reich—and Luck is also in touch with other members of the staff, like offensive coordinator Nick Sirriani. But there’s no one on the team he talks more to, or is a bigger fan of, than the guy who replaced him.

“That just speaks to the kind of person Andrew is, and it also speaks to the kind of person Jacoby is, with the respect that Andrew has for Jacoby,” Reich said. “Even when you really want to pull hard for somebody, it’d be easy for Andrew just to say, ‘I’m going to give space to these guys. I stepped away.’ It'd be easy to do that. It just shows his respect for Jacoby and his love for Jacoby and his teammates that he didn't step away.

“He retired. That’s the next phase of his life. But why would he step away from guys he’s really close to? Why would he not keep in touch with those guys? In that regard, I think that’s the right thing and it speaks to his character."

Luck’s gotten something out of the deal, too, of course. The Colts have given him, like the rest of us, plenty to see.

***

Jalen Ramsey had an up-and-down afternoon against Julio Jones and the Falcons.

Jalen Ramsey had an up-and-down afternoon against Julio Jones and the Falcons.

L.A.’S NEWEST STAR IS GETTING BACK IN THE GROOVE

The first question I had for Jalen Ramsey, after he finished his first game as a Ram, was a pretty simple one, if a little loaded: How’s the back?

“It feels OK,” he responded. “I was limited out there, of course, today in my reps, even not playing in the fourth quarter and stuff. It's doing OK. I’ll keep on treating and rehabbing it until I truly feel 100% with everything.”

You may remember that in the aftermath of Ramsey’s trade request, which was lodged a month ago, the back injury was purportedly what kept him out of his final three games on the Jaguars roster. Natural suspicion followed—and on Sunday, ESPN reported that Ramsey missing the final of those three games due to the back injury was the final straw for Jags owner Shad Khan, who decided to sign off on a trade sending his best player out of town.

The report claimed three doctors cleared Ramsey ahead of the Jacksonville’s Week 6 game against the Saints, and that the owner was miffed over Ramsey’s refusal to play.

“Hey, I'll never say anything negative or bad about them,” Ramsey said. “That ain’t me. If he feels the way he feels, I’m happy that I was traded. I'm happy to be an L.A. Ram. I don’t know where he got the impression that I was going to play in the first place because, one, I never told him that, and two, I wasn’t even practicing. I was practicing limited, literally only doing individual drills. I don’t know how you can expect somebody to go out there and play a full game with that much of a limited practice. It is what it is, though.”

So as for Ramsey debut? He didn’t start, but he did play in L.A.’s 37–10 win in Atlanta. And there were ups (a forced fumble as part of a big hit on Falcons RB Devonta Freeman) and downs (Julio Jones beating him deep down the right sideline).

Here’s some more on all of it, from Ramsey himself.

On how the Rams got him ready for Sunday: “Honestly, they helped me out a lot, man. They condensed the play calling for me when I was out there. All the guys really embraced it. [Safety] Eric Weddle helped me out a lot on the field. I was kind of able to go out there and play as fast as I could and play as comfortably as I could. That was my main focus for this game, trying to get the playbook down as best as I could so I could focus on that and not make any mental errors or mistakes while I was out there helping the team get a win."

On the difference from Jacksonville, and the uptick in man defense he’ll play: “I was out there limited time so I didn't play all the calls. We did play a good amount of sticky coverage, man-to-man, I really enjoyed that. I liked that.”

On feeling like himself: “Honestly, I’m not in my groove yet, but I’m gonna continue to work, continue to get myself in that groove as quick as I can so I can go out there and really, really play at an elite level. Today was a little glimpse of what I can do and what I can bring to this team. I’m super excited to show them really what’s up in the coming weeks and throughout my career here.”

On the forced fumble: “They ran a halfback toss or outside-zone play and I was, for the most part, unblocked. I came around the corner and it was me and the running back, me and Devonta, my college teammate. Me and him, one-on-one. Devonta tried to lower the boom on me and, sometimes in football, the low man wins. I got lower than him, I got my helmet on the ball and it popped out. I was hoping we were gonna get the recovery but Devonta ended up jumping back on it. It was a good physical play. Of course, people know me as an all-around corner, and a physical corner as well as being able to cover. It's part of my game, that’s all it was."

On his return to action putting pressure on him: “Yeah, they value me. It feels good when you’re valued. Especially when you know what you bring to the table for these teams. It feels good. I want to go out there and prove to the whole organization and the fans that I was worth that—and honestly, more. I want to show that that was still a steal.”

Any regret over Jacksonville, or the relationship with Tom Coughlin?“I feel amazing about where I’m at. I feel amazing to be a L.A. Ram. I am not worried about any of them over there in the front office of the organization. I still talk to my former teammates, we had a great relationship. I honestly talk to my DB coaches. I had a great relationship with them as well. I’m not worried about anything they got going on over there. That would be selfish of me to my teammates now. I’m excited and ready to give my all for the L.A. Rams.”

***

RAMSEY TO THE RAMS, REDUX

Six leftover pieces pulled from the desk drawer on the Ramsey mega-trade

• While the relationship between Rams GM Les Snead and Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell helped, as we detailed the other day, the process of getting Jalen Ramsey to Los Angeles wasn’t linear, and this wasn’t an inside job. I’m told the Ravens and Eagles were in it for Ramsey until the very end, joining the Rams as the last three standing.

• Jaguars owner Shad Khan told me Wednesday that having this deal “clean” was important—in other words, if they were going to jettison Ramsey, the Jags wanted him going alone. That meant not sacrificing draft capital or cap space in the process, and that wound up being a factor at the very end. If you examine trades done recently by Eagles GM Howie Roseman and Ravens GM Eric DeCosta, you’ll see the concept of the pick swap (where a lower pick comes back with the player for a higher pick) involved prominently. I’m not saying that neither would have done a clean deal. What I am saying is the Rams’ willingness to meet the Jags’ price (two first-rounders) and satisfy that condition was big.

• One team I know would have like to have been in the mix that didn’t get a call from the Jaguars at the wire: the Chiefs. I’m told that Kansas City was very interested in Ramsey, but the Jaguars had no desire to send him there (both because it’s an AFC team, and their picks are likely to be very low). I also have heard that KC was right at the top of Ramsey’s list of preferred destinations. Ramsey gave Jacksonville five teams that he wanted to be traded to: the Rams, Chiefs, Ravens, Eagles and Raiders.

• Five players—QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley, WR Brandin Cooks, DT Aaron Donald and Ramsey—currently account for $108.8 million against the team’s 2020 salary cap. And Goff, Gurley, Cooks and Donald account for $90.4 million in cap dollars in 2021, which will be the first year of the next CBA (Ramsey isn’t signed for ’21). With the possible exception of Gurley, it’s fair to expect these players to remain productive over that time. But being top-heavy like that shrinks a team’s margin for error to build elsewhere. Because rookie deals are cost-controlled, the draft is a place where they can make up for it. That will get harder for the Rams without their first-round picks. Bottom line: It’ll be challenging for Snead and Co. to fill out the roster.

• While we’re there, the Jaguars’ top six cap numbers for 2020 (Marcel Dareus, Nick Foles, Calais Campbell, AJ Bouye, Myles Jack, Andrew Norwell) add up to $107.5 million, and the team has a robust middle class behind that group that pushes its total commitments next year north of $200 million. Suffice to say, some tough calls will have to be made, and the draft capital that Caldwell has corralled will be very, very valuable to give the team some flexibility in its decision-making.

• Ramsey’s displeasure over his situation in Jacksonville was really solely about EVP of football operations Tom Coughlin. He was fine with the city, his coaches and his teammates, and he was OK with playing this year on his rookie contract. That’s why he was content to wait on a new deal from whatever team traded for him.

And, again, for more, be sure to check out our story from the other day.

***

THE ALL-32

Last week, with both starting tackles down, the 49ers ran the ball 41 times despite averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. This week, they ran it 39 times even though they could only muster 3.5 yards per carry. And it can’t be easy for a playcaller as good as Kyle Shanahan to subjugate his ego and call a game that way. He admitted as much to me last week, saying it’s the reality of who his team is—it just makes sense to ride the defense now, and shortening the game works to support that group. Good example of a head coach being a head coach, and not just focusing on one area or another.

I want to give Mitchell Trubisky more time, but it’s not hard to wonder if getting that one wrong will threaten to sabotage all the great work the Bears have done building one of the NFL’s best rosters over the last five years. And this, by the way, is why you hire Matt Nagy. If there’s something there, my belief is he’s got as good a chance as anyone of getting it out of Trubisky.

I saw this on Twitter and had to look it up to make sure it was correct: The Bengals are being outgained 1,323–372 on the ground this year. Add that to the 24 sacks Andy Dalton has taken (third most in the NFL, behind Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston), and it paints the picture of a team that can’t block anyone. Which—with Jonah Williams out for the year and Cordy Glenn at odds with the team and still out due to concussion issues—shows where Cincinnati is.

When the Bills needed it most, they got a huge boost from two guys they see as part of the foundation for the next decade or so, breaking the team from a sleepy start that threatened to lead to a huge upset at the hands of the Dolphins. One was third-year CB Tre’Davious White, who had a pick and forced a fumble on consecutive possessions—two plays that led directly to 15 points. The other was QB Josh Allen, who was 11-for-12 after the break for 112 yards and two scores, and piloted a game-changing 12-play, 98-yard touchdown drive that gave Buffalo an early fourth-quarter lead it would never relinquish in the 31–21 win.

It’s time for the Broncos to be sellers. No, the team doesn’t need to deal Von Miller, but I am saying it doesn’t make sense not to listen to offers on guys like Chris Harris and Emmanuel Sanders.

The Browns’ trade of Austin Corbett to the Rams this week is a signal of John Dorsey’s biggest whiff yet as Cleveland GM. He was the 33rd pick in 2018, and that a team this needy on the offensive line would sit him behind a journeyman like Eric Kush, then trade him for next to nothing (a 2021 fifth-round pick) shows you how big a bust he was there. What makes it hurt even more is that the team dealt away Kevin Zeitler, thinking that Corbett would take his spot. That said, in the same draft, Dorsey got Baker Mayfield at No. 1, Denzel Ward at No. 4 and Nick Chubb at No. 35. So all is definitely not lost.

One positive to take away from the Buccaneers’ bye: Chris Godwin is finally having the kind of breakthrough those inside the organization have been anticipating. Don’t look now, but he’s the team’s leading receiver in receptions (43), receiving yards (662) and touchdown catches (six)—even with Mike Evans.

There were questions when Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury arrived in the league in January over how he’d build an NFL-ready run game. Those questions are no longer lingering: Arizona has run the ball 38, 29 and 38 times for 266, 102 and 156 yards during its three-game winning streak. And what the coaches believe has enabled this has been the elimination of negative plays that would keep the Cards from managing down-and-distance the way they needed to. The emergence of Chase Edmonds, who’s impressed with his work ethic and production, hasn’t hurt, either.

Time’s running out on the Chargers, and the time for screwing around with the lineup has long since passed. So L.A. needs to go with Austin Ekeler over Melvin Gordon, who deserves blame for how Sunday’s 23–20 loss to the Titans went down, with his back-breaking fumble on the goal line ending it.

Lost in the news of Patrick Mahomes’s injury was the Chiefs’ progress on defense Thursday night. The Broncos aren’t world beaters on offense, but KC holding Denver to 205 yards, Joe Flacco to a 79.7 QB rating and the host’s run game to 3.4 yards per carry is definitely a step forward.

On thing you’ve got to like about the Colts is how far and wide they’ve looked for talent. Zach Pascal (six catches, 106 yards against the Texans) is a great example. He was a June waiver claim in 2018, coming at a time of year when most teams aren’t working the wire that way.

The Cowboysbeatdown of Philadelphia doesn’t happen without the team’s best players playing like superstars. On offense, that was Ezekiel Elliott. On defense, it was the whole linebacking crew. Jaylon Smith played his best game of the year, and Leighton Vander Esch was on his way to a similar performance before he went down with a neck injury. (He said after the game it wasn’t serious.) After that, Sean Lee’s work in learning all three linebacker positions paid off big-time for the team.

Close one for the Dolphins? In all seriousness, I don’t blame a soul in Miami for rooting for losses right now. There’s logic behind it. Look at the 2017 Jets: A fast start knocked the team down to sixth in the draft order. Thus, they had to give up three second-rounders to get in position to draft Sam Darnold at No. 3. Those three second-rounders became four players for Indy: a starting tackle (Braden Smith), a starting corner (Rock Ya-Sin) and key backups at running back (Jordan Wilkins) and defensive end (Kemoko Turay, who’s now injured). It’d be nice, now, for the Jets to have those players.

What’s ailed the Eagles? They need help in the secondary, and the offensive line hasn’t lived up to expectations, either. The former has been well-publicized (and likely to be addressed with an outside addition or two), the latter not as much (that one will like be handled internally).

The Falcons will be listening to trade offers over the next eight days. Both Mohamed Sanu and Vic Beasley are available, and I don’t think Atlanta will hang up on teams calling about Austin Hooper or DeVondre Campbell. The latter three are in their mid-20s, and in contract years, while Sanu is now 30 with a year-and-a-half left on his deal.

There’s been plenty of positive to see in Giants rookie Daniel Jones, but he showed a glaring lack of pocket awareness on strip sacks by Terrell Suggs and Patrick Peterson in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals. Jones didn’t feel the pressure on either play, making him easy pickings for the two far more experienced defenders.

If it seemed like the Jaguars’ defense was freed of something in their 27–17 win against the Bengals on Sunday, that’s probably not a coincidence. Getting four second-half takeaways will help anyone’s cause, and it shows that there’s still plenty of talent on that side of the ball in Jacksonville. Rookie Josh Allen flashed again in recording his fifth sack on the year.

You know how good one Jets third-year safety (that’d be Jamal Adams) is. Tonight, pay attention to how good the other one, Marcus Maye, could be. The 2017 second-round pick came up big against Dallas, getting Elliott down one-on-one a couple times in spots where Elliott could’ve broken off a big play and might’ve even scored. Maye has battled injuries early in his career, but GM Joe Douglas and his staff see the kid as a potential core piece going forward, right there alongside Adams.

Here’s your key stat for the Lions coming out of their 42–30 loss to the Vikings: Minnesota doubled them up (166-81) in rushing yards. Part of that, of course, was space-eating tackle Snacks Harrison and middle linebacker Jarrad Davis getting nicked up and running back Kerryon Johnson going down with a knee injury. And it was big factor in the Vikings being able to bleed clock late and keeping Detroit off-schedule on offense.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers: 25-of-31, 429 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 158.3 passer rating. As well as he’s ever played? Statistically, it is. And that’s a good sign that the relationship between Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur is right where it needs to be, despite all the doubts.

So in light of the Mahomes injury, I thought this was interesting: Knowing Cam Newton was hobbled going into the TNF game in Week 2, on four days’ rest, the Panthers were judicious with their play calling, avoiding using Newton on sneaks, etc. Mahomes, of course, got hurt on a sneak. And maybe that’s not why he was injured, but I’d figure there might be some regret in using him on one, given the condition of his ankle.

The Patriots’ decision to bring Benjamin Watson back after Matt LaCosse went to IR only further illustrates the team’s problems at Rob Gronkowski’s old spot. Eight days until the trade deadline. New England already asked, and was told no on, Buccaneers tight end O.J. Howard. I’d expect they’ll be turning over rocks this week at the position.

I may sound crazy for saying this after Rodgers obliterated them, but I still think the Raiders are making progress. Derek Carr was efficient again (outside of the inexcusable fumble through the end zone), Josh Jacobs looked every bit the first-round talent at tailback, and the ball got spread around to a diverse group of skill players. The defense needs work, particularly at linebacker after losing Vontaze Burfict. But there’s talent on that side too. Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden have something going.

It’s hard to say where Rams QB Jared Goff ends up long-term, but I’ll say this: He’s resilient. Facing mounting criticism for the umpteenth time since the Super Bowl, Goff responded with 268 yards and two touchdown passes on 22-of-37 passing in a 37–10 win over the Falcons. Maybe more significantly, he did it on a day when L.A.’s struggling offensive line couldn’t muster much of a run game, with the team finishing with 90 yards on 36 carries (2.4 yards per average).

The Ravens’ three-game win streak has been marked by improvement on the defensive side, following the Sept. 29 debacle against the Browns. Baltimore cut linebacker Tim Williams, a 2017 third-round pick, two days later—a move I’m told was designed to send a message to a defense that the coaches thought was playing too soft. Message received. (Getting a pick-six from new acquisition Marcus Peters didn’t hurt either.)

Nine games left in this lost Redskins season and you’d think at some point the time would come to get Dwayne Haskins reps to ready him for 2020. Washington goes to Minnesota Thursday night then plays at Buffalo in Week 9. A bye follows, which would be, on paper, the natural time to put him in the lineup. We’ll see how the Skins feel about Haskins, and their ability support him properly at that point.

What we’ve seen from the Saints is impressive—5–0 without Drew Brees—but it shouldn’t be that surprising. Assistant GM (and ex-Dolphins GM) Jeff Ireland has been huge in juicing the team’s college scouting operation, and the team has drafted exceptionally well the last four years. At the center of that is a 2017 class that yielded four legit cornerstones: Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Alvin Kamara and Marcus Williams. And this is the sweet spot with that group for the team; they’re in their primes and still on rookie deals. Total cap cost of that quartet in 2019? Just $9.367 million.

I’m not taking a ton from the Seahawks’ loss to Baltimore. Seattle struggled containing a unique quarterback. Russell Wilson had his first real off day of the year. It happens.

All that’s gone wrong with the Steelers and they’ll come out of their bye week just two games out in the loss column.

I love where the Texans are, even after taking a tough loss on the road to the Colts. As Bill O’Brien said postgame, a lot of the issues they had in Indy were self-inflicted. Their offensive line is only going to keep improving, particularly after they get Tytus Howard back. The defense isn’t as shaky as the Colts made it look at times. And they’ve got Deshaun Watson. I love how they kept punching through all missteps against the Colts.

The difference new Titans starter Ryan Tannehill made, from what I could tell, was how he took the easy stuff, which helped keep the train on the tracks throughout Tennessee’s win over the Chargers. He completed nearly 80 percent of his throws and threw for a couple touchdowns, all while hitting eight different receivers, by playing well within himself.

You can probably cancel the funeral and scrap the draft of the eulogy you had written for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. When things are right around him, he’s pretty good. And his last three games have looked like this: 22-of-27, 306 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs at the Giants; 22-of-29, 333 yards, 4 TDs, INT vs. Eagles; 24-of-34, 337 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs at Lions.

***

TOP FIVE

1. Matt LaFleur, the NFL’s nicest surprise. There were questions years ago about the Packers coach’s ability to lead a room, and whether he was “too nice” to be a head coach in the league. Thus far, he’s done everything needed to allay those concerns. Green Bay is pretty pleased with what they’ve got. “It’s really everything he’s done,” said team president Mark Murphy, in a quiet moment at the Fall League Meeting. “He and [GM Brian Gutekunst] are working very well together, the communication’s there. Yeah, Matt has come in, he had a plan, he’s stuck to it. I’ve been very pleased.… I think he’s a great communicator, and he’s willing to confront issues when they occur, rather than let them fester. And I think that’s been good.” And, again, he’s done what a lot of people figured he couldn’t, finding middle ground in putting a quarterback who’s always had immense on-field control in a system that traditionally takes the mental load off the QB and puts it on a coach. There’s a long way to go, of course. But if Sunday’s rout of the Raiders was any indication, it should be fun to watch what’s ahead.

2. Broncos, Falcons, Jets and Bengals among teams to watch. The NFL trade deadline is just eight days away, and for there to be buyers, we need sellers. These four haven’t been in any rush to conduct fire sales, but they will have decisions to make about their futures in short order. Denver has two wins, the Jets and Falcons one, and the Bengals none. As we mentioned earlier, Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris, as well as Adam Gostis and (yes) Von Miller have elicited phone calls to Denver (I understand the Broncos plan on hold on to Miller, and get why they would.) The Jets will/have gotten calls on Leonard Williams. The Falcons should be able to see a return for guys like DeVondre Campbell, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper. (Hooper would cost significantly more, I think, based on how he’s playing, while it’s hard to see much coming back for Vic Beasley, based on his contract.) And the Bengals have attractive pieces (A.J. Green, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Tyler Eifert), but no history of conducting a deadline sell-off, no matter how bad they’ve been

3. The most attractive name is someone no one is talking about. The one guy left on the Dolphins roster with high-end value is corner Xavien Howard. With his up-front money paid out, he’s set to make $11.93 million next year, $12.18 million in 2021, $12.98 million in ’22, $12 million even in ’23 and $12.25 million in ’24. Those are very affordable numbers for a top corner. 

Would Miami actually trade a 26-year-old star at a premium spot? I believe it depends. Over the summer, I was told Howard and since-departed tackle Laremy Tunsil were in their own category—you can ask, but the answer’s probably going to be no. But the Dolphins found a bidder who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and two first-round picks and a second-rounder later, Tunsil is a Texan. So I guess someone like that could come along for Howard.

4. The 2020 Quarterback Market is Heating Up. Going into this season, it was tough to find teams who would definitely be looking for a quarterback in the spring. That quickly changed.

It’s safe to say the Titans and Bucs could be in that category, and the Bears, too. The Panthers’ and Chargers’ situations could be in flux. Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott and Drew Brees will all see their contracts come up. And a strong class from the college level is expected. I don’t know if a full-blown game of musical chairs breaks out. But I believe there’ll be more movement than I initially expected.

5. Expect the Chiefs to stand pat at quarterback (no pun intended). I’m told the Chiefs will roll with Matt Moore in the short-term, and likely promote Kyle Shurmur (former Vandy QB and Giants coach Pat’s son) to the active roster to be the backup this week. Then, the expectation is that either next week or the week after that, Chad Henne will be ready to return. If Moore’s playing well at that point, he’ll stay in the lineup. If he’s struggling, the Chiefs will use Henne as a bridge until the return of Patrick Mahomes. Speaking of Mahomes, as we said late last week, there’s hope he’d play on Nov. 18 in Mexico City against the Chargers. The expectation is his availability for that one will be a close call.

***

SIX FROM SATURDAY

1. There’s at least perception out there that Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has leveled off a little, and he threw two more picks Saturday against Louisville, giving him eight—or twice as many as all of last season. Dan Orlovsky called the game on ESPN, and since I respect his opinion immensely, I asked for his impression.

“So very impressive with a lot of things. Way better athlete than he gets credit for, and he can make a ton of throws from a lot of different arm angles and platforms. I do think he is in a place where he is so confident in his arm and talent that he thinks he can make any and every throw, and that’s forced some mistakes. Not a ‘dumb thing,’ but he needs to learn that it’s O.K. to hit some singles and not always want the home run. Teams are dropping some coverage of eight guys on him and he still wants to push the rock downfield. He needs to learn some plays he needs to be boring and take a dump off or check down. Great response and resolve to some mistakes and kept slinging it which was awesome to see. I do think some of their RPO game hurts him into some bad throws or tough situations. He’s a stud.”

2. Ohio State sophomore Justin Fields was neck-and-neck with Lawrence to be the top recruit in the 2018 high school class. Now he’s closing the gap on his fellow Georgia native from a 2021 draft perspective. I’ve seen both live now, and I’m honestly not sure that Lawrence’s cannon of an arm is any stronger than Fields’s. What was particularly impressive about both, to my amateur scouting eye, was the ease with which they hit sideline throws from the opposite hash.

3. Georgia’s Jake Fromm didn’t exactly bounce back from the South Carolina loss the way an NFL team would like, throwing for just 35 yards in rainy conditions as the Bulldogs scuffled through a 21–0 win over Kentucky. Through seven games, it’s easy to see why scouts are split on him—some think he’s a pedestrian prospect who should be a middle-round pick, others believe his makeup and football knowhow could make him a really good NFL starter.

Penn State's KJ Hamler scores against Michigan

After Penn State's win over Michigan, KJ Hamler is averaging 17.3 yards per catch and leads the Big Ten with seven TD catches.

4. Penn State redshirt sophomore KJ Hamler starred in the Nittany Lions’ 28–21 win over Michigan, going for 108 yards and the decisive touchdown on six catches. (He also had a long kickoff return touchdown called back.) Hamler’s absolute lightning as a player, and the comps I got for him from scouts last week indicate that. One was Tyreek Hill. The other was DeSean Jackson.

5. Yes, Tua Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain was a stroke of bad luck. But it’s not irrelevant to his draft status. NFL evaluators already had questions about the Alabama junior’s durability, and this won’t help—especially on a day on which Justin Herbert, his competition to go first overall in April, went 24-of-38 for 280 yards and four scores in leading Oregon to a come-from-behind win over rival Washington.

6. Good to see Lovie Smith get his signature win, four years in at Illinois. Before Saturday’s nailbiter over previously unbeaten Wisconsin, he’d gone 5–26 in Big Ten play, and 11–31 overall in Champaign. 

***

BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that Cowboys LT Tyron Smith has bigger arms than I have thighs—where, y’know, a regular size knee brace would go.

So at first I thought there was no video evidence of a clear recovery by the Titans on Melvin Gordon’s fumble. Then, a little later, I saw it. But I’d already favorited this tweet so I could share it with all of you. And now I’d be cheating you if I didn’t share it. So there you go.

Love this. And love all the shade from Kyle Shanahan this week, right up to giving his dad the game ball after shutting out the Redskins.

Awesome catch, better line from Ebron.

Mostly true.

Crazy…

…Crazier.

Boom…

…Boom.

This one’s real…

…And this one’s not. But it’s kind of still spot on. The Rams will go five years without a first-rounder (2017–21), which has never happened in the modern era.

Not a football tweet. Or at least an American football tweet. But I had to share it.

***

Robby Anderson hauled in a Sam Darnold pass for a 92-yard score in Week 6 against the Cowboys, the second-longest TD reception in team history.

Robby Anderson hauled in a Sam Darnold pass for a 92-yard score in Week 6 against the Cowboys, the second-longest TD reception in team history.

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, the Jets’ rising star wide receiver, Robby Anderson…

MMQB: Take me through last week’s 92-yard touchdown against Dallas.

RA: It was a double move, it was just us seeing how they were playing the route off of the double move, because we ran it right at them a few times earlier in the game. So we knew that increment of it that would work.

MMQB: There was a play earlier in the game that set it up?

RA: Yeah, we ran a similar route a few times and we knew they were gonna bite on it. We were just waiting for the right time to dial it up. But we’d talked about it through the first quarter.

MMQB: How did having Sam in there change things for you guys?

RA: It was different. That’s our starting quarterback, you know? Him being back makes a huge difference.

MMQB: How did it change the dynamic for you, as a receiver?

RA: I’ve built chemistry with him, first and foremost. When Luke [Falk] came in the game against Cleveland, my first catch was my first time ever catching the ball from him.

MMQB: You’d never caught a ball from him, even in practice?

RA: Never. I didn’t even know how the ball was gonna come in.

MMQB: Are you guys better for having gone through that?

RA: I can’t really say.

MMQB: How much better are you than you were when you came into the league three-and-a-half years ago?

RA: I feel like I’m a better person than I was three-and-a-half years ago. Me being a better person mentally, physically, spiritually—that’s been a big part of me being a better player. Just being more comfortable with the game itself, and everything like that. I know how to prepare now, and I’m still learning. Every day, I’m trying to learn something. Of course, I’m nowhere near my full potential or where I want to be. But I’m taking great strides in understanding the game and how to prepare.

MMQB: How are you a better person?

RA: I’m comfortable, I have understanding, I know what I want out of life. Before it was just, things were new to me. I had more money than I’d ever had. I was learning. I wasn’t out of control or anything like that, but I know the life that I want now, I know the standards I set for my life, and I’m grateful for that.

MMQB: What do you want out of life, then?

RA: First and foremost, good health and to make my family happy, and to live comfortably and have that freedom to live out my dreams and be successful, not having to deal with negativity, stress. Make my fans proud. Make my family proud. Those sorts of things.

MMQB: Any change you've made that’s helped?

RA: It’s the energy I’ve surrounded myself with, things like that. Nothing too drastic, just kind of isolating myself, separating myself from my past.

MMQB: You said you’d like to take care of your family. Have you thought about what might be out there in free agency next spring for you?

RA: I mean, of course. But I’ve been wise with my financials, I’ve got some things in store, with what I’m gonna do. Coming in undrafted, I’m not big on counting money that I don’t have. And that’s how I live. My first contract, my rookie deal, I never lived above my means, or further than the money I made, because it wasn’t guaranteed.

MMQB: So it’d be great to have the money, but you want to live like you don’t need it?

RA: Nah, I try not to do the unnecessary. I’m not gonna spend money thinking in my head, "Well, I’m gonna make this amount?"

MMQB: Your name’s come up in the trade-deadline rumor mill. You block that out?

RA: I don’t know nothing about that.

MMQB: Biggest challenge playing the Patriots' defense?

RA: Just being sound, playing disciplined, sticking to the script and taking it one play at a time.

MMQB: What’s most impressive watching them on tape?

RA: They don’t budge.

MMQB: What would it mean to beat them then?

RA: I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be big. It’ll be big.

***

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Tom Brady is sitting down with old buddy Randy Moss on ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown tonight ahead of the Patriots–Jets game, and I thought this answer to a question on New England’s start to 2019 was interesting.

He was asked, specifically, what comes to mind when thinking of how they’re playing.

“I think it’s one word: defense,” Brady said. “It’s been about the defense and what those guys have been able to do. I’m kind of sitting on the sideline watching like, This is unbelievable. I mean, we’re getting the ball, we’re getting turnovers, those guys are sacking the quarterback, getting good field position. I think there’s definitely frustration that I feel, because we’re not excelling.

“But I also think it’s important to have reasonable expectations for what we should accomplish. The fact that we’re 6–0, I’m happy about that. I love that we’re 6–0, but I want us to do better, too.”

The Patriots are eighth in yards and first in points, so this is clearly a champagne problem for a team to have.

But Brady’s frustration has come through at times the last couple months, and it’s easy to see why. His maniacal competitiveness doesn’t just exist in the realm of team success. He also wants to be his best individually—just look at his nutrition and training programs—and the fact that he hasn’t been so far, I’m sure, bugs the crap out of him.

And tonight, he’s faced with a tricky, aggressive scheme, and you can bet Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is going to throw the kitchen sink at him. It’ll be interesting to see how a less-experienced group than Brady is used to having around him will react to that—and how Brady will react to how they react.

So maybe this one’s closer than most think. Or maybe I’m diving too deep and it’s another glorified walkthrough for New England. We’ll know soon enough.

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