MMQB: Kendall Hinton Plays Emergency QB, Ravens-Steelers On For Tuesday in Season's Wildest Week Yet

The strangest week of the NFL's strangest season gave us a glimpse of a team with no quarterbacks and has a twice-postponed marquee matchup on Tuesday's schedule despite a COVID-19 outbreak. Plus, A.J. Brown and Kirk Cousins discuss big Sunday wins, Deshaun Watson walks us through his Thanksgiving touchdowns, love for Robert Saleh and Patrick Mahomes, and much more.
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The weirdest season in NFL history took another left-hand turn on Saturday afternoon at 12:45 p.m. MT, when Broncos vice president of football operations Mark Thewes waved coach Vic Fangio into his office and let him know the league office was on the speaker phone sitting on his desk.

Out a window, they could see their players 20 minutes into warmups on the field and 15 minutes away from what would be an accelerated walkthrough—as the Broncos tried to make up for a Friday practice they canceled after putting backup QB Jeff Driskel on the COVID-19 list on Thursday. Even then, the Broncos had no idea how strange things were about to get. They were just told to pull the rest of their QBs from the practice field.

Fangio went out and did that, telling Drew Lock, Blake Bortles and Brett Rypien to head home and wait for more direction. The coach then ran practice, after he and a few others discussed canceling it in Thewes’s office. And the direction he asked the quarterbacks to wait for came at about 4 p.m. local time.

As a result of video Denver turned in to the league, none of their quarterbacks would be eligible Sunday.

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Everyone in and around the NFL has talked a lot about worst-case scenarios over the last four months. Suddenly, the Broncos were living theirs. And with team president Joe Ellis and GM John Elway now involved, the team first looked for a reprieve.

Could the game be moved to Monday? No, they were told, games could only be moved for health-and-safety reasons. Could they sign offensive quality-control coach Rob Calabrese, who last played as a senior at Central Florida in 2012, to step in? No, they were told, the NFL didn’t want to open that can of worms, with a coach coming off the staff to play in a one-off situation.

That left Denver to find a quarterback somewhere on its roster.

What followed may not have been pretty. But for those involved, it’ll also be something that they will never, ever forget. The NFL, in turn, got its most 2020 game to date.

***

Week 12 is still two games from completion, and it feels like the NFL is trying to stay afloat after a tidal wave of COVID-19 hit its ranks last week, with the prospect that another is on its way. But over the last four days, the league did manage to get 14 games played, so we still have a lot to get to in this week’s MMQB. Including …

• A look at the job market as three openings in two cities popped up this weekend.

• How the Titans took it to an undermanned group in Indy and exacted revenge.

• What’s kept the Vikings alive after a 1–5 start.

• Why Deshaun Watson kept swinging, even as things came undone around him.

• Where Ron Rivera’s been able to bring his Football Team in less than a year.

And much, much more. But we’re starting with the NFL’s COVID-19 problem, with its most coronavirus-afflicted game to date as the backdrop.

***

The truth is, the Broncos woke up Saturday morning not realizing the problem they had. A PCR test taken by Driskel on Wednesday came back positive on Thursday. He went on the COVID-19 list that afternoon, and those who’d been around him—like the other QBs—were interviewed by the league. And because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the team couldn't share the piece of video it had come across Thursday until Friday morning.

On it, they saw the four quarterbacks meeting on Tuesday, the players’ day off, in a league-approved space inside the team’s indoor practice facility—a room mostly used for the team’s daycare service in normal times, and sometimes staged for big press conferences. In there, there are spaced-out tables, and on this day Lock, Driskel, Bortles and Rypien were all at separate tables. The problem? They was some sloppiness with masks. Guys took a few minutes to pull them up after getting a drink. Or wore them improperly at times.

It was more negligent than it was defiant, but it was enough. The Broncos sent it in early Friday morning and some 36 hours later learned of their fate.

So, too, did a guy named Kendall Hinton.

“I got a call around 4 [Saturday] afternoon,” Hinton told me postgame. “And they let me know I was gonna be suiting up.”

He wouldn’t only be suiting up. He’d suddenly ascended from the practice squad to the first team, and he’d be playing quarterback, not receiver.

How jarring was it for the rookie? Not only had he not taken a single practice rep at quarterback all year, he didn’t take a single practice rep at the position last year at Wake Forest either, after losing the job at Wake and switching to receiver the year before.

Now, somehow, less than 24 hours after that call, he’d be a starting quarterback in an NFL game. (He didn’t technically start, because Denver lined RB Phillip Lindsay up in the wildcat on its first snap, but functionally, Hinton’s job was that of the starter.) And there was a lot of work to do. He huddled with QB coach Mike Shula at the team hotel after meetings on Saturday night. He got to the stadium early on Sunday, and Shula and OC Pat Shurmur put him through a modified walkthrough in the home press-conference room. He and Shula hit the field early for more work.

“It was pretty much just trying to get myself prepared mentally,” Hinton said. “Getting in the playbook, learning as much as I could, and from there just what happens, happens.”

In the process, the offense was pared way down, to somewhere between 20 and 30 plays.

Hinton’s first snap came five plays in. Denver ran three wildcat plays for Lindsay and another for Royce Freeman before rolling Hinton out there. And on that first snap, Hinton rolled right and got his welcome to the NFL moment.

“I tossed the ball away and took a nice hit from, I think Cam Jordan? 94?” Hinton said. “Yeah, he put every bit of it on me. I’d say that was my one thing.”

“Yeah, it is a weird spot [for Hinton] to be put in,” Jordan told me after the game. “And at the same time, if anything, there’s an opportunity for him to take command. He went out there with the short notice that he had, with the limited time they had to put a game plan together and take the field. But any time you take the field, you have to give your best effort and again, we were worried about him scrambling and had to change up how we were going to pass rush against them.

“At the same time, he had to probably study that playbook for the last [24 hours] he knew he had to take over, and go up above and beyond expectations. He took the field, and we had to go get him. He rolled out. And if he rolled out you gotta pay that toll.”

Which brings us to the other half of this story—the side that won the game going away.

Midnight indeed struck quickly for Hinton. The Saints beat the Broncos 31–3.

***

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Hinton isn’t the toughest quarterback the Saints have had to game plan for. But, to this point, he’s the only one they’ve had to game plan for on the fly—because the challenge was going to be a lot different, had Lock been able to go.

“I mean, when you think about it, we had prepared for a quarterback where you know where he’s gonna drop, where he’d like to throw,” Jordan said. “You prepared how to best attack the quarterback, make him uncomfortable in the pocket, put pressure on him, put your defense in the best position to get a win. And then, of course, they had the thing they had and all of a sudden we go from pass rushing to now we’re playing a wide receiver, a scramble-type receiver who’s probably as tall as Kyler Murray.

“These are things that transform how you pass rush. You’re no longer getting high, now it’s just setting the edge and really just trying to keep the receiver contained, the quarterback contained. Again, it’s a defensive unit effort that allowed us to really take this game over.”

With the aforementioned wildcat package, the Broncos were able to squeeze out a single first down. It’d be their only one of the first half. That first series was followed by four consecutive three-and-outs, then a fumble, then a pick. Denver wasn’t quite as inept in the second half—the Broncos recorded two first downs on their first possession, one on Hinton’s lone completion of the day, to Noah Fant for 13 yards on a second-and-13.

But they really weren’t in it, either. A proud Saints defense smelled blood in the water and, with their own starting quarterback out with 11 broken ribs, they weren’t of a mind to show any sort of mercy. Respect for his handling of the situation? Yes. Mercy? No.

“I mean, that’s the team’s worst-case scenario where you don’t have any one of your three quarterbacks up,” Jordan said. “And yet, you still have to try and attack a team’s defense. Yeah, that’s ultimate respect. This is the NFL. This isn’t a subdivision level here. This is the top of the top. These are athletes that have been at the top. I mean, I’m sure you know he got elevated from the practice squad so that’s huge on him.

“And maybe next week, they’ll have a better game plan. I know what we were focused on is what we could control. And that was how we were gonna play the run and attack with our defense.”

Mission accomplished for the Saints on that part of the game. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Broncos had just 61 yards on 26 carries as a team, and 12 net passing yards to go with them. And that was as they drew it up anyway—whether Lock or Hinton or someone in between was taking snaps.

With Drew Brees healing from all those rib fractures, Jordan & Co. see this as their time to carry the team, and winning by four touchdowns on a day that backup Taysom Hill threw for all of 78 yards was more proof that they can.

“You never want to be without No. 9,” Jordan said. “You’re talking about the greatest quarterback of all time. But as his ribs are healing, this is something that we have a next-man-up mentality for. Luckily for our defense, who’s been together for so long, now with the addition too of Kwon [Alexander], everybody knows we’ve been in this position before, and as a defense I feel like we are growing still. So if Drew’s down that means we have a chance to really make our focal point our defense and how we’re gonna attack a team.

“And if we can create turnovers, then that should get our offense going—who, again, has Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, Emmanuel Sanders, Alvin Kamara, Tay Train [Latavius Murray], Taysom Hill. We have some weapons. I don’t want to brag, but we still have an elite left tackle, an elite right tackle, an elite left guard, an up-and-coming-who-should-be-elite-in-no-time-soon center. Nine times out of 10, if our team goes to war, I’m probably gonna bet the house on us. And I say nine times out of 10, because knowing me, I’m about to go 10 times out of 10.”

Given the circumstances, the result of this one was easy to bet the house on. But if you really want to know how Jordan feels? Ask him about what would’ve happened if the roles were reversed. “I’m sure A.K. could throw the rock or Emmanuel Sanders could play a little quarterback.”

For their sake, let’s hope no one has to find out.

***

The Broncos’ quarterback situation was an interesting story for this particular Sunday. And for as many jokes as it may have provoked, or GIFs it might’ve inspired, Hinton being able to do anything as an NFL quarterback having been thrown into that situation was impressive.

Denver, it turned out, and almost by accident, had the right kid for it, too. In fact, before the game, a team official approached receivers coach Zach Azzanni and asked how he thought Hinton would do, and was told as much.

“Great kid,” Azzanni told the official. “If you had to pick the perfect guy for this situation—never too high, never too low, very level, never jittery—this is the perfect guy.”

And Hinton struck me as being that way when I asked what he’ll remember most from the experience.

“Definitely the way the team supported me,” he said. “It was amazing the encouragement they gave me before and after the game. Being able to step on an NFL field for the first time and take that first hit, it was just an amazing experience.”

For Hinton, it was once in a lifetime. The NFL hopes it is for the rest of the league too. But chances are, the rest of the year won’t play out like that.

***

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MORE (AND MORE) COVID-19 CASES

Unfortunately for the NFL, Broncos-Saints isn’t Week 12’s only COVID Bowl. They’ve got another one, tentatively, coming on Tuesday with the coronavirus-racked Ravens traveling to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers, who’ve been hit too, but not as hard, this week.

Baltimore has 23 players on the COVID-19 list, 11 of them starters, seven of them Pro Bowlers, one of them reigning MVP Lamar Jackson. Receiver Willie Snead was the latest to come up positive, with his test coming back Sunday and giving the Ravens eight straight days with positive tests and a seventh offensive starter on the shelf. The Steelers, for their part, have four players on the list, including Stephon Tuitt and James Connor, and will have two coaches sidelined. The good news there is Pittsburgh had zero positive tests Sunday.

So is this game actually going to get played? If the Ravens keep having positive tests, the answer is no. But the league is optimistic, as of late Sunday night, that they’re on the back end of the spread in Baltimore. What they’re less cheerful about is what the next few weeks could hold. Here’s some of what I picked up from calling around on Sunday.

• The idea of local bubbles for the playoffs is, indeed, on the table. But I’m told regional bubbles or a national bubble are not being considered right now. So what you’d have is players in hotels in their home cities in an effort to remove all team personnel from the communities they live in. Two important elements to consider on the local bubbles: One, it’d take at least five to seven days to establish the bubbles; and, two, with teams clustered around the block, the plan would likely backfire badly if the virus somehow got into one of the bubbles (I had one person describe that scenario as throwing a match on a dry haystack).

• The local bubbles are being considered because transmission rates at home are exploding. Earlier in the year, there was about 50% transmission to players when someone in their household got COVID-19. Of late, that number is much closer to 100%.

• Here’s another bad development: In August, when the league would see a faint COVID-19 signal on a test, the virus would routinely disappear soon thereafter. Three months later, such signals are far more often leading to the virus spreading.

• The Saints ($500,000 fine, seventh-round pick) and Patriots ($350,000 fine) joined the Titans and Raiders as teams to have been punished for violating COVID-19 protocols (the Broncos and Ravens are being investigated now). So what are those teams doing wrong? I’m told most, if not all, of the violations center on people sitting in a room, not wearing masks properly for an extended period of time.

• The NFL expects this week to be its toughest week yet, which is why it moved to mandate all teams work remotely (other than those playing game Monday or Tuesday night) for the next two days. Specifically, the league believes players, coaches and staff gathering with family and friends over Thanksgiving will be the culprit.

And so this uneven season moves forward with plenty of uncertainty ahead. Will Tuesday night’s game be played? Even if it is, is there any chance that Week 18 doesn’t become necessary at this point? Or if that is avoided, does avoiding it mean more teams going to battle in the condition the Broncos and Ravens have been asked to this week?

All these questions are open. And I don’t think any of them can be answered definitively now, particularly after what we’ve all witnessed the last few days.

***

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THE GM/COACH CAROUSELS SPIN

The Jaguars fired GM Dave Caldwell on Sunday afternoon after Jacksonville’s 10th straight loss, a 27–25 nail-biter against Cleveland. And that left the NFL with four GM openings and three head coach openings two days before Dec. 1. Weird that this has happened in the year of COVID-19 economics? It really isn’t.

Three of the four teams that made moves really gave their old brass a stay of execution at the end of 2020—in fact, Atlanta, Detroit and Jacksonville all felt compelled at that point to put out statements explaining why they weren’t firing the guys in charge. So margin for error was always going to be slim in those places. And as for the fourth team, Houston, the circumstances there were so different that, well, we all should’ve been ready for anything.

Also, and this is a point a bunch of teams have raised to me, it’s going to be on everyone to engage their fan base post-COVID-19, to try and get them back through the turnstiles after a year in which their habits changed and the economy suffered. It’d be much harder to do that with a football staff you’re disenchanted with, so in a certain way, it’s incumbent on all these teams to be more in tune than ever to what their audiences want.

And with that as the backdrop, a few quick hits on the happenings of the weekend.

• The writing was on the wall for Matt Patricia in Detroit eight days ago, after the Lions were blanked in Carolina. Then it became a matter not of if, but of when. There was more of a decision to make on GM Bob Quinn. So why the clean sweep? The team knows it needs to get the organization aligned, and part of the problem has been a reluctance to start over with a new GM and coach arriving together. The last time the team did that was 19 years ago, when it hired Matt Millen as de facto GM and Marty Mornhinweg as coach.

• One other thing I think will be important in Detroit is detailing the GM’s responsibilities. That sounds basic, I know. But I think it will help the Lions to define exactly what they’re looking for—all-encompassing boss, or head of football scouting—to fill that job. My belief is Quinn was stretched a little thin in the job and might not have been suited to the non-scouting parts of it.

• Why now for Jacksonville? Owner Shad Khan is pursuing public money, with a development proposal in front of local politicians, so the timing of his 100th loss as owner (last week to Pittsburgh) wasn’t great. It was pointed out in that market, as part of all that, that he was employing an eighth-year GM with one playoff appearance.

• Another part of it was simpler: The building simply wasn’t a healthy place the last few weeks, with people questioning the motives of others, and the overall desire to win, rather than protecting jobs. As a result, and as you’d expect, communication became a problem. Part of this goes back to the ouster of Tom Coughlin last year and ridding the building of people with family connections to him, like offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and director of player personnel Chris Polian (whose fathers are close to Coughlin). The feeling, at that point, was that there was an effort to saddle Coughlin will all that went wrong in 2019.

• I wouldn’t read too much into the team holding onto Doug Marrone. The team’s fighting hard for him. It makes sense for the future of the young players involved to stay the course with the coaching staff and not create a new problem over the next month. From there, I’d expect the Jags to really look at all options. You may have noticed last week that new Sixers president Daryl Morey said he got NFL interest after he stepped down from his Rockets job. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jags kicked the tires on ideas like that one. We’ll see.

And so off we go. Five weeks until the carousel really starts spinning.

***

TITANS TAKE CHARGE IN THE AFC SOUTH

The Titans looked at the Colts’ lineup on Sunday and very clearly saw opportunity. And as much as anything, what the absence of Indy front-seven stars DeForest Buckner, Denico Autry and Bobby Okereke gave Tennessee the opportunity to do was show everyone, one more time, exactly who they are.

By halftime, Derrick Henry had 17 carries for 140 yards and three touchdowns.

“Yeah, we try to play with that physicality all game,” star receiver A.J. Brown told me postgame. “That’s what Coach [Mike Vrabel] preaches and that’s our motto—being more physical than the other team. We’re going to trade blows, they’re going to do some things and we’re going to do some things, but the most physical team is going to win, pretty much. So that’s what we preach on.

“I think we’re doing a really good job of it right now.”

As a result, the Titans exacted revenge on the Colts for a Thursday loss in Week 10 and took command of the AFC South at 8–3—doing all of it their way, knowing Indy would be susceptible that way thanks to the condition of its COVID-19-affected defensive front.

And here’s a wild fact that I found in looking at how Tennessee controlled the game through Henry, who has to be a very real MVP candidate right now (or at least in the group behind Patrick Mahomes): The Titans didn’t face a third down with more than five yards to gain until their first possession of the third quarter. By then, the score was 35–14, and they’d embarked on scoring drives of 75, 80, 50, 81 and 44 yards.

“The credit goes out to Derrick and the O-line getting everything going early,” Brown said. “They set the momentum of the game.”

And maybe its effect was most apparent on the first of Brown’s two touchdowns—the second was an onside kick attempt he ran all the way back. The play began with first-and-15, following an illegal shift penalty. At the snap, and I went back and counted this, 10 of the 11 Colts on the field were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. So when Brown caught a crosser about eight yards from the line of scrimmage, a lot of defenders were left trying to play catchup from bad angles, and he raced past them all, 69 yards to pay dirt.

“Whenever Derrick’s doing his thing, he opens up the pass for us,” Brown said. “So we try to get him going so he can open up things for us, and we make the most of our opportunities.”

A good Colts team did give the Titans a run, getting the deficit down to 12 with 2:34 left. But then came Brown’s onside-kick touchdown to salt away the 45–26 win. And with that, it’s fair to say that Tennessee’s put a 1–3 slump in the rearview mirror, stacking this win on one over Baltimore last week. Now, they can look back at that as another test in what’s been a year full of them (remember, they were the first team to have a COVID-19 outbreak, too).

“It definitely brought us closer during that little stretch,” Brown said. “We just wanted the opportunity to play. But like I said earlier, it’s a week-to-week league. Like you said, we went 1–3 during that little month. It’s a tough league. You never really know who’s going to win. But you can do your best, do what you’re supposed to do, do the little details, and give yourself a good chance to win.”

Henry and the run game should give the Titans a heck of a chance from here on out.

***

VIKINGS KEEP BATTLING BACK

Here’s a fun fact (or not so fun, depending on your allegiances): Six weeks ago, the 5–1 Bears were four games ahead of the 1–5 Vikings in the NFC North. And with two weeks to go before the trade deadline, Minnesota was very clearly a seller. It dealt off Yannick Ngakoue that week and was open to deeper changes to a roster with an aging core.

Monday morning, the Vikings are even with the Bears in the division standings and, quietly, have been one of the hottest teams in football.

And they showed their mettle again in Week 12, in scoring a wacky 28–27 comeback win over a very tough, if undermanned, Carolina team. Because there were a lot of moments in there where they looked dead in the water and, as their quarterback sees it, there’s a reason they came back to life from that seeming point of no return.

“Young or old, I just think it’s a locker room with a lot of character,” Kirk Cousins told me postgame. “There isn’t anybody in there who’s going to finger-point or quit. There’s just a lot of guys with character. And mental toughness, emotional toughness. I think that showed coming out of the bye week, the way we played after being 1–5, winning three in a row. And I think it showed today with the way we handled the rough start in the second half.

“I’ve really liked our locker room as long as I’ve been here. Just a great group.”

The first bottoming out on Sunday was the one Cousins referenced there—right at the start of the second half. Panther rookie safety Jeremy Chinn, a budding star, somehow scored twice in a 10-second span. The first came on a strip sack on the third play of the half, with Zach Kerr jarring the ball loose from Cousins, and Chinn scooping it up and running it back 17 yards. The second happened on Minnesota’s next offensive snap, with Chinn ripping the ball from Dalvin Cook, then covering 28 yards with it to score again.

Quickly, a 10–7 Vikings lead had become a 21–10 deficit.

“It’s not a great feeling on the sideline [after that],” Cousins said. “But at the same time, you know that because they scored two touchdowns in only seven seconds that there was a lot of football left in the half. We knew we were going to get several possessions, and we knew if we could make good on those possessions that we could get back in the game.”

Drives of 75 and 72 yards thereafter led to 11 points (with a two-point conversion in there), and drew the Vikings to within a field goal, at 24–21. And the Vikings were set to get the ball back with the score still there, and 2:18 left, after the defense got a stop near midfield. Which is where it seemed disaster struck again—with Chad Beebe muffing a punt at the Minnesota nine-yard line and lining up as Sunday’s goat.

Only, the Vikings had other ideas. The defense got another stop, forcing a field goal from the Panthers that made it 27–21. And then Cousins got hot. Starting at his own 25, the much-maligned quarterback connected consecutively with Justin Jefferson (15 yards), Beebe (six), Kyle Rudolph (seven), Beebe again (12) then Rudolph again (10) to get Minnesota to the Carolina 10. And two plays after that, it was time to make the goat, Beebe, the hero.

“Pre-snap I felt like working that side made the most sense,” Cousins said. “Wanted to work on Bisi Johnson, but just didn’t feel like he was getting separation, and I kind of progressed across the field and noticed Chad was slipping behind the defense, and just gave him a high-point ball where he could get behind the defense and come down with it. He did the rest. … It was great for him to be the guy to make the game-winning play.

“There were so many game-winning plays you can point to throughout the game, and even in that last drive. We needed every play we could get after the hole we dug ourselves. Really happy for him. He’s a high-caliber person and player.”

And so maybe hope for that aging core isn’t lost anymore. As it stands right now, the Vikings are just a game behind Arizona for the final spot in the NFC bracket.

“I don’t do all the math every week,” Cousins said. “I just know we need to win every game. My experience in the league is if you’re hovering around .500 with several weeks left that you’re still in it. Someone else can do the math for me, but if you’re hovering around .500 and there’s a lot of football left, I’d think you’re in it.”

The Vikings, remarkably, are.

***

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DESHAUN WATSON’S BRILLIANCE

We’ll get to the Texans’ future in a second, but is it too far out there to think that their present has suddenly become more relevant? This much I can say: Deshaun Watson is red hot and, when we talked following Houston’s 41–25 rout of Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, he seemed anything but ready to concede the 2020 season.

“Yeah, we just gotta win out,” he said, as one of the team buses pulled away from Ford Field and headed to the airport. “We gotta keep the momentum rolling and win out. It’s a possibility, especially with all the divisional games, and we’ve got Cincinnati and Chicago outside the division. Lot of big games, a lot of opportunities for us to go out there and produce. Keep everyone healthy and we’ll see what happens.”

Lots of things have gone wrong for the Texans this year. The decision they made to extend Watson three months ago—inking him to a four-year, $156 million deal—is not one of them.

And Watson’s right about where his team stands, too. Right now the Titans are 8–3 and the Colts are 7–4. If the Texans win out, they’ll finish 9–7, with a 5–1 record in the division. To get there, they’ll have to beat the Colts twice in the next three weeks, which would put the Colts at six losses. Indy would need to lose one more, but it still visits the Raiders and Steelers. The Texans would also have to beat the Titans in Week 17, and the Titans would have to really melt down before then (their schedule: Cleveland, at Jacksonville, Detroit, at Green Bay). But if Houston were to finish 9–7, it’d be 5–1 in the division and hold the tiebreakers to go to the playoffs.

Likely? Nope, it’s not. But that it’s even possible is a tribute, in large part, to how Watson’s led the team, with his own personal approach rubbing off on the team.

“I’m a patient individual,” Watson told me. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m always trying to turn negativity, any bad situation, into a positive. That’s been my whole life. I just have a great supporting cast around me that always motivates me and keeps me focused and is never letting me get down on myself or down on the situation, so I keep looking forward. I’ve never been in the situation that I’ve been through this year, so for me, I tried to look at it in a way where it’s a little change, and I’m gonna try to turn this thing around.”

No question, Watson did his part Thursday—riddling the Lions for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 17-of-25 passing. And three of those four scoring strikes were high-degree-of-difficulty dimes. So, to illustrate the level at which he’s playing, I figured we’d have him break those plays down.

2nd Quarter, 10:32 left, 33 yards to Duke Johnson: “We’d just seen our matchup over there one-on-one, and I like my matchup with Duke. It was one of the linebackers out there, gave him a double move, and Duke ran right past him. And I gave him a great ball and he made a great catch. They were playing that one-high [safety] look. I just had to make sure I saw his angle coming out of the blitz and just get the ball to him.”

4th Quarter, 12:16 left, 40 yards to Will Fuller: “A lot of teams this year have been trying to take away our deep shots. They know that’s what we’ve based our offense off of. So we have to pick our spots. We had a one-high safety and Will on the outside. Will did a good job with his release, and same thing—I just liked the matchup on that. And I let him use speed and put it out there in the back of the end zone so the safety couldn’t get it.”

4th Quarter, 10:17 left, 34 yards to Will Fuller (trick play): We knew we were gonna run that, and there were a couple more of them but they had a different defense than what we’d seen all week, so I checked out of those. That one right there, it was actually Duke making a great play. Because when I called the play and broke the huddle, he told me before he got back, ‘If they bring pressure, I’m gonna keep it.’ I was like, ‘Alright, cool.’ They brought the pressure, and he kept it—that’s why he kept it longer than he was supposed to, it was supposed to be a flea-flicker. And then I’d told him that I’d call his name when we run it. And so he turned around and flipped it back to me and Will was sitting out there wide open.”

And as a result, now the Texans’ season looks a lot less like a dumpster fire than it did, and that’s just the power of having a franchise quarterback in his prime—he can affect change at that level if he’s on his game. Watson is that, as the franchise he leads inches closer to some critical global decisions that owner Cal McNair’s going to have to make.

To that end, over the last few weeks, McNair has actually consulted with Watson on the direction of the franchise and, in turn, Watson does feel a level of responsibility in helping to get the organization back on track.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “They signed me to a long-term deal to be there, so of course they’re going to come to me and ask me. But right now, I’m just focused on the season. I’m focused on trying to stack these wins and make opportunities come. When the season ends, they want to have me involved with it. But they also want to make sure that I’m focused on doing everything I can for the rest of the year.

“So I’m pretty sure that Cal and everyone else involved in the organization will consult me. They already mentioned that to me, but that’s more them saying they want to keep everybody in lockstep, and we’ll just go from there.”

The interesting thing? Watson himself is probably the greatest selling point McNair has, in trying to get the best coach and GM candidates excited about competing for those jobs.

And that’s because having him will be one heck of a starting point for someone.

***

THANKFULNESS IN D.C.

Washington entered Sunday alone in first place in the NFC East and, just to be real about this, a big part of that is what a mess the division is. But if you had to rank the four teams coming into the season, there was no bigger mess among this messy group than the one in D.C.

The Football Team isn’t one anymore, and this isn’t just about its 41–16 beatdown of a beleaguered Cowboys team. It’s about the way it happened, and the way Ron Rivera’s team is playing. And on no play was that more apparent than Terry McLaurin running down Dallas LB Jaylon Smith, and literally taking four points off the board in the process. Were it not for McLaurin, Smith would’ve scored, and Dallas would’ve pulled even at 20.

Instead, the Washington D got a stop, the Football Team held onto the lead, 20–16 late in the third, and momentum was flipped in the process. And Rivera’s crew didn’t look back, working off a hustle moment that, the coach thinks, reflected more than its result.

“That was a huge play, and I think it’s a big step for our program,” he told me postgame, as the team boarded its flight home. “It puts everything in perspective as to where we’re headed and who we can be. That’s probably the most important thing. … He’s [such] a selfless player, it just shows you. This is a guy that does everything the right way. He’s the right example. He’s the kind of guy you hope everybody else follows.”

McLaurin’s big play, by the way, wasn’t the only thing we saw Thursday that was reason to believe that the huge task Rivera and new team president Jason Wright have undertaken—akin to turning the Titantic and missing the iceberg—is starting to show progress.

There’s another, pretty clearly, in how the roster’s being built up. And yes, Chase Young is part of this, with the effect he’s having on an already talented defensive line clear in Dallas on Thanksgiving. But the truth is, I could’ve picked Young No. 2 in the draft. Finding a guy like Antonio Gibson—VP of player personnel Kyle Smith and his scouts deserve credit on this front too—is different from that.

Gibson rushed for 115 yards and touchdowns of five, 23 and 37 yards in Dallas. But the stat that stuck out most to me was his number of carries: 20. That’s 13 fewer than the converted receiver had in his two years at Memphis. Yet, somehow, Washington saw a tailback in a guy who’d grown into his frame and was around 230 pounds last spring.

“I’ll tell you this: When we saw him on tape in college, we were really excited about his potential. We thought he was the kind of guy who could play in different roles for us, be a running back, line up at the wide receiver position, do those kinds of things,” Rivera told me. “One of the things we were looking for, that [offensive coordinator] Scotty [Turner] and I talked about, was a guy that had a skill set very similar to Christian McCaffrey. He was a little bit bigger than Christian, but he has that skill set.”

That’s a heady comp, of course. But Rivera and Turner liked what he’d shown coming up from junior college to Memphis, thought his run instincts could be developed, saw a nose for the end zone (14 TDs in 77 offensive touches at Memphis) and, of course, the off-the-charts athleticism, and figured there was something there. They were right.

Then, there’s the quarterback. No one’s pretending that Alex Smith is going to be leading Washington in five years. But he’s steady for now and has given the brass a good shot to evaluate the rest of their offensive talent, and that’s valuable, too. That his story is so incredible is a nice bonus. As Rivera explained it, “When you get to this situation we’ve both been in, you just feel blessed, you really do. And that’s how I feel—very, very fortunate.”

Which is where Rivera was over breakfast on Thanksgiving morning—hours before the Dallas game unfolded—counting his blessings. It’s been an incredibly long 12 months. He got fired. He got a new job where he presided over a very tumultuous period for his new employer. He got a cancer diagnosis. He battled through all of it.

“[Thursday] morning, I got a couple text messages and it really kinda brought it home to me to think about where I am and how things have gone for me,” Rivera said. “I’m very fortunate. Very blessed.”

By the looks of it, Washington’s pretty fortunate, too, to have him.

***

robert-saleh-san-francisco-49ers

TEN TAKEAWAYS

Robert Saleh can take a bow. And you can take that from the Niners’ defensive players themselves. During San Francisco’s 23–20 win over the Rams, those were the guys I was thinking about, wondering if they had the same thought I was having—that the way the wounded unit played would be a heck of a showcase for Saleh in pursuit of the job in his hometown that just opened up. Turns out, they were. “He has to get the Detroit job,” texted Richard Sherman postgame. “Homegrown. He’s a great leader of men. And he’s not stubborn. He doesn’t just think he has all the answers. He comes up with a great plan and evolves it with his players.” All that was on display at SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Niners forced four turnovers, two in the first quarter, and another that Javon Kinlaw ran back for a touchdown. They registered two sacks, six quarterback hits and six tackles for loss. They held the Rams to 308 yards and a 31% success rate on third down. They got two stops at the end of the game to help set up 44- and 42-yard field goals from Robbie Gould to tie and then win the game. And they did all this as they’ve continued to manage big long-term injuries to Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas (as well as shorter-term ones to guys like Sherman and Jimmie Ward). Through all of it, that defense has kept playing hard, even as its burden grew with Jimmy Garoppolo out. It’s taken a lot of people to make sure things wouldn’t fall off. So I, for one, have found it interesting how quick the players are to point credit in one direction. “We battle for that man!” Sherman continued. “He’s a great human being. Makes you want to fight for him.” The Niners have, which is one reason they might not have him around much longer. Trust me on this: Detroit could do a lot worse than to hire him and pair him with someone he’s familiar with, like one of the four guys that were on his list last year, when he interviewed in Cleveland (Ed Dodds, Adam Peters, Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer).

There’s nothing left to say about Patrick Mahomes. At the end of the first quarter on Sunday, the Chiefs’ phenom had this stat line: 11-of-14 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. I don’t want to be on-pace-for guy, but … I think that would project to over 900 yards for a full game. Mahomes didn’t get there, but he did enough to get the Chiefs to 10–1, and there was an element to this one at the end that I absolutely loved. When the game reached the two-minute warning, the Bucs were out of timeouts and the Chiefs were in second-and-9, up 24–17 at their own 49. By running the ball into the line twice, Andy Reid could’ve run the clock down to under 40 seconds, then dropped a punt deep in Tampa territory, and probably taken the clock down inside 30 seconds, leaving Tom Brady & Co. with almost no shot at coming back. But, as Reid said last week, he has Patrick Mahomes, and he feels pretty good about that. So on second-and-9, Mahomes took the ball out of the shotgun and threw to Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the right flat, and the rookie gained two yards before hitting the deck in bounds. And on third-and-7, with the ball snapped with about 1:15 left, Reid called for Mahomes to roll left, against his body, and make one of those throws that only he can make look easy. He squared his feet quickly, right by the left boundary, and popped it to Tyreek Hill, running a comeback, at the sticks for the first down. Game over. To me, it’s reminiscent of the advantage the Patriots had all those years, playing as aggressive as they did with Tom Brady toward the end of games. It’s hard for a quarterback to earn that sort of trust. Mahomes has it implicitly at the age of 25.

I actually think we saw some good stuff from the Bucs. After that first quarter, in which Mahomes went off, and Tyreek Hill caught seven passes for 203 yards and two scores (that’s an 812-yard, eight-touchdown pace, FYI), the Bucs found themselves down 17–0, and later were in a 27–10 hole. So I really think they showed some character in rallying back in that situation against a team many regard as the best in football. Also, Rob Gronkowski (six catches, 106 yards) came alive, Chris Godwin (eight catches, 97 yards) continues to look like the kind of guy who would’ve fit perfectly in one of Brady’s Patriots offenses, and Ronald Jones’s potential at tailback is clear. And the defense really settled down after the first quarter. So no, they didn’t get the win, and Brady’s not really a moral-victory guy. But there’s a lot to work off of with this one, I think.

Joe Judge’s team had his back on Sunday. I’m not here to tell you that beating the Bengals by two, 19–17, represents a lot more than just that. But remember, this was the first game after the firing of line coach Marc Colombo, so how the Giants played was at least going to be interesting. Well, New York outgained Cincinnati 386 to 155, and the line group that was transferred from the tutelage of Colombo to Judge confidant Dave DeGuglielmo didn’t allow a sack and paved the way for 142 yards rushing. Postgame, asked on the team’s progress, Judge told reporters, “I don’t think you can compare this year to any other year. However, I am proud of our players, of the way our players are working. I’m proud of the improvement they’ve made. I’m proud of how they come to work every day.” And that’s the thing here. Judge knows he’s asked a lot of his guys—and he’s said pretty consistently to me since the summer that the buy-in, despite what people may have thought about players running laps in camp, etc., has been really good. Sunday’s performance, again, following all that happened the last couple weeks, is a solid sign of that.

The Bills are 83, but there’s still that lingering issue of closing out games. They won games in September over the Jets and Rams where they built massive first-half leads and had to hold on (and, in the case of the Rams game, come back). They let the Patriots and Seahawks hang around earlier this month, and it almost bit them. And it finally did get them against Arizona just before their bye. So yeah, the most important thing on Sunday was beating the Chargers and getting to 8–3. But letting the Chargers roll back from a 24–6 deficit and give Buffalonians a nervous fourth quarter wasn’t ideal. If L.A’s game management (we’ll get there) was a little better, they’d have been lining up for an onside kick down 27–24 in the game’s final minute. The Bills escaped that, but not the lingering question about finishing when given the chance. I remember asking Sean McDermott about it after Buffalo beat New England, and he answered that “Bill Belichick’s Bill Belichick for a reason,” while adding, “I’m disappointed that we couldn’t pull away, but I’m respectful of the situation. That’s honestly what we’ve got to go back and look at—why couldn’t we pull away further than what we did? That’ll be part of the gap that we’ve got to close this week.” Suffice it to say they’re still looking to close it. And given how the Bills now have more talent and a ton of experience playing together, I think it’s fair to say that could be the difference from here in either being just a good team or a great one.

Anthony Lynn’s going to face questions the next few weeks. Maybe there wasn’t much hope anyway, but handing the ball to Austin Ekeler with 25 seconds left, no timeouts remaining and the Bills leading 27–17 was one of those sorts of things that get remembered when you’re having the sort of 3–8 season the Chargers are enduring. L.A.’s about to enter a critical time for the franchise. Justin Herbert’s on a rookie contract. Next year, COVID-19 permitting, the Chargers will try to attract fans to Inglewood and SoFi Stadium for the first time. And Lynn was just given a one-year extension to ensure this year wouldn’t be a contract year. Will the Chargers do another Band-Aid deal? Would Lynn accept one? Would either side be good with sending Lynn into a contract year in 2021? So yeah, I do think Lynn has to win over the next few weeks. And I say that, as loyal readers of this column know, as a big Lynn fan.

Similar questions are waiting for Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. That was an ugly one on Sunday night—and that goes for everyone, not just the offense, this time around. The Packers scored on their first three possession, on long, drawn-out drives, then hit for a fourth touchdown on defense, then scored again after the break on two of their next three possessions. NBC color man Tony Dungy was actively calling out effort issues late in the game. That Mitch Trubisky posted a 74.7 passer rating with two picks, and it actually looked like an improvement over how he’s played, is damning. And that’s five straight losses. I don’t know where the McCaskeys’ heads are at right now on the future. I do know there’s a lot of chatter on it in NFL circles though, and this five-game losing streak gives them plenty to think about.

Nick Chubb is the best pure runner in football right now. And I’m saying that as someone who believes Derrick Henry’s a complete force of nature. But Chubb put up another 144 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries on Sunday and caught another three balls for 32 yards. It’s Chubb's fifth 100-yard outing in seven games this year and he’s averaging a pretty incredible 6.3 yards per carry. And he’ll be up for, and probably push for, a new contract after the season. Yeah, I get that the Browns may have paid Kareem Hunt thinking they might not re-sign Chubb. I just don’t know how they can let him go right now. He’s become too big a part of their identity. Plus, by all accounts, he’s the kind of guy they’d want to reward, because he’ll symbolize who they’re willing to pay. It’s been fun to watch him roll.

Raheem Morris deserves a real look in Atlanta. The Falcons’ 43–6 obliteration of the Raiders puts the interim coach at 4–2 and puts 4–7 Atlanta on the fringe of the NFC playoff race. I don’t think there’s any way they’ll get in. But Morris has put his stamp on the team, and it’s very clear in the defense’s turnaround. That group was playing so poorly when Dan Quinn was fired that some questioned why you’d promote the defensive coordinator of a unit that had allowed more than 400 yards four weeks in a row, as part of a 0–5 start. Since then? Just one opponent has gotten to 400 yards on Morris’s team. And on Sunday, that group held Vegas to 243 yards and rung up five takeaways. That, to be clear, doesn’t mean everything’s been fixed since Quinn’s been gone. But it should at least get Morris into serious consideration for the job full-time. Especially since staffers in Atlanta were touting him to get his second shot at being a head coach elsewhere well before this.

I’ve got some random thoughts too. Just because it was an eventful Sunday.

• I love the story of Teddy Bridgewater, and it really would’ve been cool to see him pull it out back in Minnesota. That said, it’s pretty clear there’s a ceiling there, and the Panthers may now be sinking into an area where they could draft a top QB. So stay tuned.

• Sunday was the first game—and in a Patriots win no less—where I really started to question Cam Newton’s future. The pick he threw to Dre Kirkpatrick in the fourth quarter probably should’ve cost the Patriots the game. And he didn’t play well otherwise, either. The way he’s holding the ball tells me either he’s having trouble seeing things like Josh McDaniels wants him to or there’s some sort of injury issue that’s making him hesitant. Five games left.

• It was at least interesting hearing Rams coach Sean McVay hold Jared Goff publicly accountable. Generally, McVay will take blame in situations like that on himself, which is a great quality of his. So Goff must be doing something wrong right now. (Although whatever it is seems minor compared to whatever his draft classmate Carson Wentz is going through.)

• The Dolphins’ workmanlike 20–3 dismantling of the Jets put Miami at seven wins, which I think is worth mentioning given the gravity of the rebuilding job that Brian Flores and Chris Grier put into motion 21 months ago. Definitely ahead of schedule.

• I’m excited to see Jalen Hurts on Monday night.

• I’m excited see Robert Griffin III on Tuesday night, COVID-19 permitting.

***

Sarah Fuller warms up before the game against Missouri at Faurot Field.

SIX FROM SATURDAY

1) It’s possible to recognize that Sarah Fuller couldn’t play linebacker in the SEC while still acknowledging that the Vanderbilt women’s soccer star appearing in an SEC football game as a kicker is pretty cool. My daughter’s not old enough to understand, but I think if she was, I’d show it to her. Will this change the game of football? Of course not. Is it a nice thing to hold up as an example that barriers are made to be broken through? Absolutely. And good for Fuller. It’s pretty tough to accomplish something no one else has before.

2) Can I be a crazed Ohio State alum for a minute? The Big Ten would be out of its mind to put a 7–1 Indiana team into its championship game over a 5–0 Ohio State team (if it comes to that). You’d delegitimize your conference’s championship by doing that, and hurt the chances of putting a team in the College Football Playoff. Who wins in that scenario?

3) Alabama’s Mac Jones looks really, really good. We’ve covered him a bunch here the last couple months, and my unscientific eye has shown me in all the time since that he’s incredibly accurate, moves well in the pocket and plays with a lot of poise (it also helps that his teammates are really, really good). From what I’ve heard, he is considering coming out of school as a fourth-year junior. One thing that may make it tough for Nick Saban to keep him is that the Alabama offense loses a lot after this year.

4) I caught this line from ex-Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer, referencing a Buckeye to capture the greatness of Gator TE Kyle Pitts: “He’s the Chase Young of 2020.” By that, Meyer meant Pitts is unstoppable, and it’s hard to argue against that. Playing defenses geared to stop him, the junior has scored on 11 of his 29 catches, while piling up 513 yards in six games. He was a first-rounder coming into this year, and many wondered if he’d opt out of the season over the summer. He may be a top-10 pick now.

5) Brian Kelly’s a hell of a football coach, and it’s easy to see why NFL teams were after him years ago. I think you can argue he has Notre Dame’s program at its ceiling, given all the challenges it faces in this era. And if you want the next Kelly? Buffalo’s Lance Leipold is older but has a similar background, having dominated at a lower division (Wisconsin-Whitewater), and won at a mid-major (where he is now). It’d be interesting if a Power 5 school hired him.

6) While we’re there, hats off to Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson. The junior tailback rushed for 409 yards (second-best in FBS history) and eight touchdowns (tying an FBS record) against Kent State on Saturday. There was talk that the ex-high school teammate of Chase Young’s would transfer before this year, but he stuck with the Bulls, and now the 5' 9", 195-pounder has positioned himself as a very real NFL prospect.

***

BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

In case you were wondering if Trevor Lawrence plans to declare for the 2021 draft.

Weird weekend in the NFL, for sure.

Always cool to see mutual respect, and while we’re there …

… I’m torn on this. I’m with Geoff that it shouldn’t matter. But it’s also not that hard. Yeah, maybe it’s a dumb custom. Still, it’s sort of a nice thing and there’s no need to avoid it.

That one would’ve given him his first 500-yard game, for what it’s worth.

Pretty good, except for the fact that his pen was out of ink.

You may be asking, Why is he including a guy named Brian Mosallam? Well … Mosallam is the Michigan State trustee who led the school’s search for a football coach last year. So he was a part of vetting, interviewing and ultimately trying to recruit Saleh to East Lansing. Which is to say what he’s saying here carries some weight.

I sort of love that Tyreek Hill is so aware of something that happened when I was a teenager.

I’ve definitely been Mike Evans here before.

They are.

Pretty raw comments from Joey Bosa, who was dominant against Buffalo in another Chargers loss.

This was weird.

But I do think the quarterback is, more often than not, going to get that call.

Again, what this dude pulled off Sunday—regardless of what the stats tell you—was remarkable. And he deserves everyone’s respect.

Congrats to our guy Conor! Best advice I can give: Two is more than one (and three, for that matter, is more than two), and the sooner you get comfortable with that, the easier it’ll be.

***

Seahawks Tyler Lockett DK Metcalf Fantasy Football

MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

Each week, we’ll connect with a player set to climb atop the Monday Night Football stage to get answers to a few questions. This week, Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett.

MMQB: How different was Thanksgiving for you this year, with the COVID-19 rules in place?

TL: It wasn’t different. I went to one of my teammate’s house and ate with them. That’s kind of what happens when your family’s not there.

MMQB: So that’s what you would’ve done anyway?

TL: Yeah, either that or I would’ve gone to a family’s house that has nothing to do with our football team. But I couldn’t do that.

MMQB: What changed for you guys last week, beating Arizona coming off the 1–3 stretch?

TL: We just played a full game. I think the biggest thing, going into that Thursday game, it was more of a mental type of week, and I think mentally we prepared really, really well and we knew what we had to do to execute and we went out and did it. Going into the football game, we mentally put ourselves in a great position to be successful. I just think that’s something that’s going to help us down this road, as we close out this season.

MMQB: You said it was mental, and you could use that going forward, how?

TL: For us, mentally, we had to sharpen up. We’d been doing a good job, and teams have been doing a great job game planning against us. And they showed us some things that we weren’t accustomed to and now that we’ve seen it, we adjusted. I think mentally we just had to prepare ourselves to take it up a notch, to go to another level, and that’s exactly what we did. We sharpened up things on offense, we sharpened up things on defense, as well as special teams. Even if it means paying more attention, focusing a little more, studying a little more or whatever we have to do to prepare ourselves mentally, I think that’s what each individual is doing.

MMQB: So does that help in taking care of the turnover problem too?

TL: Yeah, but honestly, you can’t control turnovers. That’s just a part of the game, that’s something that happens. The defense is good too. The defense makes plays. The defense studies film. And throwing the ball and running the ball has to do with trust. The biggest thing to me isn’t about whether we turn the ball over or not, it’s how we keep playing and how we keep executing, and not letting those moments define us or dictate how the game is gonna end up being.

MMQB: Have you ever played with anyone quite like D.K. Metcalf?

TL: I don’t know. I played with Doug [Baldwin] since I came into the league, and now I got the chance to play with D.K. I mean, I think being able to play with D.K., I get to see what it’s like for him coming into the league, and hopefully I get a chance to stay on the team and see what he’s gonna be like as he continues to progress and get better each day. When I came in, I think Doug was in his fourth or fifth year, so I didn’t get to see Doug blossom as a rookie and go forward. But I was able to see from the year that I got here to the year that he retired. So it’s different. I got to see D.K. blossom as a rookie and fortunately I’ve been able to be here to see him get better in his second year.

MMQB: Has that been rewarding for you, getting to be a part of that?

TL: It’s been pretty cool just to be able to watch. Like I said, I get a front row seat. I got to see how he was when I first got here. I get to see him, for the most part, every practice, every walkthrough. He stays after practice, he does what he has to do to get himself right, so I get to see him prepare. It’s a great feeling getting to see it, just to be able to see him out there and doing his thing, balling and making plays. He’s taken his game up a notch. I think he’s done a phenomenal job.

MMQB: A lot of people have talked about the offense opening up for Russell Wilson; how is it different from your perspective?

TL: Well, it’s like you said: We’ve opened it up for Russ. We put the ball in Russ’s hands a lot more because we trust him and his decision making, and I think they’re allowing us to just go out there and play, and play freely. When I first got here, it’s not that we didn’t do that, it was just we were more so focused on running the ball and throwing it when we had to. And now we’re trying to become more of a balanced team, and we lean on the throws a lot more in some games, other games we lean on the run. That just comes with trust in the players who they think are going to touch the ball, when it comes to our tight ends, the running backs running routes and receivers. I think it says a lot about how they trust us to be able to put the ball in Russ’s hands, knowing that he’s going to throw the ball to somebody.

MMQB: That’s got to be exciting for you as a receiver then …

TL: I mean, it’s exciting, it’s cool. But at the same time, you also see how much you need to run as well. Teams start game-planning you throwing the ball, teams start disguising a lot more, they start throwing out coverages you haven’t really seen a lot more, and it’s easy to do that when you throw the ball a whole lot. That’s why it’s important to be balanced and have a running game, because if you can do that, it takes away the disguise, it takes away the coverages that we might’ve not paid too much attention to on film or that they made just for us. It takes away them trying to blitz all the time, when you put yourself in situations to run the ball. So it helps us out when it comes to throwing, when it comes to play-action, and so I think all around we’re finding different ways to execute, which allows us to be successful. And it’s because of the receiver group that we have, we have receivers that are willing to block as well. It makes it all worthwhile, when people are doing the dirty work too.

MMQB: You get to see them at practice every day, do you think the defense is turning the corner?

TL: Defense is doing a great job, especially when we played against Arizona. That was a big game for them, and I think individually everybody’s starting to do their part, find their roles in allowing us to be successful.

MMQB: What’s the biggest thing, as a receiver, you have to be aware of playing Philly’s defense?

TL: Just be aware. We played them twice last year, so we understand who they are a little bit more and we understand the things that they did. So just be aware. They’ve got a lot of different coverages they like to throw at you, based on who they play, and so it’s just making sure we stick to our game plan, not get fooled by the things that they’re doing and just do what we practiced this entire week and not switch anything up.

MMQB: Six years into your career, is it still exciting playing on Monday night?

TL: I kinda look at every game like it’s the same. Even though we play Monday night, it still feels like a Sunday, just because of the way we go about our weekly routine, our weekly schedule. The only difference is we’re the only team that’s playing. But for the most part, it’s a little bit of excitement, a little bit of a great feeling, obviously it’s different because we don’t have fans so it’s not as much the same. But it’s still exciting to be able to play this game of football. You never know how long you’ll have to play it. So just to be able to go out there and play and have fun and do it with people you love being around, that’s a great feeling.

***

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

I’ll end on a personal note—this story from The Washington Post’s Kent Babb hit home for me. It’s outrageous that our front-line workers can’t get COVID-19 tests.

I won’t get on the NFL for testing as it is. It’s right by its players, coaches and staffers to do the daily screening, and the league can certainly afford it. But the fact that the NFL and NFLPA could administer over 645,000 tests (through Nov. 14), and an ER nurse can’t get one for his/her own peace of mind is plain wrong.

Someone needs to fix that, now.