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Week 5 Takeaways: Justin Herbert Plants His Flag as Football’s Best Player, Cowboys on the Run

Plus, the Steelers offense shows signs of life, lots of kicker drama and bad calls, fake fake punt disasters, Urban Meyer’s latest lowlight, and much more!

Welcome to the Week 5 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...

Things That Made Me Giddy

Justin Herbert Continues to Be Incredible: His physical traits allow the Chargers to design and call, basically, whatever they want. Constantly under duress against the Browns’ front four on Sunday, Herbert was utterly spectacular. And to beat an elite opponent on short rest, in which the offense needed to put up 40-plus points, is the sign of a franchise-defining player.

The Cowboys’ Hog Mollies Are Hog Mollier Than the Giants’ Hog Mollies: Dallas could breathe easy once Mike Glennon was in the game, but they controlled this one throughout, especially up front (and in spite of center Tyler Biadasz’s continued struggles). The Cowboys went for 201 rushing yards on 39 carries against a very good Giants front.

Steelers Offense, Better: It was the best performance they’ve had from the offensive line in two years, and while Ben Roethlisberger will still spark his share of nervous moments—he’s a bottom-10 starting quarterback but still a starting-caliber quarterback—a day like Sunday will more than do. They got a long touchdown early, took a lead, then let the run game (35 rushes, 147 yards) and defense carry the load. Roethlisberger only dropped back 26 times in the win over Denver.

Arizona Stays Perfect: And now they have wins over the Rams and 49ers, with the Seahawks facing a lengthy sans-Russell Wilson period.

The Bucs Offense With Their (Almost) Full Complement of Weapons: Now that Tom Brady is essentially coordinating the offense himself, there’s not much reason to believe anything besides inclement weather or an elite opponent will slow down the Bucs. Tampa rolled up 558 yards of offense and went 8-for-10 on third down against the Dolphins.

Kirk Cousins Gets It Done Again: This Vikings have had three games decided by a game-ending field-goal attempt. They’re getting used to having to mount late drives to win games or force overtime, and Cousins has now done so three times (including setting up Greg Joseph for the chip-shot he missed at Arizona) in four opportunities this season. Against the Lions on Sunday, he drove the Vikings 46 yards in 30 seconds and three plays with two timeouts to set up Joseph’s game-winner.

Tim Kelly Just Humiliated the Entire Belichick Family: And the Texans offensive coordinator did it with a rookie third-round QB throwing to the likes of the Chrises Moore (fresh off the practice squad) and Conley.

Mason Crosby, Eventually: Three straight misses on potential game-winners before finally connecting at the end of overtime (a chance he only got because Evan McPherson’s would-be game-winner drifted just wide). As Meatloaf once sang, 1 out of 4 ain’t bad.

Bears Do It Their Way: The offense is ugly as ever, but they went into Vegas and dominated with the pass rush and coverage that for the most part didn’t give up anything downfield (and when they did allow something downfield, the Raiders tended to drop it).

Trey Lance Shows Some Flashes: Kyle Shanahan called a lot of designed runs for him, and he was clearly instructed to look to take off if his first two reads weren’t there. He made a couple of impressive, tight-window throws and made plays with his legs. He needs to reach a point where he’s actually taking some checkdown opportunities, which were there. Ultimately, coming up short on a fourth-and-goal (and three other fourth-down attempts) did this offense in.

Hey, a Nathan Peterman Cameo!: That always adds a little spice to the weekend. He ran three plays while Derek Carr was banged up, one a hand-off, one a third-down scramble just short of the line-to-gain, and a fourth-down QB sneak to convert the first down.

Terrence Mitchell Punchout: Just like Soda Popinski. At least when I fight Soda Popinski. I have a lot of issues with Soda Popinski. As for the Texans’ veteran DB, he had a touchdown-saving forced fumble on Damien Harris as Harris was on the verge of crossing the goal line.

Matt Nagy’s Indecision Pays Off: Well, except for the fact that when Justin Fields had to leave the game after tweaking his knee, Andy Dalton didn’t even have his rib-protector on on the sideline, so the backup quarterback was literally unprepared to enter the game.

This Kicker Will Be the Death of Mike Zimmer: Greg Joseph is three weeks removed from pushing a chip-shot would-be game-winner against the Cardinals. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s back-and-forth win over Detroit, Joseph hit from 55, was short from 49, and then connected from 54 to walk it off.


Regrets

This 33-Yard, Fourth-Down Defensive Pass Interference Flag:

The Browns’ Final Drive: If not for an injury to Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill stopping the clock, it would have been a complete disaster. In need of a 75-yard touchdown drive with 91 seconds left and no timeouts, Baker Mayfield checked down twice on the first three plays, moving the Browns 12 yards and taking 50 of those 91 seconds off the clock and forcing Cleveland into chucking two end-game Hail Mary's (which fell incomplete).

Daniel Jones’s Scary Head Injury: To be clear, he initiated the contact, lowering his head in trying to run through Jabril Cox on a third-and-goal boot from the 1. It’s especially disheartening as Jones was absolutely taking off over the past month. By halftime, the Giants had lost Jones, Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay in a game they had entered without Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton.

An Erratic Sam Darnold: This one got away from the Panthers, who blew a nine-point second-half lead at home to the Eagles despite quality performances from the defense and run game. Darnold, unfortunately, looked every bit like the Jets edition in what was by far his worst performance of 2021.

49ers O-Line Adjusting to Trey Lance: One thing about Jimmy Garoppolo: the ball got out, if not always accurately, at least on time. Lance is willing and able to extend plays, and the 49ers’ linemen were repeatedly caught holding as a result of simply not having a feel for where their quarterback was, or where he was going.

Urban Meyer Throws Challenge Flag as His Latest Form of Apology to the Locker Room: I don’t know how I feel about this. It was a terrible idea to throw the red flag on this play—Meyer is throwing away a challenge and a second-half timeout in a game Jacksonville trailed by two possessions early in the second half. But sometimes, I guess, you just have to give the people what they want (especially when you’ve repeatedly embarrassed yourself and duffed multiple apologies to those people).

What Did Dan Campbell Ever Do to You, Kickers of the World?: The Lions head coach has now seen a win turn into a loss on walk-off kicks by Justin Tucker from 66 and Greg Joseph from 54.

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Dan Campbell Has the Same Record as Urban Meyer: Anyone who claims they’ve ever heard anything more unfair is quite simply a filthy rotten liar.

Josh Norman Needs Help on DeAndre Hopkins: DeMeco Ryans wants to heat up opposing quarterbacks, and the results have been awfully good so far (including Sunday; they held the Cardinals to 17 points and 5.1 yards per play on Sunday). But Norman was utterly hopeless against Hopkins on more than a few occasions.

Patriots Running Backs and Their Thousand Fumble Pledge: Damien Harris, whose late fumble cost them a win in the opener, had one punched out as he got near the goal line in Houston, taking a touchdown off the board. Throw in J.J. Taylor’s devastating lost fumble last week against Tampa and Rhamondre Stevenson’s extended benching after losing one in the opener, and you have a hugely fluky yet hugely worrying trend.

America’s Chief Export Is Terrible Roughing the Passer Calls:

The 49ers Are Running Too Far Behind: There’s not much margin for error in the NFC West, and the 49ers are not only 2–3 but now 0–2 within the division as they head into their bye week.

Spiking the Ball Outside the End Zone Is the Lamest Penalty: But that’s what one intrepid official flagged Broncos rookie RB Javonte Williams for after Williams was dragged down two yards short of the end zone at the end of a 49-yard run. It’s only a five-yard delay of game penalty, but that was the difference between first-and-goal at the 2 and first-and-goal at the 7. The Broncos ran for a short gain on first down and Teddy Bridgewater was sacked on second down, backing them up to the 17 for third-and-goal. They settled for a field goal, while the official presumably settled for a smug sense of self-satisfaction.

49ers on Fourth Down: They went 1-for-5, including coming up inches short on the goal line in the second quarter, which is how they ended up losing a game in which they absolutely seemed to be on equal footing with Arizona.

Houston’s Special Teams: Yeesh. Whether it was the ill-fated fake fake punt that traveled zero yards, the two missed PATs, or having to burn a timeout before a 56-yard field goal attempt that missed while protecting a seven-point fourth-quarter lead, the Texans don’t have the kind of margin for error to afford that kind of third-unit nonsense.

Sean Payton Has Issues: Because this Saints offense is very not good, and they might be looking at an extended absence for Taysom Hill and far fewer possible answers to their problems.

Even Tom Brady Sometimes: On a first-quarter snap, Brady had Antonio Brown, the most talented wide receiver in the NFL right now, running uncovered down the right sideline. He instead chose to take a shot for Leonard Fournette, a running back who is almost literally incapable of catching a forward pass, running, well-covered, down the left sideline. (The result was an incompletion.)

Play the London Game at a Normal Hour: There’s no reason the game can’t kick off at 6 p.m. local time in London, with the rest of the early slate, to make it a normal body clock game. At some point the NFL has to draw a line between gimmicky money grab and quality of product, right? (Right?)

Poor Evan McPherson: It’s one thing to miss the potential game-winning kick by inches, but another to make yourself into a meme while doing so:


Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

Jameis to Callaway Hail Mary: Though, sheesh, you can’t defend this any worse than Football Team did here:

This Texans Fake Fake Punt: I appreciate the ingenuity—all the bells and whistles cause the Patriots return man to abandon his post, and theoretically this punt could have rolled forever. But you could argue that, based on the fact that Cameron Johnston takes the short snap and punts it off the back of his teammate’s head, maybe it wasn’t worth it in the end:


What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

The Cardinals Sure Are Interesting: The defense is tremendous—J.J. Watt has been worth every penny. Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins make a handful of superhuman plays every week. But Murray looked banged up by the end of Sunday, repeatedly having his upper throwing arm worked on, and their play designs outside of his improvisation are pretty lacking. They would have lost in Minnesota had it not been for a missed chip shot, and they were on pretty even-footing with Jacksonville and the injury-ravaged 49ers. Arizona is sitting at 5–0 and already have a win at the Rams, and that’s a great spot to be in. But the demand on their offensive stars, as was the case this time last year, seems downright unreasonable.

The Browns Are Absolutely Among the Elite: They went toe-to-toe with the Chiefs and Chargers on the road, and fell to a combination of fluky turnover in K.C. and questionable calls in L.A.

The Patriots Were Lucky to Escape Houston: Belichick and Co. got outcoached, and ultimately they were bailed out by the Texans’ comedy of special teams errors. New England is built to win low-scoring games, which means things will often be uncomfortably close, but they’re not supposed to be getting in dogfights against Houston’s XFL-caliber roster.

Another QB Decision Coming for Brian Flores: Miami is heading to London to face the Jaguars next week, and Flores just watched Jacoby Brissett, over a three-game run (and on one leg on Sunday), underwhelm yet give him much more capable quarterback play than he’s gotten from Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa might have a higher long-term ceiling (an assessment based entirely on his pre-draft film at this point), but Tua surely remains a difficult sell to the locker room. Meanwhile, one year after Ryan Fitzpatrick had them in playoff contention, their season is slipping away. (Though injuries to each quarterback might make Flores’s decision for him.)

Glenn Frey’s Work Is Going to Score Jack Del Rio’s Press Availabilities: The Football Team secondary has had more blown coverages than any in football, and on Sunday they added a poorly played Hail Mary to boot. A defense that was supposed to dominate has now allowed 135 points over the last four weeks. Indeed, the H is O.

LeBron James Was at the Chargers-Browns Game: Can LeBron make the NFL cool? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Urban Meyer’s Future: Again, you should never base a decision on just five games. However, if anyone were to ever disqualify themselves as an NFL head coach in just five games, Meyer’s tenure thus far would be precisely what it would look like.

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