We had a great weekend of football at every level to recap, so let’s dive in …
• The Bills did more than beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead on Sunday night—they put together a dominant effort in hostile and inclement conditions that forcefully puts them at the front of the class in the AFC. And they did it with a pretty unique mix of players. One word that’s been raised to me by multiple people in the building in the aftermath of the rout of the Chiefs is unselfish, and there’s example after example of that quality popping up the last couple of days. In some cases, it’s established stars passing the spotlight on to teammates who may go unnoticed in a big week last the last one was in Buffalo …
In other cases, it’s the little things you see if you’re looking …
And then, there’s the way guys are conducting themselves. For a variety reasons, yesterday was going to be a heavier 21 and 12 personnel game for the offense. That meant less playing time for the receivers. Accordingly, Cole Beasley only played 22 snaps and caught one ball, and you couldn’t find a happier guy in the locker room after the game. Promising second-year receiver Gabe Davis, similarly, played just 14 snaps, but was locked in and wound up with a key 16-yard pickup on a game-clinching drive that covered 85 yards in 12 plays. Even Stefon Diggs was held to two catches at Arrowhead, and he continued to carry himself like the captain he’s become. So you have a unique mix of guys willing to play roles and wanting to spread the credit around (rookie Boogie Basham’s giving Star Lotulelei credit for a sack he registered against the Texans is another example). That, of course, is by design. And it’s one more area where it sure looks like the Sean McDermott/Brandon Beane rebuild really hit it big.
• We focused plenty in the morning column on Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley’s propensity for going for it (don’t call it gambling!) on fourth down. But there was something else that really leapt off the screen to me late Sunday afternoon—and that’s just how aware the Chargers were situationally. It was Austin Ekeler’s sliding by the boundary after picking up eight yards to the Browns’ 3 on third-and-2 with less than two minutes left. And it’s what happened after that, too, with Cleveland out of timeouts. Go back and watch, and you’ll see how the Chargers’ tackling was picture-perfect, and how the players were focused on defending the sideline and getting guys to the ground before they could make it there. It was a clinic in fundamentals, a clinic in situational football and a pretty good indicator on how swiftly that staff has made an impact on the roster. “You hit it, I felt like our play at the end of the half too, when we fumbled and were able to get a really good stop on defense to force a field goal—that would've been a killer if they would've scored before the half, and we were able to hold them to three,” Staley told me postgame. “And I just felt like in the second half, we really played as a team, and I felt like specifically at the end of the game, both sides of the ball did what we had to do. We did what we had to do and finished the game playing our best. I think you're right about that.” Bottom line, if you look closely, it’s usually pretty easy to pick out the most well-coached teams in the league. I think the Chargers are now in that category.
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• Texans’ rookie Davis Mills checked a pretty relevant box yesterday—showing to his teammates, and those running the team, a level of resilience and mental toughness that not all young players have. Mills, to put it lightly, had a horrible outing in Buffalo in Week 4, completing 11-of-21 throws for just 87 yards and four picks. And as a guy who, thanks to injury, simply didn’t play a lot of college football (11 starts over four seasons at Stanford), there wasn’t a whole lot of background to draw from. Well, consider this test passed. Even if personnel-wise these Patriots aren’t fielding a vintage Bill Belichick defense, the Texans aren’t exactly rolling out world-beaters around Mills either (Houston lost its best offensive player, Laremy Tunsil, in-game), and that’s still Belichick on the other sideline. But Mills looked poised and confident throughout, in throwing for 312 yards, three touchdowns and a 141.7 rating on 21-of-29 passing. You could even argue, in the end, that he may have been the best rookie quarterback on the field Sunday. So there’s something for the Texans to feel good about going forward. And with a relatively mediocre quarterbacking crop expected in next April’s draft, Mills is positioned get a nice long look from Nick Caserio and David Culley. Which isn’t to say he’s the guy they’ll build around, just that he has a chance now to prove he can be that guy for the Texans, or someone else down the line.
• This was a helpful tweet from my buddy Nick Underhill, founder of NewOrleans.football.
In there, you have a top-five receiver, the team’s starting left tackle and center, two starting defensive linemen, a starting linebacker and a promising young receiver. The Saints should start getting guys back after their bye, which is this week, with their next game set for two weeks from Monday night in Seattle. After that, they get the Bucs at home on Halloween. Provided they can beat Geno Smith and the Seahawks on the road, they’ll be 4–2 heading into the Tampa game—which is a testament to the job the team’s done managing around all the absences.
• Zac Taylor told the Cincinnati media on Monday that the team sent Joe Burrow to the hospital after the Bengals’ loss to the Packers as a precaution, after Burrow was poked in the throat during the game and had trouble talking postgame. Taylor said Burrow came in ready to work on Monday, and that’s good news because there was a lot to build on coming out of that game against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. I’ll say this: The Packers’ people I’ve talked to were thoroughly impressed with Burrow, and believe the Bengals are going to be a problem going forward with No. 9 at the controls. And I’d say they have a really good frame of reference for working with young QBs.
• Saquon Barkley’s injury issues (and he does seem to have dodge a bullet on his ankle ailment from Sunday, which apparently looked worse than it was) are a great reminder that the injury rate in the NFL is 100%, and those who play long enough will have a hard time avoiding something unfortunate. Why do I say that? One big plus to the idea of taking Saquon Barkley high was how clean his medical record was. I remember one team saying to me that usually the only prospects with marks like Barkley came back with are kickers and punters. And yet, he keeps getting hurt as a pro. That’s just the business.
• When I asked Packers’ coach Matt LaFleur if he’s getting a feel that the group he has is a special one (I asked because Mason Crosby said it was to me earlier in the season), he gave me a pretty interesting answer. “I think it's a little premature to say that right now,” he answered. “I mean, we're five games into this thing and there's so much ball left in front of us, but I do think it's a pretty special group in terms of just their ability to be resilient. I think the leadership in that locker room is something special, but I felt that way for a couple years.” He then pointed out that one early sign for him that the leadership is, indeed, special, different or both, is signaled in how the team has handled being without David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Za'Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander. They keep winning now in spite of all those absences, and should be stronger later, both depth-wise and intangibly, for having gone through it. “I really thought that tonight was our best defensive performance of the season,” LaFleur said after the game. “I was really proud of those guys. They kept us in it early because our offense didn't generate a whole lot in that first quarter. But our defense kept us in it.”
• I forgot to cover the Buccaneers’ win over the Dolphins in the MMQB column. So here is what it was: Tom Brady threw for another 400 yards, and Tampa boat-raced the Dolphins, who hung tough early, to move to 4–1. From here, the Bucs get the Eagles, Bears, Washington, the Giants, Colts and Falcons between now and a Dec. 12 showdown with the Bills, with the home date against the Saints looking like the tallest hurdle on the path to that Buffalo game. Which is to say the Bucs are probably going to have at least a couple of home games in the playoffs (presuming they advance when they get there).
• Don’t give up on the Chiefs yet. As we detailed in the Sept. 29 mailbag, there are a lot of new pieces there, and sometimes these things take time—even in the year Kansas City won the Super Bowl, the defense scuffled a bunch before finding its way late.
• Important game for the Colts Monday night—that program isn’t a start-up anymore. And 1–4 would be a tough hole to dig out of. The morning column has a long interview with safety Julian Blackmon on preparing for Lamar Jackson and more.
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