In case you were under the illusion that Aaron Rodgers just wanted to get Randall Cobb back to Green Bay in July to prove a point, the Packers’ Week 4 win over the Steelers should dispelled that notion—four of Cobb’s five catches converted third downs and the other was his second of two touchdowns. And if you needed to be further disabused of the idea? Rodgers obliged you on this beautiful Cincinnati Sunday afternoon.
He did it with 2:33 left in overtime, on third-and-16 from the Bengals’ 47, with the knowledge that failing to convert might mean not seeing the ball again. At the snap, Rodgers took a short drop and drifted back to his left with edge rushers Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard closing in.
From there, he snapped his wrist and flicked the ball into the middle of the field, giving a subtle signal to his buddy of nearly 12 years to break toward it.
“I think a lot of that was just it,” coach Matt LaFleur said over the phone later in the night, after getting back to Green Bay. “Because it was not within the timing of the play. So I think that was just him having trust in Randall and Randall making a big-time catch. And he’s done that. Even in the limited opportunities he’s had, he has totally produced for us.”
These are the 2021 Packers—different, but in so many ways still the same.
To say it’s been a weird year in Green Bay would be an understatement. The offseason was tumultuous really from start (right after the loss to the Buccaneers) to finish (Rodgers’s reporting for training camp on time, without much notice). And worse, the season itself got off to about as disastrous a start as anyone could’ve imagined, with a blowout loss to a Saints team still in the throes of the Hurricane Ida aftermath playing a “home” game in Jacksonville.
Turns out, that wouldn’t be the demise of the Rodgers era Packers. Or even close.
Instead, the Packers regrouped and stood tall in Cincinnati on Sunday, in about as sideways a game as you could imagine. The Bengals battled back from 16–7 and 22–14 deficits behind their own force-of-nature quarterback, Joe Burrow, and after they tied it at 22, things got really strange. Joe Mixon’s touchdown tied it with 3:32 to go, and from there came a six-possession stretch with five missed field goals and a Burrow pick.
Which is where the Packers’ three most-tenured players took over. First, it was Rodgers with his ridiculous throw to Cobb. Then, it was LaFleur’s green-lighting Mason Crosby, fresh off three consecutive misses, to take a 49-yarder to win the game.
“This guy’s made big kick after big kick, at least while I’ve been here, and I feel like every time that we’ve asked him to come through, he has,” LaFleur continued. “I tried not to think too much about what had happened prior to that last kick, and more or less be like, Hey, this guy’s a pro. Go figure it out.”
Crosby figured it out, all right, and now the Packers have won four straight.
Which is to say what happened in the offseason is, at least temporarily, on the backburner. Mostly because this Green Bay team is rounding into becoming what everyone thought it could be all along.
Fifteen games down for Week 5, and one left, and we’ve got plenty for you to wrap up the weekend in this edition of the MMQB. Inside the column, you’ll get …
• Brandon Staley’s daring fourth-down philosophy.
• Jalen Hurts’s weird first half, leading to a wild second half.
• The Cowboys’ defense coming alive.
• Mac Jones’s most identifiable quality, five games into his career.
But we’re starting with the Packers, Crosby’s kicks, and what he, Rodgers and Cobb are bringing to the table as the guys bridging old and new in Green Bay.
Crosby’s plan is to jump into the tape early this week to figure out where the problem he had on Sunday might’ve come from—and if there’s anything common from the 36-yarder he missed with 2:12 left in regulation, the 51-yarder he missed on the last play of the fourth quarter and the 40-yarder he missed early in OT on the heels of Burrow’s interception to Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.
For what it’s worth, all of them went left, and he suspects on at least one of them, the laces weren’t spun all the way back.
So maybe he’ll find some mechanical fix in what went wrong. Maybe he won’t. But what was important when we talked—a few hours after the game, when he was headed back home from the airport in Green Bay—was how LaFleur and his coaches responded to the misses. After Rodgers hit Cobb, LaFleur went to special teams coach Maurice Drayton while officials reviewed the spot on Cobb’s catch to see if he’d covered the 16 yards to gain.
Cobb was a yard short, it turned out, and the delay gave LaFleur time to sort out the kick.
“You see a bunch of missed field goals, and naturally you’re like, ‘Should we kick it?’ ” Rodgers said. “But that’s why I went over. And Mo was saying, ‘Hey, kick it. We got it.’ ”
After missing the 40-yarder, Crosby took a couple of deep breaths, got some water and went and hit a few balls into the kicking net. Then he stationed himself about 20 yards behind the play, which was his vantage point for the Rodgers-to-Cobb connection.
“I knew we would get into field goal range,” Crosby told me. “Didn’t know how long it would take, but when you got Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, you know he’s going to make something happen.”
And when he did, LaFleur made his way over to his kicker and asked, “What do you think?” Crosby responded, “I got this.”‘
“The longer you do things, you see everything,” Crosby continued. “I saw Matt coming down the sideline, and I knew what he was gonna say. And we talked for a sec. He was thinking about going for it and it was just like, ‘Let’s just get this thing done. Let’s finish this thing.’ I felt confident from that hash especially; I’d kicked two 44-yarders on that left hash, same spots, earlier in the game. For me, I just fall back onto success. I don’t dwell on negatives.
“I don’t dwell on things that went wrong.”
And the moment he hit it, he knew it was where it needed to be, right down main street.
A little later in the afternoon, Crosby came across a picture from just after the kick, that showed him and Cobb together right after the 25–22 win.
“I’m giving him a big hug,” Crosby said of the picture, “just thanking him for one more opportunity so I could finish that one off. “
All this may make it feel a little like the Saints loss was four months ago, not four weeks ago; or like the Rodgers drama never happened at all.
But that stuff did happen. And in an interesting way, seeing everything go down like it did, and then following it with a four-game winning streak and a string of dramatic wins only confirmed to the players what the Packers have in their locker room.
“These last couple weeks, Randall’s been making some big plays in critical moments and Aaron always does his thing,” Crosby said. “Just for me, I’ve done this for a long time and about being able to finish off a game, looking at guys’ eyes and knowing that none of us ever quit, none of us have ever lost faith in each other. We always have each other’s back. That’s what a good team’s about.”
Which is why, after that season-opening loss, there was so little panic, even as so many of us on the outside wondered if it was tied to the events of the spring and early summer.
LaFleur, even then, saw it differently. He now even refers to it as “our first preseason game,” and says it’s made him question his decision to sit guys through August. Bottom line, from his view, the Packers just weren’t ready for Week 1. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“I mean, they just flat-out whipped our ass that day,” LaFleur said. “But we’ve got a resilient group, and our guys continue to fight. And I want to say it was pretty out of character for us but you know that you have to prove it every week. I told our team [Saturday] night, ‘Hey man, you cannot exhale for one second in this league, because if you do, you get punched in the mouth.’ And that’s just the reality of it.”
The Packers really haven’t had much of a chance to exhale since, anyway.
They fell behind early to the Lions before blowing past them in the second half in Week 2, won a thriller in Week 3 in San Francisco that mirrored the Cincinnati win in a few ways, then outlasted the Steelers at home. And the latest win came with, again, the three guys who’ve been around longest loading the team on their collective backs when it mattered most.
And that actually started on Saturday when, per LaFleur, Cobb took the reins and broke the offense down at the end of walkthrough—which was another sign that Rodgers knew what he was asking for when he pushed for the team to get his slot receiver back from the Texans. Which is why LaFleur doesn’t hesitate when asked if he feels good about the quarterback’s insistence on the acquisition.
“Hell yeah,” he responded, first running off everything Cobb’s done on the field the last few weeks, then adding, “His leadership within that room, within this team, I mean, he’s a pro. He didn’t sulk when he wasn’t getting those opportunities earlier in the year. He just kept about his business.”
Then, given the opportunity, Cobb delivered in a very big way. As did Rodgers. As did, finally, Crosby.
And in how it all came together, Crosby could draw a comparison that should make a lot of people in Wisconsin pretty happy, after having to endure a rollercoaster run from the end of last year to beginning of this one.
“If you want to look all the way back to 2010—teams that win championships find ways to win these kinda nasty, ugly games,” he said. “Games where not everything’s clicking, not everything’s exactly what it should be. And you just kinda will it into existence. I definitely am seeing that. I mean, this stuff couldn’t be made for TV, if you want to talk about drama and just how we finished off a few of these games. I mean, you couldn’t write this script.
“I think that’s what makes what we do and this game so exciting. This team definitely has something special. The way we never quit, never say die, just keep fighting until the end.”
They did it Sunday, too, without David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander, among others. “We still have a lot in front of us, and the thing that, I guess, that makes it pretty special is we’ve been winning with a lot of guys out,” LaFleur said. They’ll eventually get those guys back, and the last month should give them plenty to build on.
And if it was a little strange the path these guys all took to wind up back together?
Fair to say they’re O.K. with it now.
Packers-Bengals was bonkers, but it wasn’t the wildest game of the day—that distinction would have to go to one that ended three hours later, on the other side of the country.
And it wasn’t just the heavyweight prize fight feel that Chargers-Browns took on as the AFC’s nouveau riche went blow for blow at SoFi Stadium. It was also the number of interesting situations and decisions that we saw go down, and even the role analytics played in the game, as the hosts from Los Angeles found a way, in the end, to outpunch Kevin Stefanski’s crew by a final count of 47–24.
Of course, that really starts with the slew of fourth downs that Chargers coach Brandon Staley went for, and we’re going to break those down in a minute. But before we jump into Staley’s reasoning, it’s important to know that, for a group of players that’s seemed cursed at points over the last few years, the simple act of a coach’s going all-in on their ability to deliver in the biggest spots means more than a little.
Simply put, there’s a reason why the Chargers looked like an inspired team on Sunday.
“Man, he believes in us, and he shows us from the get-go that he’ll take our guys over anybody,” receiver Mike Williams said, after his eight-catch, 165-yard, two-touchdown performance. “He told us, there are going to be situations like that, whether its fourth-and-10, fourth-and-1 on our own whatever yard line or their yard line, where we gotta just go for it. He believed in us to go out and make the play; he trusts us. And we trust him to put us in a position to be successful, so we just get the play call and make plays.”
And make the plays, the Chargers did—going three-for-three on fourth downs, with Williams’s drawing a pass interference on another to move the chains, though that one didn’t go down in the box score as a conversion.
But it wasn’t just going for it on fourth down. It was the actual situations that the Chargers were in as they went for it, situations that don’t often call for these types of gambles. Three of the four were with four yards or more to gain, and other was from the Chargers’ own 24-yard line early in the third quarter.
“You gotta start with the premise that when you see it as an advantage situation, it makes it a lot, I think, easier,” Staley told me after the game. “We’re not gonna gamble. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re seeing it as an advantage situation for us. “
The first one, though, even to Staley, was a little different—a fourth-and-2 from the Chargers’ 24, with the Browns up 27–13 and 10:34 left in the third quarter. Failure to convert there would’ve put Cleveland in position to put the Chargers three touchdowns back, and make it pretty tough, based on how the Browns can run the ball, to come back.
So why go for it there?
“We needed to go for that because defensively we weren’t playing well,” Staley said, bluntly. “And we needed time to make some adjustments, to get our composure, and I felt like we get a first down there, now we get some more time to make things happen defensively. And then certainly our goal is to score, so when it was a two-score game, I thought keeping our offense out there was the best strategy for both sides of the ball.”
Also, he continued, “I liked the down-and-distance against that team and kinda how they played, because we knew what they like in that particular down-and-distance and felt good about the calls that we had up in that circumstance.” Sure enough, Austin Ekeler cut off left guard for nine yards, and nine plays later, Staley and his staff were at it again on a fourth-and-7 from the Browns’ 22—with phenom Justin Herbert hitting Keenan Allen for 12 yards to move the chains again.
Two plays later, Herbert scrambled for a nine-yard touchdown to complete a 14-play, 84-yard drive and, naturally, the Chargers went for two and converted to make it 27–21.
That set up an absolute shootout in the second half, during which, on one 11-play, 75-yard fourth-quarter drive, the Chargers converted two more fourth downs—one being the fourth-and-4 on which Williams drew pass interference and the other a 20-yard connection to Keenan Allen on fourth-and-8. And that was the precursor to a couple of scores late for Ekeler, one on the ground, the other through the air, to seize the lead for good late in the fourth quarter.
And while all this sounds really great to talk about just as a premise, there’s another piece of the puzzle that Staley can fit into that “advantage situation” category. Basically, every snap that Herbert takes, at this point, feels like an advantage situation for his team, and that’s given his coaches a lot of leeway to do these things.
“A lot [of it is having Justin],” he said. “Because on some of those shorter ones, we’re trying to give him a lot of options, whether we have a run tagged with an RPO. Or an advantage look where he has the option to throw it. And then in some of the passing game, the longer fourth downs, the other thing that he has going for him is that he has his legs. Like if it’s a tight pocket, he can get out of trouble and make something happen if it’s maybe not within the rhythm and timing of the play.
“So if the design is there, I know that he can make the throw and that we have got a bunch of guys who can win in the passing game. And then at the same time, if we don’t have that design come to life, then he can make stuff happen with his legs, and that’s what happened a couple times today. Justin is the best player on the field.”
He certainly was Sunday, and maybe the best player on any field in the league.
But this, of course, was about more than just him. It’s about a team that’s quickly taking on the personality of its coach and playing smart football across the board. We’re going to further illustrate that in MAQB too, in explaining how the Chargers’ situational play down the stretch, in working the clock, was a pretty good indicator of how sharp and aware the group here has become.
Until then, just know this: That win was a big one for Staley’s crew.
“That’s a really good team. I have a lot of respect for Kevin. That’s why I think it’s a big win, because I got a lot of respect for them,” Staley said. “I think that team’s gonna be there at the end of the season. You can make the case that they could be 4–0 because they had Kansas City. They had them on the road at Kansas City. So that’s a really good team that we played.
“They’re a very complete team in all three phases of the game, and that’s why I think it’s a big win because we played a really good team.”
Turns out that the Chargers are a really good team too.
The Bills may be the best team in the NFL. Buffalo, everyone’s preseason Super Bowl pick (or maybe just mine), didn’t have the kind of start anyone in Western New York was looking for, given that expectations there are as high as they’ve been in a quarter-century. The opener against Pittsburgh was, to put it lightly, rough. And since then?
• Bills 35, Dolphins 0.
• Bills 43, Washington 21.
• Bills 40, Texans 0.
• Bills 38, Chiefs 20.
The aggregate is 156–41. The average score is 39–10. And when I touched base with one prominent member of the organization after the Bills blew out the Chiefs, despite a rain storm, and despite having a lightning delay that lasted over an hour, he said what he liked most about the group they had was its overarching unselfishness. Obviously, they’ve got a lot of great young players in the mix too (Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Dion Dawkins, Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds, Matt Milano, Tre’Davious White), with older vets like Micah Hyde and Josh Poyer still around, and rookies like Greg Rousseau sprinkled in. But I do think the point that this is an unselfish, mature group counts for something—it means those scores up there won’t wind up swinging around as an issue, because the players might not be as prone to getting big heads over what they’re accomplishing. We’ll have more on these guys in the afternoon column.
I thought Jalen Hurts had a really weird day, mostly because of how it started. I told him I’d never seen a stat line like the one the Eagles’ quarterback had late in the first half: 12-of-20 for 35 yards. That’s right. Thirty-five yards. Less than two yards per attempt, less than three yards per completion. “It’s something we had to see through and overcome,” he said, from the locker room postgame. “First halves like that, they happen, but we won and that’s all we’re excited about. We overcame so much. We put ourselves in a bad situation with bad execution, missed opportunities on my end. So we overcame that, and that’s the beauty of this game, this sport, is it’s a complete team game.” Making what the Eagles did even better? They’d lost three straight games after pulverizing the Falcons in the opener, their last two by double-digits, and fell behind 15–6 at the half in Carolina Sunday. To say their eventual 21–18 win against a really good Panthers team was improbable would be an understatement. But pushing past the early flurry of screens and quick-hitters, designed to attack an aggressive Carolina defense that was ready for it, was vital after the break. And so it was that in the last minute of the third quarter, still down 15–6, Hurts dropped a 53-yard bomb to big-play magnet Quez Watkins. “We had an opportunity,” Hurts said of Watkins’s deep post. “Quez made a great play in the sense that he sparked us, gave us something, and we just have to take advantage of our opportunities. I say it all the time, and that doesn’t change, regardless of the result: Take advantage of the opportunities, and always apply pressure. And I think we began to apply pressure [there].” Two plays later, after a pass interference call on the Panthers put it on the Carolina 1, Hurts took it in himself. Then, at the wire, as Hurts said, each phase of the Eagles’ team did its part—with 5:35 left and Carolina up 18–13, the defense forced a three-and-out, the special teams blocked a punt and the offense took advantage of its opportunity, with Hurts’s capping a 27-yard drive to win the game with a six-yard touchdown on zone-read keeper. And so ends Philly’s three-game losing skid. “We control everything, we’re the master of our own faith and what we want,” Hurts said. “So we believe that—that if we do our jobs, especially if it’s the right way, good things will happen. We’ve had moments this year where that has happened, and we’ve had moments where it hasn’t.” Sunday, it did, and in a pretty surprising way. And we won’t have to wait long to figure out how much it really means, with the Super Bowl champs set to play in Philly on Thursday.
The Cowboys are a very real contender in the NFC. They showed, again, on Sunday, with a 44–20 rout of the Giants, just how good they can be on offense. And the truth is, there’s not much holding them back on that side of the ball. For the second straight week, the Zeke Elliott/Tony Pollard-fueled run game broke 200 yards. Dak Prescott had a passer rating topping 115 for a third straight week. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper scored touchdowns. The offensive line has dominated. But we could’ve conjured the idea of any of these things before the year. The big question really was on defense, and give new coordinator Dan Quinn credit, because he’s turned the Cowboys around on that side of the ball. They aren’t winning games on their own for Dallas, but with the offense the Cowboys have, they don’t need to—and they’re miles ahead of the disaster they fielded on defense last year. Trevon Diggs, with six picks in five games (including another on Sunday), is the playmaker on the back end they’ve lacked, even going back to when Byron Jones was on the team. Micah Parsons is a Swiss Army knife up front, the team’s leading tackler on Sunday, while also a dangerous pass rusher and capable coverage man. And the unit’s still playing without DeMarcus Lawrence and Neville Gallimore. The arrow’s pointing up in general in Dallas, but especially on the defense, which came into the season with a lot more room to grow than the offense—and has really started growing.
Mac Jones isn’t perfect, but there is a trend forming with the Patriots’ rookie. And I think it’s a piece of what veteran center David Andrews was referencing when he said, “Number 10, man, he’s a tough son of a gun.” Yes, Andrews was referring to Jones’s physical toughness—the first-round quarterback has taken a beating through his first month as a pro, and gets up big hit after big hit. But my guess is that Andrews is also considering Jones’s mental toughness in saying something like that, because it’s showing up when it matters most. The last two weeks, one a win, the other a loss, Jones has played from behind in the fourth quarter, and in adverse conditions in the fourth quarter (rain in Week 4 against the Buccaneers and a road environment in Week 5 against the Texans), and he responded in the fourth quarter with efficiency and poise. The numbers …
• vs. Tampa: 5-of-6, 60 yards, TD, 147.9 rating.
• at Houston: 8-of-12, 60 yards, TD, 106.2 rating.
In both cases, Jones left the field for the final time having given Nick Folk a chance to win a game with a kick. Against Tampa, Folk missed a 56-yarder with less than a minute left. In Houston, he nailed a 21-yarder to put the Texans away. And look, this doesn’t mean that the Patriots don’t have issues. They do. There was a lot to be concerned with going into the game against the rebuilding Texans, and that it took so much to beat Houston tells you that a lot of those issues remain. But they’re O.K. at quarterback now, with upside to keep getting better. So things could be worse.
The Cardinals look tougher than they have in the past. Last week, Kliff Kingsbury told me he thought the win over the Rams now eight days ago marked the most physical his team had played through the young season. And while Arizona’s 17–7 win over the 49ers this week did give us a couple of highlight-reel connections between Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins on the game-clinching touchdown drive, building that tough exterior paid off big-time against a Niners team that flipped its identity around with Trey Lance starting—and leaned much heavier on concepts that build the quarterback into the run game. The result? The Arizona defense found a way to get turnovers on downs on two fourth-and-1s, a fourth-and-2 and a fourth-and-4. Even better, they came in varying situations. Two were at midfield, one was on the fringe of field goal range and another at the Niners’ 1. So yes, Murray’s a very legit MVP candidate, and the offense (rookie Rondale Moore was electric on Sunday, and is adding an explosive element to the fleet of prolific receivers already on hand) will be exciting. But Kingsbury knew from the start, all the way back in camp, his team needed to get a little tougher and smarter all the way around. It looks like that’s happening.
While we’re there, I don’t think Trey Lance did enough to hang onto the starting job in San Francisco. Here’s what coach Kyle Shanahan said postgame: “Nothing has changed. That was just one game. That was a tough loss right there, and I’ll talk to our whole team tomorrow and think about how we can get our whole team better coming back from the bye.” Now, if there was a point to make the move, and put the young guy in the lineup, I understand why this would be it for the Niners. It’s their bye week, Lance got his feet wet against a really good defense and he’s brimming with physical ability. But to me, watching the Niners, you can see how different the offense is, and still has to be, with Lance’s hands on the wheel—something that should be expected of a guy who played a grand total of one game between of the middle of January 2020 and late summer ‘21, and was piloting blowout win after blowout win (which led to few instances of playing in long yardage or from behind) in the 17 starts he did make at North Dakota State. So I think patience is the right approach here, barring a team’s bring a vault to the table to try and Jimmy Garoppolo away. And for now, I think that’s the approach the Niners are going to take.
If the NFL wanted parity, here’s a good sign of it: Through five weeks, 17 of the league’s 32 teams are either 3–2 or 2–3. And if the Colts beat the Ravens Monday night, that number will jump to 19. In the group, there are a couple of pleasant surprises (Bengals, Broncos, Raiders) and rough starts for teams with high expectations (Chiefs, Niners, Patriots, Steelers). But there’s no one that perplexes me more than the Vikings. They’re 2–3, yet you look at their roster, and the way their best players have played, and there’s not the kind of explanation you’d think there’d be. To be fair, their losses came in overtime to Cincinnati, by a point at Arizona and by a touchdown to the Browns. Still, the Vikings nearly blew Sunday’s game against the Lions in pretty epic fashion—on a fumble by Alexander Mattison as the offense was trying to run the clock out—and there was the, well, different celebration between Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins at game’s end. And the real issue is what’s coming on the schedule, with trips to play the Panthers, Ravens, Chargers and 49ers, and home dates with the Cowboys and Packers between now and Thanksgiving. Zimmer, by the way, hasn’t had a season of double-digit losses, or consecutive playoff-less seasons since becoming a head coach. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot on the line for everyone in Minnesota the rest of the way.
I don’t think Urban Meyer or Jon Gruden are completely out of the woods yet. Both lost games Sunday, and in each case I think we’re still in a critical phase (though what Gruden’s being charged with in the court of public opinion is far more egregious than what Meyer is up against). So let’s take a quick look at each …
• I’ve always gotten along with Gruden, and I like him personally. And so I’d like to believe his explanation for the email he sent to former Washington team president Bruce Allen, whom he worked with in Oakland and Tampa. The email, sent during the 2011 lockout and obtained more recently by The Wall Street Journal, had a passage that read, “Dumborris Smith has lips the size of michellin [sic] tires.” That plays on an obvious old racial stereotype, but Gruden said, in his particular case, it was a reference to calling liars “rubber lips.” Either way, I know there are guys in his locker room who won’t buy it, and will wonder what else Gruden’s saying casually if he was willing to put what he did in an email. And winning those guys back will be challenge.
• The good news in Jacksonville: I don’t think effort was an issue for Meyer’s Jaguars on Sunday, which at least means that things have calmed down a little bit. But Meyer’s going to need to be proven honest. And that might take time. We wrote more about that in the mailbag last week. And the main point I made was that you and I don’t matter—a lot of people, for one reason or another, have been invested in Meyer’s failure (for whatever reason), so he can’t concern himself with what the general public thinks. He needs to make sure he doesn’t lose the locker room. And based on how he’s talked since this all went down, it’s pretty clear he gets that.
Russell Wilson’s injury raises questions about his future in Seattle that we were probably going to be asking regardless. Here’s how one source characterized Wilson’s place with the Seahawks in May, after Wilson and the team found some common ground, and the quarterback decided he’d show up for a 10th season in Seattle: “It’s basically I’m here now, and I’m going to make it the best it can be.” Before then, Wilson had seen the 2020 offseason as a sort of time to reset and launch the second phase of his career in every possible way, by taking a hard look at how he trained, how he prepared and, yes, which team he would play for. And in the process, he wanted three things from the Seahawks: input into a scheme offensively via the coordinator hire; a real piece or two for the offensive line; and a voice in organizational decisions. He got the first two boxes checked, with the hire of Shane Waldron and trade for Gabe Jackson, but not the third. So if the Seahawks are at the bottom of the NFC West when he gets back sometime around Thanksgiving, how will the last month of the season play out? And if it doesn’t get better from there and the team is convinced the sides won’t do another contract (he’ll be 35 when this one expires), would dealing him with two years left on his deal, to maximize his trade value, make the most sense anyway? There are lots of question unanswered here. Wilson, for his part, has been pretty open talking about how important his legacy is, and how he wants to be remembered in the same vein as the Mannings and Bradys of the world. He’ll be turning 33 when he gets back on the field. It’s not hard to see how this relationship might be trending toward its end. To me, the one thing that could change that would be Seattle’s remaining in contention without Wilson and giving him something to play for in December. Otherwise, we’ll probably be back where we were last winter.
I have a bunch of leftover thoughts to dig through with Week 5 almost done. Here you go …
• Burrow’s an elite competitor—and we got example after example in that game against the Packers. He needs to learn to be more judicious at times (he got hurt diving into a couple of Packers for extra yardage on Sunday), but some of the stuff he does is ridiculous and unteachable. Just go back and watch the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, which includes a third-and-6 throw to Ja’Marr Chase that was borderline impossible to defend.
• The Titans have fought and clawed through growing pains on defense and injuries at receiver to make it to 3–2. And on Sunday, in a 37–19 win, they did it their way again. Derrick Henry ran the ball 29 times (for 130 yards). Ryan Tannehill threw it 22 times.
• Best throw of the day made in vain: Teddy Bridgewater’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton to get Denver within five points with five minutes left (the Broncos ended up falling to the Steelers 27–19). Just a pretty bucket throw down the sideline.
• Don’t look now, but Ben Roethlisberger just had his best game of the year, and here’s what’s ahead for his Steelers: Geno Smith and the Seahawks, at Browns, Bears, Lions. Is it likely the Steelers get to 6–3? Maybe not. But with that schedule, it’s possible.
• The perfect Jameis Winston day: 279 yards passing, four touchdown passes, one unsightly interception, a lost fumble and a completed Hail Mary. The former No. 1 pick definitely packs everything he can into the 60 minutes he gets out there.
• The Falcons’ first two weeks: blowout loss to Philly, blowout loss to Tampa. Their three weeks since: win over Giants, loss to Washington at the wire, win over the Jets. It feels like progress to me, in Year 1 under Arthur Smith.
• The strip-and-scoop from Lions’ linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin is among the best plays you’ll see on defense from this week. Even if Detroit still wound up on the wrong side of the score.
• Justin Fields is clearly going to need time—and Sunday was a great example of how the Bears can buy it for him. They rushed for 143 yards (behind Khalil Herbert and Damien Williams) and played great defense. All of which meant they never had to ask too much of Fields.
• I’m really not sure I take many negatives from the Browns’ loss.
• Ditto for Dan Campbell and the Lions.
SIX FROM SATURDAY
1) I can’t help but wonder if, from an NFL standpoint, all of Ed Orgeron’s struggles at LSU are only enhancing the stock of Panthers’ OC Joe Brady. Orgeron’s been in charge for the equivalent of about five full seasons now in Baton Rouge. With Brady, he went 15–0 (8–0 in the SEC). Without him, he’s 33–17 (21–14 in the SEC).
2) We’ve talked a lot in this space over the years about Lincoln Riley’s ability as an offensive coach—but I think one thing people may miss is the ingenuity in the run game. How it’s helped Oklahoma grow early this year is why I think the Sooners are dangerous going forward, and another reason (beyond QB development) why NFL teams will stay on his trail. The game-winner against Texas was a great example of it; just look how much is going on here.
3) While we’re there, the benching of Spencer Rattler once again displays how iffy the 2022 draft class is at quarterback. Assuming Riley stays with true freshman Caleb Williams, Rattler will have an interesting decision to make—declare for the draft knowing he won’t go nearly as high as he’d hoped (à la Jamie Newman last year) or transfer out and start anew in another program.
4) Ole Miss’s Matt Corral might be the leader in the clubhouse now to be the first quarterback taken—and Saturday’s game against a decent Arkansas defense won’t hurt his cause (14-of-21 for 287 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs)—after being ranked by National Football Scouting as the nation’s top senior quarterback coming into the season. Thing is, some teams were skeptical coming into the year about his viability as an NFL starter. Now, he’s being compared to Zach Wilson. We’ll see where this one lands in the spring. But, yes, it’s another sign that draft options at the position might not be great (which would only juice the market for guys like Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson).
5) We mentioned Alabama’s Jameson Williams last week. He had another 10 catches for 146 yards and two scores in the Tide’s loss to Texas A&M. And his ex-teammates Chris Olave (7 catches, 120 yards, 2 TDs) and Garrett Wilson (5 catches, 84 yards, 2 TDs) showed, again, what was limiting Williams’s playing time at Ohio State. Which means there could be a shot, and maybe it’s an outside one, that all three go in the first round six months from now.
6) What an awesome, awesome Saturday. From the Red River game to the A&M upset, and everything in between, just a thoroughly enjoyable showcase of the best of college football.
BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET
Came out of it alright, though.
Amazing fact from my buddy Sam that illustrates how unique that one was.
Probably should’ve been.
Long live Chase Daniel!
Guy Chamberlin had an unforgettable run, for sure.
I’m not a fan of scoreboard proposals either … but that’s not cool, Elika!
This right here is a man who lives by his own rules.
I’ve seen these with numbers before, but this is totally next level.
Very tough look for the Jags.
Being a pro athlete in Dallas isn’t a bad gig.
I really do believe this is genuine. Campbell’s a really good dude.
The rights thing burns me up. When I’m commuting on Sunday, no RedZone. And as I found out thanks to the London game, no games on NFL Network either.
Good, quick thinking by the Brits.
Not nice, Nora!
No doubt, Zac. If there’s one thing I learned from Tress about football, it’s that every series should end with a kick.
MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT
Every week, we talk to a prominent player about to step on the MNF stage. This week, ahead of Colts-Ravens, we’ve got one of last year’s top rookies, and one of the game’s best young safeties, in Indianapolis’s Julian Blackmon.
MMQB: How big was it to show you guys could win last week with so many important pieces down, and did it feel like you turned a corner?
Julian Blackmon: Definitely, especially because coming into any year, you’re always playing with some different guys. Defensively, because I’m speaking from a defensive standpoint, we’re all figuring what it’s going to look like, what it’s going to take, who’s going to make plays. And at the same time, we all gotta be ready. At the end of the day, we know that even if you’re a two, a three, we all have to prepare the same way—as if we’re starters. That’s what really prepared us; that’s what gives you the edge when another guy goes down and another man has to step up. Khari Willis was down as well, and Andrew Sendejo stepped up big-time for him. It’s all mental, just making sure everyone’s paying attention and tuned into the game plan. So when your number’s called, you’re ready.
MMQB: Just from a depth and resilience standpoint, do you think there’ll be a benefit going through the injuries early in the year?
JB: Absolutely. It brings fresher legs too—within the week, you can get guys in and guys out, because you trust more guys. That’s the whole goal, to keep everyone fresh. We’ve got a long season, and we know that. So seeing guys come in that weren’t starters, and have them play just as well as the starters, it gives all that validation, that we’re gonna be O.K. further down the line.
MMQB: Do feel like you’re past the 0–3 start, and is there something to be gained from it?
JB: It just makes us all aware that it’s hard to win in the NFL. And winning last week makes us realize just how much we love to win. It’s important to realize that every win is huge in the NFL. So for us, the biggest thing we took, Man, we won, let’s keep doing it. It’s hard to do it, and we know it. We went 0–3, and now we’re 1–3 and we remember how that felt. Let’s continue with it.
MMQB: This will sound a little weird, but coming into the NFL as a third-round pick, did anything about your success last year surprise you at all?
JB: Personally, no, because I wasn’t a third-round pick until I tore my ACL. So I’ve always had that edge in my mind. I’ve always thought I could play just as good as anybody else at my position. Just knowing I had that chip on my shoulder, because I knew that I had to come prove a point. Coming off injury or not, you have to have that mindset. So for me, it wasn’t surprising. But it made me more secure in who I am, making plays as a young guy. Making those plays gives you confidence, and it’s helped this year too.
MMQB: So without the ACL, how high do you go?
JB: Man, I don’t know. I’m just glad I’m here, man.
MMQB: What’s the biggest difference for you now then, from year one to year two?
JB: I’d say this year I’m much more at ease—with my assignment, with where I’m supposed to be aligned, and even just situational football, understanding if we’re two minute, or at the end of a half, end of a game, understanding what those situations mean. For me, it just helped getting those games under my belt to fine tune who I am becoming this year. This year, it’s been a lot easier for me to catch on to things quickly, and just being in the right spot for guys and knowing they trust me.
MMQB: Most people would say you did pretty well as a rookie, what helped get you through the knee injury last year?
JB: I think it’s just the way that I ate—the things I was eating and making sure I was taking my anti-inflammatories. Making sure I didn’t let the swelling get up too much and just paying attention to how I was feeling day-in and day-out. It was tough. But at the same time, as long as you’re mentally tough, man, and just taking care of your body, you’ll be O.K. That’s a big thing I had to learn, that I’m still learning right now. Your body is your money.
MMQB: That’s interesting, I’ve never heard anyone say their diet got them through ACL rehab, what exactly did you cut out?
JB: I definitely took out more of the fried foods and started eating more salmon, more fish, more fish oil. I do take magnesium. And like I said, it’s making sure I’m taking my anti-inflammatories, my tart cherry juice, anything to help with inflammation to make sure I get ahead of that before knees start to get fluid inside of them. So for me that’s very important with what I eat. It’s more vegetables. Eating the carbs I need, because this game, it takes a toll on you if you don’t make sure you get enough carbs every day, not just weekly.
MMQB: Was there anything you loved that you had to cut out?
JB: Dude, steak was one of the biggest things I had to chill out on, because I was eating steak like every other day. It was just, I feel like eating steak today! I had to cut that out a little bit, eat more fish, bring more healthy foods. What helps is I live right by a Whole Foods.
MMQB: So how different is preparing for the Baltimore offense vs. other NFL offenses?
JB: It’s a lot different because of who the quarterback is—very electrifying guy, if not the most electrifying guy in the game. And that definitely changes a lot of how we prepare, just making sure we’re always tuning into our jobs, just doing our jobs—that’s the main thing for us, making sure that everybody is in the right gap, and as DBs making sure that we get the call and understand situational football, what things are supposed to look like and where we’re supposed to be. We can take chances here and there, but it’s definitely different compared to every other team because you got Lamar Jackson at quarterback, and knowing that, we just have to try to limit him.
MMQB: Is there anything specifically you have to have in your head as a DB playing Lamar?
JB: That this dude can throw the ball just as good as any of them. And that’s the thing, because he runs the ball better than most running backs. So you really just gotta be on your keys. For me, specifically, I know I gotta take care of my job, which is the middle of the field. I call my job the eraser—erasing mistakes. Maybe somebody was supposed to be somewhere and wasn’t there, I’m supposed to erase that. So for me, it’s limiting explosive plays and make it hard for them.
MMQB: Are you aware of the Colts’ history in Baltimore?
JB: I’m not—what’s the story?
MMQB: Well, you know the Colts used to be the Baltimore Colts, right?
JB: Oh, was it? I did not know that.
MMQB: Ask Frank [Reich] about it, he might have played them.
JB: I will [laughing]!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
It’s 5:40 a.m., and I’m killing my guy Mitch by filing so late. So he’s getting the column now, and I’ll see you in a few hours for the MAQB. It’s also my turn in our power rankings rotation this week, so I’ll have that for you on Tuesday.