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MMQB: Joe Burrow Says This Is Who the Bengals Are Now

The young quarterback is not surprised about Ja'Marr Chase's incredible rookie season or blowing out the Ravens. Plus, the physical Titans punish the Chiefs, the latest on Deshaun Watson trade rumors, Joe Judge, Kliff Kingsbury, Derek Carr and more from Week 7.

No more than an hour after Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine had broken off long touchdown runs to deliver twin knockout blows and send 70,000 fans at M&T Bank Stadium to the exits, the face of this operation, 24-year-old Joe Burrow, lacked even a hint of an uptick in his voice as he explained what he and his Bengals teammates had just done.

Why? Well, Burrow’s not surprised by it in the least.

And if you are, then you should listen to what the quarterback said when I asked if he felt like Sunday’s stunning rout of the Ravens was a sign the Bengals’ ship is turning.

“No, it’s already turned,” Burrow told me. “That chapter from yesteryear is gone and behind us. And this is who we are now. We’re a tough, physical team that’s hard to beat, and we’re going to be in every single game because of the defense that we have, and the playmakers that we have on the outside. So it’s exciting. Excited for the city, excited for the organization, but we’re not satisfied.”

Bengals 41, Ravens 17 felt like a whole lot more than another Week 7 win.

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It wasn’t just the score or the opponent, either. It was everything. It’s how Burrow and his LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase have systematically erased doubts from training camp over and over again. It’s how Chase has turned that summer skepticism from a few drops into the greatest start by a rookie receiver ever. It’s how Burrow continues to play with less and less fear, so soon after ACL surgery.

It’s how Zac Taylor, Brian Callahan and Lou Anarumo have created aggressive, heady units capable of carrying out aggressive game plans. It’s how a patched-together secondary full of guys signed from winning programs has come together to lead the defense. It’s how Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin’s starting to catch fire draft-wise.

And it’s added up to a Bengals team that—surprise!—would be the AFC’s No. 1 seed if the regular season ended today, carrying road wins against its division’s powerhouses in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and a sort of belief that was forever in short supply in Cincinnati before Burrow and Chase arrived.

“We came ready to play football, worked at practice and it translated to the game,” Chase told me postgame. “I don’t think we’re scared of anybody. I don’t think we scared of nobody to be honest. … We got enough courage to go into anybody’s stadium to play football. That’s how we execute, how we practice and how we bring it to the game.”

The Bengals brought it on Sunday, alright. And they left with quite a story to tell.


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It was Blowout Sunday in the NFL—11 games were played and only one was decided by a single possession—but that does not mean we’re lacking for material. In this week’s MMQB column …

• A look at the surging Titans and their destruction of the Chiefs.

• An update on, and dive into, the Deshaun Watson trade situation.

• A very different week of preparation for Giants coach Joe Judge.

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And a ton more! But we’re starting with the Bengals, and their new place in the AFC hierarchy.


For the record, what you saw with Burrow and Chase over the summer was real. We’ve already detailed what Burrow went through during that stretch where he was off, and how it was part of his process coming back from ACL surgery. And as for Chase, his own bout with inconsistency in the dead of August was part of a process too—having come off a year off, after he opted out of the 2020 college season.

“I wasn’t really worried about it, really much at all, to be honest,” Chase said. “I felt like it was just me not getting better with my hand-eye coordination, because I was out so long. Coming back, knocking a bit of rust off me, I had to make sure I get back to normal, back to myself.”

Two months later, Burrow’s clearly himself, and Chase is too, and together they’ve helped change everything in Cincinnati.

It’s been six years since the Bengals last made the playoffs, and within that drought established stars that helped the team make it to the postseason five years running, from 2011 to ‘15, were cycled out, which left a blank canvass on which the new coach, Taylor, and the holdover scouting chief, Tobin, would reimagine the team.

One thing that was clear: They wanted to stock the locker room with guys from winning programs. So they brought Vonn Bell and Trey Hendrickson from the Saints, Mike Hilton from the Steelers, Chidobe Awuzie from the Cowboys and Trae Waynes from the Vikings. The first draft pick with Taylor as coach was a left tackle from the Alabama juggernaut. Then, in consecutive years, came two studs off perhaps the greatest college offense of all time.

The Bengals knew to change the mentality, they needed to bring in guys who expected success, even if that success didn’t come right away.

“We have another year in the system, we brought some guys in during free agency that have really helped us and then we’ve drafted well the last three years,” Burrow said. “A lot of guys have hit and are really performing for us. So we knew what we could be, but it feels great to have it show up on the field.”

It did in Pittsburgh in September, and again earlier this month, when the Bengals went toe to toe with the Packers into overtime. It most certainly was all on display in Baltimore on Sunday. And even on Saturday night, if you looked closely enough, you might’ve seen it coming.

That was the point at which Chase found something to exploit in the Baltimore defense and All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey in particular: “I was just remembering how he plays slants, how he plays in-routes, how he plays speed off the ball.” Chase and Burrow discussed it and, sure enough, through the first half they saw their opening to take advantage.

Humphrey was pressing Chase at the line, but then bailing off the receiver right away at the snap. Chase and Burrow figured the rookie receiver could run hard at Humphrey, catch him in his backpedal, then break in and run away from him. And it happened with six minutes left in the third quarter of what had been a seesaw game at that point.

Chase got Humphrey off-balance and caught the ball short. Humphrey ran after him, but because the move caught him, Humphrey was stumbling. So when he got to Chase, the receiver easily spun free from his tackle attempt, then ran past everyone for an 83-yard touchdown that made it 27–17 Bengals.

“I just gave him a quick hesitation at the line, just gave him a quick burst and separated at about five yards on a slant angle. And everything was there,” Chase said.

Minutes later, Burrow put his trust implicitly not just in Chase, but also in the team’s once-maligned defense. On the offense’s next possession, the Bengals drove from their own 15 to the Baltimore 9, from which point Burrow took a sack, which led to a third-and-goal from the 16—not exactly an advantageous situation for the offense. From there, Burrow threw one up down the right sideline at Chase, and Humphrey picked him off.

A high-percentage throw, it was not. But there was a calculation to his risk.

“Our defense has proven to be one of the best in the league, and they’ve really turned into an attacking-mindset defense,” Burrow said. “And that’s what’s hardest to play against. Our defensive coordinator, Lou [Anarumo], is doing a great job of mixing up coverages and looks, and they’re tough to go against, even in practice. So I was upset with that pick, but I’ve been taking chances like that this year because we have our defense is playing so well.

“And so that allows me to be more aggressive in certain situations.”

Four minutes later, the Bengals’ defense justified Burrow’s trust by forcing a turnover on downs at the Baltimore 38, and that’s where Cincinnati really flexed its newfound muscle. Four punishing runs later, the last one a 21-yarder from Mixon, the Bengals were in the end zone again to make it 34–17. The defense followed that by forcing another turnover on downs, which the offense turned into another touchdown scored without Burrow’s having to throw a pass, capped with a 46-yard touchdown run by Perine.

Those two possessions: Six snaps, six runs, 86 yards, two touchdowns, ballgame.

“It’s the killer mindset, that’s what we’ve been trying to get this whole year,” Burrow said. “When we get a lead on somebody, we’re going to try to shove it down their throats and really finish the job off in the run game, and it really feels good today to have that happen. The O-line, they just continue to get better and better. We got a great coach [Frank Pollack], that’s having them put in a lot of extra work, and they’re just getting better and better.”

So it was that a hotly contested game through three-plus quarters quickly devolved into a blowout. And so it now is that the Bengals are sitting atop the AFC.

Burrow, for his part, finished the game with 416 yards, three touchdowns and a 113.5 rating, despite the fact that the interception he threw, with 14:55 left, was his last throw of the afternoon. Chase ended up with 201 yards on eight catches, which gives him 35 catches for 754 yards and six touchdowns on the season, and puts him on a 77-catch, 1,567-yard, 14-touchdown pace.

And despite what happened over the summer, leaves him with one unsurprised teammate.

“Yeah, I knew,” Burrow said, with a laugh. “I knew exactly what was going to happen. I’ve never seen anybody cover Ja’Marr. I still haven’t seen anybody cover Ja’Marr. So people are going to figure something else out, other than putting him one-on-one.”

These days, the Bengals are giving other people a lot to figure out in general. Which, it turns out, is exactly how all these guys drew it up.


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PHYSICAL TITANS PUNISH CHIEFS

The Titans’ defense had its moments earlier in the year. But no one was expecting a unit that’s allowed 30-plus points in three of six games coming in, and 27 points in a loss to the lowly Jets, to come in and shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense, even if K.C. hasn’t quite been K.C. this year. Even the Titans themselves, if they’re being honest about it, probably couldn’t have forecasted it.

But going into the showdown between two teams pretty familiar with each other, the Titans’ coaches weren’t about to build up the challenge of playing Mahomes to be more than it is. So they offered the players three keys to stopping the Chiefs.

1) Affect Mahomes.

2) Nothing deep.

3) Be the more physical team.

Simple? Why yes it was.

“We’re not going to win a track meet, but let’s make it bloody, let’s make it tough on those guys,” safety Kevin Byard said to me, from the locker room postgame. “Make them drive the ball down the field; make them earn everything.”

In the end, that intergalactic Chiefs offense wouldn’t earn much.

The Titans didn’t just win the game. They bludgeoned the Chiefs, with the final score’s falling at 27–3, in a way that Mahomes, Andy Reid and that crew isn’t used to. The point total was the lowest of Mahomes’s pro or college careers. It’s also the lowest of Reid’s time in Kansas City. At halftime, the Chiefs had four first downs and 67 yards, Mahomes’s passer rating was 27.8 and the score was 27–0.

“It feels great,” Byard said. “It’s one of those things—we play against the Jets and we give up big plays, and when you watch the film, you see, Hey, if we stop doing this, we can be great. And it’s the same thing, when we’re going to use this film in this game as an example to say, Hey, if we handle our keys, if we affect the quarterback, especially a quarterback like 15, if we eliminate the big ball, if we play physical at all positions from the front to the back-end, be physical, we can beat anybody.

“Like there’s no team in the NFL we feel like we can’t beat if we handle those keys, so it’s just another early reminder during the season and as we continue to progress throughout this year, that we have to handle these keys every single week to beat teams.”

The last one was prescient once again, but in a very different way than you might be used to seeing from the Titans.

Normally, the team’s physicality shows up in Derrick Henry’s stat line. In Weeks 2 to 6, it did—Henry went for 182, 113, 157, 130 and 143 yards rushing in those games. Week 7, though, was different, with the Chiefs’ selling out to try to limit Henry.

To a degree, it worked. The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year had just 86 rushing yards, averaged a season-low 3.0 yards per carry and was limited to 16 yards on two catches. But interestingly enough, that didn’t do much to flip the Titans’ plan at all—Tennessee still ran the ball more than it threw it, and the defense kept bringing the lumber, and cracks started to show in the Chiefs over time as a result.

One such occurrence happened at the end of the first half, with Byard chasing down Mahomes and popping the ball loose from behind. The quarterback still hadn’t been sacked yet at that point, but the Titans had chased him around and hit him, and hoped the dam would eventually break.

“And I actually just watched the highlight, he tried to tuck it at the last minute, but that’s something that we talk about all the time when guys are running with the ball,” Byard explained. “A lot of these quarterbacks, they don’t really have great ball security, so punch the ball out. And I was just happy to make a play for the team, make a play for the defense. … As long as we keep hammering and keep hammering, eventually we’re going to get those things out, and today we were able to get it out.”

The Titans wound up tacking a field goal onto the halftime score as a result of the play.

But like Byard said, those sorts of things symbolize the cumulative effect the Titans are trying to create every week by being the more physical team—something that showed up in a different way against Buffalo six days earlier, during Tennessee’s big, game-winning goal-line stand.

“Obviously Derek Henry being the guy that he is, our offensive line, they’re physical, they’re pushing piles,” Byard said. “And there was a stat that came out last week that we had the most come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter in the NFL since Vrabel has been the coach. And that’s because we impose our will on teams early in the games. And things may not be pretty or everything’s not perfect, but toward the end of the game, in the fourth quarter, those things tend to pile up and they tend to matter.

“So like I said, guys were just flying around today. Our defensive line, they were just really getting after him, and that’s just the mentality of our team. We want to be physical.”

It’s fair to say they accomplished that much, again, on Sunday, in reining Mahomes in like he hasn’t been reined in in a long, long time (ever?).

And yes, that Jets loss happened. But clearly, the Titans have found something since, and the hope is that getting guys like Taylor Lewan, Bud Dupree and Julio Jones closer to full health will only help.

“I would think that’s kind of like the motto of this team, this year. Just so resilient, and no matter what situation we’re put in, no matter what team we play, we’re going to fight until the last second,” Byard said. “And you think about last week with the Buffalo Bills and the goal-line stop, just resilient. Things aren’t always perfect, but as long as we keep fighting, and keep defending every blade of the grass, that’s who we are. Just Tennessee Tough.”


Deshaun Watson walks off the field during a game against the Bears

TEN TAKEAWAYS

I don’t think Texans GM Nick Caserio is going to panic trade Deshaun Watson. At this point, Houston’s carried Watson on its roster for three months with Watson coming into the building for work without really being a member of the team. So it’s not like the awkwardness is going to suddenly shake anyone there. And Caserio also has to know that there’d be football reasons for waiting until January or February. One would be that any further clarity from the legal system or the league could boost Watson’s trade value (though there’s risk it could go the other way too). Another would be that the Texans would know where the 2022 picks they get in return are going to be in the draft order. Third, there’d almost certainly be more suitors then than there are now, since some teams that don’t necessarily need a quarterback right now might decide to look for an upgrade (Giants? Browns? Saints? Steelers?), like the Niners and Rams did last winter. So I’d expect that Caserio will hold interested teams to his price (three first-rounders, plus additional picks and/or players), mostly because Caserio knows this will likely become the defining move of his time in Houston. A few other things to keep in mind …

• Ownership will play a role on the buyer side. For some teams, the allegations of sexual misconduct make a Watson trade a non-starter. But other teams have owners who are consumed with finding a franchise quarterback (I’d put the Panthers in that category), to the point where the owner could drive a trade for Watson.

• Ownership could play a role on the seller side too. My understanding is that both sides view the relationship between Texans owner Cal McNair and Watson as irreparable. It’s certainly possible now that McNair would nudge Caserio to turn over every rock on a potential pre-deadline trade, because he just wants it to be over with.

• As we wrote in Friday’s GamePlan, the league has been vague with teams (and specifically owners) on whether it would move to put Watson on the exempt list if he’s traded. That, of course, doesn’t mean it will happen. It’s just been a factor in the pace of talks.

• I’ve had people in the Texans’ building tell me Watson has handled the situation very professionally the last three months—I even had David Culley say that to me a few weeks ago. That’s obviously made the situation more palatable for people working there, and might make another team feel more comfortable trading for him.

So we’ll see what happens. We’ve got eight days until the trade deadline, and there’s a league meeting in New York this week (we’ll get into that more in a bit), which will put some of the key players in this together in one place. And one last thing, and I’ve said this a bunch: I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the allegations here, nor do I think it’s fair to convict Watson here, either. I think it’s important that we all let the legal piece of this play out. And as for whether Watson gets back on the field while that’s still ongoing? We should know more within about a week.

The Giants went back to the fundamentals this week. And that was a result of Joe Judge and his staff looking at the totality of the Giants’ 1–5 start, and the accumulation of little loose ends adding up to a sideways start to the season. “We had receivers slipping and falling on the ground. We had guys on defense that were in zone defense and they’re not in the right spot depth-wise,” Judge told me Sunday night. “We had man coverage that we lost leverage on, and we had offensive linemen getting beat inside. Everything we looked at, it’s like, ‘Alright, look, you can try to look at like the big thing and choke yourself out with the big picture. But let’s just go back to what happened. How do you fix this block? How do you fix this pass protection? How do you fix this coverage?’ “Turns out, a hard look at that stuff did the Giants a lot of good. So on Sunday, they didn’t just deal the Panthers their fourth straight loss, and avoid a second three-game losing streak on the young season. The Giants think they found something—and it came through Judge’s shifting priorities in the building, with less focus specifically on the opponent and more focus inward. But it’d take some creativity to get there. Because of injuries, going back to camp-style fundamental teaching wasn’t feasible, and that meant Judge and his staff coming up with ideas to get the guys that sort of work while protecting the players who were beat up. Assistant Jeremy Pruitt threw out the idea of working in more walkthroughs, an idea he took from a particularly injury-marred portion of his tenure in Tennessee. Thus, the week set up like this …

Wednesday: The first hour of practice was dedicated to fundamental work with healthy players, and that portion was full speed and with tempo. The rest, game-planning work focused on the Panthers, was at a walkthrough pace, and included the banged-up guys.

Thursday: The first 45 minutes focused of fundamental work, with the Panthers-focused work, again, done thereafter at a walkthrough pace and in teaching-and-exchange periods.

Friday: Fridays are routinely at a tamped-down pace, so this particular Friday was pretty much a normal Friday.

The results showed up, per Judge, in tackling and blocking, and how the Giants caught the ball and held onto it. It also appeared in a six-sack, 10-hurry effort from the pass rush—something Judge attributed in part to the coverage being tighter, giving Sam Darnold fewer places to go with the ball. Judge also told me, in getting here, he learned a little something too. In going through the fundamental work, he explained, he saw an uptick from a lot of guys who missed time in camp and never got the chance to be drilled in those areas. And so now, he’s going to just keep on top of it better going forward. “It’ll definitely be a large focus of what we do,” he said. “And I’ve already made points of, ‘O.K., going forward, we gotta change how we practice a little bit.’ We always work on fundamentals, but you can see that they just got lax. … That’s a foundational base for us, but I can’t allow it to slip, and I gotta make sure we definitely stay more on that track. Keep preparing for the opponent, but we gotta stay more on that track.” They’ll have plenty of reason to, given how their next month sets up—with the Chiefs next Monday, the Raiders the Sunday after that, then the bye and a trip to Tampa on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If the Giants really do dig themselves out of that 1–5 hole, being 2–5 now, they’re going to have to earn it.

The Packers are getting better, and their red-zone defense is proof of it. Coming into Sunday, that particular part of the team was no good—Green Bay, under new coordinator Joe Barry, had allowed 15 touchdowns in 15 trips to the red zone by opponents through six games. Which is, obviously, as bad as it gets. The seventh game? Check this out …

• On Washington’s second possession of the second half, it had first-and-goal at the 6. It ended up in fourth-and-1 at 1, where a Taylor Heinicke sneak was smothered by De’Vondre Campbell and Rashan Gary. The Packers forced a fumble on the play, but the turnover on downs would’ve had the same effort.

• On the WFT’s next possession, the Packers got Washington from first-and-10 at the 11 to fourth-and-2 from the 3, and that’s where veteran safety Adrian Amos squashed the threat, covering Washington tight end Ricky Seals-Jones like a glove.

• Washington’s fourth possession of the half got to a first-and-10 from the Packers’ 14 with 7:24 left. Two plays later, Chandon Sullivan picked off Heinicke to preserve a 24–7 lead.

• On Washington’s final real possession of the game, the team was in first-and-goal from the 9. Over the next three plays, there were two sacks (one from Kingsley Keke, another split between he and Gary), that put Washington in fourth-and-goal from the Packers’ 27. And eventually led to a field goal that cut the Green Bay lead to 24–10, which wound up being the final score.

Now, this isn’t to say the Packers’ red-zone woes on D won’t resurface, because these things can be hard to predict either way. What I would say is that it’s pretty encouraging to see this sort of improvement happening in-season with a team that’s only lost once. The Packers, to be sure, have given themselves plenty of margin for error, just having Aaron Rodgers out there. And if they haven’t had to use it, even better.

I think the Cardinals’ staff deserves a lot of credit for its handling of the last week. And when I touched base with Kliff Kingsbury on Sunday night, he was very quick to heap praise specifically on his defensive coordinator Vance Joseph (“Such a stud,” Kingsbury texted) for the job Joseph did in leading the staff, along with special teams coach Jeff Rodgers, over the eight previous days, and then to the team’s breezy 31–5 win over the Texans. So how did the last 24 hours work? Well, the truth is, some on staff didn’t even know Kingsbury was coming back from his COVID-19 absence until Sunday morning—the Cardinals wanted to maintain the status quo for the players and coaches, until Kingsbury could officially come back. That happened Sunday morning, with the proverbial hay in the barn. The coaches handled the week, and then on Saturday night, Joseph addressed the players during their quick night-before meeting, telling the guys he wanted them to play fast and, to play off a theme for the season in Arizona, be “one week better” against the Texans. And while they didn’t start fast, the Cardinals did wind up playing fast—racing past lowly Houston with a 17-point second quarter, during which the hosts rolled to a 193 to 26 edge in total yards and put the visitors in the rearview. And because they’ve been working through this situation for a while, it was easy to manage working Kingsbury back into the mix as the team’s leader and play-caller. In that way, seeing as how the Cardinals are 7–0, it’s pretty logical that they’d stick to their script. It’s working. Thursday night’s showdown against the Packers should give us a good idea of just how well it’s working.

The Raiders are rolling, and to me there’s an interesting psychological element at play here. Derek Carr’s history with play-callers has sort of whipped back and forth over the years. At the start of his career, he cultivated a strong, peer-like rapport with coordinator Greg Olson. When Jack Del Rio took over in 2015, he got a harder-edged voice in Olson’s replacement, Bill Musgrave. Del Rio fired Musgrave in early 2017, in order to keep QB coach Todd Downing. Downing, who was more or less friends with Carr, oversaw a bit of a downturn that fall. And Jon Gruden, another tougher voice, arrived in 2018. So it’s interesting that Olson, who returned as Gruden’s OC in 2018, has gotten so much from Carr in Carr’s two starts since Gruden resigned. Carr’s thrown for 664 yards and four touchdowns in wins over the Broncos and Eagles, and has ascended into a role as de facto team spokesman for the post-Gruden Raiders. And after the 33–22 victory over the Eagles on Sunday, Carr opened up to tell reporters that, following all of the organizational tumult, he wrote down, then underlined, three words: Just have fun! Yes, Carr was hit hard with the loss of Gruden, and had, indeed, cultivated a strong relationship with him, even where many expected that relationship would come undone a long time ago. Still, it seems just as clear that having a positive voice like Olson’s has really helped the last couple of weeks. And now the Raiders have a quarterback building momentum heading into midseason.

National Tight End Day is a pretty funny idea—and in a weird way it actually all worked out. The idea for this “holiday” was an offshoot of Tight End U, a project launched by Niners star George Kittle and ex-Panther All-Pro Greg Olsen a couple of years ago to help guys at the position help each other, by gathering everyone for an annual event in Nashville. And you have to give them credit, they’ve been pretty relentless about drumming up interest—and the result has been a series of collaborations with NFL Network, NFL Films and the league’s social media arm, and the league itself actually distributed information to all the broadcast teams ahead of this weekend to include in the game coverage. So if you thought you were being hit over the head with it on Sunday, well, just know that a lot of broadcasters were handed that hammer. And while we’re here, then, a few highlights from NTED …

• Falcons rookie Kyle Pitts had seven catches for 163 yards, the fourth-highest single-game yardage total by a rookie tight end ever. He’s just 605 yards short of Mike Ditka’s 60-year-old single-season yardage record for a rookie tight end. With another 164 yards, he’ll be in the top 10 all-time for a rookie tight end.

• The Bengals’ late-blooming, seventh-year TE C.J. Uzomah had three catches for 91 yards, including touchdowns of 32 and 55 yards in Cincinnati’s stunning rout of the Ravens—and Sunday was another part of his continued emergence as one of Burrow’s most trusted targets.

• The Dolphins’ Mike Gesicki had seven catches for 85 yards and a touchdown to help Miami storm back from 13 down in the fourth quarter. They lost the game, but Gesicki has absolutely emerged as a big-time target for Tua Tagovailoa.

• Foster Moreau, Hunter Henry and Mo Alie-Cox had pivotal touchdowns for their teams.

All kidding aside, I’ve always wondered why these guys aren’t more appreciated—a good one is the ultimate queen on a coordinator’s chessboard, and it’s a lot harder to find that guy than it is a really good receiver. Which, I guess, would be a big reason why these guys made this effort in the first place.

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I don’t know what Dan Campbell’s approach is going to add up to long-term, but it’s fun to watch now, and you can see in the energy of the team that Lions players like it too. In case you missed it, here’s the rundown …

• After drawing first blood on a 63-yard screen that D’Andre Swift housed, Campbell called for an onside kick and the Lions recovered it.

• Five plays into the ensuing drive, Campbell called for a fake punt on fourth-and-7 from the 50. It worked, and Detroit wound up kicking a field goal to go up 10–0.

• In the third quarter, Campbell called for another fake punt, this one on fourth-and-8 from the Lions’ 35. It worked and extended the drive, but Swift got stacked up later in the drive on a fourth-and-1 from the Rams’ 18 to end that threat, leaving the Lions down 17–16.

The Lions then converted four third downs on a nine-minute fourth-quarter possession that represented the last real chance before ex-Ram Jared Goff threw a back-breaker of a pick with five minutes left. Still, we saw the Lions fight their tails off again, and it was thanks in part to a coach who played the swashbuckler against a team that had his outgunned from the start. “Yeah, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating,” Campbell said. “We felt like we could gain an advantage there and see if we could get some possessions back. And they helped. But it wasn’t enough. That’s too good of a football team. You’re not allowed to make one or two errors against a football team like that. So that’s what’s tough. You get in those type of games against them, comes down to us trying to make a play in the pass game there towards the end to get in the end zone. And Aaron Donald, man, we did a pretty good job for most of the day and then he gets us on one and there you go.” So the Lions went home with a loss, and the hope that they’ll eventually get guys like that (losing actually might help that cause too, if we’re being honest). Until then? Well, I think Campbell’s got his players’ respect, in that they can see how he’s willing to do what it takes to beat better teams. And when you watch a guy like Swift run, it’s pretty clear that Campbell’s getting through to them.

Tom Brady’s getting to 600 touchdown passes definitely deserves mention. As you’d expect, Brady said the best thing about hitting this milestone is the amount of people who’ve been on the receiving end of those throws and, thus, can share it with him. But just to put this in perspective.

• At 602, Brady now sits 182 touchdown passes ahead of Dan Marino, who, at 420, held the record for most touchdowns passes for 22 years. Brady’s 90 clear of Brett Favre, who broke Marino’s record in 2007.

• John Elway is 12th on the list with 300 touchdown passes. Brady has more than twice as many.

• Russell Wilson is 325 touchdown passes behind Brady. He’d need eight 41-touchdown seasons to get to Brady’s current number of 602. Wilson’s career high in a season is 40.

So yeah, it seems like Brady’s record is going to be safe for a little while. And it’s a significant one too, because it encapsulates his excellence, resilience, adaptability and determination all at once.

My quick-hitting thoughts coming out of Week 7 …

• It’s been nice to see Matthew Stafford continuing to connect with Detroit fans, and I thought he did a nice job paying his respects.

• My sense is, and I know this might sound out of whack, that the Texans actually like Davis Mills more than Tua Tagovailoa.

• We’ll have more on the Chiefs in the afternoon, but, again, it’s important to remember football’s still a line of scrimmage game. That’s where they lost on Sunday.

• The Jets are probably going to be forced to sit Zach Wilson because of his PCL injury, but even before he went down I wondered if that might be what’s best—giving him more time. The same might go for Justin Fields, especially considering the Bears’ offensive line woes.

• I do wonder if this is it for Sam Darnold as a viable long-term option at quarterback. So long as Carolina doesn’t land Watson, the Panthers give him a little more rope. But the dude has to start producing and fast.

• The rain bailed Carson Wentz out of a couple unsightly throws, but I thought the Colts’ QB tightened up down the stretch. And he’s got a couple of really nice young weapons in Michael Pittman Jr. and Jonathan Taylor.

• The rule that allowed Brandon Aiyuk to run into the end zone with the ball, after flubbing it near the 30, and not take a safety is a really bad one.

• One bright spot for the Niners: Nick Bosa was a freaking menace.

• It’s scary how natural Cordarrelle Patterson—a 2013 first-rounder as a receiver—looks as a tailback. Good on Josh McDaniels for ID’ing that a few years back, and on Arthur Smith for earmarking him to be a back more consistently in Atlanta.

• I found this comment from Colts star Darius Leonard postgame on the Niners, via The Athletic’s Stephen Holder, pretty interesting: “They did a great job, especially on the first drive, of misdirection runs and putting us in bad positions to make plays. I was glad they kind of went away from that.”

The league will have its first in-person owners meeting since December 2019 this week, and it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it. The following optics are on the agenda distributed to teams ahead of this two-day session in New York:

1) Diversity and inclusion

2) Fan engagement/Super Bowl update

3) Finance

4) Football operations update

5) International update

6) Legalized sports betting

7) NFL Media update

But there’s no question that there will be eyes on Washington owner Dan Snyder over the two days there, and you’d think at least some informal discussion on the NFL’s decision to keep the findings of its eight-figure investigation of the Washington Football Team’s toxic workplace culture private, even as the Jon Gruden situation unfolded. At the very least, there’ll be one very unhappy owner in the building, in Raiders owner Mark Davis, who (rightly) believes the situation would have been handled differently if Jerry Jones’s, Robert Kraft’s, John Mara’s or Art Rooney’s team were involved. I’ll be interested to hear if Davis is willing to get vocal on the topic. And we’ll have more on the meetings from my Acela ride this afternoon in the MAQB.


Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux, center, jokes with teammates during the Oregon Spring Football game at Autzen Stadium.

SIX FROM SATURDAY

1) Kayvon Thibodeaux had the kind of Saturday that we’ll be talking about in the spring when he’s going inside the top two or three picks—the Oregon junior had nine tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in helping keep the Ducks in the playoff chase, with a 34–31 win at UCLA. NFL folks, to be sure, are already paying attention. “He would go No. 1 if the draft were today,” said one AFC exec. “Athletic, strong, fast, quick and can rush the passer; he’s really good.’ This particular evaluator told me he’s probably a tick behind Myles Garrett as a prospect, and about even with where Chase Young was coming out. Which is to say that, yes, given the state of the quarterback group, he’s the favorite to go first.

2) Speaking of the QB group, NFL teams are already bracing for guys at that position with significant holes getting pushed up the board in the spring because of the dearth at the position. Ole Miss’s Matt Corral is one such player. He was the top-ranked senior QB per the NFS grades teams get in June, but there was a lot of skepticism then, and it’s lingered even as he’s put together a really nice season in the SEC. “I don’t really see it with him,” said one AFC college scout. “Slight frame. Good zip on short passes, but he pushes the ball from his shoulder, and I don’t think he can drive it on real throws. He’s tough as hell, but he may get himself killed in the NFL.” This particular scout guessed that some would latch on to Corral’s toughness and moxie, and overlook some of the shortcomings. Which happens with a QB class like the one the NFL has coming to it.

3) Clemson’s collapse is fascinating to me. It didn’t come out of nowhere—after all, the Tigers did lose Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and a fleet of other battle-tested vets—but this is a program that’s sustained for a decade under Dabo Swinney, and reached another level the last seven years or so. So how has it happened? In checking in with someone I trust on this, a lot of it has come down to the same thing that can knock consistent winners in pro football down: a bunch of misses in player evaluation.

4) Maybe I’m overplaying this, but I think Caleb Williams’s heads-up play on fourth down against Kansas is the sort of thing we’ll still be talking about leading into the 2024 draft. Check it out for yourself: He basically stripped his own teammate, Kennedy Brooks, who was effectively stopped, and went and got the first down on his own at a critical, critical spot for his team.

5) Speaking of things NFL teams are watching, this throw from C.J. Stroud certainly makes you wonder if Ohio State coach Ryan Day will, eventually, have a third-straight first-round quarterback coming out of his offense.

6) Need to see more, but I think I’m out on the penalty-kick style overtime we saw for the first time in the nine-OT—I can’t call it a thriller really—game between Penn State and Illinois. For the uninitiated, the new rule holds that after two overtimes, the teams go to two-point conversions to decide the game.


BEST OF THE NFL INTERNET

I know coaches can’t think this way. But we can. Detroit’s in decent shape right now.

I’d guess Hopkins and Watt taking a moment together coming out of this one wasn’t an accident (even if the pic’s made to look candid).

Yes, it is, Master.

Cam Heyward’s one of these guys where he’s been good enough now to wonder if some people even realize who his dad was (his dad was pretty awesome, by the way).

Pro sports are really weird this way.

Nice to see this sportsmanship: Judon was the one who delivered the hit that injured Wilson on Sunday. Wilson’s expected to miss a couple of weeks with a PCL injury.

Was that for the ’Gram or something?

Old Busch Stadium! And I think that’s the Neil Lomax era.

Love it. #TankForThibodeaux

Yeah, Brady got his vengeance.

You could sure see McVay make an effort to find Goff postgame. Eventually, he got there.

McAfee kills me here with the hand motion at the start.

McDonald’s breakfast is definitely legit. And I can vouch Ochocinco’s love for McDonald’s—saw him carry those brown bags into plenty of locker rooms.

Accurate. Romo was at Bucs-Bears. Which, speaking of ….

That ball was caught by one terrible negotiator.

I do feel for Tua. We all saw what happened with Josh Rosen. If you don’t have a team to invest in you deeply anymore, the dynamic changes completely. So these have to be tense times for him.

Just an amazing moment: The kid Brady’s giving the hat to was holding up a sign that read “Tom Brady helped me beat brain cancer” and burst into tears when Brady put it on his head. There were shots later of the kid’s dad that were pretty amazing too.

Here’s what Brady said in his presser about the moment: "That was really sweet. Obviously, tough kid, man. Puts a lot in perspective with what we're doing on the field; in the end it doesn't mean much compared to what so many go through. We all try to make a difference in different ways, and I think so many guys commit times to their foundations and to doing good things for the world. And the NFL does a lot of great things, so it's just nice to—I always think you know do the best that you can do, under any circumstance. It was nice to see."

And while we’re there …

Congrats to my good friend, Rich. I’ve long felt there are no better institutions to support than children’s hospitals, and Rich has done so much good at St. Jude. Just an incredibly well-deserved honor for a really good guy.


malcolm-jenkins-monday-spotlight-new-orleans-saints

MONDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT

Every week, we’ll talk to a prominent player about to step on the MNF stage. This week, ahead of Seahawks/Saints, we caught up with Saints safety and two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins, to talk football and the other kind of football after his purchase of a minority stake in the Premier League’s Burnley F.C.

MMQB: So what’s the year been like, having so many guys out, and now starting to get guys back as we get to the middle of the season?

MJ: I feel like we’re sitting right where we want to be. Obviously, you kind of alternate between wins and losses, that’s probably the only thing we don’t like—and in those losses we did things that are a little bit out of character, gave up some plays. So consistency is really the big thing. We all went into the bye week really encouraged about the identity we’re starting to bring. If you look at the statistics, we are where we want to be. It’s just fine-tuning the small details, and that comes with time on task, that comes with getting healthier. We’re excited to come back and compete on the biggest stage there is, that’s Monday Night Football.

MMQB: As a leader, and being in the first year after Drew Brees, do you put it on yourself, and on the leaders, to find a new identity?

MJ: Well, honestly, I haven’t really felt that pressure. I think that’s more from the outside in. I don’t think we really had much discussion of who we are now without Drew. It’s more, every year, you have turnover with new guys and you have a new identity. No team’s ever the same. I think what we’ve noticed this year is that, especially defensively, we are the backbone of the team, and the margin for error we had in the past, we don’t have now. And that requires us to be the best version of ourselves consistently, understanding the formula that our team needs. … It’s a little different from what we’ve been used to, and that creates a situation where the margin for error, within that formula, is a lot smaller.

MMQB: So with a lot of guys like Cam Jordan, Marcus Williams, Marshon Lattimore and Demario Davis, who’ve accomplished a lot, that’s probably a good type of pressure?

MJ: Yup. I think so. When you go into these games, you sort of burn the bridges. We don’t have the out that used to be Drew Brees. So we have to lock in on every single play. And I think we have the guys to do that—all those players you just named are ready to step into those roles and become marquee players in the league. I think Marcus Williams is on his way to being one of the best safeties in the league; he’s got more range than anybody on the field. Marshon Lattimore, he’s gonna take away everybody’s best receiver. Demario Davis is the heart and soul of what we’re doing. Cam Jordan’s still playing good. And we’ve got pieces that are just continuing to get better. So for us, we have to try not to play beyond ourselves. We know we’re good enough. It’s just that simple.

MMQB: So how long have you been following soccer?

MJ: It all kind of happened quick. I wasn’t a huge soccer fan—I grew up playing American football and running track. But I know sports. And an opportunity came with ALK Capital and the Burnley Football Club. And they’re an American group that just took over the team, and we’d known them through some other business ventures that we’ve done. And so when we saw them make their move, it was natural for us to become a part of that. And I think they see value in myself and Malcolm Inc., my holding company that made the investment, to help with branding and introducing the Burnley Football Club to fans over here. … The same way the NFL has invested in its market in the U.K, the Premier League and specifically Burley is trying broaden its fan base.

MMQB: So I’d assume, the last few months, you’ve started to pay attention and engage?

MJ: Oh yeah, of course. Once I made the commitment, I had to learn what’s going on.

MMQB: So how are you learning?

MJ: Well, the good thing was that last week during the bye week, I watched a two-hour training out at Burnley, then got to watch them play a match against Man City in person. That was a unique experience. And then yeah, the same way you’d follow college football, I’m following the Premier League. It’s like anything in sports, you pick it up, you follow it.

MMQB: What kind of soccer player would you have been?

MJ: Ha! I don’t if I have the eye-foot coordination. I might’ve been a decent goalie though, or a defender.

MMQB: Part of it, too, I’d think is what a lot of athletes deal with, and it’s probably directly addressing how people in your position struggle with leaving the game.

MJ: I’m on a mission right now to be an example for athletes that you don’t have to wait until you’re done playing to explore yourself, to learn from yourself, to invest in other things. I grew up in a generation of athletes where all you are is an athlete, and when the game is done with you, you lose your entire identity. You often don’t have time to explore any other hobbies, do internships or have jobs outside of football. So what I’ve been doing while I’m an active player is exploring those different things. And if you look at what I’m doing through Malcolm Inc., I’m in so many different verticals, whether it’s sports teams, franchising, venture capital investments, production company making content, fashion, all these things that are passions of mine that I would’ve never known I was good at or had talent for if I didn’t take the time to explore them while I’m still playing, while my social capital is putting me in these positions. … And so hopefully my example is leaving a roadmap for those who are trying to navigate that themselves, and the future athletes who are gonna have more visibility and leverage than ever.

MMQB: Have you had younger guys come to you, because I’d imagine that’d be pretty rewarding?

MJ: Yeah, and I’m letting them know you don’t have to wait to start doing these things. And also opening up on the deals I get. I want them to be conscious and know what I’m doing; I’m not doing this kind of in my own silo. Even the Wall Street venture capital firm I opened last year, other investors are NFL players. To me, those are the things that I’m really, really proud of. And again, hopefully you see more of this with players that aren’t yet the superstars. Everybody has the opportunity to leverage their social capital they’ve built as players.

MMQB: So I guess the real question for you on the field this week is how the challenge changes, preparing for Seattle without Russell Wilson?

MJ: Russell Wilson is always the x-factor, but what you know you’re going to get out of any Seattle team that’s coached by Pete Carroll is a defense that’s hunting the football, that’s flying around to create turnovers, and an offense that’s physical and is gonna try to run the ball and has playmakers where, when they get the ball in their hands, can make anything happen. … They’re O.K. winning a very, very close game, by a close margin, so for us we know we’re in for a fight against a well-coached, physical team.

MMQB: Thirteen years in, is there anything you still love about playing on Monday night, even if it’s just that you know your peers are watching?

MJ: It’s still special. Like what you said—besides playing in front of your peers—that’s actually everything. In this game, for a player, it’s respect from your peers, and when you play on that Monday night, you know every one of your peers around the league are tuning in. And those memories get played over and over and over again. It’s fun to be able to play on that type of stage.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Our business lost a good one in Bob Neumeier over the weekend. You probably remember Neumy either from his work covering the NFL and/or horse racing. I got to know him coming up in the Boston media. And I can say that for someone who had this larger-than-life aura about him, he couldn’t have been a nicer, more relatable guy.

One thing I remember in doing shows with him was how well-prepared he was at all times, and how curious he was to know what you knew on top of that. I’d pick up something from him every time I was around him.

All my best to his wife Michele and his family. Rest in peace, Neumy.

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