• Jared Goff’s change of scenery has been relatively drastic over this calendar year. He went from being the entrenched franchise quarterback for a team perpetually in an over-caffeinated, win-now mode, to being positioned as more a stopgap answer (with a shot to play his way into being more than that) for a team in a complete and total rebuilding posture. So yeah, winning for the first time in the latter location felt pretty good for the former No. 1 pick. “For me personally, it's good,” he said. “It's why I come to play, you play to win a game and I don't think much about the past. I think more about how we can be better, but I think my feeling to that is noted from the other 52 guys on our team.” Which is a fair enough answer, and how any quarterback should probably respond to that sort of question. That said, I also figured there was no way what’s happened over the last 11 months hadn’t impacted Goff’s outlook. And that much he was willing to confirm for me after the game. “I'm tougher, mentally,” he said. “A lot of hard times, obviously, since January. But again, we all have hard times, it's all relative. So how do you find a way to show up every day with a smile on your face and get better, and be the best teammate you can be? And no doubt, it's tested me. It's tested me. Yeah since January, it's tested me. But I feel like I've done a good job of rising to the occasion and will continue to. Obviously, like I said, our record isn't what we want it to be, but the fight and the will to win every week has remained.” Which brings us to another point from the Lions’ first win.
• And that’s just how Dan Campbell and the staff found a way to keep the Lions engaged. We went over it in Monday’s morning column, and Goff and I did dive a little deeper into what it might mean for the rebuild long term, and how the vision of Campbell and GM Brad Holmes should play out given what’s apparent now. “Just to start off with, it’s the fight and the effort, we haven't quit in one game,” Goff said. “We got our a-- kicked in some games but we've never quit on any side of the ball. And there's been times of contention and times of people mad at each other, but at the same time we've become a family and never quit, and days like this are days that you get rewarded by that. I've said it from the moment I got here, that I don't know much, I've been here for nine months—but as far as I can tell, if anyone can right this Detroit ship, it's Dan Campbell. And we ride with that guy.”
• The Ravens have been ravaged by injuries, and with each it’s been fair to wonder which might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey, now officially out for the year with a torn pec, is a tough one. The two-time Pro Bowler is elite, maybe the best in the league inside, with the flexibility to move outside (which he has plenty this year). His absence will only compound the summer loss of Marcus Peters—any team playing without its two best corners will be, at least to some degree, swimming upstream—and the more recent loss of safety DeShon Elliott. So where do the Ravens go from here? They’ll need slot corner Tavon Young, who’s been in and out of the lineup, to stay healthy and get some early-down snaps out of Kevon Seymour (a new signing who’s currently on the COVID-19 list). And you could see some more three-safety looks, with Geno Stone’s workload likely to grow, next to starters Chuck Clark and Brandon Stevens.
• While we’re on the subject of injuries, it’s definitely worth raising, again, a belief on the part of coaches that losing much of the spring and having summer more restricted has led to more injuries across the league. The Ravens are just one contender that’s been absolutely battered. The Titans are another who are rolling out there with gaping holes at key positions. And the Packers have been moving guys on and off the roster all year, with front-liners like Elgton Jenkins, Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith among the most prominent to go down. I’d expect this will be a topic that coaches want to raise during the offseason.
• We mentioned the Dolphins’ rise in the morning column and Tua Tagovailoa’s part in it, but there were two factors I omitted that should be mentioned. First, the increased emphasis on the run-pass option, and quick-game plays, is in part to manage some offensive-line deficiencies. The upshot of that is to minimize weaknesses there, the coaches have worked to get the ball out of Tagovailoa’s hands faster, which actually plays right into the quarterback’s strength—he’s at his best playing a fast, instinctive game, rather than sitting in the pocket and waiting for things to develop around him. Second, it took about a month for the Dolphins’ play-calling to shake out. Coordinator George Godsey and Tagovailoa are finally in a rhythm, which makes a huge difference, with a streamlined version of the offense tailored to Tagovailoa’s style. It’ll be fun to see where they can take it from here. And what it’ll mean for the team at quarterback in 2022.
• It’s worth noting that for all the success Brian Flores has had in Miami, he’s on his third OC in as many years, and it only underscores how hard it can be for a new head coach to get all his staff hires right, no matter how certain he was that he had it down when he interviewed for the job. Take the 2020 coaching hires—five new head coaches were tabbed that January, and three have already whacked coordinators. Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy jettisoned defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after his first year in Dallas. And more recently, both Panthers coach Matt Rhule and Giants coach Joe Judge have fired their offensive coordinators (Joe Brady and Jason Garrett, respectively). That leaves Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski and Washington’s Ron Rivera as having their staffs largely intact from Day 1. And we’ll see how long it stays that way with those two.
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• The fact that the winds will be howling in Orchard Park means I can give everyone here a good history lesson—going back to 2008. The Patriots and Bills played in Week 17 in Western New York that year, and gusts topping 55 mph blasted the area so hard before kickoff that both goal posts wound up bent. The winds persisted into the game, and Bill Belichick adjusted accordingly, with a shot at the playoffs on the line. Matt Cassel, in for Tom Brady (who missed the season after tearing his ACL in Week 1), threw the ball just eight times, completing six of those for 78 yards. Meanwhile, New England ran it 47 times for 168 yards (just a 3.6-yard average), and grinded out a 13–0 win with scoring drives of 55 (field goal), 43 (touchdown) and 80 (field goal) yards. Now, I think Mac Jones will probably throw it more than eight times Monday night. But I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see Belichick lean a little heavier than usual on Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.
• One interesting anecdote that came out before Sunday’s slate of games: Chargers coach Brandon Staley didn’t want his players looking at themselves as the underdogs going into Cincinnati, and told them as much at the team hotel Saturday night. So I figured I’d ask veteran corner Chris Harris about that after L.A.’s 41–22 win. “He just challenged us, challenged us as men, as players, to step up and take onus, take accountability of what we're doing, how we play,” Harris said. “And I think that was the message to everybody. Everybody be accountable for each other, and we gotta play up to our potential, play up to the way we know how to play. When we play down, that's what's been happening. We play good one week, and then play down one week, so we gotta try to bring that same level of intensity every week.” It’s a good message considering how up-and-down the Chargers have been since starting off 4–1, and how up-and-down they were in-game against the Bengals. We’ll see if the momentum carries over to next week, with the Giants coming to town Sunday.
• One interesting anecdote that came out before the games yesterday—Chargers coach Brandon Staley didn’t want his players looking at themselves as the underdogs going into Cincinnati, and told them as much at the team hotel on Saturday night. The idea was that, at this point of the season, the team knows what it is, and has every right to see itself, and carry itself, like a favorite. So I figured I’d ask veteran corner Chris Harris about that after L.A.’s 41-22 win. “He just challenged us, challenged us as men, as players, to step up and take onus, take accountability of what we're doing, how we play,” Harris said. “And I think that was the message to everybody. Everybody be accountable for each other, and we gotta play up to our potential, play up to the way we know how to play. When we play down, that's what's been happening. We play good one week, and then play down one week, so we gotta try to bring that same level of intensity every week.” It’s good message considering how up-and-down the Chargers have been since getting off to a 4–1 start, and how up-and-down they were even in-game yesterday. We’ll see if carries over to next week, with the Giants coming to town Sunday.
• Maybe I’m the only one who’s intrigued to see Jake Fromm play for the Giants on Sunday? There was a time when scouts were at least curious about him, especially considering his place at Georgia, as a quarterback who got to the national title game as a true freshman and caused star prospect Justin Fields to transfer. So maybe he has a little more juice than people think. (Also, kind of interesting the parallels at Georgia now too, with Kirby Smart keeping blue-chippers on the bench in favor of former walk-on Stetson Bennett).
• I’m glad Titans coach Mike Vrabel called out the officials yesterday from his bye-week seat. I’ve never understood why officials are absolved from the scrutiny players and coaches are constantly subject to, and maybe if there was more public accountability, we’d have games officiated better and more consistently.
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