Judgements, Week One: Is this the year Russell Wilson finally wins an MVP?
It’s Overreaction Monday. So let’s overreact. This is the season Russell Wilson wins his first Most Valuable Player award.
The Seahawks’ quarterback has been in MVP conversations before and, at least once, been a frontrunner at one point in the season. But he’s never won it, and, despite throwing 31 TDs and a career-low five interceptions last season, didn’t gain a single vote.
Of course, nobody else did, either. Lamar Jackson was a unanimous winner.
‘What more do I have to do around here?” Wilson asked before the season. “I’m just sayin’. Can we get a few more votes here or there? Why not?”
It’s a good question.
The guy demonstrated again Sunday why he’s so valuable – or invaluable – to the Seahawks, completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards, four TDs and a 143.1 rating in Seattle’s shredding of the Falcons. Four of the Seahawks’ scoring drives were 60 or more yards. A fifth was 57. And all were products of a dual-threat quarterback who makes defenses cower.
But that’s not exactly news. Wilson is the face of a Seahawks’ franchise that twice has been to Super Bowls and is always, always, in the playoff picture despite playing in a brutally tough division. Yet coming into this season Vegas sports books had him pegged as the fourth most likely quarterback to win the MVP – behind Patrick Mahomes (the 2018 winner), Lamar Jackson (2019 winner) and Dak Prescott.
Maybe they’re right. But I hope they’re wrong.
Because Russell Wilson is the undersized quarterback who wasn’t supposed to make it in the NFL … and did. He can run. He can throw. He can improvise. And he can win. He’s never had a losing season in his nine-year career, has won over twice as many games (87) as he’s lost (41) and been a seven-time Pro Bowler, the league’s Rookie of the Year, passing leader and touchdowns leader.
Plus, he’s won a Super Bowl.
Now it’s time he won something else. Here’s hoping this is the year.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Aaron Rodgers is who we thought he is. Green Bay spent its first-round draft pick on a quarterback (Jordan Love), and don’t ask me why. Rodgers was 13-3 a year ago and had Green Bay one game from the Super Bowl. Yet for some reason the Packers felt obligated to put A-Rod on notice that nothing and nobody are guaranteed. No problem. Aaron Rodgers responds with a rebuttal, by sand-blasting the Packers’ only NFC North competition – the Minnesota Vikings – in the season opener. The stat sheet says he completed 32 of 44 for 364 yards, four TDs, no interceptions and 42 points – the most surrendered by Minnesota since 2014. What it doesn’t say is that he put Jordan Love on notice to stay where he is. He’s not going anywhere but the bench this season.
2. Cam Newton is back. When he said that he and the Patriots are a “match made in heaven,” I was skeptical. But it sure looked like it Sunday. Of course, that was Miami, and it’s only one game. Nevertheless, Newton did what he had to -- scoring twice, completing 15 of 19 passes and, most important, winning to break an eight-game losing streak.
3. Roger Goodell may be wrong. He said there’s “no home-field advantage” to teams with fans in the stands, and who are we to question him. I mean, he’s the commissioner, right? Except … well, except there have been two teams with fans in the stands so far, and both won. One was Kansas City, and, OK, the Chiefs are better than everyone else. But the other was Jacksonville, and the Jags are supposed to be worse than everyone else but the Jets. Except they won, too. Someone get me rewrite.
4. If Matt Patricia isn’t on the clock, he should be. There are losses, and then there are bad losses. But this was a train wreck. Losing to Matt Trubisky and the Chicago Bears on three fourth-period touchdowns? Horrible. For the record, that’s 10 straight defeats for Detroit dating back to last season. Worse, it was the latest in a series of fourth-period collapses under Patricia (eight, going back to last season) and brings his record to 9-23-1 in three seasons. Detroit was 9-7 the year before he was hired.
5. There is no division, top to bottom, as rich or as competitive as the NFC West. When you looked at the division prior to Sunday, you might have picked Arizona for last. In fact, you probably did. But this just in: The Cards not only won Sunday; they overcame the defending NFC champs in their house … and, yes, that’s significant. One reason the 49ers reached Super Bowl LIV was that they were 5-1 in the division a year ago, losing only to Seattle.
THIRD AND 15
1. After what we just saw, it’s hard to justify the need for preseason games. It reminds me of the 1982 strike when, after a 57 days off, teams were given one week to get ready for the rest of the season. Result: The caliber of play was better than expected. The same was true of Sunday. Better than expected. Consider preseason contests in particular and training camp in general among Sunday’s biggest losers.
2. Advantage, Bill Belichick. The Patriots’ coach let Tom Brady walk to Tampa Bay, then replaced him with a unwanted quarterback coming off a severe injury and in the midst of an eight-game losing streak. So what happens? Cam Newton runs the Patriots to a victory, and Brady throws two interceptions (including one returned for a TD) in a Bucs’ loss. Nevertheless, I’m not budging. I have Tampa Bay with more wins this season than New England, with the Bucs in the playoffs … and the Pats on the first tee … in January.
3. Poor Joe Burrow. He deserved better. But maybe, just maybe, there was too much to overcome. First of all, it’s the Bengals. No need to elaborate. But then there’s draft history, too, and let me explain. With the loss, quarterbacks who were No. 1 draft picks are 0-12-1 in season openers since David Carr in 2002. Joe Burrow is just the latest in a long, long line that includes former Bengals’ quarterback Carson Palmer.
4. Cleveland does not rock. Not now. Not ever. It doesn’t matter who coaches the Browns. Hue Jackson. Mike Pettine. Eric Mangini. Rob Chudzinski. Pat Shurmur. Freddie Kitchens. Kevin Stefanski. It doesn’t matter. The Browns are hopeless.
5. Don’t undersell the importance of Seattle’s beatdown of Atlanta. First of all, it happened on the road. Second, it happened on the East Coast, with a 10 a.m. kickoff, PDT, after a 2,600-mile flight. But, third, it happened vs. Matt Ryan, and, OK, so he’s 35. He was also 11-1 in home openers prior to Sunday.
6. At least now Lions’ fans know what to get rookie D’Andre Swift for Christmas: A pair of hands.
7. Memo to Jamie Collins: When coaches tell you to “use your head,” use your head, OK? Not your helmet.
8. The Jets’ Adam Gase said the Jets’ offensive headaches "felt completely different” than last year's travails. He’s right. They’re worse.
9. I’m sorry, but when it’s fourth-and-inches and you’re the Carolina Panthers, there’s only one guy who touches the ball … and it’s not fullback Alex Armah. Matt Rhule, meet running back Christian McCaffrey. He’s that guy.
10. If it seems as if Philip Rivers is prone to late-game meltdowns, it’s because he is. Dating back to last season, he has one touchdown pass and seven interceptions in the last five minutes of games.
11. More evidence that it’s never been easier to play quarterback: In two career season openers, Jacksonville’s Gardner Minshew completed 41 of 45 passes, including 19 of 20 Sunday. Gardner. Minshew.
12. The NFL is supposed to be a passing league ... except, of course, when it's not. In 14 games so far there have been 32 rushing TDs, with 25 by running backs and seven by quarterbacks. The Raiders' Josh Jacobs led all backs with three scores vs. Carolina, while Cam Newton was the only QB with multiple rushing TDs (2).
13. Houston’s trade of DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona looks every bit as lopsided today as it did when it was made in March. Hopkins was unstoppable Sunday, catching a personal-best 14 passes, including a 33-yarder with just over two minutes left, to set up the winning TD in a come-from-behind defeat of San Francisco. Look, I don’t care what David Johnson does in Houston. You don’t trade away someone of Hopkins’ caliber for a running back, and Bill O’Brien was just reminded why.
14. In the rollercoaster world of Mitch Trubisky, the Bears' QB did more than rescue Chicago with his fourth-quarter heroics. He saved his job. I swear, if he played the last period as he did the first three we’d be looking at Nick Foles next week.
15. Russell Wilson is one reason to believe in Seattle. But so is safety Jamal Adams. Rescued from the Jets, Adams had 12 tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. Because it’s Overreaction Monday, I’ll ask the question: An early leader for Defensive Player of the Year?
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield is the first quarterback in NFL history to play his first 30 games for the same team and four different head coaches.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Since Cam Newton entered the NFL in 2011 only two running backs have run for more TDs. Honest.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
Dating back to last season the Cowboys are 1-7 in one-score games. Only Cincinnati (0-9) is worse.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENT
Washington coach Ron Rivera. He’s hired by an organization that hasn’t won had a winning season in three years, is coming off a 3-13 finish and a volatile offseason that included a name change and allegations of sexual misconduct within the front office. Then he reveals he’s being treated for cancer, is given a precautionary IV during halftime Sunday, and you had to wonder, “Will this poor guy ever catch a break?” Answer: Yes. He just beat the defending division champions by overcoming a 17-point deficit with a defense that sacked Carson Wentz eight times and forced three critical turnovers. Better yet, “Riverboat Ron” lived up to his reputation when he passed on a fourth-and-1 field goal with six minutes left and went for the first – getting it on a Peyton Barber run. It led to a go-ahead TD. Afterward, players recognized their head coach by awarding him the game ball, and why not? Good things are supposed to happen to good people. In this instance, they did.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“When you write up who to blame for that, the only person you can blame is the head coach.” – Carolina head coach Matt Rhule on the fourth-down call that sabotaged the Panthers’ last drive.