With Patrick Mahomes' latest victory, there's separation between the Kansas City quarterback and the rest of the field for league MVP.
But who’s second?
Russell Wilson was an early frontrunner. Then he was joined … and passed … by Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes, with Kyler Murray, Josh Allen and Ben Roethlisberger closing from behind.
And that made sense. All are quarterbacks, and that position has won the award the past seven years (including Mahomes in 2018) and 12 of the last 13. But I’d still make an argument that Mahomes' stiffest competition isn't from a quarterback at all.
It's from Tennessee running back Derrick Henry.
Like Mahomes, he reminded us Sunday why he’s so critical to his team. He scored three times en route to a huge defeat of Indianapolis, a victory that put the Titans back in first in the AFC South. But look beyond the headlines, and you see it was Henry's eighth straight regular-season road game with 100 or more yards rushing (he had 178).
So what? So the Titans are 7-1 in those games.
Now, if you include the 2019 playoffs, it’s 10 of the past 11 road games where’s he run for 100 or more, and they’re 9-2 there. Impressive? There’s more. In those 11 starts, Henry has 289 carries for 1,567 yards, 15 TDs and an average of 5.4 yards per rush.
No wonder they call him King Henry in Nashville. I call him an MVP threat.
Look, I still like what Wilson is doing in Seattle, mostly because he must overcome a porous defense that leaks like the S.S. Minnow. And has for the most part. Seattle will move to 8-3 and solidify its hold on first place in the NFC West Monday with a defeat of Philadelphia ... and tell me the Seahawks are anywhere close without Wilson.
Because they’re not.
But I can’t imagine where Tennessee would be without Henry … and, apparently, the Titans couldn’t, either. They rewarded him this summer with a four-year deal that included a reported $25.5 million in guaranteed money.
No question, Mahomes is deserving of the attention he has as the MVP frontrunner. But don’t dismiss Henry’s chances just because he's a running back and doesn’t play for the defending Super Bowl champions. Teammate A.J. Brown didn’t Sunday when asked where he’d put Henry on his MVP ballot.
“First,” he said. “Not even close.”
OK, so Brown isn’t exactly an impartial observer. And Henry isn’t first. Mahomes is. But let the season play out because, like most games, the second half is when Henry excels. Dating back to last year, he’s run for 100 or more yards in 11 of 15 games on or after Nov. 1 (including last season’s playoffs) and scored 18 rushing TDs.
That has my attention. It should have yours, too.
SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. The NFL really doesn’t care about competitive imbalance. If it did, it would’ve postponed the Broncos-Saints game. But it didn’t, even though Denver’s four quarterback were ineligible because of COVID exposure and despite the Broncos asking for a postponement to Monday. There are positive COVID cases everywhere, including the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game that has been rescheduled twice – now set for Tuesday. The NFL should’ve done the right thing and postponed all games this weekend. Instead, it has franchises closing facilities on Monday and Tuesday. Yeah, good idea. That will solve it. This isn’t an embarrassment. It’s a disgrace.
2. Tom Brady can throw the deep ball. OK, so he threw two more interceptions and suffered a rare back-to-back defeat. But the knock on him was that he can’t complete the deep pass, with all sorts of data showing that he missed something like his last 20 throws downfield of 20 or more yards. Well, somebody get me rewrite because Brady produced six completions of 20 yards or more Sunday, including one of 48 and another of 44. So that takes care of that. Now he must get back to winning, and look what’s next: A bye, followed by games vs. Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit and Atlanta again – all sub .500 opponents with a combined record of 17-27 (counting the Falcons twice). Brady and the Bucs have the next five weeks to get their act together.
3. Beware, San Francisco. The 49ers are healthy again, and their defense is dominant again – producing four takeaways, scoring a touchdown and holding the Rams’ offense to just 13 points in a desperation victory that could be significant. The reason: With losses by the Bucs and Cards, the 49ers are thinking playoffs again ... and why not? Granted, the schedule is tough (with Buffalo, Arizona and Seattle left), and they have no idea where they practice and play next. But this just in: They're only a game out of the wildcard picture.
4. The Bears are a mess. Of course, that's what happens when you don't have a quarterback and rank last in the league in rushing. But at least the Bears could play defense, and it made them more than competitive for a couple of months. It pushed them to a 5-1 start. But that was then, and this is now ... and now even the defense has submerged, hemorrhaging a season-high 41 points to Green Bay Sunday night. In a five-game tailspin with little hope of postseason play, the Bears need more than a quarterback in 2021. They need a new GM. Ryan Pace is the guy who traded up for Mitch Trubisky when he could have had Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson -- the kind of mistake that gets GMs fired. Pace should be no exception.
5. Raheem Morris deserves a long look as Atlanta’s 2021 coach. Before he stepped in as the interim coach, the Falcons were 0-5 and in disarray. But since? They’re 4-2 and dropped a 43-6 hammer on Las Vegas, the only team to beat Kansas City. Memo to Arthur Blank: This is a different team now, and it’s not because of anything Matt Ryan’s doing. It’s because of Morris and a rejuvenated defense.
THIRD AND 20
1. I don’t wonder why the Jaguars fired GM Dave Caldwell. I wonder what took them so long.
2. Report: Jags’ owner Shad Khan has told coach Doug Marrone and his staff that they’re safe in 2021. Wait. What?
3. This is the first time since 2007 that Cleveland won’t finish with a losing season … which means this is the first time since 2007 that the Browns have a pulse. If there’s room, I want to board the Kevin Stefanski bandwagon.
4. That makes the Saints' Sean Payton 7-0 the past two seasons without Drew Brees. Just sayin'.
5. Jets’ quarterback Sam Darnold says he remains “super confident” in Adam Gase. Me, too. I’m “super confident” he’s the next head coach to be 86’d.
6. The New York Giants started the season 0-5. Now they lead their division. Welcome to the NFC East.
7. CBS analyst Tony Romo says “the Bucs will be all right,” and maybe he’s correct. They don’t have a winning opponent left on their schedule. But this is what I know: When they play an opponent that’s .500 or better, they’re 2-5. That’s a problem if you do more than aspire to reaching a 14-team playoff.
8. The Dolphins win with Ryan Fitzpatrick, and they win with rookie Tua Tagovailoa. The reason: Defense. Dating back to last year, the Dolphins have a takeaway in 17 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.
9. The more I see Cam Newton, the more I’m convinced New England won’t … and can’t … live with him beyond this year. Yeah, he can run, but so what? So could Bobby Douglass. Newton has become the Venus de Milo of quarterbacks, with two TDs, seven interceptions and two sub-100-yard passing performances the past seven seasons.
10. I wish the NFL had relented and let non-playing personnel serve as quarterbacks for Denver. Always wanted one more glimpse of John Elway.
11. There’s no place like home for Kirk Cousins. Of his 23 TD passes this season, all but six are at the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium.
12. If that’s an indication of what DeForest Buckner means to the Indianapolis defense, I make him one of my Defensive Player-of-the-Year finalists.
13. Not sure which defensive lineman from L.A. had the better game: Joey Bosa or Aaron Donald. I just know nobody had an answer for them. I also know they both lost.
14. Now we find out about how seriously to take Buffalo. The Bills’ next two games are on the road vs. San Francisco (no telling where) and home vs. Pittsburgh.
15. Good news, San Diego fans. Reports indicate you may be getting a pro team again. Better news: It’s not the Chargers. It could be San Francisco, which can’t play its last three home games at Levi’s Stadium because of COVID restrictions imposed by Santa Clara County.
16. Poor Carlton Davis. The Bucs’ defensive back demonstrated again and again that he couldn’t single-cover Tyreek Hill. Yet the Bucs demonstrated again and again they weren’t paying attention. “How do you cover him one-on-one?” asked NBC’s Rodney Harrison, shaking his head in disbelief. Answer: You don’t.
17. Within one week the Rams beat Brady, then lose to Nick Mullens. Go figure.
18. Pardon the Raiders if this feels like déjà vu all over again, but … they started 6-4 last season, too. Then they were blown out 34-3 by the Jets. Only this feels worse … probably because it is. The 37-point margin of defeat was the biggest of the Jon Gruden II era.
19. The Giants have three straight wins for the first time since 2016, three straight errorless games by Daniel Jones and just produced their first non-division win of the season. That’s the good news. Now for the bad: Their remaining schedule is full of potholes, they have only one divisional game left (vs. Dallas) and nobody knows the severity of Jones’ hamstring injury.
20. The clock is ticking on Chargers' coach Anthony Lynn. It’s one thing to keep losing, and he’s 8-19 the past two seasons and 4-14 over the last 18 games. But to lose while mismanaging the clock as poorly as Lynn has this season – with Sunday the latest example – is inexcusable. “Not sure if he’s the worst head coach in the league,’ tweeted John Sapochetti, columnist and co-host for fullpressradio.com. “But he certainly is on the short list.” Amen.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
The Broncos had more interceptions Sunday (2) than completions (1), the first team to do that since the Ryan Leaf-led Chargers in 1998.
ONE THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Tom Brady has seven interceptions in four games for the first time since 2011. His most over a four-game span is eight in 2002, the only time during his career as a starter in New England that the Patriots missed the playoffs when he finished the season at quarterback.
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
Since Jacksonville hired GM Dave Caldwell in 2013, the Jaguars have 86 losses, tied with Cleveland for the most during that period.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“It’s frustrating because we’re right there.” – N.Y. Jets' coach Adam Gase on 0-11.
"Our quarterback has to take better care of the football." -- Rams' coach Sean McVay on Jared Goff.
“That was a bunch of trash.” – Raiders’ QB Derek Carr on the 43-6 loss to Atlanta.
“I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss.” – New England QB Cam Newton.
“Instead of pointing fingers, I should point the thumb back at me. I’m disappointed in my staff and in me.” – Carolina coach Matt Rhule on losing to Minnesota.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET RECIPIENTS
(tie) Kansas City WR Tyreek Hill. All he did was catch seven passes for 203 yards and two TDs … in the first quarter. Hill slowed down after that but still managed to burn the Tampa Bay secondary (OK, Carlton Davis) for 13 catches, 269 yards and three scores. Both his 13 receptions and 269 yards are second-most in Chiefs’ history. Fittingly, after Tampa Bay closed to within three late, it was Hill who clinched the victory with his last reception of the game. "I would put him against anybody," said Chiefs' coach Andy Reid. "He's been doing this all year."
(tie) Carolina DB Jeremy Chinn. The Panthers’ rookie made history, and not with his 13 tackles but with his two fumble recoveries. OK, so plenty of others recovered two fumbles in a game … but not like this. Chinn recovered them on successive plays and scored TDs on each. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Chinn is only the third player in league history with multiple fumble recoveries for touchdowns … and the first since 1948. He’s also the first player in Carolina history to score two defensive TDs in one game. “No way to explain it,” he said. “The moment was fun and exciting. I haven’t scored a touchdown since high school.”