– Bill Annechino
Jaguars 30 Colts 27
Gus Bradley appears to have saved his job for at least one more week. The last two weeks, the first London game has been marked with a coach getting fired. After an inspired/uninspired (depending on which narrative you want to follow) win, they can’t exactly fire Bradley. Either the Jaguars got a win in a strange environment with their backs to the wall, or they won in spite of themselves after handing the Colts numerous opportunities to win. Let’s take a look at what happened in this game and try to figure this mess out.
Most importantly, Andrew Luck was under duress all morning (afternoon? Whatever). The Colts allowed 6 sacks on Luck, which continues with the theme they’ve established with his career thus far. Beyond the 6 sacks, the Jaguars hit Luck an additional 13 times, which means that Luck got hit on 19 of his 42 dropbacks, or almost half. You aren’t going to believe this, but that’s not the blueprint for winning a football game. Colts GM Ryan Grigson has shown a complete lack of regard for Luck’s ongoing health, in refusing to build an offensive line around him that might give him some semblance of a pocket. If you think that letting your franchise quarterback get hit on half of his dropbacks is the road to victory, you’d be sadly mistaken.
Luck was under so much pressure that he had barely produced at all until the 4th quarter. Indeed, the Colts’ first touchdown came with 12 seconds gone in the fourth, and Luck didn’t get on the board until the seven minute mark. Luck was able to tack on another touchdown late in the game to save his fantasy owners from a real clunker, but he was ineffective for 3 quarters of football.
It’s a credit to how badly the Jaguars didn’t want to win this game that it ended up being a 3 point margin of victory. After T.Y. Hilton scored with 7 minutes left to bring the game to within 3 points, the Jaguars promptly run 2 minutes off the clock after a throw to Allen Hurns broke big and the Jaguars again went up 10. The Colts quickly scored another touchdown to bring the game within 3 again, and that’s when things got really pathetic if you’re a Jaguars fan. On the first play of this drive, Bortles completed a pass to Benn, who somehow went out of bounds. Anyone who’s ever played Madden knows that you stay in bounds in this situation. On second down, the Jaguars ran the ball and forced the Colts to burn a timeout. From there, Bortles missed Marquise Lee on a short pass. So, on a drive that they could have won the game on, the Jaguars only ran 32 seconds off the clock and forced the Colts to use 1 timeout, with the 2 minute warning and their two additional timeouts remaining in a 3 point game. The Colts turned it over on downs, so the Jaguars had an additional opportunity to run the clock out. The Colts, still having two of their timeouts, actually got the ball back with 26 seconds left, still down 3. They weren’t able to make much happen on this drive, but you can see how the Jaguars did everything within their power not to win this game.
With both of these teams dropping to 1-3 after this game, the Texans could take a 2 game lead by beating Tennessee today and sending the rest of the division to 1-3. The AFC South is quickly shaping up as the worst division in football.
Redskins 31 Browns 20
You like that? I do like that. Kirk Cousins has put the woes of the first two weeks behind him, and has the Redskins firing on all cylinders. It comes as no surprise to me that Cousins’ rekindled relationship with Jordan Reed was the spark plug for this win. Reed is one of the best tight ends in the game, and when he plays well, the Redskins offense usually follows. The Redskins also have to feel good about Matt Jones getting 117 yards on 22 carries. Jones is an up-and-down back, but he had it working Sunday. When the Redskins offense can put points up like they did in this game, especially with minimal involvement from their excellent receiver group, they are a scary group. On the Cleveland side, it was nice to see Terrelle Pryor find the endzone; his transition to wide receiver has been the feel-good story of the year. Cody Kessler wasn’t good in this game, but he also wasn’t terrible, which has to be considered a win for Hue Jackson’s group. Isaiah Crowell had another solid game on the ground, this time without the benefit of a long run. The Browns remain the only winless team in the NFL, but if you’re Hue Jackson, you have to be at least somewhat encouraged.
Buffalo 16 New England 0
Well guys, we made it. 3-1 without Brady. He’s back next week. We did it. Does this matter that some shitty Bills team beat us in Foxboro with our third-string quarterback? Not one bit. We are still going to win the AFC East. What’s really pathetic about this game is that Bills’ fans are actually going to celebrate this as if it’s something to be proud of. Whatever, these are the things you do when your team hasn’t made the playoffs in 16 seasons. Not only haven’t they made the playoffs, but is any professional sports team as defined by failure as the Buffalo Bills? Like seriously, what’s the first thing people think of when they hear the Bills? Scott Norwood. Second? They lost 4 straight Super Bowls. Third? Music City Miracle. Fourth? The team O.J. played for. I rest my case. I just can’t believe we made it to 3-1 without Brady. This is like when you were a little kid and you were waiting for something exciting to happen, maybe Christmas morning. So you cross the days off your calendar, it gets closer every day. Then, Christmas morning comes around and you wake up and it’s finally there. Good God, it’s really happening. Except, instead of getting underwhelmed because your family was too poor to afford good presents, and your buddy got a Game Boy and you had to settle for some stupid bike and your parents get into another fight because your dad drinks too much and your mom has been flirting with the attractive neighbor a little too egregiously lately… instead of any of that happening, Tom F’n Brady is back. You know, Tom Brady? Greatest quarterback of all time? Remember him? He’s got 4 Super Bowls, supermodel wife, impossible good looks, flawless bone structure. Yeah, he’s back and he’s being handed the reigns to a 3-1 football team. Sorry, NFL.
Falcons 48 Panthers 33
Ok, so the Falcons are for real this year. There’s not much you can say about a game where a wide receiver had 300 yards. There’s also not a lot you can say about a Panthers team that let their second-best defensive player walk in the offseason because their general manager wasn’t willing to admit that he had one of the best cornerbacks in the league. So, this is what you get. The Panthers were a prime candidate for regression this year by virtue of having been one of the luckier teams in the NFL last year (outperforming their Pythagorean win expectation), but I don’t think many people saw them starting the season 1-3. Here we are, though. The news of Cam Newton suffering a concussion puts their future this season into a degree of uncertainty. At this point, I do not see the Panthers as serious contenders this year, although any team can get hot. The Falcons may not have a very good defense, but when they score points better than any team in the NFL, it hardly matters. They are in the driver’s seat of the NFC South, and they appear to have their foot on the gas.
Texans 27 Titans 20
Brock Osweiler has got to be the least-inspiring starting quarterback in the NFL who has total job security, right? Guys like Carson Palmer have at least a track record of success, and every other shitty quarterback has another guy breathing down his neck. Not Osweiler, though. He is who he is: good enough to beat the teams they should beat, probably not going to go out and beat anyone really good. After losing J.J. Watt for the year, the Texans’ defense has to be considered to have taken a step back, and allowing 20 points to a bad Titans team probably signifies that’s true. The bright spot for the Texans so far this season has to be Will Fuller, who had a receiving touchdown as well as a punt return to the house. Fuller has elite speed, and is a bonafide NFL playmaker. Also encouraging for the Texans is Jadeveon Clowney stepping up and having his second sack of the year. If Houston is going to do anything this year in terms of contending, they are going to need their other defenders to step up in place of Watt, and it will start with Clowney. On the Tennessee side of things, DeMarco Murray continues to be a pleasant surprise, going over 100 all-purpose yards and scoring twice. Marcus Mariota posted a QBR of 34.8, and did not complete 50% of his passes. If you have been reading my columns, you know that I am not high on Mariota, and this game offers more proof of why. This was a very winnable game for the Texans, but their “franchise quarterback” simply couldn’t make the plays needed to put points on the board. It would be foolish to suggest moving on from Mariota less than two years into his career, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Titans to ask themselves serious questions about whether or not he can be their quarterback going forward.
Bears 17 Lions 14
The shit is this? Wasn’t Chicago supposed to be the worst team in the NFL? Weren’t the Lions supposed to be a dark horse playoff team? The real question here is whether or not the Bears are better off with Brian Hoyer than Jay Cutler. Besides the fact that Hoyer has led the Bears to their first win, he seems like he cares a lot more than Cutler did when he was out there. Jay Cutler is who is at this point of his career. The same could be said about Brian Hoyer but, again, he seems to care more than Cutler. I’ve always had a soft spot for Hoyer the Destroyer, mostly due to his years spent as Brady’s backup. Listen to his numbers, though: 28/36 for 302 yards, 2 RTD and no interceptions. Those are good numbers! ESPN credits him with an 89.3 QBR, which is outstanding. This is the best game the Bears have gotten from the quarterback position this year, and it led to a win. On the Lions side of the ball, Matt Stafford threw no touchdowns, two interceptions, and did not look like the guy we’ve been accustomed to seeing in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. Golden Tate continues to be the invisible man in their offense, with 1 catch for 1 yard. Kind of begs the question why the Lions refuse to get Tate involved this year while the losses are piling up. This game was a miserable affair, and it’s truly a shame that one team had to win. The bright spot is that Hoyer shined, because Brian Hoyer deserves the world.
Seahawks 27 Jets 17
The Seahawks are rolling, the Jets are terrible. Yawn. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 9 interceptions in the last 2 games so that’s pretty neat. Russell Wilson wasn’t sure if he was going to play so, naturally, he threw for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns. C.J. Spiller caught his first touchdown in his first game with the team, which brings up a larger point as to why more teams didn’t try to secure Spiller’s services. Where were the Ravens, for example? What about the Vikings? If Spiller looks like the player he was in Buffalo, the Seahawks just upgraded a major position of need on the cheap. I heard Herm Edwards say on ESPN that he thinks it may be time for the Jets to see if their next quarterback is already on their roster, and I wholeheartedly agree. Ryan Fitzpatrick has turned back into a pumpkin after looking shockingly competent last year (besides that whole “throwing 3 picks in a play-in game for the playoffs” thing). Geno Smith may or may not be the answer to the Jets’ questions, but at this point it probably pays to see if he is. The Seahawks have their bye next week, which is perfect for Wilson to get fully healthy. In addition, it looks like Jimmy Graham is finally starting to show signs of the player he used to be. In other words, Seattle is starting to look like they may be the team to beat in the NFC again.
Raiders 28 Ravens 27
I think the Ravens put up a better fight than most people thought they were capable of. In the end, Oakland proved to be the better team, but not by much. Flacco looks as if he may not be all the way back from his knee injury; on their final drive in particular, there were a few throws that Flacco could have been better on and was not able to get the same strength that he may have when he was a little younger. After the game, Jack Del Rio compared Michael Crabtree to Cris Carter, saying he was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL today. Well, is he right? I guess that depends on what you look for in a wide receiver. My first memory of Crabtree was when I was a senior in high school. Texas was the #1 ranked team in all the land and Texas Tech, led by Crabtree and quarterback Graham Harrell (remember him?) was ranked 6th. The game has its own Wikipedia article now Crabtree ended up making the game-winning catch and run with one second left to beat Texas:
The dude certainly has a knack for making big plays and while every so often he fades from our consciousness, he comes back only to remind us that he is, in fact, one of the best receivers in the league. Remember his resurgence with Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco? If you really think about it, besides Larry Fitzgerald, is there another wide receiver you would have given Derek Carr, not only as a security blanket, but as the perfect compliment to Amari Cooper? Crabtree is one of the perennially underrated wide receivers in football. On Sunday, he reminded us again why he’s one of the best.
Rams 17 Cardinals 13
Well, as expected, the Rams have started 3-1 after going their first 2 games without scoring a touchdown and the Cardinals sit at 1-3 after being one of the preseason favorites in the NFC. Wait, what? The Rams sit at first place in the NFC West by virtue of the tiebreaker they hold over Seattle. They have been getting it done with a stifling defense and some timely scoring. They won a shootout last week in Tampa, won a field goal battle against Seattle and absolutely stifled the Cardinals this week, getting just enough offense to pull out the win. In my opinion, this is not sustainable. However, with a game against the Bills next week, anything is possible and we need to start preparing ourselves for a world in which Jeff Fisher and Case Keenum are 4-1. At this point, it’s fair to wonder if Carson Palmer may finally be at the end of the line. His last two games have seen him throw 1 touchdown against 5 interceptions. He suffered a concussion on Sunday that may force him to miss game time. This is truly a time of turmoil for Arizona, who have to face a 49ers team on Thursday night that has looked shockingly competent this year. If they lose and fall to 1-4, this may become a lost season for Arizona quickly, which would be a shame if this truly is Larry Fitzgerald’s final season.
Broncos 27 Buccaneers 7
If you listened to our Hard Foul Podcast on Friday, you know I was very high on the Buccaneers, going as far as to pick them to beat the Broncos. If you watched this game, you know that’s not the case. The Broncos can seemingly do no wrong, as Trevor Siemian went down in this game and Paxton Lynch picked up right where Siemian left off. If the Broncos’ quarterback position truly is interchangeable, I say this should be the start of the Lynch era. Why not start getting him involved now that he’s shown he can be as good as Siemian (not a high standard, but he is winning games)? The Broncos certainly didn’t move up to the first round to draft Lynch for Trevor Siemian to be a placeholder, and their defense is built to win championships. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out. As for Tampa Bay, what more needs to be said? They fired Lovie Smith after a perfectly adequate debut season last year and replaced him with Dirk Koetter, who has struggled mightily as head coach. The argument was made that, much like Ben McAdoo in New York, if they didn’t sign Koetter as the head coach, he would end up being another team’s coach. In this situation, it’s hard to understand the logic of getting rid of a guy in Lovie Smith who had always done a lot with a little. 4 games into his head coaching career, Koetter’s team looks like a mess and the offense, the side of the ball that Koetter is supposed to be coaching, has scored 7 points in two of their games this year. Normally, I would say that a first year head coach is safe, but Koetter got his job by replacing a second-year head coach, so his seat may have gotten just a little bit warmer.
Saints 35 Chargers 34
The Saints outlasted the Chargers to earn their first win in spectacular fashion, scoring 14 points in 3 minutes at the end of the game to take the lead. Incredibly, the Chargers had about 2 minutes left to take the lead back. However, their game ended with Philip Rivers throwing an interception. After having the game of his life in the first week, Brandin Cooks has become the disappearing man in New Orleans, which is a shame because he is a talented young receiver who, if given looks, can do a lot of damage. It is impressive to see Rivers putting together competence on offense when he lost 3 of his top 4 targets, but he is powerless to help them on defense, where they lack playmakers at every position. I feel bad for both of these quarterbacks, honestly. Brees is a surefire Hall of Famer and Rivers is a borderline case, one of the better quarterbacks of my lifetime. It seems as if they are both doomed to spend the end of their careers on middling teams with no defenses. Luckily for Brees, he already has a ring. It’s funny in the way that things work out that Brees was replaced by Rivers and now they find themselves in such similar situations.
Cowboys 24 49ers 17
Another week, another win for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. If last week was Ezekiel Elliott’s coming out party, this week was him letting us know that last week was no fluke. Elliott was dominant on the ground, and showed why the Cowboys used a top 5 draft pick on him. Dallas’s offensive line played their best game as a unit this year, and opened massive holes for Elliott all afternoon. Prescott tossed 2 touchdowns against no interceptions on his way to a game that ESPN credited him with an 84.7 QBR. He has done a great job of spreading the ball around this season and this week, with Dez Bryant out, it was absolutely necessary. The Cowboys have come out and said they are targeting week 8 for Tony Romo’s return, but the question has to be asked now if they should really bench Dak. He has this offense firing on all cylinders and has played well enough to justify keeping him as the starter. Especially promising is the thought of bringing him and Elliott along at the same rate. The 49ers have been surprisingly average, after a preseason glance at their roster revealed possibly the least amount of NFL talent on any team in the league. Carlos Hyde has been perfectly adequate at running back and Blaine Gabbert hasn’t been a trainwreck, which is really a compliment. It remains to be seen whether or not Colin Kaepernick will get a shot at starting this year. I have made my case for Chip Kelly to make the move, but it seems that he is not willing to do this. Political reasons aside, the best case you can make for Kelly not giving Kap a shot is that they really are tanking this season, albeit doing it in a way that doesn’t scream tanking. They have a winnable game against the reeling Cardinals on Thursday night that I’m sure when the schedule was made, people assumed would feature an undefeated Cardinals team taking on a 49ers team with that was looking for its first win.
Steelers 43 Chiefs 14
There isn’t much to say about this game. It was a blowout from the start, with the Steelers scoring 22 points in the first quarter. You had to think that, after last week’s beating, the Steelers would be out for blood. This is troubling for the Chiefs, since they didn’t appear to be able to put anything together on offense or defense. This is a far cry from last year’s Chiefs team that looked like one of the best in the NFL. Watching this game, I had to wonder why Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger were still playing late into the game. Bell was returning from not only a suspension, but a season-ending injury last year and, while he did look impressive, I fail to see the benefit in getting him some meaningless padded stats at the risk of getting hurt again. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, has a history of getting injured. Even though he is a warrior, there is no reason to expose him to senseless risks early in the season. I especially enjoyed Antonio Brown getting penalized again for a celebration involving hip thrusting. The Chiefs should be embarrassed by their effort on Sunday night. I expected Marcus Peters vs. Antonio Brown to be a fireworks-filled chess match. Brown pretty much abused everyone who was covering him. The Steelers once again look like contenders in the AFC, and the Chiefs have a lot of soul searching to do. Getting Jamaal Charles back is obviously a boost to the Chiefs offense and will solve some of their issues, but he was clearly not ready to go in this game. This is as good a time as any for their bye week to come, as they get a whole two weeks to get right before they have to travel to Oakland and take on the Raiders. The Steelers host the Jets next week, giving them a very real chance to start 4-1.
– Bill Annechino (Twitter)