You are here
Mon., Feb. 26, 2018 8:30 AM to 11:59 PM EST
Tue., Feb. 27, 2018 12:00 AM to 11:55 AM EST
Tue., Feb. 27, 2018 11:55 AM to 2:00 PM EST
Week 7 Snap Judgments
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on Patriots.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New England Patriots organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Patriots officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we take stock of some pretty ugly field-goal-fest football in Week 7….
* The NFL couldn’t wait to get the Rams back into the Los Angeles market, so of course they’re much better when they’re playing anywhere but in Southern California. Go figure.
With wins at San Francisco, Dallas, Jacksonville and now London, the Rams have quickly morphed into the league’s road warriors, even if the NFL technically credits them with a “home’’ victory for that 33-0 destruction of “visiting’’ Arizona Cardinals Sunday in Twickenham Stadium.
Sorry, flying 10-plus hours to a home game doesn’t cut it. That’s an NFL-best 4-0 away record in my book, and given that Los Angeles is only 1-2 when taking the field at home in the venerable Coliseum, perhaps the Rams should pack their bags and stay perpetually an itinerant outfit. At 5-2 and in first place, Sean McVay’s impressive club is off to the franchise’s best start after seven games since 2003, when that team began 5-2 en route to going 12-4 and winning the NFC West — the Rams’ most recent winning season.
These Rams are proving very resilient, having won in the Pacific time zone, the Central time zone, the Eastern time zone and whatever European time zone they were on Sunday night when they laid that whipping on Bruce Arians’ shell-shocked Cardinals.
The Rams won three road games last season and haven’t posted a winning record away from home since 2001, the second of St. Louis’s two Super Bowl seasons. And Los Angeles isn’t doing it with smoke and mirrors, the Rams are an explosive road team, averaging a gaudy 34 points per game in less than familiar environs. As for the defense, Sunday’s shutout was the first by a Rams team since December 2014.
It’s not too early to foresee the hiring of McVay as being the move of the year in the NFL. The league’s youngest head coach of the modern era was 30 when he was chosen last January, and he since turned 31. But whatever he might have lacked in experience, he has more than made up for with production. McVay needed just seven games for the Rams to top their 2016 win total (4-12), and his club has even developed a bit of a swagger, hop-scotching from Los Angeles to Jacksonville to London the past two weeks, picking up two more eye-opening wins along the way.
As they take their Week 8 bye, the Rams have the look and feel of a team headed for the playoffs. They’re 4-1 in their past five games, and gaining credibility and confidence by the week. After their bye comes another road game, this time against the struggling Giants in New Jersey in Week 9, where they will be playing at 10 AM by their own body clock, after traveling from the West Coast.
Not that it matters much any more. The Rams’ time is now, and they travel exceedingly well. As Sunday again showed us, Los Angeles this season is a team on the move.
Peterson return to relevancy didn’t make the trip across the pond apparently, because he carried 11 times for a measly 21 yards against the Rams, with a long gain of 6 yards. And that was against an L.A. team that entered ranked last in rushing defense, allowing almost 140 yards per game.
That’s the low-impact Peterson we saw late in his Vikings career, and in that five-game cameo with New Orleans earlier this season. Maybe last week was legit and this week was the aberration, but I doubt it. With Drew Stanton stepping in for the injured Palmer — who may have played his last game as a Cardinal, and perhaps even in the NFL — Arizona isn’t likely to be a factor in the NFC playoff chase.
* Field goals. Nothing but field goals. At times in Week 7, the field goals were everywhere. Tennessee beat Cleveland 12-9 in overtime, with all 21 points coming on field goals. Minnesota topped visiting Baltimore 24-16, with the two teams combining for nine field goals, including a career-high six for Minnesota kicker Kai Forbath.
Forbath connected from 52 and 51 yards, and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker was his usual machine-like self, banging home a 57 yard attempt in the loss. In Buffalo on Sunday, Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka tied an NFL record with his 12th consecutive successful field goal from 50-plus yards, nailing a 52-yarder in the Buffalo win.
Remember when the sight of a 50-yard-plus field goal could still give us a thrill? Those days are largely gone. There were seven such blasts in the eight early games alone in Week 7. These days they’re almost expected in the NFL, more than enjoyed. Foot-ball indeed.
* Two early Drew Brees red-zone interceptions gave the Packers hope, but as it turns out, the Packers without Aaron Rodgers are who we thought they were. Meaning a pretty mediocre club.
New Orleans went into Lambeau Field and won 26-17 on Sunday, but in reality it didn’t feel that close. The Saints dominated the game, out-gaining Green Bay 475-260 in total offense, and held the ball a full 10 minutes longer than the Packers in time of possession. New Orleans never had a three-and-out drive, went punt-less in the second half.
Rookie running back Aaron Jones ripped off a 131-yard game on 17 carries, including a 46-yard touchdown burst. The defense picked off Brees twice when the Saints were in scoring range, but Hundley did little to capitalize, throwing for a mere 87 yards on 12 of 25 passing, with one interception and a QB rating that didn’t crack 40.0. He made things happen with his feet, picking up a 14-yard rushing touchdown, but not nearly enough with his right arm.
Green Bay’s bye is at least well-timed this week. The Packers (4-3) need to find a way to take the training wheels off Hundley’s game and help put him into position to challenge a defense with his passing skills, not just his legs. Otherwise Green Bay’s next two months without Rodgers could be a frustrating and self-perpetuating cycle of failure.
* The Saints have every reason to feel good about themselves going into next week’s home game against Chicago (3-4). New Orleans (4-2) can be no worse than tied for the lead in the NFC South at the end of Week 7, and its four-game winning streak is its longest since 2013.
Brees rallied after his uncharacteristically sloppy start on the turnover front, and went on to become the fourth quarterback in league history with at least 500 career touchdown passes, including the postseason (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre are the others).
Even better, the Saints’ two-headed ground game is becoming something they can depend on week in and week out. Mark Ingram churned for 105 yards and New Orleans’ first touchdown, and rookie Alvin Kamara chipped in with 57 yards on the ground and 50 more via receptions.
Given the way Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta are misfiring of late, the Saints look as solid as anyone in their division and can rightfully ask, “Why not us?’’
Watching Jets quarterback Josh McCown on Sunday, with his three touchdown passes and one rushing score, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is Ryan Fitzpatrick circa 2015 all over again in New York? McCown’s a well-traveled career part-time starter having a career year, just as Fitzpatrick was two years ago. But in the end, Fitzpatrick disappointed with the playoffs in reach that season, and against the Dolphins, McCown suffered his own letdown, throwing a horrible late interception that set up Parkey’s winning kick.
New York hadn’t lost a game in which it led by 14 points or more in the fourth quarter since 1995, and at 3-4, it finds itself in last place in the surprisingly stout AFC East, trailing the Dolphins, Bills and Patriots, all of whom have at least four wins.
* It’s a marvel of sorts that Miami is 4-2, and if I’m the Dolphins I’m sticking with backup quarterback Matt Moore, who replaced the injured Jay Cutler in the third quarter after the ex-Bear left with a chest injury suffered on a sack by Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins.
Moore wasn’t perfect, but he rallied the Dolphins with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to receiver Kenny Stills, and his 13 of 21 passing for 188 yards and a 102.9 rating certainly proved he can delivered when needed. With a short-week game at Baltimore on Thursday night, Cutler’s chances of returning to the lineup may be slim, and gives Miami even more reason to ride with Moore.
Down 17-0 at the half in Atlanta last week, the Dolphins won. Then they pulled roughly the same magic act at home against the Jets. Nothing has come easily for Adam Gase’s team this season, but they’re not going away in the AFC East.
* That did not appear to be a big-league field measuring up to NFL standards on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, and Dolphins and Jets players both had their challenges with it. The University of Miami Hurricanes played Syracuse there in on Saturday night, and you could tell. A pre-game downpour Saturday night didn’t help, and there was some more rain making the footing slick before New York and Miami kicked off.
The grounds crew reportedly did a lot of work on the field overnight, but it still looked like something out of a 1960’s era NFL Films clip at times, with divots galore and what looked to be dead spots in the turf. With the Dolphins and UM scheduled to play back-to-back twice more this season, it’s a sod story that bears monitoring.
Newton was hardly the sole reason the Panthers lost to the upstart Bears. He was credited with a fumble that was more the fault of rookie Curtis Samuel not being able to handle a pitchout, and one of his two interceptions bounced off the hands of receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Both of those plays went for long return touchdowns by Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson, and Carolina never looked crisp or particularly inspired against Chicago.
The Panthers need to figure who they are and how they’re going to have to win games this season, because they’ve been a puzzling mis-mash so far. And Newton’s role in the middle of it all is always where everything starts.
* Chicago got the those two huge touchdown returns of 75 and 76 yards from Jackson, and that’s how the Bears managed to win a game by 14 points despite Mitchell Trubisky completing a mind-blowing four passes for 107 yards. The rookie quarterback only attempted seven passes all game, making the Bears the first team to win two games in a row with less than 10 completions since Tebow-mania ruled in Denver in 2011.
Trubisky also was the first non-injured starting quarterback to win a game with less than five completions since Tim Tebow managed that trick in 2011 as well. But if we focus solely on Trubisky’s meager production, we’re missing a pretty good story, because Chicago’s defense is rapidly becoming formidable again.
Chicago had five sacks, three takeaways and those two Jackson touchdowns against the Panthers, making him the first player in league history to record a pair of 75-yard-plus defensive scores in the same game, and first rookie to accomplish it in one season. Jackson was the first Bears player with two defensive touchdowns in a game since 1948, and the league’s first since Tennessee’s Zach Brown in Week 17 of 2012.
The Bears at 3-4 are creating some mojo for themselves on defense, and credit coordinator Vic Fangio for stressing takeaways in Chicago’s wins against Baltimore and Carolina the past two weeks.
And let’s write in Calais Campbell as the free-agent signing of the season thus far, because the veteran defensive end has 10 sacks already for Jacksonville. He had two more in the Jaguars’ 27-0 domination of the Colts in Indianapolis, and is the first Jaguars defender to hit double digits in sack since 2006. Not bad for seven games.
Does Super Bowl Sunday fall on a win Sunday or a lose Sunday for Jacksonville? The Jaguars (4-3) have alternated wins and losses for seven weeks in a row this season, and when they’re on, they can dominate. With rookie running back Leonard Fournette sidelined by an ankle injury, Jacksonville even got a 330-yard passing game from beleaguered quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for a club-record 282 yards in the first half.
* Two obvious questions for the Colts: Why would you ever risk playing the still-recovering Andrew Luck behind this shaky offensive line this season, in what amounts to a lost cause situation? And when will you officially bring the Chuck Pagano’s coaching era to a close? Because it’s over for all intents and purposes, and that’s painfully evident to everyone.
At 2-5, these Colts shouldn’t play Luck and his surgically repaired throwing shoulder the rest of the season, and they shouldn’t waste any time trying to figure out who their next head coach will be in 2018.
* The way their talented and aggressive defense is swarming to the ball, you have to love the Vikings’ chances to win the NFC North, quarterback issues and all. With Aaron Rodgers missing in Green Bay, Minnesota (5-2) has the inside track on the division, especially after shutting down visiting Baltimore in a 24-16 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
The Ravens scored their only touchdown on the last play of the game, in garbage time, and the Vikings sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco five times, four of those on third down. The Ravens are injury riddled and lost offensively these days, but it was still a impressive display of strength by a Minnesota defense that is stout against the run and getting steady pass pressure from the likes of defensive end Everson Griffen, who has logged at least one sack in all seven games this season.
The field goal-heavy attack in Minnesota isn’t going to cut it in the playoffs. But Mike Zimmer’s defense is going to keep his team in every game, and that means Minnesota can survive and prosper despite less production from substitute starting quarterback Case Keenum.
* The Bucs are this season’s biggest frauds so far. They have to be, sinking to 2-4 and into last place in the NFC South despite having such lofty expectations coming off a strong offseason of work. Tampa Bay has lost three games in a row, by five points, five points and three points, the latter coming Sunday in Buffalo, where the Bills prevailed 30-27.
But the margins don’t matter. The Bucs, like losing teams usually do, find a different way to lose every week. Whatever it takes, they get the L. Mistakes, turnovers, and blown assignments, they’re all becoming what Tampa Bay is known for. Hang around long enough against them, and the Bucs will give it away.
In Tampa Bay, where there hasn’t been a playoff berth since Jon Gruden’s second-to-last season of 2007, the pressure is building and last year’s hopeful 9-7 is starting to look like a mirage.
* I didn’t like all that much of what I saw from the Bills against Tampa Bay — except they didn’t let a blown 11-point second-half lead spell defeat. That’s a new mentality for Buffalo, and it’s an encouraging sign that rookie coach Sean McDermott’s message of keep grinding, keep working is starting to resonate with the Bills.
At 4-2, there’s nothing to get too excited about just yet in Buffalo. It’s still early, and the Bills were 4-2 after six games a year ago as well, finishing 7-9. But the signs are promising, and finding a way to push past the setbacks they incurred against the Bucs, without letting their mistakes lead to more mistakes, is what it takes to break the years-long cycle of defeat.
* On the day the Joe Thomas triceps injury ended one of the most remarkable streaks in sports history, naturally it was all about the quarterback position in Cleveland once again. Whomever had it DeShone Kizer to Kevin Hogan to Kizer to Cody Kessler wins the Browns starting quarterback pool this season. Come up and collect your winnings.
Kizer’s big return to the lineup after a one-week benching lasted until he threw two interceptions and was yanked early in the second half. Then it was Kessler’s turn, and why not? If Bernie Kosar could still suit up, eventually Browns coach Hue Jackson would look in his direction. The bottom line never really changes, however, and Cleveland’s 12-9 overtime loss to visiting Tennessee only furthers the notion that the Browns have no earthly idea what they’re doing at the game’s most pivotal position. Imagine how high Kizer’s confidence level is about now, after Jackson has twice benched him?
As for Thomas, after 10 1/2 seasons, his streak of playing 10,363 consecutive snaps is over. How long he’ll be sidelined remains to be seen, but Thomas is one of few reasons to ever watch Browns football, and he’ll be missed by a team that could use all the continuity it can get.
The Steelers manhandled the Bengals 29-14, and as the rest of the AFC North fades, with Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland all under .500, Pittsburgh should win its division almost by default.
Funny how much better things look when the Steelers get Le’Veon Bell the ball with room to run. Pittsburgh’s most dangerous weapon produced 192 total yards and the Steelers resurgent defense held Cincinnati to just 19 yards in the second half. Pittsburgh dumped Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times and intercepted him twice, improving to 3-0 in division play.
Pittsburgh loves a certain amount of melodrama. But eventually the Steelers always get their act together and win, and it’s happening again.
* Here’s the stark reality in Denver, after the Broncos lost 21-0 on the road to the Chargers, getting shut out for the first time since 1992, 394 games ago: With at Kansas City, at Philadelphia and home against New England coming up on the schedule the next three weeks, things are going to get worse before they get better.
The Broncos (3-3) just lost back-to-back games to the winless Giants, at home no less, and on the road against the Chargers, who started the season 0-4 and found new and inventive ways to lose every week. How the Broncos ever beat visiting Dallas resoundingly in Week 2 is becoming a bigger mystery every passing day.
And I think I’ve seen enough to know that Trevor Siemian has once again this season revealed himself to not be the long-term answer at quarterback in Denver. Paxton Lynch’s turn in the lineup can’t be too far down the road, can it?
* The Seahawks love to make things difficult on themselves, but they’re starting to get that look defensively, the one they had during their Super Bowl seasons. No, they’re not a finished product on either side of the ball. But Seattle’s stout defense keeps buying its offense time to figure things out, and that formula worked again in the Seahawks’ 24-7 road win at the Giants.
Seattle has won three in a row after a troubling 1-2 start, and the Seahawks have allowed fewer points defensively for four consecutive games, with just 35 surrendered during their winning streak. New York barely budged the ball against Seattle, gaining just 177 total yards and only 2.7 yards per rush. The NFC West is shaping up as a two-team race, and a good one, between the first-place Rams (5-2) and the resurgent Seahawks (4-2).
Elliott gashed San Francisco for 147 yards and two scores on the ground, and added a back-breaking 72-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter. Dallas looked fresh and ready to play coming off its bye, and now the Cowboys have to face a season-defining stretch of four potential playoff teams in the coming weeks: at Washington, Kansas City, at Atlanta, Philadelphia.
If Elliott is in uniform and on his game like he was on Sunday, the Cowboys are going to be tough to beat. But without Elliott in the lineup, the next month of the schedule could turn brutal, raising the question of whether Dallas would have been better off with Elliott already serving his discipline in the season’s first six games? I suppose it’s a moot point now.
* If the Raiders continue their rebound and wind up making something of their highly anticipated 2017 season after all, that epic end-of-game sequence in their 31-30 Thursday-night win over visiting Kansas City will be worthy of the full-blown ESPN 30-for-30 treatment.
Has there ever in NFL history been a five-play sequence like that one, with Oakland having two game-winning touchdowns overturned, before staying alive thanks to two game-extending penalties on the Chiefs? Finally a Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree touchdown pass in the left front corner of the end zone stood with no flags, and an Oakland extra point sealed the win.
It was without hyperbole a season-saving win for the Raiders (3-4), who have already matched their 2016 loss total, and keeps the Chiefs (5-2) within reach in the AFC West. And for the record, I thought the officials got every call right in crunch time, refusing any urge to swallow their whistles and “Let (the players) play there,’’ as Kansas City coach Andy Reid later opined.
I have never understood the “let the players settle it’’ sentiment. A penalty shouldn’t be called depending on when the foul occurred during the game? So two sets of rules, one for the entire game until the last few minutes, and then a different one after that? What twisted logic.
* If there is a uniform God somewhere that decides these sorts of things, please make the Raiders change to those white jerseys with the sweet silver numbers for every Oakland road game. And make sure to pair the silver pants that go with that late-60s, early-70s look for the Raiders. That was just a retro cool blast from the past Thursday night, and in my mind’s eye I can still see George Blanda, Daryl Lamonica and Raymond Chester doing some serious damage in those unis.
* Although it’s not entirely clear what was accomplished at last week’s two-day NFL owners meeting in New York, in terms of diffusing the flash point that players protesting social justice issues during the national anthem have created, it’s nothing but a positive that real communication seems to have occurred between the players and the league. Anything that puts the NFL on the side of doing its part to address social inequality, as the league has said it intends to do in concert with its players, is a helpful step in my eyes. Read
Ridiculously Cool Football Card of the Week
This week’s card is a tip of the cap to the resilient, hurricane-battered city of Houston, whose Astros are World Series bound for only the second time in their 56-season history, courtesy of that 4-0 stifling of the visiting Evil Empire... I mean, Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS Saturday night. Of the cities that have both an NFL and Major League Baseball franchise, did you know Houston is the only metropolis to have never won a World Series or a Super Bowl? Houston is still waiting for that first Super Bowl trip, but these young and fun Astros have a chance to at least earn a World Series ring when they square off against favored Dodgers starting Tuesday night at Chavez Ravine.
Fifty years ago this month, Pete Beathard was traded from Kansas City to Houston, where he led the Oilers to the AFL’s Eastern division title, before losing big to Oakland in the AFL title game. He helped the Oilers get back to the playoffs in 1969, where they once again were routed by the Raiders. Beathard eventually played in the AFL, NFL and briefly the World Football League, but the apex of his career remains quarterbacking Southern Cal to a national championship as a junior in 1962.