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Week 5 Snap Judgments

  • When was the last time there was any legit excitement for the debut of a rookie Bears quarterback? I don't remember that much buzz for Kyle Orton in 2005 or Rex Grossman in 2003. Maybe Bobby Douglass in 1969?

Mitchell Trubisky Time has arrived in Chicago (at long last), and suddenly there's pretty good reason to watch what otherwise would have been a rather ho-hum Monday night game: Minnesota at Chicago. The Bears probably shouldn't expect Trubisky, he of the 13 career collegiate starts, to be their version of DeShaun Watson any time soon. The Texans rookie QB produced five touchdowns last week against Tennessee and almost led Houston to an upset at New England the week before.

But I think Trubisky is going to look the part of a franchise quarterback, and his strong preseason work (364 yards, three touchdowns, no picks and a 106.2 passer rating) was no August mirage. He gives Chicago a reason to believe at the position that has plagued the Bears for years and years, and for once I don't think it's false hope.

So go ahead, embrace the expectations, Bears fans. You've earned this build-up. The guy who went No. 2 in the draft is officially No. 1 in Chicago. You're up, Mitch.

  • You have to wonder, if host Tampa Bay couldn't manage to beat a mistake-prone and defensively-challenged Patriots team that keeps getting Tom Brady sacked and hit, when will the Bucs ever truly inspire enough confidence to convince the football world they've turned the corner and are ready to live up to their lofty potential?

Yes, I know the three missed Nick Folk field goal attempts wound up being the story of Thursday night's game, but even with those failures, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had his team in position to pull the upset against the sputtering defending champs, and couldn't get it done. And the tease factor in Tampa Bay (2-2) continues at a maddening level.

Winston's decision-making on the final play of the game kind of typifies the Bucs' inability to execute when the pressure and expectation level are their highest. Facing only a three-man rush from the Patriots 19 with three seconds remaining and trailing by five, Winston impulsively fired into the end zone before rookie tight end O.J. Howard was even turned around and looking for the ball. Instead of buying time in the pocket against a minimal rush, hoping for another busted coverage or breakdown by the shaky New England secondary, Winston rushed and hurriedly threw a pass that only Patriots could have caught.

Until further notice, the Bucs aren't looking poised and primed to snatch the postseason berth we presumed was finally coming in 2017, after a nine-year playoff drought. By now the growing pains should be all but over for Dirk Koetter's perplexing team.

  • That certainly passed as progress for the New England defense Thursday night in Tampa, albeit of the modest variety. But about that offensive line. Talk about an unsustainable trend. Tom Brady took three more sacks (from a Bucs defense that entered with just one sack in its first three games) and now has been dropped 16 times, or once more than he went down in his 12 regular-season games of 2016. 

The on pace stats can drive us all crazy, but the Patriots can't subject Brady to the whopping 51 sacks he's on pace for (his career high is 41 in 2001), because there won't be much left to their dreams of defending last season's Super Bowl title at that point. Brady is still playing lights out, but even the greatest quarterbacks start to pay a price for the cumulative toll of all that punishment by season's end. The New England offensive line has reportedly allowed 33 hits on the quarterback, or 6.6 per game, and that's no way to treat a 40-year-old QB, fitness freak or no fitness freak.

At 3-2, with both of its Thursday night games behind them and 10 days between Week 5 and Week 6, perhaps the Patriots have weathered the worst of its challenges in the season's first half. Then again, that visit from the high-powered Falcons looms in Week 7, so stay tuned.

Ridiculously Cool Football Card of the Week

20171008-banks-card.jpg

I know, right? You almost forgot he once played football. Me, too. As much as a nationwide pariah can be, O.J. is a free man again, and his first week out of prison even made for a Saturday Night Live spoof last night, so there's proof he's topical once more. You youngins out there are going to have to trust me on this, but as a running back for the Bills in his glory days, Simpson was must-see TV. I saw him play live just once, when Buffalo came into Tampa Stadium and beat the first-year expansion Bucs 14-9 in late September 1976, barely squeaking out a win on a fourth-quarter Joe Ferguson touchdown pass. The Tampa Bay defense was beyond stout that day against O.J., holding him to just 39 yards rushing on 20 carries with a long gain of 13 (do the math on that one!). It was one of the sad-sack Bills' two wins that season. Here's Simpson's classic 1973 Topps, the year he ran into NFL history with that epic 2,003-yard rushing season in just 14 games, averaging a mind-boggling 6.03 yards per carry. He posted three 200-yard plus games that season, and 11 games of 100 rushing yards or more. His football legacy understandably feels like a footnote these days, for good reason. But back in 1973, The Juice knew how to get loose like no one else.

I know, right? You almost forgot he once played football. Me, too. As much as a nationwide pariah can be, O.J. is a free man again, and his first week out of prison even made for a Saturday Night Live spoof last night, so there's proof he's topical once more. You youngins out there are going to have to trust me on this, but as a running back for the Bills in his glory days, Simpson was must-see TV. I saw him play live just once, when Buffalo came into Tampa Stadium and beat the first-year expansion Bucs 14-9 in late September 1976, barely squeaking out a win on a fourth-quarter Joe Ferguson touchdown pass. The Tampa Bay defense was beyond stout that day against O.J., holding him to just 39 yards rushing on 20 carries with a long gain of 13 (do the math on that one!). It was one of the sad-sack Bills' two wins that season. Here's Simpson's classic 1973 Topps, the year he ran into NFL history with that epic 2,003-yard rushing season in just 14 games, averaging a mind-boggling 6.03 yards per carry. He posted three 200-yard plus games that season, and 11 games of 100 rushing yards or more. His football legacy understandably feels like a footnote these days, for good reason. But back in 1973, The Juice knew how to get loose like no one else.

Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we absorb an ultra-competitive Week 5 in the NFL, which has so far featured nine games decided by one score….

  • Almost nine months has passed, but nothing has really changed. The Green Bay Packers still own the Dallas Cowboys. And Dallas still can't stop Aaron Rodgers when the game's on the line. Join the club, Cowboys.

Green Bay went into AT&T Stadium last January and upset the Cowboys 34-31 in the NFC Divisional round, ending that storybook 13-3 season that top-seeded Dallas had constructed on the backs of rookie stars Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

Fast forward to Week 5 of this season, and here they were again, these two long-time rivals seemingly joined in history since the epic Ice Bowl of 1967.

Sunday's result? Green Bay 35, Dallas 31, in almost a mirror copy of what transpired in the playoffs. This time, instead of wrecking the day for Dallas with a 3rd-and-20 completion to tight end Jared Cook along the left sideline, Rodgers stuck the dagger in the Cowboys with a 22-yard beauty of a back shoulder scoring pass to receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining.

Prescott's 11-yard touchdown scramble to put the Cowboys up 31-28 with 1:13 left was fabulous at the time, but when will teams ever learn to stop leaving Rodgers enough time to mount a comeback?     

Green Bay has now beaten Dallas in seven of eight meetings from 2009 on, including twice in the playoffs and a 3-0 record at Jerry World. But this latest is a real gut punch for the Cowboys, who at 2-3 have already matched their 2016 loss total, and now sit two full games behind first-place Philadelphia in the NFC East. If you thought another magic carpet ride was coming in Dallas this season, you were mistaken.

And a heads up to the rest of the NFC, the Packers might have just found their long-term answer at running back, with rookie Aaron Jones emerging out of obscurity to rush for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against Dallas. Jones, a fifth-round pick, was the team's fourth-string running back a month ago, and didn't even make the active list for the Week 1 opener. But he's front and center now.

What instant classics these two teams play. It has to be the best non-divisional rivalry going today in the NFL today. Can we get a Packers-Cowboys  matchup every other week? It never disappoints.

  • The Ravens came out and punched the suddenly reeling Raiders in the mouth with that quick 14-0 lead, and the team that prides itself on toughness and resilience never really recovered, dropping a 30-17 outcome to visiting Baltimore. Oakland's not in free fall at 2-3, but after three losses in a row you can feel the pressure building for this team that entered the season with legit Super Bowl aspirations.

I know Oakland was missing quarterback Derek Carr (barr), but this was a Raiders team supposedly ready to win a lot of different ways this season, and seeing the previously anemic Ravens put 30 points on the scoreboard has to mess with Oakland's self-confidence on defense.

If this season somehow swirls down the tubes for the Raiders, will the fans they have jilted with their announced move to Las Vegas in 2020 turn on them and make the year something less than the dance-fest on the sidelines that we saw from Marshawn Lynch in Week 2? You're starting to get the feeling the natives are restless.

  • Memo to Baltimore fan base: Feel free to climb off Joe Flacco's back for a week or so. The Ravens quarterback stepped up and showed reports of his demise might have been a tad exaggerated. Flacco had his long-ball arm going against the Raiders, hitting receiver Mike Wallace three times for a gaudy 133 yards. That's when Flacco is at his best, and he took no sacks, throwing for 222 yards on 19 of 26 passing.

Toss in the 143 yards Baltimore rushed for against the Raiders, with Javorious Allen (73 yards) and Alex Collins (55) leading the way, and Ravens are viewing the world from a different vantage point after their Week 5 road upset. With Pittsburgh losing at home and Baltimore going out west to win, the two rivals are tied atop the AFC North at 3-2.

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  • Rams receiver Cooper Kupp has been Jared Goff's go-to guy, but Kupp is going to have to endure a painful week after he dropped an easy pass in the end zone with eight seconds remaining Sunday, sealing Los Angeles's 16-10 home loss to division rival Seattle.

The Rams for the first time this season really weren't sharp offensively. But they were in position to win ugly until Kupp's usually reliable hands betrayed him.

Instead it was the Seahawks that notched the less-than-beautiful victory. Not that Seattle cares about style points. Seattle (3-2) is now tied with the Rams at 3-2, gaining the upper hand in the season series with that key road win.

Seattle's defense clearly has its swagger back. The Seahawks forced three Rams turnovers in the final quarter-plus of the game, and Goff and running back Todd Gurley were held in check for the first time all season.

It's still early, but the NFC West is shaping up as a pretty entertaining two-team race.

  • It's pretty obvious five weeks into the season: The Eagles are the most complete team in the NFC East. The Birds won the Carson Bowl (Wentz versus Palmer) quite handily, embarrassing visiting Arizona 34-7 to improve to 4-1. And there was no fourth-quarter slippage by the Eagles defense in this one. Philly grabbed a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and then just cruised home from there, winning its third in a row.

Wentz just played pitch-and-catch with whomever was open against the Cardinals, hooking up for touchdown passes with four different Eagles: Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Torrey Smith and Trey Burton. Three of those came on consecutive attempts in the first quarter, and Wentz's four scoring passes were a career high.

The Eagles got all that offense, a near-shutout on defense despite playing without injured defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the unit's best player, and saw the special teams unit chip in with a blocked field goal and punt returner Kenjon Barner's career-long 76-yard effort in the first quarter.

Philadelphia at Carolina (4-1) on Thursday night is suddenly filed under the heading of potential NFC title game preview.

  • I don't know about you, but I don't need to see any more from the Cardinals to know they're finished as Super Bowl contenders after Sunday's 34-7 debacle of a loss in Philadelphia.

Including its meltdown at Carolina in the 2015 season's NFC title game, Arizona is a dismal 9-12-1 in its past 22 games, after going 32-11 in its previous 43 games under coach Bruce Arians. Those winning days suddenly seem very long ago.

The Cardinals used to be a tough-minded team that traveled well and could win anywhere, but they're 4-8 in their past 12 road games, and they're proof how quickly a Super Bowl window of opportunity can open and then slam shut in the NFL.

  • Speaking of the resurgent Panthers, I'd say Cam Newton weathered his week of self-inflicted damage and didn't let it slow his momentum in Motown one bit. Newton looked like the 2015 MVP version of himself for a second week in a row, picking apart a Detroit defense in a 27-24 Carolina road win.

Newton was almost perfect in the first half, completing 15 of 17, for 237 yards and two scores. He finished with three touchdowns to go with his 26 of 33 (75.8 percent) passing for 355 yards, and once again is playing with his trademark confidence and bravado. Carolina is a very scary NFC playoff contender if Newton can stay on this roll, especially since offensive coordinator Mike Shula is starting to get the hang of using all his weapons.

It took a little longer than I expected, but rookie Christian McCaffrey finally posted his first career touchdown, and I loved the design of the play, a shovel pass to him after Newton ran a fake read-option to the left. Very creative, and to be honest, very influenced by today's college play-calling.

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  • Like I've always said, you can't contain Ed Dickson, you can only hope to have started him on your fantasy football team. Greg Olsen's replacement in the lineup had himself a career day, grabbing five passes for 175 yards, including three for 139 yards in the first half. And the Carolina tight end was just one of the play-makers for the Panthers. 

While we're at it, what's gotten into Carolina receiver Devin Funchess, who now has three touchdown catches in the past two games? Funchess had seven grabs and a score, to go with Kelvin Benjamin's four receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown, McCaffrey's touchdown and Dickson's huge showing. That's roughly how it was supposed to work this year for the Panthers, who just slid into first place in the NFC South, one-half game ahead of the idle Falcons (3-1).

  • Turns out Sunday in Pittsburgh's Heinz Field the Steelers were running a "Catch a pass from Ben Roethlisberger'' promotion, but you had to be a Jaguars defender to participate in the giveaway. Big Ben tossed a career-worst five interceptions, including a pair of pick-6's, and no Steelers quarterback had endured that brutal a day since Mark Malone threw five interceptions in a 1987 game.

Let that sink in: Mark Malone. Thirty years ago. So it's not a huge surprise the Steelers (3-2) fell and fell hard to improved Jacksonville, 30-9, at home.

Remember when the Steelers secondary was this team's weak link? Or its non-existent pass rush? You can't make the defense the culprit this year. Pittsburgh's offense simply hasn't had any mojo this season, and Roethlisberger openly mused Sunday afternoon that "maybe I don't have it any more,'' according to ESPN. 

I know this: Roethlisberger seemed to force passes in Antonio Brown's direction more than once against Jacksonville, and not with good results. That's potentially a byproduct of last week's "throw-me-the-ball'' tantrum by Brown in Baltimore, and that's absolutely the wrong reaction to have. If anything, the Steelers aren't sure what they do well on offense so far this season, and they're fortunate to still be over .500.

  • Jacksonville's defense didn't luck into all the misery Roethlisberger experienced; the Jaguars created it. They got their hands on so many footballs I lost count, and Jacksonville's No. 1-ranked pass defense proved itself to be more than worthy of its lofty standing. 

Jacksonville is still doing the maddening win one, lose one routine this season, but the Jaguars (3-2) have got something special going on on defense, with just enough offense to make things workable. Jacksonville's two defensive touchdowns was its third and fourth this season, and its 15 takeaways in five games already are two more than they logged all of 2016. And holding the Steelers without a touchdown at home is a rare feat as well, with Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell totaling only 93 yards of combined offense on 25 touches.

The Jaguars can at least see their blueprint to win the AFC South taking shape. That ball-hawking defense, combined with a running game led by stud rookie rusher Leonard Fournette, can get some things accomplished. Fournett rumbled for a career-best 181 yards on 28 carries, including the game-icing 90-yard burst late in the fourth quarter. That'll work, especially if quarterback Blake Bortles keeps doing his game manager routine, throwing no interceptions and losing no fumbles.

Jacksonville is in first place after five weeks, and Houston has to beat visiting Kansas City in the Sunday night game to remain tie for a share of the division lead. Could it finally be the long-awaited return to relevancy for Jacksonville? Every other week at least, the Jaguars look for real.

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  • Dolphins at Falcons next week will be a rout if Miami can't get more out of its Jay Cutler-led passing game in Atlanta. Cutler may not be the only problem Miami's offense has, but the ex-Bear has been anything but the instant fix for the void created by Ryan Tannehill's knee injury in early August.

The Dolphins somehow out-slopped the visiting Titans and won their first real home game of the season on Sunday, 16-10, getting back to .500 at 2-2. But Cutler had just 33 yards passing late in the third quarter, and finished with 92 yards through the air, with one touchdown and one interception. And it has looked every bit as bad as those numbers sound.

I get it that Gase talked Cutler out of retirement and doesn't want to give him a quick hook. But there's no way Matt Moore wouldn't give Miami a better chance to win right now. Gase's appears to hope the longer he sticks with Cutler, the more rewarded he'll be later in the season.     

  • Between Cutler's dreary performance and the less-than-stellar showing by Titans backup quarterback Matt Cassel, who was subbing for the injured Marcus Mariota, it's not as if either team needed Colin Kaepernick or anything. Cassel took six sacks and threw for 141 yards, with one touchdown, and a fumble that turned into a Dolphins score. He averaged 4.4 yards on his 32 pass attempts.

With the Titans sitting 2-3 and tied for last place in the AFC South, I'm starting to think I've been duped by Mike Mularkey's thought-to-be-ascending team.    

  • So it's Patriots at Jets in Week 6, with first place on the line in the AFC East, just like we expected all along. Right? Uh, no. Not at all. What's happening to the NFL world?

The Jets-Browns game film should be burned and never watched, but New York did manage to get the W, besting a Cleveland team that is absolutely astounding in its ability to beat itself (not a novel piece of insight regarding the Browns, I know). The 17-14 Jets win ties New York with New England and Buffalo atop the division, and makes next week's game more meaningful than we ever dreamed.

The Jets ran for a measly 34 yards and won. They committed nine penalties and won. They were outgained 419-212 and won. They let the Browns lead in the game for the first time all season (7-3 in the third quarter) and won. Believe it or not, and this is astounding, ex-Browns quarterback Josh McCown naturally led New York to the victory with two touchdown passes, giving the 38-year-old the first three-game winning streak of his career as a starter. And that is not a typo.

  • Hey, Cleveland brain trust, good thing you deemed Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson not to your satisfaction in the past two drafts and passed on them as quarterback prospects. They started Week 5 leading first-place teams, while Browns head coach Hue Jackson (1-20 in Cleveland) benched rookie QB DeShone Kizer at halftime of the excruciating loss to the Jets, replacing him with Kevin Hogan.

Hogan didn't play badly and presumably next week has a shot to be Cleveland's 28th different starting quarterback from 1999 on. Oh, yeah, and did I mention the 0-5 Browns play at Houston next week, against Watson? That should make for easy comparison.

What can you say about the Browns by now that hasn't been said dozens of times before? They're the most inept team year after year, and the story always remains the same. Cleveland worked hard to squander four different scoring chances in the first half against the Jets, missing two field goals, and committing two turnovers inside the 10 yard line.

And now where are you with Kizer if you're the Browns? Do you run him back out there, or go to Hogan in a desperate attempt to stave off another landslide-like season of defeat? It's a trick question, of course. They are never any good answers in Cleveland.

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  • The Colts found a way to squeak past winless San Francisco in overtime, avoiding the embarrassment of losing on the day they inducted Peyton Manning into their Ring of Honor, after unveiling that dandy new statue of No. 18 outside Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

(Question: If Manning's statue faced off against Ray Lewis's statue in Baltimore, who wins? Never mind.)

The Colts nearly blew a game they led 23-9 in the fourth quarter, against a team that entered the day having not scored a touchdown in three of its four games. So, you know, whew!

Indy really should think about building at least a clay replica of rookie fourth-round pick Marlon Mack, who saved the Colts bacon in the 26-23 win over the 49ers. Mack set up Adam Vinatieri's game-winning 51-yard field with a 35-yard run, and had 91 difference-making yards on just nine carries in the game.

  • Grandstanding move of the week to Vice President Pence, who left the 49ers-Colts game in Indianapolis in protest of the 23 San Francisco players who kneeled in protest during the pre-game national anthem. As if the VP was caught off guard by the development, even though about 30 or so 49ers took the same action before last week's game. It's been in all the papers.

In other words, Pence knew exactly what he was attending Sunday, and what was likely to unfold on the San Francisco sideline. In fact, President Trump later tweeted that he orchestrated Pence's maneuver, all but directing him to leave if any players kneeled. Everybody likes to please the boss, but transparent much?

Alas, protesting the protest is an American right as well.

  • The Giants season seemed doomed even before Sunday, so it's hard to fathom just how lost it appears in the wake of losing Odell Beckham Jr. to a fractured ankle in New York's rock-bottom 27-22 home loss to the previously winless Chargers. 

I didn't think things could get worse for Ben McAdoo's team, but it turns out I was badly misinformed. And Beckham was one of four Giants receivers hurt against Los Angeles, with Sterling Shepard (ankle), Brandon Marshall (ankle) and Dwayne Harris (broken foot) sidelined earlier.

With both the Chargers and Giants entering this game at 0-4, you knew something had to give. I just didn't think it would be New York's last vestige of hope for 2017 that would shatter into a million pieces.

*All the Chargers needed was to get out of Los Angeles, apparently. Anthony Lynn picked up first win as an NFL head coach, and Philip Rivers improved to 3-0 against his 2004 quarterback draft classmate, Eli Manning (although those two Super Bowl rings sure help ease the sting for Eli, I'll bet).

But Rivers shouldn't be taking any victory laps. I still think he's one of the game's most overrated passers, with a habit of hurting his team with big turnovers. He threw another pick against the Giants, giving him five this season, and seven turnovers overall. He was just 21 of 54 throwing the ball for L.A., with three touchdowns and 258 yards.

The Chargers found a team even more troubled than they are, and took advantage. But they're still going nowhere in the AFC West, with a 1-4 record and a grip on last place.

  • My biggest takeaway from Buffalo's disappointing 20-16 loss in the rain at Cincinnati is that the game showed the Bills aren't good enough to win when they're not at their best. Some teams can manage it, but Buffalo is not far enough along as a proven entity to pull it off. The Bills were in the game all day, but it was the Bengals who made the big plays at the key moments, and Buffalo still has some work to do in that respect.

The Bills defense did enough to win, but 221 yards for the offense won't cut it. And it was another very quiet game for running back LeSean McCoy, who has basically been a non-factor for much of 2017. McCoy thinks highly of himself and his place in the NFL's running back hierarchy. But his 63 yards on 19 carries against the Bengals were hardly noticeable, and a Bills offense that absorbed six Cincinnati sacks needs him to play up to his reputation.

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  • When was the last time there was any legit excitement for the debut of a rookie Bears quarterback? I don't remember that much buzz for Kyle Orton in 2005 or Rex Grossman in 2003. Maybe Bobby Douglass in 1969?

Mitchell Trubisky Time has arrived in Chicago (at long last), and suddenly there's pretty good reason to watch what otherwise would have been a rather ho-hum Monday night game: Minnesota at Chicago. The Bears probably shouldn't expect Trubisky, he of the 13 career collegiate starts, to be their version of DeShaun Watson any time soon. The Texans rookie QB produced five touchdowns last week against Tennessee and almost led Houston to an upset at New England the week before.

But I think Trubisky is going to look the part of a franchise quarterback, and his strong preseason work (364 yards, three touchdowns, no picks and a 106.2 passer rating) was no August mirage. He gives Chicago a reason to believe at the position that has plagued the Bears for years and years, and for once I don't think it's false hope.

So go ahead, embrace the expectations, Bears fans. You've earned this build-up. The guy who went No. 2 in the draft is officially No. 1 in Chicago. You're up, Mitch.

  • You have to wonder, if host Tampa Bay couldn't manage to beat a mistake-prone and defensively-challenged Patriots team that keeps getting Tom Brady sacked and hit, when will the Bucs ever truly inspire enough confidence to convince the football world they've turned the corner and are ready to live up to their lofty potential?

Yes, I know the three missed Nick Folk field goal attempts wound up being the story of Thursday night's game, but even with those failures, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston had his team in position to pull the upset against the sputtering defending champs, and couldn't get it done. And the tease factor in Tampa Bay (2-2) continues at a maddening level.

Winston's decision-making on the final play of the game kind of typifies the Bucs' inability to execute when the pressure and expectation level are their highest. Facing only a three-man rush from the Patriots 19 with three seconds remaining and trailing by five, Winston impulsively fired into the end zone before rookie tight end O.J. Howard was even turned around and looking for the ball. Instead of buying time in the pocket against a minimal rush, hoping for another busted coverage or breakdown by the shaky New England secondary, Winston rushed and hurriedly threw a pass that only Patriots could have caught.

Until further notice, the Bucs aren't looking poised and primed to snatch the postseason berth we presumed was finally coming in 2017, after a nine-year playoff drought. By now the growing pains should be all but over for Dirk Koetter's perplexing team.

  • That certainly passed as progress for the New England defense Thursday night in Tampa, albeit of the modest variety. But about that offensive line. Talk about an unsustainable trend. Tom Brady took three more sacks (from a Bucs defense that entered with just one sack in its first three games) and now has been dropped 16 times, or once more than he went down in his 12 regular-season games of 2016. 

The on pace stats can drive us all crazy, but the Patriots can't subject Brady to the whopping 51 sacks he's on pace for (his career high is 41 in 2001), because there won't be much left to their dreams of defending last season's Super Bowl title at that point. Brady is still playing lights out, but even the greatest quarterbacks start to pay a price for the cumulative toll of all that punishment by season's end. The New England offensive line has reportedly allowed 33 hits on the quarterback, or 6.6 per game, and that's no way to treat a 40-year-old QB, fitness freak or no fitness freak.

At 3-2, with both of its Thursday night games behind them and 10 days between Week 5 and Week 6, perhaps the Patriots have weathered the worst of its challenges in the season's first half. Then again, that visit from the high-powered Falcons looms in Week 7, so stay tuned.

Ridiculously Cool Football Card of the Week

20171008-banks-card.jpg

I know, right? You almost forgot he once played football. Me, too. As much as a nationwide pariah can be, O.J. is a free man again, and his first week out of prison even made for a Saturday Night Live spoof last night, so there's proof he's topical once more. You youngins out there are going to have to trust me on this, but as a running back for the Bills in his glory days, Simpson was must-see TV. I saw him play live just once, when Buffalo came into Tampa Stadium and beat the first-year expansion Bucs 14-9 in late September 1976, barely squeaking out a win on a fourth-quarter Joe Ferguson touchdown pass. The Tampa Bay defense was beyond stout that day against O.J., holding him to just 39 yards rushing on 20 carries with a long gain of 13 (do the math on that one!). It was one of the sad-sack Bills' two wins that season. Here's Simpson's classic 1973 Topps, the year he ran into NFL history with that epic 2,003-yard rushing season in just 14 games, averaging a mind-boggling 6.03 yards per carry. He posted three 200-yard plus games that season, and 11 games of 100 rushing yards or more. His football legacy understandably feels like a footnote these days, for good reason. But back in 1973, The Juice knew how to get loose like no one else.

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