Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 6: Patriots, Steelers among teams to save their seasons
Plus the Aaron Rodgers injury, some more silliness from the officials, the struggling Falcons and more
No one knows anything and everyone knows nothing. Remember that any time you hear someone preach about a fact that will occur in the future in the NFL. The Giants went into Denver missing their top four receivers and their top cornerback and manhandled the Broncos, who were 11.5-point favorites. The Jets, who were 0-16 before the season began, nearly upset the Patriots, who were 16-0 before the season began.
Football is weird, that's why football is fun. Week 6 was a "moving day" of sorts for a slew of different teams, four of which managed to salvage their seasons with tremendous wins on Sunday. Let's run through them and then get to the rest of the important NFL news, including the injury to Aaron Rodgers, the struggling Falcons, the Browns' darkest regrets and more from the week that was in the NFL.
New England Patriots
New England wasn't going to just disappear into the ether of mediocrity after a Week 6 loss. But losing to the Jets in the Meadowlands would have meant the Patriots were 1 1/2 games back of the Jets in the division heading into just about the midway point. We can all agree they would recover and win the division, but that's a dark place to be and indicative of how badly the Patriots have struggled this season.
Instead, New England is a half-game clear of the Bills (bye) and Dolphins (who somehow have three wins after beating the Falcons in Atlanta). Imagine a world where Bill Belichick loses to a would-be terrible Jets team -- one that Belichick pointed out repeatedly is actually a pretty good squad -- and picture him in the postgame and again this week when meeting with the media.
The Pats still have plenty of flaws, including a lack of power running game, thanks to Mike Gillislee continuing to put the ball on the turf. They miss Julian Edelman badly, although Brandin Cooks is a very special weapon in his own right.
It's very possible and entirely likely the Patriots' offense is struggling to really hit its stride because Tom Brady is working with some new weapons. Cooks is only catching 58.5 percent of his passes (the lowest total of his career), but he's averaging a career high in yards per reception (19.7) and yards per game (78.7). He could really start to pour it on as he and Brady get a better rapport.
Let's not forget, since defense is definitely the bigger issue here, that the Cooks catch and ensuing touchdown was set up by a Malcolm Butler interception, one that Bill Belichick agreed flipped the game, especially with the Patriots, down 14-7, having egged a situation at the goal line previously.
"We might bend, but we don't break," Butler said.
Butler's pick set up the Cooks catch, which set up a Rob Gronkowski touchdown (they really need him healthy for 16 games by the by), which made it 14-14 going into half. At that point it was just a matter of whether or not the Jets were going to cover the +9.5 spread.
Just about every year, there is a mild mob looking for reasons why the Patriots dynasty is going to collapse. Usually it's Brady getting older and struggling for a week. This year it's a bad defense. And this defense is bad, giving up 300 yards to another quarterback and becoming the first team in NFL history to allow a 300-yard passing game in the first six weeks of the season. But they're making progress. Bet against Belichick and Matt Patricia with your own money.
Drama runs deep in the NFL, and it runs real deep with Ben Roethlisberger. What a dumb situation that was last week, with Ben coming off a five-interception game against the Jaguars and saying to a group of reporters that he just might not "have it" anymore. The best part? He proceeded to question people questioning him.
There is a reason we all liked the Steelers on the Pick Six Podcast (subscribe on iTunes here!), and it's because they were so obviously going to beat the Chiefs after the Jags thumped Pittsburgh at home and the Chiefs manhandled the Texans on the road.
Sometimes the NFL just works that way. Plus, the Steelers finally seemed to remember what they forgot against Jacksonville: they can be a championship team if they are willing to lean on Le'Veon Bell. Bell gives them ... a puncher's chance.
The Steelers' attack featured a heavy dose of Bell in this game, pounding the ball against the Chiefs and letting Bell do what he does best: be patient and rip off big chunk yards. Pittsburgh only scored 19 points, but Bell finished the day with 32 carries and 179 rushing yards. This particular play was called back for holding, but it's indicative of how he's running right now.
It sets up the play-action game down the field for Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown -- Bell might get the headlines here, but Brown still finished with 155 receiving yards and a game-flipping touchdown that could have been a pick.
The Steelers have owned the Chiefs in recent years, but this was a critical victory.
"Hopefully yes, this is a stepping stone to say, we didn't put up the points, but we came to a place like this and played a defense like this and still did pretty well," Roethlisberger said.
Ben also admitted that "this old cowboy's still got a little bit left in him." Whew. We were a little worried he might retire. (We were not.)
Pittsburgh might very well be the best team in the NFL at this point, given how well its defense played against a previously explosive Kansas City team and how dominant the offense can be when they feed Bell. The Steelers just need to, as is almost always the case, stay out of their own way.
Ohhhhhh buddy. I've been getting clowned left and right for picking the Cardinals to win the Super Bowl. And I deserve it, because they looked terrible the second that David Johnson went down. Arizona was dead last by more than 20 yards coming into this game in terms of yards gained on the ground. They were terrible at running the ball, so the big joke was they managed to get older by trading for Adrian Peterson this past week.
That analysis turned out to be wrong, because Peterson looked great Sunday in the Cards' win over the Buccaneers, which was far closer in terms of the score than it was in reality. Look at this touchdown run from the first quarter:
Vintage A.P. Peterson was moving like a guy who had been counted out, except he wasn't just counted out one time, he was also counted out a second time when the trade happened this week.
You might ask where this was for the Saints and that's fair, but look at these numbers:
Yes, that's right. He produced more for Arizona in a single game than he did for the Saints in four games. And Arizona wasn't a massive underdog here, but they were home underdogs against a weird Bucs team, the type of team that could give them trouble and really wreck their season, sending them reeling to 2-4.
Instead, Arizona is 3-3. The Cardinals are a game back of the Rams, who won in Jacksonville on Sunday and who look like a dangerous team. But they get the Rams in London next week. That's a toss-up game (and it's at 1 p.m. ET, which is weird), but it's not a guaranteed loss. They are a half-game back of the Seahawks but they get Pete Carroll's team at home in three weeks.
Arizona hasn't been a very good team so far this season, and they lost their identity when Johnson went down. But the acquisition of Peterson and the way the offensive line attacked Tampa was season-saving, particularly in a year when there is no clear-cut power structure in the NFC.
New Orleans Saints
Hey, there's the team that discarded Adrian Peterson! And it was a good thing. The Saints are better without Peterson. The Saints are ... just good.
And their defense is good too? For the first time in franchise history and for the first time by any NFL team since 2001, the Saints recorded three defensive touchdowns in their weird beatdown of the Lions, including this 0-yard (!) pick-six by Cameron Jordan.
Rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore also recorded an interception. He has been a find for New Orleans so far this year.
The Saints might have a good secondary. It's weird. It's not supposed to happen. Maybe it won't last. But the combo of Jordan and Sheldon Rankins up front are doing damage, and the group in the back is holding up well.
The AP thing will be overblown, especially since New Orleans let the Lions back in this game and couldn't salt things away in the running game, but give credit to them for moving on, especially considering how well Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara ran this week. The two combined for 189 yards on 35 carries and were equally dangerous in the passing game, totaling nine catches for 48 yards.
This is the duo New Orleans should want because it fits the Drew Brees offense better. In a week where everyone else in the division lost, the Saints suddenly find themselves just a half-game back of the Panthers and on their best track over the last few years.
NFC North is anyone's game
By far the biggest story from Sunday was the injury to Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the third injury to a megastar over the last two weeks (Odell Beckham and J.J. Watt last week). Rodgers' injury is we didn't know on its head.
The Packers were clear favorites to win the NFC North; good luck telling me who's taking the division now. Green Bay is still a good team, but they can't reasonably expect to get Rodgers back with the injury to his throwing shoulder. In 2013, Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Nov. 4 and returned Dec. 29 to beat the Bears and push the Pack into the playoffs, but that was to his non-throwing shoulder. He's probably done.
People Colin Kaepernick, but please stop. If you mention Brett Favre, it better be to make a joke on the internet.and
There is a reason why Brett Hundley's been groomed in Green Bay for multiple years. They don't want to play him, because that means Rodgers isn't playing, but they're going to ride with him. He was a high-upside guy coming out of UCLA -- don't let him throwing three picks in a bad spot against a tough defense fool you. He can help this team win eight or nine games and make the playoffs.
But the rest of the division is suddenly back in play. Minnesota is getting an inspired effort from Case Keenum and beat Green Bay Sunday. The Bears have two wins and could have four; they have no real offensive approach and actually require Tarik Cohen throwing touchdowns to win.
The Lions will make every game close. The could win 11, or could win one more game. They have every possible outcome baked into every game.
On a broader scale, the Rodgers injury just widens everything in the NFC. Who's your top five in the conference? For me, throw the Eagles, Panthers, Rams, Saints, Seahawks and Falcons in a bag and pick five. Good luck finding a consensus. Rodgers and the Packers were the best team in the conference until he went down. It is wide open now.
Another ref show
Consistency was the name of the game for the refs when they decided to implement centralized replay, but we have absolutely not gotten that this season. Yet another rendition came this week Austin Seferian-Jenkins. ASJ, by the way, is turning into a really nice threat for the Jets. FYI.Jets tight end
Watch as Seferian-Jenkins catches the ball, runs towards the goal line, dives for the end zone and, apparently sort of bobbles the ball slightly as he's crossing the goal line.
The referees reviewed this play and decided that Seferian-Jenkins bobbled the ball while crossing the plane of the goal line and never "survived the ground."
My response would be to ask, simply, whether or not Seferian-Jenkins was in possession of the ball as he went to the goal line and whether or not he was in possession of the ball when he stood up after diving across the goal line. Because the answer is yes, and in resounding fashion.
Replay is wonderful because it takes technology and allows us to make more correct calls. But this is pedantic and dumb. It's micro-managing a game that is inherently subjective, a game that revolves around a couple of old men spotting rather roughly where a ball should be placed and then a couple more old men shuffling down the field with a chain in their hands. And THIS is what we're going to nitpick on? It's ridiculous.
The only thing remotely enjoyable is the idea that these guys probably listened to Tom Brady when it came to the review.
Head ref Tony Corrente actually believed it was "pretty obvious" that Seferian-Jenkins lost possession.
"We went through two or three primary looks," Corrente said, per pool reporter Bob Glauber. "and then this other shot came up. When the other shot came up, it was just 'boom, boom, boom.' It was a pretty quick determination. It was pretty obvious."
But here's the problem: it wasn't obvious. And the play was ruled a touchdown. You cannot possibly watch what happened and determine with 100 percent certainty that it was a fumble situation or a lost-ball situation. The refs are meddling too much, and there is too much centralized replay. This is having the reverse effect.
Should we be worried about the Falcons?
My Pick Six Podcast (again, subscribe on iTunes right here!) colleagues Nick Kostos and Pete Prisco believe the Falcons will go up to New England and beat the Patriots. They might be right. Atlanta has looked dominant at times, but the Falcons also just lost back-to-back games to the AFC East at home, having fallen to the Bills and Dolphins in successive weeks. The Dolphins, mind you, scored exactly zero points against the Saints for a full game in London.
The Dolphins also scored zero points against the Falcons during the first half on Sunday. Atlanta led 17-0 when the teams went into the locker room and the Falcons would never score again. That is stunning.
It is even more stunning when you consider the Falcons ran the ball exactly 18 times with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in this game. When you're sitting on a 17-0 lead at half, those dudes need to tote the ball about 20 times each. There's no reason to throw in the second half against a questionable offense.
Instead, the Falcons decided to let Matt Ryan throw 35 times and now have scored just 17 points in back-to-back weeks. They're 12th in points scored and just haven't found the same rhythm they had with Kyle Shanahan. That's what we expected under Steve Sarkisian, but it's worth noting this team could easily be 1-4, having snuck out wins against the Bears and Lions on the road. If that was the case, we would be talking about the Super Bowl hangover on a weekly basis. This is a big week in New England from a psychological standpoint.
The Browns deserve their punishment
It feels mean to keep beating on the winless Browns, now 0-6 on the season and 1-21 over the last two years. They failed to cover again on Sunday, for the fourth week in a row, because this guy named Deshaun Watson throttled them for three scores. Watson became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw three touchdown passes in three consecutive starts and now has 12 touchdown passes on the year, the most by any rookie in NFL history through six games.
Watson also leads the league in passing touchdowns (say that out loud) through six weeks after not even starting Week 1. And he could have been on the Browns. Cleveland passed on him not once, but twice.
During the Browns-Texans broadcast, the NFL on CBS announcers Andrew Catalon and James Loftonto the Browns matchup, in which Hue Jackson allegedly texted Watson and told him to "be ready" on draft day.
And we had a chance to revisit that trade ... we asked Watson about it on Friday after practice. He said he woke up draft day, had no idea where he was going to go, and he got a text from Hue Jackson and it said "be ready." He thought that was a sign that the Browns were interested.
It comes to No. 12, and he knew that Arizona had told him, if no one takes you by the time we pick at No. 13, we're taking you. So at No. 12, Browns on the clock, he thought maybe this is it. Looked up at the TV screen and it said the pick has been traded to Houston. Immediately looked down at his phone and it was ringing a Houston area code and that's how he got drafted.
Oof. The Browns might have a decent defense and could have an OK running game. They just have a terrible quarterback situation. DeShone Kizer isn't ready; Kevin Hogan is an upgrade, but not by much. He was mangled by a Texans defense missing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Cleveland also passed on Carson Wentz in 2016. Maybe Hue liked Watson (he has since denied texting the quarterback), but the front office felt like getting another first-round pick was worth giving up a shot to get Watson. Maybe there's a fracture here and someone is trying to stir up stories.
Or maybe the Browns are just a big bleeping mess. That seems like the most likely explanation, that this team without a quarterback since 1999, having whiffed on multiple first-round picks, somehow manages to pass on only the good quarterbacks. Watson was a tough projection because of Clemson's system and talent, but he won in college. And he won big. Ignoring that was dumb on the part of a lot of people, but it was the dumbest on the part of the Browns, who had multiple first-round picks last year and did not take a quarterback, in a draft with a couple guys who look pretty good.
Watson made sure to let them know on Sunday.
And finally ...
Just to remind you that you know nothing and that I know nothing and that no one knows anything, the three-highest scoring teams in the NFL through six weeks are the Rams (179 points), Texans (177) and Chiefs (177).
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