Sorting the Sunday Pile Week 8: Wilson, Watson emerge as faces of NFL QB future
A shootout between the Seahawks and Texans set the stage for more good things to come
Seattle is not the most likely place for a shootout to break out, but the NFL has a funny way of letting outstanding football games emerge out of nowhere and we got one of the best games anyone will see in 2017 as Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson dueled it out in a marvelous, high-octane battle that showcased the future of football.
Wilson and Watson both showcased their unique skillsets, lighting up the scoreboard while throwing for four touchdowns each, with half of said touchdowns coming in a wild fourth quarter that featured four different touchdown drives of 71 yards or longer.
Watson now has 19 touchdown passes in his first seven games, the most in NFL history, beating Kurt Warner's record, but it was Wilson who got the last laugh, casually marching the Seahawks 80 yards down the field in three plays before finding tight end Jimmy Graham for a wide-open touchdown that would ultimately win the game.
"It's crazy, because at those moments, [Russell] has the most confidence you've ever seen him with," Graham said of his quarterback after the game. "It's just unbelievable his mindset, his focus at those times, how upbeat he is. You believe every time, if there's 20 seconds left on the clock that we're going to score, that we're going to hit that Hail Mary. It's just unbelievable, his actions. His demeanor in the huddle is just unbelievable."
It's not hard to see what Graham is talking about -- that was hardly the only big-time throw (and catch) on that drive, with Wilson picking up a massive chunk of yardage on a deep completion to Paul Richardson that showcased his mobility, pocket presence and arm.
Wilson may as well have been looking at a mirror during this game, with Watson serving as an impressive facsimile for Wilson from his rookie year.
Folks will recall that it was Matt Flynn, not Wilson, who was set to be the starter for the Seahawks in 2012. Flynn had been signed in free agency and Wilson was just a third-round pick for Seattle. The Seahawks were hoping Flynn could put them over the top. Instead, Wilson, who just has a certain winning quality about him, stole the job before the season and never looked back.
Like Wilson, Watson wasn't going to be the starter originally. Tom Savage was named the Texans starter for Week 1 and spent the first half getting pounded by the Jaguars before Bill O'Brien quick-hooked him for Watson.
And like Wilson, Watson has that quality about him. Dabo Swinney described it before the draft and we just didn't listen. With every crunch-time play and every touchdown he throws, it's hard to imagine how anyone thought starting Savage was the right play.
Watson still had his share of rookie mistakes and eventually threw two interceptions (one to seal the game) in Richard Sherman's direction. But it's a testament to Watson that, with 21 seconds left and the Texans holding the ball down three points to the Seahawks in Seattle, it wasn't out of the question for the rookie quarterback to find a way to get the Texans a look at tying up the game.
He is playing a little above his head right now, in the sense of having a lot of breaks go his way. One of his touchdown throws is going to give him 70 yards but it was DeAndre Hopkins who did most of the work.
That was still a "WOAH" moment for Houston, a big-play score that gave the Texans the lead with less than five minutes to play. They had that game and gave their defense a shot to hold off Wilson and the Seahawks enough to steal a pretty massive upset.
Regardless of the final score, it's clear just how much Watson belongs. And it's also fortuitous for both the Texans and the NFL that Watson was able to produce such a big performance, going head-to-head against Wilson for 60 fantastic minutes of football, when he did.
The Texans started the game by taking a knee in protest of owner Bob McNair's referring to NFL players as "inmates" in a "prison" (he was worried the protesting players and the anthem issues would result in the owners losing control). The world was focusing on something other than football when this game began, and a blah performance by Houston would have led to questions about their focus, etc.
Instead, the narrative coming out of the game was laser-locked on Watson and Wilson, the two young quarterbacks who have, at every stage of their career, denied the doubters, refusing to back down from a challenge.
We often hear people complain about the level of quarterbacking in the NFL and the concern about the future once guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees move on. Maybe the game is in pretty good hands after all.
Cowboys tricky timing
The Dallas Cowboys have now put together their two best games of 2017, having plowed through an overmatched 49ers team last week and an undermanned Redskins team this week. Both games were on the road and both games featured Ezekiel Elliott looking his best -- for whatever reason before the Cowboys bye, Elliott was moving slower and looked less explosive.
Over the last two games, he's been a monster, looking a lot like his 2016 self en route to finding the end zone five times in two games.
The numbers bear out a difference too.
Rush Attempts / Receptions
Rushing Yards / Total Yards
393 / 527
297 / 364
Again, the competition has not been dominant. The 49ers are one of the two worst teams in football and quickly getting worse, if that's possible. San Francisco has been outscored by 53 points over the last two games.
The Redskins had a whopping 17 guys on their injury report before the Dallas game, and were essentially playing a second-string offensive line against Dallas. Josh Norman returned for Washington, which was a bonus for the defense, but this was a team that was just too short-handed to pull off the home upset.
And Elliott was the one who made it possible. In a rain-soaked D.C. day where Fed Ex Field was getting pummeled by a nasty storm, Elliott put the ball on the turf early via a fumble and then never looked back, piling up 150 rushing yards in another dominant effort.
Here's the tricky part for the Cowboys: they will learn Elliott's fate on Monday afternoon, and he could ultimately miss the next six games. Dallas is 4-3 and just starting to get their offense rolling; having to play the Chiefs, Falcons, Eagles, Chargers, Redskins and Giants -- the next six opponents for Dallas -- without Elliott could be devastating to this team's playoff chances.
If Elliott's given the green light to keep playing by the judge on Monday, this is irrelevant. But if he ends up being suspended and the Cowboys go into a tailspin, we may wonder why Dallas didn't have him sit out the first part of the season simply for football reasons. He would've been back from the suspension this past week anyway and Dallas could very well be in the same position.
Best Coaching Job of the Year
There was legitimate talk about the Buffalo Bills TANKING before the season, back when they were trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, high draft picks from previous regimes. And yet the Bills, who also traded away former No. 2 overall pick Marcell Dareus over the weekend, won again Sunday, finding their way to 5-2 and giving fans in Buffalo a whole lot of hope about the future, thanks to the combination of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane.
The coach/GM combo have done, in my mind, the best job of succeeding with the least this season. This is not a dominant team, but how could it be. There is no "sleeping giant" factor here like there was with Sean McVay and the Rams. Buffalo has lost both of its games by a total of 10 points (road games against Carolina and Cincinnati), and while it has several close wins as well, we saw a dominant performance by the Bills against the Raiders on Sunday in a 34-14 victory.
It's probably time to start blindly hammering the first half spreads for home teams playing 1 p.m. ET games against teams coming from the west coast. Buffalo easily covered the half-point spread against Oakland, while the Eagles (home vs. 49ers) and Patriots (home vs. Chargers) also managed to cover their games against teams fighting the natural body clock by playing football at 10 a.m. their time.
Back to Buffalo though: normally it's hard to figure out exactly HOW the Bills are winning. Not in a football sense, just in a personnel kind of way. Credit goes to McDermott and Beane, however, because they seem to have a knack for putting the right group together. This is not something that's just curious from the outside -- star running back LeSean McCoy, whose 151 rushing yards on Sunday were a big, obvious factor in this particular win -- basically admitted the Bills aren't the most talented team in the league.
"We support one another. This is a close family, it really is," McCoy said after the game. "Some guys I might have known for a year or two years, and some guys who I might have known for two weeks, we have that bond and I don't want to let that guy down. We play together and we fight.
"This team just has the heart. It's hard to go against the eye of the tiger, a team that will claw and fight 'til the end. It's hard to be a team like that. I think we have that -- the talent kind of goes out the window, the athletic ability for players kind of goes out the window. We have that big heart. Guys believe and guys want to win. It just shows you the type of culture that Sean is kind of bringing right here."
Everything has just clicked. Tyrod Taylor is playing above average football and consistently deserves more praise than he gets, which is odd in a league where we rush to crown anyone with a modicum of success at the position. McCoy has been tremendous this year; in a season where there are a lot of backs putting up a lot of yards at the top of the statistical standings, he's eighth in the league in rushing yards despite not having a lot of help on offense.
Signing a guy like Micah Hyde and drafting a guy like Tre'Davious White are moves that flew under the radar and are paying big dividends.
This is (probably?) not a Super Bowl team, but it is not a squad that's going to magically melt into oblivion. The Bills are well coached and play hard every week.
Another Unnecessary Officiating Mess
What is going on with the NFL officials this year? For the first time ever, we have centralized review in play, available to the guys in New York to look at and to get the calls right. And yet it feels like there is less consistency with some of these calls than ever before. The latest example comes via the Bears, in their loss to the Saints, on a play that saw Zach Miller suffer an excruciating injury.
I'm not embedding the play here because it is indeed a very serious injury: according to reports on Monday morning, click here to see the play.. You can
Miller's health is obviously the more important issue here, but there is a football concern in terms of how these officials are managing these replays. As former NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino, now with Fox Sports, explained during the game, Miller clearly had possession and rolled over. You can see it pretty, sitting there with a freaking broken leg, holding the ball.
He caught the ball and survived the ground and when he rolled over a second time in a crazy amount of pain, decided to drop the football on the ground because he had completed the catch. It seems obvious to see that in real time, it seems obvious to see that on the replay and it makes zero sense to rule it an incomplete pass.
It is literally adding insult to injury and it is another example of the issues facing the NFL when it comes to replay. We literally have no idea which direction they'll go when we get a ruling.
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