AROUND THE NFL

If The Season Ended Today, in AFC, the two teams that played in a thrilling CBS Regional Game on Sunday would be the 2nd and 3rd seeds.  And the Raiders, yes the Raiders, would be in the playoffs.

 

1          New England  East     6-0       1          4-0      

2          Houston           South   4-2       1          3-0      

3          Kansas City     West    4-2       1          3-2      

4          Baltimore         North   4-2       1          3-2

5          Buffalo            WC      4-1       2          3-1      

6          Oakland          WC      3-2       2          2-1

7          Indianapolis                3-2       2          2-2      

 

There are 6 teams at 2-4, hoping to get back in it, but at least two weeks away from reaching the cut line.

 

– – –

A good stat from Peter King early in his Monday column:

 

Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen and Devlin Hodges (the duck-caller) are 14-0. Brady’s still winning and Brees will be back, but the signs are there for the new. The 2004 class is fading away, with Eli Manning benched, Ben Roethlisberger out for the year and Philip Rivers 2-4. Exactly half of the league’s 32 teams are starting passers in their third year of starting experience or less. When ex-MVP Cam Newton, 30, can go from starry starter to hurt to wondering if he’ll get his job back when he’s healthy, you realize that NFL, as Jerry Glanville once made famous on NFL Films, stands for Not For Long.

 

The next seven quarterbacks to face New England: Sam Darnold (22 years old), Baker Mayfield (24), Lamar Jackson (22), Carson Wentz (26), Dak Prescott (26), Deshaun Watson (24), Patrick Mahomes (24).

 

“Perfect,” Darnold said after stunning the Cowboys in New Jersey, about the fact the 6-0 Patriots are on deck for him and his 1-4 team.

 

Perfect?

 

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “I want to play the best. It’s great.”

 

When I asked Hodges about all the young quarterbacks playing early and playing well, he was naively honest, which I appreciated.

 

“To be honest,” he said, “that’s a good question, and I wish I had an answer. I don’t know. I just know, for me, this is something I’ve believed I could do since I was 5 years old. Nothing about this scares me. In college, we were throwing it 50, 60 times a game, and I got a lot of good experience. I just believe I can play.”

 

The DB counts ELI MANNING, BEN ROETHLISBERGER, CAM NEWTON and ANDY DALTON as 0-6.

 

Throw in PHILIP RIVERS and MATT RYAN for 3-21.

 

Go with the great QBs of the Class of 2015, MARCUS MARIOTA and JAMEIS WINSOTON, for 7-29.  Add JOE FLACCO and you have 9-33.

 

NFC NORTH

 

CHICAGO

A setback for the Bears as they put G KYLE LONG on IR with a hip problem.

 

 

MINNESOTA

A tweet from Andrew Sicilliano:

 

@AndrewSiciliano

Since getting called out by his WR, Kirk Cousins has done this:

 

44/56

639 yards

6 TD

1 INT

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

The Cowboys lost Sunday, after WR AMARI COOPER went down early.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper played just three snaps in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets before landing hard on the turf, suffering what would be a game-ending injury.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the wideout was diagnosed with a thigh bruise, per a source. Rapoport noted that while the injury can be horribly painful, there is no indication of long-term damage.

 

It’s a modicum of good news for the Cowboys, who lost their third straight game to fall to 3-3.

 

The Cowboys’ offense was wobbly for most of Sunday’s loss sans Cooper, who caught one pass for three yards early before leaving with the thigh injury. Playing without Cooper and Randall Cobb, who missed the tilt due to hip/back injuries, the Cowboys were forced to lean on Tavon Austin (92 percent of snaps played) and Ced Wilson (59 percent) for the bulk of the contest.

 

Austin led the Cowboys with five catches for 64 yards. Thirty-seven-year-old tight end Jason Witten generated five catches for 57 yards.

 

The Cowboys’ offense has been a shell of itself in recent weeks, looking more like the stodgy version of Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan’s offense than the creative attack we saw the first three weeks under Kellen Moore. Losing Cooper early didn’t help Sunday. The hope is the Cowboys get their top receiver back soon and unearth their creative identity in the process.

 

They are asking Jerry Jones about Jason Garrett.  Todd Archer of ESPN.com:

 

As disappointed as Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was in his team’s third straight loss, he was not ready to pin sole responsibility on head coach Jason Garrett.

 

The Cowboys opened the season 3-0 with one of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. With their 24-22 loss to the previously winless New York Jets on Sunday, they now find themselves in a bit of a free fall, even if they are still tied with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East.

 

“I’m going to be very trite. I was a lot happier with what he had done the first three games than what’s happened the last three games,” Jones said of Garrett. “But the big thing I want to say is it’s not just him. This is across the board. That had a lot of input out there tonight to get in that spot.”

 

Speaking on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas last week, Jones dispelled the possibility of Garrett getting fired in-season after some oddsmakers made him the second-favorite head coach to be fired, behind Atlanta’s Dan Quinn.

 

“Don’t bet any money [on] that happening,” Jones said. “You’ll lose it.”

 

Jones has made only one in-season coaching move, jettisoning Wade Phillips in favor of Garrett after a 1-7 start to the 2010 season. Garrett took over the job on a full-time basis in 2011 and has made the playoffs three times, but he has not advanced past the divisional round.

 

He is in the final year of his contract, essentially coaching for his future.

 

“If you really look at it, you can’t take one thing. It can be a list of 15 things, with some having more of an emphasis on maybe the player, the execution, mistakes, breaks — all of those kinds of things,” Jones said. “Across the board, we did not play well enough to win. Had we been able to tie this thing up, or win that thing at the end, it wouldn’t be because we played well. You guys would be writing about a team that did not play well that won a game. Instead, you’re writing about [what] usually happens to you when you don’t play well.

 

“Am I thinking that this is what we are going to be or what we can do with our 10 games that we have remaining, here we are leading the NFC East?” Jones continued. “Not at all.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Can the Giants aspire to win the NFC East?  At 2-4, they are only a game out of first.

 

Here is what they have left:

 

OCT 20               ARIZONA

OCT 27               at Detroit

NOV 4                 DALLAS

NOV 10               at N.Y. Jets

NOV 24               at Chicago

DEC 1                 GREEN BAY

DEC 9                 at Philadelphia

DEC 15               MIAMI

DEC 22               at Washington

DEC 29               PHILADELPHIA

 

Let’s say they beat Arizona, Miami and at Washington.  That’s five wins.

 

Let’s give them losses at Chicago, to Green Bay and at Philly.  That’s seven losses.

 

So they would have to run the table against Detroit, Dallas and the Jets to get to 8-7 going into the finale with the Eagles.  Not quite seeing it, but maybe…

 

They are getting healthier.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Giants are getting closer to having actual offensive players to put around rookie quarterback Daniel Jones.

 

Via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.com, the Giants had a number of key players participating in individual drills Monday.

 

That group included running backs Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Wayne Gallman (concussion), tight end Evan Engram (knee), and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (concussion). All four missed last Thursday’s game against the Patriots.

 

Whether they’re able to return Sunday against the Cardinals remains to be seen, but Barkley tweeted out his own hype video over the weekend, so he’s clearly thinking he’s close.

 

Of the group, Shepard seems the furthest from readiness, but getting any amount of help will be welcome news for Jones.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles and Cowboys are both reeling.  They meet this week.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Eagles took a thumping in Minnesota on Sunday to fall to 3-3 on the season, but it didn’t take long for head coach Doug Pederson to turn his attention to what’s coming next.

 

Week Seven brings a Sunday night game in Dallas against a 3-3 Cowboys team that’s lost their last three games. The winner of the game will have first place in the division all to themselves and Pederson said on WIP Monday morning that the Eagles are going to be that team.

 

“I know the sky is falling outside,” Pederson said. “It’s falling and I get that and the fans are real. We’re going down to Dallas, our guys are gonna be ready to play. And we’re gonna win that football game and when we do we’re in first place in the NFC East, we control our own destiny, we’re right where we need to be. Has it been perfect or beautiful or all of that? No. But all we need to do is try to be 1-0 this week, beat the Dallas Cowboys, we’re in first place.”

 

Cleaning up things on the back end of the defense would help make Pederson’s prediction a reality. Pederson said he’s hopeful that the Eagles will have some healthy players back in the secondary this week as they try to put themselves back on a winning track.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

ATLANTA

Peter King:

 

I think this is what I did not like about Week 6:

 

a. The Falcons. Then again, I haven’t liked them in any of the five previous weeks either. Not a good sign for endangered head coach Dan Quinn, watching the Cardinals go up and down the field.

 

 

CAROLINA

Points out Peter King:

 

Pretty sure this means nothing except to schedule nerds: Carolina and Tampa Bay finished their NFC South season series Sunday, 64 days before Houston and Tennessee start their AFC South season series.

 

 

TAMPA BAY

Peter King on JAMEIS WINSTON on the precipice:

 

Jameis Winston, looked like he’d earned a second contract from Tampa Bay with his above-average play in weeks two through five. But his six-turnover game against Carolina on Sunday has to give GM Jason Licht pause. Licht badly wants to keep Winston and sign him, but he’s got to be smart too. The Bucs come out of the bye in 13 days with four road games in six weeks. Which, for Winston right now, might be the best thing.

 

And this:

 

Five picks, seven sacks taken, a lost fumble, six of the 16 Bucs possessions ending in Winston turnovers in a 37-26 loss to Carolina, rekindling all the speculation why the Bucs shouldn’t re-sign Winston to a second contract. Don’t read the internet today, Jameis. And don’t read your coach’s quotes either. “Throw the damn ball away,” Bruce Arians said of Winston post-game.

 

But he threw for 400 yards!

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

The Cardinals have two wins in a row and an elite cornerback returning per Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Patrick Peterson is heading back to work.

 

The Arizona Cardinals’ star cornerback is eligible to return from serving his six-game suspension today.

 

@P2

GOING TO WORK!!!!

 

The NFL suspended Peterson six games in May for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. The six-game suspension on a player’s first violation stemmed from a positive test plus an attempt to manipulate or mask the result, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported at the time.

 

Arizona won its second straight game Sunday to push its record to 2-3-1, not too shabby sans their best corner, all things considered.

 

The Cards won Sunday’s tilt against a listless Atlanta Falcons squad despite allowing 444 total yards of offense, including 341 passing yards.

 

Peterson’s return will be a welcome sight.

 

Without PP, the Cardinals have leaned on Tramaine Brock (86.6 percent of snaps played) and rookie Byron Murphy, who has missed just four total snaps through six games, per Next Gen Stats. Murphy has been solid in several games including a few fantastic PBUs. As you’d expect from any rookie DB, he’s been picked on some as well.

 

Peterson’s return to the fold should slot the defensive secondary into a better position, with the shadow corner able to lock down opponents’ top receiving weapon.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Suddenly, the Niners who have allowed just 10 points in the last two weeks, have the NFC’s dominant defense:

 

Maybe it was when bull-strong pass-rusher Nick Bosa walked Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth back into Jared Goff early in the Niners-Rams game. Or maybe it happened late in the second quarter, when the Niners stoned the Rams’ Malcolm Brown twice on plunges from the 1-yard line. More likely, it came in the fourth quarter, this realization that the San Francisco defense, at least in the NFC, is as good as it gets.

 

Niners up 20-7, Rams have the ball fourth-and-one at the L.A. 44-yard line, 10:26 to play. Sean McVay decided to go for it. Rookie back Darrell Henderson, steamed straight ahead, and safety Jimmie Ward sprinted through a crease on the offensive right side, evading a Robert Woods block, dove and hugged Henderson by both shins, and he fell two feet short of the first down. Three minutes later, now on third-and-two at the Niners’ 28, Ward rocked tight end Gerald Everett, breaking up a pass that would have been a first down if caught. Now another fourth down.

 

There’s a route in the NFL called a “Jerk Route.” The offense attempts to isolate a wideout on a linebacker or safety on a very short curl—or a short curl and quick cross, to create space. Cooper Kupp of the Rams, from the slot, is very good at it. And now the Rams wanted to run it to try to save the game. “I see it in practice every day,” Ward told me from L.A. after the game. “Our guys do it. They work on those shifty routes every day. I’m used to it. I see how their offense tries to set it up, so I knew they were gonna try to run it on this fourth down. Kupp, with no Rams receivers in his area code, posted up near the middle of the field, then darted to Goff’s right to get free of Ward. When the pass was right on Kupp, Ward enveloped him and hog-tied him to the ground. Incomplete.

 

Twice in three minutes, on fourth down with San Francisco protecting a two-score lead, Ward stopped two drives by himself.

 

“I’d wear Jimmie Ward’s jersey on the sideline if they’d let me,” said Niners coach Kyle Shanahan.

 

The Niners have held two offenses with good weapons, the Browns and Rams, to 10 points in the last eight quarters. They’re 5-0, and it’s the defense that’s the key right now—a hammering front with a team of physical cover players mindful of the Legion of Boom. Ironic that Richard Sherman is having a revived year at corner. “This game was fun,” said Ward, a sixth-year Niner playing for something for the first time in his career. “This is my first year playing in games like that. We’ve got 11 guys swarming to the ball. Not about one guy. It’s about all 11 getting to the ball.”

 

Three weeks ago, we noticed the Niners sitting 2nd in the Aikman Ratings and wondered if it was a fluke.  Their still there (we’ll find out exactly where) tomorrow and we’re not wondering if it is a fluke.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

RB TODD GURLEY’s injury may be just a one-week deal.

 

The Los Angeles Rams hope to have Todd Gurley back this week as they deal with the first three-game losing streak of the Sean McVay era.

 

Gurley missed Sunday’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers due to a quad injury that kept him out of practice all week. The injury occurred in the Rams’ Week 5 Thursday night tilt against Seattle and carried over the entire week.

 

The Rams hope the issue clears up after a week’s rest.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday on Good Morning Football that it’s a week-to-week situation with Gurley.

 

“He is not ruled out for this week. He does have a chance to go,” Rapoport said. “Not considered something long, long term.”

 

One issue for Gurley is that the thigh injury is on the same leg as the knee issue that the running back dealt with dating back to last season, which is why stability is part of the concern that caused the Rams to hold him out Sunday.

 

His situation will be one to monitor as the week presses forward.

 

The Rams’ offense was lost at sea Sunday against a San Francisco 49ers defense that overmatched McVay’s crew. Perhaps if Gurley had played, L.A. wouldn’t have been stuffed at the goal-line late in the second quarter, and the tenor of the tilt is different. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

 

Either way, the Rams hope to get their top running back on the field in a get-right game versus an Atlanta Falcons defense that couldn’t stop a pillow fight between a couple of three-year-olds.

– – –

We’re not sure if these are all lost fumbles:

 

@fbgchase

Jared Goff, who fumbled in 10 straight games prior to not fumbling last week, fumbled again today. That’s 13 fumbles and 13 INTs in his last 12 games for him.

 

Turns out Goff has “only” lost 9 fumbles in the last 12 regular season games.

 

 

SEATTLE

Peter King:

 

Seattle is 2-for-2 in Eastern Time now, with Eastern games at Atlanta, Philly and Carolina left. This is a formidable team, and they’re never out of it with Russell Wilson in charge. And now the Seahawks get a valuable and rested piece back for their defensive front—Jarran Reed, suspended for the season’s first six games—just at the right time. The Ravens come to Seattle next Sunday as the most dangerous rushing team in football.

 

As the midway mark of the season nears, QB RUSSELL WILSON has to be on the short list for MVP.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson wants to win games not individual awards. Still, it’s impossible not to notice the building buzz for MVP, especially in light of his stellar start to the season.

 

So why is Wilson off to the best start of his career, with 14 touchdowns, no picks, and a passer rating of 124.7 through six games?

 

He told me by phone after the game that it’s a product of the ongoing growth in his career. He continues to build experience after experience, with eight years of getting ready for various coaches and defenses putting him in a spot where he has complete confidence in his game.

 

“I’ve studied like crazy,” Wilson said. “It’s years and years of preparation. I’m feeling like there’s nothing you can show me I haven’t seen before.”

 

Aiding his development is the fact that he’s never missed a game.

 

“I think that’s huge,” he said. “Being available, being able to play at all costs and leave it all on the field. I always wanted to play every play and play every game.”

 

This year, he’s arguably playing better than any other quarterback, and if he keeps it up he very well could become the MVP. More importantly the Seahawks could end up forcing the road to Miami through Seattle, which will make a return to the Super Bowl more likely.

 

The DB likes to give MVP’s to guys who aren’t flashes in the pan.  This seems to be the defining season of a long-time NFL star. 

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

A tweet from Andrew Siciliano:

 

@AndrewSiciliano

Broncos have scored fewer than 25 points in 15 consecutive games, the longest active streak (and nearly double the next closest) in the @NFL

.

 

 

KANSAS CITY

Peter King – the way to beat the Chiefs is to play keepaway:

 

Two home losses the last two Sundays are more than just a warning across the bow. These numbers are troubling: 37:15, 39:48. Those are the times of possession for the Colts and Texans in their wins over Kansas City. You know why those are so high? Because both teams wisely played keepaway from Patrick Mahomes, which you can do by running the ball a lot. And why wouldn’t you run on the Chiefs? They’re allowing 5.2 yards per rush. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to tighten up that front, or it’ll be yet another year that the Chiefs Kingdom spends a bitter February wondering what might have been.

 

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers’ staff had a gag backfire on them in a stadium filled with Steelers fans:

 

An attempt to “Rick-roll” fans of the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers at the start of the fourth quarter Sunday instead wound up angering some Los Angeles Chargers players.

 

The opening of “Renegade” by Styx — the Steelers’ adopted anthem — blared over loudspeakers at Dignity Health Sports Park, with the full intention of morphing it into the much-lampooned 1980s song “Never Gonna Give You Up,” by Rick Astley.

 

However, upon hearing the opening of “Renegade,” fans of the visiting Steelers — who were quite numerous, very loud and thrilled with a 24-10 lead at the time — took it up a notch.

 

“It was crazy,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon told the Los Angeles Times. “They started playing their theme music. I don’t know what we were doing — that little soundtrack, what they do on their home games. I don’t know why we played that.

 

“I don’t know what that was. Don’t do that at our own stadium. … It already felt like it was their stadium. … I don’t understand that.”

 

Added offensive lineman Forrest Lamp: “We’re used to not having any fans here. It does suck, though, when they’re playing their music in the fourth quarter. We’re the ones at home. I don’t know who’s in charge of that, but they probably should be fired.”

 

The Chargers are playing games at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, this season while their new Hollywood Park home, which they will share with the Los Angeles Rams, is being completed in time for the 2020 season. The Carson stadium is the home of the LA Galaxy of Major League Soccer.

 

Coach Anthony Lynn, for what it’s worth, doesn’t believe the music blaring over the public-address system had anything to do with Sunday’s 24-17 loss that dropped the Chargers to 2-4 this season.

 

“The crowd doesn’t play,” Lynn said, according to the Times. “If anything, I thought that crowd tonight brought a lot of energy to the stadium. It was an exciting night to play football. We just didn’t execute the way we should have.”

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Runners gonna run.  Peter King:

 

When I went to Ravens camp this summer, the vibe was that Jackson’s penchant for running—he averaged 17 rushes per game in his seven regular-season starts in 2018—wouldn’t be duplicated in 2019. He even told Ben Shpigel of the New York Times in September, in a story published Sunday, “I hate running … I like throwing touchdowns instead of running them.” He’s gone back to his old ways the last couple of weeks, running 33 times for 222 yards, including 19 times for a gaudy 152 yards in the win over Cincinnati and its porous run defense Sunday. It was an odd game, though. The Ravens put up 23 points, and it felt like it should been 40.

 

 “We’re just going to do what the defense gives us,” Jackson told me post-game. “The game’s so fast. I’ve got a sharp mind. I really don’t care if I’m running or passing. Just win games.”

 

“So what percent of your runs today were designed runs, and what percent did you take off because of pressure?” I asked.

 

“Ninety percent were designed,” he said. “Ten percent I took off on my own.”

 

Likely that has something to do with Cincinnati allowing 5.3 yards per rush. But Jackson’s apace to carry it 184 times, and we’ll see if the Ravens want him to be exposed that much. From the pocket or using his mobility, Jackson’s a fascinating watch, and he plenty’s accurate (.651) in case he decides eventually to pass first and second, and maybe third. He’ll be tested when Baltimore plays Seattle and New England in the next two games.

 

More from Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

Lamar Jackson put on a show once again and made some NFL history in the process in Sunday’s 23-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday.

 

The Baltimore Ravens quarterback passed for 236 yards and rushed for 152 yards and a TD, becoming the first player in NFL history with 150-plus rush yards and 200-plus pass yards in a single regular season game. The only other time that feat was accomplished was former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick in the 2012 playoffs (263 yards passing and 181 yards rushing versus Green Bay).

 

Jackson’s ability to beat the defense with his arm or legs was the difference Sunday.

 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said, via ESPN. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease, and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

 

Jackson was especially dangerous early, becoming just the third QB since 1991 with 100-plus rush yards (111) in the first half of a tilt (OAK Terrell Pryor: 108 rush yards in Week 8, 2013; ATL Michael Vick: 127 rush yards in Week 12, 2006).

 

The second-year signal-caller is the third QB in the Super Bowl era to rush for 150-plus yards in a game. Others: Colin Kaepernick (Week 16, 2014); Michael Vick (Week 12, 2006 & Week 13, 2002).

 

“He is amazing. You just can’t take that for granted,” Ravens safety Earl Thomas II said. “It is just something special. You just don’t see that every day. We need that from him.”

 

Among QBs, only Michael Vick (10) and Russell Wilson (4) have more career games of 100-plus rush yards than Jackson (3) in the Super Bowl era.

 

Jackson is on pace to surpass Vick’s 2006 single-season QB record of 1,039 rush yards. The Ravens’ signal-caller is averaging 76.7 rush yards per game (Vick averaged 64.9), which puts him on pace for 1,225.7 rush yards over 16 games.

 

“Setting records and things like that, yeah, that’s not really what you think about now,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson. “But someday it will mean something to him.”

 

Right now, it’s about the wins. Jackson’s dual-threat ability is helping Baltimore stack them and take a two-game division lead in the AFC North.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

More from champion duck caller DEVLIN HODGES:

 

When Chris Simms and I visited Steelers camp in August, we heard about this quarterback I’d never come across before: Devlin Hodges of Samford, in Alabama. Word was the rookie was afraid of nothing, came in and out of huddles like he’d been there. “My goal was to make the final 53, and if not, then the practice squad,” Hodges said last night. But he didn’t make the team out of camp. He went home to Alabama, waiting for the phone to ring. Then his agent, Bus Cook, told him the Jets were interested in working him out, and to hustle to Birmingham to fly to New Jersey. Hold on. Driving to the airport, Hodges heard from Cook again. Turns out the Steelers wanted to sign him to the practice squad. Hodges never went to Jersey. He went back home and packed to live in Pittsburgh for a while. He joined the practice squad Sept. 10, then was put on the active roster a week later. And when Mason Rudolph was concussed last week, the job was Hodges’. “The game’s the same, but the players are faster,” he said of the difference between Samford and the Steelers. He completed 15 of 20 for 132 yards, and he threw a 26-yard catch-and-run TD pass to James Connor to give Pittsburgh a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. How did it all feel, I wondered, to be in the NFL and win a game. “Well, I won an NFL game, and they can never take that away from me,” Hodges said, walking onto the plane for the return to Pittsburgh. “But right now, I am so hungry. And I want to look at my phone; I’m sure everyone from home’s been leaving me messages.” Who knows how long the dream will last? With the Steelers on their bye this week, Mason Rudolph will have a week to come out of the concussion protocol. Whatever, the Steelers know they’ve got a good insurance policy in Hodges now.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Bill O’Brien is actually getting some praise – here from Peter King who makes him his coach of the week.

 

Bill O’Brien, head coach, Houston. I thought he coached a brilliant game in the 31-24 victory at Kansas City. O’Brien knew he wanted the Texans to keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes—who wouldn’t?—and so he devised a game plan putting the ball equally in the hands of his most important player, Deshaun Watson, and in the hands of his backs. After seeing the Colts shred KC on the ground last Sunday, O’Brien read the game perfectly. The Texans ran it a clock-eating 41 times (for 4.7 yards per rush), and Watson threw 42 passes without being sacked. Time of possession: 39:48, just perfect. The Chiefs ran only 47 plays. O’Brien also made a prescient call at the two-minute warning, up 31-24, by going for it on fourth-and-two, and making it, instead of giving the ball back to Mahomes. Great game for a coach who has now won four of five.

 

The victory came with a price, CB BRADLEY ROBY will be out about a month with a significant hamstring problem.

 

 

TENNESSEE

We should know by tomorrow whether QB MARCUS MARIOTA is going to yield his starting role.  Adam Maya of NFL.com:

 

Marcus Mariota or Ryan Tannehill?

 

Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters Monday he’ll decide on a starting quarterback this evening and inform his team once he does. It could signal the unofficial end of the Mariota era in Tennessee, which hosts the Chargers in Week 7.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Mariota’s future is “very much in doubt” with the 2-4 Titans after he was benched Sunday in favor of Tannehill. Mariota was pulled in the third quarter after connecting on just 7 of 18 passes for 63 yards with two interceptions in an eventual loss to the Broncos. After Tannehill finished 13 of 16 for 144 yards and an INT in relief, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft might have lost his job for good.

 

Tennessee is clearly at a crossroads with Mariota, who’s in the final year of his rookie deal. The fifth-year QB appears to have regressed this season, completing a career-low 59.1 percent of his passes. It comes just one year after he registered a career-best 68.9 completion percentage. But his uneven play and bouts with inaccuracy have long plagued Tennessee’s offense.

 

The Titans traded for Tannehill in the offseason to be Mariota’s backup. Now they might be ready to cash in on their insurance plan.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Peter King on how the Patriots landed, then nurtured, LB KYLE VAN NOY:

 

I suppose acquiring Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick and then having Moss set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season with 23 in 2007 would have to qualify as the best trade Bill Belichick has ever made. The 2016 for Van Noy might be number two, if only because of the ridiculous and miniscule value the Patriots used in trade with Detroit. New England traded the 215th pick in the 2017 draft for Van Noy plus the 239th pick in the draft. The Patriots have paid Van Noy $12.1 million over the past three years to play 88 percent of their defensive snaps, and now he’s become a vital part of football’s best defense. On Thursday night, Van Noy pressured Giants QB Daniel Jones seven times and sacked him once, and he broke open a 21-14 game in the fourth quarter with an athletic 22-yard fumble return for touchdown.

 

They may be 6-0, but yes, there are some hard games coming up for New England.  Peter King:

 

I think the difference between the six-game stretch the Patriots are now in and the next six they’ll face is striking. Starting in Week 2, New England’s slate: at Miami, Jets, at Buffalo, at Washington, Giants, at Jets. Starting in Week 8, New England’s slate: Cleveland, at Baltimore, at Philadelphia, Dallas, at Houston, Kansas City. Obviously the Bills are a daunting team, and obviously, we all overrated the Browns in the preseason.

– – –

The Patriots are apparently of a mind they made a mistake in casting loose veteran TE BENJAMIN WATSON last week.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Pats are working to re-sign veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi reported, per a source informed. Watson is currently at the facility and the sides are working toward a signing, Giardi added.

 

ESPN first reported the news.

 

New England released Watson last week after he was set to return from suspension. At the time coach Bill Belichick cited the lack of a roster spot as the reason for releasing Watson. Injuries and inconsistent play at the position have altered the situation.

 

The 38-year-old Watson has insisted he wanted to continue playing if he found the right landing spot. It turns out he just had to wait a week to be welcomed back to Foxboro with open arms.

 

The Pats could use Watson’s pass-catching ability and any blocking the veteran could provide after watching Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse struggle last week and Jakob Johnson (listed as a TE, but played fullback) went down with an injury.

 

Last season with New Orleans, Watson generated 400 yards on 35 receptions with two TDs.

 

As for that other former Pats TE that is on everyone’s mind, Tom Brady said Monday on WEEI, he’s not in the business of trying to coax Rob Gronkowski, who recently took a job as a FOX analyst, out of retirement.

 

“I love that guy. I’m so happy that he’s enjoying his time, his life. He seems to really be doing a lot of great things. He knows how I feel about him. I want what’s best for him. He’s the only person that can make those decisions. I don’t lobby for those things,” Brady said Monday, via ESPN.

 

Instead of trying to lure Gonk out of retirement, Brady will get back to throwing passes to Watson.

 

 

NEW YORK JETS

QB SAM DARNOLD on the anguish of sitting out while healthy – except for his engorged spleen.  Peter King:

 

Sam Darnold’s the genuine item. “The worst part about being out was I was healthy for the last three weeks, but my spleen was enlarged,” Darnold said after the win over Dallas, speaking about sitting with mono. “I had great energy. I really felt fine. But the tests that came back just showed I couldn’t play because of the spleen.” He’ll play better, and he’ll play four quarters better. But there were glimpses of what Adam Gase saw when he started working with Darnold in April. His 92-yard deep-strike TD to Robby Anderson, with the ball thrown 47 yards in the air, on target, was worthy of the wait for Darnold over the past month. “We needed it so bad,” he said. “Being 0-4 is just so awful.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

INTERFERENCE REVIEWS

Peter King weighs in on the horrible non-reversal in Giants-Patriots last Thursday:

 

As Tate rises to try to catch the pass, Jones, behind him, uses his right arm to clearly pin Tate’s right arm to his right side. It appears, though it’s not absolutely certain, that Jones’ left arm interferes with Tate’s left arm too, but that’s not clear and obvious from this view. The only clear and obvious part is Jones arriving way early with his right arm to inhibit Tate. As the pass arrives, Tate is unable to use both hands in any way to try to make the catch, and he falls to the ground, aided by Jones. Incomplete. Textbook defensive pass interference. But on the field, there is no flag for interference.

 

Let’s go back in time now, to the league meetings in March, when the league passed a rules change for one year to allow coaches to throw the challenge flag in the first 28 minutes of a half to force a review on an interference call they felt was not interference, or to challenge a play that they felt was interference but no flag was thrown. “The standard [to change a call] is clear and obvious visual evidence,” senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said. NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said, “Our credibility is on the line.”

 

Owners voted to change the rule primarily because of the bad non-call in the NFC title game. But the rule that was written didn’t discriminate. It didn’t say, To be called tighter in playoff games. Section 2, Article 1 of the replay review was written this way: “An on-field ruling will be changed only when the senior vice president of officiating or his or her designee determines that clear and obvious video evidence warrants a change.”

 

When NFL officials met for their annual officiating seminar in July in Dallas, Riveron, speaking to them, stressed that to change a call, “clear and obvious visual evidence” for a change would be needed. Those in the room said he must have used the phrase 15 times in discussing how instant replay would be used to uphold or change rulings on the field. One of the plays Riveron used for an example of a play he’d have changed: the deep fourth-quarter throw in the Super Bowl from Jared Goff, intended for Brandin Cooks, with Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots in coverage.

 

There was no flag for defensive pass interference thrown on this play. All through the offseason, Riveron said this was interference on Gilmore, and a flag should have been thrown. And under the rules change, he’d rule defensive pass interference on the Patriots. Gilmore, Riveron said, “grabs [Cooks’] hand and does not allow [Cooks] to get his hand up. That is a foul. So we would put one [a flag] down on this. He significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the ball. That is a foul.”

 

Let’s go back to the Tate/Jones play Thursday night. After no flag for pass interference was thrown on the field, Giants coach Pat Shurmur threw the challenge flag. Referee Brad Allen, after consulting with Riveron in the New York officiating command center, said the play would stand as called on the field. No pass interference.

 

Riveron said with certainty that the Cooks play was interference and ruled the Tate play was not interference.

 

If Riveron truly believes that—and he must, because he was strident in the off-season about Cooks and strident enough Thursday night to not overturn the Tate non-call—then Roger Goodell should either read him the riot act today or order him to call interference the way it was voted on last March.

 

You cannot watch football with any neutrality and say the Cooks play was interference and the Tate play was not. Twice the Tate play should have been called pass interference. It’s inarguable.

 

@GeneSteratore

Reviewing judgment calls, like PI, is slowing the game down and affecting the quality of the product. Let’s get back to football and let the officials apply their judgment in game speed. Watching plays at 10% speed and looking for contact is not how the rules should be applied.

 

I talk to coaches and I talk to general managers. They are getting the point now: It is futile to throw a challenge flag on a pass-interference call or non-call. “But if it’s going to be next to impossible to change a PI call,” one GM told me Friday, “why was the rule changed in the first place? Why go through this huge exercise if the league’s decided nothing’s going to change?” As Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reported, only one of 21 challenged calls between Week 3 through Thursday night’s Pats-Giants game was changed. This is not why the rule was modified last March. The rule was changed to fix obvious mistakes. If the Tate call was not a mistake, then the Nickell Robey-Coleman non-PI call in the NFC Championship Game was not a mistake.

 

What the league has made obvious is this: If it’s a game with huge implications, we’ll make the call. If it’s a 35-14 game in October with three minutes left with a 2-4 team being wronged, we’re not changing it. Nothing to see here, move along.

 

It turns out this rules change, through six weeks, has had a quite incredible unintended consequence: It has made the public, and the 32 teams, trust NFL officiating even less than it did when Nickell Robey-Coleman plowed into Tommylee Lewis in the Superdome nine months ago.