AROUND THE NFL

The AFC looks like the Patriots and Chiefs heading for the byes and the rest of the conference swimming about for the other four spots.  Kansas City won, the other three AFC West teams lost and the Chiefs have a 2-game lead after three weeks.

 

The Patriots have a surprising 3-0 challenger in the Bills.  While technically tied, New England is +89 in point differential and Buffalo just +19.  That said, it should be pointed out that the three victims of the Patriots are a collective 0-6 in games not against New England (and thus 0-9 overall). 

 

Anyway, that sets up a crazy Sunday in Orchard Park as the 3-0 Bills host the 3-0 Patriots.  Here is how Peter King sees it:

 

Showdown at the Bills Mafia Corral. The Bills are 3-0, and they host the 3-0 Patriots on Sunday in Crazytown. I’m a firm believer in the home field being particularly valuable in Orchard Park, and particularly against the hated Patriots. Problem is, New England’s won seven in a row in western New York. This is probably a year or two early for the Bills’ rebuild to bear fruit, particularly against the Patriots. But this will be a good measuring stick game for the Bills and for quarterback Josh Allen, who made some game-saving scrambles and throws late in the 21-17 survival test over the Bengals on Sunday.

 

Over in the NFC, the Cowboys have a 3-0 record and a 2-game lead just like the Chiefs in the AFC West.  It should be noted that Dallas’ opponents have one win between them, and that was the Giants by the margin of a single point.

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The Lions have wins over the Chargers and Eagles and have not tasted defeat this year.  After the mire of 2018, is something brewing in Detroit?  Benjamin Raven at MLive.com:

 

After escaping Philadelphia with a 27-24 win, Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia delivered a strong message to his team.

 

“We can beat anybody, any day, any time,” a fired-up Patricia said in the locker room in a video shared by the team. “I don’t care where they want to play. Parking lots, backyards, their home stadium, ours; it don’t matter.”

 

In the video, the Lions coach presents the ball to assistant offensive line coach Hank Fraley who was back in Philadelphia for the first time since his father died. Fraley was with the Eagles as a player from 2000-2005.

 

 “We just keep going, baby, we just keep going,” Patricia said. “Man. So (expletive) proud of you right there. We don’t stop. I love it. I love every single one of you. We emptied that tank again today. That was a lot. It’s a good thing we put a lot in. We put a lot in. We needed all of it today. We needed all of it.”

 

Related: Watch an emotional Matt Patricia address Lions locker room after 13-10 win vs. Chargers

 

Detroit held on for a 27-24 win in Philadelphia on Sunday to move to 2-0-1. Jamal Agnew struck first for the Lions with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. While the offense struggled in the second half, Matthew Stafford was able to put the game away with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones in the fourth quarter.

 

Philadelphia blocked a field goal late, but Detroit’s defense held on thanks to an offensive pass interference call and some strong coverage from Rashaan Melvin on a fourth-down heave.

 

The Lions return to Ford Field next Sunday for a showdown with the high-powered, undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.

 

 

GREEN BAY

Green Bay is winning with defense.  Peter King on two key free agent acquistions:

 

Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, linebackers, Green Bay. GM Brian Gutekunst made it a priority to buy a pass-rush in the offseason, signing the Smiths from Baltimore (Za’Darius) and Washington (Preston). They’re paying very quick dividends. Preston had three sacks and Za’Darius two against Joe Flacco in Green Bay. The five sacks resulted in 45 yards in losses and one forced fumble, and were huge in the 27-16 win over the Broncos.

 

More on that subject from Bill Barnwell:

 

Have you seen the Packers through three weeks? Mitchell Trubisky, Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco aren’t exactly Patrick Mahomes, but the Packers have faced 38 drives through three games, which is tied for the second most in football. They’re allowing less than one point per possession, which is good for the second-best mark in football.

 

With the offense struggling for consistent production, though, the defense has to make leads hold up for long stretches. They’ve also created opportunities for the offense with takeaways. The Packers have turned opponents over on a league-leading 21.1% of possessions, and the same Mike Pettine defense that forced 15 takeaways in 16 games a year ago now has eight after just three contests.

 

While Pettine is around again as defensive coordinator, it’s fair to note that many of the faces are new imports after a busy offseason from general manager Brian Gutekunst. And while I took issue with several of the contracts Gutekunst handed out — deals that rise dramatically starting next season — I can’t argue with the results so far. The Packers refreshed their pass rush overnight by signing Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, and they made Joe Flacco & Co. miserable on Sunday. The Smiths racked up five sacks and six knockdowns, bringing their combined totals through three games to 7.5 sacks and 14 knockdowns. Clay Matthews and Nick Perry combined for five sacks and 15 knockdowns over the entire 2018 season. First-round pick Rashan Gary also picked up his first career sack against the overmatched Broncos line.

 

Safety, long a Packers problem, has become a strength. Adrian Amos has quickly settled in as a leader and made the key interception of Trubisky in the Week 1 win over the Bears. His partner, Darnell Savage, is a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate through three weeks. The first-rounder made a spectacular play to pick off an errant Flacco pass on Sunday.

 

Cornerback has been a revolving door, too, but the Packers appear to have a full-fledged superstar on their hands in Jaire Alexander. I was impressed with Alexander as a rookie last season, although he didn’t have much help in a secondary that was riddled both by injuries and players stuck out of position. With more support, Alexander looks like he might be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFC. He was spotted ripping the ball out of Noah Fant’s hands Sunday. Kevin King has also played better in a small sample this season, pushing 2018 second-rounder Josh Jackson into what has primarily been a special-teams role.

 

Through three weeks, the Packers have scored seven touchdowns. Two have come on the opening drives of games, when they were likely running plays they had scripted before the game began. Of the other five scores, three came off takeaways. For years, the Packers would go as far as Rodgers could carry them. Now the defense is carrying Green Bay.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The report on RB SAQUON BARKLEY could be worse, it could be better.  Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s a good thing rookie quarterback Daniel Jones played so well in his debut, because the Giants need some good news.

 

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, they’re expecting running back Saquon Barkley to miss “several” weeks.

 

Of course, this was #asexpected after Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain in last night’s win over the Buccaneers, and was in a walking boot and on crutches.

 

While such injuries can linger for a month or more, they don’t account for Barkley’s magical healing powers (or something).

 

As noted by Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, Barkley suffered the same injury during his freshman year at Penn State, missed the following two games, and then came back to rush for 194 yards against Ohio State.

 

The Giants do play a Thursday night game in Week Six, so they’ll have a 10-day break before they play the Cardinals in Week Seven.

 

 

QB DANIEL JONES is the toast of the Big Apple, the mockery of last spring far in the rearview mirror.  Funny tweet from scribe Andrew Marchand exhibiting the ability of fans to swing on a dime:

 

@AndrewMarchand

Why didn’t Gettleman trade up for Daniel Jones?

 

Peter King on Jones being a winner in his first game (albeit thanks to a bungled Bucs field goal):

 

“SPEECH! SPEECH!”

 

In the visitors locker room in Tampa Bay, Giants coach Pat Shurmur, the badgered and ridiculed one, had just handed the game ball to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, the badgered and ridiculed one, and the room erupted with cheers for Jones, who debuted marvelously in succeeding the local football Jeter, Eli Manning. Giants 32, Bucs 31. And now his 52 teammates wanted to hear from him.

 

“SPEECH! COME ON!”

 

Quick shake of the head from the grinning Jones, like: I won’t be making any locker-room speeches, thank you.

 

“Break us down, D.J.!” safety Jabrill Peppers yelled.

 

Holding his right arm aloft as the centerpiece for a team cheer, Jones said, “Giants on three! One-two-three, Giants!”

 

Doing a rah-rah-team thing was so much better than a speech for Jones, who, like the man he succeeded, isn’t much of a speech-maker. But when you play the way he did Sunday (two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, including the winning scamper from seven yards out with 1:21 left), you can be as quiet as you want. This is not a great Giants team. In fact, it’s probably not a good one; time will tell. But once you have your quarterback, and you can build around that quarterback, life is just better, and you feel like you’re a competing NFL franchise again. Winning eight of the previous 34 games, with a 38-year-old quarterback who’d been mediocre or worse for much of the last seven seasons, made the future seem consistently dim. Aside from loyal ex-teammates (It’s not Eli’s fault!), Shurmur turning to Jones seemed not only long overdue but almost merciful toward Manning.

 

It’s incredible how fast fortunes can change in the NFL.

 

Five teams with quarterback instability won. Three lost. I’ll cover Minshew and Allen in a while. But first back to Jones and the Giants.

 

The Lead: Giants

 

Giants fans didn’t have to wait long to see what the coaches had been seeing all camp and preseason. In the second quarter, Jones faked an inside RPO and kept it, running around right end for a seven-yard TD. Trailing 28-10 coming out of halftime, he zinged the first pass of the third quarter to tight end Evan Engram up the left sideline; a 75-yard touchdown resulted. Then, with his top wideout Sterling Shepard double-covered in the end zone, Jones threw a line drive to a diving Shepard where only he could catch it. Touchdown.

 

It came down to this: Bucs up 31-25, 1:21 left. Giants ball at the Tampa 7. Fourth-and-five. Shurmur planned to flood the field with five receivers: three wides, a back and a tight end. With ace pass-catching back Saquon Barkley on crutches with a high ankle sprain, the Giants were diminished. But at the snap, all five receivers moved away from the middle of the field—running back Wayne Gallman to the right flat; Shepard to the left flat; wideout Bennie Fowler on a left-to-right crossing route; Engram taking two Bucs defenders on a simple out route to the left, two yards deep in the end zone; and rookie wideout Darius Slayton trolling the back of the end zone. Seven Bucs total clung to five Giants.

 

“What did you see at that moment, when those receivers were in their routes?” I asked Jones an hour after the game.

 

“Space,” Jones said. “Kinda open there in the middle of the field. I saw grass.”

 

When Jones emerged from the scrum, he might have been able to hit Slayton, running from right to left nine yards deep in the end zone, with corner Carlton Davis in pursuit but with a little window. But why throw? With northern New Jersey and Staten Island and Brooklyn and Manhattan and Yonkers and Queens and upstate New York and Greenwich and Stamford and Danbury all screaming at their TVs: Run, Daniel, run!, he ran straight ahead, in the Central Park of open NFL spaces. No Buc was within six yards of him when he crossed the goal line. I heard that the Giants didn’t intend for the play to evolve into an easy touchdown run there, but whatever the intent, the reality looked genius.

 

Luckily for the Giants, Bucs kicker Matt Gay played along with the tabloid storyline, missing a 34-yard goat-of-the-week-ensuring field goal at the gun. The final: Giants 32, Bucs 31. The sleepy franchise has life. This morning, the back page of the Post blares:

 

NEW MANN IN TOWN

 

“It must feel incredibly rewarding,” I said to Jones.

 

Bait not taken.

 

“Yeah, I mean … fun to get a win, but at the end of the day it’s one game. We’ll look forward to building off it. I gotta run. Thanks!”

 

Jones has made the Giants interesting now, for the rest of 2019 and, presumably with some reinforcements including a pass-rusher, a top wideout and a better offensive line, for the future. Watching him Sunday, you saw a quarterback of the present, and the future. Eli Manning’s had seven rushing touchdowns in a 15-year career. Jones had two in three hours—and one was on a designed run. His arm was accurate and crisp. He had a good feel for the pocket, and for sensing pressure.

 

You’ve probably heard how much Jones is like Manning. True. They’re both overly humble, and those close to them say neither is acting. When I asked Jones about the help he got from Manning this week, he said: “His support is something I’m super-grateful for. His biggest message to me was to keep it simple. Not try to be perfect. Not try to get the perfect call or the perfect check every time. Get on the same page, be clear in the huddle, and be confident, and go with it. That was tremendous advice. I’m a first-year player. I need that.”

 

“He’s mature beyond all of our years,” Shurmur said. The Giants will take that into an uncertain future—but a future much more promising after Week 3 than after Week 2.

 

Peter King on the burning question of our time – is ELI MANNING a Hall of Famer?  On his side rare endurance (and in the DB’s mind that counts for something), two Super Bowls and a good, but never truly great, level of performance.  Working against him, he may never in his long career been a top five quarterback in any given year.

 

Here is King’s take, and he holds some sway in the secret deliberations:

 

Let’s let history be our guide about whether Eli Manning earns entry in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. To do so, I have separated quarterbacks from the modern era into three 20-year periods: 1960-’79, 1980-’99 and 2000-’19. I assigned Hall of Fame quarterbacks to the period when they played all or the majority of their careers.

 

I wanted to see how many quarterbacks in the modern era have been enshrined, to see how it might impact how many quarterbacks gain entry from the current age, when passing dominates football more than it has in any period in pro football history.

 

1960-1979: With between 21 and 28 teams in this period (AFL and NFL), 11 quarterbacks made the Hall. The 11: George Blanda, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, John Unitas.

 

1980-1999: With between 28 and 31 teams in this period, 8 quarterbacks made the Hall. The eight: Troy Aikman, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Steve Young.

 

2000-2019: With 32 teams in this period (all except the first two seasons), 2 quarterbacks have made the Hall so far. The two: Brett Favre, Kurt Warner.

 

There are no rules, of course, mandating how many players at any position from one period get in the Hall. But barring injury or retirement by Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, by 2021, nine of the top 10 quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdown passes will have played the majority of their careers between 2000 and 2019. The rules change and passing-stat-inflation will have to be taken into account, surely. A good number of quarterbacks—likely between eight and 12—could make the Hall from the current era of the NFL.

 

Favre and Warner are two. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees make five. The best candidates after that, in some order, are Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, seemingly ahead of Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb. Where Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford end up … TBD, in part because we’re not sure how long any of them will play. I could see Ryan playing another six or seven years and Wilson another decade.

 

Eli Manning has his negatives, to be sure. In 15 years as a starter, he’s a .500 quarterback in the regular season. He’s never finished in the top three in the NFL in passing yards, yards per attempt or passer rating—and only once (2015) was he in the top three in touchdown passes. He has, however, led the NFL three times in interceptions. In 13 of his 15 seasons, he didn’t win a playoff game. Those points have to count, and they will be considered by the group voting when Manning comes up for election in 2025 or beyond.

 

But few quarterbacks have had higher highs. Manning had two incredible postseasons, two bigger postseasons than any his brother Peyton had. Twice, in 2007 and 2011, he had unlikely 4-0 playoff runs, winning in Green Bay over Favre (’07) and Rodgers (’11), and beating Belichick/Brady with late heroics in two Super Bowls, ruining New England’s perfect season in the first one. That 17-14 win, with the David Tyree Velcro catch, will go down as the most bitter loss for both Brady and Belichick in their lives. “That one still eats at me,” Brady told me a couple of weeks ago.

 

In history, there are few good comps for Eli Manning. Most Hall of Fame quarterbacks win in the regular season and postseason. But I found it interesting to compare him to Jurgensen, who never started a playoff game and got into the Hall on the fourth ballot.

 

Why did Jurgensen make the Hall? He was a strong-armed Dan Fouts type. Five times he led the NFL in passing yards. When he threw for 3,723 yards in 1961, it was a single-season NFL record. Twice he led the NFL in touchdown passes. Twice he was first-team all-pro. Manning never led the NFL in passing yards or touchdown passes, and never was first- or second-team all-pro in 15 seasons. Each has a major flaw on his résumé: Manning was an average-at-best regular-season player who owned two postseasons and twice won Super Bowls against the best coach and quarterback in the modern game. Manning also will finish his career in the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns—but how much of that is the statistical inflation of the era in which he played? Jurgensen was a very good regular-season player whose teams lost more than they won and who did nothing in the postseason.

 

Voters in 1983 enshrined Jurgensen. Will voters overlook Manning’s regular-season mediocrity because he had two of the greatest postseasons a quarterback has had?

 

It’s not going to be an easy call. I will understand those who don’t vote for Manning. My gut is that he gets in at some point, but as one of the 48 voters in the room, I’ve found the only predictable thing about Hall voting is how unpredictable it is. That’s no cliché. Rarely do I have a good handle before the meeting about how the votes will come out.

 

One more thing about Manning that should not go without comment:

 

Manning clearly knew this day was coming—losing his job to first-round pick Daniel Jones—dating back to draft day. Last Tuesday morning, as happens every Tuesday morning, Manning and Daniel Jones got to the Giants facility in East Rutherford shortly at 8 to get in a workout and begin their off-day study of the next foe. Coach Pat Shurmur called Manning into his office to tell him he was making a change at quarterback. Then, when Manning left, Shurmur called Jones into his office to tell him he was the new starter. Those two meetings were over by about 9:45. For the next five to six hours, Manning and Jones then did what they’d done on previous Tuesdays: work out, study the Bucs (the Week 3 opponent) on tape, and talk about the game ahead. Only this time, the roles were reversed. Manning was the backup, helping Jones prepare.

 

Manning didn’t leave Shurmur’s office and walk/storm out of the building, or say, I need a day to think. I’m out. Manning left Shurmur’s office to help his successor try to beat Tampa Bay. That’s the kind of person Eli Manning is.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

Albert Breer says it is simple as to what ails the Eagles:

 

It sounds simplistic, but so many of the Eagles’ problems are injury-related, and it’s right there on their star-studded game-day inactive list for everyone to see. Things aren’t going to be perfect when DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffrey and Timmy Jernigan are on there.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Albert Breer:

 

At this point, I think it’s fair to compare the Trent Williams situation to Carson Palmer’s in Cincinnati in 2011. Palmer’s situation got a little personal, like this, and the team held his rights as a matter of principle, after Palmer announced he was done with football. That’s why I believe if the Redskins are going to trade Williams, it will have to be like what happened with the Bengals—where the Raiders simply made an offer, in the wake of their owner’s death, that Cincinnati couldn’t refuse (a first-rounder in 2012, and a second-rounder in 2013). We’ll see if someone wants a top-shelf left tackle that badly.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

After Sunday’s strong game in Arizona, the Panthers are content to see QB KYLE ALLEN start again this week.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Panthers took their time ruling quarterback Cam Newton out for Week Three with a foot injury, but they didn’t let the question of his Week Four status linger.

 

The team announced on Monday morning that Newton will not play against the Texans this Sunday. Kyle Allen will get the start after steering the team to its first win of the season in Arizona on Sunday.

 

“What Cam needs right now is time and rest for his foot. We want him at 100 percent when he’s ready, so there’s no exact timetable for his return,” head coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “At this point, we’re going to go forward with Kyle as our starter.”

 

If there was any doubt about giving Newton more time to get his foot right, Allen’s strong play against the Cardinals — 19-of-26 for 261 yards and four touchdowns — likely pushed it to the side. The Panthers also won in Allen’s first NFL start during the 2018 season, so they’ll try to make it three in a row in Houston this week.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Albert Breer:

 

One of the concerns regarding Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury coming into the league was his ability to implement a pro running game, and Arizona has certainly struggled in that area. David Johnson is the fourth highest-paid back in football, in a clear upper financial tier with Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell, and has rushed for 133 yards on 36 carries through three games.

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com is not surprised that the 49ers can run the ball even after running back injuries:

 

Not surprising: The running game is going even without big-name backs.

 

The Mike Shanahan offense has been turning mid-round picks and little-known backs into stars for more than two decades now. You know the names. Terrell Davis. Mike Anderson. Alfred Morris. Arian Foster. Even in Atlanta, Devonta Freeman was far more productive under Kyle Shanahan than he was before or after the offensive coordinator left for San Francisco.

 

All of this made it more surprising that the 49ers seemed to focus on acquiring running backs lately. During John Lynch’s first draft as general manager, Kyle Shanahan reportedly beat the table for the Niners to move up and grab Joe Williams, who was cut without ever playing for the team. (The Colts, who traded down with the 49ers as part of that deal, took Marlon Mack with the selection they got from the 49ers.)

 

Over the past two offseasons, Shanahan has dived into free agency. He gave Jerick McKinnon a four-year, $30 million deal before the 2018 season, only for McKinnon to tear his ACL in camp and aggravate the injury this summer. The Niners will likely pay McKinnon $16 million without him ever taking a regular-season snap for the team. They also added Tevin Coleman on a one-year, $5 million deal this spring, but Coleman suffered a high ankle sprain in the opener and is likely to miss about a month of action.

 

The 49ers, you might have noticed, have not missed a beat. After running the ball 40 times for 168 yards and two scores against the Steelers on Sunday, San Francisco’s backs have carried the ball 114 times for 525 yards. The Niners are fourth in rushing yards and 12th in rushing average, and 43% of their runs have improved their offense’s chances of scoring on the drive in question, which ranks 14th in the league. It’s not exactly Davis or Foster, but this is a comfortable improvement for a team that ranked last in rushing DVOA in 2018.

 

Shanahan has built a useful running back rotation out of his third, fourth and fifth options. Matt Breida averaged a gaudy 5.3 yards per carry last season, but he ranked 30th out of 47 backs in Football Outsiders’ Success Rate statistic, which measures how reliably a back keeps his offense on schedule. Breida was at 46% last season; through three weeks this season, he has been successful on nearly 59% of his carries.

 

Raheem Mostert, a fellow undrafted free agent who was signed to a small extension and expected to contribute on special teams in 2019, has turned his 34 carries into 202 yards. Most teams don’t have a goal-line specialist back these days, but the 49ers signed back Jeff Wilson onto the roster from their practice squad and have turned their goal-line carries over to him. Wilson — a third undrafted free agent — has four touchdowns on eight attempts inside the 10-yard line.

 

It was promising to see the 49ers run the ball effectively against a Steelers front that looks good on paper and was 10th in rushing DVOA heading into the game. The Niners were able to get by in the running game without star left tackle Joe Staley, who will miss six to eight weeks with a fractured fibula. After their bye, Shanahan & Co. will get a matchup with the scuffling Browns before a Week 6 game with the Rams. The winner will likely be in first place in the NFC West afterward.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Bill Barnwell is not impressed with what he has seen from QB JARED GOFF so far:

 

Surprising: Jared Goff is struggling.

 

In general, Goff is doing great. He just pocketed a $25 million signing bonus. He has about as much job security as any young quarterback in football. He’s 24 and living in Los Angeles and has a brilliant coach who helps him unlock defenses at the line of scrimmage.

 

Over the first three weeks of this season, though, Goff hasn’t played well. Opposing defenses have emulated the Patriots’ game plan from the Super Bowl and played what amount to six-man fronts to try to force the Rams away from their outside zone game. Todd Gurley hasn’t been healthy enough to play his usual workload. The Rams are rebuilding the interior of their offensive line. This was supposed to be the point in which Goff could shoulder a larger portion of the workload, but that hasn’t happened.

 

Earlier in his career, the Rams spent money on pieces around Goff to surround their cheap young quarterback with talent. Now he is the expensive one. His cap hit doesn’t rise from $10.6 million to $36 million until next season, but the Rams have to expect him to play like a franchise quarterback now that he’s beginning a franchise quarterback caliber deal. He just hasn’t been that guy.

 

Remember the expected completion percentage stat I mentioned about Allen? A quarterback making Goff’s throws would be expected to complete 67.7% of his passes, the eighth-friendliest rate in the league in 2019. Goff is completing only 62.9%, and the only passers with a larger gap are either injured (Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger), chum (Josh Rosen) or subject to major criticism (Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton). Goff is not supposed to be in a group with Dalton and Trubisky.

 

Plenty of quarterbacks get off to slow starts and recover just fine, and I’m not particularly concerned about his completion percentage being five points below expectation after three weeks. What does strike me as something to look out for, though, is how the Rams seem to be struggling with play-action. From 2017 to ’18, Goff averaged more than 10.1 yards per play-action pass, posted a passer rating of 112.3, and threw 21 touchdowns against three picks on 335 attempts. Through 40 play-action throws this season, he is averaging 7.9 yards per play-fake with a passer rating of 53.5. He has thrown three interceptions on play-action in three weeks, including both of his picks on Sunday.

 

It wasn’t just the interceptions. McVay was visibly frustrated with Goff for what he seemed to consider a subpar decision on third-and-1 during the second half. He missed a wide-open out route to Cooks in the first half on a pass that Next Gen Stats estimated to have a 72.6 percent chance of completion.

 

Goff’s numbers on Sunday look fine apart from the interceptions — 24-of-38 for 269 yards with two touchdown passes to Cooper Kupp — but he was facing a Browns secondary missing all four of its starters and its best linebacker, Christian Kirksey. The five starting defensive backs played every snap; they included a pair of backups (Carrie and Terrance Mitchell), a special-teamer (Murray), a defensive back they claimed off waivers from the Raiders earlier this month (Burris), and another who was claimed off the Packers waiver wire last November (Whitehead). Isn’t this the sort of spot Goff is supposed to smash?

 

One more thing to worry about and then I’ll move on: Goff has traditionally been best in the warmest month of the NFL season under McVay. From 2017 to ’18, he posted a passer rating of 123.8 and averaged more than 10.3 yards per attempt in September. Over the ensuing three months of those seasons, Goff posted a passer rating of 94.6 while averaging 7.6 yards per pass. I don’t expect that sort of drop-off to occur again in 2019, but with Goff currently sporting a passer rating of 84.5 while averaging 7.0 yards per attempt and posting a Total QBR in between that of Josh Rosen and Eli Manning, I do know that we’re going to need to see a better Goff for the Rams to continue on their undefeated run.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

Peter King proclaims QB PATRICK MAHOMES to be a two-time MVP in waiting:

 

If Patrick Mahomes stays healthy, he’ll waltz away with his second straight MVP. The Ravens swarmed Mahomes, with 12 sacks/hits/significant pressures, per Pro Football Focus. But he continued his incredible play, even without the injured Tyreek Hill. His per-game passer ratings: 143.2, 131.2, 132.0—for an average of 134.9. He’s a 72-percent passer, averaging 398 passing yards a game, with 10 touchdowns and no picks. He’s so in control that even when a team is beating him up (and horse-collar-tackling him, as the Ravens did on one play Sunday), he slithers out of trouble and in a Favrian way but without the interceptions, he finds another speedster or his oak tree, Travis Kelce. Mahomes now has advanced to the point on the Reid Trustworthy Scale that Reid ran the play Mahomes chose to close out the game Sunday. With a five-point lead and 1:51 left, with a third-and-nine at the Chiefs’ 37, he flipped a 16-yard pass to running back Darrel Williams to clinch the game. Mahomes just turned 24, and he’s contributing to the game plan now. “You just can’t give him enough knowledge,” Reid said.

 

Andy Reid passed Chuck Noll on the all-time wins list. Reid’s 210th win puts him one ahead of Noll now, but everyone (including Reid) knows there’s a pretty significant number attached to that too. Super Bowl wins: Noll 4, Reid 0. New England is still the roadblock for Reid, and the Patriots defense will be a formidable challenge for Mahomes and Reid in Week 14 in Foxboro. The way these two teams are playing, that game could determine home-field in the AFC playoffs.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

One good thing for the Raiders is TE DARREN WELLER. Peter King:

 

“We might really have something in this Waller at tight end,” Jon Gruden told me on draft weekend. Sunday numbers for tight end Darren Waller: 13 catches, 134 yards.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

Peter King on the Bengals:

 

Cincinnati is 0-3. I didn’t expect much out of the Bengals. In fact, they’re almost exactly what I thought they’d be, particularly without the injured A.J. Green. You’re not going to have much NFL success in today’s game averaging 18 points per game, and in particular when you’re running it at just 2.4 yards per carry.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Peter King on why QB JACOBY BRISSETT was one of his players of the week:

 

First 23 minutes of the 27-24 win over the mistake-prone Falcons: 16 for 16, 178 yards. First three games of 2019: 71.7 percent accuracy, 7-1 TD-pick ratio, 112.0 rating. The Colts are an Oakland home win next Sunday from being 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, with a quarterback playing every bit as well as Andrew Luck did last season—if not quite as explosively.

 

Albert Breer talks to Frank Reich:

 

I can’t sit here and say that, 30 days ago when Andrew Luck retired, I’d have seen coming what Jacoby Brissett did to the Falcons on Sunday. Nor would I have forecast that morning that the 26-year-old Colts quarterback was going to start his afternoon with 16 straight completions, and finish it with 310 passing yards, a 118.1 rating, and two scores in a shootout of a win, riddling a defense that punished Carson Wentz a week earlier.

 

But I do know someone who did.

 

“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m really not,” Colts coach Frank Reich said over the phone, fighting through traffic to head home in the 5 o’clock hour. “Jacoby and I were talking [Saturday morning], and I told him he had about as good a week of practice as a quarterback can have. I mean, in our Thursday practice, it’s like it was perfection from the quarterback position.

 

“We meet every Saturday morning. I just felt like, ‘Man, you are in the zone.’ He was in the zone all week. The way he practiced, it certainly showed up in how he played.”

 

Did it ever. By the time the Falcons got on the board, Brissett had already engineered three scoring drives, two of more than 90 yards, putting his Colts firmly in control at 13-0. And when that control wavered in the fourth quarter, it was the quarterback himself who put his foot on Atlanta’s throat.

 

This wasn’t a team managing a quarterback with its running game. The Colts finished with just 79 yards on 24 carries, after rushing for 203 and 167 yards the first two weeks of the season, respectively.

 

It also wasn’t a team building margin of error for its young signal-caller with a signature defensive effort. A good Indy defense yielded touchdown drives of 75, 78, and 71 yards on the Falcons’ first three possessions of the second half.

 

No, on this day, the Colts needed Brissett to load the team on his back. And he obliged.

 

“The Falcons did a great job early on of stopping our run,” Reich said. “Obviously, we think that’s hard to do. He was hot. We just rode his hot hand. What’s optimal is when you can go in and have an offense where, if we’re running it and it doesn’t seem like they can stop us, we’ll run it to win. But today was the first win that Jacoby had to play great for us to win this game. And he did.”

 

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

With trade talk cooling for the Jaguars, CB JAYLEN RAMSEY develops an illness.  ESPN.com:

 

Jacksonville Jaguars star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who requested a trade last week, called the team to say he is sick and will be unable to practice Monday.

 

Coach Doug Marrone said Monday that he got the message that Ramsey was sick from the team’s trainer. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Ramsey called the team Sunday night.

 

Ramsey, who thinks he has the flu, still wants to be traded and may not practice at all this week, sources told Schefter. The Jaguars are not interested in trading Ramsey, according to sources, setting up a standoff with the two-time Pro Bowler. Jaguars owner Shad Khan is leading the organization’s stance on Ramsey’s trade request, according to sources.

 

Marrone was asked if he thought the timing of Ramsey calling in sick was odd considering his trade demand.

 

Marrone said Ramsey was scheduled to see one of the team physicians, Dr. Michael Yorio, on Monday and that the Jaguars will plan for Sunday’s game at Denver as if Ramsey will be playing unless they receive news otherwise.

 

A league source told ESPN’s Michael DiRocco that the team believes that Ramsey actually is ill.

 

“[A player missing practice with an illness] has happened — I don’t want to exaggerate and say hundreds of times, but it’s happened quite a bit,” Marrone said. “It’s happened here since I’ve been the head coach a couple times. It’s happened with Myles [Jack], where I actually was in the [team] hotel with him and he stayed there. It’s happened.

 

“To me, it’s nothing as big, but I understand that’s probably a big story because of the other things that are surrounding it.”

 

– – –

 

Peter King on the tale of QB GARDNER MINSHEW II:

 

It’s amazing to think that instead of being a rising star in the NFL right now, he could either be backing up Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, or he could be working as a graduate assistant offensive coach on the Alabama staff under Nick Saban. Said a source close to the Alabama program: “Nick really wanted him as a backup [in 2018], in case Jalen Hurts or Tua [Tagovailoa] transferred after spring ball, depending on which one lost the starting job. Then Nick would have kept him as a GA because he probably wouldn’t have gotten into the NFL, and because Gardner wanted to get into coaching whenever he stopped playing.”

 

Because Minshew still had a redshirt year left, he could have sat last year and came back this year behind Tagovailoa—if ‘Bama had approved.

 

But that all became moot because Washington State had an uncertain quarterback year in 2018 following the suicide of likely starter Tyler Hilinski. Washington State coach Mike Leach told me last night that had Hilinski lived, “then we’re not chasing a quarterback.” A couple of weeks after Saban wooed Minshew, Leach offered him a strong chance to come to Pullman and win the starting job.

 

As Leach told me: “My quote to him was, ‘Do you want to go to Alabama and hold a clipboard, or do you want to come here and lead the nation in passing?’ “ It didn’t take long for Minshew to take Leach’s offer.

 

“Nick,” the Alabama source said, “was really disappointed.”

 

“Gardner just felt like he wasn’t through playing,” his dad, Flint Minshew, told me from the family home in central Mississippi Saturday night. “In his heart, he figured he could coach the rest of his life, but he might only have one more chance to play a season of college football. But he was so grateful to Coach Saban for recognizing he could really play. After high school, nobody wanted him. Even his state schools, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, never had interest. You can probably hear it in my voice—I’m still pissed off about it.”

 

Gardner became a phenom at Washington State, throwing for 4,477 yards, winning the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and earning a trip to the combine. The Jaguars picked him 178th overall. On Thursday night, there was no question which quarterback looked like he had a better future: Minshew, over the second overall pick in 2015, Marcus Mariota of the Titans. Minshew threw four beautiful deep-ball completions, played with the confidence of a five-year vet, and had his head coach, Doug Marrone, gushing. “I was thinking going into this game, ‘How many times has this guy played a game and then had a short week to prepare to play another one?’ That doesn’t happen in college. If he does something well, you’ll see him pump his fists on the field, but by the time he comes over to the sideline, he’s moved on. Hey, I have to do this better. Hey, this happened on the fourth play of that series. Hey, did you guys see this the way I saw it? He’s really good at communicating, and he has a maniacal work ethic.”

 

We’ll see what the future holds, but Minshew has probably another month or so to stake his claim for playing time, until Nick Foles returns from his broken clavicle. He could give the Jaguars a ridiculously pleasant problem trying to figure out whether to play the kid with the mustache and the drive, or the Super Bowl champion who slayed the Patriots. That’s for tomorrow. Today is too good a story to gum it up with what-ifs.

 

“When you’ve had to kick down the door your whole life to get recognized and get a shot, this is pretty satisfying for Gardner,” Flint Minshew said. “He was never Johnny Five Star, so I guarantee you he appreciates everything he has and will continue to appreciate it and work at it.”

 

Fun fact from the DB – in 2013, Brett Favre was in his second and final season as the offensive coordinator at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg.  Oak Grove went 13-1 and won the Mississippi 6A championship.  The only loss they suffered was an October 25 meeting with Brandon High School near Jackson.  The quarterback of that Brandon team?  Gardner Minshew II.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

Peter King:

 

Dallas was so much better than Miami that Ezekiel Elliott’s backup had a 100-yard game. Tony Pollard: 13 for 103 and a touchdown.

 

The Dolphins have opened up as 17-point underdogs for their Week 4 home game with the 1-2 Chargers.  John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

After watching the Dolphins get blown out by an average of 39 points per game through the first three weeks of the season, oddsmakers are basically expecting another bloodbath on Sunday. In the early odds for Week 4, the Dolphins have opened as a 17-point home underdog to the Chargers.

 

To put that in perspective, this will mark just the fifth time since 1980 that a road team has been favored by 17 or more points, and two of those instances have happened with this year’s Dolphins (besides this game, it also happened in Week 2 when the Patriots closed as an 18-point road favorite).

 

Unfortunately for oddsmakers, betting against the Dolphins has become an easy way to make money. No matter how big the point spread gets, the Dolphins haven’t been able to cover it as they’ve gone 0-3 against the spread (ATS) this year.

 

The good news for the Dolphins is that in the four previous games where a road team was favored by 17 or more points, the home team went 3-1 ATS.

 

The Chargers are the only team this week favored by double digits.

 

Chargers on a 2-game losing streak are 17-point road favorites.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

With not a spoken word or a tweeted line, Bill Belichick earned more enmity from the media.  Peter King:

 

a. Dana Jacobson’s pregame on-camera question to Bill Belichick: “I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, what was the final straw with Antonio Brown?” Perfect. Not dramatic. Just 17 words that needed to be said/asked.

 

b. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post calling Belichick’s three-second reaction, a bush-league piercing glare at Jacobson, “the death stare.” Just what it was.

 

And King has the ANTONIO BROWN math:

 

Must be nice to throw $28.9-million out the window. That’s what Brown did. Per Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap: Brown could have made $29,625,000 (including his 2020 guarantee) by showing up and playing the full 2019 season with the Raiders. If the Raiders collected his announced fines and if the Patriots are successful in not paying Brown his guarantees and bonuses this year, Brown will have earned $749,604 from the Raiders and Patriots this year, total. Which means that Brown, by not sticking with Oakland, blew $28,875,396.

– – –

Albert Breer:

 

Crazy stat: The Patriots have held their last two opponents under 100 yards through three quarters, and to a total of less than 300 yards from scrimmage. That’s crazy. Just as nuts? The age of the group. Seven of the team’s 11 defensive starters were 29 or older on Sunday, and an eighth was 28. And in a certain way, my hunch is that all that experience works to unlock Bill Belichick’s genius as a defensive coach.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

THE ENDING IN DENVER

Peter King is still bothered by how the Bears beat the Broncos in Week 2.  Not only the awful roughing the passer call, but the second back on the clock:

 

This is eight days old, but I keep thinking about the end of Bears-Broncos, when a pass play ended with the clock showing :01, and by the time the Bears were recognized for calling time, the clock showed :00, and the officials huddled and put one second back on the clock. That allowed the Bears to have a chance to try—and make—a 53-yard field goal to win. Why I hate this officiating decision: At no other time of game would officials huddle to put one second back on the clock on a pass play in the middle of the field. So why do they huddle and put one second back on the clock after the last play of the game—or what should have been the last play? Why was the last play officiated differently than the other 131 in the game?

 

Here’s the thing.  Unlike in the NBA, where the officials spend what seems like hours looking at a monitor to determine tenths of a second, referee Adrian Hill just stood around with his crew.

 

Which leads us to believe that Hill and the “game officials” had nothing to do with the final determination.  The DB strongly, strongly suspects that none other than Alberto Riveron put the second back on the clock – and he would have done so without any reference to when exactly timeout was asked for and granted.  Just based on the time of the touching down by the Broncos defender.

 

The sequence is normally – tackle, play-ending whistle, timeout asked for, timeout granted.  There used to be the phrase reaction time, normally thought to be a second.

 

But in this case, as King sort of points out – Riveron waived the asking of the timeout and the reaction time – and assessed it backwards past the granting, asking and whistle to the touching.

 

To repeat, the play in Denver was not about an automatic stoppage such as a play clock expiring or a player going out of bounds or a spike thundering into the ground.  But Riveron treated it as if it was.  The review should have focused on an official beginning to windmill his arms as he granted a requested stoppage, not the touching down of the runner.  At least, that is the DB’s opinion.

 

 

JIM HARBAUGH

Once the toast of the NFL, Jim Harbaugh has run into hard times at Michigan.  Pete Thamel of YahooSports.com:

 

As Wisconsin’s 35-14 thrashing of Michigan played out on Saturday afternoon, it was a portrait of two disparate football programs. The Badgers mauled Michigan by being defiantly and distinctly themselves, hammering the Wolverines for 359 yards on the ground and pushing them around in the trenches on both sides.

 

As Wisconsin orchestrated a clinic in identity, Michigan remains lost in the football wilderness under Jim Harbaugh, good enough to beat directional patsies but consistently face-planting when the talent is comparable. Harbaugh is 0-7 as an underdog as Michigan’s coach, with this loss trumping the hopeless and hapless nature of the blowout defeat at Ohio State to close the regular season last year.

 

While Wisconsin pitched a shutout well into the third quarter and Jonathan Taylor marched for 203 yards, Michigan emerged from the loss as the most compelling program in college football – the big-game trainwreck we can’t stop watching.

 

The Wolverines have no juice, no identity and, increasingly, no hope. Harbaugh has won nearly 73 percent of his games in Ann Arbor (40-15), but they enter the throes of the conference season as a clear-cut second-tier team in the Big Ten. “This whole program is at a crossroads,” analyst Joel Klatt said on the Fox broadcast.

 

Harbaugh’s tenure is amid its fifth year as a $7.5 million dollar tease. There are no wins over Ohio State, three straight bowl losses and, still, zero signature victories. Michigan’s last three games against Power Five opponents have resulted in combined losses of 138-68, on average losing 46-23 to Ohio State, Florida and Wisconsin. They also outlasted Army in double-overtime, 24-21, in a game where Army manhandled the Wolverines physically in the trenches.

 

The tenor of those losses, combined with the flailing of Michigan’s offense, has raised a question once thought unthinkable: Should Michigan move on from Harbaugh? This wouldn’t be as difficult to do as many would think, as Harbaugh’s contract runs out in 2021. It’s rare for a Power Five head coach, especially one with a winning record, to have their contract that close to expiring.

 

That lifetime contract Michigan was rumored to want to give Harbaugh feels more like a lifetime sentence these days. For years, Harbaugh had all the leverage on Michigan, as Warde Manuel said as recently as May that he wants Harbaugh to retire as Michigan’s head coach. But the more realistic eventuality is Michigan considering paying the nearly $11 million to part ways with Harbaugh, which isn’t untenable considering Big Ten revenues.

 

Harbaugh’s issues at Michigan, somewhat surprisingly, keep coming back to the same themes – a dysfunctional offensive staff, lack of identity and no ability to identify or develop the quarterback position. This, combined with staying tethered to Shea Patterson far too long – both today against Wisconsin and this season – has forced Michigan’s offense to appear to operate while wearing cement shoes.

 

Instead of begging Harbaugh to stick around for life, Manuel should have done more to question or guide Harbaugh on his coaching hires. Harbaugh has operated with impunity as the operation around him has underachieved and underwhelmed. And the biggest question Manuel needs to ask: Why did the Wolverines look so lifeless, uninspired and listless on Saturday?

 

Harbaugh’s most recent glaring negligence came with hiring the inexperienced Josh Gattis from Alabama in the offseason to both run the offense and overhaul the program’s pro-style DNA. The early results are a distinct failure, as Michigan managed just 14 points in regulation against Army and 14 against Wisconsin. By the time the Wolverines scored against Wisconsin, they trailed 35-0.

 

“As a whole group we don’t have an identity yet,” tight end Nick Eubanks said after the game. “It’s up to us to find our identity even though we have a game coming up Saturday. We gotta find it quick.”

 

Gattis’ early struggles should be pinned squarely on Harbaugh. The offseason coronation of Gattis as a great hire included these delicious details in a story in The Athletic – “There was no interview. No face-to-face meeting. No get-up-on-the-board-and-show-me-how-you-run-this session. Not even a tell-me-about-your-offensive-philosophy discussion.”

 

Harbaugh basically put the future of the program on a 20-minute phone conversation, which is a bit like getting engaged after the first drink on a first date. And he did it knowing that Nick Saban had an opportunity to promote Gattis to the same job and declined. That’s impulsive and reckless even by Harbaugh’s standards, and was begging for more skepticism from an athletic director and administration who’d already seen a pattern of bad hires and dysfunctional offenses.

 

The only thing more bizarre about Harbaugh making a decision this important in this manner was bragging about it.

 

When asked directly after the game if he had any concerns about Gattis as a play caller, Harbaugh said: “Uhhhhh no.”

 

Harbaugh’s other defining failure has been under-performance of the quarterback position. Considering his success with Andrew Luck at Stanford and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, this has been the most puzzling. For Patterson, who finished 14-of-32 passing with two touchdowns and an interception, Saturday’s performance re-affirmed that his career has been based much more on recruiting hype than actual performance.

 

Steered across the country by his Little League dad, Patterson has hopscotched for the next shiny opportunity without much actual accomplishment to accompany it. Ole Miss hired his brother to get Patterson as a five-star recruit, but the staff there wasn’t broken up to see him bail to Michigan. To date, the most significant moment of Patterson’s career has been Tom Mars getting him immediately eligible for the Wolverines. Since then, his tenure has been a lot like Harbaugh’s, a lot of hype and little tangible results.

 

Harbaugh didn’t do the research on the front end to see the warning signs on Patterson. And he’s taken far too long to realize on the back end that Shea Patterson isn’t a championship-level quarterback. If you can’t keep the Ole Miss starting job, you probably aren’t going to win the Big Ten. But more indicting of Harbaugh has been the inability to recruit and develop anyone more competent.

 

The last two seasons for Harbaugh and Patterson have been parallel runs of failure – twin turtles when the lights gets bright and formidable opposition appears.

 

For Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, the pattern of big-game failures has evolved into an expectation. It’s become predictable that Harbaugh’s program will flop on the big stage with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

 

And yet, despite barely beating Army and being thrashed by Wisconsin – Michigan is somehow still “rated” as the 20th best team in the nation in the AP poll.