Option 1, Week 12’s Burning Question: What does a post-quarterback NFL look like?
The marquee afternoon matchup pitted the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, all-time legend Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against MVP favorite Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs. The lesser afternoon matchup pitted two teams who weren’t starting quarterbacks. A couple years ago, New Orleans “quarterback” Taysom Hill was a special teamer and receiver. Denver? All four of their quarterbacks were ruled out due to potential COVID exposure, meaning receiver Kendall Hinton had to step in as “QB1”, if you could call it that. The result was one of the worst football games of the season, but one to remember.
Denver had a difficult task on its hands — find someone to play quarterback after the NFL ruled out the entirety of its quarterback room. So they went with a practice squad receiver in Hinton who played quarterback in college, but hadn’t taken any practice reps at the position or an NFL snap. How would coach Vic Fangio play for the win without a quarterback?
The answer was lots of runs, direct snaps to running backs, and more runs. Nothing worked. The Broncos managed just three points and failed to extend a drive beyond five plays in each of their seven first-half drives. No Denver drive was more than 25 yards all game, and the Broncos only avoided a shutout by kicking a field goal on a drive that picked up -1 yards. Hill and the Saints didn’t have much more success early, but pulled away thanks to four rushing touchdowns, and, of course, a stout defensive performance.
The passing attack was especially brutal. The Broncos completed one pass on the day, a 13-yarder to Noah Fant, and aside from that Hinton finished with eight incompletions, two interceptions and two sacks. Few of the passes even had a chance, ill-advised rollouts that certainly didn’t make it easy for Hinton. According to reports, some guys on the Broncos didn’t even know who he was. This guy deserves a participation trophy for showing up for such an impossible task on less than 24 hours notice, but I’m sure he hopes Drew Lock and maybe a couple of backups will be cleared for next week.
Option 2, Week 12’s Huge Performance: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill could have earned this award for the hugest quarter I can remember — over 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In one singular quarter! But I’m giving this honor to the man who got him the ball and kept his cool even as the Bucs got back in the game.
Patrick Mahomes is the best player in the NFL. In case you needed more evidence, check his stats against a tough Tampa defense on the road. The man finished with 462 passing yards (359 in the first half) and three touchdowns and nearly finished as the Chiefs’ leading rusher. The 27-24 final covers over the lopsidedness of the game, but even when rival Tom Brady battled back from a 27-10 deficit, Mahomes shined his brightest as the game’s best closer.
Mahomes as MVP shouldn’t be a debate. Look at the numbers, especially in two crucial game situations — third down and fourth quarter stats. In his season splits, Mahomes is the best in those two aspects. Across all the fourth quarters, the 500 million dollar man has a 132.4 passer rating with 10 of his 27 touchdowns, along with his highest yard per attempt average. On third downs, he’s a 134.4 passer rating with nine touchdowns and no interceptions, along with 130 of his 187 rushing yards on the down. This is not normal.
Mahomes’ lighting up of Tampa should suffice for the eye test. The velocity of Mahomes’ arm on first quarter strikes to Tyreek Hill was baseball-esque, and the power and speed of the football on his 75-yard bomb to Hill was nothing short of breathtaking to watch live. Mahomes has such a personnel advantage over any defense given the speed on the perimeter (Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins), power in the middle (Travis Kelce) and potential in the backfield (Le’Veon Bell, Mahomes’ legs), and it’s pretty clear Mahomes knows how to utilize each to devastating effect. His third down scramble prolonged Kansas City’s dagger drive to hold off Tampa Bay, and another dart to Hill to seal the game for good and bring on the victory formation was only possible because of Mahomes’ impossible body contortion and awareness.
This is nothing new for the Chiefs — just ask the Vegas Raiders, who did everything right to win last week and still came up short when Mahomes connected with Kelce for the game-winning score. At 10-1, KC is everything we thought they’d be and Mahomes deserves to be at the forefront of the MVP conversation and our discussion of the best athletes in sports.
Option 3, Week 10’s Crucial Decision: He’s Back
It has been almost 10 weeks since I last talked about Mitchell Trubisky. The wait is over.
The Bears have been in freefall, dropping from 5-1 atop the NFC North to 5-5 and outside of the NFC playoff picture. The offense has been anemic throughout Nick Foles’ tenure as a starter, but 10, 23, 17 and 13 points in the last four weeks just doesn’t cut it. Whether for Foles’ injury or incompetence, Chicago pulled the reverse quarterback switcheroo, sending out the man that won the job in training camp and played for four weeks before getting the boot. The Bears were desperately looking for answers and hoped Mitchy Dimes, who had a stronger passer rating but significantly fewer yards per game and a lesser completion percentage in his starts, could provide a spark.
The immediate returns were not encouraging. By the middle of the second quarter, rival Green Bay had built a 27-3 lead, a margin built on both Aaron Rodgers dimes (he finished with four touchdowns on the day) and horrendous Mitch Trubisky turnovers (an interception into double coverage, a fumble that was returned for a touchdown). Trubisky was intercepted later on a throw into triple coverage and fumbled two more times (both recovered by Chicago), and though the scoreboard eventually showed that the Bears scored their highest point total (25) since Trubisky was still the starter in Week 3 (30), the game was never close.
The Bears should not have expected to win and the difference between Trubisky and Foles is so miniscule that it probably would not have changed the outcome of the game significantly, but Chicago’s fifth straight loss is its most embarrassing yet. The proud defense was at the mercy of Aaron Rodgers, while the gulf between the two quarterbacks was wider than Lake Michigan. The Bears’ offensive yardage was an underrated positive that could indicate some progress, but good teams don’t 1) turn the ball over or 2) find themselves down 27-3 in a half.
The Bears still have some shot at a winning record with upcoming games against the Matt Patricia-less Lions, the Bill O’Brien-less Texans, the Vikings and the Jaguars. Trubisky may not have a future in Chicago after his rookie deal expires, but he might be the best option going forward to give the Bears some sliver of optimism.
Checkdown: It’s an NFL Thing
A time-tested cliche in NFL circles is that football is a game of inches. The smallest margins can distinguish victory from defeat and the small fundamentals can make a tremendous impact. The same goes for the NFL fan experience. While Hail Mary completions and one-handed catches get plenty of airtime on highlight reels, some of the quieter elements of football make the sport great. Here are a couple of my favorites, year in and year out….
–NFL Primetime– I watched this show every morning before fourth, fifth and sixth grades and it lasts. Boomer Berman still has a full head of steam and the Primetime music makes every game highlight better.
–Sunday Night Football Theme Song– As my friend John Volk says, the SNF theme song just hits different when your team’s playing in primetime. That may be so, but I make a habit of switching over to NBC just for that. And when it transitions into the NBC football theme…
–Game Breaks– They’re never real time, but when the broadcast booth sends it back to New York for a clip of another game, the game break highlights the uniqueness of an NFL Sunday.
–Playoff Picture– Just after Thanksgiving, graphics start popping up with all of the teams in line for the different playoff spots and those sitting just outside. The scenarios can get pretty wild as well.
–FOX NFL Robot– I think we take Cletus for granted, but this brilliant creation is the patronus of great afternoon football games and always gets me hyped up with his dynamic animations.
–FOX’s Updated Scoreboard– FOX adding the quarterback stats as a constant alongside the team scores is the best addition to football broadcasts since the first down marker.
–SNF Player Introductions– Key and Peele may have taken this to another level transcending sports, but it’s always a blast to see the holograms of the players, regardless of whether you’re Alex Smith of D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
-Skycam- It is impossible for the Skycam to be used too much. Skycam remedies the worst part of football broadcasts (the traditional side camera angle, which limits the action) and the big plays look absolutely breathtaking.
Game Notes: One of the Denver players said that he believed the NFL wanted to make an example out of the Broncos by holding back all of their quarterbacks. If that was true, the NFL made their resounding point…NFL owners wanted games to go on as long as competitive integrity was not compromised. The Ravens will now be without their quarterback, top two running backs, best receiver, best tight end, multiple O-linemen, multiple D-linemen, their best pass rusher, and their nutritionist. They haven’t practiced since before last week’s Tennessee game by order of the NFL, yet the league thinks it’s okay to trot the Ravens out for slaughter to get some Tuesday night revenue. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but the NFL has it out for Baltimore if they make them play this game short of nearly 20 players and without any practice. That is the dictionary definition of competitive compromise…I’ve kissed goodbye to the Cowboys 2020 season. Getting swept by Washington is an absolute nightmare (hadn’t happened since 2012), but the blowout fashion? Makes me want to hibernate….A.J. Brown should be a Pro Bowler. I’ve never seen a receiver with such physicality, and he might as well be the mascot for a Titans team that will be scared of nobody, not even the Chiefs, in January…Yeah, the Jets are probably gonna go 0-16. And for Joe Flacco to be a part of it? Obviously he’s not the only reason, but it has to be a black mark on veterans like Flacco and Frank Gore…Matt Patricia is the latest coach to bite the dust and lose his job, and it’s been a long time coming. The results haven’t been there, but the most convincing reasoning is the bleakness of Detroit’s outlook. It’s time for a total overhaul in the Motor City…The 49ers just made the NFC West more confusing, and more interesting. San Francisco was one of the teams hardest hit by injury early in the season and it’s good to see them sneak back into the Wild Card picture…Cleveland has eight wins, but this is not a serious playoff contender. Who have they beaten? They only beat the 1-10 Jags by virtue of a Mike Glennon failed two-point conversion. The running game is legit, but Baker Mayfield’s future in Cleveland hasn’t gotten any clearer…Every NFC East starting quarterback is now down, except for Carson Wentz. And yet, Philly’s still outside of first place. There’s still time, but the Eagles are running out of excuses…Back in September, I said that I’d rather have an NFL season than an open college campus. I’ve amended my stance now. My teams’ nightmarish 2020 seasons certainly have burnt me out from football, but the NFL is handling the postponements terribly, the players are getting injured at incredible rates and the competitive imbalance is stark. The owners will do anything for the money, but at some point, a shutdown might be the most reasonable option.
Five Best Jersey Matchups (In Order): Cowboys-Washington, Panthers-Vikings, Packers-Bears, Rams-49ers, Dolphins-Jets
Best Sunday: Tennessee Titans – Derrick Henry ran for three touchdowns as Tennessee put distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC South.
Worst Sunday: Las Vegas Raiders – Lost by five touchdowns to the 2020 Atlanta Falcons. ‘Nuff said.
Lamar Jackson Watch
Stat Line: Inactive- COVID protocols.
The Skinny: See above.
Tom Brady Watch
Stat Line: 27-41, 345 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 96.1 passer rating, 24-27 loss to Kansas City
The Skinny: When your defense surrenders 462 passing yards, you don’t deserve all the blame for coming up short. But Tom Brady shouldn’t be thrilled with his performance, and the disappointing loss shows that the Bucs still have ground to cover before they’re on KC’s level.
After 12 weeks, NFL fans have a pretty good sense of who the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are. They have a boatload of talent (probably talent that would be better in 2017, but talent nonetheless) and guys to watch on both sides of the ball. Tampa has an offensive gear that can be unstoppable, but the Brady-led aerial attack is prone to turnovers and has battled bouts of poor chemistry. The Bucs can run away with games, but can also let games run away from them.
Early on, the highly anticipated Bucs-Chiefs matchup looked to be another lopsided affair. Mahomes outpaced Brady early and fired his way to a 27-10 lead, while his elder statesman threw interceptions on consecutive drives before a late comeback. The disparity in communication couldn’t have been starker between the two quarterbacks. Even 12 weeks into the season, Brady has struggled to get Pro Bowl talents like Mike Evans on the same page with him. The 3-9 third down conversion clip gave further evidence for Tampa Bay’s offensive frustrations.
Still, give some credit to Brady for pulling his team within three — one more defensive stop, and Tom Brady would have had another chance at a game-winning drive. A fourth down shot play worked to perfection as Brady hit Evans deep for 31 yards. Rob Gronkowski’s 106 receiving yards should be a welcome sign, as well as the reemergence of the previously injured Chris Godwin (eight catches for 97 yards). The rushing attack didn’t do much with just 75 yards on the day, putting the burden on Brady’s back. Sure, 10 points in the first 37 minutes wasn’t impressive, but the late blitz at least prevented a blowout and gave some momentum going forward. For Brady, the greatest opponent he’ll face is his own team’s dysfunction, and it will be thrilling to see how it all shakes out.
Kyler Murray Watch
Stat Line: 23 for 34, 170 yards, 0 touchdown passes, 1 interception, 67.0 rating, 17-20 loss to New England
The Skinny: Not an MVP performance. Winning in Foxborough is not an easy task no matter the year, but Kyler Murray had every chance to get the Cardinals back in the race for the NFC West and he couldn’t pull it out.
After jumping out to a 10-point lead, the Cardinals failed to blow the game open and didn’t score on their next five drives. Murray finished with a scant 170 yards and was held without a passing or rushing touchdown, though a drive to end the first half came within one yard of a score. Some of those completions were incredible — a nearly no-look pass 20 yards downfield with a defender in his face — but they were few and far between. After an accurate first half characterized by missed opportunities, Murray threw for just 39 second half yards and saw one drive end to a tipped interception at the line. After an Arizona interception gave Murray the ball with four minutes left, the Cardinals took the ball out of Murray’s hands and into their running backs. The decision backfired, with the go-ahead drive stalling, then taking a turn for the worse when Zane Gonzalez missed a field goal. That was all New England needed to storm down the field for a win.
Sunday was a tantalizing opportunity for the Cardinals to gain ground in the wild NFC West and mark themselves as the team of the future and New England as a dynasty of the past. Instead, the offense showed flashes but wasn’t able to capitalize and play sound situational football. Murray was still Murray with his normal reel of highlight plays, but his offense couldn’t put the game away after a fast start and endured a humbling result. Maybe he’s not the 2020 MVP (he’s not, Mahomes is), but he shouldn’t need to be for the Cards to reach the playoffs for the first time since the Carson Palmer era.
Josh Allen Watch
Stat Line: 18 for 24, 157 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 88.4 rating, 32 rush yards, 1 rushing touchdown, 1 fumble, 27-17 win over Los Angeles Chargers
The Skinny: The Bills look like a good football team after 12 weeks, but they don’t let their fans off the hook with any easy wins.
After losing a 28-3 lead to the Los Angeles Rams earlier this season in a last-second win, Buffalo almost gave up a 24-6 lead to the other L.A. team.
The rushing attack carried the Bills to the win, racking up more yards on the ground than the Bills amassed through the air, garnering 5.7 yards per carry and outpacing the Chargers by almost 100 yards. Allen, who many weeks is the only offensive spark, picked up just 157 passing yards and a touchdown, and even the longest touchdown pass of the day was thrown by receiver Cole Beasley.
Despite the smaller role, Allen still displayed the confidence that makes Buffalo a dangerous playoff team. The Wyoming product threw a touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft and added another on a dive across the pylon later in the game, and still hasn’t thrown an interception in the red zone in his career. Of course, he had his share of wild passes, including one pass he threw while sitting on Joey Bosa. This also worked against the Bills — two consecutive fourth quarter drives ended due to Allen turnovers and prevented Buffalo from icing away the game, though the Chargers bailed them out with a stalled drive, then a turnover on their two responses.
With the win, the Bills moved closer to an AFC East title and a home game in the playoffs. Sunday’s win proved that Buffalo’s offense has multiple winning formulas, but it’s fair to say that the team lives by and dies by Josh Allen’s brashness.
Tua Tagovailoa Watch
Stat Line: Inactive – Injury.
The Skinny: See above.