This season I’m running out a MMQB style column where I look at eight things that happened in Sunday’s games. I will break it down into four surprises, and four things that were absolutely expected. Let’s get right to it.
Surprise number one: Taylor Heinicke is the new Kurt Warner
It has been a long road for Taylor Heinicke. He was unranked in high school, undrafted by the NFL, out of the NFL, cut/waived four times, backup in the XFL, and now, this:
Heinicke has made a habit out of wild inexplicable plays that end up working out for him, kind of like there is some supernatural force by his side (Angels In The End Zone). I wonder if maybe he is just the kind of guy who stuck it out so long he managed to make his luck. Either way, I love his story and I want more. The Washington football team is a weird mix of people you should never root for, and people you should always root for. It’s complicated. Regardless, Heinicke had a great week as the WFT had a miracle comeback and knocked off the sad Falcons.
Surprise number 2: New Jersey football… is… back.
One week after I posterized the Jets and Giants in this column, Jabrill Peppers won this coin toss in what turned out to be an omen. The Giants shocked the FCC and the enigmatic Saints to seal their first pointless win of the season. Meanwhile, the Jets shocked the division leading (and defenseless) Tennessee Titans in New Jersey when the Titans sad effort for a tie came up short (not many worse sentences in sports than “effort for a tie came up short”. The Jets first pointless win of the season didn’t do much for them other than get them off the schneid, but it had to feel good for Robert Salah as it was his first win as a head coach. Good for him.
Surprise number 3: The Chargers defense stakes it’s claim as the NFL’s best.
The Chargers overcame playing on the road in their stadium to beat the previously 3-0 Las Vegas Raiders in the rare Monday Night Football game I will be commenting on here. The Chargers did this with a suffocating defense that is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s best. They have held 4 very good offenses to under twenty points a game so far this season (Chiefs, Cowboys, WFT and Raiders). Their defense is loaded with talented playmakers like Derwin James (who is finally healthy), Joey Bosa, Chris Harris Jr., Kenneth Murray Jr., and more very good players who aren’t household names yet. Brandon Staley has brought over the Vic Fangio system1 which has worked out well for the teams currently using it and the Rams last year (where Staley came from). This is a marked improvement from last year for the Chargers where injuries and bad coaching from one of the worst staffs in the league held them back.
Surprise number 4: Urban Meyer tries out new method of quitting, possibly getting fired
We all knew this Urban Meyer situation was going to lead to nothing good. A coach who coasted on talent in college coming to one of the least talented teams in the NFL seemed like a bad idea from the start. Following a disastrous week one, Meyer spawned a million jokes about him quitting to take a college job. At the time, he refuted that (presumably after glancing at his current paycheck) and carried on leading the Jaguars to three more losses. 2 Well guess what, Meyer came up with a bold new plan to possibly keep that paycheck and get to go back to college. Get fired. Video surfaced this weekend of Meyer, uh, touching, a young lady in a very inappropriate manner. While it seems likely she consented to this, it is a terrible look for a married man, a coach who is supposed to be focusing on turning this ship around, and it is just another in a LONG series of embarrassments for the Jaguars since Meyer’s hiring that have occurred both on and off the field. It’s hard to fire someone for cause when you should have never hired them to begin with.
Expected thing one: Sam Darnold is who we thought he is. And he is on the hook.
Sam Darnold came back down to earth on Sunday after feasting on Jets, Texans and Saints defenses (if by feasting you mean averaging 23 points against 3 of the worst defenses so far) to quickly throw the Panthers out of Sunday’s game with the Cowboys. If you didn’t watch the game, the finals stats and score reveal a game the never happened. What actually happened was the Cowboys took a strong lead behind two Darnold picks, and played soft the rest of the way as the Panthers rolled up some garbage points (and Darnold some garbage stats). In their first major test, the Panthers offense showed what it is. Another much smaller surprise from this game is the continued dominance of Trevon Diggs of the Cowboys who has very quickly become an elite shut down cornerback. This isn’t much of a surprise though given his pedigree. He is the brother of star receiver Stefon Diggs. That’s a hell of a practice buddy.
Ian Rapoport @RapSheet#49ers pass-rusher Ziggy Ansah, declared out with an arm injury, is feared to have suffered a biceps tear, source said. He’ll have an MRI to confirm, but potentially another major injury to an SF defender on the edge.
Expected thing two: The 49ers have major injury problems
The list of 49ers on the injury report continues to explode this season following a season where the 49ers surpassed all possible logic with their total amount of injuries. It seems like this team has a real problem on it’s hands and no clear solution. Among the players taken down Sunday were Jimmy Garoppolo, Trent Williams, and Robbie Gould. Previously they already lost 4 running backs, Jason Verrett, Tarvarious Moore. They also have several key vets playing through injuries like George Kittle, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Emmanuel Mosely and Dre Greenlaw. All told it’s an overwhelming list again for a team that had playoff hopes buy is quickly finding themselves headed to the bottom of the ultra-competitive NFC West. Honestly, if they called me, I wouldn’t pick up either. This week, the losses culminated in a brutal loss at home to the Seahawks, a team with most of their players healthy, but still no defense.
Expected thing three: Tom Brady was the one with the horseshoe shoved up his ass the whole time.
Once upon a time it wasn’t clear who was responsible for the incredible luck of the Patriots the last 20 years. Then Tom Brady moved to the Buccaneers and the magic followed. On Sunday night, the magic stayed with him, as a banged up Nick Folk made an incredible kick in the pouring rain from 56 yards… only to see it take a last second curve and hit the left upright. The only thing crazier than that would have occurred if he had made it, because there would definitely have been 2 PI calls and an ensuing kick from 57 yards in the pouring rain that would have bounced in off of the upright. There was just no way Belichick was getting this win, and I look forward to all of this year’s teams playing the Bucs in this year’s playoffs suffering a series of catastrophic injuries, a sudden rash of PI calls, and impeccable health for the Bucs on their way to yet another ring.
Expected thing four: The Rams had a let down game
The Rams were the hunters last week, taking down a 2-0 Super Bowl Champion Buccaneers squad in a huge game that cemented them as legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl this season. Before that cement could even dry, the Cardinals came to town to hunt these newly cemented contenders. It’s fair to say the Cardinals are just really good, as they are 4-0 and Kyler Murray looks ridiculously in sync on offense. However, it’s also fair to acknowledge that all the emotion the Rams dumped into the previous week simply can’t be there every week. It’s hard to be the hunted in the NFL and Rams just showed it a week after the Bucs did. I wouldn’t be surprised if the tables completely turn in their next matchup.
Where you play 6 guys tight on the line of scrimmage to stop the run, but drop two safeties most of the time as well to stop the pass, leaving only 1 linebacker back. It is probably the hottest system in the league right now, and was probably most famously used by the Pats a few years ago to stop the Rams in the Super Bowl.
Although I have to admit they are getting better.