$.01--The NFL weekend kicked off on a very negative foot with the Thursday night display. The game itself was fine; the Bengals roared at home to a 27-15 victory to hang the first loss on the visiting Miami Dolphins.
Nobody outside of Cincinnati paid much attention to the outcome after what happened to Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa in the second quarter. Tua suffered a brain injury when he was sacked and the back of his head and neck struck the turf with violent force. His fingers involuntarily splayed and his body convulsed into the “fencing” response, a classic, horrifying sign of severe trauma to the brain.
Those sorts of things do happen, unfortunately. Football is a collision sport, a dangerous game played by giant men wearing protective gear largely designed from an era of bygone athletes. Concussions happen in almost every NFL game. But few are as painfully obvious as the one Tagovailoa suffered on Thursday night.
Compounding the issue is the fact Tua almost certainly suffered a brain injury just four days earlier. Concussions do build upon previous ones, and it’s very difficult to try and convince anyone that Tua wasn’t at least partially concussed in the Bills game in Week 3. He staggered and stumbled after hitting his head on the turf in that game too. The Dolphins called it a back injury.
I’m no doctor--and I won’t even try to play one here--but many people who are doctors, head trauma specialists and prior victims of concussions all strongly, immediately chastised the Dolphins and the NFL for downplaying what we all saw. The NFLPA had already launched a formal investigation into the procedures that allowed Tua to return to that game, even though he did pass an independent neurological baseline test in the stadium.
Since the unfortunate incident on Thursday night, the NFLPA has gone on the offensive concerning that in-game evaluation in Week 3. In fact, the individual from that Bills-Dolphins game has since been terminated. It’s important to note that the team physician and not the independent neurologist is solely responsible for ruling if a player can reenter the game, which is a puzzling procedure on so many levels. Why even have an independent evaluator when they have no real power? It’s akin to having a referee at a call-your-own pickup basketball game. Ooh, nice travel call on yourself there, No. 8! Be better, NFL…
They are trying, or at least giving the illusion of trying. Reports on Sunday morning indicate the league and the NFLPA are working on modifying the protocols and making it more difficult for players who demonstrate “instability” to return to a game, among other things.
I hope the NFL understands the severity of what we all witnessed. That’s the exact kind of thing that keeps parents from allowing their sons to play football. Even the perception of improper handling of Tua’s brain trauma is reprehensible. If Roger Goodell and the NFL don’t respect the enormity of the situation or learn from their handling and garbled policy mistakes, this is the exact sort of thing that can bring down the league.
$.02--It might be time to stop dogging the NFC East. The much-maligned, overhyped division of the last few seasons has three of the NFC’s five teams with three or more wins after Sunday’s action.
Headlining the list is Philadelphia, where the Eagles remain the league’s only unbeaten team. It took some effort for Nick Sirianni’s Eagles. They fell behind 14-0 at home to the Jaguars, who scored on a pick-six early. The Eagles and Jalen Hurts played the elements smartly and didn’t deviate from what got them to 3-0. They ran the ball. A lot. Philly logged 50 carries for 210 yards in the driving rain. Their defense tackled and covered well, recovering three of Trevor Lawrence’s four fumbles. The Eagles flew to the 29-21 win and remained atop the league.
Based on most preseason expectations, we probably shouldn’t be surprised the Dallas Cowboys are 3-1. But the fact Dallas is there with Cooper Rush running the offense is definitely a surprising development. Rush played mistake-free ball in the Cowboys ho-hum 25-10 drubbing of the NFC East’s cellar dweller, the Washington Commanders. The Cowboys proved capable of winning an ugly game once again. Neither team hit 300 yards of offense, but the Dallas defense forced Carson Wentz into mistakes that Rush deftly avoided.
Then there’s the Giants. New York has to be the most unlikely 3-1 team in the league. Rookie head coach Brian Daboll keeps finding ways to win. His Giants have not scored more than 21 points in a game all season, but the New York defense has made that enough three times in four weeks. It was more than enough to top the Bears’ meager 12 on Sunday in a game that featured just 256 combined passing yards. The Giants sacked Justin Fields six times in 28 dropbacks. The talented, young New York front is coming together nicely and ahead of schedule.
The NFC East could realistically land all three of those teams in the postseason. The Giants\\\' only loss is to Dallas. Racking up NFC wins helps in tiebreak situations, after all. I don’t think either the Cowboys or Giants wind up threatening the Eagles or pushing beyond 9-8 records, but in this year’s injury-ravaged season across the league, 9-8 sure looks like it could earn a Wild Card.
$.03--The Las Vegas Raiders broke into the win column with a 32-23 win over the visiting Denver Broncos. The Raiders smartly got back to running the ball with Josh Jacobs (144 yards on 28 carries) and the Derek Carr-to-Davante Adams connection was firing nicely, too. It was the first win for the Raiders, who were the NFL’s only 0-3 team entering Week 4.
That Raiders win leaves the Houston Texans as the only team without a victory after four weeks. The Texans are 0-3-1 after falling 34-24 at home to the Los Angeles Chargers. L.A. raced out to a 21-0 lead before all the fans in NRG Stadium were done wondering if the roof was going to be open or not (it wasn’t). When Davis Mills is your QB and your defense is so easily picked apart by Justin Herbert, that’s an insurmountable lead.
Give Lovie Smith’s Texans credit for not quitting. Mills kept battling and made some money throws. Rookie RB Dameon Pierce raced for a 75-yard TD run, and Smith’s defense forced a late turnover to make the game more interesting. They just don’t have the depth of talent or high-end impact players to make that kind of a comeback.
When will Houston get their first win? It’s a tough question, but it shouldn’t be too long. They travel to Jacksonville next week and the Jaguars look quite a bit better than a year ago. Heck, the Jags had a 14-0 lead in what’s left of Hurricane Ian in Philadelphia before getting run off the field. The Texans get a bye in Week 6, then travel to Las Vegas against the struggling Raiders. After that, a home date with an up-and-down Titans team is another opportunity. Hosting Philadelphia the week after that seems about as likely as snow in Houston in October, but the Giants in New York and the Commanders back home are both winnable games.
Of course, being the last team without a win means the Texans hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft right now. If the draft were today and I was running the Texans, I’d have a real hard time passing on Alabama EDGE Will Anderson. Then again, in each of the last two years, the final team to notch a victory did not wind up with the No. 1 pick. The Lions and Jets each wound up picking No. 2 after being the final initial winners.
$.04--The NFL finally acquiesced to both consumer and player demand and put the Pro Bowl out of our collective misery.
Longtime readers know the annual Pro Bowl farce has been the bane of my football existence for years. In general, I’m not a fan of any all-star games. But at least in basketball and hockey, you get to see some great players do cool things. Not in football.
The Pro Bowl became an overhyped walkthrough about 20 years ago and has steadily declined from that level of intensity. Feeble attempts to prop it up or move it around have only reaffirmed that most football fans shared my view. It took a lot longer than it should have, but the NFL finally woke up.
This week, they announced the Pro Bowl would be no more. It’s now the Pro Bowl Games, a series of skills competitions and a flag football game. Peyton Manning’s production team will help produce it, which is a smart move by the league. Players will still be acknowledged as Pro Bowlers, which legitimately does mean something to a lot of guys beyond just the contractual bonuses, but they don’t have to participate in the charade anymore.
I’ll watch the Pro Bowl Games this year with a fairly open mind. It will be the first time I’ve paid any mind to the NFL’s all-star weekend in at least a decade. That’s a win.
$.05--The fans across the pond got treated to a weirdly fun game between the Saints and Vikings to kick off Sunday morning for those of us in the US. The game gave the London fans a little taste of everything you see in an American football game.
There was a successful 60-yard field goal from Saints kicker Will Lutz, perhaps the biggest highlight for the local fans of football, the non-American kind. There was poor officiating that ignored some fouls and overemphasized others, though the biggest call--a late defensive pass interference against the Saints--was legit. There was a truly gruesome injury suffered by Vikings rookie S Lewis Cine, one eerily reminiscent of the disgusting one that ended Robert Edwards’ career all those years ago. There was a successful fake punt by the Vikings. There were star players (Tyrann Mathieu, Justin Jefferson) weirdly disappearing for a while and also making clutch big plays. Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton treated the fans to perfectly average quarterback play.
The game ended with legitimate emotional drama. After the Vikings conservatively played for a long, ultimately successful Greg Joseph FG attempt to take the lead with under a minute to go, the Saints rallied to give Lutz another chance. His 61-yard attempt as time expired was long enough, but it careened off the left upright and then doinked off the crossbar and bounced just out. One half of a rotation more and the kick was good. The London fans truly learned that football is a game of inches… if they know what an inch is.
$.06-- What have you done for me lately? In the case of Paul Chryst at Wisconsin, the answer is along the lines of “not enough to keep you employed.”
The Badgers fired Chryst on Sunday, a day after his team got routed 34-10 at home by Illinois. That humiliating loss to the Illini dropped Wisconsin to 2-3, and that’s just not acceptable in Madison, especially when it’s former Badgers coach Bret Bielema leading Illinois to the emphatic win.
Chryst has been a very successful coach at Wisconsin. He went 67-26 and won three Big Ten West titles, as well as a couple of major bowl games. His Badgers were the most consistent team in the division in his seven-plus years, though that might say more about the Iowa and Minnesota programs than Wisconsin itself.
But lately, the team looked positively flat. The offense has grown stale and predictable, and the talent level isn’t quite where it’s been earlier in Chryst’s tenure. Wisconsin wants to be regarded as a blue-blood program, a perennial contender for the playoff. And for a few years they were, but those halcyon days raised the bar higher than where the school believes Chryst can take it now.
It’s an interesting move. Unlike Nebraska and Scott Frost, there wasn’t a preponderance of bad ball that needed to be eradicated. Chryst ran about as clean of a program as possible. But Wisconsin has decided to nip any potential decline in the bud. Holding the program to a high bar is a good thing, but it’s also risky. Will the next coach, be it Jim Leonhard or someone else, start looking over his shoulder after every upset loss? Wisconsin is a very good program, no doubt, but are they really to that point?
You’d better believe a lot of folks in College Station are very interested in those questions, too--particularly after Jimbo Fisher’s high-priced team got routed by Mississippi State on Saturday.
$.07--There’s just something different about being the hunted instead of the hunter. The defending champion Georgia Bulldogs are learning all about that in this college football season.
Georgia probably should have lost at Missouri on Saturday. They trailed nearly the entire game to an inspired Tigers team, playing in front of a juiced-up crowd. A fantastic performance from kicker Harrison Mevis--5 FGs including a 56-yarder in the 4th quarter that was dead solid perfect--helped build a lead over a Georgia team that just wasn’t sharp. The first five Bulldogs drives: punt, fumble, punt, punt, fumble.
As true champions do, Georgia rose up. Their defense turned up the pressure just a bit. Their offense started to break through and take advantage of little gaps here and there. Missouri reverted to playing like a team that got blown out by Kansas State. The Tigers were close, but the superior talent and more polished execution of the reigning champs were just a little too much for upset-minded Mizzou. Georgia scored the final 14 points in the 26-22 win.
This is the second week in a row the Bulldogs sputtered to a less-than-impressive win. They struggled to survive a pesky Kent State team a week earlier, a game where the Golden Flashes were 44-point underdogs. Georgia won 39-22 in a sloppy effort where they committed three turnovers, couldn’t run the ball until late and got hoodwinked by a brilliant fake punt. Kent State needed overtime to beat a bad Ohio (sorry to my fellow Bobcat alums) team one week later.
Georgia lost so much off the championship team. While they’ve reloaded impressively, the Bulldogs are learning that taking every opponent’s best shot won’t be easy.
--The Seattle Seahawks did something they’ve never done before. Seattle did not punt once in the Seahawks’ 48-45 win in Detroit.
--Sticking with my Lions, Dan Campbell’s team leads the NFL in both scoring and points allowed. The buzz around Detroit defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has gone from leading head coach candidate next offseason to a guy who might not last through Thanksgiving.
--The Chargers losing Joey Bosa for at least most of the rest of the season is a huge blow to the 2-2 team. Los Angeles is not a team that plays well enough consistently to lose such a major force.
--The Commanders wore black and yellow uniforms that looked suspiciously like a Steelers kit that didn’t quite make it off the drawing board. Washington has a great, unique color combination and generally pretty nice uniforms. These were duds. Maybe getting humiliated in them will send them the way of the Houston Texans letterman jackets…
--Patrick Mahomes can do things few others would even try. Witness:
Patrick Mahomes is doing unimaginable stuff right now. Holy cow. pic.twitter.com/vyPj7tJYV3— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 3, 2022
Good win by the Chiefs in Tampa, though a late Mahomes INT made it a lot more uncomfortable than Andy Reid would’ve liked.
--I’m very relieved Myles Garrett wasn’t more seriously injured in his one-car crash in Cleveland last week. Garrett flipped his Porsche several times. That Garrett even fit in the car is crazy, but coming out of a serious crash with only a short-term shoulder injury is a miracle. Garrett was sorely missed in the Browns bummer of a loss to the Falcons. So was Jadeveon Clowney, the other starting DE and fellow former No. 1 overall draft pick.
--Michigan State has quickly devolved from dark-horse Big Ten contender in the preseason to worst team in the East in the regular season. Mel Tucker’s team was outclassed by Maryland at home a lot more significantly than the 27-13 score would indicate. It could be a while before the Spartans win again, too. They’ll be decided underdogs in each of their next four matchups.
--UConn beat Fresno State for its first win over an FBS-level program since 2019 and second in the last five calendar years. Good for them. Fresno State played without injured QB Jake Haener, and that certainly helped the Huskies beat the Bulldogs in the dogfight.
--I didn’t see a lot of the Alabama/Arkansas game, but I saw Crimson Tide QB Bryce Young leave the game with a shoulder injury. Young has a great deal of skill to offer, but as a draft evaluator, his lack of size scares the bejeezus out of me. It doesn’t help when Alabama head coach Nick Saban says after the game, “He’s had these injuries before.” Short, skinny QBs (Young is generously listed at 6-0/194) with coach-acknowledged durability problems are a tough, tough sell for me.
--I do not bet on college games much, but I had seen enough of Oklahoma this year to know they shouldn’t have been favored on the road at unbeaten TCU. The Horned Frogs blew out the defenseless visiting Sooners 55-24 and earned me enough return on investment to take my wife and daughter out to dinner on Saturday night.
--Scouting notebook coming later this week. Stay tuned!
$.10--If you’re anything like me, and I suspect most of you are, you’re sick to death of all the political ads. The promulgation of venomous hate is inescapable some five weeks out from mid-term election days.
I decided to track just how much negativity I was exposed to over the weekend. It was truly stunning.
Between television and radio consumption from Thursday through Sunday at 6 p.m. ET (almost 90% of which was devoted in one form or another to football), I was bombarded with 717 political ads. A full 596 of them were what would be considered “attack” ads, ones that demonize one candidate instead of promoting another. Yes, I have the notebook to prove the tracking…
It’s pure insanity. And it’s largely bipartisan; other than one specific Democratic candidate for a House district--one I don’t vote in--the ads from both sides were almost exclusively negative. The higher up the office, the more negative the ads got, too.
Those negative ads don’t sell me on anything except not wanting to vote for the party behind them. You want to win my vote? Tell me what you will do, not what your opinion of your opponent is. The “dark money” that spews this vile crap out only reinforces to me that the candidate they’re supporting is beholden to their money and their hyperpartisan agendas. No thank you.
Sidebar: Can someone develop an app that blocks political ads from elections we can’t vote in? Like, let me enter my precinct data into the TV streaming service and they prevent me from seeing ads for candidates that won’t be on my ballot. Please and thank you…
Longtime readers and folks who know me know I’m a fiercely independent moderate. I’m open-minded to voting for either party at all levels. How about giving me candidates who promote themselves instead of demonizing the opponent? That’s what will earn my vote, not the barrage of banal B.S. we’re all more than sick of already.