Hmmm. Only for the Falcons would scoring a late-game touchdown while losing be a bad thing.
You almost have to rewind to double-check that, yes, that is the Lions defenders who are raising their arms as they see Atlanta running back Todd Gurley break the plane and score a touchdown with just over a minute left on the clock.
By scoring a touchdown rather than rolling over on the one-yard line, Gurley handed the ball back to the Lions with a chance to win the game. Had he stopped on the one-yard line, the Falcons could have drained the clock and then kicked a field goal to go up 17-14 as time expired. Instead, by scoring the touchdown, Gurley gave the Lions a sliver of a chance.
This being Atlanta, of course, the Lions drove the length of the field with a minute left.
Of course, Matthew Stafford was able to shift around in the pocket to extend plays and push the ball downfield, and the Lions were able to score as time expired. Of course, Lions kicker Matt Prater, split the uprights to give the Lions the win. Only Atlanta. Hmmm.
MVP of the week
A rough outing for Aaron Rodgers in Tampa Bay last week started another round of Is this it for Rodgers? conversations. The Green Bay quarterback replied with a typically brilliant performance against the Texans. He finished the game 22-for-34, throwing for 283 yards and four touchdowns.
Last week, Rodgers looked confused by the Bucs’ sophisticated defense. This week, he was more assured and controlled, with a couple of Rodgers-like splash plays tacked on for good measure.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur was able to manipulate some easy throws for his quarterback. At this point, using any kind of misdirection or motion against the Texans defense is borderline cruel. But when Houston did find a rare counter to LaFleur’s designs, Rodgers delivered flashes of his signature brilliance.
At 36, in his 16th pro season, his genius remains in full bloom. Don’t argue about it. Just enjoy it.
Quote of the week:
“This week Mike McCarthy was saying that there is research that shows once a team has four division wins it’s likelier to win the division” – Kim Jones, NFL Network
Hmmm. The deepest research, ever!
McCarthy diving deep into all the new-fangled analytics there. More wins in a division would indeed increase your odds of winning the division. But the Cowboys didn’t win this week; they were pummelled 25-3 by Washington, an equally tepid side with a feisty defence.
Is it time to start considering McCarthy as a one-and-done candidate?
Firing a coach early is not the way of Jerry Jones or the Jones family. Usually, Cowboys ownership hangs onto a coach a season or two (or three or four) too long.
Yet, the signs aren’t good for McCarthy: the Cowboys lead the league in turnovers; they have been abysmal on both sides of the ball; there are already reports of friction in the locker room between the coaching staff and the players; two players spoke to NFL Media’s Jane Slater last week and accused McCarthy of being “totally unprepared”.
It’s often a vapid, coach-speak thing to point out, but with Dallas it’s real: The team has no fight. The Cowboys have sustained injuries this season, they lost backup quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday to an egregious hit, but so have Washington.
Yet, Ron Rivera’s side looked like they had a plan and wanted to play. For large portions of Sunday, it looked like McCarthy’s players would rather be anywhere else.
Stat of the week:
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have now connected on 92 career touchdowns (including the playoffs), tied for the second most in NFL history with Steve Young and Jerry Rice. Brady and Gronkowski trail only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison (114 touchdowns).
It is official: Tom Brady will play until he is 100 years old. Brady is getting better and better as the season goes along. Who would have thought it, a quarterback would improve the longer he spends in a new system with his new teammates?
Brady is still limited in some ways compared to the player he was a decade ago – he’s more passive in the pocket, less willing to stare down the barrel of the pass rush – but he’s just as good from the neck up and still has as much arm strength as he did three, four, six years ago. The Bucs are genuine contenders. Oh, and Antonio Brown is set to join the team next week.
Elsewhere around the league
• After an awful start against the Bengals, Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield rallied to deliver one of his finest performances in the pros to date.
Mayfield started out 0-5 on the road, tossing an interception on his first attempt for the second time in two weeks – an interception that led to star wideout Odell Beckham injuring his knee.
After that, Mayfield was practically flawless: He completed 22 of 33 passes for 295 and five touchdowns. His sole incompletion was a spike. The Browns won the game, 37-34.
• There was always going to be a year when the Patriots are awful. This is that year. Games against Seattle and Vegas feel like a lifetime ago. This was the third straight week Bill Belichick’s team was completely overmatched. Cam Newton had a tough outing, completing 9 of 15 pass attempts for just 98 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was benched in the fourth quarter with the 49ers already up by four scores.
• A breakout performance from undrafted rookie Marquez Callaway helped the Saints to overcome the Panthers, 27-24. The Saints were good, but it was Matt Rhule’s Panthers side that stood out.
In a short amount of time, and in a year in which his inaugural preseason was disrupted, Rhule has the Panthers playing excellent, inventive football on both sides of the ball.
He arrived in the NFL from college with the reputation as a “program builder” more so than a schematic savant, and you could already see the makings of a solid foundation in Carolina.
• The Falcons fell to 1-6 after the loss to the Lions. Despite that, NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday morning that Atlanta would not be trading Julio Jones or Matt Ryan before the trade deadline.
Keeping two excellent players while they’re still near their apex is an objectively smart decision, but the rest of the Falcons roster is so barren of talent that the team should at least consider a factory reset.
Trading Ryan and Jones this season would crush Atlanta’s cap (there is almost $28m in dead money on their deals if they are traded), but with a new coach and power structure due in at the end of the season, why not bottom out and reset the team’s timeline?
Ryan will be 36 years old by the start of next season; Jones will be 32 and the injuries are starting to rack up for the star wide receiver. Whether it hurts the cap or not, Atlanta should look to cash in and grab as many draft picks as possible. Staying put can be the riskiest course.
• The Titans were fined $350,000 by the NFL for violating the league’s coronavirus protocols.
Tennessee suffered the NFL’s first outbreak on a team, with 24 positive tests for the novel coronavirus among members of the organization.
That included 13 players. Their facility was closed for 11 days and two of their games were rescheduled.
The Titans are the first team to receive a significant penalty from the league (though the Raiders are currently under investigation), and commissioner Roger Goodell has warned that teams who continually violate the protocols will receive an escalating amount of punishment, including possibly losing draft picks, if you can believe, it!
EDITED FROM: theguardian.com