The NFL’s third week of the season and the last full week of play for September was mouth-dropping. As we head into October, we’re finding out which teams could make the playoffs, which ones could pick early in the draft, and which ones should can their coaches early. Like the last two weeks, most of the games were close, fun and physical at least for three quarters. So who stood out, positively and negatively for the last week of September in the regular season?
Winners: Russell Wilson’s case for MVP and the Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson discovered this offseason that he hasn’t had a vote for Most Valuable Player, and he’s taken that personally. The Seahawks hosted the Dallas Cowboys in America’s Game of the Week. He did everything but disappoint. Wilson went 27 of 40 for 315 yards, five touchdowns and a 130.7 quarterback rating. He would’ve had a sixth had DK Metcalf not celebrated too early, letting Dallas defender Trevon Diggs punch the ball out for a touchback past Dallas’ endzone. Wilson is the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for five touchdowns in back-to-back games, and he’s the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to do this:
NBC’s Tony Dungy has a point when he says, “If Wilson stays unstoppable, averaging 35 points a game, it won’t matter how good the defense plays”. It’s good enough to be 3-0 for the first time since 2013, ending September as one of a handful of teams to be undefeated.
When a team gets in first place, 85% of the time it’s because they earned it. The other 15% comes with luck. No one expected the Detroit Lions to beat Arizona on a last second field goal, or for Kyler Murray to throw three interceptions and lay into coach Kliff Kingsbury, but it happened. The Buffalo Bills (more on them later) aren’t the classic losers we’ve expected, thanks to Josh Allen leading a great drive on their last scoring possession to give the Los Angeles Rams their first loss of the season. Knowing their injuries to Chris Carson, Damien Lewis and Jamal Adams aren’t season ending while sitting alone in first place, in the NFL’s best division, and undefeated feels great before they head to Miami this weekend.
There’s a lot to unpack with that Ram-Bills game. The one player who stands out is Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who should be in the MVP race besides Mr. Wilson. Allen was 24 of 33 for 311 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a 128.9 quarterback rating. Allen also ran for a touchdown in Buffalo’s second score of the game. The NFL Network put a neat stat out Sunday night: Josh Allen is the second quarterback in two years to go 3-0, throw for over 1,000 yards and 10 or more passing touchdowns in the first three weeks of regular season play (he’s the second in franchise history as Jim Kelly did this in 1991).
The Bills will go as far as Josh Allen takes them, which was pivotal on their last offensive possession of the game. The Los Angeles Rams are a scary good team in the second half, and Buffalo not only squandered a 25 point lead but came close to taking their first loss of the season. While Tyler Kroft’s touchdown will be controversial for a no-call on offensive pass interference, Allen led the Bills downfield when it mattered most, not because it was an easy game. Allen hit at least 4 different receivers that last drive, spreading the ball and showing audiences he won’t hammer it to just one play-maker every down.
Teams in the past had to prepare for Buffalo’s defense and ignored the offense. That can’t happen anymore as their quarterback can lead the offense to over 30 points a game.
Matt Eberflus and the Indianapolis Colts Defense
Audiences saw last October when the Colts defense bludgeoned the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football that they don’t play around. This year, they’ve taken a few steps forward, with the last two teams Indy’s played score a combined 18 points.
Give some credit to the Jets offense for putting up a fight that first half. Quarterback Sam Darnold had a couple of good drives before the Colts put a stop to that. Former Minnesota Viking Xavier Rhodes had two interceptions, and scored on his first one to give the Colts the lead. T.J. Carrie had Indianapolis’ third interception and added a second touchdown with it to cap off one of the best performances they’ve had in a while.
It’s been important for new addition quarterback Philip Rivers to adjust to Frank Reich’s playbook and scheme. Yesterday he didn’t have to do much, taking the field late in the first quarter. Some days offenses need that rest so they can save more and get into schemes better. Indianapolis has an easier schedule with the Bears, Browns and Bengals up next before their bye week. Keep an eye on this team when November rolls around.
The Return of Nick Mullens
Strange to have three quarterbacks in the Winners section, but they’re all deserving of it. Nick Mullens hadn’t started a game in over a year, but he didn’t play like it. Mullens went 25 of 36 for 343 yards and a touchdown. Yes, he didn’t have to do much because the New York Giants are dreadful on defense, especially against the running game, but that shouldn’t matter.
The 49ers are down half their starting offense. Thankfully they have a great quarterback behind Jimmy Garappolo. Mullens knows Kyle Shanahan’s system better than Jimmy does at this point. Mullens is trusted by Shanahan on how to utilize the runningbacks to win and play great to get San Francisco in position to score. The Philadelphia Eagles are depleted like the 49ers are, but they don’t have a safe quarterback option who knows how to win with half a starting roster. Like Seattle, San Francisco got a gift with both Arizona and Los Angeles taking their first losses of the season. It’s important to get as many wins as they can before their October 18th divisional matchup against Los Angeles. If somehow Jimmy G and company have some additional time off before then, their schedule between that date and their bye week won’t look or feel as hard, and they can credit that to Nick Mullens.
Losers: Todd Gurley and Arthur Blank
Everyone will jump on the Falcons and for good reasons, but let’s spread the blame wisely. What the team has done with double digit leads the past two weeks hasn’t been done in over 15 years with any NFL team. Coach Dan Quinn tried his best to rid the team of the mindset of squandering leads but that didn’t work. So this goes to the top.
Owner Arthur Blank is here for several reasons. First and foremost is his inability to fire his general manager and head coach in one swift move, probably because he again believes they can salvage something. After he got into an exchange with Quinn over the players knowing the onside kick rules, he should’ve fired his coach. Blank’s goal remains making the Falcons improved and in a better position to win. The problem remains decades later the Falcons find incredible ways to lose regardless of the coaches or the rosters. One has to start thinking that the team is cursed and move out of Georgia.
As for the players, you have to feel a bit for Todd Gurley. Gurley had 14 carries for 80 yards averaging over five yards a carry and scored once. He should’ve closed this game out for a second straight week and lay to rest any doubts the Los Angeles Rams had about him and his health. Not to mention the Falcons should be tied with Tampa Bay for the NFC South lead. Instead, the Falcons play-calling on offense made Matt Ryan throw the ball again with double digit leads, making Gurley a second option for…I don’t know what. The Rams have found a good running game with him gone and are, you guessed it, 2-1. That hurts.
The Bill Belichick and Tom Brady Haters
This stupid debate over who’s better between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady has to end. Both are one in a million that won’t happen again or at least, a very long time. Yesterday proved it as both Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots are 2-1 in the standings.
Tom Brady didn’t have to do much against a Denver Broncos team that won’t win a game until Drew Lock returns. Brady still has the smarts and the will to win another championship, so the Buccaneers will be competitive in almost every game they play despite Brady’s interceptions or the quality of opponent. Bill Belichick out-coached a 2-0 Las Vegas Raiders team that came off an emotional Monday night home win. Even without each other, they’re dangerous and both could be threats in the playoffs. We know the Pats have a chance with Cam Newton, but outside of the NFC West and the state of Wisconsin, who else is going to step up?
The Chicago Bears
This might be the worst 3-0 team since the 2012 Arizona Cardinals. Let’s not kid ourselves on when we talk on records. Yes, you are what your record says you are, but sometimes, you suck and your record doesn’t show it. If that’s hard to believe, then please watch film on said Cardinals.
Let’s break down the Bears’ three wins. They beat the Lions when the Lions didn’t run the ball to close out the game. They beat a Giants team because Daniel Jones ran out of time on the last drive of the game, and they beat a Falcons team that doesn’t want to run the ball to close out games. This is absolutely not a winning formula, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Adam Gase 2.0 decided to pull starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky after he threw his first interception, putting backup Nick Foles in to play the rest of the game. Mitch was part of the problem, not the singular focus. Bill Lazor needs to be called out on why Chicago couldn’t finish their great drives in the first half in Atlanta. The defense was horrid and gave up at least a touchdown to Atlanta because of unnecessary penalties. Trubisky, who’s supposed to be a mobile threat, had only one run: a 45 yard sprint almost leading to six points.
After the game, it was national news the Bears were going to decide when they got back to Chicago who would be the starting quarterback long-term. If Matt Nagy and company wanted Nick Foles to start, why wasn’t the move made before the season started? Do they know how to work with Trubisky or did they always want a quarterback like Foles in the system?
The problem with naming Foles as starter is that he will get hurt at some point, and it will be sooner than later because the Bears offensive line is not meant to protect a pocket passer. Foles took a good number of shots from Atlanta’s front seven yesterday when he entered late in the game. The Bears face a fantastic Indianapolis Colts defense next Sunday and a better and mentally tougher Tampa Bay squad the following week. Let’s see if Nick Foles lasts to November 1.
Houston Texans Getting a High Playoff Seed
Barring injuries to Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger, you can count the Houston Texans out of home-field advantage for January. It’s ok to complain about three top-tier opponents the first three weeks of the season when there was no preseason. We all know with this team though, it’s not just that. Coach Bill O’Brien wants to make winning as hard as possible for his team, and he’s winning that fight so far.
Houston had a great chance to bury the Steelers in the second half. The Steelers put up 11 points total in the third and fourth quarters combined. Houston ranks 31st in rushing yards, and used their star runningback they traded for 13 times for 23 yards. They couldn’t find a way to run the ball in the second half (where have we heard this before?), and it cost them a win as DeShaun Watson again saddled the issues and had to dig out a win. Yes, his center field interception cost them a chance to score, but he shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
These are Houston’s next games before their bye week: a winless Minnesota Vikings team which may have found its replacement for Stefon Diggs, the Jaguars at home, on the road at undefeated Tennessee, and home against undefeated Green Bay. They may not have two wins heading into that bye.