Week six is almost finished, leaving audiences buzzing on who’s the real deal and who needs to improve before the playoffs. Continuing from last week, a lot of yesterday’s games were close at certain points. Additional teams are gaining ground and look close to complete on both sides of the ball, even with a handful distancing from the rest. Who stood out yesterday, positively and negatively in this third week of October?
Winners: Raheem Morris
Arthur Blank is bogus if he said Morris has to go 11-0 in order to secure an interview for the Falcons’ head coaching job. Blank’s probably picked candidates out mentally, but this is a great time for interim coach Raheem Morris to show he’s still one of the best coaches available.
A lot of analysts had Minnesota bouncing back after a crushing loss to Seattle last Sunday night with good reasons. The Vikings could’ve overlooked an 0-5 team that’s played dreadful on defense. In Morris’ first game coached since 2011, the Falcons played like they were 5-0, setting the tempo early in the game by intercepting quarterback Kirk Cousins on Minnesota’s first drive. The audience was right to wonder if Atlanta would blow another double digit lead when they were up by 26. That didn’t happen as the Falcons rolled on to an easy win.
Raheem Morris won’t go 11-0 as interim, but general managers will give him interviews at the end of the season, and it’s possible he’ll go to a team such as Cincinnati where he can lay a better foundation. If Morris can make a winless team look focused and competitive, then he should be hired over someone like Adam Gase.
The Perplexing Career of Vic Fangio
I personally don’t think there’s been any team in the National Football League who’s gone through more injury trouble than the Denver Broncos. They couldn’t even get a real bye week. They get rewarded by playing the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts later than expected, with Cam Newton coming back to start for the home team. Drew Lock returning for Denver was ok, but the team outside of quarterback played pretty well for the win.
Sometimes a coach has to settle in and get the locker room sold when there’s chaos, internal or external. Broncos head coach Vic Fangio looks to be the right hire despite general manager John Elway doing…whatever. 99% of the time, New England takes this game, especially if the opposing quarterback looks bad. This was a rare game both Newton and Lock were rusty. The game came down to which coach could top the other. Fangio won by a landslide, besting one of the game’s best ever coaches despite scoring 18 points.
Denver won’t be in the Winner’s section most of this season, and most of it isn’t because they lack talent. They should feel good about their head coach, who’s keeping the franchise from hitting New York Jets levels of bad. A win like this you savor long-term.
The Twin Franchises Established in 1976
Those two would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks (yes, in that order). Any of the readers familiar with these two teams know Sunday was one of their better days together in the league, and they both fed positives into each other.
Tampa Bay had one of their best recent games in franchise history, pummeling an undefeated Green Bay Packers team that sprinted to an early 10-0 lead. Head coach Bruce Arians and team captain Tom Brady took their last loss against the Chicago Bears personally, playing disciplined and precise against what was considered the best team in the NFC North and maybe the conference. The Buccaneers scored 38 straight points, harassed Aaron Rodgers on a level not seen since Ndamakung Suh’s heyday in Detroit (outside of the NFC West), and courtesy of FOX Sports, hadn’t committed a penalty in a game for the first time since playing Detroit in 1983.
Bruce Arians and Tom Brady may be polar opposites when it comes to how they play the game but there’s no denying they’re the reason the Bucs are better in almost every facet, the big one being team culture. The classic Buccaneers would’ve given up after falling behind by 10 especially after an ugly loss. Arians definitely called the locker room out and Tom Brady put in that extra work with the offensive line. The team as a whole played clean, aggressive football. We’ve learned over the years when Brady’s bitter in a bad loss, the team feels it and works better before next game. Thanks to these two, Tampa Bay is alone in first place in the NFC South.
Tampa’s win over Green Bay came when two playoff contenders were on bye weeks. New Orleans will have another go with them soon, so there isn’t much lost. Seattle though was on their bye week, and had to be pleased with what they watched.
Seattle is in direct control in the NFC, the last remaining undefeated team still standing. Russell Wilson is at the top of the MVP race as Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers were thrown around in their last games, affecting their teams performances. Players on defense should contribute and fix a porous unit by next Sunday. The biggest win for the Seahawks came within their division, as the San Francisco 49ers bullied a Los Angeles Rams team. First place is separated by two games, so Seattle can play loose some quarters in their next three games to see how much depth they have. Finally, the Seahawks play their first divisional game against a Cardinals team coming off of a Monday night game. This was the best week for the 1976 franchises in at least five years.
What builds winners? Failure. Rookies have games where they learn what it takes to win. Easing up on an opponent who’s behind 21 points is an area even the best players have to methodically plan so they can leave no doubt who’s better.
Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis after roaring out to a 21-0 nothing lead in the first half is a learning lesson to this year’s number one overall pick. Every team gives up leads like this at some point, but it’s up to those teams to make the adjustments. Burrow put up good numbers facing a tough defense. For those who’ve watched him play in college, they can say his claim to fame at LSU was continual growth. The Bengals’ young star will keep this game tape with him a long time to break down do’s-and-don’ts in future matchups against playoff contenders.
The Bengals will struggle winning this season (more on them next), but maybe they needed this loss in order for Joe Burrow to take the next step. There’s no denying after Sunday they could be trouble for teams like the Miami Dolphins have.
Losers: …Zac Taylor’s Coaching
Here’s a candidate on the hot seat. Earlier in the week, star receiver A.J. Green addressed issues in Cincinnati. It’s clear he wants to go play for a contender. Any player would feel the same if all they had to show for their best seasons were playoff performances and no wins. Teams feed off those energies from star players. It’s safe to say the Bengals locker room isn’t in a good place.
Taylor made few second half adjustments on all sides of the ball. His team scored three points in the second half. The Bengals defense can hold to a point, but even expiration date Philip Rivers broke through. Head coach Zac Taylor is an offensive minded coach, and while the offensive line is an issue that precedes him, Taylor couldn’t find the right plays to keep the Colts defense on the field. It’s one thing for a rookie player to take this loss because it sparks growth and more want to win. In the case of a coach and his staff, it shows the play-callers have to go since they can’t play with double digit leads.
Gary Kubiak and Mike Zimmer
Last Sunday night took more of a toll on the Vikings collectively than we realized. They followed up that heartbreaker with one of the worst losses in Mike Zimmer’s coaching career, and the game wasn’t close to start.
Sometimes teams have games they overlook an opponent, particularly when the previous opponent is difficult to beat. The coaches botched this on every level. On a scoring drive in the first half near the Atlanta goal-line, starting runningback Alexander Mattison again missed a hole on the right side of the offensive line that could’ve resulted in not just a one yard gain, but a touchdown. For a coach who likes to run the ball, Gary Kubiak didn’t work hard or well enough with Mattison to not make the same mistake. The Vikings were shut out that first half 20-0.
For Zimmer, his message either fell flat or he trusts his starters too much. The cornerbacks Minnesota’s starting are pretty young, but that doesn’t excuse being overmatched against a receiving core dealing with injuries. They were burned for 137 yards alone from an hobbled Julio Jones. Quarterback Kirk Cousins should’ve been pulled when the score was 33-7 to see if there’s additional depth. The players had to show up and shake off last week’s loss, but failed because the coaches didn’t prepare them well enough for the next game.
Green Bay Packers
If Denver won’t be in the Winners section much this year, then Green Bay won’t be here much either. The 1976 twin franchises had a day to remember in the right ways Sunday. Green Bay though is in a few holes, and familiar questions will be raised.
Unfortunately for the Packers, the NFC will be ultra competitive throughout the year. Every loss teams take produce ripple effects. Green Bay losing to Tampa Bay produced these things heading into Week 7:
- Seattle unanimously as the No. 1 team in the conference
- Tampa Bay division leader in the NFC South
- Division rival Chicago Bears jump up to first place via tie-breaker
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t going to look flawless this season. It doesn’t help his worst performance came in a nationally televised game versus Tom Brady. He made those mistakes Tampa created to grab control and dominate for the win. The Packers have an easy schedule until November 22nd, but the difference is they have to play perfect. It could take a toll heading into January.
If there was ever a fall from grace in the past decade of football, this is the prime example. Announcers Andrew Catalon and James Lofton went through the analysis of Flacco’s storied career. Here is a brief analysis of what they talked about.
Flacco’s first win in the playoffs came against Tony Sparano’s surprise 2008 Dolphins, making him the third rookie quarterback to win a playoff game. He was a quarterback deemed Tom Brady’s kryptonite. He’s won seven road playoff games, more than any quarterback in NFL history, and yes he has a historic championship run.
Flacco’s narrowly outside the top 20 of all-time passing yards, yet experienced a downturn unlike any other. Many fans and analysts knew after he won a Super Bowl with Baltimore his play would drop off a bit. It’s bottomed out. He’s a backup quarterback on a winless New York Jets team who took a 28 yard sack. Sunday was the first time he was shutout, on all games a nationally televised one.
Anyone could describe how bad the Jets offense is, with great reasons and accuracy. If there’s anything worse, how bad Joe Flacco’s played is up there. This is also a lesson to appreciate true greatness from quarterbacks whenever they win a championship.