clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NFL panic index, Week 8: The Vikings have been exposed

New, comments

More losses could be coming for Washington, while more heartbreak awaits the Titans. And will poor Geno Smith ever get another chance?

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Vikings were the NFL’s last unbeaten team heading into Week 7. Now, not only is Minnesota no longer undefeated, but the offense and special teams looked atrocious in the 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The offensive line was a particular problem. Quarterback Sam Bradford was hit 12 times and endured six sacks, leading head coach Mike Zimmer to call the offensive line “soft.”

“We didn’t block anybody,” Zimmer said following the loss. “We were soft. We got overpowered.”

Safety Harrison Smith described Zimmer’s mood after the loss succinctly.

“He was pissed,” Smith said, via Sports Illustrated’s Ben Baskin.

Rightfully so, as avoidable mistakes plagued the Vikings. Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Vikings were the only offense in the NFL that had yet to commit a turnover. That changed in dramatic fashion on Sunday, as Bradford threw an interception and Minnesota lost three fumbles.

The Vikings’ special teams let them down against the Eagles, too. The punt coverage team allowed a 98-yard return for a touchdown, and Marcus Sherels fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter, giving the Eagles the ball just past midfield in Minnesota territory. Philadelphia turned Sherels’ mistake into a field goal.

It’s a precipitous drop from being considered the class of the league to looking completely outmatched. Even the dominant Vikings defense, the top unit in the NFL, gave up a season-high 21 points to Carson Wentz and company.

Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn told SI that it’s not quite time for Vikings fans to panic after one loss, but the team has to make corrections, and quickly.

“It’s like that Aaron Rodgers quote, R-E-L-A-X,” Munnerlyn said after the game. “We just have to fix it. We have a lot of football left to play. But ain’t nobody in the NFL going to wait on us to fix our problems. Teams are not going to wait for us to fix our problems. We have to do it next week.”

After watching the tape, Zimmer said that the loss was uncharacteristic, and he believes the team will bounce back this week.

“We did several dumb things in this football game that we characteristically [don’t do],” Zimmer said. “We kind of pride ourselves on trying to be a smart football team, and we didn’t do a lot of smart things in this game.”

Panic index: Even though it’s a little weird that Munnerlyn invoked a division rival, his message to Vikings fans is valid. Minnesota is 5-1. R-E-L-A-X.

Avert your eyes, the Titans and Jaguars are on Thursday Night Football again

You may not have heard — okay, you have definitely heard — but the NFL’s primetime games this year have been as watchable as Matt LeBlanc’s new show, Man with a Plan, about a husband who has to figure out how to raise his kids when his wife goes back to work. Yes, that’s the premise of a show. In the year 2016.

(Yo, Matt LeBlanc: you’ve got Friends money. You don’t HAVE to work.)

And after another lackluster slate in which the most exciting national game was a 6-6 slugfest between the Seahawks and Cardinals, what kicks off this week? An AFC South matchup on Thursday night. And not just any two teams in the league’s most toilet water division, but the worst two teams in the league’s most toilet water division. The horror, the horror!

Panic index: Luckily, we’re a step above the poop emoji game that Jags-Titans used to be. And honestly, this can’t be worse than some of the other Thursday Night Football games this year. Anyone remember anything that happened between the Dolphins and Bengals? Didn’t think so. We’re pretty sure the NFL used a Neuralyzer to strike that from the nation’s memory.

The Titans usurped the Chargers’ crown as “team most likely to crush your hopes and dreams”

The 3-3 Titans stood two minutes from a place atop the AFC South on Sunday. Two huge stops threw an Indianapolis team with a limited running game and the league’s worst offensive line into a third-and-goal situation trailing 23-20. Another big defensive play promised to return the ball to Marcus Mariota’s hands in a tie game with 100 seconds to go.

Instead, the Colts put on a tribute to Indiana hero Reggie Miller and scored 14 points in eight seconds to win their 10th straight against the Titans. A defensive breakdown and Robert Mathis’ scoop-and-score off a Mariota fumble dashed Tennessee’s claim to a spot atop the division. What’s worse is that the ending was entirely predictable. Other than a clutch touchdown pass to Andre Johnson in a Week 2 win over Detroit, Tennessee’s inability to win close games has been its hallmark in 2016.

And there have been plenty of close games. The Titans have led or trailed by seven points or fewer every week this season. They squandered four drives while trailing Oakland in Week 3 before effectively ending the game at the Raiders’ 23-yard line after a game-tying touchdown was nullified by offensive pass interference.

One week later, they had three opportunities to match Houston after the Texans notched a go-ahead Will Fuller punt return. Instead, their final effort stalled out at the Houston 28. It’s not just that the Titans are losing, it’s that they’re doing just enough to instill hope in a fan base desperately waiting for a return to relevance before smashing them like a seagull dropping a wayward crab onto the rocks below. The frustration starts in the locker room.

“We let this one get away from us,” said tight end Delanie Walker. “We had it, and I think everyone feels the same way right now. We feel like we let this one go. They keep finding a way to beat us, and that has to stop.”

Tennessee needed a win Sunday to create some insurance heading into a tough back end of the 2016 schedule. The Titans only played four teams with winning records through seven weeks, but they’ll also face off with Indianapolis and Houston teams they’ve already lost to. There’s still a road to a divisional title in a grim AFC South, but it got much rockier with a 3-4 record.

Panic index: If the AFC South were a wrestler, it would be James Ellsworth (on right). Any team with two hands has a fighting chance.

The losing has only just begun for Washington

Washington snapped a four-game winning streak with a tough 20-17 loss to the Lions on Sunday. The team’s fans may be ready to write off the heartbreaking loss due in part to the stellar performance of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who completed 30 of 39 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown while also scampering for a late 19-yard rushing TD that nearly sealed the deal for the burgundy and gold.

Unfortunately for Washington fans, the injury-ravaged squad suffered two more injuries Sunday, when cornerback Josh Norman and offensive lineman Trent Williams exited with a concussion and a knee injury, respectively. Additionally, tight end Jordan Reed remained out on Sunday with a concussion of his own and may be sidelined again this week if he does not pass through concussion protocol in time.

Washington’s running back situation remains up in the air after Matt Jones fumbled twice and Chris Thompson saw increased reps. Head coach Jay Gruden provided additional info on that situation Monday.

“We don’t want to overdo it with [Thompson]—he’s still not a very big guy,” Gruden said. As far as Jones, Gruden expressed some optimism: “We’re not going to give up on Matt [Jones]. We just have got to make sure that he protects the dang football.”

But the issues for Washington may be too much to bear in the next six games. First the team travels to London for a Sunday morning matchup with the 3-4 Bengals. After the ensuing bye week, Washington will face the Vikings and Packers, currently 5-1 and 4-2, respectively, at home before heading on a three-game road trip that sees them face the Cowboys on short rest on Thanksgiving Day. After that, they’ll take on the Cardinals and the Eagles.

In that span, Washington will play the four current best teams in the NFC as well as the 3-3-1 Cardinals, who demonstrated their defensive prowess in Sunday night’s 6-6 tie against the Seahawks. Washington won the NFC East last year at 9-7 as the only team in the division above .500, but as of right now all four teams sit above the .500 mark and the division will presumably be much harder to win due to all four teams doing well.

Whether or not Washington, currently sitting at 4-3, makes the playoffs will likely be determined by its performance over this difficult six-game span.

Panic index: It’s time to ask yourself Kirk Cousins’ famous question when it comes to Washington’s schedule. “You Like That?” If you’re a Washington fan, probably not.

Geno Smith’s last shot at starting is over

Geno Smith’s career has been one long, painful ride. In his rookie season, he led the Jets to an 8-8 record, throwing for 3,046 yards with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. His second year wasn’t much better, with the team going 3-10 in his 13 starts.

But there’s something hardly anyone remembers: his last four starts were actually pretty good! He completed 65 percent of his passes and threw for over 1,000 yards, including six touchdowns and just two picks.

Then there was 2015. Smith was sucker punched in the Jets’ locker room by defensive end IK Enemkpali, which led to him being out for an extended period of time. After showing promise in his place, Ryan Fitzpatrick stole his job. In the only action Smith got in 2015, he again looked decent, throwing for 265 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.

This season, Fitzpatrick led the Jets to a 1-5 start, throwing just six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Their Week 6 showing was so bad, it paved the way for Smith’s return.

The return ended up being brief when Smith tore his ACL in the second quarter of Week 7. While it was fleeting, Smith once again looked serviceable in his return. Even when Smith appears to get his chances, they go away faster than they came.

Panic index: His season is over and his Jets career likely is, too, but it might not be the worst thing the way the Jets are looking. Another team will sign him in the offseason and he’ll get a chance for a fresh start.

The injury is unfortunate, but hey, at least you’re not the quarterback of the Browns, Geno. (Yet?)