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NFL Panic Index 2019: Baker Mayfield has the rest of the league coming after him

This week’s panic index is all about the QB. Mayfield has made a lot of enemies, Tom Brady’s looking older, and Patrick Mahomes is banged up.

49ers DE Nick Bosa is upright as he wraps arms around Browns QB Baker Mayfield for a sack
Nick Bosa got some long-awaited revenge on Baker Mayfield.

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the starting quarterback situations throughout the league. Things did not appear to be going well for the NFL’s most important position.

And then something funny happened: most of these teams ended up just fine. The Saints have gone 3-0 with Teddy Bridgewater starting for Drew Brees. Same for Kyle Allen, who’s filling in for Cam Newton. Gardner Minshew has either led the Jaguars to a win or at least given them a chance to win every game. Daniel Jones has been way better than most of us thought he’d be!

Meanwhile, the Jets get Sam Darnold and his spleen back this week, and the Dolphins are at least giving Josh Rosen a shot.

Now, however, it’s the established quarterbacks we might need to worry about. Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott have both slowed down after torrid starts. In his last 12 games, Jared Goff has a 13:14 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Patrick Mahomes has thrown one touchdown in the past two games. ONE.

What is going on? Like last time, will our hand-wringing be for nothing, or is there real reason to be concerned? Let’s check in on a handful of quarterbacks we all know and some love:

Baker Mayfield has made himself a big ol’ target with his antics

Mayfield has always, unapologetically (or fake apologetically), been himself. You know what you’re getting with him. He’ll say what’s on his mind and a lot of the time, that means one thing: talking trash.

For some, he was a breath of fresh air in the NFL, a league that doesn’t exactly encourage individualism. For others, he was a whiny brat who picked fights for no reason other than because he wanted to feel disrespected.

Nothing encapsulates that more than his first big national moment, before Mayfield even came into the NFL, when he planted the Oklahoma flag on Ohio State’s turf his senior year. That was supposed revenge for the Buckeyes singing their alma mater— a tradition the team does after every game, home or away — on OU’s field after they had beaten the Sooners in 2016.

No one had really forgotten about that, though many Ohioans had forgiven Mayfield’s behavior once he was drafted by the Browns and shot to stardom with his record-setting rookie season.

But you know who hadn’t forgiven Mayfield? Nick Bosa, who is a large, strong fella no one would ever want to be tackled by. And the rookie pass rusher finally got his payback two years later with a bullying performance in the 49ers’ dominant win over the Browns. Bosa totaled four tackles, two sacks (should’ve been three), two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two flag plants of his own:

After the game, Bosa said Mayfield “had it coming.” Mayfield might want to treat those words a warning, because it’s not just Bosa he has rubbed the wrong way.

Bosa’s teammate, Richard Sherman, said the 49ers were miffed when Mayfield snubbed them by running off immediately after the pregame coin toss (in what soon devolved into #HandshakeGate):

“He hasn’t earned anything in this league. How many games has he won? He’s acting like he was the MVP last year,” Sherman told Michael Silver. “You humble him every chance you get. Because eventually, he will have respect for the league.”

Sherman picked him off two minutes into the game.

Now, Mayfield — someone who is fueled by criticism, real or imagined — is giving his opponents extra motivation to come after him on the field.

Panic index: Mayfield doesn’t have to change his personality, but the best way he can shut the haters up is to start winning again. His numbers have dropped significantly in his second year as he’s struggled against any team with a good defense. So far, he’s completed just 55.9 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and a league-leading eight interceptions.

Based on what Bosa said — “He was panicking, rolling back and forth, double-clutching all game” — Mayfield doesn’t seem to be playing with much confidence, either.

On the other hand, maybe getting a taste of his own medicine is the kind of spiteful incentive Mayfield needed to overcome his sophomore slump.

Tom Brady actually looks mortal

Could it be? Is the end of Brady’s reign of terror finally here?

Yeah, the Patriots are 5-0, but that’s mostly because of a No. 1 ranked defense that still hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown and has a league-leading 11 interceptions. Brady, on the other hand, has just been OK.

There are 10 starting quarterbacks with a passer rating in the triple digits — including Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew, Mason Rudolph, and Kirk Cousins — but Brady is just below that mark. In Week 4, he threw for just 150 yards with no touchdowns and one interception against the Bills. Had the New England defense not forced four turnovers and held Buffalo to 10 points, Brady’s awful day would’ve cost his team a win.

While he bounced back with three touchdowns against Washington a week later, he still threw an uncharacteristically bad interception in the red zone.

Brady is 42. It was only a matter of time before he stopped being one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Is that time now?

Panic index: Brady looked too old at times last year and still won a Super Bowl. The same was true in 2017, but he finished as the NFL MVP and, yep, he went to the Super Bowl.

If history is any indication, Brady can certainly bounce back. And even if this is the new normal for the 42-year-old version of Brady, the Patriots are still mowing through the competition.

Don’t count out Touchdown Tom.

Patrick Mahomes is not completely healthy

That’s a pretty concerning thing to read if you’re a Chiefs fan, or really just any NFL fan who enjoys seeing what a healthy Mahomes does on a weekly basis. But that’s the reality Kansas City is facing.

Mahomes suffered an ankle injury during the Chiefs’ Week 1 game against the Jaguars, and he re-aggravated it again during a Week 5 upset loss to the Indianapolis Colts. In Jacksonville, he sprained his left ankle while taking a sack:

He left briefly to get the ankle taped, though he did finish out the game.

That same ankle got hurt again when it got rolled up on in the first half against the Colts. Then in the second half, his own lineman, Cameron Erving, accidentally stepped on it after he got pushed back from the line:

Mahomes hasn’t missed a game yet all season, but it’s clearly bothering him. He was limping around on Sunday night and wasn’t moving as well in and out of the pocket as he usually does. His numbers are just one indication of that. He’s thrown just one touchdown pass in his last two games, and he’s missing his receivers a little more.

Even more, he won’t get a bye week until Week 12, which doesn’t give Mahomes much time to rest his ankle.

Panic Index: While Mahomes’ numbers have dipped a little in recent weeks, he’s still leading the league in passing yards, yards per throw, fewest (zero) interceptions thrown (zero). The Chiefs can get by for a while with a semi-healthy Mahomes. After all, he can still do this even when he’s hampered:

However, their best shot at taking down the Patriots for the AFC championship means having Mahomes at full speed.

Last time, Mahomes was able to bounce back from his Week 1 injury to throw four touchdowns the next game. As long as he doesn’t keep re-injuring his ankle or getting stepped on by his own teammates, he should be fine.

NFL defenses have caught up to Daniel Jones

Jones rewarded general manager Dave Gettleman’s faith in his first two starts as a Giant. The 2019 sixth overall pick got off to a 2-0 start by leading an 18-point second-half comeback against the Buccaneers and then dusting Washington in his follow-up.

But cracks began to form in Week 4, and they threatened to crumble Jones’ game one week later. The New York quarterback’s magic ran out against the Vikings, whose smothering defense afforded him few opportunities. They held him to a dire 4.8 yards per pass, with 13 of his 21 completions coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage, while seven didn’t make it past where the ball had been snapped.

In his past two games, Jones has two touchdown passes and three interceptions. Things will get worse before they get better. Not only does the rookie have to face the league’s stingiest defense on Thursday night when he faces Bill Belichick’s Patriots, but he’ll be without several of his most important weapons.

Saquon Barkley won’t play thanks to the ankle sprain he suffered in Week 3. Wayne Gallman left Week 5 with a head injury and has been limited in practice since. Sterling Shepard is dealing with his second concussion of the season and will miss an undisclosed amount of time to recover. Evan Engram, by far the team’s top target so far, won’t play Thursday night thanks to a sprained MCL. Golden Tate is back in the lineup after serving a four-game PED suspension, but he had just three catches (on six targets) for 13 yards in his 2019 debut.

As a result, Jones will be throwing passes to a receiving corps where only one player — Bennie Fowler, who was released last week— has double-digit receptions through five weeks. His running game could be anchored by undrafted rookie Jon Hilliman and his 2.8 yard per carry average.

That’s a rough situation for a rookie quarterback who needs all the help he can get against the defending champions on the road.

Panic index: Expectations are low for Thursday night; New York is a 16.5-point underdog in its quest to get back to .500 on the season. Fortunately for Jones, Baker Mayfield already set a fairly tragic standard for the rookie to avoid being the most disappointing quarterback of this calendar week.