Nothing about this season feels right. Whether it’s the postponed games due to Covid outbreaks, or more subtle weirdness like the Browns beating Dallas in a shootout, there’s this lingering feeling that football itself knows games shouldn’t be happening, and is returning the favor with some of the weirdest results imaginable.
At least Bill O’Brien has finally been fired by the Houston Texans after an 0-4 start. Maybe this is proof that the universe will soon start to correct itself? We can only hope.
Before we dive in, shout out to the NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles for proving the sweetest victories are the ones won by default. Leading the division with a 1-2-1 record is sublime, and feels utterly appropriate for 2020. Once the proudest division in the NFL, the NFC East is a laughing stock — and really puts the cherry on everything we see week in, week out.
Let’s get to winners and losers.
Winner: DeShaun Watson
No, Watson didn’t pick up his first win of the season this week — the Texans lost, 31-23, to the previously winless Minnesota Vikings. The former Clemson quarterback did find to start his groove in the passing game, finishing with 300 yards through the air, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. More importantly, BILL O’BRIEN HAS BEEN FIRED. In that respect, maybe this dreadful 0-4 start will go down as the best thing to ever happen to Watson and the Texans.
The man who traded Watson’s best receiver DeAndre Hopkins? He’s gone. The man who routinely helped the team bungle the salary gone? He’s out. Watson is a winner for this even as he loses yet another game this season. Better days are ahead for one of the brightest young passers in the game. New leadership is around the corner, and there are very few jobs more appealing than building around Watson.
Loser: Brian Hoyer
The Patriots got to see what life is like without a franchise quarterback this week after Cam Newton received a positive Covid test. It wasn’t pretty. Veteran journeyman QB Brian Hoyer started the game, and he did what we can count on Brian Hoyer to do: he lost, and looked dreadful doing it. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs coasted to a 26-10 win on Monday night to drop New England to 2-2 on the year.
Hoyer has now lost 11 straight starts for three different teams, per ESPN. He finished the game 15-of-24 for 130 yards and an interception before being benched in the third quarter for Jarrett Stidham.
Hoyer has been around the league for a long time, and certainly has plenty of veteran knowledge to share. But at this point, it’s hard to expect him to lead any team to a win when he’s actually on the field. The Pats learned that lesson the hard way. Get well soon, Cam.
Winner: Cleveland Browns.
It isn’t just that the Browns are 3-1 right now, and honestly competing for a playoff berth early in the season, it’s that beating the Cowboys, in an offensive slug fest, feels so counter to how this team plays that it still feels unbelievable.
Cleveland gave us not only one of the most herculean efforts of the weekend, but one of the funniest too — and it was so Browns it hurts. Only this team could score 49 points in a game where Baker Mayfield only throws for 165 yards, instead leaning on a run game that lost Nick Chubb, and had a major rushing contribution from Odell Beckham Jr.
Now look, I’m aware the Browns have kind of back doored their way into their 3-1 record. Beating the Bengals and Football Team isn’t exactly the kind of stellar play that makes you believe, but sticking it to the Cowboys in Dallas and prompting a meltdown in the process is something special. Bask in the glory, Browns fans, you deserve it.
Loser: Arizona Cardinals.
Did the Cardinals miss the memo from everyone else that they’re supposed to be breaking out this season? All the pieces were supposedly in place. They have the quarterback, they traded for DeAndre Hopkins. We were all supposed to believe, dammit — and then they come out and lose to the Panthers, who didn’t even have Christian McCaffery.
Look, to Carolina’s credit the team is starting to gel and playing much better than anyone’s expectations, but this is the kind of game that will haunt the Cardinals for the rest of the year. The NFC West is far too tight, and way too compeditive to drop games like this one in Carolina and still reasonably believe they can make the post season.
Kyler Murray threw the ball 31 times for 133 yards, which is bad enough on its own, before we mention that Larry Fitzgerald was barely a factor against a bad Carolina pass defense. Mark my words: If it’s late December and the Cardinals miss the playoffs by one game, this is the one people will circle and say “How the hell did this happen?”
Winner: Green Bay Packers
The Packers are on fire to open the season. Green Bay defeated the winless Atlanta Falcons, 30-16, on Monday night to improve to 4-0. Yes, Aaron Rodgers was brilliant, finishing with 327 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. It’s the first time Green Bay has ever put up 30 points in four straight games to start the season.
Rodgers appears to have found a new favorite target in tight end Robert Tonyan, who caught three TDs on the night. Green Bay also looked solid defensively against the typically high-powered Atlanta offense. Za’Darius Smith had three sacks, with the Packers’ pass rush shining all night.
Winner: Justin Herbert
The plan wasn’t to have Herbert starting this soon, but fate found a way by accidentally plunging a needle into Tyrod Taylor’s lung — which I can’t believe is a sentence I’m typing, but here we are.
Herbert has made the most of the opportunity, and Sunday against the Buccaneers showed how far he’s come. Up against one of the most violence and intimidating defenses in the NFL, Herbert picked them apart for 290 yards, completing 80 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns in the process.
He did all this despite continuing to look like the star of a Disney Channel original movie about a high school quarterback who finds love in an unlikely place when he falls for the school nerd. She teaches him that there’s more to life that just sport, and he learns that the biggest plays in life don’t come on the field.
keep learning, keep growing. pic.twitter.com/obv38u81SL— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) October 4, 2020
Loser: Nick Foles.
Remember when Foles had everyone buying in to the Chicago Bears being for real and bringing this team back to prominence? Lol, that lasted a week. Foles was bad on Sunday against the Colts, so bad that this looked like a different team.
Chicago seem destined to have a weekly QB controversy, with Foles and Mitchell Trubisky duking it out to see who can out-fail each other at the position and let the entire city down. Thank god there’s Allen Robinson to bail out whoever is under center and at least make them look semi-normal, otherwise this would be one of the ugliest offenses in the NFL. Well, it’s still ugly.
Let’s give this another week or so to progress, but the QB problems for the Bears are going to be a thing all season long.
Winner: Joe Mixon.
Easily the best running performance of the week came from an semi-unexpected source. It’s not like Mixon isn’t great, in fact he’s one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL, which comes from playing in Cincinnati — but on Sunday he absolutely went off on the Jaguars.
Finishing with 181 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, Mixon was utterly unstoppable and the Jaguars were reeling from the jump. It’s clear they had no answers for the Bengals’ running back, and he ate them alive as a reward. Granted, it’s going to be much more difficult to put up big numbers next week against the Ravens, but for now he can bask in the glory of a game well played.
Loser: Everything about the New York Giants.
The Giants are just so, so sad. One of the league’s winless teams, the Giants can’t do anything right. To their credit they caught the Rams sleeping and put up a bit of a fight, but didn’t really deserve too, all things considered.
Talk of Dave Gettleman being a genius for selecting Daniel Jones when everyone had doubts is now silences. Jones has been beyond awful this season, and it’s going to make for some major drama should the Giants still be this bad at the end of the season and find themselves in a position to draft Trevor Lawrence. This is the timeline I kind of want to see. Both the Jets and Giants have spent early picks on quarterbacks in recent years, neither look like they are the real deal, leaving them to admit their mistakes on draft night and make the pick — or be stubborn and wallow in mediocrity for another decade.
Winner: Josh Allen.
He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Yes, here we are once again. Another week, another stunning Josh Allen performance that’s going to fly under the radar and not get noticed enough outside of Buffalo.
Part of this has to do with the fact that Allen still has his doubters on the national stage, but sooner or later people are going to wake up. The Raiders are a good football team. This wasn’t a gimme game, and yet he still put up numbers to keep him on course for 5,000 passing yards and over 50 touchdowns on the year.
I’ll keep noticing you, Josh Allen. I promise.