Monday Morning Digest: Giants a Mess with or Without McAdoo, Saints Surging
In this week's edition of Monday Morning Digest...
• Jimmy Garoppolo makes an impressive debut, but the 49ers need to get him some help.
• Josh Gordon makes an impressive return, but the Browns need to get themselves some help.
• The Silverdome, unlike the Lions, refuses to implode.
And much more. Starting with what should be the last hours of Ben McAdoo's reign of error.
Giants Have a Bigger Problem Than Ben McAdoo
Farewell, Ben McAdoo. The only thing uglier than the way you ran the Giants this season was the way the organization hung you out at the end.
Farewell, Jerry Reese. Your grand experiment to build one last Super Bowl team for Eli Manning blew up in your face. And at the end, your fingerprints were found all over the fuse.
The Giants fired both their head coach and general manager on Monday morning, according to multiple reports. The decision came less than one week after McAdoo benched Manning for Geno Smith, igniting a maelstrom among fans and Giants alumni and provoking upper management to rescind their earlier vote of confidence that McAdoo would finish the season. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will take over as interim head coach, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
McAdoo has been a virtual lame duck since the Giants' 0-5 start. But Reese's departure speaks to a deeper fissure in the Giants command structure, one that even a severe housecleaning may not repair.
Reese assembled an expensive, combustible mix of personalities over the last two seasons, adding Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Brandon Marshall to a roster that already included Odell Beckham, Jason Pierre-Paul and the quietly formidable Manning. He then ignored several key needs (offensive tackle, running back) while turning a mercurial locker room over to McAdoo, a tape-grinder and playbook-scribbler with rudimentary interpersonal chops.
Reese's plan backfired almost immediately this season, with the offensive line crumbling early and factions of the locker room quickly downshifting into paycheck mode. But Reese isn't just bearing the blame for his roster and payroll management. Monday's firing suggests he is also being held accountable for approving (or at least not overruling) McAdoo's hare-brained Geno Smith tactic.
As Giants owner John Mara and president Steve Tisch begin the search for a new football staff and a new organizational direction, lingering questions remains. Why was McAdoo given that midseason vote of confidence in the first place? Why wasn't he fired during the Giants' bye week, or after the blowout loss to the Rams? Couldn't the organization have anticipated something like the Manning benching from a flailing coach? Isn't the whole point of a vote of confidence that the coach gets to go out on his terms, no matter how asinine those terms may be?
Monday's firings suggest the Giants want to answer all of those questions with "those were Reese's decisions." And some of them were. But some of the waffling and swayed-by-popular-opinion decisions clearly came from the top. The Giants, proud holders of a "high-class organization" reputation long overdue for re-evaluation, appear to be more concerned about what the rest of the league thinks of them than how well their team is performing.
The Giants are likely to find better decision-makers than Reese and McAdoo to run their organization next year. Let's hope the new head coach and GM are given the chance to make decisions.
Bold Predictions (non-Giants Coaching Situation Edition)
Some predictions and observations, mostly taken from Sunday's early games, featuring no Giants bashing whatsoever. Granted, pointing out that there is no Giants bashing is basically passive-aggressive Giants bashing. But anyway...
• The Lions will try to play Matthew Stafford with a badly bruised hand next week, because the alternative is Jake Rudock, the former Iowa and Michigan quarterback who personifies why no Big 10 team will participate in the College Football Playoff. (Hush, Buckeyes fans.) The Lions have three winnable games (Buccaneers, Bears and Bengals) on the upcoming schedule, but they will drop at least one—and drop out of the playoffs—because they are just another team which cannot trust its backup even to mop up a blowout with embarrassing himself.
• With Tyrod Taylor injured, this week in Buffalo will play out like the Tyrod Benching Saga three weeks ago. The Anti-Tyrod Truthers know that if Nathan Peterman only throws three or four interceptions against the Colts (the NFL's worst defense), they can chalk it up as progress. Meanwhile, Bills head coach Sean McDermott will get a pass for a defensive game plan that centered on letting Rob Gronkowski roam the middle of the field against soft zone coverage.
• The groundswell in Kansas City will switch gears from "start Patrick Mahomes because Alex Smith stinks!" to "start Patrick Mahomes because we have no hope this season anyway!"
• The Vance Joseph hot seat in Denver will get cranked up to pizza-oven levels after that 35-9 debacle at the hands of the Dolphins. John Elway has two Super Bowl rings, one for each finger he points when assigning blame for this awful Broncos season.
• Gronkowski will receive a one-game suspension for spearing Tre'Davious White late in the Patriots-Bills game, and conspiracy theorists will claim the penalty is either too harsh or not harsh enough because of DeflateGate. After all, it isn't like the NFL has been mired in approximately 200 controversies since then and has nothing better to do but use the consequences of blatant cheap shots to settle old grudges.
Game Spotlight: Seahawks 24, Eagles 10
The Seahawks built first- and third-quarter touchdown drives out of Russell Wilson miracles and Eagles defensive penalties. Meanwhile, the Seattle noise got into the Eagles' heads. They punted on two manageable conversions in the first half and failed on 4th-and-3 in safe field-goal range, while Carson Wentz fumbled a would-be touchdown through the end zone for a touchback.
With the game slipping away, Wentz went into "When in Rome" mode, scrambling to complete a pair of long passes to Nelson Agholor and closing the gap to 17-10 early in the fourth quarter. Not to be outdone, Wilson improvised one more scoring drive, this time "lateraling" (or perhaps getting away with a forward pass downfield) to Mike Davis to convert a third down and set up a touchdown pass to J.D. McKissic that put the game out of reach.
What it means
• The Seahawks are now one game ahead of the Falcons in the wild-card race. They are still in position to possibly win the NFC West and earn (gulp) home playoff games.
• Wilson should get significant MVP consideration (as should Wentz, despite Sunday's loss) after once again generating nearly 100 percent of the Seahawks offense. But that would require a majority of voters to admit scrambling quarterbacks are the equals of pocket passers, so it won't happen.
• Seattle may be passing Foxborough as the location most likely to cause opponents to get the turbo-yips. From early Wentz misfires to Eagles head coach Doug Pederson's first-half reluctance to go for it on 4th-and-short, the Eagles were noticeably tight through the first three quarters.
• The Eagles need to prove they can beat playoff-caliber opponents in hostile environments, particularly with the Vikings, Saints and Rams all closing the gap in the NFC race. That said, this game was closer than the final score would indicate.
• While there are obvious gaps in the Seahawks secondary without Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, their front seven has proved capable of picking up the slack over the past two weeks.
The Eagles remain on the West Coast to face the Rams next Sunday. The Seahawks travel to Jacksonville to show the upstart Jaguars how winning with defense and mayhem is done.
Player Spotlight: Josh Gordon, WR, Browns
In his first NFL regular-season game since 2014, Gordon caught four passes on 11 targets for 85 yards in the Browns' 19-10 loss to the Chargers.
Gordon's highlights included a 39-yard catch-and-stiff-arm run late in the fourth quarter and an earlier leaping sideline grab for 28 yards, both against Casey Hayward, the Pro Bowl Chargers cornerback playing just days after his brother's funeral.
What it means
It's great to see Gordon back after years of substance abuse issues and suspensions. For anyone who has seen addiction ravage loved ones (as most of us have), Gordon's return was inspirational. He looked sharp, played well against an outstanding defender and proved he can be an asset for the Browns in the future.
Now, about the Browns...
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported early Sunday that Hue Jackson planned to make Gordon the focal point of the Browns offense Sunday, adding special plays and limiting the designed plays for other receivers. Sure enough, while tight end David Njoku caught four passes and scored a touchdown on six targets, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman combined for just two catches for 10 yards on seven targets, and no other wide receiver garnered a target.
So after two years of building, the rest of Jackson's receiving corps is so anemic that they were rendered immediately irrelevant by a receiver whose last catch was thrown by Brian Hoyer. Coleman and Britt are a first-round pick and a prized free-agent signee, respectively, not Moneyball placeholders. Even all-purpose back Duke Johnson was limited to nine touches. It's almost as though Jackson has forgotten how to feature more than one player in his offense at a time.
That Gordon instantaneously became the best player on the field for the Browns offense reflects poorly on everyone in the Browns organization except Gordon.
And if you claim they are losing on purpose for a higher draft pick, that just makes everything worse.
The Browns host the not-yet-eliminated Packers. A Josh Gordon Wildcat package is neither off the table nor a terrible idea.
Game Spotlight: Saints 31, Panthers 21
Alvin Kamara gained 126 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns. Mark Ingram added a 72-yard run. The Saints defense stiffened after a soft opening drive, limiting the Panthers offense to Cam Newton scrambles and Christian McCaffrey checkdown passes. (Yes, that's the bulk of the Panthers offense anyway, but the Saints even limited the scrambles and checkdowns).
The Saints weren't perfect as they claimed sole possession of first place in the NFC South. A Josh Hill fumble kept the Panthers in the game, a penalty nullified a Tommylee Lewis punt-return touchdown and Wil Lutz missed a chip-shot field-goal attempt. But there was no question which team was better on Sunday. And after the Vikings beat the Falcons, there is no question which team is the best in the NFC South, either.
What it means
The Saints now have a 3-0 division record and a 7-2 conference record. A sweep of the Panthers gives them the inside track for NFC South tiebreakers. They are in excellent playoff-scenario shape (though last week's loss to the Rams could cost them a first-round bye). They are also getting healthier. Cornerback Ken Crawley returned Sunday, and fellow cornerback Marshon Lattimore should return soon.
Meanwhile, Cam Newton threw passes to people named Damiere Byrd and Chris Manhertz (be mature, folks) on Sunday. The Panthers have so few playmakers on offense that their defense and special teams must play perfectly for them to win each week. Michael Palardy bumbled a snap while punting and Kaelin Clay (the hero of the Jets game) fumbled a return late in the fourth quarter. Factor in a few defensive lapses, and the Panthers did not stand a chance.
That brand of sloppy, one-dimensional football might work in the AFC West, but in the NFC South, it will knock the Panthers out of the playoffs.
The Saints visit the Falcons, and the Panthers host the Vikings in Part 2 of the NFC pre-playoff round robin. Two Saints-Falcons games in the next three weeks will help determine how far the Saints are capable of going in the postseason.
Oh, and one more thing: Did you ever imagine you would read six paragraphs about a 9-3 Saints team without a single mention of Drew Brees?
Player Spotlight: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Garoppolo completed 26 of 37 passes for 293 yards and an interception in a 15-14 win against the Bears. Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller wrested that lone pick from the hands of receiver Louis Murphy.
Garoppolo led five scoring drives of 55-plus yards, including an 86-yard game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. But the 49ers kept settling for Robbie Gould field goals because of red-zone miscues such as penalties and bobbled passes.
Overall, Garoppolo's first start for the 49ers looked much better on the field than it did on the scoreboard.
What it means
The 49ers were an impressive 10-of-18 on third-down conversions. Garoppolo completed passes to convert five third downs of eight to 10 yards, including a 3rd-and-9 slant to Trent Taylor that netted 33 yards on the final drive. Garoppolo also bought time in the pocket and made good decisions under pressure.
Garoppolo looked like the kind of quarterback who can succeed in head coach Kyle Shanahan's system, given some decent weapons. If he keeps playing like he did Sunday, the 49ers can concentrate their offseason efforts on finding those weapons.
A three-game tour of the AFC South. Garoppolo could build a little momentum against the Texans and Titans before facing a tougher test against the Jaguars—it still feels weird typing that—in the third.
Game Spotlight: Vikings 14, Falcons 9
Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings secondary held Julio Jones to just two short receptions and forced the Falcons to keep settling for field goals. But the Falcons defense also played well until a 15-play, 89-yard Vikings drive—highlighted by a 19-yard Stefon Diggs catch after a silky Case Keenum scramble—gave them a 14-9 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons then proved that they are as incapable of coming back as they are of holding leads. Head coach Dan Quinn sent Matt Bryant on the field to attempt a 45-yard field goal with 5:04 to play—down by five points, remember—but the usually dependable Bryant missed wide left.
The Vikings then ate up the final five minutes of the clock in what felt like two minutes of real time. Seriously: If you switched over to figure out why Rob Gronkowski was delivering atomic elbow drops in the Patriots win, then switched back, you missed the Vikings' final clock-killing drive. It was like head coach Mike Zimmer turned on the video game "accelerated clock" feature.
What it means
The Vikings have won eight straight games, the last three of which came against possible playoff teams. So if you are waiting for the most disciplined, efficient team in the NFL to crash to earth—or Case Keenum, who delivered yet another resourceful game against a tough pass rush—it's time to give up and accept the Vikings for what they are.
Our quest for clarity in the NFC playoff picture has taught us that no team is going to reach the postseason while playing dumb situational football. That eliminates the Falcons, who were 1-of-10 on third downs, had no answers in the passing game with Jones neutralized and keep discovering new ways to implode late in games.
Round 2 of the NFC pre-playoff round robin: Vikings at Panthers, Falcons host the Saints. Bold prediction: The Vikings and Saints emerge from the round robin as the big winners.
Inside the Numbers
Blake Bortles (26-for-35 for 309 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 3 rushes for 27 yards)
Blake Bortles was ballin'. This wasn't one of those games where the Jaguars defense took charge early and Bortles could just hand off and not lose. The Jaguars defense did take charge early, but Bortles delivered plenty of pinpoint downfield strikes and some timely scrambles to keep the Colts—whose defense is admittedly pathetic—from getting any funny comeback ideas.
Bortles may have stepped his game up because he is worried about Eli Manning arriving next year to take his job. NFL players don't really think this way, of course. But no explanation is too ridiculous for a great game from Blake Bortles.
DeMarco Murray (11 carries for 66 yards, 2 catches for 13 yards)
Murray gained 14 yards on one impressive first-quarter carry. He then celebrated by slipping and falling after the handoff on the next play.
A 13-yard Murray screen-and-run converted a key third down on one scoring drive, and 6.0 yards per rush is a big improvement on the 2.45 yards per rush he averaged over the previous six games. But Derrick Henry iced the victory over the Texans with a 75-yard touchdown to remind everyone that Murray has no business starting for the Titans.
Mike Wallace (5 catches for 116 yards on 8 targets)
About the only thing that felt more hallucinatory than seeing Blake Bortles perform like Aaron Rodgers was watching the Ravens offense score four touchdowns with actual drives (as opposed to interception returns to the 1-yard line or strings of roughing-the-passer penalties). A 66-yard Joe Flacco bomb to Mike Wallace seemed to give the Ravens a shot of self-confidence. Wallace also added several shorter completions to sustain drives.
As noted in Digests past: The Ravens will never be efficient on offense, so they might as well just throw a bunch of Flacco-to-Wallace bombs and hope the few plays that work really work.
Tyreek Hill (6 catches for 185 yards and 2 TDs on 9 targets)
Hill caught passes of 79, 40 and 40 yards, and he added a 24-yard punt return. Throwing deep once in a while is good, folks (see above).
Special sympathy shout-out here to Jets defensive back Rashard Robinson, who was beaten so badly on the 79-yarder that he was knocked to the ground by the breeze of Hill whooshing past him.
The Chiefs defense (38 points allowed, 488 net yards allowed)
Jets receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter—oops, Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson—each gained more than 100 receiving yards. The Jets converted on 13 of their 20 third-down attempts. Their time of possession was a ridiculous 42:49. They punted only twice. If you think any of these problems can be solved by replacing Alex Smith with Patrick Mahomes, please report to the Football Knowledge Remediation Center for an immediate intervention.
Travis Coons (4-of-5 FGs, 1 XP)
Kicking for the Chargers in place of injured (and ineffective) Nick Novak, Coons bounced a 38-yarder off the right upright but nailed 21-, 22-, 27- and 40-yarders. For a Chargers team that could be the AFC West frontrunners for want of a reliable kicker, a guy who can deliver itty-bitty field goals at an 80 percent clip must look like Morten Andersen.
Defender of the Week
Not only did Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard intercept two passes—returning one for a touchdown—but he helped limit Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to four catches for 38 yards on a whopping 17 targets. Trevor Siemian also had something to do with those interceptions and incompletions, but still: It was an excellent afternoon for Howard and the Dolphins secondary.
Offensive Line of the Week
The Saints once again earn this week's honor. Andrus Peat, Senio Kelemete, Max Unger, Larry Warford and Ryan Ramczyk held the rugged Panthers pass rush to just two sacks while helping Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram churn out 145 rushing yards and more than six yards per carry. Regular left tackle Terron Armstead (shoulder) was active but did not play. His imminent return is one more reason to look out for the Saints during the home stretch.
Special Teamer of the Week
Tarik Cohen's winding 61-yard punt return touchdown conjured memories of Dante Hall and Devin Hester. Cohen almost added a 64-yarder that could have helped the Bears hold off the 49ers.
Mystery Touch of the Week
Jaguars punter Brad Nortman made the first pass attempt of his NFL career count, hitting reserve tight end James O'Shaughnessy for an early-game 29-yard fake-punt completion that took what little life the Colts have these days out of them.
Mystery Wildcat of the Week
Joe Webb, America's favorite special teamer/third-string quarterback, rushed three times for 27 yards and threw an incomplete pass during that awkward period when Tyrod Taylor was too injured to play effectively but not injured enough for Bills head coach Sean McDermott to risk exposing Nathan Peterman to further ridicule. The Bills could win their next two games (Colts and Dolphins at home) by starting Webb and just running options, but they are more likely do something else and lose one of them.
Touchdown Celebration of the Week
Latavius Murray's Dirty Bird and Leonard Fournette's free throw (with Jaguars teammates boxing each other out) were cool, but Alex Collins and the Ravens' tug-of-war wins, because children's playground games are more fun than rubbing extra salt in the wounds of the poor Falcons.
'Stanford Band Play' Failure of the Week
Give the Bears credit for putting more thought into the last-gasp desperation pitch play at the end of their loss to the 49ers. Several Bears huddled around the 49ers squib kick, then scattered to confuse defenders as Jay Bellamy emerged from the scrum with the ball and lateraled across the field to Cohen. Cohen didn't get far, but at least the Bears put some thought into ways to get the ball to the one guy with a slim chance of scoring a miracle touchdown. Note to other teams: If John Fox and his staff can do it, so can you.
Final notes from Sunday's action, on and off the field:
Silverdome implosion fails, turning the former Lions stadium into a hulking architectural ruin of a vanished era.
Keep the obvious Detroit jokes to yourself. Somewhere Barry Sanders is holding his arms outstretched, blood trickling from his nose, grunting "NOTHING...IMPLODES...UNTIL...I...SAY...SO."
Hash marks in Vikings-Falcons game painted incorrectly
The hash marks were seven inches closer to the middle of the field than they are supposed to be; the groundskeepers made the mistake while rushing to convert the field after the SEC title game. Thank heavens this did not happen in Foxborough, or the world literally would have ended Sunday.
Tom Brady curses out Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline after missing a throw.
Brady and Bill O'Brien got into a shouting match years ago; O’Brien ended up coaching Penn State, then the worst college coaching job imaginable. Congratulations on finally finding your head coach, University of Tennessee!
Aaron Rodgers practices Saturday, raising hope that he will return before season's end if the Packers are not eliminated.
James Brown speculated on the Fox postgame show that the Packers might stick with Brett Hundley because of "how well he is playing." Howie Long reacted like Brown had just driven a truck through someone's dining room.
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters throws penalty flag into the crowd during a late-game meltdown.
Jets fans took selfies with the flag. Chiefs fans argued Patrick Mahomes would have thrown it farther.
Andy Reid turns play-calling duties over to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy against the Jets.
Can Nagy call defensive plays as well? And manage the clock? And perhaps play a little cornerback?
Darrelle Revis plays for the Chiefs against the Jets while getting paid by the Jets.
Darrelle Revis should run for the Senate.