One-year wonders have a whole lot of longevity these days, and prima donnas have gotten a whole lot tougher.
Odell Beckham Jr. has been the subject of a lot of chatter this season.
Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore called him a "prima donna" last week, suggesting that Beckham's entire reputation is based on one highlight-reel catch.
Antonio Cromartie of the Jets doubled down and called Beckham a "one-year wonder." Cromartie was making a broader point about the need to sustain success in the NFL, but he has been interviewed in New York enough to know how the phrase "one-year wonder" plays in the press: He was making a dig.
Since when did NFL cornerbacks become Internet trolls, their commentary as fair and accurate as the crankiest opinions on the angriest Eagles message board? Maybe we led them to this point by hounding them as "overrated" and "not a shutdown cornerback" every time they allowed a routine catch.
Well, the one-year wonder is having a mighty impressive encore. Beckham caught seven passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' 30-27 win over the 49ers on Sunday night. The prima donna looked awfully tough, bouncing back from a hamstring injury to re-enter the game at a critical time in the fourth quarter.
The "one-year wonder" remark was inherently ridiculous. Beckham was on pace for 96 catches, 1,228 yards and eight touchdowns before he carved up the 49ers secondary with 49-yard and 31-yard completions, plus a 17-yard touchdown. Claiming he's eating lunch off a single highlight ignores little details like his 90 other receptions and 11 other touchdowns last season.
Cromartie hedged on Gilmore's gambit on that point, comparing Beckham's rookie season to Randy Moss' while providing some juicy headline hors d'oeuvres. He just ignored the fact that his remarks were already well past their expiration date.
Beckham is currently tied for 11th in the NFL in receptions and eighth in receiving yards. He's in good company, below the likes of DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin, Antonio Brown and…um…Allen Hurns in receiving yardage. He's among his peers, and also Allen Hurns.
Perhaps if Gilmore's Bills had beaten Beckham's Giants, or Cromartie's Jets had even faced them (they met in the preseason; Beckham caught five passes), they would have a better sense of Beckham's true talent level.
As for "prima donna," is that even an insult to a wide receiver? Beckham's histrionics, his celebrations after big plays and gesticulations after contact, can be grating, though they barely register a 2.3 on the Terrell Owens Richter Scale.
Cromartie's broad point contained some legitimate wisdom: Sustaining success in the NFL is difficult, especially in New York, where everything you say and do—and everything said and done to you—can and will be used against you in the court of back-page headlines and public opinion.
Beckham tweaked a hamstring after his third-quarter touchdown. He missed several series, and the Giants missed him. The 49ers scored two late touchdowns, but without Beckham, the Giants had to plod down the field with underneath passes to answer with field goals.
Beckham has frequent hamstring issues, and they tend to linger for weeks. If Beckham stayed on the bench while the Giants faltered, the Cromartie/Gilmore clickbait coalition would gain credence.
But Beckham returned for the final drive. He drew a pass interference penalty from Kenneth Acker. Maybe he was a gimpy decoy on that final drive, but he attracted plenty of defensive attention. He helped set up the Giants' game-winning touchdown, not with a one-handed catch or a cheap shot, but by playing through pain and putting a heady release move on an overmatched cornerback.
That's the kind of play that quiets the critics and starts to transform a hype-and-highlights player into a true NFL superstar. Not that Beckham was ever really just hype and a highlight montage.
If Acker or the 49ers secondary had anything negative to say about Beckham, we didn't hear it Monday morning. Cornerbacks should let their play do the talking and leave the midday sports talk to the experts. Beckham is making the Giants relevant again, and he is making the opinions of the cornerbacks who struggle to cover him irrelevant.
Rumble in the Jungle
No matter how hard they try, the Bengals cannot win a playoff game in October. All they can do is show us, week in and week out, who they really are and what they are capable of.
The Bengals showed the NFL just what they are capable of in their 27-24 overtime win against the Seahawks. They showed us that:
- They can beat a contender, even when that contender is playing well.
- They can score 27 points against a defense that had not allowed a touchdown in two weeks.
- They can come back from a 24-7 deficit against a defense that is often mentioned alongside the best in NFL history.
- They can trot their field-goal unit onto the field with less than 15 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left and execute a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.
- They can run and pass effectively against a great defense in overtime.
- They can generate sacks and third-down stops against the league's most elusive quarterback in overtime.
- They can overcome the mistakes and turnovers this year that have doomed them in big games for the last four years.
That last bullet point is the biggest one.
The old Bengals, the ones who get a lump in their throat whenever the stage gets big, were on the field for roughly a half Sunday. They took the field when an Andrew Whitworth holding penalty negated what would have been a 72-yard A.J. Green touchdown late in the first quarter. Old Andy Dalton threw an easy interception to Earl Thomas in the end zone a few drives later.
The old Bengals let Thomas Rawls have his own Beast Mode moment by breaking off an off-tackle run for 69 yards. They got too cute with the trickery, with Rex Burkhead coughing up an end-around fumble that became a Bobby Wagner defensive touchdown.
As the fourth quarter began, the Seahawks led by 17 points. The old Bengals would have either called it quits or made things even worse in their doomed comeback effort.
Then the new Bengals suddenly appeared. A Tyler Eifert touchdown. A defensive stop on 3rd-and-2. Six straight Dalton completions on the next drive. The Seahawks didn't see the Dalton touchdown sneak coming that no one sees coming: Every one of Dalton's 13 career rushing touchdowns has somehow been a surprise.
The new Bengals cut the Seahawks lead to three, then kept coming. A three-and-out defensive stop. More completions, to a variety of targets. Pass interference on Cary Williams, the weak Legion of Boom link. Dalton appeared to make a bonehead mistake when he was tackled in the middle of the field with no timeouts and just seconds left on the clock, but Mike Nugent hustled onto the field as if clutch field goals are always made with the clock ticking down 6...5...4...3...
Overtime brought calm and balance to the Bengals. Five different players received touches or targets across two drives. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson hid A.J. Green behind three blockers for a screen pass from "quads" formation that he must have been saving for a special occasion. (The Bengals also ran an early read-option with just three offensive linemen in front of Dalton; that may have been what Jackson meant by opening Pandora's Box in the offseason.)
Eifert made a diving catch. Giovani Bernard followed that with a 13-yard run to put the Bengals in 2015 field-goal range, which (for complex and not fully understood reasons) is about 10 yards closer than traditional field-goal range. Sure enough, Nugent needed every inch as he plunked the ball off the left upright and through.
The roster may look the same as ever, but the balance, composure and results are much different. These are the new Bengals, and they are real contenders in the AFC.
OK, Patriots fans, let's hear your rebuttal. Bengals? Puh-lese. Did you see what we did in Big D? Another massacre: We have outscored our last two opponents 81-23. As usual, the Patriots get zero respect because the lamestream media likes to pucker up and smooch the latest flavor of the month.
Yes, Patriots fans: The Patriots are the best team in the NFL. They beat a silly approximation of the Cowboys that couldn't complete a downfield pass this week and the always silly Jaguars the game prior. They will beat a silly approximation of the Colts next week.
The Bengals just beat a Super Bowl contender. They are winning against quality teams with real quarterbacks and healthy offenses. Their wins are impressive, not expected. They tell us more about the Bengals than all the Brandon Weeden checkdowns to Darren McFadden and easy pick-and-wheel completions against a porous defense could ever tell us about the Patriots. It's clear who leads the AFC. It is also clear who is gaining on them.
If you are still withholding judgment on the Bengals, still smirking and asserting that they will fold like a sofa-bed in the playoffs, still refusing to rank them third or fourth on your personal power rankings (Patriots-Packers-maybe Cardinals, then who?), it is time to open your eyes and your mind. We all know the past. We all remember the old Bengals. The new Bengals exorcised those big-game stumblebums Sunday.
You can wait until the playoffs for the old Bengals to return if you wish. The new Bengals will be there in January, and they now look ready to stick around for the whole month.
Chiefs' Hopes: Flatlining
The Chiefs led 17-3 and were deep in Bears territory when the injury occurred, but the team came completely unglued almost immediately. The Bears blocked a field goal, the Chiefs offense (with a Ren Faire Squire of Ye Bonny Joust and Mutton Feast named Charcandrick West ostensibly replacing Charles) executed a total of 14 plays for 29 yards on the next four drives, and the Bears leaked their way back into a game they were just about to quit, ultimately winning 18-17.
You don't need Hangover to tell you that Charles is on the short list of indispensable non-quarterbacks with J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Rob Gronkowski, the members of the Seahawks secondary not named Cary Williams and a few others. The only condolence we can offer Chiefs fans is: Go Royals. Oh wait, they are one game from playoff elimination. Sorry, Kansas City sports fans.
Lions Hopes: Next to Chiefs Hopes
The Lions committed six turnovers and benched Matthew Stafford for Dan Orlovsky in a 42-17 Cardinals victory. The Cardinals played very well, but it was another variation on their games against the Bears and 49ers: The opponent made so many unforced errors that the Cardinals were on cruise control by late in the second quarter.
Golden Tate suggested a few weeks ago that opponents know the Lions playbook. Do the Lions know their own playbook?
Stafford attempted a back-shoulder throw to Calvin Johnson along the right sideline while the game was still quasi-competitive, but Johnson continued running a fly route while Patrick Peterson stepped up to intercept the throw. Stafford and Johnson have only been playing together for seven years; no reason to get that communication down anytime soon.
The Lions were a very good 0-4 team after their Monday night near-miss in Seattle. Now, they are just another miserable 0-5 team.
Orlovsky quarterbacked both the 0-16 Lions of 2008 and the 2-14 Colts of 2011. He was also on the Greg Schiano Buccaneers. Orlovsky's presence in the huddle is like the shadows of vultures circling as you look for a gas station along a desert road.
Cowboys Congeniality Society: Rising
Greg Hardy returned from suspension to have a great afternoon against Tom Brady: The pillar of virtue recorded a pair of sacks, five knockdowns and a forced fumble. Julian Edelman recovered the fumble for a positive gain, because Patriots.
Rolando McClain, another guy who you probably wouldn't call if you needed a babysitter at the last minute, added eight total tackles and a sack.
The Cowboys defense harassed Brady for roughly 25 minutes of game time. Unfortunately, the Cowboys offense performed six three-and-outs on its first seven drives, allowing the Patriots to build a 13-3 lead they would slowly turn into a 30-6 laugher.
Rex Ryan's Team Discipline: Rising
It looked like it was going to be one of those Ryan afternoons when the Titans muffed the opening kickoff but an offsides penalty by the Bills forced a re-kick. It takes a Rex Ryan team to commit a penalty before the opening kickoff.
But Ryan's Bills settled down to commit a manageable seven total penalties for 62 yards. They still handed the Titans 15 free yards on an unnecessary roughness foul in the fourth quarter of a close game, but Rex will take progress wherever he can find it.
Rob Ryan's Team Discipline: Falling
The Saints defense never looked good Sunday, though it did manage to cherry-pick some bad Sam Bradford throws in the end zone to keep an eventual Eagles' 39-17 rout close in the first half.
As the game wore on, however, the Saints defense grew sloppier and more penalty-prone, committing two facemask penalties and a roughing-the-passer foul in the second half while allowing the Eagles to score on five straight second-half drives.
This is turning into one of those Parent Trap-type situations: The Ryan twins keep trading their competence back and forth every week to see if anyone notices. We've noticed.
The Legend of Gary Barnidge: Rising
He's 30 years old. He has been clinging to the bottoms of rosters for eight years. He had three career touchdowns entering this season. But now, Gary Barnidge is the Odell Beckham Jr. of foot-catches.
You saw the foot catch. You may also know that Barnidge leads the Browns in receptions and has three touchdowns this season. There is no rational explanation for what's happening (maybe Peyton Hillis left a lucky rabbit's foot in a locker somewhere in Cleveland). Until we figure out what's happening, it may just be wise to ride the Barnidge bandwagon as far as it can take human civilization.
Being 39 Years Old in the NFL: Steady
Peyton Manning threw two more interceptions Sunday. He now has seven for the season. It took Peyton until his ninth game to reach seven interceptions last year, his 11th game in 2013 and his 10th game in 2012. Next year, he will throw seven interceptions by his third game, if there is a next year.
At least he threw both picks to fellow 39-year-old Charles Woodson this week, creating a zero-sum game for the advertising demographic that still enjoys police procedural television shows. The two interceptions vaulted Woodson into a tie with Ed Reed for sixth place on the all-time list, with 64.
Old guys playing chess in the park notwithstanding, the Broncos defense and kicker Brandon McManus again provided all the scoring in a 16-10 win. The Broncos should ask the Seahawks how long that can be kept up.
The Watchability of Terrible Games: Rising
Buccaneers-Jaguars looked like the 14th-most interesting game on this week's schedule. Heck, it ranked below the baseball playoffs, several college football games, early-season hockey and the season premiere of The Walking Dead on the Hangover watch lists. It turned out to be a barnburner, with Doug Martin scoring three touchdowns in a 38-31 Buccaneers win.
Ravens-Browns games are supposed to be sloppy, incomplete-pass festivals. Instead, a seesaw battle erupted in the fourth quarter, Josh McCown threw for 457 yards (think about that for a moment), and the Browns prevailed in overtime, 33-30.
Full disclosure: The Hangover staff cannot focus on every single 1 p.m. game. Seahawks-Bengals and other national games take precedence, followed by "story" games like Saints-Eagles, then overtime duels between interesting teams like Redskins-Falcons, then injury-impacted games like Bears-Chiefs, then lunch, then the rest.
So we're working off the highlights, play-by-play gamebooks and reports from local experts when we state that these ugly-on-the-schedule games were full of excitement and surprises. But rest assured that if two Florida teams get into another shootout or a McCown brother impersonates Joe Montana again this season...we will probably still be working off the highlights, gamebooks and local reports.
Next Man Up: Steady
A quick survey of how some of the league's most injury-plagued teams fared Sunday:
The Redskins faced the Falcons without Chris Culliver or DeAngelo Hall in the secondary, and it showed on the field, if not the stat sheet.
Matt Ryan, throwing at times as if someone lined the football with lead, threw for 254 yards and two interceptions, missing wide-open receivers and delivering knuckleballs instead of fastballs. Ryan also fumbled in the red zone, while Matt Bryant missed a pair of field goals, allowing the Redskins to nurse a 7-3 lead like it was going to last them through November.
The Falcons kept marching down the field with a balanced offense but coming up empty. But nobody out-two-interceptions Kirk Cousins, darn it! Cousins threw a pick-six in overtime to give the Falcons a 25-19 win.
The Redskins secondary played well enough to keep things close but not well enough to generate a Cousins Is For Real narrative. Which is good, because no one needs one of those.
The Bears started rookie Hroniss Grasu at center in place of injured starter Will Montgomery (on IR for the year); Marquess Wilson, Marc Mariani and Joshua Bellamy were their wide receivers due to injuries to all the players you have heard of. Grasu gave up a sack in the end zone that became a Chiefs touchdown, while the Bears broke out the Matt Forte screens as their go-to third-down play for most of the first half.
They were ready to quit when Jamaal Charles got injured, and the Chiefs became even readier to quit. Given multiple comeback opportunities, Jay Cutler found Wilson for a touchdown, got someone named Cameron Meredith involved in the fourth-quarter game plan, and engineered the Bears' second comeback in two weeks.
If this keeps up, Cutler is going to start inspiring strange feelings of admiration.
The Bills were without LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Karlos Williams against the Titans; Percy Harvin is in his usual transitional state as a semi-injured offensive decoy. With no one to throw to or hand off to, Tyrod Taylor took matters into his own hands. He rushed for 76 yards and one touchdown, caught a pass from lefty receiver Chris Hogan on a trick play, and finally tossed a short sprint-out to Hogan in the 14-13 win over the Titans.
Taylor's 76 rushing yards were a record for a Bills quarterback, which sounds amazing. Hangover is based in Philly, where a 76-yard rushing performance for a quarterback was a fine quarter's work for Randall Cunningham, a typical Plan B when Donovan McNabb was throwing slant passes at receivers' shoelaces, and Michael Vick's usual total just before getting injured. But 76 yards is, indeed, the Bills quarterback rushing record.
According to the awesome Pro-Football-Reference Game Finder, Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson produced most of the Bills' quarterback rushing performances of 50-plus yards, with J.P. Losman and Ryan Fitzpatrick sprinkled in. In fact, Fitzpatrick held the previous record before Taylor, rushing for 74 yards in 2010.
Sorry to invoke the specters of Johnson and Losman on an otherwise fine day for football, Bills fans. But it was a "running quarterback" list; you couldn't expect Jim Kelly.
Offensive Line Bonus
After a month of criticism and a week of injury questions, the Eagles offensive line played its best game of the year by far. The three-headed backfield (DeMarco Murray's teeth grind at the sound of that) rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Bradford suffered zero knockdowns, let alone sacks. Let's hear it for Jason Peters (whose status was uncertain throughout the week), Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce, Matt Tobin and Lane Johnson!
Special Teams Bonus
The entire Bengals special teams unit shares this award. It's not easy for a field-goal unit to take the field, set and snap the ball with no timeouts and the clock winding down, as Cincinnati's did in order for Mike Nugent to force overtime.
Punter Kevin Huber and his coverage team pinned the Seahawks at the 2-yard line twice. The Seahawks count on big plays from the return game, but Huber and Nugent made sure Tyler Lockett was a non-factor.
And of course, style points do not count when hitting a game-winning overtime field goal via the goalpost.
Unsung Defensive Hero Bonus
Fletcher Cox was just about the only noteworthy Eagles player who wasn't traded, released, injured or embroiled in some kind of weird controversy this offseason. Cox has been on the fringe of Pro Bowl status for two seasons but has never had the kind of signature game that gets national attention.
Cox finally had that game Sunday: three sacks, two forced fumbles and absolute domination of the Saints offensive line when the Eagles needed defensive heroics to help their offense finally get out of its own way.
Cox is earning just $1.8 million this season. The Eagles picked up the 2016 option on his original rookie contract, but he is due for an extension. The way Chip Kelly operates, that means Cox is due to be traded, released or embroiled in a weird controversy sometime soon.
Eagles fans are incurable pessimists.
Mysterious Touch Bonus
Rams punter Johnny Hekker completed a 20-yard pass on a fake punt against the Packers.
It wasn't just any 20-yard pass: Hekker rolled right, pump-faked, checked off his first receiver and threw back across the field to Cody Davis, who was his second or third read, if second or third reads on fake punts are really a thing.
Nick Foles threw four interceptions and fumbled for the Rams, completing 36.7 percent of his passes. Hekker threw an incomplete fake punt early in the year, but his quarterback rating is 85.4 on two attempts to Foles' 77.6 for the season.
Meaningless Fantasy Touchdown Bonus
Drew Brees is a man who follows through on his obligations. That's why he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks at the very end of regulation to cut the Eagles lead to 22 points following the extra point. Cooks finished with a 5-107-1 line, fine numbers for those of you who (sigh) promoted him from your fantasy bench this week.
Fantasy Leech Bonus and Gonzo Fantasy Waiver Bid Bonus
Hangover won't be giving many Thursday night awards this season, but Jaelen Strong both worked the fantasy speculators into a froth and siphoned off potential DeAndre Hopkins/Arian Foster touchdowns with his two-touchdown performance in the Texans loss to the Colts.
One touchdown came on a Hail Mary where Colts defenders pass-interfered with each other, the other on a routine pass where Colts defenders must have thought Strong was ineligible or invisible as he ran past them into the end zone.
Strong's most famous college play was a Hail Mary catch for Arizona State against USC. NFL.com spliced together a cool video of both that reception and Strong's Thursday nighter side by side.
Strong finishes more Hail Marys than Fredo Corleone on a fishing trip. He is good at other things too. But how many touchdowns will he catch from Brian Notbrady and Ryan Notbrady in Bill O'Notbelichick's program? Gonzo fantasy waiver bids are all about the thrill of playing the market, not the reality.
Last Call: Cosmos Factory
Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Tom Brady of astrophysicists, explained on Twitter that the Earth's Coriolis force played a part in the Bengals' game-winning field goal.
Great: Now Tyson is ruining both science fiction movies and NFL upsets. First he explains that Thor can't really fly by throwing his hammer; next he's claiming the Seahawks would have won if the game was played in Rio de Janeiro.
But seriously: The Coriolis effect is a thing, though. Bill Belichick accounts for it in every game plan (it's why Gillette Stadium is on a ley line).
Tyson never responds to Hangover's football-based science queries, but we are not about to take muted at the very start of Deflategate for an answer. Here are some of the strange phenomena that occurred during Week 5, along with astrophysicist-worthy explanations.
Phenomenon: Joe Flacco ran for a bootleg touchdown.
Neil deGrasse Tyson-worthy explanation: The speed of the continental drift of the North American plate is approximately 1.15 centimeters per year. With that vector velocity at Flacco's back, he is roughly 57 percent faster when he is running against the flow of tectonic forces within the Earth.
Phenomenon: Dan Orlovsky threw a pass to Larry Fitzgerald, even though Fitzgerald plays for a rival team and was on the sideline with his helmet off.
Neil deGrasse Tyson-worthy explanation: Roughly one out of 12 human males are color blind. With 11 men in the Lions huddle, there is a good chance at least one of them is color blind. Orlovsky, being one of the least effective players in NFL history, is as likely a candidate as any. Red-green colorblindness is the most common type, so Orlovsky may have perceived Fitzgerald's red jersey as a dull silver gray.
Phenomenon: Aaron Rodgers threw two interceptions, his first regular-season interceptions since last Dec. 14 against the Bills.
Neil deGrasse Tyson-worthy explanation: Low-probability events actually become highly probable given enough opportunities. For example, the chances that the conditions required for the evolution of intelligent life come together for any one planet are infinitesimally small, but the fact that there are an estimated 500 billion galaxies in the universe make it likely the conditions have been met many, many times. So even though Rodgers interceptions are rare, two-interception games will happen now and then.
Multi-interception Nick Foles games, meanwhile, are as common as undeclared freshmen.
Phenomenon: Cowboys fall for the same Patriots pick-and-wheel play over and over again.
Neil deGrasse Tyson-worthy explanation: Intermittent reinforcement is a powerful form of behavioral conditioning. Instead of rewarding or punishing a behavior every time, the conditioner only provides reinforcement occasionally.
In the Patriots' case, they sometimes run the pick-and-wheel so blatantly that they are penalized for offensive pass interference. Those plays condition the Cowboys defenders to expect contact. When it does not come, they stumble over the blockers they have been conditioned to expect when they turn to cover Julian Edelman or some other receiver on a wheel route.
This conditioned behavior can be unlearned, but Cowboys defenders are more like mice banging their heads into a pellet dispenser than, say, the Legion of Boom.
Phenomenon: Two Saints defenders trip over each other while chasing Josh Huff on a routine crossing route that becomes an Eagles touchdown.
Neil deGrasse Tyson-worthy explanation: Rob Ryan can't coach.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.