Gridiron Digest: Danny Dimes Takes Manhattan

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 23, 2019

Gridiron Digest: Danny Dimes Takes Manhattan

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Do you feel different? Happier? More optimistic? More eagerly anticipating a future full of endless, wondrous possibilities?

    That's because Daniel Jones threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more on Sunday, leading a 32-31 Giants comeback victory against the Buccaneers. The Eli Manning epoch is finally over. New York now belongs to Danny Dimes, and you don't have to be a Giants fan to get swept up in the excitement. 

    Jones wasn't the only young quarterback to make his first start of the year on Sunday. Gridiron Digest will catch you up on eye-opening performances by Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater and others. Plus:

    • Patrick Mahomes shows Lamar Jackson what a reigning MVP looks like;
    • The Rams and Browns square off in a rugged defensive battle;
    • Eight teams remain undefeated, from the expected (Patriots) to the unlikely (49ers?);
    • The Antonio Brown saga finally ends. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.

    Plus, learn what Eli Manning and a certain political figure have in common. And much, much more!

Danny Dimes Ushers in a New Era of Giants Football. Finally.

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Now that Daniel Jones is their starting quarterback, Giants fans are seeing things they haven't seen in a long, long time.

    Jones scrambled for a game-winning touchdown Sunday. Yep, scrambling for touchdowns is still legal, Giants fans! Eli Manning couldn't even roll out on 4th-and-short two weeks ago without risking a near-death experience. The Buccaneers defense was so conditioned by game-planning for Eli that it left the middle of the field undefended in the red zone late in the fourth quarter. Jones sprinted right through that wide-open front door to take the lead in what became a 32-31 victory.

    Jones scored an earlier touchdown on a read-option run. Welcome to the 2010s, Giants offense! He also deftly sidestepped a pass-rusher to deliver a bomb to fellow rookie Darius Slayton. The only things Eli deftly sidestepped over the last three years were questions about his amazing, inexplicable job security.

    Jones finished the game with 336 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, though he was strip-sacked twice. It was all real yardage, not the 200 yards of screen passes on 3rd-and-20 and fourth-quarter drives in blowout losses that Giants fans have become accustomed to.

    Most excitingly, Giants fans saw their team come back to win in the fourth quarter. Eli managed just one fourth-quarter comeback in 2017 and 2018 combined. Jones rallied the Giants without the injured Saquon Barkley. Eli would probably melt if forced to play without Barkley at this point.

    We heard for two weeks that the Giants lacked offensive weapons, yet Jones moved the ball without Barkley by actually challenging defenders downfield. We heard their defense was bad, and it is bad, but it was suddenly good enough once the offense scored some points. The Giants played like a team that felt it had a chance to win Sunday instead of one that was just waiting to lose. That's something else Giants fans haven't seen very much lately.

    Jones' debut was far from perfect, but it was an encouraging sign that the much-maligned sixth overall pick really could be the Giants' quarterback of the future.

    It also demonstrated just how foolish the Giants' decision was to prop Eli up as their starting quarterback throughout the offseason, deny any suggestions of a quarterback competition, wax philosophically about Jones' learning from the bench for the next one to seven years and even prevent Jones from taking many first-team reps during training camp. The organization kidded itself all spring and summer for no reason other than to preserve Eli's dignity. Think how good Jones might be if he were brought along like any normal top-of-the-draft quarterback prospect. Think how good he could be if Odell Beckham Jr...nah, let's not lose ourselves in what-ifs.

    This is not the time to dwell on the Giants' many, many past mistakes. They are now Danny Dimes' team. The Eli Manning era is mercifully over. There will be ups and downs in the weeks, months and years to come, but at least there will be hope, optimism and excitement.

    Those are three more things Giants fans saw Sunday that they haven't seen in a long, long time.

New Starting Quarterbacks Digest

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    You've already read about Daniel Jones, but he wasn't alone Sunday among the league's new starting quarterbacks—some making the first starts of their careers, others their first in a long time. Here's how they fared:

    Kyle Allen, Panthers (19-of-26 for 261 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 38-20 win over the Cardinals): Allen's performance was about as exceptional as the stats suggest. He threw sharp completions down the field and made sound decisions with the ball, helping the Panthers pull away from a pesky team. We can now look forward to a week of measured, rational conversations about how Allen can keep the Panthers competitive while Cam Newton recovers from a foot injury. Oh dear, this is already being framed as a quarterback controversy, isn't it? Oh dear, folks are probably already calling for Newton to be benched, cut, traded or deported to Siberia, aren't they? Folks, can't we just enjoy something nice without immediately ruining it?

       

    Josh Rosen, Dolphins (18-of-39 for 200 yards with no TDs or interceptions in a 31-6 loss to the Cowboys): Rosen drove the Dolphins to the 8-yard line late in the first quarter with some great plays (including a completion on a flea-flicker), but the Dolphins then elected to hand off to Kalen Ballage three times to set up a field goal. A second-quarter drive ended in a field goal after Preston Williams bobbled a perfect Rosen dime in the end zone and couldn't haul it in. Another drive to the 12-yard line ended with a pass through DeVante Parker's hands and a Kenyan Drake fumble. In summary, Rosen played much better than his stats and the final score indicate, and while the Dolphins aren't actively losing on purpose, they have reached the point of futility at which it is very hard to tell the difference.

       

    Teddy Bridgewater, Saints (19-of-27 for 177 yards with two TDs and no interceptions in a 33-27 victory over the Seahawks): Bridgewater was the anti-Rosen in his first meaningful start since 2015. He began the game slowly and then tried to build the entire offense out of screens to Alvin Kamara, who finished with nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown on a 29-yard screen-and-weave. But an early punt-return touchdown and a second-quarter fumble-return touchdown by the Saints defense allowed Bridgewater to play with the lead for most of the afternoon, so he didn't have to do all that much to secure a road victory against a tough opponent. Playing quarterback is never easy, but it's a lot less difficult when the special teams, the defense and teammates like Kamara do their part. Someday, Rosen may be lucky enough to experience this firsthand.

       

    Mason Rudolph, Steelers (14-of-27 for 174 yards with two TDs and one interception in a 24-20 loss to the 49ers): Take away a 76-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a 39-yarder to Diontae Johnson, and Rudolph completed just 12 of 25 passes for 59 yards on a day when the Steelers barely moved the ball but stayed in the game because of 49ers turnovers and, yes, those two long touchdowns. The most perplexing thing about Rudolph's afternoon was that he appeared to be executing a Ben Roethlisberger game plan with no alterations; the Steelers only ran the ball 18 times in a game that was always close. Lost among all the interpersonal drama in Pittsburgh over the last two seasons is the fact that their coordinators often get stuck on schematic autopilot. That's going to cost them dearly if they don't start making things easier for Rudolph.

       

    Luke Falk, Jets (12-of-22 for 98 yards with no TDs and one interception in a 30-14 loss to the Patriots): Every time we checked in on the Jets, it was 3rd-and-15 or 3rd-and-21, and Falk was handing off to Le'Veon Bell. So while Gridiron Digest can't provide a detailed breakdown of his performance, it sure looks like things went about as expected.

Game Spotlight: Rams 20, Browns 13

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    What happened

    There's an old football yarn about a high school coach facing a 4th-and-forever situation while trailing late in a close game. He calls a draw play, and his star running back makes the whole defense miss and scores a game-winning touchdown. His defensive coordinator gives him a big hug and asks, "Where did you find the guts to call a draw play on fourth down?"

    "Wait..." the head coach replies, "that was fourth down?"

    Freddie Kitchens and the Browns tried to bring that old story to life Sunday night. Kitchens called a draw play on 4th-and-9 with the Browns trailing 17-13 midway through the fourth quarter. Nick Chubb was stuffed, the Rams kicked a field goal to extend their lead, and a late Browns rally ended at the 4-yard line.

    Kitchens' unconventional fourth-down call was the strangest moment of a perplexing game. The defensive fronts held the upper hand all game. The Browns had a 6-3 halftime lead, thanks in part to a Myles Garrett strip-sack to set up a field goal before halftime. Cooper Kupp caught two touchdown passes in the second half, but Jared Goff threw a pair of interceptions, one of which sparked the final Browns comeback bid. Aaron Donald was unblockable. Odell Beckham Jr. was nearly invisible. Clay Matthews III had two sacks for the Rams on an evening when Clay Matthews Jr. was inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor. You get the idea. It was weird.

       

    What it means

    Baker Mayfield (18-of-36 for 195 yards with one TD and one pick) had another unimpressive game. Mayfield has a bad habit of taking nine-to-19-step drops (seven is the typical NFL limit) and scrambling to his right whether he's facing pressure or not. His lack of pocket discipline is a reminder that Mayfield was making only his 16th start Sunday. He still makes rookie mistakes, as does his head coach, who said after the game he was "kicking [himself] in the ass" over numerous questionable play calls, from the draw play to a final goal-line sequence with no running plays (the Browns had all three timeouts) and no throws to Beckham.

    The Rams looked very beatable for most of the evening. Goff (as usual) made mistakes when forced to go off script, the running game was mostly unproductive, and Sean McVay performed a little self-outsmartment of his own by ordering Goff to fire the ball downfield when nursing a late lead. But McVay is more skilled than Kitchens at getting his best playmakers involved and at hiding his quarterback's shortcomings.

    Experience matters in close games when things aren't going as planned for either offense. McVay and the Rams have plenty of that kind of experience. Kitchens and the Browns just got some.

       

    What's next

    The Browns and Ravens square off in the most highly anticipated Browns-Ravens game ever. The Rams host the Bucs to go 4-0.

Ranking the Undefeated Teams

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    Billie Weiss/Getty Images

    Let's check in on the 3-0 (and 2-0-1) teams and try to separate the pretenders from the contenders:

       

    1. New England Patriots

    Imagine if we lived in a banana republic ruled by someone who calls himself The Supreme Benevolent Dictator for Life. And say the SBDL wanted his subjects to think he was a great football player as well as a divinely appointed god-king, so he climbed down from his throne of skulls to play football each Sunday against opponents who were chosen by his toadies to be as weak as possible and who were also afraid of getting covered in honey and staked to anthills if they did not let the SBDL win.

    Those games would look a lot like Patriots games have looked so far this season.

       

    2. Kansas City Chiefs

    We'll cover them later in Gridiron Digest.

       

    3. Los Angeles Rams

    We covered them earlier in Gridiron Digest.

       

    4. Dallas Cowboys

    The Cowboys on Sunday had the worst game in history by any team to cover a 22-point spread. The lowly Dolphins outgained them 218-204 in the first half and could have posed a threat if they didn't keep self-destructing in the red zone. The Cowboys only pulled away when they remembered that the Dolphins are looking for excuses to surrender and just started ramming the ball down their throat on routine running plays.

    Teams can only play the opponents on their schedules (Giants, Redskins and Dolphins, in the Cowboys' case), and early blowouts can start the snowball rolling on deep playoff runs, but the Cowboys have to beat a real opponent if they want to climb into the conversation with teams that were in conference championship games last year.

       

    5. Green Bay Packers

    The Packers just completed a three-game sweep of defense-first teams that are pretending to be satisfied with their quarterback situations (Bears, Vikings, Broncos). It would be easier to climb aboard the Packers bandwagon if the defense was doing more than just letting opposing quarterbacks be themselves or we weren't still parsing the body language of Aaron Rodgers-Matt LaFleur sideline conversations like we were watching the next-door neighbors arguing through the kitchen window.

    Until we get a better sense of the team's identity, the Packers appear to be just an above-average team grinding out wins against mediocre opponents.

       

    6. San Francisco 49ers

    The 49ers entered their bye with close, messy wins over the Buccaneers and flailing Steelers and an easy romp over the Bengals. That's three opponents with a combined 1-5 record in their other games, which should sound some alarms. Their defense looks sound but hasn't faced a top quarterback yet. Their offense lives and dies by elegantly designed running plays and micro-passes that sometimes (but not often enough) turn into chunk plays. The 49ers face the Browns and Rams after the bye; let's see where they are after that.

       

    7. Buffalo Bills

    The Bills are winning with fine defense, terrible opponents and Josh Allen doing his very best 2018 Mitchell Trubisky impression by generating just enough touchdowns and highlights to overcome the fumbles, interceptions, near-interceptions, inefficient little checkdowns and times when he looks like an overgrown puppy tumbling down a staircase. They're a .500 team that's due for a reality check. Oh look, they face the Patriots next week.

       

    8. Detroit Lions

    If you have ignored the Lions thus far this season, then: A) we approve of your decision, and B) here's a catch-up episode. First, they allowed Kyler Murray to stage a late comeback to tie them in his first start. Then they held on to beat the Chargers, thanks in part to some missed field goals. Sunday's win was more impressive, though it came against an Eagles team whose injury report is so big it could exceed your Dropbox capacity and that kept fumbling the ball back to the Lions. None of this represents a sustainable path to success, but there's a chance the Lions will replace the Bears as the team that ends up in a three-way battle to win the NFC North with a 9-6-1 record.

Game Spotlight: Chiefs 33, Ravens 28

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    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    What happened

    Lamar Jackson failed to convert a second-quarter 4th-and-2, rolling out and tossing a short pass at Marquise Brown's ankles. Patrick Mahomes responded with a quick drive and 18-yard touchdown to a leaping Demarcus Robinson. Jackson couldn't move the Ravens offense on the next drive, and Mahomes found Tyreek Hill cosplayer Mecole Hardman for an 83-yard pitch, catch and run.

    From that eight-minute sequence on, all the Ravens could do was try a late comeback, as Mahomes and the Chiefs demonstrated the difference between a true Super Bowl contender with an MVP quarterback and a playoff hopeful with an exciting-but-still-developing quarterback.

       

    What it means

    Mahomes is so good at creating highlights unlike anything we've ever seen that it's easy to overlook how good he is at doing routine things to sustain drives. He spent much of Sunday's game checking down to Darrel Williams, LeSean McCoy and Travis Kelce, letting them create on shorter routes. As a result, the Chiefs punted just twice all game and were able to keep a safe two-score distance between themselves and the Ravens for much of the afternoon. Those routine-looking plays, when mixed with the OMG moments, are what separate great quarterbacks from the fun-to-watch ones.

    Jackson, on the other hand, mixed a handful of miraculous highlights—his 4th-and-5 fourth-quarter wobbler to Seth Roberts at the 2-yard line was the sort of play that gives coaches on both sides severe ulcers—with too many occasions when he mashed all the buttons on the game controller and attempted to juke, spin and truck-stick at the same time in a collapsing pocket instead of calmly going through his progressions.

    Two games against weak opponents hid the fact that Jackson remains a work in progress. Even if he improves, the Ravens may have to face a bigger problem: their runs-and-options offense isn't built for comebacks against great passing teams, and the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC is likely to pass through two of the greatest passing teams ever.

       

    What's next

    The Ravens host the Browns next week in a battle for both post-Roethlisberger AFC North supremacy and "cool buzzy team" supremacy. The Chiefs will keep their reality checkbook out as they visit the inexplicably undefeated Lions.

Inside the Numbers

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    Joe Flacco, Broncos: 20-of-29, 213 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 6 sacks

    This was a typical Flacco performance: deceptively high completion rate, low yards-per-attempt, lots of sacks, a fumble that led to an opponent's touchdown and overall numbers that look good enough to convince conservative defense-oriented coaches and inattentive team presidents that he's really accomplishing something. We're only highlighting Flacco this week because of two plays:

    • On 3rd-and-3 late in the first quarter, Flacco "scrambled" for 3.00001 yards. Really, he scrambled for one yard, but he's famously tall, so he fell for the first down like am elm tree struck by lightning in Minnesota falling over the Canadian border. The referees were so shocked by Flacco moving at all that they initially spotted him shy of the first down, but he did manage to sustain the kind of grinding 15-play drive John Elway must dream of.
    • Facing 4th-and-17 in the waning minutes, Flacco appeared to complete a wobbling short pass to Royce Freeman while being knocked down by Preston Smith. This play would have been the apotheosis of late-career Flacco: a comically ugly, utterly useless completion. But the officials ruled Smith sacked Flacco before the ball fluttered out. Just think: He could have been 21-of-30 for about 225 yards!

       

    Sterling Shepard, Giants: 7 receptions for 100 yards, 1 TD; 2 rushes for 21 yards

    Shepard also caught a two-point conversion. He got wide-open for a 36-yard catch on the Giants' game-winning drive and also caught a 26-yarder in the first quarter. Daniel Jones threw a block on one of Shepard's carries; yes, we're gonna gush about every little thing Jones does right for a few weeks.

    Saquon Barkley left the game early and reappeared on the sideline in a walking boot. The bad news is that Barkley looked like he will be out a while. The good news is that the Giants are not devoid of weapons thanks to Shepard, Evan Engram and Golden Tate (returning from suspension soon). The best news is that they may finally have a quarterback who can do something with weapons.

       

    Darren Waller, Raiders: 13 catches on 14 targets for 134 yards

    Waller caught his first pass after the Vikings took a 21-0 lead and had eight receptions in the fourth quarter when the Vikings led 31-7 or 34-7. Waller now has 26 catches 267 yards this season, making him a fantasy football rock star and putting him on pace for 138 catches and 1,424 yards if the Raiders keep using an obscure ex-Ravens tight end as a primary receiver and feeding him short passes in lopsided losses. Both are very possible, which is not the same as being preferable.

       

    Texans Receivers Not Named DeAndre Hopkins: 19 catches for 284 yards, 3 touchdowns

    Hopkins caught six passes for 67 yards. Dolphins sheriff's auction acquisition Kenny Stills led the team in receiving yards with 89 on four catches. Second year tight end Jordan Akins caught two touchdown passes; veteran journeyman Darren Fells added another touchdown plus five catches for 49 yards. Injured Reserve Platinum Membership Rewards recipient Will Fuller V even caught five passes for 51 yards.

    Hopkins accounted for exactly one-third of Texans receptions last year and 37.7 percent of their receiving yards. So it's an encouraging sign that Deshaun Watson is finally getting some opportunities to spread the ball around.

Digest Sportsbook

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Backdoor cover lovers

    When Jets safety Jamal Adams, extra motivated by his benching by coaches at the end of last Monday's loss to the Browns (note to Jets fans: this is sarcasm), returned a Jarrett Stidham interception for a touchdown to help cut the Patriots' lead to 30-14 with 6:23 to play, a backdoor cover of the 20-something-point spread (different sportsbooks had very different final lines) appeared safe. After all, what were the chances Bill Belichick would reinsert Tom Brady to take out a frustrating week—one filled with pesky Antonio Brown questions by reporters—on the poor Jets? And what were the chances the Jets would keep desperately trying to pass in the final minutes with Luke Falk at quarterback?

    Well, Belichick did reinsert Brady. And the Jets gave the ball back to the Patriots twice in the final minutes, once after a 4th-and-14 conversion attempt deep in their own territory. Still, the Patriots called off the dogs, and the Jets hung on to cover, which for them is about as good as it gets.

       

    Lines on the move

    The Panthers slid from three-point favorites to 2.5-point dogs as it became clear that Kyle Allen would replace the injured Cam Newton at quarterback. This is a fine example of public overreaction to a high-profile quarterback change. Yes, Newton is better than Allen (yes, he is), but the Cardinals are still a bad team whose rookie coach and quarterback were making their third appearances. Picking a new starting quarterback to cover in his debut is an old handicapper's adage that still works. Even if that quarterback is a nobody named Kyle Allen. Or Luke Falk.

       

    Overwatch

    The Falcons were back to being the Falcons this week: They made Jacoby Brissett look like Brady in the first half and played almost no defense as the Colts took a 20-3 lead. Then they slowly staged a quasi-comeback that made the 27-24 final look close, clearing the 47.5-point over with a Matt Ryan-Julio Jones touchdown with 4:11 to play, declaring "Mission Accomplished" and letting the Colts run out the clock. Last Sunday night's spirited defensive performance and late-game stand against the Eagles? That was just a mass hallucination.

       

    Undertale

    The over-under for Texans-Chargers was 49, so wagerers were on the edge of their seats when the Chargers kicked a fourth-quarter field goal to make it 27-20 and then got the ball back and embarked on a long drive to attempt to clear the ov...oops, we mean tie the game and force overtime. Come to think of it, non-wagerers were on the edge of their seats, too, because this was an exciting finish. Alas (or luckily, if you are a Texans fan or one of those weirdos who bets the under), Philip Rivers' late rally came up well short of a touchdown.

       

    Monday night action: Bears (-5.5) at Redskins

    The Redskins have won the past seven meetings between these two teams, dating back to 2004, when Bears quarterback Jonathan Quinn (yes, Jonathan Quinn) went 10-of-22 for 65 yards in a 13-10 Skins victory. Jay Cutler threw four interceptions in a 17-14 loss to the Skins in 2010. Matt Barkley threw five interceptions in a 41-21 loss to Washington in the most recent matchup in 2016.

    What does all this bad Bears quarterback play have to do with Mitchell Trubisky? Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. The Bears' street-magician offense is full of tricky formations, motion and sleight-of-hand misdirection to distract you from the fact that their faith in their quarterback has disappeared up Matt Nagy's sleeve. That said, this year's Skins are really, really bad. If neither side appeals to you (and neither side should), consider wagering over 40 and rooting for pick-sixes and lots of (ugh) field-goal attempts.

Awards Digest

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Defender of the week: Shaquil Barrett did his best to spoil Daniel Jones' debut, with four sacks, including two strip-sacks. Barrett also sacked Cam Newton three times in Week 2 and now has eight sacks on the season. His career high before this season was just 5.5, coming when he was a role player on the 2015 Broncos' Super Bowl team.

       

    Offensive line of the week: The star-studded Cowboys line of Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and La'el Collins helped Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard each rush for over 100 yards and gave Dak Prescott so much time in the pocket against the Dolphins that it looked like he was overthinking things at times in the first half.

       

    Offensive line of the week (NFL-caliber competition category): The Chiefs offensive line rarely gets the credit it deserves, because we are always drooling over Patrick Mahomes and the playmakers. This week, Cam Erving (subbing for injured starter Eric Fisher), Andrew Wylie (who gave way to Jeff Allen because of an injury), Austin Reiter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Mitchell Schwartz helped Chiefs running backs average 5.4 yards per rush and held the Ravens to just one sack.

       

    Special teamer of the week: Jamal Agnew set the tone for the Lions' 27-24 victory over the Eagles with a 100-yard kickoff return on his team's first possession. That tone, by the way, was, "The Lions will win and Eagles fans will spend the afternoon banging their heads into heavy objects." Agnew returned two punts for touchdowns in his All-Pro rookie season in 2017, but this was his first kickoff return touchdown. In fact, it was the first kickoff return touchdown in the NFL this season and just the sixth since the start of the 2018 season. Hence, Eagles fans banging their heads into heavy objects.

       

    Kicker failure of the week: The mood in New York would be very different if Matt Gay had nailed his end-of-game 34-yarder, handing the Giants a loss and spoiling Daniel Jones' debut on a day when Saquon Barkley got hurt. Fortunately for the Giants, Buccaneers kickers can always be counted upon to miss game-winning field goals.

       

    Best supporting actor in someone else's highlight: Phillip Lindsay is a small running back—small enough for one of his offensive linemen to pick him up and toss him into the end zone. And that's essentially what Broncos guard Dalton Risner did on Lindsay's one-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. But don't give Risner all the credit: Lindsay had to break tackles by Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry just to get in position for the ol' X-Men Fastball Special. In other words, it took exceptional effort by two men to gain one yard. That's a fine summary of the Broncos offense.

       

    Meaningless fantasy non-touchdown of the week: Normally, we celebrate meaningless fantasy touchdowns. But instead of spotlighting Russell Wilson's final-play touchdown to Will Dissly, let's give this week's award to DK Metcalf, who caught a 54-yard bomb from Wilson right before halftime. And by "right before halftime," we mean that there was 0:00 on the clock when he came down with the football. The Seahawks had timeouts left, but they let the clock wind down before the Metcalf bomb instead of using one. Hey, you can't expect both forward passing and good clock management from the Seahawks in the same game, folks.

Point-Counterpoint

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    James Gilbert/Getty Images

    Eli Manning gets benched for Daniel Jones, prompting debate over whether Eli is a Hall of Famer.

    Point: He is, but only because of the New York bias. All famous New York athletes who are borderline cases get into their sport's Hall: Tiki Barber, Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, Don Mattingly, Bobby Murcer, Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, John Starks—all of them in the Hall. Every single one. Don't bother to fact-check.

    Counterpoint: Eli is the Joe Biden of Hall of Fame candidates: endless career, a few amazing high points, lots of meh, kinda embarrassing at the end, has a chance of leaping over better-qualified candidates on name recognition alone, not the worst choice in the world if he's the only one you have.*

    Note: The political opinions expressed by Counterpoint do not reflect those of Bleacher Report, Gridiron Digest, Point or anyone else. But c'mon, you nodded when you read this.

       

    NFL bans pregame pyrotechnics in the wake of last week's on-field fire before the Colts-Titans game.

    Point: If I can't watch a pregame spectacle that looks like a ritual human sacrifice produced by former GWAR roadies on peyote, then the snowflakes have already ruined America with their safe spaces and participation trophies.

    Counterpoint: The league was just nervous that the Dolphins were ready to torch everything for the insurance money.

       

    Adult video site CamSoda offers Gardner Minshew II $1 million to be its "brand ambassador," which would involve leading an online band exercise class and endorsing the company's knitted intimate apparel.

    Point: If Minshew is brand ambassador for any adult video site, it should be one of those "bookstores" under the railroad trestle on the state highway that sells VHS tapes from Sweden.

    Counterpoint: Sorry, when I read "CamSoda," I assumed that it was some sort of Cam Newton-flavored soda, which sounds like the last thing anyone would want to drink after a naked yoga class.

    Bonus Counter-Counterpoint: But really, we're only a few weeks away from Newton showing up at postgame press conferences wearing knitted intimate apparel.

       

    The CamSoda folks made the same offer to Nick Foles.

    Point: Did these people do any research? Like, at all?

    Counterpoint: Why should they? They just duped us into giving them a whole page of free advertising to an NFL audience. Check and mate, naughty video people.

       

    Thieves steal cardboard cutout of Patrick Mahomes from a Kansas McDonald's, and then crash their vehicle. Cutout is returned unharmed.

    Point: Guess they learned the hard way that cardboard cutouts can't drive stick.

    Counterpoint: Another set of thieves stole a cardboard cutout of Minshew, drove it cross-country in a 1972 Gran Torino blasting Black Oak Arkansas from the eight-track player the whole way, and described it as "the grooviest experience of all time."

The Last Word on Antonio Brown

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Think of all the different things that someone trying to give Antonio Brown the benefit of the doubt has been asked to believe over the last few months.

    All his Steelers issues were really the team's fault. All his Raiders antics were just an elaborate ruse to get out of his contract. All the more recent, more serious accusations are part of some scheme to shame the Patriots. Or perhaps it's all CTE, a condition that doctors cannot diagnose until after death but that some football fans can diagnose from Instagram posts.

    Brown's many problems and scandals were really all a racial thing. Or a money thing. Or an NFL abuse-of-power thing. Or a mental health thing. Or, you know, because of "gold diggers." Blame Ben Roethlisberger, or Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, or Raiders GM Mike Mayock, or Roger Goodell, or the union, or the helmet manufacturers. Blame his growing list of accusers. As for Brown, he's just a victim, a shrewd businessman, a folk hero sticking it to the establishment or the guy who's going to help your team win a Super Bowl, so who cares about the other stuff?

    Sometimes, the story shifted in self-contradictory directions two or three times in the course of one long weekend.

    Toward the end, giving Brown the benefit of the doubt meant taking the word of someone who may have misled the whole football world to get what he wanted just a few weeks ago, even though that may itself have been a lie.

    The simple explanation for Brown's pattern of erratic, impulsive, unprofessional, alternately self-serving and self-destructive behavior—even setting the allegations aside and focusing on the documented, football-related stuff—is that this is the sort of person Brown has become, whatever the root cause may be. But a large swath of the public (and my colleagues) have refused to accept the simple explanation, perhaps because we wanted to think the best of him, but also because we were looking for a more compelling story.

    In the media, we are constantly accused of spinning "narrative." It's a lazy insult, usually slung by someone who doesn't like it when facts get in the way of the story they want to hear. But sometimes the "narrative" does take on its own life.

    Over the past 10 months, Brown was shielded from consequences, not just by touchdown-hungry teams and coaches but by narratives themselves: the reality TV squabbling of the Steelers; the screwball comedy of the frozen feet and helmet sagas; the spy-thriller intrigue of his exit from Oakland; the endless, Wagnerian Patriots ring cycle; even the politically polarized, daytime-talk trivialized conversations about topics like #MeToo and so-called "cancel culture." He was aided and abetted by a news cycle with no short-term memory. The scripts kept being rewritten and revised in increasingly outlandish ways until this week, when advertisers, the Patriots and the NFL finally came to grips with what kind of behavior they were enabling.

    Brown appears to finally be out of benefits of the doubt. Yet there are surely folks out there who think this is all a smear campaign, extortion scheme, abuse of authority, fake news or an indication of a serious mental health condition that comes and goes based on whether any of the other explanations fit better at that moment. For his part, Brown filed a union grievance to get his Patriots signing bonus back and spent Sunday attacking his many detractors through social media, behavior very much in character with the accusations against him.

    If you are still giving Brown the benefit of the doubt by now, please step back and think for a moment of all the other things you've been led to believe in the last few weeks or months—and ask yourself if you are being duped. 

    And now, if you will excuse me, I'd like to not think about Antonio Brown at all for a long time.