Gridiron Digest: There's More to the Chiefs Than Mahomes Magic

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 30, 2019

Gridiron Digest: There's More to the Chiefs Than Mahomes Magic

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Chiefs survived a zero-touchdown afternoon by Patrick Mahomes to defeat the Lions. Tom Brady and the Patriots had their hands full with the Bills defense but escaped Buffalo with a narrow victory.

    This week's Gridiron Digest kicks off with a look at how the AFC royalty overcame off days and tough foes to remain undefeated. Plus:

    • Jared Goff has the worst 517-yard passing performance in history

    • The Saints get payback for the Cowboys' big defensive performance in Week 13 last year

    • A big day for Leonard Fournette, a small one for Todd Gurley and an exhausting one for Christian McCaffrey

    • Week 4's strangest matchups, including the Overhyped Young Quarterback Bowl, the Hide the Quarterback Bowl and the Short Quarterback Bowl

    ...and much, much more! 


Mahomes Lets Others Make the Magic as the Chiefs Remain Undefeated

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The most exciting Chiefs highlight of the past two seasons had almost nothing to do with Patrick Mahomes.

    Travis Kelce leaped to haul in a Mahomes pass with the Chiefs trailing the Lions 23-20 in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Then, with a casual little flick of the wrist that looked like a cross between a point guard executing a give-and-go and a stage magician making the ace of spades disappear, he tossed the ball to LeSean McCoy, who caught it in stride and raced 23 more yards to set up the Chiefs' go-ahead touchdown.

    It was the old hook-and-ladder. Kelce and Shady made it look like the type of play you see executed properly three or four times per game, not once or twice per decade. 

    On a day when Mahomes looked mortal and the Lions weren't about to let their opponent, the referees or fate hold them down, the Chiefs needed a play as strange and marvelous as that one, and then some, to remain undefeated with a 34-30 victory.

    The Chiefs also needed:

    • A 100-yard fumble recovery from defender Bashaud Breeland after Xavier Williams punched the ball out of running back Kerryon Johnson's hands and sent the loose ball careening through the goal-line pile toward his teammate like a pachinko ball on a mission.

    • Chris Jones to scoop up a Matthew Stafford fumble after an apparent Lions touchdown pass was overturned by the interpretation of the Calvin Johnson Rule, which states that the Lions must have at least one apparent touchdown pass per year overturned for inexplicable reasons. Yes, the Chiefs needed the refs, too, but so does every winning team these days.

    • McCoy, discarded by the Bills at the end of training camp, to rush for 56 yards and a touchdown. They needed guys named Byron Pringle and Deon Yelder to catch meaningful passes down the stretch. They needed Darrel Williams to come back from an early fumble to score the game-winning touchdown.

    • A full-team effort because the Lions found a way to slow down Mahomes. Even with top cornerback Darius Slay injured, they played tight coverage, squeezed the passing lanes and left Mahomes standing around in the pocket wondering what to do with the ball. 

    With Mahomes semi-neutralized, it did not appear that his teammates would step up to the challenge. Williams fumbled. Sammy Watkins fumbled. Stafford moved the Lions offense with ease. Only those goal-line miscues—and random acts of officiating—kept the Lions from mounting a commanding lead.

    But Mahomes kept checking down and making plays with his legs instead of trying to perform miracles. He was eventually rewarded with several of them.

    Great teams often win a smoke-and-mirrors game or two. And great quarterbacks sometimes catch a break when their teammates play as if they believe anything is possible.

    The Chiefs weren't great on Sunday, but they beat a solid opponent on a day when the Rams lost and the Patriots had their hands full with the Bills. They also learned they don't need Mahomes at his best to perform a little magic. And that means anything really is possible.

Game Spotlight: Saints 12, Cowboys 10

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    What happened

    Last year, the Cowboys halted a Saints winning streak with a hard-hitting defensive effort in a 13-10 upset. The Saints returned the favor Sunday night.

    The Saints held Dak Prescott to just 223 passing yards, shutting down the Cowboys downfield passing attack. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for just 35 yards. He and Jason Witten each fumbled in the second quarter (Vonn Bell, pictured above, recovered both) to keep the offense from establishing any rhythm. 

    Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater and the Saints offense didn't produce an offensive play longer than 18 yards, but four Wil Lutz field goals were just enough to seal the victory.


    What it means

    So this is Saints football now: Bridgewater and Sean Payton experimenting with quantum dink-and-dunk theory and the defense producing big plays and holding on by its fingernails. 

    The Saints have somehow manufactured two critical conference wins out of this formula. It's not pretty, and at some point, Bridgewater will have to prove he can complete a pass longer than 30 feet or so. But every win keeps the Saints bobbing atop the NFC South while bringing them one week closer to Drew Brees' return from a hand injury.

    The Cowboys missed an opportunity to make a statement against a quality opponent after beating three of the worst teams in the NFL—in the case of the Dolphins, one of the worst teams in history—by a combined 97-44 score to start the season. Prescott and the offense left multiple opportunities to win on the field; the Saints even handed the ball to them three times with a two-point lead in the fourth quarter.

    It was a wake-up call for an offense that had things almost too easy against weak secondaries, anemic pass rushes and disheartened opponents. 

    The biggest worry for Prescott and the Cowboys offense coming out of Sunday's loss was a late-game injury to All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith. The entire Cowboys offense ground to a halt when Smith missed three games in 2017. (Smith's injury coincided with Elliott's suspension that year, making it look like Elliott's absence caused the Cowboys to lose a series of 37-9 and 28-6 games and fooling a lot of people—possibly even Jerry Jones—into overrating Elliott's importance).

    Smith was seen on a cart after the game; that's obviously not a great sign.

    Conversely, the Cowboys can take heart in the fact that the Saints ripped off three straight wins after the Cowboys humbled their offense in Week 13 last season. Prescott and Co. may not be as good as they looked during their early-season Cupcake Wars, but they're not as bad as they looked Sunday night, either.


    What's next

    The Saints host the utterly unpredictable Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Cowboys face another tough defense when they host the Packers.

Player Spotlight: Jared Goff, Quarterback, Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    What happened

    Goff fit a month's worth of highlights and lowlights into one afternoon, completing 45 of 68 passes for 517 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a late-game strip-sack in a 55-40 Rams loss to the Buccaneers.

    Two Goff picks—one in which his arm was hit as he threw, the other an ugly throw directly to linebacker Lavonte David—helped the Bucs mount a 21-0 early lead. Goff then began firing strikes to Robert Woods (13 catches, 164 yards), Cooper Kupp (9-121-1) and others to keep the Rams in the game.

    But his third interception on a disorganized 4th-and-2 conversion attempt killed a rally, and he held the ball too long on Shaquil Barrett's fourth-quarter strip-sack, which Ndamukong Suh recovered for a rumbling 37-yard touchdown.

    Goff's 68 passing attempts were the third-highest total in NFL history. His 517 yards were the eighth-highest total of all time. Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire produced a full breakdown of just how remarkable Goff's numbers were.


    What it means

    Goff is often labeled as a "system quarterback," which is a loaded insult.

    Few quarterbacks in the world would be good enough to fit a system as efficient as the Rams offense. That said, there's a measure of truth to the label. Sean McVay's game plans and an excellent supporting cast allow Goff to stand in a clean pocket and rack up big stats and Rams wins by making seemingly routine throws.

    Problems arise when the routine isn't quite working. Goff entered Sunday's game with a career 116.0 passer rating when the Rams are leading in games but just a 78.0 rating when trailing, per Pro Football Reference. Passer rating is a pretty weak stat, but it's useful shorthand in Goff's case. His completion rate and touchdown rate dip severely when he's playing from behind, and his interception and sack rate increase.

    Force Goff into tougher positions, tighter throws or plays on the run and you can make him come unglued. 

    McVay dialed up a pass-heavy game plan, and early mistakes forced the Rams to abandon a running game they didn't really plan to use anyway. Goff responded with some big throws but even more mistakes. That said, the fourth-down interception was as much on McVay as anyone, the Rams defense did him no favors by letting Buccaneers receivers run wild, and Todd Gurley was practically invisible even before the game turned into a shootout.

    Goff doesn't deserve full credit for Sunday's loss, just as he rarely deserves (or gets) inordinate credit for victories. Whatever you thought about him before Sunday's 517-yard outing, you probably still feel, only more so.


    What's next

    Goff spends the week with his elbow in a bucket of ice before the 3-1 Rams visit the 3-1 Seahawks.

Game Spotlight: Patriots 16, Bills 10

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    What happened

    If you expected the Patriots to direct deposit a reality check into a Bills bank account overdrawn on 3-0 optimism, well, that's sort of what happened.

    If you expected a big statement game that proved the Bills defense could hang with Tom Brady and the Patriots, well, that's what happened, too.  

    The Patriots took an early 13-0 lead on a Brandon Bolden touchdown and a Matthew Slater blocked punt return, then sat on it for 51 minutes and 38 seconds. Josh Allen threw three interceptions before getting knocked out of the game and into the concussion protocol. Replacement Matt Barkley threw a fourth.

    Meanwhile, Tom Brady completed eight of 10 passes for 57 yards to running back James White and 10 of 24 passes for 93 yards and an end-zone interception to the rest of his receivers while trying to avoid a withering pass rush. 

    The Bills had the ball four times in the fourth quarter while trailing by six points, once near midfield, but came away with zero points thanks to two punts, a turnover on downs and an interception.


    What it means

    The Patriots have a great defense that looks even better when pummeling on the directional colleges of the AFC East. Brady hasn't looked sharp since the opener and had the kind of game on Sunday that Eli Manning would get hammered about, but some hills just aren't worth fighting upon.

    The Patriots are banged up along the offensive line and may prove vulnerable when they face a solid team with a quality quarterback. But with the Skins, Giants and Jets on their upcoming schedule, that point is largely moot.

    After some strong early-season efforts, Josh Allen had a self-parody game in which he rocketed deep passes with impressive velocity and trajectory directly to waiting defenders. The Bills aren't a serious threat to the Patriots, but their defense is the real deal, and their own soft schedule should allow them to coast into a Wild Card berth if Allen, who isn't expected to miss significant time, doesn't throw away the farm.


    What's next

    The Redskins will likely wave rookie Dwayne Haskins at the Patriots, which is the next best thing to waving a surrender flag. 

    The Bills and Titans will square off in a game that's likely to have Wild Card tiebreaker implications and may also include a few completed forward passes.

Game Spotlight: Browns 40, Ravens 25

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    Brien Aho/Associated Press

    What happened

    Baker Mayfield is the cocky, smack-talking bad boy you either hate to love or love to hate. Lamar Jackson is the lovably thirsty try-hard who's a joy to root for, whether he's weaving through defenders on an option or wobbling an off-target pass to nowhere.

    So what happens when the two most exciting-but-overhyped quarterbacks in the NFL square off for a chance to take the lead in the wide-open AFC North? Nick Chubb happens, of course.

    Chubb rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, including an 88-yarder that gave the Browns a 30-18 lead early in the fourth quarter. Jackson threw for just 34 yards in the first half, and the Ravens proved for the second time in two weeks that they are too run-dependent to come back after spotting an opponent the lead.


    What it means

    The AFC North will ultimately be won by the most balanced team. The Browns appear to be that team right now, despite their shortcomings. 

    Mayfield was more decisive and efficient than he was last week against the Rams, distributing the ball to Jarvis Landry (eight catches for 167 yards before leaving the game with a concussion) and other targets, while Chubb extended drives with bruising runs before breaking the game open. The Browns defense allowed some fourth-quarter big plays but was stout when it mattered.

    The Browns have multiple ways to beat opponents, which will serve them well in a division full of beatable opponents.

    The Ravens offense, after looking so promising in their season-opening scrimmage against the Dolphins Marching Band, now looks like their dreary old Joe Flacco offense with some option fins and spoilers attached. Jackson's juke-stick runs may be more fun to watch than the 3rd-and-15 screen passes of yesteryear, but until they actually prove to be more effective, these are the same old Ravens, hoping to squeak out a playoff berth on defense and field goals.


    What's next

    The Ravens travel to Pittsburgh for a game we used to really care about. The Browns visit the 49ers. Mayfield spends the week beefing on the internet with [spins wheel of random attention-seeking internet personalities] either a Kardashian or PewDiePie.

Week 4 Was Weird Bowl Week Across the NFL!

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    The Ravens-Browns Overhyped Young Quarterback Bowl wasn't the only Week 4 matchup with a unique theme. Here's a rundown of what happened in some games with unusual story angles:


    Disgruntled Superstar Defender Bowl: Jaguars 26, Broncos 24

    The scenario: Jalen Ramsey missed practice this week with a combination of paternity leave, minor injuries, illness and a complete lack of interest in playing for the Jaguars anymore. Von Miller gave a 12-second press conference, probably because it's hard to answer questions like, "How the heck was your defense held without a sack or turnover for three games?"

    Game-manager quarterbacks (or groovy backups), old-school organizational philosophies and disenchanted defensive leaders: Which team will defy the odds and prove this is somehow a formula for success?

    The result: The Broncos took a 17-3 lead before falling prey to Minshew Mania, which is like Tebow Mania for folks who skipped church to cruise the mall parking lot while listening to Foghat eight-tracks in a '72 Chevelle. 

    Minshew threw two touchdown passes to give the Jaguars the lead with just a slight assist from Leonard Fournette (225 rushing yards, including an 81-yarder to set up one of the touchdowns). The Broncos answered with a touchdown to take a 24-23 lead with 1:32 to play, but a roughing-the-passer penalty against Miller on Minshew helped spark a game-winning field-goal drive in the closing seconds.

    Miller finished with two of the five Broncos sacks. Ramsey was inactive.

    That's right, the Broncos are 0-2 during games in which the opponent kicks a game-winning field goal after a (not very flagrant at best) roughing-the-passer penalty, and both losses came against other defense-first teams. That's what happens when a team does everything it can to be the oldest of the old-school. 


    Hide the Quarterback Bowl: Bears 16, Vikings 6

    The scenario: The Vikings look like a playoff team as long as Kirk Cousins doesn't have to throw any passes. The Bears look like Super Bowl contenders as long as Mitch Trubisky doesn't have to lead the offense more than 10 yards on a scoring drive. Which NFC North powerhouse has the best chance of celebrating the NFL's 100th season by winning without the forward pass, 1920s-style?

    The result: Trubisky left the game with a shoulder injury after just three attempts. Chase Daniel entered and did his best to look busy, dinking and dunking for 195 yards while the Bears defense bottled up Cousins. 

    Cousins somehow finished the game with 233 yards on 27-of-36 passing, even though it looked like he was getting strip-sacked or throwing the ball away in desperation on every play. But that's the beauty of the "Hide the Quarterback Bowl": string together enough screen passes, third-down throws short of the sticks and meaningless late-game yardage, and any team can make its quarterback look good.

    Assuming you don't actually watch the game, of course.


    Teams Experiencing the Same Season Over and Over Again Bowl: Titans 24, Falcons 10

    The scenario: The Falcons have fielded a high-octane offense and a soft-'n'-squishy defense in almost every season since Matt Ryan's arrival in 2008 (including their 2016 run to the Super Bowl). The Titans have been burning time and resources to build the NFL equivalent of a Conference USA powerhouse since the day they drafted Marcus Mariota. Which team would prove worthy of crawling into the playoffs at 9-7 this year? And which would instead put itself in position to finish 7-9?

    The result: The Falcons defense is so soft it's easy to overlook that it is also slow. Rookie receiver A.J. Brown ran away from it early in the game for a 55-yard touchdown: the first of two touchdowns for him and three for Titans receivers. Brown is an exciting young player, but you know your defense is slow when the Titans are running circles around you.

    Mariota spent the second half trying to give the game back with fumbles and fluttering 25-yard intentional grounding penalties. The Falcons would have none of it. 


    NFC East Irrelevance Bowl: Giants 24, Redskins 3

    The scenario: The Giants got a brief jolt last week when they benched Eli Manning for Broadway Danny Dimes. The Skins wouldn't commit to giving Dwayne Haskins a chance until their season was officially down the dwayne. Which team that has been in denial about the need to rebuild for at least two years would show a flicker of life this week?

    The result: Jay Gruden shrugged his shoulders and inserted Haskins after the Giants took a 14-0 lead, but Haskins threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Jabrill Peppers. Daniel Jones threw two interceptions of his own after looking sharp early in the game, but the Giants seemed spirited even when things weren't going well, while the Skins looked listless.

    Gruden is rumored to be on the hot seat, and while he doesn't deserve blame for the woeful state of the Washington roster, he should have done a better job preparing Haskins, who was tossed into a bad situation without a plan.


    Short Quarterback Bowl: Seahawks 27, Cardinals 10

    The scenario: Russell Wilson is short but very good. Kyler Murray is even shorter, but that should be no problem at all, because Wilson overcame his height disadvantage, right?

    The result: A leaping pick-six by Jadeveon Clowney near the line of scrimmage helped the Seahawks take a 10-0 lead. A pair of missed first-half field goals kept Murray and the Cardinals from making a game of it.

    The Seahawks are 3-1 and the Cardinals 0-3-1, but both teams have weak offensive lines, a dearth of receiving weapons and hinky offensive schemes. The Seahawks think every down is a rushing down; Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury is still experimenting with tactics that almost worked in the Big 12.

    One thing is certain, though: Neither quarterback's height really mattered. Although that pass might have sailed over Clowney's hands if Murray were an inch taller... 

Inside the Numbers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    This week's edition of Inside the Numbers does its best to keep you abreast of fantasy developments and to remind you that running backs do matter. (Though not very much. And not always. And...just read on.)


    Todd Gurley, Rams: 5-16-2 rushing, 7-54-0 receiving

    Gurley rushed just twice for 14 yards and a touchdown in the first half; Sean McVay believes in "establishing the pass" and often orders Jared Goff to come out of the tunnel with his arm cocked. Once a pair of Goff interceptions helped the Bucs take a 21-0 lead, it was time for the Rams to abandon the run altogether.

    Gurley has just 49 carries through four games, and he wasn't used much as a receiver (just four catches for eight yards) prior to this game. The short touchdowns and receiving yards may have saved (or ruined) your fantasy week, but it's getting harder and harder to think of Gurley as a real difference-maker for the Rams.


    Leonard Fournette, Jaguars: 29-225-0 rushing, 2-20 receiving

    Fournette had one of the weirdest statistical games in NFL history last Thursday night, rushing 14 times for minus-three yards before ripping off a late-game 69-yard run to make his stats look respectable.

    This game was vaguely similar. Fournette rushed eight times for just 35 yards in the first half before going ham in the second half, setting up one touchdown with an 81-yard run and igniting a fourth-quarter field-goal drive with a 26-yard scamper.

    There are still too many Jaguars offensive sequences in which Fournette rushes four straight times to gain 12 yards. But there's a chance Fournette's real contributions will get lost in Minshew Mania because the Internet hates cloud-of-dust running backs and loves young quarterbacks who look and act like Steppenwolf roadies.

    Fournette was a difference-maker on Sunday. Minshew was more of a game manager. 


    Wayne Gallman, Giants: 18-63-1 rushing, 6-55-1 receiving

    Gallman played well in relief of Saquon Barkley with a 22-yard run and a 21-yard screen pass (on 3rd-and-11, no less) to complement a one-yard touchdown plunge and his sweet touchdown reception on a Daniel Jones checkdown. 

    Gallman lost a fumble, but Jonathan Hillman lost one of his own in the red zone, which should result in more fantasy opportunities for the former. But keep in mind all of this happened against a Washington team that may be as bad as Dolphins, but without the sense of purpose.


    Christian McCaffrey, Panthers: 27-93-1 rushing, 10-86-0 receiving

    McCaffrey accounted for 60.3 percent of the Panthers offensive yardage and a whopping 71.2 percent of their offensive touches in a 16-10 victory over the Texans. The only Panthers player to record a rush besides McCaffrey on Sunday was receiver Curtis Samuel. They're compensating for the lack of a Cam Newton option threat by sending receivers in motion and threatening with the end-around.

    Panthers running backs besides McCaffrey have just four carries for 10 yards this year, and Sunday's game plan was built largely around tossing screens to McCaffrey and hoping he slipped multiple tackles. In summary, the Panthers wore Newton down until he was a shell of his former self and now plan to remain competitive in his absence by doing the same to McCaffrey.


    Austin Ekeler, Chargers: 18-60-1 rushing, 5-62-1 receiving

    Melvin Gordon III, who ended his holdout midweek, was active but did not play for the Chargers. Justin Jackson was inactive with a foot injury. Ekeler split carries this week with Troymaine Pope, who had previous stints on the (takes a deep breath) practice squads of the Seahawks, Jets, Seahawks again, Colts, Texans and Seahawks again over the last three years.

    Pope carried 10 times for 20 yards on Sunday and will never be seen again.

    Eighteen carries marked a career high for Ekeler, who never rushed more than 15 times in a game before this year. Gordon's return probably means a return to five-to-10-carry, five-to-six-target games for Ekeler. After all, the Chargers will probably want to get maximum use out of Gordon before they toss him in the free-agent bargain bin at the end of the season.

    Keep in mind Ekeler's performance came against the Dolphins, who are the purposely bad team against which all inadvertently bad teams are judged.

Awards Digest

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Offensive Line of the Week

    It takes a heck of an offensive line performance to score 48 offensive points on the Rams defense while holding them to just two sacks, even if turnovers played a big part in what turned into a 55-40 Buccaneers romp. So this week's award goes to Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa and Demar Dotson. 


    Defender of the Week

    J.C. Jackson intercepted two Josh Allen passes to lead the Patriots' four-interception feeding frenzy.


    Special Teamer of the Week

    Jackson also blocked a punt, which Matthew Slater scooped and scored on a Sunday in which the Patriots needed all the help they could get. Since Jackson earned Defender of the Week, Slater can have this award to himself. 

    Slater is one of the greatest special teamers in NFL history, but this is his first Gridiron Digest Special Teamer of the Week award. He's certain to cherish it just as much as his three Super Bowl rings. 


    Mystery Touch of the Week

    Odell Beckham Jr. attempted a deep pass to Damion Ratley on an elaborate reverse flea-flicker, but the pass sailed over his head. The most remarkable thing about the play was watching Beckham step up in the pocket to avoid the rush before firing downfield. If Baker Mayfield could figure out how to do that, he wouldn't be involved in endless beefs with guys like Rex Ryan.

    Speaking of superstar receivers throwing passes, DeAndre Hopkins caught what appeared to be a backward wide receiver screen and attempted a throwback to Carlos Hyde on the other side of the field. Panthers defender Ross Cockrell read the slow-developing, over-engineered trick play and jumped the route for an interception. Bill O'Brien designs trick plays with the same part of the brain he uses to calculate trade compensation. 


    Best Supporting Actor on Someone Else's Highlight

    Bashaud Breeland jogged 100 yards for a fumble recovery touchdown everyone assumed would be called back, but it was Tyrann Mathieu who wrapped up Lions running back Kerryon Johnson before he could reach the goal line, and Xavier Williams both poked the ball loose from Johnson and rolled it between his legs rugby-scrum-style to Breeland.


    Meaningless Fantasy Touchdown of the Week

    Lamar Jackson found Willie Snead IV over the middle of the field, and Snead sprinted 50 yards to paydirt. It was a beautiful pitch and catch. Unfortunately, it occurred with 30 seconds to play in the fourth quarter and the Browns leading 40-18.


    Kicking Failure of the Week

    The Cardinals could have made a game of it against the Seahawks had Zane Gonzalez not missed 43- and 48-yarders in the first half.


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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Jennifer Lopez and Shakira to co-headline this year's Super Bowl halftime show.

    Point: The NFL finally decided to stop middle-aged straight male sportswriters from complaining about the halftime show by booking artists we had a massive crush on in 1997. Well played.

    Counterpart: It's a good thing the NFL entered a controversial partnership with Jay-Z's entertainment company. How else would they be able to book (checks notes) one of the minority owners of the Miami Dolphins?


    NFL Referees Association reaches seven-year CBA agreement with the league.

    Point: Finally, some NFL headlines about officiating.

    Counterpoint: If the language of the CBA is half as confusing as the language governing pass interference, the refs are gonna go home every week with pay stubs as long as CVS receipts.


    John Elway makes the media rounds for a pharmaceutical firm while the Broncos are 0-3.

    Point: He's gotta drum up some money so he can sign Eli Manning next year.

    Counterpoint: Elway is also available for the right price to deliver his award-winning lecture "How to Bring Your Business Strategies Up-to-Date for the Late 20th Century." 


    Amid trade demands and discontent, Jalen Ramsey takes time away from the Jaguars during the week to be present for the birth of his second child.

    Point: This was strictly a negotiating ploy. Is the baby even real? Are any babies real? Does anyone know where babies come from? Can you please tell me?

    Counterpoint: If every NFL player used this as an excuse to miss work, Philip Rivers would only have 37 career pass attempts.

    Bonus counter-counterpoint: The creepiest thing about this whole story was that Adam Gase was leaving the delivery room just as Ramsey walked in.


    Bill Belichick dismisses the use of analytics.

    Point: He did so after calculating a 35.7 percent probability that copycat teams would believe him, fire everyone in the organization who can do long division and start punting on 4th-and-inches from midfield. 

    Counterpoint: Here's some math for you coach: What's a $9 million salary bonus you will (likely) have to pay Antonio Brown divided by one game played? I get $9 million per game. Does that sound right? Does that sound like good money management? Any comment, Coach? No? Why are you staring me down?


    Jon Gruden blames the Raiders' slow offensive start on the departure of Antonio Brown.

    Point: It's either that or blame the guy who didn't come up with a Plan B when the guy who went AWOL on his previous team was freezing his own feet and wearing hand-painted helmets on the practice field.

    Counterpoint: At least Gruden didn't blame analytics. 

Final Thoughts from Week 4

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Here are some stray thoughts and observations from Week 4 that didn't quite fit anywhere else.


    Patrick Mahomes' no-look run

    Mahomes turned his head to look at referee Walt Anderson while scrambling 25 yards for a first down against the Lions. It looked a little like that sequence in Justice League where the Flash thinks he can get the drop on Superman, only to discover that ol' Supes can turn his head fast enough to see the Flash when the rest of the world is in super slow-mo.

    Tune in next week to see Mahomes check his phone during a scramble to determine how many DFS points he is about to rack up.


    Vontaze Burfict's latest cheap shot

    Burfict crouched and launched himself headfirst at Colts tight end Jack Doyle, who was on one knee after catching an underthrown pass. It takes effort to deliver a blow quite that dangerous, unnecessary and (let's be blunt) dirty. But Burfict has a lot of experience in that department. The league should take steps to make sure his latest cheap shot is his final one.


    OBJ loses an earring

    Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey applied a chokehold to Odell Beckham Jr. during an on-field scuffle. Beckham threw a punch in return. Offsetting penalties were called, Freddie Kitchens decried the fact that defenders get away with cheap shots on OBJ (get used to it, coach), and Humphrey apologized after the game. Per Pro Football Talk, OBJ kept everything in perspective.

    "I'm just upset I lost my earring," he said. Browns teammates should pitch in and buy OBJ a jewelry box sometime before Christmas.


    Deshaun Watson explains it all

    Watson was having none of it when a reporter asked one of those vague, quasi-informed "take more shots deep" questions we ask when we already have the entire column figured out in our heads and just want to slap some boilerplate quotes from players into it. He provided a terse but thorough explanation of the Panthers' Cover-4 defense and just how the Texans tried to attack it. It was both informative and the ultimate flex on a reporter who ended up with a lot more than he bargained for.

    Players should provide detailed answers to vague press conference questions more often. It would force us to ask more thoughtful and precise questions. Over time, postgame press conferences might once again come to resemble human communication.


    Fitzgerald climbs the leaderboard

    Five receptions in the loss to the Seahawks pushed Larry Fitzgerald past Tony Gonzalez and into second place on the all-time reception list. Fitzgerald now has 1,326 career receptions; Jerry Rice is the all-time leader with 1,549.

    Imagine playing 16 seasons as a perennial Pro Bowler in today's offensive environment and still being 223 catches behind the all-time leader. That's how great Jerry Rice was, folks. And Fitzgerald is no slouch himself.