On Sunday night, the Baltimore Ravens proved they belong in the Super Bowl conversation. The New England Patriots proved they are mortal.
The Ravens are for real. The Patriots have real issues.
Let’s start with Baltimore. On a night where the world wanted to see what Lamar Jackson could do against football’s smartest coach and best defense, he delivered, Sure, Jackson only threw for 163 yards, but he accounted for 61 yards on the ground with a trio of touchdowns. He was the electric point guard or a revved-up offense, one that decimated New England’s machine for 30 offensive points and 372 yards.
Most impressively, this wasn’t a case where everything went right for the Ravens. Baltimore had two costly turnovers in the second quarter, both inside its own 30-yard line. The Patriots fell behind 17-0 before making the contest a one-score game multiple times. At each turn, Baltimore rallied and showcased why it’s not to be taken lightly come January.
The biggest concern about the Ravens heading into Sunday night was the one-dimension nature of their offense. Jackson rarely throws for eye-catching numbers, and so it figures that when the running game is choked off, Baltimore has huge problems. Maybe that’s the case, but if the Patriots and Bill Belichick can’t stop it, who can?
Speaking of New England, its issues have long been under the surface. Now they’re exposed.
The Patriots have feasted all year on turnovers and bad opponents. Before playing the Ravens, the combined record of their foes is a ghastly 17-40. The quarterbacks seen? Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Luke Falk, Josh Allen, Colt McCoy, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield. After Roethlisberger, a mishmash of nonsense.
Even with two turnovers deep within Baltimore territory, the Patriots could only manage 20 points. Tom Brady threw for 285 yards on 46 attempts. The running game, which has averaged a hideous 3.2 yards per attempt before facing the Ravens, croaked out 74 yards, albeit on a more respectable 4.4 YPA.
Most jarring, though, was the defense. Even allowing for Marlon Humphrey’s scoop-and-score, the Patriots allowed 30 points. They were mostly run over at the point of attack while their linebackers were exposed by the Ravens’ backs and tight ends. Teams have known how to attack this unit but nobody had the talent to execute. Until Sunday night.
With the bye week, New England can now self-scout. Nobody is better than the Patriots with that task. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will create ways to open up the running game alongside famed line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The defense will adjust and atone. It’s the Patriots.
Still, a lingering feeling from the game will go forward. New England was once unbeaten. The shine of invisibility is now gone. For the Ravens, they’ve entered the conversation of elite contenders. Confidence won’t be lacking for Jackson and his charges.
For half the season, the AFC appeared a one-horse race. The field is catching up.
Top 10 quarterbacks who could legitimately be on the 2020 free-agent market
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
2. Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints
3. Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars
4. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
5. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans
7. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
8. Case Keenum, Washington Redskins
9. Joe Flacco, Denver Broncos
10. Eli Manning, New York Giants
“It’s the NFL, man. You can’t be embarrassed by this s–t,”
– New York Jets head coach Adam Gase following a sound defeat to the Miami Dolphins
If that’s not embarrassing, what is? The Jets in a semi-blowout to a previously winless team. New York is 1-7 and would pick second if the NFL Draft was tomorrow. Again, what’s the bar for embarrassment?
Everyone has been waiting for Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn to be fired, but Gase might have usurped him with his showing on Sunday.
If the Denver Broncos lose three more games this season, they’ll have suffered three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1970-72.
The only team with a longer such streak? The Minnesota Vikings. Minnesota sustained a trio of consecutive losing campaigns in its first three seasons (1961-63) but have never do so since.
Info learned this week
1. Chiefs win highlights improved defense over past three games
In their losses to the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans, the Kansas City Chiefs allowed 372 rushing yards. They had zero sacks.
In the three games since, Kansas City has surrendered 285 rushing yards and notched 15 sacks.
On Sunday, it was the defense thwarting the Vikings time and again, including a pair of pivotal three-and-out stops in the latter half of the fourth quarter. This despite being without defensive ends Alex Okafor and Frank Clark, and slot corner Kendall Fuller.
In the air, Kirk Cousins only completed 19-of-38 attempts for 220 yards, often being forced to throw into tight windows or out of bounds.
With Patrick Mahomes slated to come back this week against the Tennessee Titans, the Chiefs are leading the AFC West at 6-3. More importantly, they suddenly appear to have a formidable defense.
2. Browns see their hopes flushed in horrific loss to Denver
The fat lady is belting out tunes on the shores of Lake Erie.
A 24-19 loss to the lowly Broncos is the final proof anybody needs about who the Browns are this season. A spring and summer filled with promise, quotes, magazine covers and grand prognostications died in the altitude on Sunday, with Cleveland falling to 2-6. Even in the mediocre AFC, the Browns are buried.
This mess is shared by many. General manager John Dorsey believed he built a contender but the offensive line has proven a massive Achilles heel. Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam also compromised on hiring Freddie Kitchens as head coach, a disastrous decision if there ever was one. Tough to see Kitchens being retained at this juncture.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield hasn’t helped matters. He’s talked and talked but done little between the lines. Six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions despite Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on the outside. Speaking of whom, the duo needed a reprimand on their fashion choices in the Denver debacle. Not a great look when the team is cratering.
It’s been a collective failure. At 2-6, they all need to own it.
3. Wilson has another great day, continuing an MVP-caliber season
Twenty-two touchdown passes. One interception. Russell Wilson is playing amazing football.
Wilson often gets forgotten when discussing the NFL’s best quarterbacks. We chat about Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Wilson is every bit as good.
On Sunday, Wilson tossed five touchdown passes in a 40-34 overtime triumph over Tampa Bay.
The Seattle Seahawks are 7-2, largely due to Wilson’s brilliance both within and outside the pocket. Wilson has made due with Tyler Lockett and second-round rookie D.K. Metcalf, along with a conservative playcaller in offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. There are other worthy candidates such as Deshaun Watson, Rodgers and Christian McCaffrey. Still, Wilson has taken firm control of the MVP race through nine weeks.
Rookie of the Year. Six-time Pro Bowler. Super Bowl champion. Wilson has a chance to add the ultimate individual hardware to his trophy case this year.
4. Chargers-Raiders TNF battle suddenly packed with intrigue
Thursday night football is usually a snoozer. Not this time.
The Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders both won on Sunday, moving to 4-5 and 4-4, respectively. Neither is a powerhouse, but both could make second-half runs in an attempt to shake up the AFC playoff race (more on that below).
For Oakland, this is its final home divisional game at the Coliseum. After this? Games against the Bengals and Jets. In all likelihood, the Raiders would be 7-4 with a win before visiting the Chiefs at Arrowhead.
The Chargers have a tougher road ahead, but a victory keeps hope alive. Los Angeles has a pair of divisional tilts ahead with the Raiders and then Kansas City in Mexico on Monday Night Football. After beating the Bears and Packers, the Chargers have gave this game meaning. All you can ask after starting 2-5.
5. Bills continue to feast on bottom-feeding opponents
The Buffalo Bills are 6-2. They’ve beaten one team that hasn’t benched its quarterback at some point this year. Seriously.
The Buffalo victims? Cincinnati, Washington, Miami, Tennessee and both New York teams. Only the Jets haven’t willingly benched their signal-caller either before or after seeing the Bills. What does it mean? Well, it means Buffalo hasn’t beaten a single team with a good quarterback. That trend continued Sunday with Dwayne Haskins and the Redskins, who have trotted out three quarterbacks in eight games.
There’s ample talk about the Patriots’ schedule, but the Bills have feasted on a similar docket. Of course, they owe no apologies on their way to the postseason.
In the 1970s, the Miami Dolphins (.722) and Dallas Cowboys (.729) had the NFL’s two highest win percentages. Incredibly, the two only met in once on Super Sunday, with the Cowboys winning 24-3 in Super Bowl VI.
Despite their shared dominance, the Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the decade, equaling the output of Miami and Dallas combined.
Halfway through the season, the playoff pictures couldn’t be more opposite for each conference.
In the AFC, it seems obvious, no? The Patriots, Chiefs, Ravens, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts are in tremendous position. Nobody else is above .500.
The NFC is a quagmire. Barring a complete collapse, the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Saints are playing in January.
As for the last two spots? The Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles and Vikings are all legitimately involved.
Between Philadelphia and Dallas, someone will claim the NFC East. This leaves Los Angeles, Carolina and Minnesota for the final spot.
Perhaps the 49ers falter against a tough second-half slate and allow the Rams to win the NFC West for a third consecutive year. However, Los Angeles is 0-2 against Seattle and San Francisco this season, including a home loss to the latter. Tall order to beat out both.
Minnesota likely feels confident despite losing in Kansas City to a Mahomes-less Chiefs team. The Vikings still have three NFC North games remaining, but they’re all at home. They also draw the Broncos and Chargers, with Denver at home.
Carolina has the toughest task of the aforementioned contenders. The Panthers are without Cam Newton and while they draw the Falcons twice along with Washington, it also has trips to Green Bay, New Orleans (and the home rematch) and Indianapolis. Not easy, especially with a backup quarterback.
Eight weeks remain in the regular season. The AFC is about seeding. The NFC is about survival.