Tom Brady Shows Patrick Mahomes and the Rest of the World He’s Still the Boss

Tom Brady Shows Patrick Mahomes and the Rest of the World He’s Still the Boss

The old master and the young phenom went toe-to-toe down on Sunday night, and in the end the Patriots veteran demonstrated to the football world why he’s the G.O.A.T. Oh, and that Mahomes kid is pretty amazing, too. Plus, covering the rest of NFL Week 6  
October 15, 2018

FOXBORO, Mass. — I was in a back room at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar late Sunday night with ex-Patriots Troy Brown and Rob Ninkovich, and NBC Sports Boston personality Michael Holley. Brown and Ninkovich logged 16 years here, while Holley wrote two books about the dynasty they played for. And all four of us had the same reaction when Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski down the right sideline in the final minutes of the gigantic AFC showdown taking place a Stephen Gostkowski kick away.

Let. Him. Score.

The funny thing about it was that I think I said it before Gronkowski even hauled the ball in over Chiefs defensive back Josh Shaw. I knew what was happening because I’d seen it so many times before. We all had. You could be an ex-player like Brown or Ninkovich, or a media person like Holley or me, or one of the 65,878 people in Gillette Stadium—it didn’t matter.

You knew what you were looking at. Like clockwork, Brady was ripping through another defense on the way to victory. In fact, you knew it’d happen when he got the ball at his own 25 yard line with 3:03 left and the game tied at 40, just like you knew it before Gronkowski put the ball, and effectively the game, away.

You knew, just like I did, that the only hope the Chiefs had was to give Gronkowski passage into the end zone so that Patrick Mahomes might make some more magic out there. Letting Brady have the ball last, we’ve learned over and over and over and over again, is asking for a loss. And that’s just what Kansas City left Foxboro with.

Michael Dwyer/AP/REX/Shutterstock

I had a conversation with Tom Brady’s dad a few weeks back, and Tom Sr. described what seeing this sense of inevitability on display is like when it’s your own kid as its executioner. “Eighteen years ago, I couldn’t eat two days before a game,” he said. “Now I’m eating without a nervous stomach an hour before the game. … I don’t have the same fear I had 20 years ago, 15 years ago, because I’ve seen how he’s done things, how he’s prepared and how he’s been able to perform.”

Mahomes came into Foxboro as the early MVP favorite and the leader of a 5-0 team. He left, like so many others have over the last 18 years, with a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of a guy who, at 41, is probably still the very best player in his sport.


We’re going to recap a huge NFL weekend in this week’s MMQB, and there’s so much to get to. Including …

• Anthony Lynn on the burgeoning culture of the Chargers, Philip Rivers on a pace for a career year, and the promise of his best player being back on the field soon.
Matt Ryan on his relationship Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian, and how he knows that he and his offense have to be ready to carry Atlanta going forward.
• The changes in the way the Jets are built, and how they showed up big-time in the team’s wild shootout with Andrew Luck and the Colts.
• A detailed look at status of an NFL team in London full-time—which could be coming in the (relatively) near future.
• The Odell Beckham drama in New York takes another turn on—where else?—Facebook Watch.
• An important week ahead in the Le’Veon Bell saga.
• A couple important votes at this week’s owners meetings.

And as always, we’ll get you our tweets, memes, quotes, takeaways from the college football weekend, and a whole lot more.

But we’re kicking things off in Foxboro.


So yeah, there was an inevitability to all that happened on Sunday night, and Brady is still Brady—and for who knows much longer. You can say coming out of the thriller against the Chiefs that he, and the Patriots offense, are going to be just fine, a few weeks after there was some question following bad losses to Jacksonville and Detroit. Here are five other things I believe we can say:

1. Patrick Mahomes is the real deal. He had an uneven first half—some high throws early were the kind you usually see from a quarterback a little too keyed up, capped by a reckless interception at the end of the second quarter. There are plenty of young QBs who’d have come out of the locker room for the second half and promptly come undone. Mahomes’ second half numbers: 9-of-13 for 188 yards and four touchdowns. He kept swinging, and fell short. This time. But it sure felt like Mahomes’ ability to bring his team back from a 15-point deficit on this stage signaled a new day in Kansas City. Everything had gone extremely well for the second-year QB to this point in the season. He probably proved even more on a night when everything didn’t go right and he had to fight through it.

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2. Despite catches of 42 and 39 yards in the fourth quarter, Gronkowski doesn’t look quite right. The Chiefs saw on tape a player who wasn’t running all that well, and noticed that the Patriots were using play-action to help Gronk generate separation. Through 56 minutes they held him to a single 16-yard catch. New England got him free off play-action for the 42-yarder, and he beat his guy on the 39-yarder. But all this merits watching going forward.

3. Tyreek Hill might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen. On his 75-yard touchdown, Patriots safety Devin McCourty took about as conservative a pursuit angle as possible to get Hill from around the 40. And Hill still beat him. He can fly.

4. The Patriots have taken the governor off of Sony Michel—the first-round pick has 67 carries over the last three games, for 316 yards and four touchdowns. That has allowed New England to use James White as more of a slash player, which is ideal, and it’s brought an edge to the run game, given Michel’s violent style. I’m not wild about taking running backs in the first round, but the Patriots look like they’ve got a pretty good player here.

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5. The Chiefs’ lead in the AFC West is, incredibly, down to just a game. Speaking of which …


HERE COME THE CHARGERS

Last Sunday the Chargers hosted the Raiders, came away with a win, and braced for what was ahead: They wouldn’t play at home again until Thanksgiving week, literally traveling across the world and back in the meantime.

“So I just told them, our toughness is going to be tested,” coach Anthony Lynn told me from the team’s hotel in downtown Cleveland late Sunday afternoon. “Staying focused and eliminating distractions and doing your job, it’s going to be tested.”

Consider the first test passed: Chargers 38, Browns 14.

But Lynn’s bunch did more than take the air out of a juiced, contender-starved Cleveland crowd, there to see a potentially emerging team with a potentially emerging rookie quarterback. More than that, they set the stage for a run of games that could put them in a legit position to dethrone the Chiefs atop the AFC West, by showing they’re equipped to handle the weirdness of their interlude.

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The Chargers are staying in Northeast Ohio this week—they’ll practice at Baldwin-Wallace (ex-Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s alma mater) in suburban Berea. They’ll then fly to London on Thursday in advance of their Sunday game with the Titans. Their bye follows that, and then they have trips to Seattle on Nov. 4 and Oakland on Nov. 11.

If they run the table? They’ll come home to face the Broncos at 7-2. And it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone if they get there. This is a team that, last year, lived as nomads for most of the year, staying in San Diego for six months after the move to L.A. was announced, then working out of a hotel during camp as a temporary facility was being completed. And as Lynn would tell you, it’s a pretty talented bunch too.

“I like the character of this group,” Lynn said. “I told them, you don’t have to have a lot of great players to do something special—you have to have a great team to do something special. And that’s what I think we have a chance to have, is a great team. It doesn’t hurt to have some great players, but I do think we have that makeup, that character to do that.”

After talking to Lynn, there are two pretty cool things about where the team is following the beatdown of the Browns.

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First, Philip Rivers may be playing as well as he ever has. He’s completing 68.6 percent of his throws for 1,702 yards, 15 touchdowns and just three picks. His 115.1 passer rating would easily be a career high for a season, even he can keep it up.

“It may be weird to think that a guy in his late 30s might be getting better, but I’m telling you, this year I feel like he got better,” Lynn said. “Not saying that he was bad last year because he wasn’t bad last year. But I just saw a guy show up this year that was—hell, he looked younger. The way he ran around on the field, his juice on his arm—his intelligence has always been there but from a physical standpoint, I just felt like he looked younger to me this year.

“And we’re doing more, him and I being together for a year, using his skill set.”

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And while Sunday wasn’t his best game of the season, Rivers hit Tyrell Williams for 44 and 45 yards on consecutive downfield shots that were about as good as it gets, and Lynn lauded what he did to get the right run checks in, helping pave the way for Melvin Gordon’s 132-yard day.

Second, there’s the idea that, as good as the Chargers are now, they’ll be getting better whenever Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry return.

“We’ve got to get it done with whatever we have,” Lynn says. “I believe we have enough right now. But getting a guy like Joey Bosa back, that’s a heck of a boost to our football team. Potentially getting a guy like Hunter Henry back late, that’s a heck of a boost to our football team. So I’d welcome those two guys back.”

He’ll welcome them back to a good situation, too, by the looks of it.


Coming Oct. 17: An exclusive narrative podcast series from SI, re-examining the murder of Titans great Steve McNair. Subscribe on iTunes, or wherever you download your podcasts.


THE JETS’ NEXT STEP: SWAGGER

Let’s be clear: The Jets aren’t there yet. This probably won’t be a playoff year for them, and chances that they threaten the Patriots in the AFC East into December still seem minimal.

But Sunday was one of those days where it looked like the team is on its way. Sam Darnold was solid (24 of 30, 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) for a second straight week. More so, the culture change happening around him was apparent again, and that’s been just as important a step forward this fall for GM Mike Maccagnan, coach Todd Bowles and their staff.

Going into 2017, when the band-aid remaining from the Rex Ryan Era was ripped off, the Jets narrowed their focus to emphasize drafting, signing and trading for players with experience in successful programs who play with passion and confidence. And you can go down the list: Jamal Adams (LSU), Marcus Maye (Florida) and Darnold himself (USC) joined 2016 acquisitions like Steve McClendon (Steelers) and Darron Lee (first round, Ohio State) who naturally fit the profile.

The idea was to develop attitude. And they don’t mind if you refer to it as swagger.

“That takes a minute to have full swagger because you need everybody to gel together,” Lee said. “But we really started to gel together towards about the end of camp—like fully, everybody, gelling together, and now you are starting to see that swagger, week in and week out. And you’re not looking for the same person every single week to start it off, you are looking for everybody, because we’re all in this.”

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

It came into play on Sunday more than it has at maybe any other point thus far, because Andrew Luck kept coming at the Jets.

When I asked Lee what play best exemplified the swagger he was talking about, he pointed to Morris Claiborne’s pick six, off a tip, on the game’s second play. But Luck came right back from that with a five-play, 75-yard drive to even the score at 7. Luck threw another pick in the second quarter and Indy fell behind by 30-13 early in the third quarter. And then Luck ripped off consecutive 75-yard touchdown drives to get the Colts back within 6, at 33-27.

As Lee explains it, the old Jets probably would’ve folded. The new Jets kept swinging.

“If we had this game last year, we probably would’ve lost,” Lee said. “And that’s because just a lot of undisciplined [play] and a lack of trust for each other, but we are starting to have that trust for each other now, and so you are starting to see us close out these type of games. It’s a really incredible thing to see.”

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And of course, just as the Colts were moving the ball on their next possession, down 36-27, Lee went up high for another interception that created the kind of separation the Jets would need after Luck got Indy down the field one last time.

“Those are all things that we know we’re capable of, and we all know that we can do, because we practice it—we practice takeaways all the time,” said Lee. “We always have a swagger, even in practice, even when nothing counts, because you know it will on Sundays. So I think that’s what you’re seeing on Sundays. We’re just happy for everybody making those types of plays.”

More than that, the Jets are pretty happy to have those types of players.



SARK AND THE FALCONS’ SEASON-SAVING SPARK

Coming out of the season opener, plenty of fingers were pointed at Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. And with the team 2-4 after a 34-29 win of survival over the Bucs, I wouldn’t expect anyone to do an about face now. But maybe we all should.

Matt Ryan’s passer ratings in the five games since that Thursday night in Philly: 116.1, 148.1, 134.5, 99.1 and, Sunday, 125.5. His TD/INT differential over that time is 14-1, and Atlanta has scored in the 30s in four of those games.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

There was fair criticism coming into the year regarding Sark’s inability to get close to the high standard Kyle Shanahan’s 2016 offense set, and it’s understandable why critics would be be piling on after the offense’s unsightly showing in Philly (featuring blown scoring opportunity after blown scoring opportunity). But much has changed since.

“He’s a lot more comfortable with our personnel, when guys go down, how to use different guys, all of that stuff,” Ryan said over the phone after the win. “I think he’s got really good familiarity with our guys at this point and he’s able to adjust really well when different things come up. So he’s done a great job with that. And then I think as players our execution has been better, we’ve done a good job of making plays when we have needed to.

“It’s not an enlightening comment or anything like that, but that’s what it’s been, it’s been better execution and good adjustments by Sark throughout the game.”

It came through when Atlanta needed it most against Tampa. The Falcons hit a rut in the third quarter, punting on their three possessions in that frame as the Bucs worked to close what had been a 21-6 deficit to 24-22. Atlanta opened its first possession of the fourth quarter with a first-and-10 from the 25, which is right where Sark found the spark the Falcons needed.

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And he did it by putting his trust in his two best players.

Ryan came off play-action on the call, reset, and threw the ball just before Julio Jones made his on a out-break route. The defense was helpless to stop the 32-yard gain. Slump over. Ten-play, 75-yard touchdown drive ignited.

“It was critical to jump-start us—a keeper to the left and pulling up and just trusting he’s going to be where he’s supposed to be at the right time,” Ryan said. “That’s just years of playing together and knowing he’s going to do it right when you need him to do it.”

As for Sark’s role, Ryan continued, “We talk about it—in critical situations, you’ve got to think about players and give your guys opportunities. He’s certainly done a great job with that.”

He’s needed to, too. The Falcons’ 2018 season was hanging by a thread thin enough for Ryan to acknowledge, at the outset of our conversation, that this game sure felt like a must-win. As it is, with safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen and middle linebacker Deion Jones out for the season, the offense is going to have to be good—really good—for Atlanta to take this year anywhere.

“You have to have the mindset every week, that we need to do whatever we’ve got to do to get it done,” Ryan said. “And if it takes us to score 40, 50 whatever, we’ve got to do it, and that mindset doesn’t really change regardless of who’s over there. You have to have that aggressive mindset as an offense.”

And that’s started, of late, with the burgeoning relationship between quarterback and play-caller, kind of like it did a couple years back.


LONDON CALLING, LOUDER THAN EVER

The Seahawks beat the Raiders 27-3 at Wembley on Sunday, the first of three straight Sundays the NFL will be playing in the London venue, with 9:30 a.m. ET kickoffs coming in Weeks 7 (Titans/Chargers) and 8 (Eagles/Jaguars). As we detailed in the Sunday Rundown this week, the league’s EVP of international, Mark Waller, is bullish on the city’s readiness to have its own team.

And while he did leave a caveat—“Like I’ve always said, the one we can never test for is how does it work week-in and week-out,” he said—Waller’s confidence is built off of 12 years of testing of the market. What he couldn’t tell me was which team it might be that relocates, something he made clear when I asked specifically about the reports out of London indicating the Jaguars are lining things up for a move.

“This process for me, we’re building a marketplace, and the ownership, as it always does, will decide if they want a team over here, and then there’d be a process for who that team might be,” Waller said. “I don’t believe we’re in the narrowing down phase where it’ll be this team or that team. The phase we’re in, the market looks like it’s in great shape.”

With that in mind, here are five things I took from my conversation with Waller on the future of the NFL in London. …

1. This year has inadvertently turned into a new way to test the market for the league. With the Tottenham stadium the NFL has invested in not completed on time, the NFL had to move yesterday’s game to Wembley, meaning it would get to test the field in playing three consecutive games on it. That also opens a window into plans for the team—with said team likely to play home and away games in blocks. “That’ll be a good test,” Waller said of playing three straight at Wembley. “And a very valuable one, because we’ve always talked about how in the event we were ever scheduling a team over here, they’d be playing three or four games here, and then three or four games in the U.S. So it’s ultimately turned into a great opportunity to test that, at Wembley at least.”

2. As for Jaguars owner Shad Khan potentially buying Wembley, Waller said this: “It confirms Shad’s belief in the opportunity in the marketplace for NFL football, and his belief that there is a great business opportunity in owning Wembley. We already have the impact of the optionality of stadiums. That was a strategic goal from 2013 onward, the realization that we needed more than one stadium option. That fact that you would have an NFL owner owning a stadium that works really well for us is obviously great. But I don’t think it’s logical to say, ‘Oh, since Shad owns it, then if there’s a team to go to London it’ll be the Jags.’ ” Waller also mentioned the possibility that a London team could have multiple home stadiums—with the league having made an eight-figure investment in Tottenham (which will be configured for football and soccer) and Khan considering an even more significant financial plunge.

Tim Ireland/AP/REX/Shutterstock

3. The biggest difference coming in 2019? That the London games will be announced at the same time as the rest of the schedule, not ahead of time as had been the custom. It’s another step in an effort to “normalize” these games, and prepare for the possibility that a team will be playing some or all of its home schedule there. “Remember that we have that guarantee that you can have your bye if you want it,” Waller said. “There has been talk about, ‘Hey, there are a couple teams every year that know in advance when their bye week is going to be, if they want it.’ So we want to make it as normal and standard as possible.” As for the 2019 schedule itself, there will be four games, two at Wembley and two at Tottenham.

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4. For right now, the idea of going somewhere other than London or Mexico City in 2019 is off the table. It’ll be four in the former and one in the latter, in all likelihood. “There’s no obvious stadium options in Canada. I don’t think at the moment that seems like an option,” said Waller. “So we don’t really have a next frontier at the moment. We’d love to do Germany. We don’t have an endless bucket of inventory of games to play. Five is a lot.”

5. I did bring up the idea of a “London team” playing four home games there and four home games in a U.S. city—a Daily Mail report said Khan was exploring the tax implications of such a plan—and Waller said that’s one that’s been looked at. “I definitely think that would be a feasible option,” Waller said. “We’ve not spent any time with any club talking about that or planning that or thinking it through. So it’s not something that had a plan for. But it seems like it’d be feasible.” Also out there in the rumor mill has been the idea that league might buy the Falcons’ Flowery Branch, Ga., facility—with the Falcons moving closer to their downtown Atlanta stadium—to create a U.S. base for a London team should it play all eight games in the U.K. “That’s definitely going to be a requirement, that there’s a center, a base the team would have in the U.S., and to your point it’d make sense that it was East Coast,” said Waller. “And it’d make sense that it’d be more southern than northern, from a weather and climate perspective. That definitely makes sense.”

So where is this going? It’s hard to say. But what’s clear is that the goal of putting a team in London that Waller and company set in 2007 has never been closer. And if you don’t believe it, go ahead and see how the league draws attention to its progress in the U.K. over the next couple weeks.


… OF THE WEEK

TWEET

Solid catch here by football analyst Warren Sharp—and if you watch it a few times, I’m telling you, it sort of gets mesmerizing.

CLIP

Antonio Brown is smooth as silk on this game-winning touchdown for the Steelers, but that wasn’t a pick or a rub by Pittsburgh receiver Justin Hunter on Bengals corner Tony McRae. It was a flat-out, Walter Jones-style block. And I can’t believe the officials missed it.

MEME

My old buddy Scott Hanson from NFL Network and RedZone goes to town on one of the world’s toughest men. And I guess they really wouldn’t ever teach you to throw a football in Dublin, right?

QUOTE

"We lost, but I’ve got a beautiful wife I get to go home to, boy. I’m going to try to make some babies, man."

Raiders DE Bruce Irvin to ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez. Look, I’m all for players embracing a free flow of information with the media. I’m just not positive we needed to know how the Irvins were planning to work off the frustration of a 1-5 start during the bye week.

S/O TO …

Jim Taylor’s family and all the Packers of the Lombardi Era who survived him—I only knew the Hall of Fame running back through stories I heard from my dad about those great Green Bay teams. But from those stories, it’s evident that Taylor’s toughness helped define his legendary coach’s legendary run game. So here, for educational purposes, is a little more on Jim Taylor, from his old teammate Jerry Kramer.


SIX FROM SATURDAY

The college football weekend, through an NFL lens:

1. Oregon pulled off a title-race-shifting upset of rival Washington on Saturday. And while it wasn’t potential No. 1 overall pick Justin Herbert’s best day (18-32, 202 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT), it didn’t affect what NFL types think of him too much. “He still looked good,” said one evaluator who was there. “Big, great arm, smooth motion, he can run. He has tools. It’s early, but the guy has top-tier tools.”

2. On the flip side, West Virginia QB Will Grier is slumping—and more than one scout pointed out to me on Sunday that his play has leveled off. In the Mountaineers’ upset loss to Iowa State, their first defeat of the season, Grier threw for 100 yards, a pick and a touchdown on 11-of-15 passing. That was after throwing three picks against Kansas last week.

3. Lots of Michigan Wolverines looked impressive on Saturday night, and one who’s built a little momentum for himself of late is senior tailback Karan Higdon, who rushed for 105 hard yards on 19 carries. Michigan’s offense took off when it started feeding him in the second half, and he’s shown three-down ability that should help him next spring in the run-up to the draft. To one veteran evaluator I spoke with on Sunday, he looks a little like Mark Walton, the Bengals’ fourth-round pick, did last year.

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4. LSU’s defense keyed the Tigers’ rousing 36-16 rout of second-ranked Georgia, and the unit’s two starriest defenders—corner Greedy Williams and linebacker Devin White—certainly didn’t hurt their draft stock. White was a star in short yardage situations, and Williams showed well against Bulldogs star Riley Ridley (Calvin’s brother). Both Tigers have a great shot at going in the top 20 or so in 2019.

5. Vandy’s upset bid against Florida was derailed when star junior tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn went down. To that point, Vaughn had 56 yards on seven carries, as well as a 75-yard touchdown catch. You can bet his injury status is something NFL teams will be keeping an eye on.

6. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio can flat out coach. What an upset at Penn State.


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. Here’s how Odell Beckham opened his Facebook Watch series episode this weekend: “Bro, I’m sorry that I’m not gonna apologize from my heart. I don’t feel like you deserve an apology for one, and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to apologize for how I feel.” A fair question to ask after Beckham signed his five-year, $90 million extension was this: Were his five months of good behavior and engagement with and in Pat Shurmur’s program a 20-something growing up, or just Beckham putting himself in a position to get paid? I think we know the answer now. And soon, once Eli Manning’s gone, Beckham becomes the guy on that team who has to set an example for everyone else. If were the Giants, I’d be nervous.

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2. We mentioned last week how Le’Veon Bell had gone dark on the Steelers—no communication with players, staff or coaches—and that’s still the case as the team heads into its bye week. This problem is, actually, part of why linemen Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey lashed out at Bell in September. The All-Pro running back them he planned to be back from his holdout around Labor Day. When he didn’t show, those guys texted him and got no response. And at that point, they were pretty much fed up with the drama. The Steelers are doing OK without Bell, too. They’re 3-2-1 and rank fifth in total offense and seventh in scoring. All of which could make for an awkward situation if Bell suddenly arrives on Monday or Tuesday.

3. I feel kind of bad saying this, but man, that was a perfect Nate Peterman game. Replacing Josh Allen, who injured his right elbow in the third quarter, Peterman’s touchdown pass to Zay Jones was a dime, so good it could convince you that all we’ve seen to this point was just a young quarterback learning his way. Then he threw a pick-six just two plays after Houston tied the game on a field goal, and added another game-clinching (for the Texans) pick minutes later. Get well, Josh.

4. The Texans and Giants are good examples of how hard it is to coach around offensive line deficiencies. Houston, with its mobile, playmaking quarterback, is finding a way to make it work. New York, with its stationary pocket passer, is having plenty of ups and downs. And both are showing why spending on O-linemen was so out of control last offseason, with the new highest paid tackle (Nate Solder), guard (Andrew Norwell) and center (Ryan Jensen) emerging from the free-agent crop. (It’s probably not great news that the Giants are paying one of those guys and remain an example of this supply-and-demand problem.)

5. So what did the Cowboys do to shock everyone with a 40-7 blowout of the vaunted Jaguars? They played the matchups. With Jags nickel corner D.J. Hayden still out, Dak Prescott went to Cole Beasley time and again, and Jacksonville yielded 101 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches to the Dallas slot. And on the other side of the ball, the Cowboys attacked an offensive line now on its third tackle. To those coaches, by the way, it looked like the Jags are really starting to miss Leonard Fournette, who would allow them leeway to slow a game like this down before problems metastasize.

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6. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen continues to be one of the best stories of the young season—his 11-catch, 123-yard afternoon included a ridiculous snag on the sideline that he laid out for, Cris Carter-style. And the amazing thing is what a bargain he’s been. The Minnesota native signed a four-year, $20.3 million deal to stay home with the Vikings in March 2017. At the end of July, teammate Stefon Diggs copped a five-year, $73.9 million extension. Thielen has 58 catches for 712 yards and four scores. Diggs has 40 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns.

7. Over the summer the Seahawks raved about the stable of backs they’d assembled, and privately promised a return to the roots of what Pete Carroll had built in Seattle—an offense founded on edge and toughness behind a strong run game (Marshawn Lynch, of course, fueled it then). It’s too early to say whether that’s happening. But what you can say now is that the run game has gone a long way in stabilizing a season that seemed to be coming undone after two weeks. The last four weeks, Seattle has rushed for 113, 171, 190 and 155 yards as a team, and that’s led to a 3-1 mark over that stretch. Chris Carson staying healthy hasn’t hurt, nor has the improvement of the line.

8. Credit to the Dolphins and Redskins for holding serve at home just as they both seemed to be headed into a slide. Against the Bears, Brock Osweiler (yes, Brock Osweiler) gets points for continuing to fight after a rough start in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, and getting the Dolphins into range for the game-wining field goal in overtime to atone for Kenyan Drake’s goal-line fumble earlier in the fifth quarter. And Alex Smith was never nearly as bad as people made him out to be after the Skins got blown out on Monday night in New Orleans. Smith was solid (21 of 36, two TDs, no INTs) in an important win over the Panthers.

9. The NFL will convene its fall meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in New York, and it lacks last year’s anthem-related sizzle. Pretty much all of it this time around is business operations stuff. As we reported in the Sunday Rundown, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt and Texans owner Bob McNair will rotate off the compensation committee, which will be reduced from six members to five. The owners will vote to elect one new member in New York. And there’s also a vote scheduled to abolish the current cross-ownership rules that prohibit an owner in another sport in one market to buy an NFL team in another market. Which is to say, had this vote gone through last year, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would have free and clear to bid on, say, the Panthers earlier this year.

10. If you’re like me, and you look at Cowboys history as about the most interesting corner of pro football lore, you’ll want to pick up How ’Bout Them Cowboys, by longtime NFL scribe Gary Myers. If you do, check out the start of Chapter 4—there’s a chance encounter in there between Jerry Jones and Bill Belichick in Aspen, of all places, and with the two in very different places than they are now. Jones was about to win his third world title in four years. Belichick had just been fired in Cleveland. And while Jones didn’t have a job to talk to Belichick about at the time, he told Myers, “I wanted to encourage him.” Things, of course, have changed since.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

We mentioned the owners meeting—which should be a little bit of a snoozer. And the prime-time games this week aren’t much better.

On Thursday, the Broncos (who sent GM John Elway and personnel chief Matt Russell to live scout Justin Herbert against Washington on Saturday) will get a first-hand look at one of the quarterbacks they past on at five in the 2018 draft, when they travel to Arizona to face off with Josh Rosen.

And Monday night’s game is one of those that looked great on paper and had its curb appeal seriously damaged by an injury: What was supposed to be Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Aaron Rodgers is now C.J. Beathard vs. Aaron Rodgers. Given some of the recent drama in Green Bay, it’ll be news there if Rodgers and Packers struggle at all to beat the Niners on their home field.

By the way, they won’t. Give me the Packers to right their ship, for now, 34-13.

NFL
Packers-49ers Pick: Can Green Bay Take Advantage of a Hurting Niners Team?

Be sure to check out my Monday Afternoon Quarterback—a new column of quick notes to set up the week, plus The MMQB TV, our studio show on SI TV, and my Game Plan column on Thursday. See you all soon.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)