It was another week in the NFL where if you had written the script before the games had been played, you would have been laughed out of the room for making it seem too far-fetched.
Imagine telling somebody on Sunday morning that Minnesota Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson would miss three makeable field goals, including two potential game-winners in overtime; that Buffalo Bills cornerback Vontae Davis would retire at half-time or that the Cleveland Browns would blow another potential victory with a kicking meltdown via the foot of Zane Gonzalez.
Okay, that last one about the Browns blowing yet another winning opportunity could have been believed (they have not won a game since Christmas Eve of 2016)… but the rest would have likely seen you laughed out of town.
Here are some of the headlines that caught my eye in a wild Sunday that saw 10 of 14 games decided by a single score.
Mahomes in the groove
In just two dynamic starts this season, Patrick Mahomes has shown the skills that made the Kansas City Chiefs feel very comfortable in trading away their Pro Bowl quarterback, Alex Smith. I have long been a Smith fan, but Mahomes is playing at another level entirely.
What has been so impressive about Mahomes’ performances in leading the Chiefs to away wins against the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers is that he looks like a 10-year veteran, not a raw youngster.
The cannon-armed passer also possesses quick feet and a tremendous football brain, and all of those skills were on display in Sunday’s 42-37 win over the Steelers. Mahomes hit on 23 of 28 passes for 326 yards and six touchdowns. His 10 scoring passes in two weeks are the most to start a season in NFL history. The sky is the limit for this young star.
Jags record a statement win
The Jacksonville Jaguars sent a strong message to the rest of the NFL in Week Two as they recorded a comprehensive 31-20 victory over the New England Patriots. While Bill Belichick’s men showed some signs of life in the second half, that scoreline probably flattered the reigning AFC champions.
The Jags harried and harassed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady throughout the game and also held star tight end Rob Gronkowski to just two catches for 15 yards. But this was more than a stellar defensive display, which has long been Jacksonville’s calling card.
This game saw the Jags march up and down the field on offense, even without star running back Leonard Fournette. Oft-criticised quarterback Blake Bortles was immense as he threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns. Time and again, Belichick dared Bortles to beat his defense through the air and the quarterback regularly delivered on a career day.
If Bortles can play this freely and consistently the rest of the way, the Jags can definitely begin dreaming of a Super Bowl trip to Atlanta in February.
Young kickers fail
Many NFL teams prefer to go with younger and less-experienced players at the kicker position because they are so much cheaper, but I personally think that is a dangerous move. Kickers are so often called upon to win – or lose – games with a great deal of pressure heaped on their shoulders.
Give me young and cheap at back-up linebacker or reserve defensive lineman, but not at kicker. I want a proven commodity nailing field goals for my team at the end of a hard-fought game.
Two teams who learned that lesson the hard way on Sunday night were Minnesota and Cleveland. Carlson, the 23-year-old rookie for the Vikings, missed three field goals in a 29-29 tie at Green Bay, including a chip-shot 35-yarder as time ran out.
Gonzalez is also 23 and only in his second season. He also couldn’t hit a cow’s behind with a banjo on Sunday evening as he missed two field goals and two extra points in a 21-18 loss at the New Orleans Saints. But for some reason, Dan Bailey – the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history – was sat on his couch and out of work on Sunday, deemed to be too expensive.
Davis retires… at half-time!
You literally couldn’t make up some of the stories we end up reporting on during the course of an NFL Sunday. The news that broke in Week Two was literally unlike anything I have ever seen or heard before… Buffalo cornerback Davis retired at half-time!
Struggling in what was eventually a one-sided loss to the Chargers, Davis simply took off his kit and walked out of the locker room. He didn’t fake a leg or head injury so he didn’t have to play in the second half – he just called time on a Pro Bowl career with an entire 30 minutes of football still to be played, much to the dismay of team-mates who labelled him “disrespectful”.
Davis released a public statement after the game and said: “This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the NFL.” You’re not kidding! I think this was poor from Davis, no matter how badly he was struggling. He should have played through or simply said to the coaches he needed to be held out. And then he could have retired with a little more dignity after the game.
He quit on his team, heaping even more misery on a Bills team set to endure an embarrassing campaign in 2018. It is amazing how hard and fast Buffalo have fallen after making the playoffs last term.
‘Fitzmagic’ passes a big test
When Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up the Saints to the tune of 48 points in Week One, most of us expected that things would get tougher against the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week Two.
But Fitzmagic definitely didn’t show signs of slowing down as he led the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 27-21 win by completing 27 of 33 attempts for 402 yards and four touchdowns. Winning back-to-back games against New Orleans and Philadelphia is impressive enough, but Fitz has shredded both teams with deep passes.
If I’m the Bucs, I stick with the hot hand at quarterback and keep Fitzpatrick in the rest of the way if he can maintain anything close to this form. I don’t think he is the long-term answer in Tampa, but I think Fitzpatrick is enough of a bridge quarterback to move on from suspended veteran Jameis Winston, who has yet to convince Tampa’s management of his reliability on and off the field.
Luck “having a blast”
It was great to have Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck call into our Sky Sports show on Sunday evening, just moments after guiding his team to a 21-9 win over the Washington Redskins.
The victory was especially sweet for Luck, who went 618 days before making his return to action for the Colts in Week One. Having missed the entire 2017 campaign with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, the star passer is relishing being back in the thick of the action.
Luck told me he was “having a blast” and treating life in the NFL as much more of a game than a business since returning from injury. His early-season form has been great to see and the Colts helped him out on Sunday with a stout defensive performance and a good all-around display.
The Colts are quite some way from being contenders or anything close to it at this stage of their rebuild, but it’s clear Luck is still a top-level quarterback and that means the priority should become building in front and around him. They showed some promising signs on defense against Washington, with rookie linebacker Darius Leonard leading the way with 18 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
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