FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Bennett enjoying new beginning: Michael Bennett is in his 11th NFL season, and he told me late Thursday night that he experienced something for the first time in his career in the Patriots’ 10-3 win against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday.
Bennett had never been part of an alignment where he is the only player in a three-point stance and everyone else is standing around the line of scrimmage. That’s what happened on the second-quarter play when Bennett, aligned over starting center Matt Paradis, powered through the A-gap to register a sack.
“That was a new one for me, personally,” the 33-year-old Bennett said.
Bennett and Patriots defenders say such an alignment — which was also used on the play in which Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked and hobbled off with an ankle injury — reflects the versatility of the Patriots’ defense.
For Bennett, the unique wrinkle reflects part of what has made his time in New England enjoyable — it’s been a time for new beginnings, even at this latter stage of his career.
“It’s about building relationships with your teammates. That’s what I try to do every single day,” said Bennett, who has played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009-2012), Seattle Seahawks (2013-2017) and Philadelphia Eagles (2018). “It’s getting to know guys on a personal level, and I think that’s how you can execute together. Because you have a feel for what makes him go as an individual, and what matters to him. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
2. Kim’s guidance draws praise: Bennett was one of several players spending time on the field with director of skill development Joe Kim before Thursday’s game, working on hand technique. Kim’s martial arts background has helped others over the years — he got his start in the NFL under Bill Belichick with the Browns in the 1990s — and Bennett is enjoying the experience. “He understands pass-rushing and what it’s like, and how you attack the guys,” Bennett said. “There aren’t a lot of guys who can come into the league, and not have any experience as a football player, and teach techniques like that. Joe Kim does a great job of that.”
3. Harry’s status a top question mark: Preparations for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Steelers now intensify, and it seems fair to wonder if first-round pick N’Keal Harry will be available. Ever since Harry hobbled off the field in the Aug. 8 preseason opener, he hasn’t practiced in full. And in the limited time that reporters have been present at practice — basically for a light jogging session — the rookie receiver hasn’t passed the eye test in terms of looking comfortable.
4. Business as usual with Chung: The fallout from safety Patrick Chung set to be arraigned on charges of cocaine possession Wednesday … was no fallout? That was at least the vibe in the locker room following Thursday’s game, with safety Duron Harmon saying, “Pat is a great guy — a leader, a captain, a great father. I can’t talk [enough] about all the good things about Pat. All I can say right now — obviously it’s an ongoing investigation — is we love Pat, and we’re going to do everything we can to rally behind Pat.” That also seems to be the approach of the higher-ups in the organization at this time — giving the situation time to run its course legally (which could extend into 2020).
5. Newton was good test for Patriots DBs with Big Ben on horizon: Matt Stafford, Marcus Mariota, then Cam Newton. That trio of quarterbacks the Patriots practiced against (Stafford/Mariota) and/or faced in preseason games gave Patriots defensive backs a chance to get quality work that should benefit them in the regular season. Specific to the Patriots’ opening game against the Steelers, it set up nicely for them to see Newton and the Panthers on Thursday. “They all have some things they do really well, which at some point you’re going to see during the season. Cam Newton, for example, has a huge arm and can throw the ball. Week 1, [Ben Roethlisberger] has a huge arm and can throw the ball,” safety Devin McCourty said, before pointing out another benefit: Facing Tom Brady in practice every day only helps the overall cause.
6. Stidham’s development shows value of preseason: The drumbeat is growing louder to eliminate/reduce preseason games, and while the product is admittedly not enthralling, count me in what seems like the minority for keeping four games. Rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham is a prime example as to why: He has played 153 snaps to this point, which is incredibly valuable to Belichick and his staff as they evaluate whether Stidham — who has been mostly impressive — could elevate to the No. 2 spot over veteran Brian Hoyer. I don’t see how that would even be a consideration without actual preseason games.
7. Roberts — just 14 snaps all preseason: This is the time of year when the Patriots are often active on the trade market, and fourth-year linebacker Elandon Roberts is a player who is on my radar. Roberts has played only 14 defensive snaps this preseason, which could be a reflection that he is getting squeezed out of the rotation, and I wonder if the Patriots put him on the kickoff coverage unit Thursday to give opposing scouts a look at how well he runs. Roberts doesn’t usually cover kickoffs. Perhaps former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia would see some value in bringing Roberts aboard for a late-round pick.
8. Gunner has won over teammates: In what could be the Patriots’ 2019 version of “Rudy,” receiver/punt returner Gunner Olszewski of Division II Bemidji State is making a charge for a roster spot that has caught his teammates’ attention. Olszewski’s determination was previously reflected when he said he would play for “three hots and a cot” — a reference to three meals and a place to sleep — and Belichick noted Olszewski’s competitiveness after Thursday’s game. Olszewski’s solid work as a punt returner — he’s outplayed 2018 sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios — reminds me of Julian Edelman as a rookie in 2009. “He’s relentless. That’s what we love about Gunner — he just goes in and throws his body on the line. He doesn’t care. I love watching Gunner play,” receiver Phillip Dorsett said. The title of Edelman’s book, of course, is “Relentless.”
9. Did You Know? Brady, who turned 42 on Aug. 3, is older than eight current head coaches — the Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury (40), Bears’ Matt Nagy (41), Bengals’ Zac Taylor (36), Packers’ Matt LaFleur (39), Rams’ Sean McVay (33), Dolphins’ Brian Flores (38), Jets’ Adam Gase (41) and 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan (39).
10. Vereen adds depth to Patriots broadcasting roster: Is there another team in the NFL that produces as many sports broadcasters as the Patriots? Running back Shane Vereen, whose profile was highest as a player when he was with the Patriots (2011-2014), has been hired by Fox to be part of its college football coverage. Vereen joins a roster of former Patriots who have impressively transitioned to a media career: Troy Brown (NBC Boston), Tedy Bruschi (ESPN), Matt Chatham (NESN), Christian Fauria (sports radio WEEI), Rodney Harrison (NBC), Ted Johnson (The Sports Hub), Willie McGinest (NFL Network), Randy Moss (ESPN), Rob Ninkovich (ESPN), Ross Tucker (formerly Sirius XM NFL Radio), Sebastian Vollmer (German TV), Jermaine Wiggins (sports radio WEEI), Damien Woody (ESPN), Charlie Weis (Sirius XM NFL Radio) and Scott Zolak (The Sports Hub/Patriots radio analyst).
For Jaguars, headache might outweigh Jalen Ramsey’s talent – Jacksonville Jaguars Blog
He’s a lock-down defender with a rare combination of size, length and speed. In his first three seasons, he has been to the Pro Bowl twice and was first-team All-Pro once.
There’s also no doubting Ramsey can be an immense headache.
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He has questioned coaching schemes and decisions. As a rookie, he advocated for the entire defensive staff to be fired. He ripped most of the league’s quarterbacks in a magazine article. And, as everyone saw last Sunday, he publicly confronted his head coach during the game on the sideline.
At some point, the headache outweighs the talent. It’s no different than any high-maintenance relationship. There’s only so much selfishness and so many demands one side is willing to put up with until there’s no benefit to continuing the relationship.
That’s where the Jaguars seem to be with Ramsey. And if that’s the case, it’s time for that relationship to end.
Granting Ramsey’s trade request would not be not a good precedent, but it might be the best thing for the organization. Ramsey has his supporters in the locker room — including running back Leonard Fournette — and sending him away might not be well received, but the alternative is keeping someone who is unhappy and doesn’t want to be here. That doesn’t work in any relationship.
It’s not a matter of choosing coach Doug Marrone over Ramsey, either. Based on Ramsey’s history and his actions last Sunday, would Ramsey really change his behavior if the Jaguars fired Marrone and gave Ramsey the mega-contract he wants (and deserves, based on his production and talent)?
It seems unlikely.
And, to be honest: Does a team need an elite corner — and Ramsey might very well be the best in the league today, a generational talent — to win a Super Bowl? Elite quarterback, yes. Elite pass-rushers, certainly. It obviously helps to have as much talent as possible, but teams have won Super Bowls without elite cornerbacks.
As good as Ramsey has been, the Jaguars have won 18 games in his three-plus seasons — and that includes 10 victories in 2017. The franchise has had many personnel issues in the past few seasons, especially at quarterback and along the offensive line, and Ramsey’s talent and work ethic haven’t been able to help team overcome it.
Another thing to note: High-maintenance players generally don’t spend their careers in one spot. Some do: Michael Irvin, for example. But Deion Sanders didn’t. Neither did Terrell Owens, Randy Moss or Darrelle Revis. In fact, Sanders and Revis played for a combined nine teams.
By all accounts, Ramsey is one of the team’s hardest workers. He studies opposing receivers and has notebooks full of information on each. He is always in great shape and treats his craft seriously. He’s also not a bad guy. He adores his family. None of that is an issue for the Jaguars. In that respect, he’s the perfect player.
It’s everything else that’s the problem. Saying defensive coordinator Todd Wash should be fired in 2016. Questioning Wash’s defensive calls in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game against New England. Ripping most of the league’s quarterbacks in a GQ article. Going on a profane tirade toward the media after a fight between Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue was recorded during an open portion of training camp practice.
That, along with threatening a reporter on Twitter, earned him a week’s suspension in 2018.
Screaming at Marrone on Sunday for not challenging a completion to DeAndre Hopkins and having to be separated from his head coach was an over-the-top reaction that should have — but didn’t — result in any discipline. It was the last straw and caused Ramsey to have his agent ask for a trade.
The Jaguars reportedly would like a first-round pick in return, and that’s what the Steelers are sending to the Dolphins for second-year defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. There will definitely be interested teams. The Raiders, Eagles, Cowboys and Jets could be potential suitors.
Creating drama to get out of town is an approach that worked for Antonio Brown — twice. He became such a giant headache that Pittsburgh gave him his wish and traded him to Oakland. He caused more problems for the Raiders, who eventually cut him, and now Brown is playing with the Patriots.
The Steelers and Raiders are obviously worse on the field without Brown’s talent, but they might be better off in the locker room with him gone. A functional team can’t have someone around who doesn’t want to be there. That’s asking for distraction and division.
That might be where the Jaguars stand with Ramsey right now: He has ridiculous talent, but the relationship has become too high maintenance. The only solution might be divorce.
All the fallout from the Big Ben and Brees injuries
Big NFL news seems to come in pairs these days. A few weeks ago, the Texans made two huge trades in the matter of an afternoon. Over the past few days, a pair of promising young cornerbacks in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jalen Ramsey hit the trade market. On Monday, unfortunately, we saw two superstar quarterbacks hit the shelf. After Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger left their respective games with injuries in Week 2, it was confirmed that both will undergo surgery.
Brees could miss six weeks after he gets surgery on the thumb of his throwing hand, while Roethlisberger is done for the season after injuring his elbow. Surprises haven’t been hard to come by during this wild league year, but this qualifies as a stunning one-two punch. In going back through the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, I can find exactly one other date in which a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks suffered multi-week injuries on the same date. John Elway and Warren Moon each suffered injuries on Nov. 15, 1992, with Elway missing five weeks and Moon’s absence costing him six.
There are major ramifications for both the Steelers and the Saints, though the injuries hit their teams in different ways. Teams such as the Bills, Browns, Chargers and Colts have a better chance of making the postseason than they would if the Steelers were projecting to roll out Roethlisberger for 14 more starts. And while the NFC South remains wide-open, the Saints might still be the favorites with Teddy Bridgewater under center.
There’s a lot to write about with each of these situations. Let’s start with Roethlisberger, whose season is over after just six quarters of football:
Is this the end for Big Ben?
Ben Roethlisberger‘s injury throws the Steelers into significant uncertainty at the most important position in sports for the first time in 15 years. He has struggled to stay healthy at times — and his off-field behavior has included a serious motorcycle accident and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct — but the Steelers have been assured of generally above-average play from the quarterback they selected in the first round of the 2004 draft. One NFL executive to whom I recently spoke compared his team to a house and the starting quarterback to a roof. The Steelers haven’t had to worry about getting wet for 15 years. Now, suddenly, there’s a huge hole in their roof.
This injury comes at a time when the Steelers already were in transition on offense. Longtime starters Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Jesse James — along with legendary offensive line coach Mike Munchak — all left the organization this offseason. While the Steelers already had developed a pair of replacements in running back James Conner and offensive tackle Matt Feiler, Pittsburgh generally used mid-round draft picks (and former Munchak assistant Shaun Sarrett) to replace the others.
Pittsburgh always has been an organization built around drafting and developing young talent; but in recent years, it has used some of its cap space to target veteran help in free agency, including cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Perhaps owing to the $21.2 million in dead money Brown occupies on their 2019 cap, the only veteran the Steelers added to their offense this year was wideout Donte Moncrief, who has been a disaster while playing through a dislocated finger over the first two weeks of the season.
Roethlisberger was supposed to be the rock of the offense, one of the few players who wasn’t moving into a larger role or subject to a coaching change over the offseason. Now, he’s gone. The Steelers didn’t choose to sign a veteran to help back up Roethlisberger this offseason, instead letting 2017 fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs and 2018 third-rounder Mason Rudolph compete for the job. Rudolph was the favorite and won the competition, with the Steelers promptly shipping off Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round pick.
The Steelers already have promoted Devlin Hodges from their practice squad to serve as the new backup quarterback. There aren’t exactly many options available in free agency, but I wonder if Pittsburgh might call Matt Cassel, who played under former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Kansas City. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s scheme shares many of the same playcalls with Haley’s playbook.
Even if the Steelers sign a veteran such as Cassel, they’ll move forward in the short term with Rudolph as the starter. Projecting how he will perform is a difficult enterprise. The 24-year-old played in a spread offense at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy, posting a 79.1 Total QBR over his four seasons at school. That number comes in just behind Sam Darnold‘s 79.5 mark over his two years at Southern California.
Like Roethlisberger, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rudolph has the prototypical size you would expect from an NFL quarterback. Some reports coming out of college, however, suggested Rudolph doesn’t have the prototypical arm strength that often is associated with that physical archetype. For what it’s worth, Rudolph’s numbers throwing deep in college were quite good, as he posted a 98.8 QBR on throws traveling 16 or more yards in the air.
The arm strength concern popped up during Rudolph’s biggest play on Sunday, the 45-yard flea-flicker that he tossed to JuJu Smith-Schuster. When Rudolph threw the pass, Smith-Schuster was accelerating past a wrong-footed Lano Hill, but Rudolph’s throw forced the star wideout to slow down and nearly gave Hill a chance to break it up. A better throw would have produced a walk-in touchdown:
Mason Rudolph’s flea-flicker from Sunday pic.twitter.com/zWEUxyu4yl
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 16, 2019
It would be impossible to draw broader conclusions about Rudolph’s future from his appearance on Sunday. He was 12-of-19 passing for 112 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against a Seahawks pass defense that had been gashed by Cincinnati at home the prior week. His interception was entirely on Moncrief, who was benched after his most recent drop. His two touchdown passes were short throws to Vance McDonald, one of which came on a failed screen. The second of those touchdown drives was just three yards. Rudolph didn’t cost the Steelers the game; Pittsburgh’s defense allowing three consecutive touchdown drives in the second half before letting the Seahawks turn a third-and-16 over two plays into a new set of downs was what pushed the Steelers to 0-2.
What we know, historically, is that the success rate for third-round quarterbacks in the NFL hasn’t been great. Since 1990, 36 quarterbacks have been drafted in the third round. Two of them are Rudolph and Will Grier, whose futures still are basically indecipherable. When you look at the other 34, just six became players who started three seasons or more. (This assumes that recently drafted quarterbacks who have been slotted into backup roles, such as C.J. Beathard and Sean Mannion, don’t suddenly turn into multiyear starters.) Five made it to at least one Pro Bowl. Two of them started and won Super Bowls; one was Nick Foles, while the other was the only passer from the 34 to turn into a no-doubt franchise quarterback — Russell Wilson.
Tim Hasselbeck says that Mason Rudolph’s campaign to become the Steelers’ starting quarterback, even after Ben Roethlisberger’s return, has now begun.
Wilson only fell to the third round because he lacked prototypical size. Rudolph has that size; if NFL organizations thought he had the skills to play quarterback at a high level, he would have been a first-round pick. My working theory with quarterbacks is that the league is generally awful at evaluating passers and that success depends much more on the infrastructure surrounding a quarterback than we think. Moncrief aside, Rudolph seems to have above-average infrastructure around him as he begins his starting career. Most rookie quarterbacks would kill for this offensive line and a receiver as good as Smith-Schuster.
What happens next is up in the air. Roethlisberger, who has flirted with retirement in years past, issued a public statement suggesting he intends to rehab his injury and return to the team in 2020. Plans change, of course; nobody expected quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning (Colts) and Tony Romo (Cowboys) to leave their franchise when they went down injured before a season began, but their departures seemed inevitable by the time those seasons were over.
The best thing for the Steelers, naturally, would be for Rudolph to play like a superstar. If that happens, Pittsburgh will face a difficult decision. Roethlisberger is due a $12.5 million roster bonus on March 20, and his $8.5 million base salary for 2020 already is guaranteed for injury. The Steelers could choose to bring back Big Ben as their starter and keep their quarterback of the future as a backup, but once teams find their new quarterback, they tend to stick with that guy.
Realistically, if Rudolph plays well, the Steelers will have to decide on Roethlisberger’s future on March 20. If they found a trade partner, they would be off the hook for paying him that $21 million in 2020. But if they trade him — or if he retires — they also would simultaneously owe $25 million in dead money on their 2020 cap, which would see the team set the single-season dead money record for a player for the second consecutive season.
If the Steelers chose to designate Roethlisberger as a post-June 1 release, Pittsburgh would owe as much as $33.5 million in dead money, depending on the offset language in his contract. They would be able to spread that money over two years, but it still would be an enormous sum of money for him to go play somewhere else.
What the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade means
Originally, I was going to argue that the Steelers also would be in good shape if Rudolph flamed out. That argument went by the wayside on Monday night, though, when the Steelers sent their 2020 first-round pick to the Dolphins for disgruntled defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. The deal leaves Pittsburgh without its first- and third-round selections in the 2020 draft, given that it sent away its third-round pick to move up and grab Devin Bush with the 10th pick in April.
Fitzpatrick was promising as a rookie, and the Steelers will have him under contract for the next three years for a total of less than $6 million, which is a pittance for a starting cornerback in the NFL. It’s reasonable to make the economic case that the surplus value Fitzpatrick plausibly offers as a starter over the next three years would be worth a first-round pick, especially if it falls in the back half of the first round.
If Rudolph gets injured or doesn’t impress, though, the Fitzpatrick trade could set back the Steelers for several seasons. Under those scenarios, the Steelers could have used their 2020 first-round pick to draft their quarterback of the future without having to trade up. With Mike Tomlin posting a .500 or better record in each of his 12 seasons as the Steelers’ coach, Pittsburgh hasn’t naturally landed a top-12 pick since drafting Roethlisberger in 2004.
More than half of the NFL went through the 2019 offseason with a starter who was drafted with one of the top 12 picks. Since the Steelers can’t use their 2020 first-rounder on a quarterback, they’ll need to either use a future pick toward the bottom half of the first round, wait for another disappointing season or use further draft capital to trade up for a quarterback. The latter scenario is most likely, and that would give away much of the surplus value created by the Fitzpatrick deal.
The trade suggests the Steelers think they can compete for a playoff spot with Rudolph under center. Football Power Index (FPI) isn’t as optimistic as the Pittsburgh front office. When we entered the season, FPI projected the Steelers with a 55.9% chance of making the playoffs. Since then, Pittsburgh has started 0-2. The Ravens are 2-0, and Lamar Jackson has been the best quarterback in football through two weeks. The Browns made it to 1-1 with their victory over the Jets. Once FPI replaces 14 games of Roethlisberger with Rudolph, it projects the Steelers with just an 7.1% chance of making it to the playoffs.
Bridgewater’s trouble in replacing Brees
I never imagined a scenario in which the Saints could lose Drew Brees for six weeks and still feel like things could have been worse. Given the Roethlisberger news, though, six weeks doesn’t seem all that bad. The Saints are in much better shape to weather their quarterback’s absence independent of its length, owing both to a better roster and a friendlier divisional situation. In Teddy Bridgewater, their new quarterback also seemingly has a much higher floor than Pittsburgh has with Rudolph.
My qualifier there has more to do with the former Vikings starter than it does with Rudolph. I’m going to be honest: I would love it if Bridgewater succeeded. In addition to being beloved wherever he has gone during his pro career, Bridgewater spent years working his way back from the serious knee injury he suffered during the 2016 preseason. Much as Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith was able to parlay his comeback into a meaningful long-term deal, I hope Bridgewater does the same in New Orleans.
If the Saints knew they were getting the Bridgewater who made it to the Pro Bowl in his first full season as a starter with the Vikings, they could feel great about their chances of staying afloat without Brees. A healthy Bridgewater is a smart, accurate passer with excellent movement within the pocket. Great veteran quarterbacks have an ability to diagnose blitzes and nullify pressure before it even arrives; Bridgewater came out of Louisville doing just that at a high level. The 215-pound quarterback fell in the draft after teams overreacted to a middling pro day performance, but he was clearly a better passer than Blake Bortles, who went off the board 29 picks earlier.
At this point, though, we have to at least consider the possibility that the old Bridgewater isn’t the guy the Saints will start for the next six weeks. Bridgewater has thrown 55 regular-season passes over three years since returning from his injury, and while his lone start came in Week 17 and without running back Alvin Kamara or left tackle Terron Armstead on the field, he hasn’t played like a viable NFL quarterback. He has completed 56.4% of his passes while averaging just 5.1 yards per attempt. The only quarterbacks since 2016 who have failed to top the latter figure while throwing 50 passes or more are Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez and Nathan Peterman.
Again, it’s just one game, but Bridgewater’s debut in meaningful action for the Saints on Sunday wasn’t impressive. The accuracy that was once his best trait disappeared at times. Many of his completions were gimmes from a Rams team that held a comfortable lead and didn’t care about allowing short catches; 15 of Bridgewater’s 17 completions came on passes thrown within seven yards of the line of scrimmage. By the end of the game, Bridgewater seemed to be locking onto receivers with limited success. The Rams even successfully had inside linebacker Cory Littleton running with receiver Michael Thomas on a pair of those targets, though he had help.
Naturally, the hope is that Bridgewater plays more like his old self as he gets regular reps. My suspicion is that he’ll fall somewhere between the quarterback from 2015 and the guy who has been a replacement-level quarterback since returning. The Saints don’t need to change their scheme with Bridgewater in the lineup, but I wonder if we see Sean Payton lean more heavily on his running game and try to keep Bridgewater out of third-and-long. New Orleans already played relatively slow in recent years with Brees as the quarterback, but it could now try to slow down games even further and trust its defense to hold up.
When I wrote about the possibility of Brees declining in 2019, I suggested that the Saints could still win the Super Bowl if the Brees who showed up wasn’t the guy who has dominated the league over the past decade. While their two-week start to the season hasn’t been especially impressive, they are still in that discussion until proven otherwise.
Bridgewater faces a pair of tough games over the next two weeks, given that the Saints travel to face the Seahawks before hosting the surging Cowboys. After that, though, New Orleans’ four games before the bye come against the Bucs, Jags, Bears and Cardinals. Those are winnable games. Five of the Saints’ six games against the NFC South come after the Week 9 bye. If the six-week time frame holds, Brees should be ready to return in Week 10 for what could be a critical divisional matchup at home against the Falcons.
Unlike the AFC North, where the Steelers are already two games behind the Ravens, the NFC South is off to a slow start. The Falcons are 1-1 and needed a rash of Eagles injuries and a fourth-down conversion to avoid starting 0-2. The Bucs are 1-1. The Panthers lost their first two games of the season at home and don’t appear to have a healthy starting quarterback. The Saints could easily still be the best team in the division with Bridgewater at quarterback, let alone once Brees returns.
What the injury does do is limit the Saints’ ceiling. Their chances of going 13-3 again and claiming the top seed in the NFC without Brees are limited. While FPI gave them a 19.4% chance of finishing with the No. 1 seed in the NFC before the season began, those chances have dropped to 4.6% after losing Brees and falling to the Rams. Los Angeles now has a 32.7% chance of finishing with the top seed in the NFC.
The Saints still have a 53.5% chance of winning the South and 59.4% shot of making it to the postseason, but it seems likely that they’ll need to win at least one game away from New Orleans in January to get Brees back to the Super Bowl. For all the magic Brees has worked during his incredible run in New Orleans, the future Hall of Famer is just 1-5 on the road in the postseason, with his lone win coming by two points in the wild-card round against Nick Foles.
This balanced Saints team might be less susceptible to January weather than the pass-happy Saints offenses of the past, but in famous losses to the Seahawks and 49ers, it was the defense that let down the team, not Brees. The star quarterback has played otherworldly football during his time in New Orleans, but the team’s recent surge of dominance has come once his defense finally caught up. Now, with Brees absent and questions about Bridgewater, the Saints will need to rely more heavily upon that defense to stay afloat until their star quarterback returns.
‘Blessed’ OBJ torches Jets in return to MetLife
OBJ made his point both during — and after — Cleveland’s 23-3 win on Monday night, highlighted by a pair of spectacular plays.
On the game’s opening drive, Beckham hauled in a one-handed grab near the same pylon of his famous one-handed stab at MetLife Stadium with the New York Giants five years ago. Then in the third quarter, Beckham hauled in a quick slant off a run-pass option play from quarterback Baker Mayfield and raced a career-best 89 yards to the end zone.
Earlier in the week, Beckham accused Williams of teaching “cheap shots” and “dirty hits,” and he said that led to an ankle injury that nearly derailed his career two years ago. The next day, Williams responded to the charge with a joke, saying, “Odell who?” He then went on downplay the notion that Beckham was a “dynamic” player.
“Everybody has a right to their own opinion,” Beckham said after the game. “He’s a phenomenal coach and he’s got a great defense. I’m done talking about it.”
Beckham let his play do his talking.
He finished with six receptions for 161 receiving yards, outproducing the entire Jets pass-catching corps, which collectively had only 125 yards receiving.
“Pretty dynamic,” deadpanned Mayfield, who seemed stunned to find out that Williams had suggested otherwise. “He’s a special guy.”
On his touchdown, Beckham actually reached a maximum speed of 21.7 miles per hour, the fastest any player has run while scoring this year, according to NFL NextGen Stats.
Beckham had battled a hip injury throughout the preseason, which landed him on the injury report. He also noted he had to work through cramps in his calves and tightness in his hamstrings Monday. But Beckham said that he’s now feeling great in every way after two games with his new team.
“I think I’m in a better physical, mental space than I’ve ever been in my life,” said Beckham, who celebrated his maiden score with the Browns by pantomiming opening a front door with a key, as if to signify, “I’m home” in MetLife. “I was joking with my trainers, I’m trying to hit 24, 23 [miles per hour]. Not saying it’ll happen, but I’m working for it.
“It didn’t feel like [that was] fastest I could run. I was just trying to get to the end zone.”
Officials took away Beckham’s other opportunity to reach the end zone on the opening drive. Two plays after his one-handed catch, officials removed Beckham from the field on third-and-goal, saying his visor was too reflective. Without Beckham in the game, Mayfield threw an incompletion and Cleveland had to settle for a field goal.
“It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’ve grown a lot, to be better, do better and it’s always something,” said Beckham, who admitted he doesn’t know what visor he’ll be wearing going forward. “I don’t want to break any rules. I just want to play football.”
Beckham also complained last week about being singled out by the league for wearing a $189,500 Richard Mille watch during the season opener. The NFL said the watch violated a league rule against players wearing “hard objects.” Beckham didn’t wear a watch in Monday’s game, though he did warm up with a different designer watch beforehand. When asked about it after the game, and whether it actually cost $2 million, as some had speculated over social media, Beckham played it coy.
“I’m off of it,” he said of the watch. “I don’t really have any comment about it.
“I’m just blessed.”
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