Highs and Lows is back and the National Football League was back to its regular self this past week. From start to finish the league was full of great games. The backup stepped up in a big way, the league's best tasted defeat at last, and the Falcons are terrible again. As usual with this league, there is plenty to discuss. I am simply here to narrow your focus a bit.
Watch the Throne
There is a new top seed in the NFC. The Green Bay Packers delivered one of the most impressive performances of the season on Thursday Night Football. They traveled to Arizona on a short week, missing 11 starters including their top three wide receivers and took down the NFL’s only remaining undefeated team 24-21. With that win the Packers overtook the Arizona Cardinals as the number one seed in the conference.
What was so impressive about the Packers win was the way they dominated the line of scrimmage. Aaron Rodgers did what needed to be done, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns, but without his top pass catchers the offense turned to the run game to move the ball, with great success. The Packers could not be stopped on the ground, and the combined efforts of A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones resulted in 151 yards on the ground for Green Bay.
Defensively the Packers limited the Cardinals to only 71 rushing yards on 3.7 yard per carry. Kyler Murray also had an underwhelming performance, tallying no touchdowns and two interceptions. A miscommunication with wideout A.J. Green on his last pass of the game resulted in an interception and gave the Cardinals their first loss of the season. The shorthanded Packers came to play and left Arizona with the NFL’s top seed.
Sorry for the confusion, I’m talking about Mike Tomlin. The winningest African-American Head Coach in league history coached his way to a 15-10 Pittsburgh Steelers win on the road against the Cleveland Browns in a critical divisional game. After shaking off a turbulent start to the season, the Steelers are now 4-3 and winners of three straight after dropping the three games before that.
There is a reason the Steelers have yet to have a losing season under Tomlin. Few teams can claim to be tougher than this Pittsburgh team at the moment. The Steelers defense limited the Browns to just ten points in Baker Mayfield’s return to the starting lineup. Mayfield was sacked four times on the day, and the Browns offense went 3-12 on third and fourth down during the game. Tomlins defensive unit led the way Sunday and Pittsburgh once again found a way to win.
Patriots on the Prowl
The New England Patriots have been under the radar all year with the exception of Tom Baady’s return to Gillette Stadium, but Bill Belichick's squad has put together a very solid season and are in position to make noise in the AFC. The Patriots took down the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 on the road Sunday and now sit at 4-4, but their record does reflect how well they have played this season.
Of the four losses on the Patriot’s schedule, on;y one has been by double digits. Three of these losses have come against the Saints, Buccaneers, and Cowboys, three of the top seeds in the NFC with a combined five losses between them. Their one bad loss of the season was against the Miami Dolphins in Mac Jones' NFL debut, and the Patriots were in the red zone setting up to take a game winning field goal in the closing minutes when Damien Harris fumbled the ball and the game away. The Patriots have had some tough losses against the NFL’s best, and still sit in a position to make a run at the playoffs. The NFL should not underestimate this team.
Following their week seven dominance against the division rival Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals delivered one of the most inexplicable performances of the season, losing 34-31 in overtime against the Mike White led New York Jets. Despite Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor instituting this would not be a let-down game during the week, the Bengals played down to their competition and dropped a game in the midst of a very tight AFC playoff race. Their place as the No. 1 seed in the AFC lasted a grand total of one week following the loss at MetLife Stadium.
The loss wasn’t the biggest problem on Sunday in my eyes, it was the manner in which they were flat-out torched by the 2018 5th round pick in his first career start. Jets backup Mike White had a whopping 405 yards and three scores against the Bengals. He shook off two early interceptions and led the Jets back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit to win their second game of the season. The Western Kentucky product put twice as many points on the BEngals defense than Lamar Jackson did last week. Just an inexcusable loss by Cincinnati.
The Woes of Mr. Wentz
There are times that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz looks like the franchise quarterback that was on track to win MVP in 2017. Then there are the times where he looks like the unmitigated trainwreck that wasted the time of the Philadelphia Eagles for the past two seasons. In Sunday's loss to the Tennessee Titans we saw flashes of both, but it was the trainwreck that lost the Colts a pivotal divisional game 34-31.
Carson Wentz made some mistakes against the Titans that we quite frankly idiotic. A mistake that will go under the radar was a fourth down pass up 14 with a chance to blow the game open and go up three scores.
Wentz severely overthrew his wideout Michael Pittman Jr. and the Titans scored on the following drive. But that throw was nothing compared to the nonsense that took place in a tied game with 1:26 left in regulation. Wentz saw his screen blown up on first down and decided on while in his own end zone it was prime time to lob the ball up for grabs and Titans defensive back intercepted the ball on the goal line to take the lead. The Colts would respond with a late touchdown to send the game to overtime, but once again on first down Wentz put the ball in harm's way and was intercepted by Kevin Byard in his own territory, setting up the Titans’ game-winning field goal. Wentz blew the game for his team, something we say about him far too often.
It’s hard to be as disappointing as the Minnesota Vikings have been this season. At home on Sunday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys, who were missing star quarterback Dak Prescott, the Vikings lost 20-16. Cowboys backup Cooper Rush had a day against the Minnesota defense and his five-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper capped a 75-yard drive to win the game. The Vikings’ lackluster performance was a microcosm of their entire season as they fell to 3-4.
Primetime Kirk Cousins continues to be a comedic experience. With three All-Pro caliber weapons available to him, the Minnesota quarterback only managed 184 yards and a score as he watched the Cowboys understudy smoke him off his own field. But as much as we’d like to place all the blame on the quarterback, what in the world is Mike Zimmer doing on those sidelines? The Vikings were a situational nightmare Sunday night. They were 2-15 on third and fourth down and both halves of football ended with some of the worst clock management I’ve ever seen from a home team. Just embarrassing stuff for Minnesota against the Cowboys, but this is becoming par for the course if we’re being honest.
That’s it for Highs and Lows this week. The NFL bounced back in a major way with plenty of fireworks on the field from Thursday to Monday Night. Next week we have a battle for Ohio supremacy in Cincinnati and a duel for the ages between two of the best arm talents the league has ever seen.