The New Orleans Saints are that person you look across the room at and think, yes, you are the one. You’re beautiful. You’re perfect. I’d get your face tattooed over my face if I could so that I’d never have to not look at it. But you’re not ready to go up to them and say hello; you need a haircut and haven’t been to the gym in a few weeks. And what would you even say? But you know you’re meant to be together, so are sure another chance will come soon. When that time comes, you’ll be ready.
And as such, we won’t be talking about the Saints this week, no matter how heartbreakingly beautiful they are. Instead, we’ll have a chit chat about all this.
Chiefs @ Rams
That was, quite simply, the best game of football I’ve ever seen. We not only had records set all over the offense as the Rams came out on top 54-51, but the defences played well too. And yes, I know that I sound don’t-know-how-to-eat-a-banana stupid saying defences played well in a game with 105 points, but they did; both D’s scored, and there were eight combined sacks. Even Todd Gurley was contained, needing to be fed the ball through the air to be effective as he was held to 55 yards rushing. Even if it’s just the highlights, this is a must-see game.
The ultimate difference, as it ever does, came down to quarterbacks. Jared Goff, with that smidge of extra experience, was cleaner than your downstairs before a guest comes over. Patrick Mahomes’ raw machismo was unkempt, and it cost his team.
Mahomes played exceptionally well, let’s not forget that, and in any other situation a six touchdown game with over 500 combined yards would not be criticised in the slightest. Unfortunately, this was not any other game.
Mahomes overthrew his receivers on what should have been some simple first down completions, at one point going totally over the head of 6’5 tight end Travis Kelce. He also threw three interceptions (though on one he was hit as he launched, resulting in an impossibly underthrown ball) at times when his team really, really needed him to keep his cool. Most tellingly was the last, as the Chiefs chased a position which would give them a field goal chance to take the whole shebang to overtime. Mahomes scrambled, under threw on the run, and with that the buffet was shut and it was time to go home.
Goff, meanwhile, was clinical; in a game where Todd Gurley was largely neutered, he stepped up and drove his team down the field. His passes had more snap on them that I remember seeing, he stood taller, and he rose to the occasion. He had the Chiefs secondary so edgy, he was even able to run in for an unguarded TD.
Once more in the first week of February, please.
Oakland Raiders, again
Consider this more of an update on some long running awfulness than a fresh take: this week on the sidelines during the Oakland Raiders’ latest loss, things got so heated that quarterback Derek Carr and head coach John Gruden needed to be physically separated. Interestingly, when tight end Lee Smith stepped in to break them up, it was head coach Gruden, not fellow player Carr, whom he grabbed BY THE THROAT to yank away.
We all know that Oakland are committing some kind of ritualistic self immolation to try and be the phoenix rising from the ashes, and we also all know that they are a laughing stock for it.
It says a lot about the internal dynamics of the situation that, when the architect of the team’s demise gets into it with the quarterback who’ll probably be traded anyway, it is the coach who is grabbed by the throat.
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
Converted kick returner no more, Tyreek Hill is now a number one receiver in the league. He’s behind only Julio Jones in yards, and is tied first for touchdowns with Antonio Brown. In his team’s valiant defeat to the LA Rams, Hill picked up 215 yards, two TDs, and won my heart and yours.
Most telling, though, was on a 3rd and 2 early in the game when Mahomes had options to get a safe first down. Instead, he threw the ball downfield for Hill to catch in traffic. That shows trust that Hill can make that catch, and that is the difference between what Hill was once viewed as and what he is now.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Now, Kirk wasn’t actually the worst player of the week. At best he was aggressively average, not move-house-and-change-identity bad, but I’m having a lot of feelings about Kirk at the moment and think this is a healthy space to talk them out.
There’s this weird thing in sport where, if you stand out in team who isn’t that good, it’s assumed that you’d be winning championships if only you were in the right environment. For instance, look at the prevailing idea that Fernando Alonso would have umpteen more titles if he wasn’t lumbered with a McLaren. He’s able to collect the same respect, if not more, than Lewis Hamilton gets without the burden of having to prove it.
In the NFL, that had been Kirk Cousins. Stuck in franchise tag hell in Washington, he was considered one of the league’s top passers who’d have been leading charges into the playoffs if only he didn’t play for an irredeemable dumpster fire of a team. When his sentence in Washington was finally spent and he was unleashed onto the open market, the Vikings released three starter-calibre quarterbacks to win his bidding war.
And since then…. Eh. He’s had good games and bad games. He’s not Alexis Sanchez at United levels of disappointing after a big move–statistically speaking, Cousins is outperforming Tom Brady–but there’s something missing. The gaggle of top quarterbacks he was expected to be in (Brees, Goff, Rodgers, Rivers, Ryan, et al) are pulling away from him.
On Sunday Night, with Mitchell Trubisky looking better despite playing worse on paper, Cousins couldn’t step up. Both defences played well, but Trubisky was able to scramble free and make some plays while Cousins was getting swamped.
No matter what, Cousins will be the starter in Minnesota for a long time. However, I think the question needs to be asked: is this the franchise QB they paid for, or is he simply another in that long line of players who won’t cost you a game, but won’t win you one either?
Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
Guess who’s back. Back again. Khalil’s back. Tell a friend.
Technically speaking, Khalil wasn’t the most statistically impressive defender this week. That’d go to Steelers linebacker TJ Watt, who upstaged big brother JJ to secure two sacks, six tackles, and two forced fumbles. Khalil, meanwhile, “only” picked up one sack, one fumble (which he recovered) and two tackles.
The thing with Khalil, though, was that he passed the eyeball test. The Vikings were in constant trouble, and if Khalil wasn’t the one giving out hugs he was shepherding them into his teammates’ loving embrace.
Green Bay Fight for Their Lives
This week I caught up with a friend who is from Wisconsin, and loves Green Bay like a puppy loves life. I asked her what the result would be on Sunday, but anything she said was either wildly unpublishable or a threat to fight me.
What I think she was getting at, though, was that Green Bay are still alive in the playoff hunt despite their 4-5-1 record. There are a slew of teams with similar records all battling for that last wild card spot, and the current holders are their divisional rivals the Minnesota Vikings.
One more loss, especially against a divisional and play off rival, and the Packers are done. They are fighting for the rest of their season, and if they’re all but eliminated this side of Christmas then there’ll be hell to pay up in Wisconsin. For them, the playoffs start today, and I think it’s that mentality which will let them squeak it against a Vikings team who’ve just come off of a bruising loss.