Winners and Losers of NFL Week 7

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Every week of the 2022 NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?


Winner: The Cardiac Giants

The New York Giants are the Dillon Panthers right now. In Friday Night Lights, coach Eric Taylor’s team had a knack for winning every game in stunningly dramatic ways—Hail Marys, Boise-State-style Statue of Liberty plays, all taking place with the clock at triple zeroes. No matter how much hype the Panthers had, no matter what controversies were going on in the town of Dillon, no matter how poorly quarterback Matt Saracen’s on-again, off-again relationship with Coach Taylor’s horrible daughter Julie was going, the fictional Panthers’ games always came down to the final play. And they won most of them, not unlike the very real New York Football Giants.

We’re in Week 7, and all seven of the Giants’ games have been decided by one possession. They’re 6-1, an 85.7 percent win percentage in 50-50 games. In Week 1, they beat the Titans by one point on a two-point conversion with a minute remaining, holding on when Tennessee’s last-second field-goal attempt went wide left. Two weeks ago, they came back against the Packers from 14 points down—despite Daniel Jones’s bleeding hand and Saquon Barkley missing time with an injury. Last week, they erased another double-digit deficit to beat the Ravens on a last-minute Barkley touchdown.

But Sunday may have been their most dramatic win yet. After scoring a go-ahead touchdown with five minutes remaining, New York led the Jaguars by six in the game’s closing seconds. Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence threw a pass to Christian Kirk at the goal line, but a swarm of Giants defenders rallied to the ball and kept Kirk from getting in.

As the goal-line camera angle reveals, it really was a matter of feet—or maybe inches—with cornerback Fabian Moreau putting his feet on the goal line and pushing forward.

In FNL, this sort of ending happens all the time. (Seriously—I wrote a story in which I broke down Coach Taylor’s late-game success a few years ago, and found three separate FNL episodes with games ending in stops at the 1-yard line.) In real life, not so much. The last NFL game to be decided by a tackle at the 1-yard line was four years ago, when Mitchell Trubisky threw a Hail Mary that didn’t make it to the end zone. There was the famous tackle by Mike Jones (who?) in Super Bowl XXXIV to clinch the title for the St. Louis Rams, but it’s more likely to happen in fictional West Texas high school games.

And much like the Dillon Panthers, the Giants don’t seem to be suffering because all their games are close. You’d expect a team playing one-possession games every week to be roughly .500—but the Giants are 6-1. This also doesn’t happen very often: According to TruMedia, they’re the first team with six one-score wins in their first seven games since the 2000 Minnesota Vikings.

Hypothetically, a regression to the mean should be coming for the Giants—but they’ve already done most of the work required to get them to the postseason. They went 4-13 last year, and have already surpassed that before November. They’ve got six wins in a league where nine probably makes the playoffs; FiveThirtyEight gives the Giants an 85 percent chance to qualify from this point.

The Giants are one of the stories of the year, even if they don’t keep winning every game in the most ridiculous way possible. And if they do? We need to get some camera crews to the houses of all the Giants’ players and coaches. If FNL has taught me anything, it’s that teams which win every single game by one play also have extremely sexy and interesting personal lives.

Winner: Ex-XFL QBs

I’ve decided that I’m not going to do an entry every single week about Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers being bad and losing again. With both of their teams sub-.500 and riding multi-game losing streaks (Green Bay has lost three in a row, and the Bucs have lost two straight, and four of their last five), there’s a certain point when it’s just not newsworthy anymore. Once upon a time, sportswriters must have had this same realization about the dominant Cleveland Browns of the 1950s turning into … well … you know … the Cleveland Browns. You don’t have to say they suck every single week.

But this is not that point, because this Sunday was particularly bad. Both the Packers and Buccaneers lost—to the Commanders and the Panthers, respectively. That’s right: Tom Brady lost to the Panthers. And it’s not like it was the defense’s fault—they lost 21-3! Tom, did you really unretire just to throw zero touchdowns in a game against the players the Panthers haven’t traded yet? How are you more successful at tanking your marriage (allegedly!) than the Panthers at tanking the season?

OK, OK. Like I said, I’m not going to do Brady-Rodgers entries every week. Instead, let’s focus on the QBs who beat Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. For the Panthers, it was P.J. Walker, who honestly looked incredible. Last week, Walker failed to complete any passes more than 1 yard downfield. Sunday, he went 16-for-22 for 177 yards and two touchdowns—and yes, some of his throws were more than 1 yard downfield.

Washington has placed Carson Wentz on IR after a finger injury, meaning it’s once again Taylor Heinicke time. Heinicke did throw a pick-six on Sunday, but redeemed himself with passes like this:

There is a common link between Walker and Heinicke: Both are veterans of the short-lived 2020 version of the XFL—not to be confused with the 2001 version or XFL 3.0 that’s set to launch in February. Walker led the Houston Roughnecks to a 5-0 record before the pandemic ended the league, and Heinicke served as a backup for the St. Louis BattleHawks. (There is, of course, also a link between Brady and Rodgers—they’re two of the best quarterbacks in league history, multi-time MVPs, and Super Bowl winners.)

If these two XFL guys are better than two of the best NFL quarterbacks ever, that must mean the XFL itself was better than the actual NFL. The still-undefeated Roughnecks are more impressive than the ’72 Dolphins. End of story.

Winner: Patrick Mahomes vs. the League’s Best Defense

The San Francisco 49ers entered Sunday as a strong contender for having the NFL’s best defense. They were allowing just 4.2 yards per play, the fewest in the NFL; they were allowing 14.8 points per game, the fewest in the NFC; they had 23 sacks, the second-most in the NFL; and they had more interceptions (five) than passing touchdowns allowed (four).

Well, you can kiss all of those good numbers goodbye, because Patrick Mahomes just came to town. Mahomes threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-23 win for the Chiefs. (He could’ve thrown more touchdowns if the Chiefs weren’t so committed to goal-line jet sweeps.) The Niners allowed 529 yards—the most San Francisco had allowed in a game since 2016, when defense-averse Chip Kelly was in charge.

This one game was enough to knock the Niners from first to fifth in yards per play allowed. The Chiefs averaged over 9 yards per play, the worst performance by the Niners defense since 1965. San Francisco had allowed scores on 23.8 percent of opposing possessions, tied with Philadelphia for the league low; the Chiefs scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions with just a missed field goal sandwiched in the middle.

There was no situation in which the Chiefs were stoppable. Kansas City only punted once, and that was after Chad Henne entered the game in the fourth quarter. (Hold up, the Chiefs’ backup is still Chad Henne? In 2022? What is it with Michigan QBs from 20 years ago staying in the NFL forever?) When the Chiefs faced a third-and-11, Mahomes threw a 57-yard pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. When they faced a third-and-20, the Niners couldn’t stop a screen.

Part of the problem is the Niners are extremely injured, and getting more injured. They have three defensive starters on injured reserve—DT Javon Kinlaw and CB Emmanuel Moseley were new additions this week—and DT Arik Armstead also missed Sunday’s game with an injury.

But the bigger issue is that Patrick Mahomes was on the Chiefs, and maybe after last week’s loss to the Bills, he wanted to show how dominant this offense can be—even if the dudes lined up across from them had the best stats in the league.

Loser: Aaron Rodgers, Fallen Hail Mary God

Part of Aaron Rodgers’s legend is his knack for completing impossible passes in the waning moments of seemingly lost games. The Hail Mary is typically considered a matter of luck; Rodgers considered it a science to be studied and perfected. He’s hit a handful of last-second game-winners in his career—in one playoff game, he hit Hail Marys on back-to-back throws. His current Packers could really use some of those, since they seem to be losing at the end of games more often than not.

Two weeks ago, Rodgers needed a Hail Mary against the Giants but didn’t pull the trigger, getting sacked and fumbling the ball on the game’s final play. (The FNL Giants strike again.) Sunday, the Packers trailed the last-place Washington Commanders by two in the game’s final moments, and got the ball to their own 46-yard line. It seemed like the Packers would surely throw one of Rodgers’s famous Hail Marys—54 yards should be nothing for Rodgers; he hit a 61-yarder in 2015 against the Lions.

Instead, the Packers decided to run the lateral play, where teams pitch the ball over and over, rugby-style, hoping to keep the play alive long enough to score. (I don’t think this play has an official name, but Scott Van Pelt always calls it “pitchy pitchy woo woo,” so let’s roll with that.) As Pitchy Pitchy Woo Woo plays go, the Packers’ attempt was stunningly successful—until the ball got back to Rodgers.

Up to that point, the Packers were in incredible shape. They had executed four laterals (one of which bounced), reversed field twice and moved the ball almost 30 yards downfield. And now, they had the ball in the hands of their best thrower, the man you’d trust to scan the field and make a throw. And stunningly, Rodgers found an open man … and missed him.

If Rodgers completes his pass to Jon Runyan Jr., we have one of the greatest plays in football history. There’s nobody in between Runyan and the end zone. He was home free. (At the 16-second mark of the video, you can see all 11 Washington defenders in the frame—there’s nobody deep.) Instead, Rodgers skipped the pass. Sure, there was a flag elsewhere on the play … BUT WE ALMOST GOT AN OFFENSIVE LINEMAN TRYING TO WIN A SPRINT TO THE END ZONE FOR THE BALL GAME.

Trust me, I know there are more things wrong with the Green Bay Packers than Aaron Rodgers’s late-game desperation throws. (One solid example: Their starting left tackle today, a rookie picked in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft, did not know he was going to be the starting left tackle until he got to the stadium.) They’re 3-4, with back-to-back-to-back losses to teams that were not expected to make the playoffs heading into the season. But I’m starting to think we’re never going to see another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary again.

Winner: The Lame Duck Carolina Panthers

Last week, we wrote about the sad leftovers on the Panthers roster after head coach Matt Rhule was fired. This week, the Panthers traded a couple of them—Robbie Anderson, their leading wide receiver through six games, was dealt to the Cardinals on Monday; Christian McCaffrey, their obvious team MVP, was sent to the 49ers on Thursday. The message was clear: This year is over for the Panthers. Nobody on the team is too valuable not to be traded away. The guys suiting up on Sundays are only there because nobody has offered enough draft picks for them yet.

You know who didn’t seem to get that memo? The remaining Carolina Panthers, who absolutely dominated Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in a 21-3 win. McCaffrey’s ex-backup D’Onta Foreman entered Sunday with 37 rushing yards and no receptions this season; he had 60 yards on this play alone and finished with a career-high 145 scrimmage yards.

The Buccaneers hypothetically have a good run defense, entering Sunday ninth in the NFL in yards per attempt allowed. Foreman and another backup RB, Chuba Hubbard, each averaged at least 7 yards per carry, and Hubbard scored on a 17-yard run:

The Panthers averaged 6.86 yards per play—their most in over two years, since Week 5 of the 2020 season. Maybe somebody should trade for these guys, too—and maybe then the Panthers’ sixth-string running back will go for 200 yards and four touchdowns.

Loser: National Tight Ends Day

Sunday was National Tight Ends Day, which you would know if you watched any NFL game, because the announcers talked about it a lot (especially during the Niners-Chiefs game, which featured George Kittle and Travis Kelce). Listen, I work at The Ringer. I embrace a good theme week. (Do you wanna read about British TV shows? We got you covered!) But has the NFL considered that National Tight Ends Day is … actually bad for tight ends?

In the first six weeks of the NFL season, there were 64 touchdown receptions by tight ends—or as we’ll call them for the rest of this entry, TE TDs. That’s an average of 10.7 per week. And that’s actually a step down from past years—tight ends averaged 11.4 touchdowns per week last year and 13.4 per week in 2020.

This week? There were six, the fewest TE TDs in a week since Week 10 of the 2020 season. And three of those were on Thursday night, in the Saints-Cardinals game. And one of those was by Taysom Hill, WHO IS NOT EVEN REALLY A TIGHT END, DAMMIT.

There were a tragic three TE TDs on Sunday, and all three were garbage-time scores in the fourth quarter of already-decided games—a Peyton Hendershot TD with two minutes left in Dallas’s 24-6 win over the Lions, a Tommy Tremble TD to put the Panthers up 21-3 on the Buccaneers, and a Kittle TD in the 49ers’ blowout loss to the 44-23 Chiefs.

The goal of National Tight Ends Day may be to celebrate tight ends—but tight ends don’t live for the spotlight. They’re salt-of-the-earth sorts who prefer to dominate in the dark. Clearly, if we want them to thrive, we must cancel National Tight Ends Day.

Loser: The Slippery Hands of Pittsburgh’s Defenders

If you look at the box score of the Dolphins’ win over the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, you’d think Tua Tagovailoa guided his team to victory with a clean, efficient game, while Steelers QB Kenny Pickett threw his team’s chances away. Tagovailoa had one touchdown and no interceptions, while Pickett had three picks for the second time in his short NFL career, and the Dolphins won 16-10.

If you watched the game, you would know this is a lie. Tua Tagovailoa threw 14 incompletions Sunday night, and if I had to guess, I would say that most of those 14 incompletions hit Steelers defenders directly in both of their hands. Not one of their hands; not their shoulders—both hands, those things with the fingers. It happened so many times that NBC cut a “dropped interceptions” lowlight reel:

“That’s why they’re defenders,” you might say. “They’re not supposed to be good at catching.” Not usually a problem for Pittsburgh! They had four picks against Joe Burrow, and have eight on the season, tied for third in the NFL. Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a former Dolphin, is tied for third in the NFL with three INTs—more than the entire Dolphins defense had all season through Week 6. On Sunday night, the Steelers could have had, I don’t know, five more picks? The NFL does not keep “dropped interceptions” as a stat, so I can’t officially tell you how many the Steelers had against Tua. But it’s somewhere between four and a million.

The Dolphins defensive backs did not have this problem. Kenny Pickett threw exactly three passes that could have been intercepted, and the Dolphins caught all three of them.

Maybe Tagovailoa’s passes are wobbly and harder to intercept than Pickett’s. Maybe the Steelers defenders shrunk their hands in solidarity with their QB and can’t catch anymore. Maybe the humidity and light rain in Miami’s stadium made the typically sure hands of Steelers defenders too slippery. Maybe defenders are simply more inspired to pick off a guy with “pick” in his name. Regardless, this was the difference in the game. Pittsburgh easily wins if their defenders were as good at catching as they were in the first six games of the year! Of course, it doesn’t matter: Catching footballs is part of being good at football—and the Dolphins won because they were better at that on Sunday.

Loser: The Titans’ One-Play, Two-QB Experiment

I dream about an NFL team that’s willing to put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. And I don’t just dream about it—I write about it all the time, never shutting up about my belief that football would be cooler if a team could use two potential throwers as a regular part of its offense.

Apparently, Mike Vrabel shares the same dream as me. On Sunday, his Titans ran two plays with rookie quarterback Malik Willis lined up at receiver and starter Ryan Tannehill under center. Vrabel and the Titans’ offensive coaching staff designed a play where Willis comes across the formation and takes a handoff, opening up a world of possibilities. Would Willis use his spectacular speed—he reportedly runs a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash, and hit speeds of over 20 miles per hour at the Senior Bowl—and just run a standard jet sweep? Or would he somehow drop back and use the arm that got him drafted, trick the defense into committing on the sweep before launching to a wide-open receiver downfield?

We’ll never know. The play was a disaster. Tannehill’s handoff bounced off the speeding Willis, and the Titans lost the ball:

I think the issue is that Willis ran his pre-snap motion too deep—he swerves backward and ends up almost 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Tannehill seems surprised by how far he has to go to execute the handoff and nearly falls over. But it’s also possible that Tannehill just stumbled on his bad ankle (he was seen postgame in a walking boot) or that Willis just didn’t secure the ball well.

When you run a trick play in which a wide receiver or running back has to throw, it becomes apparent how much worse they are at throwing than quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Titans ran a play in which a quarterback had to do non-QB things, and it quickly became apparent that even the basic aspects of Not Playing QB—running pre-snap motion, taking a handoff—are harder than you’d think. Maybe there’s a reason nobody has pioneered the two-QB offense.

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