What now for Bengals?
Five weeks into the season and the Bengals have come out of their game with an unenviable 0-5 record. Arizona took their first win of the season for a 1-3-1 record.
Despite the game going down to a last-second winning field goal, the game was indicative of where both teams are with the 26-23 score - flattering the Bengals who didn't even look in the game until an unlikely fourth-quarter comeback. The Cardinals, not a particularly good team this year either, at least appeared to know what they were doing. Having finished 3-13 last season, Arizona has looked to rebuild the entire team. First came the failed Josh Rosen experiment with the quarterback now exiled and behind center for the Dolphins. Now they are building the entire team around the arm strength and speed of number one draft pick Kyler Murray.
The Bengals in comparison look rudderless. At least the aforementioned Dolphins appear to have a plan, signaling their ploy to stack up the first-round draft picks by finishing as the worst team in the league with every play. But the Bengals do have some talent in their roster. Despite what fans may tell you, Andy Dalton is not a bad quarterback and A.J. Green is a receiver that most teams would love to have.
With the season looking over for the Bengals, the time may be right for them to trade crown jewel, Green, for some extra draft capital. After all, they are a team that tends to prefer building through the draft, as opposed to spending in free agency. It may be time to sacrifice Dalton for the good of the organization - and perhaps for Dalton himself. With the right team and the right coach, Dalton is a valuable player. So many of the league’s passers have been dropping like flies this season and Dalton might end up taking the calls that are inexplicably not going through to Colin Kaepernick’s phone. It will be hard for the fans to watch but helpful to know that change is around the corner.
Bears raided in London
It was expected that the "Khalil Mack trade" would hurt the team that traded him when Mack's new Bears team traveled to London to meet the Raiders. But the men in black and silver had a plan, bullying their way to a 17-0 lead at half time.
An unanswered 21-point third-quarter arrived for the Bears, courtesy of a failed Derek Carr backward pass. The Bears struggled to move the ball offensively for too much of the game and the Raiders deserved their 24-21 win.
Excuses will be made in Chicago. Fans will blame the lack of time in London, the travel, and the jet-lag but ultimately, the offense, with or without starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, is stuttering and Raiders head coach, Jon Gruden had the measure of the defense all day. The Bears now go into their bye week before the toughest schedule in the NFL.
For Gruden and the Raiders, the gamble to trade Mack last year seems to be paying off. Their acquired draft pick, Josh Jacobs, was their star man at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Jacobs ran for 123-yards on twenty-six carries, scoring two touchdowns. The Raiders fly back with their confidence high.
While Jon Gruden was celebrating with his team in London, his brother Jay and his Washington team were being put to the sword by Bill Belichick and the Patriots in Massachusetts.
The now 5-0 Patriots never really got out of third gear in beating the lackluster Redskins 33-7. They are now staring at a Jay Gruden-less future after he was relieved of his duties.
The writing had been on the wall for Washington and Gruden. Gruden has looked indecisive in making a quarterback decision, having backed starter Case Keenum, only to drop him mid-game for rookie Dwayne Haskins, and then leaving Haskins out altogether for veteran Colt McCoy.
Where the Redskins go from here is anyone’s guess but this season is a write-off for them. Responsibility needs to be taken by everyone within the organization. In firing Gruden during a 5 AM meeting and instantly installing offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, for the rest of the year, the Redskins have finally acted decisively for the first time in a while. This will ultimately be a forgettable few years for the storied team.
For the Patriots, Tom Brady looked every bit the creaking 42-year-old veteran against Washington. Whatever it was, despite being sacked four times, TB12 moved into third in the all-time passing yards list, ahead of Brett Favre, after throwing for 348-yards. Next week he will probably move into second on that list ahead of Peyton Manning whom he trails by just 17 yards. Perhaps he isn’t losing it after all.
Carolina Panthers' McCaffrey and other NFL MVPs
Since Cam Newton went down to his latest injury, Christian McCaffrey, the running-back has been the one to make a difference for the Carolina Panthers team. In a league heavily weighted these days towards quarterbacks, McCaffrey is, at the very least, proving to be the MVP for the Panthers. Since Newton was replaced by the increasingly capable Kyle Allen three games ago, McCaffrey has accounted for 604 yards and scored five touchdowns. Far from being just a running back, McCaffrey is an entire offensive unit on his own, having caught thirty-one receptions in their opening five games for a total of 279 yards, on top of rushing stats for the opening five games of 587 yards.
In a game billed as a ‘battle of the backups’ with a rookie quarterback, Gardner Minshew, still helming the Jaguars offense, McCaffrey really performed. He notched up 237 yards of offense with three touchdowns - one with an athletic dive into the endzone and another at the end of an 84-yard burn. This leaves the Panthers 3-2 for the season, behind the 4-1 New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. If McCaffrey can keep this up, he may help his team to a playoff spot. Could he be in the conversation for league MVP and earn an award no non-quarterback has won since 2012?
We are just over a quarter of the season through and already talking MVP contenders. As good as McCaffrey has been, it would probably take over 2,000 yards and a playoff berth for him to even enter a competition with last year's winner, Patrick Mahomes, and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Despite the Kansas City Chiefs hitting their first loss against the Colts at 19-13, Mahomes still managed to throw over 300 yards. This performance happened in a game where Mahomes twisted his ankle, making fans very nervous. Russell Wilson led his Seahawks to a thrilling 30-29 win over the Rams to start the weekend throwing for four touchdowns in the process.
Wilson is looking almost untouchable at the moment and the Seahawks could begin looking at the NFC West title as theirs to win. The Rams will look back at a missed field goal in the last moments that would have won it for them but it was Wilson’s impressive night that really did the job.
Mahomes, Brady, McCaffrey and anyone else with MVP ambitions really ought to be looking at Wilson as their main rival this year.
NFL player safety
The question for player safety is paramount now. This week, Steelers quarterback, Mason Rudolph, was knocked out before even hitting the floor. Also, a Raiders linebacker was suspended for the season for a vicious and unnecessary hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle.
However, there is a fine line between safety and gameplay and there are too many roughing-the-passer calls eagerly applied by referees. Yes, the quarterback is prone and every defender wants a piece of him but football is a contact sport and while protection must be present, we can not take away from the essence of the sport.
Once a defender is committed in a play, it is almost impossible for them to pull out of their attempted tackle and while some will be judged as too rough or violent, others are just a clean tackle that was slightly late due to the play of the quarterback. The line is blurry but is in danger of being wiped out, and with it so will the excitement of sacking the quarterback.
Contributing Author - Rees Dale