When Drew Brees came out of the week-two clash with the Rams injured, alarm bells rang in New Orleans. How would the Saints perform without their talisman?
In came reserve quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, backed up by the brilliance of head-coach Sean Payton. His handling of Bridgewater along with his play-calling and robust defense in the wake of injuries surely nominates him for coach of the year. It was his Sunday opponent, Matt Nagy of the Bears, who won last year. What started as a band-aid approach to maintaining the competition before Brees returned has become a roaring success with Bridgewater yet to taste defeat. With Brees stalking the sideline - his return to practice scheduled this week - the Saints immediately got to work dismantling the Bears. They forced a safety early on from a blocked punt and never looked back.
The Bears defense slowed the Saints down but a familiar pattern arose under the gathering of Chicago clouds. The Bears, led by quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, just couldn’t move the ball forward.
Boos rang out all around Soldier Field, aimed directly at Trubisky and his offense. The quarterback position can be the most celebrated position, however, it can also be the loneliest when things go wrong. Constantly reminded that the Bears traded up in the 2017 draft, placing their team in his hands, Trubisky cast a forlorn figure on the sidelines on Sunday. He watched his counterpart, Bridgewater, lead the Saints to a 36-25 win with the 25 points flattering the Bears.
Trubisky can only watch on as those he was picked ahead of - such as DeShaun Watson in Houston and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City - continue to light up the league. Whether either of those two would be any better in this current Bears setup is a debate. Bears fans would currently do anything to face a quarterback dilemma, such as what to do with the impressive Bridgewater when Brees returns to full health.
No player who makes it all the way to the NFL is a bad player. However, whether they suit the coaches and the team dynamics is a different question. The Chicago crowd voices their opinions and even the most optimistic may now be thinking of winter in hibernation rather than in the playoffs.
As the clouds gather around the Chicago Bears offense, the Washington Redskins unleashed their latest attempt to turn their hopeless season around.
The rain came down in torrents from above Washington’s FedEx Field to level out what had looked like a complete mismatch going into the game. The unbeaten 49ers struggled to cope with the conditions that saw their white jerseys match their opponents by the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was one for those who complain about the good old days being lost to astroturf and fields resembling pool tables. The ball, at times, looked more a bar of soap in a bubble bath as it fell this way and that. Both teams remained scoreless until the 49ers broke the deadlock deep into the third quarter with a field goal.
That seemed to break the Redskins resolve with San Francisco taking that momentum into the final quarter to round out a hard-fought 9-0 victory. By the end, as the green had given way to a murky brown underfoot, the 49ers looked to be enjoying themselves.
Now that Fall has begun, these games will happen more often and it is important how they are handled. The 49ers didn’t make any excuses. They found a way to win an ugly game in an ugly way, remaining unbeaten.
The Jackson 5 II
This column isn’t one to get smug. However, it does feel pleased with itself after predicting this year would be a breakthrough year for the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
On Sunday, the Ravens swooped in against the high flying Russel Wilson and his Seattle Seahawks. They ran the ball hard and left with the 30-16 win. This left the team comfortably perched atop the AFC North with a 5-2 record. There is more to be impressed by than their ability to keep winning, however.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson is heading an offense that leads the entire league in rushing yards. In fact, Lamar Jackson not only leads the offense but actually stands sixth in the league for individual rushing yards, despite having far fewer attempts by those ranking in the top five. Watching Jackson and the offense around him is becoming one of the most exciting things in the league this year. Defenses seem unable to bring him down. You can’t imagine him ever troubling the passing records of Tom Brady or sharing the statistics of Aaron Rodgers, however, his abilities are different. He is so difficult to stop that the Ravens could be out of sight before the rest catch up.
The most impressive part of the action in Baltimore this season, however, is the work of head-coach, Jim Harbaugh. Having been at the helm for over a decade, Jackson would need to fit within Harbaugh’s mold as he was drafted 32nd in the class of 2018. However, Harbaugh has turned it around, molding the Ravens around Jackson's abilities. Not only is this approach starting to pay off but it has caught the opposition flat-footed. Harbaugh continues to go against the grain he has cultivated over the last decade.
Not since Epic Records took Michael Jackson away from Motown has such a gamble on a Jackson paid off so well.
More than a Thielen
Three weeks ago wideout, Adam Thielen, called out his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, for missing obvious opportunities to get him the ball and to score touchdowns. Following a surprise apology from Cousins, the following Sunday, Thielen had two touchdowns and the Minnesota Vikings saw a win.
One week later, the rumor was that Vikings receiver, Stefon Diggs, was unhappy. The following Sunday, the Vikings had thrashed the Philadelphia Eagles 38-20 and Diggs had three touchdowns while Thielen had caught another.
And then there was running back, Dalvin Cook. What Cook was saying to Cousins behind the scenes will never be known but the quarterback hasn’t failed to give him the ball either and Cook has not disappointed. Cook leads the NFL in individual rushing yards for the year so far.
This past Sunday, Thielen limped out of a big 42-30 win against NFC North rivals, Detroit, and now looks set to miss his first game in his NFL career. Cousins might not be everyone’s idea of a great quarterback but he obviously responds pretty well to criticism. He does deserve credit for his on-field response. When he is in this kind of form, surrounded by more offensive weapons than John Wick such as Diggs and Cook, the Vikings could be the only team in the North to keep up the chase on Green Bay.
Plan B Becomes Plan A
The Indianapolis Colts are still learning to play in Plan B-mode after quarterback Andrew Luck retired on the eve of the new season.
It left head-coach, Frank Reich, ripping up the play-book tailor-made for Luck and starting again with an understudy, Jacoby Brissett. Fast-forward to week seven, a showdown with AFC South division-leading Houston and the in-form quarterback, Deshaun Watson, displayed where the Colts stood in their post-Luck evolution. After what most teams would consider a season-ending disaster, the Colts have dug in and worked hard. After a 30-23 win over the Texans, the Colts now sit atop their rivals in the South.
Brissett has improved week after week and Reich has guided him every bit of the way, just as Sean Payton has guided Teddy Bridgewater in New Orleans. Brissett threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday, outgunning Watson on the other side.
Payton and the Saints have the luxury of welcoming their franchise quarterback, Drew Brees, back into the fold this coming week. For Reich and the Colts, the future had been thrust upon them and they have definitely coped.
The AFC South looks set to go down to a shoot-out between the Colts and the Texans. Both would be worthy winners though Jacksonville might have a say in the shake-up. With the Colts and Texans set to play each other again at the end of November, you wouldn’t bet against the Colts having improved even more between now and then.
Aaron Rodgers had one of the best games of his career as Green Bay beat the Oakland Raiders 42-24. Rodgers had over an 80% completion rate, threw for 429 yards which included five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran another TD in for himself. All of this happened without star receiver Devante Adams.
His near-perfect performance deserves the last word on another weekend of action but it isn’t just Rodgers who deserves plaudits. The Packers defense has improved every week and ranks third in the league for turnovers forced.
The 49ers may be the only undefeated team in the NFC and the Patriots continue undefeated in the AFC. However, there is a Green Bay shaped cloud forming in the North that could hang over them all winter.
Contributing Author - Rees Dale