Now that was a fun week of football.
Starting Thursday night and through Sunday, the NFL action was outstanding — everything we want the NFL to be, as long as we’re able to keep politics from interfering with our enjoyment of the game. It had shocking upsets, thrilling comebacks, and the kind of late-game action that makes your head spin even if you have Red Zone Channel and multiple screens.
If you were watching as the early-afternoon games came to a close, some of the things you saw were:
• The Eagles shocking the Giants by kicking a 61-yard field goal as time expired. That was just the seventh time in NFL history a kicker hit a field goal longer than 60 yards.
• The Lions appearing to win yet another crazy fourth-quarter comeback . . . only to have a replay review rule that they’d been stopped short inside the 1-yard line, handing the victory to the Falcons.
• The Bears earning their first win of the season, and handing the Steelers their first loss of the season, with two big plays in overtime.
• The Colts intercepting the Browns’ last pass of the game to hang on and win their first game of the season.
That was five games, all going down to the wire, all ending around the same time in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday. There’s no better experience than sitting on your couch and taking all that in.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The first two weeks of the NFL season had plenty of dull, listless games, and not a lot of drama. People were complaining that the NFL is unwatchable, the ratings were down, there was a general malaise among football fans across America. And, of course, the president’s comments on Friday didn’t exactly help for those who see sports as an escape. But that’s the thing about the NFL: It’s the best entertainment on offer anywhere. That’s why we love it.
Here are some more Week 3 thoughts:
Bill O’Brien. Not smart. I have two problems with Texans coach Bill O’Brien, one specific play call and one big picture. The specific play call was kicking a field goal rather than going for it on fourth-and-1 while nursing a two-point lead with 2:24 remaining on Sunday in New England. What was he thinking? Why would you willingly kick off to the Patriots, knowing that if Tom Brady drives them down the field for a touchdown, they win the game? Why not go for it on fourth down and try to run out the clock? Which do you think is harder: Gaining one yard, or stopping Tom Brady with the game on the line? By putting the ball in Brady’s hands, O’Brien cut his own throat.
The big picture issue is that O’Brien made Tom Savage the Texans’ Week One starter, only to bench him for rookie Deshaun Watson at halftime of the first game. Watson has played pretty well since then and has shown promise, but he’s also made his share of rookie mistakes. Maybe if Watson had been anointed the starter from the day he was drafted, and worked with the first-string offense all through training camp and the preseason, he wouldn’t make so many rookie mistakes. It was foolish of O’Brien to start Savage, and it set back both the development of Watson and the Texans’ 2017 season.
Matt Prater. Incredible. Prater, the Lions’ kicker, had field goals of 57 and 55 yards on Sunday. In Week One he made a 58-yarder and in Week Two he made a 56-yarder. That’s four field goals of 55 yards or more in only three weeks, and going back to last year he has made 13 in a row from beyond 50 yards. That’s unbelievable. Do you realize how much better NFL kickers are than they used to be? In the entire 1978 NFL season, the longest field goal kicked was 52 yards. Yesterday, just during the early afternoon games, we had field goals of 61, 57, 55 and 55 yards. And Prater, in an NFL environment where kickers are amazing across the board, stands out as the best of the bunch.
The replay got it right, but the Lions still got screwed. When NFL head of officiating Al Riveron overturned the Lions’ apparent game-winning touchdown, he made the right call: Lions receiver Golden Tate was down before the ball crossed the goal line. And when the officials then ran 10 seconds off the clock, that was the right call as well. The problem is that the officials got the call wrong on the field, and that prevented the Lions from running one more play. If the officials had made the right call and ruled Tate down at the 1-yard line with eight seconds left, the Lions would have been able to hurry up to the line and run one more offensive play. Teams routinely hurry up to the line and get a snap off in less than eight seconds. But the officials got it wrong, which means the Lions didn’t have that opportunity. Would the Lions have scored the game-winning touchdown on the final play? We’ll never know. And that’s a shame.
Richard Sherman is lucky he wasn’t ejected. I’m shocked the officials allowed Sherman to keep screaming at them after he was already flagged for one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A second penalty would have been an automatic ejection, and it would have been justified. A Major League Baseball umpire or an NBA referee wouldn’t hesitate to eject a player who was going after them the way Sherman did. NFL officials show a lot more patience.
A couple of rookie running backs are having big receiving seasons. Bears running back Tarik Cohen is on pace for 107 catches this season, while Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is on pace for 96. No rookie running back in NFL history has ever had more than 88 catches, a record Reggie Bush set in 2006.
Jacoby Brissett should get a real shot. As a rookie in New England last year, Brissett was thrown into a difficult situation, going from third string to first string because Tom Brady got suspended and Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt. Considering how hard it is for a rookie quarterback who hasn’t been practicing with the starters, Brissett played pretty well. This year, Brissett got thrown into an even more difficult situation, getting traded to the Colts just before the start of the season and handed the starting job when Scott Tolzien looked terrible in Week One. Considering those circumstances, I think Brissett has played quite well in Indianapolis as well. Brissett never had a chance to be the Patriots’ long-term starter because Brady and Garoppolo were ahead of him, and he doesn’t have a chance to be the Colts’ long-term starter because Andrew Luck will be back from shoulder surgery eventually. But I hope Brissett gets a chance to be some team’s long-term starter. I like what I see from this young man.
Tom Brady on a record pace. Brady now has 1,092 passing yards this season, putting him on pace for 5,824 yards over 16 games. The NFL record for passing yards in a season is 5,477, and the record for a 40-year-old quarterback is 4,202. There’s little doubt that if Brady stays healthy he’ll have the greatest season ever for a quarterback over 40. He might have the greatest season ever, period.