I’ve written a treatus absolutely slaughtering both the Raiders and the Cowboys down below, so we don’t have time for a long winded introduction this week. It’s a nice change of pace, though; I was running out of insults for the Jaguars.
Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Water is wet, all dogs are good, and Drew Brees is a legendary quarterback. These are all things we know. Yet for some reason, Brees just doesn’t get the hype around him like Brady, Manning (Peyton, never Eli) and Rodgers do. Every year those QBs get Super Bowl buzz just for being themselves, but Drew and his Saints are never invited to the party. It’s really not fair to leave them stood in line with bouncers telling them they can’t come in with those shoes on, because this Saints team is dangerously good.
On Sunday, Brees drove his offense downfield time after time to hand the LA Rams their first loss of the season using the tried and true method of just outscoring them. In the 45-35 victory, Brees threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns, tying him with Tom Brady at the top of the career leaderboard for games with 4+ TDs at 22 a piece.
The Saints have no Super Bowl buzz about them, but that needs to change soon. The team are 7-1, scoring points like it’s going out of fashion, and have a quarterback who seems hungry to back up his place in the record books with some more gold rings.
The Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders have always done things the “Raiders Way”. That used to mean off-field trail blazing and on-field excellence, but towards the end of Al Davis’ life it more meant doing goofy things in the draft. Since Davis’ death in 2011, the team had been on a slow but steady incline, but his son Mark Davis seems hellbent on returning the franchise to the chaos of his father’s last few years at the helm.
Agreeing to move the team to Las Vegas was certainly a bold move. The Raiders have huge cultural ties to California, and thanks to the NWA you can’t separate the Raiders branding from west coast hip hop. In Vegas, they’re simply a recurring attraction at a stadium built as much to accommodate Shania Twain concerts as it is them.
Plucking John Gruden out of the commentary box and making him head coach was a lofty decision too, but not entirely unreasonable. After all, Gruden is still just 55 and during his nine year stint away from coaching ran the Fired Football Coaches Association, which did what it could to help Gruden and others stay up to date while job hunting. What did raise eyebrows was the ten year, $100m contract which they handed him.
For all these decisions, though, what will truly define the next decade of the Raiders’ history is Mark Davis allowing Gruden to dismantle the team. Right now the Raiders own next year’s draft, with three picks in the first round alone. But the cost of getting these picks has seen star players leave, and there is a huge sense of unease around the rest of the team. Even franchise quarterback Derek Carr had trade rumours swirling around him, despite Gruden vowing to build the next great NFL team around him.
While this story might end with them hoisting up banners in their new state-of-the-art desert stadium as the Las Vegas Raiders, you have to wonder if this is the way. On Thursday they were blown away by the San Francisco 49ers, who have most of their good players out injured and are being held together with spackle and good intentions. No matter how much you climb, if you start from too far down you’ll never reach the summit.
Christian McCaffery, Carolina Panthers
Kareem Hunt did his thing for the Kansas City Chiefs again this week, sealing a league-leading fantasy performance with 141 combined yards and 3 total touchdowns. But we all know how Hunt has set up shop in endzones this season.
Instead, let’s give some love to Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffery, who tickled the Tampa Bay Bucaneers until they laughed so hard they wet themselves. He picked up 79 rushing yards (and two touchdowns), and added on 78 receiving yards to boot. But most importantly, his strong backfield performance took some of the load off (and big hits away from) Cam Newton. For the Panthers to reach the depths of the playoffs, they need Newton happy and healthy, and big games like the one McCaffery just had will ensure that happens.
Jermaine Whitehead, Green Bay Packers
What cost the Green Bay Packers in their big Sunday Night Football showdown with the New England Patriots was a lack of defensive backs. Throughout the game, they dropped like flies to injury and Tom Brady was able to pick apart the inexperienced backups to pull away for a 31-17 win. The Pack really could have used Whitehead on the field, but instead he was sat in the locker room after being ejected for slapping a Patriots player.
Yes, it was a very weak ejection. Forget the futility of slapping a man in a helmet, the hit itself wouldn’t have done any damage if it happened in Asda in a fight over discount Halloween chocolate. Still, though, you just can’t do raise your hands to someone else’s face. Like in other physical sports, NFL refs have a low threshold for overly-aggressive play during the game and a zero tolerance policy for any shenanigans after the whistle. Whitehead let the Patriots get inside his head, he lashed out, and his team paid the price.
Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears
I’m worried about Khalil. This is his second straight game out injured. I need to ask you all to please light a candle and send all the healing energy to him you can. We have to do something to counteract the forces of evil which offenses around the league are sending him and, presumably, blocking his recovery.
When you take a break from chanting healing runes, though, give Danielle Hunter a pat on the back. The Minnesota Vikings defensive end lead the charge as they absolutely demolished Matt Stafford and the Detroit Lions. Hunter picked up 3.5 of the 10 team sacks against Stafford, and added nine combined tackles too as the Vikings got their season back on track in a big way.
Bye, Bye Jason
I’d expect Jason Garrett to get fired after the Sunday Night Football match between the Cowboys and Eagles. Not only are the Cowboys in a big slump, highlighted by being blown away by the Tennessee Titans on MNF, owner Jerry Jones has given Garrett the dreaded vote of confidence.
Their woeful performance this week was summed up by Titans defensive back Kevin Byrad committing the ultimate sacrilege for the Cowboys; after intercepting Dak Prescott he danced on the giant star at centre field.
When Garrett was promoted to replace Wade Phillips in 2010 it was seen as an inevitability; this was the man whom hands-on owner Jerry Jones had been grooming for the role. After all, here was a guy who had guided them to one of the best offenses around, and was a much sexier option than defensive-minded Phillips. With franchise quarterback Tony Romo at the helm, and a new mega-stadium being built, it seemed like the sky was the limit.
Things haven’t really worked out that way, though. Wade Phillips has redeemed himself to the point where he’s probably the most respected defensive coordinator in league history without the last name of Ryan or Belichick, and Garrett is hanging on by a thread with just one post-season victory in eight years. Dak Prescott has, if anything, regressed since his star rookie season, and stud running back Ezekiel Elliott is averaging just 85 yards per game, over 22 yards per game less than his career best year.
The team are going backwards, and they run into an Eagles side both in the ascendency and rested after a bye week. Jerry Jones does not like admitting defeat, and as an involved owner has to enjoy the power he can exert over his head coach. But with this out of the equation, Garrett is an offensive-minded coach whose offense is floundering. You have to wonder how long Jones’ loyalty to him will last if the team are blown away again in primetime.