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Who should panic?
What an insane Week 9 in the NFL. We try to make sense of it all, from Josh Allen's dud in Jacksonville to Mike McCarthy's blowout loss in Dallas to... Jordan Love and Aaron Rodgers.
Long gone are the days of catching a player at the absolute peak of jubilation or fury.
Raw emotion out of wins and losses is being quarantined behind closed doors each Sunday with locker rooms shut off to the media in 2021. Honestly, I’d be surprised if NFL teams open them back up whenever Covid subsides.
Still, every so often, blistering honesty makes its way to the podium. After the Jacksonville Jaguars stunned the Buffalo Bills in a 9-6 game that brought back cruel memories of the 17-year playoff drought, Jaguars cornerback Shaquill Griffin — one of the most genuine, joyous players in the game — didn’t mince words.
He saw a Bills team that was utterly disinterested, and let his teammates know.
“I was just looking on their sideline,” Griffin said. “One thing I noticed was, ‘I don’t think they have the same energy as us. If one team deserves this win, it’s us. But you have to believe that.’ One thing I kept preaching was, ‘Just look on the sidelines. Just watch how they’re walking around. It’s like they don’t care. They don’t deserve this. Let’s show them why. So, now, we have to continue that momentum. You feel like you put so much into it. You deserve this. Go get it.’”
Anyone who invested three hours into viewing this game would agree: The Bills didn’t show up. Now, they’re only a half-game up on the surging New England Patriots and the two teams still play twice.
Sean McDermott’s teams haven’t suffered a letdown like this in his 4 ½ seasons as head coach but this would be a terrible time for the Bills to trend the wrong direction.
They weren’t alone this past weekend, either. Week 9 in the NFL was defined by upset losses.
So, who should panic? Let’s examine the teams one by one with an arbitrary 1-to-10 PANIC METER.
Josh Allen must carry the Bills offense.
This belly flop of a loss in Jacksonville isn’t all on Allen, no.
The offensive line was a disaster. Management treasured continuity last spring when, in truth, the line was mostly just OK in 2020. Regress from “OK” and you get a performance like this: Four sacks, eight QB hits, two interceptions. The other Josh Allen was the best player on the field with a sack, a pick and a fumble recovery. (Side note: Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden inexplicably selected Clelin Ferrell ahead of him.)
The wide receivers aren’t getting much separation. Credit to Phil Simms for pointing this out on Mad Dog Radio last week. While we assume this receiving corps is one of the deepest in the NFL — based off of last year’s historic production — when you isolate on each receiver, they’re struggling to shake corners loose downfield in 2021. (Side note: Maybe Isaiah McKenzie can help this, eh? He sure looked good on special teams in Jacksonville and isn’t shy about wanting the ball more on his weekly show here at Go Long.)
The running game is treated like ranch dressing here. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll showed no interest in running the ball as his backs combined for all of nine carries.
Other factors are at play. No question.
But Bills owner Terry Pegula also handed Allen a six-year, $258 million contract.
With this kind of money comes an expectation that he must rise above anything going wrong around him. It’s not about others making Allen look good anymore, no, Allen must elevate his receivers, his line, his backs, his coordinator. Sloppy protection? Allen needs to drop a stiff-arm and improvise his way into an off-platform throw. Receivers aren’t getting separation? Allen needs to thread that needle. A week ago, he did rise up. The Bills were equally lethargic against the equally lifeless Miami Dolphins and the quarterback turned it on. By the end of that game, Allen was flexing his biceps and challenging Christian Wilkins and strutting backward to his sideline.
It’s in him still. We’ve seen it.
Of course, this also happens to be the Cocomelon stretch of the Bills’ schedule.
After this week’s date with the New York Jets, they’ve got a tougher stretch of games against the Colts, Saints, Patriots and Buccaneers.
To his credit, Allen pointed the finger at himself.
“We played like shit and it starts with me,” Allen said at his presser. “This loss stings, but we will be better because of it.”
For the Bills to take the next step — and reach the Super Bowl — he must play like an MVP.
Panic meter: 5
Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys play soft.
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys offense have mostly been a juggernaut this season but the most encouraging sign in Big D? A resurgent defense. A unit that was historically bad in 2020 is a major reason why Dallas is currently 6-2 in 2021.
Micah Parsons has a team-high 38 solo tackles and 14 quarterback hits. As a rookie.
Trevon Diggs had an interception in six straight games. Six!
Randy Gregory, whose career seemed donezo, single-handedly wrecked the Carolina Panthers in Week 3.
And Dan Quinn, the team’s new defensive coordinator, has infused a new energy.
Yet on Sunday, at home, the Denver Broncos effectively took the Cowboys out to the woodshed. Don’t let the 30-16 final score fool you, either. This was a 30-0 beatdown with four minutes left. Here, I’d be a bit more concerned because we’ve seen this story before. Mike McCarthy’s teams in Green Bay were always prone to defensive meltdowns — especially in January. This was a sobering crash to reality. Denver rushed for 190 yards on 41 attempts with lanes parting like the Red Sea for both Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon.
And when Teddy Bridgewater had to throw, he did.
What a beaut this 44-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick was, too.
One of the sharpest criticisms I’ve heard from ex-Packers players was that McCarthy didn’t show much interest in his defense. Period. He didn’t have his players hit much in training camp and, overall, let his assistants handle that side of the ball. Despite projecting a macho persona in press conferences, McCarthy struggled to build a Tomlin-like, Belichick-like, hell, Fangio-like toughness behind the scenes in Green Bay. We saw a glimpse of this on “Hard Knocks” when McCarthy was showing his team Austin Powers clips and talking about “mojo moments.” And when he declared, “Charlie F---around, he don’t work here. High School Harry, get his ass out the f------ door,” it felt painfully forced.
McCarthy even admitted to local reporters afterward that he wasn’t himself in front of the HBO cameras.
Kellen Moore runs the offense. Quinn runs the defense. But every team still takes on the personality of their head coach.
The Cowboys should win the NFC East with ease but that feels like the team’s ceiling in 2021 after Sunday.
Panic meter: 7
We dug into Jerry’s World ahead of the 2021 season right here, ICYMI:
Is Jordan Love the future?
One start in, the Green Bay Packers likely do not know. For three quarters at Arrowhead Stadium, it was not pretty.
The Kansas City Chiefs blitzed the second-year quarterback out of Utah State relentlessly, exposing both his inexperience and his lack of chemistry with receivers. To Love’s credit, he heated up in the fourth quarter. He converted multiple fourth downs, including a 20-yard touchdown to Allen Lazard, and actually threw for more yards (190) than Patrick Mahomes (166) on three less attempts. Sunday night was not nearly as gloomy as Troy Aikman led everyone to believe on the broadcast.
Yet starting Love, in this hostile environment, proved too tall a task.
Mostly, it was surprising to see Matt LaFleur fade away from the run game. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon should’ve combined for 40 carries. Not 20. The head coach certainly did not do Love any favors — the young QB, per PFF, was pressured 28 times. Either way, Green Bay will be thinking Super Bowl once again when Aaron Rodgers returns to the lineup so there’s no reason to panic in the short term.
A quick note here since the quarterback had quite a bit to say since we wrote this.
Maybe nobody even cares at this point, but let’s not forget the fact that Rodgers’ spot with Pat McAfee supplied a rare look inside the brain of the most mercurial player in the sport. Vax. No vax. I’ll leave that debate for others and, hey, Rodgers actually made a few good points through the 47-minute chat. (We get into everything on the Go Long Podcast, too, if you want more.) Above all, it was quite telling to hear Rodgers insist he did not lie when we all can see the video. We all see and hear Rodgers say “Yeah” to a direct question. Rodgers told McAfee that he wasn’t asked a follow-up question when, in fact, he was. He created distance between himself and the unvaccinated by saying he wouldn’t judge anyone.
On one hand, he said he followed all protocols. On the other hand, he described the protocol requiring players to wear a mask at the podium as draconian… all while quoting Martin Luther King Jr. (Well said, Michael Strahan.)
Plain and simple, the QB now deriding the “mob” was part of the mob until he had no choice but to go scorched earth.
I think this deceit is what ticked people off more than whether he’s vaxxed or not.
Even if the NFL is making rules up as it goes.
The Packers sure do not care. They made other unvaccinated players conduct interviews with the media on Zoom while Rodgers proceeded at the podium for appearance’s sake. Such is the deal they cut back in the offseason when they opened their arms to the unhappy QB putting them on blast. Any amount of drama is worth it to president Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur.
Maybe they get around to developing and supporting Love one day. Maybe he’s good, too.
Until then, they’re all, all, all in on a Super Bowl-or-Bust season with Rodgers… and everything that comes with Rodgers.
Chances are, he’ll say something that makes LaFleur roll his eyes again.
He’ll also be throwing touchdowns and winning games and getting yet another crack at that elusive second Super Bowl soon, too.
Panic Meter: 2
Does Matthew Stafford still have that Lion blood?
Woof. That was ugly. The Los Angeles Rams quarterback handed the Tennessee Titans a win with one Pop Warner-level interception in his end zone that was then followed by one JV-level pick that safety Kevin Byard returned for a touchdown.
Words don’t do either throw justice.
View them for yourselves here.
These sort of plays were the concern at the time of the trade. We can blame the Detroit Lions’ franchise for hours but this is a quarterback who won 74 games and lost 90 with the team. Mistakes like these were too common. Was Stafford worth a 2021 third-round pick and first-rounders in both 2022 and 2023? Certainly not vs. the Titans.
It’s difficult to believe in something we have not seen. In primetime slots, Stafford typically lets his team down.
Similar to Allen in Buffalo, however, we’ve seen enough promising signs in L.A. to let this play out. Stafford has unlocked completely new pages in Sean McVay’s playbook. His big arm and mobility allows the head coach to call plays that he simply could not with Jared Goff.
Further, this Rams roster is gushing with proven talent. Especially with the addition of Von Miller.
We’ll take a deep breath and give Stafford a mulligan for now.
Panic meter: 4
Distractions catch up with the Raiders.
First, there were Jon Gruden’s emails. The head coach who signed a 10-year contract resigned.
This week presented something much more serious: Wide receiver Henry Ruggs was charged with DUI resulting in death. As more details emerge, the sadder this gets. His BAC level was 0.16, twice the state’s legal limit. He was clocked at 156 mph. Each of Ruggs’ two DUI counts is a felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison.
And a 23-year-old woman named Tina Tintor is now dead.
I cannot imagine how teammates possibly compartmentalize an event like this. The Las Vegas Raiders’ 23-16 loss to the New York Giants was the most predictable of the upsets this week. The AFC West is totally up for grabs — all four teams have five wins. Derek Carr remains one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league but had a particularly abysmal outing against the Giants. Carr threw a pair of interceptions to Xavier McKinney, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Carr threw late to the sideline on the play, a cardinal sin.
He also missed a wide-open Darren Waller for a touchdown on third down at the end of the first half.
And with one last shot to tie the game late, in the red zone, Carr fumbled.
Patrick Mahomes still isn’t himself. Clearly. But at the midway point, I’d wager he and Justin Herbert rise up in this division with the Raiders, once again, limping to the finish line.
Panic meter: 9
Joe Burrow will be OK.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ blowout win in Baltimore is a distant memory after the team lost to the Jets and, now, the division rival Cleveland Browns.
The 2020 first overall pick made costly mistakes in this 41-16 loss, too.
None was bigger than his interception at the goal line that cornerback Denzel Ward returned 99 yards to the house. Burrow forced the ball to Ja’Marr Chase, paid the price and finished 28 of 40 for 282 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and was sacked five times.
Like Dallas, the Bengals were physically bullied.
Now, they have a bye week to stew over it.
“We’ve still got everything in front of us,” Burrow said at his press conference. “We’ve lost two in a row. So what? We’ve got eight games and still a chance to win the division and make the playoffs. So, that’s our focus moving forward.
“We still have a really good team. We’re 5-4. We’re excited about where we’re at going forward. We’re going to come back to work ready to go. We’ve got a tough, resilient team and we’re going to come back to work, get better each day, and focus on the next one.”
Good for him. He’s right — it’s a long season.
Still, this sort of loss likely tells us that it’s just not the Bengals’ time in 2021. They don’t need to take a hatchet to the roster at all. Beefing up the offensive line and adding a playmaker on defense could elevate the Bengals into Super Bowl contention in 2022. On Burrow, veteran Tyler Boyd nailed it in our Friday Feature. As he detailed, the young QB thinks through the game like a veteran.
Panic Meter: 6