Judgements Five: The cold, hard truth of Rodgers vs. Dallas
That's a tough loss for Dallas fans and a tougher loss for the Cowboys ... because it underscores what both already know: As long as Aaron Rodgers is upright the Cowboys can't be the team to beat in the NFC.
You think I'm kidding? Then you must not have watched his latest conquest of Big D -- a last-minute victory Sunday that pushed his record to 7-1 in his last eight starts vs. Dallas, including two playoff wins, dating back to 2009.
But look how he got there: With a revamped offensive line, without his top running and with favorite target Jordy Nelson on the sidelines for the game-winning drive. It doesn't matter where he plays ... Green Bay ... Dallas ... or whom he plays with. The guy is poison to the Cowboys, with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last eight games.
In 2014 the Cowboys were 12-4 and the NFC East champion. A year ago they were 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. Each time their playoff run lasted until one team ... no, one quarterback ... finished them.
Connect the dots, people.
That doesn't mean there haven't been close calls. Heck, it took a last-minute miracle escape-and-throw in the 2016 playoffs to beat Dallas at the gun. And it took another last-minute drive Sunday -- one that covered 75 yards -- to pull out another win, with Rodgers making the runs and throws down the stretch to send Dallas to its third loss.
Rodgers deserves the praise directed at him. But Dallas gets an assist for Sunday's victory. The Cowboys know what this guy can do ... and has done ... to them, so they know there is no margin for error. Yet they took a shot at the end zone on a second-and-2 with just over a minute left when they could just have easily have run the ball and the clock.
Bottom line: When Dak Prescott scored on the next play, way too much time was left for Aaron Rodgers to do what he almost always does to these guys.
The Cowboys should have known better. Guaranteed: They do now.
- They can't run the ball. Their quarterback makes critical mistakes. They just lost their top (only?) offensive weapon. They have almost no healthy wide receivers. Their offensive line stinks. And their defense can't protect fourth-quarter leads. Yep, the New York Giants aren't just bad. They're the worst team in the NFC, and expect the season to inflict off-season casualties -- with GM Jerry Reese at the head of the class.
2. People have been asking what's wrong with the Dallas offense, but it's not the offense that's the issue; it's the defense. Without linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys' D turned double-digit fourth-quarter leads the past two weeks into losses.
3. Biggest difference for 3-2 Jacksonville: Defense. It's forcing turnovers it didn't a year ago, and you can look it up. The Jags had 13 takeaways last year. They have 15 through five games.
4. Congratulations, Cleveland. It only took the Browns 17 quarters ... or 275:37 ... to gain a lead.
5. Look at it this way, Houston: Now J.J. Watt has time to run for governor.
6. Miami coach Adam Gase says criticism of Jay Cutler "drives me nuts." OK, then, let's criticize Gase's offense ... led by Jay Cutler. It drives me nuts, with two touchdowns in three weeks and 39 possessions.
7. Don't tell me running doesn't matter in a passing era. There have been 23 individual 100-yard rushing games this season, but when Ezekiel Elliott hit triple digits Sunday he became just the second of those 23 not to win.
8. Never thought I'd say this but ... beware Cincinnati. The Bengals are 2-1 since changing offensive coordinators and only a game back in an AFC North where both Pittsburgh and Baltimore seem vulnerable.
9. I see where an unnamed Chargers' official says, nope, the team will not move again ... but I'm not sure if he was talking about San Diego or the standings.
10. Antonio Brown, you're cleared to air out your quarterback this week. Heck, everyone else in Pittsburgh has.
11. Reports have Andrew Luck returning in November ... or a month too late to save the Colts' season.
12. Since 2011, Alex Smith is 65-25 and Aaron Rodgers 67-26. Just sayin'.
13. Best game I saw this weekend wasn't in the NFL; it was in Hanover, N.H. Unbeaten Dartmouth rallied from a 21-0 first-half deficit to beat previously unbeaten Yale, 28-27, on a 15-yard TD pass with 34 seconds left. A round of snaps for winning quarterback Jack Heneghan, son of former NFL exec Lal Heneghan, who threw for 314 yards and single-handedly led Dartmouth to its third straight last-minute win. It beat defending Ivy co-champion Penn a week earlier on the last play of the game and held off Holy Cross in OT the week before that. The Big Green won their last three by a total of five points.
14. Time to put out an APB on Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper. Not only hasn't he scored in three weeks; he has just four catches for 23 yards. Honest.
15. Memo to Cam Newton: The apology for last week's remarks suffice. So lose the Rosie the Riveter button. Not cute. And can the "sarcasm trying to give someone a compliment" comment. You screwed up, pure and simple ... and you apologized, as you should have. If it was legit, nothing more needs to be said.
LEGION OF BOOM. It did what nobody else this season could: Frazzle Jared Goff and the L.A. Rams. Not only did the Seahawks hold a team averaging 35 points per to 10, but it forced five takeaways to move back into a tie for first in the NFC West. This was all about making a statement, and the Seahawks sent a message that the division still goes through Seattle.
BALTIMORE QB JOE FLACCO. Entering Sunday he'd been intercepted in a league-high 10 consecutive games. Worse, his quarterback rating (65.0) ranked behind every starter outside of Cleveland rookie DeShone Kizer, and his offense failed to protect a first-half point in the last two games, both lopsided losses. So what happens? An error-free game, with no interceptions, no sacks and a huge road win in Oakland.
N.Y. JETS QB JOSH McCOWN. Make that his first win EVER in Cleveland.
INDIANAPOLIS K ADAM VINATIERI. Not only does the 44-year-old nail his 11th game-winner in OT but he hits it from 51 yards.
CLEVELAND DE MYLES GARRETT. Don't blame him for another Browns' loss. He became the first No. 1-draft pick since 1992 to produce a sack in his first game ... only, he didn't produce one. He had two.
CHARGERS COACH ANTHONY LYNN. Yes, it was his first career win, but, more significantly, it was the first victory for the L.A. Chargers in 57 years.
BALL SECURITY. The Chiefs have one turnover all year, and it was Kareem Hunt's fumble on the very first snap of the season. Since then, no mistakes, no losses and five wins.
SAN DIEGO TACO LOVERS. Sorry, people. No freebies Monday at El Pollo Grill in Bonita. Blame it on Eli.
KANSAS CITY QB PATRICK MAHOMES. Aaron Rodgers doesn't lead the NFL in passing. Neither does Tom Brady. Nope, Alex Smith does, and he's the guy Mahomes was supposed to replace. But with Smith at quarterback, all the Chiefs have done is win 27 of their last 31 regular-season starts. Grab a clipboard, Patrick. You'll need it as company this season.
HOUSTON DEFENSE. First, the Texans lose J.J. Watt for the season. Then it's Whitney Mercilus who goes down. Brian Cushing already is sidelined. So Deshaun Watson throws for five touchdowns, and the Texans still lose. You may be looking at the new normal, Houston.
GIANTS' DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR STEVE SPAGNUOLO. His defense has failed to protect five fourth-quarter leads the past three games -- and defense was supposed to be the strength of these guys. Guess not. Report to the principal's office, Steve.
PITTSBURGH OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD HALEY. Follow Spags down the hall. Twenty points a game ... including 26 vs. Jacksonville and Chicago combined ... and far too few explosive plays won't cut it.
CLEVELAND COACH HUE JACKSON. That makes him 1-20 with Cleveland and makes the Browns 1-23 over their last 24 starts. Thank goodness there's the Indians.
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. He said last week that Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles reminded him of "a young me." Listeners scoffed until Sunday ... when he reminded them of a young Blake Bortles in one of the worst performances of Big Ben's career.
SAN FRANCISCO COACH KYLE SHANAHAN. He's the only rookie coach without a win. Yeah, I know the 49ers lost their last four by a total of 11 points -- with the last two in OT. It doesn't matter. They all look the same in the W-L column.
SUNDAY'S REPORT CARD
PHILADELPHIA QB CARSON WENTZ. Four touchdown passes, 304 yards and a 4-1 start -- tops in the NFC East. Once upon a time, the best quarterback in last year's draft was Dak Prescott by 10 lengths. Now it's a photo-finish between Prescott and Wentz, with Jared Goff a distant third.
CAROLINA TE ED DICKSON. He never had more than 75 yards receiving in any game. He had 152 Sunday vs. Detroit ... in the first half.
M & M. That would be the Chargers' two Melvins -- running back Melvin Gordon and defensive end Melvin Ingram. Gordon had 160 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns, including the game winner. Ingram had two sacks and a forced fumble that set up Gordon's game-winning score. Together they produced the first L.A. Chargers' win in 57 years.
GREEN BAY RB AARON JONES. It doesn't matter which Aaron it is -- Rodgers, Jones -- the Cowboys can't solve them. The rookie running back, starting in place of the injured Ty Montgomery, ran for 125 yards and sent Fantasy-Football owners everywhere rushing to the waiver wire to make a claim.
CHIEFS SPECIAL TEAMS. Since Dave Toub took over in 2013, the Chiefs have 11 special-teams TDs -- including that Tyreek Hill score Sunday night. Just as impressive, their opponents haven't produced a single touchdown during that time.
CHARGERS QB PHILIP RIVERS. Yeah, he made more mistakes, but he made the big throws when it mattered, too, and finally delivered a victory. What's more, he did it vs. the guy he was traded for.
CINCINNATI WR A.J. GREEN. One big catch produces a TD; another sets up another six. But then there were three turnovers, including one tipped pass.
N.Y. GIANTS QB ELI MANNING. Another week, another fourth-quarter meltdown. It was Manning's fourth-quarter fumble that set up the Chargers' game-winning score. I understand he lost his best receiver when Odell Beckham Jr. went down with a broken ankle. I understand he was without three other targets, too, including his second and third-best options. I also understand he plays behind an offensive line that leaks. But if there's a consistency to Manning's game lately it's too many fourth-quarter turnovers and failures ... no matter who's on the field with him.
ARIZONA DEFENSE. Guess we know how much LB Markus Golden means to these guys.
CLEVELAND QB DESHONE KIZER. Scouts said he needed a year to sit and learn. He's proving them right.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
GREEN BAY WR DAVANTE ADAMS. He suffered a concussion last week on a crushing helmet-to-helmet blow by Chicago linebacker Danny Trevathan, a hit so brutal that the NFL suspended Trevethan two games (later reduced to one). Adams wasn't expected to play Sunday, but he did. And he played so well he led the Packers in catches (7), yards receiving (66) and touchdown receptions (2), making his second the game-winner with 11 seconds to play after telling Aaron Rodgers to throw him the ball.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
PITTSBURGH QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER. OK, so he won a game. But he won it for Jacksonville with a career-high five interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns and a third that set up another TD. His passer rating? Try 37.8. "Maybe I don't have it anymore," Roethlisberger said. Maybe I don't believe it.