Judgements Four: Here we go again with Patriots, AFC East
We should've know better. The Empire Strikes Back. It always does.
Which is just another way of saying that, no, the New England aren't dead. Far from it, in fact.
So why should Sunday's demolition of Miami come as a surprise anyone, including Dolphins' coach Adam Gase? Granted, it was the Pats' first win in three games … and so they're only 2-2. But they were 2-2 a year ago, and they were 2-2 in 2014, and guess what? They went to the Super Bowl both seasons.
So they're in the right place at the right time.
Furthermore, they just drilled one of the three unbeaten teams entering Sunday, and it was the division leader. And they did it after Miami's Albert Wilson had the audacity to declare that "if we keep doing what we can do, no one can beat us."
And then there's this: The Patriots were the only team Sunday to win in the AFC East, a division they own. Worse, the three others -- Buffalo, Miami and the Jets combined … combined … for 19 points, or 19 fewer than New England Sunday.
Of that group, you have to make Miami the biggest threat to New England, but get real, people. The biggest threat to the Patriots is the Patriots. If they don't self-destruct … if they don't suffer more critical injuries … heck, if they just keep Tom Brady on the field … the division is theirs.
"I didn't see this coming," Gase said afterward.
He should have. Brady is 15-1 against the Dolphins in Foxboro, 46-11 following a loss and virtually impossible to overcome after critics start saying not-so-nice things about him, his teammates and the end of a Patriots' dynasty.
Remember when New England got trashed by Kansas City in Week Four of 2014, a 41-14 beatdown that had Patriots' bashers declaring it the beginning of the end for Tom Terrific and Co.? Yeah, well, they destroyed Cincinnati 43-17 the next week and lost only one of their next 15, including the Super Bowl.
We all should've seen this coming.
QUOTE THE RAVENS: NEVER SCORE
A smart man once said that defense wins championships. Well, then, time to get on the Baltimore Ravens' bandwagon. Because when it comes to defense, nobody does it better.
Not only are the Ravens the league's top-rated defense; they haven't allowed a second-half touchdown all season. With Sunday night's 26-14 defeat of Pittsburgh, the Ravens now have outscored opponents 49-9 in the second half this year … and that's without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who returns from a league suspension next weekend.
Yeah, I know, the Ravens are tied with surprising Cincinnati at the top of the AFC North, and they're on the road for three of their next four games. But check this out: They've scored only three points fewer than the Bengals (126-123) and allowed almost half as many points (65-113).
Early advantage: Baltimore.
- Don't tell me the NFL hasn't changed its mind on the roughing-the-passer epidemic. After last week's "clarification," officials now look as if they've backed off -- with Sunday's Green Bay-Buffalo game Exhibit A. First of all, Clay Matthews wasn't flagged. That's a first. But then there was a Tremaine Edwards hit on Aaron Rodgers -- one where the Bills' linebacker did not put out his hands to brace their fall. Result? Nada. A week ago, referee Bill Vinovich would've called a penalty. There were 34 roughing-the-passer calls the first three weeks. According to ESPN, there were five Sunday. Sports Illustrated put it at two. Bottom line: Calls were down dramatically. A coincidence? I think not.
2. Of course, then we have that ridiculous call vs. Oakland's Arden Key for pushing Baker Mayfield. I know what I'd call it, and you wouldn't want to step in it.
3. Make the Jets' Todd Bowles the clubhouse leader in the Coaches Most Likely to Get Fired Dept. He's 1-3 this year, losing his last three. He was 5-11 last year. He was 5-11 the year before that. And now he's taking a fourth-quarter field goal Sunday when his team is behind by 22? Not good.
4. That settles it. No more questions about Andrew Luck's arm.
5. It's not too early to say it, so I'll take the bait: The Chicago Bears are the team to beat in the NFC North … and that's bad news for Oakland. Reason: The Raiders get Chicago's first-and-second-round draft picks as part of the Khalil Mack deal … and the more Chicago wins, the worse those picks become.
6. And there goes the Earl Thomas trade. Now you know why he sought a long-term deal. And now you know why he flipped off the Seattle sideline.
7. More reason to like Chicago: The Monsters have returned to the Midway. The Bears haven't allowed a touchdown in 12 of 16 quarters this season and blanked opponents in nine of those periods.
8. I swear, nobody runs harder than the Raiders' Marshawn Lynch.
9. Did Jerry Jones really say his Cowboys' offense reminds him of the Rams? I think someone needs to enter concussion protocol.
10. Here's why I'd never discount Carolina in the NFC South: The Panthers are the only one in the division with a defense, and you can look it up. Carolina allowed 60 points in its first three games. The Falcons, Saints and Bucs combined to hemorrhage 382 in their first four … or an average of 32.8 per.
11. Bad day for rookie quarterbacks. They were 0-4, with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen came the closest to breaking through, but, alas, history intervened. Since 1980, five rookie quarterbacks made their starting debuts vs. Oakland, and all lost -- with Mayfield the latest. And Rosen? The last rookie to win his starting debut vs. the Seahawks was Gary Kubiak in 1983. Since then, five succumbed -- with Rosen the latest.
12. First-year head coaches Matt Nagy (Chicago) and Mike Vrabel (Tennessee) are 6-2. But the other five newcomers? Not so good. A combined 4-16, with Arizona's Steve Wilks 0-4.
13. Poor Cleveland. The Browns could easily be 4-0 this season. Instead, they're 1-2-1, with officials costing them a victory Sunday when they overturned a third-down call on the field that would've ended the game. Hey, it's the Browns. Reality bites.
14. Earlier this season, Washington couldn't fill FedEx Field for the first time in 50 years. Now, it's Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis that's coming up empty, with Sunday's crowd of 57,616 its smallest ever. Common thread: The Colts. They were the only team that played in both games.
15. On second thought, maybe the Bills are as bad as we thought.
16. That's six Calvin Ridley touchdowns in three weeks … or six more than Julio Jones this season.
17. More evidence it's not your father's NFL: Eleven quarterbacks throw for 300 yards, four throw for 400, three attempt 50 or more passes, one tries 62, Blake Bortles completes his first 11 and Mitchell Trubisky throws five TD passes … in the first half. It's time the NFL started making rules to bring defense back to the game.
18. Khalil Mack has been getting a lot of press, and he should. But anyone notice that J.J. Watt has as many sacks (5) the past two weeks as Mack has this season?
19. I don't know what happens to Le'Veon Bell this season, but I do know this: Without him, the Steelers are cooked. That's two straight games they failed to score in the second half, and the first I can remember where they produced fewer than 20 yards rushing (they had 19). Their defense has holes, nobody blitzes and Ben Roethlisberger can't carry the offense. Put them together, and you have Le'Verage for Le'Veon.
20. Don't go Adam Gase on me and say you didn't see the Packers' victory coming. The last 11 times they lost in September the Pack produced a victory the following week.
21. Congratulations to Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders. That come-from-behind victory not only was Gruden's first since Nov. 30, 2008 and broke a seven-game Gruden losing streak; it also ended a Raiders' seven-game drought.
22. No wonder Tennessee's Mike Vrabel made the gutsy call and turned down a game-tying 50-yard field goal in OT. His Titans were 3-for-3 on fourth downs in overtime, and that's vs. a defense that, entering the game was second in the NFL in third-down stops. Don't underestimate these guys. They can play defense and they won each of their last three games by three points, including a 9-6 defeat of defending division champion Jacksonville.
23. So Caleb Sturgis' field goals were the difference in the Chargers' escape. The guy is so unreliable you hope he's renting … not owning. Not sure what happens first: Unity in Congress or a kicker the Chargers can trust.
24. There goes the market for WWFD bracelets. That's WWFD … as in What Would Frank (Reich) Do? Unfortunately, now we know.
25. You gotta feel for Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert. Just when the poor guy gets rolling again, this happens. The injury was so grotesque that the Red Zone's Scott Hanson implored his producers not to replay it … but they did it anyway.
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
- That was New England owner Robert Kraft's 300th victory with the Patriots, and it makes him the fastest owner to get there -- with Kraft's Patriots doing it in 432 games. He surpasses Al Davis, whose Raiders did it in 495 contests, and Denver's Pat Bowlen (501).
2. Another Adam Vinatieri milestone, another reason to put him in the Hall of Fame. Vinatieri became the league's career record holder for field goals with 567, besting Hall-of-Famer Morten Andersen's 565.
3. San Francisco's 21-play drive in the second period vs. the Chargers ties for the third longest in league history since 1999.
4. Tampa Bay's been outscored 68-13 the past two weeks … in the first half. Mike Smith, report to the principal's office.
5. There are few things as consistent as the Seattle-Arizona series. The home team hasn't won a game since 2014 when the Seahawks prevailed, 19-3.
SUNDAY'S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
"I'll just address it now. We're not playing to tie. We're going for it 10 times out of 1o." -- INDIANAPOLIS COACH FRANK REICH on his OT gamble.
But let's not forget this one ...
"We should fire every person that was on that field today, starting with me. That was horrific." -- TAMPA BAY COACH DIRK KOETTER.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST WINNER
CHICAGO QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY. Next time you're looking for a quarterback, best not to consult the Seahawks' Frank Clark. If you remember, he's the guy who ... after losing to Chicago earlier this season ... called Trubisky "nothing special … an average quarterback." Maybe, but average quarterbacks don't throw for six TDs in one game -- especially quarterbacks who play in Chicago. Trubisky's performance lifted the Bears to their third straight victory and his six TDs were only one short of his total for the 2017 season. They were also one short of the franchise record, set in 1943 by Hall-of-Famer Sid Luckman.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST LOSER
INDIANAPOLIS COACH FRANK REICH. What in the world …? Aw, never mind. Let's just make this simple: He didn't lose a game Sunday. He gave it away. There was no reason … repeat: NONE … for him to take an unnecessary gamble on fourth-and-4 from his 43 with 27 seconds left in OT. The game was tied, and Reich could've avoided a losse … and should have … after Andrew Luck rallied the Colts from a 28-10 second-half deficit. But give Reich credit: He not only took responsibility for a bizarre call but said he would do it again … and again … and again. "We're not playing for the tie," he said. Maybe they should have.