What’s happened to the Super Bowl champions?
These aren’t the same Philadelphia Eagles that steamrolled the NFC in 2017 and then shocked the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
With the return of quarterback Carson Wentz, left tackle Jason Peters, kick returner Darren Sproles and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks from injury – none played in the Super Bowl – plus the additions of Pro Bowl pass rusher Michael Bennett by trade and college football’s best pass-catching tight end Dallas Goedert in the draft, the Eagles entered the 2018 season with a better team on paper than the one that walked off the field with that Lombardi Trophy after the Super Bowl.
But there’s a reason the NFL hasn’t seen a repeat champion in 13 seasons…and the Eagles are learning that painful lesson this fall.
Through seven weeks, the Eagles have already lost more games (four) than they did all of last season (13-3). The Eagles went 7-1 at home on the way to that NFL championship that season. They have already lost twice at the Lincoln Financial this season. The Eagles went 6-2 on the road last season. They have already matched that loss total in 2018 and still have road games left at NFC division leaders New Orleans and the Los Angeles Rams.
Doug Pederson was a coaching genius last season and Nick Foles weaved magic at quarterback in the post-season. But there has been no genius and little magic in this 3-4 start. Philadelphia fell apart defensively Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. The Eagles took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter at home and wound up losing, 21-17, allowing touchdown drives of 80, 87 and 69 yards in the final 15 minutes.
The Eagles averaged 28.6 points per game last season on offense. They are averaging 22.4 points this season. Wide receiver Torrey Smith is gone. So is halfback LaGarrette Blount. Fellow halfback Jay Ajayi is on injured reserve. But with Wentz, wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, tight end Zack Ertz and Pro Bowl blockers Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, the Eagles still have a wealth of talent on offense.
But Super Bowl champions annually have the shortest offseason of the NFL’s 32 teams. They also wear a bigger bull’s eye on their chest than any other team each fall. It’s difficult to win an NFL championship. It’s even more difficult to repeat…as the Eagles are finding out.
There’s No D any longer in Jacksonville
What a difference a month makes.
The Jacksonville Jaguars fielded the best defense in the NFL through September. They ranked first in total defense and pass defense and 10th in rushing defense. The Jaguars allowed an average of only 259 yards per game, 164 passing yards and 95 rushing yards in jumping off to a 3-1 start. Jacksonville allowed only four offensive touchdowns and 56 points in the four games of September.
But October has been a disaster. The Jaguars have lost all three games, allowing eight touchdowns and 90 points. Jacksonville’s three opponents – Kansas City, Dallas and Houston – have averaged 358 yards per game, 211 passing and 157 rushing in those October games. The Jaguars have been dinged for a 300-yard passing game (Patrick Mahomes), two 100-yard receiving games (Travis Kelce, Cole Beasley) and a pair of 100-yard rushers (Ezekiel Elliott, Lamar Miller).
But this has been as much of an offensive meltdown as a defensive one. The Jacksonville offense without Leonard Fournette these last three games has been inept, scoring just 28 points. First downs have been as scarce as touchdowns. The Jacksonville offense has not been able to stay on the field, which taxes your defense.
The Jacksonville defense has played an average of 33 minutes per game these last three weeks. Last season, when the Jaguars ranked second in the NFL in defense, their defenders played an average of only 28 minutes per game. Fresh legs are productive legs. These last few weeks, the Jacksonville D has been playing on very tired legs.
1. Chicago wide receiver Kevin White wins this week’s Kevin Dyson Award. You’ll recall Dyson caught a pass on the final play of the 2000 Super Bowl for Tennessee but St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones tackled him one yard short of the goal line, allowing the Rams to steal away with a 23-16 victory. White caught a 54-yard Hail Mary from Mitch Trubisky on the final play of Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game but was tackled one yard short of the goal line by Duron Harmon, allowing New England to steal away with a 38-31 victory.
2. The Patriots have never needed much help winning games in the Tom Brady era. But the Chicago Bears offered a helping hand anyway. The Bears committed two turnovers and also allowed two touchdowns on a special teams – a kickoff return and blocked punt return -- in a 38-31 loss to the Patriots. Teams like the Bears need to play perfect football to beat teams like the Patriots.
3. There were fewer penalties flags thrown last weekend – fewer flags, in fact, than in any weekend this season. There are two reasons. First, there were fewer games. For the first time this season four teams were assigned byes. Secondly, the NFL’s rotation of scheduling officials sat the crews of Pete Morelli and Craig Wrolstad. They were the two highest penalty crews through the first six weeks of this season – Wrolstad with 94 penalty flags and Morelli with 90.
4. Rookie Arizona QB Josh Rosen threw two interceptions for touchdowns in Week 7 against the Broncos. It’s not as unusual an occurrence as you’d think. Five quarterbacks threw two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game in 2017: Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford, Matt Moore, Scott Tolzein and Trevor Simien. Rosen threw his two in the same quarter. So did Roethlisberger and Moore.
5. Mitch Trubisky and Jameis Winston both threw 50 passes in games Sunday. Fifteen NFL quarterbacks have now combined for 19 50-pass games through seven weeks this season. There were only 14 50-pass games by all NFL quarterbacks all of last season.
6. The two longest field goals of 2018 were game winners as time expired. Carolina’s Graham Gano kicked a 63-yarder to beat the New York Giants 33-31 Week 5 and Chris Catanzaro kicked a 59-yarder to beat the Cleveland Browns 26-23 Sunday in overtime.
7. The Indianapolis Colts have scored 71 points in the last two weekends. Which goes to show good things happen for the Colts when they can protect their quarterback. Andrew Luck has not been sacked in the two games and has responded to that protection with eight TD passes.
8. Wide receiver Adam Thielen has seven 100-yard receiving games this season for the Minnesota Vikings. He has more 100-yard games through seven weeks than the entire AFC East (4). The Dolphins have two and the Patriots and Jets have one apiece.
9. It’s players like Cory Littleton who helped the Los Angeles Rams finish first in the NFL in special teams a year ago. Littleton blocked two punts in 2017. He already has blocked his second punt of 2018 Sunday against the 49ers. It bounded through the San Francisco end zone for a safety. Littleton doubles as a starting inside linebacker in his third season out of Washington.
10. The Greatest Show on Turf started three consecutive seasons 6-0 in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Each season the Rams lost their seventh game. The 2018 Rams have started this season 7-0 for the franchise’s best start since 1985 and the Eric Dickerson era.
11. The Buffalo Bills have started three different quarterbacks this season and lost games with all of them -- Nathan Peterman, Josh Allen and Derek Anderson.
12. It took 24 quarters this season but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got a rushing touchdown from a running back – a two-yard run by rookie Ronald Jones 28 seconds into the fourth quarter of the season’s sixth game.
13. In one season George Kittle has emerged as a force at tight end for the San Francisco 49ers. He caught 43 passes for 515 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie last season. He already has 32 receptions for 527 yards and two touchdowns through seven weeks this season. It probably helps that he is once again playing with his college quarterback at Iowa, C.J. Beathard.
14. The Dolphins signed wide receiver Danny Amendola in free agency to bring a little of that Patriots magic to the Miami passing game. Amendola finally caught a touchdown pass for Miami Sunday seven games into his Dolphins career. Those TDs won’t come as readily for Amendola with Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler as they did with Tom Brady.
15. As Dak goes, so go the Cowboys. Dallas is 19-2 when Prescott does not commit a turnover but only 6-12 when he does give the ball away. He lost two fumbles Sunday against the Redskins, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and Dallas fell to Washington, 20-17.
16. Todd Gurley rushed for two touchdowns and caught a pass for a third score in LA’s victory over San Francisco Sunday. It was the fourth time in the last two seasons that Gurley has scored both on the ground and in the air in a game. Little wonder he is considered the most complete running back in the game.
17. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sacked Cleveland QB Baker Mayfield four times Sunday. The Bucs now have 11 sacks in three home games …but only three sacks in three road games.
18. Rookie Sam Darnold has the roughest day of his rookie season Sunday against Minnesota. The Jets quarterback threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 37-17 home loss to the Vikings. He never threw more than two interceptions in a single game during his two-year stint as the starting quarterback at Southern Cal.
19. Philip Rivers has thrown five touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer this season – and not a one to his Pro Bowl wideout Keenan Allen. Tyrell Williams has TD receptions of 75 and 45 yards, Mike Williams has scores of 55 and 42 yards and running back Austin Ekeler a 44-yarder.
20. Matthew Stafford became quarterback of the Detroit Lions in 2009 but his employers have never bothered to give him a running game. The Lions have ranked 24th, 23rd, 29th, 23rd, 17th,28th, 32, 30th and 32nd in the NFL in rushing during his first nine seasons. But that’s all changing under new coach Matt Patricia. The Lions signed LaGarrette Blount in free agency and used a premium draft pick on Kerryon Johnson. Detroit rushed for 248 yards in Sunday’s victory over Miami and now have a Top 10 rushing attack. Johnson has two 100-yard games – which is two more than the Lions had in 2017.
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
1. The Tennessee Titans are no longer unbeaten on foreign turf. Competing as the Houston Oilers, the franchise won its first two games outside of the continental United States, beating the Cowboys in both Japan in 1992 and Mexico in 1994 in preseason games. But the relocated Titans fell to the Los Angeles Chargers in London Sunday in the franchise’s first regular-season game overseas.
2. In his 22 seasons, Adam Vinatieri has missed fewer than one conversion kick per year – just 16 in 838 attempts. But Vinatieri missed two extra point tries Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Fortunately for the Colts, they didn’t need those two points in a 37-5 romp over the Bills.
3. Rookie NFL referee Shawn Hochuli has worked six games and the home teams have won all of them. His is the only one of the 17 NFL officiating crews that has kept road teams winless. Cleveland was the latest victim of the Hochuli crew, falling 26-23 to Tampa Bay in overtime. The Browns were penalized 14 times for 114 yards – the third time the Hochuli crew has assessed 10-plus penalties for 100-plus yards to a road team this season. That crew has yet to issue 10 penalties for 100 yards to a home team this season.
4. There have been 71 individual 300-yard passing games by NFL quarterbacks this season. The Buffalo Bills have not allowed any of them – the only defense through seven weeks that has not allowed a 300-yard passer yet. Andrew Luck’s string of three consecutive 300-yard games came to an end with a 156-yard game against the Bills Sunday.
5. Drew Brees threw his 500th career touchdown pass to Ben Watson Sunday. Less publicized was the fact Brees has thrown 220 consecutive passes to start the 2018 season without an interception. He’s the only season-long starter at quarterback not to throw an NFL interception this season. Dating to last season, Brees has now gone seven consecutive games without throwing an interception.
GOLD JACKET QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The pressure is off us,” said coach Doug Pederson after his Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles fell to 3-4 with a home loss Sunday to the Carolina Panthers. “Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything. So we can go play, have fun and just relax.”
SUNDAY’S BIG WINNER
Mike Vrabel. Building a winner in the NFL is all about building a culture. Mike Vrabel is trying to build a physical, aggressive culture that reflects his own personality as a former NFL linebacker in his first season as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. He showed his aggressive side – and the confidence in his offense – when he decided to go for two and the victory in the final minute of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. The Titans scored a touchdown on a short pass from Marcus Mariota to tight end Luke Stocker to cut the deficit to 20-19 with 31 seconds remaining. Vrabel could have kicked the extra point and sent the game to overtime. Instead, he attempted a two-point conversion for the victory. A penalty gave the Titans two cracks at the victory but Mariota threw two incompletions, allowing the Chargers to leave London with the victory. It was a bold statement by Vrabel, a statement his players needed to hear -- their coach believes in them. It didn’t win in the short-term but it was a long-term gamble that could eventually pay dividends – the Titans will play to win under Mike Vrabel.
SUNDAY’S BIG LOSER
Mike Vrabel. As bold a psychological statement as it was, Vrabel going for two wasn’t the smart football call. Go by the book, kick the conversion and try to win in overtime. Extend the game. The Titans were dominating the Chargers in the second half of the game and would have taken the better team into the overtime period. It was a bold call by Vrabel and it cost his team a chance at victory.