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The Heroes of 2020
The Kansas City Chiefs might not be the best team in the NFL, but there can be no doubting that Patrick Mahomes is the league’s best player.
Mahomes was incredible, especially early on in a 27-24 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday, completing 37-of-49 for 462 yards, three touchdowns (all to receiver Tyreek Hill) and no picks.
On another news-packed Sunday that featured another GM getting fired and a team playing without any quarterbacks, Mahomes’ and Hill’s performances stood out for the 10-1 Chiefs.
In the first half alone, Mahomes out-passed most of the league’s quarterbacks on Sunday: 25-of-33 for 359 yards and two scores.
Hill, meantime, continually burned a mostly good Tampa Bay secondary, whether with his top-shelf speed, his slithery moves or lock-sure hands. He had 203 of his 269 receiving yards not just in the first half, but in the first QUARTER.
Only two other NFL players since 1980 with 200-plus yards in a single quarter, after Qadry Ismail in 1999 and Lee Evans in 2006.
As CBS commentator and former Dallas QB Tony Romo summed up about the Chiefs, overall: “They’re just on another level right now.”
With apologies to the 10-0 Pittsburgh Steelers, Romo added.
No quarterback? No chance for Broncos
Of course New Orleans won at Denver. Of course it was a blowout, 31-3. That’s what happens in 2020 when one team can’t dress a single quarterback.
Yup. All four on the Broncos roster — starter Drew Lock, backup Brett Rypien and down-roster backups Blake Bortles and Jeff Driskel — went on COVID-19/reserve late this past week, after Driskel became infected (10-day quarantine minimum) and the other three on Saturday were deemed high-risk closed contacts (five-day quarantines minimum).
Reports said Lock, Rypien and Bortles didn’t follow strict league protocols late in the week, leaving the league and team no responsible choice other than to park them on COVID-19/reserve.
Because a team can’t sign anyone off the street this year and immediately make him active — because of the five-day quarantine initiation protocol for the newly signed— the Broncos were left with no choice but to play their emergency non-quarterback quarterback against the Saints: Kendall Hilton, a practice-squad wide receiver, promoted at the last moment.
Hilton completed 1-of-9 passes for 13 yards and two interceptions.
Was Broncos head coach Vic Fangio mad afterward? Oh yeah. But not at the league.
“I was disappointed on a couple levels,” he said. “That our quarterbacks put us in this position, and that our quarterbacks put the league in this position. We count on them to be the leaders of the team and leaders of the offence and those guys made a mistake and that is disappointing.
“Obviously, I haven’t done a good enough job of selling the protocols to them when they are on their own so part of that could fall on me. I thought I was. We have emphasized it a lot and we’re really doing good with COVID up to this point, as it relates relative to other teams. There was a failing there and that’s disappointing.”
Should the game have been postponed, as several others have this year because of COVID-19 outbreaks?
“I’m not going to get into that,” Fangio said. “That’s more on the league level … I’m not going to go there.”
As for Hilton’s play at QB, Fangio said: “He did everything he could. He was excited for the opportunity. We had about a two, three, four-hour window to get him ready, which isn’t a lot obviously. He was excited for it … That’s a big, big ask and it just didn’t work out.”
Titans ground-and-pound to victory
Even the Indianapolis Colts — possessors of one of the NFL’s best defences this season — were powerless to slow down the growing monster that is the Tennessee Titans’ rushing attack.
In an eye-popping 45-26 win at Indy, here’s how the Titans’ possessions went in the decisive first half: 75 yards for a touchdown, 80 yards for a touchdown, 16 yards and punt, 50 yards for a touchdown, 81 yards for a touchdown and 44 yards for a touchdown.
Derrick Henry was even more of a beast than he was last week at Baltimore, gaining 178 yards and scoring three first-half TDs.
Tennessee thus improved to 8-3 to sit alone in first place in the AFC South, while Indy fell to 7-4.
After the Titans got thumped by the Colts earlier this month in Nashville, Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel vowed that he and his staff would reassess “everything” they do.
The adjustments, um, have worked. Especially in the run game: 173 yards last week at Baltimore, 229 Sunday at Indy.
“When you can run the ball for what we did and hold them to what we did, that’s the difference in the football game,” Vrabel said. “That’s how you define physicality.”
49ers show they’re not quitting
Can any team but Pittsburgh and Kansas City put together a decent win streak this season? Or more to the point, deep into this season?
The Los Angeles Rams were playing about as well as any team entering Sunday. Then their old NFC West nemesis San Francisco smashed them in the mouths, upsetting them 23-20 at SoFi Stadium.
The Niners are getting some of their many injured players back, and at least two had big impacts: Richard Sherman, who intercepted Jared Goff, and running back Raheem Mostert, who scored a touchdown.
While the Rams dropped to 7-4, the 49ers improved to 5-6. San Fran might have to win out to make the playoffs, but who knows this year.
Raiders ‘punched in the face’
What a travesty of a performance by the Las Vegas Raiders.
After looking so impressive in narrow defeat last week to Kansas City, it looked like they couldn’t have cared less in getting destroyed 43-6 at Atlanta.
“I want to apologize to Raider nation,” Las Vegas head coach Jon Gruden said. “We’ve got to get off the mat and fight back better … It’s a reflection of me, and I apologize to the Raider fans.
“When you turn it over five times and have (141) yards of penalties in this league, you have no chance.”
Said Las Vegas QB Derek Carr, who passed for just 215 yards, was sacked five times, did not throw a TD and was intercepted once:
“We got punched in the face and it just kept happening.”
Another ‘ugly win’ for Patriots
New England beat Arizona 20-17 and improved to 5-6 for three reasons. Defence, defence and defence.
Head coach Bill Belichick said afterward his Patriots did a better job defending perimeter runs as the game progressed. Particularly, Pats defenders focused on stopping blazing-fast QB Kyler Murray from burning them with his runs; he finished with 31 yards, and passed for only 170.
The Pats gained only 179 total yards themselves, fewest in the Belichick era, per the Boston Globe. Once again QB Cam Newton failed to throw a touchdown pass in going just 9-of-18 for 84 yards, with two picks.
Said Newton: “I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss.”
Bills stay on top in AFC East
It was one of those games where a likely playoff-bound team doesn’t get a great performance from its quarterback, or defence, or maybe anyone — but still won handily.
The Buffalo Bills beat the Los Angeles Chargers 27-17 to improve to 8-3 and maintain its distances atop the AFC East over 7-4 Miami and 5-6 New England, both winners Sunday.
Josh Allen’s stats were more akin to those he’d have in 2018 or 2019 — 18-of-24 for 157 yards, one TD, one pick — but unlike those first two seasons, and much like most of his performances this year, Allen had enough crisp completions in clutch situations and limited his mistakes.
Good enough, in other words.
“We got it done,” Allen said.
It helped that the Bills rushing attack was robust; Devin Singletary had 82 yards and rookie Zack Moss, 59.
Fitz Magic? Not quite
With rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa sidelined with an injury to his left throwing thumb, Ryan Fitzpatrick started for Miami at the New York Jets in a 20-3 win.
Fitz, who turned 38 this past week, was merely solid — and against the sorry Jets that’s always more than enough. He hit receiver DeVante Parker eight times for 119 yards.
The defence shone the most for the Dolphins, holding the Jets to just 10 first downs and 260 total yards.
The Dolphins have won six of their last seven games. As long as they at least keep within a game of the Bills, their regular-season finale at Buffalo on Jan. 3 might well set up as the AFC East championship game.
Panthers blow it, Vikes still in it
Early in the third quarter at Minnesota, Carolina stole a 21-10 lead and should have kept it, seeing as the NFL’s leading rusher, Dalvin Cook of Minnesota, got injured.
But they couldn’t keep it. Minnesota rallied to win 28-27 in the final minute, to improve to 5-6. Panthers placekicker Joey Slye badly hooked a last-play, 54-yard, game-winning field goal attempt.
The loss tarnishes the incredible defensive achievement of Panthers linebacker Jeremy Chinn, who on consecutive Vikings snaps scored a touchdown on a fumble return.
Important Giants win comes at a cost
Look at this. The New York Giants are tied with Washington in first place atop the NFC East, at 4-7 — and will remain there entering Week 13 so long as Philadelphia (3-6-1) loses at home Monday night to 7-3 Seattle.
The Giants won at Cincinnati, 19-17, but lost QB Daniel Jones to a hamstring injury that did not look minor.
Head coach Joe Judge said he is “optimistic right now” that Jones can play next week at Seattle, the second-year QB himself sounded anything but as he glumly answered questions about the injury afterward.
Later Sunday, ESPN’s Jordan Raanan reported that Jones’ hamstring injury is “pretty bad” and it “could force him to miss some time.”
Perhaps veteran Colt McCoy will be quarterbacking the Giants down the stretch.
Jaguars fire GM Caldwell
After Jacksonville fell to 1-10 with a 27-25 loss to Cleveland, GM Dave Caldwell was fired. He had been on the job since 2013.
Caldwell’s cogs just didn’t work out.
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