Kansas City’s 13-7 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday was filled with hollow victories.
The Chiefs’ offense continues to cough and wheeze. The Chiefs’ defense, so dismal all year, was finally able to put together a complete performance, albeit against a quarterback who looked in over his head in his first NFL start. The Packers, with a talented defense and a warlock-level coach capable of scotch-taping over even the worst holes, were competitive, even in defeat.
But it was the man who wasn’t in the building who was the biggest winner.
The Packers were given a glimpse of the post-Aaron Rodgers world on Sunday. The idea: intriguing. The reality: painful.
This week will resonate long after Rodgers exits the game. He has revealed himself to be the kind of pseudo-intellectual who takes his medical advice from a podcast host who has spent the bulk of his life getting kicked in the head. Rodgers has altered his perception among the general public: from free-thinker to imbecile; or petulant brat to freedom fighter, depending on the reader’s perspective.
Yet on Sunday, as the Chiefs sent blitz after blitz towards his overwhelmed understudy, it was Rodgers’ skill as a quarterback that was back in focus; and there everyone can agree on his brilliance.
The Packers drafted Love in the first round of the 2020 draft. The team also knew that by selecting a quarterback, and not notifying their future Hall of Famer, that it was more likely than not that Rodgers was on his way out and Love would be starting by 2022 at the latest.
As Sunday showed, Love is nowhere near ready. The Chiefs brought all kinds of pressure, sending five- and six-man blitzes from every conceivable angle. No team would take such a gamble against Rodgers, one of the finest blitz-beaters in the game. Against Love, the Chiefs sent blitzes on 19 of his 34 dropbacks.
Love’s inability to punish the Chiefs’ blitz-heavy defense almost forced Troy Aikman, Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox’s Football Analyst in Chief, into a midgame breakdown. “If there’s no one in the middle of the field, throw it in the middle of the field,” an exasperated Aikman said late in the fourth quarter.
All young quarterbacks take time to get up to speed, but it’s Love’s second year in the league. Isn’t the whole point of sitting and learning that it gives a player a better chance to perform once they come into the game?
Love’s debut is in keeping with the recent history of quarterbacks who sit during their rookie season. The list of quarterbacks who were selected early and then sat for a full season since Rodgers infamously did (for three seasons) includes:
– Patrick Mahomes
– Jimmy Garoppolo
– Brodie Croyle
– Brock Osweiler
– Garrett Grayson
– Chad Henne
– Jake Locker
– Kevin Kolb
– Kellen Clemens
Mahomes aside, history tells us that a quarterback sits for the entirety of his first year for one of two reasons: 1) He’s backing up Tom Brady or 2) He stinks.
Mahomes is the anomaly, not evidence that giving young, erratic quarterbacks more practice time will solve either their defects. During the summer stand-off with Rodgers, the Packers convinced themselves that Love was sitting because he was behind a master. Love would be good. Good enough to make it worth rupturing a relationship with Rodgers in his late prime, even. Love, the Packers believed, would be worth the wait and whatever awkwardness would arise with Rodgers.
Perhaps not. Love looked chaotic in the pocket on Sunday, his feet and eyes moving at two different speeds. He completed just 19 of 34 attempts – 55% – tossing one touchdown and a rough-looking redzone interception. The Packers went scoreless in the first half, the first time the team has failed to score in a half in almost two years.
That gulp you hear is the sound of every Packers executive rethinking their decisions.
In 2019, the Packers made a dramatic shift on offense, moving from the Rodgers system of old to the Matt LaFleur system, which promoted the running backs and put the team’s receivers in better spots. It was a system that no longer needed Aaron Rodgers to be Aaron Rodgers. For some reason, this gave the Packers the notion that they may not need Rodgers at all.
Oops. Drafting Love rather than an impact receiver or defensive player who could have helped Rodgers win a Super Bowl while he was still near his peak looked bonkers at the time. The further we gain distance from it, the more damaging and indefensible it becomes.
Love may prove to be an upper-tier NFL starter one day. He has all the physical tools to be the kind of off-script creator that a quarterback needs to be in the modern game. Maybe he’ll put it all together at some point; maybe he won’t. What’s clear is that he isn’t close to being a difference-maker at this point in his career.
Life with Rodgers may be frustrating and, at times, exhausting. But the Packers were offered a glimpse of the post-Rodgers landscape on Sunday. It wasn’t encouraging.
MVP of the week
Nick Chubb, running back, Cleveland Browns. All eyes were on Baker Mayfield and the Browns offense after the team waived Odell Beckham last week. The response: dominance. Chubb lit up the Cincy front to the tune of 137 yards and two touchdowns, averaging over nine yards a carry; Mayfield hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 60-yard touchdown off play-action. The final score was 41-16. It could have easily been more.
This is what Stefanski wants the Browns offense to look like. Pound the defense with the run game, then take play-action shots downfield – all of it flowing through Chubb and the team’s offensive line.
Whatever went wrong with Beckham in Cleveland, it’s clear that a divorce was in the best interests of both parties. The reasons remain murky, but there is good evidence that the Cleveland machine sings when Beckham is out of the lineup. Beckham will likely have his pick of the contenders once he clears waivers, allowing him to join a team that can better use his skill-set.
Stat of the week
Jacksonville’s Josh Allen became the first recorded player in NFL history to sack a quarterback with the same name … dropping Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen.
If the Sackigami wasn’t enough, Allen also became the first player to intercept a quarterback of the same name, as well as adding a fumble recovery to the proceedings. The Jaguars pulled off one of the upsets of the season, beating a sputtering Bills team 9-6. Josh Allen – of the quarterback variety – had a poor day, while his namesake was the decisive reason in the Jags picking up the win. The only plausible conclusion: The ManningCast curse is real.
Video of the week
We have a new nominee for the Worst Rule In The League.
The Broncos beat the Cowboys in Dallas, but they did so with help from one of the league’s iffier rules. With 12 minutes left in the third quarter, trailing 16-0, the Cowboys blocked a punt at the Broncos’ 17-yard line. A game-changer, right?
Not so fast. The Cowboys touched the ball again after it went past the line of scrimmage before the Broncos recovered the block. That resulted in a first down for the Broncos rather than a turnover on downs. How or why a team receives a new set of downs for not advancing the ball beyond the first-down marker is anyone’s guess.
Quote of the week
“We gave the game ball to faith … That’s the star of the game” — John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens head coach.
Harbaugh would probably be better off giving the ball to Lamar Jackson – again. Sunday served as another reminder that no lead is safe while Jackson is still in the game. Twice trailing by 14 points, the Ravens offense continued to churn out yards and scores. Jackson led the Ravens’ offense to 23 unanswered points, pushing the game into overtime before Baltimore were able to kick a field goal to win. After a sloppy start, Jackson accounted for three touchdowns and 386 yards of the Ravens’ total offense – a gaudy 77% of the team’s production. No team is ever all about one player but given the Ravens’ issues on defense, this is a team being carried by its offense. And that offense runs almost exclusively through its unique quarterback.
Elsewhere around the league
— Don’t look now, but the Patriots are starting to figure things out. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones has not played well over the past two weeks, but it hasn’t mattered because other areas of the team have picked up the slack. The offensive line is healthy. The run game is overwhelming. The defense is certifiably feisty. Some teams work all season to discover that much-vaunted ‘identity’. The Patriots have theirs: they run the ball and play good defense. Over the past five weeks, they’ve averaged 33 rush attempts per game for an average of 138 yards. The Bills remain the most talented team in the AFC East, but they’re now tied with the Patriots with five wins on the season.
— Matt Stafford’s MVP candidacy hit a bump as he threw two interceptions in the Rams’ Sunday night loss to the Titans, who were without their star running back Derrick Henry. It was another impressive win for Tennessee, who have made a speciality of beating good teams. They’ve now seen off the Bills and Rams this season and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league.
— The 2021 Panthers illustrate how an otherwise good rebuild can be derailed if you make the biggest mistake of them all: picking the wrong quarterback. There’s talent all over the Panthers roster as well as creative, innovative coaching minds. They should be better, and yet they’re hamstrung by the Darnold Experiment. All of the sharp roster building has been undercut by the quarterback’s play, and his salary will continue to be a drag on the team’s salary cap next year.
— If you want to know how hopeless things feel in Houston right now: the Texans were down 17-6 to the Dolphins, and kicked a field goal from the two-yard line. To make matters worse: the teams combined for nine turnovers. Miami had five, Houston four. Somehow, the Dolphins won anyway. It was Miami’s first win while committing at least five turnovers since 1990.
— There aren’t many stories better this season than that of Cordarrelle Patterson. The former do-everything kick returner turned running back turned gimmick has blossomed into a legitimate No 1 receiver in Atlanta. After the Saints scored 23 unanswered points to put the Saints ahead of the Falcons with under two minutes to play, Matt Ryan found Patterson for a 64-yard pick-up to put Atlanta in field goal range. Younghoe Koo hit the game-winning kick to give the Falcons the 27-25 win over their division rivals.