In any other year I would writing that we were past the quarter pole of the season, and it was time to take stock, but that is not quite true with the extra regular game we now have. I am intending to treat the first five games as the opening block (roughly 29% if you’re determined to be overly precise) and then take the rest of the season in four game blocks. I only mention his because despite a respectable 8-8 week picking games, I am definitely annoyed with some of my pics as we had five winless and five unbeaten teams going into week four and that was never sustainable. I should have known that. We now have just a single unbeaten team in the Cardinals and two winless franchises in the shape of the Lions and Jaguars but as usual, before we get too far ahead of ourselves let me run you through what I watched in week four.
What I Saw
Having watched the Bengals win and correctly picked the Jags to cover on Thursday night, I had some flexibility in the games I watched from the weekend but given the irresistible narrative of Tom Brady’s return to New England with his Super Bowl winning Bucs team let’s step out of the constraints of chronology and start with the Sunday Night game.
Bruce Arians and Tom Brady were able to eek out a 19-17 win against a Patriots team that are rebuilding but look to be heading towards a familiar formula. To some there is no such thing as a good loss, but the Patriots defence constrained the Bucs offence, though the absence of both Rob Gronkowski and Giovani Bernard definitely aided the Pats as Brady missed two of his better short area receiving targets. However, Mac Jones continues to be the 2021 rookie quarterback with the most early success and certainly doesn’t look lost leading the Patriots offence. In fact, given there was a minute on the clock it was somewhat surprising that Belichick decided to try a fifty-six-yard field goal with Nick Folk who came into the game dealing with a knee injury to his plant leg. In the aftermath I’ve heard people talk of different models giving different answers on the win percentage call on going for it on fourth and three as opposed to kicking the field goal so it might not be that clear cut, but a minute is a long time to give Brady to get into field goal range himself. This is something Belichick would know all to well, but from the head coach who noticed the Seahawks in turmoil and left the clock running in a Super Bowl, it does surprise me a little that he didn’t go for it. It might not be the rookie display that Justin Herbert had last year, and it is too early to be totally sure, but the initial signs are good that the Pats have found their next quarterback and whilst that might not be what the fans in New England expect if the team only win seven to nine games this season, it’s a positive place to build from.
As for the Buccaneers, the injuries are really piling up in the secondary with Richard Sherman pressed into more service than would have been expected given he’s only just joined the team. As for any NFL team, a decent percentage of your success is determined by injury luck, particularly if you have clusters at a particular position. Through four games the Bucs have looked every bit the Super Bowl champions they are, and Brady is still not showing any signs of falling off, but with thirteen games to go there is a lot of time for things to change for the worse as the corner back injuries pile up. So far, so good. The Bucs just hope there’s no so what caused by a losing streak in their future.
I’m now going to jump back in time Sunday to the other game I watched, which when I learned that the Jets had won their first game I had to take a look, particularly as I don’t think I’ve watched the Titans yet (makes mental note that I really ought to track which teams I watch). This game ended up in an overtime decided by a field goal made for the Jets and a forty-nine yard miss by Randy Bullock that saw the final score as 27-24. The game started as a tight contest where the Titans couldn’t score touchdowns and so kicked three field-goals as they clearly missed receivers AJ Brown and Julio Jones. Worse still, rookie quarterback Zach Wilson found a bit of groove and led a touchdown scoring drive in the second quarter, so the Jets went into half time only two points behind. Despite Derek Henry continuing his high-volume production the Titans fell behind in the fourth quarter and even though they tied things up at the end of the fourth quarter, eventually lost in overtime.
For the Titans the loss is part of a patchy start to the season that thanks to the state of the AFC South sees them top of the division at 2-2, but a loss to the rebuilding Jets is a warning sign that things far from where they would have expected. The Titans are currently ranked twenty-seventh by overall DVOA, which is pretty impressive for a team leading a division. They face the even worse Jaguars next week but welcome both the Bills and then the Chiefs in the following two weeks so they need to improve quickly if they are to solidify their hold on the division and do something in the playoffs, which was surely their plan coming into the season.
As for the Jets? There were bits of defence that showed some definite promise, and whilst the offence is ranked a troubling thirty-second, this was always a big project and Wilson threw some nice long passes and didn’t look too lost in this game. I still thing there’s a way to go but four games into a new coaching regime and there could well be glimmers of hope for the Jets. Just don’t get too excited yet, and for the record, I prefer the uninforms they just stopped using again, but it appears for this franchise at least the uniform go in cycles.
The final game I watched this week was the Las Vegas Raiders vising the LA Chargers in the transient franchise bowl. Unfortunately for me in the picking competition the Raiders were pretty comprehensively beaten 28-14 despite the fourteen-point rally in the third quarter. The Raiders were held scoreless in the first half and were never able to get the run game going as the Chargers defence held them in check. It felt like the Raiders defence was doing an okay job of slowing down the Chargers offence, but in the end the Raiders were outgained by one-hundred and sixty-seven yards and solidly beaten. In fact, right now, the Raiders are in the strange position of having their defence rated higher by DVOA than their offence, but you would expect that to correct as we get further into the season. I shall repeat my boring but relevant mantra of it still being early and with both teams at 3-1 they are part of a three way tie at the top of the AFC West that sees the 2-2 Chiefs bottom of the division. I don’t think this is a terrible result for the Raiders, but it does feel like thanks to the early returns of the Brandon Staley hire that the Chargers have a higher ceiling. Let us see what the next five games bring.
What I Heard
At the risk of boring everyone by returning to Tom Brady (I’m sure Dan will be up for not discussing Brady at all on next week’s pod), I found it really interesting listening to Peter King’s podcast that Brady and the other backup quarterbacks did extra film study this week, deliberately going back years to see what Belichick did against big name quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees etc as they were sure that Belichick would have wrinkles that you wouldn’t’ find in the last few games.
What I Think
I’m up against the clock a little this week (what’s new there?), but there’s a couple of things I want to discuss.
It’s been interesting listening to people talk about their takeaways from the early season and as ever quarterbacks feature heavily in that discussion. There was some praise that having traded for Sam Darnold in the off-season, and whilst it is obvious he needs a certain amount of structure, the 3-1 start for the Panthers at least says there could be a level of success with Darnold as the quarterback in Carolina, even if the Cowboys beat them by eight points this week.
However, the idea of how many chances a quarterback does or doesn’t get has been on my mind since the start of the season. I’ll start with a comment from someone I know:
‘I’m heartbroken that my team decided to replace our legendary quarterback
with a ****ing ****-bag ***** and that’s why I won’t be watching any games this year.’
The quarterback in question is Jameis Winston and one of the reasons this discussion stuck in my mind has nothing to do with his up and down play on the field over the course of his career, which has continued this season with the Saints. I remembered the, ‘character issues’ from when Winston was drafted, but I did not remember him settling a lawsuit with a woman who accused him of rape. He was drafted after my first season blogging about the NFL, but I didn’t write anything in the off-season or about the draft so I have no way of checking the receipts, just the vagaries of my memory and so it was really jarring when it came up.
You would like to think that if such a thing took place today that it might have more affect but given the record of college sports I wouldn’t like to bet on it. There is a genuine discussion to be had about justice, reform and punishment, but what penalty did this man actually face? There’s been talk that he’s a different player and a more mature presence as well as the charitable work he did in Tampa. That is fine, but he also was suspended in 2018 for three games for alleged sexual assault on an Uber driver who didn’t press charges but did release a statement after Winston apologised for his behaviour. Again, this has gone away and what has been said? It would be one thing if he came out having genuinely engaged with the issues, shown contrition, and tried to work with advocates and charities to affect change, but there’s been no such effort that I’m aware of.
I own my own silence on this. I cannot double check from when Winston was drafted, but 2018 is too recent for me not to have the facts to hand. It’s not like I have any power in this situation, but I know people affected by sexual violence and by the statistics you do too. Even if no one has felt ready to confide in you, someone you know has something ranging from sexual harassment to an actual assault.. We can’t change this if we just blindly allow certain perpetrators to get away with it because they have a skill or talent that is valuable to someone. Even if a perpetrator can never truly atone for what they did, they should spend the time trying to make amends.
What I know this week is that there is no segue from this topic to the rest of my usual mid-week football posts.
I don’t actually think there should be. You might be feeling jarred, but I promise that is intentional.
Sports can be a power for good but also is a reflection of society because it is a part of society. I am wary of lionising people who just happen to have the right level of talent to be very good at sport. They are still people. I have also written before that it’s important not to other those who perpetrate such crimes. Not to excuse what they have done, but because the truly scary thing is they are not monsters but peope. They too have gifts and troubles. No one commits such crimes should get a pass whatever talent the market has decided is desirable enough to overlook such things, a formula that too often gets skewed by the money in sports.
I don’t have the answers, but at the very least I can be thinking about the questions and make sure such matters aren’t ignored.