As usual in the NFL, it was all about the quarterbacks yesterday: Cooper Rush with a two-minute game-winner….37-year-old Joe Flacco with two TD passes in 60 seconds to stun Cleveland….the Trey Lance/Jimmy Garoppolo transition, sooner and sadder than expected. And there were more….
ALL EYES ON TOMLIN
In 1993, Bill Parcells’ first season as coach of the New England Patriots, he invited me to watch a training-camp practice from the sideline. We had worked together at NBC Sports in 1991-92 when Parcells took two years off coaching in the NFL.
Drew Bledsoe, No. 1 overall draft choice that year, lit up the practice while his veteran competition struggled. Still, Parcells had not named a starter, and some speculated he’d go with journeymen Scott Zolak or Scott Secules.
Walking off the practice field, I asked him quietly, “Who you gonna start?”
“Bledsoe,” he said matter of factly.
“You’re going to start a rookie?”
He turned on me and asked, “What am I gonna do, start an inferior player? The players know. They see what you see. They know.”
Thirteen weeks into an exasperating season, Parcells cut his kicker, rookie fifth-round pick Scott Sisson, who had missed 12 of 26 field goal attempts, earning the nickname “Missin’ Sisson.”
In a phone call, Parcells told me, “I had to do it. I couldn’t face the players any longer.”
Mike Tomlin is coming to such a crossroads with his Pittsburgh Steelers. He probably would have preferred to delay Kenny Pickett’s debut until mid-season or so. But after yesterday, his players are looking at him, particularly his team leaders on defense.
Blessed with surprisingly good pass protection, Mitch Trubisky was indecisive and played scared after a second-quarter interception. When it came time to win in the late fourth quarter, he bombed with two three-and-outs.
The change to Pickett will not come this week because the Steelers have a short turnaround to a Thursday night game. But it’s coming sooner than later because Tomlin won’t be able to face his players much longer.
BRADY OVER WINSTON
Tom Brady was the central figure in New Orleans, screaming, cursing, smashing a Microsoft tablet, and firing up teammates by accosting Saints CB Marshon Lattimore for holding his receivers.
Midway through the fourth quarter, score tied 3-3, Brady recognized the Saints dropping out of a fake blitz into a three-man rush. That gave him plenty of time to work through his progression and he used all of it, throwing a 28-yard TD strike to his third option. Bucs led, 10-3.
This was the moment for Saints quarterback Jameis Winston. The Saints’ off-season strategy of pushing massive cap debt into the future, overpaying for Chris Olave and hoping for a Michael Thomas’ comeback was all predicated-on belief in their quarterback.
Jameis promptly overthrew a sail route for an interception. On his next possession, he stared down Jarvis Landry curling at the first-down marker, drawing Bucs’ safety Mike Edwards for a pick-six, Winston’s third interception of the game.
BEST NFL PERFORMER: LAMAR JACKSON
The best QB performance of this NFL Sunday, despite his team’s defeat, belonged to Lamar Jackson. His command, decision-making and throwing mechanics are so much improved.
He put on a clinic in the first half, leading Baltimore to TDs on three of four possessions, and would have had the fourth if not for a fumble near Miami’s goalline. In the third quarter, Jackson added a 79-yard TD run.
Yes, yes, I’m aware, the Dolphins staged the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in the NFL since 2006. Tua Tagovailoa threw for 469 yards and six TDs, four of them in the fourth quarter.
But much of his success was due to the Ravens’ busted coverages. Their starting cornerbacks, both coming off injuries, were spelled frequently by two fourth-round rookies. And an uncommon number of balls were caught behind the safeties.
AARON ROGERS IS STILL MOST WATCHABLE
No summary of Sunday’s NFL quarterback play is complete without mention of Aaron Rodgers.
He was at his prime-time best last night, puzzling at his motley crew of receivers, wondering which ones to trust, smirking at their misplays, trying hard not to roll his eyes.
Your standard for quarterbacks may be QBR, TD/interception ratio or average yards per pass attempt.
But if you care about theatre, Rodgers, in his age-39 season, remains clearly the most entertaining, most watchable QB of his generation. What a misfortune for Justin Fields to be on the same stage with him.
This story was submitted by Terry O’Neil
Terry O’Neil is a former Senior Vice President, Football Administration, New Orleans Saints.