Week 6 of the NFL season is here, bringing highs, lows, and everything in between. And each Sunday, throughout the day, the Ringer staff will be celebrating the insane plays, admonishing the colossal blunders, and explaining the inexplicable moments of the NFL season. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: The Idea That the Seahawks Can Overcome Anything
Kevin Clark: The Seahawks, who emerged as a championship contender in 2012, have faced enough obstacles since then to sink about 10 franchises. They have far less depth than when they started their run among the NFL’s elite — they pay their stars more, giving them little salary cap flexibility. They lost Marshawn Lynch to retirement, they once lost the Super Bowl on a devastating interception. Large deficits are overturned in a matter of a few plays — the NFC title game win over the Packers two years ago being the most obvious example.
Overcoming these seemingly insurmountable obstacles has become commonplace for them. On Sunday, it was natural to think maybe that run was coming to an end. Defensive backs Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor were literally screaming at each other on the sideline. Fox reported Pete Carroll had to visit the defense twice to calm them down. The Atlanta Falcons took a 24–17 lead after a 46-yard pass from Matt Ryan to Levine Toilolo in the third quarter. The Seahawks looked cooked. They looked even more cooked after Steven Hauschka missed a field goal wide left with 11:30 remaining in the game, and, later, the extra point on the potentially game-tying touchdown with 4:43 on the clock. But this being the Seahawks, they came back. Earl Thomas picked off a Ryan pass at the Seattle 45 and returned it to midfield. From there, Hauschka kicked the 44-yarder to take the lead with just under two minutes left.
The last chance for the Falcons, a deep shot to Julio Jones, was clearly uncalled pass interference by Richard Sherman and helped leave intact Seattle’s reputation of overcoming just about everything. The Seahawks will likely be unapologetic about it — they get lucky breaks like this all the time. (Remember the “Fail Mary?”) That’s part of what’s so maddening about Seattle: They are always in position to get lucky.
Winner: Odell Beckham Jr.’s Elaborate Touchdown Celebrations
Micah Peters: Trailing the Ravens 13–10 in the third quarter, Eli Manning hit Odell Beckham Jr. over the top for a 75-yard touchdown. It was perfect for three reasons:
1. Beckham chucked the deuces to a helpless Eric Weddle on his way to the end zone. Your fave could never, and if he could he probably wouldn’t, anyway.
2. The triple jump thing. I need to know how, and how long he plans these things. Like, when was the seed of this idea planted? Are there discarded cocktail napkins with rough concepts scribbled on them? Storyboards on the walls of his house that break down these celebrations frame by frame? I NEED TO KNOW.
3. He continued to build his relationship with the kicking net after picking up the broken crockery against Green Bay in Week 5. I gotta say, I’m rooting for them to make it.
Of course, because THE SHIELD is like that boring, hateful, down-on-everything friend who turns up at your house twice a week to complain about the two-dollar bill he found and is now responsible for the rainbow that intruded upon the comforting sameness of his morning commute, Beckham will probably have some fines to pay. But who cares? It looks like he’s having fun playing football again, and that’s all that really matters.
Oh, and he also had a game-winning 66-yard touchdown in a 27–23 victory.
See? A happy Odell Beckham is good for all of us. Except for Ravens fans, I guess. This kind of sucks for you.
Loser: Aaron Rodgers, Who Just Didn’t Have It Today
Clark: Brett Favre was honored for his Hall of Fame induction at halftime of the Packers’ game against the Cowboys on Sunday. A microphone captured a fan yelling, loudly, “Put him in the game!” By the end of Packers’ 30–16 loss at Lambeau Field, the only surprise was that the person shouting that wasn’t Mike McCarthy. Aaron Rodgers was not good on Sunday, and Dak Prescott looked great. Rodgers continued his worrying trend of missing open receivers and throwing bad picks. He added in a new wrinkle this week, fumbling at the Dallas 4-yard line near the end of the third quarter to essentially end any threat of the Packers storming back. The Cowboys opened up a 27–9 lead before Green Bay got back on the board late in the fourth.
Rodgers has struggled in his career and bounced back, but at this point, it’s been about a calendar year since he had a truly Rodgersesque game. The last of his 300-yard, multitouchdown performances came last November, against the Lions; the last time he had such a performance and came away with a victory was against the Chiefs in September of 2015. Something is amiss with the Green Bay offense, and the Packers need to figure it out soon if they want to join the NFL’s elite again.
Loser: Tony Romo
Katie Baker: Early in his team’s game against the Packers, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott broke the record for most consecutive passes sans interception to start a career with 177. The guy whose record he beat? Tom Brady. Prescott similarly managed to upstage quarterback Brett Favre — whose Hall of Fame induction was honored at halftime — with his three-touchdown performance in Sunday’s decisive 30–16 road win.
But the guy who has been most overshadowed by Prescott of late is the one who Prescott assumed he’d be backing up. When Tony Romo broke a bone in his back in late August, it was a crushing setback for a 36-year-old who missed 12 games last season after breaking his collarbone twice. The star-crossed Cowboy was said to be targeting a Week 8 return following Dallas’s bye. As recently as last week, Jerry Jones referred to him as “our no. 1 quarterback.”
The good news for Romo is that Dallas has thrived in his absence. Unlike last season, when the Cowboys went 1–11 without Romo in the lineup, this year’s team enters its rest week with a 5–1 record, the top spot in the NFC East, and a clear path to playoff contention. The bad news for Romo … is also that Dallas has thrived in his absence. Prescott may not have Romo’s gunslinging firepower. But in six games, he has yet to throw for fewer than 227 yards — the Cowboy’s offensive line has given him an unusually comfortable stage on which to perform. He has been a smart and effective presence that flummoxes opposing teams. “After studying each of Dak Prescott’s 131 NFL pass attempts,” wrote ESPN’s Adam Schefter last weekend, “Bengals do not believe the Cowboys’ QB has thrown a single bad pass this season.”
Romo made his Dallas debut in 2006 when he replaced an aging Drew Bledsoe and never looked back. Now Prescott is starting to seem like the exciting young guy of the future. “I am now told the Cowboys want to make sure Romo is a hundred thousand million percent ready to go when he is back,” the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday. This is how it begins.
Loser: The Colts, Who Somehow Lost to Brock Osweiler
Shea Serrano: Brock Osweiler’s Q score was plummeting. And not slowly, either. It wasn’t like how the Titanic went down. It wasn’t like the way a bouncy house deflates. It wasn’t like how the gas gauge in your car moves when you’re on a road trip. It was more like the way the air shoots out of a tire in a blowout. Or like the way a war plane falls out of the sky after it’s been hit by a missile, except this war plane hadn’t been hit by a missile, it’d been hit by a bunch of incomplete passes — a bunch of incomplete passes thrown by Brock Osweiler, which I assume are deadlier than incomplete passes from other quarterbacks and also deadlier than missiles fired at war planes.
Did you know that going into the game against the Colts, the Texans were tied for last in points scored per game (16.4)? And that Brock had completed only 58 percent of his passes, which put him 27th in the league? And that Brock averaged right around 6 yards per attempt, a mark that put him 29th in the league? Those are a lot of bad numbers. Real bad. Here’s a worse one, though, at least for Colts fans: Indianapolis had a 99 percent win probability with just under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter. And yet:
Winner: Bad Quarterbacks, Because I’ve Just Created a New Scoring System for Bad Quarterbacks
Serrano: It’s a thing that I just made up right now because my Texans have a bad quarterback and I want to rig the system so that him being bad is no longer a detriment to the team. The New Scoring System for Bad Quarterbacks helps to keep games more competitive and more interesting for teams that have bad quarterbacks. (In this particular conversation, a “bad quarterback” is defined as one whose Total QBR is in the bottom 25 percent of the league’s 32 regular starting quarterbacks.) Rather than just earning points for his team on scoring plays, which is hard for bad quarterbacks because they are bad, a bad quarterback can also earn points for his team in ten other ways.
- Throwing a completed pass longer than 5 yards earns his team one point.
- Throwing a completed pass longer than 15 yards earns his team two points.
- Throwing a completed pass longer than 25 yards earns his team three points and also a parade.
- Throwing three or more completed passes in a row will result in the team being awarded one point per the number of completions (for example, three completed passes in a row equals three points, four completed passes in a row equals four points, five equals five, and so on).
- Completing an entire quarter without fumbling the ball or throwing an interception earns his team two points.
- Putting on the correct helmet (and not one of his teammates’ helmets) after a change of possession from defense to offense earns his team one point.
- Throwing a pass for a first down on third down earns his team five points.
- Throwing a pass while in the opponent’s red zone earns his team two points.
- Correctly identifying where the red zone is on the field will earn his team six points.
- Conducting a drive that spans more than 50 yards and ends in a touchdown earns his team 250 points.
Congratulations to the Houston Texans, who are now retroactively undefeated upon the institution of the NSSfBQ.
Winner: Kirk Cousins’s Mock Turtleneck
Sam Schube: The 1990s were a simpler time in the NFL. Running backs were good. Offenses were boring. And quarterbacks wore long-sleeve white mock turtlenecks underneath their uniforms. You know the garment: a distinctly pre–Under Armour cotton with floppy sleeves, and maybe even an embroidered logo on the neck. Jeff George? Don’t mock the mock. Randall Cunningham? Look at those sleeves billow! In this photo, Elvis Grbac is celebrating, as well he should: He has entered the highest tier of quarterback fashion. The ’90s were great.
Kirk Cousins is all about celebrating the glory of the ’90s. (“You like that?” is quite possibly the most ’90s pump-up slogan imaginable.) And in a 27–20 win over the Eagles on Sunday, the Washington QB played just like one of those goofy, spaghetti-armed quarterbacks from the Clinton administration: distinctly unathletic, tactically stupid, and extremely long of arm, to the tune of 263 passing yards with two touchdowns and one preposterous interception. Let those sleeves drape, Kirk. The dream of the ’90s lives on in you.
Winner: The NFL’s Diaspora of Former Eagles
Baker: If the Philadelphia Eagles had an alumni gazette (working title: Fly Eagles Fly Weekly; working motto: “Dear God, Make Me a Bird”) the newsroom would be aflutter with the diaspora’s news today. Andy Reid is now 16–2 the week after a bye, a sure testament to his thoughtful preparation and considered, practical use of time. (Haha, jk: Some of Reid’s red zone play calling today earned him an intriguing comparison to Shirley Temple.) Reid’s pal Jeremy Maclin didn’t catch a touchdown in the Chiefs’ 26–10 win over the Raiders, but he did move the chains with a 38-yard reception and, in one of the smarter plays of the game, threw a football out of bounds.
In Buffalo, former Eagle LeSean McCoy finally had a satisfying reunion against his former Eagles coach Chip Kelly — who shipped McCoy up north in early 2015, less than a year before being ousted himself — with three touchdowns in the Bills’ 45–16 humiliation of San Francisco. (“It’s going to take all 11 guys on defense” to stop McCoy, Kelly said on Thursday, but even that was not enough.)
And hey, did you even know that Arrelious Benn is still in the league? Me neither, until I learned today that he scored a 51-yard touchdown for the Jaguars in a 17–16 win over Chicago. One of the few ex-Eagles who underperformed today was DeSean Jackson, who dropped a pass in the end zone against … the Eagles. But he still caught four passes, and Washington still beat Philly 27–20, and somewhere Sam Bradford, chillaxing on his bye week as an undefeated quarterback, watched it all and laughed.
Let’s just hope Fly Eagles Fly Weekly had a reporter embedded in that scene.
Loser and Winner: The Wentz Wagon
Schube: Eagles fans are in a froth, and I don’t blame them. Carson Wentz came to town with his longbow and a shitty pickup, and all he’s done is throw touchdowns and tell folksy stories and restore hope to an entire city’s worth of tortured fans. Small potatoes. He led the Eagles to a 3–1 record, and even managed to put up great tape in last week’s loss to the Lions. Wentz had a tough day in a loss to Washington, as he was sacked five times and knocked down countless more, unable (or unwilling) to get rid of the ball. And while Philadelphia’s offensive line did him approximately zero favors, it’s easy to see the hyperbolic Monday headlines already: WENTZ WAGON OFF TRACK. WENTZ WAGON DERAILED. WENTZ WAGON HEMORRHAGING PASSENGERS.
I’ll argue the opposite: This is a good thing, Eagles fans. Sounds ridiculous, I know. But long ago I, too, rooted for an exciting rookie quarterback, one who promised to deliver my team to salvation. One who was extremely flawed, but whose talented defense papered over any glaring mistakes. One who led his team to a 3–1 (and then 3–2) start. One who had all the tabloids hot and bothered, only to take his bandwagon and drive it into a ditch, and then line that ditch with TNT. One who perpetrated the Butt Fumble.
So what I’m saying is this: Be bad now, Carson. Take a few plays off. Buy a Ferrari. Show up late to practice. Give Chase Daniel a shot behind that raggedy-ass O-line. If you don’t? Well, when you run into your lineman’s ass on Thanksgiving, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Winner: 59 Minutes of Case Keenum
Danny Kelly: Poor Jared Goff. While the rest of the top five picks from April’s NFL draft — Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey — have all enjoyed exciting starts to their respective careers, the top overall selection remains on the bench for the Rams. And there doesn’t seem to be much hope that he’ll overtake Case Keenum for the starting job any time soon. Not with the way that Keenum ran Los Angeles’s suddenly explosive offense in a 31–28 loss to the Lions on Sunday.
The Rams came into Week 6 ranked 31st in offensive DVOA; they had just four passing touchdowns in their first five games (tied for last in the NFL) and were tied for last in points per game (16.4). But Keenum exploded for a career day — he completed 19 straight passes at one point — and finished 27-of-32 for 321 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. That pick, which came with 1:09 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Rams trailing by three, effectively ended the game. But it shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Keenum’s arm kept L.A. in this barn burner when its defense could do little to stop Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and the Lions’ offense.
If this signals the awakening of the Los Angeles offense, it could provide much-needed balance for for a team whose defense is normally suffocating and stout.
Loser: Greg Roman
Schube: When Rex Ryan fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman after the Bills’ 0–2 start, the reaction was swift and grumpy. “Rex Ryan will struggle to sell Greg Roman as Bills’ scapegoat,” ESPN’s headline read. The narrative was obvious. Rex was floundering and did the only thing he could to save his job: fire an (extremely well-paid) assistant and pray it’d spark a response. And that, to be perfectly charitable, seemed unlikely. Ryan is a notoriously crummy offensive coach, and he might’ve bought himself a few extra weeks, tops. You can’t fight fate, or a slot on one of the pregame shows.
And yet! Since Roman’s firing, the Bills have gone 4–0, with wins over the Cardinals, the Patriots, the Rams, and now the 49ers. Admittedly, those teams were underachieving, Tom Brady–less, really pretty terrible, and also terrible, respectively. But a win is a win is a win is a fourth consecutive win. The Bills have averaged 31 points over that stretch (compared with 19 for games one and two), and racked up 312 rushing yards in a 45–16 throttling of San Francisco.
Look: I’m no expert. Maybe Roman is a good coordinator, and the Bills are just benefiting from some combination of luck and emotional manipulation. But the team is undefeated since the firing heard ’round Western New York, and they currently sit in the second AFC wild-card slot. Rex Ryan, brilliant strategic mind? Here’s the thing: Until the Bills lose, we can’t say that he’s not. I’m as confused as you are. Let’s go eat a goddamn snack.
Loser: Anyone Who Thought We Were “Past This” in 2016
Peters: After a few months of shaking the table, Colin Kaepernick — who is THIS MUCH better than Blaine Gabbert — finally got his first start of the season against the Bills. And naturally, the red-faced, neck-bulging contingent was out in force, taking many and various L’s.
This guy? Loser. (How are you going to do a try-hard salute and not stand at attention?)
Every single person in this video? Loser.
This one, too.
The people who had these printed, the people who sold them, and every person who bought one? Losers all.
Regardless of whether the Bills won the game (they did), Buffalo still lost.
Loser: Consistency in Pittsburgh
Kelly: When the Steelers are on, they look absolutely unstoppable. But when they’re off, hoo boy, they’re awful. Watching this Pittsburgh team the past two weeks — it blew out the Chiefs, 43–14, and then routed the Jets, 31–13 — it looked like the AFC’s Super Bowl favorite. Yet, never forget: The Steelers are good for two or three letdown games against bad teams every season, and they carried on that tradition with a 30–15 loss to the struggling Dolphins in Miami.
With Ben Roethlisberger limited after a second-quarter knee injury, Pittsburgh’s offense failed to get anything going, and a garbage-time touchdown with just over a minute left in the game masked a much worse performance than even the stats would indicate. With Big Ben was hobbled, his superstar teammates did little to pick up the slack. Receiver Antonio Brown finished with four catches for 39 yards, and tailback Le’Veon Bell rushed for just 53 yards as Pittsburgh abandoned the run in the second half. The defense didn’t fare much better; it gave up 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns to the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi — the first time the Steelers had surrendered 200-plus yards to a running back since 2000. Miami QB Ryan Tannehill finished an efficient 24-of-32 for 252 yards.
On a day when Bengals, Ravens, and Browns all lost, Pittsburgh’s continuing Jekyll and Hyde act hurt its opportunity to pull away in the division.
Winner: Tom Brady’s Tight End Connection
Kelly: This isn’t particularly surprising, but now it’s official: The Patriots’ passing game runs through its tight ends. The trio of Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Martellus Bennett looks exactly the way we thought it would — undefendable — and while Bennett was the beneficiary of Brady’s focus last week and scored three touchdowns, Gronk got more involved in the action in New England’s 35–17 win over the Bengals. Gronkowski set a career high with 162 receiving yards on seven catches, and found the end zone for the first time this season — on a 4-yard score in the third quarter that put the Pats ahead for good. Bennett added five catches for 48 yards.
Gronk’s 271 receiving yards over the past two games are the most of any two-game span in his career, and in the two games since Brady returned from suspension, Gronkowski and Bennett have combined for 23 catches, 386 yards, and four touchdowns. It feels like they’re just getting warmed up, and if Gronk continues to make plays like this, defenses basically don’t stand a chance.
Winner: Wil Lutz, Divine Providence
Peters: The Saints jumped out to a 21–0 lead to open Sunday’s game against the Panthers, and instead of being like, today is the day, Drew Brees is going to throw for a thousand yards and 10 touchdowns or wow, maybe the Panthers are actually not good or NFC WILD-CARD BERTH, HERE WE COME, I found myself unable to enjoy it. As a fan, I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends: a third-quarter implosion, culminating in New Orleans losing on a last-second field goal, and I attempt to turn off the TV by smashing it with an ottoman.
So by the time Jonathan Stewart punched in a 1-yard touchdown to make the score 31–30 with 9:38 remaining in the fourth quarter, I’d already made peace with Carolina completing the comeback. Like when five-star heat is baring down on you in Grand Theft Auto and you decide to just double park your banged-up “Pegassi Infernus” on the highway and welcome death. BUT THEN GRAHAM GANO MISSED THE EXTRA POINT.
The room started spinning. I’m pretty sure I saw spots. Maybe things aren’t as hopeless as I thought. Then Drew Brees connected with tight end Josh Hill for a touchdown to stretch the lead to eight. Maybe we’ll get out of here alive. Then Cam Newton tied the game minutes later with a 2-yard draw and a successful two-point conversion, and everything was hopeless again. This was going to overtime, and heartbreak would surely follow.
Then Brees marched the Saints back into field-goal range with under a minute left and Wil Lutz lined up to take the kick. Wil Lutz? Wil Lutz?? There’s no way dude we’re doomed.
And then he made a 52-yarder with the ease of a putt-putt shot.
I knew it. I called it. I never doubted it for a second.