Every week this NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, admonish the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Loser: The Buffalo Bills
Normally, we start off with a winner here, but I can’t recall anybody losing with the idiocy and passion for self-defeat that the Bills displayed Sunday.
The Bills revealed last week that they were switching at quarterback from Tyrod Taylor to Nathan Peterman, in spite of the fact the team was above .500 and in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. I was skeptical of this decision: Taylor’s not spectacular, but he’d been a safe, roughly average NFL starter this year; Peterman was a fifth-round draft pick who didn’t look very good in preseason play. The Bills were testing out the possibility that the rookie’s ceiling was higher than the 2015 Pro Bowler’s and ignoring the fact his floor could be miles lower.
Peterman wasn’t just worse than Taylor: He played perhaps the worst game in modern football history. I hate hyperbole, and this is not hyperbole. Peterman went 6-of-14 for 66 yards with five interceptions and no touchdowns. He was the first player in NFL history to throw five interceptions and no touchdowns on fewer than 15 passes; nobody had thrown five interceptions on fewer than 28 passes—twice as many as Peterman threw—since 1990. Here are all 14 passes he threw, including the five picks:
Meanwhile, Taylor had thrown just three picks on 254 passing attempts in the first nine games of the year for a 1.2 percent interception rate, third-best in the league. Through the first two games of his career, Peterman’s interception rate is over 20 percent. If you started Peterman in a fantasy football league with standard scoring, as 2.4 percent of owners in ESPN leagues apparently did, he would have subtracted 6.96 points from your team’s score. There have been worse fantasy performances, but not since fantasy sports achieved widespread popularity. It’s possible that Peterman’s day was the worst in the history of fantasy football.
The Bills subbed out Peterman at halftime, mercifully preventing him from setting the NFL record for interceptions—it’s eight, by the way. Taylor went 15-for-25 with a passing TD and a rushing TD, but the Chargers had already scored 37 points in the first half. (As it turns out, picking off five passes in a half puts a team in really good position to win.) The Chargers won 54-24, the Bills’ third-straight blowout loss. Coach Sean McDermott says he needs to watch the tape to see what to do going forward:
McDermott is going to review everything from game before making a QB decision for Chiefs game next week. #Bills— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrownBills) November 20, 2017
Unless McDermott has tape of a game in which Peterman doesn’t throw an interception every three passes, Taylor should start next week.
It was the first time somebody had thrown five picks in their first career start since 2009, when Keith Null did it for the Rams. But the Bills and the 2009 Rams are very different. Null, drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft, ended up starting for the 1-11 Rams after both of their top two quarterbacks, Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller, suffered injuries. They had nothing to lose and nobody to play.
The Bills have a lot to lose—they’re in the middle of a playoff race, and those are rare in Buffalo—and their first-string quarterback is perfectly healthy. Sometimes unfortunate luck forces teams into starting terrible quarterbacks, but that’s not the case with the Bills. They did this to themselves.
Winner: The Cleveland Browns
No, they didn’t win. Don’t be ludicrous. But the Browns played the Jaguars close—they had a chance to drive for the win while down 13-7 with under two minutes to go!—and managed to go an entire game without being flagged for a single penalty.
That’s pretty impressive! It was the first zero-penalty game by any NFL team this season, and there was only one in each of the past two seasons. It’s a surprise for the Browns, who have been one of the more penalized teams in the league—entering Week 11, they were fifth in total penalties (70).
This is huge for the Browns. Learning the rules of football might seem tedious, but it’s a critical step that can help young players toward a lifetime of enjoyment. The Browns’ football journey is just beginning!
Loser: Mike Daniels
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees called a great game Sunday, as Baltimore forced five turnovers and sacked Brett Hundley six times in a 23-0 win over the Packers. It must have been really disappointing for the Packers defenders, who held Baltimore to 219 yards but still got embarrassed. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels was pissed:
Packers' Mike Daniels appears to have peed himself today pic.twitter.com/62HCjazodv— SB Nation (@SBNation) November 19, 2017
Daniels was very serious talking about #Packers loss but joked about this photo. “I saw that. I sweat a lot down there. Everybody was like, ‘Did you pee your pants?’ No, I did not pee my pants.” https://t.co/s6wJsDV3Vd— Jason Wilde (@jasonjwilde) November 19, 2017
Either Daniels peed, or he sweats heavily and exclusively in his crotch region. Both are embarrassing, and one sounds like a worrisome medical condition. I can’t remember ever saying this before now, but: I really hope he peed his pants.
Winner: Jeremy Sprinkle
Enough of tinkling, onto sprinkling. Congrats to the Washington tight end on his first NFL catch, his first NFL touchdown, and his first NFL celebration:
Sprinkle is lucky to have come into the NFL the year after Salt Bae came into the global consciousness. Gosh, it’s a good thing Dean Pees never scored any NFL touchdowns, although I guess Odell Beckham Jr. already did that one.
Loser: Non-quarterbacks Throwing
Eli Manning and Alex Smith had awful days in their matchup. Manning went 19-for-35 for 205 yards, but that’s pretty similar to recent Manning performances. Smith, on the other hand, entered Sunday leading the NFL in passer rating, but went 27-for-40 for 230 yards and two interceptions against a Giants passing defense that ranks close to worst in the NFL in most categories.
So Ben McAdoo and Andy Reid turned to other options to make things happen. But not their backup quarterbacks—just other dudes on the field. The Giants ran a toss play to Shane Vereen that called for the halfback to then throw the football:
Shane Vereen doing his best Eli Manning impression pic.twitter.com/tyaLjruxDh— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) November 19, 2017
I feel like if Vereen stopped running and set his feet, he might have been able to put enough power on this pass to throw for a touchdown. Instead, he ran toward a charging Chiefs defender and threw a duck off his back foot. It was an easy pick for safety Daniel Sorensen.
In a tie game in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs called a double pass for Travis Kelce, the star tight end who played quarterback up until his second year at Cincinnati. You can tell from this throw—great form, plenty of power, perfect spiral. Except it got picked.
If I know Kelce—and boy, do I know Kelce—he’d been looking forward to the chance to throw a pass in an NFL game for years. Reid finally called his number, and even though nobody was open, he knew he could make the play. He probably already had his postgame “Well, I did play quarterback, you know” press conference zingers wound up.
I’ve gotta say: It was the most beautiful interception I’ve ever seen a tight end throw. He did play quarterback, you know.
I’d be mad at the coaches who put Vereen and Kelce in bad situations. But with Manning and Smith playing actual quarterback, the innovation was at least more fun.
Winner: Roger Lewis
Lewis began 2017 as something like fourth in the Giants’ wide-receiver hierarchy. Behind Odell Beckham Jr., behind Brandon Marshall, behind Sterling Shepard. Now he’s no. 1, the best option on a team whose season is broken. And on fourth down in overtime against the Chiefs, he made what might be the catch of the NFL season to set up what might be the most surprising win of the season:
The Ringer has already written about this play, but I’d just like to say this: There should be an and-one rule for players who make catches in spite of defensive pass interference. They get the catch and should also be rewarded one free play to make another catch over the same defender.
Loser: Brock Osweiler
For the past five NFL seasons, I’ve spent every Sunday staring at a TV and a computer for 12 hours, tracking down every hypothetically funny or meme-able moment that I could write about online. My threshold for finding humor in NFL bloopers or GIFs at this point is very high.
So I just wanted to let all of you know that I actively burst out laughing watching this Brock Osweiler clip:
"NO! God dammit, no!" will forever be my favorite Brock Osweiler pre-snap call pic.twitter.com/kEN9bOGOzd— Andrew Joseph (@AndyJ0seph) November 19, 2017
Normally, quarterbacks come up to the line of scrimmage and direct their teammates on how to react to the opposing front. Not Osweiler. He just saw what the Bengals were showing and gave up. It’s the same level of frustration Brock Osweiler showed when Peyton Manning came in for another series back in 2014.
The Broncos have lost six straight games in a single season for the first time since 1990. Osweiler’s scream is every Broncos fan realizing that Osweiler is once again the Broncos’ best quarterback.
Winner: Stephen Gostkowski
The 1968 Olympics were the best in track and field history. On the men’s side, world records were set in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, 4x100 meters, 4x400 meters, 400 meter hurdles, the long jump, and the triple jump; on the women’s side, records were set in the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 meters, long jump, and shot put. Bob Beamon’s long jump record is still an Olympic record, the oldest on the men’s books by 20 years. Why did this happen? Because the games were held in the high altitude of Mexico City, 7,500 feet above sea level. Things go farther when you’re a mile and a half in the sky.
Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski got to kick in that thin air, and had the game of his life: four field goals, including a Patriots record 62-yarder, tied for the sixth longest in NFL history.
Gostkowski drilled this from SIXTY-TWO yards out. It may have had the distance to go 72. pic.twitter.com/njK1mhDFTA— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 19, 2017
The game was just the third regular-season game in Mexico, but it’s going to be an ongoing thing—Sunday, it was announced that games in Estadio Azteca will continue until 2021. That’s great news for Mexico’s budding American football fans—and for kickers like Gostkowski.
Loser: Connor Barth
When it comes to field goal kicking, all that matters is whether a kick goes in or whether it doesn’t. Like, you see that tweet about the Gostkowski field goal that speculates the kick would have been good from 70 yards? I don’t care. There are made field goals, and there are missed field goals. Nothing else matt—
Connor Barth with Bob Uecker just a bit outside. pic.twitter.com/02vbtkUskd— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) November 19, 2017
Holy hell, Connor Barth missed that potential game-tying kick by SO MUCH. Jesus. You coulda stacked another upright next to that upright and I think it still would’ve missed. Look—he caused this dapper bear to die from shame:
Staley Da Bear after the Connor Barth miss pic.twitter.com/9iI58bvQ2p— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) November 19, 2017
In the scoresheet it only matters whether a kick is good or bad, but I think Bears fans—and maybe Bears management—will remember how damn much Barth missed this one by.