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The Winners and Losers From NFL Week 9

The Giants allow a touchdown on third-and-33, Tom Savage finally finds the end zone, and Julio Jones drops a must-catch pass

Getty Images/USA Today/Ringer illustration

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?

Winner: Fights

The star of Week 9 in the NFL was Scrappin’. In the first eight weeks of the season, only three players were ejected from games. Sunday alone, five players were ejected.

First, Bengals receiver A.J. Green didn’t take kindly to a shove from Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, putting him in a chokehold and repeatedly punching his helmet:

Both players got kicked out of the game for this—of course, it’s illegal to choke or punch your opponent, and I guess it’s also illegal to get choked and punched? I’m still looking for clarification on why Ramsey got ejected. Anyway, I demand we mic up all NFL players so the next time a receiver gets pissed off enough to put a cornerback in a chokehold, we know exactly why it happened.

Later, Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans saw that Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was engaged in some light shoving with injured Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and escalated the heck out of the situation:

Somehow nobody was ejected over this. Evans looked modestly surprised he wasn’t thrown out—perhaps with Tampa Bay trailing big, he’d secretly been hoping he would’ve been tossed.

And in Cardinals-49ers, everybody lost their cool after a late hit on Niners quarterback C.J. Beathard:

You know it’s real when the refs throw their flags, then see another thing they want to penalize, and have to throw their hat because they don’t have anything else to throw. Niners running back Carlos Hyde and Cardinals defenders Frostee Rucker and Haason Reddick were ejected, although it’s tough to see who did what in the scrum.

Obviously, fighting is detrimental to the sport. This game might be violent, but it has rules. Nobody wins when players resort to extrajudicial attacks on each other. It can lead to only literal injuries and metaphorical black eyes for the league.

That said … WOOOOOOOO! A.J. Green had that dude in a chokehold! Like a damn UFC fight! I don’t know what I liked more—the first bodyslam or the second bodyslam. WOOOOOO! Did you see that massive cheapshot by Evans? Bring back those ESPN “Jacked Up” segments just for that hit. WOOOOOO! NFL fights are uncalled for and extremely dangerous, and I had an awesome time watching them Sunday.

Loser: Ben McAdoo

The Giants gave up a touchdown on third-and-33.

Since 1994 (the first year in Pro-Football-Reference’s Play Index) up to Sunday, there had been 293 plays of third-and-30 or longer, about 12 a year. Of those 293 plays, there had been 18 sacks, 13 fumbles, eight interceptions, one punt, and three plays that resulted in a first down: One was this third-and-37 draw play by Leroy Hoard in 1999, one was a third-and-35 pass by Trent Dilfer in 1995, one was a pass short of the first-down marker that was fumbled, then later recovered 15 yards downfield by Laveranues Coles in 2009. And in those 293 plays? Zero scores. The last touchdown on a play of third-and-30 or longer came in 1989. That touchdown was scored by the Giants. Bill Parcells called it “third and Arkansas.

Giving up a touchdown on third-and-33 is more than just bad luck. Week after week, the Giants seem under-talented, unmotivated, and outcoached, and the team looked all three on this play. The seat is getting warm for Giants coach Ben McAdoo. And it doesn’t help his cause that he gives off the impression that he’s a bit of a buffoon; he’s most notable for a series of hideous hairdos and a play-calling menu that appears to be stolen from a local New Jersey diner.

But you know what: From the outside, it’s tough to tell how good a job a coach is doing. Their job is so multifaceted, and we glimpse only the game-day product. After the loss, McAdoo gave a precious look at some of the work he does behind the scenes, giving reporters a summary of his stirring halftime speech to the team. Ever think those inspiring pep talks from sports movies were unrealistic? Think again:

Whoa, is that a real NFL head coach or Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday? Anyway, if you’re at work and can’t listen to that entire soliloquy, a brave reporter transcribed the whole thing for you:

Sure, McAdoo’s team just gave up one of the dumbest touchdowns in decades, but I’d like to come to his defense and say this: um.

Winner: Everybody Who Got to See This Marshall Newhouse Play

I am a voter for the Piesman Trophy, the only award dedicated to rewarding linemen for achieving greatness handling the football. It’s a real award, and a role I take very seriously, in part because I think linemen are spectacular athletes who rarely receive the praise they should due to the nature of their jobs, in part because no other trophies have ever invited me to become a voter. (Apparently I have to “achieve distinction in the motion picture arts and sciences” to vote for the Oscars. Uh, did I have to play offensive tackle to vote for the Piesman? Loosen up, Academy.)

Anyway, as an expert in linemen who attempt to run the football, I would like to award Raiders offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse the Anti-Piesman for this play:

Part of me thinks Newhouse let Ndamukong Suh sack Derek Carr on this play. He wanted that ball to pop free, because he wanted his moment of glory. Look at him chug along, all 328 pounds of him, completely certain that he can pick up the first down.

And then look at him fly, the world’s least aerodynamic helicopter:

The Raiders would have been better off if Newhouse had just fallen down. When it comes to ball security, Newhouse’s password is PASSWORD. But the world is better off for Newhouse having run, because this is the GIF of the 2017 season.

Loser: The Eagles’ Fireworks Guy

Philadelphia hung 51 points on the Broncos. Let’s figure out who looked good:

  • Carson Wentz looked good, throwing for four touchdowns
  • Jay Ajayi looked good, running for 77 yards in his Eagles debut, including a 46-yard touchdown
  • The Eagles’ front office looked good, for trading for Ajayi last week
  • Backup running back Corey Clement looked good, running for two touchdowns
  • The Eagles’ defense looked good, intercepting Brock Osweiler twice

I can identify two people who did not look good. First is Nick Foles, Wentz’s backup, who finally got to play when the Eagles built a 28-point lead—and got strip-sacked on his first dropback:

Second is the pyrotechnics guy, or whoever has the job of stocking explosives for an NFL team.

Step it up, fireworks guy! NFL performances that comprehensively excellent are rare, and you ruined it.

Winner: Kirk Cousins

Cousins is a winner because he led Washington on a game-winning, 70-yard touchdown drive with a minute left against the Seahawks. But most importantly, he survived this play:

He mishandled a snap, corralled it, realized 47 Seahawks were about to grind his bones into dust, and then gave the ball to Rob Kelley so that the running back’s bones could be ground instead.

Quarterbacks are occasionally criticized for throwing teammates under the bus. The Seahawks defenders that Cousins threw Kelley under are slightly lighter than your average bus, but meaner, and just as effective at trampling. The amazing thing? Nobody will think poorly of Cousins for doing this. Quarterbacks are supposed to protect their highly valuable bodies, while running backs are generally considered cannon fodder.

Remember, the best way to survive a bear attack isn’t to outrun the bear; it’s to outrun the other person running away from the bear with you. Kirk Cousins will trip you and let the bears feast on your significantly less valuable body.

Winner: Tom Savage

No, the Texans quarterback didn’t play a good game. He went 19-of-44 for 219 yards—just 5.0 per attempt—while fumbling twice. And those stats are a little bit empty. He racked most of them up with Houston trailing late.

But he finally threw his first touchdown pass!

Savage has been in the NFL for four seasons, and this was his fourth career start. This was his 138th pass, and first career touchdown. By comparison, Deshaun Watson—the guy who replaced Savage in Week 1, and who Savage is now replacing—threw 11 touchdowns in his first 138 career passes and threw eight more in his next 66 attempts. But congrats to Tom for throwing one! First of many, I’m sure.

Loser: Blair Walsh

Entering Sunday, Walsh was a great NFL redemption story. Surely, the reason you know Walsh’s name is because he missed a chip-shot field goal for the Vikings in the 2015 playoffs, a miss that ended their season. The winner of that game? The Seahawks. This year, Seattle remembered the player who once helped them through his own failure and signed him. He’d been excellent, connecting on 12 of his first 13 attempts.

Sunday, Walsh went oh-fer. He missed three kicks in the first half, all wide left. While all his teammates went back to the locker room for halftime, he stayed on the field practicing. He shared the field with racing pigs:

But Walsh wouldn’t kick again. Part of that was coincidental. The Seahawks never ended a drive in field goal range in the second half, and it made sense to attempt two-point conversions after both of their touchdowns. But if it had made sense to kick, would coach Pete Carroll have trusted Walsh?

The Seahawks lost, 17-14. Any made field goal would have changed the game. One has to presume Seattle will go kicker shopping this week in hopes of finding a more trustworthy option.

Even after Sunday, Walsh is one of the most accurate kickers in the history of football. He’s 145-for-174, 83.3 percent, good for 23rd all time. And considering the distance of his attempts, he’s probably better than that. Walsh set a record for 50-yard field goals his rookie season, going 10-for-10 and earning All-Pro first-team honors. And Sunday, he cemented his legacy as a player most will remember for missing.

Loser: Julio Jones

We all know Julio Jones is a catching magician. He is perfectly designed to play wide receiver—so tall, so fast, so good at jumping, such incredible catch radius, so agile, so quick to react, so nimble, so freakin’ good at catching footballs. I mean, he did this.

And since the moment he caught that football, nothing has gone right for the Falcons. Sunday, he got as open as he could possibly be on a fourth-down play with the Falcons trailing the Panthers 20-10 in a pivotal NFC South game, and Matt Ryan threw a pass as on-target as one can possibly be. Jones did not catch the football:

The ball falls perfectly into the cradle made by his hands. It ends up bouncing harmlessly away as his body slams into the turf:

The defending NFC champions managed another touchdown, but lost 20-17, falling to 4-4.

Who knows why this sport’s best players sometimes flub its simplest tasks. Stevie Johnson once posited these were punishments from a cruel higher power; my guess is that we’re all living in a glitch-filled computer simulation. Specifically, an early version of Madden.

Winner: Adrian Peterson

Peterson’s return from injury turned problematic when he found himself in New Orleans, a team with a historically great quarterback in Drew Brees and several young talented running backs. They simply didn’t need a workhorse runner, and gave Peterson just 27 carries in four games. He did not like this role.

But now he’s in Arizona. After the injury to Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton is their starting quarterback. After the injury to David Johnson, Peterson is their only noteworthy running back. He carried the ball 37 times Sunday. That’s a career high for Peterson, and the highest number of rushing attempts by any player all year. There have been only three previous games where a running back has had 37 or more carries since the 2010 season. He went for 159 yards, the only running back to break 100 yards this week. I guess we can call him “All Day” again.

Loser: The NFL’s Down-by-Contact Rule

I have an unpopular take. The NFL’s rule that a player isn’t down until they’re touched is not as good as college football’s rule, which states players are down as soon as their knee (or other non-foot, non-hand body part) touches the ground. This week, two plays allow me to demonstrate my case. First, this 80-yard touchdown by T.Y. Hilton:

Hilton did an amazing job jumping out of the way of one Texans defender and then lying on the ground. The next Texans defender who passed Hilton, Andre Hal, didn’t touch the prone wide receiver, presuming that he’d already been touched. Hilton hadn’t, and he lightly sauntered into the end zone.

And then there’s this big pass to Josh Doctson, which could have been a pivotal go-ahead touchdown in the Washington-Seattle game.

Doctson made a great catch and fell to the ground. As his momentum carried his body toward the end zone, he made no effort to stretch the ball toward the goal line. But the Seahawks cornerback covering him, rookie Shaquill Griffin, made no attempt to touch Doctson after he hit the ground. It took a third player, Bradley McDougald, to sprint over and touch Doctson as he lay on the 1-yard line, saving Doctson from unwittingly scoring a touchdown—and Griffin from unwittingly allowing one.

The down-by-contact rule leads to an increase in two things: the awkward scramble to tag downed players—not a particularly exciting part of football—and bloopers, like the Hilton touchdown. It’s easy to say players should simply remember to touch players when they’re down, but clearly, it takes a while for players to realign their instincts to tag grounded players after years of playing high school and college football—and sometimes, like on the Hilton play, defenders simply don’t realize a ball carrier hasn’t been touched.

Now, of course, those bloopers are hilarious. But from a competitive perspective, why does the NFL have a rule that leads to an increase in bloopers?