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: Nick Foles
The NFL season took another dismal turn Sunday with what appears to be a year-ending ACL injury for Carson Wentz. This NFL season is the third installment in a slasher-flick franchise: Tom Brady and Russell Wilson are the two characters from the first two movies who survive until the end while everybody else gets hacked to pieces just as soon as we figure out who they are.
But there’s still hope in Philadelphia, in the form of Nick Foles. When the backup quarterback came into the game, the Eagles were losing 35–31 to the Rams. After three drives with Foles under center, they won 43–35.
Did Foles do anything to win the game? Not really; he went 6-for-10 for 42 yards. On his first drive, Foles put the Eagles into field goal position; on his second, Philly started out in field goal position and went backward 5 yards in six plays (if you take away a questionable 15-yard penalty committed by the Rams on the Eagles’ initial field goal attempt). On his third drive, the Eagles punted, but Philadelphia scored a defensive touchdown on the final play of the game. Foles’s most noteworthy play was a spur-of-the-moment decision to avoid a sack by throwing the ball to left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who dropped a pass that it would have been illegal for him to catch:
Nick Foles threw a check down to his damn offensive lineman how was this man once a starting quarterback lmaooooooo. pic.twitter.com/yBxxZWaITg— Cagen Cantrell (@CeeingTheDraft) December 11, 2017
To be fair: He was wide open.
But this marks a grand return for Foles, who, in 2013, had one of the great head-scratcher seasons in recent NFL history. Under offensive savant Chip Kelly’s coaching, Foles threw for 27 touchdowns and two interceptions for Philadelphia, leading the team to a 7–1 second-half record and a playoff berth. Last year Brady did similarly, throwing 28 touchdowns and two interceptions, one of his best seasons in a Hall of Fame career.
For the rest of Foles’s career, he has been … not a lot like Tom Brady. If you snorted at the phrase “offensive savant Chip Kelly,” just look at everything else Foles has done in his career. In 2013, Foles led the NFL in touchdown percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating, and was second in interception percentage. Two years later with the Rams, he finished 34th of 35 eligible quarterbacks in touchdown percentage and yards per attempt, 33rd in passer rating, and 31st in interception percentage.This year, he trudged back to Philly — not to start, but just to look into the stands and perhaps see somebody who bought his jersey once.
Specifically, this guy:
You may remember Larry here from one of the great sports-fan videos of all time.
when i have precisely one cold one and start thinking about the upcoming nfl season pic.twitter.com/aBG8Ep8rlY— Jeff McDev (@JeffMcDev) September 1, 2017
That video is from 2006, when Donovan McNabb, then the Eagles’ superstar quarterback, tore his ACL in Week 11 and Jeff Garcia stepped in. With Garcia under center, the Eagles won their last five games of the regular season and a wild-card game over the Giants. It was a tremendous end to what could have been a massively disappointing season.
If Wentz’s ACL has suffered the same fate as McNabb’s, Foles is the backup who could save the day. But unlike Foles, Garcia had established himself as a solid NFL quarterback multiple times before being forced into action for the Eagles. There’s no reason to believe anything good will happen to the Eagles with Foles under center, or that his 2013 season was anything but an outlier.
No reason except the endorsement of Larry. Foles is the Eagles’ baby. He’s it, baby.
Loser: The NFL’s Concussion Protocol
You do not need to be a board-licensed neurologist to suspect that the following video features somebody who has just sustained a traumatic brain injury.
Uh, how is this not a bigger deal? This is fucked. pic.twitter.com/VjsolFaMAB— James Brady (@JamesBradySBN) December 10, 2017
Most likely, Tom Savage is fencing here. Fencing is an involuntary physical response to a concussion. Even if it wasn’t a textbook example of the fencing response, it was a clear sign that something bad had likely happened to Savage’s brain.
And yet, initially, Savage was allowed to continue playing. He went through the concussion protocol and was cleared by one of the independent neurologists placed on the sidelines as part of the league’s attempt to better protect players who have potentially sustained brain injuries. After playing a single three-and-out series, he was inspected again and taken out of the game. He hadn’t sustained an additional injury. His exit from the game was a tacit acknowledgment that the initial testing had failed to identify Savage’s concussion. (Believe it or not, this is not the first time Savage has been reinserted into a game after suffering a concussion.)
But the NFL’s concussion protocol wasn’t necessarily misapplied here. Players often take time to show concussion symptoms, and while the sideline neurologist does have access to replay equipment, they are not required to use it before clearing a player. There are few instances where I would ever say this, but in this case, it would have been better if the coaches and licensed medical professionals had access to fans’ opinions on Twitter.
There are two potential options here: Either the neurologist saw Savage’s response to the injury and made the wildly irresponsible decision to clear him, or the league’s concussion protocol has a massive loophole. The former would be bad, but the latter proves that the league’s entire system of responding to the injuries that ruin players lives is broken.
My favorite cooking competition show is Cutthroat Kitchen. Contestants can take money out of their eventual prize to inflict various punishments on their opponents, like forcing them to prepare an entire meal while on roller skates or preventing them from using any type of knives while cooking. Every cooking show features people who are good at cooking making delicious food that I can never make and will never eat. Cutthroat Kitchen features people who are good at cooking struggling to make something edible under extremely stupid conditions.
And this, too, is why I love snowstorm football. You can’t run a 4.4 40 in 44 inches of snow. It’s also damn near impossible to throw or kick a football with any semblance of accuracy or power. Watching NFL players operate in a blizzard is like watching a famous chef cook a five-course meal with one hand tied behind their back and candles as their only source of heat. Blizzard Football is amazing, and Bills-Colts was the best Blizzard Football game I’ve ever seen.
Adam Vinatieri might be the best kicker of all time. Here is his 33-yard field goal attempt:
Field Goal try by Adam Vinatieri pic.twitter.com/KeTlycx2cj— America’s Top Sportsbook (@betmybookie) December 10, 2017
But later, Vinatieri had a chance to redeem himself. The Colts scored a touchdown to make the score 7–6 and attempted a two-point conversion for the win. But the successful play was negated by a penalty, so the Colts opted to take a 43-yard extra point for the tie. Indianapolis used a timeout so its entire team could clear snow for the kick:
(Initially, the team’s sideline assistants attempted to help out, but that’s illegal.)
And then Vinatieri booted in a curler that has to be the greatest extra point in the history of the sport:
Roberto Carlos, eat your heart out.
The Bills won after Joe Webb — Joe Webb! — completed a 34-yard bomb in overtime after going 1-for-5 for 1 yard on his first five passing attempts. LeSean McCoy scored the game-winning walk-off touchdown, and the thousands who let snow pile upon their frigid bodies for four hours to cheer the Bills got to celebrate.
Every Bills fan who sat through that game deserves a Buffalo Lifetime Achievement Award. I hope you all got home safely.
Losers: Jaguars Fans and Seahawks Players
Things got ugly at the end of Jacksonville’s win over Seattle. Folks in the stands kept tossing stuff at Seahawks players:
Here’s the clip of Lockett getting hit in the back with garbage seemingly thrown from the crowd after his TD. pic.twitter.com/3MUI2H9WSi— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) December 11, 2017
When a few projectiles went his way, Seahawk Quinton Jefferson tried climbing into the stands after getting ejected from the game.
Don’t throw things at players. This is basic. The Jaguars are 9–4, and that has nothing to do with you, the idiot, inflicting physical harm upon their opponents. I hope somebody has video of the person who threw stuff at Jefferson: first, because they shouldn’t be allowed back inside the stadium, and second, because I’d like to see the look on that fake tough guy’s face when the much stronger athlete nearly climbed the barrier they presumed would keep them safe.
But the Seahawks, perhaps, did something even worse.
Here's the video of Bennett diving into the centers legs. pic.twitter.com/Hmx0gSew9S— The 617 Report (@617Report) December 11, 2017
That’s Michael Bennett rolling into the legs of Jacksonville’s center on a kneeldown play. This served no football purpose while maximizing the potential for causing injury. Football is violent enough. There is no need for anybody to intentionally attempt to damage the livelihood of his opponents.
It will be easy for the league to ensure the fans who threw stuff at players never attend NFL games again. It should ensure Bennett doesn’t play in the next few NFL games, either.
Winner: The Jimmy Garoppolo–Marquise Goodwin Bromance
With Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard at quarterback, the 49ers started the season 1–10. With Roman God of Handsomeness Jimmy Garoppolo, they’re 2–0. They’ve got a good one.
These haven’t just been the best two games of the 49ers’ season, they’ve also been the best two games of wide receiver Marquise Goodwin’s career.
This is Goodwin’s fifth NFL season, but previously he’d been best known for participating in the 2012 Olympics in the long jump. Before last week, Goodwin’s career high in receptions was six, which happened way back in 2013. In Garoppolo’s two starts, he’s had six and eight receptions. He’d previously had just two 100-yard games in his career. In Garoppolo’s two games, he’s had 99 yards and 106 yards.
Goodwin might admire Garoppolo more than I admire any human in my life. I mean, look at these tweets:
49ers players were so impressed with Jimmy Garoppolo yesterday after their 15-14 win at Chicago that wide receiver Marquise Goodwin - with other players cheering - offered to get up and give Garoppolo his first-row seat on the team bus when Garoppolo boarded it. #49ers— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) December 4, 2017
Marquise Goodwin, discussing what Jimmy Garoppolo brings, gestured across the locker room to his QB: "Just look at him."— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 3, 2017
This isn’t just a crush. In Garoppolo, Goodwin sees a future.
Loser: The New York Jets
The Jets had 100 yards Sunday. I’m not saying the Jets had 100 yards passing Sunday, or 100 yards rushing Sunday, or that one individual had 100 yards Sunday. The team had 100 yards, total, on offense, the worst output of any team since the 2010 season. They scored zero points, allowing the Broncos to snap an eight-game losing streak. Josh McCown was awful, going 6-for-12 for 46 yards before suffering a broken left hand that will likely end his season. Backup Bryce Petty was worse, going 2-for-9 for just 14 yards. Look at this throw:
Bryce Petty with one of the worst throws of the NFL season. Should’ve been cut from the team as he walked off the field. pic.twitter.com/VAHPg7v5rV— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) December 10, 2017
Before the season, quite a few people projected the Jets to go 0–16, or close. Instead, they won three of their first five games, and have now pushed that total up to five. But Sunday proves they still had the potential for soul-sucking awfulness.
Winner: Rodger Saffold
Have you ever had a hair stuck in your throat — or maybe not a hair, but something you think might be a hair — and you can’t get it out and it just sits there and causes mild unpleasantness? Well, picture that, but for your entire life, and you’ll understand what it’s like to have a randomly misspelled name. My parents didn’t consult me about their spelling decision, because I was a baby at the time. I feel like a jerk if I force people to spell it right, but I look like an idiot if somebody finds out I’ve been letting them misspell my name for years.
Anyway: Here is Rams left guard Rodger Saffold obliterating a pair of defensive backs unfortunate enough to find themselves in the sights of an offensive lineman:
Look at the Left Guard (#76) pic.twitter.com/cCooHQNPU8— SpreadOffense.com (@SpreadOffense) December 10, 2017
Thank you, Rodger. Today, you have made me proud of my unfortunate D.
Loser: The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Celebrators
This year, we’ve learned what a truly gifted celebration director/screenwriter/choreographer can do for a team. But clearly, the Jaguars don’t have one. Last week, Leonard Fournette attempted a free throw — already a pretty boring athletic feat to act out, and also a choice that had already been used by other teams. And they botched it, with several players who hypothetically should have been “defenders” celebrating Fournette’s shot, implying that he missed.
And this week … look at this absolute disaster:
Again, this is a rip-off — just a few weeks back, the Eagles nailed an 11-man bowling celebration, with 10 players perfectly falling to sell Alshon Jeffery’s strike. But the lack of originality isn’t nearly as bad as the execution. Only six players get into formation; they don’t make any attempt at forming anything resembling bowling pins (unless we’re led to believe this is the second roll in a frame, and Fournette previously created a ridiculous split for himself). Fournette actually rolls the ball, which is a bad idea, because footballs don’t roll. And only one player falls, with another player kicking the ball.
Two options here:
— The Jaguars really suck at celebrating, both in design and execution.
— The Jaguars are intentionally botching their celebrations, to make it look like Fournette sucks at the imaginary sports they’re pretending to play.
Which is worse?
Loser: DeShone Kizer
Poor, poor Cleveland. At 0–12, the Browns took a 14-point lead on visiting Green Bay on Sunday, their largest lead of the season. (In Week 9, the Browns took a 10–0 lead on the Lions for one possession, their only previous multi-score lead of the year.) Josh Gordon scored his first touchdown since 2013, looking as good as new after missing almost four full seasons.
But the Browns do not get to be happy. The Packers scored 20 straight points to win 27–21. Their final score, in overtime, came after this interception by Kizer:
After the game, Kizer argued that he had a receiver open for a game-winning touchdown on the play, and to be fair, he was right. Of course, he was never going to complete a perfect 50-yard pass to that receiver throwing off his back foot while backpedaling under intense pressure from Clay Matthews, but give the guy credit for his ambition.
Poor Kizer. The Browns are best served by losing — with just two more losses, they’ll seal the no. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Fans are already planning parades for the team’s 0–16 finish, which would be just the second in NFL history after the 2008 Lions. But Kizer isn’t trying to lose. He’s clearly giving his all for a doomed team even though he’s been benched for inferior players multiple times.
But with each backbreaking pick he throws, he helps Cleveland get closer to a different pick — one that might be used on a better quarterback.
Winner: Davante Adams
LeBron James was enjoying his Sunday watching his hometown Browns:
But, as previously noted, that did not work out. Packers wide receiver Davante Adams scored a game-winning touchdown.
(It might look like the Browns were playing only 10 men on this play, but no: Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams just likes playing safeties 22 yards off the line of scrimmage. Clearly, it helps a lot.)
Adams might have sprinted off the field, but he wasn’t done beating Cleveland.
NBA players, take note. The only way to dunk on LeBron James is by playing the Cleveland Browns.