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: Robbie Gould
The Kicker Revenge Game is an underrated football story line. It comes up a lot, because there’s only one kicker per team, kickers get cut frequently, and they generally find work with another team quickly. But unfortunately, kickers can’t fully control whether or not they get revenge; they just have to hope their teammates maneuver into field goal range and then stall out.
Luckily for Robbie Gould (the Chicago Bears’ all-time leading scorer), he now plays for the 49ers, whose offense is excellent at stalling out. Sunday, San Francisco played in Chicago, marking Gould’s first visit to his old team since being cut before the 2016 season. New starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo got the Niners into the red zone five times, and the Niners failed to score a touchdown each time. Gould drilled all five field goals, accounting for all 15 of his team’s points in a 15-14 win, including the game winner:
It sure looks like he is yelling at the Bears’ sideline there. Look at these quotes from Gould:
“[Getting cut by the Bears] motivated me. It drives me every day. I have [Bears GM] Ryan Pace and [Bears special teams coordinator] Jeff Rodgers and [Bears coach] John Fox to thank for that.”
I mean, he called out the opposing special teams coordinator by name. This is like the kicker edition of Tupac screaming about people he hates for two consecutive minutes at the end of “Hit ’Em Up.” Robbie Gould hates the Bears as a staff, a record label, and a field goal–kicking crew.
Loser: Kurt Coleman
Last week, the Panthers safety told The Charlotte Observer something he’d noticed watching film of Saints running back (and presumptive NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year) Alvin Kamara:
“What’s funny is, (Kamara) has a remarkable ability, but he’ll take a hit and he kind of goes limp to a side, but he keeps his balance with the other half of his body. It’s crazy, because guys just kind of fall off him. So he’s not like a 6-foot-5, 200-pound running back, but he’s breaking a lot of tackles with his elusiveness and his ability to kind of shake off tackles by going dead.”
Here’s Kamara’s first touchdown in the Saints’ 31-21 win over the Panthers on Sunday:
I don't know how Alvin Kamara's body can routinely take these hits and he still falls forward pic.twitter.com/dZID7ASaLz— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) December 3, 2017
And here’s the second, with a cameo from Coleman. He’s the guy who tries to tackle Kamara, before the exact thing he described happens.
Kamara is Final Destination, football edition. You might be able to see how you’re going to die, but even you’ll be surprised when and where it happens.
Winner: New York Jets Employee Darrelle Revis
The 32-year-old cornerback made his 2017 debut Sunday, playing his first game for the Chiefs ... against the team that’s paying him $6 million this year. After sitting out the first few months of the year, Revis signed with the Chiefs in late November. It’s just a coincidence that his first game of the season happened to be against his former team: the one that helped him become a superstar, the one that agreed to pay him $39 million in 2015, the one that ate its losses to cut him this past offseason. But the Chiefs appreciated that coincidence and named Revis a team captain to show the Jets what they were missing.
And how did his game go? Well, the Jets know their way around Revis Island—literally:
Revis Island has become overcrowded, overpriced, folks now moving off pic.twitter.com/IZURKu39E2— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) December 3, 2017
Revis was benched for the second half of the 38-31 Jets win, reportedly because he’s not quite in game shape yet. It was a terrible game for Revis, but it was his best to date as a Jet.
Loser: Roughly Half the Players Who Celebrated Touchdowns
Here is Leonard Fournette celebrating a touchdown by hitting a free throw:
It’s a more advanced version of Devonta Freeman’s free throw celebration—instead of a player pretending to be a hoop, the Jaguars’ offensive line acted out players trying to rebound Fournette’s shot. But here’s where things go wrong: Cam Robinson and Chris Reed line up near the imaginary basket, watch the imaginary ball fly, and then they celebrate. But based on their positioning, they would be Fournette’s opponents. Is the implication that Fournette’s free throw missed? Or are Fournette’s hypothetical opponents traitorous to their own team?
This lack of cohesion has been a problem around the league. Look at the Eagles’ baseball celebration, in which the pitcher, catcher, umpire, and, um, secondary umpire (?) all join in to celebrate a Torrey Smith home run:
I get that you’re all on the same team and celebrating the same play in real life. But unless players apply realism to their touchdown celebrations, they lose oomph. Fournette’s teammates needed to act devastated by Fournette’s successful free throw for this story line to make sense. The art of celebratory football acting is still in its fledgling phases.
Winner: Tecmo Tarik Cohen
Here’s my favorite screencap of the NFL season:
That’s Tarik Cohen and seven San Francisco 49ers. It reminds me of this video of John Marston running from bears in Red Dead Redemption (grizzly, not Chicago). That always ends up poorly for John, unless he happens to have a horse nearby. But unlike Marston, Cohen provided his own giddy-up.
Cohen caught this ball on the 39-yard line. He ran backward to the 24-yard line. This normally ends badly, unless you’re Devin Hester against Duke, or, apparently, Cohen against NFL players. The rookie gambled that he could use an entire NFL team’s speed against them. There haven’t been many humans in the history of football who could make that gamble and win.
Loser: Rob Gronkowski
Ah, Gronk, the NFL’s lovable goofball! He’s just a big, harmless, unstoppable wall of muscle the likes of which the NFL has never seen, and we just can’t get enough of his playful antics. Like when he says the sex number! Classic! Or when he uses all the force he can muster to slam a downed opponent’s skull into the ground!
this is disgusting from gronk pic.twitter.com/jd6x17lkiO— Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) December 3, 2017
Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White was put into the NFL’s concussion protocol as a result of this hit by Gronkowski. It’s hard to imagine a more flagrantly dangerous play. There was no football reason for Gronkowski to even touch a downed player straddling the out-of-bounds line well after the play had ended, and yet Gronkowski opted to intentionally target his opponent’s head. It’s closer to assault than football.
Gronkowski apologized after the game, citing frustration with officials. (Bill Belichick apologized too.) It doesn’t matter that referees have often struggled to officiate Gronkowski over the course of his career. It doesn’t matter that there has long been talk of opposing players intentionally targeting Gronkowski’s oft-injured knees. It doesn’t matter that Gronk is Gronk. Nothing justifies this, and no apology can undo brain damage. This was the dirtiest play of the 2017 season, and Gronkowski deserves to be suspended.
Winner: Bored, Versatile Backups
Sadly, only one quarterback gets to play at a time. I wish this weren’t the case, both because I want more trick plays and because it would help us learn more about all the non-starting QBs across the league. But it is, which means that most backup quarterbacks are resigned to doing nothing. I presume they pop a nice podcast on the headset they wear to make it look like they’re doing something and then just zone out.
However, if Joe Webb has listened to an episode of Planet Money, it hasn’t been on the sideline. The Bills’ third-stringer has had one of football’s most interesting careers. He’s definitely the only player to start an NFL playoff game at quarterback and catch touchdown passes from a future top-selling country musician. Webb has spent most of his career way down the QB depth chart for the Vikings and Panthers, but always found other ways to contribute. He played a bit of wide receiver for the Vikings and became a special teams ace for the Panthers. He has also primarily played on special teams with the Bills this season, but when Tyrod Taylor got hurt in the first half of Sunday’s game against New England, Webb came in with Taylor split out wide, revealing that Buffalo has a package in its playbook for him. He ran on his first three plays, gaining 27 yards. And just when the Patriots thought Webb was just going to run again? He threw it, and had a guy wiiiiiiiide open.
Just missed it. When Taylor hurt his leg again in the second half after returning, the Bills went to their backup, Nathan Peterman, who managed to avoid throwing five interceptions this time but still averaged a dismal 3.3 yards per attempt. They should play Webb, who at least doesn’t totally sabotage the offense; the Bills’ only three points came on his drive.
Saints third-stringer Taysom Hill is equally unlikely to see playing time at quarterback with Drew Brees and Chase Daniel firmly ahead of him on the depth chart. So Sean Payton decided to get some value out of the rookie out of BYU, putting him on special teams just like the Bills do with Webb. Look at how happy Hill and Payton were with this special teams tackle:
I like it when players are used in unique ways. I also dream of creating a football league where all 11 players on the field have to have thrown at least 100 passes in college. I yearn for a world in which Jared Lorenzen is the greatest football player of all time.
Loser: Basically Everybody on the Broncos
Here's the most humiliating moment of the 2017 season. The Denver Broncos, in the midst of a seven-game losing streak, are about to lose an eighth straight game after allowing the offense-averse Miami Dolphins to score a season-high 33 points. But Dolphins coach Adam Gase—who worked for the Broncos for six years as a positional coach and offensive coordinator—has not had enough. He orders an onside kick—and it works.
So far as I can tell, this is the first successful onside kick by a team winning a game by 20 points since the Buccaneers did it in 2007. A few plays later, the Dolphins punt and the Broncos turn it into a safety.
So, basically the opposite of Cohen’s return. Earlier this year I investigated whether a team had ever returned a punt for a safety. Congrats to the Broncos for joining the exclusive club!
Last week, we wrote about the Broncos’ Wheel of Quarterback Doom, which spins to a new hopeless passer every week. This week against the Dolphins, it was Trevor Siemian, and boy, was he doomed, going 19-for-41 for 200 yards and three interceptions, including this pick-six.
But I’d like to take a moment to appreciate how massively the Broncos failed Sunday. They allowed two safeties, the first team to do so since 2011.
The Broncos also had a punt blocked. To the best of my knowledge, Miami was the first team with two safeties, a pick-six, and a punt block in the same game. Two years ago the Broncos won the Super Bowl; this year they will finish fourth in a division that currently has no teams above .500.
Winner: The Pontiac Silverdome
Home of the Lions from 1975 to 2001, the stadium was meant to be demolished Sunday. It would be the end of a slow and painful death that has seen the dome become Ruin Porn and suffer arson. But unlike the Lions, this Rasputin-ass arena would not collapse:
Apparently, there was a problem with the implosion. Reached for comment, the Pontiac Silverdome had this to say: