Every week, 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: Tom Brady
Brady went 30-for-39 with 447 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints, which isn’t particularly surprising—last week, the Saints’ atrocious passing defense made Sam Bradford look like Tom Brady, and Brady actually is Tom Brady. He looked like MechaBrady on Sunday. But he also racked up another impressive statistic: two successful arguments with referees.
First, Brady confronted officials about an offensive pass interference call. He’d thrown a touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Hogan, who came free as a result of a pick by tight end Dwayne Allen. Initially refs threw a flag, but Brady successfully convinced them that Allen’s pick came within a yard of the line of scrimmage, making it legal.
Later, Brady threw a risky pass that was intercepted by New Orleans’s Marcus Williams. Everybody should’ve known something was amiss because the play featured a New Orleans Saint intercepting Tom Brady. Brady began holding the number 12 up with his fingers—he could’ve pointed at his jersey—and let the refs know he’d only made the throw because he thought he had a free play.
Brady was right both times. The Patriots are famous for their attention to detail, and here, exact knowledge of the rules and game situations allowed Brady to opt into a touchdown and opt out of an interception. If only Brady had the opportunity to aggressively inform referees how the ideal gas law affects the PSI of footballs in cold temperatures, we could’ve avoided so much hassle.
Loser: Zay Jones
Bills receiver Zay Jones caught 399 passes for East Carolina, more passes than any other player in Division I history. His best asset was neither his size nor his speed nor his leaping ability. He was a second-round draft pick because he’s great at catching. Here’s what NFL.com said about him as a prospect:
Hands catcher outside the hashes and snatches it away from his frame. Swallows ball into his frame to protect it when working over the middle. Tape shows a willingness to run head-first into traffic and make the tough catch when hit is imminent. Can win all day when it comes to finishing catches at the high point.
Here’s what Pro Football Focus said:
What he does best: Has strong and natural hands, dropped only six of 164 catchable passes in 2016.
Here’s what Fox Sports said:
The most important thing to note about his game is that he doesn’t drop balls. I counted one single clean drop out of all the games I watched.
Nobody claimed Jones was a physical specimen. But scouts projected him as an excellent possession receiver capable of playing the no. 2 role next to a feature target.
Sunday, the Bills played a hideous game. They didn’t commit any turnovers, but managed just 178 yards of total offense, never even reaching Carolina’s red zone. Their first seven drives resulted in six punts and a turnover on downs. And yet, excellent defense had them in position to win the game. On fourth-and-11 with under 15 seconds to go, quarterback Tyrod Taylor found Jones alone in space just a few yards from the end zone … and Jones’s magnificent hands failed him.
Job wondered why the Lord inflicted suffering on him in spite of his righteousness, and former Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson tweeted “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!” after dropping a would-be game-winning pass for the Bills in 2010. But Jones didn’t seek to blame any higher powers, or even his quarterback. Reporters sensed he’d been crying, but he accepted all blame for the drop, even though the errant pass from Taylor meant he had to jackknife his body oddly just to get his hands on it. I don’t know why bad things happen to people with good hands, but I hope Jones gets a chance to redeem himself.
Winner: Marshawn Lynch, and All of Us Who Get to Be NFL Fans While Marshawn Lynch Is in the NFL
The NFL remains 100 times better when Marshawn Lynch is an NFL player.
Winner: Kareem Hunt
Last week, Hunt had perhaps the best debut in NFL history, with three touchdowns and 246 yards from scrimmage—against the Patriots, who are good. It was uncharacteristic, and not just in the “he probably won’t have 200 yards and three touchdowns every week” sense. Hunt never fumbled in college, but fumbled against the Pats; Hunt rarely had big receiving plays in college, but had his biggest plays through the air. Even for those who expected Hunt to succeed, it was an odd opener.
Sunday afternoon against the Eagles, Hunt added another two touchdowns and 109 combined yards—and looked more like the player people expected he might be. He showed off his incredible tackle-breaking capabilities:
Kareem Hunt runs like he believes every snap is his last chance to score a touchdown. So much power in his legs, such great balance. pic.twitter.com/1N6MDIrIWi— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 18, 2017
He displayed his innate sense of balance, a catlike ability to quickly realize which way the ground is and contort his body in such a manner that his knees and torso don’t touch it.
How much does Kareem Hunt leg press? A couple tons? pic.twitter.com/deiy6rLivd— Clay Wendler (@ClayWendler) September 17, 2017
Hunt won’t set fantasy football records every week. But he might be a star, and this is what Kareem Hunt, Star, will look like.
Loser: The Celebrating Steelers
Thankfully, the NFL loosened its celebration rules this season, allowing teams to partake in group celebrations. The Steelers celebrated a Martavis Bryant touchdown by shooting some dice:
The NFL was missing this sort of stuff. It was fun, harmless, and let us see the Steelers’ personality a bit. (Very well acted by Bryant and Antonio Brown.)
Unfortunately, the Steelers forgot about the second part of the NFL’s rule tweak—that the 40-second play clock for the point-after touchdown now begins immediately from the moment the official signals touchdown. This won’t be a problem most of the time, since the skill position players who scored can celebrate while the field goal unit gets ready. But the Steelers, more than any other team, like to go for two-point conversions, even in situations that don’t necessarily call for it. The Steelers offense waited for Bryant and Brown to finish celebrating, then lined up for a two-point conversion—and seemed stunned when the delay-of-game was called. That resulted in a 5-yard penalty and forced Pittsburgh into an extra point attempt.
The Steelers weren’t deterred, though, playing dice again after a JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown later—and everybody got off the field in time for the extra point.
Winner: Airborne Scores
I hope you enjoyed Space Week at The Ringer. Apparently Travis Kelce and Todd Gurley did, as they chose to explore the heavens en route to touchdowns Sunday.
Travis Kelce attempted two hurdles on one drive, the second of which began at the 5-yard line and finished in the end zone:
The simple explanation for his post-touchdown wing-flapping was that he was mocking the Eagles. But I prefer to imagine that he was just so inspired by his scoring flight that he wanted more airtime.
Gurley also hopped two players. First a relatively pedestrian jump over Washington’s Kendall Fuller:
And then a spectacular soaring score with a leap over Bashaud Breeland:
Oh Todd Gurley.....what a play. pic.twitter.com/n0D517eZQg— Brad Russell (@TheFFLCommish) September 17, 2017
Why are the Rams wasting their time teaching Jared Goff to throw footballs when they could just have Gurley hop over entire defenses and hand-deliver the ball to receivers downfield?
Loser: The Chargers
The Chargers lost in heartbreaking fashion, which is not new. But the Chargers played in Los Angeles at the StubHub Center, which is new. Nobody expected the Chargers’ first home game to have 80,000 fans—they’re playing in a 27,000-seat soccer stadium. People did expect, though, that the smaller stadium would create a unique atmosphere, but that atmosphere was dependent on fans filling up the bandbox. Instead:
You never judge a crowd at kickoff but... pic.twitter.com/v7BHMLzJFZ— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) September 17, 2017
And according to quarterback Philip Rivers, a significant amount of the non-capacity crowd in the miniature stadium were not Chargers fans:
Rivers on energy of crowd "The loudest roar came at the end after the missed field goal, you got to see how many Dolphins fans there were."— Marty Caswell (@MartyCaswell) September 18, 2017
So, to clarify: For the very first home game in Los Angeles Chargers history, the Chargers did not attract enough fans to significantly outcheer opposing supporters in the tiniest stadium in the league. This was a historic moment, and it attracted Tuesday Night Game Between Bottom-Tier MAC Teams In November In Ohio–level interest. This is the best way of describing this that I have seen:
Just hit me that an MLS team sold out a new 71k seat NFL stadium & an NFL team couldn't sell out a 27k seat MLS stadium in the same weekend— Russ (@rjandolina) September 18, 2017
Don’t laugh at Los Angeles Chargers fans for failing to fill the stadium; it doesn’t really seem like there are Los Angeles Chargers fans to laugh at—just a bunch of people in San Diego who probably still love their team even though the Chargers’ owners traded them for a more lucrative opportunity. Be mad at the people who made this happen, not the nonexistent people who can fix it.
Loser: The Jets
I think we can safely call the Jets a loser most weeks. But even for them, this was impressive:
Jets defense today:— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 18, 2017
0 QB hits
1 pass defended
4 tackles for loss
6 touchdowns allowed
On 28 Raiders passes, the Jets managed zero QB hurries and one pass defended. What were they doing if not pressuring the QB or guarding receivers? Those are, like, the two things you can do while defending a pass play, and the Jets almost went an entire game without doing either of them. Do the Jets employ holograms on defense? Can they sign Hologram Tupac?
Winner: Tony Romo
The retired quarterback’s turn as CBS’s lead color commentator has been met with near-universal acclaim. We would’ve been happy with Romo simply not being Phil Simms. Instead, Romo has proved to be exceptional, often using his experience to call upcoming plays with startling accuracy:
(More important than predicting the plays: Romo quickly explaining why he expected a play to happen after the fact, giving priceless insight into how an NFL quarterback reads defenses.)
But this was Romo’s second week as an announcer. Which means, for the first time, I saw people upset on Twitter dot com that Romo was accurately predicting plays before they happened. Romo is so good at his job that there is now a backlash to how good of a job he is doing.
Loser: Joe Thomas
Thomas might be the most consistent player in NFL history. The Browns’ brilliant offensive tackle played the 10,000th snap of his career Sunday, which just happened to be the 10,000th snap the Browns have run since drafting him in 2007. He hasn’t missed a Pro Bowl; he hasn’t missed a game; he hasn’t missed a play.
This is perhaps the most incredible record in NFL history. There are so many reasons a player might miss a down. It’s so easy to get injured; every player is at risk of being benched at any time; most players rest for a few snaps per game. Thomas managed to have none of that happen to him while maintaining a high level of play for a period of time significantly longer than the average NFL career. His 10,000th snap wasn’t particularly interesting, but it served as an opportunity to reflect on his brilliant play over the years.
And reflecting on his career made all of us recognize the unique plight of Joe Thomas, a man who has dedicated his life to the most futile football team in existence. He has sacrificed his body in loss after loss after loss; he has protected quarterbacks that, frankly, did not need protecting. Let us heap praise on Thomas, the most competent sailor on the Pequod. He didn’t deserve to waste his excellence on a mission so dumb.