Every week this NFL season, we will celebrate the electric plays, investigate the colossal blunders, and explain the inexplicable moments of the most recent slate. Welcome to Winners and Losers. Which one are you?
Winner: Keg Stand Quenton
There are 22 players on the field, and all of them get to celebrate besides the offensive linemen. Wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends practice their touchdown cellies; quarterbacks generally get to help out; cornerbacks and safeties gesticulate wildly after interceptions or breaking up passes; linebackers and defensive linemen have sack dances. Even kickers get to go nuts after drilling a game-winning kick (although, if we’re being honest, their celebrations could use a lot of work).
O-linemen? If they’re lucky, a running back will hand them the ball after a touchdown, when they invariably spike it. The lack of lineman celebrations is a real bummer, because offensive linemen are probably the rowdiest subset of NFL players.
The Colts were desperate to solve this problem. In the wake of Andrew Luck’s retirement, the Colts have become the only team whose most popular player is an offensive guard—Quenton Nelson, the team’s 2018 first-round draft pick and instant first-team All-Pro. You probably think it’s happened before. After all, you probably remember big guys like Refrigerator Perry and Anthony Munoz and Jumbo Elliott scoring touchdowns. But most big man touchdown scorers are actually defenders … and most offensive linemen who score are tackles … and most of the plays that lead to offensive linemen scoring are trick passing plays in which an extra O-lineman lines up as an eligible receiver. Think about it—how could an interior offensive lineman get a carry on a running play when a team needs its interior offensive linemen to block on running plays?
So the Colts designed a formation where Nelson lined up in the backfield and gave him the ball on the half-yard line—and when Nelson got into the end zone, he celebrated by performing an imaginary keg stand:
Quenton Nelson:— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 17, 2019
✅Elite red zone option
✅All-time touchdown celebrator pic.twitter.com/16B84YtwNj
It was the first rushing touchdown by a guard since 1977, when Cincinnati’s Glenn Bujnoch ran the ball into the end zone. And it was the first celebratory re-enactment of binge drinking since 1926, when the Canton Bulldogs celebrated their only touchdown of the decade by playing the entire second half of a matchup against the Frankford Yellow Jackets with 40s taped to their hands.
The Colts had been running plays out of this formation for weeks, and apparently decided as a group that if Nelson were actually to get the ball and score, they would bust out the keg stand. Apologies to Mark Glowinski, who must have drawn the short end of the stick and was asked to play the role of “keg,” which in this case required squatting and supporting the weight of his 330-pound teammate. Keg stands are easily one of the dumbest ways of drinking—you know, if you really want to chug beer straight from a keg tap, you can do it without people holding your legs vertically!—but sometimes, you have to do unnecessary things just to say you did them. You know, like removing one of the best run blockers in the NFL from run-blocking duties because it’d be cool for him to score a touchdown.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Upon further review, Nelson never actually scored. But really, that doesn’t matter. Nobody will remember that Nelson’s touchdown didn’t count—the Colts scored a few plays later, and won by 20—but we will remember that the NFL’s lone superstar offensive guard got to fake-chug beer in the end zone.
Loser: The NFL’s Bad-Beat Policies
The Cardinals were 10-point underdogs against the 49ers, and when they had the ball trailing by four points with under 10 seconds left, Arizona bettors probably thought their win was safe. Until this happened:
49ers closed -10— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 18, 2019
Bad beat of the year/decade/century pic.twitter.com/EmOJ6fb3zW
Kyler Murray completed a short pass to Larry Fitzgerald, who threw a pass backward in hopes of creating one of those lateral-lateral-lateral miracle plays. But it didn’t work. The only player who could’ve feasibly caught the ball was lineman D.J. Humphries, who half-heartedly swung a hand at the ball and didn’t seem particularly interested in recovering the fumble. The ball rolled around and eventually came to a stop in a pile of players from both teams—when all of a sudden, Cardinals lineman J.R. Sweezy hurled the ball, trying to keep the play alive. 49ers safety D.J. Reed scooped it up and ran into the end zone to give San Francisco six points and a 36-26 win. (Teams don’t have to kick extra points if a touchdown is scored with zeroes on the clock and the score decided.) If you bet the closing line of Cardinals +10, this went from a win to a push. But for those who grabbed the Cardinals at +9.5, this flipped bets from a win to a loss. It’s an almost identical play to the Northwestern–Ohio State disaster that leads Scott Van Pelt’s Bad Beats segment on SportsCenter.
And let’s be honest: This should not have been a touchdown. It looks to me like Sweezy had possession of the ball with a 49ers player touching him before hurling the ball backward, which means he was down, which means the play was over. Supposedly, the NFL reviews all scoring plays, but the official NFL game book of Cardinals-49ers does not indicate that any review was done for the final play.
For now, the NFL doesn’t really comment on gambling, but rest assured: When the time comes, they’ll make sure that they get a cut of the millions of dollars gambled on every single NFL game. And if that’s going to be the case, the NFL can’t shrug on line-shifting plays just because they don’t affect the win-loss outcome of the game. If the NFL wants to make money off of gambling, it has to have some integrity in making sure the right bets win and lose.
Loser: Buford High School
The signature game of Sunday was supposed to be a showdown between the AFC North–leading Baltimore Ravens and the AFC South–leading Houston Texans—specifically, a matchup between two of the most exciting quarterbacks in the league, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson.
Unfortunately, only one of ’em showed up. Baltimore won 41-7, as Jackson threw for four touchdowns and contributed 86 of the Ravens’ 263 rushing yards. Meanwhile, Watson had 169 yards passing, threw a pick, and lost a fumble. It was the first game of his NFL career in which he didn’t score a touchdown.
It was particularly stunning because until Sunday, Watson had always managed to keep his team in games. In his 31 regular-season starts as a pro, he’d never lost a start by more than eight points. The same was true at Clemson, when Watson’s two losses as a starter were by five and one points, respectively. Earlier this year, The Ringer’s Kevin Clark wrote about Watson’s incredible streak of competitive games, and interviewed people who’d played for the last team that comfortably beat a Watson-led team—Buford High School in Georgia, which beat Watson’s Gainesville team 38-14 when Watson was a senior in 2013.
Not only did the Ravens snap that six-year-long streak—they improved on Buford’s margin of victory, beating Watson by 34 instead of 24. Apologies to the Buford Wolves, who may be worse than Lamar Jackson. (To be fair, so is seemingly every football player in 2019.)
Winner: Bo Scarbrough
Sometimes I don’t understand the NFL. OK, most of the time, but sometimes, I really don’t understand the NFL. One example: the league’s confusing absence of college football monster Bo Scarbrough.
Scarbrough was a five-star recruit at Alabama. In 10th grade, he looked like an NFL player. In college, he took pictures next to NFL linebackers and looked significantly larger and stronger than them. When he took the field, he was seemingly unstoppable—although he played a minor role for most of his career, he broke out in the 2016 College Football Playoff, running for 273 yards on 35 carries with four touchdowns against two of the nation’s best defenses in the two biggest games of the year. At the NFL combine, he measured in at 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds while running a 4.52-second 40-yard dash—roughly the same time as fellow 6-foot-1 running backs Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and David Johnson, but with more muscle.
And yet, nobody seemed to care. Scarbrough was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 draft, and quickly cut by the Cowboys. Then he was signed by the Jaguars, and cut. Then he was signed by the Seahawks, and cut. Why did nobody want this sprinting mountain who dominated in college? Did he forget how to hold a football? Is he a super-passionate fan of the concept of amateurism and simply can’t be motivated when receiving a professional salary? Did the NFL just agree to keep him out of the league for the safety of opposing linebackers?
Whatever the reason, Scarbrough didn’t make an NFL team’s active roster until Saturday, more than a season and a half into his career, when the Lions promoted him off the practice squad. He made the most of it: Scarbrough had 55 yards and a touchdown in Detroit’s game against the Cowboys, the team that drafted and cut him. His score, like his road to the NFL, was awkward and beset by obstacles, but he powered through:
Bo Scarbrough, newly activated to the active roster for the Lions, scores his first career NFL touchdown! pic.twitter.com/Ha84VrQTEy— Touchdown Alabama (@TDAlabamaMag) November 17, 2019
I don’t know why Scarbrough failed to get into the league for a season and a half, nor do I know whether he’ll stick. But he’s here now, and I feel sorry for the people who have to tackle him.
Loser: The Jaguars’ 2020 Plans
Jacksonville found gold this season. After Nick Foles went down with a broken collarbone Week 1, the Jags were forced to play unknown backup Gardner Minshew II, a rookie drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft. As I wrote at the time, the Jags were arguably less prepared for a quarterback injury than any other team in the league—and yet, Minshew turned out to be awesome, throwing 13 touchdowns and four interceptions through Week 9 and putting himself in the upper half of many passing leaderboards. After years of trying and failing to find an average quarterback, spending first-round pick after first-round pick and signing Foles to a big contract, the Jags randomly found a quarterback during the part of the draft when random fans and zoo animals announce picks.
In spite of this, the Jaguars returned Foles to his starting job after he recovered from his injury, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Colts. It’s football wisdom that players shouldn’t lose their starting job due to injury—and besides, Nick Foles won a Super Bowl! (Never mind that his career stats are generally comparable, if not worse, to Minshew’s 2019 stats.)
Foles struggled Sunday in a 33-13 loss. His final statistics look pretty decent—296 yards with two touchdowns and a pick—but they look that way only because Foles went 9-for-10 for 98 yards and a touchdown on a meaningless drive with Jacksonville trailing 31-7.
Right now, Foles and Minshew seem like roughly comparable quarterbacks. The difference is that Minshew is 23, likely to improve, and on a contract worth $2.7 million, while Foles is 30, likely to decline, and on a contract worth $88 million. Even if Foles is marginally better than Minshew, the smart move for Jacksonville would be to build around Minshew. The smart move for the Jags was to keep Minshew as their starting QB, act as if they’re merely riding the hot hand, and try to pawn off Foles in the offseason to another team that remembers his Super Bowl run in exchange for literally anything of value.
Instead, they let Foles back on the field, proving that, well, he probably isn’t marginally better than Minshew. Foles’s trade value will decrease with each subsequent performance like Sunday’s. It won’t matter if the Jaguars have an effective quarterback who costs nothing if they’re spending megamillions on another quarterback. The Jaguars found gold, and right now they’re insistent on reburying it.
Winner: Cam Newton
Do you remember when people legitimately argued that the Panthers should consider trading Cam Newton to open up the future of the Panthers’ quarterback position to Kyle Allen? Cam Newton, the 2015 MVP and three-time Pro Bowler who led Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance, and Allen, an undrafted free agent who had some nice games earlier this season? I don’t plan on forgetting any time soon.
Luckily those arguments are basically dead after Sunday, when Allen threw no touchdowns and four interceptions in a 29-3 loss to the previously 2-7 Falcons. Atlanta had two interceptions in its first nine games of the year, last in the league, and had four on Sunday.
You wanna know the last time Cam Newton had a zero-touchdown, four-interception game? It was never ago, during the 200never season. Newton has started 124 NFL games, and zero of them were as bad as a game Allen managed a few months into his career as a starter.
The question of what the Panthers should do with Newton is a tough one. He’s 30, he’s expensive, and the last time we saw him play, he was rendered ineffective by a lingering foot injury. It’s unclear how, when, or if he’ll ever return to full form. But what is clear is that Allen is more stopgap than franchise savior.
Winner: Philadelphia’s Baby Catchers
So far, the highlight of Philadelphia’s season has indisputably been the viral baby-catching video—the guy who purportedly saved babies from a burning building by catching them out of windows, and had the gall to point out that Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor likely would’ve dropped the pass.
Agholor’s career has been perpetually maligned by the idea that he can’t catch passes. It mainly stems back to 2016, his second year in the league, when he dropped seven balls on just 62 targets. But he’d seemingly fixed those problems. Entering Sunday, he had just two drops in nine games, per Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately one of those two drops helped lose the Eagles their Week 2 game against the Falcons.
Sunday, Agholor’s slippery hands once again rose to the forefront in a critical moment. With Philadelphia trailing New England 17-10 with under two minutes to go, Agholor got open in the back of the end zone on a fourth-down play … but ran under the ball awkwardly, forcing him to try to make an over-the-shoulder catch, which he flubbed.
When this is released Agholor is at the 15-yard line. He has nearly 30 yards to take his path, which begins at the opposite hash. The DB doesn't touch it. It's not over/under thrown.— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) November 18, 2019
This does not require a special catch. It only looks like it does due to abysmal tracking. pic.twitter.com/CyeAZ3fYxZ
Nelson Agholor is the most toxic relationship I’ve ever been in. pic.twitter.com/3vinWgNWQA— Victor Williams (@ThePhillyPod) November 18, 2019
The ball fell to the ground, and Philadelphia lost an opportunity to beat the best team in the NFL.
But in the long run, this is probably a positive for the city of Philadelphia. Clearly, the citywide animus for Agholor has inspired residents’ resolve to outperform him in various tasks. I suspect each clutch Agholor bobble leads to the salvation of at least six Philadelphian infants. Keep dropping those passes, Nelson!
Winner: Kyle Juszczyk, Pass Interference Innovator
Through 11 weeks of the NFL season, it’s clear the biggest officiating problem is the complete lack of consistency on pass interference calls. This seemed like something the NFL would fix after last year’s season-altering missed call that helped send the Rams to the Super Bowl and end the Saints’ season, which led to a new rule allowing NFL coaches to challenge pass interference calls. Instead, refs’ PI decisions seem less consistent than ever, and almost no coaches’ challenges have resulted in overturns. We’re still mad about the strange calls, but now they sometimes come with prolonged reviews that change nothing and cost teams timeouts.
Sunday brought the two worst calls of the year. One was a play where DeAndre Hopkins was mugged in the end zone. The play was challenged and, somehow, upheld on replay.
Meanwhile, DeAndre Hopkins misses a TD reception due to pass interference— T̷R̷O̷Y̷ ̷H̷U̷G̷H̷E̷S̷ (@TommySledge) November 17, 2019
I mean ... the officials didn’t call it
They did review it ... and STILL did not call it ♂️ pic.twitter.com/cGDFpV3jfk
It seemed like a perfect example of a “clear and obvious” officiating error that review could fix, and yet it went unfixed. After the game, Hopkins called for a change to the review system.
However, Sunday also brought a tremendous advancement in the field of pass interference. In Sunday’s Cardinals-49ers game, San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk took matters into his own hands on a pass he had no chance to catch. He tackled the defender in between him and the ball—and somehow, pass interference was called on the defender:
Pass interference... on the guy who was tackled? pic.twitter.com/j1twSec1ka— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 17, 2019
Clearly, receivers can’t count on receiving PI calls even when they’re clearly interfered with. So Juszczyk did things himself. He had no chance to catch this pass, but flung his body in the direction of the ball, creating obvious, over-the-top contact. Receivers have to take things into their own hands, because obviously refs won’t do anything if defenders prevent them from using their actual hands.
Winner: Old-Timey Goalposts
Sunday was a mere regular-season weekend in the NFL, but it was the semifinals of the CFL. With a bid in the Grey Cup on the line, the Saskatchewan Roughriders needed a last-second touchdown to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and got the ball down to the goal line.
But getting the ball down to the goal line is different in Canada, because the goal line is different in Canada. While the NFL moved its goalposts to the back of the end zone in 1974, the CFL still has them hanging out in the middle of the field of play. Receivers can use them to set picks; sometimes players are unfortunate to run into the posts themselves.
I always thought the Bears’ Double Doink would be the strangest season-ending goalpost-related play I’d never seen—until Sunday, when Saskatchewan quarterback Cody Fajardo dinged the ball off the damn goalposts.
CFL western final comes down to one final play and the Roughriders QB hit the upright pic.twitter.com/0ZPIKxkLRt— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 18, 2019
It’s one thing to kick the ball off the upright—after all, the kicker is kicking the ball toward the uprights. But on pass plays, inanimate objects are never the target. Fajardo was trying to throw this pass to a person, and a tuning fork in the middle of the field of play just happened to record a game-saving PBU. (Ideally, the Roughriders would’ve caught the pass off the uprights for a game-winning touchdown, but by CFL rule, the ball is dead once it hits the goalposts.)
After watching this play, I immediately lost interest in all NFL games for the rest of the day. Why do I watch a sport with zero on-field obstacles? Where are the steps? Why are there no water pits? Can the NFL at least put the uprights back in the middle of the field, so the biggest plays of the season are occasionally recorded by giant metal poles?