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: Every Team in the NFL Besides the New England Patriots
The Patriots bled Sunday. And yes, it was real, human blood, with platelets and DNA and mitochondria and all the stuff that indicates it comes from a living being, capable of failing and dying.
New England entered Sunday night’s game against Baltimore undefeated, earning acclaim as potentially the greatest defense in football history. In eight games, opposing offenses had scored only four touchdowns against New England. In one game, the Ravens matched that total, scoring four offensive touchdowns in a 37-20 win. Three of those touchdowns belonged to Lamar Jackson, whose slicing and cutting runs provided most of the gashes that made the Pats bleed:
The Ravens got the job done on the ground. Baltimore already led the NFL in rushing yardage, with 1,429 yards. They ran for 210 yards against New England, the most the Pats had allowed since 2014. When Baltimore got the ball moving, the Pats couldn’t get them off the field—the Ravens had three touchdown drives of 10 or more plays. They opened the game with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive; they sealed it with a 14-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that lasted nine minutes and 35 seconds.
The Patriots had benefited from a back-loaded schedule thus far. The first eight teams they beat en route to an 8-0 record have a combined record of 17-40. And when the best team in the NFL plays the easiest schedule in the NFL, things get hilarious. New England had scored more defensive/special teams touchdowns than it had allowed, and won by 20 points five times in eight games. The Ravens were their first big test to date, with more to come—in the next five games, they’ll play three teams currently leading their divisions.
Sunday night’s game is not a guarantee that the Patriots are flawed, or doomed to lose. Sure, the Patriots couldn’t stop the Ravens, but the Ravens offense is unlike basically everybody else’s in the NFL, and New England has plenty of time to figure out what went wrong and show up better equipped to win if the teams face each other again in the playoffs. But Sunday night proved that with the right talent and the right game plan, an opponent can beat New England—and entering Sunday night, I wasn’t sure that was true.
Loser: Adam Gase
Imagine losing to a team that fired you. It’s gotta be a brutal experience, like running into your ex while walking around with your rebound, except they’re smiling and laughing with their attractive, stylish significant other while your sweatpants-wearing squeeze is clearly ignoring you to swipe through something on their phone.
But Sunday, Adam Gase experienced an even deeper level of embarrassment: He lost to a team that fired him … and is trying to lose. Last year, Gase was the coach of the Miami Dolphins, and his 23-25 record in charge of Miami hides how awful the team was—yes, they were almost .500, but 18 of those 25 losses were by double digits. They fired Gase, and were left with a team so mediocre that they opted to start over completely, trading most of their talented players for draft picks, leaving a barren husk of a team. Entering Sunday, the Dolphins were 0-7, with many expecting them to go 0-16. After all, they had the worst point differential through seven games of any team in NFL history.
For some reason, the Jets hired Gase at the beginning of this year. (I wasn’t sure why they did this at the time and remain unsure.) It has gone poorly, as the Jets entered Sunday 1-6, with the worst offense in the NFL. (Mind you, Gase is supposedly an offensive specialist.)
Sunday, the Dolphins were the better team, and by a lot. Miami got its first win, 26-18, but that’s not really selling it—Miami went up 21-7 in the first half and spent most of the rest of the game leading by multiple scores. All the lowlights belonged to New York: Here’s Sam Darnold, the no. 3 pick in last year’s draft, panicking and tossing a ball up for grabs on Miami’s goal line:
Trailing by two scores with under 10 minutes left, the Jets lost possession and gave points away by snapping the ball out of the end zone for a safety:
"Another epic disaster for the Jets"— Obnoxious Boston Fan (@realOBF) November 3, 2019
SAFETY gives Miami 26-15 lead late in 4th
Dolphins (+3.5) swimming for win OUTRIGHT - 1st of 2019 - over hapless Jets as bettors sweat both sides of 42.5 O/U
Betting Blog: https://t.co/Ypt3jjhYGKpic.twitter.com/5tFlh1otPu
They screwed up on defense: Here’s Dolphins receiver Preston Williams completely unguarded in the end zone:
fitzpatrick to preston williams for 6 pic.twitter.com/EDaaNQ9fia— josh houtz (@houtz) November 3, 2019
And here’s Williams stiff-arming a few Jets seemingly for fun:
Double stiff-arm by Preston Williams.pic.twitter.com/x0GPvLUiZz— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 3, 2019
The Jets were untalented and undisciplined: For the second time this season, they committed more than 100 yards’ worth of penalties, the only team in the NFL to do so. But don’t worry—Gase isn’t embarrassed:
Adam Gase: “This is the NFL. You can’t be embarrassed by this shit.” #Jets— Connor Hughes (@Connor_J_Hughes) November 3, 2019
He should be. Gase is a noted obsessive weirdo who prides himself on working longer and harder than the competition and skipping important life events to work on football stuff. Gase has also repeatedly asked players on his team to play through injuries, including one offensive lineman who actually needed season-ending surgery but was asked to merely take painkillers and get back on the field. Gase seems to believe his team can win now, and has asked his players to sacrifice their long-term physical well-being for hypothetical wins. And they’re losing to a team whose management is trying to lose. Tanking sucks, but the Jets are trying to win and getting the same results as a tanking team, and that’s so much worse. At least the Dolphins are in good position to succeed in the future. The Dolphins are rebuilding; the Jets are stupid enough to think their pile of crap is a building.
If losing to the team that fired you is the equivalent of an ex realizing how happy they are in their current relationship, then losing to a team that fired you while trying to tank is the equivalent of a single ex realizing how happy they are not to be in the relationship they got out of. No, the Dolphins aren’t doing much right now, but look at how pathetic and sad and desperate and frustrating the Gase-Jets relationship is. Being single may be hard at times, but it’s better than being in a relationship that requires 100 percent effort and has a zero percent chance of succeeding.
Loser: Baker Mayfield’s Face
It’s all falling apart for the Browns, as everybody’s preseason hot pick lost their fourth in a row to fall to 2-6. Sunday, Cleveland lost to the 2-6 Broncos, fresh off a season-ending injury to their starting quarterback. Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense sputtered, settling for four field goals and failing to find the end zone until the fourth quarter.
Mayfield is losing hair over the team’s failings—literally. Before Sunday’s game, he walked into the stadium with a beard covering most of his neck and cheeks:
But when he took the field, he had a bewildering Fu Manchu mustache:
And he took the podium for a press conference with just a simple mustache.
We’re a long way from Mayfield’s ESPN the Magazine cover, when he had a bushy beard and a host of dogs.
I am so confused by Mayfield’s choices. Did he bring a shaving kit to Denver and bring that shaving kit to the stadium, or do most NFL visiting locker rooms provide razors for players? Why did he feel the need to shave in between arriving at the stadium and game time? Did he think he’d perform better with the Fu Manchu? And why did he feel the need to shave again in between the game and his presser? Did he realize the Fu Manchu looked dumb as hell, especially after a loss, and wanted to look more normal in front of the press?
It didn’t work—at the end of the day, Mayfield looked like an overworked detective who keeps getting outsmarted by the criminals he’s trying to catch and just realized he forgot about his son’s soccer game on the one day a month he gets with his kids.
But what I do know is that Mayfield can’t keep this up. At this point in the season, there’s just not much left to lose—both in terms of the Browns’ hopes for the season, and in terms of Mayfield’s mustache. Any more trimming and he’ll have nothing left.
Winner: Fast Food Sponcon
NFL players get paid for what they do on the field—but if they handle things right, they can also get paid for the things they do on the field, if you catch my drift.
Take Stefon Diggs, who wore cleats celebrating the return of Popeyes’ preposterously popular fried chicken sandwich in warm-ups on Sunday. (He wasn’t allowed to wear them during the game, because they don’t match the Vikings’ uniforms.)
Stefon Diggs is wearing these Popeyes Chicken Sandwich cleats today pic.twitter.com/qOgSXGoAwl— Athlete Swag (@AthleteSwag) November 3, 2019
Deshaun Watson took things a step further. After going 22-for-28 passing in Houston’s 26-3 win over Jacksonville, he credited the Popeyes’ sandwiches for helping heal his eye:
Deshaun Watson said the key to healing his injured eye was eating Popeye’s spicy chicken sandwiches pic.twitter.com/57zJvBRquU— Abe Schwadron (@abe_squad) November 3, 2019
Watson’s comment didn’t exactly make sense. First of all, this question had nothing to do with Popeyes—how did he swerve this conversation from his health to chicken? Secondly, how exactly did chicken sandwiches help heal his eye? I love Popeyes, and I feel awful after eating it. I definitely would not credit Popeyes with improving any part of my physical health. Plus, Watson says he ate the sandwiches this week, which doesn’t make sense, because Popeyes only reintroduced the sandwich Sunday. And the game was played in England, and the team had been overseas since Friday, and there are no Popeyes franchises in England. Did the Texans get advance access to the sandwiches and bring them on the charter plane overseas?
But leading the way in surprise food endorsements: Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon, who used the Sunday Night Football introduction to claim that he was “Body built by Taco Bell:”
Normally players use this slot for stating their college name, which of course has been playfully tweaked over the years by players claiming they went to Ball So Hard University or Wakanda Tech. (The Fighting Rhinos, hope they finally win their big rivalry game with Wakanda U.) Judon didn’t even try to fit the format. I guess to Judon, Taco Bell was college, which, honestly, is true for a lot of people. (It was a rough moment for anyone from Judon’s alma mater, Grand Valley State, who tuned in hoping to see their Division II program finally get repped in the most watched game of the week.)
Judon is a longtime Taco Bell devotee—before the 2016 NFL draft, he said he’d think outside the bun and use his first NFL paycheck on some Taco Bell. (“I’ll have more money than I’ll know what to do with,” Judon said, “but while I’m pondering what to do with my money, I’ll be eating a chalupa.”) Taco Bell, pay the man! Judon deserves enough money to buy a lifetime’s supply of Taco Bell—considering it’s impossible to eat more than $15 of Taco Bell in any one sitting, I think that works out to like $7,000.
Winner: The Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, each of the NFL’s two winless teams got a win. The Dolphins literally got a win, beating the Jets to move to 1-7. You’ve gotta feel great for Miami’s players. It’s obvious that the Dolphins are tanking as an organization—but while front offices can tank, players keep trying. They have to—their jobs depend on it. Can you imagine having everyone around the league talk about how your team is trying to lose while you go out every week and play as hard as you can? Can you imagine playing as hard as you can every week … and still losing every week, because you just aren’t good enough? It’s gotta be brutal, and the Dolphins celebrated Sunday’s win like it meant the world to them:
Brian Flores got the gatorade bath after Dolphins' first win of the season pic.twitter.com/va2FGKvX5z— gifdsports (@gifdsports) November 3, 2019
The Bengals, though, still haven’t won a game—but it’s hard not to see their bye week as a win. After all, they’re all alone at 0-8.
There’s still some work to be done—the Bengals will play the Dolphins in Week 16, and if Cincinnati wins and both teams end the season at 1-15, the Dolphins will get the no. 1 pick in the draft due to their low strength of schedule. But in the NFL’s season-long tank war, the Bengals are now closest to the finish line.
Winner: Washington-Area Sunday Afternoons
We spend all day sitting at our desks, getting money so we can enjoy the weekend, and then we spend our entire Saturday sitting on our couches watching college football and our entire Sunday sitting on our couches watching the NFL. We should be getting out and enjoying life—and Washington interim coach Bill Callahan is here to help.
Callahan was promoted to head coach four games ago. Since then, Washington has played the three quickest games of the year: a 9-0 loss to the 49ers, which lasted 2:36, a 19-9 loss to the Vikings, which lasted 2:39, and Sunday’s 24-9 loss to the Bills, which lasted 2:40. No other team has played any game shorter than 2:49.
Washington is keeping the clock running and not messing around. There have been 34 combined incompletions in their three quick games and 181 run plays. Callahan has challenged only one play in the three games, and he used just three of his six available timeouts Sunday. And thankfully, Washington has zero touchdowns, eliminating the whole score-celebration-extra-point-commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence which eats up six minutes of everybody’s lives.
Washington fans can safely clear their Sunday afternoon schedules—they’re 1-8 with a win over the Dolphins—but even if they feel compelled to watch, they can still live full, rich lives thanks to Callahan’s dedication to quick, uncompelling losses. Fans have time to take a nap after the game, clean the garage, and truly enjoy their Sundays.
Maybe your team won on a thrilling last-second field goal Sunday—but who’s really winning here? You, who spent four and a half hours on the edge of your seat with your blood pressure shooting through the roof, or the Washington fan who took a loved one out to dinner and had a nice, refreshing sleep before starting the work week off on the right foot?
Winner: Nick Foles
Minshew Mania may be over. After massively boosting the fake mustache industry and launching a million Halloween costumes, reality is starting to set in. Sunday, Gardner Minshew II had the worst start of his roller-coaster rookie season, throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles in a 26-3 loss.
Trust me—those are two separate interceptions, even though they look exactly the same.
The poor performance is poorly timed: Nick Foles, the quarterback who signed an $88 million contract in the offseason and broke his collarbone throwing a touchdown on the Jaguars’ second drive of the season, should be healthy after Jacksonville’s bye week. Head coach Doug Marrone says he’ll consider a quarterback change over the course of the bye week.
Honestly, it’s the ideal scenario for Foles. Foles has always struggled when he’s been a team’s first-choice quarterback. But when Foles is a backup who comes out of nowhere to lead a team to greatness? He’s a king. All Foles needed was for a random sixth-round draft pick to become an NFL folk hero and the most popular man in all of Duval to make his return more triumphant.
Congrats to every Allen out there: Today was your Super Bowl, and you won.
On Sunday, 12.5 percent of NFL starting quarterbacks were Allens. Josh Allen has been atop the Bills’ quarterback depth chart for most of the time since Buffalo drafted him in the first round of last year’s draft. Kyle Allen has been starting for the Panthers since Cam Newton went out with an ankle injury in Week 2. And now that Joe Flacco is season done because of a neck injury, Brandon Allen is the starter for the Broncos, at least until injured rookie Drew Lock is ready to go. So far as I can tell, they’re only the second trio of NFL quarterbacks with the same last name to start at the same time—Brad Johnson, Rob Johnson, and Doug Johnson were occasionally starters at the same time in the early 2000s. It was the biggest day for same-name quarterbacks since Week 17 of the 2016 season, when six Matts started at QB.
All three Allens came through. Josh threw for one touchdown and ran for another in an easy win over Washington:
Kyle threw a pair of touchdowns in Carolina’s 30-20 win over the Titans:
And Brandon, in his first career NFL game, threw two touchdowns and led Denver to 24 points, tied for their season high:
The Johnsons never synced up like this—Doug was just 2-9 as a starter, and neither of his career wins came on the same day as a Rob win.
So congrats to all the Allens—Allen Robinson, Keenan Allen, the other Josh Allen, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, the whole squad. Leave Woody out. No congrats for him.
Winner: Ray Finkle
Before the season, the Indianapolis Colts’ star franchise QB, Andrew Luck, abruptly retired. Sunday, their backup, Jacoby Brissett, suffered a knee injury. They’re also without their top wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton. And yet, right now, their biggest problem seems to be … the greatest kicker of all time. With backup Brian Hoyer, who was signed days before the season, the Colts nearly beat the Steelers on Sunday. But for the second time this season, they lost because of Adam Vinatieri, the team’s 46-year-old kicker who seems to have run out of gas at the end of a Hall of Fame career.
In Week 1, the Colts lost in overtime after Vinatieri missed two field goals (including a 29-yarder) and an extra point in regulation. Trailing the Steelers by two with under two minutes to go, the Colts set up Vinatieri with a 43-yarder, and he shanked a dying fart wide of the field goal net that’s supposed to keep footballs out of the crowd:
No Good! Steelers defeat the Colts 26-24 as Adam Vinatieri’s kick goes WIIIIIIIIIIDE left.— NFL Guy95 (@NFLFBGAMETIME) November 3, 2019
However, there is a mitigating factor for Vinatieri—holder Rigoberto Sanchez spun the laces of the football toward Vinatieri.
The laces were not out on Adam Vinatieri's missed game-winning field goal pic.twitter.com/IXzq2pxOYG— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 3, 2019
When this happens, the kicker’s foot hits the bumpy laces instead of the clean face of the ball, leading to erratic kicks like Vinatieri’s. (Well, typically less erratic than Vinatieri’s, but still: erratic.) Casual fans know that the laces are supposed to face away from the kicker from the plot of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, when fictional Dolphins kicker Ray Finkle vows to kill Dan Marino for improperly holding the football on a missed kick that ruined his career. It feels like there’s been a rash of poorly held balls this year—in the past few weeks, the Patriots and Texans have left the laces in on missed field goals.
But I can’t remember a “laces out!” situation as big as Sunday’s—where an all-time kicking legend cost his team a game because he had to kick the wrong side of the football. Justice for Finkle!
Loser: Darrell Bevell’s Goal-Line Offense
Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has been a decent NFL coach for more than a decade. He’s led four top-10 offenses, two teams that led the league in rushing touchdowns, and two teams that led the league in passing touchdowns. But to most NFL fans, his name brings up memories of one thing: the time the Seahawks passed from the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch and threw a game-losing interception.
Sunday, Bevell’s Lions made a similar decision in a much lower-stakes situation. Trailing 31-24 against the Raiders, Detroit faced fourth-and-1 from the 1-yard line—one play, 1 yard, for the game. We all know what play they should’ve run—a quarterback sneak. They always work. Matt Stafford is a big boy! Let him push it in!
But for Detroit, the easy stuff hasn’t been the easy stuff. Detroit has done a great job scoring from far away this season—a 59-yard TD pass to Kenny Golladay in Sunday’s game was the fourth 40-plus-yard passing TD by the Lions, putting them second behind the Chiefs. Scoring from closer is harder. They have scored only two rushing touchdowns on the year, both by Kerryon Johnson, who is likely out for the season. Their best goal-line play seems to be passing to Marvin Jones Jr., who had a 2-yard touchdown Sunday and accounts for three of their five touchdowns from closer than 5 yards.
However, on fourth-and-1, the Lions did not go to Jones. They did not go for a QB sneak. They did not run the ball or throw the ball to their second-best receiver or their third-best receiver. In fact, there weren’t even any wide receivers on the field. The Lions came out in a jumbo set and ran a play-action pass for third-string tight end Logan Thomas, who has one career touchdown reception in six seasons.
The scapegoats — Clelin Ferrell and Karl Joseph — come through in the clutch. pic.twitter.com/oEepPFiPWu— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dieter) November 4, 2019
It’s a bit unfair to point out Thomas has just one TD catch in six seasons—Thomas began his career at quarterback and didn’t switch to tight end until 2017. Plus, he caught the pass that brought Detroit to the 1-yard line. That said, maybe don’t design a win-or-lose play around throwing to a converted quarterback?
Throwing wasn’t necessarily a bad idea—like I said, the Lions have had success throwing to Jones in goal-to-go situations. Running out of a power package wasn’t necessarily a bad idea either—you really should be able to gain 1 yard on the ground in this scenario. But what they actually did was completely ineffective. The threat of the run wasn’t particularly convincing to the Raiders, who were in Stafford’s face as he tried to make the pass. And the jumbo package left the Lions with their worst receivers on the field. They got caught between two decent ideas, and ended up with the worst elements of each.