Every week of the 2022 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: Cooper Rush, Perfectionist
The great ones are not undefeated. Tom Brady has lost dozens of games in his career, including multiple Super Bowls. Michael Jordan starred in an iconic Nike commercial called “Failure” about all the game-winning shots he’d missed. Cy Young, the guy the Cy Young Award is named after, is baseball’s all-time leader in losses. Greatness means you stick around for a while, and the longer you stick around, the more impossible it is to be perfect.
Cooper Rush, for now, is perfect. The Cowboys’ backup quarterback has started four games in five NFL seasons, three of them this year—and he’s won all of them. Sunday, he threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a convincing 25-10 win over the Commanders:
MICHAEL GALLUP IS BACK ‼️— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022
: #WASvsDAL on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/Iz3yIhF6EG pic.twitter.com/hh6S7k77jr
Things looked bleak for the Cowboys after Week 1. Not only did they get demolished in a 19-3 loss to the Buccaneers, but also they lost Dak Prescott to a thumb injury that required surgery. They had failed to score a touchdown with Prescott, their Pro Bowl franchise QB with a $160 million contract—and now they were going to Rush, an undrafted 28-year-old who hadn’t seriously threatened to be a starter at any point in his pro career. The Cowboys actually cut him in 2020 when they signed Andy Dalton to be their backup, and there wasn’t much interest in him—the Giants put him on their practice squad for a few months and then cut him. He found his way back to Dallas and started a game in 2021 when Prescott was injured, but when people produced rankings of the NFL’s backup quarterbacks, he wasn’t even considered one of the mediocre ones.
But Rush has been effective. In each of his three starts this season, he has thrown for at least 200 yards, and he has yet to throw an interception. The Cowboys have scored between 20 and 25 points in each of those games. They have been consistent, if not explosive.
There has been discussion of whether the Cowboys should stick with Rush when Prescott is healthy—including comments from team owner Jerry Jones in which he said he would welcome a quarterback dilemma. (Jerry Jones loves making comments. Nobody makes more comments.) Of course, this discourse is dumb: Prescott is a better passer, a better runner, and the Cowboys’ franchise player whose $31 million salary in 2023 is already guaranteed. In The Ringer’s QB rankings, Steven Ruiz has Prescott ranked ninth and Rush 32nd. Prescott has averaged 258 passing yards per game in his career; Rush has yet to throw for 250 yards in his three wins this season—so the best we’ve seen out of him is slightly worse than Dak’s average. When Prescott comes back—which could happen next week—he obviously should start.
And besides, I want Cooper Rush to make history. Right now, Rush holds the record for most quarterback starts without a loss. Entering Sunday’s game against Washington, he was tied at 3-0 with Ed Rubbert, Washington’s QB during the 1987 player strike (and the inspiration for Keanu Reeves’s character, Shane Falco, in The Replacements). Rubbert eventually stopped playing because the strike ended, preserving his perfect record. For Rush to stay undefeated, he probably needs Prescott to come back to reclaim the starting job. The Cowboys are not the 1972 Miami Dolphins: They’ve gone 3-0 with Rush thanks to an easy schedule and a defense which hasn’t allowed 20 points in a game yet this season. If Rush keeps playing, he will eventually lose.
For now, Rush has saved the Cowboys’ season. They’ve gone from 0-1 and rudderless to 3-1 and in the playoff hunt in the weak NFC. And he has a chance to be perfect—which you can only do if you’re not one of the great ones.
Loser: Kenny Pick-it
The Pittsburgh Steelers have turned the page at quarterback, subbing in rookie first-round pick Kenny Pickett for Mitchell Trubisky at halftime in their game against the Jets. Unfortunately, it’s a page from one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books where you turn to page 74 and page 74 simply reads “An anvil fell on your head and you were eaten by a jaguar. You are dead.”
Pickett entered the game with the Steelers trailing the Jets 10-6. The home crowd roared when Pickett took his first dropback, with fans’ anticipation growing as he stood in the pocket and focused his eyes downfield, preparing to throw a massive bomb. That first pass was … poorly thrown, into double coverage, tipped, and intercepted.
Kenny Pickett's first throw in the league is intercepted— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 2, 2022
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/J6lEYTw6gJ
Things improved quickly from there. Pickett led back-to-back touchdown drives, finishing both with touchdown runs, and the Steelers went up 20-10 in the fourth quarter. But with just over three minutes to go, Pickett threw another pick, this one a high throw that his receiver couldn’t bring in:
HUGE PLAY @mcarter2nd x @iamSauceGardner#NYJvsPIT on CBS pic.twitter.com/uv44syNbRb— New York Jets (@nyjets) October 2, 2022
The Jets took the ball and took the lead. Pickett had one final chance for a touchdown, but his Hail Mary was intercepted.
Pickett Hail Mary is intercepted. pic.twitter.com/iy15vrtbIx— Main Team (@MainTeamSports2) October 2, 2022
Pickett is the 13th QB in NFL history to start his career with a zero-touchdown, three-interception game, joining such legends as Matt Barkley, Brandon Weeden, and Will Grier (Good news! Matthew Stafford did it, too!) However, Pickett is the first player with a zero-touchdown, three-interception debut whose last name is also a homonym for “intercept my pass, please.”
If you’ll allow me to take my hater hat off for just a second: The move to Pickett is indisputably a good one for the Steelers. Pickett means significantly more to the future of the franchise than Trubisky does, so the sooner Mike Tomlin made this move, the better. And there were good early signs: Pittsburgh scored more points and gained more yards with Pickett in the game than Trubisky. Every one of Pickett’s passes that wasn’t intercepted was a completion, and honestly, if we look at them in a vacuum, the interceptions weren’t that bad—at least one could’ve been caught, and one was a Hail Mary. And this is without Pickett getting QB1 reps in practice. He’ll get better.
OK, hater hat back on: The Steelers debuted their first-round pick at QB, and he threw three interceptions in one half and blew a double-digit lead at home against the freakin’ New York Jets. He couldn’t even gain the distinction of becoming the first rookie to throw a touchdown pass this season—that honor went to the Pats’ Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round pick from Western Kentucky who was forced into his first action of the year after Brian Hoyer suffered a concussion. Pickett’s introduction to the NFL is about to get even meaner: Assuming Tomlin keeps Pickett as starter, his next four games will be against the Bills, Bucs, Dolphins, and Eagles.
Winner: Patrick Mahomes
For a while, I thought the most impressive thing about Patrick Mahomes was that he could throw the ball really far. And he can! He might be able to throw it farther than anybody else in the NFL, although I’d put money on Josh Allen. There are a lot of other impressive things about Mahomes: His many different arm angles on throws; his ability to throw receivers open; his accuracy on the move, and more.
But I think what it really comes down to is this: At any moment on any play, it’s impossible to know what Patrick Mahomes is going to do. His creativity and improvisation are traits which can be defined by this play, one of five touchdowns the Chiefs scored against the supposedly stout Tampa Bay defense in a 41-31 win Sunday night.
WHAT WAS THAT?! @PatrickMahomes— NFL (@NFL) October 3, 2022
: #KCvsTB on NBC
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/o84hsBqv8I pic.twitter.com/LHCbF16aoq
Mahomes outran one defender, hit another with a 360-degree spin, then appeared ready to take off for the end zone. But at the last second, he flicked the ball toward the back of the end zone, leading Clyde Edwards-Helaire to catch a touchdown nobody was expecting. Some compared Mahomes’s play to that of a basketball star—you can picture Steph Curry hitting that spin move/pull-up floater one-two combo. But Mahomes didn’t just have to find the hoop. He had to convince Edwards-Helaire to head to the back of the end zone to make this play. The screenshot is almost more unbelievable than the video:
October 3, 2022
Mahomes doesn’t just do this stuff because it’s fun. The Chiefs scored 41 points on the Bucs—14 points more than all three of Tampa Bay’s opponents in their first three games combined. The Bucs were leading the NFL in scoring defense before Sunday night, and now they’re tied for fifth.
I don’t know who is the NFL’s best player—and I also know answering that question could cause wars. But I know who is my favorite guy to watch.
Loser: Trevor Lawrence’s Butterfingers
When a running back fumbles the ball, it’s common for coaches to bench them—for the rest of the half, for the rest of the game, maybe for the rest of their career. As the expression goes, ball security is job security. But when a quarterback fumbles the ball? There’s generally no consideration of a substitute. QB1 is QB1.
Which allowed for one of the strangest performances in recent memory on Sunday—a game in which Jaguars star signal-caller Trevor Lawrence was unable to hold on to the ball. Yes, it was rainy in Philadelphia—but lots of QBs have played in the rain before, and most of them don’t randomly drop the ball with no pressure from the defense, which Lawrence did in the second quarter.
Lawrence fumbled four times and the Jaguars didn’t recover any of them. Part of the problem was Lawrence’s lack of pocket awareness against a merciless Eagles defense that sacked him four times and forced two strip-sack fumbles, and part of it was bizarre mistakes by Lawrence.
Reddick TUFF#JAXvsPHI | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/kzjN5ZnmyS— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 2, 2022
According to ESPN, Lawrence is the first player since 2000 with four lost fumbles in a game. Last year, the NFL’s leaders in lost fumbles had six for the entire season. Trevor had almost a season’s worth of fumbles in one afternoon!
Last week we praised Lawrence as the potential god-king of Jacksonville. This week, the guy couldn’t hold on to the ball. I guess we’ll see whether this is a rainy-day fluke or an ongoing issue for Lawrence, who hadn’t lost any fumbles in Jacksonville’s first three games this year. Maybe the Jags should build a dome over their stadium just in case.
Winner: British Kicking
Anybody who is not American will make the same joke about the game we play here in the States: “Why do you call it football?” they say. “You don’t even use your feet, and it’s not a ball! Shouldn’t it be called handegg?” And you’ve gotta admit, they have a point. Most of the world’s games that are called “football” are almost entirely based around kicking one thing into another thing—this is true in the game we Americans call soccer, as well as Aussie Rules football and Gaelic football. American football involves some kicking, but the most important things to happen on the field are generally big throws, bruising runs, and cool catches. Kicking plays are afterthoughts, the least exciting parts of the game. But Sunday, we killed that joke. We sent England a stunning display of high-intensity kicking the likes of which they’ve never seen.
With the Saints trailing by three with less than two minutes remaining, New Orleans’s kicker, Wil Lutz, nailed a 60-yard screamer—a stunning equalizer from the halfway line.
Wil Lutz? Wil CLUTCH!— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022
A 60-yarder to tie it up @wil_lutz5
: #MINvsNO on @NFLNetwork
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/rvQRHI7Cq9 pic.twitter.com/Ce8KTr1s67
The Vikings quickly drove down the field and went back to their talismanic goal-scorer, Greg Joseph, who tallied his fifth score of the match. His magisterial strike put the Minnesota side in front with the game in its dying moments.
Off the foot of Greg Joseph... @Vikings are up!— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022
: #MINvsNO on @NFLNetwork
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/rvQRHI7Cq9 pic.twitter.com/yaM7wYCSrI
The Saints had 24 seconds remaining to get the ball into field goal range for Lutz. Miraculously, they did, setting up a 61-yard attempt for Lutz, only a yard farther than the one he’d just drilled. His kick seemed destined to send the game into extra time: It had the distance, and seemed to be headed for the back of the kicking net.
But it was off the woodwork … and then off the woodwork again. A Double Doink, from distance:
DOUBLE DOINK PART 2 pic.twitter.com/ZhkyUjGkFf— alex (@highlghtheaven) October 2, 2022
It was essentially a penalty shootout—and like so many of England’s penalty shootouts, it ended with a stunning miss that left all viewers captivated and baffled. It was football at its finest, in the full sense of the word.
Loser: The Ravens’ Late-Game Strategies
The Ravens might be 4-0 right now if they only played normal football games. Two weeks ago, they had a 28-7 lead on the Dolphins, but allowed four fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tua Tagovailoa and lost 42-38. And Sunday, they had a 20-3 lead on the Bills, putting the Super Bowl favorites firmly against the ropes. But once again Baltimore frittered away the advantage, and the game was tied at 20 in the fourth quarter.
With four minutes remaining, the Ravens had the ball on Buffalo’s goal line in a tied game. Facing fourth-and-1, the conventional decision seemed simple: Bring out the NFL’s best kicker, Justin Tucker, and kick a field goal to take a three-point lead. But John Harbaugh is not a conventional coach. With league MVP candidate Lamar Jackson under center, he decided to go for six. But Jackson dropped back, and farther back, and farther back, and under pressure, threw an interception:
The Ravens go for it on 4th and Goal... Poyer picks it!!— NFL (@NFL) October 2, 2022
: #BUFvsBAL on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/cByfmcze7G pic.twitter.com/iNoCsDgF8G
The Ravens defense was struggling, and after getting the ball back with 4:09 remaining, the Bills somewhat easily moved the ball the length of the field. As Buffalo entered field goal range after the two-minute warning, it became clear that the Bills would be able to kick a game-winning field goal, at which point Baltimore attempted the Madden strategy of allowing a touchdown in order to get the ball back. Unfortunately, second-year edge rusher Odafe Oweh didn’t get the memo, and actually tackled the Bills ballcarrier, Devin Singletary, at the 3-yard line. It was the worst tackle of Week 4; the Ravens were forced to take a timeout, Buffalo was able to milk the clock, and Tyler Bass kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
Focus on the defence. 10 guys trying to usher the running back into the endzone so they had time for a comeback, one guy not on the same page ruins it for them. pic.twitter.com/1OykHdcqkB— Cian (@Cianaf) October 2, 2022
Harbaugh is one of the NFL’s longest-tenured and most-respected coaches, but his late-game decisions have backfired a few times as of late. Last year, Baltimore started 8-3 and then lost six consecutive games to miss the postseason by a single game. Five of those losses were by three or fewer points. In two of them, Harbaugh asked his team to attempt go-ahead two-point conversions instead of game-tying extra points, missing both times and losing both games by a single point.
Personally, I like the aggressive mindset, especially when you’ve got Jackson at QB. But every single button Harbaugh presses seems to be the wrong one—and at a certain point, if you’re wrong every time, it may be time to re-evaluate the thinking.
Winner: DK Metcalf, Poop King
Football fans become filled with confusion and despair when we see players go to the locker room, because in a sport as violent as football, it usually means something awful has happened. Is the player hurt? Is his season over? Will he be the same when he gets back? Sometimes, however, the player just needs to poop.
It’s true: NFL players need to poop sometimes. They have digestive tracts and buttholes, just like regular people! They’re capable of peeing on the sideline without too much trouble, thanks to the privacy of the blue medical tent. But pooping? You can either poop in your pants (which happens) or go to the locker room, like Lamar Jackson did in that Monday Night Football game. And if you take option no. 2 for your no. 2, you could end up missing snaps.
So Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf unlocked a bathroom strategy that could change the pooping game: In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Detroit, he hitched a ride on one of the carts intended for injured players:
DK Metcalf got carted off the field to use the bathroom.— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 2, 2022
( : @NFLonFOX) pic.twitter.com/jGYPc64wb4
At first, people were worried, since players on the injury cart are typically injured. But it was quickly reported that Metcalf was just being practical about his bathroom emergency. It’s reportedly a very long trip from the sideline to the locker room at Ford Field, and Metcalf wanted to conserve time and energy. He explained as much in a postgame tweet: “that clinch walk wouldn’t have made it.”
The choice paid off: Metcalf finished with seven catches for 149 yards in Seattle’s 48-45 win, the highest-scoring game of the NFL season. Clearly, facilitating player poops is a competitive advantage. Every NFL team that doesn’t develop convenient and efficient methods of bathroom transportation for its stars is leaving wins on the table.
Loser: Pre-Dawn Fantasy Chaos
A football fan’s Sunday is like clockwork. You settle in on the couch and set your fantasy lineups at around 12:55 p.m. ET right before the games kick off at 1, then watch SEVEN HOURS OF COMMERCIAL FREE FOOTBALL on NFL RedZone, and follow that with a quick break before Sunday Night Football. But a few times per year, the NFL throws a wrench into the mix by playing games in London, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. And because London is in a very different time zone, those games often kick off at 9:30 a.m. ET, extending the football fan’s day from 11 to 14 hours. On Sunday, this resulted in fantasy football chaos.
At 8:07 a.m. ET, ESPN’s Adam Schefter revealed that Alvin Kamara was out of Sunday’s game. Kamara, a first-round pick in the average fantasy league, had been listed as questionable with a rib injury, but about 70 percent of players listed as questionable end up playing. (Like last week against the Panthers, when Kamara was listed as questionable with the same injury, but played and ended up having 61 rushing yards.) Most fantasy players—especially those living on the West Coast, where kickoff came before sunrise in California—probably didn’t think to check their fantasy lineups. According to Yahoo Sports, Kamara remained in the starting lineup in 47 percent of leagues, which means millions of people across the country woke up to realize they’d already made a grievous fantasy error. Here is a rundown of what happened in my four leagues (yes, I know, four is too many leagues):
- League 1: The commissioner of the league slept through his alarm and told the group chat at 10 a.m. ET that he had “intended to wake up to check [Kamara’s] status but fell asleep before setting [his] alarm,” then requested permission to replace Kamara in his lineup despite the fact that the game had already kicked off. Although his plan was initially met with support, protests soon came. At one point, someone distributed a SurveyMonkey poll to determine whether the retroactive substitution would be allowed. As of publication time, it remains unclear whether the commissioner will abide by the result of the SurveyMonkey.
- League 2: Kamara’s manager lives in Los Angeles, and did not wake up before kickoff, because nobody in California set an alarm clock for 6:15 a.m. to watch Vikings-Saints.
- League 3: I called my dad, who doesn’t quite get how fantasy football works but is very enthusiastic about it, 10 minutes before kickoff to let him know that Kamara was out. He sounded sleepy and confused by the NFL playing a game in London.
- League 4: Kamara remained in the lineup, scoring zero points.
So in my four leagues, we would’ve gone 0-for-4 on the Kamara decision if it weren’t for me waking up my dad. Consider this segment a PSA: Giants-Packers kicks off at the same time next Sunday.
Winner: Garett Bolles
As a kid playing football video games, I used to make random players on the field dive at random moments. Of course, a player a few miles from the ball would never hurl himself to the ground for no apparent reason, but the video games allowed me to make them do that. “If that was a real person,” I would think in my little tiny brain, “they would look so stupid.”
My tiny little brain would have very much enjoyed this tackle attempt by Denver offensive lineman Garett Bolles:
Respect the effort here by Garrett Bolles (#72).pic.twitter.com/lmgmVJioCe— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 2, 2022
Bolles ran a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2017, which is absurdly fast for a 300-pound offensive tackle. No other OT in his class came within 0.2 seconds. Maybe when Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson took off toward the end zone on this fumble recovery, Bolles thought he could catch him. And Bolles gave 110 percent—the platonic ideal of a player playing through the whistle. Watching the video, you can tell that he could probably outsprint you and just about anybody you know that didn’t play sports in college.
But he never came close to catching Robertson, a man with faster legs than Bolles and a big head start. All Bolles could do at the end was flop, like one of the unfortunate bundles of pixels who had the misery of playing on one of my virtual teams back in the day:
Garrett Bolles giving it his all— PFF (@PFF) October 2, 2022
All that effort and all that athleticism, and the main result was a viral blooper. You know the lesson.