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: Massive Comebacks
Teams that are kicking ass do not simply stop kicking ass, unless they are in movies. Teams that are getting their asses kicked generally don’t flip the switch—not only are they likely slower and weaker and worse than the team that has built a big lead, they’re probably demoralized from the whole “ass-kicking” thing. Upsets happen in sports, because maybe we miscalculated the strength of the teams before the game, or the favorite simply has a very bad day. But comebacks? Those require midgame miscalculation. Last NFL season, there were 61 games in which a team won by 20 or more points—and a grand total of zero games in which a team came back from a 20-point deficit to win.
On Sunday, movie magic came to the NFL. In the span of a few hours, there were two such comebacks—infinity percent more than all of last season—and those two miracles may have only been the second- and third-best comebacks of the day.
The Ravens seemed to be running away with Sunday’s matchup against Miami—literally, they had three touchdowns of 75 yards or more. On Lamar Jackson’s 79-yard touchdown run, it looked like he had a turbo button and Miami’s defenders didn’t. Baltimore led 35-14 at the end of the third quarter. But Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa threw four fourth-quarter touchdown passes to flip the game, including a gutsy tight-window game-winner with 15 seconds remaining:
TUA TO WADDLE. @MIAMIDOLPHINS LEAD.— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2022
: #MIAvsBAL on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/LqzAxQaA7Q pic.twitter.com/Em9iy53QIS
It was the first 21-point fourth-quarter comeback since 2010. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the last 711 teams trailing by three touchdowns or more in the fourth quarter all lost. The Ravens averaged 8.8 yards per offensive play, which would’ve been the second most by any team in any game last year, and they didn’t commit any turnovers, and they had a special teams score … and they lost. This wasn’t just a thriller—it was a miracle.
In the afternoon slate, the Cardinals fell behind 20-0 against the Raiders. But Kyler Murray kept waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and eventually scurried his way to victory:
This Kyler Murray 2-point conversation is absolute bonkers— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 18, 2022
CBS | @paramountplus pic.twitter.com/IcWXu5tooh
It was a signature game for Murray, who made play after play like this, buying time until defenders simply couldn’t keep up with his adorable speed. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the fourth quarter, including one with no time on the clock at the end of regulation. That forced overtime, where the defense won the game for Arizona. The Cardinals forced Hunter Renfrow to fumble twice in overtime, and returned the second for a game-winning touchdown:
GETGIOETHGIUETHGETIUGHTULGHRTEILUGHTUKGBTDKJGBDFKJGNDFSKJGNDFGHDIFUGHDFGDRSGDSFGFDGREGYERIFURHWF pic.twitter.com/kelYbRqgec— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 18, 2022
(Most of the time, running a corporate social media account is hard—a complex full-time position unworthy of the scorn it often receives from those with more conventional jobs. But other times, you can just type “GETGIOETHGIUETHGETIUGHTULGHRTEILUGHTUKGBTDKJGBDFKJGNDFSKJGNDFGHDIFUGHDFGDRSGDSFGFDGREGYERIFURHWF” and it works.)
And somehow, we haven’t even discussed the most improbable comeback of all—the one featuring the New York Jets, the team which never has anything good happen to it ever. (To be fair, they were playing the Browns, a team which also never has anything good happen to it ever.) Cleveland was leading 30-17 with under two minutes to go. The Jets scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, and scored again, in the span of exactly one minute, and won the game by one point.
SOURCES SAY GARRETT WILSON IS HIM#NYJvsCLE on CBS | @GarrettWilson_V pic.twitter.com/l79cp2OIvg— New York Jets (@nyjets) September 18, 2022
The Dolphins and Cardinals were led by young stars, recent first-round-pick quarterbacks, players who represent the future of their respective franchises. The Jets were led by 37-year-old Joe Flacco, who hadn’t won a game as a starting QB since 2019. Stuff like these three games generally happens only in movies—but what is NFL RedZone, if not a seven-hour-long, commercial-free movie?
So many of you abandoned Tua Tagovailoa. You roasted viral highlight videos of him lobbing training camp lollipops to a visibly bored Tyreek Hill. You made fun of his supposedly weak arm. You implored the Dolphins to move on, for the sake of their hyper-talented wide receiver room.
Not me. I began worshiping at the altar of Tagovailoa when he was a backup quarterback at Alabama, and my podcast cohost, Ben Glicksman, spent half of every episode yelling about how the Tide needed to bench Jalen Hurts for the five-star freshman from Hawaii, even though they were winning pretty much every game. And then they did bench Jalen for Tua, and it won them the national championship. I was Tua-pilled. I called him the greatest college quarterback of all time.
I have not wavered. Not when he had a potentially career-altering hip injury. Not when he was battling Ryan Fitzpatrick for playing time. I have remained on Tua Island, through thick and through thin. Because just as Tua revealed himself as a college football legend in that national championship game, coming from nowhere to seize glory, I knew that a day would come when Tua would do that again.
Today was that day. Tua had 469 yards and six touchdowns, legitimately one of the most prolific passing performances in NFL history. (Only seven players have had more yards while throwing for six touchdowns—three are Hall of Famers, three will be, and one is Matt Flynn, for some reason.) He threw bombs and dimes. Ignore how long Tyreek Hill had to wait for this pass to get to him—perhaps Tua just wanted to savor the moment.
After the game, Hill delivered a message to Tua’s haters, urging them to get on the bandwagon. It is rewarding for those of us who have stayed by Tua’s side all the way—but our goal is not to exclude. There are more touchdowns coming.
Loser: The Indianapolis Colts, Owned by Jacksonville
If you are an Indianapolis Colts fan, you do not believe in the classical version of hell, the one with the fire and the brimstone and the horned devil with the pointy tail and the pitchfork. Your hell is much more real, and perhaps more terrifying: It is Jacksonville, Florida, home to TIAA Bank Field and the perpetually pitiful Jacksonville Jaguars, a franchise that has a strange connection to hell.
The Colts have lost eight consecutive games in Jacksonville. Eight. Eight! Since the last time the Colts beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville, way back on September 21, 2014, the Jaguars are a dismal 37-91, with only one winning season; 21.6 percent of their total wins in that time frame are against the Colts in Jacksonville. Last year, Indianapolis needed only a win in Jacksonville to make the playoffs—and it lost, 26-11, ending its season.
Sunday, the Colts were in Jacksonville once again, and it was as embarrassing as ever. Jags QB Trevor Lawrence had perhaps his best game as a pro—25-for-30 for 235 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Indy QB Matt Ryan had perhaps his worst, going 16-for-30 with three interceptions, as the Colts were shut out, 24-0:
No-Fly Zone @Jenkz_26 | #DUUUVAL#INDvsJAX on CBS pic.twitter.com/N499ov9UT9— Jacksonville Jaguars (@Jaguars) September 18, 2022
The Colts’ last three shutouts have all been against the Jaguars—Sunday’s game, a 6-0 loss in Jacksonville in 2018, and a 27-0 loss in 2017. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have had only eight shutout wins in franchise history, including the three against Indianapolis.
I’m a Jets fan, and we lose to the Patriots every year. (Generally twice!) But at least that makes sense. The Patriots have won six Super Bowls in the past two decades; the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez and Sam Darnold. You’d expect the Pats to win. The Colts, too, are a relatively successful franchise, with two Super Bowl appearances and 15 playoff appearances since 2000. The Jaguars have finished last in their division nine times in 27 years. And yet Jacksonville has Indianapolis in a headlock. The Colts have been favored in six of their eight games in Jacksonville during the eight-game losing streak, including Sunday’s game. They just can’t pull off the win.
It’s like getting dunked on by a toddler. It’s like being unable to beat your Labrador retriever in Connect 4. It’s like if Sisyphus looked over his shoulder, and everybody else was rolling their rocks up their hills with ease. It’s hell, and unless the NFL changes its divisions, the Colts are condemned to play there.
Winner: Backup Jimmy G
First, the brutal news. 49ers quarterback Trey Lance is out for the season, having suffered a broken ankle that will require surgery. Lance’s final college season at North Dakota State was wiped out by the pandemic, save for one showcase game in 2020 for pro scouts; his rookie NFL season was spent backing up Jimmy Garoppolo; now his first season as an NFL starter has ended after five quarters due to injury. If he comes back to start in 2023, he’ll essentially be four seasons removed from his last full season as a starter. It’s already hard to figure out how to be a quarterback in the NFL, and a brutal combination of events has made it even more difficult for Lance.
You already know the guy who came in for Lance: Jimmy Garoppolo, who led the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance after the 2019 season and the NFC championship game last season. But the Niners had traded up to draft Lance because they wanted more from the quarterback position than Garoppolo was giving them. This offseason, the Niners insisted they were going to trade Jimmy. In preseason, Garoppolo didn’t practice with the team, didn’t go to meetings, and didn’t even receive a team playbook. He was essentially the NFL version of Milton from Office Space, showing up for work every day without a legitimate role in the company; that side field might as well have been a tiny desk in the dark basement. It was only after other teams refused to trade for him that the Niners begrudgingly renegotiated Garoppolo’s contract and slotted him on the depth chart behind Lance.
It would’ve been understandable if Garoppolo had been unprepared to come in—he literally hadn’t been practicing until two weeks ago. But he knew enough of the offense to know that this play involved a guy totally wide open with no defenders near him:
Jimmy G ➡️ Ross Dwelley for the TD‼️ pic.twitter.com/pVJDbwB2UU— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 18, 2022
The Niners easily handled the Seahawks, 27-7. Their future is on hold with Lance on the sideline, and they’ll have to relive their recent past with Garoppolo. Luckily, that hasn’t been so bad.
Loser: Nathaniel Hackett, Clock Doofus
It’s a good thing Nathaniel Hackett doesn’t seem to understand the concept of time, because otherwise he’d be a little flustered by how quickly his welcome has worn out in Denver. Hackett, a product of the esteemed Doug Marrone coaching tree, was hired to be Denver’s head coach this offseason after thriving as Aaron Rodgers’s offensive coordinator. (Pretty much everybody thrives as Aaron Rodgers’s offensive coordinator.) It’s going poorly. After trading for Russell Wilson in the offseason, the Broncos have only 32 points in their first two games under Hackett, which is pretty bad—but that’s not even what people are mad about. It turns out that Hackett is terrible at making decisions, which is probably the most important aspect of being an NFL head coach.
Things were clearly off from the beginning of his first game as head coach—it took an unusually long time for Hackett to get play calls in from the sideline, leaving the Broncos scrambling to snap the ball before the end of the play clock. But then he epically botched the endgame: The Broncos needed a field goal to win, and crossed midfield with a little bit over a minute left. At that point, he should’ve run a play or called a timeout. Instead, the Broncos let 40 seconds go off the clock, then called a timeout, after which Hackett asked Brandon McManus to kick a 64-yard field goal, which would have tied for the second longest in league history, in one of the toughest stadiums to kick. Thanks to Hackett’s indecisiveness the Broncos didn’t even have a chance to get the ball back.
Those issues continued on Sunday. At the end of the first half, the Broncos were on the goal line with all of their timeouts remaining. Hackett was indecisive about whether to go for it, and wasted enough time that the play clock expired. Now facing fourth-and-6, the decision was made for him, as Denver settled for the field goal.
But his masterpiece came in the second half, with Denver trailing by three points. On third-and-1, Hackett called an option with fullback Andrew Beck as the primary ball carrier (???), losing a yard and bringing up fourth down. Hackett left the offense on the field, then changed his mind, bringing on the field goal unit. McManus drilled a field goal—but not before the play clock expired, bringing about another delay of game. And instead of kicking a game-tying 59-yarder, which McManus clearly had the leg for, Hackett opted to punt. His indecision had officially cost his team points.
Please watch this entire sequence. Nate Hackett has officially lost it. Denver went from 3rd and inches, a TE rush attempt, a long FG attempt, and then a punt. Lord pic.twitter.com/3Eugrn7sHG— Billy M (@BillyM_91) September 18, 2022
Hackett burned two second-half timeouts—one because the team forgot to send a punt returner onto the field, and one because the play clock was about to expire. That left them without any timeouts in the final 7:30 of the game, when timeouts tend to be very valuable.
Two games in, Broncos fans are already fed up. After turning the field goal attempt into a punt, Broncos fans started counting down the play clock en masse to help Hackett’s offense successfully snap the ball without drawing a delay-of-game penalty.
Broncos fans are helpfully/mockingly shouting out the play clock on every play as Denver struggles to manage the clock. pic.twitter.com/53p339HGME— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) September 18, 2022
Hackett has made some bad choices, but so do all coaches. What’s scary are the times when he makes no choice at all. At least 53 players pulling in one direction have a chance of getting somewhere. They’re doomed when they just stand around, waiting for their coach to make a call as he waffles on his decision. If you order a bad item off the restaurant’s menu, at least you have food. Hackett is standing out on the street, unsure which restaurant he wants to go to, watching shop after shop close for the night until there’s nothing left open. The worst decision an NFL head coach can make is indecision.
The Broncos won Sunday, because they have better players than the Houston Texans. He’d better figure out this whole “head coaching” thing fast, because NFL fans and owners tend to be more decisive than he is.
Winner: Mike Evans
The fiercest rivalry in the NFL is not any pair of teams you can think of. It’s the matchup between Buccaneers Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who have to face off twice a year. There is sometimes football involved, but they’re really more like the Tom and Jerry of the NFL—no words, no plotlines, just violence from the jump.
In 2017, Evans was suspended for a game after crushing Lattimore with a post-play blindside cheap shot:
A lot going on here between Jameis Winston, Marshon Lattimore, and Mike Evans pic.twitter.com/TNBXPdt0lp— Eric Rosenthal (@ericsports) November 5, 2017
In 2020, the two got frisky after a play, resulting in Lattimore shoving Evans in the back and Evans punching Lattimore hard enough to pop his helmet off:
I LOVE THIS!!! pic.twitter.com/CXowh7Yk8D— JM Football (@JomboyMediaFB) September 13, 2020
You might notice that Evans tends to win the literal fights between these two, on account of his being 5 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier—which probably makes it even more frustrating that Lattimore is so effective at defending him, and leads to more fights.
So you already knew what was going to happen Sunday in New Orleans. When Lattimore got in Tom Brady’s face, Evans emerged out of nowhere to battle his sworn enemy. Both players were ejected.
Mike Evans & Marshon Lattimore have been ejected after this fight— PFF (@PFF) September 18, 2022
And that double-ejection turned out to be a huge win for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay had been shut out in the first half, and had managed only a field goal in the third quarter. Brady was so frustrated that he slammed one of the Microsoft Surface tablets on the sideline. (Good thing the tablets are child-proofed with rubber cases, to protect them from 45-year-olds having temper tantrums.)
The double-ejection left the Saints without their top two cornerbacks—Lattimore and Paulson Adebo, who did not play in Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury. And on the very first possession after Lattimore’s ejection, Brady threw a 28-yard touchdown over the top of New Orleans’s defense, with Breshad Perriman easily defeating backup free safety P.J. Williams in one-on-one coverage.
BRADY DIME. @Buccaneers take the lead!— NFL (@NFL) September 18, 2022
: #TBvsNO on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/66qiVbDVnf pic.twitter.com/67GVZZSY9f
The Buccaneers held on for a 20-10 victory—their first win in five regular-season matchups against the Saints since Brady came to Tampa Bay in 2020. Evans won the battle and the war. As good at football as he is, the smartest strategy against these Saints may be to drop gloves right at the puck drop and get Lattimore ejected. I’m not one to endorse violence, but if Evans can’t beat Lattimore on the field, fighting him seems to be a pretty good option.
Loser: The 0-2 Cincinnati Bengals
Over the last three NFL seasons, 27 teams have started their seasons 0-2—an average of nine per season. All 27 missed the playoffs. But the first two weeks of the NFL season have been … strange. Teams expected to finish near the bottom of the league like the Bears, Giants, Jets, and Seahawks have all won at least one game. Even the Texans got a tie! With most of two weeks of games in the books, there are only four 0-2 teams, each of whom will face a massive uphill battle to the postseason. And one of those is the defending AFC champion, the team that America fell in love with last postseason: Welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to 0-2-ville—I think they’ve been here before.
Week 1 was bad for Cincinnati. Joe Burrow threw four interceptions, and the Bengals lost due to a long snapper snafu (long snapfu?) in overtime to the Steelers. But Week 2 was even worse. Cincinnati was favored by a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys, who’d failed to score a touchdown in Week 1 and lost star QB Dak Prescott to a thumb injury. Their backup, Cooper Rush, was undrafted in 2017 and threw only 50 passes in his first four NFL seasons.
But the Cowboys were the better team on Sunday—offensively and defensively: passing, throwing, everything. They averaged 5.7 yards per play; the Bengals averaged only 3.8. Rush had 235 passing yards, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt; Burrow had 199 on 5.5 per attempt. Perhaps most worrisome: The Bengals’ continued inability to protect Burrow, despite their “revamped” offensive line. After seven sacks last week against the Steelers, Burrow was sacked six times by the Cowboys.
Micah Parsons is so so good, plays like he'll win the next 10 Defensive Player of the Year awards.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 18, 2022
Another sack today. He also had countless other hits on Burrow.pic.twitter.com/86wESwDHD7
At one point, Burrow was caught on camera asking his coach for more pass-blocking help. It didn’t matter.
Here's Joe Burrow yelling to Zac Taylor: "No empty set."— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) September 19, 2022
You can actually hear him say it. #Bengals used Joe Mixon as a blocker the next play. Burrow was sacked. Led to a FG. pic.twitter.com/dyOBm1GSiP
The Cowboys won on a last-second field goal, Cincinnati’s second straight loss on a walk-off kick. The Bengals should have won both of those games, but at least those games have been close.
I expected the Bengals to drop off this year. They overperformed last year against a weak schedule and enjoyed incredible injury luck. This year they’re playing a first-place schedule, and who knows what could happen with injuries. I picked them to miss the playoffs in The Ringer’s NFL predictions … but I wouldn’t have predicted back-to-back losses to Mitchell Trubisky and Cooper Rush. I wouldn’t have predicted a five-turnover game from Burrow, or an offensive line that may be even worse than last year’s. FiveThirtyEight now projects the Bengals to have a 26 percent chance to make the playoffs. If Burrow is getting sacked six or seven times a game, that might be optimistic.
In 2014, NFL fans noticed Aaron Rodgers making a pre-snap signal that sure looked like he was holding up his fingers and pretending to smoke a joint. When asked about it, Rodgers explained that it was, in fact, weed-related—but not an endorsement of the drug. “It’s a dummy signal,” he said. “That’s the whole thing … you’re a dummy if you smoke dope. That’s why it’s a dummy signal.”
Suffice it to say, Rodgers has changed his stance on illegal substances. Rodgers says that he went on a therapeutic ayahuasca journey to Peru this offseason, which he credits with changing his mindset and improving his mental well-being. Sunday night, we confirmed that his teammates are down with their quarterback’s spiritual journey. They celebrated a touchdown in their semiannual beatdown of the Bears with an ayahuasca-themed celebration. (Ayahuasca contains the active chemical dimethyltryptamine, which is classified by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a hallucinogen. It is not specifically banned in the NFL’s drug policy.)
Best celebration of season. Thank you Twitter for pointing out it’s Ayahuasca pic.twitter.com/KPna2bMLoM— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) September 19, 2022
Until the Packers are asked to explain the celebration, we can fill in the details: Allen Lazard acted as shaman, pouring little tiny cups of brew for his teammates. Most of them reacted by falling down. Rodgers, however, raised his arms to the side and began pulsating with ecstasy—I’ll trust his interpretation of what happens to people on ayahuasca over his teammates’. (None of them vomited—I guess that would’ve been a bit weird to act out during a celebration, but shamans believe the purge to have therapeutic value.) It could’ve been divisive when a team leader announced that he’d been going to South America to trip on psychedelics—but when you’re dealing with the back-to-back MVP, you celebrate instead of ask questions. The ayahuasca-inspired celebration was the most thrilling moment Sunday night, as Rodgers’s Packers cruised to a 27-10 win over the Bears.
Loser: Gunner Olszewski
Gunner Olszewski is the most Bill Belichick NFL player ever to have Bill Belichick’ed. A cornerback out of Division II Bemidji State presumably named after a special teams position on the punt coverage unit. The only way he could’ve been more Belichick is if he was a left-footed punter from Rutgers who played lacrosse in high school. The Patriots signed Olszewski as an undrafted free agent in 2019, converted him to wide receiver, and he quickly became one of the best return men in the NFL. In 2020, he led the NFL in punt return yards, yards per return, and was named first-team All-Pro.
But everybody’s time in Belichick’s special teams paradise runs out eventually. The Pats didn’t re-sign Olszewski this offseason, and he went to the Steelers—who faced off against New England on Sunday. Olszewski told the media that he was especially motivated for Sunday’s game: “Any time you play the ex, you want to show out,” he said.
Instead, Olszewski found a way to help the Pats win. Olszewski only had one opportunity to return a punt on Sunday—New England punted four times, but two went into the end zone and one was downed by the kicking team. And on that one opportunity, the ball smacked Gunner in the damn face mask, bouncing directly to the Patriots’ gunner (not named Gunner):
CGS alum @GunnerOlszewski meet CGS alum @SchoolerBrenden... pic.twitter.com/2niW4lLu0d— The College Gridiron Showcase (@CGSAllStar) September 18, 2022
The Pats offense struggled all day, but they easily converted this instant red zone opportunity into a touchdown and won, 17-14. It’s a strange mishap for Gunner—remember, this man was literally the best punt returner in football two years ago—and essentially gifted a win to his former team.
Am I alleging that Bill Belichick has arranged a shadowy cabal of ex-Patriots to sandbag their new teams and bring glory to New England? No. But what other explanation is there for one of Bill’s most special guys suddenly faltering at his best skill, booping the ball with his nose like a damn seal to ensure the Patriots score a decisive touchdown? It’s gotta be a shadowy cabal, right?