NFL WEEK 9: Goss’ three good things, three bad things and one thing to watch

photo: USA Today Sports

By Anthony Goss

As the weather gets colder and the NFL playoff race heats up, I enjoy watching the teams at the middle of the pack or teams who started slow try to climb back into contention.

A perfect example of this climb is the Minnesota Vikings. After notching back-to-back wins within its division, Minnesota is inching its way into the wild card conversation. A record of 3-5 leaves the Vikings with a lot of ground to cover, but riding the coattails of RB Dalvin Cook has led to dominant performances in their last two games.

Cook has carried this offense in its last two games, totaling 369 yards and five touchdowns in victories against Green Bay and Detroit. Leading this resurgence, Cook has made his case as the best running back in the league.  

Three Good Things 

Drew Brees Orchestrates a Vintage Performance 

There has been a flagrant disregard for Saints QB Drew Brees this season.

His arm strength is fading, but he has navigated the season basically without his best receiver in WR Michael Thomas. Despite the doubt cast on Brees and the Saints leading up to their matchup against the Buccaneers, they rang the bell and beat down on Tampa Bay. Brees spread the ball to twelve different receivers and finished with 222 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 135.2. Sean Payton continued to use QB Taysom Hill as a wrinkle in an unstoppable Saints offense. The defense was on top of QB Tom Brady all night with nine hits and three sacks. 

This dominant victory puts the Saints back in the spotlight in the NFC going forward. Brees may not be the player he once was, but Sunday showed that he and the Saints are not quite ready to let go of a division they have owned the last three seasons.  

Bills Notch a Huge Win 

Questions surrounded the Bills after a streak of weak showings, mainly focusing on defense and QB Josh Allen. With a 44-34 victory over the Seahawks, the Bills silenced the critics and officially changed the trajectory of their franchise.

Allen was outstanding with 415 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers. The Buffalo defense also stepped up big, forcing four turnovers, generating five sacks, and kept QB Russell Wilson from finding his rhythm throughout the game. Keeping a lid on Wilson is a near impossible task, but Buffalo’s explosive offense picked apart a weak Seahawks secondary which made the difference. In what might be the best win for the franchise in decades, the Bills turned a corner on Sunday. 

In consecutive weeks, Buffalo has shown it can win games in a multitude of ways, a key to success in the NFL. The days of competing as an “exciting” or “up-and-coming” team are over; the Bills are a legit Super Bowl contender that can hang with the best teams in the league. 

Dolphins Steal One in the Desert 

After their rival secured a huge win against an NFC West opponent, the Miami Dolphins returned the favor by marching into Arizona and making a statement in the desert. 

First of all, the turnaround of this franchise led by head coach Brian Flores is nothing short of incredible. Through eight games, the Dolphins have already matched their win total from last season. Last week was an underwhelming debut for QB Tua Tagovailoa, but he was the difference this week and led the Dolphins to victory after going down ten early in the fourth quarter. Tua took a couple sacks, but showed a lot of poise for a rookie quarterback in his second start.

Another big difference in this game was the Miami defense, which scored a touchdown for the second consecutive game thanks to DE Shaq Lawson. The Dolphins might be a bit ahead of schedule, but continued performances like these will keep the Bills on their heels in what looks to be a two-team race in the AFC East.  

Three Bad Things 

Tampa Bay Blunder 

Going into Sunday night’s game, the thought of three quarterbacks out-performing Bucs QB Tom Brady was not on the mind of anyone. After a 38-3 drubbing courtesy of the Saints, that is exactly what happened.

In one of the worst performances of his career, Brady posted only 209 yards and three interceptions, one of which hung in the air for an eternity. This disastrous performance was not just his fault, but showed a general lack of preparedness in all facets of the game. The Bucs ran the ball only five times, one carry being a kneel at the end of the game. In addition to Brady’s poor passing, he as under duress the entire night without any help from his offensive line. The defense that looked so promising in weeks past had no answers for QB Drew Brees, and QB Taysom Hill also had his opportunities to expose their porous defense.

It would be an exaggeration to call this a devastating loss for the Bucs, but it does give the Saints the edge in the division going forward. 

Lions Coming Up Short 

After a disappointing outing last week against Indianapolis, the Lions had a chance to rebound and pick up a key divisional win. Instead, they were trounced by RB Dalvin Cook and the Vikings.

Inconsistency has plagued the Matt Patricia era and the Lions continue to struggle making themselves a true contender. Detroit has shown they can beat their lesser opponents, but against contenders or teams with playoff aspirations, the Lions have come up short. Sunday’s matchup followed this narrative. The inability to contain Cook was a problem, but even worse were the interceptions QB Matthew Stafford threw deep in Minnesota territory on consecutive drives (the second coming after a blocked punt). 

The schedule sets up well for the Lions in the coming weeks, but ends with several challenging games. If they cannot change course, Patricia might be on his way out.  

Winning Ugly v. Losing Ugly 

Earlier this season, Bears QB Nick Foles discussed how winning ugly is better than losing pretty. This sentiment is true, but now the Bears are losing ugly and streaking in the wrong direction.

For the third game in a row, the Bears have demonstrated an ineptitude on offense. Foles and the Bears admittedly moved the ball a bit on Sunday, but could never finish long drives. By the middle of the fourth quarter, the score was 24-3 and despite a couple late touchdowns, it never felt like Chicago had a chance to change the game. 

The defense did its part and held RB Derrick Henry in check, but without any response on offense, the game got out of reach. Chicago was able to mask its offensive woes early, but as its schedule become more challenging, points have been scarce. A win against division rival Minnesota on Monday night would be a major boost for a team desperate for momentum. 

Keep an Eye On… 

COVID Outbreak in Pittsburgh 

So far, the coronavirus is the only thing able to beat the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers. On Tuesday, QB Ben Roethlisberger and three others were ruled as close contacts with TE Vance McDonald who tested positive for COVID-19. They must isolate for five days and continually receive positive tests while participating in team meetings online. The Steelers face the Bengals on Sunday and, if they are without their quarterback, their undefeated streak might be in jeopardy. 

NFL WEEK 3 COLUMN: Three good things, three bad things and one thing to watch

photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images

By Anthony Goss

Week 3 of the NFL season carried on some of the same dramatic flair seen in Week 2 (no, this is not just the Falcons blowing two 15-point leads in the fourth quarter). 

Ranging from last-second touchdowns to unfortunate mistakes, Sunday’s slew of games highlighted the success of a few great players, but also boiled the frustrations of the fanbases watching their teams continue to struggle, including the Vikings, Texans and Jets, just to name a few.

Week 3 also had a significant decrease in major injuries, which is a major plus after the notable amount of injuries sustained by big name players in Week 2. Here are three good things, three bad things and one thing to keep an eye on heading into Week 4.  

THREE GOOD THINGS 

Josh Allen Circles the Wagons 

This take may not be new to the fans in western New York, but after Sunday’s outing against the Rams, it is time for the rest of the league to take the Bills, and specifically quarterback Josh Allen, more seriously.

Give credit to the Rams for finding their way back from a 28-3 deficit to retake the lead, but this game was about Allen. In a marquee game, he delivered big time for the Bills, throwing for 311 yards and 4 TD, and running for one more. 

After the Rams took the lead with 4:30 left in the game, Allen marched down the field with a couple of huge throws to wide receiver Cole Beasley and capped off the 75-yard drive with a toss to tight end Tyler Kroft to seal the game.

Last week, the Bills found themselves down against the Miami Dolphins and Allen delivered. The Rams are a much better team than the Dolphins, but Allen’s poise has been mostly consistent against all opponents this year. If he can keep up this level of play, the Bills (3-0) can become real contenders in a loaded AFC.  

Russell Wilson is leading the MVP discussion 

There is not much else to say about Russell Wilson this season except that he has been stellar. Once again, Wilson showed he is operating on a different level, as he dissected and depleted a talent-lacking Cowboys defense to the tune of 315 yards, 5 TD and a passer rating of 130.7 in a 38-31 victory for the Seahawks.

Seattle’s offense has been electric this season with Wilson at the helm, posting over 30 points in each game. Somehow, Wilson has not received the MVP award in the past, despite his role in carrying the franchise successfully for many years, but that could change this season.

Wilson will need to keep posting similar numbers and playing at this level for the Seahawks to stay atop a daunting NFC West.  

49ers Complete Big Apple Sweep 

The 49ers arguably have been plagued the most by injuries early this season.

On Sunday, San Francisco took the field without Raheem Mostert, George Kittle or Jimmy Garoppolo, and still managed to hang 36 points on the New York Giants. The 49ers win on Sunday was an impressive response after an adverse week where several key players went down, including defensive end Joey Bosa, who may be gone for the rest of the season.

Squashing two of the worst teams back to back seems like a minor headline, but San Francisco will be glad to gather up wins like these to keep pace in the best division in pro football.  

THREE BAD THINGS 

Turn Up the Heat on the ATL Hot Seat 

If the NFL played three quarters, the Falcons would be sitting at 2-1 and tied for the lead in the NFC South. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and head coach Dan Quinn’s team has struggled mightily the last two weeks to finish football games.

After their debacle in Dallas, the Falcons headed home for what most thought would be a game for them to get back on track. Taking a 26-10 lead into the fourth quarter, it seemed like they were in a good spot.

Then, Nick Foles came in at quarterback for Mitchell Trubisky (which may be a permanent change). Foles rallied the Bears with three scores in the fourth, sending Twitter into another frenzy and the Falcons to a record of 0-3.

Granted, the team was without Pro Bowl wideout Julio Jones, but the defense struggled down the stretch and the offense could not make any winning plays to put the game out of reach. 

To make matters worse, Atlanta travels to Green Bay next Monday night to play a team averaging over 40 points per game. If Quinn fails to have his team ready, Aaron Rodgers and a potent Packers offense will not hesitate to send them to 0-4. 

NFC (L)EAST 

Once again, the NFC East is the worst division in football.

Starting at the top (surprisingly), the Washington Football Team is a young group not expected to do much, but quarterback Dwayne Haskins and the offense turned the ball over five times against the Browns. Defensive lineman Chase Young also went down with a groin injury, but it should not keep him out of action for a significant amount of time. 

Dallas has shown some good in the early stages of the Mike McCarthy era, but a lot more disappointment. Kellen Moore’s play calling has come into question on offense, but the defense has been nothing short of atrocious. Byron Jones’ departure has hurt the secondary, which has a myriad of injuries and inconsistent play from young players has resulted in Mike Nolan’s bunch giving up an average of 277 pass yards per game and 32.3 points per game.

Dak Prescott has played well for the most part, but a banged-up offensive line has underperformed expectations. There is time for the Cowboys to try and fix some of these issues, but this team has disappointed in the early stages of the season.

The Eagles disappointed once again, unable to beat Joe Burrow and the Bengals at home. Carson Wentz continued to struggle and turn the ball over, adding two more interceptions to his season total, but managed to run for a touchdown that ended up being the last score in a 23-23 tie.

The Eagles are a bad football team, but the Giants look even worse, sitting at 0-3. Losing running back Saquon Barkley has not helped, but their offense is extremely lacking so far, ranking near the bottom of the league in team offense and only averaging 272.3 yards on offense.

Despite this horrendous start for the division, Dallas still looks like the best team and should win the division, but whoever wins may not finish with a record over .500.  

Cooldown for Kyler 

The Lions shocking victory fell a little under the radar Sunday afternoon, as Matt Prater booted Detroit to its first win of the season.

More than anything, this game showed second-year quarterback Kyler Murray still has lots of room to grow. Murray threw for 270 and two touchdowns, but his three interceptions proved costly for the Cardinals.

Murray has been electric this season, and his touchdown run exemplified this explosiveness, but Sunday showed some flaws he has as a young quarterback.

Murray rushed some throws and made some poor reads, but these mistakes take very little away from him as a player. If anything, he will use this game as a lesson to grow. 

The Cardinals are still a very talented group, and Murray’s connection with newly aquired wideout Deandre Hopkins continues to demonstrate the incompetence of Texans coach Bill O’Brien (who infamously traded Hopkins away).

Regardless, Kliff Kingsbury’s team is an exciting storyline early in the season and should play a role in shaping the NFC playoff picture. Sitting at 2-1, the Cardinals now head out of the desert for a three-game road trip against teams all with losing records.  

Keep an Eye On: Status of Michael Thomas 

The New Orleans Saints sit at 1-2 after falling to the Packers on Sunday night. While a single WR should not be the deciding factor for a Drew Brees-led offense, Thomas’ presence has certainly been missed. 

Thomas, the NFL’s leading receiver a year ago, has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain.

Thomas presents a downfield threat for the Saints that other wideouts on the roster just can’t provide. The offense was better against Green Bay than it was against Vegas a week ago, but if the Saints are going to win the NFC South and an aging Drew Brees can be the best version of himself, Thomas needs to be on the field. 

The Saints have other issues besides the missing Thomas-Brees connection, but having him back will elevate Brees’ game and take the pressure off of running back Alvin Kamara to provide in the passing game. The Saints head to Detroit next week and will try to get back to .500 as Thomas’ injury status remains in question.