Monday, 2 November 2015

NFL morning after: A wonderful, awful Sunday

In terms of the sheer entertainment value of the games, yesterday was my favorite Sunday of this NFL season.
In terms of the sheer carnage of the players involved, yesterday was my least-favorite Sunday of this NFL season.
I’ll get to the incredible offensive display in the Saints-Giants game and the pitiful performance put on by the Lions and everything else in between, but first let’s talk about what a terrible day full of injuries we just witnessed.
We may have seen Steve Smith’s career end. Smith, the Ravens receiver who will probably end up in the Hall of Fame some day, had previously announced that he will retire at the end of the season. On Sunday, he caught a pass — the 961st catch of his career — and as he was tackled he immediately grabbed at his ankle. The Ravens confirmed after the game that his Achilles tendon ruptured on the play and his season is over. I’d love to see Smith change his mind about retirement because I’d love to see him play again, and he’s such a competitor that I’m sure he doesn’t want to go out that way. But his 961st catch might have been his last.
We saw Le’Veon Bell’s knee bend in a way it shouldn’t. Bell’s foot was planted when he was rolled up on a tackle in the Steelers’ loss to the Bengals, and his knee bent in a way that knees aren’t supposed to bend. It was an ugly injury to one of the best running backs in the league.
We saw Reggie Bush slip on concrete and tear up his knee. Bush, returning a punt for the 49ers, ran out of bounds in St. Louis and his momentum carried him onto the cement around the perimeter of the field. Football cleats aren’t meant for running on cement, and Bush slipped and fell, and reportedly suffered a severe knee injury. Why is there a cement surface in an NFL stadium? Good question. That’s an issue the NFL should have addressed before Bush wrecked his knee.
We saw Matt Forte exit with a knee injury. Forte, the running back who has been the Bears’ best player this season, suffered an injury to his knee and did not return in yesterday’s loss to the Vikings.
We saw Calvin Johnson exit with an ankle injury. The Lions’ ugly loss in London got even uglier when Megatron hurt his ankle in garbage time. Johnson missed three full games and most of two others with ankle injuries last year, and now he’ll head into the Lions’ bye week with another ankle ailment.
We saw Ryan Fitzpatrick exit on the first series. Fitzpatrick had the Jets’ offense off to a good start on the first series, but he didn’t last long. After completing his first three passes, Fitzpatrick suffered a hand injury and had to be replaced byGeno Smith.
We saw Ricardo Lockette get knocked unconscious on the field. Lockette was running down the field on a punt for the Seahawks and took a hard hit. He instantly fell to the turf, motionless, and was taken off the field on a stretcher. Fortunately, Lockette had full movement in all extremities and appears to be OK, but it was a disturbing scene that had players on both teams visibly shaken.
We saw the Chargers get absolutely devastated by injuries. The Chargers had already had a rough season from an injury perspective heading into yesterday’s game. But yesterday was just ridiculous. The Chargers had 12 different players leave the game with injuries.
What a brutal day. And now on to why it was a great day:
Todd Gurley is the NFL’s most fun young star. Gurley, the Rams’ rookie running back, has started four games. In those four games he has rushed for 146, 159, 128 and 133 yards. So far in the NFL this season, starting running backs have gained 128 or more yards in about 7 percent of all games. Gurley is doing it 100 percent of the time. Gurley’s 566 yards in his first four starts are the most for any player in his first four starts. Gurley is averaging 141.5 yards a start; in Jim Brown’s best year, 1963, he averaged 133.1 yards a start. Gurley is the best running back in the NFL right now, and he’s only 21 years old. He’s going to be fun to watch for years.
Peyton Manning came back to life. Even after last night’s game, Manning ranks dead last in the NFL in passer rating. But he played well in leading the Broncos to a 29-10 win over the Packers. The Broncos are still a team that will win first and foremost with defense — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a defense play any better againstAaron Rodgers — but Manning showed he can still play at a high level.
Drew Brees and Eli Manning put on a show. Brees tied the NFL record, with seven touchdown passes. Manning had six touchdowns, and the combined total of 13 touchdown passes was the most in one game in NFL history. Brees had a ridiculous 511 yards, while Manning had 350. The 101 total points in the Saints’ 52-49 victory were the third-most in NFL history. It was a wild, back-and-forth game that was a lot of fun, even if the defense was pretty awful.
The Buccaneers showed something in an exciting overtime win. There have been rumblings that Bucs coach Lovie Smith could be on the hot seat as his team has failed to show much progress this season. At least until yesterday, when the Bucs went to Atlanta and upended a previously 6-1 Falcons team, 23-20 in overtime.Jameis Winston wasn’t great, but he played efficient, turnover-free football, and he showed in marching the Bucs into field goal range in overtime that he’s starting to figure out how to run an NFL offense. Smith has to like what he sees of Winston, because Smith has to know that his job security depends on Winston’s development.
The Raiders are for real. The Raiders have been such a bad franchise for so long. It’s exciting to see how many good young players they have now, like quarterbackDerek Carr, receiver Amari Cooper, running back Latavius Murray and defensive end Khalil Mack. The Raiders also have a great old player in Charles Woodson, who at age 39 is the oldest defensive player in the NFL. Woodson recorded his fifth interception of the season on Sunday, giving him the league lead and making him the oldest player ever to record five interceptions in a season. The win improved the Raiders’ record to 4-3, and they’re right in the thick of the playoff race.
Carson Palmer continues to amaze. When Palmer suffered his season-ending knee injury last year, some wondered if he’d ever be back in peak form. Boy, is he. Palmer threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns for the Cardinals in yesterday’s win over the Browns. Arizona is 6-2 and cruising toward a playoff spot, and if Palmer is healthy the Cardinals will be a tough team to beat.
Martin Mayhew’s seat should be hotter than Jim Caldwell’s. The Lions might fire both Mayhew, their G.M., and Caldwell, their coach. But if there’s one person to blame for the mess the 1-7 Lions are in, it’s Mayhew. Mayhew is the one who signed quarterback Matthew Stafford to an enormous contract. Mayhew is the one who spent huge resources on Stafford’s weapons (Calvin Johnson, Golden Tateand Eric Ebron) while allowing the Lions’ offensive line to wither and die. Mayhew is the one who allowed the Lions’ excellent pair of defensive tackles, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, to leave in free agency, and then made things worse by trading two draft picks for an expensive aging veteran defensive tackle in Haloti Ngata. It’s time for Mayhew to go.
I wrote that last observation on Sunday morning while the Lions’ loss in London was still being played, and I fell into the common trap of treating football players like commodities — and general managers like Mayhew like commodities traders — rather than like human beings. All those injuries that happened later in the day were a stark reminder that these are human beings, men who put their bodies on the line for our entertainment. It was an entertaining Sunday in the NFL. But it was also a brutal Sunday in the NFL.

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