Each week seems to be wilder than the last. Week 9 has come and gone, and TRO is here to break down key takeaways and award its weekly superlatives:
via Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press
Another week gone, another wild slate of games. TRO is launching its rapid reactions following the conclusion of the games from the Week prior. With Week 9 in the books, it's time to fire off TRO's immediate reactions following all of the action. We're here, again, to elaborate on the biggest headlines that stuck with us and to hand out weekly superlatives. Look for TRO to award the Game of the Week to the most exciting matchup, and the Surprise Performance of the Week to the most deserving team that exceeded our expectations, in addition to individual player superlatives. Players whose team won their game will be eligible to be selected in the following categories: Passer of the Week, Pass Catcher of the Week, Tailback of the Week, Defensive Lineman of the Week, Linebacker of the Week, Defensive Back of the Week, and Special Teamer of the Week.
1) RAPID FIRE - WEEK NINE HEADLINES:
The Best of the Best?
The Arizona Cardinals have been among the top of most of the Power Rankings around the League most all season long. Rightfully so, as they have had the best record all season long. This week they squared off on the road against division rival San Francisco 49ers. They had to go to battle without Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt. They also lost Chase Edmonds early in the game to a high ankle sprain. The team didn't know if Murray or Hopkins would suit up or not until moments before game day, which creates problems of its own in terms of preparation. Despite all of the key injuries, the Colt McCoy led Cardinals absolutely dominated the Niners. James Conner ran wild, extending his League-high touchdown total to 11 on the season. Great teams don't falter despite key injuries, and the Cardinals look like THE team to beat in all of the NFL.
Similarly, and in the opposite conference, the Titans look like, well, titans of the AFC. Everyone thought that Tennessee going to Los Angeles to play the Rams in their first game without Derrick Henry would spell disaster. Especially after the confidence gained by the Rams after trading for Von Miller. Despite the first game without Henry, not an overly commanding game from Ryan Tannehill, and trotting out Adrian Peterson days after pulling him off of his couch (or out of his home gym is probably a better figure of speech), the Titans defense stuck it to Matt Stafford and the Rams' potent offense. Mike Vrabel had his guys ready to play when the odds were stacked up against them the most they've been all season. Despite their slow start to the season, the Titans are one of the NFL's best, and have a real shot at locking up the number one seed in the AFC.
Monday Nightmare Football
While the drama and headlines made for a highly entertaining experience, the officiating Monday night was atrocious. Justin Fields was receiving the Cam Newton treatment, and simply just was not getting blatant roughing the passer calls. Aside from all of the penalty flags that went against Chicago (to be fair, a lot of them were self-inflicted offsides calls), the most damning was the taunting call on Cassius Marsh after a key third down sack which would've set the Steelers punting the ball back to the Bears' offense that had been rolling with loads of momentum.
Marsh, a player elevated from the practice squad this week, made one of the biggest plays of the game, against the team that cut him this past August. As a result, he showcased his trademark celebration, and then he took a few steps towards the Steelers sideline and briefly stared in that direction (from a distance). Head referee, Tony Corrente hip-checked Marsh on his walk in the direction of the Steelers' sideline, then launched a penalty flag like he was playing pickup at the local Y and just let a 3 pointer fly. The call allowed Pittsburgh to keep their drive alive, kicking a field goal, which ultimately would be the game-winner.
Granted, the Bears still had an opportunity to win the game after the fact, this penalty still was a ridiculous call that should have never affected what was an entertaining game. It should be clarified that the problem isn't Corrente, who is a respected, long-time official (although he could have not exhibited the theatrics he did, and if he's going to get in Marsh's path, talk to him instead of chucking the flag like he waited all game to do it).
The real problem, is the rule that was enacted this past offseason. In an effort to regain some control over sportsmanship and taunting, the NFL enacted a rule that prohibits players from celebrating in the direction of an opposing player or the opposing team's sideline. By the letter of the law, Monday night's penalty was the "correct" call. The rule needs to be extremely relaxed, and needs to have more qualifying language in how it defines "taunting," to direct what the League is trying to keep out of the game (i.e., explicitly prohibiting players from standing over top of another guy, etc.).
Instead, this general rule undermines the level of emotion and passion that goes into this game. Players put their bodies on the line, spend countless hours studying film, and work for months just to make one, single play like the one Marsh made on Monday night. As a result, a little emotion should be allowed, particularly if the player is merely staring at the sideline (several yards away) of the team who cut him because they didn't think he was good enough to roster. Hopefully the League will tweak the rule next year so we have less games influenced by silly flags.
We'll keep this one relatively brief, but 7 games were won by the team with the inferior record than that of their opponent. We saw Jacksonville stun Buffalo (more on that later), the Giants stand up to Las Vegas, the Falcons bring down the Saints, the Broncos absolutely demolish the Cowboys, the Titans upset the Rams, the Browns dominate the Bengals, and the Chiefs thwart the Packers' debut of Jordan Love. One reason this season has been flying by is because it has been ultra-competitive, and it is amazing to see essentially every team with this much fight 9 weeks into the Season, no matter their records.
What's Next for Carolina?
The Sam Darnold experiment is free-falling into a pit of fire. It got off to a hot start, but then it fell off the rails. Darnold has been slow through his progressions, his mechanics are a bit slow, and he just is not on the same page, or even in the same book as his receivers. He's thrown 11 interceptions this year, 8 in the last 5 weeks. He has shown flashes, but those have become few and far between as of late. He just seems like he needs a mental break, and while an injury is never a good thing for anyone, it will let him take that mental break. It also will let the Panthers evaluate PJ Walker and other options for the next month or so as they try to find an offensive spark to compliment their defense that's trying its hardest to carry this team to a Wild Card birth on its own.
This could play out 1 of 3 ways: 1) Walker is equal to or worse than Darnold and the Panthers are forced to return to Darnold as they owe him $18million next year; 2) They stumble into something with Walker, a late round rookie, or another free agent; 3) they make a huge push for a big name quarterback through trade or free agency next offseason.
Either way, the Panthers are flirting with serious quarterback purgatory and are at risk of wasting this defensive core and Christian McCaffrey's prime.
*Update: More on this in our latest News article*
The Packers Will do Everything and Anything to Keep Aaron Rodgers
Jordan Love was not good. While Kansas City is a tough place to play (no matter their record), especially for a quarterback making his first career start, you can guarantee the Packers' front office was hoping to see a lot more out of Love in his debut. The matchups favored the Packers offense, and Love struggled to lead his team down the field, as Green Bay only put up 7 points.
As a result, the Packers appear to have lost some leverage in the Aaron Rodgers conversation, and they will likely work extra hard to make sure that Rodgers wants to stick around after this year. At first, it seemed like both sides were willing for this to be a final ride, but not anymore. The Packers look like Tier 1 Super Bowl contenders, they have mentioned they are focused on resigning Davante Adams, and they were in the thick of the running for Odell Beckham, Jr. Winning fixes everything, and if Green Bay can string something together, while keeping Rodgers happy, they will dodge a bullet.
2) GAME OF THE WEEK: Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens
via Jerry Holt / Star Tribune
Both of these teams have found themselves in crazy-close situations early and often this season. The Ravens found themselves facing a 14-point deficit in the third quarter, and managed to rally back pulling off an overtime win. This game utilized just about every second of allotted time in the extra period as both teams had more than their fair share of possessions to try to win the game. The Ravens came out on top in a wild one a the Vikings continued to find ways to lose games where they win the turnover battle.
3) SURPRISE PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: Jacksonville Jaguars
via Stephen B. Morton / AP Photo
The Buffalo Bills were traveling to Jacksonville for what everyone deemed to be a blowout loss before the Bills' plane left the tarmac in Buffalo Niagara International Airport. Vegas had the spread set at 14.5. That should have been the over/under as Jacksonville was able to ugly up the game enough to pull out a 9 to 6 win. This was an amazing win for Urban Meyer and the Jaguars organization as they stonewalled and frustrated Josh Allen and the Bills offense all game long. This was a heck of a way for Duval County to to get its second win of the Season.
4) PLAYER SUPERLATIVES:
PASSER OF THE WEEK: Justin Herbert - Los Angeles Chargers
via Mitchell Leff / Getty Images
Justin Herbert torched the Eagles secondary completing 32 of his 38 pass attempts for 356 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also scored another touchdown on the ground, utilizing his legs in the red zone. The Chargers squeaked out a close win leaning on their franchise quarterback.
PASS CATCHER OF THE WEEK: Pat Freiermuth - Pittsburgh Steelers
via CBS Sports
He didn't pile on the receptions or yards (5 catches for 43 yards), but Pat Freiermuth still managed to be second on his team in receiving yards. He was sensational on Monday night scoring 2 crucial touchdowns, and setting the tone blocking. The Steelers would not have pulled out this nail-biting win if it was not for Freiermuth's performance.
TAILBACK OF THE WEEK: Johnathan Taylor - Indianapolis Colts
Johnathan Taylor ran away with this week's honor on Thursday night, before any of the remaining games were kicked off. He ran all over the Jets defense, taking 19 carries for 172 yards, and scoring 2 touchdowns. He averaged 9.1 yards per carry! Taylor also notched 2 catches for 28 yards as the Colts handled New York.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN OF THE WEEK: Josh Allen - Jacksonville Jaguars
via Bob Self / Florida Times Unions
Josh Allen let the world know that he was not the only star named Josh Allen. Josh Allen impacted the Jaguars game unlike any other lineman this week. He notched 8 tackles, and he also sacked Josh Allen, intercepted Josh Allen, and recovered a Josh Allen fumble as Josh Allen's Jaguars defeated Josh Allen's Buffalo Bills. Anytime a defensive player puts up these kind of numbers in a 9 - 6 game, you know his presence was one of the main deciding factors. (I hope we put enough "Josh Allen"s in there since you probably didn't hear that enough this week).
LINEBACKER OF THE WEEK: Anthony Walker - Cleveland Browns
via Cleveland Browns
Anthony Walker missed some time this year to a lingering hamstring injury. He looked completely healthy Sunday as he flew around the field accumulating 14 tackles and a sack on Joe Burrow as the Browns stunned the Bengals.
DEFENSIVE BACK OF THE WEEK: Xavier McKinney - New York Giants
via John Munson / AP
The Giants could not have upset the Las Vegas Raiders without Xavier McKinney. He notched not 1, but 2 interceptions, 1 of which came in the third quarter that he returned for a touchdown, giving the Giants a second half lead they would not lose the rest of the game. McKinney also had 7 tackles and was Pro Football Focus's highest graded defender from any game of Week 9.
SPECIAL TEAMER OF THE WEEK: Chris Boswell - Pittsburgh Steelers
via TouchdownWire / USA Today
Chris Boswell had himself an important day, making all 3 of his field goals, including one from 54 yards which ended up being the winning points for the Steelers. He did miss one of his 3 extra points, but the Steelers would not have won this game without the kicks he did make.