Soaring Eagles, Fading Tom Brady Magic
NFL Week 3 - Tom Brady wore a Tom Brady shirt to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
No, not his own jersey or some TB12 licensed apparel he hopes to hawk. Brady wore a long-sleeved white pullover with his high-school yearbook photo (captioned "Greatness Lasts Forever") plastered across the back. That's not the sort of Brady paraphernalia that's gonna fly off the shelves: no one wants to be seen in public wearing a giant picture of a gawky teenager who looks like he just got caught huffing dry-erase markers behind the cafeteria stairwell.
This shirt from Tom Brady 👀
Just GOAT things 🐐
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 25, 2022
It's amazing what passes for normal, or even laudable, among rich-and-powerful weirdos like Brady. Try wearing an enormous picture of yourself to any occasion except perhaps your own bachelor party: you'll be treated like someone who cannot be trusted with safety scissors. But Brady's like a pharaoh. He could order a four 50-foot likeness of himself carved into a cliffside and folks would be like, "yeah, that's on brand."
Hey, this sort of fashion faux pas is inevitable when a middle-aged man suddenly starts dressing himself for work for the first time. And that's the only Brady divorce joke in this edition of Walkthrough, scout's honor.
Brady can be forgiven for celebrating himself on Sunday because the Buccaneers practically sent him onto the field to take on the Green Bay Packers all by himself. Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and various offensive linemen/ancillary characters were all injured or suspended on Sunday. That forced Brady to spend the afternoon throwing to Russell Gage, Breshad Perriman, and Cameron Brate while handing off to Leonard Fournette, who was in full 2.92-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mode.
Aaron Rodgers was also short on receivers: rookie Christian Watson was hurt, and Sammy Watkins' hamstring went on its annual leafing excursion into the countryside the moment the weather turned. Rodgers made the best of things by spreading short passes around until Aaron Jones fumbled into the end zone on the Packers' third possession. Then Rodgers blasted off to Planet Seething and what should have been a marquee matchup of Hall of Fame quarterbacks looked like a 2021 Chicago Bears intrasquad scrimmage. Watching Brady and Rodgers sword-fight at the 50-yard line would have been more entertaining than what we saw on Sunday. Wait, scratch that, because it legitimately sounds rather awesome. Watching Brady and Rodgers debate sociopolitical issues would have been more entertaining than what we saw on Sunday.
Then Brady got the ball with 3:04 to play in the fourth quarter, trailing by eight points. Time for Brady Magic, or some fading facsimile. Short pass to Gage, then another, then another. Then Fournette, Brate, Scottie Miller. The Packers could not even force a third down.
Soon the Buccaneers are on the 10-yard line. A defender grabs Brate before the ball arrives and they are at the 3-yard line. Brady fires a dart to Gage in the end zone and the score is 14-12. Maybe magic is real. Maybe greatness does last forever.
Except that the Buccaneers, who flirted with a delay-of-game penalty on the touchdown pass, watch the clock hit zeroes on the two-point try. They are flagged back to the 7-yard line, and Brady's conversion attempt fails.
The Buccaneers are 2-1, the Packers 2-1, Brady magic ain't quite what it used to be, and none of the expected NFC powerhouses look very good right now.
That includes the Los Angeles Rams. At least the Buccaneers and Packers had legitimate excuses for their offensive brownout. The Rams were at relatively full strength on Sunday when they took a 13-0 lead and then just stopped to let the Arizona Cardinals catch up. The Rams settled for field goals early (except for one Cooper Kupp highlight-reel end-around touchdown) then three-and-outs for much of the second and third quarters, then a fourth-quarter fumble at the goal line when they had a chance to ice the game away.
The Rams got away with a very ordinary performance on offense and defense in a 20-12 victory because the Cardinals are coached by that guy your niece brought to Thanksgiving dinner last year who never took his sunglasses off. But do you have any confidence in the Rams as Super Bowl favorites after what you have seen over the last three weeks? Thought so.
All of which brings us around to one simple question:
Are the Philadelphia Eagles the Best Team in the NFC Right Now?
The answer is "Yes." But the caveat is "Right now."
Coming off Sunday's convincing 24-8 over the Washington Commanders, the Eagles are all but certain to remain the top-ranked team in the NFC in DVOA. The Eagles also pass the eyeball test. Jalen Hurts is playing well. The defense is playing well. The Eagles are fast, aggressive, creative, and more or less fundamentally sound. Everything is clicking.
The Eagles are the best team in the NFC until Brady gets some receivers back, until Rodgers decides who is worthy of his targets, and until the Rams stop playing like the four-man team that they're so often accused of being. When any or all of those things happen, we'll reevaluate the conference's balance of power. And as of now, there's not another team in the NFC that appears to be in any way worthy of adding to the conversation. (Pipe down, Bears fans.)
The Eagles are also the only NFC team that's an actual pleasure to watch, except perhaps for the Detroit Lions, forever graded on their "look how hard they are trying"/"covering the spread is almost winning" curve. Being fun to watch is not the same as being great, but it's telling that the Eagles look much more polished and dynamic offensively than teams led by Hall of Famers or defending Super Bowl champions.
The Chiefs play the Buccaneers next Sunday night in a Super Bowl LV rematch which would have looked great last year. The Packers host the Patriots in a game that would have been a hoot circa 2018. But the Eagles host the 2-1 Jaguars, who have won their last two games by a combined 62-10 score. That statue of Doug Pederson outside the Linc is gonna start hovering two hours before kickoff. Eagles-Jaguars may not be a Super Bowl preview, but it's a matchup that's looking forward, not backward.
Brady? He still has a future once Evans and the others return. But on Sunday, he looked like a middle aged man staring at his high-school yearbook and realizing just how much of his greatness is now in the past.
Game Spotlight: Miami Dolphins 21, Buffalo Bills 19
What Happened? The Bills might have been able to overcome an avalanche of injuries: both starting safeties, defensive tackles Ed Oliver and Jordan Phillips, several others. They might have been able to overcome the 89-degrees-and-high-humidity temperatures at kickoff, conditions that forced Stefon Diggs and others out of the lineup at times due to cramps. But the Bills could not overcome injuries, the heat, AND their own mistakes, including:
- A missed 38-yard field goal;
- A dropped likely pick-six by Matt Milano;
- A bobbled snap that prevented Josh Allen from spiking the football, costing the Bills a field goal attempt before halftime;
- A dropped catchable touchdown pass by Gabriel Davis in the third quarter (fine play by Dolphins defender Keion Crossen, but the ball should have been caught);
- Failure to punch in a touchdown given four opportunities inside the 2-yard line late in the fourth quarter;
- Failure to spike the ball in time for one last desperate field goal at the end of regulation.
And much more. Your thoughts, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey?
Bills OC Ken Dorsey was not happy at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/F7Jp5IMlFP
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 25, 2022
Yep, that says it all.
What It Means: First of all, the Dolphins deserve a ton of credit. They are now 3-0 against three quality opponents, winning each game in a wildly different way. Their defense applied constant pressure to a depleted Bills offensive line. They strung together enough big plays—Tua Tagovailoa-to-Jaylen Waddle for 45 yards on third-and-22; Jevon Holland's early strip-sack to set up a first-quarter touchdown—to withstand the Bills' relentless drives. And they were prepared for a second heat-impacted game within three weeks, which makes sense, but that's not a home-field advantage they often leveraged in the recent past.
At some point, the time comes to stop putting asterisks next to Dolphins wins because they aren't particularly artful and start accepting that they're building a very strong playoff portfolio.
As for the Bills, this loss felt like a companion piece to their 2021 "OMG it's windy" loss to the Patriots. The Bills controlled the ball for over 40 minutes, held the Dolphins to 3-of-8 on third downs, and dominated the stat sheet in multiple ways. Losses like Sunday's demonstrate a lack of readiness to handle everything that a Super Bowl run throws at a top contender. Such losses are also a great way to end up on the road for a playoff game or two.
The silver lining? The Bills should be healthier (and better hydrated) next week, and they won't approach their next game as if they have already won it all.
What's Next: The Bills stay on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens, who remain their greatest threat to AFC supremacy. The Dolphins embark on a two-game road trip, starting with the Bengals.
A Walkthrough Special Investigation: Does Your Offense Stink?
The Buccaneers offense stinks right now, as outlined in the opening segment. The Packers offense doesn't "stink," though it sure comes and goes. But what about some other offenses around the league which were supposed to be pretty good? Walkthrough investigates.
Does the Arizona Cardinals Offense Stink?
Yes, but in an entertaining kindergarten dismissal sort of way. Kliff Kingsbury begins each game by grabbing his PS5 controller and trying out an all-new Madden playbook. Offset pistol formations? Shotgun triple-option concepts? Intricate motion to get playmakers open in the flats? Let's cram it all into the first three unproductive series! Who cares if the results look like this?
Kyler Murray becomes the answer to a trivia question with Aaron Donald's 100th-career sack. pic.twitter.com/hmscoBdjP8
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) September 25, 2022
The Cardinals have been outscored 31-0 in first quarters and 56-10 in first halves. They would be 0-3 right now if the Raiders weren't such a disappointment factory.
But the Cardinals Have Hope Because: DeAndre Hopkins will be back in three weeks. The Cardinals face the Panthers and Seahawks over the next two weeks (with the Eagles wedged between them), so they could be 3-3 by Nuk's return. And Kingsbury has ideas on how to fix the offense. About six million ideas. And he'll try to implement them all simultaneously.
Does the New Orleans Saints Offense Stink?
Heck yes. The Saints have scored 13 combined points in the first three quarters through three games. Jameis Winston produced his28th career multi-interception game in Sunday's 22-14 loss to the Carolina Freakin' Panthers, but the interceptions had far less bearing on the result than an early Alvin Kamara fumble, a blocked field goal, and a series of penalty-exacerbated first-half three-and-outs. When Winston's turnovers aren't your team's primary problem, you have some real problems.
But the Saints Have Hope Because: They face the Minnesota Vikings in London next week, and there's no way Kirk Cousins doesn't find a way to screw that up.
But seriously: the Saints have too much talent on offense to be this bad. They should at least bounce back to the old Winston touchdown-interception-touchdown-interception paradigm soon.
Does the New England Patriots Offense Stink?
Dear friends, if Mac Jones is injured, the Patriots don't even have an offense anymore.
Before Jones suffered a leg injury on his final play of a 37-26 loss to the Ravens (a high ankle sprain was likely at press time), the Patriots were beginning to cobble together a semi-functional offensive identity out of power runs and deep shots to DeVante Parker (5-156-0 in one of his semiannual "fool you into thinking he's a WR1" performances). Things began falling apart during a late turnover spree, however, and even the Patriots' scoring drives were either aided by excellent field position or abetted by desperately entertaining fourth-down heroics by Jones.
But the Patriots Have Hope Because: A few weeks of Matt Patricia calling plays for Brian Hoyer may provide just the moment of clarity Bill Belichick desperately needs.
Does the Indianapolis Colts Offense Stink?
Yes. Their offensive line is porous, their receivers ordinary at best, and Matt Ryan is washed like a midwife's hands. The Colts have been outscored 61-16 through the first three quarters of three games this season.
But the Colts Have Hope Because: Sunday's 20-17 win over the Chiefs proved that if their opponents:
- Spot them the ball on the 4-yard line for an easy early touchdown after a muffed punt;
- Miss an extra point and a field goal, and also run an awful fake field goal because they are afraid of their backup kicker; and
- Spot them a free first down after a third-and-long fourth-quarter sack because the refs decide that a defender raised his voice at Ryan;
They are perfectly capable of winning just enough games to squeak into the playoffs at 9-7-1.
Does the Washington Commanders Offense Stink?
Naturally. The Commanders produced negative-18 yards of passing offense in the first half of their 24-8 loss to the Eagles in Week 3 after producing just 56 yards of total offense in the first half of their loss to the Lions in Week 2. Carson Wentz's Sunday revenge fantasy involved standing perfectly still in the pocket waiting for the perfect moment to unleash his newfound self-actualization and maturity. The result: nine total sacks, plus two strip-sack fumbles.
And before you start blaming the receivers or system for Wentz's Sunday woes, remember that folks were about to anoint the Commanders' receiving corps as the second coming of the Greatest Show on Turf after Week 1.
But the Commanders Have Hope Because: C'mon, folks, if that's what Wentz did in his first big redemption-narrative game of the year, there's no place to go but the bottomless pits of despair.
Does the Denver Broncos Offense Stink?
Yes, and it's somehow getting worse. What started out as red zone woes in Weeks 1 and 2 became every-zone woes on Sunday night. One fourth-quarter drive and various Acts of Garoppolo allowed the Broncos to climb to 2-1 with an 11-10 win.
But the Broncos Have Hope Because: Nathaniel Hackett just needs to hire more assistants to help him make decisions. Say, is Pat Shurmur available? (We're not doing the 49ers because no one expects a team with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback to have anything but a paint-by-numbers offense.)
Does the Los Angeles Chargers Offense Stink?
What? Don't be silly! Justin Herbert is awesome! But he's playing hurt. Which resulted in a strip-sack in Sunday's 38-10 loss to the Jaguars. And there was a tip-drill interception deep in Chargers territory. Plus there were again too many three-and-outs. Mike Williams caught one pass (a touchdown) in six targets: that's not great. And come to think of it, the offense wasn't all that crisp over the first two weeks, either. But "stink" is too strong a word. It's more of a recently groomed labradoodle smell right now.
But the Chargers Have Hope Because: Keenan Allen should soon return to provide a focal point for the passing game. Herbert will either get healthier or have adamantium fused to his skeleton. And true Herbert stans evaluate him solely on his highlights, anyway.
Every few weeks, Walkthrough places a battery of Sunday wagers, then shares the results with readers so you can learn
how a degenerate thinks how a respected NFL analyst approaches the game!
Green Bay Packers (+2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-110)
Process: The moment news of Mike Evans' suspension hit my email, instead of tweeting about it like a professional journalist, I immediately logged onto my favorite sportsbook app. For once, the line had not yet moved much, providing a bit of a bargain.
Result: We didn't need the extra points in an outright Packers victory, but we were glad to have them. WIN.
Justin Jefferson OVER 7.5 receptions (+110)
Process: Jefferson went HAM in Week 1. Then Kevin O'Connell thought, "let's surprise the Eagles with Irv Smith Jr. and Johnny Mundt on Monday night. It will be more like MUNDTday night! They'll never see it coming." The Vikings hired O'Connell to purge that sort of wisdom from their coaching staff, and Walkthrough reasoned that the Lions would either have no answers for Jefferson or force the Vikings into a shootout.
Result: Three catches for 14 yards? In a Vikings WIN and a shootout? How is that even possible? And don't hit me with that Jeff Okudah is good now stuff. I refuse to believe that Okudah, Jared Goff, and the offensive line are all suddenly playing well, yet the Lions still cannot beat anyone better than the Commanders. No matter how true that might be! Why, this LOSS makes me wanna…
Bills OC Ken Dorsey was not happy at the end of the game. pic.twitter.com/F7Jp5IMlFP
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 25, 2022
New Orleans Saints Moneyline AND Over 40.5 (+210)
Process: Gimpy Jameis Winston versus still-on-playbook-page-seven Baker Mayfield? Bring on the points off turnovers!
Result: The points-off-turnovers idea was perfect, as the Panthers scored their first touchdown on a 44-yard Marquis Haynes fumble return. But everyone appears to have overestimated the Saints. Even Walkthrough. But especially the Saints themselves. LOSS.
J.K. Dobbins anytime touchdown scorer (+165)
Process: OK, so, Monday Walkthroughs are complicated to assemble. And on Sunday morning we thought, "Gosh, what if we forget to mention Dobbins' return to the Baltimore Ravens lineup with all the Brady-Rodgers stuff going on?" Then we had a eureka: a Dobbins prop bet, with a little pre-written segment that must be finished after the game. It's like a string around our pinkie, only expensive.
Result: Dobbins rushed seven times for 23 yards and added two catches for 17 yards, but he did not score a touchdown. As a society, we need to come around to the fact that Lamar Jackson is now operating as much more of a traditional (and delightfully effective) pocket-passer, and adjust our prop bets and fantasy lineups appropriately. LOSS.
Houston Texans (+3) at Chicago Bears (-115)
Process: Walkthrough could see no reason in the world why the Bears should be favored over anyone.
Result: The Texans are a little too committed to their "just good enough to almost win" bit; a late Roquan Smith interception of Davis Mills sealed a 23-20 Bears win. Also, always check the Chicago weather report, because the Bears go Full Ditka the moment it starts raining. Anyway, Walkthrough's gonna take this PUSH and run with it on a terrible afternoon of wagering.
Denver Broncos (+1.5) over San Francisco 49ers (-110)
Process: The Broncos looked like one of the most undervalued teams in the NFL entering Week 3: they would have been 2-0 with a pair of convincing wins if they had any idea how to score touchdowns inside the 5-yard line.
Result: Welp, this was a WIN. Though being forced to watch it felt like a loss.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars (-110)
Process: Walkthrough watched this line nosedive on Friday afternoon and waited for the Justin Herbert prognosis like everyone else. When it landed at "game-time decision," we took a flyer that either a wobbly Herbert or Chase Daniel enjoying a first-start bump could beat a Jacksonville Jaguars team that might have been overvalued after beating the Colts. As a bonus, the wager would ensure that we discussed Friday's Chargers spread freefall (see the Dobbins wager).
Result: The Chargers are becoming the Powder Blue Falcons. LOSS.
Walkthrough Twelve Quadrillion-Star Play of the Week: Buffalo Bills (-5.5) AND Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) Two-Team Parlay (+210)
Process: The Cardinals and Dolphins appeared to be two of the most overvalued teams by the public in the NFL after unlikely Week 2 comebacks. They were facing the defending 2021 Super Bowl champions and the prohibitive favorites to be the 2022 Super Bowl champions. And this wager had to be placed on Thursday, when many Bills injuries were being downplayed, for podcasting purposes. Yes, wagering is very different when it is part of your job.
Result: The worst part of this one is admitting that the Bills were never in any real position to cover late in the game. LOSS.
This was a very, very, very bad week. We were actually going to delete the whole thing just to hide our shame. But shame is a powerful teaching tool. Just wait until next time!
Walkthrough Week 3 Awards
Time once again to hand out the most coveted awards on the Internet.
Offensive Line of the Week
Per Jacksonville.com reporter Demetrius Harvey, Doug Pederson gave a two-word answer when asked how Trevor Lawrence managed to complete 19 of his final 22 passes: "offensive line." That line also helped John Robinson and Travis Etienne combine for 145 yards, including Robinson's 50-yard run on fourth-and-1. So let's hear it for Cam Robinson, Ben Bartch, Luke Fortner, Brandon Scherff, and Jawaan Taylor.
Defender of the Week
Cincinnati Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson recorded 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in a 27-12 victory over the New York Jets. Hendrickson's second strip-sack resulted in a quick Bengals touchdown that put the game more or less out of reach in the third quarter.
Special Teamer of the Week
Someone named Michael Hoecht blocked the punt. Someone named Jake Gervace caught it like a long rebound. The huge first-quarter play gave the Rams a short field that they turned into a field goal on an afternoon when they struggled to move the ball consistently. So let's hear it for those Rams special-teams NPCs!
Honorable mention goes to San Francisco 49ers punt gunners Samuel Womack, Ross Dwelley, and Tarvarius Moore (he gets his feet out of the end zone, just in case) for downing a Mitch Wishnowsky punt at the 1-foot line in Sunday night's tribute to 1930s small-college football.
Elite punt coverage 🤌 pic.twitter.com/4778TiQuyi
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 26, 2022
Sunday night football was a punt-and-pin masterpiece overall. But Walkthrough doesn't wish to spend several paragraphs talking about it, nor do we want to encourage anyone.
Burn This Play!
Let's check out that Kansas City Chiefs fake field goal early in the fourth quarter:
— Devon Clements (@DevclemNFL) September 25, 2022
The design isn't bad. The execution is fine. But it's fourth-and-11, and the Chiefs had been giving off strong "we don't trust the kicker" vibes since Matt Ammendola's missed extra point. As you can see, Bobby Okereke (58) is ready for the fake: even if Tommy Townsend connects with Noah Gray, there's no way this play goes 11 yards.
But that's just the runner-up. The winner of this week's Burn This Play could only come from the mind of Matt Patricia:
This was (almost) a ridiculous 2-point conversion (Stevenson was later ruled down by contact) pic.twitter.com/CAy9hi2aQL
— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) September 25, 2022
The primary issues here are timing and spacing. How is right tackle Isaiah Wynn supposed to keep Calais Campbell away from Rhamondre Stevenson? Wynn is stepping back in pass protection, but the screen pass is executed so fast that Campbell doesn't have time to get drawn into the backfield, and Stevenson is barely outside the tackle box, so he's just a few strides away from a charging, unblocked edge rusher. This play is almost designed to funnel Campbell straight to Stevenson.
Mac Jones' pass also forces Stevenson to stop and turn for the ball. Again, that appears to be by design. Even if Campbell is not around, Stevenson must operate from a standing start while defenders crash past his blockers. Jones needs to hit Stevenson moving forward, or back toward the formation if someone cracks back on Campbell, or he needs to be Tyreek Hill who can accelerate into fifth gear from a standing start, not a 225-pound power back.
Those are the sorts of fit 'n' finish play-design mistakes professional offensive coaches identify and iron out in the offseason.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
It's only appropriate that this week's BSASEH is for a play which was nullified by a penalty in that dreary Buccaneers-Packers game . Check out poor Rashan Gary (52) on Tom Brady's "Hurry! The Senior Services transit bus to the supermarket departs in one minute!" scramble late in the fourth quarter:
Brady was moving. @tombrady
— NFL (@NFL) September 25, 2022
Gary's like, "Screw you, Brandon Walton. Imma bull rush you right into Brady. Even if I fall down I'm getting right back up. There he is! Now to just reach out and … where old guy? What do you mean he ducked right past me? I'm hopping mad now! Let me hop after him. Oh lookout, a lineman. Brace for impact!"
Rando of the Week
A Colts superfan wandered onto the sideline on Sunday and cheered the team on to victory. Check it out:
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) September 25, 2022
Wait, that's no superfan: that's injured Pro Bowl linebacker Shaquille Leonard! He's no rando. So why is he Rando of the Week? Because the telecast kept cutting to him, and cutting to him, and cutting to him some more as if Leonard were the defensive coordinator or something. It gave the impression that Leonard, crowd noise, and pure adrenaline had more to do with the Colts victory than anything Matt Ryan or the offense did.
Which, come to think of it…