Winners and Losers of NFL Week 9
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: Patrick Mahomes’s Legs (and Back)
For an NFL legend, Patrick Mahomes is not graceful with the ball in his hands. While most NFL runners have no wasted motion, Mahomes’s upper and lower body are on different pages. The lanky legs are motoring; his torso remains completely upright; instead of tucking the ball into his chest for ball security, he’s windmilling both arms, wildly swinging his off hand up in the air to maintain balance. The Ringer’s Danny Kelly compared his running style to somebody trying to run without spilling a pint of beer. I think he looks kinda like a slower version of an ostrich, especially the freaky way they use their wings to shift direction. He sprints like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, as if he’s wearing hippie platform boots instead of cleats—and despite their unnatural running styles, both are equally adept at running away from monsters and living to see another day.
Sunday night against the Titans, Mahomes saved the game with his scrambling—not to open up throws, but to move the ball downfield. He had a career-high 63 rushing yards, 34 of which came on the drive that forced overtime. He picked up 20 yards on third-and-17, securing a critical first down, then scurried 14 yards for a touchdown, and then rushed for the game-tying two-point conversion.
The NFL produced one of those Next Gen Stats graphics for the TD scramble, and I swear, Mahomes’s dot is the slowest ever to end up in the end zone. Normally they say something like “the ball carrier reached a speed of 23.02 miles per hour!” but I guess they didn’t say it this time because Mahomes was motoring at golf cart speeds out there.
But the graphic does a great job of displaying why Mahomes is such a successful scrambler. With all of the Titans linebackers and defensive backs furiously trying to keep up with Kansas City’s receivers, none of them was watching Mahomes. There’s only one DB on the right side of the field, and he’s actually running away from Mahomes to stick with his man and prevent an easy touchdown throw. To score the TD, Mahomes only has to win a footrace with 305-pound defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons.
Mahomes really did it all to get the Chiefs the win. He had 446 passing yards, tied for the third-highest total of his year, and also led Kansas City in rushing … by over 50 yards. None of K.C.’s running backs had more than 5 total rushing yards; the trio of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon, and Isiah Pacheco combined for 12 carries for 14 yards. Mahomes’s legs got the biggest score of the game—but the Chiefs won because he put the team on his back.
Loser: Aaron Rodgers
Every week, my editor begs me: Please, do not do another “Loser: Aaron Rodgers” entry. It’s Week 9, and by my count we have done at least 12 “Loser: Aaron Rodgers” entries. But what the hell am I supposed to do? This guy can’t even successfully hang up a phone right now.
Sunday should have been a get-right game for the Packers. They were playing the Detroit Lions, who entered Sunday ranked dead last in the NFL in points allowed and yards per play allowed, and tied for 30th in turnovers forced. If any part of Vintage Aaron Rodgers were still there, he would’ve ripped these Lions apart—you know, like he does every other year.
Instead, Rodgers threw three interceptions for the first time since 2017. The first was a tad fluky, a bounce off a defender’s helmet, although Rodgers probably could’ve thrown a touchdown with a better pass that doesn’t hit any defenders.
The next pick came on a trick play, a throwback pass to an eligible offensive lineman. The trick part of the play worked! No defenders went with tackle David Bakhtiari, who was running clean into open space. But Rodgers threw a terrible pass while leaping off his back foot under pressure. The pass was nowhere near Bakhtiari, and the only person who had a chance at it was Lions rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.
The third interception required Rodgers to rip a perfect ball through double coverage to a receiver in the seam. It’s a tough throw, but the type that Prime Aaron Rodgers hit all the time.
The Lions had allowed at least 24 points in each of their first seven games this year. Green Bay got nine. Detroit’s terrible secondary only had two interceptions before Sunday, which surely contributed to the defensive backs coach getting fired last week. They had three picks against Rodgers, surpassing their season total in one afternoon against the broken legend.
After a 3-1 start, the Packers have lost five in a row. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 0.7 percent chance of coming back to win the NFC North over the 7-1 Vikings. They have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the league, with their remaining games coming against teams with a combined 40-26 record. They really needed this game against the 1-6 Lions, but couldn’t get it.
So this is your last “Loser: Aaron Rodgers” entry. If he can’t put up points against the worst defense in the league, no poor performance from here on out will be noteworthy enough to mention.
Winner: Joe Mixon’s Regression to the Mean
For whatever reason, Bengals RB Joe Mixon just could not score touchdowns for the first two months of the season. Mixon was third among NFL running backs in touches, but had only three total touchdowns, tying him with backups like Dontrell Hilliard and Chase Edmonds. You may have noticed this if—and this is just a hypothetical—you and your friends are involved in some sort of fantasy competition in which your team receives a certain number of points based on which statistical achievements NFL players record in a given week.
Mixon led the NFL in Almost Touchdowns. In the first eight weeks of the season, Mixon had a stunning 19 plays where he was tackled between the 5-yard line and the goal line. No other player had more than 10. That’s one more Almost Touchdown per week than anybody else in the league. Maybe the Bengals were telegraphing goal-line touches for their running back; maybe he lacked the power to push across the goal line; maybe someone outbid Joe Mixon for Joe Mixon in his fantasy league. Regardless, he kept coming up just short. And unfortunately, Almost Touchdowns get zero points in fantasy football.
Sunday, that finally changed. Mixon became the 17th player in NFL history (and first this season) to score five times in a game.
Joe Burrow had one rushing touchdown, and Mixon did the rest in a 42-21 win over the Panthers. With Ja’Marr Chase out, Mixon filled in with this scramble drill toe-tap on the side of the end zone.
In standard scoring, Mixon had 51.1 fantasy points, the 13th-most of any player in any NFL game (although that includes some games from well before anybody had ever invented “fantasy football.”) He entered Sunday 19th among running backs in standard scoring. He jumped all the way to fourth in one afternoon.
Almost Touchdowns may not get your fantasy team any points—but it could be the most important stat for determining future fantasy football success.
Winner: The New York Jets
Josh Allen played like shit on Sunday. Before anybody jumps down my throat, this is not a statement of opinion. It’s merely repeating what Allen said about himself on Sunday.
The Bills QB had a season low in passing yards (205) and failed to throw a touchdown for the first time this season. He threw two interceptions and was sacked a season-high five times. He looked like the younger, less refined version of Josh Allen from years past who hadn’t figured out how to harness his massive talents. The Bills scored just 17 points, their lowest total of the season. Who killed this football god? Who wiped the smile off the face of the NFL’s truck-sized superstar? Who took down the Super Bowl favorites?
It brings me great pleasure to tell you the answer: MY BELOVED NEW YORK JETS. Despite a winning record, the Jets were 10.5-point underdogs at home against the Bills, and I get it. I thought they would lose, too. I thought they would lose for almost all of the 60 minutes, including all 37 seconds during which Josh Allen’s majestic desperation bomb hung in midair. (Seriously, Hail Marys in dramatic sports movies don’t stay in the air for this long, and that’s with the slow-motion turned all the way up.)
This Jets defense is legit. Rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner leads the NFL in passes defensed with 13, while Quinnen Williams shares the lead for sacks by defensive tackles with seven. The Jets defense made both me and Josh Allen feel things we aren’t used to feeling. They’re so good that I didn’t even have to write the words “Zach Wilson” until just now.
Loser: The New-Look Colts
After a 3-3-1 start to the season, the Colts made some big changes. Two weeks ago, they benched quarterback Matt Ryan, the team’s big offseason acquisition, and replaced the former MVP with 2021 sixth-round draft pick Sam Ehlinger. At the time, Ryan was leading the NFL or tied for the league lead in interceptions, fumbles, and sacks taken. But last week, in Ehlinger’s debut, the Colts lost again, scoring exactly one touchdown in a 17-16 loss to the Commanders. So Tuesday, the team fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, giving head coach Frank Reich full control of the struggling offense.
But change doesn’t always make things better. Before Sunday, no team had posted less than 161 yards in a game; the Colts went way below that, scrounging together 121 measly yards in a 26-3 loss to New England. The Colts managed just 2.02 yards per play; every other team this season has averaged at least 3 yards per play in every game. The Colts did score a field goal, but that was only because the Patriots fumbled the ball in their own territory. This late-game pick-six sealed the win for New England:
The justification for benching Ryan was that Ehlinger’s playing style would give him a better chance behind the flimsy Colts offensive line. Ryan is 37 and wasn’t particularly fast in his prime; Ehlinger’s strength is his mobility. But on Sunday, Ehlinger was sacked nine times for a loss of 60 yards—both NFL season highs. He had a net of 43 passing yards on 29 pass attempts, just 1.48 net yards per attempt. (The previous low this season was 3.06 net yards per attempt.) I’d say he looked like a deer in the headlights, but at least deer do some damage to the cars that hit them. There might not be a QB who would look good behind this offensive line, but Ehlinger sure as hell doesn’t.
The Colts are running out of buttons to press. It would be hard to justify another QB change, and now Reich is solely responsible for the offense, so he’s the only person left to fire. (Maybe they can ask Marcus Brady to come back like he’s one of the essential Twitter employees Elon Musk laid off because he felt like laying people off?) The Colts thought that things couldn’t possibly get worse. And the result was the worst performance in the NFL this season.
Winner: Tom Brady, at the End
It feels like Tom Brady is crawling toward the end of the longest, most successful career in NFL history. After miraculously sustaining his career well past age 40, winning a Super Bowl title at 43, and leading the league in passing at 44, he couldn’t keep it up another year. Heading into Week 9, Brady was 29th in touchdown percentage and 22nd in yards per attempt for the 3-5 Buccaneers. It seemed like he’d hit the cliff.
That indeed seemed to be the case throughout Sunday’s game against the Rams. In the first 59 minutes, Tampa Bay had just nine points. Brady was 31-for-53 for 226 yards with no touchdowns—no interceptions, either, but just 4.3 yards per attempt. Luckily for Brady, the Rams were no better. They essentially had one good offensive play in the game, a 69-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. (Somebody in the NFL offices in May felt really good about clearing out the Week 9 afternoon schedule to shine a spotlight on this showdown between the two most recent Super Bowl champs, only for it to be a matchup of two sub-.500 teams that couldn’t score.)
All of this ended up with Brady getting the ball down by four points with 44 seconds left in the game. He went 5-for-5 (not including a spike to stop the clock) for 54 yards and a game-winning touchdown:
There are still clearly big issues with the Buccaneers, but Brady did just enough to get the job done. And that could be the story of Tampa Bay’s season. At 4-5, the Buccaneers are once again in first place in the NFC South (thanks to a head-to-head win over the Falcons), the only division where nobody has a winning record. (The Saints could join the Bucs and Falcons at 4-5 with a win against Baltimore on Monday night.) The Bucs don’t have to light the world on fire to get into the postseason. They can probably make the playoffs without beating another team with a winning record. Just like Sunday, all they need to do is hang on until the end. Then it’s Brady time.
Winner: Justin Fields
New Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has done an incredible job drawing up game plans to get Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle open. But on Sunday, he tried out a new scheme to help out his defense as they struggled to stop Bears quarterback Justin Fields: Simply asking him to stop.
It was as good as any other option. Fields ran for 178 yards against the Dolphins, setting an NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB in a regular season game. (Michael Vick had 173 in the 2002 game in which he scored an iconic walk-off, 46-yard game-winner in overtime; Colin Kaepernick had 181 rushing yards in a playoff game in 2013.) Fields looked untouchable on this 61-yard scramble for a touchdown, weaving past a slew of slower Miami defenders hopelessly flailing at his feet:
Fields isn’t just a runner: He also threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions, including this beautiful back-shoulder throw to Darnell Mooney:
I was sounding the alarm on Fields a few weeks ago. He looked like the worst quarterback in the NFL, and had the worst stats of any QB in the NFL. From weeks 1-6, Fields had four passing touchdowns and five interceptions; the Bears were dead last in passing yardage and 31st in points scored per game. But things seem to have flipped after the Week 7 game against New England, when the Bears called 11 designed runs for Fields—more than double his career high. In his last three games, Fields has six passing touchdowns and just one interception, and Chicago is second in the NFL in points scored in that stretch. (And Fields nearly led the Bears back against the Dolphins on Sunday; his deep pass to Chase Claypool with about 90 seconds remaining was on target but was broken up by two Miami defenders, neither of whom were flagged for pass interference.)
Allowing Fields to run seems to have recaptured some of the passing brilliance we saw out of him in college. According to TruMedia, 19 of Fields’s 28 pass attempts on Sunday came with at least seven defenders in the box, as the Dolphins stacked up to stop his running capabilities. In his first eight games, only 66 of his 159 passing attempts had come with seven or more defenders in the box.
Fields looked broken a few weeks ago—but he’s a 6-foot-3, 228-pounder who can run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and was praised for his hyper-accuracy as a college QB. It feels like an indictment of the Bears’ coaching staff that it took so long to figure out how to make him work. Now that they know how to handle Chicago’s Superman, Fields has turned a corner—and as the Dolphins found out Sunday, it’s hard to stop him once he turns a corner. Unless you ask nicely, like McDaniel did.
An NFL game features 22 players, seven officials, and one flying robot. We love the flying robot! SkyCam gives us some of the best camera shots in any given game—the best approximation of a QB’s field of vision, detailed shots of huddles that camera operators could never get close enough to capture, and roller coaster thrill rides on kickoff returns.
But sometimes the flying robot goes rogue. In Sunday’s Bills-Jets game, something was clearly wrong with the SkyCam from the opening kick. When CBS used the SkyCam angle behind the kicker on field goals, the camera wriggled and jerked instead of providing a clean shot of the kick. In the third quarter, the camera went totally rogue, hovering menacingly over the Jets sideline like a tiny flying saucer.
The Jets had to clear the area under the uncontrolled camera. After about 10 minutes, technicians were able to lower the camera and clear it from the field. After the game, Jets head coach Robert Saleh lamented that this is the type of thing that “only happens to the Jets.”
But that’s not exactly true! Wherever there is a massive HD camera suspended by a complex series of cables, there is a chance for disaster. SkyCam malfunctions happen every few years. The most recent incident came in the 2020 playoff game between the Vikings and Saints, with many feeling that the lengthy delay ruined Minnesota’s momentum on a potential game-tying drive. During a 2011 college football bowl game, the camera crashed near Iowa’s huddle, entangling a handful of players in the cables. Another incident happened in 2007, with the camera nearly hitting Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck. A similar system crashed into spectators at the 2016 Olympics, resulting in seven injuries.
However, I want to be clear about one thing: That Mac Jones pass that Patriots fans thought hit the SkyCam cable a few weeks ago? Nope! That was all Mac Jones. The SkyCam might crash into the middle of the field during games, but it doesn’t make your quarterback more likely to throw interceptions.
Winner: Jordan “The Wobbly Pin” Hicks
It feels like the art has gone out of the NFL’s group celebrations. When the league loosened its celebration rules in 2017, we saw a flood of beautiful new cellies. Whole teams gathered to play imaginary sports, from baseball to curling to duck-duck-goose. But the novelty wore off. It’s much easier to just do the Griddy.
On Sunday, the Vikings defense got an interception and busted out a relatively tired trope: Harrison Smith, who got the interception, rolled the ball at his teammates, who all fell over as if they were bowling pins. It’s been done a handful of times, and quite frankly, the Vikings’ rendition was a bad one. Although the bowling celly is nearly perfect for an 11-man football unit (one bowler, 10 pins), roughly 15 Vikings gathered on the sideline. They didn’t form a triangle, just a big blob of pins. While past bowling celebrations have somewhat simulated the effect of pins crashing into one another, the Vikings just exploded outward, like someone had set off a bomb above the 5-pin. Like I said: The art has gone out of the NFL’s group celebrations.
Except for one man: linebacker Jordan Hicks, who truly dedicated himself to the role of “wobbly pin that takes a while to fall over.” Most of his teammates were already standing up like zombie pins when he finally succumbed to gravity and toppled.
What’s amazing is that Hicks has clearly given attention to refining his craft. In 2020, he was a member of the Arizona Cardinals when they did the bowling celebration. You can see him in the back row of pins. He simply falls over—no wobbles. But somewhere inside his brain, the wheels were turning. I think he knew that he could do better.
How does a bowling pin look? How does it act? Does it flop down and shoot its legs skyward? No! Of course not! Bowling pins don’t have legs! And if Jordan Hicks can’t convince viewers that he is a bowling pin, how can Jordan Hicks convince an opposing QB that he’s blitzing when he’s really dropping into zone coverage? There’s still art in the celebration, just as there’s art in football.
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