The doubters were out in full force coming into Sunday night’s game: Peyton Manning just didn’t have it any more. The oddsmakers had even made the 6-0 Broncos home underdogs against the similarly undefeated Packers.
They had good reason to doubt. Manning had not looked like himself through six games this season. He’d thrown seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He completed just over 60% of his passes. Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranked him the worst quarterback in the league. The Packers’ pass defense, meanwhile, was ranked fifth by the site. He’d struggled in Gary Kubiak’s new offense.
Yet after Sunday night’s performance, the doubters might be doubting themselves. Manning completed 21 of 29 passes for 340 yards in the Broncos’ 29-10 thrashing of the Pack. He completed four of six deep passes for 119 yards. Although he didn’t throw a touchdown pass (and had one picked off), he looked more like the Peyton Manning of old. In the process, he tied Brett Favre’s NFL record for most victories by a starting quarterback at 186.
“How can I say this without hurting anybody’s feelings?” he told reporters afterward. “I just don’t give what y’all say that much merit. I’m not going to put a Jim Mora on you and say the famous, ‘You think you know, but you just don’t know and you never will.’ Although that’s a great line, I’m not saying that. I’ll say it at some point before I stop playing, but it’s not the time now. I have just been very determined to get comfortable in this offense … I don’t look at this like an ‘I told you so’ moment. I don’t listen to what you say in the first place.” It might’ve been folksy, but I think that’s a burn.
Of course, Manning’s issues aren’t over. Maybe this was a fluke – those first six games still happened. He sits at seven TD passes and 11 interceptions, an underwater touchdown-to-interception ratio Manning hasn’t seen since his rookie season in 1998. But if Manning is rounding into form, look out: The Broncos could move from “lucky undefeated team” to “legit Super Bowl contender” just like that. That’s thanks to their defense.
The Broncos have been looking like the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles this season. (That’s appropriate, since Manning has been playing like the revolving door at quarterback the team had that year.) Last night, they held Aaron Rodgers to just 77 yards passing and 14 completed passes. The longest reception of the night was a 17-yard catch. Packers wideouts had just 31 yards receiving. The only Green Bay touchdown came after a roughing the passer penalty extended a drive.
Green Bay wasn’t much better on the ground, rushing for 90 yards and its lone touchdown. And the defense essentially ended any chance of a Packers comeback when DeMarcus Ware had a strip-sack on Rodgers with 12 minutes left, leading to a safety.
Manning will get the headlines and accolades from last night’s win – even in this – but it’s Denver’s defense that’s unquestionably the backbone of this team. If they can keep it up, even a so-so Manning might be good enough for this team.
Quote of the week
They just ain’t going to push us around and expect us to just sit there. We let our play do all the talking
Bengals wide receiver AJ Green didn’t mince words after Cincinnati improved to 7-0 for the first time in team history with a 16-10 victory over the Steelers.
Green related an on-field incident after the Bengals’ comeback win: After Steelers safety Mike Mitchell knocked Marvin Jones out of the game (with a clean hit), he approached Green. “I got you next,” he told Green. Later, Green caught the game-winning touchdown pass form Andy Dalton with just under three minutes to play. The Bengals wideout finished with 11 catches for 118 yards and the score.
It took Cincinnati more than 57 minutes to score a touchdown, but their defense intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice in the fourth quarter to set up the team’s final 10 points. The Bengals are four games up in the loss column in the AFC North, and have already beaten the Steelers and Ravens.
There are three 7-0 teams in the AFC, so one of them isn’t getting a first-round bye. But with home games against the Browns and Texans coming up the next two weeks, Cincinnati is in a great position to go to 9-0 and really put themselves in a great spot for the regular-season homestretch.
Stat of the week
13,932 – Steve Smith caught five passes for 82 yards on Sunday for the Baltimore Ravens, giving him 13,932 for his career. That moved him past Cris Carter for 10th place on the all-time receiving yards leaderboard.
Unfortunately, that might be where Smith finishes. He’s out for the season after tearing his Achilles running upfield after a catch in the Ravens’ 29-26 win over the Chargers on Sunday. Smith has said previously this was his last year in the NFL, though Pro Football Talk said his agent pegged a return for 2016 at 50-50.
Smith has been a player who has something for everyone. He’s a throwback tough guy who once caught a touchdown pass while breaking his arm and didn’t even seem to flinch. He’s also a trash talker who yelled “Ice up, son!” at Aqib Talib. For the past 15 seasons, Smith has been one of the most talented, entertaining wide receivers in the league. If this is the end for him, it’s been a good run.
Fantasy player of the week
Drew Brees: Through six games, the Saints quarterback had struggled a bit. He’d thrown eight touchdowns. Not an awful number, sure, but nowhere near his usual high level of play. New Orleans opened the season 1-4, and observers wondered if this was the end of the team’s run of success.
Enter the Giants’ secondary, the cure for most quarterbacks’ struggles. Brees completed 80% of his passes for 511 yards and seven touchdown passes, career highs both. The sevens scores tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a game. (That mark is shared by Hall of Fame signal-callers YA Tittle, Sid Luckman, George Blanda, future HOFer Peyton Manning, 18th-round draft pick Joe Kapp and, somehow, two Philadelphia Eagles: Adrian Burk and Nick Foles.)
Brees came into the game averaging just 7.4 yards per attempt. On Sunday, that clip soared to 10.22. Owners who had him in fantasy leagues that awards six points per passing TD are likely cashing in – or sending trash talk texts to their opponent – on Monday morning.
Of course, Brees wasn’t the only fantasy star in this game. Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes, three of them to Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants actually rallied from two 14-point deficits in the game; they trailed 28-14 but tied it at 28 on a 50-yard Beckham TD catch. In the fourth quarter, the Giants went ahead 49-42 when Trumaine McBride returned a fumble 63 yards for a score.
The Saints would then rally themselves. Brees tied the game with a touchdown pass with 36 seconds left, and the Giants went three-and-out. Marcus Murphy returned Brad Wing’s short punt into Giants territory, but fumbled. Willie Snead recovered, and Wing grabbed his face mask on the tackle.
Suddenly, the Saints had an attempt at a game-tying field goal with just a few seconds left. Kai Forbath, attempting his first kick for the Saints, hit it through to give New Orleans a 52-49 win. “Brees had seven touchdowns,” Saints coach Sean Payton said postgame. “We told them the game ball was going to the kicker.” Only in a wild game like that one could the guy who tied an NFL record not play the hero.
How the Patriots cheated this week
The Patriots didn’t even play on Sunday! And they didn’t have a bye, either. After some sleuthing, it seems that New England actually played on Thursday, beating the Dolphins, 36-7. Meanwhile, on Saturday PFT broke the news of an email regarding the Jets siccing NFL security on three staffers of Kraft Sports (as in Patriots owner Robert Kraft) during last week’s Jets-Pats game. And the Boston Globe reported the NFL swept the Jets’ visitors locker room before the 25 October game.
So it seems like this weekly feature isn’t the only one that thinks the Patriots might be cheating each week: The NFL is keeping an eye on New England too.
Gif of the week
The Arizona Cardinals dug a big hole on Sunday. It didn’t matter. Touchdowns by Gary Barnidge and two by Brian Hartline gave the Cleveland Browns a 20-7 lead in the second quarter. Arizona responded by scoring the final 27 points of the game, including a 24-0 second half, to cruise to a 34-20 victory. Carson Palmer had 374 yards passing and four touchdowns in the comeback win.
Larry Fitzgerald, meanwhile, obliterated the Browns with nine catches for 84 yards and a score. Michael Floyd had 4 grabs for 106 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown. The Browns had just 86 yards in the second half; Cleveland’s final three possessions ended in an interception, a fumble and a turnover on downs.
Arizona is 6-2 and in first place in the NFC West. The Rams (4-3) and Seahawks (4-4) are right behind them, but going into the bye Arizona has to be feeling good about how the first half of the season went.
Elsewhere around the league
— The Steelers lost more than just the game to the Bengals on Sunday. After tearing his MCL, Le’Veon Bell is expected to miss the rest of the season. After serving a two-game suspension to start the year, Bell had rushed for almost five yards a carry and three touchdowns on the year. Bell is only 23, and still has a bright future, but he won’t be carrying the ball for the Steelers again this season.
Now the Steelers will go back to DeAngelo Williams, who put up decent numbers in Pittsburgh’s first two games: 122 yards in Week 1, three touchdowns in Week 2. How good can he be? “It’s always an emotional blow when you lose any guy, let alone a guy like Le’Veon Bell,” Williams said after the game. “I just want to step in and try to do my job as best I can do my job, not like Le’Veon does his job because we’re two different runners. He brings a different dimension to the team as well as I do. I just have to go in there and be productive in the backfield and take the pressure off Ben.”
— The Falcons are finding out that winning is a bit tougher when you’re not always playing the NFC East. Atlanta’s 5-0 start included four wins over the lowly division, which features three teams with losing records and a first-place New York team that’s 4-4 and just gave up 52 points in a game. Since then, the Falcons are 1-2 with a win over the Titans and in-division losses to the Saints and, yesterday, the Buccaneers.
To be fair, the Falcons outplayed the Buccaneers on Sunday. They outgained Tampa Bay 496 to 290. But they dug themselves a hole with four turnovers, all of them in Buccaneers territory. That led to a 20-3 deficit they just couldn’t get out of. They tried, though. Julio Jones, who had one of Atlanta’s four turnovers, caught a TD pass with 23 seconds left to send the game to overtime. But Tampa opened with seven-minute drive that led to a field goal, and the Falcons turned it over on downs on the ensuing possession.
— Todd Gurley may already have wrapped up the Offensive Rookie of the Year title. He has four 100-yard games in just five games, including 133 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 27-6 win over the 49ers. He leads the league with 115 yards a game and 6.1 yards per carry. He has the fourth-longest run of any player this season, a 71-yard TD scamper yesterday. Per STATS, Inc, Gurley is the first rookie to have 100 yard games in his first four starts. (He was a backup in his first game.) Some are asking if Gurley is already the league’s best running back – just five games into his career.
— Meanwhile, Reggie Bush, filling in at starter for the 49ers, suffered a torn ACL on a play where he slipped on the concrete skirt surrounding the turf at Edward Jones Dome. This is the second injury on the concrete this year; Josh McCown slipped and hurt his elbow last week. Obviously, there’s no real discussion here: Players shouldn’t have to avoid concrete while they’re playing in cleats. The concrete needs to be covered up.
This article was written by Dan McQuade, for theguardian.com on Monday 2nd November 2015 15.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010