Goodell crosses his fingers

NFL Week 7 Preview

By David McDonnell

If Roger Goodell gets out of bed on Monday morning and no-one is talking about concussion, he’ll be a happy man.

There have been a number of high profile quarterback head injuries of late, most notably when Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field live on Thursday Night Football after suffering his second concussion in five days.

The previous Sunday, Tua had stumbled after getting up off the ground with an apparent concussion, only to surprisingly pass the head injury assessment and return to the field to lead his team to victory against the Ravens. Four days later when he was swung to the ground and his helmet bounced off the turf in Cincinnati, his body went into a spasm as the viewing audience feared for the worst.

We are now three weeks later and Tua has admitted he has no memory of the incident, which brought the NFL concussion protocol front-and-centre of the national debate. 

During this time, the NFL commissioner moved swiftly and fired the doctor who had cleared Tagovailoa to return against Baltimore. He then, along with the NFL Players Association amended the rules around the concussion protocol, which now prohibits a player from returning to play if that player shows ataxia, which is a term that describes impaired coordination and balance caused by head trauma.

This affair has already had an effect across the league and we have seen quarterbacks not return to the field of play every Sunday since the incident. The media attention this story created has certainly furthered the conversation around ‘second-concussion syndrome’ and will likely change the practice in other sports as has happened in the past.

Steelers v Dolphins

Another reason why Commissioner Goodell will be wary about this prime time Sunday night fixture is that Steelers’ rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has also been cleared to start after leaving mid-game last Sunday, also with a concussion.

Trailing at the time against the Bucs, his replacement Mitch Trubisky came on and was impressive in turning the contest in Pittsburgh’s favour. It leaves head coach Mike Tomlin with a difficult call to make and all indications are that he will start with the rookie. It might have been easier to go with the veteran this week, as Pickett had only 67 passing yards on 18 attempts before leaving the field.

The Steelers need to win this game and with a 2-4 record, a few more losses will put their season to bed and then Pickett will have a free reign as starter. Tomlin has said he doesn’t want a quarterback carousel and must feel that Pickett is his best option to lead this team to victory, especially as the Steelers are only one game away from the Bengals and Ravens who sit atop of the AFC North on records of 3-3.

The pressure is also on for Miami as they have recorded three losses in a row since Tua’s untimely departure, after starting the season 3-0 with him under centre.

With both starting tackles questionable for this game, Tua might need to get rid of the ball quickly on Sunday night but if he is afforded time in the pocket he should have a full receiving corp to choose from with Jalen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and the recently returned Cedrick Wilson providing speed in every direction. For this reason and their competitive defence, I like Miami for this game. 

Green Bay Packers @ Washington Commanders

Another team forced to change their quarterback in Week 7 are the Washington Commanders, after Carson Wentz was put on injured-reverse for at least four weeks with a hand injury. It leaves Taylor Heineke in the pivotal position and he was always game when he got the opportunity to start when Ryan Fitzpatrck got injured in the first game last season. 

Where Heineke is limited is where the Commanders want to attack, down the field with their four receivers who can all run the 40 in 4.3. Heineke is a smart decision maker but he lacks the arm strength that the top QBs in the NFL possess.  It doesn’t help that on Sunday, he will play behind a weak Commanders offensive line. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Washington might have found a diamond in the rough when they drafted Sam Howell in the fifth round. He impressed me in pre-season and certainly has the arm talent to throw downfield and also moves well in the pocket. What he needs to prove to his coaches is that he can throw the ball accurately as well as make good decisions consistently at an NFL level. I think it’s only a matter of when and not if, before he gets an extended start at quarterback.  

This is already a big game for the Commanders against Green Bay and a loss would effectively put a finish to their playoff hopes in the NFC East and mount pressure on Ron Rivera as head-coach. With the return of Chase Young likely within the next fortnight, he needs results to go his way to survive the next few weeks and a win against an under-performing Green Bay would be a great place to start. 

It might be a good time to play them too as the Packers are coming off London and Wisconsin losses against the resurgent New York Giants and New York Jets. 

They have two major issues at the moment. Primarily, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t seem to have built up enough trust with his new receivers. Doubs has flashed at times but on the big downs Rodgers routinely goes to find Allen Lezard and Randell Cobb, with the latter now out for an extended period after being put on injured reserve. With good timing, Sammy Watkins returns to the match-day squad and at least has the experience of delivering in bigger games and against better defensive backs than he will face on Sunday.

What has arguably been the biggest disappointment for the Packers has been their defence which looks better on paper than they are delivering on the field. They are lacking some pass rush ability but their secondary should be among the best in the business and their line-backing trio are strong with only Rashan Gary balling-out on a week-to-week basis. 

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt to get the W on the road this weekend. 

Chiefs @ 49ers

Talk of a 2020 Superbowl rematch, between the Chiefs and the Niners, was derailed on Thursday Night after the Niners pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffery.

The final piece of the puzzle?

It was a major surprise as all the noise the previous weekend was that the star running-back was on his way to Buffalo. In the trade San Francisco took quite a hefty gamble by giving up second, third, fourth and fifth round picks over the next two drafts to secure the services of a player who has spent most of the last two seasons in the treatment room trying to get healthy.

If McCaffery can stay fit, I think it’s a super signing as he will suit the zone-running scheme that head coach Kyle Shanahan runs very successfully. He will also give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a good passing option out the backfield. 

If you remember what Shanahan did with his running backs when he was offensive coordinator in Atlanta, this could be a key move as the 49ers figuratively push all their chips into the middle of the table to win the Superbowl this season. 

They have plenty of reasons to be optimistic with their struggles on offence looking to be clearing. The return of left tackle Trent Williams is not far away and Deebo has continued his impressive dual-threat form of last season. George Kittle has returned to fitness at tight end and Brandon Aiyuk has made a significant improvement as a wide-out option.

Last Sunday, McCaffery had 168 yards from scrimmage in his last game as a Panther and his addition to the 49er attack will leave at least two of the aforementioned four weapons in one-on-one coverage on every drive.

With what is, in my opinion, the best defence in the NFL this season, they are in a Superbowl window and Jimmy G will have little or no excuses if he doesn’t succeed.

In my opinion, this trade is a risk worth taking for general manager John Lynch and Shanahan. Worst case scenario,  McCaffery doesn’t stay healthy, the season goes to pot and it signals the end of their era in the Bay Area. 

And then it will be left to the next guy to pick up the pieces, with almost no draft picks in May.

Goodell crosses his fingers

NFL Week 7 Preview

By David McDonnell

If Roger Goodell gets out of bed on Monday morning and no-one is talking about concussion, he’ll be a happy man.

There have been a number of high profile quarterback head injuries of late, most notably when Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa was carted off the field live on Thursday Night Football after suffering his second concussion in five days.

The previous Sunday, Tua had stumbled after getting up off the ground with an apparent concussion, only to surprisingly pass the head injury assessment and return to the field to lead his team to victory against the Ravens. Four days later when he was swung to the ground and his helmet bounced off the turf in Cincinnati, his body went into a spasm as the viewing audience feared for the worst.

We are now three weeks later and Tua has admitted he has no memory of the incident, which brought the NFL concussion protocol front-and-centre of the national debate. 

During this time, the NFL commissioner moved swiftly and fired the doctor who had cleared Tagovailoa to return against Baltimore. He then, along with the NFL Players Association amended the rules around the concussion protocol, which now prohibits a player from returning to play if that player shows ataxia, which is a term that describes impaired coordination and balance caused by head trauma.

This affair has already had an effect across the league and we have seen quarterbacks not return to the field of play every Sunday since the incident. The media attention this story created has certainly furthered the conversation around ‘second-concussion syndrome’ and will likely change the practice in other sports as has happened in the past.

Steelers v Dolphins

Another reason why Commissioner Goodell will be wary about this prime time Sunday night fixture is that Steelers’ rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett has also been cleared to start after leaving mid-game last Sunday, also with a concussion.

Trailing at the time against the Bucs, his replacement Mitch Trubisky came on and was impressive in turning the contest in Pittsburgh’s favour. It leaves head coach Mike Tomlin with a difficult call to make and all indications are that he will start with the rookie. It might have been easier to go with the veteran this week, as Pickett had only 67 passing yards on 18 attempts before leaving the field.

The Steelers need to win this game and with a 2-4 record, a few more losses will put their season to bed and then Pickett will have a free reign as starter. Tomlin has said he doesn’t want a quarterback carousel and must feel that Pickett is his best option to lead this team to victory, especially as the Steelers are only one game away from the Bengals and Ravens who sit atop of the AFC North on records of 3-3.

The pressure is also on for Miami as they have recorded three losses in a row since Tua’s untimely departure, after starting the season 3-0 with him under centre.

With both starting tackles questionable for this game, Tua might need to get rid of the ball quickly on Sunday night but if he is afforded time in the pocket he should have a full receiving corp to choose from with Jalen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and the recently returned Cedrick Wilson providing speed in every direction. For this reason and their competitive defence, I like Miami for this game. 

Green Bay Packers @ Washington Commanders

Another team forced to change their quarterback in Week 7 are the Washington Commanders, after Carson Wentz was put on injured-reverse for at least four weeks with a hand injury. It leaves Taylor Heineke in the pivotal position and he was always game when he got the opportunity to start when Ryan Fitzpatrck got injured in the first game last season. 

Where Heineke is limited is where the Commanders want to attack, down the field with their four receivers who can all run the 40 in 4.3. Heineke is a smart decision maker but he lacks the arm strength that the top QBs in the NFL possess.  It doesn’t help that on Sunday, he will play behind a weak Commanders offensive line. 

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Washington might have found a diamond in the rough when they drafted Sam Howell in the fifth round. He impressed me in pre-season and certainly has the arm talent to throw downfield and also moves well in the pocket. What he needs to prove to his coaches is that he can throw the ball accurately as well as make good decisions consistently at an NFL level. I think it’s only a matter of when and not if, before he gets an extended start at quarterback.  

This is already a big game for the Commanders against Green Bay and a loss would effectively put a finish to their playoff hopes in the NFC East and mount pressure on Ron Rivera as head-coach. With the return of Chase Young likely within the next fortnight, he needs results to go his way to survive the next few weeks and a win against an under-performing Green Bay would be a great place to start. 

It might be a good time to play them too as the Packers are coming off London and Wisconsin losses against the resurgent New York Giants and New York Jets. 

They have two major issues at the moment. Primarily, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t seem to have built up enough trust with his new receivers. Doubs has flashed at times but on the big downs Rodgers routinely goes to find Allen Lezard and Randell Cobb, with the latter now out for an extended period after being put on injured reserve. With good timing, Sammy Watkins returns to the match-day squad and at least has the experience of delivering in bigger games and against better defensive backs than he will face on Sunday.

What has arguably been the biggest disappointment for the Packers has been their defence which looks better on paper than they are delivering on the field. They are lacking some pass rush ability but their secondary should be among the best in the business and their line-backing trio are strong with only Rashan Gary balling-out on a week-to-week basis. 

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt to get the W on the road this weekend. 

Chiefs @ 49ers

Talk of a 2020 Superbowl rematch, between the Chiefs and the Niners, was derailed on Thursday Night after the Niners pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Carolina Panthers for Christian McCaffery.

The final piece of the puzzle?

It was a major surprise as all the noise the previous weekend was that the star running-back was on his way to Buffalo. In the trade San Francisco took quite a hefty gamble by giving up second, third, fourth and fifth round picks over the next two drafts to secure the services of a player who has spent most of the last two seasons in the treatment room trying to get healthy.

If McCaffery can stay fit, I think it’s a super signing as he will suit the zone-running scheme that head coach Kyle Shanahan runs very successfully. He will also give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a good passing option out the backfield. 

If you remember what Shanahan did with his running backs when he was offensive coordinator in Atlanta, this could be a key move as the 49ers figuratively push all their chips into the middle of the table to win the Superbowl this season. 

They have plenty of reasons to be optimistic with their struggles on offence looking to be clearing. The return of left tackle Trent Williams is not far away and Deebo has continued his impressive dual-threat form of last season. George Kittle has returned to fitness at tight end and Brandon Aiyuk has made a significant improvement as a wide-out option.

Last Sunday, McCaffery had 168 yards from scrimmage in his last game as a Panther and his addition to the 49er attack will leave at least two of the aforementioned four weapons in one-on-one coverage on every drive.

With what is, in my opinion, the best defence in the NFL this season, they are in a Superbowl window and Jimmy G will have little or no excuses if he doesn’t succeed.

In my opinion, this trade is a risk worth taking for general manager John Lynch and Shanahan. Worst case scenario,  McCaffery doesn’t stay healthy, the season goes to pot and it signals the end of their era in the Bay Area. 

And then it will be left to the next guy to pick up the pieces, with almost no draft picks in May.

Mahommes Catches Fire as new QBs get their chance

NFL Week 4 Monday review column 

By David McDonnell

Phew!! 

Another Sunday in the books and another footballing feast for the eyes with terrific action and close encounters right across the National Football League.

With the exception of the late, late contest between the Chiefs and the Bucs, the other 14 matches all were one-score games during the fourth quarter. There was even a point during the early kick-offs where all nine matches were one-score games in the fourth quarter at the same point in time.

Where in the world would you find this level of competition in professional sport?

The answer is, of course, is nowhere but in the NFL. It is the reason why supporters of gridiron tune in week in, week out as the action continues to deliver the goods.  

Let’s start with one of the most anticipated match-ups, when Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson went head-to-head. 

Bills @ Ravens 

By the beginning of the fourth quarter the game was tied 20-20, as this thoroughly entertaining contest was played out on soft ground and in heavy rain.

Both protagonists were to the fore. 

Lamar Jackson helped the Ravens into an early lead when on his first drive, he took advantage of the short field, after an interception by Marlon Humphrey,  and shuffle-passed the ball to JK Dobbins for the opening touchdown. He then found Devin Duvernay with a heads-up play for another six-pointer.

At the end of the first half, Josh Allen kicked into action and led a drive which ended when he threw to Isiah McKenzie for a touchdown with 13 seconds left to make it 10-20 at the break. 

Allen was immense after half time and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. He finished off the opening drive by taking off on a scramble to the left sideline and stepping inside the oncoming defenders for a touchdown to level the scores.

The game remained 20-20 as Lamar fired to Devin Duvernay, who brought the play up to the one-yard line. Three plays later and the Bills defence stood firm. 

Then came a surprising call by Ravens coach, John Harbaugh, who turned down the chance  to take a three-point lead with the field goal and went for it on fourth down. Buffalo continued their goal-line stand as Baltimore’s 14-play drive ended with no points. Jackson’s next drive also ended in disappointment when Jordan Poyer got his second interception of the game with four minutes remaining.

Allen once again took centre stage and led his team down the field with superb quarterback play. 

By the time the Bills were on the three-yard line, they had worked the clock down to three seconds remaining when Tyler Bass kicked them to victory with a field goal. 

This was a terrific contest decided by small margins with great performances across both teams. It will be remembered as the biggest comeback victory of Josh Allen’s career to date as the Bills came from 3-20 down to win 23-20.

It looked at the time to be the best quarterbacking performance of the weekend, but not to be undone, Patrick Mahommes reminded everyone what a superstar he is with a sensational performance in a packed Raymond James Stadium in the late kick off. 

Unstoppable

In doing so he gained a margin of revenge for the loss in Superbowl 55 as he tore the Bucs defence to pieces.

He started the game with touchdowns on his first three drives. On the night, he was just electric with a performance littered with jaw-dropping plays. Throughout Mahommes displayed his natural ingenuity with ball-in-hand on a level that most players could only dream of.

In my opinion, Mahommes showed a growing maturity and progression with his game management by leaning on all of his receiving core, which made the Chiefs attack unpredictable throughout. Tom Brady did well to keep the score a respectable 41-31.

It also finally put to bed for me that Kansas might struggle without the Cheetah, Tyreek Hill. If they can do this to the Bucs defence, then every other defensive coordinator on their schedule better sit up and take notice.

It’s only Week 4 and already I’m finding it hard to contain myself with the prospect of these three quarterbacks, Allen, Jackson and Mahommes, duking it out for supremacy in the AFC when knockout football returns in January.

Young Guns Part 1

Kenny Pickett and Bailey Zappe enter the fray in Week 4

One of the most interesting happenings of Week 4 was the somewhat unexpected introduction to two rookie quarterbacks during two tightly-contested fixtures.  

Jets @ Steelers

Pittsburgh trailed 10-6 at home to the New York Jets, after Braxton Barrios found his QB Zach Wilson with a ‘Philly-Special.’

It led Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to make a quarterback change at half time when he benched Mitch Trubisky for his first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett much to the delight of the home crowd. After three runs and a quarterback sneak to pick up the first down the crowd began chanting ‘Kenny!!!, Kenny!!!’ 

Pickett’s first pass down in the NFL resulted in an interception. However, the home crowd were not going to be deterred and a few plays later safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted back to bring the play down near the goal line.

From there Pickett ran it in and the  “Kenny, Kenny” chants erupted once again. He followed this up with another rushing TD in the fourth quarter as the Steelers turned the game around with a 10-20 lead. 

With less than eight minutes left, Jets QB Zach Wilson, in his first appearance of the year, showed what a young talent he is as he led a comeback effort. He fired to Corey Davies to make it 17-20. After a late drive, he fed another rookie, running-back Breece Hall,  for the winning score with only 16 seconds left. 

The action wasn’t over. With four points between the teams, Pickett had one last chance for a Hail Mary and as his delivery sailed into the endzone, safety Lamarcus Joyner grabbed an interception to finish the contest. 

Young Guns Part 2

Patriots @ Packers

What was expected to be a defensive spectacle ended up being a very entertaining contest, which took on a new dimension in the first quarter after Patriots back-up QB Brian Hoyer got a head injury.

It resulted in an early introduction for the Pats third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round pick from Western Kentucky, to make a highly unexpected NFL debut. 

It was another rookie Christian Watson who ran in his first NFL TD when he took a pop-pass from Aaron Rodgers in motion. 

The Pats played physical smash-mouth football which kept Rodgers on the sideline and by the time he retook the field in the last minute of the second quarter, he had only thrown for 38 yards. Two plays later and Rodgers threw a pick-six, his second ever of his career at Lambeau Field. It left the Packers trailing 10-7 at the break. 

In the second half, the teams went blow for blow. First Rodgers fired to his tight-end Robert Tonyan for a TD and the following run-heavy drive from New England ended with Zappe finding DeVante Parker on play-action for the first passing touchdown of his career. 

The sides swapped scores again in the fourth quarter when a Damien Harris score was replied to when Rodgers found rookie Romeo Doubs for the 500th TD of his career. The game finished tied and in overtime Rodgers led his team down the field for Mason Crosby to kick the winner from 31 yards with four seconds left. 

As unlikely as events unfolded to give Zappe his first starts, something more unlikely happened in the New York Giants victory over Chicago. Daniel Jones had to leave the field with an injury and then his replacement Tyrod Taylor also had to exit with an ankle injury. 

With no other QB on the playing roster, it left star-of-the-show Saquon Barkley to go under centre as a wildcat QB and he led the Giants down the field in the fourth quarter for the insurance field goal in a 12-20 win over the Bears. 

London Calling 

The Minnesota Vikings won an excellent contest in the early kickoff in London against a New Orleans team that showed grit and determination to stay in the contest throughout and then took a lead late in the fourth quarter. 

Justin Jefferson was the star of the contest with 147 receiving yards on the day and when he rushed in from three yards, London got to see his ‘Griddy’ touchdown celebration to help the Vikings regain the lead in fourth quarter. 

A missed PAT left three points between the teams.

Saints kicker Will Lutz in particular had an afternoon to remember when his 60-yard kick went between the posts to tie the game with two minutes remaining. Fast forward to the last play of the game and Lutz was in a similar position with another long-range attempt to bring the contest to overtime., 

However, this time his effort hit the post and then the crossbar for a ‘double-doink’ that secured victory for the Vikes. 

Round-Up 

If there is a more improved player in the NFL than Jalen Hurts, I haven’t seen him.

Trailing 0-14 on the road away to Jacksonville, he displayed courage and leadership to lead his team to a deserved win. The Eagles offence that is just rolling at the moment.

A coach that definitely doesn’t get the respect he is due in my opinion is Nick Siriani, who deserves credit for building the offence around Hurts in a similar way to how Baltimore has built around the talent of Lamar Jackson.

Helped by a superb offensive line they run opinion plays and play action to great effect and he schemes Hurts to where he is most dangerous: outside the pocket. It will be interesting if he meets a defence that can contain him, but so far he has hurdled all the obstacles put before him.  

The Eagles are the only team to go 4-0 and with running-back Miles Sanders running impressively for 156 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

Slightly more impressively, Rashaad Penny ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns in what, so far, is the highest scoring game of the season as the Seahawks beat the Detroit Lions 48-45.

Seattle led for most of the contest but the Detroit Lions would not give up the ghost.

Tight-end TJ Hockenson had eight receptions for 179 yards and two TDs in a game where both quarterbacks Geno Smith and Jared Goff balled out for their respective sides. Jamaal Williams also continued to show that he can walk-the-walk as good as he can talk-the-talk, when he ran in for a 51-yard TD, his second score of the game. 

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo proved his worth once again as his late effort was the difference in a tightly-fought 20-23 contest with the Cleveland Browns. 

Kyler Murray got his second win of the campaign when he took down the Carolina Panthers 26-16. Murray came alive in the second half and was the best player on show. He was run close in that regard by teammate Zach Allen, who on the day batted three Baker Mayfield throws and recorded a sack and his performance drew comparisons with swat-machine JJ Watt. 

In the NFC East, Cooper Rush continued to win as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys as they beat their divisional opponents the Washington Commanders, wearing their new black uniforms for the first time. 

Derek Henry looked back near his best as the Titans had a 24-17 road win against the Colts, while Austin Ekeler was to the fore scoring three touchdowns as the LA Chargers took the honours away to the Houston Texans.

Finally, Josh McDaniels got his first win as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in an entertaining 23-32 contest at home to the Denver Broncos. Running-back Josh Jacobs was key to the victory with 175 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. 

Phew!!!

Another few hours to catch my breath until the week rounds off with an NFC West match-up as the San Francisco 49ers take on their neighboring rival LA Rams.

Read our MNF preview later today!

Mahommes Catches Fire

NFL Week 4 Monday review column 

By David McDonnell

Phew!! 

Another Sunday in the books and another footballing feast for the eyes with terrific action and close encounters right across the National Football League.

With the exception of the late, late contest between the Chiefs and the Bucs, the other 14 matches all were one-score games during the fourth quarter. There was even a point during the early kick-offs where all nine matches were one-score games in the fourth quarter at the same point in time.

Where in the world would you find this level of competition in professional sport?

The answer is, of course, is nowhere but in the NFL. It is the reason why supporters of gridiron tune in week in, week out as the action continues to deliver the goods.  

Let’s start with one of the most anticipated match-ups, when Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson went head-to-head. 

Bills @ Ravens 

By the beginning of the fourth quarter the game was tied 20-20, as this thoroughly entertaining contest was played out on soft ground and in heavy rain.

Both protagonists were to the fore. 

Lamar Jackson helped the Ravens into an early lead when on his first drive, he took advantage of the short field, after an interception by Marlon Humphrey,  and shuffle-passed the ball to JK Dobbins for the opening touchdown. He then found Devin Duvernay with a heads-up play for another six-pointer.

At the end of the first half, Josh Allen kicked into action and led a drive which ended when he threw to Isiah McKenzie for a touchdown with 13 seconds left to make it 10-20 at the break. 

Allen was immense after half time and grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. He finished off the opening drive by taking off on a scramble to the left sideline and stepping inside the oncoming defenders for a touchdown to level the scores.

The game remained 20-20 as Lamar fired to Devin Duvernay, who brought the play up to the one-yard line. Three plays later and the Bills defence stood firm. 

Then came a surprising call by Ravens coach, John Harbaugh, who turned down the chance  to take a three-point lead with the field goal and went for it on fourth down. Buffalo continued their goal-line stand as Baltimore’s 14-play drive ended with no points. Jackson’s next drive also ended in disappointment when Jordan Poyer got his second interception of the game with four minutes remaining.

Allen once again took centre stage and led his team down the field with superb quarterback play. 

By the time the Bills were on the three-yard line, they had worked the clock down to three seconds remaining when Tyler Bass kicked them to victory with a field goal. 

This was a terrific contest decided by small margins with great performances across both teams. It will be remembered as the biggest comeback victory of Josh Allen’s career to date as the Bills came from 3-20 down to win 23-20.

It looked at the time to be the best quarterbacking performance of the weekend, but not to be undone, Patrick Mahommes reminded everyone what a superstar he is with a sensational performance in a packed Raymond James Stadium in the late kick off. 

In doing so he gained a margin of revenge for the loss in Superbowl 55 as he tore the Bucs defence to pieces.

He started the game with touchdowns on his first three drives. On the night, he was just electric with a performance littered with jaw-dropping plays. Throughout Mahommes displayed his natural ingenuity with ball-in-hand on a level that most players could only dream of.

In my opinion, Mahommes showed a growing maturity and progression with his game management by leaning on all of his receiving core, which made the Chiefs attack unpredictable throughout. Tom Brady did well to keep the score a respectable 41-31.

It also finally put to bed for me that Kansas might struggle without the Cheetah, Tyreek Hill. If they can do this to the Bucs defence, then every other defensive coordinator on their schedule better sit up and take notice.

It’s only Week 4 and already I’m finding it hard to contain myself with the prospect of these three quarterbacks, Allen, Jackson and Mahommes, duking it out for supremacy in the AFC when knockout football returns in January.

Young Guns Part 1

Kenny Pickett and Bailey Zappe enter the fray in Week 4

One of the most interesting happenings of Week 4 was the somewhat unexpected introduction to two rookie quarterbacks during two tightly-contested fixtures.  

Jets @ Steelers

Pittsburgh trailed 10-6 at home to the New York Jets, after Braxton Barrios found his QB Zach Wilson with a ‘Philly-Special.’

It led Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to make a quarterback change at half time when he benched Mitch Trubisky for his first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett much to the delight of the home crowd. After three runs and a quarterback sneak to pick up the first down the crowd began chanting ‘Kenny!!!, Kenny!!!’ 

Pickett’s first pass down in the NFL resulted in an interception. However, the home crowd were not going to be deterred and a few plays later safety Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted back to bring the play down near the goal line.

From there Pickett ran it in and the  “Kenny, Kenny” chants erupted once again. He followed this up with another rushing TD in the fourth quarter as the Steelers turned the game around with a 10-20 lead. 

With less than eight minutes left, Jets QB Zach Wilson, in his first appearance of the year, showed what a young talent he is as he led a comeback effort. He fired to Corey Davies to make it 17-20. After a late drive, he fed another rookie, running-back Breece Hall,  for the winning score with only 16 seconds left. 

The action wasn’t over. With four points between the teams, Pickett had one last chance for a Hail Mary and as his delivery sailed into the endzone, safety Lamarcus Joyner grabbed an interception to finish the contest. 

Young Guns Part 2

Patriots @ Packers

What was expected to be a defensive spectacle ended up being a very entertaining contest, which took on a new dimension in the first quarter after Patriots back-up QB Brian Hoyer got a head injury.

It resulted in an early introduction for the Pats third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe, a fourth-round pick from Western Kentucky, to make a highly unexpected NFL debut. 

It was another rookie Christian Watson who ran in his first NFL TD when he took a pop-pass from Aaron Rodgers in motion. 

The Pats played physical smash-mouth football which kept Rodgers on the sideline and by the time he retook the field in the last minute of the second quarter, he had only thrown for 38 yards. Two plays later and Rodgers threw a pick-six, his second ever of his career at Lambeau Field. It left the Packers trailing 10-7 at the break. 

In the second half, the teams went blow for blow. First Rodgers fired to his tight-end Robert Tonyan for a TD and the following run-heavy drive from New England ended with Zappe finding DeVante Parker on play-action for the first passing touchdown of his career. 

The sides swapped scores again in the fourth quarter when a Damien Harris score was replied to when Rodgers found rookie Romeo Doubs for the 500th TD of his career. The game finished tied and in overtime Rodgers led his team down the field for Mason Crosby to kick the winner from 31 yards with four seconds left. 

As unlikely as events unfolded to give Zappe his first starts, something more unlikely happened in the New York Giants victory over Chicago. Daniel Jones had to leave the field with an injury and then his replacement Tyrod Taylor also had to exit with an ankle injury. 

With no other QB on the playing roster, it left star-of-the-show Saquon Barkley to go under centre as a wildcat QB and he led the Giants down the field in the fourth quarter for the insurance field goal in a 12-20 win over the Bears. 

London Calling 

The Minnesota Vikings won an excellent contest in the early kickoff in London against a New Orleans team that showed grit and determination to stay in the contest throughout and then took a lead late in the fourth quarter. 

Justin Jefferson was the star of the contest with 147 receiving yards on the day and when he rushed in from three yards, London got to see his ‘Griddy’ touchdown celebration to help the Vikings regain the lead in fourth quarter. 

A missed PAT left three points between the teams.

Saints kicker Will Lutz in particular had an afternoon to remember when his 60-yard kick went between the posts to tie the game with two minutes remaining. Fast forward to the last play of the game and Lutz was in a similar position with another long-range attempt to bring the contest to overtime., 

However, this time his effort hit the post and then the crossbar for a ‘double-doink’ that secured victory for the Vikes. 

Round-Up 

If there is a more improved player in the NFL than Jalen Hurts, I haven’t seen him.

Trailing 0-14 on the road away to Jacksonville, he displayed courage and leadership to lead his team to a deserved win. The Eagles offence that is just rolling at the moment.

A coach that definitely doesn’t get the respect he is due in my opinion is Nick Siriani, who deserves credit for building the offence around Hurts in a similar way to how Baltimore has built around the talent of Lamar Jackson.

Helped by a superb offensive line they run opinion plays and play action to great effect and he schemes Hurts to where he is most dangerous: outside the pocket. It will be interesting if he meets a defence that can contain him, but so far he has hurdled all the obstacles put before him.  

The Eagles are the only team to go 4-0 and with running-back Miles Sanders running impressively for 156 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

Slightly more impressively, Rashaad Penny ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns in what, so far, is the highest scoring game of the season as the Seahawks beat the Detroit Lions 48-45.

Seattle led for most of the contest but the Detroit Lions would not give up the ghost.

Tight-end TJ Hockenson had eight receptions for 179 yards and two TDs in a game where both quarterbacks Geno Smith and Jared Goff balled out for their respective sides. Jamaal Williams also continued to show that he can walk-the-walk as good as he can talk-the-talk, when he ran in for a 51-yard TD, his second score of the game. 

Atlanta Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo proved his worth once again as his late effort was the difference in a tightly-fought 20-23 contest with the Cleveland Browns. 

Kyler Murray got his second win of the campaign when he took down the Carolina Panthers 26-16. Murray came alive in the second half and was the best player on show. He was run close in that regard by teammate Zach Allen, who on the day batted three Baker Mayfield throws and recorded a sack and his performance drew comparisons with swat-machine JJ Watt. 

In the NFC East, Cooper Rush continued to win as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys as they beat their divisional opponents the Washington Commanders, wearing their new black uniforms for the first time. 

Derek Henry looked back near his best as the Titans had a 24-17 road win against the Colts, while Austin Ekeler was to the fore scoring three touchdowns as the LA Chargers took the honours away to the Houston Texans.

Finally, Josh McDaniels got his first win as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders in an entertaining 23-32 contest at home to the Denver Broncos. Running-back Josh Jacobs was key to the victory with 175 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. 

Phew!!!

Another few hours to catch my breath until the week rounds off with an NFC West match-up as the San Francisco 49ers take on their neighboring rival LA Rams.

Read our MNF preview later today!