You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Ten Takeaways: Eagles Overpower Packers; Saleh Right on Wilson Benching

Sports Illustrated 11/28/2022 Albert Breer

Plus, Trevor Lawrence flashes in win over Ravens thanks to Doug Pederson, Josh Jacobs a perfect fit for Raiders, the situation in Denver and much more.

The Eagles’ run game was pretty terrifying Sunday night. And look, the Packers’ defense hasn’t been great in that area, so I’m not signaling a modern-day reincarnation of USC’s Student Body Right is on its way. But consider these two things.

1) In the first quarter, the Eagles rushed for 153 yards on 18 carries, threw the ball just five times and had possession of it for 9:51.

2) In the fourth, they rushed for 92 yards on another 18 carries, threw just four passes and completed one of those for a single yard, and had possession for 11:41 of the final 15 minutes.

The Eagles overpowered the Packers with 363 rushing yards, including 143 from Sanders. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Sports Illustrated The Eagles overpowered the Packers with 363 rushing yards, including 143 from Sanders. Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

They finished, as you’d expect, with a lot of rushing yards (363), with Jalen Hurts going for 157 and Miles Sanders going for 143. And that, above all else, is the reason that Philadelphia was mostly able to keep struggling Green Bay at arm’s length all night.

“I mean, you gotta give credit to the O-line. I always do. We go as they go,” Sanders told me after midnight. “When you have guys like that, that love to run the ball and play smashmouth, it just gives you a lot of confidence. So that fourth quarter, we knew we had to just run the ball. We’re very capable of running the clock out with eight minutes left, too, so being able to do that—impose your will like that—it just gives me a lot of confidence.

“Like I said, just give credit to the O-line and Coach Stout [line coach Jeff Stoutland].”

There was plenty to go around, and point to, as the Eagles moved to 10–1. There was the opening drive—in which they covered 78 yards on 10 plays—with runs on seven of the final eight snaps. There were soul-sucking drives of 14 and 10 plays in the fourth quarter. More than anything, this game showed, one more time, who the Eagles can be.

And that, of course, is not just one thing. It’s what they need to be every week. So if you’re the type to get all excited about a great passing game, there’ll be weeks when Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert give you that.

This week demanded something else.

“We don’t really have like a legit-like ‘thing,’ a go-to, that we’re gonna do this game,” Sanders said. “It’s kinda like just feeling it out. If we feel like we can throw the ball all day, we’ll do that. If we feel like we need to pound the ball, we’ll do that. It’s just feeling the defense out and seeing what they’re trying to give us, and just making adjustments. You gotta give credit to the coaches, too, making the adjustments and realizing that we need to just run the rock.

“And that’s what we did.”

And being able to should serve a really impressive team well when it counts.

Jets coach Robert Saleh did the right thing. And I’m not just saying that because of Sunday’s result, though a 31–10 win, and 149.3 quarterback rating for Mike White, does drive the point home.

More than that, I’m saying Saleh was correct in going to White, and benching 2021 second pick Zach Wilson, because it’s doing right by the 50 guys on that roster who aren’t in the quarterback room. The Jets did want this to be a developmental year for Wilson. But when your team is in the playoff hunt, and they were 6–4 coming out of New England last weekend, you can’t just ignore what’s best for the team.

Especially since most guys only care about now, and not any sort of three-year plan.

“I feel like it’s always about the entire roster,” Saleh told me after settling in at home a couple hours after the game. “I know the quarterback position is special. I get it. He is dealt with differently, the quarterback position is. And that’s where I’m just so adamant about this—the development of Zach’s not over. I still feel like this reset and the things that we’re doing and we’re trying to get accomplished over the next week, two weeks, however long this takes, this is all with an idea that we’re still developing a young man.

“No different than we spent all this time developing Bam Knight, the running back. ... You’re just trying to develop them. As a coach, as an organization, you just feel so responsible to everybody—to go out and do what’s best for the 53 and to try to win football games.”

White wasted no time proving Saleh right, ripping through the Bears’ defense on the Jets’ first possession, completing six of seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown, which was only a harbinger of the rout to come. He finished the game 22-of-28 for 315 yards and three scores.

And Saleh told me he wasn’t surprised by any of it—“I made the comment in my press conference; he made easy look easy. He was hot on a couple of pressures, and he just put the ball out to the open receiver, ho hum, nobody notices, seems like a checkdown. But he got the ball where it needed to go, and the pressure never even really came close to him.”

Which is all well and good, for now. But what does it mean for where Wilson goes from here?

Well, the Jets really want to use what Saleh’s calling a “reset” for Wilson to work on his fundamentals. His footwork isn’t timed up to his upper body like it needs to be, which has led to his missing easy throws, throws into the ground and overthrows downfield. The good news is, as the Jets see it, he’s mostly making good decisions with the ball—he’s just not cashing the checks he’s writing. And the thought is, through increased individual work and competitive work with the scout team against the Jets’ starting defense, progress will come.

My sense is where this goes next is based on Wilson grinding out completions, which sounds overly simple, but is where he’s been lacking because of the mechanical issues.

And while they’re working on Wilson’s fundamentals, again, Saleh and his staff are going to give the guys who are on the field the best chance they can to keep winning. Which, for now, means playing White at quarterback, and staying the course with the other young guys on the team, which worked out well Sunday.

“It’s a young group. It’s a resilient group. They don’t flinch,” Saleh said. “And I just thought they did a really good job coming out with a lot of juice, lot of energy, and it speaks volumes about the locker room. But at the same time, we’ve gotta do it again next week, and so you just can’t get too high. Can’t get too low. You gotta stay focused on the task at hand and the stuff that’s in front of you. No different than it was just one loss, it’s just one win.”

Next up? A trip to 9–2 Minnesota.

Jones Jr. catches this 10-yard fade from Lawrence to put the Jaguars in position for the game-winning two-point conversion. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio/USA TODAY NETWORK © Provided by Sports Illustrated Jones Jr. catches this 10-yard fade from Lawrence to put the Jaguars in position for the game-winning two-point conversion. Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Unio/USA TODAY NETWORK

Doug Pederson is showing a few of the traits we saw early on in Philadelphia. The first, and most obvious one, is his willingness to gamble. The lightning-delayed Jaguars-Ravens game in Jacksonville became Sunday’s unexpected barn burner. And just when it seemed like the Ravens would escape with a 27–20 win, Trevor Lawrence stepped up and showed strong flashes that he could become what we all thought he’d be over his three years at Clemson.

He drove the team 75 yards in 10 plays, connecting on his last five throws for 60 yards in the game’s last 1:03, and without the benefit of having a single timeout.

“Trevor’s come a long way, and today was a great win for him,” Pederson texted me Sunday night. “It’s just him getting better within the system. He knows what to do now, and his confidence is building each week.”

Lawrence’s last throw was a dime to Marvin Jones Jr., a hard fade to the sideline of the end zone with less than 15 seconds left, which set up Pederson’s dice roll. Trailing 27–26, Pederson kept the offense on the field—and again put the ball in Lawrence’s hands. Lawrence repaid his coach with a fastball to Zay Jones, running a swing route into the left flat, to win the game.

“Nothing too strange about it other than trusting our guys,” Pederson texted, on the two-point play. “It’s about players, not plays. Felt great about the call, players wanted to win the game at the end, and it was great execution.”

That brings us to Pederson’s second trait, which is bringing the quarterback along, like he did Carson Wentz early on in Philly. Lawrence, in fact, became the first player in Jags history to have a day with more than 300 yards passing, three touchdown passes, no picks and a completion percentage topping 75%.

So I’d say the sum of this is what we saw in their game against the Ravens probably wasn’t a one-off. Because clearly, Pederson’s feeling pretty good about his new surroundings.

The Bills are getting everyone’s best shot now. And in three days, they’ll be playing the team that for 20 years had that as their own reality—with mighty Buffalo heading into Foxborough to face a Patriots team that’s still scrappy, smart, resourceful and tough to play against, even if not what it once was.

It’s a role reversal for sure, but the Bills aren’t going to need any reminder of how different their side of the fence is after what they went through to win on Thanksgiving.

In wrapping up a brutal 11-day stretch—because of a historic snowstorm, an unplanned road trip and a short week leading up to a holiday game, the Bills had only one practice the past two weeks (on the Thursday before the blizzard)—it took Sean McDermott’s crew all 60 minutes, and a herculean throw-and-catch, to put a game Lions team to bed in the first game of Week 12. And the 28–25 final doesn’t begin to tell the story of how it was able to win.

The Bills lost star edge rusher Von Miller and left tackle Dion Dawkins in-game. They were without Tremaine Edmunds, Mitch Morse, A.J. Epenesa and Greg Rousseau to begin the game. And with the opportunity to seize this as a moment of arrival for Dan Campbell’s program in Detroit, the Lions, riding a three-game winning streak, went up 22–19 early in the fourth.

Sometimes, elite teams have to win with less than their best against another team swinging hard for a signature win. On Thursday, the Bills proved they could.

“I mentioned it to the team after the game—I think it’s a great lesson in life,” McDermott told me as he was leaving Ford Field. “Sometimes, things don’t go your way, and everything looks like it’s kind of [sliding]. Everyone likes routine, I think. And so when you’re out of your routine, just being able to have the mental toughness to slow things down and take it one day at a time, God has a good way of, if you stay with him, if you deal with adversity the right way, helping you come out on the other side.”

Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs do, too, evidently.

After a safety midway through the third quarter, the Lions turned a corner, forcing three consecutive Buffalo punts, driving the field once (before missing a field goal) and turning a long Kalif Raymond return into a touchdown after that to seize a 22–19 lead. The teams then traded scores—the Bills got in the end zone and missed the PAT, and the Lions drove for a 51-yard Michael Badgley field goal with 23 seconds left to, seemingly, force overtime.

Only, no one told the Bills’ stars that wasn’t enough time to get the ball into scoring range. Or that they couldn’t get it all back on one throw.

Sure enough, Allen found Diggs running to the post and sent a fastball through the heart of the Detroit defense, and Diggs absorbed a hit from DeShon Elliott for a 36-yard gain to move the ball from the Bills’ 25 to the Lions’ 39 and took just seven seconds off the clock.

“It was a great call by [offensive coordinator Ken] Dorsey,” McDermott said. “You gotta have the protection in order to do that. The protection is where it starts, and I thought the offensive line did a nice job, and we were there again with guys banged up. Dion was out of the game, and Mitch didn’t start it. We had guys shuffled, so I thought those guys really battled throughout the second half and in particular after Dion went down.”

Two Allen runs later, and Tyler Bass was lining up for his 45-yard game-winner to avenge the PAT miss and give the Bills two wins in five days in Detroit, a stretch that’ll be defined by how the snowstorm turned everything upside down. So it’s a credit to the Bills that they stayed right side up—and they’ll need that resilience again with the Patriots looking to upset the team in the spot in the division they held for 20 years.

“You said it—they’re a good football team, got the greatest coach of all time, at least of my lifetime, Hall of Fame coach, they’ve been good for so long and they’re winning games,” McDermott said. “So he’s done a great job, Bill [Belichick] has, of building it again, and they’ve got a great coaching staff and great players. So it’ll be another challenge for us, in particular, up there.”

But this time, at least, they should have a normal week to get ready for it.

The NFL’s International Series was a pretty big success this year. And maybe that was best reflected in Week 10 in Munich, with the crowd staying for a full hour to do sing-alongs and watch RedZone in the stadium after Tom Brady and the Buccaneers beat the Seahawks. A couple of people who were there told me they felt like it really was a pride thing for the Germans—they’ve felt like they’ve deserved a game for a long time and were going to show the world how strong a market they are for American football.

“It was just one of those moments where you saw there was just so much appreciation for the fact that we brought a game there and just how much opportunity there is in the future,” said NFL EVP of club business and league events Peter O’Reilly. “So that’s the one that I keep going back to, that I got home and I told my family about. I’m like, You can’t imagine the magical vibe in the stadium for these fans who love this game and just did not want to leave.”

But, really, it wasn’t just that. It was the whole five-game set, from the three London games in November, to Munich, to Mexico City last Monday. So, we’ll give you a couple of bullet points from our wrap-up of the 2022 series with O’Reilly.

• The first thing he raised to me related back to that scene in Germany—the league loved the atmosphere there and in all of its games.

“As we think about what clearly is a massive priority for us, which is growing our fan base internationally, it just reinforced, not only to us at the league and to our partners who were there with us, but to the clubs who, whether they won or they lost, had really positive feedback about being there and the energy,” O’Reilly said. “It kinda just creates some wind in our sails as we look at what’s this next phase like as we continue to, on a year-round basis, serve and grow fans in these key markets.”

• The numbers, per Reilly, were solid. One interesting one—three million people signed up to get tickets for the game in Munich. And the broadcast numbers followed.

“Those three games on NFL Network are now one, two and three in terms of international games on the network,” he says. “So you’re seeing those positives in each of these markets. In the U.K., we hit a viewership high around that game. The Germany broadcast number was record-breaking and is behind only three Super Bowl ratings—so higher than championship games and any other game in Germany.

“So you start to see, obviously, all those games sold out right away, and we sold more merchandise and more food and beverage year over year in all those games. And broader engagement metrics that we saw in terms of viewership were record-breaking in each of those.”

• There could be growth next year. The NFL is contracted to play two more games at Tottenham and at least one in Germany next year, with the expectation being that a deal will be worked out to do a game in Mexico City again in 2023, and the Jaguars’ having their own deal, of course, to play a game at Wembley.

So what could be added? Maybe two games in Frankfurt, or one in Frankfurt and one in Munich. That, as I see it, will ride on the NFL’s having the inventory (see: willing teams) to make it work. I do think they want to go.

And longer range? Well, I believe the next two markets the NFL is going to look at putting games in are Spain and Brazil. If they go to Spain, I’d expect the game would be in Madrid. In Brazil, it’d probably be Rio or São Paulo. But going to either of those countries is probably at least a few years off.

The Texans-Dolphins game was unlike any we’ve seen all year. The halftime stats tell the tale here.

• First downs: Dolphins 19, Texans 3

• Total yards: Dolphins 287, Texans 32

• Yards per play: Dolphins 6.67, Texans 1.28

So two things here: First, one thing I’ve heard from a lot of scouts whose teams have played Miami is that the team is better than a lot of people are giving them credit for, is very well coached and thoroughly worthy of its record of 8–3. Second, I think Texans GM Nick Caserio might be running his third coaching search in as many years in a month or so. I can’t imagine Lovie Smith surviving with only one win so far on the season.

Denver’s another place where the question doesn’t seem to be whether there’ll be change; it’s when and how much. This stat, via ESPN’s Field Yates, blew me away.

And then, of course, you had the video of defensive lineman Mike Purcell’s yelling at QB Russell Wilson, and the fact that this loss came at the hands of a team with an interim coach, and the reality that Las Vegas has actually pulled away from Denver and out of the AFC West basement; so this is looking increasingly bad.

Now, the question is, where is the finger pointed?

Presuming the Waltons, the NFL’s wealthiest owners, have the willingness to start writing checks to make people go away, GM George Paton and coach Nathaniel Hackett would be the first two to answer questions. Did Paton miss on his evaluation of Wilson, whose Seattle tape from a year ago is shaky? Was Hackett handcuffed to do what Wilson wanted, or did he not do enough to help him? And how come Pete Carroll, John Schneider and Shane Waldron all look a lot better at their jobs now that Wilson’s gone?

These are the questions the new bosses of the Broncos will have to work through. And as I said, I think something will change. I’m just not sure what it’ll be, other than probably not the quarterback, given the contract they handed him, and the logistical nightmare it’d be to bail from it.

I loved the quote from Joe Burrow after the Bengals went back into Tennessee and won again. Here it is, in full:

“This is the type of game great teams win,” he said, at his postgame presser. “It’s not always going to be pretty. It’s the NFL, and you are playing really, really good teams on the opposing end. It’s not going to be pretty all the time, but you got to find ways to win, and now we are starting to do that.”

Last year, I remember Burrow saying to me over and over and over again that the old Bengals were gone for good. Accordingly, I had a pretty strong feeling, even through an uneven start, Cincinnati would figure things out relatively quickly. And I think we’ll soon be looking at the Bengals like the Chiefs and Bills—where they’ll be good almost regardless every year because of the young quarterback. And, sure enough, they’ve won five of six, including three in a row, and get Kansas City at home next weekend.

Jacobs rushed for 229 yards, including an 86-yard, walk-off touchdown in overtime. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports © Provided by Sports Illustrated Jacobs rushed for 229 yards, including an 86-yard, walk-off touchdown in overtime. Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports

Josh Jacobs might be as good of a fit for Josh McDaniels’s program as the Raiders have. And don’t take my word for it. Listen to McDaniels himself.

“He’s a football player,” McDaniels said. “I mean, that’s probably the greatest compliment I could give him, and he comes up big. It’s not just what he does on the field; it’s how he practices, what he does in preparation, how attentive he is in the meetings, what he’s like in the walk-throughs, how much he wants to win. He wants to win. He does everything he can to help us.”

And he did everything Sunday in the Raiders’ 40–34 win in Seattle. After convincing coaches and trainers pregame he was good to play through a balky calf, he proceeded to break the storied franchise’s single-game records for all-purpose yards (303) and rushing yards (229).

And his 86-yard, walk-off touchdown in overtime capped the upset win.

“I noticed half of the defense was looking at [Raiders receiver] Mack [Hollins], because he didn’t know what he was doing on the play, lining up,” Jacobs said at the podium, laughing. “He was like, What’s the play? I said, Line up! When I hit the gap, I seen [fullback Jakob Johnson] get a big block and I just seen a big hole and I just tried to run as fast as I can.”

And he wound up running the Raiders all the way to 4–7, with, perhaps, a brighter future and even a new contract ahead for the tailback.

Want some quick-hitters for Week 12? Here you go …

• I think we can all be patient on Odell Beckham Jr. and the plane situation. Remember, you don’t have to weigh in on everything instantly.

• One of the things I think we all love about Lamar Jackson is how he is true to himself. And I think he’ll learn from that going in the wrong direction with his tweet after the Ravens’ loss to the Jaguars on Sunday.

• Rams WR Allen Robinson’s season is over, with 33 catches for 339 yards and three touchdowns, and foot surgery ahead. And his case is another where you can see in contracts where the league stands on a guy. Robinson’s market cratered in March, which allowed L.A. to swoop in and get him at a discount (about $15 million per year). Their hope was that the bad tape he had last year was just due to injury. It wasn’t.

• That said, I liked the Rams’ fight Sunday, in a pretty impossible spot at Arrowhead. And at 3–8, I think, if I were them, I’d probably be considering shutting Matthew Stafford down (and maybe others, too) and focusing on developing young players on the roster.

• Best stat I saw all weekend (outside of maybe Jacobs’s numbers): The 49ers’ defense has pitched second-half shutouts four weeks in a row. Amazing.

• I think Sunday night’s cameo was the best I’ve seen Jordan Love play as an NFL player. He looked far less shaky than before and is moving comfortably in the pocket.

• The Saints not having their first-round pick in a year in which it might be in the top 10—while they have a quarterback need—has to be a tough pill for that group to swallow. Although, the result of that trade, which netted Washington’s first-rounder last year (and was packaged to move up) was Chris Olave, so it’s not all bad.

• Steve Wilks is now 3–4 as Panthers coach, and his defense is balling. I think owner David Tepper wants a younger, offensive-minded coach. But Wilks is giving him plenty to think about.

• I think we saw Justin Fields’s value to the Bears on Sunday.

• Happy to see Brian Robinson Jr., after all he’s been through, get his first 100-yard game Sunday. Even cooler to see him address his teammates postgame on that (and the big hat is hilarious).

THREE FOR MONDAY

1) Through two games, Colts coach Jeff Saturday has acquitted himself pretty well—having Matt Ryan back as the starting quarterback and Jonathan Taylor back healthy has helped, to be sure—but the idea of having a guy who hadn’t coached at any level above high school hasn’t been the trainwreck many anticipated. But Monday-night’s game against the Steelers is also setting up to be a pivotal one for how his audition for the full-time job goes. After Monday, the Colts play at the Cowboys and Vikings, then get the Chargers at home, before going to the Giants on New Year’s Day. So having some momentum would help.

2) Taylor’s case is going to be fascinating come March. He was the best player on the Colts’ roster in his second year, 2021, with a rushing title to show for it. Indianapolis’s offensive identity was built around him. This year, he’s missed three games, rushed for only 100 yards in two and has lacked his trademark consistency in production. Could that be because of the workload he’s shouldered, from college to now? That’s something the Colts will have to consider with Taylor being eligible for a second contract for the first time after the season. And, conversely, Taylor would be wise to press the issue with the team because the window for backs to get paid is so small. Anyway, how he plays the rest of the way could color all of that, and obviously Monday night will give him a nice stage on national TV.

3) The Steelers are two losses away from Mike Tomlin’s first losing season in 16 years as the storied franchise’s coach. A win two weeks ago over the Saints brought a glimmer of hope that, with T.J. Watt back, maybe the equation could change. But that was before Joe Burrow and the Bengals rolled to 37 points and 408 yards last week. That said, while an amazing streak is almost certain to end soon, this is a good chance for everyone to get a nice long look at rookie QB Kenny Pickett.

ONE THING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Or maybe you don’t. But this is in the interest of full disclosure since I would say something if the result were flipped: As an Ohio State alum, Saturday really sucked. And there’s a lot of work ahead for the Buckeyes’ staff in getting the issue that has really plagued it in spots over two full seasons now fixed. 

More NFL Coverage:

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon