Another week of NFL action is in the books, but what did we learn and what takes can you steal to impress your friends and co-workers?
With just three games left this year, we only have two teams officially in the playoffs. That means these final weeks will feel less like molding something out of clay and more like forging the playoff picture out of cold steel.
It’s going to be fun.
But beyond just the playoff picture, a lot of things are happening between the lines that are absolutely fascinating. Huge plays, bad calls, and loyal fans all defined this past week in the NFL and we have a lot to unpack.
So before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s ponder what we saw and come up with some observations you can use around the water cooler to sound like the Lamar Jackson of your friend group.
Jimmy G answered the haters
For as bone-rattling as the San Francisco 49ers defense has been all year, the biggest question we had about their Super Bowl chances was Jimmy Garoppolo. Was he capable, when called upon, of getting into a shootout with Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers and winning?
He proved as much on Sunday.
Robert Saleh’s vaunted defense gave up a season-high 46-points and allowed Drew Brees to score 5 touchdowns, but it was Garoppolo who executed the game-winning drive. San Francisco won on the road in the Superdome in a shootout specifically because of their quarterback.
Of course, with a huge assist from George Kittle.
Kittle optically put the team on his back, but Garoppolo did so in every other way. That throw to Kittle was a fourth-and-two play; the game — and any shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC — was on the line. When Garoppolo threw that ball to Kittle the Niners were the fifth-seed in the NFC playoffs. Less than a minute later they owned home field advantage.
Garoppolo delivered that.
This was the type of game he needed to have in order to prove to everyone he wasn’t the weak link some may have thought he was. Maybe it doesn’t happen again, maybe the Niners lose in the playoffs because Garoppolo makes a mistake. Maybe they lose the top seed between now and the end of the season — who knows. What we do know is that until proven otherwise we have to operate under the assumption that if the Niners need him to, Garoppolo is absolutely capable of playing Big Boy football when it counts.
Mitchell Trubusky will be the Bears QB in 2020
Let’s just cut right to it: Mitchell Trubusky will be back as the Bears quarterback in 2020.
While everyone else in the NFL is spending their time slamming Jason Garrett and discussing his future, the Trubisky narrative quietly slipped out the back door and into the night. Now fans in Chicago are left with whatever the ramifications from this are.
For as bad as he’s been this year, it was going to take a lot for Ryan Pace and the front office to move on from Trubisky and very little to justify keeping him. Fans can throw themselves against a padded wall as much as they want but they weren’t the ones who traded up in the draft to take Trubisky.
Their legacy isn’t tethered to the success of Trubisky.
Even Pace outlasts Trubisky in Chicago, he needs him to play well enough now to keep the heat off until one of two things happen:
A) Trubisky improves and develops into a franchise quarterback
B) Pace finds a replacement that is good enough to erase the bitter taste Trubisky is leaving
Option A is the best because it means Pace was right. It’s also the most dangerous because it means the pursuit of being right, something that has felled many general managers throughout the history of football.
Bears fans might not want to hear it but Trubisky is Pace’s guy, and it’s going to take more than one lost season to change that. How much long term damage this does or doesn’t cause is yet to be seen.
Patriots fans got a taste of their own medicine
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but there was some fishy officiating in a Patriots game. The plot twist was that, for the first time in human history, the calls went against New England.
Usually, around this time of the year when the Patriots play an AFC team with something involving the playoffs on the line, a call happens that affects the outcome of the game. But it usually benefits New England, where on Sunday the calls helped Kansas City get hand Bill Belichick and Tom Brady their first home loss since 2017.
The worst call was N’Keal Harry being ruled out of bounds short of the goal line when he absolutely was not:
Officials also missed a blatant pass interference call the drive after that:
There was also play earlier in the game where the Patriots clearly recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, but the play was blown dead.
Three missed calls, all of which would have changed the course of the game.
Some of this is on Belichick, which is also incredibly shocking. Because the Patriots had lost two challenges before the fourth quarter even started, there was no way to review the Harry play or the missed pass interference.
No one is crying any tears for calls not going the Patriots way, but it was a stunning dose of reality that fans in New England aren’t often forced to swallow.
Lamar Jackson’s white glove troll is G.O.A.T.-worthy
Earlier this week San Francisco 49ers radio color commentator Tim Ryan was suspended for making comments about how the color of Lamar Jackson’s skin helps him disguise the ball on RPOs.
Richard Sherman said he wasn’t offended but thought there was a better way to have said it. Depending on what part of Twitter you wade into, it was either the worst thing ever said or the libs getting triggered. It was a deeply stupid thing to say, but Lamar Jackson had the final word.
Jackson started Sunday’s game in Buffalo with white sleeves and gloves and proceeded to do exactly what he always does — juke defenders out of their souls.
This isn’t the first time Jackson has quietly thrown u both middle fingers at his haters and it won’t be the last. Some folks still cling to the idea that he’s “athletic” but not a good quarterback — which is coded and thinly veiled racism — something that Jackson, the Ravens, and Ravens fans happily continue to throw back at everyone.
Meanwhile, here’s Marcus Peters maybe shotgunning a beer with fans after the game to serve as the latest exhibit in why you should be in love with this Ravens team.
Perhaps he was just letting out a joyous yell at the same time a beer was being poured near his face. The mere fact that we have to ask that but also don’t really care is why we should cherish this run Baltimore is on.
Cleveland needs Ron Rivera
Before Sunday’s game, there were rampant reports that Odell Beckham Jr wants out of Cleveland. After the game, Baker Mayfield attacked his own franchise by saying the medical team purposefully didn’t handle Beckham’s sports hernia and therefore derailed his season.
The Browns won on Sunday, for what it’s worth.
For all the hype the Browns had this offseason — all the Baker commercials and trash talk, the flashy trades and high-priced moves — this year has been a total wash. Bad decisions, drama, and losing have defined what we all thought would be a watershed season for a habitually horrible franchise.
What Cleveland needs is a culture change. Ron Rivera is the man for the job, and he happens to be looking for one at the moment.
To hire Rivera, the Browns would need to fire Freddie Kitchens which it doesn’t seem like they’re going to do right now. But if the Haslam’s are serious about getting something out of this Baker era, something drastic is needed. Rivera isn’t a flashy hire like Lincoln Riley would be, but he’s a culture guy who would instantly come in and change everything. People would point to his mediocre record in Carolina but what those people would be saying is they don’t watch football. Rivera took the Panthers from a middling franchise to one that was always in the playoffs — sometimes with a losing record. Oh yeah, he also helped develop the franchise’s star quarterback into a star while leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl less than a half-decade ago.
Cleveland has a ton of talent but has no rudder. Riverboat Ron is the perfect man to take the Browns and finally help them become something better than they are.
Raiders fans deserve better than this
Oakland lost by more than 20-points on Sunday, but that wasn’t the saddest thing that happened.
The saddest thing happened when Raiders receiver Rico Gafford scored a 49-yard touchdown and then leaped into a sea of black and silver behind the endzone.
That doesn’t look like a fanbase that has abandoned a franchise so badly that it needs to leave town — but that’s what’s happening. The Raiders will play one more home game in Oakland before leaving for Las Vegas next season, leaving behind the sort of atmosphere that Gafford launched himself into after scoring.
Whenever a franchise has packed up and left a city, the games are usually played in front of mostly empty stadiums and without much fanfare. But the Raiders were in the playoff hunt a week ago and played in front of sold-out crowds all season long.
If you’ve ever been to the Coliseum, it’s not the type of place you want to breathe through your mouth while you’re at let alone pay money to spend an entire afternoon there. Yet Raiders fans have filled a crappy stadium to cheer on a team that won’t be there next year. It was mentioned during the broadcast that Jon Gruden recognized faces in the crowd who were there during his first tenure with the Raiders all the way back in the 90s.
That’s not a fanbase that deserves to lose its team.
Meanwhile, amid the recognition of how loyal and hardcore Raiders fans are, there was a shot of Mark Davis, the man who so badly managed his money that he couldn’t afford to sign Khalil Mack, sitting in his owner’s box shit-eatingly laughing the afternoon away.
You don’t have to be a Raiders fan for that to make you angry.