Aaron Rodgers and vaccine, Patrick Mahomes struggles, Odell Beckham and more

Aaron Rodgers and vaccine, Patrick Mahomes struggles, Odell Beckham and more

On Sunday, all eyes were on the quarterbacks at Arrowhead Stadium. In an ugly game, Jordan Love and counterpart Patrick Mahomes left more questions than answers.

Patrick Mahomes has rarely played worse. Yet Jordan Love failed to outplay him.

We start with Love, who was standing in for the COVID-stricken Aaron Rodgers — much more on him below. In his first NFL start, the former first-round pick went 19-of-34 for 190 yards with a touchdown and interception in a 13-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He rarely beat the Chiefs’ relentless blitz packages, often throwing inaccurately against man coverage.

Love’s few successes came almost solely on Green Bay’s penultimate offensive drive, when he had a stretch of 7-for-7 for 48 yards. Yet the drive ended in Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed’s red-zone theft.

After waiting a year and a half for his moment, Love largely struggled. Outside of a scrambling, 35-yard heave to Randall Cobb in the final two minutes of the first half, little went right.

It was a milestone to remember and a night to forget.

For Green Bay, Love’s performance only enhances the upcoming murkiness of an offseason that originally seemed destined to have Rodgers traded away for a slew of picks. It’s only one start, but Love appeared overmatched. If general manager Brian Gutekunst believes what we saw Sunday was an accurate snapshot of where Love is, how does trading Rodgers make any sense?

Ultimately, the Packers will eventually have to give Love a chance at the full-time gig or admit whiffing horribly on a pick that could have helped Green Bay win a Super Bowl in 2020 or ’21. Based on the small sample size of meaningful snaps we have from the youngster, it’ll be an agonizing thought for Gutekunst and Co. for months to come.

Alright, onto the other struggling quarterback.

Mahomes, the former MVP and Super Bowl champ, threw for 4.5 yards per attempt and 166 yards total. The good news? He broke a seven-game turnover streak, although if Packers corner Kevin King didn’t drop an easy one, even that wouldn’t be true.

Throughout the evening, Mahomes was tentative and scattershot, eschewing open targets for covered ones. He missed long and short, wide and high. It was a hideous performance against a Green Bay team lacking a litany of defensive stars including edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, corner Jaire Alexander and for much of Sunday, defensive tackle Kenny Clark.

If you’re into grades, Mahomes deserved an F for his showing.

So why feel positivity if you’re the Chiefs?

Kansas City is 5-4 and only a half-game back in the AFC West, and Week 10 presents the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday Night Football. And while Mahomes’ slump has become a month-long slog, he’s the $500 million man for a reason. Eventually, the great hitter starts squaring the ball up, and if you can forgive the cross-sport analogy, you understand Mahomes is eventually going to go on a tear.

One would imagine the Chiefs are too talented to continue limping along offensively. For the first two months of the year, Kansas City’s far greater concern was a defense ranking dead last in a bevy of categories. Over the last four games, the Chiefs have improved dramatically under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, allowing more than 20 points only once.

While it’s true the opponents have been the Washington Football Team, Tennessee Titans, New York Giants and Rodgers-less Packers in said stretch, Kansas City’s improvement — at worst to a moderate degree — is clear. Young linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay have made plays with increasing snap counts, while the pass rush has been reborn behind Frank Clark’s resurgence and Chris Jones back inside.

Simply put, if Mahomes is the main reason the Chiefs are struggling, it’s a good bet Kansas City eventually comes out of its malaise.

Still, reality is Mahomes and the offense have been buying time over the past month, beating inferior teams. The Raiders will bring their all on Sunday, and if Mahomes doesn’t play markedly better, the Chiefs will be 5-5 and fighting for their playoff lives.

NFL power rankings

Power rankings

Top 10 championship offenses in the Super Bowl era

1. 1999 St. Louis Rams
2. 1994 San Francisco 49ers
3. 2019 Kansas City Chiefs
4. 1989 San Francisco 49ers
5. 1992 Dallas Cowboys
6. 1978 Pittsburgh Steelers
7. 1998 Denver Broncos
8. 1991 Washington Football Team
9. 1996 Green Bay Packers
10. 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Quotable

“Definitely thought it was a dirty play. I actually saw and witnessed the play while it was happening. At first it felt like he was trying to trip or kick Burns. And the next thing you know I saw him tugging on Burns’ ankle. I thought it was completely dirty. Hopefully, it’s something the league addresses.”

– Carolina Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick on New England Patriots’ quarterback Mac Jones holding the ankle of Brian Burns when pursuing a fumble

Judge for yourself. Is it a dirty play by Jones? Tough to argue he’s intentionally trying to injure Burns. From this vantage point, it appears Jones is trying to keep Burns from recovering a loose ball, and unfortunately the play resulted in an ankle injury.

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Random stat

No team has ever had consecutive seasons with 15-game losing streaks. The Jacksonville Jaguars had one last season after winning in Week 1 over the Indianapolis Colts. This year, they began the year with a victory over the Houston Texans and looked to be a prime candidate to repeat the feat.

Then, Sunday. The NFL is a strange league.

Info learned this week

1. Aaron Rodgers puts Packers, NFL in awkward position with vax stance

Nineteen minutes and nine seconds.

That’s how long Aaron Rodgers talked interrupted to start Friday’s episode of The Pat McAfee Show.

Over the course of 48 minutes, Rodgers went on a diatribe which included a denial over lying about his vaccination status, calling out the woke mob and cancel culture, explaining why he opted to forgo all three available vaccines and expressing his belief in Joe Rogan as a medical source.

Additionally, Rodgers cited a Martin Luther King quote to help explain his stance on the COVID vaccine. Essentially, despite saying he’s not anti-vax, it was the anti-vaxxer bingo card. And we’re not talking four corners, we’re talking full-card bingo.

From a football standpoint (and only football, because a novel could be written off that nonsense), Rodgers and the Packers have a few problems.

First, Rodgers clearly and blatantly skirted COVID protocols for unvaccinated players. He hasn’t been wearing a face-covering during indoors press conferences, and during the preseason, was roaming the sidelines in the same manner. Both instances are violations of the NFL’s rules.

The NFL, which penalized the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints for breaking COVID protocols in 2020, has no choice. It needs to come down on Rodgers and the Packers, and do so with a heavy hand. Allowing Rodgers, regardless of his star power, to get away without punishment means the rules don’t truly matter and aren’t applied evenly. For commissioner Roger Goodell, there’s no decision but how big the fines will be.

While the league could suspend Rodgers, it’s more likely to fine both he and Green Bay heavily. The Packers were aware of his vaccination status and didn’t enforce protocols, and therefore must pay a penalty as well.

However, the question of why the NFL didn’t tell the Packers to be strict on COVID regulations with Rodgers is also worth asking. The league knew Rodgers wasn’t vaccinated and certainly saw these violations in real time. Where was the NFL on this? It’s a horrid look for a league that has largely done a tremendous job with the pandemic throughout the last two years.

This story is far from over. Rodgers could potentially come back for this Sunday’s game against the  Seattle Seahawks. When he returns, every postgame interview and subsequent presser will be hyper-focused on this melodrama. And while Rodgers has the right to decline comment, reporters have the obligation to keep asking.

Buckle up.

2. Browns crush free-falling Bengals after releasing Odell Beckham on Friday

Things are changing rapidly in the AFC.

Two weeks ago, the Cincinnati Bengals were the media darlings. I wrote extensively about their resounding 41-17 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, which made them the top seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Now? Cincinnati is 5-4 and sits 10th in the conference following a hideous 41-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland, which cut receiver Odell Beckham on Friday (more on him below), only threw for 218 yards but feasted on a pair of Joe Burrow interceptions and a vintage Nick Chubb performance, as he ran for 137 yards (9.8 YPA) and two touchdowns.

For the Bengals, the bye week comes at a good time. Cincinnati needs to regroup before playing a very daunting schedule the rest of the way. Of their final eight games, the Bengals only see one team with a losing record in the San Francisco 49ers.

As for Cleveland, the Browns stabilized with a huge road win. However, their schedule is also torturous, headlined by five more games in the AFC North.

Nothing has been decided in the league’s most competitive division, and it seems nothing will be anytime soon.

3. Titans take advantage of Stafford miscues to punish Rams

Put this in the category of strange but true.

Take that as no disrespect to the Titans, who have the AFC’s best record at 7-2 and among their pelts, have Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and now Matthew Stafford after a 28-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.

No, the quip is more about the box score.

Tennessee scored one touchdown and essentially another on two Matthew Stafford interceptions in the first half, helping the Titans amass a 21-3 first-half lead. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill managed only 143 passing yards on 5.3 YPA, while going for a touchdown and a pick. Tennessee also struggled on the ground with 69 yards (2.7 YPC). The offense did almost nothing, and yet the Titans cruised at SoFi Stadium.

The AFC is certainly wide open, but Tennessee deserves praise. It has overcome injuries and doubters galore to beat the best teams football can offer. The Titans have their warts, but right now they’re the best in what is a muddy conference.

4. Raiders lose to Giants after brutal week off the field

Life is so much bigger than football. For the Raiders, that was clear this week.

On Tuesday morning, tragedy struck in Las Vegas. Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III was intoxicated and driving his vehicle in excess of 150 MPH on a city street before striking a 23-year-old woman, Tina Tintor, and her dog in their car. Horrifically, both were engulfed in flames, dying at the scene. Ruggs has been charged with five crimes, including DUI resulting in death.

Five days later, the Raiders played a football game and lost 23-16 to the New York Giants. Las Vegas was undisciplined in defeat, suffering a pick-six and a game-ending Derek Carr fumble in the red zone. Las Vegas fell into a tie atop the AFC West with the Los Angeles Chargers, who won in the final seconds of their game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Of course, it’s impossible to know how much the unspeakable situation surrounding their former teammate impacted the Raiders’ performance. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. The reality is life was needlessly lost.

Prayers to the Tintor family.

5. Steelers, Bears meet up in defensive struggle on MNF

Like defense? You’re going to love Monday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers welcome in the Chicago Bears, with the teams going in opposite directions. Pittsburgh has won three straight to earn a 4-3 mark, putting it firmly in the AFC playoff picture. Meanwhile, Chicago is 3-5 and fighting to stay in the wild card conversation, faltering badly behind a sputtering passing attack.

Just how bad have the Bears been throwing the ball? Chicago entered the weekend ranking 32nd in passing yards per game, trailing the 31st-ranked Saints by a whopping 53.5 yards. Chicago also ranks last in yards per attempt (6.1) and T-25th in completion percentage (63.0). The numbers don’t figure to improve against Pittsburgh defense which checks in 13th against the pass and seventh in points allowed.

If the Bears are going to invade Heinz Field and upset the Steelers, it’ll likely be due to Ben Roethlisberger turnovers, Chicago’s ground game and a few uncharacteristic passing plays.

Gambler’s game

After losing to the Jaguars, the Bills are going to have a very long, uncomfortable week. They travel to MetLife Stadium for a date with the New York Jets, who are coming off a mini-bye but don’t know who will play quarterback.

Buffalo is a 13-point favorite at WynnBet, and while the line is large, lay the points. The Bills will bounce back in a big way.

Two cents

On Monday, we find out whether Odell Beckham Jr. cleared waivers.

The guess here is Beckham will become a free agent, with no team willing to take on $7.25 million for the second half of this season. If true, the 29-year-old will be courted by multiple contenders, but who?

Looking at the standings, depth charts and cap sheets, a few teams stand out. Green Bay has a need and over $4 million in space. The New England Patriots also have $3.9 million and desperately need a weapon. Additionally, Bill Belichick has a long history of taking on big names as reclamation projects. The Baltimore Ravens and Saints also need help on the perimeter, but they’ll need to be creative with the contract.

Also, is Beckham worth the time? Over the past five years, Beckham has played more than 12 games in a season only once. In that span, he’s never topped six touchdown receptions or 1,100 yards. Nobody doubts the talent, but the production hasn’t matched the hype.

Still, Beckham is young and has a huge name with enormous talent. He’ll be heavily courted.

Inside the league

Want to ruin a young quarterback? Follow the Miami Dolphins’ plan.

After selecting Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick last April, the Dolphins brought him inserted him into the starting lineup in Week 7. However, Miami head coach Brian Flores lifted Tagovailoa twice mid-game, showing little confidence to instead play veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

This year, the Dolphins have repeatedly been tied to rumors involving their trade interest in Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson, who hasn’t been made active once in 2021 due to 22 civil suits alleging sexual assault, was ultimately not dealt before last week’s trade deadline.

Throughout it all, Miami insisted Tagovailoa was its quarterback but never strongly denied interest in Watson. Furthermore, owner Stephen Ross was actually granted permission to speak with Watson last week.

While the Dolphins have been trying to decide whether to make an absurd trade, they’re the most disappointing team in football at 2-7, even after beating Houston on Sunday. There’s a real chance we see a housecleaning on South Beach come January, while the desire to land Watson continues into the offseason. Concurrently, Tagovailoa has to attempt to play winning football while those who should be supporting him are apparently doing everything possible to replace him.

Maybe Tagovailoa could have gone to a perfect situation and still struggled. It’s entirely possible.

It’s also possible that if Miami had bothered to invest in Tagovailoa beyond selecting him, perhaps he would’ve developed into the franchise quarterback he appeared to be at Alabama.

History lesson

The Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos met in Super Bowl XII, and made history.

Meeting at the Louisiana Superdome, it was the first Super Bowl played indoors. It was also the first time Super Sunday took place in the evening. The result was an explosion in ratings and a chance in scheduling still in effect today.

As for the game, Dallas bludgeoned the Orange Crush defense, winning 27-10. Defensive stars Harvey Martin and Randy White split MVP honors, the only such instance in Super Bowl history.

Parting shot

Watch out for the Seattle Seahawks.

Although they’re 3-5, the Seahawks are getting quarterback Russell Wilson back and with a healthy roster, should be favored in six of their final nine games. Seattle has tough games remaining including a pair of tilts with the Arizona Cardinals, along with road matchups against the Rams and Packers.

Still, the Seahawks have a litany of winnable contests with Washington, Chicago, Houston and the Detroit Lions.

If Seattle can go 6-3, it’ll have a chance to earn a wild card berth in the wide-open NFC race and be a very tough out come January.

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