Sky Sports’ Neil Reynolds has the final word on another wild weekend in the NFL, picking out his five major takeaways, his player of the week and what is on his radar rolling into Week Six…
Last Updated: 13/10/20 11:51am
It is kind of fitting in this ever-changing and constantly-challenging 2020 NFL season that I am bringing you the final word on Week Five… before Week Five has actually finished!
The curtain will come down on an incredible ‘weekend’ of action tonight when the Buffalo Bills visit the Tennessee Titans tonight (live on Sky Sports NFL, midnight), but here are my reflections on what we’ve seen so far…
Five Major Takeaways from Week Five
1) A news night like no other
I’ve been writing about the NFL since 1991 and have enjoyed the good fortune of talking about and presenting the game I love in a full-time capacity on Sky Sports since 2011. So, this is now my 10th season sitting in the studio on Sunday nights and watching the games unfold across America – and I can honestly say I do not recall a night like this past Sunday.
Where to begin! The news began to break before we even went on air and during my drive to the studio when the Denver-New England game – which had already been moved to Monday night – was postponed for a second time due to Covid-19 cases in New England. The Jenga-like effect of that decision saw the NFL then unveil eight more game changes in the coming weeks.
Here is an indication of how far-reaching this virus is becoming in the NFL: the Patriots and Titans were the teams to suffer the latest outbreaks and yet while sitting at home minding their own business, the Los Angeles Chargers saw their bye week moved forward by a month and four of their future games moved.
The NFL is spinning plates at the moment in a bid to stick to a full 17-week regular season and an on-time Super Bowl in Tampa in early February. But a couple more outbreaks here and there and those plates could very easily come crashing down to the ground. The season as we know it hangs in the balance.
2) The Comeback Player of the Year
You can package up this award right now and mail it to Alex Smith, quarterback of the Washington Football Team. Smith jogged onto the field late in the first half in a game Washington would lose handily to the Los Angeles Rams and went on to throw for just 37 yards in a downpour.
But there has never been a more glorious 37 yards in the history of the NFL. Smith suffered a badly broken leg in November 2018 and was required to undergo 17 surgeries. During that period, he suffered sepsis, slipped into a coma and very nearly lost his life. If we’re honest, none of us NFL reporters expected Smith to play again.
So, when he took to the field to replace the injured Kyle Allen on Sunday, Smith completed one of the greatest comebacks in the history of any sport! He is a credit to his profession and a total inspiration.
From a purely physical point of view, it should also be noted that he survived six sacks on the day and that rust has been knocked off for the remainder of 2020. That said, I don’t think I will be relaxed watching him play ever again.
3) Down goes Dak
On a night when Smith returned from a gruesome leg injury, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott went down with a compound fracture during his team’s win over the New York Giants.
If you had switched on Sky Sports in the moments just after the injury, you might have thought you were watching the tear-jerking final minutes of a Hollywood movie. Players, coaches and team owners from both sides were clearly moved by the nasty injury, many were in tears and it made for harrowing scenes as Prescott was carted off the field while biting down on a towel to help with the physical and emotional pain he was feeling.
I was shocked by the severity of the injury and we quite rightly decided not to show it on Sky Sports NFL. And then my mind turned to Dak’s future – he faces a long road back and does not have the security of a long-term deal in his back pocket.
He chased a long-term contract extension with the Cowboys this summer but failed and was playing on the one-year franchise tag. That paid Dak handsomely for this season but this season alone, meaning he took on the injury risk in 2020. His injury was very much about the human side of the game, of course, but the business side of things is going to be a factor in his life and his recovery too as he moves forward.
4) The inevitable in Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons jumped out to a quick lead against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night before being pegged back and eventually losing 23-16. That saw Atlanta drop to 0-5 in a season for the first time since 1997 and it spelled the end of an era that could have brought such glory to Georgia.
The Falcons fired head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, and the pair will be forgiven for thinking what might have been. Atlanta led 28-3 in Super Bowl LI at the end of the 2016 season and simply needed to finish the job against the Patriots to be crowned NFL champs.
We know how that particular story ended. New England fought back to win in overtime and Quinn and his Falcons have never been the same since. They have looked fragile. Blowing big leads has been a feature of their 2020 season, as has poor defensive displays. So, it’s time to start over again.
Will that mean trading away key assets like quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones? Watch this space.
5) Emptying the notebook
That’s not all the headlines from Sunday night. Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones suffered a season-ending injury, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was benched during a one-sided loss to the Miami Dolphins, a rookie wide receiver from Canada – Chase Claypool – scored a record-breaking four touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the New Orleans Saints suspended star receiver Michael Thomas for their game against the Chargers on Monday night after he punched teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in practice. Oh, and Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs lost at home for the first time in a year!
I was so impressed with the Las Vegas Raiders going toe to toe with the Chiefs as they won in Kansas City for the first time since 2012. I’ll come on to quarterback Derek Carr in just a moment but, first, a word about the defense which was in all sorts of trouble in the first half.
At the break, the score was tied 24-24 and the Raiders had shipped 310 total yards, which is good for an entire game for most offences around the NFL. The Silver and Black had no answer for Mahomes and I felt like he was going to put 50 points on the board by the end of the day. But, in securing an improbable 40-32 win, the Raiders adjusted their coverages and pressures and allowed just 103 yards and eight points after the break.
I have to admit I didn’t see that particular turnaround coming. But it was somehow fitting on a night when the shocks and surprises kept on coming.
Player of the Week: Derek Carr
Despite constantly posting decent numbers, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has his share of critics and I feel like they were ready to pounce if he lost his seventh-straight road game at Arrowhead Stadium. It didn’t happen because Carr was in exhilarating form, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
And there was no conservative dinking and dunking to be seen. It was a high-octane, ‘bombs away’ approach, with 219 of Carr’s 347 yards coming on passes covering at least 20 yards through the air.
With blazing rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs fit again, the Raiders passing attack was very close to unstoppable and Carr made every throw that was asked of him in delivering a massive win in the division.
Play of the Week
My favourite play this week was another piece of Russell Wilson magic as he led the Seattle Seahawks to their first 5-0 start in team history with a 27-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The entire game came down to one play for the Seahawks – a fourth and goal from the Minnesota six-yard line. This is very much a situation where quarterbacks can be affected by both physical and mental pressure. Not Wilson. There was no room for error with a national television audience watching on Sunday Night Football and the star passer delivered an inch-perfect touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf with 15 seconds remaining.
What made the play even more special was that Wilson had a defender in his face ready to pound him into the turf and Metcalf was well covered. It didn’t matter. Wilson took the hit and delivered the win. Did we really expect anything less?
Coach(es) of the Week: Matt Rhule and Romeo Crennel
I have to give a nod to first-year head coach Matt Rhule because he has made the Carolina Panthers much more competitive than any of us expected. Rhule turned around struggling college football programmes around at Temple and Baylor and he looks capable of doing the same in the NFL.
And how about the history-making efforts of Romeo Crennel? The long-time defensive coordinator stepped in for the fired Bill O’Brien to lead the Houston Texans to their first win of the 2020 season. Crennel became the oldest man in NFL history to serve as a head coach at the age of 73 years and 115 days, breaking the previous mark set by Chicago Bears Hall of Fame legend and NFL founding father George Halas, who coached his last game in the league in 1967 at the age of 72 years and 318 days.
On my Radar
I’m very keen to see how Garoppolo plays the rest of the way for the 49ers, because I am not sold on this quarterback.
Jimmy G returned from an ankle injury on Sunday and threw for just 77 yards and two interceptions, giving him a career-low passer rating of 15.7. The NFL has a complex system for grading its quarterbacks but know this; you or I could have thrown 100 passes straight into the ground on Sunday and still come out of that game with a rating of 39.5.
After missing the Super Bowl-winning pass to Emmanuel Sanders at the end of last season, there was pressure on Garoppolo and the Niners took a long look at Tom Brady on the free agency market. That pressure has increased after this slow start to 2020 and it’s not going to be easy for Garoppolo and his injury-hit 49ers to turn things around.
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