PHILADELPHIA–Don’t look now but the NFC East isn’t terrible.
In fact, it’s not bad at all.
After the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants won on Sunday, all four teams in the division have winning records.
“It’s a lot better than it was last year,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said of the NFC East after his team beat the NFL’s last undefeated team, the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. “Night and day. Everybody is playing really well. The good thing is the next two games we get to see some division rivals. It’ll be fun. We’re kind of in the thick of the woods right now, especially in our division. You can’t ask for a better run.”
Okay, it’s not exactly back to the days when the Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys combined to win eight Super Bowl titles in a 14-year span between the 1982 and ’95 seasons.
But at least it’s different from the norm of recent seasons, when everyone too often has had to wonder if a single team in the division could make it to nine or 10 victories.
The Giants won Super Bowls in the 2007 and ’11 seasons with Eli Manning as their quarterback and Tom Coughlin as their coach, twice upsetting the New England Patriots. Other than that, the NFC East last sent a team to the Super Bowl when the Eagles got there and lost to the Patriots in the 2004 season. The Cowboys’ last Super Bowl appearance came in the 1995 season. For the Redskins, it was at the end of the 1991 season.
This is not to say with any certainty that the NFC East will have a Super Bowl representative this season. But there is a chance that a team or two from the division could emerge to at least be in the conversation. The Cowboys, who had a bye Sunday, lead the way with a record of 5-1.The Eagles improved to 4-2 Sunday. The Giants, who beat the Los Angeles Rams in London, upped their record to 4-3, while the Redskins suffered a stomach-churning defeat at Detroit to drop to 4-3. Only that last-gasp touchdown drive by the Lions kept the NFC East from having an unblemished day.
Rookie quarterbacks Dak Prescott in Dallas and Carson Wentz in Philadelphia have energized the division. The Cowboys also have a dynamic rookie runner in Ezekiel Elliott. The Eagles ended a two-game losing streak Sunday. Both of those defeats had come on the road. They’re 3-0 at home this season. In their last two home games, they’ve outscored the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Vikings by a combined margin of 55-13.
The Eagles beat the Vikings, 21-10, Sunday despite committing four turnovers, three of them by Wentz. They forced the Vikings into four turnovers, three of them by quarterback Sam Bradford in his return to Philadelphia. Bradford threw an interception. He fumbled four times, losing two of them, and was sacked six times.
“You win three straight,” Jenkins said. “You go on a bye. Everybody’s telling you how good you are. And then all of a sudden, you come back and you want to make plays. You want to keep it going. But you forget what got you there. And that wasn’t anybody doing anything spectacular. It was just guys making plays when their number’s called, being in your spot when you’re supposed to be there and if the ball comes, make a play. If not, it’s for somebody else to make a play. And that’s all we did today.”
. . . AND TEN
1. Bradford’s blockers: The six sacks of Bradford by the Eagles came after he’d been sacked a total of eight times in his first four starts for the Vikings.
The injuries finally might be catching up to the Vikings. They lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Adrian Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil. Somehow, they started 5-0 anyway. But now they’re patching together Bradford’s offensive line, including with just-signed veteran tackle Jake Long. It didn’t work Sunday.
Coach Mike Zimmer, in a no-holds-barred postgame assessment, said his blockers had played “soft” and were “overwhelmed” by the Philadelphia defense. Further help is not on the way, Zimmer said.
“We need to do a better job,” he said. “We aren’t going to go down the street and pick up a bunch of guys. We need to get these guys better and we need to do it quickly. I’m disappointed that we allowed that to happen. You kind of know going into the game they’re gonna come after Bradford. I didn’t go to Harvard but I can probably figure that out. We didn’t get it done.”
The Minnesota defense is fully capable of doing the heavy lifting. But the offense at least has to do its modest part.
“We win as a team,” Zimmer said. “We lose as a team. When you do the things like we did today, it’s not good football. It’s sloppy.”
Zimmer left Bradford on the field in the late stages of Sunday’s game even with the outcome no longer in doubt. Bradford was limping on the Vikings’ final drive of the day but managed to throw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
“What’s the best way to say this? I’m not gonna pull guys – I want them to learn how to fight under pressure,” Zimmer said. “So you know what? Stay in there and fight. Get guys to block for you and let’s go.”
2. Really, truly time for Goff: Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said after his team’s 17-10 defeat to the Giants in London that he plans to stick with Case Keenum as his starter at quarterback.
Keenum threw four interceptions Sunday. He has eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions on the season. The Rams are on a three-game losing streak to drop their record to 3-4. They now have a bye week to get rookie Jared Goff, the top overall selection in the NFL draft, ready to make his first start.
Here’s hoping, for Fisher’s sake, that he merely was pulling a Todd Bowles. Remember, Bowles said after Ryan Fitzpatrick’s dreadful outing at Arizona last Monday night that Fitzpatrick remained the New York Jets’ starter. Then he switched to Geno Smith anyway for Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Meadowlands.
A similar about-face by Fisher would be in the Rams’ best interests.
3. Fitz’s world view: It must be nice to live in Fitzpatrick’s world, in which he is a tremendous quarterback and him being denied a mega-contract or being benched results only from the misperceptions of others.
Fitzpatrick remained unsigned in free agency all offseason because no one would meet his asking price, finally re-signing with the Jets on the eve of training camp.
He threw 11 interceptions in the Jets’ 1-5 start, leading Bowles to turn to Smith and Jets owner Woody Johnson to voice his support for the quarterback move.
When Smith suffered a second-quarter knee injury Sunday, Fitzpatrick was back. He threw a touchdown pass as the Jets beat the downward-spiraling Ravens, 24-16.
“The biggest thing in this game in order to last is to have belief in yourself because when the owner stops believing in you and the GM stops believing in you and the coaches stop believing in you, sometimes all you have is yourself,” Fitzpatrick said after the game. “So that’s kind of something I’ve had to deal with before, something I’m dealing with now. And I just do my best to prepare and be the best quarterback I can be.”
So Fitzpatrick is incredulous that the Jets’ management lost faith in him?
He threw 11 interceptions in six games.
Heck yes, they lost faith in him.
And rightfully so.
4. Eagles’ KO-return TDs: The Eagles have two touchdowns this season on kickoff returns.
The rest of the NFL has zero.
Josh Huff had a kickoff-return touchdown Sunday for the Eagles, one week after Wendell Smallwood had one against the Redskins.
“Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week,” Eagles Coach Doug Pederson said of his special teams coordinator. “You need those things. You need special teams scores. You need defensive scores. All that helps you, especially late down the stretch. It was just great to see it two weeks in a row.”
Huff was asked when he knew he’d score on the return.
“Once I saw him kick it,” he said.
5. Cards-Seahawks madness: The Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks played the worst game in NFL history Sunday night in Arizona.
Or maybe it was the best.
One of those.
The game was tied at 3 at the end of regulation. Each team got a field goal on its first possession of overtime. The Cardinals were set to win when kicker Chandler Catanzaro lined up for a 24-yard field goal with a little more than three minutes remaining in overtime. But he missed, sending the football off the left upright.
The Seahawks were set to win when kicker Stephen (just call me Steven) Hauschka lined up for a 28-yard field goal. But he missed even worse with seven seconds to go, pulling his kick way left. The game ended in a 6-6 tie. It was the NFL’s first tie without a touchdown since 1972, according to NBC.
“It was a defensive battle,” Seattle’s Bobby Wagner told the network in an on-field postgame interview. “We made plays and it just [stinks] it came out a tie. We should just keep playing and figure the game out.”
How about a shootout?
The game could have been settled by Catanzaro and Hauschka kicking 20-yard field goals. First one to make one wins.
It might still be going.
6. Browns’ QBs: Robert Griffin III. Josh McCown. Terrelle Pryor. Cody Kessler. Charlie Whitehurst. Kevin Hogan.
They’ve all thrown passes for the Cleveland Browns this season.
Poor, poor Hue Jackson.
7. Quinn’s decision: Dan Quinn, Atlanta’s second-year coach, is being criticized for leaving his offense on the field for a fourth-and-one gamble from his own 45-yard line in overtime Sunday. The Falcons were stopped. The San Diego Chargers took possession, drove to a field goal and won, 33-30.
Quinn’s move backfired. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that his decision was wrong. The strength of his team is his offense. He gave his offense a chance to win the game. It didn’t work out. So be it.
Unfortunately for Quinn and the Falcons, it makes for a been-there, done-that feel to their season. The Falcons have lost two straight games following a 4-1 start. Last season, remember, they went 3-8 following a 5-0 beginning to finish 8-8.
8. Vegas vote: The relocation process for the Oakland Raiders probably will not play out as quickly after this season as things moved following last season for the owners to choose the Rams to move to Los Angeles.
Raiders owner Mark Davis appears intent on filing a formal application after this season to relocate to Las Vegas. But Davis has said that the Raiders would continue to play in Oakland for several seasons while a new stadium in Vegas, for which public financing has been approved, would be under construction. That removes the urgency for the owners to act.
The NFL is studying the Vegas market and situation and expects to be ready to report to the owners in December or January. But even then, there will be plenty of moving parts. The league wants to continue to explore the possibility of the team remaining in Oakland, even if Davis appears to be taking the approach that Oakland has had its chance and has failed to do anything about it.
By January, the NFL and the owners also should know if the Chargers will be able to remain in San Diego, with a funding measure for a new stadium there on the November ballot. If the Chargers stay put and pass on their option to join the Rams in L.A., that option transfers to the Raiders. That would further complicate the Raiders’ situation. Davis has said he has made a commitment to Las Vegas and would not consider other alternatives. But the owners ultimately control the situation. And some of them seem to be wondering if Los Angeles would be a better option for the Raiders under those circumstances, given the comparatively modest size of the Las Vegas market.
So don’t be surprised if the Raiders-to-Vegas situation drags on for several months into 2017 rather than being resolved in January.
9. CBA extension: The current collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union runs through 2020.
The owners are interested in attempting to negotiate an extension with the players sooner rather than later, two people familiar with the situation said last week.
Those people portrayed the owners’ approach as being focused on not wanting to wait until the late minute to get negotiations with the players going in earnest. They played down the notion that the owners need the CBA extended to secure salary-cap stadium credits for Las Vegas and San Diego, as ESPN reported.
They also said the owners’ desire to pursue an extension is not related to the earlier negotiations between the league and union regarding possible changes to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s role in the sport’s system of player discipline. Those talks failed to produce an agreement.
10. Replay for interference (continued): The latest case for making pass interference reviewable by replay came when Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills all but tackled Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs on a first-quarter deep pass Sunday by Bradford. Officials threw a flag but, after discussing the play, picked it up and called no penalty.
They were wrong.
“Should not have picked up the flag for PI,” Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice president of officiating who now is a rules analyst for Fox, wrote on Twitter.
This play did not come in crunch time and determine the outcome of a game, as the missed call on the Richard Sherman-Julio Jones play a week earlier very well may have done. But these are huge-yardage plays that can turn games, and the NFL needs to do what it can to get them right.
“I don’t know,” Zimmer said. “The one guy [official] came in and said he felt good about picking it up. I can’t argue about it. I can argue about it. But it doesn’t do any good.”