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TMF Week 9: Titans, Scary Defense Thump Rams, Jordan Love Struggles in Debut, Midseason Surprises, Who's NFL MVP?
Behind a rising defense, Titans thump Rams, Jordan Love struggles in first NFL start, NFL Midseason notes, plus: who's the NFL MVP right now?
Another wild week in the NFL, and the storylines from Week 9 soar. But the craziness from Week 9 didn’t just occur on Sunday. The turmoil began on Wednesday morning when the news broke that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had tested positive for Covid-19 and would be out for the Packers’ game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The news rapidly shifted the narrative when the world found out that Rodgers is unvaccinated.
The lead story to come out of this news was Rodgers’ unvaccinated status, as Rodgers told reporters back in August that he was “immunized,” leading the public to believe that meant he was in fact vaccinated. Per the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols, a vaccinated player that has tested positive would be eligible to play on Sunday, if the player was able to receive two negative Covid tests prior to the game.
The story didn’t stop there, however. It only just began; on Friday, Rodgers made a surprise appearance on the Pat McAfee Show to give his side of the story in a lengthy statement and interview. In the appearance, Rodgers stated several factors that went into his decision, one in particular, was that he found out he has an allergy to an ingredient that’s in the mRNA vaccines, Rodgers stated.
All the noise surrounding Rodgers’ vaccination status as well as his comments made in the appearance on the Pat McAfee show, wound up clouding over the Packers game on Sunday. And more importantly, Jordan Love’s first career NFL start.
Jordan Love and the Packers:
Jordan Love started slowly and struggled mightily in his first career NFL start. Love struggled against the blitz, as many young quarterbacks do, managing just one touchdown pass in the game. Keep in mind that Love didn’t even know he would be starting on Sunday until Wednesday afternoon, so the week of preparation wasn’t ideal for the young quarterback. Yet, we’re still left wondering if the game plan heading into Sunday was in Love’s best interest.
After the 13-7 loss to the Chiefs, Packers head coach Matt LaFluer took the blame.
"This one falls on me, squarely,"
LaFleur said in Sunday’s post game media appearance.
"Certainly, for us to be 2-for-12 on third down, obviously didn't have a good enough plan for some of the zero pressures that they brought on us.”
LaFleur is correct, as many people shared the same questions in-game. Love was pressured a heck of a lot and Kansas City’s defense showed little respect to the Packers passing attack. Green Bay lacked the needed adjustments to keep the Chiefs defenders honest, and Love paid the price for it most of the night. The Packers game plan resembled far too many similarities to the offense the Packers run when Rodgers is behind center. Unfortunately, the Packers came to realize on Sunday that Jordan Love is in fact, not Aaron Rodgers.
The circumstances were less than ideal, and even in defeat, it’s fairly obvious to the naked eye how that game would’ve played out had Aaron Rodgers been on the field.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy and on the field for the remainder of the season, Green Bay will be just fine.
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TMF Headline: Without Derrick Henry, Titans continue bulldozing forward, thump Rams in LA
When Titans’ running back Derrick Henry suffered a foot injury in Week 8, the fear surrounding what this bruising offense would look like without its star was genuine. Henry led the NFL in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. Prior to last week’s injury, he was on pace do it for a third straight season in 2021.
NFL Network's NFL Insider Ian Rapoport initially reported that Henry's recovery timeline will likely be 6-10 weeks. So, he could technically return as early as Week 14. Henry should, hypothetically, be back in time for a playoff run if all goes well and Tennessee indeed makes the playoffs.
Tennessee’s first game without Henry came in a Sunday Night Football prime-time affair against the new-look Matthew Stafford led Los Angeles Rams. But on Sunday night in Los Angeles, the spotlight belonged exclusively to the visiting team: the Tennessee Titans.
Although Ryan Tannehill and an offense featuring the ageless Adrian Peterson filling in for the injured Derrick Henry did not entirely explode, Tennessee’s defense surely did. Jeffery Simmons, among others, initiated continuous chaos on Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense early on helping the Titans run away with a convincing 28-16 win at SoFi Stadium.
In a physical bruising game, the second quarter is where things began to unravel for Stafford and the Rams.
With just over 12 minutes on the clock, the Rams were faced with a third-and-four from their own 10-yard line. Scrambling in his own endzone, Stafford threw an awful pass in attempt to avoid a safety. Titans’ linebacker David Long Jr. intercepted the errant throw, setting up Tennessee’s offense on the Rams 2-yard line. One play later, and the Titans would score when Tannehill found tight end Geoff Swaim in the endzone.
The mistakes for the Rams did not end there, however.
Now down 7-3, the Rams got the ball back, and on first down, Stafford threw another pick, this time to Kevin Byard, who returned the gift from Stafford for a pick-six, touchdown. Even with a lot of game left to play, the 14-3 hole proved to be too deep to overcome for the Rams.
Tennessee has now won five straight games to improve to 7-2 on the season. More importantly, the Titans have built a large lead in the AFC South, making it incredibly difficult for the Colts (4-5) to catch them.
LEAD TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK NINE
Scary Titans defense
Tennessee’s success this season can be attributed to several factors, but the rise of this bullying Titans defense is undoubtedly the prominent reason. In 2020, the Titans had a total of 19 sacks all season. Through nine games in 2021, the Titans defense has the fifth-most sacks in the NFL with 23. From the combination of Jeffery Simmons (5.5), Harold Landry (9), and Denico Autry (5), they alone have 19.5 on the season.
The Titans have been a top-notch defense despite an injury-riddled secondary that’s still without cornerbacks Kristian Fulton, Greg Mabin, and 2021 first-round pick Caleb Farley. This Tennessee defense isn’t solely creating consistent pressure due to individual players, either. The entire unit as a whole is participating and doing their job, quite masterfully, too.
Titans’ defensive coordinator Shane Bowen has done a remarkable job putting together game plans that involve the defense repeatedly switching up looks, challenging the opposing quarterbacks to adjust to the plays on the fly.
If Tennessee’s defense can continue this pace, and get healthier in the secondary, it might be capable of even better play down the stretch.
No OBJ, no problems in Cleveland
In their first game since disgruntled wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. forced his way out of Cleveland, the Browns delivered tremendously on offense – and overall – had their best game of the season in Sunday’s 41-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Baker Mayfield looked free, calm and loose while throwing for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Cleveland receivers made big plays for Mayfield throughout the day; Donovan Peoples-Jones 60-yard touchdown catch, for example.
It was around this time last season when Cleveland turned their season around resulting in a playoff berth. Ironically enough, the turnaround last year happened after almost immediately after Beckham was lost for the season due to a knee injury.
Time will tell if Mayfield and the Browns are truly better without Beckham on the team. Sunday was a promising start to that sentiment though.
Josh Allen dominates, Jaguars stun Josh Allen, Bills
No, there’s no typo in that headline, you read it right.
The Josh Allen who plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars played extraordinarily well in a stunning Jaguars 9-6 win over the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen, the one who plays quarterback for the Bills, had a game he’d like to forget. After the game, Josh Allen was quite blunt about the loss, particularly regarding his own level of play.
“I played like s---, excuse my language, but that starts with me."
Allen said during his postgame video conference call with the media.
Bizarre Stat of Week 9:
When Jaguars Josh Allen sacked Bills Josh Allen, it became the first time a player has sacked a quarterback with the same first and last name since the NFL began recording sacks in 1982.
What a moment.
On Sunday, Josh Allen (Jaguars) sacked Josh Allen (Bills), recorded an interception and recovered a fumble. Dominant day that led to a stunning upset for Urban Meyers’ young team.
MIDSEASON NOTES & THOUGHTS
What we’re surprised by:
Kansas City struggling mightily on both sides of the ball. Let’s not kid ourselves here, very few of us imagined the Chiefs having a dominant top-five type of defense this season. But did we ever imagine a Patrick Mahomes led offense look as limited as they do through nine weeks?
Finally, Dallas has a defense worth fearing. Behind the emerging star cornerback Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys look to have a competitive defensive unit to help alleviate some of the pressure off of Dak Prescott.
Ja’Marr Chase being this good, this fast.
Miami looks worse than they did last season. And the unknown of how it gets fixed is a concerning if you’re a Dolphins fan.
Even with a mangled secondary, Tennessee’s defense is legit.
One year after missing the playoffs, Bill Belichick has the Patriots (5-4) in contention to compete with Buffalo for the AFC East. Mac Jones has certainly helped this team win games, but the coaching of Belichick, the Patriots defense is a main factor for the turnaround in New England.
Kliff Kingsbury’s quiet ascension to becoming a Coach of the Year candidate.
Matt Nagy’s inability to get the most out of rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
What we’re not surprised by:
Packers are still contenders with Aaron Rodgers as their QB.
Matthew Stafford looks like an MVP candidate under Sean McVay and this high-powered Rams offense.
Houston and Detroit both fighting for the No. 1 overall pick in 2022.
Troubles continue for the Giants; a complete rebuild may be on the table this offseason.
Whether it’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance, the 49ers look completely lost at the midway point. When will Kyle Shanahan raise San Francisco back to a contender?
Ravens are still good behind Lamar Jackson.
With Drew Brees retiring this past offseason, the questions in New Orleans were evident. And when Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending injury, further questions, and even concerns, ascended. Yet, Sean Payton’s coaching brilliance continues to lead to the Saints (5-3) winning football games.
Tom Brady’s Buccaneers haven’t missed a beat. And we should still expect this team to make some noise once the playoffs arrive.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
–Assuming he clears waivers, why wouldn’t the Packers be a fit for OBJ? He reportedly wants to go to a contender with a solid QB and that definitely describes the Packers imo.
Great question. If Green Bay believes they need to bolster their receiving corps for a playoff run, Odell Beckham Jr. would certainly help the cause. Green Bay would need to figure out a way to make it work with their salary cap, but I think it could be doable if Beckham is willing to work with them.
The bigger question here is what Aaron Rodgers thinks of Beckham. If Rodgers wants him, Green Bay could make it happen. I do know that Rodgers really likes some of his receivers though, as he’s been very public with praising guys like MVS, Lazard and Cobb.
Interesting dynamic, and I’m sure we’ll know more about where Beckham wants to play in the coming days if no team puts a waiver claim in on him.
–Outside of Deshaun Watson, are there any other QBs the Panthers could pursue in free agency or a trade this offseason?
No names you’ll be excited about. When discussing the Panthers QB situation, it’s important to remember that this is a team that passed on the opportunity to draft Justin Fields and Mac Jones just six months ago.
And I feel, as many do, that Fields and Jones are far and away better quarterback prospects than any quarterback eligible to be drafted in the 2022 NFL draft. So, where does Carolina go from here? I wouldn’t be shocked to see them pass on a quarterback yet again in 2022, and instead make a minor splash in free agency, or even trade for one. Players like Marcus Mariota and Mitch Trubisky could both be available to sign for cheap if Carolina opts to take another swing at a developmental year at the position.
Maybe a trade with San Francisco for Jimmy Garoppolo? A few possibilities could be available to Rhule and the Panthers after the season concludes.
FOURTH AND LONG: FINAL THOUGHTS HEADING INTO WEEK TEN
Who’s the NFL MVP favorite now?
At the midway point of the 2021 NFL season, there is yet to be a clear cut MVP ‘favorite’ due to several factors. Kyler Murray didn’t play in Week 9, but Arizona continued winning without him. Josh Allen and the Bills offense struggled enormously managing to only put up six points in a loss to the one win Jaguars. Matthew Stafford and the Rams also struggled in a Sunday Night Football prime time showcase losing to the Tennessee Titans. And Aaron Rodgers just missed a important game due to testing positive for Covid-19; and being unvaccinated.
So, who’s the MVP favorite right now? Well, before we answer this question, we’ll give you a few stats to ponder first.
Player A leads the NFL in touchdown passes (25), is second in the NFL in passing yards (2,560), has thrown just five interceptions on the season, and is currently 10th in the NFL in completion percentage (67.3%). Also, this player’s team is currently 6-2 and leading their division.
This player is currently on pace to throw for a career-high 53 touchdown passes, which would be the second-most touchdown passes thrown in NFL history (Peyton Manning’s 55 touchdown passes in 2013).
The player is Tom Brady.
Hometown bias is probably what you’re thinking, but let me explain first.
There are several factors to consider here, but the most important factor is simple: consistency and winning. Out of all the MVP candidates this season – and there’s several elite candidates – each one has endured inconsistent moments throughout their 2021 campaign. The NFL MVP more often than not is awarded to a player who not only is a part of a winning successful team, but is also the reason for his team’s successful, winning season
If I’m betting on one player to be consistent enough, and to keep his team winning football games down the stretch, that player would be Tom Brady.