GameDay Decrees – Parity with a Side of Protest

The GameDay Decrees are here to drop these bars on you like we’re in the BET cipher…or like the way black folks are putting down Dove soap. Either way, Week 5 is in the books and we have a lot to go over. The NFL is in shambles right now…and I am here for ALL. OF. IT! Two of the biggest names in the game suffered long-term injuries. We have politicians attending and then refusing to stay at games because they were offended by player protests (even though deciding not to support an event because you disagree with its methods is literally, the definition of a protest. Dick). A Dolphin takes a ride on a white bronco. And the league’s front office pulls a DaVinci Code on the rulebook. How fitting for the NFL to participate in revisionist’s history the same weekend we celebrate the history of the world’s most heinous revisionist. The second week in October truly is dedicated to foreigners who travel from distant lands to destroy the homes of others. The road teams came in town and won 10 of the 14 games played last week. And I highly doubt we will dedicate a day off from work to acknowledge any of them. I can say Week 5 turned out to be the most competitive group of games thus far as 11 of them were decided by just eight points or less. The hope for parity has been the NFL’s version of the American Dream and so far it seems to be coming true. More than half of the league has to feel good about themselves as 16 teams currently hold winning records and 4 are staying above water at 2-2. But the other 12 teams with losing records have to right the ship soon or 2017 will become more like a nightmare ride through the Middle Passage. Let’s get into it.

Pillaging Patriots. We started last weekend off on Thursday night as the Patriots won a close one against the Buccaneers. OF COOUUURSE a group of guys wearing red, white, and blue, calling themselves “Patriots” would show up at somebody else’s stadium, steal a win, but call the other guys pirates. And it wasn’t all smooth sailing on the Santa Maria for the Pats early on in this one. Tom Brady missed high on a throw and was picked off by Bucs’ rookie Justin Evans on the first drive of the game. It was Brady’s first interception thrown on the road in the regular season since 2015, so you know the moans and groans of him being washed started fluttering around the airways. The Bucs were able to get to Brady early and often, and it appeared they had the formula to beat the defending champs. The Bucs caught a break in the 2nd half when LB Adarius Gladden came off the corner and blasted Brady, forcing a fumble that was recovered by teammate Will Clarke. But the theme of this game for Tampa Bay was their inaccuracies and it became the death of them. Kicker Nick Folk missed his second field goal of the game, failing to capitalize on the fumble recovery. Jamies Winston on the other hand finally got in sync with receiver DeSean Jackson (5 catches for 104 yds) but Winston was wildly inaccurate on throws downfield and missed on a few deep balls that would have blown this game open in their favor. After Jackson’s 41 yard reception, Folk missed his third field goal – this time just a 31 yarder that should have tied the game had he not gone 0-3 on the night. The Bucs tried to put together a drive with just a minute left and a chance to win the game with a touchdown. Props to Winston for hanging in the pocket and marching the offense downfield despite DeSean Jackson leaving the game with injury. But with just 3 seconds left at New England’s 19 yard line, Winston dropped back and with only three Pats’ defenders rushing him, even broadcaster Tony Romo pointed out Winston would have enough time to make a good decision with the ball. But instead, Winston threw the ball quickly into traffic before his receivers could even cross the goal line and the ball fell incomplete. If the Bucs plan to take the next step (and compete in the suddenly-competitive NFC South), they have to find ways to win games like this one. It’s easy to put all the blame on kicker Nick Folk, as much as he indeed deserves it. But the Bucs’ missed several opportunities on offense too, going 4 for 13 on 3rd down and only scoring 14 points against a defense that had given up 32 points per game the previous 4 weeks.  Focusing on just the Bucs here would be the American way though – blaming the victim. The Patriots deserve credit after coming up with a much-needed win on the road. Their defense which has been heavily criticized all season finally answered the call, and Tom Brady found a way as he always does to overcome the adversity of not having top weapon Rob Gronkowski  to put just enough points on the board to get the win. Brady’s stellar performance in the second half should quiet all the noise – at least for a week – that he was losing a step. All of the GOATs are succebtable to mistakes at times. Jay-Z made that “Sunshine” video and I don’t hear anyone bringing up THAT shit anymore.

Keep balling, TFB. 40 is the new 20…even with that “shoulder sprain.”

The Shocker in Shitsburgh. The biggest surprise from Week 5 was the Jacksonville Jaguars who went into Pittsburgh and blew out the Steelers in abusive fashion. If I would have told you Blake Bortles completed just 8 of 14 passes for 95 yards, threw an interception, and he was the best quarterback on the field…you’d think I was lying. Bortles’ ineptitude was overshadowed by the play of the great Ben Roethlisberger, who looked everything but on Sunday. A non-existent run game coupled with pressure to get WR Antonio Bryant the ball led to Ben throwing the ball 55 times. He threw 5 interceptions, 3.5 of which were his fault. But hey, who’s counting? This Steelers team has been consistently inconsistent this season and after the team spent the week dealing with in-house distractions, maybe the writing has been on the wall and we just refused to read it. We should have listened to Ben this summer when he told y’all he was sick of this football shit! He’s been sending signs that he wants a career change as bad as Maggie Gyllenhaal does in The Deuce. And maybe, it took BOTH of them catching an ass-whooping to realize they’re in the wrong business. Ben should hit up Tony Romo to see if his new gig is still hiring.But all the attention shouldn’t be given to the Steelers here. The young Jaguars are outchea ballin’! Rookie Leonard Fournette had the best game of his young career with 181 yds and 2 TDs, the last one a 90-yarder where he ran untouched through the middle of the Steelers’ defense. But the pillar to the Jags’ early success is hands down their talented defense. They slowly but surely constructed this defense with perfection, bringing in Calais Campbell to dominate upfront to go along with their talent secondary led by Jalen Ramsey, who looks like the best corner in football the first month of the season. Suddenly, my prediction the Jags would go at least 6-10 doesn’t seem so far-fetched…

Peyton Manning Day. The Indianapolis Football Team (again, I’m from Baltimore so I don’t use the “C” word) honored the great Peyton Manning by inducting him in the franchise’s ring of honor and erecting a statue of him out front the stadium. No doubt Peyton deserves this. But Indy thought they were slick scheduling their homecoming game against the 49ers. We all know how that works: you plan all your team festivities on a day you think you’re going to beat the brakes off a lesser opponent. I hope they didn’t take the Niners lightly because they gave Indy everything they could handle, taking Indy into OT (this was San Francisco’s second-straight overtime game played this season). Indy traded the lead back and forth the 1st half, but pulled away in the second after a 63 yard scramble-and-throw by QB Jacoby Brissett to WR T.Y Hilton, which set up a 3 yard TD run by Brissett to give Indy a 23-9 lead with just under 10 minutes left. And that’s when this game got interesting. QB Brian Hoyer led the Niners on 79 and 89 yard touchdown drives to suddenly tie the game and force OT. In overtime, Brissett connected on another deep ball to Hilton which should have set them up for the game winning field goal, but Brissett forced a throw into the endzone and it was picked off and returned half way down the field. But Indy’s defense held on and got the ball back to the offense, and rookie RB Marlon Mack decided he had plans later tonight and needed to get this game over with. He broke off a 35 yard run up the sideline to put the offense in field goal range and luckily for Indianapolis, they have the most clutch kicker in NFL history on their team. Adam Vinateiri came out and nailed a 51 yarder to give Indy their second win on the season. I know it’s a very small sample size, but yo. Brissett has played surprisingly well the last few weeks and depending on if/when Andrew Luck returns, this guy may have some suitors next offseason. If he had a more talented cast around him I think more people would be noticing his production. And speaking of production, Indy got work out of their backfield as Mack went for 91 yds and a TD and The Workhorse Frank Gore contributed 48 yards on the ground, propelling him to 7th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards list. And you know what the sad part is about all this? Poor Mike Pence didn’t get to stick around to witness it.

The Battle of the [Winless] Bastards. Heading into Week 5 both the Chargers and Giants were two of the NFL’s three winless teams. So unfortunately, somebody had to win this dumpster fire which featured Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, two QBs who were infamously traded for each other on draft day back in 2004. It was the Chargers who came out on top after rebounding from a rough start in this one. They relied heavily on RB Melvin Gordon who flat out got it done coming out the backfield (105 rushing yds). Gordon also led the team in receptions, scoring the Chargers’ first TD of the game on a 6 yard pass from Phillip Rivers. In the second half, Rivers and Manning put on a show of one-upsmanship that proved why these two are still heralded as some of the best in the business 14 years after they were drafted. In the 3rd quarter Manning capitalized after Rivers threw an endzone interception by marching 80 yards and throwing a 29 yard TD pass to Roger Lewis to regain the lead. But Rivers responded with a 92 yard drive and a 25 yard TD throw of his own to put the Chargers back up by 1. But early in the 4th Eli hung in a collapsing pocket, avoided a sack and hurled the ball downfield to Odell Beckham Jr who was wide open for a 48 yard touchdown. But that was the last glimmer of hope we would see from the Giants as Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard EACH left the game with ankle injuries. Without anyone on offense to deliver the ball to, Eli held onto the ball too long in the pocket and was strip sacked and turned it over in Charger territory. Rivers got the last laugh when he went back to Melvin Gordon again coming out of the backfield on 3rd down, and Gordon walked in for his second TD of the day to win the game.  With Rivers at age 35 and Eli 36 now, I have to admit it sucks to watch these two top-tier QBs spending the beginning of the end of their careers playing on such helpless rosters, especially knowing that there are a handful of talented teams around the league who are just one quality quarterback away from taking the next step.

The Battle of the Birds (or The Carson Bowl). The Arizona Cardinals flew into Philadelphia just in time to watch the Eagles take off the runway in route to a 34-7 blowout victory. It was a tale of two Carson’s and the success (or lack thereof) of each QB was the obvious difference in this game. Carson Wentz had a breakout game, scoring on each of the offenses first three drives and throwing 3 of his 4 touchdowns in the first quarter. He was protected well (sacked just once) and got great performances from his supporting cast. The running game notched 122 yards by committee, and receivers Nelson Agholor and Rickon Stark AKA Torrey Smith showed they could run the other 8 options on the route tree. The Eagles’ defense held down the fort up front without He-Man Fletcher Cox, holding Arizona to just 31 yards rushing as a team. The Eagles improved to an impressive 4-1 on the season and own the outright lead of the NFC East. Carson Palmer on the other hand was not as lucky, and it’s hard to have any balance on offense when you find yourself down 21 points before the first TV timeout. The only bright spot in any Cardinals game the last two years seems to be the ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald who achieved yet another career milestone. He became just the 3rd player with a catch in 200 straight regular season games, only behind Tony Gonzalez and Jerry Rice.

The Cat Fight. The Panthers and Lions clashed in the only Week 5 matchup between teams with winning records. As expected, both teams’ respective quarterbacks were asked to shoulder the load down the stretch. The Gunslinger (and the highest paid QB in the league…I feel like this has to be mentioned every time) Matt Stafford faced off against former league MVP and newly self-appointed President of Women’s Rights, Cam Newton. We’re gonna address the elephant in the room before we even discuss the game. I hate to admit this but I sorta, kinda got what Cam was TRYING to say in terms of his comments to the reporter. I don’t believe in his heart his intentions were to offend. But people can’t hear your intention; they only hear your words and Cam Newton’s choice of words were ill-thought and flat out ignorant. Newton also isn’t the most loquacious brother in the world…his post-game comments about his original comments were almost just as bad. The brother could probably use Kenyon as his speech writer moving forward…and a quick synopsis of the movie Mulan. I just hope both he and other people learned that type of thinking is the building block for how marginalized groups in this country become marginalized in the first place – that you actually can limit someone’s accomplishments based on your limited ways of thinking about them. Now, to the game. It became a momentous occasion in the 2nd quarter when rookie RB Christian McCaffrey scored his first career touchdown off a shuffle pass from Newton. Despite an ineffective run game (from both teams, actually) Newton put the Panthers on his back completing 78 percent of his passes for 355 yards, 3 TDs and no turnovers. The Lions on the other hand found themselves down 27-10 in the 4th quarter and unfortunately this was no new territory for them. But they didn’t have enough time on the clock and Stafford didn’t have enough time in the pocket to stage another Detroit comeback.  Stafford was sacked 6 times on the day and ended up injuring his hamstring and ankle.Despite throwing two 4th quarter TDs to bring the Panthers within 3 while hobbling throughout the 4th quarter, the Lions’ defense couldn’t get enough stops to give them a chance in the end. It was a statement win for the Panthers who improved to 4-1 on the season, but a tough loss for the Lions who usually excel at home in these situations. You can’t win ‘em all. But a trend has been growing over the years in regard to the ones Stafford and this Lions team can’t win. Stafford is 5-43 in his career against opponents with .500+ records. This is however more of an indictment on Detroit’s defense which often times gives up the lead late in games against quality offenses.

Coming of Age. If we can take anything away from this past weekend it should be the emergence of players around the league who are already making names for themselves. Rookie QBs DeShaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky shined on prime-time television but in losing efforts. Despite the L’s Watson and Money Mitch proved they both have what it takes to make plays at the highest level on the league’s biggest stage. It will be exciting to watch these two young men grow into the franchise quarterbacks they were drafted to be. But the most impactful QB performance to note from the weekend is Mr. Alex Smith whose performance in Houston was a snapshot of how great he’s played this season as a whole. With a rookie draftee on his heels, Smith transformed into football’s version of Hoodie Melo. He has silenced (so far) the critics who labeled him just a game manager who couldn’t make the necessary throws downfield to carry his team to victory. But Smith has done all of that and some, and he is the difference for this undefeated Chiefs team. His numbers through 5 games are as follows: 121 of 158, 76.5%, 1,391 yards, 11 TD’s, 0 Int, and a QBR of 125.7. I know awards aren’t given until the end of the season but Alex Smith is the NFL’s MVP thus far.

FINAL NOTES

Miles Garrett made his NFL debut and the kid is worth the wait. He became the 1st #1 overall pick to record 2 sacks in his first game.

Titans’ Phillip Supernaw, the man with the best name in sports, likely became the first player to ever commit two consecutive false starts, then score his first career TD on the next play.

The Texans lost both JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus to season ending injuries. The two have been the best teammate sack combo in the league since 2014.

The Packers beat the Cowboys AGAIN in what can be heralded as the game of the year so far. Dallas was up 21-6 in the 2nd quarter and that defense still couldn’t hold the lead. Aaron Rodgers is now 6-2 vs. Dallas and how much more evidence do we need that you canNOT give that man the ball with any time left on the clock?

That’s all we got for this week, folks. Check out the GameDay Decrees next time when we cover the action from Week 6 which will feature two of the NFC’s best facing off on Thursday night in Carolina. The Steelers return to Kansas City in a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional round. Kyle Shanahan comes home. And dare I say it: the AFC East lead is up for grabs as the Patriots head to New [Jersey] to play the Jets. Let me know what y’all think.