What a glorious, spectacular, dream-shattering week of football this was. The perfect prelude for the holidays. When it comes to the NFL this season it feels like every week has been a gift, and that’s dulled the spirit of the holidays, if I’m being honest. Only problem is that the presents we’re getting are socks. Not good, high quality, comfy socks, but the hastily purchased ones from a clearance section inside a Dollar General.
Week 12 was ennui distilled. Every single team bubble team I held excitement for lost this weekend, and that is seriously impressive. At this point the whole season feels like waiting in line for 17 hours to ride a new, exciting rollercoaster, then getting to the front of the queue and realizing you’ve ridden it before.
Yes, that’s right, the damn Patriots sure as hell look like they’re heading back to the Super Bowl, and I don’t really know how to process that. Two weeks ago I gushed effusively about how good New England was looking, and why it shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Now they’ve not only beaten one of the best teams in the AFC in Tennessee, but dominated them in a 36-13 beatdown that reasserted that Mac Jones is going to be a damn problem for everyone else in the NFL.
Jones’ arrival in New England was kismet. The stars aligning, clouds parting, and the perfect Patriots’ quarterback landing in the absolute perfect landing spot for him. The most remarkable thing about Jones’ rookie season has been the quiet that’s surrounding him. It’s like everyone is still expecting the bubble to burst, but its soapy, glistening veneer was crafted by a substance not known to modern science — causing it to linger. At this point there is no doubt Jones is the best rookie QB in the NFL, but the question now pivots to discussion about where he’ll end up among the greatest rookie seasons of all time.
I know that last sentence will be met with groans, but hear me out. At the beginning of the season Mac Jones was handled with kid gloves. The Alabama rookie was barely asked to throw downfield, had plays tailored to his limited knowledge of the NFL, and basically allowed him to be a perfectly serviceable NFL quarterback from the jump.
Now, over the last six weeks, Bill Belichick and Co. have decided it’s time to trust Jones, and their faith has been rewarded. Assuming his season continues on its current path, Jones’ 2021 projection exceeds anyone’s wildest imagination.
4,038 passing yards, 70.3% completion, 23 TD, 11 INT — 115.94 passer rating
This season is even more impressive when you consider that Jones didn’t even come into his own until Week 5. That was really the turning point for his season. At that point he’d thrown just five touchdowns, and five interceptions. Hardly eye-popping. In the seven weeks since he has nine touchdowns, three interceptions, while lifting every single statistical area of measure.
Jones may not break Andrew Luck’s rookie passing yards record (4,374) or Justin Herbert’s rookie passing TD record (31), but when we consider he’s trending to only be 3.1% off Drew Brees’ single-season completion percentage record, well, there’s an argument to be made. If Jones can finish over 4,000 yards, and throw a few more TDs, then as a total package he might have one of the best seasons of all time.
In the end the real thing that matters in the NFL is wins. It’s here Jones has a chance to be legendary. With the entire AFC crumbling to dust around them, the Patriots are perfectly poised to ride their experience into the playoffs. When you get there, well, it’s New England. You have the greatest tactical coach of all time getting to focus on single opponents, and now a QB who can execute his vision. It feels like horrible, groan-inducing destiny.
I’m definitely not bullish on the AFC to win the Super Bowl in general this year, and think the power resides in the NFC based on how things are shaking out — but there’s potential here to make noise.
Winner: This single image that can sum up a team’s entire season …
In the spirit of brevity I thought I’d turn Jacksonville’s season into a haiku.
So much excitement
Hope is now dust in Duval
Mascot stuck on rope
Loser: Matt Rhule
This is all a lead in to say: When it comes to head coaches, the Panthers have really been kind of blessed — so they were due for a bad one. Hoo boy, did they get a stinker.
The issue with Carolina isn’t just that they have a bad coach, it’s that they went ALL THE WAY IN on their bad coach. Like a drunken gambler betting the house on a 2-4 on suit before seeing the flop, the Panthers gave everything to Rhule to convince him to come to Charlotte. He got to hire all his friends to make up his staff, at a ludicrous cost. Rhule had a multi-million analytics department organized for him, again at great cost. The new coach got to call all his personnel shots, at perhaps the greatest cost.
The result: Rhule cut Cam Newton, signed Teddy Bridgewater (at great cost), then learned he wasn’t the guy. He then had Sam Darnold brought in (also at significant cost), who faltered — causing the coach to run back to Newton.
If you’ve been following along, that’s a whole lot of expensive-ass mistakes to wind up where the Panthers started. Once again mired in mediocrity, getting out-coached every week, and looking like a deer in headlights. Functionally the Panthers aren’t eliminated from the playoffs yet, but c’mon … there’s no chance this team puts it together now.
I’ve seen Panthers fans clamoring for Oklahoma to want to sign away Rhule, and they’re right to hope for that. It would give this team an out from a man who has cost them way too much already.
Winner: The New York Football Giants
The Giants won, and they’re back in the playoff picture. That’s not why I want to give them props this week. I want to shout out New York for celebrating Thanksgiving by looking to trim a whole lot of fat.
On Sunday morning reports emerged that GM Dave Gettleman might retire after this season, which feels like giving him an out with dignity. It’s the best possible thing to happen to New York in years. Hiring Gettleman was a legendarily terrible decision after he burned the Panthers to the ground on the way out the door, and he did it again with the team where he started in the NFL.
Just a beautiful decision if this plays out.
Loser: Kirk Cousins approaching the wrong ass
I really enjoyed writing that haiku for Jacksonville, and since this is another perfectly brief example, let’s do it again.
I am Kirk Cousins
This butt does not have the ball
I think you can learn a lot about a team in defeat as well as victory, and the Colts’ narrow loss to the Buccaneers told me everything I needed to see. Indianapolis still has a small mountain to climb to make the playoffs, but I think they can be really scary if they get there.
This will not be an easy out, and I think they could shock some teams if they get in.
Loser: Everyone who had high hopes for Sunday Night Football
Browns vs. Ravens sucked. That is all.
Winner: Kliff Kingsbury’s agent
Simply beautiful work here by Kingsbury’s agent to use his patsy to secure the bag for his client.
Oklahoma has targeted Cardinals’ HC Kliff Kingsbury as one of the potential replacements for Lincoln Riley, league sources tell ESPN.
Kingsbury has one year remaining on his contract after this season.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 28, 2021
The entire “Team X has targeted [insert current coach here]” is just a beautiful way to force a team’s hand before they’re ready to pay. I love the grind.