There was something special in the air around the NFL this weekend, and it was the inescapable smell of excrement coming out of Saints vs. Broncos. It permeated the entire football weekend, and it was so beautiful it brings me to tears.
Good football is rote. Every season we’re going to get a handful of legitimately excellent games. They’re wonderful, sure — and football purists appreciate nothing more than a well played game between two successful, functional football teams. Bad games appear with the same frequency, though decidedly less fun. These are the kind of 9-6 scoreline affairs that exist to waste the afternoon of fans and nothing more.
The Saints and Broncos gave us something entirely different. Rare, like seeing an eagle in the wild, or preordering a PS5 that hasn’t been snatched up by a reseller. Every drive, every down was unexpected and brilliant, because nothing about this game should have happened in the NFL. The idea that two professional football teams would enter a late season game with such shaky quarterbacks is a thing of beauty. The Saints, using their “QB of the future” in Taysom Hill, the Broncos using a practice squad wide receiver to throw the ball because they literally had nobody else to because of Covid. The result was an endlessly fun great unknown, because there was nothing to expect.
Make no mistake: This game was not competitive in the slightest. It makes sense the Saints won, because they are a division-leading playoff-bound team, and the Broncos are … well, the Broncos. Still, gaze upon the beauty of the quarterback duel we had in this one.
One of the Worst Quarterbacked Games of the Modern Era
By any available metric this is the second worst quarterbacked game in NFL history. Hinton became the 69th quarterback to post a 0.0 rating as a starter, which is not so nice. The pair also combined for a quarterback rating of 11.0. Yes, this means Hinton was so bad that he effectively contributed negative quarterback rating.
Only one game featured a worse performance by two starters, and it was something special. On December 3, 2006 the Vikings and Bears set a record for futility in a game where Brad Johnson faced off against Rex Grossman. The duo combined for 7 interceptions, they averaged a stunning 2.8 and 1.8 YPA respectively. Their combined quarterback rating: 6.48. I believe it’s impossible any two players will beat this for utter passing futility.
Now, let’s be abundantly clear about something: Kendall Hinton didn’t deserve this. Like Dante in Clerks, he wasn’t even supposed to be here today. It was pathetically unfair for Denver to put him in a position where he had to start without any experience or safety net. This man is a wide receiver without hardly any QB experience, and he was thrust into an NFL game on short notice. It’s all so dumb.
As for Taysom Hill and the Saints … that’s a little more complicated. This is the guy the Saints coaching staff raved about. Reports swirled that there was so much faith the team might have been comfortable parting ways with Drew Brees for him. One start isn’t much of a sample, but it was a complete disaster. At least he can run, I guess.
Winner: Derrick Henry.
Henry is, without question, the best running back in the NFL. On Sunday he dominated the Colts so convincingly in the first half that he basically coasted for the rest of the game and secured the win for Tennessee. With 140 yards rushing and three first half touchdowns, the rest was academic. It froze the defense so badly they had to double-down on stopping him in the second half, allowing Ryan Tannehill to do work.
Watching Henry play is a delightful throwback to a simpler time of watching the NFL. The concept of the run-first team is largely dead, but Henry reminds us of a time not long ago that seemingly every team had a signature, elite back carrying the load. It’s nostalgic football, and that’s comforting.
Of course, there’s a functional advantage to this too. As the rest of the NFL has moved more and more towards speed, and overloading talent in pass protection — defenses aren’t really equipped to deal with a bruising running back at the second level. This is a distinction that could really make the different in 2020 when it comes to the playoffs, especially that this Titans team has had another year to gel.
Winner: Kirk Cousins.
Credit where it’s due: Cousins was awesome on Sunday. There’s been plenty of reason to hate on how Cousins has played in 2020, but when it counted against the Panthers he stepped up in a major way.
It took three quarters for the Vikings offense to open things up and allow Cousins to air it out, but when they did the team was rewarded. Down 11 points entering the final quarter, Cousins kept delivering on drives and moving the team down the field. If there’s anything to find fault with it was almost that he was too efficient, scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown with 46 seconds left and allowing Carolina a chance to win on a field goal that was eventually shanked.
There’s been a ton of trepidation in letting Cousins throw downfield, and rightfully so — but the only way Minnesota can find a back door into the playoffs is if the stop playing safe. That path has to involve letting Cousins throw.
There is no good way to look at this one. Las Vegas has been a surprising underdog this season, quietly performing at an extremely high level without much national attention. That got stopped dead in its tracks on Sunday, getting blown out by the Falcons in arguably the most embarrassing loss of the season.
There’s a common misconception that good teams beat good teams in the regular season when it comes to the league. Yes, that’s true — but mostly for bragging rights. Coaching, small adjustments, preparation. There are dozens of failure points where a normally good team can come up short in an even competition. Truly good teams are defined by games they should win, and ensuring they don’t drop them. It sounds simple, but beating lesser competition is the first step to making the playoffs and having the energy to face better teams.
The Raiders utterly failed that on Sunday. Las Vegas may not be mathematically eliminated, but this feels like a back breaker.
Winner: Aaron Rodgers.
Beating the Bears on Sunday Night Football may have been par for the course for the Packers, but it’s almost as if Rodgers’ ruthless efficiency has been overlooked this season. The Bears game may have been his best example of this yet, completing over 70 percent of his passes and throwing for four touchdowns.
Rodgers has been oddly omitted from a lot of the MVP talk, but this has been statistically one of his best seasons. While he may not gain the same amount of yards as in past seasons, but his touchdown/interception ratio is on pace to be his best since 2013.
This is really the same story as Las Vegas. Granted, the 49ers are a far better team than Atlanta is, but this game was a disaster for Los Angeles. The NFC West is way too competitive to drop divisional games, and in a month this game might prove to be the one that knocked the Rams out of playoff contention.
Credit to the 49ers on the other side of this. They showed just how well their team is constructed by limping into a game against the Rams and still coming out with a win. It’s just such a shame we didn’t see what San Francisco could really bring this season with so many players getting hurt.
Right now there’s still a really good chance Los Angeles could pull this off, but it’s going down to the wire. Two games left against the Cardinals might really settle it all.
Winner: Double Chinn.
I’d be remiss without mentioning Panthers rookie Jeremy Chinn this week, who almost beat the Vikings singlehandedly. In the span of 10 seconds at the start of the third quarter, Chinn recovered two fumbles and returned them for touchdowns.
Chinn out-scored the Panthers offense on Sunday, and almost won the game by himself. Chinn was already in the discussion for defensive rookie of the year honors, and that is surely drawing closer after his heroics against the Vikings.