If Sunday was the last time we witnessed two of the most prolific quarterbacks in NFL history face off against each other, the game will be remembered more for tension than either man raging against the dying of the light (although one of them has been raging against electronics). With eight Super Bowl victories (Tom Brady with seven) and seven MVPs (Aaron Rodgers with four) between them, the two have solidified themselves as the best quarterbacks of their generation (along with Peyton Manning who, it is easy to forget, is only a year older than Brady.)
But those expecting an offensive explosion on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers met were most likely disappointed. Brady’s first half was one to forget as he failed to lead the Bucs into the end zone and entered halftime down 14-3. Rodgers looked sharper in the early moments of the game, achieving some first-half success against the Bucs’ stingy defense by throwing two touchdowns. But both men were largely anonymous in the third quarter, the explosive plays and ruthlessness that have given them so much success down the years largely lacking.
Brady eventually showed signs of his old self in the final minutes of the game, leading the Bucs on a nailbiting 15-play, 89-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Russell Gage. But down 14-12, the Bucs were called for a delay of game on the two-point conversion. Five yards further away from the end zone, Brady’s pass attempt to tie the game was deflected, leading to the Packers’ victory.
It’s too soon to declare the end for either man – it wouldn’t be a shock if they met again in this season’s NFC championship game. After all, Rodgers has been the league MVP for the last two seasons and, at Rodgers’ age, Brady still had another three Super Bowl rings to come. Even if Rodgers is slightly below his peak, it’s still a hell of a peak to come down from. Brady is more of a concern: his timing has been off for much of the season, he has shown his frustration on the sidelines and, well, he is 45. But there are caveats: he has been written off approximately 89 times before; his offensive line and receiving corps have been hit by injury – three of the top Bucs receivers (Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and Chris Godwin) did not take the field on Sunday; and Brady himself played with a finger injury on his throwing hand.
But for all that, and all their star power, on Sunday it felt like the actual on-the-field fireworks of the Brady v Rodgers rivalry may now be a thing of the past. Mahomes v Herbert and Jackson v Allen are the battles we’ll be looking forward to for the next few years.
MVP of the week
Jalen Hurts, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles. Hurts and the Eagles continued to soar during a 24-8 divisional victory against the Washington Commanders. Hurts put up impressive numbers on Sunday, throwing for 340 yards and three touchdowns. His dominance against the Commanders stood out along with the play of his two big weapons, DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown. Smith snagged several passes in awe-inspiring fashion on his way to eight catches and 169 yards. Many believed Hurts needed a standout season if he was to hang on as Philly’s starter. If the Eagles, who are currently 3-0, continue with a successful run in the NFC East, he could be a sleeper pick for MVP by season’s end (just don’t tell the idiot who threw beer at him on Sunday).
— BetFTW (@Bet_ForTheWin) September 25, 2022
Lamar Jackson deserves an honorable mention in this category for his performance in the Baltimore Ravens’ 37-26 win against the New England Patriots. Jackson confused the Patriots’ defense with dazzling runs and timely throws, finishing the game with four passing touchdowns, as well as one touchdown and 107 yards on the ground.
Video of the week
Down by two points with less than 20 seconds remaining, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills offense scrambled to line-up with the hopes of spiking the ball to stop the clock. However, time would expire before the Bills were able to get set, leading to a 21-19 victory for the Miami Dolphins. In response, the Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was captured slamming down his headset and tablet. The clip of Dorsey’s tantrum soon became a meme on social media. It may also lead to disciplinary action. Following Brady’s tablet abuse in Week 2, NFL officials sent a memo to all 32 teams warning that such actions could end with a fine. The game also helped establish the unbeaten Dolphins as early contenders in the AFC East, a division many thought the Bills would run away with. And that was despite Miami managing to block their own punt.
Stat of the week
11. The Detroit Lions finally own an NFL record that will not live on in infamy. They scored a touchdown in the first three quarters against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, establishing an NFL record for most consecutive quarters with a touchdown to start a season (11). The Lions would lose to the Vikings 28-24, but there are signs Dan Campbell is building something in Detroit. Just to balance things out, they also hold the NFL record for the longest period since a playoff win (1992).
Quote of the week
“I was just trying my hardest to get back up and get the next play and run it” – Tua Tagovailoa, quarterback, Miami Dolphins.
Back to the Bills-Dolphins game. In the first half, Tagovailoa was pushed to the field by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. Tagovailoa’s head appeared to snap back viciously and make contact with the field. Tagovailoa began wobbling as he took his first steps afterwards and was eventually escorted off the field by teammates and Dolphins officials. He returned to the field, to help the Dolphins seal victory, and his coach, Mike McDaniel, said after the game that the quarterback’s issue was with his back rather than a concussion. But ESPN reported on Sunday night that the NFL Players Association wants to request a review of the league’s concussion protocols. NFL rules state that if a player exhibits concussion symptoms, he must be removed from the game and evaluated. The league is hyper-aware of the terrible publicity it has attracted around concussion – we’ll see how this one develops in the coming days.
Elsewhere around the league
-- It turns out things go a lot better for the Cincinnati Bengals if they protect Joe Burrow. Last year’s AFC champions got their first win of the season as they beat the New York Jets 27-12. Joe Burrow was only sacked twice on Sunday after being taken down 12 times in his first two games. He was 23 of 36 for 275 yards and three touchdowns. But even though the sacks were down, he was still hit nine times by Jets defenders, something that raises concerns in the long-term. And not all of it is the o-line’s fault: Burrow is often too keen to play hero ball and must learn when to throw it away.
-- The Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams let them down badly in an ugly 20-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. They muffed a punt, missed a field goal and extra point, and failed to convert a fake field goal during their first loss of the season. A Chris Jones personal foul also extended a Colts’ drive that appeared to have fizzled out after a sack on third down. It gave the Colts a lifeline, after the early-season favorites for the AFC South looked like they were heading for a fifth consecutive defeat.
-- Remember when the AFC West was going to be the toughest division in football? The Chiefs (2-1), Las Vegas Raiders (0-3) and Los Angeles Chargers (1-2) all lost on Sunday. The Chargers’ loss can be at least partly excused by Justin Herbert’s rib injury, while the Chiefs’ defeat was down to sloppiness more than anything else. But the Raiders are off to their worst start since 2018 and are winless after reaching the playoffs last season. Davante Adams may be wishing he had stayed in Green Bay.
-- The only AFC West team to win on Sunday was the Denver Broncos, who beat the San Francisco 49ers by the unlikely score of 11-10 (just the second such result in NFL history). Russell Wilson’s team are now 2-1 but it was another disjointed performance by Denver who have scored 43 points in three games. Sunday’s victory owed much to Jimmy Garoppolo’s miscues, including what turned out to be a game-deciding safety when the quarterback stepped out of his own end zone. The Niners also lost arguably their most valuable player, nine-time Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams, to injury.
-- Whisper it, but could the Jacksonville Jaguars actually be good? They started the season with a dispiriting loss to the Washington Commanders but since then they have beaten two highly-touted teams in the Colts and Chargers. And it looks like Trevor Lawrence is starting to find his feet in the NFL after a tough debut season. On Sunday, he was 28 of 39 for 262 yards and three touchdowns as the Jags easily saw off the Chargers 38-10. The win also ended an 18-game losing streak on the road for Jacksonville, and their defense is looking pretty good too.
-- Baker Mayfield got his first win as Carolina Panthers quarterback in their 22-14 over the New Orleans Saints. Carolina fans shouldn’t get too excited though: Saints quarterback Jameis Winston was playing through back and ankle injuries and Mayfield completed just 12 of his 25 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. His supporting cast is, admittedly, generally awful in general but there are few signs the Cleveland Browns were wrong to cut Mayfield (even if we can argue about the ethics of his replacement).