Krykslants: Falcons QB Matt Ryan Clearly NFL’s MVP so Far
Insight, hindsight and foresight as we segue from Week 4 to Week 5 in NFL action:
For starters: perspective on the big news
Matty Ice is your runaway NFL MVP through the first quarter of the season.
That’s Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.
After his epic 503-yard passing performance Sunday in Atlanta’s 48-33 defeat of Carolina, Ryan leads all NFL quarterbacks in the following categories: completion percentage (72.1), yards (1,473), yards-per-attempt (10.52), touchdown passes (11, tied with Ben Roethlisberger) and passer rating (126.3).
Ryan, furthermore, is the second highest rated fourth-quarter passer, and second highest rated passer on third downs.
Yet he’s not satisfied with his or his team’s performances so far, even though the Falcons are averaging a whopping 80 more total yards per game than any other NFL squad (479). They’re also scoring a league-leading 38 points per game, and lead the NFC South at 3-1.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of things we can get better at,” he said Sunday. “And that’s the exciting part. That’s got to be everybody’s focus.”
Other than the incredible Julio Jones, who had 300 yards receiving Sunday, Ryan and the rest of the Falcons attack haven’t performed close to this level since they finished 2012 with the best record in the NFC, 13-3.
A ninth-year player, Ryan took a lot of heat down in Georgia for his inconsistent play from 2013-15. He said it never fazed him.
“I don’t really listen to that stuff,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, our guys know what we’re capable of doing … I haven’t worried about that too much throughout my career.”
We’re about to find out how productive Ryan, Jones and the Falcons can be against two of the best defences in the league. They play this Sunday at Denver, the following Sunday at Seattle.
TRENDS NOT COINCIDENCES
It happened again, so it probably will happen again
1. To put San Diego’s latest collapse into its proper perspective, consider these stats, courtesy of Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The rest of the NFL is 26-0 this season when having a lead of at least 13 points in the final quarter. San Diego is 0-2. What’s more, Sunday’s collapse in the final seven minutes against New Orleans (in a 35-34 loss) was the sixth time in the past 19 games the Chargers have lost when leading in the fourth quarter. And in one-score games, Acee reports, San Diego is 3-12 since Week 1 of last season. No wonder calls for head coach Mike McCoy’s head grew so loud by night’s end.
2. This is the eighth time the Denver Broncos have started 4-0. Five of the previous seven times they’ve advanced to the Super Bowl, and three times they won the championship game. No one would be surprised if they do it again.
3. Tom Brady returned to work Monday morning from Deflate-gate suspension. For months we’ve all been cackling about how badly the Patriots and their peeved-off QB will destroy the hapless Browns in his first game back. Perhaps. But you’ve got to give Browns head coach Hue Jackson and his overmatched collection of players some credit. They might not have a competent QB (third-string rookie Cody Kessler is doing his best while RG3 and Josh McCown nurse injured left shoulders), and they might be the NFL’s last winless team at 0-4, but the Browns at the midway point of those games have outscored foes a combined 57-52 and trailed only once. They’ve even had two fourth-quarter leads. They’re not nearly as awful as forecast; they’re competitive.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Inside the numbers
Last week Pittsburgh lost by 31 points, at Philadelphia. On Sunday night the Steelers crushed KC by 29. That’s a point-differential swing of 60 across the won/lost spectrum.
Similarly, the New England Patriots last week shut out Houston 27-0, then on Sunday were shut out themselves 16-0 by Buffalo — a point-differential swing of 43.
You hear coaches say all the time that every week is its own season in the NFL. That’s no cliché, especially early each season, when all teams like to think they still have a playoff pulse. A team that won easily last week maybe doesn’t focus as much the next, and vice versa.
The extreme comes when a team knows that if it loses, the season’s pretty much toast. See Buffalo’s strong performance against Arizona in Week 3 as an example.
There’s also this: focus has no catalyst like embarrassment. While miffed Steelers fans grumbled all last week about the team’s 34-3 loss at Philly, Steelers players did not.
“I told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re driving in a car with a broken rear-view mirror,’” QB Ben Roethlisberger told NBC, following his Steelers’ 43-14 demolition of the Chiefs.
Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
After Oakland went from leading Baltimore 21-12 with 6:38 left, to trailing 27-21 with 3:36 left, Carr rescued the Raiders. He completed 4-of-6 to account for all 66 yards on the winning drive, including a 23-yard rope to Michael Crabtree in the end zone with 2:12 left — his fourth TD without an interception — in Oakland’s 28-27 win.
Kansas City offence
It’s been dreadful, especially before halftime. The Chiefs are lucky to be 2-2. On 22 first-half possessions so far they’ve punted 12 times, fumbled four times, been intercepted once, missed a field goal, made three field goals and scored one touchdown only because they started at the New York Jets’ 35-yard line after an interception. What’s more, before halftime QB Alex Smith and Co. are 7-for-30 (23%) on third downs, and average just 44 yards rushing and 92 yards passing. Their first-half possessions Sunday night at Pittsburgh: punt, fumble, interception, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks
In 11 games last year in Seattle, before tearing a knee tendon, he had just one 100-yard game. After a slow start to this season, in which he caught four passes for 53 yards through Week 2, Graham has burst into the type of difference-maker the Seahawks envisioned when they traded for him a year ago. He now has back-to-back 100-yard games, after his six-catch, 113-yard day against the Jets.
Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
His second season started so promisingly, with four TD passes in handing Atlanta its only loss. Since then, Winston has continued his disturbing rookie trend of trying to force way too many throws into tight windows. That’s why over the past three games his interceptions (seven) dwarf his touchdowns (four). “We were watching tape,” Broncos CB Aqib Talib said of Winston, following Denver’s 27-7 win Sunday at Tampa Bay. “We (saw) how confident he was in his arm, so we knew we would have 5-6 opportunities today to get our hands on the football. We capitalized on three of them (for interceptions), so we’ll take that.”
Shining more light on a strategic decision
Should you go for two when your team trails by two with plenty of football yet to be played? There’s no agreement on this. Many bitterly debate it.
Sometimes the decision, either way, can backfire. Say, if you kick the single and neither team scores again, you lose by one and look dumb. “Why didn’t you go for two earlier?!”
Other times, the decision can look brilliant. Like when you get the two, tie it up, and win in OT.
Still other times it’s rendered moot by a flurry of subsequent scores, as happened in Sunday’s 28-27 victory by Oakland at Baltimore.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh nearly got burned by his bold choice to go for two late in the third quarter, after his team cut the Raiders’ lead to 14-12. Baltimore’s two-point conversion attempt failed.
With 11:11 remaining the Raiders scored a touchdown, kicked the extra point and led 21-12 — a two-score lead. That’s where going for two too early can scorch you. It’d have only been a one-score Oakland lead (21-13) had Harbaugh opted for the conversion kick a bit earlier.
What’s more, after Joe Flacco hit Steve Smith on a 52-yard TD bomb with 6:27 left, Baltimore trailed 21-18. If Harbaugh had elected to kick the single earlier, the Ravens would have been within two, at 21-19, and could have attempted a two-pointer then to tie it.
Baltimore kicked the single to trail 21-19 and, as it happened, got another quick TD following an Oakland turnover, this time went for two, got it, and led 27-21 — only to lose the game on a late Raiders TD.
In my opinion, you don’t start going for two, down two, until deep into the fourth quarter. That is, unless you have little confidence your offence will score again.
NOW THAT WAS COOL
Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown caught two touchdowns wearing specially painted cleats, each with the words “The King” next to an image of golfer Arnold Palmer, who died last week. Brown was friends with the icon, who was so beloved in Western Pennsylvania — especially in his hometown of Latrobe, where the Steelers annually hold their summer training camp.
“He’s going to come in and work his ass off tomorrow … We’re going to come in and work our asses off tomorrow.”
— Chargers GM Tom Telesco, on the job status of head coach Mike McCoy, following his team’s latest fourth-quarter collapse Sunday against New Orleans.
ACTUAL TWEET, I
“My fellow Dawgs in Athens (Ga.): enjoy the night. It will be one of the best nights out. Always is after close games.”
— rookie New York Jets LB Jordan Jenkins, moments after his college team, Georgia, stunned Tennessee on Saturday with a 47-yard Hail Mary TD to take a 31-28 lead with 10 seconds left.
ACTUAL TWEET, II
“Life is not fair.”
— rookie New York Jets LB Jordan Jenkins, moments after his college team, Georgia, lost 34-31 to Tennessee on a 43-yard Hail Mary TD, after a celebration penalty forced Georgia to kick off from its own 20, and Tennesse returned a stupidly conceived squibber all the way to the Bulldogs’ 43 with four seconds left.
My Top 20 active and available QBs, after Sunday games. (Last week’s rankings in brackets.)
1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (1)
2. Tom Brady, New England (NR)
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (2)
4. Drew Brees, New Orleans (5)
5. Phil Rivers, San Diego (4)
6. Matt Ryan, Atlanta (12)
7. Derek Carr, Oakland (10)
8. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis (6)
9. Cam Newton, Carolina (3)
10. Carson Palmer, Arizona (7)
11. Eli Manning, NY Giants (8)
12. Joe Flacco, Baltimore (9)
13. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (11)
14. Sam Bradford, Minnesota (15)
15. Russell Wilson, Seattle (17)
16. Matt Stafford, Detroit (14)
17. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia (16)
18. Trevor Siemian, Denver (19)
19. Alex Smith, Kansas City (13)
20. Dak Prescott, Dallas (NR)
OUT: Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay (18), Ryan Fitzpatrick, NY Jets (20)
Eye on Canadian-connected NFLers
Dallas DT Tyrone Crawford (of Windsor, Ont.) had one sack at San Francisco, the 10th of his five-year career. He’s the 38th Cowboys defender to reach double-digit sacks.
Seattle’s Jon Ryan (of Regina) four times pinned the New York Jets inside their 14-yard line with well-placed punts.
FIVE FAST FACTS
1. Trevor Siemian is Denver’s first drafted QB to win his first four starts.
2. Los Angeles has rushed for just 307 yards in four games.
3. Ben Roethlisberger threw as many TDs against KC (five) as incompletions: 22-of-27.
4. Dak Prescott is the only starting QB in Cowboys history not to throw an interception through Week 4.
5. Seven of the Jets’ nine fourth-quarter drives over the past two games have ended on Ryan Fitzpatrick interceptions.
KNOW YOUR HISTORY
The Dayton Triangles defeated the Columbus Panhandles, 14-0, nearly a century ago this week, on Oct. 3, 1920. It was the first game matching two American Professional Football Association teams. The APFA morphed into the NFL, so this game is considered the first in NFL history. Lou Partlow of Dayton scored the first touchdown.
Quick thoughts on Week 5 games (all on Sunday unless noted)
* Cardinals at 49ers, Thursday, 8:25 ET: Arizona can’t possibly start the season 1-4, can it?
* Redskins at Ravens, 1ET: Expect a low-scoring backyard brawl.
* Patriots at Browns, 1 ET: Tom’s return. Gotta think the Pats roll, but Cleveland’s pesky.
* Eagles at Lions, 1 ET: Carson Wentz and Philly try to remain undefeated, and probably will.
* Bears at Colts, 1 ET: Indy ought to get Win No. 2. Even against Indy’s D, Brian Hoyer can’t keep pace with Andrew Luck.
* Titans at Dolphins, 1 ET: Surely, it’s produce-or-else time now for Ryan Tannehill.
* Texans at Vikings, 1 ET: Minnesota’s ferocious pass rushers will eat Brock Osweiler.
* Jets at Steelers, 1 ET: Jets secondary is leaving WRs open everywhere. Big Ben must be licking his chops.
* Falcons at Broncos, 4:05 ET: What a matchup! Julio Jones, hot off his 300-yarder, vs. CBs Harris & Talib.
* Bengals at Cowboys, 4:25 ET: The Dak & Zeke rookie show faces a stout Bengals D.
* Bills at Rams, 4:25 ET: Nobody can run it much on the Rams. But Buffalo probably has to, to win.
* Chargers at Raiders, 4:25 ET: How will the Chargers blow it this time? They’re running out of ways.
* Giants at Packers, 8:30 ET: Second prime-time game for both teams in three weeks. Really, NFL? C’mawn.
* Buccaneers at Panthers, Monday, 8:30 ET: Carolina needs to get its act together, and fast.
BYES: Jacksonville, Kansas City, New Orleans, Seattle.
Two teams that won’t win this week
Kinda the opposite of a suicide pool. I can pick a team only once all season, so each of 32 teams over the NFL schedule’s final 16 weeks. Last week’s picks: Kansas City (which got clubbed at Pittsburgh) and New York Giants (who played Monday night at Minnesota). This week’s picks: Houston (at Minnesota) and New York Jets (at Pittsburgh).
Season record: 4-1 (.800).
TAKING A KNEE
This week’s winder-upper
Shots have been fired, and if you aren’t looking forward to Bills-Patriots II on Oct. 30 — yeah, hours before Devil’s Night — you ought to be.
The Pats lost ugly at home on Sunday to Buffalo, 16-0. It’s not just the result that clearly isn’t sitting well with the Patriots. It’s what happened during pre-game warmups.
As Pats QB Jacoby Brissett and WR Malcolm Mitchell jogged through some Bills players, Buffalo safety Robert Blanton cheap-shotted Brissett with a hard shove.
Mitchell jumped in and mixed it up with Blanton, before Patriots coaches and other Bills defensive backs jumped in to jaw, or try to separate angry players.
Bills defenders after the game explained that Brissett and Mitchell earlier had run right through a Bills’ DB drill, and they warned the duo not to do it again.
Shortly afterward Jonathan Kraft, son of owner Robert and the Patriots’ president, said on his weekly pre-game radio interview that “I didn’t see what happened, but I heard about it. But that gets back to Rex.”
That is, Bills head coach Rex Ryan.
“I think if you are less than disciplined in your personal approach, your team will take on the attitude of the coach. I think for different people, different strategies work. I guess you’d have to ask Rex, but my guess is that Rex probably loves that.
“That’s why Rex is Rex, and that’s why Bill is Bill.”
That is, Bill Belichick, the highly disciplined head coach of the Patriots who, during Sunday’s game, after seeing a distressing press-box snapshot, in full fury slammed his Microsoft tablet onto an equipment trunk.
Oh, that rematch at Orchard Park is gonna be fun.