Tom Brady slays the Patriots, NFL power rankings, Big Ben and more

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots had their reunion on Sunday night, and it ended as a classic through a rainstorm in Foxboro.

So many of Tom Brady’s biggest moments have come down to singular moments.

The Tuck Rule. Vinatieri in the snow. David Tyree. Malcolm Butler. 28-3. Dee Ford offsides.

Add The Doink.

On Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New England Patriots, 19-17. Of course, nobody will remember much about stat lines or what each teams record became after the contest.

No, the evening will be remembered for the emotions it elicited. It’ll be remembered for Brady winning another of his most infamous games, with the help of Patriots kicker Nick Folk hitting the left upright on a 56-yard field goal attempt in the final minute.

All told, Brady wasn’t spectacular. He was ordinary. The seven-time champ went 22-of-43 for 269 yards, struggling at times to find a grip in the rain while late in the game, being let down by an Antonio Brown drop in the end zone.

Brady’s struggles were largely a product of his old head coach. Bill Belichick did what he’s been known for since being a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants in the 1980s and ’90s, mixing coverages and scheme throughout. Even for Brady, who spent 20 years sharing a building with Belichick, the looks were confounding enough to keep Tampa Bay from scoring 20 points.

Ultimately, though, Sunday night was about a legend coming home before finishing his career.

In the NFL, how often have we seen this moment? In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts welcomed back Peyton Manning as a member of the Denver Broncos, but the circumstances were far different. Manning and the Colts parted on teary terms, with nothing but love and adulation between the two sides. Additionally, Indy had a new head coach and general manager who never spent time with Manning.

Going further back, Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers matched up in 1994 when Montana was with the Kansas City Chiefs, but at Arrowhead Stadium. Montana never played in front of the San Francisco faithful. The same is true of Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, and Joe Namath and the New York Jets.

Perhaps the closest comparison was Brett Favre returning to Lambeau Field in 2009 with the Minnesota Vikings. However, Favre was largely reviled for going turncoat on the Green Bay Packers, and Aaron Rodgers was clearly his heir apparent. The game had more a feeling of hatred than history.

For Brady and New England, this was a moment to savor. The Patriots — impossible to think now — were a moribund franchise which throughout the ’90s was a constant source of relocation rumors. They had two Super Bowl appearances and losses in both. New England was an outpost in outdated Foxboro Stadium.

Then Brady arrived. When he left, the Patriots had built a two-decade dynasty with six rings and nine Super Bowl trips. He didn’t just win games, he changed a region’s relationship with its football team.

On Sunday night, Brady added The Doink to his legend. Even if it came at the expense of the Patriots, most New England fans had to be wistfully shaking their heads on the ride home.

Brady pulled out another magical moment in New England. Of course he did.

NFL power rankings

Power rankings

Top 10 modern-day NFL uniforms

1. Las Vegas Raiders
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Los Angeles Chargers
5. Dallas Cowboys
6. Kansas City Chiefs
7. Cleveland Browns
8. Indianapolis Colts
9. Chicago Bears
10. San Francisco 49ers

Quotable

“It’s one of those things that’s meaningful. It’s a very, very tough record to accomplish. It’s a long-term record. So, I’m not going to say it’s more important than winning the game, for sure. It’s certainly not. But, as a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches, and that’s something they’ll have for the rest of their lives.”

– Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh on calling a run to reach 100 yards instead of kneeling at the conclusion of a 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos.

This is truly a both-sides argument for Harbaugh’s decision. You never see teams run an actual play in this situation, and trying to essentially steal a record of such little consequence is a bit comical. However, the Broncos get paid for 60 minutes. Don’t like it? Play defense.

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Random stat

The New Orleans Saints began their existence with 20 consecutive losing seasons. No other franchise has had such a streak at any point.

Info learned this week

1. Cardinals make statement, Trey Lance arrives in crucial NFC West games

It’s only Week 4, but moves were made in the NFC West on Sunday.

In Los Angeles, the Cardinals flexed and pummeled the favored Rams. Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 268 yards and two scores, while Chase Edmonds ran for 120 yards on 10.0 yards per carry. It was a master class by coach Kliff Kingsbury, who beat the Rams for the first time in his three-year career.

If Kingsbury can continue improving his game management and Murray grows his immense talent while continuing to limit turnovers, the Cardinals may prove a contender. In a division with seemingly evenly-matched teams, Arizona could prove the most balanced, led by a trio of veteran offseason pickups including receiver A.J. Green, defensive end J.J Watt and center Rodney Hudson.

In Santa Clara, the Seahawks saved themselves from a steep divisional climb with a 28-21 win over the San Francisco 49ers. The story? Jimmy Garoppolo leaving with a calf injury. In his stead, rookie Trey Lance played the entire second half and despite completing only half his attempts, went for 158 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.

Without Garoppolo for at least a few weeks, Lance gets his opportunity. The next three weeks for San Francisco includes the Cardinals in Arizona before a bye week, and then the Indianapolis Colts at Levi’s Stadium. If he plays well, Garoppolo has likely seen his run end in San Francisco.

2. Ravens handle Broncos, knock out Bridgewater in road win

The Ravens handled business for a third straight win. Meanwhile, questions for the Broncos abound.

In a 23-7 victory, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had another fantastic outing, throwing for 316 yards and a touchdown. However, the headliner was Baltimore’s defense, which limited the Broncos’ tandem of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock to 148 passing yards on 4.8 yards per attempt. Neither Lock nor Bridgewater mounted a QBR of 10 (scale 1-100).

For the Broncos, it was their first real test after beating the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets. They failed it, and now visit the Pittsburgh Steelers who are limited offensively but also desperate after a third consecutive loss on Sunday.

The question is whether Bridgewater starts after suffering a concussion in the second quarter. Without him, Lock would start and that could mean trouble for the turnover-prone quarterback against Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense.

3. Bills continue epic defensive run, but how real is it?

The Buffalo Bills have two shutouts in three weeks, winning those games by a combined 75-0.

Since losing their opener to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo has outscored its opponents 118-21 in three victories. On Sunday, it was a 40-0 whitewashing of the Houston Texans, who saw backup quarterback Davis Mills throw four interceptions while totaling 87 yards on 21 attempts. On the ground, Houston only managed 48 rushing yards on 2.7 YPC.

Buffalo now sits 3-1, alone atop the AFC East and easily with the league’s best point differential a year after going to the AFC Championship Game. So why the trepidation?

For starters, the Bills have faced the following quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Jacoby Brissett, Taylor Heinicke and Mills. Three backups and a starter who needs replacing (more on that below). Now, shutouts are incredibly impressive regardless of opponent, but with the Kansas City Chiefs on deck, we’ll get a better idea of how much progress Buffalo’s defense has made.

4. Jaguars should be ashamed over Urban Meyer’s conduct

This column rarely dives into a coach or player away from the field. We make an exception here.

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars fell to 0-4 on the season, losing 24-21 to the Cincinnati Bengals. Afterwards, a crestfallen Urban Meyer spoke to reporters, the Jacksonville head coach explaining how gut-wrenching the loss was for him and his players.

Two days later, Meyer appears to have been spotted on social media at a bar in Ohio. In the video, the Jacksonville head coach is sitting on a stool while a young woman aggressively dances against him.

Look, nobody is playing the moral card here. Meyer is a grown man who, while married, didn’t break any laws. He’s allowed to go out and do as he pleases. However, the Jaguars are one of the league’s two winless clubs alongside the Detroit Lions. Perception is reality in many cases, and Jacksonville owner Shad Khan can’t be happy with the optics.

Think of things this way: when’s the last time an NFL head coach was caught in a snafu like this? You can bet the local and national media will pepper with Meyer with questions about the video in question during his Monday presser, creating some unwanted headlines and distractions in the week ahead.

It’s poor judgment on a multitude of fronts by a coach with no leeway to speak of.

5. Raiders, Chargers fight for first place in the AFC West

In recent years, it feels Monday Night Football has waned in importance. Not the case this week.

The Los Angeles Chargers welcome in the Las Vegas Raiders in what will feel like a home tilt for the Silver and Black. The Raiders remain only one of two undefeated teams in the league, but the good vibes could be short-lived. With a loss, Las Vegas would fall to third place in the AFC West, albeit via a tiebreaker.

As for the Chargers, can they build on their biggest win of the Justin Herbert era? Last week, we watched Los Angeles take down the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, first-year head coach Brandon Staley gets his first taste of primetime in an early test against another divisional opponent.

The key here? Raiders defensive coordinate Gus Bradley. Bradley came over from the Chargers this offseason and knows the offensive personnel quite well. He’ll run his patented Cover 3 look and attempt to force underneath throws while getting pressure with Maxx Crosby and Co. Who wins the chess match?

Gambler’s game

The Green Bay Packers are only laying 3.5 points for their visit against the Cincinnati Bengals. Don’t hesitate. Since being blown out in Week 1 by the New Orleans Saints, the Packers have rolled to a 3-1 mark. Meanwhile, Cincinnati struggled mightily to win its home games over the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Look for the Packers to handle a young, talented, but outclassed Bengals team.

Two cents

On Nov. 2, the NFL Trade Deadline will arrive. Less than a month away, let’s glance at the situation.

In a year shaping up to have immense parity, with — again — only the Jaguars and Lions being winless. There are a few other teams one would imagine are clear sellers, including the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons. After that? It’s debatable.

So who could be available? Texans receiver Brandin Cooks is signed through next season at a $16.2 million cap hit, with $7.5 million in dead cap. If a team is willing to take on the contract, Cooks brings a top talent to the outside, with 28 catches and 369 yards on a horrid Houston offense.

Defensively, edge rusher Whitney Mercilus is in the final year of his pact with Houston. At 31 years old, Mercilus has three sacks in four games thus far.

As for Jacksonville, would new general manager Trent Baalke part with edge rusher Josh Allen or inside linebacker Myles Jack? Allen has a year remaining on his rookie deal and has 15 career sacks in 28 games. For the right price, a contender would be wise to take a chance. As for Jack, he’s due $12.1 million this year and sign for $27 million over the next two seasons, but could be released for only $7.2 million over said span.

Finally, the Lions. Detroit doesn’t have many movable pieces. However, if left tackle Taylor Decker returns and doesn’t want to slide to the right side with rookie Penei Sewell starring in Decker’s old spot, is there a trade coming? He’s due more than $54 million across the next three years, but at 28 years old, he represents a long-term fix for a team needing edge protection.

Inside the league

Josh Gordon is hoping to revive his career with the Chiefs. It’s a familiar movie for Gordon, and hopefully one with a better ending.

Since entering the NFL as a supplemental draft pick in 2012 with the Cleveland Browns, Gordon has been suspended eight times. At 30 years old, the talented Baylor product now joins Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs with the opportunity to becomes Kansas City’s No. 2 receiver opposite Tyreek Hill.

After signing with Kansas City last week, the Chiefs wanted to see Gordon’s conditioning level and ability to absorb the playbook before elevating him from the practice squad, per source. It appears Gordon has been a quick study and could be playing Sunday against the Bills on Sunday night, in what could be an AFC Championship Game preview.

For the Chiefs, the play is obvious. Kansas City was hoping to see big strides from third-year receiver Mecole Hardman this season. It hasn’t happened. Hardman has 13 catches for 123 yards. Veteran Demarcus Robinson has also been largely invisible, with six receptions and 72 yards.

With Hardman and Robinson disappointing, the Chiefs need a weapon to punish opponents who double Hill. Gordon provides such upside.

History lesson

Almost 55 years ago, the New York Giants scored 41 points. They lost by 31.

On Nov. 27, 1966, the then-Washington Redskins hosted the Giants at D.C. Stadium. Washington went on a rampage, scoring 34 first-half points before tacking on 38 more in a 72-41 win over the Giants. Incredibly, Washington only had 341 offensive yards but benefitted from a half-dozen New York turnovers.

Washington’s 72 points remains the highest total in any regular-season game. The all-time record came in the 1940 NFL Championship, when the Bears unloaded with a 73-0 victory over … Washington.

Parting shot

Some will scream for Ben Roethlisberger to be benched. His play warrants it.

The problem? The Pittsburgh Steelers have nobody better behind him.

No matter how much Roethlisberger struggles, going to Dwayne Haskins or Mason Rudolph is a non-starter. Neither is the future, and neither helps in the present. This is doubly true if first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada doesn’t create some easy yards through scheme, something he’s failed to do thus far.

On Sunday, Roethlisberger threw for 232 yards on 5.8 YPA with a touchdown and interception. Those numbers were boosted by a solid quarter of garbage time. A week ago, the future Hall of Famer was even worse against the Bengals, throwing a pair of hideous picks.

During the telecast, CBS color commentator Tony Romo was blunt. To paraphrase, the former Cowboys quarterback said Pittsburgh’s offense would be a struggle all year, and while Romo wouldn’t point a finger, it’s because the quarterback doesn’t threaten defenses deep or to the perimeter.

Watch Pittsburgh, and you see Roethlisberger hurried behind a bad offensive line. You also see a signal-caller who because of a severely diminished arm, can’t drive the ball on out-breaking routes or on a deep ball down the middle, with too much air needed.

For the better part of 50 years, the Steelers have been a consistent contender. Since 1972, Pittsburgh has endured consecutive losing seasons twice and only six such campaigns total.

Without a shocking reversal of play from Roethlisberger, this is going to be the seventh.