This time there would be no close ending. No Minnesota Miracle. No heartbreak for Drew Brees and the Saints (6-1) in Minnesota, just glee. In their 30-20 win over the Vikings (4-3-1), the Saints exacted their revenge for the wackiest finish of 2017, which sent them home in the playoffs, two games short of their ultimate goal.
Brees (18-for-23, 120 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) wasn’t exactly a world beater in the win, but he was sharp in his accuracy, which complimented an opportunistic defense that has reverted back to it’s 2017 ways as a formidable unit.
The game changed when Marshon Lattimore returned an Adam Thielen fumble 54 yards into Vikings territory before the end of the first half. The Saints then scored on a short run by Alvin Kamara to take a 17-13 lead into the half that they would not surrender.
Now the Saints welcome the Rams (8-0) in what is basically a midseason NFC title game that may very well decide who gets home field advantage come January.
With six straight wins, the Saints are as good of a team as any, bolstering an offense full of versatile weapons — Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram and Taysom Hill — and a defense that has improved dramatically since being overtaken by Tampa Bay’s ‘FitzMagic’ in Week 1.
If Sean Payton’s crew has one more statement win in them, this Sunday is the time to to play that card. Teams like the Panthers, Eagles and perhaps tonight’s Vikings may stand in the way, but looking ahead, this sure looks like a preview of the NFC Championship Game to come this weekend.
Smith, Peterson lead surging Skins
Jettisoned by the Chiefs after another disappointing, early-postseason exit, Alex Smith joined a Washington unit that seemingly was in rebuilding mode. Many Redskins fans mourned the exit of Kirk Cousins, expecting their next few seasons to be that of a misery-filled pit.
Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, had other plans.
The Redskins have won three straight since their debacle of a loss in New Orleans, a 43-19 stinker, to jump on top of the NFL’s most storied division. This has been done thanks to an efficient offense led by Smith, and a surprisingly-affective defense that has held opponents to just under 16 points per game during their winning streak.
Additionally, the 34-year-old Smith has thrown zero interceptions the past three games, and has thrown just two all season. With an average arsenal of pass catchers, Smith is making due. The quarterback that Kansas City didn’t want (and judging by Patrick Mahomes’ play, with good reason) has found a home in Washington. When the trade went down, it seemed like a move for a stopgap QB to fill the void between Cousins and and an eventual rookie passer. But it’s clear now why the Redskins wanted him.
No one wanted Adrian Peterson, who was without a team until Washington signed him right before the regular season. Inserted as the team’s bell cow RB1 after rookie Derrius Guice was lost for the season with an injury, the NFL’s ninth all-time leading rusher has enjoyed a career renaissance in the nation’s capital.
After the game, Peterson embraced the league’s next star RB in the wings, the Giants’ Saquon Barkley. “The sky is the limit for you,” Peterson told Barkley.
Peterson was once that young, generational prospect. He evolved into one of the game’s best running backs instantly, and was going to be included in the pantheon of the league’s best to ever do it, regardless of how he fared in D.C. But he’s added to his legacy anyway, but turning back the clock on an incredible 2018 campaign thus far.
This is a man that returned from an ACL tear to run for over 2,000 yards the following year, and win NFL MVP while almost single-handily carrying the 2012 Vikings to the playoffs.
He may not be that dominant anymore, but shades of vintage Peterson are still present at age 33. And behind the workhorse RB, and the overlooked QB, the Redskins rule the NFC East at the season’s midpoint.
Vinatieri re-solidifies place as greatest kicker ever
When I was 10 years old, the Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-tying and game-winning field goals in the famous ‘Tuck Rule’ game, a 16-13 overtime victory by the New England Patriots over the Oakland Raiders. That was the first career postseason win for Tom Brady, the first career postseason win of the current Patriots dynasty, and the last game ever played at Foxboro Stadium.
I’m now 27 years old. Things have changed for me and the entire world. There were no MacBooks, or iPod Nanos or Twitter or anything in the previous mentioned game. But there are now, 17 years later, as Vinatieri has now become the NFL’s all-time leading scorer in his 23rd season. Not only is Vinatieri one of the most clutch athletes of all-time (and undoubtedly the most clutch kicker ever), he’s simply the greatest kicker in the history of football. The greatest man at his particular profession, to ever grace this planet, and possibly universe.
The 45-year-old has two game-winning kicks in Super Bowls, four Super Bowl rings, and is the author of probably the three greatest kicks ever, his two Super Bowl footers and that famous 45-yard field goal in the snow in Foxboro Stadium, to launch the Patriots’ dynasty.
When Vinatieri steps up to attempt a game-winning or game-tying kick, you know it’s going in. And it’s virtually the same for any other kick.
With 2,547 career points, Adam is now the league’s all-time leading scorer. Whenever he decides to retire, he’ll follow that up five years afterword in being the first kicker to ever be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. What a career. What a kicker.
– Down 29-27 with just over two minutes remaining, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (3-3-1) were staring down a situation they’ve thrived in recently. A chance to win a game in the final moments, but this time the opponent was the NFL’s best team, the lone-unbeaten Rams (8-0). But instead of the viewing public getting a chance to see what would transpire, the situation was eviscerated almost immediately, via a kick-return fumble. Game over. Packers fall back to .500, while the Rams remain unbeaten at midseason. Rodgers and the Packers now travel to New England as the Packers great and Tom Brady will duel for just the second (and possibly last) time of their careers. More on that later this week.
The main story is that of Todd Gurley, who is in the lead for his second-consecutive Offensive Player of the Year award, and is second in the NFL MVP race behind only Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. The Rams RB is perhaps the league’s greatest offensive weapon, surpassing Antonio Brown for the feat. Brown is still playing at an extraordinary level, but in a league filled with explosive starts of the present era, there’s always a player to one-up the other. From Calvin Johnson to Rob Gronkowski to Antonio Brown, and now…. Gurley. The Rams have a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball, but Gurley is indeed the straw that stirs the drink.
– Beware of the Panthers (5-2), who took it to the NFL’s No. 1 defense, the Ravens (4-4), in a 36-21 beatdown at home, after falling behind early. Cam Newton’s squad is positioning themselves into the thick of of things in the NFC with the passing of each week. First off, the maturation of Christian McCaffrey and rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore has given Newton a 1-2 punch of affective offensive weapons he hasn’t had since the early years of his career with Steve Smith Sr. and a young Greg Olsen. An older Olsen has returned from injury in 2018 to provide the Panthers with a legit No. 3 weapon and a security blanket for Newton on important third and fourth-down situations. The Panthers don’t play the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints until Weeks 15 and 17, leaving the race for a the division title a season-long race, most likely. Can the Panthers upend Drew Brees and the mighty team on the Gulf? Either way, we’ve only just begun to realize how formidable the Panthers are in the South.
– In the Wembley Stadium battle of disappointing clubs, the Eagles (4-4) will leave London with more confidence than the Jaguars (3-5) losers of four straight and a franchise that had four of its players suspended over the weekend in England, due to a misunderstanding at a British pub. The Jaguars have less than 24 hours to solve a QB situation that mostly likely will remain unsolved through this season. There’s really nothing they can do at this point. Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater and MAYBE Jameis Winston are his only options. But even they are crapshoots. To fight back into the AFC South race, Jacksonville will just have to play better. I know, what a take.
The Eagles still trail the Redskins by a game and a half in the NFC East, but most would agree that Philadelphia is waiting in the wings to make a winter run at the crown. But still, this is not a team worthy of winning Super Bowl LIII. The rest of the season will serve as a screening for what the Eagles need this offseason in order to retool and situate themselves as one of the top contenders for Super Bowl LIV, which they most likely will be.