Leading 35-23 with just over four minutes to play, it appeared the Seattle Seahawks would skate by the New England Patriots behind five touchdown passes from Russell Wilson.
A bit over four game-time minutes later, Cam Newton and the Patriots were a yard out from a near incomprehensible 36-35 comeback victory before the Bobby Wagner and the Seahawks defense stuffed the 6-foo-5, 250-pound Newton on a play that has been near unstoppable for the Patriots through two games — QB Power.
Another Seattle-New England thriller. Another goal line stand involving the two most prominent teams of the past decade, in the first year of the new one.
Wilson improved to 3-1 in his career versus Bill Belichick’s squad, and is dangerously close to 4-0 save for an incredible Malcolm Butler interception in Super Bowl 49. Wilson could also very well be 0-4, as each game involved incredible completed or near comebacks, and came down to the wire.
One thing is for certain, Wilson has played well enough to win each of those games versus Belichick and New England, which is a feat in itself.
Earlier this week, Belichick mentioned Wilson was underrated by the media and the fans, and said “I don’t see anyone better.” Belichick’s theory may have been confirmed after the loss.
“They have a great quarterback,” Belichick told the media after the game. “Glad we only have to play him once every four years.”
But there are many takeaways from this incredible game, and I’ll list the two most important ones here, starting with a bigger picture take on the Seahawks’ franchise QB.
1. Is Russell Wilson the NFL’s best player?
The question should be pegged as: “Is Wilson better than Patrick Mahomes?”
Many plausibly — including me in my recent Top 100 Players list — list Mahomes as the greatest QB and player in football, but there’s a arguable defense for Wilson, who now plays with a few prime offensive weapons (D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, etc.) and a solid running game, but nowhere near the offensive firepower that Mahomes has.
Wilson has had a better start to this season — 11 incompletions, NINE touchdown passes — than Mahomes, despite the fact that Kansas City boasts the best offensive coach of this century (Andy Reid), the most unique deep threat in league history (Tyreek Hill) and possibly the best route runner at tight end (Travis Kelce) the game has ever seen. Add in a solid offensive line, and new weapon Clyde Edwards-Helaire at running back, and it’s no secret that Mahomes’ all-time talent is maximized behind a video-game like offense.
Mahomes deserves all the praise he gets. He hasn’t played a fully bad game in his career through two-plus seasons of starting in the league. He’s already won an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP before the age of 25 (he turned 25 days ago) and just like he did versus the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Mahomes is 6-0 (including playoffs) since 2019 when the Chiefs are trailing by 10 or more points at any time during a game.
Rookie Justin Herbert was a surprise start for the Chargers. He was poised early, and showcased his rocket arm and passing ability to help the Chargers get out to a 17-6 lead over the defending champs. Nick Bosa and the Chargers had success pressuring Mahomes, which led to an off game for a period before the KC phenom took the game over late, punishing Herbert and the Chargers for failing to score a touchdown instead of a field goal late in the 4th, and then punting in OT on a fourth-and-short. Harrison Butker’s onion-filed 58-yard, game-winning field goal gave the Chiefs a 23-20 overtime road win.
Mahomes and Reid are a match made in heaven. The Chiefs have tailored this team around his strengths, bolstering up the offense and doing what they can behind two or three solid defensive players. This team has thrived off of supplying Mahomes with talent to win by producing points, and it’s worked out thus far.
Wilson and Pete Carroll are a good match themselves, but Carroll’s philosophy to over-establish the run, and tendencies to do so on early downs have somewhat limited Wilson over the past few seasons, despite Seattle’s success on the ground. After switching up that strategy to “let Russ cook” last week, Seattle somewhat returned to the running game on Sunday, with a 30-to-28 run-pass ratio, but Wilson connected on 21 of 28 passes for an aforementioned five scores, effectively winning the game.
Despite the addition of Jamal Adams on defense, Wilson and Seattle were once again reminded that the is not the Legion-of-Boom defense, as Newton picked apart the Seahawks late with an unheralded supporting cast. The Patriots were one yard out from a devastating defeat that would have certainly not been on Wilson — a type of game that has plagued Seattle somewhat in the post-LOB era.
But Wilson has helped Seattle stay afloat the past few seasons by channeling his Tom Brady (think 2006 and 2013 Patriots seasons) and Aaron Rodgers (think 2016 Packers season) and making up for a lack of production in other areas.
He doesn’t have the weapons Mahomes has, but he’s been a top-five quarterback since his ghastly Super Bowl 49 mistake, which should be remembered as a fine play by Butler as opposed to Wilson or Carroll’s gaffe.
In a powerhouse NFC West, Seattle will need to win more of these types of contests versus close teams as the year moves along. He has a bit more pressure than Mahomes does in Kansas City and the so-so AFC West.
Mahomes’ incredible start to his career makes it impossible to just thrust him out of the top spot. The Chiefs QB is yet to play a bad game. The proof is there.
But Wilson is right there with him, with a bevy of QB-centered wins and a Super Bowl ring of his own. And if you wanted to make the case that in any team/personnel situation, that Wilson would be your safest bet, I’m not sure I’d argue.
2. The Cam Newton-New England marriage has gracefully arrived
For all the success that Newton has had on the ground through two games with the Patriots, New England was one yard out from one of the more memorable comebacks in perhaps NFL regular season history, and a QB Power call to the left side fell short.
A bad time for the Patriots offensive line to lose the pushing battle, or a fine time for the Seahawks’ defense to step up for Seattle. Whatever you want to call it, it stings for Newton, who threw for 312 of his 397 passing yards in the second half, and nearly led New England to an improbably victory.
“This is a disgusting taste in my mouth,” Newton told the media after the loss.
“It’s humbling in that situation to have the ball in my hands. I just need to deliver.”
But the bigger picture suggests Newton did deliver. The former NFL MVP has put the Patriots back on the map as an AFC contender, despite a loss that saw the league’s best secondary resemble Swiss cheese through a shredder, if that shredder was named Russell Wilson.
Between the defense’s performance, Newton’s offensive skill position arsenal, and the late deficit, the former NFL MVP calmly kept his cool, delivering downfield strike after strike to keep his team in the game.
Three of his receivers put up career-best performances in terms of statistical box scores, including 34-year-old Julian Edelman, who hauled in eight catches for 179 yards.
Newton and Edelman almost connected on the game-wining score with nine seconds to play, but Edelman couldn’t get his hands on Newton’s perfectly placed laser.
Asked by the media why he kept targeting Edelman late, Newton responded: “He’s Jules. That’s why.”
Newton has clearly built a rapport with Edelman and others, including players and coaches, on the Patriots.
This morning, on ESPN’s Get Up, Mike Greenberg and former NFL safety Ryan Clark suggested the Patriots are better off with Newton than Tom Brady with this current set of offensive personnel. Considering this is something I said last week, I obviously tend to agree.
Newton has gotten some production out of N’Keal Harry (eight catches, 72 yards) and former Carolina Panther teammate Damiere Byrd (six catches, 72 yards) and should only build off of this performance.
To be stopped at the goal line in the midst of an incredible comeback victory will cause some pain. Just ask Russell Wilson and Seattle, who suffered the same fate versus the Patriots on a bigger stage over five years ago.
But there’s much to be optimistic about in Foxboro after Sunday’s performance.
The Patriots will return home, putting this loss behind them, and perhaps, the game of football momentarily. The game seems unimportant when placed next to the tragedy that struck running back James White, a surprise inactive on Sunday after we learned of the passing of his father — and critical condition of his mother — after a car accident in Miami yesterday — an unspeakable tragedy.
THE BETTER HALF
1. Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) (Last week: 1). The Chargers did everyting right through three quarters, but it was apparent that they would need more than 20 points in regulation to stave off Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Chargers scored 20, and it predictably wasn’t enough. Another comeback for the incredible young superstar QB. Next week — Kansas City at Baltimore on Monday night. Oh boy.
2. Baltimore Ravens (2-0) (Last week: 2). The Ravens are a more complete team than the Chiefs, but it’s Mahomes and Kansas City who are not only the defending champs, but 2-0 in their meetings with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. This game may not only settle the race for home field advantage in the AFC, it may boost or cripple Jackson’s confidence in big games. At face value, it isn’t necessarily a must win for either team, but mentally for Jackson and Baltimore, it sort of seems like it, even in Week 3.
3. New Orleans Saints (1-0) (Last week: 3). If you’re a Saints fan, you’d like to see Drew Brees look more comfortable tonight in Las Vegas than he did versus Tampa Bay last week. It’ll be tough to do that without Michael Thomas, though.
4. Green Bay Packers (2-0) (Last week: 4). Aaron Rodgers has been red hot through two weeks. Jordan Love, who?
5. Seattle Seahawks (2-0) (Last week: 6). Their defense is better with Jamal Adams, but still needs some work. Russell Wilson is the NFL’s top player through two weeks in 2020, though.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) (Last week: 8). The Steelers seem to be grooming another set of fine wide receivers. Rookie Chase Claypool seems like another great draft pick at the position. Their defense also looks like the NFL’s best. They’re a quiet threat to Baltimore and KC in the AFC.
7. Buffalo Bills (2-0) (Last week: 7). Josh Allen is no Trent Dilfer or Rex Grossman. He makes plays. But he is a bit of a wild card. Luckily, the Bills are loaded enough on both sides of the ball to offset some of his mental errors and wonkiness. The Bills are great, Allen is good but unpredictable. His consistency is where Buffalo will live or die when it comes to December and January. Allen has been solid so far, through two weeks. He was great in Miami on Sunday.
8. Los Angeles Rams (2-0) (Last week: 9). Like the Steelers in the AFC, Sean McVay and the Rams have reemerged has a quiet threat in the NFC.
9. New England Patriots (1-1) (Last week: 5). You don’t expect Belichick’s defense to play that bad again. Russell Wilson is a bad matchup for any team, but apparently worse for New England. Ironically, Newton (2-0 versus Brady and Belichick) was another tough New England opponent. Now, the former is a franchise QB in the northeast, who may pick up right where Brady left off with the Patriots. New England will be in the mix in the AFC. We’ll know more in two weeks after their game in Kansas City.
10. Arizona Cardinals (2-0) (Last week: 12). Speaking of QB-coach combos, Kyler Murrary and Kliff Kingsbury are the next great thing. They are mighty fun to watch.
11. San Francisco 49ers (1-1) (Last week: 10). It appears the Super Bowl loser curse will not go into the good night, a la the Madden curse. The 49ers are a solid bunch, but they’re already decimated with injuries. Losing Nick Bosa for the season, and Jimmy Garoppolo for maybe a month, are insurmountable. They are in trouble.
12. Tennessee Titans (2-0) (Last week: 14). I was skeptical about Ryan Tannehill’s chances to repeat last season’s success. I remain skeptical, and I realize that I currently look like a fool.
13. Dallas Cowboys (1-1) (Last week: 11). Yeah, they won, but they allowed 39 points at home and needed an incredible onside kick to win. They have had a bad start to the season, but that could be a season-alerting win over the Falcons.
14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-1) (Last week: 13). They’re still learning each other on offense, but one thing is for certain — Tom Brady still has some juice left. As for Rob Gronkowski? Not so much.
15. L.A. Chargers (1-1) (Last week: NR). If you’re Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn, I think you have to roll with rookie Justin Herbert from here on out. No offense to wiley veteran Tyrod Taylor.
16. Chicago Bears (2-0) (Last week: NR). I’m not very confident in what I’ve seen from the Bears, but Mitch Trubisky seems to be slowly regaining confidence. Maybe they are an NFC wild card team. It’s way too early to tell, though.
Next up: Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Cleveland, Houston, Philadelphia