Keelan Cole catch vs Patriots

NFL Monday Morning Madness: Bortles, Jags throttle Pats

Revenge is usually best served cold, but in the Jaguars’ 31-20 win over the Patriots in the hottest NFL game since 2003, it was the scorching performance by the polarizing Blake Bortles (29-45, 377 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) that did the trick for the AFC’s early front-runner.

The Patriots’ defense that looked formidable against the Texans last week was nowhere to be found as Bortles found Keelan Cole (7 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD) when needed, including an Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch on the sideline in the first quarter, as the Jaguars raced out to a 21-3 lead that would never be surrendered or challenged.

In the win, Jalen Ramsey and the team’s brash defense forced Brady to avoid the outside and deep areas of the field. Brady instead looked toward the all-familiar middle zone of the defense, in which trusty slot receiver Julian Edelman was sorely missed. Without Edelman, the Jaguars keyed on Rob Gronkowski, allowing him just two catches for 15 yards as Brady’s dink-and-dunk philosophy garnered just 20 points, which wasn’t nearly enough to keep up with the gun-slinging Bortles.

The Patriots currently are without a receiver talented enough to get consistent serperation on the outside, which makes you wonder, do they make a play for Josh Gordon? With the Cowboys’ apparent signing of Brice Butler, the 49ers, Packers and Seahawks seem like the only other likely destinations outside of New England.

But discussing Gordon would takeaway from the Patriots’ all-too-familiar problem: what’s up with the defense? Certainly an early exit from Trey Flowers contributed, but the Patriots’ last two losses involve the dismantling of their unit but Nick Foles and Bortles. Is it panic time in New England? No. Is it a cause for concern? You bet.

The Patriots will likely be 4-1 when they visit Patrick Mahomes and the red-hot Chiefs (to be discussed next) on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in Week 5. Will the defense show up then? They better hope.

Chiefs exorcise demons, outscore Steelers

After a sizzling performance in Week 1, Patrick Mahomes and the red-hot Chiefs picked up where they left off in a 42-37 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The win doubled as an exorcising-of-the-demons affair mixed with a statement win that vaults Kansas City at or near the the top of the AFC’s group of early contenders.

Even in a flawed AFC, one can’t simply look past the Chiefs’ horrendous defense. But the perfect amalgam of star-studded weapons on offense have helped ease Mahomes into the NFL, as the young QB has been anything but easy to defend thus far.

With 10 touchdowns (and zero interceptions) in these first two weeks, Mahomes is on pace to shatter Peyton Manning’s single-season record of 55 touchdown passes with the rival Broncos in 2013. And although that probably won’t happen, Mahomes has set himself up as the way-too-early NFL MVP after two weeks.

The Steelers certainly missed Le’Veon Bell to a degree on Sunday, as replacement James Conner notched just 17 rushing yards on 8 carries, but it’s the defense that remains the Achilles Heel of the franchise. Can the Steelers overcome another slow start? They’ll need to if they are to keep up with the Chiefs, Jaguars, Patriots and Bengals in the AFC.

NFC North stalemate complicates standings

The Vikings and Packers squared off in an early candidate for game of the year before a bevy of field goal misses by both teams solidified a 29-29 tie in Lambeau Field.

Despite being the last team to miss an easy 35-yard chip-shot field goal for the win, it’s the Vikings who come away with more to be happy about with this result.

For starters, it took Kirk Cousins’ three-touchdown fourth quarter performance, which included an eight-point scoring drive in the final minute, to force overtime to avoid the loss. And secondly, the Vikings will host the Packers in their second meeting later in the year, meaning they escaped Green Bay without a loss.

Now Aaron Rodgers is still far from healthy, meaning he’ll kick things into high gear at somepoint, but the Vikings are the much more talented team, and only the Rams look better in the NFC right now.

But still, two ties in two weeks? They sure do make the standings look ugly, especially early in the season.

Decoding the NFC South

The NFC South, the league’s best division last year, is shaping up to be one of the league’s most disappointing this year. For starters, the Falcons and Panthers are decimated by injuries, while the Saints continue to underachieve on both sides of the ball, alternating by the week.

Then there is the Buccaneers.

Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs thoroughly outplayed the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in a 27-21 victory at home, as four more touchdown passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick place the journeyman QB right with Mahomes as the league’s most valuable player after two weeks.

And although it’s laughable to discuss such a topic this early, it’s Jameis Winston and the remaining NFC South teams who aren’t laughing.

Not only should Fitzpatrick keep his job when Winston returns after next week, the Bucs also have a prime opportunity to ride this ship toward a possible NFC South title.

Again, it’s way too early to envision Tampa Bay (2-0) hosting a playoff game, but with the state of the NFC South, it’s certainly possible.

The Saints (1-1) travel to Atlanta to play the Falcons (1-1) next week. The Falcons remain the division’s most talented team even with their recent slew of injuries. A convincing victory there, coupled with a Bucs’ home loss to the struggling Steelers on ESPN’s Monday Night Football would shuffle things around.

As with most league discussions at this point, let’s chalk this up as ‘to be determined.’

Rodgers vs Bears

NFL Monday Morning Madness: All hail Aaron Rodgers

The NFL once again delivered an exhilaratingly whacky Week 1, highlighted by the Chiefs’ explosive offense, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s fireworks through the air in New Orleans, a tie, and a game twice delayed by inclement weather.

But we begin in Green Bay, where fans at Lambeau Field were once again witnesses to the greatness of Aaron Rodgers.

* * * * *

The most shocking upset of the week was almost complete. The Bears, with new head coach Matt Nagy, young QB Mitch Trubisky and recent mega-addition Khalil Mack, had seemingly sucked the energy out of the Packers. After all, superstar QB Aaron Rodgers left with an apparent knee injury, the Bears looked faster and hungrier, and Mack had completely taken over the game with a strip-sack and a pick-six. The score at the half? 17-0 in favor of the new, modern-day Monsters of the Midway.

Shockingly, Rodgers returned for the second half, and so did the Packers.

Insert one more legendary comeback and game into Rodgers’ script. A 20-point second half comeback to beat the upstart Bears, a team that had THAT look. The look of a team ready to break out. Not tonight, not in Rodgers’ house.

One of the game’s great rivalries has been in favor of the Packers during the Rodgers era. He had beaten the Bears in the 2010 NFC Championship in Chicago. He had beaten the Bears in Week 17 of 2013 to clinch the NFC North on a long-ball to Randall Cobb. And last night, he crushed the Bears’ souls again, with Cobb, his closest friend on the team. An 75-yard touchdown pass in which Cobb did most of the damage after the catch, put the Packers ahead 24-23. That would be the final score.

“It’s the Bear-Packer rivalry, Rodgers said to NBC’s Michele Tafoya. “It would have had to be something really catastrophic injury-wise to keep me off the field.”

Once Green Bay took the lead, Chicago had a chance to drive down for the win, but the moment looked too big for Mitchell Trubisky. It engulfed him. Even with a second chance after Clay Matthews roughing-the-passer penalty on fourth down extended the drive, Trubisky could not deliver. The same Bears that looked unstoppable on both sides of the ball in the first half couldn’t hang on in the second. Not with Rodgers at the helm, limping around and throwing touchdowns, firing up a crowd thad had almost certainly begun mulling over the career of their quarterback after what looked to be another serious injury possibly derailing another one of his seasons.

Instead, Rodgers came back and delivered one of his most masterful performances yet, as Trubisky, Mack and the rest of the Bears saw their statement victory slip away. This was must-see TV. Football is indeed back, and this was it’s finest part of the overall product this weekend.

“I’ll play next week,” Rodgers said.

We’ll be watching.

Chiefs still own AFC West

After an offseason filled with questions about whether or not the talented Chargers could finally win the AFC West, the division’s incumbent champs brought the noise in the league’s quietest stadium. The most explosive offense in pro football features the the most explosive player in the sport in Tyreek Hill, and a confident young QB in Patrick Mahomes, who seems ready to lead the charge for one of the AFC’s main contenders.

First thing of note is Hill, who is not only the game’s most explosive (and fastest) player but also the league’s most exciting, edging out guys like Rodgers, Alvin Kamara and Antonio Brown for the nod. A 91-yard punt return touchdown to begin the season, followed by 169 yards and two more scores on the receiving end. He scores on punts, reverses, hand-offs, drags, slants and deep flies. He can literally do it all. He’s what personnel guys always hoped Dante Hall or Devin Hester would be on offense. With lackluster performances by Kareem Hunt (16 carries, 49 yards) and Travis Kelce (1 catch, 6 yards), it was Hill who Mahomes looked to.

But Mahomes deserves credit in his own right. His second career start was basically his first career start. This was his moments. All offseason the Chargers were coronated as one of the league’s most talented teams, if not, the most talented in AFC, at least. But what about the Mahomet-Hill-Hunt-Kelce-Sammy Watkins grouping in Kansas City. The Chiefs have playmakers at all levels, and Mahomes is the perfect distributor in Andy Reid’s high-flying offense.

Mahomes’ final stat line: 15-for-27, 256 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions.

As a QB praised for his big arm and potential, it was refreshing to see Mahomes display accuracy and touch in his passing game, specifically in a floating pass along the left sideline to fullback Anthony Sherman, that turned into a 36-yard catch-and-score.

Yes, the Chargers were without Joey Bosa, and Week 1 is Week 1. But Kansas City made a statement with the win.

The Chiefs have now beaten the Chargers nine straight times, and with Mahomes, things look to be no different in the AFC West.

Same ole Saints?

For fans who haven’t noticed by now. here’s a mantra to keep in mind. Things change in the NFL. Production from the previous season rarely carries over to the next. Unless you’re the Patriots, or Aaron Rodgers, of course.

Sadly, the Saints defense does not fall in the exemption category. After a promising 2017 defensive campaign, the Saints entered Sunday as a Super Bowl contender. Instead they were embarrassed by the Buccaneers at home, 48-40, in a game in which Tampa Bay backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had the game of his life (21 of 28, 417 yards, four touchdowns).

Fitzpatrick is a great story, and certainly one that should be talked about. He fed Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson magnificently. But the story here is the collapse of what was supposed to be an improving unit. During the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era in the Bayou, the Saints have continually relied on their offense.

But now with Brees at age-39, and Mark Ingram out for four weeks, September was set for the Saints defense to shine. Nope. Instead New Orleans did not capitalize on the Falcons loss in Philadelphia on Thursday. The Falcons should beat the Panthers (1-0) at home next week after blowing their chance to upend the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Atlanta is clearly the most complete team in the NFC South, and even they have a lot of work to do (RED ZONE).

The Saints can reflect this week as they look ahead to their home bout with the Browns next Sunday. Maybe that’s the cure they need.