We have a triple-header on Thanksgiving and, of the six teams playing, the Lions have the best record—try taking the game away from Detroit now!!! Alright, I got that off my chest …
• It seems like Zach Wilson’s benching in New York was a long time coming, but that didn’t make it any easier for Jets coaches to go through with it. And that’s because, deep down, the sense I’ve gotten from those guys is there’s a level of guilt they felt in doing it.
There are three reasons.
The first is the easy one—the third-year quarterback did everything he could, and was the right kind of teammate and worker over the two-plus months he started.
The second and third are more complicated. There was the part of the quarterback plan that never got to play out, with the Jets believing, going into the year, that sitting for two years (which was how they drew it up with Aaron Rodgers coming in) would do Wilson a world of good like it once did for ex-Jet Geno Smith. That blew up the minute Rodgers’s Achilles blew out on the MetLife turf. Then, there was the battle to give Wilson a real chance, one sabotaged by perhaps the worst offensive line in the league.
By the staff’s count, fourteen different offensive linemen have taken significant snaps, and seven different line combinations have started games. The team’s 37-year-old starting left tackle, Duane Brown, has been limited to two starts due to injury, and the unit’s best player, Alijah Vera-Tucker, was lost for the year after playing in three games. Center Connor McGovern and right tackle Mekhi Becton were lost more recently. Which is how a group that had big questions coming into the year has evolved into a trainwreck.
So why bench Wilson now? Mostly, because the staff had tried just about everything to give the offense a spark—spackling together that offensive line while shuffling seats in the tight end, receiver and running back rooms, and even moving coordinator Nathaniel Hackett up to the box—and this is pulling the one lever they’ve resisted.
Whether 29-year-old Tim Boyle, a veteran of six years and four teams, can give them a spark is an open question. At the very least, the Jets think they’re getting a quarterback that plays faster, makes quicker decisions, and gets the ball out more efficiently than Wilson. Plus, Boyle brings two years of experience in Hackett’s offense in Green Bay.
So for all the noise about Aaron Rodgers’s return over the weekend, it sounds like that’s the last thing on the staff’s mind right now.
• USC quarterback Caleb Williams said before the Trojans were routed by rival UCLA in their regular-season finale Saturday that he would discuss his future with his family over Thanksgiving. He said if he decides to return for his senior year (which seems unlikely), he’d almost certainly play in USC’s bowl game. If he decides to go to the NFL, he might not—meaning there’s a pretty good chance he’s played his last college game.
Of course, NFL folks knew this last week, so I figured it’d be interesting to see how many teams sent people in to live scout and do background work around the UCLA game.
The answer? Not many. I’m told there were about 10 scouts, and most of them were area scouts. Just one team—the Cardinals—had multiple scouts in attendance. And among the highest ranking personnel people there were Seahawks assistant GM Nolan Teasley, Patriots director of scouting Eliot Wolf, Cardinals director of player personnel Dru Grigson, and Giants assistant director of player personnel Dennis Hickey.
It's fair to say all four of those teams could be in the market for a quarterback come April, with all of them, save for Seattle, near the top of the draft order at this point.
• Bill Belichick refused to tip his hand on who will start at quarterback for the Patriots against the Giants on Sunday—and while the team is out of contention, the decision is a big one because of Mac Jones’s shaky standing with the team.
The tricky thing for New England is Jones, given the team’s depth at the position, might still be the best option. Bailey Zappe was cut out of training camp, and isn’t as good a fit for Bill O’Brien’s offense as he was in last year’s scheme. And Will Grier hasn’t asserted himself in competing for playing time. So picking one of those two might be an “anyone but Mac” type of move.
And, honestly, there’s some merit to that. Jones’s seeming case of the yips has come up on specific plays (his feet were a mess on his first and last throws of the first half against the Colts, and also the back-breaking pick he threw late), as the staff sees it. The players have lost confidence in him as practice mistakes carry over into games. What’s best for everyone might be Jones getting a break.
The question then becomes whether Bill Belichick can keep the team locked in if he makes a quarterback change. Which, I think, would be why he’d open the door this week and see whether Zappe or Grier can walk through it.
• Monday night’s game was a great example of the Eagles, once more, using their advantage at the line of scrimmage to wear another good team out. It also, to me, is a good example of why sacks are an overrated stat.
Philly sacked Patrick Mahomes just once. But clearly, the Eagles affected the two-time Super Bowl MVP with pressure—knocking him down nine times (Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat combined for three of those) by coming at him in waves with a deep, talented and relentless defensive front. In the end, all of it came to a head in the game’s biggest moment, with the Chiefs in third-and-10 and 1:42 left.
Sweat beat left tackle Donovan Smith, flushed Mahomes out, Mahomes couldn’t get away fast enough to throw the ball away, and drew a grounding flag in the process. The penalty pushed the Chiefs back 15 yards into a fourth-and-25, which, essentially, ended the ballgame.
• It is fair to ask, after a night of devastating drops by the Kansas City’s receivers (and two, in particular, from Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson, on the final possession), whether Kansas City’s done enough to fortify that position, post–Tyreek Hill.
Obviously, you aren’t finding another Hill. But there was the opportunity to land DeAndre Hopkins in the spring (the money they set aside for him went to Smith), and the idea that they could’ve moved up in the draft for a Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jordan Addison or Zay Flowers in April. Instead, they took a receiver in the second round for the second consecutive year, and now the fate of that position the rest of the year lies squarely on the development of those two guys—Skyy Moore and Rashee Rice—as well as Kadarius Toney.
Now, I’d push back on the idea that they needed a true No. 1. They have that already in Travis Kelce. But the complementary pieces around Kelce need to get more consistent and, ultimately, productive.
• We wrote about the place the Lions are on Monday, but I think it’s also worth mentioning how their quarterback belongs on the marquee as well.
Jared Goff was outstanding when it mattered most against the Bears, connecting on 10-of-12 throws for 115 yards, a touchdown, and a 134.4 passer rating on the two drives that won the game for Detroit—one covered 75 yards in six plays, the other was 73 yards in 11 plays. Both of the drives came in the game’s final 4:15 after the Lions fell behind 26–14 with Chicago knowing Detroit would have to throw to win the rest of the way.
Goff showed he could, and to one of his teammates, Aidan Hutchinson, it proved how the quarterback is reflective of the culture the team has built, and draws on in these big spots.
“No doubt,” he told me after the game. “The season is long and you play great guys every single week. So adversity is going to strike. And when it does, how do you respond to it?”
Goff, obviously, has continued to answer the bell in that regard. And while we’re there, it’s worth noting the 29-year-old is now fifth in the NFL in passing yards (2,743), seventh in yards per attempt (7.6), 11th in touchdown passes (16), and 10th in passer rating (96.1). I think it’s hard to make the argument, at this point, that he’s not a top-10 quarterback.
• The Steelers’ decision Monday to fire OC Matt Canada should have at least some impact—new play-caller Mike Sullivan has twice (in Tampa Bay and with the Giants) been an NFL coordinator before. But the question will continue to be whether Kenny Pickett’s their quarterback. And just talking to some defensive coaches who’ve faced him, the refrain seems very similar to what you started hearing on Mac Jones last year: He is functional at the position at the NFL level, but he’s limited, and probably not anyone’s long-term answer.
• Courtland Sutton has been a monster the past couple of weeks for Denver, and it’s interesting to think back to February when the asking price for him in a trade was a second-rounder. And he was under contract at $14.5 million for this year, $13.5 million for 2024, and $14 million for ’25.
Sutton just turned 28, so it’s a good bet that the receiver we see now is the player you’ll get for the next few years.
• The Rams’ win over the Seahawks on Sunday should be a good warning to everyone that Sean McVay’s crew could be back in a big way in 2024. L.A. has carried $74 million in dead cap this year, but will have a lot of room to be buyers in free agency this offseason. And for the first time in nearly a decade, the Rams will also have a full complement of draft picks. Plus, Matthew Stafford has looked really good, too.
• Tom Brady was right. There was a lot of mediocre football in Week 11.