The Chiefs are looking like the class of the AFC. An Opening Night victory over the Patriots was enough to get the attention of even casual fans. With each week, Kansas City is turning people into believers.
Long the knock on the team in the Andy Reid era has been that they'll only be able to hide their hyperconservative passing game for so long. It seems like ages ago now, but remember that the Chiefs went more than a full season without a wide receiver catching a touchdown. A wideout had just one of the three scores Alex Smith threw on Sunday night, but the point remains that this offense is far and away superior to what it was even last year. A huge part of that is the mystifying maturation of Smith.
Now in his 13th season, Smith has never been this consistently good. Lots of fans point to the team drafting Pat Mahomes as the thing that lit a fire under the incumbent starter. Surely it ratcheted up some pressure, but it's not like Smith hasn't dealt with competition for his starting job before, And this line of thinking assumes that players aren't interested in excelling just because they have some small measure of job security. These are still professionals with a lot of pride.
It also helps to have a creative playcaller in Andy Reid. The defense isn't that what exists in division rival Denver, especially with Eric Berry done for the year. So far, even allowing about 23 points per game, it hasn't been an issue. Whether that's sustainable remains to be seen. The Chiefs do have a prime opportunity to create some distance between themselves and their most critical rivals in the coming weeks.
The AFC is a mess. The first-place team in every division but the West holds a 3-2 record. The next three weeks for the Chiefs feature a home game against the suddenly-floundering Steelers, a game in Oakland against a Raiders team likely to still be without Derek Carr, then the first meeting of the season against the Broncos in Week 8. Winning all those puts them in great position to take home-field advantage for the first time with Reid. Still, there's lots of season left, and plenty of chances for other teams to address their outstanding issues and close the gap. Still, five weeks is sufficient evidence to believe that this isn't the same Chiefs team we've gotten accustomed to the past few years.
And we're not done talking about the anthem
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence showed up in Indianapolis.
After three 49ers players kneeled during the anthem, Pence tweeted that he was leaving the game in disgust, shocked that athletes would disrespect the flag and the anthem in his presence. It's reason to wonder what Pence expected to happen. According to his itinerary, the vice president had a fundraiser in California to get to, meaning he never intended to hang around in the first place. Were that not evidence enough, there was his boss on Twitter to spoil the ruse.
Some estimated that Pence's travel and added security for the stadium appearance likely cost taxpayers at least $250,000. After the game, 49ers safety Eric Reid, a fixture of the anthem protests before even Trump got involved, said of Pence's appearance, "looks like a PR stunt to me... this is what systemic oppression looks like".
What makes this even more ridiculous -- or disheartening, depending on your view -- is that NFL owners are quietly succumbing to the president's demands. It was reported that the Miami Dolphins forced three protesting players to remain in the locker room during the anthem, so their kneeling would not be seen by TV cameras. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stated publicly that he would not permit any of his players to take part in a gesture that he felt disrespected the flag or the anthem.
Whether this means that announced conservative boycotts have had an impact, or simply that teams are eager to move past the issue, NFL owners are trying to make the protests less of an issue. That's unlikely to happen when the vice president is bringing it up again. Presumably Pence won't be on hand next Sunday, but he doesn't really have to be. The president is likely to keep belaboring the matter on Twitter, and that alone has caused a few team owners to pull back on what few convictions they had on the matter.
Down go two of the sport's biggest stars
No Sunday is ever a great one for injuries in the NFL, but in Week 5, the league lost two of its most highly marketed players in Odell Beckham and J.J. Watt. For the Texans, one early drive proved doubly catastrophic as both Watt and Whitney Mercilus were lost to injury. After the game, news came out that Mercilus had suffered a torn pectoral, ending his season. Watt too has been reported as being done for the year with a tibial plateau fracture. A shame for the Texans that just when something promising is happening for them at quarterback, two of the defense's leaders go down. As for the Giants, an ugly 0-5 is looking to become a much worse record, in the most agonizing way possible.
Fan of the Week
Raiders fans are fed up! After exactly one winning season in 15 years, Raider Nation is feeling entitled enough to be indignant when the team falls to 2-3 to start 2017. Or perhaps Oakland is feeling the pressure to win before the franchise departs for Vegas and the team won't quite feel like theirs anymore. So much so that one fan took it on himself to call out left tackle Donald Penn as he was leaving the players' lot. If challenging a 6'5", 300+lb. Behemoth to throw hands sounds like a questionable decision, this fan eventually realized that once Penn got within 10 feet. Messing with Khalil Mack might be the only worse option available to belligerent Raiders fans than this.
The Panthers needed someone to step up after tight end Greg Olsen went on injured reserve following the second game of the season. Sunday's win over Detroit was the much-awaited breakout, as he went for 175 yards on five receptions.
It was the rookie's best showing yet, and his first time going over 100 yards since Week 1. Against the Steelers, he rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns. So physical was his performance that had one point he was calling out would-be tacklers mid-carry. That's the kind of fearlessness you want to see out of your franchise back.
A pick-six is certainly a game-changing play. Another fine one that won't show up in the box score is the athletic breakup Randall made on a deep throw Dak Prescott attempted on a free play when Green Bay jumped offsides. Had he connected, it's unlikely Rodgers would even have the chance to stage another dramatic comeback at the end.
Rodgers is going to get ample credit for this late comeback victory. As well he should. His escape on a third down on the final drive had observers noting specific strengths in Rodgers' game that will never be there in Tom Brady's. Rodgers is almost certain to never equal Brady's championship total, but it's fair to argue that his skill set is superior.
The Los Angeles Rams has proven to be a tough out for the Seahawks in recent years, even through the worst of the Jeff Fisher dregs. Aaron Donald is a big reason for that, as he's feasted on lowly Seattle lines. That was no different on Sunday, even if the outcome was not in the Rams' favor. You can't fault any player who has eight hurries in a game.
Given the tension that surfaced last week between Big Ben and receiver Antonio Brown, it finally started to be a focus of beat writers covering the Steelers that Roethlisberger has yet to really play all that well in 2017. Coming into Sunday, he hadn't thrown for more than 300 yards in 10 games. By the end of the shocking loss to the Jaguars, yardage was much less a concern than the fact that the Steelers quarterback threw five interceptions. After the game, Roethlisberger joked that maybe he doesn't have it anymore, a line he said facetiously. Social media being social media, the quote was taken literally and so many fans are making some rash statements about leadership.
The veteran tackle is one of the most decorated players remaining on the 49ers roster and a reminder of the almost glory days of a years back. At the age of 33, perhaps it's getting to be the beginning of the end. He struggled extensively against the Colts, getting beaten for a sack on a play when the defense only blitzed two.
Los Angeles emerged from the battle of 0-4 teams with their first victory of the season, but not without still playing like a team deserving of a few losses. LA's receivers had seven drops, a good reason why Philip Rivers finished the day with a completion percentage under 50. Lucky for them, the Giants were somehow worse and that's why the Chargers' season is still very faintly but technically alive.
The Cardinals right tackle gave up a sack and three hurries in the last of his lackluster showings in 2017. Arizona has two wins on the season, in narrow fashion over the Colts and the 49ers, while getting steamrolled by everyone else. That's the recipe for a six-win season if ever there was one.
Forced to start Matt Cassel, the Titans needed a big day from the ground game to overcome the absence of Marcus Mariota. While Murray averaged more than four yards per carry on the day, that has more to do with the line, as he and Derrick Henry only combined for two broken tackles on the day. Murray also fumbled on the Titans' third possession, leading to Miami's first points of the game.
Other sports are all the football player rage
football players playing baseball, cats and dogs living together pic.twitter.com/9s4S1oMxlZ- Mike Tunison (@xmasape) October 8, 2017
Teams testing the waters of what they can do with the newly relaxed rules on group celebrations remains one of the early highlights of the 2017 season. It seems like each week fans are treated to teams breaking new ground in touchdown choreography. Other team sports were a theme in Week 5, as the Eagles put together an impressive recreation of a batter crushing a homer, replete with opposing pitcher and crowd. The Packers, meanwhile, assembled their own bobsled team following a touchdown. I'm looking forward to what I assume will be a curling celebration next Sunday.
Feel the rhythm.- The Packer Ranter (@PackerRanter) October 8, 2017
Feel the rhyme.
Get on up.
It's bobsled time. pic.twitter.com/V2gJk8feoz