The Schein Nine  

 

Brian Flores, Mitch Trubisky highlighted redemption-rich Week 10

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Week 10 turned out to be my favorite NFL Sunday of the year. Major upsets. Playoff-picture upheaval. Compelling, down-to-the-wire drama. Conversations shifted. Redemption earned.

That last aspect really stood out: This was a day for the maligned to strike back, and many of them did -- with a vengeance.

Here are the heroes of Redemption Sunday, Schein Nine style:

1) Brian Flores, head coach, Miami Dolphins

Oh, hey! The 2019 Dolphins officially have a winning streak! One week after notching his first win as an NFL head coach, Flores nabbed his first road victory, a 16-12 triumph in Indianapolis. And I don't want to hear that the Colts (5-4) were missing QB1 Jacoby Brissett and WR1 T.Y. Hilton. That's a well-coached Indy team, with a great culture, playing at home -- on the day when the Colts inducted the great Dwight Freeney into their Ring of Honor, to boot. And yet, Miami (2-7) was able to deal a major blow to Indy's playoff aspirations.

During a nightmarish September, Miami was outscored 163-26(!). But the Dolphins have been infinitely more competitive since the Week 5 bye, with a points deficit of just 105-93. The effort has really been superb recently. The talent isn't there -- this team is in the midst of an unabashed (and understandable) rebuild. But Flores coaches to win. And his players play to win. What we saw at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday was a tenacious, fundamentally sound, well-coached Dolphins team.

And to those of you bemoaning the win, as it moves the Fins further away from the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft ... Well, Miami is still going to have a high draft slot. And a bushel of picks to own the next couple drafts. And cap room to sign free agents. And I'm guessing players around the league have noticed how hard the Dolphins play and the way Flores has them ready.

2) Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings

Yes, the Vikings' gigantic win in Dallas was largely fueled by the dynamic backfield duo of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. But how about some love for Captain Kirk?

Rightly maligned for previously putrid play in prime time and against winning teams, Cousins was an absolute rock on Sunday night. He didn't make mistakes. He gave the Vikes an early 14-0 advantage with a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes to Kyle Rudolph -- including one gem where it appeared to the naked eye that he was throwing it away, only to have Rudolph execute a one-handed, toe-tapping grab. And by night's end, Minnesota had improved to 7-3 with a crucial win over a potential wild-card competitor. Narrative changed. Redemption earned.

3) Mike Tomlin, head coach, Pittsburgh Steelers

No Ben. No Bell. No AB. No James Conner. Facing a more talented Rams team? No problem. Pittsburgh downed L.A., 17-12, extending its winning streak to four games.

Full disclosure: I've been a Mike Tomlin critic through the years. Sure, his win totals are always strong, but his teams' focus often wanes, leading to unforgivable losses against bad clubs. And I hated the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade when it went down, because Pittsburgh seemed to be on a road to nowhere.

Well, the Steelers are now 5-4, holding onto a wild-card slot at the moment, and Fitzpatrick is going to earn All-Pro honors for his game-changing ball-hawking. I will make the case that this is the best coaching job of Tomlin's career. Major overachievement, toughness, accountability and defense.

4) Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears

The Bears' quarterback can leave the televisions on this week after throwing three touchdown passes in Chicago's 20-13 win over Detroit -- Trubisky's best game in what's been a disastrous Year 3 for the former No. 2 overall pick.

Last week's comments about trying to black out criticism in Halas Hall showed weakness in the 25-year-old signal-caller. Reacting in such an oversensitive way -- to fully deserved heat -- is the kind of thing that helps explain why the Bears will almost certainly be forced to re-assess the game's most important position in the coming offseason. But those comments also put Trubisky under a searing Sunday spotlight. And with the vultures swirling overhead, Chicago's quarterback completed 69.6 percent of his passes and didn't turn the ball over once.

Chicago (4-5) couldn't lose this game at home to a sub-.500 Lions team without Matthew Stafford. The Bears' QB stepped up and changed the conversation on sports television, even if only temporarily.

5) Atlanta Falcons' defense

Atlanta's blowout win over the Saints -- in New Orleans -- was the most confounding result of the weekend. I'm still having trouble making sense of the 26-9 final score, even in this wholly unpredictable league. Frankly, it kind of makes me angry. How can the Falcons, who lost seven of their first eight games this season, come out and suddenly bottle up Drew Brees and Co. in the Superdome?

But for a brief, fleeting moment, Dan Quinn and his defense can smile broadly. This should've been the case all year, but it was downright impressive on Sunday. Despite Alvin Kamara's return to the Saints' lineup, Atlanta held New Orleans to a season-low 52 yards rushing. The Falcons sacked Brees six times and limited the Saints to a 3-for-15 conversion rate on third/fourth down. This was the kind of defense we expected to see from Atlanta this season, the kind of defense that had many folks labeling the Falcons as title contenders in August.

6) Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

All conversation leading up to Chiefs-Titans rightfully revolved around the return of Patrick Mahomes. And the reigning MVP was sensational on Sunday, throwing for 446 yards and three touchdowns. But it was Mahomes' quarterbacking counterpart who came away with the 35-32 win, thanks to clutch play down the stretch.

Yes, credit Derrick Henry (who was amazing), as well as Tennessee's special teams and defense. But Tannehill, who never lived up to his top-10-pick pedigree in Miami, has been a much better version of himself since taking the reins in Nashville. In four 2019 starts, Tannehill has three game-winning drives. He beat the Chiefs with his athleticism on Sunday, bulldozing K.C. defenders on a key third-down conversion and a late two-point play. The Miami version of Tannehill wouldn't have stood a chance against Mahomes. But Tennessee Tannehill rocked steady Sunday, helping the Titans improve to 5-5 and stay squarely in the AFC wild-card race. Honestly, Tannehill is giving the Titans reason to believe he should be back next season.

7) O.J. Howard, tight end, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Before Sunday, the highlight of Howard's year was catching a foul ball at a Tampa Bay Rays playoff game. All that offseason hype about the former first-rounder enjoying a breakout Year 3 seemed laughable when he had just 13 catches for 176 yards and zero touchdowns through the first nine weeks of the season.

But with Howard back after missing two games with a hamstring injury, Bruce Arians made his tight end more of a focus against the leaky Cardinals pass defense. Targeted a season-high seven times, Howard caught four balls for 46 yards. In back-to-back plays during Tampa's 55-second scoring drive at the end of the first half, Howard made a contested catch for a 26-yard gain and then hit paydirt for the first time this season. Not to mention, he provided stout blocking throughout the day -- something that's becoming more and more rare among modern tight ends.

This is why Howard was a first-rounder. This is what I expect on a regular basis.

8) Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay Packers

I still cannot believe the Packers lost 26-11 to the Chargers in Week 9, a jarring setback Aaron Rodgers called "a good slice of humble pie for us." Well, after no-showing with many of his teammates in L.A., Jones rumbled into the end zone for three scores in a beautiful, snowy setting at Lambeau Field, guiding the Pack to a 24-16 win over Carolina.

Overall, Jones has been quite productive for the Packers this year, as he's currently tied with Christian McCaffrey for the NFL lead in rushing touchdowns (11). And his effectiveness gives Rodgers and Matt LaFleur someone to balance out Green Bay's attack. This is big, because this Packers team has legit Super Bowl potential.

9) Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets

Despite all of the yuk-yuk jokes about ghosts, the questionable coaching from Adam Gase and the awful Jets offensive line, Sam Darnold can flat-out play.

It's been a nightmare season, starting with a one-point loss to Buffalo in Week 1 and the ensuing mono diagnosis. And I'm not going to tell you he was sensational in the 34-27 win over the Giants -- give the game ball to Jamal Adams -- but Darnold got a needed win, producing touchdowns with his arm and his legs.

I still love the 2018 No. 3 overall pick's talent and leadership. No chance I'm backing off the 22-year-old. Yes, he's actually nine days younger than Giants rookie Daniel Jones.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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