Hot or Not

NFL Hot or Not: Taysom Hill's polarizing power and the Carson Wentz conundrum

In the wake of Week 11, Marc Sessler dishes on what's hot -- and what's not -- in the NFL:

WHAT'S HOT

Twitter has its charms.

I scroll it endlessly. Day, night, middle of the night, while driving, while cooking a $0.90 packet of Ramen as my children gallop through every room of the house morning 'til evening seven days a week during the Reign of Corona.

I'm enticed whenever a friend drops a thought-provoking word-bomb in 280 characters. I happily tumble into wormholes at the mention of Darren Rovell becoming embroiled in a blossoming feud with various rabble-rousers. I systematically bang out unnecessary messages and tweeted flotsam of my own, and enjoy doing so. The positives are built-in, but Twitter can grow dark and ponderous, too.

Especially when Taysom Hill is thrust into the ring of public opinion.

The Saints gadget man and Week 11 fill-in for a rib-crunched Drew Brees doubles as radioactive matter on Twitter, turning the "microblogging" hothouse into a verbal gang war over the pros and cons of Mr. Hill.

The philosophical back-and-forth stars a swarm of factions: Those who see Hill as a vastly overpaid accessory who lacks the arm to play quarterback on the biggest stage, and others who view him as the physical embodiment of coach Sean Payton's sizable hubris. Those who root for him to succeed as something unusual to the eyes, and others who seem to despise Hill for no defined reason at all. The "He Doesn't Belong Here" crowd is often at war with the "So What, He Makes Football Fun" groupies.

Students of Twitter Middle School tripped the light fantastic upon learning that Payton would start Hill against the Falcons over 30/30 Club founder Jameis Winston. A sense of palpable outrage swirled with currents of anticipation. Had the Saints gone too far? Who would play the fool?

Not Payton.

With a week to prepare, the Saints coach put Hill in a position to succeed with a game plan that milked his unusual skill set in a 24-9 rout of Atlanta. Did Taysom set the earth on fire? No, but his first NFL start under center was a durable, mostly mistake-free ride that saw him connect on 18 of 23 passes for 233 yards and a 108.9 passer rating. Only Russell Wilson topped Hill's 78.3 completion percentage in Week 11, while Kirk Cousins alone bested Hill's 10.1 yards per attempt.

Taysom grew more comfortable as the game winded on and complemented his passing with 51 yards and two scores on the ground, tying Lamar Jackson for the most rushing yards by a signal-caller all weekend. The Saints' defense helped, too, scattering Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into 50,000 pieces. Still, don't ignore the deeper message here, one being sent from Payton to everyone with a Twitter handle: Your takes on Taysom Hill never mattered. Not to the Saints.

The delightfully petty Payton still had his fun, though, retweeting the failed boasts of ex-Falcons wideout Roddy White, who vowed Atlanta would soon "snack" on a Saints team starting a perceived vanity project at quarterback.

Payton settles scores. He clings to slights. The most absurd theories, though, centered around the coach playing Hill simply to thumb his nose at the football world. This falls apart quickly if we examine the very real stacks of cash the Saints have invested in Hill -- and the team's very real No. 1 overall seed in the updated NFC playoff picture. Yes, Payton delights in shutting up the critics. He also harbors a long-held belief in the player, which somehow isn't enough for the anti-Taysom crowd.

Friend and colleague Chris Wesseling nailed it before Sunday's game, noting: "In all of my years of Football Twitter, nothing boggles my mind to the point of questioning reality than the universal agreement that Taysom is a laughably bad player and the lone rube who doesn't realize it is one of smartest offensive minds ever -- and works with said player daily."

If anything, Hill's successful outing only galvanizes those who burn to see him stumble. His teammates know it, too, with Michael Thomas emphatically telling a divided public: "Taysom is a dog. Who cares what anyone else says? He's a baller."

Personally, I'm much more offended at having to watch Joe Flacco in the autumn of 2020. Hill, if anything, speaks to a Saints team willing to fly into the fray with its convictions intact. Payton always said he envisioned Hill as a starter. When fate forced the coach to prove it, he did just that.

Who knows where this leads? Perhaps it curls up in the form of a beautiful disaster. Maybe it blooms.

The scoreboard today, though, is crystal clear:

SEAN PAYTON                           1
TWITTER MIDDLE SCHOOL    0

WHAT'S NOT

1) The Lions specialize in a bland, faceless variety of gridiron action. How else to describe what I witnessed Sunday in a 20-0 no-show against a Panthers team coming off a five-game losing streak and missing starting passer Teddy Bridgewater and star runner Christian McCaffrey? Yes, the Lions are dealing with injuries. No, that doesn't mask over the sins of a franchise determined to roll through another vanilla campaign with zero identity. Quick: What kind of team does general manager Bob Quinn wish to build? I have no idea, either. Five years into his run, the Lions remain a flavorless afterthought. Coach Matt Patricia on Sunday was comprehensively outdueled by Matt Rhule, Carolina's first-year leader who fearlessly unleashed former XFL star P.J. Walker on a wanting Lions defense. It gets worse: In 48 hours, we must tolerate Detroit again on national television in what's commonly known as Thanksgiving's Crappy Early Game. What's to like? This version of the Lions doesn't even promise the scene of a horrified Aunt Fanny asking: "Who is that giant ruffian kicking the other man in a terrible place?"

"... Don't be alarmed, Aunt Fanny, that's just Ndamukong Suh feeling annoyed at subpar Texans arm Matt Schaub."

2) Whether or not you approve of Green Bay drafting quarterback Jordan Love, we can all agree he's an afterthought while Aaron Rodgers operates as a potential MVP.

Eagles fans aren't required to show such patience. The mysterious nosedive act from Carson Wentz is begging the club to take a look at second-rounder Jalen Hurts. Instead, an increasingly agitated Doug Pederson dismisses the idea of resting his baffled starter, insisting: "We have to get it fixed with Carson Wentz."

You get the feeling Wentz's feelings matter here -- maybe too much. At least for a guy set to make $25 million guaranteed in 2021. As for today, why not try Hurts for a game or two? Even a half?

The Eagles' miniscule lead in a cursed NFC East should not deter them from a daring move. Wentz isn't the only guilty party, but his scattershot accuracy, endless giveaways and staggering regression are baked into the 3-6-1 record. Why not see if Hurts can spark this moribund vessel? It's fair to question this coaching staff's ability to self-scout and dream up creative solutions. Why not boldly test new theories and tweaks when nothing is working?

3) Speaking of Pederson, he's likely fed up with keyboard wiseacres suggesting how the offense should look. He's working 80 hours a week to solve a broken-down offense while forced to engage with local media and hobby horses ready to pounce. Pederson snapped last week when a local radio host, Angelo Cataldi of 94WIP, opened their weekly chat by airing a listener poll suggesting that 72 percent of fans blamed coaching for Philly's Week 10 loss to the G-Men.

"Thanks for the lead-in. That was awesome. Listen, that just puts me in a great mood today. I'm already in a good mood, appreciate it," Pederson snapped at Cataldi. "Should I hang up now? I'm filling my obligation right now. If I hang up, I filled my obligation. I'm pissed off, Angelo!"

Twenty-twenty, it seems, will get us all.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter.

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