NFL Media researcher Brandon Mendoza identifies several of the biggest overreactions from each week's set of games. The storylines below are bound to play out because, after all, numbers never lie. Right?
Baker Mayfield vs. Joe Burrow is the NFL's next great QB rivalry
In Week 2, Baker Mayfield and Joe Burrow met for the first time in their NFL careers and gave us a glimpse of what will be the next great QB rivalry. A 35-30 Browns win was a solid opening-act, delivering the fifth-most combined points in series history.
But the encore on Sunday confirmed that the battles between these two former No. 1 overall picks will be appointment viewing for years to come.
Mayfield tied the Browns' record for the most passing touchdowns in a single game (5), while Burrow became the first rookie QB in NFL history with 400-plus passing yards, 3-plus passing TDs and a rushing TD in a single game. The two also combined for the second-most passing scores in a game between opposing top overall picks (Cam Newton and Eli Manning had 9 in 2015).
And if that wasn't enough, there were five go-ahead TD passes in the fourth quarter (Mayfield had three; Burrow had two), which was the most in the final quarter of a single game in NFL history.
Justin Herbert is the best Chargers offensive rookie in franchise history
I know that's a spicy take after just five starts. Skeptics might argue that Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson's 1,600-yard, 10-TD rookie season was better. Or that John Jefferson leading the NFL in receiving TDs (with 13 in 1978) in his first season was more impressive.
Here's what I'll tell you:
- On Sunday, Justin Herbert became the first rookie QB with 300-plus passing yards and 50-plus rushing yards in a win since 1950.
- The No. 6 overall pick is one of just two QBs in NFL history with 1,500 passing yards in their first five career games (Cam Newton in 2011).
- Speaking of NFL history, Herbert is only the second rookie with at least three passing TDs in three or more games in NFL history (Deshaun Watson in 2017).
- Herbert just joined Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only QBs in the Super Bowl era with an 85-plus passer rating in each of his first five NFL starts.
Oh, and the 22-year-old can hold his own in the run game, too, as he not only set the Chargers' single-game record for rushing yards by a QB (66), but he also became the first starting passer in Bolts history to lead the team in rushing yards multiple times in a season.
Nobody wants to play the Lions
Entering their Week 3 bout with the Arizona Cardinals, the Lions found themselves 0-2 and losers of 11 straight games dating back to Week 9 of the 2019 NFL season.
That Sunday, however, Detroit clawed its way to a win on the road against what now looks like a very good Cardinals team. Matthew Stafford engineered a 10-play, 67-yard drive with under 5 minutes left to set up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
That positive momentum seemed to disappear by the next weekend, when the Lions blew a 14-point lead to the Saints and heard the whispers of "same old Lions" grow louder.
But after returning from their bye in Week 6 to face the Jaguars, the Lions snapped one of the more brutal losing streaks in the NFL, ending a run of six straight losses after leading by 10-plus points in their 34-16 win.
That brings us to this past Sunday, when Stafford orchestrated yet another game-clinching drive -- this time of the 8-play, 75-yard variety, with 1:04 remaining and zero timeouts while down by 6. The final play, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to T.J. Hockenson, gave the 12-year veteran his 34th game-winning drive since 2011, the most by any QB in the NFL.
For Stafford, a flair for the dramatic clearly is nothing new. But in his heroic Week 7 effort, the former first overall pick joined Tim Couch as the only QBs in the Super Bowl era to throw a game-winning touchdown pass as time expired in the fourth quarter in multiple games. (Stafford's other occurrence was Week 11, 2009 vs. the Browns.)
Larry Fitzgerald should be in conversation for the greatest WR of all time
Watching Larry Fitzgerald grab the football out of his tackled teammate's hands so he could sprint to the referee, hand over the ball and thus save precious seconds in the Cardinals' nail-biting overtime victory against the Seahawks was a thing of beauty. Fitzgerald won't get many headlines for that wily, heads-up play on Sunday night, but his eight-catch, 62-yard performance did make news, because he joined Hall of Famer -- and long-standing occupant of the WR throne -- Jerry Rice in rarified receiving air.
Fitzgerald and Rice are now the only players in NFL history with 1,400 or more career receptions. They also are the only players in NFL history with 250-plus consecutive games with a reception (Fitzgerald has 250 to Rice's 274).
Fitzgerald's second-place spot on the all-time receiving yards list will likely not change by the time he retires (he's 5,605 yards behind Rice's insane 22,895 total), but how he got to No. 2 is something that makes the G.O.A.T. receiver debate far less one-sided. The 11-time Pro Bowler has caught a pass from 22 different quarterbacks, the most by any receiver over the last 30 seasons. Of Rice's 20 seasons, 14 came with a quarterback who made the Pro Bowl that season. In Fitzgerald's 16 seasons prior to 2020, that's been the case only twice (Kurt Warner: 2008 & Carson Palmer: 2015).
So while Rice is widely recognized as the wide receiver G.O.A.T., he generated a major chunk of his otherworldly production by catching passes from Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, and even Rich Gannon during an MVP season. Sure, Fitzgerald had Kurt Warner for a short but nice run, and Kyler Murray certainly looks like a star, but let's not forget the games (and there were a lot of them) where guys like John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, John Navarre or Max Hall were throwing Larry Legend the ball.
Dak Prescott was the NFL MVP before his injury
Strong emphasis on the valuable here.
Entering Week 5, the Cowboys were averaging 31.5 points per game (third in the NFL) and 509.5 total yards per game (most in the NFL), and Dak Prescott had 1,690 pass yards (most in the NFL). In the Cowboys' two games without Prescott, those numbers have plummeted to 6.5 points per game and 243.0 total yards per game, both second-worst in the NFL, better than only the Jets.
Sunday's 25-3 loss to Washington marked the first time the Cowboys scored 10 or fewer points in consecutive games since Weeks 10-12 of 2017 (games played without Ezekiel Elliott). Dallas managed a measly 3 points on just 142 total net yards (59 passing, 83 rushing). You have to go back to 2002, when Chad Hutchinson and Quincy Carter split time as the QBs for America's Team, to find another instance of the Cowboys scoring so few points against a divisional opponent (lost to the Eagles 27-3 in Week 16) or producing less than 100 yards both via the air or the ground in a single game (Week 11 at Colts and Week 16 vs. Eagles).