We covered off quite a lot of Coronavirus chat in our pre-game show on Sky Sports on Sunday night and also at halftime of the second game as we checked in with Peter King, of NBC Sports. And rightly so. The 2020 season is showing definite signs of being a bumpy one and that major issue needed to be discussed.
But I have to admit it was also fantastic once the games kicked off and the entertainment flowed in true NFL fashion. There were plenty of points with 38-31, 31-23 (twice), 35-29, 49-38, 33-25, 31-21 and 30-23 popping up on scoreboards across America.
Where are the defenses? Does anyone care? I guess that is a matter of personal preference, but I have to say that the games have been thoroughly entertaining in the first month of this 2020 campaign.
Let's focus on that 49-38 scoreline as the Cleveland Browns moved to 3-1 for the first time since 2001 with a stunning win in Dallas against a Cowboys team that seemingly couldn't tackle a crossword.
For so long, the Browns have lacked a true identity. Like a rudderless ship, they have bobbed from sea to shining sea looking lost and devoid of a focused plan of how they want to move forward and get back on course.
Ever since returning to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have not really shown us who they want to be, most probably because the leadership has changed so often over the years and at an alarming rate.
That identity is beginning to take shape now under first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski. It is clear the Browns want to run the football and be aggressive behind a much-improved offensive line. They did that to great effect on Sunday even after they lost Nick Chubb to a worrying knee injury. Cleveland rushed for 307 yards as they bullied the Cowboys before withstanding a late and furious rally.
But these Browns do much more than just line up and pound the rock. As was the case with his Minnesota Vikings last season, Stefanski's Browns can do so much off the mere threat of a dominant ground game.
Cleveland were creative and explosive on Sunday night as they scored more than 34 points for the third straight game. There was Jarvis Landry's touchdown pass to his bestie, Odell Beckham Jr. and OBJ's 50-yard end-around that sealed the contest in the most emphatic of all fashions.
And then there was quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has posted a passer rating of 100 points or more in three straight games. He is looking increasingly comfortable and confident in Stefanski's system and he is a different quarterback when faking the run and getting out of the pocket to throw on the move. Baker as a straight drop-back passer is a different story all together.
But Mayfield is looking good in this attack, although he rarely had to be more than efficient on Sunday given the strength of the ground game. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 165 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Mayfield has now gone two consecutive games without throwing an interception after tossing at least one in eight straight prior to tidying things up.
Cleveland's defense had some positives in Dallas but also gave up 566 total yards, so there is some work to be done there. But the most important thing in Cleveland's recovery from a Week 1 loss is not the fact that they have now won three in a row to announce their AFC playoff intentions, it is the fact that a clear plan appears to be in place and one that most definitely suits the talent on this roster.
It's been a long time since that could be said about the Brownies.
Dak Prescott… I'm starting to feel very sorry for Dak as it seems he needs to throw for 450 yards per game just to give the Cowboys any hope of winning. On Sunday, Prescott made NFL history when he became the first quarterback in league history to top 450 passing yards in three straight games. He threw for 502 yards and four scores, but it was not enough to help Dallas to victory. Of course, some of that yardage has come during frantic comeback attempts against Atlanta and Cleveland when he may have faced softer defenses, but have we not seen enough to know that Dak is the real deal and should be offered a long-term contract in Dallas? I think that might have been an expensive mistake not to pay Prescott in the summer. By the end of this season, he could have thrown for 6,760 yards (the single-season record is 5,477 set by Peyton Manning in Denver in 2013). You don't think Dak and his agent will hold those numbers against the Cowboys at the negotiating table?
The Comeback… No lead is safe in this 2020 season. Tom Brady's Bucs came from 17 down to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in a 38-31 shootout. There were many incredible numbers from that game, but this is the most jarring, to me. That game means there has now been a comeback win from at least 16 points down in every week in 2020. New Orleans fell 14-0 behind in Detroit before scoring 35 straight. That was a weird one as the Lions scored the first 14 points and the last 15, but that 35-point run for New Orleans in the middle was too much to overcome. That was the sixth 14-point comeback this season – the most in NFL history through four weeks. I'm not sure if comebacks point to mental strength or mental weakness across the league, probably a bit of both and definitely dependent on each individual situation. But I do know it is incredibly entertaining.
Joe Mixon… Cincinnati's first win of 2020 will feature a lot of headlines about Joe Burrow as he became the first rookie to throw for 300 yards in three straight games since 1950. But the other Joe, Mixon, was the driving force behind the Bengals' 33-25 defeat of Jacksonville. Mixon reminded us that he is one of the very best running backs in the NFL as he rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns, while adding six catches and another score. Mixon would garner much more attention if he played for a better team and in a bigger market. But with Mixon in the backfield and Burrow under center, I get the feeling the Bengals will appear on our radar much more in the coming years.
Dallas' defense… We have watched the Cowboys on Sky Sports NFL during the past two Sundays and it has become evident during that time that Dallas defensive backs have a really bad habit of staring into the backfield and losing track of the receivers they are supposed to be covering. That has led to multiple big passing plays downfield. But we should not pin Dallas' historic failings on the defensive side of the ball all on the guys in the secondary. It should be noted that Dallas shipped a team record 307 rushing yards to the Browns. There was one relatively routine Nick Chubb run where the first defender to come within a yard of him was 11 or 12 yards downfield. Shocking and woeful in equal measure. The Cowboys have given up at least 38 points in three straight games for the first time since 1960 – the first season in franchise history. This terrible defense is undoing the good work of one of the league's most explosive attacks.
The Giants' offense… It was always going to be a tough ask for the New York Giants to put a lot of points on the board with running back Saquon Barkley lost for the year to injury. But did we expect the Big Blue to be this bad? They have gone two games and more than 130 offensive plays since their last touchdown, being held to nine points in back to back losses to San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams. Daniel Jones makes his own share of mistakes at quarterback, but it is also impossible to ask any young passer to thrive in such a scenario.
The Arizona Cardinals… The Cardinals were lauded among the champions of the 2020 offseason but, as history has proven time and again, things can change when you actually get out there and play the game. The Cardinals got off to a fast 2-0 start but have since dropped games against Detroit and Carolina. With all due respect to the Lions and Panthers, those are the contests that simply have to be won if we are to believe in the Cards. They also need to wake up an offense that is suddenly struggling to move or protect the football. There is no room for much toe-stubbing in the competitive NFC West.
The Fast Five…
With the exception of his second pick six of the season and his fourth in his last six games, Tom Brady is growing more comfortable in Tampa. He threw for 369 yards and five touchdowns in leading Sunday's come-from-behind win over the LA Chargers and his efficiency has gone up week by week in 2020, as have the yardage totals for a Tampa team that is now 3-1.
No rookie deserves to enjoy the sweet taste of victory more than Justin Herbert, who was outstanding for much of the Chargers' game in Florida. The strong-armed and athletic quarterback threw for 290 yards and three scores but has now lost close ones to Kansas City, Carolina and Tampa Bay in consecutive weeks. He is a future star and the Chargers have a good one.
The Indianapolis Colts are a quiet 3-1 after Sunday's 19-11 win over the Chicago Bears and Frank Reich's men are the outliers of the NFL. While most are winning through explosive offense, the Colts are leaning heavily on one of the league's best defenses. Philip Rivers has his moments but, offensively, the Colts are relying too much on the boot of bespectacled kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
Have the Bears made the right move going away from Mitchell Trubisky in favour of Nick Foles? Hard to say after one game, of course. But Foles was a non-factor on Sunday and quite a few of his 249 passing yards came on a final touchdown drive late in the game. Foles has a career passer rating of 88.1 as a starter and a mark of 105.6 when coming off the bench. Just saying.
Josh Allen continues to make magic for the undefeated Buffalo Bills and he was front and centre during Sunday's 30-23 win over the Las Vegas Raiders. The numbers were decent (24 of 34 for 288 yards and two touchdowns) but they don't tell the whole story. Allen made some sensational throws and remains the talisman for the dangerous and explosive Bills.
Fact of the Week
Teams have reached the 30-point mark 51 times in games this season – the highest mark since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The average of 51.7 points per game is also the highest since 1970.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
- From Rhodri Jones (@Rhodrijones32) The head coach sitting on the hottest seat is… Adam Gase but he might stick around for a while because the New York Jets don't like to make in-season firings. But the Jets are devoid of talent and do not seem well led to me at all. Gase is running out of time and could be gone by mid-season. And let's see what happens to Dan Quinn's Atlanta Falcons in the next few weeks because his backside is warming.
- From Dan Howard (@danhowarduk) I found myself watching in disbelief when…_ Brandon Aiyuk hurdled a Philadelphia defender to score an incredible touchdown for his San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football. The athleticism of these guys still wows me after all these years covering the game. He even took off and landed on the same foot in order to stay in bounds easier as he tight-roped down the sideline. Sensational stuff.
- _From Thomas Watts (@ThomasW2385) The player who has impressed me the most this season is… _Josh Allen, quarterback of the Buffalo Bills. Others such as Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers have played extremely well, of course, but didn't we expect that seriously-high level of play from them? We certainly did with Wilson and Mahomes. I thought Allen would take strides in the right direction in 2020 but not the massive leap he has made to lead the Bills to 4-0. He has always had a cannon for an arm and playground-type ability to make things happen on the fly. But I have been stunned by his accuracy which has been on display time and again this season. That has taken his game to the next level.
- From Dan Partridge (@danutd7) The Buccaneers will be… more dangerous as this season progresses. As I mentioned before, Brady is getting into rhythm with his receivers and the offense is growing in potency, but it's more than that with this 3-1 team. They are making the kind of plays on defense that were simply not there a year ago. This is most definitely a playoff club.
- From Greg Marshall (@gmarshall02) The Bears struggling offense will improve when… team officials discover a long-buried time machine in the bowels of Soldier Field and go back a few years to state the words… "With the second pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears select Patrick Mahomes… quarterback… Texas Tech."
It was another tough day at the office for the Washington Football Team as they lost 31-17 at home to Baltimore. It was an even tougher afternoon for head coach Ron Rivera, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment as he continues his cancer battle. The head coach admitted "it's a struggle" to stay on the field to coach games and was seen leaning on a staff member as he headed to the locker room at the half on Sunday. Not for the first time this season, Rivera was given IV fluids on gameday. Sadly, I have seen up close and personal the effects of chemo on the human body. To see Rivera still coaching is nothing short of incredible. I am not sure how he is managing to do it. But as heroic and inspirational as Rivera is proving to be, I hope this for him and his family. If and when the time comes and he needs to step away and focus 100 percent on his recovery, I hope he does just that without giving a moment's thought to the team he leaves behind. That's not his style, of course, but I do hope he can put himself first… just for a few months. The NFL and his Washington rebuild will still be there when he comes back fully fit and cancer-free.