The Wrap - Week 9

I am a Miami Dolphins fan.

That may seem like old news to some, but you would be surprised how many people ask me that question when I bump into them in the street or at London games or other NFL UK events.

That's not the fault of the fans who ask that question. That's on me because I have hardly been the most passionate supporter of the Dolphins. I don't exactly wear my Dolphins fandom on my sleeve and that is probably a good thing given my job!

You could definitely paint me as a fickle fan because I have jumped off the Miami bandwagon more times than I would care to remember. It was not always that way – as a teenager, my bedroom walls were adorned with Dan Marino posters and I kept pad after A4 pad filled with team statistics and notes.

But the procession of sub-par quarterbacks since Marino retired in 1999 left me beaten down… Cleo Lemon, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, John Beck, Chad Henne and Ray Lucas did nothing to excite me in the way a Marino pass to one of the Marks Brothers did in the 1980s.

Don't get me wrong. I love the NFL now more than ever and simply cannot wait for each Sunday evening to roll around. It just got to the point where I was not that fussed if Miami won or lost. And given the choice of watching a Dolphins game or a huge clash like Baltimore and Pittsburgh in Week 8, I would have taken the latter.

The Miami moments that have excited me the most in recent times have involved Ryan Fitzpatrick and that's only because of personal interactions I have enjoyed with him away from the football field.

I fully admit all of that doesn't make me a great Dolphins fan so I don't deserve a seat on any future bandwagons. But a funny feeling came over me during Sunday's thrilling 34-31 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

I started to care.

I've been determined to stay grumpy about the benching of Fitz for at least a couple of weeks but how can I not be excited about Tua Tagovailoa? The numbers are not going to blow anyone away (248 passing yards and two touchdowns, and seven runs for 35 yards) but the eyeball test told a very compelling story.

It was only one game, but I think Tua has the kind of ability that can change a franchise. I truly believe he is going to be 'the one' to finally live up to the term 'franchise quarterback' in Miami. They have not had one of those since Marino hung up his boots.

In the same way that Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are energising their teams in Cincinnati and Los Angeles respectively, Tua can do the same in Miami. His arm strength and ball placement was impressive last night but it was his athleticism and ability to throw on the move or make plays on the move that really stood to me.

It just looked special and at a level different to anything seen in Miami in quite some time. Of course, it is only one game and there will be ups and downs – he had a couple of head-scratching plays in last night's win – but there is hope for a brighter and more exciting future in South Florida.

And with the Dolphins now at 5-3 and winners of four straight, there is also playoff hope in Miami. Whether they make the playoffs or not remains to be seen, but if the Dolphins can come out of this season with more Tua showings like that under their belts they will, of course, feel great heading into 2021.

Fire up the bandwagon… I'm driving!

Who's Hot…

Kyler Murray… It was not all about Tua in the Arizona desert on Sunday night. The quarterback on the losing side was even more special. Kyler Murray was very close to unstoppable against the Dolphins and the only time he was really slowed was by a couple of questionable coaching play calls in the second half that failed to take advantage of his legs in short yardage situations. Murray caught the eye by rushing for 106 yards and a touchdown, but he is so much more than a dazzling runner. His passing skills are growing by the week as he threw for 283 yards and three scores. The Cardinals are in the midst of a playoff race in 2020 but they're playing with house money. This year is all about growth and development because they can be a real contender in 2021, 2022 and beyond with Murray at the helm.

Josh Allen… So much talk heading into Sunday's showdown between Buffalo and Seattle was about the quarterbacks and a good portion of the conversation was about MVP candidate Russell Wilson. Josh Allen broke out of a four-week slump in emphatic fashion to throw for 415 yards and three touchdowns in Buffalo's stunning 44-27 victory. I just love watching Allen play right now – he is fearless and his arm strength means he can make every throw in the book even when off balance. The Bills are off to their first 7-2 start since the 1993 season when they were led by the great Jim Kelly. They have another good one under center in Allen.

Dalvin Cook… No NFL player is hotter than Cook right now. In the past two weeks, Minnesota's offensive star has gained 478 yards from scrimmage and scored six touchdowns. Not surprisingly, the Vikings have won both of those games against Green Bay and Detroit to stop the bleeding on their season. Cook rushed for 206 yards and two scores on Sunday and is now on pace to rush for more than 1,800 yards and 25 touchdowns. That's the kind of performance level that can shove a running back into the league MVP conversation – a rarity indeed. Cook has literally become everything to Minnesota's offense.

Who's Not…

The Chicago Bears… Matt Nagy's men have now lost three in a row after their 5-1 start to 2020 and they look like a team who will find it hard to stop that slide. The Bears only lost by seven on the road to a good Tennessee team but that was only due to a late rally that saw Nick Foles throw touchdown passes to Ryan Nall and Jimmy Graham. For large parts of this contest, Chicago's offense was pitiful for yet another week. Foles is not helped by the lack of a running game. David Montgomery was Chicago's leading rusher and he gained just 30 yards on 14 attempts.

Kansas City's running game… Andy Reid won't worry about this too much as his team out-lasted the Carolina Panthers to record a 33-31 win that saw the Chiefs improve to 8-1 on the year. And it's not necessary to mount a serious rushing attack when Patrick Mahomes is throwing for 372 yards and four touchdowns. But surely the Chiefs would like to see a better return than 12 team carries for a total of 30 yards? It's not a major issue right now and this remains one of the best teams in football, but it's something to keep an eye on as the weather continues to worsen across the NFL as we move into winter.

Matt Patricia… The Detroit Lions have their occasional highs, but they are few and far between and I think head coach Matt Patricia could pay with his job come the end of this season. Ownership put Patricia on notice this season when they insisted meaningful games had to be played in December. But with Sunday's loss to the Vikings, Detroit fell to 3-5 and are in danger of sliding out of the playoff race. Since taking charge in Detroit, Patricia has compiled a record of 12-27-1. That's not going to keep a coach in employment for long in the win-now National Football League.

The Fast Five…

  1. What a statement the New Orleans Saints delivered in their 38-3 hammering of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, marking the first time Tom Brady had been swept by a division rival in his career. It was a complete and smothering performance – Drew Brees hit 11 different receivers in the first 20 minutes of the game and threw touchdown passes to lesser lights such as Tre'Quan Smith, Adam Trautman and Josh Hill, while the defense pressured Brady from start to finish. With all their weapons back, the Saints can make a Super Bowl run.
  2. They may have ended up losing by two points at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, but I loved the way the Carolina Panthers played hard for each other and head coach Matt Rhule. Players were diving to make tough catches and Teddy Bridgewater was even throwing himself head-first into defenders to pick up a first down on one spectacular run. Carolina are 3-6 after their Week 9 loss, but I do feel like they are in good hands with their first-year coach.
  3. I really don't know what to say to Los Angeles Chargers fans to make them feel better. Sunday was another loss suffered on the last play of the game, only this time it was the Chargers who had the ball in their hands – momentarily – against the Las Vegas Raiders. Donald Parham's touchdown was overturned and the Chargers lost 31-26. They have now seen all six of their losses this season decided by one score. That has to come down to coaching at some point and heaps pressure on Anthony Lynn.
  4. It was great to see Alex Smith throw his first touchdown pass in two years during Washington's 23-20 loss to the New York Giants. But it has to be said that Alex – who has come back from 17 operations on a broken leg that genuinely almost cost him his life – also played a hand in the loss with two ill-advised interceptions in the second half when down by three. Washington played much better with Smith at the helm, now he needs to put the excitement of being back in the NFL behind him and play like he did before the injury – as a very capable quarterback who takes care of the football.
  5. How about this for NFL consistency? The Baltimore Ravens scored 20 points or more for the 31st game in a row – the longest such streak in NFL history. Baltimore did what I expected them to do on Sunday in defeating the Colts 24-10. But what can they do when they take on the true big boys of the league? That is going to determine if they can win it all in February.

Fact of the Week

Sunday night's 38-3 loss to the New Orleans Saints was the heaviest of Tom Brady's career (35-point margin). It also marked the first time Brady has thrown three interceptions in a game since a Week 3 clash with Buffalo in 2011. Two of the five worst losses of Brady's career have come against Drew Brees (he also lost 41-17 to the Chargers in Week 4 of 2005.

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 Craigo (@TheCraigo28) The Miami Dolphins will be an NFL superpower by… Week 12! No, seriously, it's going to take some time to put the pieces around Tua but I think something special can be built by head coach Brian Flores. And having the franchise quarterback is the most vital piece of the puzzle. As I watched Tua and Murray march up and down the field last night, I even allowed myself a moment to think, 'This might be a really cool Super Bowl in the future.'

From KB (@KB2688) The best NFL team to watch is… the Seattle Seahawks because I like offense. I would say teams like Seattle and Kansas City are so entertaining because they can score from anywhere on the field and using a multitude of weapons. But they also give up their fair share of points on the other side of the ball which means they are in entertaining games every weekend. That same thing can, of course, be said about Murray's Cardinals.

From Luke King (@coolhandluke25)…_ The best team in the NFC is… a complicated discussion. I still think it is the Seattle Seahawks and I see them as the team that can best stand up to one of the leading lights in the AFC. But I would have to now put New Orleans into the mix as they are on a nice winning streak and getting stronger and fitter by the day. Green Bay are there or thereabouts but I would give more of an edge to Seattle and the Saints. It's going to be tough to line up these Power Rankings this week.

From Phil McNamara (@PhilMcNamara) The best rookie in the NFL is…_ Justin Herbert, quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers. I would give serious consideration to Washington pass rusher Chase Young, but this is a quarterback-driven league and the performances of Herbert have transformed the Chargers, even if it doesn't quite show in the win column. He is strong-armed, talented and exciting to watch but as this column has already hinted today, there are many exciting youngsters now in the NFL. It's a young man's game.

Final Thought

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history following an expected victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. But boy oh boy was it much closer than any Pittsburgh fan would ever have imagined? Dallas – led by their fourth starting quarterback of the season in Garrett Gilbert – gave the Steelers all they could handle. Pittsburgh didn't play well but won the game on Ben Roethlisberger's late fourth quarter touchdown pass to Eric Ebron. And victory means Pittsburgh now cannot have a losing season for the 17th year in a row – every season Big Ben has been in the league. Fans of some teams would kill for such consistency as the Steelers remind us that good teams can stay good for a long time if things are done the right way. Head coach Mike Tomlin has also joined Marty Schottenheimer as the only head coaches in NFL history to start their careers with 14 non-losing seasons. Impressive stuff all around from the Steelers.