Conventional wisdom through a quarter of the season dictated Patrick Mahomes was the only viable MVP candidate. Conventional wisdom in the NFL remains ignorant, because Week 6 served as a reminder of how many different quarterbacks were capable of inserting themselves into the conversation, including a pair of quarterbacks who picked up massive road wins on Sunday.
One of those signal callers, Deshaun Watson, actually went head-to-head with Mahomes. And even though the final numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, Watson put on a clinic Sunday against the Chiefs, helping to get the Texans a road win in Kansas City and inserting himself into the middle of the MVP conversation.
Watson finished the afternoon going 30 of 42 for 280 yards, one touchdown and a pair of interceptions, but he punched in a pair of scores with his feet and could have easily thrown three more touchdown passes if Will Fuller hadn’t decided to take the day off from catching footballs.
With his day, Watson topped 7,500 passing yards for his career, tying Marc Bulger, Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford in how long it took (29 games) to get past that number. Only Kurt Warner (27 games) did it faster.
And if you watched the game, you know it felt like a “signature” victory for Watson to put on his would-be MVP resume. To be the king, you’ve got to beat the king, and Mahomes is the reigning MVP. Watson went into his house with Mahomes coming off a loss, needing a win to try and keep pace with the Patriots for the top AFC seed, and beat him straight up. The way Watson played — he stayed composed despite a hefty deficit early in the game — really gave you a feel that the Texans can be a threat to anyone because of him and J.J. Watt, as long as everyone stays healthy. In my opinion, Watson vaulted past Mahomes on Sunday afternoon in the early race for MVP.
Russell Wilson did too. Wilson became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to start his team’s first six games of the season with a passer rating of at least 100. He joins Carson Palmer (2005, six games), Tom Brady (2007, eight games) and Aaron Rodgers (2011, 12 games) on the list. Brady and Rodgers both won MVP. Wilson was a dog to the Browns, a line that doesn’t make much sense in hindsight.
Wilson’s play in a Seattle win, when Baker Mayfield struggled yet again, was a reminder about the gulf between these type of teams. Are the Seahawks good enough to win a Super Bowl? This isn’t close to the most complete team Pete Carroll’s had since taking over in Seattle. But this is the best Wilson has played in his career.
He is lethally efficient. I think the only other quarterback in NFL history with an efficiency claim as good as Wilson’s would be Rodgers. Wilson actually threw more than usual (33 attempts, a pretty average outing for most quarterbacks) but still managed three total scores, including one with his legs.
What’s making this run truly remarkable is the lack of weapons he has at his disposal. Doug Baldwin retired this offseason. Tyler Lockett is a legit No. 1 that no one knows about, but other than him there’s not much. Will Dissly was having a breakout year but may have seen his season end with an Achilles injury. The defense isn’t carrying Seattle like it was either. The Seahawks are asking Russ to create magic week in and week out and he’s delivering.
He can even handle playcalling if he needs. Wilson said after the game his headset went out for a stretch in the third quarter so he just called his own plays and marched Seattle down for a score.
Six weeks into the season he’s the top MVP candidate.
New NFC West overlords?
Roughly 72 percent of the broadcast between the Rams and 49ers was just action shots of San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh screaming loudly and fist pumping on the sideline in celebration. That’s because the majority of the game featured the 49ers defense completely dominating the Rams en route to sending a big-time message to the rest of the division and the NFC as a whole that the Niners are, in fact, legit.
The Niners were already well respected by the advanced analytics — the only question was how they would handle a head-to-head matchup against the reigning division champs, on the road, on short rest. There shouldn’t be any questions left: the 49ers manhandled the Rams, beating Los Angeles 20-7 and completely and utterly neutering Jared Goff and the Rams’ previously vaunted offense.
L.A. got out to a nice start, scoring on a first-quarter Robert Woods rush, but after that the Niners offensive line just took over the game and snuffed out any hope of the Rams coming back. The 49ers absolutely owned the Rams in short yardage, with the Rams going 0 for 4 on fourth down. Most of those attempts were surprising up-the-middle rushing attempts; McVay had some very bizarre playcall choices on Sunday afternoon. The Rams did not convert a single third down on Sunday in nine attempts.
Goff was scattered, smothered, chopped and diced by this defensive line. The Rams offensive line had no answers and couldn’t give Goff any time in the pocket. Per Next Gen Stats, Goff had 2.58 seconds to throw on average, the first time all season below 2.6 seconds for the Rams quarterback. He finished with 78 yards on 24 pass attempts. That 3.25 yards per pass attempt number is not something you see very often. It didn’t happen once in 2018 and has only happened 26 since times since 2009. The list of people who have achieved that number with at least 20 passing attempts isn’t great.
There are a million red flags for the Rams right now, but the bigger takeaway was how they just got completely and utterly bullied by the 49ers, who appear to be in the process of snatching the division from them in the same manner that a bully snatches lunch money. It’s similar to how Los Angeles overtook the Seahawks, except they’re doing it defensively. Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are an absolute problem on the defensive line. Richard Sherman and the secondary are playing outstanding football as well. This defense isn’t a joke, and it’s not going away.
It’s fine to have some concern over Jimmy Garoppolo’s play, because he hasn’t been spectacular. But he’s also coming back from an ACL tear. Sometimes it takes a little while. The receiving weapons are good enough to continue developing. Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman look like they’ll be effective behind an underrated offensive line. And Kyle Shanahan is calling plays. If the defense is clicking, the offense has upside.
The 49ers are here to stay.
Not to pat myself on the back too much here, but I basically spent entire episodes of the Pick Six Podcast explaining how the Vikings were going to run a bunch of play action and take shots to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to make the complaining wide receivers happy.
Last week it was Thielen lighting up the Giants secondary and this time around it was Diggs finally getting in on the action. It was extremely relieving to see the Vikings offense take advantage of the Eagles‘ biggest weakness: their secondary. Philly sold out to stop the run and the Vikings utilized play action shots to get guys open.
His third score was a beautiful throw from Cousins — also off play action! — and an even better toe tap in the back of the end zone.
If you’re one of the thousands of fantasy football owners who benched Stefon Diggs … why?
The Vikings aren’t a perfect team. But they have a stout defense and an offense that’s sort of finding itself here. Their only two losses are to the Packers and Bears on the road. Those are top 10 defenses for division rivals in tough places to play. Yes, Cousins and Minnesota looked anemic in those spots, but they’ve been dominant over the last two weeks and have beaten up on every but Green Bay and Chicago.
Anyone who wrote off the Vikings when we started hearing bad buzz about Diggs got a little ahead of their skis. This is a very good football team.