NFL Column Week 2: The further down the block you went, the worse it got


Bill Kostroun | Associated Press

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (97) is driven off the field after being injured during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. After losing four players to knee injuries last week against the New York Jets, the Niners complained about a “sticky” new turf at MetLife Stadium and expressed some concern about returning to the same field a week later.

By James Krause

Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts walk onto the field of Texas Stadium with a mob of angry Dallas wrestling fans waiting for them.

It’s May 6, 1984, and the group known as the Fabulous Freebirds from Atlanta, Georgia, have come to Dallas to face Texas’ favorite sons — the Von Erichs — for the Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling.

The Freebirds got their butts whooped by the Von Erichs, one of the most troubled wrestling families in the industry’s history. The Dallas area mourned the loss of David Von Erich just months prior when he died in Japan of a painkiller overdose.

In front of 50,000, Mike Von Erich hit Roberts with a top rope cross body for the pin. The Dallas fans forgot traded tragedy for triumph and the Freebirds from Atlanta went home with their tailfeathers between their legs.

AT&T Stadium and the Dallas Cowboys welcomed only 21,708 fans to their game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, in a game that put the saga of the Von Erichs and Freebirds to shame.

Fumbles by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led to easy Falcons touchdown passes by Matt Ryan to start the game. A botched fake punt called by new head coach Mike McCarthy gives Atlanta an easy field goal. Another fumble by Dallas gives kicker Younghoe Koo another easy Falcons field goal. It’s 20-0 after the first quarter.

At halftime, the Cowboys still trailed 29-10. Their second half drives all ended as such: 

Touchdown run by Prescott. Another touchdown run by Prescott. Another failed fake punt. Touchdown pass by Prescott. Finally, a third rushing score for Prescott to make it 39-37 with 1:49 remaining.

Prescott simply giving the Cowboys a chance in the second half was enough of a story to make him be the bailout guy for Dallas after some terrible calls from Mike McCarthy and terrible on-field mental lapses for the players on both sides of the ball.

Then, Dallas kicker Greg Zuerlein lined up for the onside kick.

Dallas Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein is congratulated as he walks off the field kicking the game-winning field goal against the Atlanta Falcons during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Yffy Yossifor/Star-Telegram via AP) (Yffy Yossifor | Associated Press)

In 2018, the NFL implemented new onside kick rules that eliminated the kicking team from having a run up to try and recover the kick. The success rate of the onside kick went from 21% to 6%.

Teams tried a variety of new tactics with few, if any, ever sticking. On Oct. 4, 2018, Indianapolis Colts punter Rigoberto Sanchez laid the ball on it’s side and kicked one end to try and turn the ball into a helicopter. The ball spun about seven yards into the hands of a waiting New England Patriot.

Zuerlein tried the same kick, and it became an all-time bizarre play instantly. The ball rolled and spun on its side, taking its time to travel past four Falcons and 10 yards of turf. The Falcons all just watched it go by as Dallas recovered it.

“You don’t have to wait for it to go 10 yards,” Fox color commentator Daryl Johnson said. “You can attack it right there. Someone could have grabbed it.”

Johnson knew. Dan Quinn’s Falcons might have too, but they were punch drunk from the Cowboys comeback and may have just wanted to witness this small feat of special teams magic.

Six plays later, Zuerlein sent a 46-yard field goal flying through the uprights as time expired for the 40-39 win. Dallas exploded in celebration of the triumphant comeback of their favorite sons, while the Falcons from Atlanta went home with their tailfeathers between their legs.


Russell Wilson cooking could make Seahawks a Super Bowl contender

Being underrated isn’t something new for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. What’s new is people looking up and noticing it.

Wilson has won a Super Bowl and went to seven Pro Bowls, but has never received an MVP vote in his entire career. He’s always seemed to play second or third fittle to flashier, more dominante quarterbacks. It explains why when he was drafted he went after Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, two quarterbacks now out of the league. 

Wilson has been built to last, and now he’s putting the league on notice and his Seahawks in the early Super Bowl conversation.

After an early pick-six against the Patriots on Sunday night, Wilson followed with five touchdown passes and 288 passing yards to lead the Seahawks to a 35-30 win. 

Wilson showed a variety of talents in his performance, including scrambling darts to Tyler Lockett and launching missiles into the hands of DK Metcalf. 

The Seahawks defense also impressed, keeping the Patriots rushing attack in check and stuffing them at the goal line as time expired to preserve the win.


Injuries ravage 49ers, but how set back are they really?

The scoreboard doesn’t tell the whole story of the San Francisco 49ers’ win over the New York Jets. In a 31-13 win, the 49ers lost more than any team did in terms of players to injuries.

Defensive linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both suffered torn left ACL injuries that could sideline both for the year, while running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman suffered knee injuries that could sideline them for weeks.

San Francisco 49ers’ Solomon Thomas (94) is carted off the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (Corey Sipkin | Associated Press)

Tight end George Kittle and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo also both suffered injuries against the Jets, making both questionable for the 49ers next contest against the New York Giants. The 49ers starting quarterback might be Nick Mullens, who went 8-for-11 passing in relief of Garoppolo.

Sure the 49ers backups were able to fend off the Jets, but how would they do against an actual NFL team with actual head coaches. They might fare well as they still have Jerick McKinnon at running back and other key defenders like middle linebacker Fred Warner and former NIU safety Jimmie Ward.

Scheduling is also on the 49ers’ side, as they host the winless Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins after Week 3.


Other star injuries could drown teams chances to stay competitive

Other teams suffered big injuries to star players, but may not be in a position to remain afloat. 

The Giants, the 49ers next opponent, lost running back Saquon Barkley for the year with a Torn ACL. Dion Lewis will replace him in the backfield and put more pressure on Daniel Jones in his sophomore season.

The Carolina Panthers have fallen to 0-2 and now will be without running back Christian McCaffrey for at least a month after a high ankle sprain. Without their main offensive weapon, it’ll be tough for the Panthers to play catch up as they’ve had to the past two weeks. In two weeks, only five other teams have given up more points than Carolina’s 65.

Quarterback Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos went down with a shoulder injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday and now might be out for two to six weeks. The Broncos still were able to challenge one of the best defenses in the league behind backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, who threw two touchdowns.

The Giants and Panthers might be well behind the eight-ball, but both of the Broncos losses this year have come in one-score games with stout defensive performances. In a stacked AFC West, they still have a chance to make noise without their young quarterback Lock.


Near upset of Chiefs could create quarterback clash for Charges

In the afternoon game of the week, the Los Angeles Chargers shocked everyone when their sixth overall draft pick quarterback Justin Herbert led the team onto the field. The rookie took over for Tyrod Taylor after Taylor experienced chest pains in pregame warmups and had to visit a hospital. On Wednesday, Adam Shefter of ESPN reported that a team doctor punctured Taylor’s lung with a needle while trying to treat a rib injury with pain killers.

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) passes against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. (Keith Birmingham | Associated Press)

In Taylor’s absence, the Chargers defense was able to hold the red hot Chiefs offense to just six points in the first half. Herbert’s debut wasn’t half bad either, being able to throw for 311 yards and a touchdown.

The Chiefs were able to get into gear in the fourth quarter, with kicker Harrison Butker nailing a 30-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force overtime and a 58-yard game winner in the extra period.

After the game, Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Herbert was “a backup for a reason.” 

“There’s a lot that we didn’t get done with Justin on the field,” Lynn told reporters in a post-game press conference. “He’s a rookie. And there’s a lot that he needs to learn about this game.”

Lynn indicated that Taylor would be the starting quarterback if he remained healthy, but Taylor will miss at least next week’s game against the Panthers. When with the Bills, Taylor was a quarterback who wasn’t a world beater but avoided huge mistakes. 

He’s already been swapped out for a rookie quarterback before, being benched for Baker Mayfield while in Cleveland in 2018. Could history repeat itself in Los Angeles if Herbert shows out?


Who’s the best team in the AFC South? It might be too close to call
The Tennessee Titans entered 2020 as sure locks to be AFC South champions, but it doesn’t look nearly as easy after a tough contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Quarterback Garner Minshew and rookie running back James Robinson both had expectation shattering performances in weeks one and two. The team that seemed destined for the basement upset the Indianapolis Colts last week and had a chance to tie late against the Titans before a tipped ball interception.

The Titans won Sunday over the Jaguars 37-30 to take sole possession of first in the division. Quarterback Ryan Tannahill racked up four touchdown passes, including two to tight end Jonnu Smith.

The Colts rebounded from their week one loss with a 28-11 dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings. Rookie running back Johnathan Taylor rushed for 101 yards and the defense picked off Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins three times.

The Houston Texans may stand at 0-2, but it comes with the territory of having one of the toughest opening schedules in the league. After playing the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in weeks one and two, the Texans now head to the Steel City to play the Steelers. 

The offense for the Texans has struggled to find a rhythm in the first two weeks, but wide receiver Bradin Cooks appeared to have become Deshaun Watson’s number one target. Cooks led the team in receiving yards with 95 against the Ravens.