NFL Week 6 recap: Overcome, with emotion

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Lynne Sladky | Associated Press

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass the ball during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Hopes are high Tagovailoa will be the best of the 22 quarterbacks to start for Miami since Dan Marino retired following the 1999 season.

James Krause, Columnist

As the NIU football opening game against the Buffalo Bulls draws near, I can’t help but remember the last time NIU played the Bulls.

It was Nov. 30, 2018, at Ford Field in Detroit when NIU knocked off Buffalo after a 19-point comeback. Sure, I remember the game, the DJ Brown go-ahead touchdown and all, but the time I spent in the media room stuck out to me.

When I got seated, I opened up Twitter and was blown away by the first image I saw. NIU quarterback Marcus Childers had a wild 2018 season of ups and downs with people openly wondering if NIU was good enough to win a conference championship with him at quarterback. Like any great quarterback and leader, Childers never let the season get him too high or too low.

Childers, who after weeks of struggling threw for a career high 300 yards and four touchdowns, was photographed collapsing to his knees and crying from the overwhelming emotions the game weighed on him.

Minutes later, Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson walked into the media room with linebacker Khalil Hodge and his coach, Lance Leipold. After suffering their worst loss of the season, Jackson and Hodge radiated sadness and frustration. 

Jackson sniffled throughout the news conference and occasionally threw his arm over the shoulder of Hodge, who had his head buried in a towel and his eyes down at the table. It was the definition of the old adage from ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

This week for the Miami Dolphins, the rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played in a game for the first time since he suffered a dislocated hip and fractured posterior wall while at Alabama. His teammate, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, amped up the crowd as Tua came out for the Dolphins final drive of a 24-0 routing of the New York Jets.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) talk on the field before an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores says he regrets that his players found out about the team’s switch to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa through social media rather than from him. And Flores says the decision to bench popular veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was difficult. (Scot Tucker | Associated Press)

The final play of the game saw the Dolphins finally run out the clock at their own 15-yard line. After the fans emptied the stands, Tagovailoa returned to the field and sat at that 15-yard line in full gear. Cameron Wolfe of ESPN captured the moment and posted images on Twitter. Tua said he was on FaceTime with his parents in Hawaii, just appreciating the moment.

That’s the thrill of victory. On Tuesday, Tagovailoa was announced as the Dolphins new starting quarterback and Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered the agony of defeat.

The 37-year old Harvard grad is used to being shuffled in and out of the starting role, in fact it’s probably his most notable attribute. He’s had some variation of somehow finding himself the starter, performing well, getting a big contract, performing poorly and getting benched with several teams.

Normally, Ryan finds his way into the starting role, does his Fitzmagic, and eventually declines. There wasn’t that this time, in fact almost the opposite. He was benched after two games with the Dolphins in 2019, returned and won five of the last nine games for Miami.

This season, Fitzpatrick is seventh in the NFL in QBR and has the Dolphins at 3-3. But it’s Tua’s time, and Fitzpatrick seemed to know it.

“We’ve talked in the past about how I’m the placeholder and this was always going to happen,” Fitzpatrick said in a press conference Tuesday. “It was just a matter of kind of when and not if. It broke my heart yesterday.”

I watched Fitzpatrick’s thousand yard stare into a Zoom meeting Tuesday and felt like I was back at Ford Field in 2018. The mix of emotion, high and low is something that makes sports so rewarding for fans and sometimes difficult for reporters.

There’s no hero or villain here. There’s no blame to be placed. It’s the nature of sport and the nature of life, just amplified for everyone to see on Twitter and on their television. 

For fans, sports are a way to become overwhelmed with emotion for their favorite teams and players. For players like Childers, Jackson, Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick, their stories are of overcoming, with emotion.

 

Tampa Bay shows glimpse of their peak against undefeated Packers

The struggles the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced at the start of the season are a distant memory after their 38-10 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. 

Head Coach Bruce Arians had his offense in check as per usual, but he unlocked the two big things he needed to make the Buccaneers look like a Super Bowl contender: The defensive line pressured the quarterback into mistakes, and the rest of the team kept their noses clean.

Tampa Bay sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers five times and forced him to throw multiple interceptions in a game for the first time since 2017. The first of his two interceptions was returned by cornerback Jamel Dean for the Bucs touchdown that kicked off a 28-0 second quarter. When they weren’t getting to Rodgers, they were forcing him out of rhythm and into bad throws.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Devin White (45) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (Jason Behnken | Associated Press)

Additionally, the Bucs went all 60 minutes penalty-free. Entering the game as one of the league-leaders in penalties, a clean game didn’t leave the door open for the Packers to capitalize.

The Packers go from undefeated to half-a-game behind the new NFC North division leader, the Chicago Bears. The loss to the Bucs opens up old wounds from the NFC championship game last year and once again exposes the Packers biggest issue; protecting Aaron Rodgers. At his age, Rodgers can still be dominant when he has a clean pocket to work with. Without it, he’s a sitting duck.

 

Derrick Henry runs rough shot over the Texans, puts Titans at 5-0

It’s funny how the Houston Texans helmets dawn a bull on the sides, because trying to tackle Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry must feel like being a bullfighter.

The Titans sent their bull out to run over people 22 times on Sunday, with Henry rushing for 212 yards and two touchdowns. With the game still in the balance late, it was Henry who got a 94-yard touchdown in the fourth and the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

It wasn’t just the ground game of Tennessee that did damage, as quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Tannehill found wide receiver A.J. Brown with four seconds remaining to force overtime.

The combination of Tannehill and Henry is not just one of the best in the league right now, but it could have the potential to be one of the best ever. Tannehill and Henry are the only quarterback-running back combination to ever have 30 touchdown passes and 2,000 rushing yards respectively through 16 games together.

A trip to the AFC title game last year opened the eyes of fans last year, but a spot in the elite class of duos ever requires rings. This year, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that football magic returns to the Music City.

 

Steelers pass first test of defense with flying colors

With the help of a rib injury that led to struggles for Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, the Pittsburgh Steelers clobbered their divisional rival 38-7 to move to 5-0.

Pittsburg finally showed the dominance that’s been promised of them all season, with this game being the first decided by more than 10 points. While the absence of a passing game is what downed the Browns, it was Pittsburgh’s ability to hold down the running game of Cleveland that had carved up teams for the past month. Browns running back Kareem Hunt was held to just 40 yards.

The Browns still sit at a 4-2 record, but a fiery attitude displayed throughout the week by a benched Mayfield and his favorite wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could set up another great run for the Browns or a total collapse like we saw last year. The margin for error by the Browns if they want to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) spins wide receiver James Washington (13) on his shoulders after Washington caught a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar | Associated Press)

Running back James Conner seems to be the go-to offensive playmaker after rushing for 101 yards against Cleveland. The Steelers next test comes in their highly-anticipated matchup with the Titans next week. The winner goes to 6-0 and takes on the best record in the league.

 

49ers rebound against the Rams and make NFC West wide open again

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garopollo’s goose looked cooked after a dreadful performance last week against the Dolphins. This week, he and the offense looked like a whole new unit.

With 268 yards and three touchdowns, the 49ers picked up a 24-16 win over their division rivals in the Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers defense is still without the likes of defensive end Dee Ford and cornerback Richard Sherman, but they were able to keep the Rams off the field with a total of 22 minutes of possession allowed.

The Rams went three-and-out on four drives, two in each half. On drives they were able to gain traction in, they were forced to settle for field goals until late in the fourth quarter when Jared Goff found Josh Reynolds on a 40-yard pass. 

Their performance wasn’t great, but the Rams could still prove to be the cream of the crop in the NFC West. The question marks that lie with the Seattle Seahawks defense aren’t there for the Rams, who bring talent at every level of the defense. On top of that the Rams offense has had a rebound year after they struggled to run the ball in 2019. 

The 49ers have struggled with injuries and inconsistency, but the win shows they can still be playoff worthy. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals sit at 4-2, tied with the Rams for second behind Seattle.