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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Joe Burrow, the Bills are back, Ditka’s record, and losing John Madden

Arizona Cardinals vs Oakland Raiders - October 22, 2006 Photo by Robert B. Stanton/NFLPhotoLibrary

1 – Joe Cool

Joe Burrow put up 525 yards with four scores against the Ravens, including 125 to rookie Ja’Marr Chase and a whopping 194 to Tee Higgins. Burrow’s 525 was the 4th highest in league history and it marks his third career 400-yard passing game of his young career. The splash game gives Burrow over 4,000 yards on the season and puts both Chase and Higgins over 1,000 yards receiving. Add in Joe Mixon’s 1,000-yard rushing campaign and the Bengals have quite the offensive attack.

With the win over the Ravens, the Bengals move into first place in the wild AFC North. Losses from both Pittsburgh and Cleveland give the Bengals some breathing room with the Chiefs and Browns remaining. Whatever happens for the Bengals the balance of the season, it’s safe to say that they have an interesting core of talent to build around and will be a fun watch for years to come.

2 – Buffaloed

The Bills lost a home game in a crazy winter storm to the Patriots a few weeks ago, putting their hopes of winning the AFC East in serious jeopardy. They bounced back in a big way on Sunday on the strength of Josh Allen’s star performance. Facing one of the better defenses in the league, Allen made big play after big play in key moments, accumulating 314 yards and 3 TDs in the air and 64 yards on the ground. It was the fifth time he’s logged a game of 300 passing yards with 50 rushing yards in his young career.

The Bills now sit in the driver’s seat in the AFC East with games against the Falcons and Jets. They will be heavy favorites in both games and are starting to roll at the right time. They will likely slot in as the 3 seed in the AFC, which could set up a first-round match against the Patriots.

3 – Old Records

I’m not much for “rookie records” but when they involve Iron Mike Ditka from 1961, I take notice. Ditka’s best season came as a rookie with 1,076 yards, a mark that has stood the test of time. Kyle Pitts, who some may argue is just a giant wide receiver, is locked in on that record. Pitts recorded his third 100-yard game this season, giving him 949 on the year. With the 17th game this season, Pitts will have two more games to try and accumulate another 128 yards to break the mark.

With the league more and more turning into a passing league, it may surprise many that the mark still stands. Tight End is a more difficult position for a rookie to contribute at than, say, running back but the gifted Pitts is showing why he was taken so high in this year’s draft. If he does break the mark, at least Ditka can say he held the record for six decades.

Oh, and he set the mark in a 14-game schedule.

4 – Chargers Shorted Out

The Houston Texans have no business winning many games this year with the lack of talent on the roster. They certainly shouldn’t be taking down teams like the Chargers, who were setting up to make a run at the post-season. Respect to David Culley and his staff for far exceeding expectations in Houston with a roster lacking in talent.

The Chargers may not be ready to be a good, consistent football team just yet. They were missing a number of players on the COVID list, but that shouldn’t have been enough to lead to a whipping by the lowly Texans. Brandon Staley has shown a lot of good in his first year as Head Coach, but this was a major setback. With divisional games against the Broncos and Raiders remaining on the schedule, the road just got a whole lot tougher.

5 – Dak Attack

The Dallas Cowboys had their way with the Football Team on Sunday Night on their way to clinching the NFC East. A whopping 42 points in the first half before Dallas pulled Dak Prescott and other starters mid-way thru the third quarter. Through that 2+ quarters of work, Prescott put up 330 yards and 4 scores. Remember when Washington’s defense was going to be good? Yikes.

What’s wild about the 2021 Cowboys is that they are seemingly underrated for the first time since, I’m not sure – Tom Landry started his dominant run in the mid-1960s? Seemingly every year the Cowboys hype reaches a level that exceeds their talent level and Dallas falls short of expectation. After last year’s 6-10 finish, with Prescott hurt most of the year, the hype machine sounded a bit muffled.

The Cowboys lead the league in scoring, yards, and have one of the best defenses in the league with playmakers at every level. With so much focus on the Rams early, the Bucs defending their title, and Rodgers playacting in his own version of reality TV, the Cowboys might be flying under the radar right to the championship game.

6 – Heads Up, Seven Up

You are what your record says you are and right now the Miami Dolphins sit at 8-7 as the 7th seed in the AFC playoffs. But look a little deeper and you’ll see that the Dolphins, after winning their first game of the year, put up a 7-game losing streak followed by a 7-game winning streak. Not your typical middle-of-the-pack script.

The Dolphins have mostly beaten up on bad teams during this stretch, with wins against the Texans, Giants, Panthers, the COVID-depleted Saints, and the Jets twice. But, the Dolphins didn’t make the schedule and now have a chance to play their way into playoff football if they can just get past the ~*checks notes*~ Titans and Patriots.

Oh well, we’ll see you next year, Miami.

7 – Patty Cake, Patty Cake, Baker’s not the Man

I really like Baker Mayfield’s personality. I’m in on those “at home with Baker Mayfield” commercials. They’re just funny enough, he doesn’t go overboard, and he leaves me wanting more. Unfortunately, he also leaves me wanting more on the football field in a negative way. Mayfield’s four interception performance against the Packers in a “gotta have it” game will likely force the Browns to make a move at QB this offseason.

And yes, they missed the DPI on the final interception. Because we all knew they would.

8 – Coaching Search

It’s all but official that the Bears will look for a new coach and possibly a new GM this offseason. There was some level of intrigue that the Bears might inform Nagy that he was relieved of his duties to get a jump start on interviewing candidates. However, if the Bears are going to make a move at GM, who would be conducting those interviews?

It looks like a low turnover year for the league, so the Bears won’t face a crazy level of competition for new leaders. Assuming they hire a new GM, they need to get that position right first, and get out of the way to allow that person to hire the next coach. If they keep Ryan Pace in place, well, I’m convinced that Pace was officially adopted into the McCaskey family.

9 – Quinn-dy City Update

Another week, another sack for our hero. Robert Quinn takes one step closer to owning the franchise sack record as he ties Richard Dent for 2nd most all-time with 17 sacks, just a half sack behind, well, Richard Dent. He also moved closer to the league leader, TJ Watt, who sits at 17.5 on the year. While it would take a giant of a game against Big Blue this weekend to pressure the all-time league record, Quinn has a clear path to the franchise mark and the potential to lead the league.

If he’s able to finish the year as the sack leader, that would put a lot of pressure on All-Pro voters to put him on the ballot. Favorites like Watt and Garrett are going to get a lot of votes, deservedly so, but Quinn is a former All-Pro having a resurgent year. It’s one of the most interesting things to cheer for in Navy and Orange this year.

10 – Rest in Peace

ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson died on Tuesday at the age of 44. I don’t think Bears fans agree on much, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like Dickerson the person or respect the work he produced. His work was always worth seeking out. I would hang on for a radio spot to hear what he had to say. It was always measured and well-sourced. Reading the words from those who knew him well reveal that the world lost a good man who cared deeply for those around him.

John Madden, the iconic Raiders coach, commentator, and video game namesake died at 85, also on Tuesday. Madden made football exciting, accessible, and entertaining as a broadcaster and his video game kept plenty of football-obsessed fans occupied for an embarrassing number of hours. His influence on the game and its fans cannot be understated.

Rest in peace, JD and John.

What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.