The best thing about young quarterbacks handling the pressure of starting early in their careers is that their best performances can be omens to future greatness. On Sunday, most of the rookies who are now starting showed tantalizing glimpses of the future that left teams and onlookers hungry for more.
The worst thing about those same quarterbacks? They’re still … so young. Baker Mayfield proved that, and all the Browns can do is talk themselves into believing it’s all part of his well-known swagger.
In this case, it led Mayfield to publicly, verbally blame his ex-coach, Hue Jackson, for one of the few things this season for which he was completely and categorically blameless.
WATCH: Mayfield’s best plays from four-TD game
The on-field swagger was great for the Browns: Mayfield had his best game by every conceivable measure, a lights-out first half and four touchdown passes in just over two quarters in a 35-20 win in Cincinnati that ended the Browns’ 25-game road winless streak. Clearly it was the culmination of everything he has absorbed since being rushed into action in Week 3, and of the three games under new coach Gregg Williams and new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.
After the game? The whole handshake freeze-out looked as unnecessary as it did petty.
[email protected] shared a word with his former head coach after the @Browns big win ? pic.twitter.com/sjAI3oLC4r
Mayfield’s explanation? Just as pointless.
Baker Mayfield unloads on Hue Jackson: “Didn’t feel like talking to him. He was here trying to tell us to play for him. Then he goes to a team we play twice a year. That’s how I feel. We have people we believe in calling the plays now.”
It took most of the football world about a tenth of a second to recognize the flaw in his reasoning: Where did this kid get off telling his old coach, or any coach, to remain loyal to the franchise that fired him, and to show deference to them and the quirk of the schedule over his own employment?
Mayfield is a rookie, but he is still a grown man who knows another grown man like Jackson does not need his permission to take another NFL job.
In Mayfield’s favor, it fits the pattern of what motivates him, and how it plays outside of his locker room does not seem to affect that. On the other hand, his own history is relevant, and it was bound to be brought up in this context.
Baker Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma. https://t.co/eZxt1PeI4a
That’s the other best thing about young quarterbacks, though. They get older.
— Jackson, Allen prove their worth —
Sunday was a good day for two other rookie quarterbacks. Not so much for two others: Josh Rosen was on the wrong end of a 45-10 Chargers rout of the Cardinals, and the Jets’ Sam Darnold sat out their game against the Patriots with his injured foot.
— Lamar Jackson’s record as a starter improved to 2-0 with the Ravens’ win over the Raiders at home. The compliments the Ravens’ offensive staff earned last week in his debut seemed wasted for a half this week, but in the second half, instead of pushing Jackson to be a more conventional passer, they turned him loose as a runner and playmaker — and he ran and made plays. Now, the 6-5 Ravens are not only in the wild-card hunt, but with the Steelers’ loss in Denver, they are back in the race for the AFC North title. Watching Joe Flacco’s possible return to practice after his hip injury will now become Baltimore’s favorite pastime.
— The Bills’ Josh Allen also used his legs to complement his arm, and against the Jaguars, he needed it. He rushed for 99 yards, scored the go-ahead touchdown and set up another with a long run. He also uncorked a breathtaking throw to Robert Foster, while getting buried by three Jaguars, for a 75-yard touchdown. His passing stats were exceedingly pedestrian. He made it work. Far more important, though: He ended the tragicomic merry-go-round at quarterback while he missed four games with a sprained elbow. In only his sixth start, he showed that he was a marked upgrade from Nathan Peterman, Derek Anderson and even Miraculous Matt Barkley.
— Bengals’ defense might spell Lewis’ doom … or not —
A face-plant of the magnitude of the one the Bengals took at home against the Browns would seemingly put everybody’s jobs in jeopardy. But everyone has been fooled by that before; Marvin Lewis is in his 16th season, and probably on his eighth or ninth hot seat in that span, as a generous estimate. He’ll be gone when he’s gone.
Right now, though, it’s ugly. After giving up 51 points — again, at home — to the Saints two weeks ago (the third straight time they gave up at least 500 yards), defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired. Lewis took over the duties, then last week added Hue Jackson as a defensive consultant. The results Sunday were … what they were: They gave up 296 yards in the first half and touchdowns on four of five possessions on their way to a 28-7 hole.
The David Njoku touchdown will live in infamy in Cincinnati, as long as the Bengals stay this bad.
Effort level ? @David_Njoku80 with the rugby-style TD: pic.twitter.com/59Rd9uLr5K
Afterward, Lewis said he had “no issue with the team’s effort.” He was ridiculed in many corners. But he might be right. They might just be that bad a group of players, and that poorly prepared and coached. Why Austin, hired only this season, is the only one who has suffered the consequences of this is not at all clear.
— With Chargers, it’s Lynn as in ‘win’ —
Philip Rivers was near-perfect against the Cardinals, the Chargers bounced back big after a narrow loss to the Broncos last week, and they hit the home stretch at 8-3, just a game behind a Chiefs team that seemed unbeatable a month into the season.
All that being said, if Anthony Lynn is not mentioned in the conversation for coach of the year, the conversation should cease immediately.
Under Lynn, now in his second season, the Chargers have gone 17-6 since their 0-4 start in 2017 — much of that start thanks to bad kicking. The same culprit is largely responsible for the Broncos loss, which snapped a six-game winning streak. Their only other two losses were to the Rams and Chiefs. They have only had Joey Bosa back on their defense since, again, last week against Denver; on Sunday he had two sacks.
— 49ers feeling pain of 2017 draft —
It’s far from the most troubling aspect of the 49ers’ release of Reuben Foster after another domestic violence arrest. But the abrupt end to Foster’s tainted career shined an uncomfortable light on the first draft by brain trust John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.
There are plenty of factors feeding the 49ers’ 2-9 record, their 27-9 domination by the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sunday and their lead in the race to the bottom, for the first pick in the 2019 draft. But missing early on that 2017 draft is part of the mess. Recall, they traded down from No. 2 to No. 3 overall with the Bears, who took Mitchell Trubisky, while the 49ers took Solomon Thomas. Trubisky is blossoming in his first full year as a starter. Thomas has underachieved with four career sacks so far.
Foster, of course, is gone, the 49ers getting just 16 games out of him. They traded up in the second round for him. Third-round cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has fallen off in his second season.
Even with successes from further down in the draft that year, like fifth-round tight end George Kittle, getting so little from three high picks lays a foundation for a dismal season. It’s still early for Thomas and Witherspoon. For Foster, it’s too late.
MORE: Updated NFL playoff picture
— Eli gonna Eli —
It was quite a day for back-breaking interceptions. Ben Roethlisberger’s pick in the end zone in Denver had the biggest immediate impact. Josh McCown’s pick late in the first half against the Patriots was a masterpiece of recklessness. Cam Newton’s terrible pick in the end zone against the Seahawks was his only big mistake, but it was enormous.
Eli Manning’s pick at the end of the first half in Philadelphia is hard to top, though. Even though it came with lots of game left, and with the Giants up 19-11, it was obvious as soon as it happened that the Giants would be lucky if it didn’t come back to haunt them.
[email protected] will take that!!
Going the other way!
?: FOX #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/6ebh6btCrF
It followed an Eagles touchdown that had cut into what had been a 19-3 Giants lead, and New York had come right back and marched to Philadelphia’s 27-yard line in the final seconds. The Giants had time to take a few cracks at the end zone, then settle for some fairly easy points to close the half. Manning, though, tried to force one to Odell Beckham Jr. with three Eagles surrounding him at the goal line, and Malcolm Jenkins made the easy pick.
Pat Shurmur tried to take the heat for Manning by claiming he “baited” his quarterback by pointing out how soft the Eagles were defending that drive. Manning, of course, should not have needed someone to tell him to simply throw the ball away, take the field goal and head for the locker room. The Giants did not come close to another scoring chance that good until late in the fourth quarter, after the Eagles had taken the lead.
They lost, naturally, by a field goal.
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