But it is important for players and coaches to be able to trust the league when it says it will place the players’ safety first, which is why the NFL’s decision to make the New England Patriots fly to Kansas City and play the Chiefs last Monday in the wake of Cam Newton’s positive test still lingered Sunday morning.
The NFL world woke to the news that a Patriots player had tested positive, the second case that has surfaced since the Patriots played the Chiefs. When ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the NFL still planned for the Patriots and Broncos to play Monday night depending on how the rest of the day unfolded, Patriots running back James White, in emoji form, indicated the Patriots had misgivings about playing.
White’s tweet, which preceded the NFL ultimately deciding to postpone the game by a week, continued a week of the Patriots wresting control of their own protocols, perhaps in defiance of the league. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick shut down the team’s facility in midweek, telling reporters that compromising the team’s health would be “much more detrimental than a short-term adjustment.” On Saturday, defensive back Jason McCourty told reporters he and other team leaders had questions about the timing of their trip to Kansas City.
It is not difficult to read the tea leaves: The Patriots don’t think the NFL had their safety in mind when it plowed forward with their game against the Chiefs. The NFL may think it’s making things easier on itself by playing as many games as it can now, leaving open dates available later in the year. But Belichick is right: Every decision made about whether to play or postpone a game has significant consequences, including putting the entire season — not to mention the health of players and coaches — at risk.
As for the games that did happen, there were some surprising results and one very sad injury, and here is what to know.
Dak Prescott suffered a brutal injury. In the third quarter of the Dallas Cowboys’ game against the New York Giants, the star quarterback was involved in a play that reminded fans of just how brutal of a game football can be. Prescott scrambled for nine yards, sat up and looked down at a foot pointing in the wrong direction.
Prescott wiped tears from his eyes as a cart carried him off the field, and he went to a hospital for further evaluation. He underwent ankle surgery Sunday night to repair a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle, the Cowboys announced. His season is over.
It was a gruesome injury that would be wished on nobody, but for it to happen to Prescott seemed especially cruel. He can be a polarizing player, but he has been a model human under the harsh glare of playing quarterback for Dallas. Prescott began his season by publicly sharing his experience with depression after the death by suicide of his brother in April, a decision that required courage and helped untold struggling people.
On the field, Prescott was leading the NFL in passing yards while building his case for a massive contract extension. When he suffered the injury, immediate well-wishes on social media poured in from around the NFL. He is in so many ways what’s good about the NFL. Sunday, he was laid low by what’s bad about it.
Alex Smith is all the way back. The most remarkable story in the NFL this week, if not this season, happened without a ball being snapped. It occurred when Smith trotted into the Washington Football Team’s huddle, stepping on the same field where he suffered a hideous compound fracture that nearly led to the amputation of his right leg and, because of infections from more than a dozen surgeries, briefly threatened his life.
Smith’s performance in Washington’s lopsided loss to the Los Angeles Rams was beside the point. Aaron Donald and Washington’s offensive line is a match made in quarterback hell, and Coach Ron Rivera admitted he put Smith in an impossible situation, inserting him after new starter Kyle Allen left with an injury. For Smith, playing in an NFL game, with his wife and three kids watching from the stands, was a testament to his work and will.
The Raiders have to be reckoned with. Few teams have played a harder schedule than the Las Vegas Raiders, yet they have emerged from the season’s first five weeks as a surprising contender in the AFC West. They submitted the most impressive victory of the season, ending the Super Bowl champion Chiefs’ winning streak at 13 by beating them, 40-32, at Arrowhead Stadium.
Derek Carr passed for 347 yards, boosted by two deep bombs to rookie Henry Ruggs III, and three touchdowns. Josh Jacobs ran for two touchdowns and helped kill the clock late with punishing runs.
The Chiefs did not play their best defensive game and committed 10 penalties, but the outcome said more about Las Vegas than Kansas City. The Raiders have beaten the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Chiefs, all solid wins. Their losses came to the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, both forgivable defeats. The Raiders have a chance to be a factor in the AFC playoff picture.
The Falcons are starting over. The firing of coach Dan Quinn was expected after Atlanta lost, 23-16, to Carolina and fell to 0-5 with two catastrophic blown leads. But team owner Arthur Blank began a complete franchise overhaul late Sunday night when he fired both Quinn and longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Quinn and Dimitroff led the Falcons to Super Bowl LI, but it has been a downhill slide since Atlanta took a 28-3 lead in the third quarter. The Falcons have no reason to stop a total teardown now. The Falcons will have to make a decision on 35-year-old Matt Ryan, who is arguably the best player in franchise history. Ryan has looked old this season, and his performance has slipped. Meanwhile, the Falcons’ record could put them in play for star college quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields or Trey Lance.
If the Falcons blow it up, they have little use for a 31-year-old wide receiver making more than $15 million next season. The Falcons would be wise to make Julio Jones available, and if a contender — the Patriots and Green Bay Packers could both use wideouts — is willing to move a first-round draft pick and more, the Falcons would be smart to move him. Quinn, Ryan and Jones made the Falcons relevant for an entire era. That era is over.
The rookie wide receiver class is living up to its billing. As Chase Claypool piled up touchdowns in Pittsburgh, Ruggs torched the Chiefs in Kansas City and CeeDee Lamb made circus catches for Dallas, Week 5 further validated the belief that this year’s draft included the best crop of wideouts ever.
Claypool stole headlines with a four-touchdown eruption, catching three from Ben Roethlisberger and scoring another on a speed sweep. Claypool snared seven passes for 110 yards, giving him 13 catches and 261 yards this season. From Hines Ward to Mike Wallace to Antonio Brown to JuJu Smith-Schuster, with several others in between, the Steelers have a remarkable record of drafting wide receivers. Claypool may be the latest.
And he still faces competition for the best in his class. Ruggs is one of the fastest players in the NFL. Lamb surpassed 80 receiving yards by halftime and finished with 124 on eight catches in Dallas’s 37-34 victory. Entering the week, Pro Football Focus rated Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson the best wide receiver — rookie or otherwise — in the NFL through four weeks.
The schedule is in flux. The postponement of the Patriots-Broncos game until this coming Sunday had the scheduling ripple effects of a stone thrown into a pond. Six other games were affected as the NFL moved dates around and adjusted several bye weeks.
Meanwhile, the Bills-Chiefs game that would have been played Thursday will now be played Monday night.
The Broncos effectively lost a bye week, having practiced all week in preparation of a game. Running back Melvin Gordon III expressed his understandable frustration, but it underscored the reality of the season. Some teams are going to get a raw deal. This time, it was the Broncos.
Mike Davis is ruining what’s left of running back value. Christian McCaffrey was essentially Carolina’s entire offense, a running and receiving threat who tilted defensive alignments. The Panthers gave him a four-year, $64 million contract, making McCaffrey the highest-paid running back per season in the NFL. McCaffrey’s placement on injured reserve presented an extreme case study of whether running backs should be paid.
The Panthers turned to Davis, a 27-year-old career backup on his fourth team, and have not missed a beat in three games, all victories. In Carolina’s 23-16 victory over the Falcons, Davis rushed for 89 yards and caught nine passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. He’s not McCaffrey, obviously, but Davis is averaging 117 scrimmage yards per game since he became the starter.
Carolina, by the way, finished Sunday tied with Tampa Bay for first place in the NFC South at 3-2, with the 2-2 Saints still to face the Chargers on Monday night.
Jimmy Garoppolo is having a rough 2020. Garoppolo’s calendar year began in the Super Bowl, where his team blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and he missed an open receiver on what could have been a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown bomb. Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and missed two games. He returned this week — but lasted only a half before getting benched for C.J. Beathard.
Coach Kyle Shanahan told a reporter at halftime of the 49ers’ 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins that he removed Garoppolo only to protect him during a blowout. But it was a dreadful performance for a quarterback whose fan base has started turning on him: 7 for 17 for 77 yards and two interceptions. The 49ers don’t have a quarterback controversy. They might have a quarterback problem.