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NFL Sunday takeaways: It keeps getting worse for Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers

Commanders defensive end James Smith-Williams rests his hand on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Sunday at FedEx Field. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
13 min

It was supposed to get better Sunday for Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The competition was underwhelming. And, after all, they’re Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.


Yeah, not so much. It actually got worse for the legendary quarterbacks.

Brady plummeted to what is probably the low point of his tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They could not reach the end zone and lost, 21-3, in Charlotte to a Carolina Panthers team that had seemed incapable of beating anyone, much less a seven-time Super Bowl winner.

The Panthers were one defeat removed from firing Matt Rhule as their coach. They were 1-5 and had lost 12 of their past 13. They traded former all-pro running back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers for four draft choices Thursday and had to defend themselves against suggestions that they were tanking.

And then the Panthers — those Panthers — went out and dominated the Buccaneers to give Steve Wilks his first victory as their interim coach. Wide receiver Mike Evans dropped what should have been an easy touchdown catch on a deep pass by Brady early in the game. And that, as it turned out, represented the Bucs’ last, best chance for a touchdown. They settled for a field goal early in the fourth quarter after getting a first down at the Carolina 8-yard line in a 14-0 game.

Brady retired and then un-retired in the offseason. His return for another season, even at 45, did not seem outlandish. After all, he led the NFL in passing attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdown passes last season. Maybe, just maybe, he could secure an eighth Super Bowl win and walk away from the sport triumphantly.

But the Buccaneers, at 3-4, look like anything but a viable contender. They have four losses in their past five games. Brady’s frustrations have been on public display at times, on the field and on the sideline. His personal life and the state of his marriage have been under scrutiny. He took time away from the team during training camp and missed the walk-through and meetings before a game to attend the wedding of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. It is feeling, more and more, as though Brady would have been wise to remain in retirement.

The outlook is similarly gloomy for Rodgers and the Packers. They are 3-4 and on a three-game losing streak after their stunning 23-21 defeat to the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field. At 3-4, the Packers have a losing record seven games into a season for the first time since Rodgers became the starter.

The Packers’ shortcomings at wide receiver and along the offensive line are evident. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was on the game-day inactive list Sunday because of a knee injury. Only one Packers offensive lineman started in the same spot Sunday as he had done a week earlier. Rodgers had spoken of the need to “simplify things” on offense, adding that “hopefully” the team would stick together. Then he managed just 47 first-half passing yards.

Rodgers and the Packers didn’t have a single third-down conversion all day. Yet they nearly pulled off a late comeback from a 23-14 deficit. Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to tailback Aaron Jones, then the Packers got the ball back and got near midfield in the closing seconds. But time ran out on their multi-lateral final play, and this is a season that could be headed nowhere. The Davante Adams trade cannot be undone. There don’t seem to be any answers for what ails the offense around Rodgers. These days, the Packers can’t even beat Taylor Heinicke, the Commanders’ fill-in quarterback.

It went far better for the Dallas Cowboys in quarterback Dak Prescott’s return. The first half was not particularly promising, as the Cowboys trailed the Detroit Lions, 6-3, in Arlington, Tex. But the Cowboys gathered themselves and pulled away in the second half for a 24-6 victory that improved their record to 5-2.

Prescott threw for 207 yards and a touchdown after missing five games with a fractured right thumb. The Cowboys continued to rely on a defense that led the way while they went 4-1 with Cooper Rush filling in. The Lions committed five turnovers and were limited to a pair of field goals.

The New York Giants rolled on. They upped their record to 6-1 by holding on for a 23-17 win at Jacksonville. The Giants tackled Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk a yard shy of the end zone as time expired to preserve the victory.

But it was costly for the Giants; rookie right tackle Evan Neal left the game with a knee injury. It is not believed to be a season-ending torn ACL. Rather, it is thought that he suffered a medial collateral ligament injury that will sideline him for a number of weeks but won’t end his season. Even without him, the Giants have a chance to get to 9-1. Their next three games come against the Seattle Seahawks, the Houston Texans and the Lions.

It went from bad to worse for the Cleveland Browns. They lost, 23-20, on Sunday in Baltimore to extend their losing streak to four games and drop their record to 2-5.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week at the owners’ meeting in New York that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has complied with all the terms of his 11-game suspension under the personal conduct policy. That puts Watson still on course to play in a Dec. 4 game in Houston against the Texans, his former team.

The Browns had hoped they could play well enough with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback to still be relevant on the field by then. It’s not looking particularly promising. Their remaining games before Watson becomes eligible to play come against the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and the Buccaneers.

The Bengals are back. They lost their first two games of the season in what may have amounted to a Super Bowl hangover, following their near-miss loss in February to the Los Angeles Rams in Inglewood, Calif.

But quarterback Joe Burrow and his teammates have regrouped. The Bengals are 4-1 since the 0-2 beginning after overwhelming the Atlanta Falcons, 35-17, on Sunday in Cincinnati. Burrow threw for 481 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception. He also ran for 20 yards and a touchdown.

Burrow has 13 touchdown passes and one interception since the start of Week 2. The Bengals once more are playing like the team that made a shocking run through last season’s AFC playoffs.

The Tennessee Titans remain the team to beat in the AFC South. Their matchup with the Indianapolis Colts in Nashville was the only game leaguewide Sunday featuring two teams with winning records coming in. The Titans prevailed, 19-10, and have won four straight since their 0-2 start.

The Titans intercepted Colts quarterback Matt Ryan twice and used their bulldozing style on offense as tailback Derrick Henry ran for 128 yards on 30 carries. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis got into the game after Ryan Tannehill got up limping following a low hit on a passing attempt.

Tannehill returned to the lineup and finished the game, although the Titans outsmarted themselves at one point by getting too cute (by their standards) and committing a turnover on a play on which Tannehill attempted to hand the ball to Willis. When they stick to what they do — handing the ball to Henry and playing no-frills football — the Titans remain relatively tough to beat, especially within the confines of their division. They’ve already beaten the Colts twice this season and probably are headed back to the AFC playoffs.

Christian McCaffrey debuted for the 49ers. It didn’t help. The Kansas City Chiefs beat them handily, 44-23, in Santa Clara, Calif.

McCaffrey was in the playing rotation only two days after arriving back in the Bay Area, where he starred while in college at Stanford. He ran for 38 yards on eight carries and had two catches for 24 yards. The 49ers apparently consider themselves a Super Bowl contender after making such a win-now move to add McCaffrey to their offensive mix with wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle as options for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The Niners entered Sunday’s play ranked first in the NFL in total defense.

But they weren’t in the same class as the Chiefs. Not even close. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes shredded that top-ranked defense by throwing for 423 yards and three touchdowns. Speedy wide receiver Mecole Hardman had a touchdown catch and two touchdown runs. The Chiefs scored 30 points in the second half and they, at 5-2, are an honest-to-goodness contender. The 49ers, at 3-4, are nowhere close, at least not at this point.

The J-E-T-S kept going. The Giants aren’t the only New York team that continued to thrive. The Jets weren’t all that impressive in Denver but managed to hold on to defeat the Broncos, 16-9, to improve to 5-2.

Quarterback Zach Wilson threw for only 121 yards. But the Jets got a 62-yard touchdown run by Breece Hall, their dynamic rookie running back, before he exited the game with a knee injury that reportedly is feared to be a season-ending torn ACL.

The Jets also got it done on defense against Brett Rypien, the Broncos’ fill-in quarterback who was making his second NFL start because Russell Wilson was sidelined by a hamstring injury. Rypien — the nephew of Mark Rypien, Washington’s former Super Bowl-winning quarterback — threw one interception and had another overturned by an instant-replay review. He also threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth and three from the New York 25-yard line just after the two-minute warning.

The Broncos got the ball back and moved into Jets territory. But Rypien threw another fourth-down incompletion, and the Jets were able to celebrate a bittersweet victory that probably cost them one of their best offensive players.

Returns of Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa highlight Week 7

Dak Prescott and Tua Tagovailoa will play on the Sunday of Week 7 of the NFL season.

It remains to be seen whether the same can be said of Christian McCaffrey.

Russell Wilson, meanwhile, will be reduced to spectator status.

Prescott, the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, makes his return to the lineup when they host the Detroit Lions in an early-afternoon game in Arlington, Tex. Prescott missed five games after suffering a fractured right thumb during a season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He underwent surgery the following day.

NFL Reset: Team rankings, Tua and Dak prepare to return, Broncos’ woes

The Cowboys went 4-1 in his absence, winning the first four games started by Cooper Rush before losing last Sunday night at Philadelphia. Rush avoided mistakes until his three-interception performance against the Eagles and the Cowboys relied on their defense. If Prescott gets the offense revved up, the Cowboys perhaps can challenge the front-running Eagles and the second-place New York Giants for NFC East and conference supremacy.

The other significant quarterback return comes Sunday night in Miami Gardens, Fla. Tagovailoa is set to play for the Miami Dolphins against the Pittsburgh Steelers after missing two games due to a concussion suffered during a Sept. 29 game at Cincinnati. He was taken from the field on a stretcher that night and transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

Tagovailoa’s case led the NFL and the NFL Players Association to conduct a joint review of the level of compliance with the concussion protocols in his evaluation and, ultimately, to enact a change based on their finding that the protocols technically were followed but the outcome was not what was intended.

On the field, the Dolphins have struggled lately. They lost both games missed by Tagovailoa and are 0-3 since starting the season 3-0. They will try to get back to resembling the formidable team they were in the season’s early stages, when Tagovailoa was effective in utilizing the talents of wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Waddle is listed as questionable on the Dolphins’ injury report for this game because of a shoulder injury.

The Denver Broncos will be without Wilson, who has a hamstring injury, when they attempt to halt their downward spiral by hosting the surprisingly competent New York Jets in a late-afternoon game. Even after trading for Wilson in the offseason and signing him last month to a five-year, $245 million contract extension, the Broncos are on a three-game losing streak and are off to a 2-4 start.

Brewer: Russell Wilson wanted more. Now he has to salvage whatever he can.

Wilson and the offense have had their issues, most recently in an overtime defeat Monday night to the Los Angeles Chargers in Inglewood, Calif. The Broncos on Saturday ruled out Wilson for this game after originally listing him as questionable on the injury report and calling his playing status a game-time decision.

Backup Brett Rypien is set to make his second NFL start. Rypien is the nephew of Mark Rypien, Washington’s former Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

The San Francisco 49ers have not specified whether McCaffrey will make his debut when they host the Kansas City Chiefs in a late-afternoon game in Santa Clara., Calif.

The 49ers traded four draft choices Thursday to the Carolina Panthers for McCaffrey, a former all-pro running back.

McCaffrey joined the Niners in time to be on the practice field Friday. He is back in the Bay Area after playing in college at Stanford. The trade represents a Super Bowl push for the 49ers, as McCaffrey joins wide receiver Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle and left tackle Trent Williams on a star-laden offense around quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

But while the Niners have the NFL’s top-ranked defense, they have been mediocre on offense thus far during a 3-3 start to the season.