By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
That was quite a fine Sunday in the NFL that just passed us — wondrous, bewildering, epic, hilarious and thrilling for much of it, all of those things and arguably more at times.
As a fan and follower of the Chicago Bears I can say plainly that they weren’t needed on this day, they could have only been a distraction if they played in one of the slates with the other teams. Thank God ESPN was willing to be in town for the home opener.
For such a week to happen in Week 2 of the season, when warm weather and festivals still called outside and those Bears are still worthy of hopeful praise, is quite impressive, it’s a prime example of what the NFL offers as a weekly spectacle and the continued layers it flashes to generations of fans who can’t imagine a better routine each Sabbath day from Noon to around 10:30 in the evening when Sunday Night Football wraps up.
No matter how familiar each story-line may be as they arise week to week, its the repackaging that matters. We’ve seen games like Jacksonville and New England before but the feeling of revelation that occurs in seeing the much-maligned Blake Bortles play a game that raised him to the level of his excellent defense and in process shoots his team with a solid 60 minutes behind them to the top of the AFC, at least for the moment.
From moment to moment we may have to re-adjust our thinking on the NFC North, which treated us to a good ol’ fashion Midwestern sister-kissing on Sunday.
The 29-29 tie between Minnesota and Green Bay had to tickle those of us in Chicago, all of us who in some way either believe the Bears can or hope the Bears can overtake these teams in the near future.
The game that resulted in this latest clash of the two teams involved in the realest rivalry in the division (yes, the Bears and Pack do not compare in regards to pure hatred and willingness to out-do), included a lot of highlights and standout play, but for those of us most involved in the North it wound up looking like a missed opportunity to define things at least when it comes to ranking the four teams.
Coming into the season it would seem that Minnesota was the clear favorite in the North, having had the best run in 2017, seemingly upgrading itself at quarterback and retaining all its top talent on offense and defense. A North division with Minnesota as a clear leader is much more easy to swallow than one with the Packers encouraged with their play and overachieving.
For most of Sunday’s game it seemed like that’s what we were heading to, an start in the division where the Pack (and Aaron Rodgers’ knee) was 2-0 with two division wins and no Rodgers out for the rest of the season, how disappointing would that be?
Well, Minnesota found a way to disappoint itself even more with a kicker who gave away the game twice in overtime and ranks only behind Cleveland’s place kicker as the most useless NFL player of the week (though both may be looking for new jobs by next Sunday).
After being the beneficiary of another bonehead penalty by Clay Matthews (somebody put a leash on that fool), extending what should have been its last drive of consequence, the Vikings had utilized momentum enough to pull off a game-tying drive including a two-point conversion that put extra time on the game but that in the end only distracted viewers in our region for another half hour past 3pm while the surprising beginning of Jags-Pats was going on.
If it wasn’t for a crestfallen Rodgers’ interview with Pam Oliver after the game there would have been very little to take actual enjoyment with in this game though the whole situation seems funny as hell on its face. Really you can look at it two ways: 1. both Green Bay and Minnesota are good enough to win the division and both will likely make the playoffs, shutting out the likes of the Bears along the way, or, 2. both teams could be overrated and will bungle their chances at being NFC contenders, allowing a team like say, the Bears, an opportunity to overturn things in the North.
The answer may be more obvious than I’m letting on (just take a look at Kurt Cousins’ numbers from this game), but hey, a writer can dream.
Swag Surfin QBs
We can also tie Ryan Fitzpatrick’s star turns, both on field and at the podium, to past actions — Fitzpatrick has previously been the guy off the bench who has seemed like a savior but in none of his many stops prior (Buffalo, Tennessee, Houston, and New York among them) has he tried to swag out like he has now in Tampa Bay. Are these the actions of a cat who feels he has taken over the job from Jameis? How has a 35 year-old Harvard graduate who we’ve all written off as a league journeyman put together a first two weeks of the season worthy of MVP consideration, all while looking like a 21 year old flirting with the trap? Hey, get yours, Ryan.
Maybe Fitzpatrick is just enjoying the moment, maybe he knows that Jameis, even with all the messy baggage he brings to his franchise, is still slotted as the man for the Bucs and when Winston’s 3-game suspension ends after next week then he’ll go back to being a non-factor. Its interesting to imagine what’s going through the minds of the Tampa Bay brass at this moment, faced with more success in this sucky position than they can imagine. In what direction do they go in two weeks?
Continuing in quarterback talk — how about Patrick Mahomes, who right now looks a lot more like a typical system slinger out of Texas Tech after his first weeks at the helm for Kansas City.
Mahomes has thrown for 10 touchdowns, six coming Sunday at Pittsburgh in what had to be a downer for a hungry Steelers team that can’t be feeling like their boat is steady after a 0-1-1 start that included doing something besides beating Cleveland.
Everything next to Mahomes looks passe in comparison, including the Steel Curtain and its meathead pillar they feature at QB. Mahomes has flash and a great deep ball he can utilize which makes KC look potentially even more deadly (at least on offense) than it did last year in its extended undefeated start led by the steady-but-uninspiring Alex Smith.
The Chiefs can’t defend worth a damn but they will make the playoffs again with their offense cause they’ll outscore most teams put in front of them. It’ll be interesting to see if they could go even further than their wild-card losing team last year, which failed in its big moment in part because of then-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy freezing up with his play calls at important moments (sound familiar).
Nagy has his chance to establish himself now in Chicago but its clear that his master, Andy Reid, is the source of so much of what works offensively in the NFL today, he has a cadre of followers who’ve coached under him spread out to other franchises doing things that he first taught them but he’s still chilling in southwest Missouri, making another signal caller into something important and utilizing one of the best offenses in the League once again.
When Bowing Out Goes Wrong
And so we close with what has to be the wildest story, at least in-game, to occur in quite a while and it came from the Bills-Chargers game of all places.
Ten-year veteran Vontae Davis started the day as a corner back for the Buffalo Bills but he didn’t end the day as that, he didn’t even end the game as that.
For those of us following games in and out our respective markets on Twitter during the day, the first mentions of Davis not even coming out for the second half of the game, getting dressed and leaving the stadium and in doing so announcing his retirement from the game was jarring, but it soon transferred into hilarity as the game ended and the whole incident was confirmed by Bills teammate Lorenzo Alexander.
And then, as they do, came the memes, including references by Davis only by name as there unfortunately was no imagery of his stealthy retirement, but there were plenty of established images that could represent it.
Mix in the elements of Davis getting away with a reportedly $5 million bag in the process of this early retirement and the Bills being so God-awful that NFL followers can believe that any one of their 50+ roster members may be wanting to dip at anytime and this is a story with great legs and comedic longevity.
All that said, this is also a story of a man who at a moment gave up his life’s purpose, likely doing so in a flash at a most inopportune moment. That had to have been hard as hell to do, a decision in a lot of ways being made for him by a worn down body and spirit that he needed to take heed to before something potentially tragic happens.
As Davis’s official statement came out via the NFL later in the afternoon a lot of needed context was added and thankfully it doesn’t cut into the jokes. You can feel bad in a way for all those involved — Davis for having to give up all he’s known for a long time and having to disappoint people who I’m sure he respects and would like if they respected him as well as the Bills who took another “L” folded up within the conventional loss they took in L.A. yesterday.
But, again, Davis made out with that 5 or so mil plus what he’s already earned from the game and the Bills have one less guy they have to deal with who isn’t fully committed to their goal of being somewhat better than the Browns.
The world will keep on turning, snow will soon fall in Buffalo again and we’ll have more time to wonder when will the Bills really be good again. Having control of one’s destiny is not something that many ones get to enjoy in the NFL (just ask Josh Gordon).
So Vontae should be applauded for not deluding himself and not trying to fool another team for one more half and for giving himself 30 more minutes of freedom on a lovely day in Southern California than he necessarily expected when he woke up. We should all be so sure of ourselves in making such a tough decision.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR