[What We Learned is returning for the 2021 N.F.L. season with a new writer and a new look.]
How dare any of us doubt the team coached by Mike Tomlin?
There are only a few guarantees in today’s NFL: Tom Brady will eat his avocado ice cream and win the Super Bowl. Jerry Jones would do something absurd to prolong Dallas’ championship drought. And Mike Tomlin will keep his Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl contention.
These Steelers hardly generated a decibel of buzz in Week 1. Heck, it was a shock that they wanted to bring back Ben Roethlisberger at the age of 39 at quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills were the team that was set to take the next step. Josh Allen was the future of this position. And all Tomlin’s Steelers did, traveling 200 miles north, storming into Highmark Stadium and reminding the entire NFL, with a 23-16 punch to Buffalo’s jaws, that they’re not going anywhere.
Which, of course, is what Tomlin’s teams have done for 14 seasons.
was it beautiful? heck no. But “not pretty” is when Tomlin’s teams are historically the most dangerous. Above all, Tomlin’s teams smell blood.
That’s what happened on a ridiculous play call by the Bills at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Facing fourth and -1 from Pittsburgh’s 41-yard line – with a 10-6 lead – the Bills wisely went for it. After all, it’s the same Buffalo team that stuck its head in the guillotine a year ago by picking a field goal against the Kansas City Chiefs driven by Patrick Mahomes. In January’s AFC Championship game. A little guts from their head coach, Sean McDermott, was a welcome change.
But what happened after that was beyond bizarre.
Allen turned to flick a pass backwards to Matt Breeda and cornerback Cameron Sutton was there to run back down the field for a 7-yard loss.
After four plays, Pittsburgh took the lead.
Roethlisberger scored 5 yards past Dionte Johnson in the back of the final field. After leading the NFL in the drops a year earlier, it was also the catch of the day. Johnson displayed remarkable concentration in fixing the tipped ball while dragging his back foot.
Moments later, cornerback James Pierre — the latest homegrown, undrafted future star in Pittsburgh — spoke about a long completion for Emmanuel Sanders. Such was the theme. Every time the Bills were about to be revised as of 2020, every time a stadium was about to die to please its Super Bowl contender, someone from a new corner of Pittsburgh’s roster quickly ruined those plans.
After two plays, the Steelers blocked a punt for a touchdown to go 20-10.
And after a Biles field goal put pressure on Old Man Ben to finish it, Roethlisberger did exactly that. A pair of vintage, slow-motion throws for JuJu Smith-Schuster (24 yards) and Chase Claypool (14 yards) scored a game-cleaning field goal.
The highlight reel was not long.
This formula won’t be easy on the eyes but could bring ring number 7 to Pittsburgh.
We just saw it in Tampa Bay. Brady is brady But he passes through the relentless Buccaneers crowd—above all—what had Mahomes running for his life at the Super Bowl. Lest we forget, Pittsburgh started 2020 11-0 on their own defense.
Pittsburgh’s Defense pittsburgh Then. Kevin Green would be proud. Up front, everyone smoked around 6-foot-5, 237-pound Allen, effectively turning him back from Wyoming to the 2018 project. After everyone devoted two years from Allen’s game to cleanup, everything started again—airmailing balls at wide-open receivers, throwing other passes into the dirt, fumbling. A player considered by many to be this year’s NFLMVP favorite looked downright weak for three hours straight.
TJ Watt earned every penny. There are game-breakers everywhere on this defense, starting with Edge Rusher who last week signed a four-year, $112 million extension. Watt contributed to five of the team’s eight quarterback hits.
It’s clear the Steelers want to bring the rookie back in 2021 to run back Nazi Harris. That way, they can keep the game close and give Roethlisberger the win in the fourth. He sold it. He is motionless. It is easily rememberable. But he has also succeeded in every possible situation. There’s nothing Roethlisberger hasn’t seen and there’s still enough juice in that right hand to put together another run in a Super Bowl.
And yet, we won’t see Roethlisberger dodge 60 more times this season in another playoff loss – These Steelers can dictate the tempo. They’ll take you out of your comfort zone, your shootout, and win like they used to. by violence.
And for all the speeches of “The Last Dance” in Green Bay, The Steelers have also been able to send their quarterbacks to the top this season.
The Packers’ shelling by the Saints is not a shock as you think.
The white flag started waving quickly. With 11 minutes remaining, the Green Bay Packers took the current league MVP off the field. And while the final score in Jacksonville may sound shaky – Saints 38, Packers 3 – This should come as no surprise, no.
One team, the Packers, was held hostage by their quarterback all off-season. His quarterback spent six months vacationing and resting and, no, Aaron Rodgers wasn’t shy about rubbing it off in front of his employer. He was looking for personal fulfillment or… or… something like that.
One team, the Saints, were prepared for life after Drew Brees because their starter, Jameis Winston, was mentally prepared for the moment. Laugh at all the bizarre training videos you want. Winston is looking forward to this second chance. With coach Sean Peyton, a strong defense and a competitive spirit that can rival anyone in the league, Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick, stunned a disinterested Rodgers.
Winston didn’t need to throw much, but he was incredibly skilled with no interceptions on 148 yards, five touchdowns, and 14-of-20 passes. The Saints also blew Green Bay 173 yards to the ground.
We spend too much time in this game analyzing the mindset of a singular player: the quarterback. What about the mindset of an entire team? These Saints have been banging on the doors of the Super Bowl for four years. They are mad. They’re Hunger Than Any Team in the NFL
Getting close — over and over again — means something deep in the psyche of every New Orleans player.
And so there’s a quarterback with everything to prove.
The Packers should have taken their king’s ransom for Rodgers when given the opportunity.
Russell Wilson can still cook.
Long before Rodgers was in the spotlight for four months, this league had another unhappy quarterback: Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks nearly divorced after nine seasons. It was close too. Chicago Bears Thinking It was a done deal.
Instead, Wilson and the Seahawks both felt they were at their best together and all hoped a new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron, would pull things together.
Did they ever do in week 1.
Facing one of the NFL’s best defenses on the road, Wilson was sublime in leading Seattle to a 28-16 win over Indianapolis. The eight-time pro bowler finished 18 of 23 for 254 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 152.3 passer rating. Wilson’s 69-yard moon ball touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett, traveling 60 yards in the air, was also a thing of beauty.
Granted, in 2020 we were teased like this. Wilson was out of the lights for a good two months. Then, the whole crime was scuttled and Seattle almost pulled the plug in an era. Here this Wilson is thinking and this crime are both here to stay. Once the focus was on business, Wilson had the best off-season of his life.
This may be his last season in Seattle, but what a season it could be.
rams 34, bears 14 Rams Coach Sean McVay put his job on the line when he traded Jared Goff—and a smidge of draft capital—for Matthew Stafford, who posted a 74-90-1 record in 12 seasons at Detroit. Yet for a week, at least, McVay looks like an aggressive guru again. Stafford was flawless in a 321-yard, three-touchdown performance Sunday night, while Chicago put rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the ice behind Andy Dalton.
Texan 37, Jaguar 21 All Hail Jack Easterby! or something like that. The Houston Texans are a train wreck but they will take it.
Cardinals 38, Titans 13 No one counts Cliff Kingsbury. He is one of the smartest offensive minds in football. Arizona’s clinic of victory over Tennessee is a sign of things to come, not an aberration.
Eagles 32, Falcons 6 Right when you want to stick another thorn in Eagles general manager Howie Rosman, his new look cuts the offense to the Falcons. Jalen Harts (264 passing yards, 62 rushing yards, three touchdowns) was unstoppable and Matt Ryan, Matt Ryan. What a missed opportunity for Atlanta to hit the reset at the quarterback last April. All this was unavoidably delayed by the franchise, passing Ohio State’s Justin Fields.
49ers 41, Lions 33 Again, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan proved he can stop anyone running back. Eliza Mitchell, claim that discount for fantasy players. This 49ers offensive machine can churn out more than 100 rushing yards in “I” formation with both of us.
Bengals 27, Vikings 24 (OT) Cincinnati’s Ja’Mar Chase saw the ball just fine: He caught five passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in a win over Minnesota. This crime of Bengal is going to be very funny. For Vikings, overtime heartbreak is nothing new, is it?
Chargers 20, Washington 16 Justin Herbert is the only quarterback in NFL history to have 400 completions in his first 16 starts. Los Angeles should not apologize in the slightest for its embarrassing victory.
Panthers 19, Jets 14 Hopefully Zach Wilson was able to chat privately with Sam Darnold after the Jets lost to Carolina. The rookie quarterback was dealt all the same issues Darnold was in New York – poor pass safety, bad luck, defeat. And now Wilson, sacked six times on Sunday, could be without his best lineman. Left tackle Mekhi Becton is cut.