When the Browns traded for Watson in March 2022 and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million, all the objections and questions were related to his off-field issues. There was no reason to wonder about his on-field prowess. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in four seasons with the Houston Texans. He led the league in passing yards in the 2020 season.
But the version of Watson who has played for the Browns has not resembled the Texans version. Last season, he had seven touchdown passes, five interceptions and a modest passer rating of 79.1 in his six starts after he served his 11-game suspension stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct made by women in civil lawsuits. The Browns went 3-3 in those games.
They are 1-1 this season following Monday night’s 26-22 defeat in Pittsburgh. In that game, Watson had a tipped-ball interception returned for a touchdown, lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, was penalized twice for personal fouls and made contact with an official during a scuffle along the sideline following a play.
“As far as my part, it’s not good enough,” Watson said during his postgame news conference. “I put that on me.”
The NFL decided Tuesday not to suspend Watson for the contact with the official, according to a person familiar with the league’s deliberations. The on-field officials and the league considered the contact inadvertent, and the officials did not believe it merited a penalty. The NFL still could fine Watson for that incident and for his two personal fouls. But he’ll be eligible for play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in Cleveland.
The Browns will be without running back Nick Chubb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Steelers. But their defense is among the league’s best. They have a true No. 1 wide receiver, Amari Cooper. They perhaps can remain a playoff contender if Watson begins to resemble the quarterback he was during his Texans tenure.
They are 7-0 in regular season games started by Brock Purdy. Now comes a quick turnaround for a Thursday matchup with the Giants.
They haven’t played at a level approaching their best yet. But 2-0 is 2-0, and now the Eagles have had a mini-bye after their victory Thursday over the Vikings before Monday’s meeting with the Buccaneers.
They just held on Sunday night against the Patriots. They have two road victories to open the season, and now face the winless Broncos in their home opener.
They have won their first two games by a combined margin of 70-10. Remember when Micah Parsons said after the opener that the Cowboys had the NFL’s best defense? It’s difficult to argue with him.
The defense was terrific in the win in Jacksonville. The offense? Not so much. It was another sloppy performance filled with penalties and turnovers. Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes presumably will find a way to get that cleaned up.
The Minnesota Vikings are 0-2 after their loss Thursday night in Philadelphia. They face another difficult test Sunday with a game at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s a disappointing start, for certain, after the Vikings went 13-4 last season and won the NFC North.
The early struggles have produced some speculation about the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins. His contract is set to void after this season, more than a week after the leaguewide deadline for NFL teams to use their franchise tag on players, ensuring that Cousins will be able to hit the free agent market. That has led to some conjecture that the Vikings could consider sending Cousins to another team before the Oct. 31 trade deadline. Cousins has a no-trade clause in his contract, and he could seek a new contract as part of any such transaction.
The issue is whether any contending team would be willing to make a midseason move for a prominent quarterback. San Francisco 49ers Coach Kyle Shanahan is known to admire Cousins from their time together in Washington. The Niners have attempted to get Cousins in the past. But they seem set at quarterback with Brock Purdy. The Jets have lost Rodgers. But Coach Robert Saleh has vowed to go with Wilson as the starter, and Rodgers said last week he intends to play football again.
The NFL once was basically a no-trade league. But that has changed dramatically in recent years. And though a Cousins trade this season seems unlikely, additional losses by the Vikings in the coming weeks could at least make things interesting as the deadline nears.
It could not have gone much worse for Wilson and the Jets than it did Sunday. He threw three interceptions, and the Cowboys overwhelmed the Jets, 30-10.
It was to be expected. The Cowboys, after all, possess one of the NFL’s top defenses. But the Jets had maintained following Rodgers’s injury that they were confident in Wilson and that he’d improved. On Sunday, at least, those characterizations seemed off base, and the talk last week about Rodgers being able to return during the postseason felt like a moot point. The Jets have to get there first.
Any speculation that Rodgers could play again this season seems premature at best, anyway. Rodgers underwent a procedure, performed by surgeon Neal ElAttrache, in which an internal brace is used to attempt to speed the recovery process.
But Rodgers, who turns 40 in December, acknowledged on “The Pat McAfee Show” that he might have “some odds stacked against” him because of his age. He declined to specify a timetable for his return to football. Only when he was pressed about the prospect of playing again this season, perhaps during the playoffs, did he offer that “anything is possible.”
Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers returned from an Achilles’ injury in 2021 in less than six months, also after undergoing surgery performed by ElAttrache. Akers, who was 22, was injured in mid-July, before the start of training camp. He was cleared to practice on Dec. 23 of that year and played in January 2022.
The Super Bowl comes five months after Rodgers was injured. Even if the Jets advance that far, which seems like quite a long shot, would they make a quarterback change at that point?
Instead of making progress, they have lost to the Packers and Buccaneers by a combined 28 points. Those are teams the Bears needed to be able to beat if they’re going to take a step up.
Yes, the Hail Mary touchdown was exciting. And yes, officials missed a pass interference call against the Commanders on the failed two-point conversion that would have tied the game. But the Broncos have only themselves to blame for the squandered 21-3 lead.
C.J. Stroud put up big numbers, but the Texans weren’t even particularly competitive against the Colts.
It hasn’t been a great start for Frank Reich and Bryce Young. But patience is required. This was never going to be an immediate turnaround.
Even a 28-7 lead in the second half against the Giants wasn’t enough to get the Cardinals into the win column. Now the Cowboys, 49ers and Bengals are up on the schedule.
Jaguars squander opportunity
The Jacksonville Jaguars had their chance last weekend to send an early-season message that they belong with the upper tier of AFC contenders. They were at home facing the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that has become the measuring stick for all others with aspirations of being in the championship mix. And they caught the Chiefs not at their best, in a sloppy offensive performance that included two turnovers (plus a third on special teams) and five penalties called on right tackle Jawaan Taylor. But the Jaguars could not deliver, failing to reach the end zone in a 17-9 defeat.
The Jaguars have come a long way in relatively short period of time. They went 9-8 last season to win the AFC South in Doug Pederson’s first season as their coach. They had a memorable comeback victory over the Chargers in the opening round of the playoffs before losing to the Chiefs in the divisional round in the game in which Mahomes returned to the field after suffering a high ankle sprain.
That was quite a turnaround from a 2021 season in which the Jaguars went 3-14 and owner Shad Khan fired Urban Meyer after only 13 games amid a string of embarrassing incidents on and off the field. There is every reason to believe the Jaguars will be right back in the playoffs this year. Lawrence is an honest-to-goodness franchise quarterback, and the Jaguars are the class of a less-than-imposing division.
But for anyone to believe they are capable of taking the next step in January and getting closer to reaching a Super Bowl, the Jaguars will have to show they won’t shrink from significant moments against top opponents like they did Sunday.
Eagles still pushing Hurts
Eagles teammates pushed Jalen Hurts into the end zone for touchdowns twice on quarterback sneaks during Thursday night’s triumph over the Vikings. Hurts probably didn’t need the assistance in either case. But the Eagles continue to use the technique that first gained notice when they employed it with Hurts last season during their run to a Super Bowl appearance.
The league and the NFL competition committee reviewed the technique during the offseason and gave consideration to banning it on player-safety grounds but took no action. The concern was that if defenses begin to stack up enough defenders in the middle of the line of scrimmage to push back effectively against the offensive players pushing the quarterback toward the end zone, the quarterback would be caught in the middle of two enormous masses of humanity. The counterargument was that offenses then could take the next step and fake such an approach before quickly throwing the ball to a receiver on the perimeter of the defense for an easy touchdown.
The Vikings did little Thursday to combat the Eagles’ approach on the quarterback sneaks. It will be interesting to see if any other Eagles opponents are more proactive about that play, if the Eagles indeed continue to use it.
Safety Damar Hamlin has been on the Bills’ game-day inactive list for each of the first two games. Hamlin essentially is facing a roster numbers crunch. The Bills have established veteran starters in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. They added another veteran, Taylor Rapp, in the offseason. And they have Cam Lewis, who is a key contributor on special teams as well as a backup defensive back.
As long as those players remain healthy and productive, it may be challenging for Hamlin to get on the field on game days.
The NFL sent a memo to teams last month informing them that the league has formed a new committee to consider possible changes to the sport’s ownership rules. Those changes could include raising the debt limit on franchise purchases from the current $1.1 billion, modifying the requirement that a lead owner hold at least a 30 percent equity stake and perhaps even allowing private equity firms to hold at least a minority stake in a team.
The modifications, if any are made, could be in effect by the time the next NFL team is sold. The new committee is expected to make its recommendation to the finance committee by the annual league meeting in March in Orlando
Some within the sport believe the Seattle Seahawks will be the next franchise to be sold. The trust of late owner Paul Allen has owned the team since Allen’s death in October 2018. Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, is a trustee and has served as the team’s de facto owner. If the Seahawks are sold before May 2024, they would owe 10 percent of the sale price to the state of Washington, under the terms of a 1997 referendum that funded the construction of Lumen Field. Thereafter, that provision no longer applies.
Some owners hope Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, will bid on the Seahawks. If the NFL enacts changes to its ownership rules before any bidding begins, that could change the dynamics of the process.
Counting Amazon’s viewers
The Eagles-Vikings game Thursday night drew an average of 16.6 million viewers on Amazon Prime, under Nielsen’s Integrated Live Streaming Report that incorporates Amazon data. The game drew 15.1 million viewers, based on Nielsen’s standard National TV Ratings. It was the most-watched “Thursday Night Football” game ever on Amazon Prime. The 15.1 million viewers represented a 16 percent increase over last season’s comparable game.
NFL officials have said they expect to see improved viewership figures in the second year of Amazon carrying the Thursday night package. Meanwhile, television networks have pushed back on Nielsen’s plan to incorporate Amazon’s internal data into official viewership totals, and Nielsen has put that plan on hold.