News from Norfolk Daily News
Here are five observations from Sunday’s early Week 6 games:
1. Jets get hosed by awful call — There’s no way to excuse the pivotal call that head referee Tony Corrente announced after it appeared New York Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins scored a crucial touchdown midway through the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots.
Seferian-Jenkins caught a little flare pass and fought his way into the end zone on what would have cut the Patriots’ lead to three points. But the replay crew ruled that Seferian-Jenkins fumbled the ball out of the end zone, which gave the Patriots a shocking touchback.
The problem? Although Seferian-Jenkins might have bobbled the ball on his way to the ground, it never appeared that he lost control of it. It was an absolutely stunning reading of the rules that cannot be defended.
The Jets played their hearts out in this game. Sure, they blew a 14-0 lead and can point directly to their own self-inflicted wounds for that. They were gutting the Patriots early and gave them chances to steal back momentum and take the lead too easily. Buster Skrine dropped a would-be interception in the second quarter that opened the floodgates; the Jets’ offense followed two touchdowns with an interception and a missed field-goal try.
And after the Patriots scored 24 unanswered points, the Jets kept fighting. This was supposed to be a 16-0 team bashing an 0-16 team not that long ago, right? Surely, that silliness is long gone. The Jets’ effort Sunday was nothing short of excellent, and that reflects very well on head coach Todd Bowles.
So seeing them have not only a touchdown wiped out but also lose possession of the ball was a stunning and unfortunate turn. The goal of the replay crew is to confirm or deny a touchdown, not change the entire course of the game on a call that no one was expecting — and one it’s nearly impossible to understand even after seeing multiple replay angles.
Credit the Patriots. They did not play well and dug themselves a big hole early on the road. Tom Brady made big throws. Rob Gronkowski schooled Jets rookie Jamal Adams a few times. The Patriots shut down the Jets’ run game completely. And that much-maligned defense closed out the game with the Jets possessing the ball and a chance to tie it.
But this game has a stain on it. The replay came from down the road at the league offices, so it’s not on Corrente or his crew, which did not work a game last week. But the bad result of the reversed touchdown cost the Jets a shot at first place by themselves and the biggest win for the franchise in years.
Wasn’t the league’s replay system supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening? Or has it led to over-scrutinizing of plays? That’s a debate that must be had.
2. Patriots survive, but how good are they? — This was a strange game and one the Patriots snoozed through in the opening few possessions. Defensively, they remain a mess, although losing two top cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe) before the game had to contribute to that. But Malcolm Butler was targeted often and gave up a lot of plays in coverage. The pass rush didn’t heat up until late in the game when the Jets started having to throw more often.
Bill Belichick will have plenty of ammo with which to motivate his team. Coming off a mini-bye (Thursday game last week), the Patriots appeared to be in a good spot here. They were 9-1 following Thursday games since the start of the 2006 season. But the Jets were the aggressors early. The Patriots looked out of sorts in all three phases early.
They rebounded. They did what the Patriots do. They handled adversity away from home and got the win. That’s now three road victories on the season. But the Patriots also don’t look anything like the team that won the Super Bowl eight months ago.
Speaking of which, the Week 7 opponent — the Atlanta Falcons — should be familiar. It’s a Sunday night game in Foxboro, and if the Patriots can’t get up for this one sooner, there’s something really wrong. This appeared to be a game where the Falcons would come in as the better team. But following their 20-17 home loss to the Miami Dolphins (in which they blew a 17-0 second-quarter lead), what do we think now?
3. Falcons have no excuses — Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins was a major gut shot, and the second straight home loss for Atlanta. The biggest difference in this one was that the Falcons had their full offensive arsenal on the final drive, as opposed to the loss to the Buffalo Bills when both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu were hurt.
Matt Ryan was picked on a questionable throw with 47 seconds left. It was a bad decision. The Falcons had the ball at the Miami 26-yard line, and the clock was stopped thanks to a Dolphins timeout. Also, the Falcons had two timeouts left.
Questioning play calling is often ridiculous. There are a million factors that go into a game and every call that happens in the course of action. But this one was easy: Ryan and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkesian made some bad calls.
They easily could have run the ball there. They could have thrown to, oh, I don’t know, Jones maybe? Yes, the Dolphins had been playing to take him away. But Jones had a mere two catches (on two targets) in the second half. The Falcons didn’t score after the 5:29 mark in the second quarter. We assume there’s a correlation there somewhere.
The Falcons defense must take some blame. It made a few big plays but allowed the Dolphins to score on every possession in the second half — two touchdowns followed by two field goals — before they took knees to end it. Granted, the third score came when the Falcons bobbled a punt and turned it over on downs, giving the Dolphins a short field. So the blame gets spread around everywhere for Atlanta.
We have to come back to that final drive with a chance to win it. Maybe this is the sort of game Kyle Shanahan could have lost in his first season as the Falcons’ play caller too. Perhaps the Falcons will catch fire later in the season. That’s all fine and good, and there were a few poor plays (a roughing the passer call that hurt the Falcons) that went against them.
But losing to a team that became the first team to go four-plus games without an offensive touchdown is just inexcusable. We’re not ready to jump in with the “Super Bowl hangover” reasoning yet, but the Falcons are a dropped TD pass in Week 1 away from being 2-3. Up next: That trip to New England in primetime.
4. Big changes for 49ers, including a new QB — The San Francisco 49ers have drastically shifted their team this week. It started with the Friday release of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, and it continued Sunday with the benching of starting QB Brian Hoyer. And they might not be done changing personnel.
Hoyer opened the 26-24 loss at Washington completing 4-of-11 passes for 34 yards before getting the hook with 6:39 to go in the second quarter. In came C.J. Beathard, the third-round pick (whom the Niners traded up for), and he had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment when Preston Smith absolutely planted him on a pass play.
But four plays later, the 49ers were in the end zone on what was Beathard’s second full NFL drive — we’re not counting the one snap he played before Sunday — in the two-minute offense with his team down 17-0. The 75-yard drive in 1:51 (with three seconds left on the clock) was a sign that Beathard can handle the mental pressure of the job on the road in tough circumstances.
It feels like the 49ers had this QB change in mind coming into this week but opted to give Hoyer one more chance to prove himself. Too many times this season, he and the passing game had been white hot and then ice cold. Hoyer started slowly, so the move was made in-game, but you have to think the 49ers would stick with the rookie from Iowa until further notice.
Beathard opened the second half with a 12-yard field-goal drive and gave the 49ers a chance, and the defense seemed to play with a higher level of intensity after he came into the game. The fact that he did it at FedEx Field in D.C., where his grandfather was the Washington general manager for many years and is in the team’s Ring of Fame had to be special for him and his family.
The 49ers were in field-goal range on their final drive, but a crucial penalty by Pierre Garcon — after Garcon delivered an insane catch to get them down there — knocked them out. Beathard’s final desperation pass was picked. All told, though, he played a pretty great game.
That has to be what exactly head coach Kyle Shanahan hoped for, minus the finish. That’s five losses by a combined 13 points, which is brutal for any coach — much less a first-year one. But the effort and execution picked up with the QB change on the whole.
The youth movement is now in full effect. Tight end George Kittle, Beathard’s college teammate, is becoming a go-to option. Reuben Foster will replace Bowman when he returns from injury. Third-round corner Akiello Witherspoon rotated in more. Undrafted Matt Breida has cracked the RB rotation. It’s part of Shanahan’s plan: swab the decks and find talent anywhere they can.
“Everything is on my mind,” Shanahan said this past week. “I look at it every single position ... There’s no position on our team where it’s, ‘Hey, you’re starting no questions asked. We’re not going to look at anything.’ We evaluate everything.”
5. Post-bye sluggishness in D.C. — Washington doesn’t like to make things easy for itself. Jay Gruden committed to the run game early. Kirk Cousins was spreading the ball around well to multiple receivers. It had a 17-0 lead and had sent the 49ers’ starting QB to the bench.
Then it all fell apart.
The 49ers took the lead early in the fourth quarter and could have won the game had one or two more plays gone their way. Washington hung on with a few big defensive plays but not before a lot of breath holding.
Cousins stepped up with the fourth-quarter TD run that put his team ahead. He kept composed in an 84-yard drive that delivered a lead. It was his second scoring drive of the fourth quarter, and Cousins had to pick the offense up when the run game went belly up.
The most surprising part of the game was the defense not performing better against Beathard in his first real action. There are suddenly big questions on this side of the ball after some fine performances to this point of the season.
Already missing Josh Norman, Washington also lost defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (foot) and corner Bashaud Breeland (knee) to potentially big injuries in the game. Allen, Matt Ioannidis and the D-line had been collapsing the pocket early, but the depth there — as well as in the secondary — is just so lean. This has to be a big worry heading into a slew of big games, including the next two against division opponents in the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
A few avoidable penalties have now cost the team in key situations. In the loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, Washington linebacker Preston Smith lined up offsides. On Sunday, D.J. Swearinger was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on a third down play that turned into an eventual touchdown. Both crucial — and, frankly, dumb — penalties came in the red zone.
We’ll say it: Much as we like this team, it’s not talented enough to get away with these mental mistakes in key situations most games. They did Sunday, but that was to a team that hasn’t won since last season.