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Jaguars in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes after another embarrassing loss

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After another dismal Sunday at TIAA Bank Field, one thing became perfectly clear: The No. 1 overall pick is definitely in play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

It didn’t look that way after the first two weeks after beating Indianapolis in the season opener and playing Tennessee tight in Nashville, where they’ve struggled to keep games close. There was optimism the Jaguars were going to be competitive and better than expected.

But that disappeared after the last three weeks and is more pronounced after Sunday’s 34-16 loss to the Detroit Lions. The Jaguars are definitely players in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes.

The 1-3 Lions were the Jaguars’ best chance to pick up a victory. Look at the rest of the schedule. At the Los Angeles Chargers? The Jaguars are 3-12 on the West Coast. Home against a Texans team whose only victory is against … the Jaguars? Maybe.

But home against Pittsburgh? At Green Bay? At Baltimore? At Minnesota?

The Jaguars entered the weekend with the third-best chance of earning the No. 1 overall pick in the ESPN Football Power Index behind both New York teams. Then they got routed by a Lions team that had blown double-digit leads in three of its first four games and led by a coach possibly on the verge of getting fired.

It also has become clear over the past month that Gardner Minshew II is not developing into the franchise quarterback the Jaguars had hoped. Since completing 95% of his passes and throwing for three TDs and no interceptions in the season opener, Minshew has thrown eight TD passes and five interceptions — with five of the TD passes coming when the Jaguars were trailing by double digits.

He’s still struggling in the pocket and hasn’t been as accurate with his downfield passes, which had been one of his strengths. In fairness, there’s a lot of pressure on him and the offense to keep up with a defense that struggles to stop anyone, but franchise QBs are able to deal with that and, at times, thrive.

Most expect Lawrence to be that guy — and the Jaguars look like they could end up in position to get him.

Troubling trend: For the third week in a row the Jaguars faced one of the NFL’s worst run defenses. And for the third week in a row they had little success and ended up with less than 100 yards rushing — and it got worse each time.

The Lions were giving up 170.3 yards per game rushing but the Jaguars managed 44 yards on 16 carries, including 29 yards on 12 carries by James Robinson. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said he had given up on the run too soon against Cincinnati and Houston and pledged to stick with it but that didn’t happen against the Lions. The game did get out of hand midway through the third quarter but before then the Jaguars were within two scores.

Troubling trend, part 2: The Jaguars have now given up at least 30 points in five consecutive games in a single season for the first time in franchise history. They had twice before given up at least 30 points in four consecutive games in a single season: 2013 and 2014.

They’re now giving up 30.2 points per game this season, which would break the previous single-season record if it were to stand (28.1 points per game in 2013).

Troubling trend, Part 3: The Jaguars have missed at least one kick — a field goal or PAT — in every game this season. On Sunday it was Jon Brown, who had never attempted a field goal or PAT in a game at any level. He hit a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter — which allowed the Jaguars to set an NFL record by having five different players attempt a field goal or PAT in five consecutive weeks — but missed a 32-yard attempt in the second quarter. Coach Doug Marrone said earlier in the week he hoped Josh Lambo could come off injured reserve (hip) this week and play against his former team, the Los Angeles Chargers.

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Rams’ Jalen Ramsey steps up for Nashville charter school

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Jalen Ramsey is riding to the Los Angeles Rams‘ practice facility and is about to cry.

The star cornerback is on a videoconference with Jayce Parker, a fourth-grade student.

“I don’t know what my future holds,” says Jayce, who is 10 years old. “But I know that because of Purpose Prep and people like you, my future is going to be bright. Thank you again, Mr. Ramsey.”

Ramsey smiles. A day earlier, he announced a $1 million pledge to Purpose Preparatory Academy — a charter school in his native Nashville, Tennessee, where Parker is among 400 students.

“Jayce, you are welcome and everybody is welcome,” Ramsey says earnestly. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of everything you are doing. Just keep up all the good work.”

On the football field, Ramsey is known as a lockdown cornerback, an elite trash talker and a fierce competitor whose sole focus is winning. But when he speaks about children and education, Ramsey reveals a softer side. His competitive nature fades, his tone softens yet grows eager, and he’s overcome with humility.

“To me, this is way more important than any play that I can make for the Los Angeles Rams,” Ramsey said. “I play a kids’ game professionally and I love it. … But this is real life.”

At Purpose Prep — a publicly funded, kindergarten-through-fourth-grade charter school that is free to attend for any student within the school district and whose student body is 98% Black, with more than 75% of its students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — Ramsey isn’t widely known as an NFL All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection. Instead, he’s someone who is contributing time and money to make a generational change.

“I know he’s perceived as an athlete,” said Lagra Newman, who founded Purpose Prep in 2013. “But we’ve had a very different opportunity to get to know him as somebody who really cares about education, our community in Nashville and our children.”

‘I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact’

When the country shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ramsey isolated at home. He spent the time reflecting about his faith and self-improvement.

“It helped me put a lot of things about life in perspective about what’s really important,” said Ramsey, who turned 26 on Oct. 24. “That’s family, love, showing love, the youth and a few other things.”

Then, a couple of months into the pandemic, came the social justice uprising that Ramsey says pushed him over the edge. He conversed with his inner circle, including his agent, financial adviser, mom, dad and brother — who he says is the most influential person in his life.

But Ramsey grew impatient with the conversations.

“I said, ‘I’m not doing any justice. I’m not taking any action myself.’ So how could I speak up about wanting change or trying to effect change when I’m able to do something in my community and I haven’t done it yet,” Ramsey said.

He decided to take a leap he had thought about and researched for more than four years.

“I’m just kind of sitting on it and sitting on it, waiting for the perfect time,” Ramsey said. “Then I kind of told myself, I said, ‘There will never be a quote-unquote perfect time.'”

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Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey talks with Purpose Preparatory Academy board members via a Zoom meeting.

Ramsey was first introduced to Purpose Prep at a 2016 school gala, where he grew more impressed as the evening wore on. His financial adviser arranged for Ramsey and other clients to attend as an opportunity to network and take part in the greater community.

He sat in the audience and watched several students including Jayce, then a kindergartner, don formal attire to speak in front of hundreds of adults about their experience at the school.

“They were dressed up, they had on like black suits and they were super, super impressive,” Ramsey said.

Newman, under whose guidance Purpose Prep was named a Tennessee Reward School for Academic Performance, equally impressed Ramsey as she spoke about the school’s goals and success.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the secret sauce?'” Newman said. “I really think it comes down to high expectations. When children walk into your door, do you believe they can achieve at the highest levels? We do at Purpose Prep.”

A Vanderbilt graduate who taught in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington with Teach for America, Newman aspired to open a school in a low-income community and settled on north Nashville after witnessing the inequalities in the school district through her time spent tutoring in the area.

“North Nashville has an incredible cultural richness and just a very special history in this city,” Newman said. “Yet the schools are abysmal, abysmally low-performing and it’s an injustice. They’re Black and brown children that are just clustered in schools, going to school every day and are leaving without critical skills, and so I wanted to create a school in this community and I wanted to really prove what was possible. That’s what we’ve been able to do.”

“It has been an amazing experience,” Jayce’s mother, Onya Parker, said about her son’s nearly five years at Purpose Prep. “He’s so confident in his academics, even speaking in front of audiences. Just being a scholar at Purpose Prep has just prepared him in a way I know that he wouldn’t have received the same preparation at another school.”

Ramsey, who grew up in a Nashville suburb and attended a private high school, understands the impact of sound schooling.

“I always, always had that value instilled in me by my parents that education was key and education was the most important because that’s something nobody can take from you,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey, joined by his inner circle, initiated a couple of videoconference meetings with Newman and board members in August to discuss the school’s future but left few hints that he intended to make a significant financial contribution.

A few financial numbers were mentioned that would be considered a major boon to help the school during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced students into distance learning.

But Ramsey, who was still playing under his rookie contract at the time and had yet to sign a five-year extension worth up to $105 million that made him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history, thought the figures weren’t substantial enough.

So he multiplied them — several times over — to $1 million.

“I didn’t want to just get in there halfway; I wanted to be all-in. I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact,” Ramsey said. “That number amount was just something that was put in my heart.”

Newman was brought to tears when Ramsey called to inform her. “When he told me the amount, I couldn’t even fathom what that meant,” she said. “It’s transformational.”

His donation is the largest in school history by far, and Newman says it comes without conditions. Ramsey’s only request is that Purpose Prep continues on the path it set.

“To see how she’s been sustaining and doing extremely well for these kids for years and years, it gave me a lot of — a ton of hope that she will do the right thing when a lot is entrusted in her,” Ramsey said.

‘I was overwhelmed at the generosity’

When Onya Parker heard about Ramsey’s donation, it quickly dawned on her that Ramsey was in the audience when her son, Jayce, spoke at the gala more than four years earlier, and that Ramsey later posed with him for a photograph.

Back then, she didn’t know much about Ramsey, only that he was a professional athlete. And she certainly didn’t foresee Ramsey impacting her son’s education in the years to come.

“I was overwhelmed at the generosity,” said Onya, who grew emotional as she reflected on her son’s opportunity to receive a high-quality education. “[Ramsey] saw something in these children and wanted to contribute to making their futures brighter.”

Ramsey’s donation enabled Purpose Prep to turn entirely virtual to accommodate distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Every student, including Jayce — who loves math and aspires to be a sports agent — was provided a computer and internet hotspot to ensure they would not miss a day of class. With the added technology came the need for tech-savvy staff members who could help the kids and families navigate any technical issues at home, which the donation also covered.

“In the immediate, certainly Purpose Prep is able to get out of survival mode as we think about overcoming ourselves in this pandemic,” Newman said.

Because of Ramsey’s generosity, the school’s leaders can think about its long-term future.

“That’s just so many challenges that come with creating this school,” Newman said. “And I think to have somebody to invest to that extent, it opens up a few different things.”

Ramsey’s donation will help fund field trips to colleges, a staple on the school-year calendar before the pandemic and critical to the students’ ability to learn about higher education at a young age.

It will provide enrichment opportunities beyond the bare minimum of a high-quality education, said Newman, who dreams of the day when every musician in the school can play his or her own instrument and the band can practice in a space that’s not a conference room. She envisions Purpose Prep’s physical education classes taking place in a gymnasium instead of the cafeteria. She hopes additional technology can be incorporated into everyday learning.

“Only now have we been able to really think big and think like, ‘Wow, what could school for our children be when we actually have the resources to support the type of education that they actually truly deserve?'” she said.

In it for the long haul

When he’s not preparing for a football game, Ramsey joins Zoom conferences to participate in school board meetings. He keeps in touch via text messages and is “super personable,” Newman said, adding that he’s quickly becoming family.

“He’s somebody who is really in tune with what’s happening socially,” Newman said. “He sees this as his opportunity to also be a part of social change and making an impact and leading in that way.”

In board meetings, Ramsey is described as engaging, a good listener and participant.

“He’s not just there to just dump off a lump sum of money and say, ‘Bye,'” said Lara Henley, a school board member who helps oversee fundraising. “He’s very adamant about the fact that he’s in it for the long haul.”

Ramsey provides ideas and feedback, but also emphasizes his trust in Newman.

“I wouldn’t have done that [donation] for just anybody,” he said. “They were doing right by the kids and the teachers trying to bridge the gap.”

A father of two young daughters, Ramsey says he wants his girls to attend Purpose Prep, “100 percent,” and he wants other children, even those outside of Nashville, to experience the same high-quality education.

“We want to do this in Texas, in California,” Ramsey said, clarifying “this” means establishing more Purpose Prep-inspired schools. “We want to continue to do this with everybody in our kind of friend group and within our family group. We want to continue to do this.”

‘I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero’

On that August day when Ramsey rode to the Rams’ practice facility, he thought he was joining a school board meeting. He had no idea a kindergartner whom he met years earlier would appear on screen, then deliver a speech that would leave him practically speechless.

“Who knew that when I took a picture with you in kindergarten at the gala that our paths would cross again. Back then I was excited to be in the presence of an NFL player, but now I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero.” Jayce Parker, a 10-year-old student at Purpose Prep Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, to Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey

“Who knew that when I took a picture with you in kindergarten at the gala that our paths would cross again,” Jayce said to Ramsey. “Back then I was excited to be in the presence of an NFL player, but now I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero.”

The moment filled Ramsey with joy.

“This means more to me than the contract or some of the other blessings that have been coming in my life,” Ramsey said. “I genuinely believe in the youth. I think the youth is our future and them having a great upcoming will be what changes the world. Maybe I won’t see it in my generation, but maybe in my daughters’ lifetime they see it, or maybe their kids, long from now, will see it.”

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What separates star defenders Aaron Donald of Rams and Khalil Mack of Bears? Production

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Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack were on top of the NFL defensive world as 27-year-olds in 2018.

Donald, the Los Angeles Rams‘ star defensive tackle, won his second consecutive NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy thanks to a whopping 20.5 sacks, setting the NFL record for sacks by a defensive tackle. His efforts helped lead the Rams to Super Bowl LIII, where they lost to the New England Patriots.

But as amazing as Donald was, Mack was right alongside him in the defensive hierarchy. The edge rusher, traded to the Chicago Bears from the Oakland Raiders right before that season, was a first-team All-Pro selection, racking up 12.5 sacks and helping lead the Bears to their first playoff berth in eight seasons.

But as the two meet Monday night at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, they don’t sit 1-2 atop the NFL defensive hierarchy. Donald, after 12.5 sacks and a fifth straight All-Pro selection last year, has already racked up 7.5 sacks this season and looks to be the favorite for a third DPOY in four seasons (he also won in 2017). Mack, while still a Pro Bowler, wasn’t an All-Pro last year and his status as Donald’s main DPOY competition has been threatened.

Separated by three months in age, is there a bigger separation happening in production? We ask Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson and Rams reporter Lindsey Thiry to break down the defensive stars.


In 2018, both had monster seasons. Since then their paths have diverged somewhat. What has gone right for Donald and wrong for Mack?

Dickerson: There’s nothing “wrong” with Mack. Rather, Mack is a victim of his own success. Most players would be thrilled to finish a season with 47 tackles, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles — Mack’s numbers in 2019 — but Mack raised the bar astronomically high the year before. He failed to dominate last season the way he did in 2018; Mack’s first year in Chicago after the Raiders traded him prior to Week 1. The good news for the Bears — and bad news for the rest of the NFL — is that Mack is back. He already has 4.5 sacks for one of the league’s best defenses. Mack terrorized Tom Brady in Week 5 and even hip-tossed Tampa’s starting right tackle for good measure. Good luck, Jared Goff.

Thiry: Ask any teammate, coach or even opponent, and they will tell you that Donald’s effort on every play, whether it’s practice or a game, is second to none. He does not take a play off, and he doesn’t take a day off (even after the Super Bowl appearance, Donald rested only a few days before he returned to his grueling workouts). “He never gets complacent,” Rams coach Sean McVay says. “When you watch the way that he works and gives himself a chance to improve because of the consistency and the attention to detail, the focus and concentration that he takes on every single thing that he does, it’s good to be around.” Donald continues to find new ways to get his job done because of unmatched dedication and hard work.

In what kind of defensive scheme does each thrive most? Offer an example of their best game since 2018?

Dickerson: Mack is a pure, 3-4 outside linebacker. He is so talented that he sometimes lines up with his hand on the ground, but he’s most dangerous out of the two-point stance. Mack showed the entire NFL — in case it didn’t already know — how multidimensional he is when he made his Bears debut vs. the Packers in Week 1 of the 2018 season. Mack became the first player since 1982 to record a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception and a touchdown in one half.

Thiry: Donald spent three seasons playing in a 4-3 defense, then switched to a 3-4 in 2017 when former Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips arrived. New defensive coordinator Brandon Staley kept the base 3-4 in place after he was hired this season. Donald has thrived regardless of scheme, but this season there’s an uptick in how often Donald lines up in different spots along the line. “In certain situations, we definitely want to make sure that he’s not a static target and in the same spot,” McVay says. “It makes it a lot easier to kind of game plan a player of his magnitude when you know where he’s going to be.” So the Rams and Donald have tried to keep opponents guessing. In a Week 5 win over the Washington Football Team, Donald erupted for a season-high four sacks. “I was single-blocked,” Donald said.

How does a team game plan for Donald? For Mack?

Dickerson: Carefully. Block Mack with one guy at your own risk. And if you double-team Mack, that frees up space for defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and pass-rusher Robert Quinn, who roughly played 30-35 snaps per game. Basically, the Bears are really, really tough on defense when Mack is at his best. You better chip the heck out of Mack and get rid of the ball quick. Otherwise, it could get ugly for the opposing quarterback.

Thiry: The 49ers provided a blueprint last Sunday, when they defeated the Rams 24-16. Donald did not have a sack and had only one quarterback hit on Jimmy Garoppolo. “It was a lot of perimeter-type stuff, where you’re seeing a lot of those kind of flip play. … A lot of the toss actions,” McVay said. “A lot of the concepts and different things that they were activating to minimize the impact you can have as an interior player, where they really stretched your edges in your second and third levels.” Watch for other teams to try to emulate what the Niners accomplished; however, it’s likely Donald spent the week figuring out how to beat that scheme.

What has been the Achilles’ heel of their respective games?

Dickerson: The supporting cast. The Bears had a ton of injuries last year, which contributed to Mack’s decline. Without Hicks (elbow injury much of 2019) or a consistent pass-rusher on the other side (former first-round pick Leonard Floyd) teams focused almost all of their attention toward stopping Mack. Through six weeks, the only serious loss the Bears have suffered on defense has been nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out over the summer due to COVID-19 related concerns. Mack is especially dangerous when the rest of the defense is healthy.

Thiry: As an individual, Donald does not have an Achilles’ heel. He is dominant in every fashion. The only issue, like Mack, is that opponents are able to key in on Donald because of a lack of dominant pass-rushers coming from the edge this season. Floyd, whom the Bears released during the offseason, has maintained a persistent presence and has two sacks. However, the position opposite of Floyd has remained in flux as the Rams shuffle several players in attempt to establish a more consistent pass rush.

How will each impact Monday night’s game most?

Dickerson: Mack is such a force that Los Angeles will have to key on him. Unfortunately for the Rams, Hicks is also having a monster year and is borderline unblockable at times. Safety Eddie Jackson is an opportunistic playmaker. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is a former Pro Bowler. Veteran safety Tashaun Gipson already has two interceptions. Roquan Smith is Chicago’s leading tackler. The defense feeds off the attention that is paid to Mack, who impacts games not only by his play but also by his presence.

Thiry: The Bears will have to account for Donald on every snap. Even while facing a double-team on 70.1% of his pass rushes this season, Donald has a league-high 7.5 sacks. And worst news yet for the Bears is that Donald is coming off a down performance against the 49ers that will inspire him to get to quarterback Nick Foles. Donald has not gone two consecutive games without a sack since Week 5 and 6 of 2019. Watch for his pressure to force Foles into some errant throws that the Rams’ secondary, led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, will be ready to capitalize on.

The Bears will win if Mack … / The Rams will win if Donald …

Dickerson: … plays the way he is capable of playing. The Bears need Mack to sack Goff about one or two times and hit him five to six times. The Bears will need to rely on their defense to win. Maybe Mack can also pitch in on offense. That would be helpful, too.

Thiry: … makes Foles uncomfortable. The Rams’ defense has gotten sacks in bunches — see their eight sacks versus Washington. So if Donald is able to lead the way against an offensive line that has a pass block win rate of 57.3% (16th in the NFL) it could be a long night for Foles and other playmakers on an offense that, at least statistically, is ranked among the least productive in the league.

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Overreactions: Should Mike McCarthy be on the hot seat? What about Cam Newton?

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If you finished bagging the leaves early enough Sunday that you got to watch the early window NFL games, you had yourself a treat. Wild finishes, comebacks, close games and star-caliber performances on every screen you could muster.

The Lions pulled out an impossible victory over the Falcons with a last-second touchdown. The Steelers held off the Titans in a battle of the unbeatens. The Panthers made the Saints sweat it out. Baker Mayfield beat Joe Burrow in a back-and-forth battle of No. 1 picks. Heck, for a little while it looked as if the Jets might upset the Bills.

And also, the Cowboys played.

If you missed the Cowboys’ game, congratulations. It was pure garbage. Sunday’s early window slate was a museum hall filled with Picassos and Rembrandts, and the Cowboys’ 25-3 loss to Washington was a spot on the wall where somebody sneezed. They were out of it almost immediately, falling behind 2-0 — quarterback Andy Dalton fumbled into the end zone on a sack — and never really challenged.

Dallas ended up with 142 total yards, which is a lower number than the individual Sunday yardage totals of Davante Adams (196), A.J. Brown (153) and Alvin Kamara (148). The Cowboys possessed the ball for 23 minutes, 36 seconds of the game’s 60 minutes and had 12 first downs to Washington’s 21. They were outclassed, uninterested and embarrassed.

In short, they were practically begging to lead this week’s overreaction column.

Mike McCarthy will be one-and-done in Dallas

Oh, there are plenty of excuses. Dallas is missing four starting offensive linemen and its starting quarterback. Backup quarterback Andy Dalton got knocked out of the game because of a concussion on a dirty hit and was replaced by rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci. The Cowboys clearly have not picked up new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme, which must involve some sort of hyper-advanced calculus that Nolan just invented this past March or something.

There are plenty of reasons why the Cowboys are 2-5 and ahead of only the Giants in the historically weak NFC East, but regardless of any or all of them, they expected to be a lot better than this.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Look, Jerry Jones’ reputation as an owner who fires coaches willy-nilly is outdated and, frankly, was never really deserved when you look at the history. And no one likes to admit a mistake. But if we get to the end of the season and the NFC East champ has only six or seven wins and the Cowboys aren’t it? They would have to be considered the biggest failure of any team in the league.

McCarthy was brought in, after a year off from coaching following his firing in Green Bay, to replace longtime coach Jason Garrett. The issue with Garrett was that his teams were generally good but not good enough. McCarthy was supposed to get them over the hump. This team has somehow got itself stuck under the hump.

Admitting a mistake can be tough, but isn’t it worse to double down on one? We have more than half a season to go, but if the Cowboys get to the end of it and still look like this lackluster bunch that hasn’t connected with the new staff, it’s not at all wild to think McCarthy could end up being a footnote in team history.


The Patriots need to bench Cam Newton and find out what they have in Jarrett Stidham

Newton was terrible on Sunday, for the second game in a row, and he didn’t have two weeks’ worth of COVID-related rust to blame this time. The 49ers scored 33 points in Foxborough — five more than the total number of points the Patriots have scored over their past three games combined. In those three games, New England has turned the ball over 11 times and scored only two touchdowns. The run game that was so impressive in the season opener mustered only 94 yards on the ground Sunday.

Newton didn’t even finish the game — it was so out of hand in the fourth quarter that Bill Belichick put Stidham in at quarterback. Asked after the game whether Newton was still the starter going forward, Belichick said, “Yeah, absolutely.”

But the Patriots are 2-4, in third place in the AFC East, 2.5 games behind the first-place Bills, whom they play next week in Buffalo. If they lose that game, they could be too far behind to think about the postseason. And if that’s the case, they need to think about whether they need to draft a quarterback or find one in free agency. Knowing what they have in Stidham could help them make that decision.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. As long as he’s healthy — and he insists he is — Newton still gives the Patriots the better chance to win. They have a run-based offense, and the running threat Newton presents enhances the run game when it’s working. New England isn’t out of it yet, and a win next week in Buffalo would change the narrative.

What it does at quarterback next year remains a mystery. Newton is on a one-year deal and Stidham hasn’t shown much, so all options are on the table. But a team that has won its division 11 years in a row and 17 of the past 19 isn’t in a position to give up on its season and think about the future while it’s still mathematically alive in the playoff race.


While his old team was getting smoked by the Niners, Brady was in Vegas throwing four touchdown passes in a 45-20 victory over the Raiders. (He ran one in, too.) Nine different players caught passes from Brady on Sunday. Four different Bucs caught touchdowns. He’s not even using Mike Evans, really. The leading receiver in Sunday’s win was Scotty Miller.

But the rich get richer, and last week the Buccaneers agreed to terms with Brown, the former Steelers, Raiders and Patriots receiver who’s serving an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Brown, who was the best receiver in the NFL not long ago, is eligible to join the Bucs in Week 9 assuming no more league discipline is coming.

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Tom Brady connects with Rob Gronkowski, who goes up to take the ball away from the defender and score a 5-yard touchdown to give the Buccaneers a 14-10 lead over the Raiders.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Brown is a luxury in Tampa, not a necessity. Coach Bruce Arians can say whatever he wants about “Tom had nothing to do with this,” but the facts are that Brady and Brown have stayed in touch and Brady was so impressed with Brown in the one game he played with him last season that he’s eager to work with him again.

What that means for the rest of the Buccaneers’ receivers is anyone’s guess. Brady probably will keep throwing to whomever’s open, and more games where he spreads it around like this are likely with or without Brown. What it means for the Bucs’ competition probably isn’t very good. If Brown is even 80 percent of what he was two or three years ago in Pittsburgh, he’s the final Infinity Stone that should empower Brady to wipe out half the universe with a snap of his fingers. Or at least get the Bucs to the Super Bowl.


After a week in which outside speculation (though no inside information) had Mayfield in danger of being benched for Case Keenum, the Browns’ quarterback started Sunday’s game against the Bengals 0-for-5 with an interception. Worse, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. left the game early because of a knee injury.

Mayfield rebounded and went 22-for-23 after that rough start, including 21 completions in a row, with five touchdown passes. The last of the five put the Browns ahead for good with 11 seconds left after Burrow had put the Bengals ahead a minute earlier. It was the kind of game the Browns need to see from Mayfield — one in which he put the team on his back and delivered in the clutch without his running game carrying him and without his best receiver.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. What are we talking about here? Mayfield isn’t going to complete 21 passes in a row and throw five touchdowns every week. And the Browns’ offense will function better when running back Nick Chubb returns from injury and they can lean on the ground game. But Mayfield’s coaches have stood by him through the tough parts of this season, and they believe he can be the quarterback they need him to be.

Sunday was evidence that they might be right. The Browns are 5-2 and in the hunt for the postseason. There’s no reason to do anything with Mayfield but keep working to make him better and more consistent. Which is their plan, and has been all along.


Todd Gurley is the reason the Falcons lost Sunday

Let’s set the scene: Atlanta trailed Detroit 16-14 with the ball at the Lions’ 10-yard line and just over a minute to go in the game. The Lions had used all of their timeouts, which meant that the Falcons could run down the clock run to almost zero, call their own timeout, and kick a winning chip-shot field goal.

Instead, Gurley ran 10 yards for a touchdown — he tried to stop at the goal line — to put the Falcons ahead. A 2-point conversion gave them a 22-16 lead, but it also left Matthew Stafford the 1:04 he needed to take the Lions down the field for the winning touchdown.

It was the Falcons’ third loss this season in a game in which they had at least a 98% chance to win, according to ESPN’s win probability metric. The other 31 teams in the NFL have played a total of four such games this season.

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Todd Gurley bursts up the middle toward the end zone and tries to stop himself from scoring in an attempt to run time off the clock, but the ball breaks the plane of the goal line for a touchdown.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. I never like the idea of not scoring when you’re behind. The short field goal is nearly automatic, sure, but it’s not actually automatic. What if the snap goes wrong? What if it’s blocked? You’re behind and you have a chance to take the lead, you do it. Plus, there’s nothing in the rules that says the Falcons’ defense isn’t allowed to stop anybody in a big fourth-quarter situation.

The Falcons told Gurley not to score there, so yeah, that’s a bonehead play by him. But it’s tough to rein in a player’s instincts (especially one who scores as much as Gurley does) to get to the end zone. And again, they were behind in the game. If they were tied or ahead, I see the logic. But when you’re behind and you have a chance to take the lead, I have always thought the right thing was to do it.

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