Judging Week 9 NFL overreactions: Browns better without Odell Beckham Jr.? Jordan Love the Packers’ future? Cowboys’ most important player?

Judging Week 9 NFL overreactions: Browns better without Odell Beckham Jr.? Jordan Love the Packers’ future? Cowboys’ most important player?

Oooooh, baby — Week 9 was the kind of week the overreactions column is made for.

Before the late-window Sunday games had even kicked off, three first-place teams — Buffalo, Las Vegas and Dallas — had lost to teams that didn’t have winning records. Another, the Ravens, were trying to come back and win in overtime. (They did.)

The Saints scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and still lost at home to the Falcons. The Patriots won their third game in a row and moved within a half-game of first place in their division. The Bengals, who beat the Ravens 41-17 just two weeks ago, allowed 41 points to the Browns in their second straight ugly loss.

If you went into Sunday thinking you knew something about the 2021 NFL season, odds are you found out you were wrong. These are the weeks that make this job fun. Seriously, who watches sports hoping that the exact thing they expect to happen does happen? Bring on the chaos. Bring on the Week 9 overreactions.

The Browns are a better team without Odell Beckham Jr.

Baker Mayfield and the Browns had themselves quite a week. On Oct. 31, they suffered an ugly 15-10 loss to the Steelers that dropped them into last place in the AFC North. On Tuesday, star wideout Beckham saw the trade deadline pass without a deal that sent him out of Cleveland, and his father was posting videos on social media ripping Mayfield for not throwing Beckham the ball when he was open. Friday, the Browns announced they would release Beckham, which they will officially do Monday, having worked out a financial settlement.

My friend and colleague Ryan Clark made a strong point on Friday’s episode of Get Up. Beckham was well-liked in the Browns’ locker room. His best friend in the world, Jarvis Landry, is a leader in that room. If the issue was the inability of Mayfield and Beckham to get together in the passing game, and the team decided to move on from Beckham and stick with Mayfield, then Mayfield was going to need to be pretty awesome in order to avoid losing that locker room.

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The day started out great. Before Mayfield even took the field Sunday, he had a 7-0 lead courtesy of Denzel Ward’s 99-yard interception return for a touchdown. Later in the first half, Mayfield would throw the first of his two touchdown passes on the day — a 60-yard bomb to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who figures to take on more of a role with Beckham gone. Mayfield ended the day 14-for-21 for 218 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-16 win over the team that looked like the best in the division just two weeks earlier.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. I’ve been a staunch Beckham defender and still think he can play. But this goes well beyond a one-game sample. Entering Sunday’s games, Mayfield had a Total QBR of 65, a completion percentage of 66, 20 touchdown passes and four interceptions over the past two seasons without Beckham on the field. With Beckham on the field over that same time frame, his QBR was 44, his completion percentage 61% and his touchdown-interception ratio 12-7. It’s hard to overlook those numbers. On Sunday, Mayfield had a QBR of 82.7, completed 66.7% of his passes and threw two touchdowns with no interceptions — right in line with the larger-sample numbers.

Since 2019, Mayfield has a QBR of 58 when targeting Beckham — a figure that ranks 57th in the league among the 62 QB/WR duos with at least 125 throws. Whoever’s fault it was or was not, the Mayfield/Beckham connection in Cleveland simply did not work. And no one can say they didn’t give it a chance.

I don’t know what Beckham is looking for, but I hope he finds it. In the meantime, Mayfield delivered in the way he had to Sunday after the week he and the Browns had vis-à-vis Beckham. They’re back over .500 and moving forward.

Tyron Smith is the Cowboys’ most important player
A week after beating the Vikings without starting quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys were shellacked at home by the Broncos. They fell behind 30-0 and lost 30-16 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates. Prescott was terrible, completing 19 of 39 passes for 232 yards, two late touchdowns and an interception. The Cowboys put up 290 yards of total offense and allowed 407, possessing the ball for a not-a-typo 18 minutes and 48 seconds. They were dominated, losing their first game since Week 1.

Prescott was back, but Smith, the hulking left tackle, missed the game with an ankle injury, and the Cowboys’ high-powered offense could get nothing going.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Since before Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott entered the league in 2016, the line has been the backbone of the Cowboys’ offense. Smith, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been its anchor. Entering Sunday, since 2019, Prescott has been contacted on 22% of his plays with Smith not on the field and only 16% of his plays with Smith on the field. He has been sacked on 3.7% of his dropbacks with Smith on the field and on 4.1% of them with him off it. And his touchdown-interception ratio with Smith on the field is 3.67. With Smith off the field, it drops to 1.63. Prescott can certainly have success without Smith on the field, but it’s obvious that he’s a crucial part of what makes the Dallas offense go. It will be a lot better off once he’s healthy again. The Cowboys get the Falcons at home in Week 10.

The Patriots are going to win the AFC East
Two weeks, two road wins on two opposite ends of the country for the Pats, who went to L.A. and beat the Chargers in Week 8, then went to Charlotte and beat the Panthers in Week 9. It was New England’s third win in a row and its fourth in five games since that painful home loss to Tom Brady and the Bucs. The Patriots’ only loss in their past five games was in overtime against the Cowboys.

They’re playing well on defense, rookie quarterback Mac Jones is getting the ball where it needs to go and they’re running the ball effectively. Don’t look now, but their 5-4 record puts them only a half-game behind first-place Buffalo (5-3), whom they still get to play twice. Bill Belichick has quietly positioned his team for a playoff run in its second year post-Brady.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. I’m not going to put anything past Belichick. And I have no explanation for how the Bills lost to the Jaguars when they gave up only nine points. It’s possible there’s some flaw in their great-looking roster that we haven’t perceived yet. But it’s more likely they just had a bad day, as a lot of the league’s good teams did Sunday.

New England is playing great on defense, yes, and it’s an impressive 4-0 on the road. But each of its next six games are against teams that are .500 or better (including the two against Buffalo). The Bills still have both of their games against the Jets left, while the Pats have already played both of theirs. Buffalo has a December home game against the same Panthers the Patriots pushed around Sunday and a November road game against a Saints team that’s really short right now on offense.

The head-to-head matchups between the Bills and Patriots likely will determine what happens here, but Buffalo’s remaining schedule outside of those games favors them strongly. And I still think they have the better overall roster. Even though, I must repeat, I am not ruling out what Belichick is capable of and never will.

Jordan Love will not be the successor to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay
Rodgers’ decision not to get the COVID-19 vaccine rendered him unable to play for the Packers this week (and may do so again next week), which left 2020 first-round pick Love to make his first career start against a pretty desperate Chiefs team. It … did not go well.

Playing against a defense that entered Week 9 allowing 391.5 yards per game (fourth worst in the league), Love spent the first three quarters looking anything but ready to be an NFL starter. He went 19-of-34 for 190 yards with an interception and fourth-quarter touchdown. The Packers saw their own seven-game winning streak end with a whimper, 13-7 in Kansas City.

With Rodgers’ future in Green Bay after this season very much in doubt, this game will do very little to quell the opinion that the Packers might not be able to turn things over to Love as early as 2022.

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Jordan Love’s first INT is a pick in the red zoneJordan Love throws an interception in his first start in the NFL in the fourth quarter.
The Verdict: OVERREACTION. Love doesn’t have to be ready yet. He has to be ready by September 2022. The Packers have the whole second half of this season, plus the entire 2022 offseason, to get their chosen successor to Rodgers ready.

Love quieted down his feet and made some big-time throws in the fourth quarter, when the Packers actually did still have a chance to come back and beat the Chiefs — first on the drive that ended in an interception, then on the one that ended with a touchdown. It was kind of like playing a lousy round of golf but holing out from the fairway on 18.

It was by no means a good day for Love, but at least something happened that he might be able to build on. And if Rodgers isn’t cleared in time for next week, Love will get another shot at a vulnerable defense when the Packers take on Seattle. I understand the concern, believe me. He’s not Rodgers and likely never will be. But it’s too soon to write him off



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