NFL insider and sideline reporter
Let’s meet the reigning AFC and NFC champions and more in this week’s Cheat Sheet.
1. The Rams have 11 weeks to fix it… Will there be more?
If you thought the Rams building was doom and gloom after last week, you were wrong. Relief is near, and it comes at the most important time.
Los Angeles struggled hard on the attacking side of the ball and the offensive line was in shambles from the first week.
Sunday when the Super Bowl champions meet 49ers defensive front that gave them nightmares for most of the Sean McVeigh era (4:25 pm ET on FOX and the FOX sports app.), Los Angeles bets on center comeback Brian Allen to composition.
Andrew Whitworth commented on the problems of the Rams
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Allen will return this week, as will Van Jefferson, a talented wide receiver who played Super Bowl game after game only to rush to the hospital to see his newborn baby. He hasn’t been on the field since then, and damn it, the Rams miss him.
I’ve talked to McVeigh a lot over the past few weeks, and I don’t have a strong sense of desperation or a hovering cloud of confusion. In his office, the saying “Urgent Pleasure” is pasted on the wall. Interpret this however you like, but Sunday’s victory over the hated 49ers will go a long way in shedding light on this object.
McVeigh, whose office is littered with leadership books and coaching biographies (he’s the big John Wooden guy), was upbeat and excited to dig into the 49ers movie this week when I spoke to him in parting. He knows San Francisco had LA’s number and that the Rams nearly landed. Christian McCaffery. But he also knows the game is at home, the Rams are rested, and San Francisco isn’t going to be a house on fire right now either.
Will the Rams make the playoffs?
Sunday’s FOX NFL team is looking into whether multiple 3-3 teams can make the playoffs this season.
And there is no need for a sixth-year coach and his team to feel lethargic. NFC – Beyond the Undefeated Eagles — is still very wide open. And on the same weekend Tom Brady looked like a pedestrian Caroline, Aaron Rogers didn’t look perfect Washington and the 49ers couldn’t keep up Kansas CityMcVeigh’s boys were at home and saw the dominoes fall.
If I had told you before the start of the season that Brian Allen and Van Jefferson would be the two most important players in the Rams’ return to the Super Bowl, you’d be wrong.
And yet, we are here.
2. Here come the Bengals and their QB
The other Super Bowl team from last season is looking a lot better than Los Angeles right now. Heck, the Bengals look as good as any other team in the league.
After falling 0-2 and giving up 13 sacks in the first two weeks after spending a lot of money to rebuild the offensive line during the off-season, Cincinnati was written off by many pundits. Coach Zach Taylor even felt the heat, as if 2021 just didn’t exist.
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Over the past five quarters Joe Burrow threw for 597 yards and four touchdowns, and the Bengals offense is buzzing like it was during their magic Super Bowl stretch a year ago.
Beginning in Week 3, Burrow averaged 312 passing yards per game, throwing 71.3% of his passes, while also throwing 12 touchdowns and just one interception. He is in the top three in all statistical categories among quarterbacks who have played at least three games.
In fact, the third-year QB is so recruited, his longtime college colleague and professional teammate Ja’Marr Chase insisted that the 32-yard touchdown he caught last Sunday was the best connection they’ve ever had since LSU.
“It was definitely the best pass he’s ever made,” Chase told Jeff Hobson of Bengals.com. “It was a penny, bro, a penny.”
“We just executed early”
Joe Barrow talks with Jan Hale about the Bengals’ dominant win over Atlanta and why the offense was so effective.
Cincinnati will face Cleveland on Monday night, and although browns Bengals have had seizures in recent years, there is no reason to believe that Barrow will slow down anytime soon.
Six weeks after they became a team, everyone has written off just two weeks to an AFC title defense, the Bengals are 4-3, and their third-year quarterback is throwing the ball as well as ever. Maybe, just maybe, it took a few games for the offensive line to freeze.
Maybe, just maybe, the emergency appendectomy in August wasn’t just a pinky scratch.
Who cares now? Looks like the Bengals are back and their QB still looks a lot like the dude.
3. The superiority of the “Patriots” over the “Jets”
There is a reason for this. New England has long owned the Jets. This is at home. It is far. It’s anywhere.
New England have won 12 in a row against the Jets, including six in a row in New Jersey, and the looming history of Belichick and the Jets pops up every time two teams take the field, no matter who is in the center. For any team.
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In those 12 games, the Patriots have a demoralizing +245 points difference over Gang Green. If you want to know when the Jets last beat the Patriots in the regular season, you have to go back to September 19, 2010.
Mark Sanchez, now one of our seasoned analysts in the FOX booth, was a second-year player. The last touchdown in that game was for Dustin Keller, who hasn’t played in an NFL game since 2013.
Without Brice Hall or Alia Vera-Taker For the remainder of the season this week, there is a growing sense of doom and gloom among Jets fans. One line I hear over and over on sports radio in New York City is, “Why can’t we (always ‘we’) have good things?”
With the loss to the Patriots on Sunday, there’s a chance that all the optimism and all the hopes associated with this 2022 Jets season will be completely sucked out of thin air.
But victory? The victory really marks a new era. One where the sky isn’t always gray and Belichick isn’t always in charge.
4. Battle bear cats
The Jets have arguably the best rookie quarterback to hit the NFL in a decade. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner. The AFC Defensive Player of the Week since Week 7 has been in isolation since making his second appearance for Gang Green in Week 1.
In seven weeks, both became real NFL players. Two NFL freshmen were best friends at the University of Cincinnati. And while the Gravy received all the pre-draft praise, it was actually Bryant, not Gardner, who won the Jim Thorpe Trophy, given annually to the top quarterback in college football.
Seahawks cornerback Kobe Bryant, pictured making a fumble against Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, had a direct impact on Seattle. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
I loved Bryant’s performance in Cincinnati, watched him excel against Notre Dame, and kept a close eye on the upstart Bearcats throughout their 2021 dream season. Bryant had three interceptions and one goal for 74 yards to go home.
Back in Indianapolis in February, I made it a point to get my little iPhone voice recorder out when Bryant spoke to reporters at an NFL Scouting Combine session available to the media. Someone asked him about the Mamba mentality (yes, his real name is Kobe Bryant). Bryant, whose brother Christian also played in the league, replied:
“This is the mentality I was born with. My father has it, my brother has it. [former NFL safety Christian Bryant] eat it. It’s in the family. We are hungry. It doesn’t matter what we do. We always take everything seriously. It’s the reason why we do everything.”
When we had Bryant on Good Morning Football in April, he constantly called Sauce Gardner Ahmad. The nickname, which made a million New York Post headlines and even won a golden hot sauce ornament in the draft, didn’t have much of an impact on his college teammate. It was just Ahmad, the same guy he’d lined up with for months at college practices and games.
Now they both prosper on different coasts, minding their own business.
5. Yes, it is Kevin White!
What a treat to see Kevin White trending on Twitter last Thursday night.
The catch was White’s second hit since 2018 and the longest win of his career. White, if you remember, was selected seventh overall in the 2016 NFL Draft in Chicago by his hometown. The Bears.
His selection was epic by the crowd, and after a rookie season with 19 catches, he was expected to have a big season as a sophomore at the Windy City. Over the next five seasons, White managed to catch seven more transmissions, including stops in Arizona, San Francisco, and several transaction trips for the Saints.
But here he was Thursday night, back in the NFL and making possibly the biggest game of his NFL career. I was so excited when White caught the ball that I wrote some boring tweet like “Kevin White! Yes!”
I then checked Twitter and saw that about 240 other NFL media members had posted the exact same tweet within seconds of hitting send. We love White’s story: the top pick in the draft struggles with injuries, he is written off and forgotten, he never loses faith in himself, and lived through that brilliant moment, perhaps much later than even his biggest supporters followed him.
What a pleasant surprise White’s big game was. There are many more for many years to come.
And yes, I selected him for my fantasy team earlier this week. I don’t think I ever wanted a waiver wire pickup to produce more.
Peter Schrager is an NFL columnist for FOX Sports and host of Good Morning Football on the NFL Network.
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