This week, Impact Sport takes a look at some of the big talking points from our cousins across the pond in the National Football League. Whether you’re a committed fan being regularly let down by your adopted franchise or a sceptical newcomer to this version of football, why not join us for a sideways glance at the gridiron goings-on?
“Tom Brady and the Patriots are finished”
We’re five weeks into the new season now, and the Patriots are supposed to be comfortably set in a downward spiral. Tom Brady’s years of effortless dominance are behind him, he’s lacking star receivers to throw to and the New England offensive line leaves him dangerously exposed. Andy Dalton’s Bengals were supposed to be the tipping point in the Patriots season, putting them on a losing streak and careering towards a .500 season – or so the NFL’s talking heads would have you think.
Instead, Brady once again showed his class and outright talent to rebound and lead his side to a 43-17 victory which was earned in the first quarter with a 14-point lead going into the break. Brady threw for 292 yards and handed the ball off for another 221 rushing yards – 117 of them going to Steven Ridley. So, the story switches from “The Patriots are done” to “The Patriots are back”, and the whole sorry circus continues for another week.
When they’re firing, even as faded as they are, this Patriots side can put points on the board
Except, the Pats aren’t really back because they never went away; expecting the Bengals to win this week was fine, but if you’ve slipped in to expecting New England to throw the game away because they aren’t the force they once were then you’re underestimating the quality Brady brings to an offence. When they’re firing, even as faded as they are, this Patriots side can put points on the board – but while we shouldn’t fall into trap of writing off Brady, we should be careful of assuming that this big AFC win is enough to hand the division to coach Bill Belichick.
The 2014 draft class is starting to show its teeth
Okay, so we’re yet to see Johnny Manziel turn on the heat in Cleveland, with Brian Hoyer making the number one spot his own and leaving the NFL’s draft darling with a supporting role. Elsewhere though, those members of Manziel’s draft class have been thrust into the limelight, and five games in they’re starting to find their feet around the league. Among the highlight reel players we’ve got Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota Vikings) and Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) getting opportunities to control the football – both in place of banged up starters for the time being.
Like Manziel, neither of them has made the starter’s job their own but, unlike Manziel, they’ve shown quality distributing the ball and demonstrating why they belong in the NFL. These guys aren’t being thrown in on trick plays, playing as dummy receivers or tossed to the wolves on wild scramble situations. They’re playing quarterback. As if warming the bench wasn’t bad enough for Johnny, he’s being made to watch other rookies make serious gains as part of the Browns offence. In particular, Terence West, the running back out of Towson, is getting regular carries in place of Ben Tate and he’s making the most of the opportunity rushing the ball and making solid catches when he’s targeted as a receiver. The out-and-out rookie receivers are starting to shine too. Sammy Watkins is showing some real ability as an outstanding pass catcher, including a huge week 2 total of 117 yards from eight catches. When he finds separation down the field, Watkins is capable of making big plays, and there’s no reason to think a little experience in the league won’t turn him into a receiver who can really trouble defences all around the NFL.
Protecting retiring players is getting expensive
It’s been suggested over the last few months that a couple of players who have huge insurance policies to protect their earnings as professional football players are having to make the tough decision between continuing in the league or bowing out early and cashing that cheque. This week, Jermichael Finley has apparently pulled the trigger on his policy. Or, the first trigger at least – giving onlookers the first suggestion that the Packers tight end might not return to football, instead electing to take a $10m payout.
Professional football players are having to make the tough decision between continuing in the league or bowing out early and cashing that cheque
For those that missed it, Finley last played in October 2013, and he left that game on a stretcher, ultimately requiring spinal fusion surgery. Looking past Finley himself, this could be the start of an interesting period for the league, and the insurance companies who back similar schemes on professional athletes. Rest assured that if Finley does call time on his career now, it won’t be a graceful departure, instead one tarnished by very public insurance wrangling which could set the tone for players trying to claim against their injuries in the future.