Offensive Players of the Week
Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans. With no Drew Brees in the house of noise in Seattle, coach Sean Payton did what any sensible coach would do: He put the ball in the hands of his most dangerous player. Teddy Bridgewater threw Kamara nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and handed it to him 16 times for 69 yards and a touchdown. The 33-27 win against the previously 2-0 Seahawks wasn’t that close, and Kamara was a huge reason why. With 3-0 Dallas coming to town this week, I’d suggest the same recipe.
Daniel Jones, quarterback, New York Giants. Impossible for a neophyte kid under pressure all day—Shaq Barrett sacked him four times alone—to have played better than Jones, particularly down the stretch. Jones finished 23 of 36 for 336 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but that wasn’t what decided the game. That was Jones’ legs. He ran for two touchdowns, which was never a part of Eli Manning’s game, and the seven-yard TD scramble up the middle with 1:16 left was the biggest play by a Giants team since their last playoff year in 2016.
Jacoby Brissett, quarterback, Indianapolis. First 23 minutes of the 27-24 win over the mistake-prone Falcons: 16 for 16, 178 yards. First three games of 2019: 71.7 percent accuracy, 7-1 TD-pick ratio, 112.0 rating. The Colts are an Oakland home win next Sunday from being 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, with a quarterback playing every bit as well as Andrew Luck did last season—if not quite as explosively.
Gardner Minshew, quarterback, Jacksonville. Good but not great numbers (20 of 30, 204 yards, two TDs, no picks), max impact. Threw three deep balls very well covered by Malcolm Butler, and he completed them all—two to D.J. Chark, one to Dede Westbrook. His presence, his poise, his deep arm … all by a guy who looks like he drove to the game in a pickup truck and tailgated for three hours. “Actually, it’s remarkable,” coach Doug Marrone said. This from Minshew: “A lot of people never thought I’d get this opportunity so now that I do have it, I have to make the most of it. I know through everything I’ve learned in my career and the situation I am in, I may only get one [chance] so you got to make the most of it.”
Defensive Players of the Week
Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville. In 2017, the Cardinals let Campbell, then 30, walk in free agency, figuring his best days were over. Man, were the Cardinals wrong. Campbell played one of the best games of his vastly underrated career for Jacksonville on Thursday night, dominating Tennessee with a three-sack, two-QB-hit, five-pressure game of Marcus Mariota in the 20-7 Jaguars victory. Here’s how great a game it was for Campbell. PFF gave Campbell an individual grade of 12.9 for the game, which is humongous. To put that into perspective, Aaron Donald, the no-doubt best defensive player in football, has played 84 career games through Week 2. In two of the 84, Donald graded out at 12.9 or higher. Campbell’s 10 pressure plays on Mariota set the tone in a dominant defensive performance by the Jags that, until garbage time in the fourth quarter, shut the Titans out for the first eight drives and 47 minutes of the game.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, linebackers, Green Bay. GM Brian Gutekunst made it a priority to buy a pass-rush in the offseason, signing the Smiths from Baltimore (Za’Darius) and Washington (Preston). They’re paying very quick dividends. Preston had three sacks and Za’Darius two against Joe Flacco in Green Bay. The five sacks resulted in 45 yards in losses and one forced fumble, and were huge in the 27-16 win over the Broncos.
Eric Wilson, linebacker, Minnesota. As if the Vikings needed another front-seven pass-rushing weapon. Wilson, a smallish undrafted free-agent from the University of Cincinnati, had two sacks and seven tackles in the 34-14 rout of the Raiders. He sealed the win with nine minutes left, burying Derek Carr with a 15-yard sack. He was part of a defense that never let the Raiders breathe.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Slater, special teams captain, New England. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Pats punting from the Jets’ 40, New England’s Jake Bailey wanted to pin the Jets inside their 10. With Slater sprinting downfield, the ball hit at about the 1.5-yard line, and Slater deftly grabbed it and re-directed it back to his right as he lunged into the end zone. The ball bounced at the two-foot line and was downed at the Jets’ 1. Just a genius play by Slater, one of the best special-teams players in NFL history.
Deonte Harris, punt-returner, New Orleans. I do believe this is the first time in FMIA history that Assumption (Mass.) College athletes make appearances in consecutive weeks. (Last week: Tampa Bay long-snapper Zach Triner.) Harris is a fairly amazing story. First: He is 21 years old. Second: Twice in his college career (NCAA Division II) Harris returned two punts for touchdowns in a game. Third: He is 5-foot-6. Electric dude. He made the Saints in training camp as (obviously) an undrafted free agent. With the team up against it Sunday in Seattle because of the absence of Drew Brees, Harris provided the spark on the first punt of the game, an uncharacteristically short job by ace Seahawks punted Michael Dickson. The 38-yard punt was fielded by Harris, running up to catch it, at his 47-yard line. On the returns, Harris looked like he was playing at a different speed. No Seahawk had a good shot at him, and the 53-yard touchdown return was finished fast. What a weapon. Now, Harris almost negated this august award when he fumbled away a punt return in the second half, but Seattle didn’t score with the turnover, so we’ll let Harris slide.
Jamal Agnew, kick returner, Detroit. Four minutes into Lions-Eagles at Philly, Agnew set the tone for the Lions. His 100-yard kick return stunned the crowd and helped them to a 20-10 halftime lead. Special-teams play has been a huge point of emphasis by Matt Patricia, and it paid off Sunday in Detroit’s upset of the Eagles.
Coach of the Week
Pat Shurmur, coach, New York Giants. Why’d you bring Eli back? Why’d you pull the plug on Eli after only two games? Why are you giving up on the season after only two games? It’s not Eli’s fault—the defense stinks! I think I’ve accurately quoted the Giants fandom/talk-show callers/public-at-large in greater New York over the past week—and I haven’t even included the king of New York sports talk, Mike Francesa, semi-berating Shurmur on the air the other day, causing the Giants to end the Shurmur/Francesa show on WFAN. But the way Jones played Sunday is why Shurmur made this call. For one week anyway, he can sleep well, knowing he made the call that was inevitable, even if it seemed precipitous. “We believed in Daniel from the day we drafted him,” Shurmur said after the 32-31 win in Tampa.
Goat of the Week
Matt Gay, kicker, Tampa Bay. Missed two PATs early, and those two points were huge in allowing the Giants to come back and take a 32-31 lead in the final minute. But Jameis Winston drove Tampa back to chip-shot field-goal range with four seconds left. Gay, the fifth-round rookie, drafted to end the nightmare that is Buccaneer kicking life, had a 34-yard attempt from the middle of the field on a lovely south Florida early evening. Snap fine. Hold fine. Kick wide right by inches. Bucs lose, 32-31.