Peter King’s NFL truths after some stunning Week 6 games


1. There’s a changing of the guard at quarterback.

Jimmy GaroppoloTeddy BridgewaterKyle Allen and Devlin Hodges (the duck-caller) are 14-0. Brady’s still winning and Brees will be back, but the signs are there for the new. The 2004 class is fading away, with Eli Manning benched, Ben Roethlisberger out for the year and Philip Rivers 2-4. Exactly half of the league’s 32 teams are starting passers in their third year of starting experience or less. When ex-MVP Cam Newton, 30, can go from starry starter to hurt to wondering if he’ll get his job back when he’s healthy, you realize that NFL, as Jerry Glanville once made famous on NFL Films, stands for Not For Long.

The next seven quarterbacks to face New England: Sam Darnold (22 years old), Baker Mayfield (24), Lamar Jackson (22), Carson Wentz (26), Dak Prescott (26), Deshaun Watson (24), Patrick Mahomes (24).

“Perfect,” Darnold said after stunning the Cowboys in New Jersey, about the fact the 6-0 Patriots are on deck for him and his 1-4 team.


“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “I want to play the best. It’s great.”

When I asked Hodges about all the young quarterbacks playing early and playing well, he was naively honest, which I appreciated.

“To be honest,” he said, “that’s a good question, and I wish I had an answer. I don’t know. I just know, for me, this is something I’ve believed I could do since I was 5 years old. Nothing about this scares me. In college, we were throwing it 50, 60 times a game, and I got a lot of good experience. I just believe I can play.”

2. The 49ers are a revelation.

Maybe it was when bull-strong pass-rusher Nick Bosa walked Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth back into Jared Goff early in the Niners-Rams game. Or maybe it happened late in the second quarter, when the Niners stoned the Rams’ Malcolm Brown twice on plunges from the 1-yard line. More likely, it came in the fourth quarter, this realization that the San Francisco defense, at least in the NFC, is as good as it gets.

Niners up 20-7, Rams have the ball fourth-and-one at the L.A. 44-yard line, 10:26 to play. Sean McVay decided to go for it. Rookie back Darrell Henderson, steamed straight ahead, and safety Jimmie Ward sprinted through a crease on the offensive right side, evading a Robert Woods block, dove and hugged Henderson by both shins, and he fell two feet short of the first down. Three minutes later, now on third-and-two at the Niners’ 28, Ward rocked tight end Gerald Everett, breaking up a pass that would have been a first down if caught. Now another fourth down.

There’s a route in the NFL called a “Jerk Route.” The offense attempts to isolate a wideout on a linebacker or safety on a very short curl—or a short curl and quick cross, to create space. Cooper Kupp of the Rams, from the slot, is very good at it. And now the Rams wanted to run it to try to save the game. “I see it in practice every day,” Ward told me from L.A. after the game. “Our guys do it. They work on those shifty routes every day. I’m used to it. I see how their offense tries to set it up, so I knew they were gonna try to run it on this fourth down. Kupp, with no Rams receivers in his area code, posted up near the middle of the field, then darted to Goff’s right to get free of Ward. When the pass was right on Kupp, Ward enveloped him and hog-tied him to the ground. Incomplete.

Twice in three minutes, on fourth down with San Francisco protecting a two-score lead, Ward stopped two drives by himself.

“I’d wear Jimmie Ward’s jersey on the sideline if they’d let me,” said Niners coach Kyle Shanahan.

The Niners have held two offenses with good weapons, the Browns and Rams, to 10 points in the last eight quarters. They’re 5-0, and it’s the defense that’s the key right now—a hammering front with a team of physical cover players mindful of the Legion of Boom. Ironic that Richard Sherman is having a revived year at corner. “This game was fun,” said Ward, a sixth-year Niner playing for something for the first time in his career. “This is my first year playing in games like that. We’ve got 11 guys swarming to the ball. Not about one guy. It’s about all 11 getting to the ball.”

3. The Rams and Chargers aren’t L.A.’s darlings anymore.

In 2018, the Rams lost three regular-season games. The Chargers lost four.

In 2019, through six weeks, the Rams have lost three regular-season games. The Chargers have lost four.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff (7.0 yards per attempt, seven TDs, seven picks) has been inconsistent and didn’t have time or a pocket Sunday to do much. But I wouldn’t give up on the Rams; they scored 69 points in the two games prior to Sunday, only to be let down by the defense and a shanked kick by Greg Zuerlein. The Chargers are another story. They’ve scored 20 or less four times in six games, losing all four. They miss Derwin James. Philip Rivers is getting hounded out of the pocket too much. With four formidable pass-rushes on the schedule in the next month (Tennessee, Chicago, Green Bay, Oakland), it’ll be a challenge for the Chargers to get back in the pennant race.

4. Evidently, Lamar Jackson’s going to run.

When I went to Ravens camp this summer, the vibe was that Jackson’s penchant for running—he averaged 17 rushes per game in his seven regular-season starts in 2018—wouldn’t be duplicated in 2019. He even told Ben Shpigel of the New York Times in September, in a story published Sunday, “I hate running … I like throwing touchdowns instead of running them.” He’s gone back to his old ways the last couple of weeks, running 33 times for 222 yards, including 19 times for a gaudy 152 yards in the win over Cincinnati and its porous run defense Sunday. It was an odd game, though. The Ravens put up 23 points, and it felt like it should been 40.

“We’re just going to do what the defense gives us,” Jackson told me post-game. “The game’s so fast. I’ve got a sharp mind. I really don’t care if I’m running or passing. Just win games.”

“So what percent of your runs today were designed runs, and what percent did you take off because of pressure?” I asked.

“Ninety percent were designed,” he said. “Ten percent I took off on my own.”

Likely that has something to do with Cincinnati allowing 5.3 yards per rush. But Jackson’s apace to carry it 184 times, and we’ll see if the Ravens want him to be exposed that much. From the pocket or using his mobility, Jackson’s a fascinating watch, and he plenty’s accurate (.651) in case he decides eventually to pass first and second, and maybe third. He’ll be tested when Baltimore plays Seattle and New England in the next two games.

5. The Cowboys look like a 3-3 team.

Of all the team fan bases I pissed off with my preseason predictions, picking the Cowboys to not make the playoff seemed to enrage the most people. I take no joy in Dallas losing three straight, including Sunday’s all-day-struggle of a 24-22 loss to the previously 0-4 Jets. But this is a team with problems entering the NFC East showdown with similarly disappointing Philadelphia, also 3-3, next Sunday night in Texas. The Cowboys can’t be great with their offensive injuries; they’re just too thin to survive the loss of both tackles (Tyron Smith and La’el Collins) and two prime receivers (Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb). The problem with Dallas is they feasted on three down teams early (Giants, Washington, Miami) and now don’t have many breathers the rest of the way—maybe against the Giants and Washington.

I was bothered by one thing that had to do with coaching Sunday. In particular, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. On the two-point conversion attempt after Dallas rallied within two points in the closing seconds, you had to figure defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of the Jets would send an extra rusher or rushers at Dak Prescott. He sent his best: safety Jamal Adams, who came up the middle, blocked by no one. Tell me: How does one of the best blitzing safeties come straight at the quarterback, straight up the middle, without being accounted for? That’s a question I’d be asking in a the offensive staff meeting today if I were Jerry Jones and I couldn’t sleep when I got back to Dallas just thinking about that scheme disaster.

6. Teddy Bridgewater is a perfect man for this time.

When Drew Brees got hurt in Los Angeles in Week 2, the Rams routed the Saints. At 1-1 and with Brees set to miss four to six weeks, it was a restless time inside Saintsland. The Saints stayed out west that week, and when they got to Seattle for their Week 3 game, Bridgewater decided to invite his offensive mates to dinner one night. The entire offense came. Michael Thomas spoke. Terron Armstead spoke. And then Bridgewater, who is quite reserved, stood. He told his teammates, ‘I’m not Drew Brees. I’m Teddy Bridgewater. And it’s not about me, at all. It’s about the team.” He told them he was going to do everything he could to make the men in that room believe in him.

He’s done a good job accomplishing that, to be sure. Seattle was 2-0, and Bridgewater led the Saints to victory. Dallas came to New Orleans 3-0 the next week, and the Saints won again. Then they rolled over Tampa Bay and played close to the vest in Jacksonville, winning 13-6 on Sunday.

This is not the Brees Saints. New Orleans, uncharacteristically, is plus-six in scoring margin. (Same as the mediocre Titans.) Brees should take the job back when he’s healthy, of course. But if Bridgewater does nothing else this season, his calm demeanor, competent play and strong presence, as well as his hold-the-fort 4-0 record, has been more than anyone expected in New Orleans. And his play verifies the faith GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton had in him to pay a backup quarterback $7.25 million for the year.

Five truths, in staccato fashion

• Sam Darnold’s the genuine item. “The worst part about being out was I was healthy for the last three weeks, but my spleen was enlarged,” Darnold said after the win over Dallas, speaking about sitting with mono. “I had great energy. I really felt fine. But the tests that came back just showed I couldn’t play because of the spleen.” He’ll play better, and he’ll play four quarters better. But there were glimpses of what Adam Gase saw when he started working with Darnold in April. His 92-yard deep-strike TD to Robby Anderson, with the ball thrown 47 yards in the air, on target, was worthy of the wait for Darnold over the past month. “We needed it so bad,” he said. “Being 0-4 is just so awful.”

• The end looks close for at least one of the class of 2015. Classy Marcus Mariota got yanked after another wholly ineffective performance for much of the 16-0 Tennessee loss to Denver. Looks like GM Jon Robinson will lead a search for another quarterback in the 2020 draft. Mariota’s a perfect person, but he’s played to the level of a backup quarterback after being the second overall pick in 2015. The first pick that year, Jameis Winston, looked like he’d earned a second contract from Tampa Bay with his above-average play in weeks two through five. But his six-turnover game against Carolina on Sunday has to give GM Jason Licht pause. Licht badly wants to keep Winston and sign him, but he’s got to be smart too. The Bucs come out of the bye in 13 days with four road games in six weeks. Which, for Winston right now, might be the best thing.

• Yes, I do think the Chiefs face some trouble. Two home losses the last two Sundays are more than just a warning across the bow. These numbers are troubling: 37:15, 39:48. Those are the times of possession for the Colts and Texans in their wins over Kansas City. You know why those are so high? Because both teams wisely played keepaway from Patrick Mahomes, which you can do by running the ball a lot. And why wouldn’t you run on the Chiefs? They’re allowing 5.2 yards per rush. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to tighten up that front, or it’ll be yet another year that the Chiefs Kingdom spends a bitter February wondering what might have been.

• The MVP is a horse race. As of this morning, my pick would be Seattle QB Russell Wilson. Patrick Mahomes would be second, Deshaun Watson third, Tom Brady fourth and probably Christian McCaffrey fifth. Would love to pick a Niner somewhere. Of course, it’s all fruitless to list several guys, because in the official MVP voting, conducted by the Associated Press, 50 voters pick one candidate, and one only.   

• The Steelers found a keeper caretaker, and maybe more. When Chris Simms and I visited Steelers camp in August, we heard about this quarterback I’d never come across before: Devlin Hodges of Samford, in Alabama. Word was the rookie was afraid of nothing, came in and out of huddles like he’d been there. “My goal was to make the final 53, and if not, then the practice squad,” Hodges said last night. But he didn’t make the team out of camp. He went home to Alabama, waiting for the phone to ring. Then his agent, Bus Cook, told him the Jets were interested in working him out, and to hustle to Birmingham to fly to New Jersey. Hold on. Driving to the airport, Hodges heard from Cook again. Turns out the Steelers wanted to sign him to the practice squad. Hodges never went to Jersey. He went back home and packed to live in Pittsburgh for a while. He joined the practice squad Sept. 10, then was put on the active roster a week later. And when Mason Rudolph was concussed last week, the job was Hodges’. “The game’s the same, but the players are faster,” he said of the difference between Samford and the Steelers. He completed 15 of 20 for 132 yards, and he threw a 26-yard catch-and-run TD pass to James Connor to give Pittsburgh a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. How did it all feel, I wondered, to be in the NFL and win a game. “Well, I won an NFL game, and they can never take that away from me,” Hodges said, walking onto the plane for the return to Pittsburgh. “But right now, I am so hungry. And I want to look at my phone; I’m sure everyone from home’s been leaving me messages.” Who knows how long the dream will last? With the Steelers on their bye this week, Mason Rudolph will have a week to come out of the concussion protocol. Whatever, the Steelers know they’ve got a good insurance policy in Hodges now.

Read more from Peter King’s Football Morning in America column here.

Analyzing Bears sending No. 1 NFL draft pick to Panthers


This is the day NFL free agency begins, the day when agents and teams can legally begin to negotiate contracts that they’ve already been, you know, illegally negotiating. But a Molotov cocktail got thrown into the top 10 of the draft over the weekend, so that takes precedence this morning.

And well, that escalated quickly.

The top of the draft got turned upside-down by Ryan Poles and the desperado Carolina Panthers just after 5 Eastern Time Friday afternoon, six days after he told me it’d take a ransom for the Bears to deal the top overall pick.

Poles got a lot from Carolina for the top pick: the ninth and 61st overall picks this year, a first-round pick in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025, and the Panthers’ number one wideout, D.J. Moore, healthy and entering his age-26 season. Moore’s not a top-10 NFL receiver, but he’s certainly in the top 20, after three 1,000-yard years in his first five NFL seasons.

Minnesota Vikings v Carolina Panthers
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Because the trade cannot be announced until Wednesday, the start of the 2023 league year, the Panthers and Bears were zipped up tight over the weekend. But I’ve gathered a few nuggets.

The prevailing wisdom: Chicago got enough for the pick, assuming D.J. Moore can be the primo receiver Justin Fields desperately needs. Carolina paid through the nose, and recent draft history is littered with lousy tradeups into the top five for quarterbacks who didn’t pan out (Robert Griffin III, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Darnold). “If Carolina doesn’t pick the right quarterback, the trade’s a disaster,” said former NFL wheeler-dealer Jimmy Johnson.


This deal was not getting done without D.J. Moore in it. The Bears had a bottom-five group of wideouts in 2022, even after trading for Chase Claypool in midseason. Darnell Mooney, Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown, as a group, weren’t going to give Fields his best chance to emerge as a quarterback and developing Fields is priority one for the ’23 Bears. The free-agency wideout crop is a D-minus, and unless Poles wanted to use his only pick in the top-50 on a receiver, Moore (or a number one receiver like him) was vital. Certainly Carolina didn’t want to deal one of its best five players, in his prime; in the span of six months, the Panthers have dealt their two best offensive players, Christian McCaffrey and Moore. But if they wanted to be sure of having their choice of quarterbacks come April 27, Moore had to be sacrificed.

I don’t think Carolina has decided which quarterback it wants. Of course the GM, Scott Fitterer, and scouts who’ve investigated quarterbacks have their leanings. Of course coach Frank Reich and his staff have their opinions after watching tape and meeting the passers at the Combine. But 45 days out from the first round, this isn’t a done deal. It wouldn’t be smart for it to be a done deal.

I’ve heard the same rumors everyone else has—that Frank Reich loves Florida QB Anthony Richardson. And he may be the pick. But I’m a bit skeptical. Nothing against Richardson, who is one of the most interesting QB prospects in the past few drafts. I wonder, though, about trading two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one of your five best players for a player with a high ceiling but with one year as a college starter. Trading to number one and choosing Richardson might turn out to be brilliant. But picking Richardson number one after dealing five prime pieces for him is a major risk.

However, if Richardson become The Guy, I expect Carolina to consider a minor trade-down. This would be tricky. When teams make draft trades, the team trading up doesn’t usually admit who the player target is. In this case, the Panthers, if trading from one to, say, Houston at two, would have to be assured the Texans weren’t taking the quarterback Carolina wants. That would require some trust, obviously. Going much beyond two would be a chancy venture.

Reich has never coached a short quarterback, and Bryce Young is 5-10. Is that meaningful? I give it a little weight. In Reich’s 17 years as a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator or head coach, his starting quarterbacks in Indianapolis, Arizona, San Diego, Philadelphia and Indianapolis (again) have been 6-6 (Nick Foles, John Skelton), 6-5 (Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Rivers again, Wentz again), 6-4 (Curtis Painter, Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Ryan), 6-3 (Ryan Lindley) and 6-2 (Sam Ehlinger). The 6-3 and 6-2 guys totaled six starts, and I suspect that starting Ehlinger twice in Reich’s last two games in Indy was not Reich’s idea. So in 17 years, all but six games Reich coached were started by quarterbacks 6-4 and taller. Reich’s a traditionalist. He played in an era with big quarterbacks. To stake the future of the franchise on a great player, but a 5-10 player, would be unconventional for him. However, Fitterer comes from Seattle, where the 5-10-ish Russell Wilson was a major outlier for a decade. Young has gotten rave reviews for his football smarts, and just finished two years with a demanding NFL QB teacher, Bill O’Brien, at Alabama. So never say never about the short QB.

One other thing about Bryce Young that Reich and his staff will love and could sway them toward a 5-10 QB. There probably wasn’t a quarterback in college football last year who was as smart and resourceful as Young. Case in point: On most snaps at Alabama, Young called two plays in the huddle and decided which to use—himself, not with a signal from the sidelines—once he read the defense at the line. “That’s very NFL,” said one league quarterback authority who has studied Young. “I think that’s one of the reasons his height isn’t as big a deal as it might be—he’s dealt with figuring out the right play all the time based on what he sees from the defense, and I’m sure he factors in not getting in traffic with a bunch of 6-5 guys.” Two other points to consider about Young: He didn’t have many balls batted down. And Reich is not an inflexible person—if he thinks Young’s markedly the best prospect, he’ll be good taking him.

Does Young’s size mean 6-3 C.J. Stroud has the best chance to be the pick? Two veteran front-office people I spoke with Saturday think Stroud makes the most sense, but those two men are not making this call. Stroud did play the single-most impressive game of any of the four first-round prospects (including Kentucky’s Will Levis) this year—putting up 41 points on Georgia in the college playoffs, throwing for 348 yards with four TDs and no interceptions—so that counts for something.

Where is Chicago left? My column last week focused heavily on the Bears, and now that the deal’s been done, Poles faces a few truths. He knows he needs to bulk up on the offensive line; he has the cap room (a league-high $69.9-million in effective cap space, per to afford one of the top three tackles in free-agency—Orlando Brown, Mike McGlinchey or Kaleb McGary. Re the draft: Being at nine takes him out of the ballgame for the best pass-rusher, Will Anderson of Alabama, and likely puts number two edge player Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech out of range. But the top offensive-line prospect, Peter Skoronski of Northwestern, could be there at nine. Poles could be smartest spending on one tackle in free agency, and one defensive linemen—Dre’Mont Jones or the pricey Javon Hargrave, or perhaps Frank Clark to beef up the pass-rush.

It’s amazing how different the Bears could look come training camp. Imagine Fields throwing to D.J. Moore outside or in the slot, with Brown protecting his blind side, and Skoronski plugged in either at guard or tackle as a day-one starter. Imagine Jones and Clark buttressing a needy defensive line. That’s all fantasy football, of course, but Poles has the cap room and draft picks (9, 53, 61, 64 overall) to make some plug-and-play decisions between now and May 1.

Re Carolina: Anyone who scouts the quarterbacks comes away thinking Young and Stroud are good candidates for the top pick. The game has changed in the past few years. If you love Young the most, you’re going to deploy an offense that’s 97-percent in shotgun and let him be the smart guy at the line he was at Alabama. Stroud showed the ability to drive the football with confidence; clearly, he’ll be able to make every NFL throw, and he’s afraid of nothing. But then there’s Richardson. It’s certainly possible in the next six weeks the Panthers could talk themselves into the versatile Florida quarterback with the great arm and 80- and 81-yard college TD runs.

I wish I could tell you a good gut feel on who Carolina will pick, but I can’t. As I say, I’m sure those who will collaborate to make the pick have leanings today. Leanings can change in 45 days.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Dolphins make statement with Jalen Ramsey trade


Jalen Ramsey to the Dolphins made too much sense, for both Miami and the Rams. It happened Sunday afternoon. We should have seen it coming for weeks.

The trade—Ramsey to Miami for a mid-third-round pick, 77th overall, and an invisible tight end from the 2021 third round, Hunter Long—seems light for the Rams. And it is, but the market for a cornerback entering his age-29 season who wants a contract extension and who gave up 65-percent completions to his man in coverage last year wasn’t as robust as the Rams had hoped. There was also the matter of Ramsey wanting to go to Miami.

The Dolphins are all-in for 2023. The Rams are all-in for 2025. It’s now officially official: L.A. is a bleep-them-picks franchise no longer, and will build for the future with their 11 picks this April.

Miami will contend if Tua Tagovailoa can stay on the field most or all of the regular season. That’s a certainty. But this deal is an admission the Dolphins won’t be a title team without major improvement on defense. The new coordinator, Vic Fangio, is piece one of the rebuild. Ramsey is an important second piece. The Dolphins in 2022 allowed 113 more points (one TD per game) than the Bills and had interceptions in just five of 17 games. The pricy free-agent cornerback from 2021, Byron Jones, may be too injured to count on. If Aaron Rodgers signs with the Jets and if Lamar Jackson plays with Baltimore, Miami will have nine games in 2023 against premier quarterbacks: Josh Allen and Rodgers (two each), with one against Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Jackson and Dak Prescott. Ramsey and Xavien Howard should be a formidable cover duo in Fangio’s new defense.

The Rams are going to build through the draft for the foreseeable future, reversing course from the Super Bowl LVI title team. In the last two years, they’ve had one pick in the top 100, total. This year they’ve got three in the top 77 (36, 69 and 77, and I would look for GM Les Snead to try to swap the 36th overall for two or three picks). Long has done zero in two years for two head coaches in Miami, so I wouldn’t count much on him.

Two teams traveling different roads, both using present-day logic. This weekend of big transition will continue with the first week of the new league year and more transition.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column