Offensive Players of the Week
Colt McCoy, quarterback, Arizona. No Kyler Murray, no DeAndre Hopkins, no A.J. Green. But Colt McCoy, yes. Pressed into service because an injury scratched Kyler Murray on Sunday, McCoy didn’t look like a guy who started five games in the past 6.5 years. He looked well-groomed and ready to lead one of the best teams in football. Playing a desperate 49er team in Santa Clara, McCoy completed 18 of his first 21 throws (for a 143.4 rating), airing out a 50-yarder to Christian Kirk in the first half and connecting with running back James Conner for a 45-yard TD throw early in the third quarter. The Cardinals might have thought they had a good backup, a vet ready to play competitively in the NFL. Now, after this decisive McCoy-led win, they know they have one.
Justin Herbert, quarterback, L.A. Chargers. Young quarterbacks have ups and downs in the NFL, and Herbert’s mostly had ups . . . till the last couple of games, when the Ravens and Patriots got the best of him, decisively. Herbert turned the tables Sunday in Philadelphia. Herbert led the Chargers with a 32-of-38 performance for 356 yards and three TDs—two passing, one running. The win over the Eagles left the Chargers tied for first in the tightest division race in football.
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. I know the Colts were playing the NFL’s Hartford Yard Goats (so what does that make the Bengals, exactly?), but it’s fairly impressive against any NFL ballclub, even the Jets, that a running back goes for 18 carries, 172 yards and two touchdown runs in 40 minutes. With Derrick Henry gone for at least two months, Taylor inherits the mantle as the best active running back in the NFL.
Defensive Players of the Week
Jeffery Simmons, defensive tackle, Tennessee. Writing about the best defensive tackle in a Rams game, and it’s NOT Aaron Donald? That’s how good Simmons was Sunday night, wrecking the Los Angeles offense on what seemed like every down. He finished the night with three sacks of Stafford. If the NFL world wasn’t aware how good Simmons and the Titans defense was before last night, they are very much clued in now.
Josh Allen, edge rusher, Jacksonville. It figures that Josh Allen would be a Defensive Player of the Week after tormenting Josh Allen, intercepting Josh Allen and sacking Josh Allen and adding eight tackles and forcing a fumble. Greatest game of Josh Allen’s young career—and I don’t mean the more famous Josh Allen.
Xavier McKinney, safety, N.Y. Giants. He picked a good time for his best game in pro football. The second-year man out of Alabama gave the Giants a 17-13 lead with a 41-yard pick-six off Derek Carr early in the third quarter. Then, with five minutes to go, he waited, waited, waited for the right time to break on a Carr throw that was shy of Zay Jones at midfield. Once the ball was in the air, McKinney grabbed it and spoiled a second Raider rally of the half. McKinney’s pretty smart for a second-year player. No coincidence he played alongside Pat Surtain and Trevon Diggs at Alabama—and under Nick Saban.
J.C. Jackson, cornerback, New England. Perhaps the most unheralded cornerback in the league should be heralded. Jackson, the NFL’s interception leader since 2018, picked off the slumping Sam Darnold twice, returning one for an 88-yard touchdown that gave New England a 21-6 lead.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Kene Nwangwu, kick returner, Minnesota. His 98-yard kick return for touchdown to start the second half in Baltimore gave the Vikings a 24-10 lead, their second 14-point lead of the day. Coming against a team with a reputation for good special-teams play, it was an especially important play for the rookie fourth-rounder from Iowa State, drafted largely to be a key special-teamer. That pick by GM Rick Spielman showed its worth with this one play.
Coaches of the Week
Joe Cullen, defensive coordinator, Jacksonville. Cullen’s D held one of football’s most explosive offenses and quarterbacks to zero touchdowns and 301 yards, with four sacks and two interceptions. Jacksonville allowed only one drive of more than 50 yards. Talked to Cullen post-game, and he said a big help for the Jags D in this game was the experience he had in Baltimore as defensive line coach in the past two years. “We played the Bills twice, and we got to them and their tendencies from studying them a lot,” Cullen said after the upset of the year—Jags 9, Bills 6. In 2019, Baltimore held Josh Allen to a 44-percent passing day in a 24-17 Ravens win. Last year, in a divisional playoff game, Buffalo won 17-3, but only 10 of those points were scored by the Buffalo offense. “We brought edge pressure, rushing four, and we brought nickel pressure at times too,” Cullen said. “[Buffalo QB] Josh Allen is a younger Ben Roethlisberger, with speed. The key to beating them is to limit explosive plays.” Good lessons and a good game plan by Cullen.
Kliff Kingsbury, coach, Arizona. Playing without their best two offensive players (Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins), Arizona had 31 points and 437 total yards. Kingsbury’s plan to use Colt McCoy optimally and to be sure he featured the emerging James Conner in the running and passing game worked perfectly, and the Cards are 8-1.
Goat of the Week
Sam Darnold, quarterback, Carolina. The Panthers’ long-term quarterback job was Darnold’s for the taking after the trade from the Jets last offseason. Darnold, entering the season, could have staved off Carolina trading for a bigger name or drafting one in 2022. He hadn’t done enough in the first eight weeks of the season to claim the job, and he’d need a great second half to win the job. That may have gone out the window for good Sunday. Darnold, down 14-6 midway through the third quarter, had driven Carolina to the New England 20, when he rolled left and threw right into the gut of New England cornerback J.C. Jackson. He picked it cleanly and ran it back 88 yards for an insurance touchdown. Darnold threw three interceptions in a disastrous—and possibly future-defining—performance as the Panthers got trounced.