By the time Justin Herbert started high school, Tom Brady had played in five Super Bowls and won three of them. There was no chance that high-school freshman Herbert would have believed you if you had told him that he’d someday be playing against Brady.
But on Sunday, that’s exactly what happened. Herbert, the impressive 22-year-old Chargers rookie quarterback who wasn’t supposed to be starting this soon, went toe-to-toe with the greatest of all time and just about beat him. The rookie was 20-for-25 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the third start of his career, and L.A. had a lead over the Bucs going into the fourth quarter. Herbert flashed a cannon arm, surprising poise and the ability to hang in a tough game until the end.
Problem was, the 43-year-old starting quarterback on the other sideline can still play.
Brady, in his first year as a Buccaneer after 20 with the Patriots, must not have looked much different to Herbert on Sunday than he did when he was a kid watching Brady on television. The old man shook off an early interception of his own and finished 30-for-46 for 349 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers. Vintage Brady, and his Bucs came back from a 24-7 first-half deficit to beat Herbert and the Chargers 38-31.
The Buccaneers are 3-1 and in first place in the NFC South. Their only loss was the season opener in New Orleans. Brady has played two games without his best receiver, Chris Godwin, and offensive skill-position injuries have been a big part of the story overall in Tampa Bay. Getting used to a new offense for the first time in two decades, Brady has the Bucs at or ahead of where they hoped to be at this point. He’s making believers out of those of us who anticipated a slow start. He’s humming along at an unprecedented age. Pretty soon, all that stuff he has said about playing until he’s 45 isn’t going to sound silly anymore. It already kind of doesn’t.
So yes, our Week 4 overreactions start with the latest episode of “Tom vs. Time,” still waiting for the one in which Time wins.
Brady will play more than two years for the Buccaneers
Brady signed a two-year contract with Tampa Bay after leaving New England, meaning he’s planning to play at least his age 43 and 44 seasons there. His coach, Bruce Arians, is known for designing an offense in which a smart quarterback can thrive, and even if you thought Brady had lost a step physically, there’s no doubting his QB smarts. It seems every time he drops back, he makes history. Sunday, he became the oldest player in NFL history to throw five touchdown passes in a game. (Warren Moon, a comparatively youthful 40 in 1997, had the record.) And since he also did it in Week 3 of 2017, he’s the first guy ever to do it twice after turning 40.
Sunday was also the 28th game (regular season and postseason combined) Brady has come back from a double-digit deficit to win, breaking a tie with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino for the most such wins in the Super Bowl era. And it was the eighth time in his career he has thrown five touchdown passes and more than 300 yards in the same game. Only Drew Brees (9) has more of those.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. How are we doubting this guy at this point? I don’t know whether the 45 thing means he’ll play until he’s 45, which would mean just two years in Tampa Bay, or that he wants to play at age 45, which would require him playing the 2022 season somewhere. The start to this season was supposed to be the tough part for Brady, and he has the Bucs at 3-1.
You can bet against him all you want, but until I see the news conference, I’m not predicting a retirement date for Tommy. I’m willing to bet this season and next year go well enough in Tampa Bay that he still wants to keep playing.
Dak Prescott was right not to sign long-term with the Cowboys
Yeah, that’s right. I’m that lone voice in the wilderness perpetually trying to remind you that it wasn’t the Cowboys’ decision not to sign Prescott to a long-term deal this offseason. Prescott had a hand in that decision, too, declining to go along with the team’s preferred contract structure and instead betting on himself and his ability to deliver on a one-year, $31.4 million franchise tag. He is delivering.
After Prescott threw for 502 yards and four touchdowns in the Cowboys’ loss to the Browns on Sunday, he has now thrown for 1,424 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions over the past three games, during which time he has been confronted with deficits of 20, 15 and 27 points. He is on pace for a 6,760-yard, 36-touchdown season. There is no rational, thinking human on the planet who could objectively assess the evidence and conclude that Prescott is even 2% of the reason the Cowboys are 1-3.
He’s slated to be an unrestricted free agent next year. Is a team that just gave up 31 points and 333 yards to the Browns in the first half of Sunday’s game going to be the most appealing choice?
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Almost everything with the Cowboys is an overreaction, and this is no exception. Prescott has said many times he wants to be there long-term. There are ample, lifelong benefits to being the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback. Fame. Endorsement money. Lucrative broadcasting jobs. Prescott knows this, and he also knows he’s playing in an offense that’s set up to help him be one of the absolute best-performing quarterbacks in the NFL.
I don’t know how the remaining three-quarters of the season will go for the Cowboys, but I do know that half of Dallas’ remaining games are division games and the NFC East looks softer than a cotton-candy hot tub. Cowboys management believes the defense will improve (how could it not?) as the players learn new coordinator Mike Nolan’s system. As brutal as their start has been, the Cowboys remain the favorites to win the division. And if they do that, plus win a playoff game or two, Prescott and the Cowboys will enter next offseason determined to find a way to make it work.
Can they? Don’t know. But I don’t think it’ll be because he’s sick of the place. And I don’t think he’s going to be down by 20 points in every game this year.
If you closed your eyes for a second during that Browns-Cowboys game, you could have convinced yourself it was 2016 again. Beckham caught five passes, including two first-half touchdowns, and then took an end-around and ran 50 yards for a touchdown after the Cowboys cut the lead to three points in the final four minutes. He finished with 154 yards from scrimmage.
He looked like his old, electrifying self — the guy who set records with his performance in his first three years in the league. The guy Browns fans have been waiting to see since they traded for him in March of 2019.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. I covered Beckham during the early part of his career, and I truly believe the guy is misunderstood. He has not been a player who pouts about not getting the ball enough. He has been a player who, early in his career, had issues with his temper and who has always reacted badly to losing. He’s done a lot of losing. Only once in his first six NFL seasons did he play on a team with a winning record. He has never, until Sunday’s game ended, been on a team that won three of its first four games.
I do not know whether the Browns can keep this up, but they appear to have a multitude of defensive playmakers and — assuming Nick Chubb’s injury isn’t a season-ender — a run-oriented offense that can put them in position to win more than they lose. And if they’re doing that, and Beckham is healthy (which he is), there’s no reason to think the 27-year-old can’t be the same kind of impact player he was when he was lighting up the league from 2014 to ’16.
It’s time for Washington to bench Dwayne Haskins
Haskins certainly wasn’t awful in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens, and yes, it absolutely matters that he didn’t turn the ball over. But his Total QBR for the game was 31.6, which was the worst of Sunday’s early-window games. This after ranking 30th in QBR in Week 3 (32.7), 30th in Week 2 (12.7) and 25th in Week 1 (43.3). He ranks last in the NFL in QBR right now.
Haskins is not playing well, and Washington is 1-3. With Kyle Allen, who started 12 games for Carolina last year, and Alex Smith, who may or may not be healthy enough to play, on the bench, there is some chatter in Washington about whether it might make sense for Haskins to take a seat for a little while.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Folks — he is 23. Sunday was his 11th NFL start. He is learning a new offense without the benefit of OTAs, minicamp, preseason games or much of a training camp. If you’re in on Haskins, which the new Washington coaching staff has told people publicly and privately that it is, then you have to let him take some lumps. He’s not exactly out there throwing to Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins with the Colts’ offensive line in front of him.
This is a rebuilding year in Washington and a year to help your young quarterback grow and develop so you can find out what you have in him. Being tied for first at 1-3 would be a poor reason for a change, and assigning blame for Washington’s troubles to one 23-year-old would feel pretty unfair at this point.
More games will have to be postponed before the season is over
This was the week in which NFL fans were reminded that the league is trying to play the 2020 season under potentially impossible circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An outbreak in the Titans’ building forced the postponement of their game against the Steelers to midseason. Positive tests in the Patriots’ and Chiefs’ buildings forced the postponement of their scheduled Sunday afternoon game to Monday night (assuming no more positive tests show up Monday morning). There were COVID-19 concerns with the Saints and Vikings as well this weekend, though their games were played.
The NFL has said all along it won’t be able to prevent positive tests. The idea is to prevent the spread, which is why what happened in Tennessee is more upsetting than what happened in New England and Kansas City. But the news of this past week has brought into focus the league’s testing and contact tracing procedures, and reminded all of us that this year presents unprecedented challenges.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. You’d have to be a fool to believe this is the end of it. The virus remains a presence in the world, and the NFL is not immune. The league is studying what happened this week, adjusting its procedures accordingly, investigating what went wrong in Tennessee and who might be responsible. It should come out of Week 4 better informed about how to deal with this and better prepared to react as more problems inevitably come up.
Adam Schefter details how the NFL will handle the Titans’ coronavirus outbreak and scheduling flexibility for the rest of the season.
As we’ve written since the summer, this isn’t going to be a totally fair season. The Chiefs are now scheduled to play three games in 10 days. The Steelers and Titans had their byes too early. It remains possible that more games will have to be postponed or even canceled, that the postseason will have to be pushed back to accommodate schedule changes, that some teams will end up playing fewer games than others … that the season has to be canceled completely.
All of that remains on the table, and while the league’s procedures have worked better than even they expected so far, it’s not up to the NFL whether this season goes smoothly. It’s up to the NFL to prepare, react and adjust. Week 4 was just the start of that.