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NFL Winners and Losers: Russell Wilson could be losing grip on MVP, but it's not all his fault

Frank Schwab
·11-min read

When the Seattle Seahawks won a Super Bowl, Russell Wilson was a young quarterback who wasn’t asked to do it all. Seattle’s defense was good enough to win plenty of games without much help.

Wilson isn’t young anymore, and the Seahawks have changed, in large part due to Wilson’s contract. The Seahawks don’t have much of a defense anymore, and need Wilson to play perfect football for them to win.

It’s a testament to Wilson that he often does play perfect football. He’s the main reason Seattle was 6-1 before Sunday. That’s a hard way to live in the NFL.

Sunday was an example of the Seahawks’ shortcomings. The Bills absolutely shredded a bad Seahawks defense in a 44-34 win. The Bills’ offense scored five touchdowns and three field goals, missed a field goal and punted just twice on its first 11 possessions. Josh Allen had more than 400 yards passing and also ran for a score. The Bills looked great, but a lot of that was due to the competition. Everyone looks good against the Seahawks defense this season.

A couple weeks ago Wilson was the runaway favorite to win MVP, and he still could win it, but if the Seahawks start to lose games voters will move on to other fun stories. Even if it’s not all his fault.

Wilson wasn’t perfect Sunday, or even close to it. He threw a bad interception into the end zone. He lost a fumble. He still made plays, but he has no margin for error because Seattle hasn’t done enough to put a better roster around him.

The Seahawks cut Buffalo’s lead to 27-20 in the fourth quarter but then fell apart. The defense gave up a nine-play, 82-yard drive, Wilson threw another interception and the Bills cashed in with another touchdown. Wilson had a fourth turnover later when he fumbled on a sack. He didn’t get much help from his offensive line either as Wilson was knocked down 16 times, and Fox said that was the most for any quarterback this season.

Still, 34 points on offense should be good enough to win most games, and the Seahawks weren’t close.

The Seahawks came into Sunday’s game having allowed the most yards in the NFL. Seattle had allowed an NFL-high 2,511 passing yards, and only one other team had allowed more than 2,262. That’s in seven games; many other teams have played eight. The Seahawks can’t cover wide receivers, who have gone for 1,885 yards against them, the most in the league. No other team that had played exactly seven games before Sunday had given up more than 1,400 yards to receivers. On Sunday, Stefon Diggs had 118 yards for Buffalo, John Brown had 99 and Gabriel Davis had 70.

Nothing sums up Seattle’s problems on defense more than what happened in the fourth quarter last week. Nick Mullens came in at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, taking his first snap with 14:02 left in the game. He finished with 238 yards and two touchdowns in a little less than a quarter. Prevent defense or not, that’s alarming.

The Bills hadn’t done much on offense in weeks. After a hot start, Allen had hit a lull. The Bills were 6-2 and still winning games, but the offense had been lagging a bit. Then they were unstoppable against Seattle.

It’s not like the Seahawks haven’t tried. They made an aggressive trade for safety Jamal Adams, as they did a year before with outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. It’s just that their moves haven’t really worked out. The defense is nothing like it was in the “Legion of Boom” glory days, or even just a few years ago.

The Seahawks are not a bad team. They’re still the favorite in the NFC West. But it’s hard to imagine them making a long playoff run with such a deficiency on defense. Wilson is great, but he can’t do everything.

Buffalo's Jerry Hughes (55) knocks the ball away from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Buffalo's Jerry Hughes (55) knocks the ball away from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 9 of the NFL season:

WINNERS

Tua Tagovailoa: It’s not just Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert who are capable of leading big wins as rookie quarterbacks.

Tagovailoa’s first start was a win for the Miami Dolphins last week, but he didn’t do much. The defense and special teams carried most of the weight. On Sunday, Tagovailoa showed a lot more.

Tagovailoa threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for 35 yards in a thrilling 34-31 win. Kyler Murray did all he could for the Arizona Cardinals but it wasn’t enough.

The Dolphins are playoff contenders. They’re 5-3. There were questions when Brian Flores made a quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tagovailoa, but it could end up being a nice move for the present and the future.

Las Vegas Raiders: The Raiders needed every second and then some to win on Sunday, but it was still another step toward a possible playoff berth.

The Raiders held on as a replay review overturned a touchdown by the Chargers on the final play, and Las Vegas went home winners.

The Raiders might be sneaking up on everyone. They aren’t getting a ton of buzz, but are 5-3 despite having played a very hard schedule so far. Sunday’s win might not have been too pretty, but it was enough. And given how infrequently the Raiders have made the playoffs recently, they won’t complain.

Alex Smith: Of course, the irony couldn’t be ignored. Smith came in for the Washington Football Team on Sunday when Kyle Allen went down with a nasty leg injury. Smith lost his job to a similarly brutal injury, then it looked like his career was over when there were infections afterward.

Just making it back on the field earlier this season was a win for Smith. When he played an extended period against the Rams following a shoulder injury for Allen earlier this season, he didn’t play well. It didn’t matter because just being back on the field was a major accomplishment. But Smith had to want more than just showing up.

On Sunday, he looked like he was all the way back. Smith got hot and almost led a second-half comeback. He moved around well. He made a key mistake, throwing high to J.D. McKissic and getting picked off with 2:18 left. With 1:15 left, Smith threw a back-breaking interception over the middle that clinched the 23-20 loss to the New York Giants.

Still, it was more than just Smith being a feel-good story because he was back. He mostly played well, going 24-of-32 for 325 yards. He had three interceptions and will have to clean that up, but at least the offense had some life in the second half.

Smith will presumably be the starter for the rest of the season. Allen’s injury looked bad and while he seemingly avoided a season-ending injury, he will probably miss some time. The team has moved on from Dwayne Haskins Jr., it appears. Smith’s 300-yard game will presumably give him a shot to start next week against the Detroit Lions.

Smith’s story was good either way, but he has a chance to really make it memorable the rest of the season.

Deshaun Watson: The Texans have fired their coach who traded a lot of future draft picks and DeAndre Hopkins. J.J. Watt was clear that he doesn’t want to be around in Houston for a rebuild.

At this point, the only reason the Texans aren’t the Jacksonville Jaguars is Watson.

At least Houston has a quarterback. Watson must feel lonely, given the lack of talent around him, but at least games like Sunday must feel good. Watson played well in a rare win, throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns as Houston beat a horrible Jaguars team 27-25.

The Jaguars’ defense is beyond bad, but Watson and the Texans can’t be picky. Even Sunday’s win wasn’t easy. The Texans needed to knock down a two-point conversion with 1:30 left to win, and Jacksonville was using rookie quarterback Jake Luton in his first NFL start.

Watt might not want to be around for a rebuild, but Watson has little choice. His four-year, $156 million extension runs through the 2025 season. It might be a while before the Texans are relevant again, but at least Watson can enjoy days like Sunday. They won’t happen often this season.

Raheem Morris: All Morris can do, as interim coach of the Atlanta Falcons, is win games.

It has been undeniable the Falcons are playing better since firing Dan Quinn. They were 0-5 under Quinn but 3-1 with Morris — with the one loss coming on the final play to the Detroit Lions after Todd Gurley II mistakenly scored a touchdown when he should have taken a knee and not allowed the Lions any time to score.

The Falcons beat the Denver Broncos 34-27 on Sunday and controlled most of the game. The defense is playing a lot better and the offense, even without Calvin Ridley on Sunday, had a good day against Denver.

Morris had to wait a long time to get another shot to lead a team, after posting two losing records in three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If he keeps winning games, the Falcons will have to seriously consider hiring him to the full-time role, and Morris is giving himself a chance.

LOSERS

Garrett Gilbert, though not by much: Given the circumstances, Gilbert played very well.

The Cowboys’ fourth starting quarterback this season had to play a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense, and he gave Dallas some competent quarterback play. His final pass to the end zone ended a 24-19 Steelers win that was a lot closer than most people expected.

Gilbert was a star in the defunct AAF, but that didn’t lead to a chance to start in the NFL. A good performance Sunday, with 243 yards and a touchdown against one of the league’s best defenses in a near upset win, will keep him on the radar. Overall it was a nice day for Gilbert, a 2014 sixth-round pick who had just six NFL passes before Sunday and likely wondered if he’d ever have a shot to start an NFL game.

However, it was just another loss for a Cowboys team that might not win again anytime soon.

Russell Wilson’s lead on Patrick Mahomes for MVP: Remember that item before about Wilson losing his lead in the MVP race? Mahomes also plays into that.

Mahomes has been on fire lately. He followed up a 416-yard, five-touchdown game against the New York Jets with 372 yards and four touchdowns against the Carolina Panthers. The Chiefs needed it all too, because the Panthers gave them a scare in a 33-31 Kansas City win. Joey Slye missed a 67-yard field goal on the final play that would have given Carolina the win.

Mahomes, who has nine touchdowns without an interception the past two weeks, is still the player any NFL general manager would pick to build his team around. He was trailing Wilson in the MVP race, but the past two weeks have started to change that.

Nick Foles, Matt Nagy, again: Not that Mitchell Trubisky was going to solve anything, but the Bears don’t even have that option as long as Trubisky is dealing with a shoulder injury.

The Bears looked bad Sunday. The offense is awful, and for a long time it looked like Chicago might get shut out. The 24-17 win for the Tennessee Titans was a lot more lopsided than the score would indicate. Nagy’s offense, again, has been the problem.

Foles hasn’t done much as Chicago’s quarterback, and a couple late touchdowns Sunday made his stat line look better than he deserved. The Bears still have a winning record at 5-4, but that won’t last long if the offense doesn’t get a lot better.

Lions ownership: We can blame Matt Patricia all we want. For the defensive failures, the inexplicable way the deep passing offense of last year has been slowed down to force touches to Adrian Peterson, or any number of other things.

But it’s the Lions ownership that hired Patricia in the first place, when there were reasons to question his coaching acumen and have doubts about Bill Belichick assistants. The Lions allowed Patricia to keep his job despite a horrible record, miserable coaching decisions and a long line of players who have ripped him anonymously and on the record.

Sunday’s 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was typical. The Lions had a dink-and-dunk offense that wasn’t going to accomplish much. Matthew Stafford threw a couple of miserable second-half interceptions. Patricia’s defense was torched again. Any chance the Lions had to be even on the fringe of playoff contention probably ended. They’re 3-5 after the loss.

Maybe Lions ownership will figure things out and make a change. A good organization might do it before the season is over. But the Lions have proven many times they’re not a good organization.

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