If there’s a fan base anywhere in the world that knows it’s not enough to be up 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, or 29-10 at halftime or even 39-24 with five minutes left in the game, it would be the Atlanta Falcons‘ fan base. So when Greg Zuerlein‘s field goal split the uprights with time expired to give the Dallas Cowboys the improbable 40-39 victory on Sunday, Falcons fans still stinging from Super Bowl LI couldn’t have been surprised. Angry? Sure, but not surprised. They are seasoned veterans of disappointment. We will get back to them in a moment.
The rest of us could feel free to be stunned. Dazzled. Left to wonder if what we’d just seen was something that had never happened before. Which it was.
Yes, seriously. There has never been a game like the one the Cowboys and the Falcons played Sunday. The Falcons didn’t just have all of those big leads, they possessed the ball for 33:48 and won the turnover battle 3-0. According to the Elias Sports Bureau research, since 1933 — when team turnovers were first tracked — teams that scored 39 or more points and had no turnovers in a game were a combined 440-0. Until Sunday.
A lot went into this, and what will be dissected the most as everybody on both sides of the Cowboy Hot Take battle goes to their respective corners, is how badly the Falcons messed up on the onside kick that set the Cowboys up to kick the winning field goal. If there’s one team on the planet that should know the onside-kick rules, it’s the Falcons, who execute them successfully more than any other team. Yet there they stood, watching the ball bounce as if they didn’t know they were allowed to touch it before it went 10 yards while the Cowboys (who weren’t) were happy to pick it up once it had.
The result will inevitably be arguments about whether the Cowboys really won this game or if the Falcons lost it. But that takes away from what Dak Prescott accomplished, and nothing should.
The Dallas quarterback had 312 passing yards, a touchdown pass and three rushing touchdowns in the second half of this game. His full-game passing numbers were 34-for-47 for 450 yards and no interceptions. Playing for a team that fumbled four times in the first quarter, failed on two fake-punt attempts in its own territory and trailed by seemingly impossible margins all game long, Prescott kept his cool, delivered a signature comeback win and — perhaps most importantly — put himself in position to lead this week’s overreaction column.
Dak Prescott will be the NFL’s highest-paid player next year
You might have heard, but over the offseason, Prescott and the Cowboys were unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension, which means Prescott is playing this season on a $31.4 million franchise tag and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in March. Per the league’s franchise player rules, because no deal was done by July 15, the Cowboys and Prescott are not allowed to negotiate again until after their season ends. If the Cowboys don’t sign him to a long-term deal or franchise him again between their last game and the start of the league year in March, he will be a free agent, and any team can sign him.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The main issue between the Cowboys and Prescott this summer was the length of the contract extension. He wanted a shorter-term deal that would have allowed him to hit the market again sooner. The Cowboys wanted a long-term deal that would help them manage their salary cap. But make no mistake: Dallas was willing to pay. At the time Prescott was tagged — before new deals came in for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — the highest-paid player in the league was Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson at $35 million per year. The Cowboys’ offer was in that neighborhood. They were willing to pay him at the top of the market.
Now, the top of the market has soared much higher. The new money in Watson’s deal averages $39 million per year. Mahomes’ deal is harder to synthesize, because it’s 12 years long and heavily backloaded, but assuming he plays out the whole thing, you can say he’ll make $45 million a year in new money. Prescott’s floor has to be $40 million if Dallas wants him to talk extension again in February, and if he wants to play hardball he can easily go higher. Franchising him again in 2021 will cost them about $37.7 million, and then franchising him again in 2022 would cost them about $54.3 million. That’s roughly $92 million over two years, which averages out to $46 million per year.
Prescott is very much in the driver’s seat here. The Cowboys will need to sign him in order to drop that potential 2021 cap number in a year in which the cap is projected to drop to $175 million per team. If he has another great year and hits the open market, his price could easily soar past Watson’s and maybe challenge Mahomes’. Multiple teams bidding on a 27-year-old star quarterback? Tell me you can put a cap on where the market might value that.
Dan Quinn will be the first head coach fired this season
The Falcons are 0-2 and have allowed a combined total of 78 points in their first two games. Quinn was on thin ice with a 1-7 record at midseason last season and saved his job with a 6-2 finish. His background is on the defensive side of the ball, and so far his defense has been a sieve in 2020. Perhaps most damning of all is the fact that his team looked unprepared for the most important play of the game, which turned out to be that onside kick.
This is Quinn’s sixth year as Atlanta’s coach. He’s 46-41 counting postseason play and took the team to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he has been 7-9 two years in a row and is off to a brutal start in a tough-looking division. Not looking great.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Falcons owner Arthur Blank is close with Quinn and thinks highly of him, and Blank has shown plenty of patience through some major disappointments. It’s possible — even likely — that Quinn won’t be back in 2021 if the Falcons have another losing season, but it would be a surprise to see Blank move on while a season is still in progress.
Elsewhere, Matt Patricia isn’t on the thickest of ice in Detroit, and Adam Gase doesn’t look as if he’s about to turn things around with the Jets. There are other candidates for this distinction, and it’s too early for anyone — especially in a year as weird as this one has been — to be firing coaches right now.
The New York teams will pick first and second in the 2021 NFL draft.
The Giants lost to the Bears 17-13 and almost certainly lost superstar running back Saquon Barkley to a season-ending knee injury. The Jets lost 31-13 to the injury-ravaged 49ers. Both teams are 0-2, neither was expected to contend this season anyway, and it’s really hard to map out a road to a successful season for either one of them.
What the Giants and the Jets need to do is find out as much as they can about their young quarterbacks so they’re in position to make long-term decisions in the offseason based on how they feel about Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold, respectively. The only question is how long they can go relative to the other non-contenders.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Heading into the week, the ESPN Football Power Index projected the Giants to pick No. 2 and the Jets to pick No. 6 in next year’s draft. So heck yeah, it’s possible.
I’ve been thinking since the spring that Carolina was the most likely team to pick first next year, but without Barkley, I don’t see what’s keeping the Giants from making a real run at it. They play the 49ers, Rams and Cowboys the next three weeks, and the last two are long road trips. In the second half of the season, they have road games in Seattle and Baltimore.
The Jets’ schedule still includes games against the Colts, Chargers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Rams and two each against the Bills and Patriots. And don’t forget — those are only the tough-looking games. Right now, as they have been for several years, the New York teams are the easy-looking games on other teams’ schedules.
You guys. Seriously. Is Josh Allen, like, really, really good? He came out of Sunday’s lightning delay in Miami as if he’d been struck by lightning and gifted with enhanced superpowers. Allen finished the day 24-for-35 passing for 417 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for the 2-0 Bills.
Allen is the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 700 yards and at least six touchdowns without an interception in his first two games. The others are Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, who have combined to win nine MVP awards.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. There has never been any doubt about Allen’s physical gifts. The questions about him have been about accuracy and consistency — whether he can improve the former and maintain the latter. He still seems to do one or two things every game that make it look as if he’s playing his first game ever, but so far this season he has been as impeccable as anyone in the league.
On paper, Buffalo has the best roster in the AFC East by far. Coming into the season, the only major question mark was Allen. If he has truly taken a major step forward and can maintain this level of performance throughout the season, he’s in the discussion, because the Bills are going to win a lot of games.
The Vikings’ season is already over
Woof. Outside of the Jets, has any team looked worse in its first two games than Minnesota? In Week 1, Aaron Rodgers treated the Vikings’ defense like a piñata with Brian Gutekunst’s face on it. In Week 2, the Colts absolutely smothered the Vikings’ offense. Kirk Cousins on Sunday was a Peterman-esque 11-for-26 passing for 113 yards and three interceptions. He was the first Vikings quarterback with a sub-50 completion percentage in a game since Brad Johnson in 2006. You don’t hear a lot of Vikings fans pining for a return to the Brad Johnson era.
Minnesota was outgained by Indianapolis 354 yards to 175. It had 12 first downs to the Colts’ 24. It possessed the ball for just 21:35 out of a possible 60:00. NFL offenses don’t look much more inept than Minnesota’s did in Week 2, and there’s no sugarcoating it.
The Packers are 2-0 and so, somehow, is a Bears team that was outscored 23-6 in the first three quarters of its first game and 13-0 in the second half of its second. So the Vikings are already two games behind the defending division champs and some sort of Mitchell Trubisky magic show. Not the way you want to start a season.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. First of all, there are seven playoff teams per conference this year. So the otherwise troubling fact that only four of the 108 teams to reach the Super Bowl started 0-2 is no longer relevant.
Second of all, Mike Zimmer hasn’t had a losing record since he went 7-9 in his first season as Vikings coach in 2014. His team has a young secondary and a defense that has gone through a lot of change for the first time in years, but there’s still plenty of talent there. They will need time to get their feet under them.
Cousins has had a stinker or two before but tends to bounce back, and he seems to be driven by the doubters. It’s a tough climb back, but I’m willing to bet Sunday was the worst game the Vikings will play in 2020.