I can’t overstate the enjoyment of watching the condensed version of standalone games while having a stake in, but not knowing the outcome of them. It’s 40 minutes of enjoyment with so little of the garbage that makes up the bulk of the 3.5-hour real-time experience. With two games, it was 120 minutes rather than seven hours.
• Derek Carr (259 yards, 10.0 YPA, one TD, no picks) looked poised and accurate. It helped that he had time to throw (no sacks), and his receivers held onto the ball in traffic.
• Tyrell Williams (7-6-105-1) led the team in yards, while much hyped Darren Waller (8-7-70) delivered, though it was mostly short stuff. Rookie tailback Josh Jacobs (23-85-2, one catch for 28 yards) ran hard and looked at least adequate. Jalen Richard didn’t receive a target and had only one carry, but the Raiders had the lead all game, so game-flow might have had something to do with that.
• Joe Flacco (268 yards, one TD, no picks, three sacks) passed the eye test as a Bronco — he was largely accurate and didn’t make mistakes against a presumably low-end defense. Courtland Sutton (8-7-120) and Emmanuel Sanders (7-5-86-1) seem like reliable options in what should be a narrow passing tree. First-round pick tight end Noah Fant went 5-2-29.
• Royce Freeman (10 carries, 56 yards, one target for five yards) and Phillip Lindsay (11 carries, 43 yards, 6-4-23) split the workload fairly evenly. Freeman was more decisive and effective and was in near the goal line, but this looks like a fairly even split.
• I have no idea why Vic Fangio kicked a field goal with 8:39 left in the 4th quarter to cut the lead from 15 to 12. Good coordinators often turn out to be poor head coaches.
• Credit to Jon Gruden whose team came out to play despite the Antonio Brown/Hard Knocks circus over the past two months.
• I was off Drew Brees this year (40 years old, run-heavy team, no rushing stats), but he looked like his old self with 370 yards, two TDs, one pick and one sack. He made only one long throw all game (a 41-yarder to Ted Ginn), but Alvin Kamara does so much work after the catch on short throws.
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• Anyone who thinks running backs don’t matter should watch the Kamara (13 carries for 97 yards, 8-7-72 through the air) tape from Monday night. You have to wrap him up to bring him down, and it’s hard to wrap up (rather than just hit) in the open field. He’s padded Brees’ stats like crazy the last three years. Latavius Murray (6-43-1, 3-2-4) looked good in what should more or less be the Mark Ingram role.
• Michael Thomas (13-10-123) did his usual high volume, catch everything, move-the-chains shtick. Ted Ginn (7-6-101) got more looks than second-year man Tre’Quan Smith (2-2-26-1) for now, but Brees will throw to whomever’s open. Jared Cook (3-2-37) was similarly unimportant Monday night.
• Deshaun Watson is a superstar. Despite constant pressure (six sacks), he delivered three TDs, one pick (that was essentially a punt), 268 yards, 8.9 YPA and three TDS. He also had 40 rushing yards and a TD. But the numbers understate the accuracy of his throws with people in the pocket and the unbelievable calm and poise he showed under duress. The only downside with Watson is injury risk, and he spent time in the injury tent this game.
• DeAndre Hopkins (13-8-111-2) had some early drops but came up huge down the stretch. You can guard Hopkins, but he’ll catch it anyway, and Watson’s accuracy was pinpoint. Will Fuller (3-2-69) made a great 54-yard catch, but was otherwise quiet, while Kenny Stills chipped in with a long TD.
• Both Carlos Hyde (10-for-83, one catch for two yards) and Duke Johnson (9-for-57 and 5-4-33 through the air) looked good, and this is roughly the workload split I’d expect — 50/50 on the ground, with Johnson getting the receiving work.
• Will Lutz missed a 56-yard field goal at the end of the half but delivered massively down the stretch with a 47-yarder and a game-winning 58-yarder. This generation’s top kickers are at a level so far beyond the last one it’s almost like a different position.
• Ka’imi Fairbairn’s missed PAT to give the Texans the lead with 37 seconds left, only to have it re-tried after a penalty was strange. Ironically, the Texans probably would have been better off had the miss stood, and the Saints had less urgency to set up the game winner.