Week 12’s Top NFL Storylines: George Kittle’s Emergence and Aaron Rodgers’s Regression
Five of the big stories to emerge this week, and whether we’re buying or selling 'em
With the Ravens totally dismantling the Rams in Los Angeles on Monday Night Football, Week 12 of the NFL season is in the books and ready for review. While we can’t get to everything — like the Steelers benching Mason Rudolph and Frank Gore moving into third place on the all-time rushing list — here are five of the top storylines to emerge from the football week that was, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: George Kittle is the NFL’s new Rob Gronkowski
In a return to the field following two weeks on the sidelines, 49ers tight end George Kittle was a beast, catching all six of his targets for 129 yards and a touchdown in San Fran’s win over Green Bay.
Revealed after the game to be playing on a broken ankle, Kittle was still quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target on the night, and his touchdown in the third quarter was a nail in the Packers’ coffin.
All due respect to Travis Kelce on the Chiefs, but it’s become clear Kittle has emerged as the successor to retired Rob Gronkowski as the best tight end in the NFL. A serviceable blocker as well an above-average pass-catcher, Kittle had a breakout season in 2018 while setting a new NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards.
Limited by injuries this season, Kittle won’t surpass those numbers this year, but he’s still a big-time threat and, like Gronkowski before him, the No. 1 red-zone option for his team.
While perhaps not quite as charismatic as Gronkowski off the field, Kittle certainly does have a personality and is a player the Niners — and the NFL in general — can market to the masses.
Especially comic-book fans.
Sell: The Dallas Cowboys will make the playoffs
Needing a win to ensure they remained in first place in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys rolled into New England and put up a measly nine points in a loss to the Patriots.
Strong on defense but unable to move the ball on offense against the league’s top defense, the Cowboys were undone by a number of mistakes on special teams, including a blocked punt that led to a touchdown, multiple failures to execute on kickoff and punt returns and a missed field goal.
Afterward, owner Jerry Jones blamed the mistakes on poor coaching.
“It was pretty glaring as to why we couldn’t get it done,” Jones told reporters. “Special teams was really, probably, the determining difference. To me, special teams is 100 percent coaching. It’s 100 percent coaching.”
Unfortunately for Jones and the Cowboys, who still are in first place thanks to a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Jason Garrett still has a job. He may not after the Cowboys miss out on the playoffs, which it certainly seems like they could, despite currently being in first place in the division.
Dallas, 6-5, has yet to win a game against a team with a winning record this year and play two of their final five games against teams over .500. Of their other three games, one is against the Bears in Chicago and the other is against the Eagles in Philadelphia, neither of which will be easy. Their last game, against the Redskins, is the only cakewalk.
Even if Dallas goes 3-2 (which seems unlikely), they’ll finish at 9-7. The Eagles have a substantially easier schedule and only play one team with a winning record — the Cowboys. Based on the schedule, it looks like whichever team wins that game will likely represent the NFC East in the playoffs. We’re betting it won’t be Dallas.
Buy: Aaron Rodgers was slumping before the 49ers game
In a 37-8 blowout loss to the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, Aaron Rodgers completed just 20-of-33 for 104 yards and a touchdown. Though he wasn’t intercepted in the defeat, Rodgers was strip-sacked in the first quarter and his fumble directly led to San Francisco taking a lead they would not relinquish.
That was a low point, but the rest of Rodgers’ night wasn’t much better, as the Packers averaged an anemic 1.7 yards per pass play while he was in the game and the Green Bay offense failed to convert a single third down on 13 tries.
Pulled late in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, Rodgers ended up being sacked five times for a loss of 38 yards in all, meaning he ended up with 66 net yards passing. Many are attributing the disastrous performance to the strength of San Francisco’s defense, and that certainly played a factor, but the fact of the matter is that Rodgers has been struggling for the past three weeks.
In games against the Chargers, Panthers and Niners, Rodgers averaged only 166 passing yards and threw two touchdowns in total. Sacked 10 times over the three games, Rodgers completed just 61.6 percent of his passes, well below his season completion rate of 64.5 percent.
Now 8-3 on the season and no longer in control of whether they have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the Packers better hope Rodgers gets things figured out over the next two week against the defensively challenged Giants and Redskins, as Green Bay closes their season with three divisional games against the Bears, Vikings and Lions, all of whom are decent on defense.
Sell: It’s time for the Bengals to go back to Andy Dalton
For some unknown reason, Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor announced on Monday that quarterback Andy Dalton would be the starter for the team’s Week 13 matchup against the Jets.
Dalton, of course, was benched during Cincinnati’s bye week so the winless Bengals could get a look at Ryan Finley, who they drafted out of North Carolina State in the fourth round of the draft.
Though Finley didn’t have much help from his supporting pieces on offense, he was awful as a starter and helped lead the Bengals to 13, 10 and 10 points against the Ravens, Raiders and Steelers, respectively. Unable to clear 200 yards or complete even 55 percent of his passes in all three starts, Finley lost a fumble in each game and was intercepted in two of them.
But … the Bengals should keep playing him.
Winless through 11 games, Cincinnati has every reason to try to lose the games remaining on their schedule in order to get the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Dalton, who also has more turnovers than touchdowns this season, isn’t a good quarterback at this point in his career, but he’s more likely to help the Bengals win than Finley is.
Also, considering the team drafted Finley and is likely to take another quarterback this season, Dalton will be motivated to play well, as it certainly looks like he won’t be back in Cincinnati next year.
Painful as it is to keep watching Finley, the Bengals should do the smart thing and keep the Red Rifle holstered to make sure they don’t accidentally win a game and ruin their shot at drafting the top quarterback in the draft.
Buy: Dwayne Haskins has all the makings of a huge bust
Completing less than 55 percent of his passes, 15th-overall pick Dwayne Haskins has thrown three times as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (two) over his first five NFL games and lost four out of five of ’em.
Allegedly drafted by the Redskins because he played high school football with owner Daniel Snyder’s son, Haskins has not looked like much of a quarterback … or much of a leader.
A week after getting caught on camera yelling at his offensive lineman during a 34-17 loss to the inept New York Jets, Haskins got caught indulging in another bad photo op at the end of Sunday’s win over the Lions. After leading a game-winning field goal drive, Haskins went over to the stands and took a selfie with a Washington fan while his team’s offense was on the field trying to close out the game.
With Haskins nowhere to be found, Washington was forced to send backup quarterback Case Keenum to kneel the ball out of the victory formation. As poor as he’s played on the field, Haskins can’t afford to do things that make it easy to question how much he cares about football when he’s off of it.
“Being able to throw one zinger out of every five passes does not make an NFL quarterback,” writes Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post. “And being airhead enough to miss the final snap on the field is a suggestion that Haskins doesn’t yet have the habits or the seriousness required, that while he says he wants success, he doesn’t really understand the tedium and work that actually goes into it.”
It’s early, but at this rate, it doesn’t seem as if Haskins ever will.