Every NFL player understands that his future earning ability could change drastically on any play. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Packers tight end Jermichael Finley know that all too well.
All three suffered scary-looking injuries on Sunday. Perhaps all three will be back very soon; the exact extent of the injuries is unclear. But it's just as possible any or all of them could be out a while and affected financially, because all three have tenuous contract situations.
Cutler is in a contract year. The Bears decided to wait to decide on Cutler's extension until after the season. He went down with a groin injury against the Redskins that looked pretty bad.
The Rams sounded excited to do a contract extension with Bradford a few weeks ago. He still has $27 million and two years left on his contract. Now he has what looks like a serious knee injury, and the Rams have reason to stop considering an extension and simply move onto their next quarterback. If Bradford is coming off a major knee injury, it might cause the Rams to decide $27 million is too much for two more years of him.
Finley is also in a contract year. He was going to generate a lot of interest as a free agent, but now waits to see what his injury prognosis is after he was taken off the field on a stretcher with a neck injury on Sunday. Earlier this year he suffered a concussion bad enough that his young son said, "Daddy, I don't want you to play football anymore." Hopefully his son wasn't watching on Sunday when Finley suffered that frightening injury.
There are many examples every week of players getting hurt and being affected beyond that week's game. Cutler, Bradford and Finley are just stark examples. Remember these cases the next time a player holds out. They all know that they have to maximize their earning potential while they can. It can change in a hurry.
And here are the rest of the winners and losers on Sunday:
Matt Ryan: Great quarterbacks play well when they're without some of their best targets. Tom Brady has done that this year. Joe Flacco has not done that this year. Ryan didn't have Julio Jones or Roddy White on Sunday, but he played an excellent game against a good Buccaneers defense.
Ryan was 20-of-26 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions without his top two wide receivers (starting running back Steven Jackson remained out, as well). The Falcons are still in a huge hole at 2-4, even after the win against Tampa Bay. But the Falcons should be more confident than ever that Ryan is in that special class of NFL quarterbacks.
Rex Ryan: Ryan seemed like a dead man walking this offseason, playing out the 2013 string until the Jets fired him. But what gets lost in Ryan's brash comments is he's a heck of a defensive mind and a good motivator. And now his Jets are 4-3 after an overtime win over the Patriots, and Ryan is much closer to a playoff spot than the unemployment line.
The biggest difference was an offseason switch at offensive coordinator from Brian Schottenheimer to Marty Mornhinweg. Mornhinweg has been more creative than his predecessor, and has done a great job putting rookie quarterback Geno Smith in positions to succeed. The sixth seed in the AFC looks like it's going to be up for grabs well into December. It'll be really hard to fire Ryan if the Jets end up being the team to get it.
Green Bay's chances of winning the NFC North: The Packers are in first place in the NFC North, and that might not change the rest of the year. Green Bay, which was very thin because of injuries, still took care of the Browns in a 31-13 win. The Bears lost at a bad Redskins team, and lost quarterback Jay Cutler as well. The Lions don't look like the type of team that can keep pace with Green Bay after they dropped a home game to Cincinnati.
The Packers' schedule is fairly light the rest of the way. They might end up winning the division by a few games.
San Francisco's status as a contender: The 49ers have been hard to read this season. They have looked average at times, and it has brought into question their ability to go to a second straight Super Bowl.
On Sunday, they looked very strong. Tennessee isn't a bad team, it had quarterback Jake Locker back, and it got destroyed at home by San Francisco. The 49ers led 24-0 after three quarters, before the Titans scored some garbage time points. They looked like a balanced team, one of the few in the NFC that that has a realistic chance of playing in February.
RG3: We're starting to see it. Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is slowly getting back to what he was as a rookie last year.
Against the Bears, Griffin was 18-of-29 for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and also had 84 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Griffin led a 12-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Roy Helu's third touchdown run with 45 seconds left to give Washington a 45-41 win.
Griffin didn't have any preseason games or much practice before the regular season started because he was rehabbing from an ACL injury. His slow start wasn't a huge surprise. He's getting better and better each week. Like Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Broncos linebacker Von Miller returning this week, that's great for the league.
Those who wanted to crown the Chiefs as elite: Houston isn't a good football team right now. And then they played a road game with quarterback Case Keenum making his NFL debut. Running back Arian Foster went down with a hamstring injury. His backup Ben Tate suffered a rib injury. They should have gotten blown out by a great team.
The Chiefs are good, but maybe we have to pump the brakes on calling them great.
The Chiefs, who came into this game having played the 31st toughest schedule in the NFL according to Football Outsiders, barely held on for an unimpressive 17-16 home win against a Texans team that is now 2-5. Keenum had a fine game in his debut. The Chiefs, once again, just aren't that dynamic on offense. Kansas City's pass rush came alive in the second half and bailed them out in the end.
The Chiefs are a good team. And they're going to the playoffs. The Chiefs are 7-0 and their schedule doesn't get a lot harder. But that doesn't mean they're one of the two or three best teams in the NFL.
Baltimore's Super Bowl title defense: The Ravens probably aren't going anywhere this year. The win at Miami seemed like a possible turning point, but a second straight loss in which the offense was held to less than 20 points knocked the Ravens back to 3-4. The Ravens had very little offensive pop in a 19-16 loss to the Steelers, who had just one win before Sunday.
The Ravens had to pay quarterback Joe Flacco after last year's Super Bowl. What were they going to do, let him go? But his $120 million deal is going to be an anchor on the franchise. He's a solid player who isn't going to carry this team without a very good supporting cast like he had last year. That's becoming painfully clear in Baltimore.
Miami Dolphins: In retrospect, the Dolphins' 3-0 start was a mirage. They were, as mentioned here before, out-gained in every game but squeezed out close wins. That can't last forever. But still, they probably shouldn't lose at home to a Bills team led by quarterback Thad Lewis. It also didn't seem like there was a lot of excitement in Miami for its team, considering the empty seats:
En SUN LIFE STADIUM viendo Bills VS Dolphins. Por el placer de ver FUTBOL EN VIVO. Uds. saben q soy RAIDER pic.twitter.com/nvPEvw90RR
— Fernando Fiore (@FernandoFiore) October 20, 2013
The Dolphins are now on a three-game losing streak after the Bills got a 23-21 win on a field goal in the final minute. Here's the positive though: For the first time all season the Dolphins had more yards than their opponent. Progress.
The Team That Drafted a Punter Instead of Russell Wilson™: Ahh, you knew the Jaguars were going to make it back here after that poor effort. You have to do better than lose 24-6 at home to the Chargers, who had a short week to prepare. Jacksonville's no-show was especially disappointing after a solid effort last week against Denver.
Jacksonville has now lost all seven games by double digits, the first team since the 1984 Oilers to do so (Houston lost its first 10 by double digits, although it did win game No. 11). The Jaguars don't want to be the second 0-16 team in NFL history, but they'll have to be a lot better than they were Sunday to avoid it.
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