Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 14

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Last night the NFL gave us their version of a Hallmark make-believe Christmas movie.   The lead character is a former first-overall pick Heisman Trophy winner with great commercial appeal, who loses his job after four seasons and gets traded to another team with hopes of revitalizing his career. Then after playing poorly for six games, and having the lowest starting quarterback ranking in the NFL, those hopes fade, and he loses his job again.  He then gets demoted to third string and finally released, only to be claimed by another team 48 hours before a game. He dashes to the airport, learns a few plays, and then leads them on two fourth-quarter drives to win the game with ten seconds left on the clock, ending their six-game losing streak, the longest by a defending Super Bowl Champion.  The title of our little movie: “A Baker’s Christmas,” starring Baker Mayfield. 

Making their little movie more compelling, the NFL, by having the Raiders on Thursday, a team that had lost two games already this season when leading at the half by ten, lost another one.  That’s the most losses ever in an NFL season when leading by 10 or more points at halftime. Going back to 1930, no NFL team has lost 4 games in a season after leading by ten or more at halftime.  What would a good Hallmark movie be without an unprobeable occurrence?  

 

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The Raiders have no one to blame for this loss but themselves. They helped Baker write this script with their poor play, horrible penalties, red zone failures, and poor execution in the fourth quarter. When Derek Carr threw that incredibly bad interception at the end of the first half, keeping the Rams in the game, you knew something funny might occur. And for the second time in four days, we have witnessed two fourth-quarter comebacks—one by Tom Brady and the Bucs over the Saints and last night with Baker. 

The loss ended the Raiders’ slim playoff hopes.  NFL teams form patterns during the season—some good, some bad, and last night, what has haunted the Raiders all season allowed the Rams to win the game—their poor execution in the red zone.  Entering the game, the only strength the Rams held on defense was their ability to play great in the red zone, as they were the number two-ranked team in that area.  The Raiders ranked 29th on offense, losing at least four games this season because they could not make plays in the red area. When a team keeps another one engaged by kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, the fourth quarter can get wild-like last night.  Coming out for the second half, the Raiders had to realize they needed 20 or more points to win the game—instead, by only scoring three, they kept the Rams attached and then through a series of mistakes, ranging from being offsides to a personal foul for touching the ball, the Raiders self-destructed. That allowed Mayfield to make easy throws on the outside versus man-to-man coverage—two nine routes, which ultimately won the game, the last one to Van Jefferson.  This loss will sting for all Raider fans as they allowed another bad team to beat them when they could have controlled the game by making one or two plays.

For the Rams, Mayfield gave them some hope. It also gave Sean McVay another quarterback he could coach on the field until the 25-second clock turns off.  During the game, it was clear that McVay was playing quarterback, not only telling Mayfield the play but where to throw the ball—as Mayfield played faster and with more rhythm than he had all season.  Mayfield was McVay’s “Mini Me,” and the two of them worked together perfectly.  Can this last?  I don’t think so, as when the Rams face better teams with better corners, these 50/50 balls might not go in their favor.  But Mayfield did enough playing in the McVay role for him to be on their team next season—and give them someone who might help, depending on the status of Matthew Stafford for 2023. 

Only on Hallmark, and only in Hollywood, could a script so improbable come true. 

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