Dak Prescott’s ugly injury, Raiders roll Chiefs, power rankings and more

The Dallas Cowboys may be winning the lackluster NFC East, but without Dak Prescott, the season is effectively in salvage mode.

An innocent run left Dak Prescott’s ankle broken, and his future uncertain.

In the third quarter of an eventual win over the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback scurried left before being brought down on a clean tackle by defensive back Logan Ryan. The fall was awkward, and Prescott ended up with a broken and dislocated ankle, requiring immediate surgery.

With Prescott on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards and a career year, his trajectory suggested the bet on himself from this summer was working out. Now, suddenly, his situation has become filled with variables beyond his control.

Prescott is almost certainly out for the season. Andy Dalton has taken over at quarterback for the 2-3 Cowboys, trying to get Dallas back into the playoffs after missing them narrowly a year ago. The former Mississippi State standout will be relegated to watching and healing, hoping Dalton wins games while Prescott recovers.

And yet, every subplot leads into another. This summer, Prescott and the Cowboys volleyed back and forth over a long-term deal, only to have none come before the July 15 deadline. Prescott eventually signed the $31 million franchise tag, hoping to prove his value once more before either signing a mega-deal in Dallas or doing so after a few hours in free agency.

Instead, Prescott is now sidelined with the first injury of his pro career. Due to COVID-19, there’s a real chance the NFL’s salary cap dips from the current threshold of $200 million. If it does, tagging Prescott at $37 million would be quite problematic for Jerry Jones.

This all begs the question, would Jones sign Prescott to a large contract despite the ankle injury, or does he go in another direction?

Of course, the amount of potential answers here are myriad. Dalton could play at a Pro Bowl level — he’s done it before — and the Cowboys could see him as a cheap bridge to the future. He could also bomb completely and coupled with its horrendous defense, Dallas may suddenly be in position to draft Justin Fields or Trey Lance.

If neither of those options are legitimate come January, Jones might believe the best scenario is to offer Prescott a two-year prove-it deal, laden with incentives. Would the quarterback balk at not being taken care of, or would be take the money and attempt once more to show his worth?

All of these are impossible to answer, with only time providing the truth.

Unfortunately, these questions have to be pondered. Surprisingly, the Cowboys didn’t sign Prescott this offseason and now the future is cloudy for both sides. In a perfect world, Prescott regains full health, Dallas pays the man his cash, and the two sides figure out a way forward.

And yet, the NFL isn’t often a perfect world. More often, it’s a cruel one.

One innocent play may have changed the course of Prescott’s blossoming career. It also touched off a deluge of wonderments.

Power rankings

Top 10 teams to watch their QB situation come 2021

1. Jacksonville Jaguars — What happens with Gardner Minshew and a high pick?
2. Dallas Cowboys — So, so many questions after Prescott’s injury
3. New England Patriots — Is Cam Newton a long-term answer in Foxborough?
4. Chicago Bears — Does Ryan Pace take another big swing in the first round?
5. New York Jets — Who is replacing Sam Darnold from the draft?
6. Indianapolis Colts — Will Chris Ballard bring back Philip Rivers?
7. New York Giants — Is Daniel Jones playing for his job in New York?
8. Washington Football Team — Who does Ron Rivera bring in to the nation’s capital?
9. Detroit Lions — What happens to Matthew Stafford in 2021?
10. Las Vegas Raiders — Are we seeing Derek Carr’s final year in silver and black?

Quotable

“Those guys trust me to get me the ball downfield. A lot of people look at me as just a possession receiver, I guess. And my abilities and my talent, obviously, today’s and other games, show that I’m not just a possession receiver but I’m a downfield threat.”

– Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins on his abilities

For my money, the best receiver in football. Hands, route-running, ability to separate. All of it is elite. The biggest upgrade of the offseason.

Podcast

Random stat

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roehtlisberger is 23-2-1 against the Cleveland Browns in his career.

Info learned this week

1. The NFL needs to get ahead of COVID and adjust there schedule

Patching the boat doesn’t mean the boat is fine. It means get to shore and get another damn boat.

The NFL has been able to play five weeks without massive interruption, but that’s going to change shortly. We just watched the league navigate its most turbulent week yet with the postponement of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, while the Tennessee Titans continue to eat with their outbreak.

As teams begin to run out of their bye weeks, the league will have no choice but to either outright cancel contests (no chance, money) or reschedule. In this regard, commissioner Roger Goodell should get ahead of the issue.

Goodell would be smart to install a universal bye late in the regular season — think somewhere between Weeks 13-15. This way, teams can play makeup games and those without any can simply rest before the postseason. Hell, it might even improve the quality of play come January.

There’s no reasonable person who doesn’t believe we’ll see more positive tests. The NFL has to know this, and must act accordingly to avoid disaster.

2. Raiders, Derek Carr prove point by being champion Chiefs

We might have seen something very important happen at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

No, it wasn’t the Las Vegas Raiders beating the Kansas City Chiefs. While Las Vegas’ 40-32 win was impressive, it’s foolhardy to believe the AFC West is suddenly a race. Kansas City remains the overwhelming favorite. However, Derek Carr’s play was notable, and not simply for fantasy purposes.

Carr had one of his finest games in years, throwing for 347 yards and three touchdowns. However, it was the numbers within which were intriguing. Carr threw touchdowns of 59 and 72 yards in the second quarter. He also had a 46-yard completion in the first quarter to Henry Ruggs III. In the fourth quarter, with the Raiders clinging to a 30-24 advantage, Carr bought time and found Hunter Renfrow in a vacated zone for a first down on 3rd-and-18.

If the Raiders can get Carr to take more calculated chances downfield, it’s a game-changer. No, Las Vegas isn’t suddenly going 12-4 or challenging for a Super Bowl, but it could threaten for a wild card berth in the AFC.

Carr won his first game in Arrowhead, and he did so by changing his risk factor. He’ll need to keep it up.

3. Dan Quinn’s firing opens up larger story in Atlanta

The Dan Quinn era is over. The real questions are just beginning.

Quinn was fired alongside general manager Thomas Dimitroff, which means interims will take over until a full-scale relaunch happens in the offseason. When it does, the building no longer has ties to any of the current players. In short, turnover is coming.

Atlanta has the third-highest cap commitments in 2021, putting it $25 million over a projected $176 million threshold. With that in mind, the Falcons might blow up the roster because there are few places worse than being old, expensive and bad.

Julio Jones is 31 years old and signed through 2023. His cap numbers of $20.4M, $23M, $19.2M and $19.2M are reasonable for his greatness. Atlanta should consider moving him for a high pick. The same is true of Matt Ryan. Ryan, 35, is also signed for three more seasons. His cap hits of $40.9M, $41.6M and $36.6M are not as palatable, but a team with space and a need for better quarterback play could make the move.

Atlanta finally made two significant moves Sunday. More should, and likely are, coming.

4. Garoppolo being benched is significant in many facets with 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers benched Jimmy Garoppolo for the second half of their 43-17 blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins. Head coach Kyle Shanahan maintained in the postgame the move was about Garoppolo’s still-healing ankle. That’s almost certainly true.

What’s also true is by benching Garoppolo, the 49ers open themselves, and their quarterback, up to myriad questions.

Garoppolo was the scapegoat in Super Bowl LIV, going 3-for-11 for 31 yards and an interception in the decisive fourth quarter. In the offseason, it was reported San Francisco was interested in signing Tom Brady. A few weeks, a reporter asked Shanahan is Nick Mullens — Nick Mullens — was potentially causing a quarterback controversy.

All this is to say Garoppolo hasn’t exactly been on firm ground for quite some time. Why? Because he’s a system quarterback. Watch San Francisco, and you see a quarterback who plays wonderfully when the run game is humming and linebackers are biting on play-fakes. He’s also terrific with one-read accuracy. Create some pressure or take away the main read, and things get dicey.

Garoppolo is still the leading man in San Francisco, as he should be. But the move by Shanahan to replace him with C.J. Beathard will likely cause unintended drama in the Bay Area.

5. Alex Smith’s return deserves longstanding admiration

Nothing witty or insightful here (maybe that should be. the tagline of this column). Just awe and support for one of the nicest, and toughest, men in the NFL.

On Sunday, Alex Smith stepped to the fore for Washington after Kyle Allen left with an injury. The Football Team lost and Smith was poor statistically, but who cares? This is about the triumph of the human spirit, the will to endure. Smith, who famously almost lost his leg after breaking multiple bones in a Nov. 2018 tilt, somehow made it all the way back.

If Smith never throws another pass, never completes another ball, his story is one of the all-timers.

Gambler’s game

The Los Angeles Chargers paired with the over are begging to be teased on Monday night. While the New Orleans Saints probably win, a tease gets you Los Angeles +15 with an O/U of 44.5. Even though teasers pay out less than parlays since you’re getting help from the house, this appears relatively easy money.

Two cents

As we get deep into October, you’ll invariably start hearing about undefeated records and who will stay unblemished the longest. It’ll seem important and indicative of who wins Super Bowl LV for the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Steelers and the eventual winner of the Buffalo Bills-Tennessee Titans game.

The reality is far different.

The last team to be the final unbeaten squad in a given season and win the Super Bowl? The 2006 Indianapolis Colts. Since 2010, four reached Super Sunday, while two failed to even qualify for the playoffs. In short, it’s a nice, but not very meaningful, distinction.

Inside the league

Last summer, I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. Throughout our talk, he spoke about the importance of now-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and run-game coordinator Rick Dennison on their focus refining the rushing attack. Spielman also talked about the need to establish balance, helping Kirk Cousins and the offense as a whole.

From the Aug. 2019 piece:

“… When those three got together on their outsize zone scheme, it’s about identifying what we have on the roster. I can tell you strengths and weaknesses but do they fit our scheme? … What does Cousins do best? We know what he does best. Those guys set up the offense to fit the football team and fit our quarterback.”

On Sunday night in Minnesota’s 27-26 loss to the Seahawks, you saw the commitment to run the ball. The Vikings ran 41 times for 201 yards, holding the ball for almost 40 minutes against a bad defense. The result was bad, but the process was good.

None of this suggests teams should eschew the passing game to pound the rock. For most teams, that’s a bad recipe. For the Vikings, and their good-but-limited quarterback, it’s the only recipe. Minnesota needs Alexander Mattison and Dalvin Cook to run and shorten second and third downs. Over the past two weeks, including their win over the Houston Texans, that has happened.

If the Vikings continue playing solid enough defense to allow the running game to become a weapon, Minnesota isn’t out of the NFC playoff picture.

History lesson

In 1945, the Cleveland Rams defeated Washington, 15-14, for the league title. They remain the only NFL team to ever win a championship and immediately relocate in the playoff era (1932-present), with the franchise heading for Los Angeles in 1946.

This did happen once in the American Football League, as the Dallas Texans beat the Houston Oilers in double-overtime to win their title, before becoming the Chiefs in 1963.

Parting shot

The most intriguing game of Week 6? An old NFC Central matchup.

In the late national window on FOX, it’s the Packers at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. And there’s plenty on the line.

For Green Bay, the matter isn’t urgent but important. With a win, the Packers move three ahead of Tampa Bay in the loss column with the tiebreaker in hand. Even with a flawless final 10 games, the Buccaneers would be hard-pressed to have the NFC playoffs go through Raymond James Stadium.

As for Brady’s bunch, another loss and suddenly they’re 3-3 with critical defeats against the Saints and Packers. Not a crushing blow to postseason hopes, but advantageous seeding would be looking increasingly in peril.

And, of course, there’s the simple interest in a great quarterback battle. Brady is 43 but still playing at a top-10 level. Rodgers, after being given no additional weapons and the threat of Jordan Love this offseason, is playing at an MVP level with a smile on his bearded face. He’s having fun, and so are the Packers.

A win for the Bucs, and things are suddenly rosy. A loss, and the Packers are in prime position to make a run at home-field advantage, while Tampa Bay is left in a precarious spot.

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