Five Wide: 2023 Week Four

By Thomas Willoughby

Forget everything I said about loving the London games. I take it all back. From the shop being at capacity 3 hours before kick-off, to the general performance of the Atlanta Falcons (Arthur Smith apologise to me right now), I had a thoroughly upsetting time this past Sunday. The one saving grace? A food truck that sold “loaded” hash browns. I had mac and cheese on mine, and a metric tonne of parmesan cheese on top. I hope to make the Hash Hut a staple of my London Games experience.

Another stacked slate of games this week, the last for a good 10 weeks of the season, what with byes entering the field of play. So let’s enjoy it, together with some five wide ramblings.

Who are you?

Right, I’m just gonna come right out and ask the question: what are the Las Vegas Raiders? Are they good but unlucky? Are they flat-out bad with moments? I’ve seen them through four weeks and they seem to swing across that spectrum wildly on a play-by-play basis. On Sunday they faced the talented but equally inconsistent Los Angeles Chargers, and kind of did what they always do? Which is swing wildly. I don’t get it!

In lieu of an injured Jimmy Garoppollo, the Raiders started rookie QB Aidan O’Connell, who (I thought, at least) looked pretty ok? I think? He looked really composed, in spells. And pretty unsettled in others. He was also sacked by Khalil Mack about 47 times, which certainly didn’t help him out. His receiving corps made some pretty good catches…but had some pretty horrid drops, too. It was great to see Josh Jacobs back doing incredible things, as well.

And then there’s the defense, which did a really solid job of limiting an explosive Chargers offense… And managed to get one of their starting defensive linemen ejected for a late hit on Herbert in the first half. They lost, obviously, but did the positives outweigh the negatives? Erm, kind of? Like they were 24-7 down at the half, and made a run on the win. That’s something, right? I don’t know. They’re a weird team. It was a performance entirely emblematic of their season, and I look forward to them doing lots of good things, and lots of bad things, in the coming weeks and months.

Katelyn Mulcahy-GettyImages

Fields is a alive

On the last Touchdown pod, we discussed the mess that are the Chicago Bears, and what a mess they are. This Sunday did not change that. But I’m hopeful that it’ll change the perception of Justin Fields. He’s a good player, man. He could be really good, honestly.

The worst thing about being an NFL quarterback is that you get next to no credit. Tom Brady battled “system QB” allegations for years. Patrick Mahomes is riding off the Andy Reid genius. These are some of the best that the game has ever had to offer, and some aren’t convinced. When your team wins, it’s everyone else. When you lose, it’s all you. The Bears had a big old lead on Sunday. 28-7 in the 3rd quarter, at one point. They lost 35-28, to the lowly Denver Broncos. Justin Fields, how dare you?

Come on, though. The guy looked electric. 335 yards, a further 25 on the ground, and 4 passing TDs. He did what he needed to do. Matt Eberflus, however. On 4th down, knowing two yards will do the job and get the Bears their first win of the season, he takes the ball out of the man of the hours hands, and fluffs it completely. I’m not out on Fields. He’s got something. I’m fully out on the Bears however. Good luck to whichever QB they opt to draft with one of their two top two picks in April.

We've got a friend in he

We may have been denied an “ahhhhhh bistoooo” moment (thanks a lot Arthur Smith), but that doesn’t mean Bijan didn’t ball out. He had a few moments that made me get out my seat, that made the crowd ooh and aah. He was let down, there’s no two ways about it.

What didn’t let him down, however, was ESPN’s decision to simultaneously broadcast the game on Disney+, and plastering Toy Story theming over it. What a delight for me, a 31 year old man, to watch clips of on the way home whenever I hit what few spots of reliable data exist on the Chiltern Mainline train between Wembley Stadium and Oxford.

Look at this. A work of art. I really appreciate the attention to detail, like the smoke coming off of his cleats as he hit top speed, just like what happened in the stadium. Very entertaining. Let’s do this in the future with other Pixar-related skins. The Falcons next week could be Inside Out-themed. Bijan could be Joy, Arthur Smith could be Anger, and the rest of the squad could be rendered as Depression.

Top of the table struggles

We knew there would be a bit of an adjustment period when some of the league’s elder statesmen stepped aside. Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger had helmed the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers to a very high level for years, and those organizations had reaped those rewards. Those players worked in tendem with a one head coach for the majority of their careers (Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin respectively), to the point where their careers are almost inseparable. The quarterbacks have moved on, but the coaches remain. And the results are eerily similar…?

Since Brady and Roethlisberger left their clubs, neither have come close to hitting their previous heights. Granted, the Steelers are only in their second season post-Ben, but they look a little listless. The Patriots are a few years removed from Brady and have one solitary playoff appearance. And they weren’t even in that game. 

Both teams have drafted who they believe is their next long-term starter, but neither Mac Jones, nor Kenny Pickett, have shown enough consistently to suggest they can elevate the players around them. Neither of them looked, at any point, capable to pulling their team in the right direction on Sunday. Sadly, for Pickett, his week ended with a knee injury.

I don’t really know what the future for either franchise holds, but I’m fascinated at how similar these two sides’ declines have mirrored each other.

Sam Hodde-Getty Images

Zach Wilson, NFL quarterback?

I do not think Zach Wilson’s Jets career can be saved. I do not think he has much of a career as an NFL starter once his current Jets contract comes to a close. But, man, if this Sunday didn’t give me pause for thought.

We all know the Chiefs are really good. And we also know their defense isn’t their strongest point. But it’s good. Sometimes it can be really good. Zach Wilson’s Jets offense looked really good on Sunday. Wilson himself looked sharp, and accurate, and basically everything he hasn’t been since he was drafted. That’s against one of the league’s best teams. Fair play, man.

As I said, I don’t necessarily think his trajectory as a player in the NFL. But there was a lot to like about his Sunday night. Just enough to intrigue me into watching his next couple of games with great interest.

Features Image Credit: Kirsty Wigglesworth-AP

Thomas Willoughby