Five Wide: 2022 Week Four

By Thomas Willoughby

In uploading this week’s column to the site, I realised that I’ve used a lot of words. You can probably see for yourself, to be fair. Loads in the opening segment, and 5 paragraphs at the end dedicated to a man called Yungblud. So I won’t keep you for too long with the intro.

Another cracking week in the NFL, made better knowing we’ve got another game in our back garden this weekend. If you spot me mulling about Spurs on Sunday, give me a shout, and I’ll shout you out on next week’s Five Wide! Anyway, let’s crack on.

Player Safety? Yeah Right.

Having watched the US broadcast of every Atlanta Falcons game so far this season, I’ve come across multiple instances of an ad proudly proclaiming how the NFL is doing more to decrease head trauma injuries than ever before. It states that numbers are down to record lows. That ad was not broadcast on Sunday night, as the Falcons hosted the Cleveland Browns days after Tua Tagovailoa was taken to hospital for a head-related injury. After this past week’s slate of games, can we stop pretending that the NFL cares a jot about player safety? 

The Tagovailoa incident is the most egregious case of malpractice I think I’ve seen while watching the sport. Tagovailoa took a hit that saw him evaluated for a concussion against the Bills in week 3. He would be filmed struggling to stand up following said hit. However he returned to the game at halftime, having been cleared for a concussion, with concerns over his back being the primary issue. He played on, the Dolphins won, we all know this. The Dolphins played in week four against the Bengals. Tua started, he took another heavy hit, and his body locked up. He was removed from the game, taken to hospital, and the independent doctor that cleared him to return in week 3 was fired for making “several mistakes”. Let it be known that it was clear to anyone with access to replays that Tagovailoa should not have returned to the game in week 3. He absolutely should not have played in week 4. If we’re putting player safety at the fore, even a player with a back injury severe enough to make them struggle to stand should not be playing a collision sport.

This isn’t the only case of player safety being brought into question, however. At the start of the week, Myles Garrett was involved in a car accident that flipped and totaled his car. He was admitted to hospital and was lucky to not sustain life-threatening injuries. He spent the week listed as “questionable”, before being downgraded to officially “out” of the Falcons game the day before. Whether it’s a “mind games-y” move or not, the Browns clearly felt comfortable rolling the dice on a player less than a week removed from destroying his car.

On Sunday night football, Buccaneers’ tight end, Cameron Brate complained of a shoulder issue. He was evaluated, cleared to play on, and returned to the game. Only at halftime did someone realise that something was wrong. He missed the second half of the game having been placed into concussion protocol. How he was allowed to return to begin with is a mystery.

The NFL is a brutal sport, and players’ careers’ are short enough as it is without being allowed to put themselves in harm’s way. I appreciate that changes are coming to help player safety, but it should have taken an incredibly scary moment in prime time to force it. I’ll leave this segment with the very wise words of Mitchell Schwartz:

The Next Big Thing

It took me exactly two weeks to be proven (sort of) right. As the Steelers laboured through a turgid affair at home to the New York Jets, Mike Tomlin and company decided that they’d seen enough. Mitchell Trubisky was hooked, and in came the prodigal son; the University of Pittsburgh’s very own Kenny Pickett. He has now been named the Steelers starter for week five. The first domino has fallen. We have our first rookie QB starting in 2022.

He didn’t even look that awful. I mean, yes his first throw was an interception. Yes, at times the Jets chose to treat the name on the back of his jersey as a challenge. But he did what he could wake a sleeping Steelers offense. 10/13, 120 yards, and a further 15 yards on the ground, resulting in 2 rushing touchdowns for the rook. From a certain point of view, he didn’t miss on a single throw. Y’know, what with the 3 interceptions.

So the question becomes; who’s next? At 2-2, I can’t see a scenario where the Falcons want to change too much. Not while they’re competitive. The Titans appear to have stabilised, too, and now sit joint-top of the (very weak) AFC South. So I guess that rules out Desmond Ridder and Malik Willis for now. Can I play my joker? Sam Howell was once considered a potential high-round pick. He fell to the fifth round, where the Washington Commanders snaffled him up to the tune of the 144th overall pick. The Commies sit 1-3, and everything is atrocious. If things don’t turn, and quickly, don’t be surprised to see them take a look at what they’ve got in reserve, before deciding on what to do with that top 5 draft pick they’ll no doubt hold by the end of the season.

Matt Durisko-AP Photo

Double Londoink

I said last week that there’s something magical about these games, didn’t I? At the crack of just past lunchtime, the Vikings and the Saints took to White Hart Lane (over my dead body will you be getting a Tottenham Hotspur Stadium out of me) to play out the first of 2022s NFL London Games offerings. And it was awful. But it was close.

Watching from home, I couldn’t help but laugh at how hard the NFL Network’s lead commentator pushed the notion that it was, in fact, a good game. Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton struggled to complete anything over 5 yards. Sure, there were more than a few excellent defensive plays, but let’s not pretend like it was a defensive duel. Neither offense could get going. But it kind of exploded in the 4th quarter.

Cousins remembered that Justin Jefferson is actually pretty good, and started hitting him deep. The Saints, devastated by injury to multiple key starters, rallied. Dalton began to move the ball. Latavius Murray rolled the years back to put in a pretty efficient rushing performance. It was all set up nicely. At 28-25, the Saints looked to move into field goal range. Having made a 60-yarder earlier in the day, you’d imagine anything he’d be confident with anything around 55 yards. They got him close enough to attempt a 61-yarder.

Can I just say: what an effort this was. It had the length and then some, and it so nearly had the accuracy. As the ball changed against the upright, you thought for all the world it’d bounce in and set up overtime. You, or I, rather, certainly didn’t fathom the prospect of it bouncing onto the crossbar, and out. A fabled double doink. a Double Londoink, if you will. 

Does it make up for the preceding 3 quarters of football? Not really. But it was a fun way to end the first of our three games here in the UK. Let’s hope for a similar level of drama in game two!

Winners Live Here

Speaking of game two, here’s a mad one for you: did you know that London has NEVER hosted a game between two sides with a winning record? It’s true! In the 15 years of the NFL London Games, we’ve been blessed with a swathe of losers coming in and stinking the place out. Now, to take a big swig of my tea and check this weekend’s fixtures…

I don’t think any of us expected THIS to be the game to host two winning teams. The Packers have been excellence personified for just about every year of Aaron Rodgers’ tenure, but the Giants? AWFUL team. Just awful. And yet. And yet! They find themselves 3-1, a game behind the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, and heading to London for their third trip with a winning record.

You’d like to think this will kick-start a new age for the London games. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that the NFL only sends the dregs over to placate us. It’s nice, for now at least, that we can say that we’ve seen a game between two teams with winning records. On Sunday, White Hart Lane will become Lambeau East, and it should be one of the best experiences we’ve been allowed yet.

Andrew Mills-NJ Advance Media

Lay Off The Halftime Acts

Just want to touch on something that irked me early last week. On the Wednesday before the first game of the series, NFL UK announced that pop-punker, Yungblud, would be performing during halftime in London. What followed was a very noticeable outpouring of anger from British NFL fans. Calm down, people.

“Who?”, “Can we have someone we’ve heard of please?”, and “Way to completely misunderstand your target audience.” I read, repeatedly, as a man with two number one albums in the UK alone was unveiled. A sense of gross entitlement washed over the British NFL core, as someone with over twice the online presence as the NFL UK themselves was revealed to be playing a 12-minute set. It’s just bizarre.

I’m not even saying from a fan’s perspective. He seems like a nice enough chap, and came across well on Buzzcocks last year. But I’ve tried listening to his stuff, and it’s just not for me. I’m just sick of seeing the same thing over and over again on an annual basis. It was the same with Aitch, with AJ Tracey, even Little Mix back in 2014. At some point, you’ve got to realise that this isn’t aimed at you.

NFL UK does not exist to serve its existing fans. It exists to grow the game in the UK. The halftime show is a way of getting the attention of people who otherwise would not care. They’ve already got your money, and you’re already getting what you paid for. Like Touchdown writer Rory-Joe Daniels said: 

If you don’t like it, go get a drink. There’s literally a microbrewery in the stadium. I’m going to have to repeat all this again when, I dunno, Mabel or whichever academy-level pop star is announced for this weekend, aren’t I?

Features Image Credit: Justin Setterfield-Getty Images

Thomas Willoughby