Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. If you missed it yesterday, the NFL has posted the final two minutes of regulation and the entire overtime from the Bills-Vikings game on YouTube.
In today’s SI:AM:
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A WR for MVP?
Here’s the situation: There are two minutes on the clock, your team is trailing by four points, facing a fourth-and-18 from your own 32-yard line. What do you do? For most teams, the answer is, throw one up and hope for the best. But if you’re the Vikings and you have Justin Jefferson, your prayers have a much better chance of being answered.
Jefferson’s one-handed fourth-down catch against the Bills yesterday will go down as the best of the season. It kept the Vikings alive, leading to the unbelievable sequence of events that saw Minnesota knock off Buffalo in overtime. It was the best play of what has already been an incredible season for Jefferson, Conor Orr writes:
We cannot discuss Bills-Vikings without discussing Justin Jefferson, who finished the game with 10 catches for 194 yards and a touchdown. NFL’s NextGenStats noted that nine of his 10 catches had less than a 50% chance of being caught, the best single game in that regard the service has recorded. Jefferson has a catch percentage more than a full percentage point above expectation. He’s already catching nearly 70% of his targets as defenses scramble each week to stop him. His own coach, Kevin O’Connell, admitted earlier this season there are about eight or nine snaps a game in which Jefferson is not subjected to a double team. His fourth-quarter catch against the Bills on fourth-and-18—which had him with a single arm raised posted up against a defensive back like some bygone era NBA center—was perhaps the greatest single play of the season. It swung the Bills’ potential win percentage from 92.9% all the way down to 50%. One single play, which could not have been made by any other person on the field, in that stadium, in that state, and perhaps in that entire geographical region, did that.
That’s part of why Orr argues that Jefferson and Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill should be in the running to become the first wide receiver to win the MVP award. Jefferson and Hill are the most important players in their respective offenses. It’s impossible to imagine either team in the position they’re in now (Minnesota is 8–1 while Miami is 7–3 and atop the AFC East, thanks to the Vikings’ win over the Bills yesterday) without those players leading the way. Most importantly, those two elite receivers elevate their decidedly not-elite quarterbacks. “Kirk Cousins, Super Bowl–winning quarterback” is a phrase that feels awkward just to say, but thanks to Jefferson it’s a real possibility.
The Vikings have the NFC North all but wrapped up (unless you think the Packers still have a shot at 4–6). The more interesting race is for home field advantage and the first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. The undefeated Eagles, who handed the Vikings their only loss of the season, are in first place in the conference right now. After Philadelphia wiped the floor with the Vikings in Week 2’s 24–7 blowout, Minnesota seemed like a middle-of-the-pack team at best. After stringing together seven straight wins, including on the road against the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Vikings are proving that they deserve to be taken seriously.
The best of Sports Illustrated
Ahead of the Eagles’ game against the Commanders tonight, John Gonzalez wrote a Daily Cover story on Jalen Hurts, whose play has forced Philly’s notoriously fickle fans “to put away the torches and pitchforks and throw open its arms for hugs.”
The story arc here is pretty remarkable. Hurts was elevated from understudy to leading man, initially received fairly tepid feedback and looked like he might have his act canceled like so many before him. Now he’s not only commanding the spotlight, but he’s receiving almost universal critical acclaim in a place that’s typically reluctant to issue rave reviews.
Richard Johnson was in Austin for TCU’s win over Texas, which he writes was an embodiment of the Horned Frogs’ underdog attitude. … Pat Forde writes that TCU is the only thing standing in the way of an all–SEC and –Big Ten playoff. … Chris Mannix spoke with Danny Ainge about the Jazz’s unexpectedly hot start.
Around the sports world
Cooper Kupp suffered an ankle injury that Sean McVay said “didn’t look good.” … JuJu Smith-Schuster entered the concussion protocol after a scary head injury. … Jim Irsay reportedly ignored the advice of Colts executives when hiring Jeff Saturday. … Saturday won his debut against the Raiders, though, and Derek Carr was fighting back tears in his postgame press conference. … The Bruins were supposed to wear their white “reverse-retro” uniforms yesterday, but the Canucks also took the ice wearing white. … In another wardrobe malfunction, Pistons guard Hamidou Diallo had to change his jersey between quarters because his name was misspelled. … Cristiano Ronaldo said he feels “betrayed” by Manchester United and like he’s being forced out of the club. … Former UFC star Anthony “Rumble” Johnson has died.
The top five…
… things I saw yesterday:
5. The longest run of Matt Ryan’s career (39 yards).
4. Another excellent game on the ground for Justin Fields. (His play led Conor Orr to apologize for an offseason column arguing that Fields should demand a trade from Chicago.)
3. Kadarius Toney’s fake limp into the end zone on his first career touchdown.
2. Darius Garland’s 51-point outburst (on 10-of-15 shooting from three).
1. Joel Embiid’s 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and seven blocks for the Sixers. He had 26 of Philly’s 27 points in the fourth quarter and five blocks in the final 12 minutes alone. It was one of the best 50-point games ever. Embiid was so good that his teammates ignored the plays Doc Rivers called.
When Don Shula won his record-setting 325th career NFL game on this day in 1993, which quarterback led the Dolphins to victory?
- Dan Marino
- Scott Mitchell
- Steve DeBerg
- Doug Pederson
Friday’s SIQ: What was the other finalist for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ name?
Answer: Justice. How terrible would that have been?
The Columbus franchise was one of four expansion teams granted by the NHL in June 1997, along with Atlanta, Nashville and Minnesota. (Five other cities applied for expansion franchises at the same time but weren’t chosen: Houston, Oklahoma City, Hamilton, Ontario; Hampton Roads, Va.; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.) To name the new team, the franchise and Columbus-based fast food chain Wendy’s sought suggestions from fans. From a list of 14,000 entries, the club put together a list of 10 finalists. According to a 2005 NHL.com article, the choice came down to Blue Jackets and Justice. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the other eight finalists anywhere.) Blue Jackets won out. The name is a nod to Ohio’s Civil War history, although some people initially thought it was an homage to Blue Jacket, a Native American war chief who lived in the area around what is now Columbus in the late-18th and early-19th centuries.
Though the Blue Jackets did not begin play until 2000, they were the first of the new expansion teams to announce their team name. The Thrashers’ name had leaked but hadn’t been officially announced. The Nashville franchise had already revealed its logo but was still choosing between Predators and Fury. The Wild didn’t announce their name until Jan. 22, 1998, choosing the name from a list of finalists that also included Freeze, Northern Lights, Blue Ox, White Bears and Voyageurs.
From the Vault: Nov. 14, 1983
Midway through the season, the members of the 1983 NFL draft class were poised to have the best debuts of any rookie class ever. Running backs Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner were leading their respective conferences in rushing. Strong performances from guys like Bears receiver Willie Gault and Chargers cornerback Gill Byrd had Paul Zimmerman thinking that as many as eight rookies could make the Pro Bowl for the first time in a decade. No one, though, was better than Dan Marino, Zimmerman wrote:
Marino, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns in Miami’s 20-17 win over San Francisco Sunday, now leads the AFC’s passers with a 102.7 rating. He has thrown only one interception in his last 139 passes. The last rookie to lead a conference in passing was Greg Cook, when he was with the Bengals in 1969. The highest completion percentage for a rookie passer in NFL history is Jim McMahon’s 57.1 last year with the Chicago Bears. Marino is currently at 60.1%.
The future Hall of Famer’s strong debut came as a surprise, though. After an excellent junior season at Pitt, Marino was considered to one of the top prospects in the 1983 draft. But when he came back to earth as a senior, observers put him well behind John Elway and even a few other quarterback prospects. Elway was at the top of the so-called Big Five, with Tony Eason, Jim Kelly and Todd Blackledge jockeying for the No. 2 spot. And then there was Marino, widely considered the fifth option. Even Ken O’Brien, out of Division-II UC Davis, went ahead of Marino in the draft.
But Marino was better than them all in that first season. Elway struggled as a rookie, completing fewer than half of his passes, while Eason, Blackledge and O’Brien didn’t see the field much (or at all, in O’Brien’s case). Kelly went to the USFL.
Whatever Marino’s detractors saw before the draft, he proved them wrong immediately. He was named to the Pro Bowl and finished second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Dickerson.
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