If anyone figured the 2018 NFL season would emulate 2017, they have positive proof through seven weeks that just isn’t so.
Sure, the Patriots are an AFC power, even though they aren’t overpowering anybody, and the Chiefs again won their first five games before losing. The Giants and 49ers are dredging the bottom of the NFC once more.
But take a look at the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. And the Jaguars.
The Titans, the Falcons and the Bills.
Don’t take a long look, though, because it’s pretty ugly.
It’s most unsightly in Jacksonville, where a locker room incident punctuated a third straight loss. The Jaguars, who led the Patriots in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game in January, are 3-4, and in the last three defeats are minus-8 in turnover differential. They’re minus-12 on the season, the offense has disappeared and quarterback Blake Bortles was benched in a 20-7 home loss to division-rival Houston.
Calais Campbell was seen holding back fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, a carry-over from the screaming, shouting and finger pointing after the latest flop.
“We’ve got to do something, but the first thing we’ve got to do is stop turning the damn ball over,” exasperated coach Doug Marrone said. “Period. That would be the positive of how we can build.”
A defense that appeared ready to dominate this year has been inconsistent. Injuries have been a factor.
And the psyche seems damaged.
“Frustration’s a part of the game, and we’re emotional people and this is an emotional game,” Campbell said. “At the same time, I think these guys, this group of guys, we have a different kind of heart to us. At the same time, losing sucks, you know, especially losing three in a row. Stacking losses, that’s not who we are, that’s not what we want to be.
“But it is who we are ‘cause that’s what’s going on right now. I do believe that we will get it fixed. We have no choice but to get it fixed.”
They’ll set about it in London against the Eagles , who blew a 17-0 lead in the fourth quarter at home against Carolina. Another team with plenty of injuries, the Eagles’ resilient nature that carried them to the top is ebbing.
Like the Jags, the Eagles recognize it. They simply can’t get caught up in expectations.
“There’s enough pressure,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Just the game itself brings its own sort of pressure. We don’t have to go force anything. We don’t have to go looking for plays. Let the plays come to you and then make them when they come, and that’s where we’re at.”
Actually, where they are at is 3-4 — they lost only three times last season — trailing 4-2 Washington in a muddled NFC East. And now they head overseas.
“You just isolate this game in this week and move on to the next. You learn from it,” quarterback Carson Wentz said. “I sound like a broken record every time we lose up here, but it’s on to the next. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, there is no time to be (ticked) about it. You have to learn from it quick and bounce back to next week.”
Tennessee showed some guts in going for a 2-point conversion in the final seconds, trailing 20-19 in London. It failed — twice, the first negated by a Chargers penalty.
The Titans (3-4) have dropped three in a row, too. Their offense has been awful and the rush defense weak.
They are hardly a lost cause, though. The Bills and Falcons probably are.
We would gladly give Atlanta a break because no team has been ravaged by injuries the way the Falcons have. For the first month of the season, they lost a starter or more per game, especially on D. Top runner Devonta Freeman now is on injured reserve.
No one gets a break in the NFL, however, and the fact star receiver Julio Jones has yet to find the end zone is emblematic of underachievement. At 2-4 in the highly competitive NFC South, the Falcons, who wasted away the 2016 championship with a second-half collapse in the Super Bowl, won’t be participating in the big game they will host in February.
Of all the struggling 2017 playoff qualifiers, the demise of the Bills was most predictable. From some strange roster decisions to the inability to replace key lost blockers to not building on potential momentum from their first postseason berth since the turn of the century, the Bills have been a mess. Like all of the teams discussed here, they’ve been struck by the injury bug. Unlike the others, they didn’t have the talent base to compete from the outset.
Turnover in the playoffs lineup happens each year in the NFL, of course. For every one of these disappointments thus far are the risers: the Bears, Ravens and Texans. Houston began the season with three defeats and now leads the AFC South.
“I think we started believing more,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “We started the season 0-3. No one was negative. We all know we were really close to winning the game. We kept working and tuned out a lot of the outside noise.
“Anytime you win four games in a row you set a standard for yourself.”
Too bad some teams aren’t approaching the standards they set by making the playoffs last season.
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