Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to play like Mitchell Trubisky or DeShone Kizer. Make a few plays to remind everyone why they’re starting, make many more mistakes and generally get a rough NFL indoctrination. Almost all rookies struggle. The hope is for better days ahead.
Deshaun Watson’s good days are already here. It seems like greater days are ahead. The list of the best rookie quarterbacks ever includes, in some order: Dan Marino, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Dak Prescott. Watson is already on that list.
The most amazing part of Watson’s rookie season might be that the Texans thought Tom Savage was a better option in Week 1. Or it could be that 11 teams passed on Watson and the Cleveland Browns traded the 12th pick that the Texans used on Watson (poor Browns). Watson won’t have the crazy touchdown-to-interception ratio of Prescott, lead his team to a great record like Roethlisberger or have some of the other historic numbers Griffin put up, but he might end up having the best rookie season of them all.
If you watched Sunday’s classic Seattle Seahawks-Texans game, you saw one of the best regular-season games in recent memory. You also saw Watson go blow-for-blow with Wilson, a Super Bowl champion who has been among the best quarterbacks in the NFL for years. Wilson dragged Seattle to a 41-38 win, but that’s no slight on Watson, who looked nothing like a rookie and he didn’t give an inch to Wilson or the Seahawks. He became the first player in NFL history with 400 passing yards, four touchdowns and 50 rushing yards in a game. He’s also the second rookie to have three games with four passing touchdowns, joining Fran Tarkenton in 1961.
Watson was given a tough assignment in his first start early this season, on the road with only three days to prepare for a Thursday night game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He mostly struggled in that game, but had one electric touchdown run that led to a win. In the five games since then he has been prolific. Over his last five games, Watson has 1,472 passing yards, 18 passing touchdowns to seven interceptions, with 186 rushing yards and a score on the ground. That’s 294.4 passing yards and 3.6 touchdowns per game since that challenging start at Cincinnati. Many veteran quarterbacks go their entire career without a stretch like that.
Theoretically, Watson could crater the rest of the season, and instead of celebrating his rookie season for years to come we’ll look back at the first half of it with curiosity. That doesn’t seem likely. If there were any questions about Watson before Sunday, he answered them. Seattle has an intimidating crowd and an already-legendary secondary. The Texans were a team dealing with off-field turmoil. It would have surprised nobody if Watson struggled and the Texans lost. Instead, Watson made history.
How did so many people in the NFL miss on Watson? Looking back, perhaps too much was made about his arm strength (which looks fine so far with the Texans) and not enough was made about how great he was at Clemson. Watson’s biggest knock was that he doesn’t have a huge arm. His throws were clocked at 49 miles per hour at the scouting combine. Very few quarterbacks have ever found success throwing less than 55. Watson was well below that. That’s a reason he wasn’t a top-three pick. He also threw 30 interceptions his final two college seasons, which was concerning.
Many quarterbacks have been college legends and not done much in the NFL. If teams were worried Watson couldn’t make all the NFL throws, that was fair. It just turns out they were wrong. The phenomenal player we saw dominate against Alabama in back-to-back College Football Playoff title games is the same one we’re seeing with Houston so far. It’s hard to believe watching him that he was the third quarterback off the board in this year’s draft, after Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes.
Houston looks like it has changed the fortunes of its franchise for many years by trading up for Watson. He exudes superstar appeal, especially with the good work he’s already doing off the field. It was a treat watching him Sunday, either run for big plays, work masterfully from the pocket or scramble and make plays out of nothing when he had to. He did it all against a Seahawks defense that has crushed many other quarterbacks with far more experience than Watson. It’s going to be a lot of fun watching Watson going forward, too. If this is Watson learning the game as a rookie, just imagine how good he’ll be when he figures the NFL out.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 8 in the NFL:
Atlanta Falcons, kind of: There wasn’t anything impressive about Sunday’s 25-20 Falcons win at the New York Jets. It buys the Falcons another week as they figure out whatever it is that’s wrong this season, but that’s about it. Atlanta trailed 17-16 in the fourth quarter and rallied to win. Any win in a driving rainstorm on the road isn’t bad, but it wasn’t the type of game that would lead anyone to believe the Falcons have turned a corner. Matt Ryan played better, but he’s nowhere near his MVP form of a season ago. Julio Jones is having, by his standard, a quiet season. He had three catches for 74 yards. The defense isn’t making many plays. Jets quarterback Josh McCown completed 26 of 33 passes for 257 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Falcons aren’t bad, at 4-3, but they haven’t been great yet either. There’s still time to improve, and they won’t be digging out of a big hole as they do so. That’s the positive of getting a fairly ugly win Sunday. But we’re still waiting for the Falcons team we saw last year to show up.
Alshon Jeffery: If anyone predicted months ago that the Eagles would have the NFL’s best record going into November, it was probably tied to free-agent addition Jeffery having a huge season. But the Eagles are 7-1 and Jeffery hasn’t done that much.
Maybe that started changing Sunday. In an easy 33-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers, Jeffery made his biggest play of the season. Carson Wentz threw it to him deep, Jeffery made a great adjustment on the ball and then powered in for a 53-yard touchdown. It was only Jeffery’s third touchdown of the season, and the first longer than 16 yards. He hadn’t had a catch longer than 37 yards this season.
Jeffery was expected to be a No. 1 receiver, and he bet on himself with a one-year deal. He has caught less than 50 percent of his targets (28 catches on 62 targets) and has made little impact. Still, he has the talent to be a major factor for the Eagles in the second half of the season. One play doesn’t mean that Jeffery’s season has turned around. But it’s the first sign of life from him this season. If he and Wentz are getting a nice connection going, perhaps the 7-1 Eagles can get even better.
Ezekiel Elliott, for the time being again: Elliott is clicking now. On a rainy day in which the Cowboys’ passing game had just 138 net yards, Elliott took over in a 33-19 win over Washington. He had 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. He also had a 26-yard touchdown nullified due to a holding penalty on left tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys are hitting a gear we saw from them last season, and Elliott is a big reason. Elliott has three straight 100-yard games, and his relative struggles early in the season seem to be behind him. Of course, everything could change for Elliott and the Cowboys. He has a preliminary injunction hearing on Monday. If Elliott suddenly has to serve his six-game suspension, the Cowboys take a step back. But we’re seeing what the Cowboys can be if Elliott stays on the field all season.
Rookie quarterbacks not named Deshaun Watson: It probably stinks for rookie quarterbacks when outliers like Watson or Dak Prescott make it look easy. Rookies are supposed to struggle, and Mitchell Trubisky, C.J. Beathard and DeShone Kizer are pretty normal that way.
Trubisky was 14-of-32 for 164 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for the Bears in a loss to the Saints. Beathard was 17-of-36 for 167 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the 49ers in a loss to the Eagles. Kizer was 18-of-34 for 179 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for the Browns in a loss to the Vikings.
The stats are similar, and they all looked about the same. None of those rookie quarterbacks take many chances. They’re all stuck with subpar receiving corps so it makes sense. But they struggle most of the time to generate offense.
At least Trubisky’s team has some wins (and his stats on Sunday would have looked better had a beautiful pass to Zach Miller been a touchdown, but Miller didn’t complete the catch when he suffered an ugly injury). Kizer and Beathard are playing for teams that are 0-8. The pressure to not go 0-16 is real. Nobody remembers the 1-15 teams in NFL history but 0-16 will live forever. Beathard got a shot because Brian Hoyer wasn’t playing well, but Beathard isn’t keeping the 49ers competitive in games like Hoyer was. Kizer has been yanked in and out of the lineup, and the Browns have to worry that his rookie mistakes are bringing them closer to 0-16 infamy. And, of course, all the rookie quarterbacks look bad when compared to how easy Watson makes it look.
The Bills are one of the NFL’s biggest surprises at 5-2, and there’s no shame losing to them in Buffalo. But the problem is the Raiders have rarely looked like the team that was a Super Bowl contender last season until Derek Carr got hurt. A thrilling 31-30 win over the Kansas City Chiefs was as close at it gets, and it gave some hope that the Raiders were turning a corner. That momentum is gone.
Oakland had four turnovers and scored just once after taking an early 7-0 lead on Sunday. The defense was torched for 151 rushing yards by LeSean McCoy. Nothing looked good.
The problem for the Raiders is the second half of their schedule isn’t conducive to a long winning streak. They still have games left against the Patriots, Broncos, Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles and Chargers. All of those games individually are winnable, but the Raiders might have to go 7-1 to make it back to the playoffs. And they don’t look like the type of team that can go on that type of roll, especially against a tough lineup of quality opponents.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense: If the Buccaneers’ breakthrough wasn’t going to happen this season — spoiler alert: it isn’t happening — the defense would presumably be to blame. The defense hasn’t been good, but it was Jameis Winston and the offense that blew it Sunday.
The Buccaneers rarely got anything going in a 17-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers that leaves them at 2-5 with little room for error the rest of the way. Winston had just 210 yards passing. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that ended Tampa Bay’s chances. It was a surprisingly poor day from the whole offensive unit.
Tampa Bay has been one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments. Coach Dirk Koetter was promoted after Lovie Smith was fired because the Buccaneers didn’t want to lose his offensive acumen to another team. If the Buccaneers don’t turn things around, Koetter’s job might not be safe.
The rest of the AFC chasing New England: As the weeks go on, it seems more and more like the AFC blew a chance to put the Patriots in a bigger hole earlier this season.
For all of the defensive issues the Patriots had early on, they’re 6-2. And they’ve figured out their defensive issues. On Sunday, New England held Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to 212 yards passing in a 21-13 win. Aside from an 87-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon, the Chargers were usually stuck on offense. That came with the Patriots missing Dont’a Hightower and Stephon Gilmore, among others. Hightower is on injured reserve. Gilmore, a high-priced cornerback addition in free agency, has missed three straight games and that has coincided with the Patriots breaking out of their defensive slump. It’ll be curious if Gilmore, who had some struggles early this season, picks up his old role when he returns.
The Patriots didn’t have a big offensive day on Sunday, but it was good enough. The defense carried the team to this win. At some point the offense and defense will be rolling at the same time, and the Patriots’ early-season issues will be a distant memory.
The Browns giving free points to the Vikings: It’s astonishing that with as much information as we have at our disposal, NFL coaches still can’t figure out how to correctly use timeouts. The Browns have 19 coaches on their staff, and still they made a mistake Sunday that should be elementary.
The Minnesota Vikings were making their own timeout mistake late in the first half, letting the clock run in the final two minutes with the Browns inside the 5-yard line. Minnesota should have been calling their three timeouts to get an extra possession. Instead of the Browns letting the Vikings make that mistake, they gave them a gift. After a second-and-goal run gained no yards, the Browns called timeout with 42 seconds left. That makes no sense. It doesn’t take 42 seconds to run a third- and fourth-down play. The only thing that timeout accomplished was it allowed the Vikings extra time. DeShone Kizer scored on the next play and the Vikings — who, inexplicably, were happy to let the half run out — got the ball back with 40 seconds left. They drove downfield and got a field goal as the first half expired. The Vikings don’t kick that field goal without the Browns dumbly calling timeout with 42 seconds left.
Maybe that didn’t make that big of a difference in a 33-16 Browns loss, but for coach Hue Jackson and his 1-23 record as Browns coach, it’s a horrible look. It’s hard to envision the Browns digging out of this hole when they can’t figure out simple things like managing timeouts and not giving the opponent three free points.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports:
• Report: Bears’ Miller could lose leg after gruesome injury
• Recapping one of the wildest World Series games ever
• Pete Thamel: Florida will hire one of these three coaches
• President Trump among targets in Kaepernick’s NFL lawsuit