As Sunday's first regular season game to be played in Germany unfolded, I was reminded of something Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said at his press conference in Munich on Friday. Brady said: "You don't remember every game you play in, but these are the ones you remember."
Damn right, Tommy! It's the same when it comes to covering these games as a member of the media.
It was an absolute privilege to be above the end zone at Allianz Arena as Brady threw two touchdown passes in a 21-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks that evened Tampa's record at 5-5 on the year – good enough for sole possession of first place in the NFC South. NFL history was playing out right below us and we were positioned amid the 69,000-plus crowd, which made for a raucous and sometimes-challenging broadcast environment.
But we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Jason Bell and myself could hardly hear each other talk at times and our voices were tested to the max, but the afternoon was everything we could have wished for and then some. When the entire stadium broke into singing 'Take me home, country roads' it turned into an impromptu Super Bowl halftime show with the fans switching on the torches on their phones. It was a stunning moment in the second half… something I will never forget.
That, among many others, was quite an emotional moment for yours truly. I first went on the road to cover an NFL Europe game when I was 20 years old as the London Monarchs took on the Frankfurt Galaxy in the old Waldstadion. Fast forward 30 years and I was there to witness the first regular season game in Germany. I was hugely appreciative of the opportunity.
I was also able to witness some great throws from Brady and more balance from the Buccaneers. They came into Sunday's contest averaging 60.7 rushing yards per game – the lowest average in the NFL since 1950. And they were averaging just 20 running plays per outing heading into Sunday.
In defeating the Seahawks, the Bucs found a formula that will serve them will if it can be replicated the rest of the way. Tampa Bay ran the football 44 times for 161 yards and one touchdown. Leonard Fournette rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown, but the spark was provided by rookie running back Rachad White. He gained 105 yards on 22 carries behind some very good blocking up front.
He did throw a second half interception that gave Seattle life, but I thought we saw vintage Brady at times. He even snuffed out the brief Seahawks' revival by making some key throws to salt the game away. That will be something that will live long in the memory of the German fans, who still packed out the stadium a good 20 minutes after the final gun. They didn't want the party to end and as we were wrapping the game on Sky Sports NFL, there must have still been 40,000 fans singing and dancing the night away. That's not something I have ever seen before.
The German fans made quite the impression on Brady, who said after the game that it was "one of the great football experiences I've ever had."
Again, I have to agree with Brady. This game was a reminder of how special the fan base is in Europe. We deserve our three games per year in the UK because our fans are amazing. But they are equally incredible in Germany and it was fun to see how much this moment in NFL history – and in their history – meant to them.
Maybe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was on to something when he hinted at a European division when I hosted a fan forum with him in London last month. Sign me up to cover that on a weekly basis!
The Minnesota Vikings… I really am a simple creature. While the Munich night and steins of beer beckoned, I went back to my hotel room, donned my PJ's and settled down to watch the rest of the NFL Week 10 Sunday unfold. I was rewarded in incredible fashion with the game of the year as the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Buffalo Bills 33-30 in overtime. I don't really know where to begin with this game. The Vikings looked dead and buried when trailing by 17 but they refused to go quietly… and then Josh Allen fumbled at his own goal-line for an improbable Minnesota touchdown with 41 seconds remaining. Still time for Allen to lead a game-tying drive at the end of regulation. After a Greg Joseph field goal in overtime, it was finally done when Patrick Peterson picked off Allen. Two things among about 1,500 talking points from this game… Justin Jefferson is the best wide receiver in the NFL today. He is not real. He was sensational in catching 10 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown, including a one-hander that was every bit as good as Odell Beckham Jr's famous catch from 2014. The Vikings are for real and have now won seven in a row – all by one score!
The Miami Dolphins… Mike McDaniel's men keep rolling and have now won four in a row to top the AFC East after Sunday's 39-13 dismantling of the Cleveland Browns. Importantly, the Dolphins have now won seven out of seven in games where quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has played from start to finish. Tua was typically efficient against Cleveland as he completed 25 of 32 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Tyreek Hill made his plays and caught a scoring strike, but the real story of this game was Miami's ground attack. They found way more balance as they produced 195 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jeff Wilson looks like a great addition to the backfield as he carried 17 times for 119 yards and one touchdown. Miami are humming on offense (they have averaged 449 yards per game over the last three weeks) and are looking capable of inserting themselves into the AFC Super Bowl representative conversation.
The Kansas City Chiefs… The Jacksonville Jaguars put up some brief resistance at Arrowhead Stadium but let's be honest, the result was never in doubt. And the level of play from Patrick Mahomes is showing no signs of slipping. He threw for 331 yards and four touchdowns and continues to spread the ball all over the field. Mahomes hit nine different receivers and I feel like that is something I have written over and over again this season. What was interesting this week was the inclusion of Kadarius Toney into the attack. The new arrival from the New York Giants caught four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 33 yards. After back-to-back losses for Buffalo, the Chiefs are now the top team in the AFC once more. But there is a lot of football still to be played and they are not going to sprint miles clear of the rest of this conference.
Denver's offense… We're now 10 weeks into the 2022 regular season and there is no shifting away from the fact that the offense of the Denver Broncos cannot get out of first gear. That's a polite way of saying they have been bad, shockingly bad. The poor work from a unit led by a supposed game-changer in quarterback Russell Wilson is putting way too much pressure on a good defense. The Broncos have now lost five games this season in which they have allowed fewer than 20 points. Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans was just the latest example of their offensive ineptitude. Wilson does not see the field very well right now and that leads to him holding the ball too long. Add in some poor blocking up front and you can see why Wilson has been sacked at least three times in seven straight games. He was dropped six times by the Titans and Denver are left wondering if their quarterback of the next seven years can fix himself and if they have the right head coach to assist in that task in Nathaniel Hackett. I'm not sure they will like the answer to either of those questions.
Andy Dalton… After wrestling the starting quarterback job away from Jameis Winston in New Orleans, Andy Dalton has done little to suggest he will be keeping it for the long term. In fact, I could see the Saints attempting to salvage their season by returning to Jameis as soon as this coming weekend. Dalton threw another two interceptions in Sunday's 20-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and he is skating on very thin ice. Whoever plays quarterback is not helped by the injuries at wide receiver. Opponents know that if Alvin Kamara is shut down (he has been held under 70 scrimmage yards in back-to-back losses), the Saints can be stopped. It doesn't feel like Dalton or Winston is the answer and New Orleans are in the NFL's 'have nots' side of the equation when it comes to possessing a franchise quarterback.
The Cleveland Browns… Deshaun Watson is not going to have much to come back for when he returns from his NFL suspension in December to lead a Cleveland team that is currently 3-6. The Browns cannot slow opposing offenses nearly regularly enough and Sunday's 39-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins was the latest example of that. It was the fourth time this year the Browns have allowed 30+ points – the most in the NFL. The defense was also not helped by an off day for Nick Chubb. There was no clock chewing from the back on Sunday as he was held to a season-low 63 yards on 11 carries. Watson will create some magic on his own – if he can shake off the rust in Week 13 – but he won't have much passing game talent to work with.
The Fast Five…
- Justin Fields did have a pick six that he will be upset about in Sunday's 31-30 loss to Detroit, but Chicago's quarterback remains box office. You just cannot take your eyes off him! Myself and Jason Bell were in our taxi heading back to our hotel when Fields bounced off defenders for the first of two stunning touchdown runs. We looked at each other and agreed… "He's playing college football in the pros." Fields is an absolute danger when he tucks the ball and runs. He did so 13 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns in Week 10. He is making highlight-reel plays every Sunday. Now, he and the Bears need to learn how to finish. But he has made them way more entertaining.
- Good for Jeff Saturday. He may never have coached at the NFL level until Sunday, but he is now 1-0 as an NFL head coach. The Indianapolis Colts needed a rare 39-yard run from Matt Ryan and a late defensive stand to record a 25-20 win over the slumping and in-trouble Las Vegas Raiders. But it was just reward for Saturday, who had taken an extraordinary amount of stick leading up to the game. We can argue all we like about how questionable the decision was from the Colts' point of view, but we can hardly blame Saturday for taking the job. I don't know if he will last the distance, but this was a good moment for Saturday and I'm rooting for him.
- Back to Munich. It was reported on the morning of the game that Geno Smith was going to be rewarded with a long-term contract extension in Seattle after this season. I can see why they would feel comfortable moving forward with him after this year. Geno has been no fluke this term. And while he had a poor first half in Germany, he was outstanding down the stretch and his excellent fourth quarter throws gave Seattle late life. I saw enough in the final two quarters of play to believe his numbers have been no fluke this season. He looks legit and he looks to be an upgrade on the aforementioned Wilson.
- Boy, did the Green Bay Packers – and wide receiver Christian Watson – need that overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys? Aaron Rodgers asked for the offense to be simplified a few weeks back and I wonder if he knew that would mean taking the ball out of his hands? Rodgers threw just 20 passes in Sunday's 31-28 win. But he made some key throws, including three scoring strikes to Watson as the rookie found the end zone for the first time in his NFL career. Watson needed that after his season-opening drop at Minnesota and constant barbs being thrown at Green Bay's young wideouts. The Packers ran the ball 39 times for 207 yards and a touchdown and that is going to be a factor moving forward. They snapped a five-game losing streak and remain alive in the NFC wild card race at 4-6.
- Is that it for the Los Angeles Rams as they fell to 3-6 on the season with Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals? It certainly took on a depressing tone, outside of the result. Quarterback Matthew Stafford missed the game with a concussion and Cooper Kupp narrowly avoided a serious amount of time on the sidelines, but he is definitely hurting and is surely a concern with his foot injury. There is still time to turn things around, but who outside of the most ardent Rams fan thinks that is going to happen? This has to be one of the more feeble Super Bowl title defences in recent memory.
Fact of the Week
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson now has 20 career games with at least 100 receiving yards – the most by any player in his first three seasons in the NFL. He also now has seven career games with at least 150 receiving yards. Again, that is the most by any player in his first three seasons in the league.
With the Germany game and the other international contests that I cover in the rear-view mirror, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, my thoughts naturally turn to the closing weeks of the regular season. And it feels like these games are just getting bigger and bigger. The NFL remains as competitive and as unpredictable as ever. When the Bills and Chiefs met in October, I felt like they were clearly the best two teams in the league. But the Philadelphia Eagles have proven their class and strength in depth, the Minnesota Vikings have shown they can hang with the best of them and the Miami Dolphins have emerged as serious players in the AFC. While I would still fancy teams like Buffalo and Kansas City on their day come the playoffs, the Bills have already been beaten by the Dolphins, the New York Jets and the Vikings. As has been the case for as many years as I can recall now, the race to the Super Bowl is wide open. Buckle up and enjoy the ride to the finish line!