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NFL Week 5 Upsets Were Overshadowed By Dak Prescott’s Awful Injury

sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, sports editor): The action was wild and weird in Week 5 — and that was before this week’s rare Tuesday night game. Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks toyed with the Minnesota Vikings before finally finishing them off, the Las Vegas Raiders used a brilliant second half to upset the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Miami Dolphins thrashed the San Francisco 49ers, who benched newly returned quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after two first-half interceptions.

But the biggest news of Sunday was the brutal injury to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who broke his ankle in the third quarter of the Cowboys’ game against the New York Giants. This kind of an injury is obviously terrible whenever it happens, but Dak was in the middle of an all-world season.

neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Just awful. I feel so horrible for Dak.

Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Dak was not playing as well as his stats, which is not really an insult given his stats were unreal. But he seemed a lock to have a record-breaking season. We learn again there are no locks in football. We also thought it was going to be a lock that he signed long-term with Dallas, and now there’s a chance at least that he exited the field on Sunday for the last time as a Cowboy. I thought he showed a lot of courage in holding it together as well as he did given the injury.

The medical experts thankfully do seem optimistic of a full recovery, which seems somewhat surprising given the damage.

neil: And regardless of whether we think Dak’s stats were in garbage time or not, only three seasons saw a guy put up more yards through the first five games: Kurt Warner in 2000, Peyton Manning in 2013 and Tom Brady in 2011.

Salfino: 6,000 yards seemed plausibly in jeopardy.

joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): I got frustrated last night by a comment made by Tony Dungy. He mentioned on Football Night in America that losing Dak might be a “blessing in disguise.” Putting aside that an injury could be a blessing, his rationale was that running the ball will somehow help the Dallas defense. He’s got it all backward. The passing game kept Dallas in these high-scoring contexts. Just shocking “analysis.”

Salfino: Dallas’s defense is clearly beyond salvation. The Giants had not scored a touchdown in three weeks.

sara.ziegler: And they could certainly still win the NFC East, even though they are terrible.

neil: The Cowboys are lucky they have a backup as good as Andy Dalton, at least.

Salfino: I agree about Dalton. He’s in the average bucket, in my opinion. I still expect the Dallas offense to be very productive. But it loses something, and it can’t afford to lose anything.

neil: True. But Sara’s right — we still give Dallas a 35 percent chance to make the playoffs!

Salfino: It’s crazy how bad the NFC East is. Is Philly far behind in playoff probability, Neil?

neil: They’re actually AHEAD, lol. Even after the loss on Sunday.

joshua.hermsmeyer: 48 percent.

neil: The Eagles’ playoff odds went up significantly on a day they lost.

sara.ziegler: Someone is gonna have to win, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Salfino: Philly’s defense did not look as bad as the score indicated and their offense was solid. The Eagles were beaten by one guy that there is not much tape on. There’s tape now!

neil: That is destined to forever be known as The Chase Claypool Game.

Salfino: Claypool pulled a Gale Sayers. It could have been five TDs, too, if not for an offensive pass interference (he maybe stepped out of bounds, too). The Steelers should give classes in drafting wide receivers.

sara.ziegler: Also, since last we talked, two coaches lost their jobs. We saw the Bill O’Brien news coming — and in their first game under interim coach Romeo Crennel, the Houston Texans picked up a win. (Against the hapless Jaguars, but still.) Now Dan Quinn is out in Atlanta as well. That firing surprises no one, right?

joshua.hermsmeyer: It surprises me simply because I would have bet Adam Gase of the Jets would go before Quinn. Or even Matt Patricia of the Lions!

neil: Quinn couldn’t overcome the specter of all those collapses, I think.

Salfino: Gase is there still because he basically hired the GM. Plus the Jets don’t even give the GM firing power. Quinn deserved to go though. He’s a defensive coach who could never figure out the defense.

I think Quinn was more deserving than O’Brien, who was also deserving.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I would think proving you can take a team to the Super Bowl buys you more time than a guy like Gase or Patricia in a sane and rational league, but here we are.

Salfino: I felt like Kyle Shanahan took the Falcons to the Super Bowl.

neil: Maybe it was more surprising that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff also got the ax simultaneously.

joshua.hermsmeyer: That part I agree with.

If you are going to make a move, it needs to be both the GM and HC at the same time.

sara.ziegler: That seems like the smart thing to do, and yet it’s not how it works so often.

Salfino: We did this article on how Dimitroff worships at the altar of the first-round pick. Sort of bizarre, I felt. Who cares where guys are drafted after their rookie year?

Josh, do you think the GM needs to be over the coach? I think these teams like the Jets who have dual reporting are just the worst, organizationally.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike, I think they need to be partners. At the end of the day, the owner is ultimately in charge, or some team president. At least that’s how I would run the organization.

I also want to put on the record that as much as he seemed to give off the impression that he was an “analytics” guy, Dimitroff really was not.

Salfino: That’s a problem in sports now. You have to at least signal that you’re an “analytics” guy even if you despise it. I guess that’s progress?

joshua.hermsmeyer: Depends on who’s doing the hiring.

neil: We’ve chased the anti-analytics types into the closet now.

joshua.hermsmeyer: (points to Dungy’s comments) Not all of them!

sara.ziegler: LOL

neil: Hah, well, Dungy isn’t trying to get hired by a team.

Salfino: And then there was Rex Ryan killing the Vikings for going for it on fourth-and-1. (Sorry, Sara.)

sara.ziegler: That’s the kind of play that always worries me. It was the right call, but because it didn’t work out, I worry that a coach will shy away from doing it again.

Especially with Rex Ryan types disparaging it!

joshua.hermsmeyer: So that call was super close.

Salfino: I think going for it was the right call, but you have to sneak there.

joshua.hermsmeyer: There’s a strong case to be made that you kick there, even. Seven points and 8 points are both a one-score game, it’s true, but there is a huge difference between them.

Salfino: Against most QBs, sure. But 8 points seems easy for Seattle because Russell Wilson seems designed for 2-point conversions. Though going into the game, the Seahawks were 5-of-8, including the playoffs, over the past three years. (The actual king of the two-pointer in the period? Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who are 7-of-9.)


neil: Either way, your defense needed a stop. And it didn’t happen.

sara.ziegler: As a Vikings fan, I wanted them to go for it there because of my very real fear of Russell Wilson’s ability. Also as a Vikings fan, I was pretty sure they would blow it one way or another.

Salfino: I would have gone for it. Remember, they ran for 200 yards or whatever. That game context is important. They were dominating.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I mean, I love models, but how many weeks are we going to have a team come back and win when the win probability was 2 percent before we kind of admit they’re all pretty bad and wrong?

Salfino: Fact check: True.

sara.ziegler: LOLOL

neil: They need to be adjusted for 2020 defense.

Which is to say: no defense.

Salfino: These 2 percent things happen way more than 2 percent. At least in 2020.

sara.ziegler: Look, I don’t care if the Vikings are 99 percent to win a game — I still won’t believe it until about 10 minutes after the game is over.

Salfino: See, get the yard and it’s 100 percent you win. That’s why it to me was the right call.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Kirk could fumble it.

Just sayin’!

sara.ziegler: That is certainly in his repertoire!

neil: Kirk Pisarcik.

sara.ziegler: All right, let’s move on to the game I found most shocking: The Raiders’ dismantling of the Chiefs. Did this one surprise you guys?

Salfino: The Raiders beat the Chiefs at their own game. That’s what shocked me.

neil: Derek Carr is no joke! 22-for-31, 347 yards, three TDs and a 92.1 Total QBR.

joshua.hermsmeyer: I wasn’t shocked at the Raiders game — that’s been Patrick Mahomes’s and the Chiefs’ offense most of the year. It’s the Baltimore game that’s been the anomaly.

Salfino: Carr looked like Daryle Lamonica out there.

sara.ziegler: After Carr’s early interception, I thought this game was going to go the way Raiders-Chiefs games usually go. But he turned it around quickly.

I guess, Josh, that I’ve gotten used to Mahomes being able to rescue anything: a broken play, a lifeless offense, etc.

Salfino: Ruggs is such a Raider. I remember the signs at the old Oakland Coliseum when I was a kid with Cliff Branch: Speed Kills.

neil: When K.C. drew within 8, everyone had a feeling they would pull out yet another comeback. So that was the shock, that Vegas averted that.

joshua.hermsmeyer: It’s interesting that we tend to assign so much weight to the QB when an offense is known for check-downs. But when a guy who throws shallow a lot finally gets a speedster — Alex Smith and Tyreek Hill come to mind — QBs suddenly find the ability to throw the long ball!

Salfino: Or throw it a lot better: Josh Allen now with Stefon Diggs.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Having an open receiver helps a QB, I’m told.

Salfino: I think in being correct about fungible running backs (Mike Davis pretty much has become Christian McCaffrey), we probably have underrated receivers. I know the market values them much more highly but teams don’t want to pay big money to them — and maybe they should.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Can’t go wrong investing in the passing game. Part of that is the O-line, and I think the line is a big part of the Chiefs’ offensive struggles. Currently the Chiefs sit at 14th in pass block win rate, according to ESPN.

Salfino: And they lost guard Kelechi Osemele for the year, it looks like.

sara.ziegler: ЁЯШв for the Iowa Stater.

Moving on to the other shocking outcome (to me, at least): Miami over San Francisco. I definitely did a double take when I saw that score.

Salfino: Speaking of Iowa, with C.J. Beathard. I do feel that Jimmy Garoppolo was too hurt to play well. He just could not get any power off his back leg.

sara.ziegler: Point of fact: I was NOT speaking of Iowa.

Salfino: Hahaha, Sara. I know it’s Iowa State vs. Iowa, but they are in the same state.

sara.ziegler: ЁЯдг

joshua.hermsmeyer: People seem to be coming for Kyle Shanahan’s head in San Francisco — or at least some beat writers on Twitter are displeased — but SF has had terrible injury luck this year.

Salfino: But Jimmy G. is no franchise QB, I think we all can agree.

Jimmy G. = Poor man’s Kirk Cousins.

If Shanahan were fired, he’d be hired in five seconds. SF’s problem is they built a defense to win on personnel and not scheme, and now they don’t have personnel.

joshua.hermsmeyer: Mike, that’s a decent point, but I think it’s only partially true. The defense is supposed to not give up big plays schematically, and it needs players on the D-line to really be great. But their practice squad corner on Sunday looked absolutely lost, and Ryan Fitzpatrick just roasted him over and over.

neil: Our model has infamously never thought much of Jimmy. But in this case, it does seem like the injury is to blame.

sara.ziegler: Are the Dolphins good? I honestly can’t tell.

neil: We WARNED you about that FitzMagic last week!

Salfino: My take on the Dolphins is that their success now is setting back the program. You can’t waste a year of a rookie QB deal. And Tua Tagovailoa needs to play — I think that’s even more true given how Miami passed on Justin Hebert, who looks like Dan Marino 2.0.

neil: Maybe the Phins are actually decent though! Good pass D, good special teams. Fitzy putting up numbers…

Salfino: Well, let them be decent with Tua rather than with the graybeard who has no chance of being on the next Miami contender.

Fitzpatrick is like the NFL mascot. Did you guys know he went to Harvard?

neil: But would they be decent with Tua? That’s the question.

Salfino: Yes, the question they have to answer now.

sara.ziegler: Dying at “the graybeard.”

neil: Emphasis on beard.

Look, we all love rookie QBs. But traditionally they struggle, even if some are doing better sooner nowadays.

joshua.hermsmeyer: So why not get that over with?

Salfino: Exactly, Josh.

joshua.hermsmeyer: The only thing I can think of is that after losing last year they want to keep the locker room somehow.

Losing sucks, it is true.

Salfino: That locker room is locked in. Brian Flores has got that. This team always plays hard. Plus we all know that Fitz is not actually good. We just can’t admit it.

neil: He is either terrible or GREAT. And nothing in between.

joshua.hermsmeyer: He’s fun, and maybe that’s more important.

Salfino: This is the No Fun League, Josh.

sara.ziegler: LOL

Salfino: I can’t believe how soft Josh is getting.

sara.ziegler: OK, one last game to talk about: Let’s cast our minds back to Thursday, when the Bears beat the Bucs. Did Tom Brady actually lose track of the downs at the end of that game?

joshua.hermsmeyer: You mean after chewing everybody’s ass on the team for being incompetent? That guy would forget which down it is at the crucial moment of the game? Could never be Tom.

Salfino: Didn’t Bruce Arians say he didn’t forget?

neil: They both said he knew it was fourth down. But anyone watching that game could tell he didn’t.


Salfino: Maybe he was indicating how many Beatles there were.

neil: Billy Preston is offended!

Salfino: I prefer the guitar on “Let It Be” tbh.

I think it’s so 2020 that we’re being lied to about what we all saw with our own eyes. Why can’t they admit it? The Legend of Tahm! You can tell from the throw that Brady did not think it was do or die.

neil: They do say memory starts to go quickly with older people.

(Sorry, somebody had to make that joke.)


(First “My Cousin Vinny” reference in NFL chat history — you’re welcome.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: Is that the Grits lady?

Salfino: It’s the woman who said she saw them 40 feet away or whatever without her glasses.

(He held fingers up short of that distance, IIRC.)

joshua.hermsmeyer: I thought you were making a grit joke, and was here for it.

sara.ziegler: I should have known things would spiral out of control when I brought up Father Time.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Josh Hermsmeyer was a football writer and analyst.

Michael Salfino is a freelance writer in New Jersey. His work can be found on The Athletic and the Wall Street Journal.