Baker Mayfield woke up feeling dangerous before the Browns’ Week 10 upset of the Falcons. Would the mood remain following a bye week? If Mayfield was dangerous before, he was indestructible on Sunday. Facing a Bengals Defense advised by former Browns coach Hue Jackson, Mayfield turned the difficulty level down to “beginner” in the first half, completing 17-of-22 passes for 245 yards and three scores as the Browns rampaged to a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Browns’ path of destruction was so comprehensive that Mayfield was called on to attempt just four throws after the break. Of course, one of them found the end zone, giving Mayfield his first four-score start as a pro. This was one game after he had his first three-score effort. Freed from the backwards offense of Hue and Todd Haley, Mayfield is completing 73.8 percent of his passes under new OC Freddie Kitchens while averaging 8.76 yards per attempt. He has posted nine touchdowns compared to only one interception.
Mayfield has done all this despite No. 1 receiver Jarvis Landry catching just nine balls for 102 yards in the process. Like Andrew Luck or Jared Goff, Mayfield is distributing, declining to lock onto any one wideout while spreading the ball around to whomever happens to be open. His seven scores over the past two weeks have come with no one pass catcher drawing more than five looks in a game. That’s remarkable.
As Mayfield has stuffed the stat sheet, he has also taken command of the huddle. Speaking after Sunday’s beatdown, Mayfield had the chilliest of words for Jackson, who was wearing a headset on the Bengals’ sideline less than one month after getting let go by the Browns. "Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati," Mayfield said of his failed tutor. "I don't know. That's just somebody that's in our locker room asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it, but that's how I feel."
I’m not here to tell you that’s the correct take. Jackson has a right to work. But they are the words of a quarterback who is already as fearless in the NFL as he was in college. Mayfield’s ascension is going to continue apace down the stretch of a season that is already the Browns’ best since 2014.
Five Week 12 Storylines
Already battling knee and hamstring issues, Melvin Gordon suffers new knee injury vs. Cardinals. With the Chargers winning 28-10 early in the third quarter, they dialed up a trick play reverse. The result was a Robert Nkemdiche leg whip that sent Gordon to the trainer’s table. Although the initial signs were worrying, Gordon ended up escaping with “just” an MCL sprain. “Just” in this case because with only five weeks of the regular season left, even a minor issue could sideline Gordon for the bulk of the remaining schedule. At the very least, he will miss Sunday night’s game against the Steelers. That leaves Austin Ekeler to lead a committee that should also feature seventh-round rookie Justin Jackson. Ekeler is a plug-and-play RB2 for Week 13 with Jackson offering FLEX appeal.
Andy Dalton injures throwing thumb against Browns. Diving after a bad snap, Dalton found a way to add injury to insult in a game where the Bengals were never competitive. It’s the second time in four seasons Dalton has had a throwing thumb issue, but unlike 2015’s, this one is not a long-term injury. It could still hold Dalton out for Week 13, a prospect the Bengals may not find all that troubling after Jeff Driskel put a few good plays on film during garbage time. Driskel will not be a better option than Dalton either now or in the future, but the Bengals are near a franchise breaking point. It’s possible neither Dalton nor coach Marvin Lewis are long for Cincinnati. Now 31, Dalton has been who he is going to be since 2011.
Lamar Jackson posts first passing score, improves to 2-0 in #QBWinz. Jackson was far from perfect against the Raiders. He tossed a pair of tipped-ball interceptions and had some game management struggles. He was still good enough for coach John Harbaugh to refuse to commit to Joe Flacco (hip) if he’s healthy for Week 13. "I'm not going to get into any of that, for a lot of reasons," Harbaugh said. Whatever the reasons, anything other than “Joe is our quarterback” leaves the door open. Flacco could resume practicing as early as Wednesday, but with Harbaugh seemingly coaching for his job, is he really going to go away from his electrifying rookie? Jackson’s 190 yards rushing over the past two weeks are the most ever for a Super Bowl-era quarterback in his first two starts. The Ravens are probably going to see where this bus takes them. If Jackson indeed gets another game under center, it will be versus the Falcons’ barely-there defense.
Evan Engram plays zero snaps against the Eagles. Engram tweaked his hamstring in pre-game warmups, but the Giants did not bother to tell anybody until the first quarter. By then it was too late for fantasy owners to make lineup changes. Averaging just three catches for 37 yards, Engram wasn’t going to be winning any weeks, anyways, but his big, fat zero surely lost a few. Engram’s shaky blocking was already dialing back his snaps in the G-Men’s run-first offense. Now injured again with an uncertain outlook for Week 13, Engram is safely droppable if you are in desperation mode trying to make the playoffs. Even if Engram gets cleared to suit up this week, he would be facing the Bears’ league-best defense.
Rob Gronkowski scores touchdown in return. Gronk’s first target was a third down hospital ball from Tom Brady on the Patriots’ opening possession. His second was a 34-yard reception where he split two-deep coverage for his first score since Week 1. As has been the case all year, Gronk appeared unusually lumbering in the open field, but he still changed the Patriots’ offense by both occupying defensive attention and giving Brady a 6-foot-6 target to toss jump balls to. Neither Brady nor Gronk have looked quite the same in 2018. There’s still been nothing to suggest an active Gronk will be anything other than a top-five TE1.
Five More Week 12 Storylines
Josh Adams takes over as Eagles feature back. We were promised more Josh Adams work against the Giants, and boy did we get it. Adams’ 22 carries were more than double his previous season high of nine. The same was true of his touches. Adams had previously never handled the ball more than 10 times in a game. The production wasn’t exactly scintillating. Adams averaged just 3.81 yards per carry while failing to corral his lone target in the passing game. It was still what RB2 desperados needed to see and would have been much better had holding not negated a 52-yard TD. Even with bye weeks over and fantasy teams back to full strength, Adams is going to be a top-24 option on a weekly basis. Absent injury, that’s the kind of player that almost never emerges this time of year.
Christian McCaffrey becomes just 31st player in NFL history to have a 100-yard rushing/100-yard receiving effort. McCaffrey is now up to fourth in yards from scrimmage (1,365) after going 17/125/1 as a rusher and 11/112/1 as a receiver against the Seahawks. He has eight touchdowns over his past five games, a span in which his 124.1 yards per game shoots all the way up to 140. The No. 8 overall pick of last year’s draft is averaging 4.94 yards per carry. It took a year longer than fantasy owners would have liked, but McCaffrey is officially one of the premier offensive weapons in the NFL. He has a mouthwatering Week 13 matchup in the Bucs’ league-worst defense.
Marlon Mack concussed against the Dolphins. Cashing in another soft matchup for a strong day on the ground, Mack went down late in the Colts’ comeback victory. Thankfully for fantasy owners, he managed to compile 96 yards on 17 touches before departing. With the Colts playing on normal rest for Week 13, Mack will have a full week to gain clearance to face the Bills. If he can’t go, rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines will form a committee, with Wilkins likely slotting in on early downs and Hines continuing to try to catch passes. If Mack gets the green light, he will be facing a defense that just silver plattered 226 yards rushing to the otherwise pathetic Jaguars. A limited practice on Wednesday would have Mack on track to play.
JuJu Smith-Schuster distances himself from Antonio Brown in yardage. Smith-Schuster’s 1,055 yards, which are good for fifth in the NFL, are now 181 ahead of Brown’s 874. Smith-Schuster already had the lead heading into Week 12, but his 97-yard touchdown against the Broncos helped really open it up. The marathon score also made Smith-Schuster the first player in NFL history with multiple 97-yard touchdowns. This is a second-year pro who just turned 22 four days ago. An every-week WR1 in re-draft, there is an argument to be made for Smith-Schuster as the No. 1 overall player in Dynasty leagues. Wide receiver is more bankable than running back, and Smith-Schuster has accomplished so much, so young.
Blake Bortles moves closer to permanent benching. Bortles could complete only 12 passes in what ended up as the Jags’ seventh-straight loss. His passing touchdown was just his sixth in his past seven games. His performance was bad enough that the Jags sacked OC Nathaniel Hackett on Monday. That’s not going to change anything in Jacksonville. The only thing that will is moving on from Bortles in the offseason. Sunday, he was a fifth-year pro treated like a fifth-game rookie. If you do not have faith in your former first-round quarterback at age 26, you never will. Even though they are out of the playoff hunt, the Jags should turn to Cody Kessler to see what he has for the season’s final five games. It’s hard to imagine it’s worse than Bortles.
1. Are the Chargers ever going to run out of 2-8 teams to play?
3. The Giants … didn’t want to attack the Eagles’ corners?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
DEF: Seahawks (vs. SF), Dolphins (vs. BUF), Bills (@MIA), Packers (vs. AZ), Chiefs (@OAK), Colts (@JAX)
Stats of the Week
Philip Rivers’ 25-consecutive completions tied an NFL record. His 96.6 completion percentage set a new one.
T.Y. Hilton has posted back-to-back 125-yard games and is averaging 119 since the Colts’ Week 9 bye.
NFL.com’s legendary Gil Brandt has a Mayfield nugget of his own: He is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to post a 140.0 or better quarterback rating in back-to-back games.
From Justis Mosqueda: “There have been 879 sacks this year and the Raiders have 10 of them.”
(Re-)Tweet of the Week, From Adam Harstad: One ironclad rule of football is that everyone's yards per carry regresses to the mean except for Phillip Lindsay's, no exceptions.
Tweet of the Week, From Denny Carter: Instead of banning kickers, we should make kickers eligible for the FLEX.