Lawrence: At The Quarter Pole, What Do We Actually KNOW?

Marathon? What marathon? The first month of the season was a sprint – and the record books are under siege, Amy Lawrence says

Amy Lawrence
October 02, 2018 - 6:32 pm

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We hear the cliche all the time in sports and in life: "It's a marathon, not a sprint." That's definitely true of an NFL season, which begins with training camp in late July and stretches through the Super Bowl in early February. But the first four weeks of the 2018 campaign felt like a sprint. They flew by in a BLUR! As we catch our collective breath, we can see the season taking shape and developing its own unique identity.

Even as teams work to find a rhythm and settle into a consistent groove, the record books are under siege. It's all-out war in nearly every passing category in league history. Quarterbacks have already logged more 400-yard passing games (12) and touchdown passes (228) through four weeks than ever before. In 2017, only eight QBs amassed at least 400 yards in a game, and no one did it more than once. Ryan Fitzpatrick just lost his starting job to Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, but he can claim he's the only guy to ever rattle off three consecutive 400-yarders!

After a single month, half the starters in the NFL have thrown for at least 1,000 yards, which means half of them are on pace to reach 4,000 yards over the full season. Would you believe a jaw-dropping EIGHT quarterbacks are on pace to rack up 5,000 yards this year?? In the sport's lengthy history, only five have previously achieved that rarefied air. Last fall, no one averaged 300 passing yards per game; right now, a dozen QBs are doing it. Seven of them have already tossed at least 10 touchdown passes.

With the current aerial assault, it makes sense that the last two undefeated teams would feature red-hot quarterbacks. The Chiefs navigated their first real adversity with a comeback on the road in Denver Monday. After trailing by double digits early in the final quarter, Patrick Mahomes engineered a pair of scoring drives to help preserve Kansas City's perfect record. Only Peyton Manning has thrown more TD passes than Mahomes (14) in the opening month of a season. The Chiefs are tops in the league with 36.3 points per game, but the Rams aren't far behind. They're second in total points and first in yards per game (468.5), while Jared Goff sports a gaudy 127.3 passer rating.

Mahomes and Goff spearhead the charge of bold, confident young quarterbacks taking the NFL by storm. Thirteen starters, more than a third of the league, are playing under their rookie contracts. That includes four first-round draft picks from this spring with Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen now preeminent in Cleveland and Arizona, respectively. They represent a new brand of quarterback that comes in more prepared than ever to serve as face of a franchise and deal with all the pressures that accompany the position. Seriously, how does a guy with only five starts under his belt exude the type of grace under fire that we see from Mahomes?? His strength and athleticism are evident. What makes him special are the poise, control, and balance he maintains in the midst of chaos. There will never be another Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, but the future is stunningly bright with the latest crop of signal-callers.

Amidst the league-wide aerial attack, rushing the ball may feel like a lost art, but a viable ground game keeps opposing defenses honest. Six of the eight divisions are led by teams that average more than 100 rushing yards per game. The versatility of players like Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, Christian McCaffrey, Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and Joe Mixon add extra dimensions to their offenses. And even though we didn't see Le'Veon Bell on the field in the first month, all of Pittsburgh anxiously awaits his return in October. His creativity and explosiveness are game-changers, especially with the Steelers currently struggling to tread water.

What else jumps out from the first month of the season? The Patriots aren't relinquishing their stranglehold on the AFC East just yet. A healthy Joe Flacco and his new receiving corp are aggressively stretching the field and raising expectations. The Browns are perched on the edge of a breakthrough. The Titans aren't flashy, but they're taking on the tenacious, gustsy personality of new head coach Mike Vrabel. The Jacksonville defense remains a stifling force. A healthy, confident Andrew Luck is a welcome sight. The Broncos may finally have a consistent run game, thanks to a pair of rookies. And Jon Gruden's Raiders are on a wild ride.

In the NFC, the Redskins offensive line is waving the banner for Peterson's Comeback Player of the Year campaign. With all the weapons they have, the Giants shouldn't be bottom five in the league offensively. The Vikings barely scraped together six points at home against the Bills (still stunning)! At 39 years old, Drew Brees continues to wield the quick release with pinpoint accuracy, and he'll show off a spin move now and then. The Falcons are reeling after home games in which they scored 37 and 36 points but lost both in the final seconds. Behind the Rams, the NFC West is marked by season-ending injuries to Earl Thomas of the Seahawks and Jimmy Garoppolo of the Niners.

It's no surprise that TV ratings are ticking upward with the high-flying, death-defying, pass-happy show we're watching every weekend. The first month of the NFL season offered frantic finishes, overtimes galore, breathtaking performances, and competitive primetime battles. And who knows where we go from here? As teams establish consistency, we'll see the contenders separate themselves from the pack. But the best thing about the first month is that everything is still on the table!

 

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.

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