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This Week in Football – Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Bills Mafia

OUR TOP STORY

Drew Brees’ legacy goes far beyond his impact on the football field. He is a New Orleans icon, the face of a franchise that represented rebirth to a city facing incomprehensible destruction nearly a decade and a half ago.

The Saints mean as much, if not more, to their city as any other franchise does in the league. He means as much to that franchise as any one player does in the league.

Then, of course, you get to his numbers and start to understand just how preposterous his career has been. As of Monday night he owns the record for the most touchdown passes in history, he has the most passing yards of all time, the best completion percentage of all time and he now has the best single-game completion percentage ever. Year in and year out he puts up spectacular numbers, further cementing his no-doubt hall of fame candidacy annually, if not weekly.

Despite all of that, Brees never seems to get the respect he deserves.

That isn’t to say he never gets recognition. When he sets major milestones the broadcasts of Saints games revolve almost entirely around him. Everyone knows his credentials and understands that he’s one of the best to ever suit up.

Brees is always put in the upper echelon of quarterbacks, too, but is never listed first. Whether it’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or any of the other legendary quarterbacks he’s played concurrently with, those guys all get listed before him. It’s Brady and Manning, plus Brees. It’s Rodgers and Wilson, plus Brees.

It’s hard to explain why he doesn’t get the same mention when talking about the greatest of all time. The only possible explanation is that he doesn’t have the hardware that some of his elite peers have, specifically an MVP trophy, and he’s only been named first-team All-Pro once.

Even so, he still has all the counting stats mentioned above. He has a Super Bowl ring. He’s been the offensive player of the year twice, the comeback player of the year once and even won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

He’s got almost all of the accolades you could want. Yet he’s still an afterthought with the other deities atop the quarterback version of Mt. Olympus.

None of this is to say he’s the best to ever play. There are other quarterbacks who have impressive, potentially better resumes for that title. Brady has all the rings. Joe Montana has four rings and never lost the big one. Rodgers’ natural skill could be the best ever. Dan Marino had 2010s stats in the 1980s.

However, he stills deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as that group. He might get that treatment one day. He already does when he lights the world on fire with performances like he had on Monday, but his greatness should be acknowledged consistently.

It might not happen until he hangs it up. Whenever he is accepted as being part of that remarkable fraternity it will be well-deserved.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Josh Gordon continues to be one of the saddest stories in sports. He’s being suspended for the sixth time by the league, and it’s the fifth one for some kind of substance abuse. Anything can happen, but it’s easy to imagine this is it for a career that had as much potential as any but never had the staying power due to his own self-destruction. Addiction is a disease. It’s clear that he needs help. This is a player who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013 despite playing just 14 games. He made impact plays at all of his various stops, including a seven-catch, 139-yard performance just this Sunday. But every time it seems like he’s settling in and staying clean, something comes up and takes him off the field again. Frustration that he can’t play and help your team is one thing. However, he’s clearly a man in need of help that he hasn’t gotten yet. Hopefully he gets it soon, whether that includes a potential return to football or not.

*Patrick Mahomes putting up big numbers in Week 15 is the AFC’s worst nightmare. The Chiefs have been winning despite simply decent play from the reigning MVP, in contrast to his usual astounding self. Their offense has done enough to win while the defense has evolved into one of the NFL’s best. That defense got better on Monday, too, with Kansas City successfully claiming Terrell Suggs on waivers (he’s expected to report to the team). If Mahomes starts going off again, though, this is a far more scary team than it was last year. A season ago everyone knew the Chiefs couldn’t make a stop and would rely wholly on their golden-armed quarterback. If he’s playing at the same level and the defense is thriving, though, Baltimore has genuine competition in the AFC beyond the specter of New England.

*The NFL is finally ready for Younghoe Koo. He couldn’t cut it his first time on a roster, getting cut by the Chargers shortly after the start of the 2017. Since returning with the Falcons this year, however, he’s become a cult hero and a bona fide sensation. Going 17-of-19 on field goals and 11-of-12 on extra points is strong production, but where he’s made his bread is on kickoffs. Given the near impossibility of converting onside kicks in the NFL this year, executing even one is a big deal. Koo has gone far above and beyond that, with four successful onside kicks in just six games. That’s unheard of no matter what the new rules are. Not to mention that the two times onside kicks haven’t worked for Koo and the Falcons were only because they were called back due to penalties. He’s got a fun redemption story, and it’s exciting to see the first man who ever scored in the Alliance of American Football succeeding in the NFL.

*Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. That’s more than just a kitschy catchphrase that Chris Berman yells, that’s a way of life for the Bills Mafia. Buffalo is heading to the postseason for the second time in three years after nearly two decades without an appearance, so a celebration is certainly in order. The Mafia didn’t wait to get the party started, with hundreds of fans camping out in sub-freezing temperatures to welcome the team home from Pittsburgh. Residents of western New York know all about surviving cold winter temperatures, but staying up and out late to take pictures and reach for hi-fives is a perfect encapsulation of the fan base. The Bills aren’t the best team in the playoffs and their shot at getting the Super Bowl is slim at best, but it’s hard not to root for a fan base that loves its team this passionately.

JASON WITTEN DID WHAT THIS WEEK?

Jason Witten shocked everybody in America with this catch this week.

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1206333799576924160

You’re lying if you say that you knew Witten could pull off a snag like this at this point in his career. Frankly, that applies to any point in his career. He’s always been a reliable receiver, but he hardly a spectacular athlete and highlight-reel catches have never been his forte. It isn’t surprising that a Cowboy made a splash play against the Rams this week because seemingly everyone on the roster was during a stunning beatdown, but Witten is maybe the last one in a deep group of skill-position players who you pick to dazzle you with a circus catch.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Jameis Winston is arguably the most enigmatic quarterback in the NFL right now. The Buccaneers were never a genuine playoff contender this year, instead an afterthought relegated to bottom-tier announcers at noon every week, but they’ll likely finish the year with a reasonably mediocre record. Winston throws bushels of interceptions that are a result of baffling decision making, but he also has the ability to put up huge numbers and lead one of the most exciting air attacks in the NFL.

After massive performances in the past two weeks, Winston is the first player in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in consecutive games (stat courtesy of the StatHead newsletter). The guy who turns the ball over like he needs it to breathe and commits weekly acts of intense physical comedy also owns this impressive feat. The most incredible part this week is that he didn’t even have Mike Evans to throw to. He’s playing his way into a new contract with Tampa Bay, and it will be nearly impossible to deny him if he keeps shredding defenses like this.

FOOTBALL FOLLIES

The greatest celebration in football is making snow angels after scoring a touchdown.

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1206303230646353920

https://twitter.com/thecheckdown/status/1206315095300554752

Just because it’s a weather-specific celebration doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect one. It’s a callback to the childlike part of the game, with big kids running around in the snow and goofing off in the freezing cold. We’ve said it before in TWIF, but there’s a special aura around snow football, and the weather-based virtue signaling that comes with it is a rite of passage for football fans born north of the Mason-Dixon line. Nothing beats a snow game and nothing beats a snow angel celebration.

WEEKLY TOP 5: BIGGEST BREAKOUT PLAYERS

Every year there are players who rise up from obscurity, surpass expectations and/or turn into key contributors on teams that didn’t think they’d need much from them. These five players all fit into those categories somehow and are on pace to be long-time contributors and studs.

  1. Lamar Jackson – This one is as easy and obvious as it gets, given the fact Jackson is on pace to be this year’s MVP. Granted, he was a first-round pick last year, but even the most ardent Jackson supporters didn’t think he’d turn into the most electrifying man in the sport by Year 2. Even so, that’s what he’s become.
  2. Aaron Jones – Aaron Rodgers is still the centerpiece of Green Bay’s offense, but that unit has been disjointed for long stretches this season. When the Packers are playing at their best, though, Jones is the focal point. He’s second in the league in touchdowns from scrimmage and is gunning for Green Bay’s all-time record in that category. The Packers may need him to get there and keep that pace up.
  3. Chris Godwin – Godwin is in his third season in the league, but after two reasonably productive years in the shadow of Mike Evans he’s exploded on the scene this season. He’s second in the league in receiving yards and is fifth in yards per target (min. 20 receptions). He’s become a No. 1 threat, which is a scary proposition considering the Bucs already have a No. 1 receiver.
  4. Gardner Minshew II – The second half of the season hasn’t been as kind to Minshew, but he’s played his way into a starting job going forward in Jacksonville and has captivated fans in Duval County and around the league. Minshew Mania was a real phenomenon and one of the best stories of the year.
  5. Shaquil Barrett – In the first five years of his career, Barrett had 14 total sacks with a single-season high of 5.5 back in 2015. He leads the NFL with 16.5 this season and is the biggest individual contributor to Tampa Bay’s 10th-ranked defense (per DVOA). He’s been the best defender for the Buccaneers and one of the best edge players in the league overall.

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