By Nathan Tucker
Another weekend of football in the books, and one that might be more notable for the football that wasn’t played more than the football that was. Leagues and teams are hoping that isn’t a sign of things to come.
Roughly a quarter of all college football games scheduled for last week were postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19 cases and concerns. The NFL played all games as scheduled, but a number of teams revealed players or staff had tested positive in the days and hours following games.
In the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers continued their dominance over the NFL with a cakewalk 36-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh is now 9-0, the best start to a season in Steeler franchise history.
Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers responded after last week’s tough loss with a big 46-23 win in Charlotte over the Carolina Panthers. Brady threw for 341 yards, three touchdowns, and snuck across the goalline for another.
The Packers, trying to keep pace in the NFC with the Bucs, struggled mightily but held on for a 24-20 victory against a one-win Jacksonville Jaguars franchise starting their back-up quarterback. The Packers defense has been a weakness for them all season, and their inability to keep the Jags off the field ultimately made the game a lot harder for Aaron Rodgers and company.
What was thought to be one of the best finishes of the day happened in the Washington/Detroit game, as veteran QB, Alex Smith, led an inspired comeback from the Football Team, erasing a 21 point deficit to tie the Detroit Lions with just 16 seconds left on the clock.
Those 16 seconds were all Detroit needed to crush Washington’s hopes. Matt Stafford threw two passes to set up a 59-yard, game-winning field goal for Matt Prater, the Lions winning 30-27 as the clock ticked to zero.
The game of the day on Sunday happened in Arizona, as the Buffalo Bills, hot off a big win against the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks, came to prove they mean business and are a team to be reckoned with come playoff time. The Bills took a big early lead, but then Cardinals QB Kyler Murray found his feet and got his team back out in front in the fourth quarter.
Josh Allen and the Bills methodically drove down the field in the late minutes of the fourth quarter, and finished the drive with a Stefon Diggs sliding grab in the endzone with just 34 seconds left on the clock. Like the Washington/Detroit game earlier, those few seconds meant the world.
Arizona set up a few plays but ultimately needed a touchdown with just one play to go. They had the ball on the Buffalo 43 yard line with eleven seconds to go, down four. They drew up the old fashioned Hail Mary, the classic “I’ll chuck it, you go get it” backyard play.
Murray heaved a ball into the ceiling of Scottsdale’s State Farm Stadium, and when it came down, DeAndre Hopkins leaped higher than the three Buffalo Bills responsible for covering him, and snagged the perfectly thrown ball in the endzone. The win, and another Seahawks loss, have thrown the NFC west picture into disarray. It’s a three-team race at the top.
In college football this weekend, the biggest story was the football that wasn’t played. Nearly a quarter of 59 scheduled college football games were postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19 cases, quarantining and contact tracing. Several SEC football games were postponed, including Mizzou’s highly anticipated matchup against the #14 ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Games for six different ranked teams were postponed or cancelled altogether. Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn and the aforementioned Georgia among those. There were no ranked matchups this weekend, and not many upsets to speak of.
One minor upset was the Illinois Fighting Illini grabbing a late win against Rutgers on the shoulders of redshirt freshman QB Isaiah Williams. Williams set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 192.
The game was really won in the last minutes, with cornerback Will Hobbs intercepting a wayward Rutgers pass with 1:30 left in the game. Isaiah Williams got the Illini into field goal territory from there, and James McCourt nailed the game-winner with three seconds left on the clock, winning 23-20.
McCourt is no stranger to the late dramatics. Just last year he kicked a game-winning field goal in Champaign against the #6 ranked Wisconsin Badgers, easily the highlight of the 2019 Illinois Fighting Illini Football season.
The big question in all of football moving forward is the effects that COVID will play on seasons from here on out. And that question isn’t “will COVID affect the season?” it is “How much will COVID affect this season?”.