In terms of news stories, the NFL tends to gravitate toward the extreme. A team asserts itself with an unparalleled first half run like the Philadelphia Eagles. Or takes a sudden fall like the Green Bay Packers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Yet here stand the 49ers at .500 near the midway point of the season (the NFL can longer be divided into halves with the advent of the 17-game schedule) at 4-4, having two of the most fascinating stories in the league as they rest up during their bye.
First, the 49ers, getting no takers for a post-surgery Jimmy Garoppolo as the transitioned to Trey Lance, held on to him until such a time when Garoppolo saw it was in his best interests to return as a backup at reduced price.
Then Lance broke his ankle in Week 2 and Garoppolo was back in the saddle on a team with a very good supporting cast and a top level defense.
Move No. 2 was getting a jump on the NFL’s trade deadline and sending four draft picks — none of them a first-rounder — to get Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers. After an impressive debut against Kansas City with no practice time, McCaffrey was everything the 49ers could have hoped for and more against the Rams with 94 yards rushing, 55 yards receiving and a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Aiyuk.
Both moves generated significant buzz, and because of those transactions the 49ers are considered one of the second half’s most dangerous teams despite their four losses. McCaffrey will make Garoppolo better by his presence. And looking at the touch Garoppolo had on swings and flares to McCaffrey on the dead run out of the backfield, it works both ways.
Other observations as the NFL (sort of) concludes its first half of play:
Eagles take flight with Jalen Hurts
It’s been a clinic on how to put a team together, putting a system in place that plays to the strengths of quarterback Jalen Hurts and acquiring A.J. Brown as a receiver to open things up.
Most important, Philadelphia has a plus-15 turnover margin in just eight games. No other team is better than plus-6. The Eagles are the first team since the 1972 Pittsburgh Steelers to have a plus turnover margin in all eight games to start a season.
The rise of Geno Smith
Just what everyone figured. Seattle would trade away Russell Wilson, replace him with Geno Smith and get better.
The reason Smith shouldn’t be a viable candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year is he hasn’t come back from anything. The award goes to someone who was very good, then dropped off because of injuries, supporting cast or personal circumstance, and then rises again.
Smith has never been this good. He hasn’t been an unquestioned starter since 2013-14 with the New York Jets, at which time he threw 25 touchdown passes and 34 interceptions. He’s a sudden star at age 32 and the Seahawks are a game up on the 49ers with a 5-3 record in the NFC West.
The tale of Tua Tagovaiola
Good to see Miami quarterback Tua Tagovaiola looking healthy and throwing touchdown passes again after looking unsteady following a hit on Sept. 29, clearing concussion protocol and then returning to play on a Thursday night to endure a severe blow to the head.
It was black eye for the NFL and led to a “gross motor instability” clause in the concussion protocol to prevent re-entry into a game for a player who looks woozy following a possible blow to the head.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers fall to earth
Tom Brady came close to leading Tampa Bay to an NFC title game with one of his best statistical seasons. Aaron Rodgers won his second straight MVP and fourth overall for Green Bay.
The two proven winners are each 3-5 and unaccustomed to losing. Brady is airing out teammates on the sidelines (he did it during winning years as well) and Rodgers is doing it during press conferences.
Business as usual for Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes
If Brady and Rodgers have taken a step back, Allen and Mahomes have stepped up. They had a memorable overtime playoff battle last year won by Mahomes, with Allen winning a close regular-season matchup this year.
One is the best quarterback in the NFL, the other is No. 2. Or maybe they’re tied.
The disappointing Raiders
The Raiders went from 10-7 and a wild card berth to 2-5 and are coming off a 24-0 loss to New Orleans. You want bitterness, check out Raiders Twitter as it pertains to coach Josh McDaniels. And it’s hard to blame a fan base that has taken so many punches to the jaw dating back to the mid-1990s.
Derek Carr has regressed. So has Hunter Renfrow. Free agent signing Davante Adams has been so-so. Darren Waller can’t stay healthy. Josh Jacobs has had his moments when the Raiders stick with the run. The O-line was ignored and is ineffective.
The defense has been awful, as usual, with only Maxx Crosby standing out as anything special.
At last Mark Davis has a WNBA title with the Aces, because he’s not getting a Super Bowl ring any time soon with this crew.
MVP–Josh Allen, Buffalo. Should be the MVQ (as in Most Valuable Quarterback) since no other position has won the award since Adrian Peterson in 2012. Allen has the Bills at 6-1 as a dominant runner/passer and beat Mahomes head to head. Others: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia, Geno Smith, Seattle.
Offensive player of the year–WR Tyreek Hill, Miami. As explosive for Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel as he was for Andy Reid in Kansas City. Already has 961 receiving yards — that’s Calvin Johnson, Jerry Rice and Randy Moss stuff. Others: RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland RB Saquon Barkley, N.Y. Giants, Derrick Henry, Tennessee.
Defensive player of the year–DE Nick Bosa, 49ers. With 8 1/2 sacks despite missing one game, going to stick with my preseason pick. Others: DE Micah Parsons, Dallas, DE Myles Garrett, Cleveland, DE Za’Darius Smith, Minnesota.
Offensive rookie of the year–RB Dameon Pierce, Houston. There were 106 players selected in the NFL Draft before the Texans took Pierce in the fourth round out of Florida. He’s the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher with 678 yards on 148 carries. Others: WR Chris Olave, New Orleans, RB Kenneth Walker III, Seattle.
Defensive rookie of the year–CB Tariq Woolen, Seattle. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Woolen seems almost too tall for the position. He lasted until the fifth round but has four interceptions and has been a standout for the surprising Seahawks. Others: CB Sauce Gardner, N.Y. Jets, LB Devin Lloyd, Jacksonville
Coach of the year–Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia. Sirianni’s name drew a lot of shrugs when the Eagles named him to replace Doug Pederson before the 2021 season. Eagles improved from 4-11-1 to 9-8 and are now 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. Others: Brian Daboll, N.Y. Giants, Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota, Pete Carroll, Seattle, Mike McDaniel, Miami, Sean McDermott, Buffalo
Comeback player of the year–Saquon Barkley, N.Y. Giants. With 779 yards, five touchdowns and a 4.8 yards per carry average, Barkley is all the way back from an ACL tear in 2020. He played just two games that season and averaged 3.7 per carry a year ago. Others: Christian McCaffrey, 49ers.