Monday night’s 14-touchdown, 1,001-yard, 105-point instant NFL classic was a cross-generational pre-Thanksgiving feast that fed the new-school crowd at the kids table and the grumpy, old-school recliner guys who want some proof that defense has a future in an over-officiated league.
Not only fun to watch, the Rams’ 54-51 victory over the Chiefs in Los Angeles felt transformational on a grand stage. Perhaps in a way the AFL felt when it started advancing football’s evolution five decades ago.
But Monday wasn’t just deep passes offsetting 3 yards and a cloud of dust. It was fearless, full-throttled football in a league that’s shifting away from playing it safe. It was high-volume offenses that include everything and the kitchen sink. And aggressive defenses that literally took matters into their own hands by scoring 21 points themselves.
Of course, it helped that both teams were 9-1. That both defenses have All-Pro caliber playmakers. That the quarterbacks are elite, mobile, big-armed and remarkably unshaken by the kind of adversity that often shatters a passer under 25.
But this was football with an attitude that says, “We’ll just outscore our mistakes.” Kind of like how the PGA Tour evolved.
Before a man named Tiger showed up, most golfers kept it in the fairway, hit a long iron in and tried to make a lengthy birdie putt. Today, golf’s superstars blast it anywhere, wedge it out of the rough and make the kick-in birdie.
It’s a gridiron style of grip it and rip it that’s going to make it awful hard for some teams to keep pace.
A good example came on Sunday in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars led Pittsburgh 9-0 at halftime. They were plus-2 in the turnover ratio and were pounding the Steelers with franchise running back Leonard Fournette and a ground game that had 141 yards and a 5.4-yard average.
Thirteen minutes later, Jacksonville led 16-0 with 17 minutes to play. In a sign of the times, the Steelers won 20-16 as Ben Roethlisberger simply outscored his many mistakes and Jacksonville played with a coach and quarterback so filled with the fear of losing that they were doomed to not winning.
As the most disappointing team in the league, Jacksonville fell to 3-7. Meanwhile, playing the entire season and forever more without their disgruntled now-former franchise running back Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers (7-2-1) joined the Chiefs as the only AFC teams with fewer than three losses.
Can the Vikings keep pace with this futuristic style of play? They faced 40-year-old Matt Nagy’s startup version of it Sunday night in Chicago. They lost 25-20, looking confused defensively in the first half and suffering Chicago’s fifth defensive touchdown of the season in the second half.
Because Nagy is an offensive-minded coach, the Bears don’t have to worry about second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky losing his mentor if the Bears are a big success. And, defensively, Chicago has the same youthful, point-producing aggression we saw Monday night.
So the sudden challenge from Chicago is only going to grow in its intensity.
As for the Vikings, yes, they have a defense capable of adapting and playing fast and fearless. They have three defensive touchdowns in 10 games but do need more takeaways.
Offensively, coordinator John DeFilippo’s more wide-open attack is testing coach Mike Zimmer’s patience with 16 turnovers, 13 of which are attributed to quarterback Kirk Cousins.
What we need to remember is Cousins and DeFilippo have been together for only 10 games. The same can be said of Nagy and Trubisky, but Cousins and DeFilippo are working behind an offensive line that Pro Football Focus seems accurate in ranking ahead of only the Raiders, Dolphins and Cardinals in terms of overall consistency.
Zimmer suggested Monday that it might be time to dial the offense back. That might work, but as tomorrow’s NFL quickly becomes today’s NFL, the Vikings mustn’t go overboard in muffling an $84 million man being paid to outscore the inevitable mistakes that come with a higher-scoring league that’s becoming fearless and full-throttled on both sides of the ball.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org