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NFL Winners and Losers: Panthers won gamble that Teddy Bridgewater's great comeback could replace Cam Newton

Frank Schwab
·10-min read

On a day in which Alex Smith’s return to the playing field should be rightfully celebrated, it’s worth remembering that Teddy Bridgewater is still writing his own miraculous story.

The Carolina Panthers believed, enough to cut former NFL MVP Cam Newton and give Bridgewater $63 million over three years. Even with Newton playing well in New England, it looks like they made the right call.

Bridgewater’s wonderful story continued on Sunday when he and the Panthers improved to 3-2 with a win over the Atlanta Falcons. Bridgewater threw for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Panthers looked like they might be one of the NFL’s worst teams this season, and they have been far from that. Bridgewater has been a big reason. He was coming to a new team with a new coaching staff in a crazy offseason, but it’s clear he prepared himself to succeed right away.

Bridgewater’s career looked like it might be over when he suffered a horrendous knee injury in practice before the 2016 season. At that point, he was a rising player, a former first-round pick who had just helped the Minnesota Vikings to a division title. There was a fear that Bridgewater would lose his leg from that injury in practice. He missed all of 2016, threw two passes in 2017 and just 23 in 2018.

Just playing at all was a great comeback story. Bridgewater is turning it into a lot more than that.

After filling in nicely for an injured Drew Brees for five starts with the New Orleans Saints last season, the Carolina Panthers wanted free-agent Bridgewater to replace Newton. It’s not like there wasn’t any risk involved, especially when you dump a former MVP.

Bridgewater has been a great story. The Panthers are 3-0 since Christian McCaffrey went down with an ankle injury after a win over the Atlanta Falcons, and Bridgewater is a big reason. He had 261 yards and two touchdowns in the first half against Atlanta. That’s the second-most passing yards in the first half of a game in Panthers history.

Bridgewater has done a fine job in McCaffrey’s absence. He runs the offense efficiently. He doesn’t have a big arm but is masterful at putting the ball in spots that lead to big plays after the catch. That’s what happened with a long touchdown to D.J. Moore that got the Panthers going. It’s a big reason Mike Davis has picked up McCaffrey’s valuable role as an effective receiver out of the backfield.

Carolina has come a long way since an 0-2 start. Bridgewater has come a long way, too, from a lot worse than losing a couple football games.

Teddy Bridgewater is doing a tremendous job for the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Teddy Bridgewater is doing a tremendous job for the Carolina Panthers. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 5 of the NFL:

WINNERS

The 1972 Miami Dolphins: OK, so it’s not like the Kansas City Chiefs were close to 16-0 or anything. But they way they looked at times this season, it didn’t seem impossible.

The Las Vegas Raiders’ enormous upset of the Chiefs will be noted throughout the NFL. The Chiefs will be fine, but they obviously aren’t unbeatable. While Kansas City has looked very good at times this season, we can look to long stretches of games against the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots and Raiders in which they struggled and wonder if there are things future opponents can copy.

All NFL teams lose eventually, even if they’re defending Super Bowl champions and have Patrick Mahomes. That is, all NFL teams except the 1972 Dolphins lose. Their biggest threat got knocked off Sunday.

Present-day Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins’ rebuild isn’t an instant one. They showed some progress late last season, but it didn’t seem like much carried over to this season.

Brian Flores’ team got a nice win on Sunday. Miami blasted the defending NFC champion 49ers 43-17. Even if the 49ers have some injuries and Jimmy Garoppolo looked like he returned too early from a high ankle sprain, it was impressive. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and that will keep Tua Tagovailoa on the bench a while longer. Preston Williams, who was impressive last season before a knee injury, had his first big game of the season with 106 yards and a touchdown. The defense got two interceptions in the final two minutes of the half that led to field goals and pushed Garoppolo to the bench.

The Dolphins might not be ready to compete for a playoff spot yet, but Sunday was a step in the right direction.

Kevin Stefanski: Coach of the year is a weird award. Part of it could be that you’re taking over for a coach who set the bar so low, when you vault over it, everyone is impressed. That’s what happened when Sean McVay took over for Jeff Fisher and won coach of the year. The same happened with Matt Nagy replacing John Fox.

Even if Stefanski got the good fortune of following Freddie Kitchens after Kitchens’ awful season, Stefanski is putting himself right in the coach of the year conversation.

The Browns won 32-23 against a good Indianapolis Colts team, further legitimizing their 4-1 start. The Browns are finally turning all the talent they have into wins, and that reflects well on Stefanski. If this keeps up and the Browns make the playoffs, Stefanski might get a nice trophy after the season.

Los Angeles Rams: It’s not necessarily easy to get up for an early-start East Coast game in a rainstorm against a bad Washington Football Team.

The Rams handled business. They didn’t look good at all against the New York Giants last week and were a bit fortunate to win, but they bounced back on Sunday in a 30-10 win over Washington. The defense looked great, albeit against a poor opponent that was on its second and then third quarterbacks of the season on Sunday, and the offense did enough. Given the weather, it’s not like Jared Goff was going to put up 500 yards.

About the only thing that didn’t go right was Goff trying to spike it after a touchdown. We’ll let it slide, after a chuckle.

Bill O’Brien-less Houston Texans: It didn’t seem like there were many complaints in Houston when the Texans fired Bill O’Brien after an 0-4 start.

When a team fires an unpopular coach, often a pretty good performance follows. That’s what happened in Houston, as the Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-10. The Texans defense finally started getting some turnovers. Deshaun Watson threw for more than 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. It’s not like a win over the Jaguars is a cause for celebration, but it seemed the Texans enjoyed their day.

It’s hard for any 0-4 team to rally to make the playoffs, and the Texans probably won’t do it either. But it seems like firing O’Brien as early as they did gives them a small chance to do it.

Baltimore Ravens: In the Ravens’ four victories this season, they won by 32, 17, 14 and 24 points.

There’s still the issue of that one loss, in which the Ravens were overmatched by the Kansas City Chiefs. To many, that meant the Ravens weren’t as good as advertised. They just fell behind to a Chiefs team that can play at a phenomenal level and couldn’t dig out. It happens.

There’s no reason to believe the Ravens aren’t one of the NFL’s elite teams, and a win against the Cincinnati Bengals drove home that point again. The Bengals aren’t great, but the Ravens defense throttled them. The Bengals were down 20-0 in the third quarter. Rookie first overall pick Joe Burrow seemed to be under pressure every play. A scoop-and-score by the defense on a nice forced fumble put an exclamation mark on a thorough performance. Even with Lamar Jackson having just 3 yards rushing, the Ravens cruised to a 27-3 win.

The Ravens will be one of the teams that contends for a Super Bowl. There’s no guarantee they can beat the Chiefs in a rematch, but it seems like they’re better than everyone else.

LOSERS

Joe Judge: The Cowboys had lost their star quarterback, trailed in the final minutes and the Giants still couldn’t get their first win.

It has not been a good start to the Judge era. The Giants are 0-5. They had two touchdowns taken off the board due to penalties on Sunday. A great fake field goal score was called back because the timing was off on the snap, offensive lineman Cameron Fleming hadn’t set and that triggered an illegal motion penalty. A touchdown by Darius Slayton was called back due to a blatant offensive pass interference on a pick play. Both penalties were sloppy.

Judge was an unusual hire. He was a special teams and receivers coach with the New England Patriots. The Giants were worried they’d lose Judge to Mississippi State so they rushed to hire him. And it’s not like former Patriots assistants have a great track record.

Judge hasn’t won yet and if his Giants couldn’t finish the Cowboys on Sunday, it might take a while to get his first win.

The first-place Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles came into this week as the leader of the NFC East, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They didn’t cover themselves or the division in glory.

The Eagles started OK against the Pittsburgh Steelers but then it fell apart. A bad Carson Wentz interception led to a Steelers touchdown that gave them a 31-14 lead. The Eagles rallied to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 31-29, but a drive stalled and Jake Elliott missed a 57-yard field goal with a little more than three minutes remaining. Rookie receiver Chase Claypool scored his fourth touchdown to put away a 38-29 win. It’s the first time the Steelers have started 4-0 since 1979.

Week after week as the NFC East loses, it’s said that it’s OK because the rest of the division can’t separate. But at some point, some team has to win a few games to win the division.

The 0-5 Atlanta Falcons and their beleaguered coach: Another week, another Atlanta Falcons loss, another round of questions of how much longer Dan Quinn will be the team’s coach.

The Falcons have a lot of injuries, particularly in their secondary and to receiver Julio Jones, but the season is all but lost. They are 0-5 after a 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons took a 7-0 lead, then Teddy Bridgewater started to pick them apart. The Falcons offense is in a rut, too. Atlanta had a chance when it cut Carolina’s lead to 20-13, but Matt Ryan threw a horrible interception into the end zone. Nothing about Atlanta looks good.

Quinn’s future has been a question for a couple years now. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been hesitant to make a change. But it’ll keep being a question until a move is made.

Again, the New York Jets: It’s a good thing Adam Gase decided to keep punting on fourth-and-short early in Sunday’s game. Otherwise, the Jets might have lost by four or five touchdowns instead of three.

The Jets are the rest of the NFL’s bye week this season. They’re barely a professional unit, drowning in bad coaching and a lack of talent. The Arizona Cardinals rolled the Jets 30-10 on Sunday, gladly taking an easy win after losing a couple in a row.

It’s hard to go 0-16 in a season, but the Jets have the ingredients to make a run at it.

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