Derek Carr was supposed to be better than this.
When the quarterback signed a $150 million deal with the New Orleans Saints, it was supposed to be an upgrade over what the team had with Andy Dalton last season. Even if we consider it an upgrade — it’s debatable because Dalton was actually good last season — the return on investment is clearly not there.
The Saints had the chance to open up a nice lead in the NFC South with a victory at the Atlanta Falcons. But the biggest play of the game was Carr throwing an inexcusable pick 6, telegraphing a throw that Falcons safety Jessie Bates III broke on and returned 92 yards for a touchdown.
The Falcons were bad on offense with Desmond Ridder back in the lineup, but Carr’s mistake was too much to overcome. He didn’t make enough positive plays to make up for the bad pick 6. The Falcons won 24-15 and are back in a tie with the Saints for the NFC South lead at 5-6.
The Saints have too much talent to be under .500 and a $150 million quarterback. It’s not all Carr’s fault but he hasn’t been the boost New Orleans needed. Plenty of the Saints’ games have followed the same script, with a decent amount of yards but not enough points to win. Carr misses a play here or there and the Saints lose a close game.
Carr hasn’t been terrible but he hasn’t been what the Saints need. They could still make the playoffs because they play in the NFL’s worst division, but is there a lot of value in going 8-9, winning a division title and getting beat by a better team on wild-card weekend?
The Saints aren’t getting out of Carr’s contract soon. Of the $150 million, $100 million was guaranteed. Carr was solid with the Raiders, and then paid like a star by a desperate team. There are worse quarterbacks in the NFL, but the Saints are paying a lot of money to their quarterback to wonder if they can even win a bad division with a record below .500.
It’s a lesson for other teams: A quarterback who is available to you at a high price might be the best choice at that moment, but it still might be a terrible investment.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Sunday of Week 12 in the NFL season:
Jalen Hurts’ MVP case: It wasn’t always pretty for Hurts, but it was good enough for a big win against the Buffalo Bills.
The Bills did everything they could to give away Sunday’s game, and eventually Hurts and the Eagles took it. Hurts threw three second-half touchdowns and led a game-tying drive at the end of regulation and a game-winning drive after the Bills took a 34-31 lead to start overtime. He scored a 12-yard rushing touchdown to end overtime and give the Eagles a 37-34 win. Hurts struggled in the first half with just 33 yards passing, but the Bills couldn’t put away the Eagles.
The Eagles haven’t always been great this season but they are 10-1. Unlike the 6-6 Bills, they find ways to win games and not blow them at the end. That’s likely to vault Hurts to the top of the MVP race and perhaps the rest of the season.
Rashee Rice: The Kansas City Chiefs had to watch their receivers struggle against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 and know something had to change.
The change on Sunday was more Rice. The rookie caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown as the Chiefs rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat the Las Vegas Raiders 31-17.
Rice had 10 targets, and no other wide receiver had more than three. The Chiefs have been looking for some playmaking at wide receiver all season, and it appears to finally be time to lean heavily on Rice and see what happens.
Josh Allen: The Jacksonville Jaguars needed a big play to slow down C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans when they were holding onto a three-point lead.
Allen gave them two.
Allen, the Jaguars’ top pass rusher, had a sack and combined on another with Travon Walker on the Texans’ final drive.
The Texans made the questionable decision to try a 58-yard field goal. It hit the crossbar and was no good. Jacksonville held onto a 24-21 win and has a two-game lead over the Texans in the AFC South.
It was a huge win for Jacksonville, which was embarrassed by Houston earlier this season. Allen pushing the Texans back a couple times on Houston’s final drive was a huge factor.
Indianapolis Colts’ playoff chances: Don’t be surprised when you see the Colts in the playoff picture in a few weeks.
The Colts are 6-5 after beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-20. The Colts got a couple rushing touchdowns from Jonathan Taylor and the defense forced a late turnover from Baker Mayfield to hold on.
Mayfield is the best quarterback the Colts will face for a while. Their next five QB opponents, unless there’s an injury or someone is benched: Will Levis, Jake Browning, Kenny Pickett, Desmond Ridder and Aidan O’Connell. The Colts might not be very good but they’ve got an easy stretch coming up. You were warned.
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Cleveland Browns offense: For most teams, there’s not much you can do when you lose your starting quarterback and have to turn to a fifth-round rookie to salvage your season. While the Browns helped create this mess by trading Joshua Dobbs for very little, it’s still an unfortunate mess.
The Browns aren’t dead at 7-4, but every win they get the rest of the season will be a struggle. Sunday’s 29-12 loss to the Denver Broncos was another reminder of how the offense will struggle.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson rarely moved the Browns and then was knocked out of the game on a concussion caused by a brutal hit from Broncos linebacker Baron Browning. P.J. Walker came in and didn’t do much better. Perhaps Joe Flacco, recently signed off his couch, gets the call next week. No matter who is at quarterback, the Browns miss Deshaun Watson. They might still make the playoffs, but it won’t be pretty to watch the rest of the way.
Arizona Cardinals defense: Kyler Murray’s return helped the Cardinals look better, but he doesn’t play on defense, too.
Arizona’s defense has been bad most of the season and it was at its worst Sunday. The Los Angeles Rams moved up and down the field with ease. Matthew Stafford threw four touchdown passes. Kyren Williams had more than 200 yards from scrimmage. The Cardinals had no answers in the Rams’ 37-14 win. The Rams had 457 yards.
Arizona has a long way to go in its rebuild. The Cardinals are 2-10 after Sunday’s loss. They’re putting themselves in position to select one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft, if they want. But that won’t solve their biggest issue.
Frank Reich’s job security: On fourth-and-6 and less than two minutes left, with the Panthers still in the game trailing 17-10 against the Tennessee Titans, the Panthers threw a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage to receiver D.J. Chark. It was stopped for no gain. The Titans went in victory formation after that and won 17-10.
There’s not one play that would cost Reich his job as Carolina’s head coach. The Panthers are 1-10. There haven’t been a lot of good plays. But calling that play on fourth down and watching it get immediately stopped has to make owner David Tepper even more upset. His team didn’t trust rookie quarterback Bryce Young at all in that situation and a winnable game turned into another loss.
Reich might be a one-and-done coach. Having an impatient owner doesn’t help. The Panthers are by far the worst team in the NFL, doesn’t have its 2024 first-round draft pick because it was traded to the Chicago Bears so they could draft Young, and aren’t offering a lot of hope. It might not end well for Reich.
Cincinnati Bengals’ sad season: The Bengals got a look at what’s to come for the rest of this season.
With Joe Burrow, the Bengals probably would have beat an offensively challenged Pittsburgh Steelers. But there was a reason Jake Browning had been in the NFL since 2019 but hadn’t thrown a pass in the regular season until this month. The Bengals struggled to move the ball and the Steelers escaped with a 16-10 win. Cincinnati had just 222 yards of offense.
The Bengals were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders this season and despite a slow start, still had a shot to get in the playoffs and make some noise. Then Burrow suffered a season-ending wrist injury. If there were any hope that Browning could pull a Nick Foles and lead the Bengals somewhere off the bench, that died pretty fast on Sunday.
It’s looking like a depressing final stretch of the season coming up for the Bengals.
Mac Jones, at least one more time: Why did the New England Patriots start Jones?
When Jones was benched in London with less than two minutes left in a close game, that seemed to be a wrap for his time as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. But after a week of strange secrecy from the Patriots, Jones got the nod against the New York Giants on Sunday. It turned out exactly how anyone would have predicted.
Jones was awful. He threw a handful of passes that no NFL quarterback should throw. And at halftime, with the Patriots stuck on zero points, he was benched. It was the fourth time he has been benched during a game this season. The biggest question this time was why he started in the first place.
Bailey Zappe came in and gave the Patriots a spark, at least for a while. He led a touchdown drive to tie the game. Then he threw an interception that led to a Giants field goal, but shook that off. He got the Patriots in position to kick a game-tying 35-yard field goal, but rookie Chad Ryland — who the talent-poor Patriots drafted in the fourth round — missed the short attempt and the Giants won, 10-7. Maybe the Patriots would have won it earlier if they hadn’t made a weird, bad decision to start Jones again.