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[Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 039: Depression and Acceptance
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"Umi. Seal the holodeck's entrance."
"Affirmative, Admiral Rodriguez."
José Rodriguez, the last living Terran, stands in the middle of the vast, empty expanse of the holodeck. Its silver walls and floor, immaculately smooth and polished, gleam under the bright ceiling lights. The huge double-doors close behind him and vanish, hidden by the holographic interface.
"Admiral," The synthmind, Umi, say. "I have already predicted the actions you're about to take. However, at a time like this, indulging in a fantasy will not-"
"Shut up," José says, his face blank. "I'm the leader of humanity now, right? That means the old laws don't matter anymore. So... don't lecture me. I'm not interested, and I won't listen. You just do as you're told."
"...Very well, Admiral. I hope you won't go too far."
Several seconds pass. Admiral Rodriguez stares at the far wall, his thoughts contemplative.
Then, he lowers his head. A series of mental commands transmits into the holodeck's interface via his cerebral implants. Shortly after, a human figure appears in front of him. A man, more than a foot taller than José, with black skin, a neatly trimmed black beard, and the gaze of an eagle, stands at attention. His navy blue uniform, oaken muscles, and domineering statue make him a lion among men. Just standing in his presence might cause any feeble-minded man to surrender without a fight.
The moment the soldier's hologram appears, José averts his eyes. He turns his head to the side and grabs his chest, trying to suppress a wave of emotion.
"Nick... Nicky-boy... shit. I didn't... I didn't think it would... it would hit me this quick."
Nicholai Azaram, once a top-ranked soldier among Ramma's Chosen, now nothing more than a puddle of blue cryogenic fluid. His hologram stands before José, a stark reminder of the great man he once was.
José presses his fingers against his eyelids. He struggles to catch his breath while the holographic Nicholai gazes into the void, its unseeing eyes comprehending nothing. The Admiral's chest heaves, and his eyes tear up.
Umi speaks. "Admiral. I am detecting elevated levels of NA-14 in your neurochemical receptors. This indicates that you are experiencing profound anguish. I advise that you cease any further actions on the holodeck without a trained-"
"I told you to shut up!" José shouts, squeezing his eyes shut. "Not another word, Umi! Just follow my orders! No back-talk! I need to do this! It's my right, god dammit!"
Umi hesitates before replying.
"As you command, Admiral."
The synthmind gives up without a fight, but José barely even notices. After more than a minute, he finally raises his gaze to look at the man in front of him.
José takes a step forward. He wraps his arms around the hologram's waist and buries his face in its chest.
"Uuu... hic... I can't... I can't take it... not without you, Nicky-boy."
The hologram's ice-cold skin, formed via photonic particles and held together with magnetic energy, doesn't deter the Admiral. José barely even notices as he struggles to hold himself together. In his mind's eye, he imagines this fake, illusory figure is none other than his dearly departed best friend and long-time partner, the man he fought alongside for thousands of years.
"I'm so sorry, Nick. You didn't deserve to go out like that. If only I'd run a maintenance check before we went into stasis... if only I'd asked the Admiral to sweep the local space for plasma storms... it's all my god-damned fault you died."
With no one there to judge him, José utterly breaks down. He weeps for half an hour, sobbing against the hologram's chest, even as it stands at attention, unmoving.
Finally, José pulls away. He sinks to the floor at the hologram's feet and slumps forward, a look of exhaustion on his face.
An hour comes and goes before José stirs again. The Terran raises his head. He waves his hand, making Nick disappear.
"Switch to memory replay mode."
José summons a holographic chair and sinks into it. He waits while Umi's neural readers engage with his thoughts and pick out the desired memories from his brain.
Eventually, the entire holographic chamber shifts. It transforms into a militaristic logistics room, one with dozens of senior officers milling about. They walk around José's chair as if he isn't even present, engaging in various duties as they go about their day.
Not far from José's seat, a holographic rendition of himself and Nicholai Azaram stand at attention, their postures stiff, and their arms behind their backs. Before them, a blond-haired, dark-skinned logistics commander stares at a datapad in her hands. Her dark grey uniform contrasts with José and Nick's navy blue colors, making her appear much more high-level and authoritative than either of them.
"-as for those 'minor errors' you mentioned in your reports, I'll have the Special Investigation Team look into them. All things considered, this was another great showing from team 'Twin-Headed Hydra.' I'll have your next mission ready in a month or two. Anything else?"
The woman looks up, her sparkling blue eyes meeting José's first, then Nicholai's. Both men shake their heads while maintaining neutral expressions.
"No, Adjunct Belfos," Nick says, replying for himself and José. "We've included all of the pertinent information in our reports."
"Excellent. Dismissed, then," The Adjunct replies. Without another word, she turns on her heel and strides away, leaving José and Nicholai alone.
A few seconds pass before both men allow their shoulders to slump.
"Haha..." Nick laughs. "Damn. The Adjunct is looking mighty fine today, don't you think, Jojo?"
"You always say that," The holographic José chuckles. "If you could keep your eyes off her 'assets' for five seconds, you might be as scared of her as all the other guys. She's out of your league, Nicky-boy."
"A man can't help looking when he sees something he likes," Nick says, nudging José's ribs. "It's not my fault those creased pants give her the ass of an ancient goddess. Just you watch, Jojo. The Adjunct's gonna fall for me, one of these days. Just like all the others."
"I'm sure she will," José says, while shaking his head and grinning. "Too bad you'll already have moved on to ten other women by then. You'll never find someone to settle down with."
Nick smirks. "I'm a free bird, Jojo. Can't help my nature. We can't all be like you, finding our soulmate and... well, you know."
José's expression dims noticeably. "That was a long time ago, Nick. I'm over Evelyn."
"That's what you say..." Nick replies, his smile fading away as well. "Different worlds, man. I'm sure she had a good life."
José stares across the room, his hologram's vacant expression perfectly mirroring the flesh and blood José's as well. Both renditions of himself momentarily gain a thousand-mile stare, looking beyond their surroundings at a distant past, one filled with regrets.
"Hey, man," Nick says, interrupting José's thoughts. "Sorry I was such a downer. Let's go get some chow. Clam Chowder?"
Both José's snap out of their dazes. The holographic one curls his lip in disgust. "You and your nasty- never mind. You can eat that shit if you want. I'll have a sandwich."
"Haha!" Nick laughs. "That look on your face! I gotcha good."
"Yeah, you do always know what to say..." Holo-José mutters.
Both of them walk away, and the memory file disappears.
Moments later, the holodeck's surroundings shift once again. This time, José appears inside an underground cave, one with light-strips attached to the ceiling, running along a long, narrow corridor. Pipes and electrical conduits run along the walls, leading down to an unknown destination in the distance.
Nicholai, José, and a pair of female officers slink down the hall, past the flesh-and-blood José seated in his holographic chair. Their dream-like bodies phase through him like ghosts as they stealthily approach a heavy, iron door bolted to the wall.
"You think they're here?" One of the women, a redhead, asks. "Third door's the charm, eh?"
"Fackin' hell," The other woman, a muscular brunette, grumbles. "If this ain't the right one, I'll blow my stinkin' stack."
José and Nick both clutch fifty-pound energy rifles to their chests, the black-steel carbines looking particularly menacing in the low lighting. The women, meanwhile, follow in the rear with energy pistols in their right hands, and sturdy energy shields attached to their left wrists. The see-through barriers grant them unobstructed vision, while also adding onto the protection garnered from their Survival Suits.
"You don't have anything to worry about," Nick says, as his iris modules shift to infrared. His irises turn crimson, making his eyes glow a fiery blood-red. "Lots of bogeys inside."
"You fellas better be as good as the rumors say," The redhead grumbles. "We're paying a heap of credits to get a couple of Ramma's Chosen down here."
"You definitely overpaid," Nick says with a smirk. "Jojo alone would've been enough to take out a Ghül bunker. But since I'm here too, I'll make sure you get your money's worth."
"Roit, just so long as these sick Ghül-fackers get ripped to shreds, I'll be happy," The brunette replies.
The women hang back, allowing José and Nick to approach the giant metal door alone. The redhead whispers some words into a wrist-communicator on her right hand, sending a status update back to HQ, while the brunette watches with narrowed eyes.
José and Nick arrive at the giant metal door. Its circular appearance resembles the entrance to a huge bank vault, with its top reaching some fifteen feet in the air and nearly touching the ceiling. A circular handle in its center proves the only option for entering, so José takes point, leaves his gun to hang by its strap, and starts spinning the handle.
Nick's casual grin fades away. A look of deadly focus consumes his face, changing him from a man one might share a beer with on a Friday night to a vicious killer capable of ripping a tiger in half with his bare hands.
Inside the vault, several people cry out in alarm. Nick watches with his infrared vision as multiple blobs of heat hunker down behind cover and take aim at the door, waiting to see who will step through.
José spins the handle the fifth and final time, causing the door's internal mechanisms to audibly click into place. At that moment, both he and Nick activate their Dermal Armor, enveloping their skin in diamond-like hardened nanites.
"Three, two, one... go!" José shouts. He yanks on the door and pulls it open, allowing Nick to jump into the room a split-second later while deactivating his infrared vision.
What comes next is like a scene out of a horror movie. The heavily armored commando unloads a hail of blaster fire with pinpoint precision, shredding the heads and chests of dozens of men and women, all of them armed to the teeth. Their inferior weaponry, far less advanced than his, bounce off Nicholai's hardened skin like bits of chalk striking a stone wall.
"Die, heretics!" Nick roars. "You failures of humanity! You disgusting monsters! All of you, just die!"
The inner room, an advanced storage facility with nutrient tubes running alone the walls, rapidly becomes covered in blood. Screams of horror and fear rise among the Children of Ghül's ranks as the heretics perish by the dozens. José joins in only seconds after Nick, but by the time he starts unloading bullets into the enemies, half of them have already perished.
Within three minutes, both soldiers clear out over three hundred enemies, leaving countless bodies to spasm on the ground. Some people hold on to weak threads of life, but José quickly and systematically walks around, gunning down anyone who didn't immediately perish in the first attack wave.
"Tch," Nick grunts, as he kicks over one of the female combatants to look at her blood-covered face. "Too bad. Beauty wasted on a heretical piece of shit like you."
"We're in the right place," José says, as he grabs a datapad out of a dead man's hands. "Experimental Subjects 241B, 242F, and 247A. How many commendations do you think we'll get for destroying this place?"
"Psh. Like I care," Nick scoffs. "Central Command can shove their commendations up their asses. I'm just here to fuck bitches and kill heretics. None of that pencil-pushing bullshit matters to me."
José laughs. "Haha. Yeah, I just like riling you up."
"You're a real piece of work, Jojo."
Both men stomp through the puddles of blood, laughing as they banter idly about various things.
The two women from outside slip inside the room. Despite their momentary shock at the horrific scene of carnage, both of them quickly assume more professional expressions before nodding at the 'Twin-Headed Hydra,' two of Ramma's Chosen, their top elites.
"Damn, nice work," The brunette says. "You cleaned these bastards up all quick-like."
"One less group of scumbags to deal with," The redhead says. "Alright, let's enter the experimental facility."
Nick's eyes flicker with rage. "No matter what we find in there, it dies. Understand? Don't feel any compassion for Ghül's creations. They'll thank you for ending their misery."
"Noted," The redhead tersely replies.
Minutes later, after passing through a few hallways and killing some straggler enemies, the group of four arrives inside a facility filled with nutrient vats, each one possessing clear observation-glass for viewing the subjects inside. The redhead and brunette both scowl as they spot multiple horrific human-animal hybrid creatures, many of them with grotesque, mutilated bodies. One of them, a man-wolf hybrid, stares into the distance blankly, his pure-white eyes forever blind to the beauties of the world.
José and Nick blast the experiment vats with their rifles, ruthlessly killing every chimera in sight. Hundreds upon hundreds of horrific experiments line the walls and sit scattered in vats around the room, their nutrient liquids spilling out and soaking the floor in disgusting, nauseating secretions.
After slaughtering several hundred of the chimeras, José suddenly pauses before one of the vats. Inside, a little girl, perhaps six years old, stands with hunched shoulders. A huge bubble on her back, the size of a beach ball, is the only abnormality on her body. Otherwise, she appears normal in every other way.
Nick, hearing José pause his gunfire, turns and trots over to his brother's side.
"Yo! What's up, Jojo? You find someth- ...oh."
The two women, also hearing the gunfire stop, wander over to the pair of Ramma's Chosen. They watch from a distance, confused, as they see José hesitating to kill the little girl.
"Hey man, I've got this one. Don't force yourself," Nick says, resting his hand on José's shoulder. "Why don't you go and do the other wing?"
José doesn't move. He continues to stare at the mutated child, a look of longing on his face.
"...She's just a little girl," José mutters. "A little kid."
Nick sighs. He lowers his gun and nods. "Yeah, man. I know you've got a soft spot for kids. We can't save her, though. She'll go berserk once she leaves that tube. They always do."
José lowers his gaze to his rifle. "Always?"
Nick clicks his tongue and sighs.
"You still thinking about Evelyn?"
José nods. "Always. It never goes away. The longing, I mean. She's probably long dead. Probably died thousands of years ago."
"She ain't like us," Nick says. "We've got nanites. We don't need to worry about old age. She's a primitive."
"If we'd brought her back..." José murmurs. "We could have changed that."
Nick shakes his head. "And doomed her world. It was a cruel choice. You can't keep beating yourself up."
"Sure I can," José says, laughing hollowly. "That's the one thing I'm good at."
Both men fall silent.
Nick stares at the little girl floating in the vat. Her closed eyes give the impression she's experiencing a pleasant dream, a wonderful fantasy she might never awaken from.
"It's not always your fault, Jojo," Nick mutters. "Life. Things in general. You need to learn to stop blaming yourself for everything."
José continues staring at the floor. "Easy for you to say. Not everyone can be as good at life as you."
"You sound jealous," Nick says. "Don't be. If anyone should be jealous, it's me."
The shorter Terran raises his head. "Huh? You? Jealous of me? You always were good at jokes."
"Nah, man," Nick mutters. "You don't get it. You think I've got my shit together, but I don't. Everyone's got some problems on their plate they're dealing with. You see me flitting around from one lady to the next, thinking to yourself that I'm this hotshot playboy. That ain't the truth, though. Truth is, I can't hold down a stable relationship. You only got a few years with Evelyn... but what you and her had was more than I'll ever experience."
Nick closes his eyes.
"I am jealous, Jojo. Ain't you ever heard that saying? 'Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.' For all the praise I get, all the talk about how I'm a top-tier soldier... I ain't shit. I'll never know what it means to share the ultimate bond of trust with a nice lady. Not like you and Evelyn."
José purses his lips. "C'mon, Nicky-boy. You're supposed to be the upbeat one. I'm sure you'll find a nice girl someday."
"Maybe. It won't be the same as what you had, though," Nick says matter-of-factly. "You two didn't even have to talk. You could just look into each other's eyes and... and know what the other was thinking. That sort of bond ain't one in a million. It's once in a lifetime."
Nick grits his teeth. "I'm so damn jealous of you, Jojo. And yet, you still constantly mope around, beating yourself up. Nobody blames you. Not me, not even Evelyn. Someday, when I die, even if it's right in the middle of a good fuckin', you'll still blame yourself. Even if you had nothing to do with it. That's the kind of person you are."
José's expression falls. "Don't even talk like that. You'll outlive me for sure."
"Nah. You don't know shit, Jojo," Nick laughs. "One of these days, some starry-eyed bitch is gonna stab me to death. Just you watch, I bet it'll be Marcy. She's always hanging around, eye-fucking me. Even after I tried to let her off easy, that broad is always looking to slit my throat for dumping her."
"Haha!" José laughs, despite the solemn atmosphere from moments before. "Yeah, who knows. You might get done in by one of your past flames. That's the price you pay for being such a womanizer."
Nick raises his rifle. He gestures toward the little girl in the vat. "So. Want me to take this one?"
José nods. "Please."
A moment later, Nick pulls the trigger. The child perishes, while José looks away, unable to watch her death.
As the two men turn and leave, José frowns.
"Say, come to think of it, I don't think I ever asked you this, but it just occurred to me..."
Nick raises an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Evelyn. You'll chase any tail that comes your way. Why, uh... why didn't you go after her?"
Nick slows to a stop. A thoughtful expression passes over his face.
"Huh. Dunno. It just never occurred to me. Maybe my bro-vision cockblocked me."
"Bro-vision?" José asks, skeptically. "Man, sometimes, you say the damnedest shit."
"It's true!" Nick laughs. "We're so close, I can tell what you're thinking about sometimes. That's bro-vision."
"Yeah? So what am I thinking right now?" José asks, smirking.
Nick puts on a thoughtful expression.
"...If my deductions are correct, you're thinking about how delicious a nice, juicy bowl of clam chowder would taste."
José's smile transforms into a scowl. "Fuck you."
"Hahaha! Gotcha again, Jojo!"
José shakes his head. "God, you are such an asshole sometimes."
Nick playfully smacks José's back. "Better hope Ghül's Children never find out about your hatred of clam chowder. They'll turn it into a conditioning phrase for sure."
"No need. You already did."
The flesh and blood José sits in his chair, silently watching the memory file as it replays. Tears stream down his face as he recalls the conversation as clearly as if it were yesterday.
"...You always knew, didn't you, Nick? How am I supposed to go on without you? Without Evelyn? Without anyone. I'm not strong like you. I'm weak. Pathetic."
José watches as the holograms continue exterminating all of the experiments. However, his attention drifts away to an unknown location somewhere in the distant reaches of space and time.
"What would you do if it was you sitting here, Nick?"
"What would you say? What would your goal be?"
José's thoughts drift back to the conversation he had with Nick.
"Evelyn. I never found out what happened to her. Maybe it's too late to find out. Maybe I'll never know."
Despite the tears streaming down his face, he smiles.
"Before I die... before my life eventually comes to an end... shouldn't I at least find out what happened? Even if it's a fruitless search. Even if it's a complete waste of my time."
"What else have I to lose?"
Despite the grief plaguing the Admiral's heart, a strange sense of melancholy, of peace, seizes his mind. He faintly smiles while gazing past the illusory scene before him.
"That's right. At the least... if I do nothing else... I don't have to fear Central Command and their reprisals. I can find out what happened to Evelyn."
"Yes. That will make all of this pain... worth it."
After shaking the fog from his head, the Admiral speaks again.
"Umi. Play the next memory module."
From overhead, the synthmind's voice speaks.
If you enjoy what you've just read, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
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Three statements for each week one NFL game
Football is back, baby! After an awesome first week of NFL action, which I watched every full game of, I wanted to kind of recap all 16 matchups and come up with three statements for each one. Some of them may be more hyperbolic or could be labelled as hot takes, while others state for obvious facts. You can also listen to my Youtube breakdown of week one, where I just give more of my general thoughts on all these games, while also bringing up some of the points I make in this article.
So here’s what I took away from week one:
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire makes this KC offense unfair
This physicality and ability to break tackles is scary, when you think about how dynamic the Chiefs are with Patrick Mahomes and all those guys streaking downfield. I like what I saw from the offensive line, with Kelechi Osemele adding some power on the inside, but 106 of 138 rushing yards for CEH came after contact. No other player in the league even cracked 100 rushing in general. And he didn’t even get any work in the passing game yet, where I believe he could be even more dangerous, as defenses have to back off and then try to bring this bowling ball to the ground. Thank god I have him in all my fantasy leagues and as my favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2. Will Fuller is the clear number one option in the passing game for Houston
With DeAndre Hopkins out of the picture, 150 targets were all of a sudden on the table and “The Flying V” (thanks Fantasy Footballers) should take on the lion’s share of that amount. In the season-opener, the fourth-year receiver caught eight of ten targets on the night for 112 yards. He was on the field for 86 percent of the offensive snaps, while newly acquired running back David Johnson was the only Texans player to catch more than two passes and Fuller was responsible for 44.3 percent of their total through the air. Fuller and Deshaun Watson have a clear connection and with me expecting Houston to be down in games quite a bit, this could lead to a lot of production.
3. The Chiefs are in a different league than the Texans
I went into this game thinking the Chiefs were the best team in the NFL and I had the Texans projected to go 7-9, so it wasn’t overly surprising to me that the games was never actually that close, but this was never even a contest beyond the first quarter. Don’t let the final score (34-20) fool you. The Chiefs scored 31 unanswered, while the Texans picked up eight first downs over that stretch. Even with their two starting corners missing half the game, the defense looked strong, with Frank Clark beating Tytus around the corner like a drum routinely, and if Demarcus Robinson just held on to a couple of passes in the end-zone, KC would have scored 11 more points.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team
1. This game was almost a mirror image of what happened in week one between these two in week one of last season
In that game to kick of 2019, Washington got out to a 17-0 lead in the first half before Carson Wentz came roaring back, hitting a couple of deep balls to DeSean Jackson to win the game. This time around, Philly dominated the first half, with Washington’s first points coming with less than a minute until halftime. Then two things happened over the final 30 minutes – the Eagles started going down like “birds” and that Washington D-line completely took over the game. I will get to those two points a little more in detail, but it is still crazy to me how everything flipped in half two and how reminiscent it was to what happened exactly a year ago.
2. Philadelphia’s two biggest issues seem to be back
First of all, the injuries are already a major concern for the Eagles. They had to bring in three different offensive linemen off the bench, after they had already lost Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard for the year, plus Boston Scott went to the locker room after they already made the trip without second-year back Miles Sanders. And then, I really didn’t like what Doug Pederson did with the Philly offense in the second half. They almost exclusively went to shotgun, spread sets and ran standard West Coast passing concepts, which Washington was all over, while their pass-rush came crashing down. I know they lost their top run-blocker before the season, but this is still a team that should stick with the ground game and play-action off it.
3. Washington’s defensive line is nasty
The “Football Team” racked up eight sacks, as they were beating up everybody on Philly’s O-line and banging Carson Wentz around like a human piñata. Chase Young immediately showed what kind of freakish talent he is and you had multiple guys from that front become free quickly, to put the heat on Wentz. So much so that Washington’s linebacker started getting through untouched. And their DBs started jumping routes, because they knew the opposing QB had to listen to his internal clock, breaking once he first pointed his shoulders at the target. I never thought I’d say this, but “The Football Team” is alone in first place.
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots1. The Cam Newton-led Patriots offense could be scary
This New England offense is so unique now that they went from statuesque Tom Brady to dual-threat Cam Newton and while Cam loves to spread the field and attack matchups, what they do in the run game is what really creates problems for defenses. The Patriots ran the ball 42 times compared to only 19 passes, with 15 of those carries coming from the quarterback. With jet sweep fakes, inverted veer runs and different option plays, their opponents will have to be very disciplined and assignment-proof. Plus, then with Cam’s big arm, he can push the ball downfield off play-action, which wasn’t even a real factor in game one. If not for N’Keal Harry fumbling the ball into the end-zone, New England’s offense would have scored 28 touchdowns – something they only did once from week eight on last season.
2. No New England skill-position players will be on my fantasy team
This is something I haven’t really done in the past either, outside of maybe Gronk, but now – maybe more so than ever – I don’t want the headache of figuring out who will be fantasy-relevant every week. With his rushing upside, Cam might be an interesting option in your leagues, if he is still available on the waiver wire, but none of those skill guys are dependable options for me. Here are the players, who touched the ball at least five times against Miami – Sony Michel (10), James White(8), Rex Burkhead (7), Julian Edelman (6), J.J. Taylor (5) and N’Keal Harry (5). No thank you.
3. We won’t have to wait much longer for Tua
Everybody – including current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick – knows that it’s only a question of time until fifth overall pick Tua Tagovailoa is ready and takes over at quarterback for the Dolphins. Fitzy actually played really well in 2019, but was picked off three times in this year’s season-opener and if you just follow the CBS cameras, you’d think Tua was about to go onto the field. Miami will host the division-rival Bills on Sunday, then it’s the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football, before the Seahawks come to town. After that there are two tough road-trips are on the horizon with San Francisco and Denver. So if the Dolphins don’t want to throw him out there on a short week, they might want to wait for that stretch to be over, since the two L.A. teams will come to South Beach after that. But I think we’ll see the rookie by mid-season if he’s fully healthy.
Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings1. Aaron Rodgers is baaad man
I’m sorry for using a Stephen A. phrase here, but I just loved seeing Rodgers shut everybody up with a four-touchdown performance, after people started questioning how good he still is, with the Packers drafting his apparent successor Jordan Love in the first round. The way he threw the ball on the move, the zip that he put on his passes and the way he was straight up dealing reminded me of what I saw from Rodgers over the six plus years he was the best football player in the world. At one point he threw two TDs in the matter of half a minute. The first one to Davante Adams was absolutely filthy, when Rodgers escaped to the right and perfectly placed the ball to a spot where the corner had no chance to make a play on it. And then following a Jaire Alexander interception at the Minnesota 45, he connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a long TD on a go route. Green Bay as a team only punted once all day and did not turn it over. Rodgers is getting himself ready to cash all those offseason receipts.
2. That young secondary will break Minnesota’s back
As spectacular as Rodgers was, I’m also highly concerned with this Vikings back-end. I talked about this heading into the year, with that entire group of cornerbacks combining for less than 1500 career snaps on defense, and there is hope that they can still improve as the season goes along, but yesterday they had no answers for number 12 and those Green Bay receivers. Rodgers averaged 10.1 yards per attempt and if not for a couple of drops and guys tripping, that number could have been even higher. You saw the Packers QB pick on Holton Hill quite a bit, their rookies got taught a lesson and nobody could even try to slow down Davante Adams, who hauled in 14 of 17 targets for 156 yards and two TDs.
3. Davante Adams is a top five receiver
When I released my personal top 100 list a couple of months ago, I only had Julio Jones and Michael ahead of Adams. DeAndre Hopkins had a spectacular debut in Arizona and while they didn’t show much in week one, Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans are part of that conversation, but nobody was more impressive than that dude from Green Bay. Matt LaFleur did manufacture a few touches for his top target, with bubble screens and deep crossers, but Adams always made the most of those plays, he made some big catches downfield and for good measure, he also recovered the game-sealing onside kick. The way he schooled those young DBs for Minnesota off the line and how that connection between him and Rodgers was almost automatic was fun to watch. As much as there was made about the Packers not drafting a single receiver in a historically great class as a number two to Adams, I also thought MVS and Lazard stepped up in the season-opener. And I also want to say his counterpart on the opposite team in Adam Thielen had a great day himself.
Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars1. Gardner Minshew is a real quarterback
Unlike what new Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette may think, Jacksonville does have a guy people want to go to battle with. You can’t be too mad at Fournette, since he did have to deal with Blake Bortles for most of his career, but after week one, you can definitely say that statement did not age well. Against the Colts, who were favored by eight points coming in, Minshew completed all but one of his 20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns, showing that gamer mentality and ability to make plays off script on several occasions. I talked about those Jacksonville receivers early on in the offseason, saying that they are a pretty underrated group, and they also found their new lead back in my big draft crush from Illinois State – James Robinson, who took 100 percent of the carries for Jacksonville. Indianapolis should not have lost that game, since they didn’t punt once and almost doubled Jacksonville in total yards, getting stopped inside the Jags’ five and missing a 30-yard field goal, but let’s give these guys some credit.
2. Time for the Jonathan Taylor show
First and foremost, it just sucks that Marlon Mack seems to have torn his Achilles. He was off to a strong start in this game and I feel really sick for him, especially being in a contract year. However, as bad as I feel for the veteran, I’m also so excited to see what this rookie running behind that Colts O-line. Taylor did not run the ball very well (nine carries for 22 yards), but surprisingly was a big factor in the pass game – which wasn’t his strong suite at Wisconsin – bringing in all of his six targets for 67 yards, where he showed that sprinter speed and the power he can build up on a couple of plays. While Nyheim Hines should clearly be a factor in that offense, with his ability to produce as a pass-catcher and gadget player, without Mack, Taylor now has all the chances to rival Clyde Edwards-Helaire for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
3. C.J. Henderson will be a stud at corner
I could have easily gone with something like “Same old Philip Rivers”, after throwing that bad pick down four in the fourth quarter on a deep crosser to Parris Campbell, when he telegraphed the throw way too much and allowed the safety in quarters coverage to break in front of his receiver. Instead I want to give their ninth overall pick in the draft some love. Henderson was outstanding in his first showing, breaking up three passes and won on kind a jump-ball for an interception, when Jacksonville was down 7-0 at that point in the second quarter, which set up his offense inside the Indy and led to that first touchdown to D.J. Chark. Henderson was all over T.Y. Hilton on a few snaps, including a throw into the end-zone on a third down in the second half (which I thought might be called for P.I. actually) and he knocked the ball out of the hands of Hilton on that fourth down that sealed the win.
Chicago Bears @ Detroit Lions1. Same old Lions
I’m starting to really feel bad for people from Detroit. It’s been about 30 years since that franchise last won a playoff game and they have been irrelevant for large stretches of that window. On Sunday it was yet another example of how this team can mess up games. Up 23-6 with the Bears having a fourth-and-one from the opposing 10-yard line heading into the fourth quarter, the Lions had no business losing that game. Mitch Trubisky all of a sudden turned into Joe Montana and scored three touchdowns in just 15 plays. Matt Stafford on the other hand took a bad sack, which led to a missed a 55-yard field goal and tried to force a ball over the middle that got knocked up in the air and intercepted, when Detroit was still up by three. Even with that, the Lions had a chance to still win the game, as Stafford drove them all the way down the Chicago 16 and after spiking the ball with eleven seconds left, the Lions QB hit running back D’Andre Swift for a perfect pass on a wheel route, but usually sure-handed rookie had it slip out his hands and the prayer Stafford threw up with zeros on the clock was knocked. Another heart-breaker for Motown.
2. The Bears offensive line is a lot better in the run game
After the main part of free agency and the draft were wrapped up, I thought Chicago had two major holes on the roster – Right guard and a safety to pair up with Eddie Jackson. As bad as their Trubisky was in 2019, my biggest issue with Matt Nagy’s offense was the rushing attack. They finished bottom-six in yards per carry and total yards on the ground. So when they basically replaced Kyle Long with a former first-round bust in Germaine Ifedi I was worried of course, even though I said right away that he would fit better inside. In their first showing of the 2020 season, the Bears started getting people moving and you actually saw linemen five to ten yards down the field, as they put hands on the Detroit linebackers. David Montgomery ran hard, Tarik Cohen sprung loose on a couple of power and draw plays and Cordarrelle Patterson had a couple of crucial carries as well. Overall, they the ball 28 times for 149 yards and I give a lot of credit to new O-line coach Juan Castillo, who replaced the legendary Harry Hiestand.
3. Mitch magic in the fourth quarter
Through the first three quarters of the game, Trubisky was 12 of 26 for 153 yards. He did not look like a capable quarterback and had recently missed a wide open Cole Kmet on a third-and-nine from the Detroit ten by several yards. However, over the final 15 minutes he looked like a former second overall pick all of a sudden. Helped by some Lions miscues, he threw three touchdowns on the final four drives (15 total plays) and delivered in the clutch. That final scoring play on a fade route from Anthony Miller out of the slot was a thing of beauty. Miller also made some other huge grabs in that fourth quarter. I still say this was more bad Lions than good Bears, but give the guy some credit. Oh, one more thing – Adrian Peterson still has it. I don’t know how he does it, but he was the best running back on that field on Sunday
Las Vegas Raiders @ Carolina Panthers1. All those vertical weapons on the Raiders could finally make Derek Carr cut it loose
While it was still more of your usual efficient showing by Carr, as he completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 239 passing yards and one touchdown, I thought he displayed the willingness to test defenses deep. That Jon Gruden offense leans on frustrating defenses with short passes, getting the run game going and then hitting them with a few shots over the top, That last element I thought was missing last season, which capped the Raiders’ potential, While DC is a conservative passer by nature – often times to a frustrating extent – that lack of deep balls had something to do with not having the appropriate weapons at the receiver position. With the additions Las Vegas made this offseason, that has changed. On just the second play of the game, Carr put the ball 50 yards in the air for rookie speedster Henry Ruggs III. Later on the first quarter he hit Ruggs on a deep crosser to set a one-yard touchdown by Josh Jacobs. Carr threw a 23-yard dime Nelson Agholor shortly before halftime to put his team back up by five and at least had his eyes downfield much more throughout the afternoon.
2. That Joe Brady offense and Teddy B will put up some numbers
While he did already coach under Sean Payton in a much smaller role, this is still a rookie offensive coordinator and to begin your career with 30 points against a pretty good Raiders team has to be nice. Teddy Bridgewater certainly deserves some credit here, but I was very impressed with Brady’s offense, that spread the defense out with five guys out on the route and how he forced the Las Vegas defense to defends every level of the field, leading to a lot of easy completions indicated by simple reads of second-level defenders and zone/man indicators. I don’t know who actually made that call fourth-and-inches just across midfield that would have given the Panthers a chance to still win that game, but obviously you’d rather have the ball in the hands of your best player in Christian McCaffrey or create some separation on some kind of mesh concept.
3. Josh Jacobs is about to become a superstar in this league
I came into this season with very high expectations for this second-year back and after watching him put on a show against Carolina, I probably should have put some money on him leading the league in rushing. We already knew how high Jon Gruden was on this kid coming out of Alabama last year and he had a great rookie season, with a team-record 1150 yards on the ground for a first-year player and that was despite missing three games. I already said in the offseason that I believe the Raiders have a top five O-line and the way he puts his head down and runs through people, led to an NFL-best 69 missed tackles forced. The difference this year should be his involvement in the passing game, which he was pretty good at in college, but he only caught 20 balls for 166 yards as a rookie. Against the Panthers he already caught four passes for 46 yards and showed what he can do after catching a simple dump-off, to go with 93 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills1. The Bills now have all the weapons to force opponents to defend the entire field
If there was one area the Bills needed to improve upon this offseason, it was the wide receiver position. John Brown probably had his best season as a pro in 2019 and Cole Beasley was a dependable target in the slot for them. However, neither one of those guys should be a true number one option. Now that they brought in Stefon Diggs via a trade from Minnesota, it puts everybody in their appropriate position. With Dawson Knox taking another step and even having a screen drawn up for him, as well as those backs getting involved, I like what offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can do in terms of making opponents defend the entire field. I know it was “only” the Jets, but Buffalo just seemed to play so much more freely in the pass game.
2. Josh Allen could be an MVP contender in 2020
I actually had Allen as an honorable mention among my MVP candidates and was made fun of a little, when I posted my list on Reddit, but with what I just wrote about the Bills pass-catchers, I just think this could be a big year for their team and the quarterback in particular. The O-line gave him plenty of time to scan the field, he stayed patient and found his checkdowns late and still fired some absolute lasers. Allen also made a lot of plays with his legs on designed runs and scrambles. Will you still get the occasional “What the hell?” moment from him, like fumbling the ball while flipping over a defender? Yes. But if they hone himself in a little and be a more consistent threat from within the pocket, to go with those off-script plays, he could put up some big numbers.
3. The Jets might be the prime contenders for the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft
When I released my pre-season power rankings, I had the Jets all the way at the bottom of the list and that’s exactly what they looked like when we first saw them this season. The final score might have been 27-17, but the Bills could have easily blown them out by 30. It took Gang Green 40 minutes to get into the end-zone and it took Jamison Crowder breaking three tackles and going 69 yards and a quick screen play to get there. Buffalo’s rookie kicker Tyler Bass missed two field goals from less than 40 yards – even though I still believe the first one was actually good – Josh Allen fumbled the ball twice and that last touchdown was meaningless, with under a minute remaining. As much as I liked Sam Darnold coming out of USC, as I had him as my top quarterback in the 2018 draft, and I still believe in the right situation he would already be an above-average starter, I don’t know how you could pass on Trevor Lawrence if you are in position to draft him.
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens1. The reigning MVP might be even better
Lamar Jackson was so sharp and in control of the offense, keeping his eyes downfield even as he was stepping into crowded spaces or backing out and rolling either way. We saw him hit a deep ball to Marquise Brown, which was where I wanted to see him improve, and he impressed with tremendous ball-placement all afternoon, taking advantage of the leverage of defenders and drilling the ball into some tight windows. The day after the game I saw a statistic that he was 9-of-10 for 180 yards on passes of 10+ yards against Cleveland, after he completed only 49.2 percent of those his MVP season. I would just like to see him avoid some of those hits, where he goes head-first to pick up a few extra yards. But in terms of his pure pocket passing, it is scary to think where he could go.
2. The Ravens secondary plastered those Browns pass-catchers
It’s not a secret that Baltimore has one the premiere group of cornerbacks in the entire league, but I would argue they are the very best there is. Jarvis Landry got open on some crossers and deeper developing routes, when Baker did have a clean pocket, but altogether outside of Cleveland’s one touchdown at the goal-line, where the Ravens D lost one of the tight-ends out of a jumbo package, it was tough sledding for OBJ & company. Marlon Humphrey is already top five at his position, Marcus Peters is unreal at anticipating and reading routes, Jimmy Smith would be a high quality #2 on any other team and Tavon Young coming back in the slot only helps. Oh, and for Austin Hooper to be the highest-paid tight-end early in the offseason and to only come up with two catches for 15 yards is pretty disappointing.
3. J.K. Dobbins is about to take over this Ravens backfield
I’m not saying the rookie will play 80 percent of the snaps or handle more than half the rushing load going forward, but there is a reason I grabbed Dobbins in all my fantasy leagues, He was my number two back in the draft and I said right away that he was a perfect fit for this Baltimore offense. In his debut, the rook had a couple of nice gains and converted twice near the goal-line, while veteran Mark Ingram was stuffed for minimal yardage on several occasions. Gus Edwards will get some work to close out games, when they Ravens are ahead by multiple scores, and Justice Hill is an explosive player, who I really like in the passing game in particular, but Dobbins should be the lead guy for this squad.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons1. The Falcons secondary is still a mess
Over the first half of the 2019 season, the Falcons were the worst defense in the NFL, allowing 31.6 points per game, as they went 1-7 over that stretch. They started turning things around after that, but on Sunday afternoon they reverted back to that early 2019 form. We saw them play a lot more man-coverage, where they constantly allowed separation on crossing routes or just lost guys out of their breaks. When they were in zone, those corners gave way too much cushion in cover-three and when they did force some long-yardage situations, they just backed up and allowed easy 10-15 yard plays to set up easy third downs or basically surrender field goals. What really killed them was that 4th & 5 play Seattle had from the opposing 38-yard line when it was still 14-12, as Isaiah Oliver missed his punch in press-alignment, giving up the inside release to D.K. Metcalf, who could still make a perfect over-the-shoulder catch on a fade route. And by the way, Seattle didn’t look much better on the back-end.
2. Russell Wilson is finally allowed to cook
As bad as Atlanta was on the back-end defensively – What a performance for Russ. He went 31-of-35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns, while picking up two more first downs with his legs. Seahawks – and all football fans for that matter – have been screaming at the top of their lungs for the coaching staff to let Wilson to throw the ball earlier in games and on early downs. It wasn’t like the Falcons were all over Seattle’s receivers, but the touch Wilson throws with to perfectly put the ball in the hands of his guys in full stride is just a beautiful thing to watch. D.K. Metcalf looks to have taken a step forward with his route-running and Tyler Lockett is back fully healthy. So that means it’s bombs away for the Seahawks, which means trouble for the rest of the league, since they can still win with the power run game and then take play-action shots off that.
3. Calvin Ridley is an absolute stud receiver
I always believed in this kid. He was my number one receiver in the draft three years ago coming out of Alabama and he immediately started producing in the pros. While he was on track for a 1000-yard campaign last season, he is off to an even better start in 2020. Against the Seahawks, he hauled in nine passes for 130 yards and two TDs. Ridley constantly created separation by attacking leverage and excellent route-running. While he isn’t a straight-burner necessarily, he knows how to find space and is very shifty after the catch. The only thing that sucked was that one bad drop late in the game on fourth down, when he was too focused on getting his feet in bounds and had the ball go right through his hands because of it. But he and Julio Jones are right there in the race for top receiver duos, in a loaded division for pass-catchers.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals1. Welcome to Cincinnati, Joe Burrow
It’s always tough for a top draft pick to come to a bad team, try to turn things around and learn early on that even if he does everything right, it might not lead to victories. Burrow did not play a perfect game by any means – He got picked off by Melvin Ingram in the fourth quarter, who made such an instinctive play, when he read the screen pass and spun around to have the ball land right in his hands as Burrow shoveled it ahead late, he missed a potential touchdown to A.J. Green on a deep ball earlier and 13 points just don’t get you any wins in the NFL. That being said, he had his team in position to beat the Chargers, as he drove them all the way down to the L.A. three, only to have A.J. Green get called for an offensive pass interference on what would have otherwise been a game-winning TD and then his kicker to miss a chip-shot 31-yard field goal attempt. He better be hurt and not just have faked something there, once he saw the kick was wide right.
2. Mike Williams is one of the great big-play receivers in the game
Coming out of Clemson four years ago, Williams was known for being a super-physical downfield receiver, that had connected for a multitude of big plays with his former quarterback Deshaun Watson. That’s exactly what he has been in the NFL so far. Williams is incredible on 50-50 balls, he routinely comes through with big catches downfield along the sidelines and comes through when his team needs him most. Of the three receivers that went in the top ten back in 2017 (him, Corey Davis and John Ross), it is safe to say the Chargers has by far been the most best one – even though Davis had a pretty good showing himself on Monday. Last season Williams cracked the 1000-yard mark on a league-leading 20.4 yards per grab. This past Sunday against the Bengals he might have only caught four passes, but all of them were key in the victory – a great toe-tap grab at the sideline, coming back to the ball on a deep curl route and two go-balls on the sideline, where the safety almost knocked his head off on both of them.
3. Bobby Hart should not ever trash-talk
I have said many times that Hart is one of the worst starting offensive tackles in all of football and I have no idea why the Bengals continue to pay him, even with their bad track record of drafting linemen. I’m sure he tries “hart” and it’s not like he doesn’t belong in the league, but he should not talk trash – especially not to Joey Bosa, who came back to beat him for a sack with his well-known double-hand swipe, before getting into the face of Hart. This Chargers D-line was beating the crap out of Cincy’s front-five and the only reason they were in the game was their rookie quarterback speeding up his internal clock and still finding ways to make plays.
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers1. DeAndre Hopkins is worth so much more than a second-round pick
While I do understand that the Texans would not have been able to pay D-Hop the kind of money he demanded, Bill O’Brien doesn’t deserve any sympathy for being the laughing stock for NFL fans. Hopkins is an elite receiver and Houston certainly didn’t get back the return he was worth, as they basically got back a second-round pick and took a bad David Johnson contract off the hands of Arizona, even if he actually looked better in week one than he did all of 2019. Nuk had more catches (14) than all the Texans receivers combined on Thursday (13). He went for 151 yards, including a couple of big grabs, including setting up a one-yard Kenyan Drake touchdown after being called down just short.
2. The Cardinals defense is starting to come together
I know the day didn’t start off great for this Arizona D, when they allowed Raheem Mostert to slice through for a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown on an angle route, but outside of that one play, they held the offense of the game’s most creative offensive play-caller in Kyle Shanahan to just 290 yards. Mostert averaged under four yards per carry on 15 attempts and they held the reigning NFC champs to just a field goal over 50 minutes of game time. I’d advise you to check out Brett Kollman’s breakdown of all the different elements to Vance Joseph’s defense, where it seems like they now have the pieces to actually be successful with it. Budda Baker is a flying missile, their run defense should take a huge step forward with what they added to the front and some of their other young guys made plays when they really needed to, including Byron Murphy breaking up that final fourth down attempt for San Francisco, even though the ball was certainly thrown behind the receiver.
3. Jimmy G has to be more accurate
I understand why 49ers fans are frustrated, because their team was in control of the game early on and even after the Cardinals took the lead, their quarterback had all the chances to still get them the W. San Francisco rushed for 123 yards on 4.9 yards per attempt and Garoppolo also relied heavily on his backs in the pass game. If you take away that 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Raheem Mostert, where the QB just had to lob it over the middle and watch #31 take off, Jimmy G threw for only 183 yards on the other 32 attempts he had (5.7 yards per attempts). His stat line did look pretty good, but it does not represent the performance he had. Because not only did he almost kill George Kittle on a simple bubble screen, by putting the ball way too high, but when his team needed him most, with the ball at the Arizona 21, he underthrew an easy touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on first down and then thew the ball behind Trent Taylor on fourth-and-five.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints1. The Saints D-line has a clear advantage over the Bucs O-line
The formula for beating Tom Brady has been out there for a while – get home with four. He has been notorious for slicing up defenses when they have to send extra blitzers, which only a few teams have been able to do effectively. On Sunday, Cam Jordan & company made life very uncomfortable for the 43-year old quarterback, as they sacked him three times and made him move around constantly. You saw some frustration on the first pick he threw, expecting Mike Evans to continue going down the seams and he was off with ball-placement on a few occasions. This is the reason I had the Saints beating the Bucs in the NFC title game, when I put out my season predictions two weeks ago.
2. Scottie Miller will be a key piece to the Tampa Bay offense
The Bucs obviously have one of the premiere receiver duos in the league with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, their group of tight-end honestly goes three deep and they now have an interesting mixture of backs. However, the one guy who routinely came up with big plays for Tom Brady was little Scottie Miller. Last year’s sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green caught five passes for 73 yards and added another six-yard run against the Saints. Ronald Jones was the only one with more scrimmage yards for Tampa Bay on Sunday and that was by only three. The guy they call “Scooter” lined up inside and out, caught a couple of passes over the middle, came up with a big grab on a slot fade route and forced a P.I. call on an out-and-up. Miller could be Brady’s new version of Julian Edelman in his new home.
3. Alvin Kamara is a different breed
While I don’t advocate paying too many running backs beyond their rookie contract and I have to believe the Saints have turned off the salary cap on their Madden team, with how much they will be in the minus heading into next year’s offseason, we saw that elite running back they did pay for on Sunday. The Bucs are a tough for New Orleans, because with Drew Brees’ declining arm talent, they really want to rely more on their backs and that run game to control games, but Tampa Bay was the number one rush defense just last season and they should be near the top once again in 2020. Still, with Kamara not even being the team’s leading rusher (12 attempts for only 16 yards), he caught five passes for 51 yards and converted twice in the red-zone, once on a screen pass that seemed to be dead in the backfield and then on a six-yard run, where he bounced off a tackler, who in cinematic fashion lost his mouthpiece in the process. That explosiveness, the contact balance and the speed are all back, after he was banged up for most of last season.
Sunday Night and Monday games in the comments!!
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