compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these e-mails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Los Angeles Rams 7 at Minnesota Vikings 24
Bryan Knowles: The Rams' early strategy against Minnesota's solid defense? Play-action, and plenty of it. No team has used play-action more effectively this year than the Rams (10.3 yards per play, the most in the league), and it helped them march down the field for a score on their opening drive. The Rams love the play-action screen play, which can be very effective against a defense that gets a ton of penetration early on. Minnesota hasn't been particularly bad against play-action this year, but they seemed a little lost on the opening drive. They'll have to tidy that up going forward.
On the ensuing drive, the Vikings start well, but a facemask call helps things sputter out, setting up a third-and-32 from midfield. That pretty much rules a first down out of the question, as they're not playing against the Giants, but you'd think a 15-yard pass into field goal range would be something worth trying, at least. Instead, Case Keenum throws a little give-up pass at the line of scrimmage, and nothing happens. Well, RIP Keenum's ALEX.
Aaron Schatz: Vikings just marched downfield -- well, not really all the way downfield; surprisingly short punt by Johnny Hekker from the end zone so it was only half the field. They finished it off with a Latavius Murray touchdown run right up the middle. I guess that's the thing about facing Aaron Donald in a 5-tech position. You let the guard take Donald all the way past the handoff, and you can just go up the middle without worrying about his awesomeness.
Vince Verhei: Very questionable coaching by both teams around that short Hekker punt. Rams had third-and-11 deep in their own territory, then called timeout with the play clock running down. Because third-and-16 deep in their own end would have been so much worse. Then they come out and give up a sack. Timeout: wasted.
Speaking of wasted timeouts, the Vikings take over on the Hekker punt, but they challenge the play, believing Hekker stepped out the back of the end zone for a safety. And on replay, Hekker wasn't close. There were several inches of purple between his shoes and the sideline. They would get a touchdown on the drive, but still. Challenge: wasted, and timeout: wasted.
Otherwise, these look like two first-place teams. There has been a lot of bad football in 2017, but this feels like two talented, well-built, well-managed teams.
Derrik Klassen: With the game sitting at 7-7 near the half, the Los Angeles Rams just marched down the field to ... fumble on the 1-yard line. Jared Goff found rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp inside the 10-yard line, but as Kupp made his way toward the goal line, he coughed up the ball. The Minnesota Vikings defense was able to recover and keep this game tied, at least for now.
Bryan Knowles: It was a great play by Anthony Harris to force the fumble, too, keeping Kupp upright for long enough to punch the ball out. It's Kupp's first career fumble, and it comes at a critical time. Both defenses are playing very well today, and you can't leave points on the field like that.
Vince Verhei: Rams have a first-and-15 at the two-minute warning. A failed screen loses 7 yards and the Rams call their last timeout. But it's their last timeout, and the Vikings are content to run twice and punt, and by the time the Rams get the ball back there are only nine seconds left in the half, and they just take a knee and bail. Those wasted timeouts to avoid delay-of-game fouls (that one I mentioned earlier before the punt, and another with about seven minutes left in the half) cost the Rams a scoring chance there.
Bryan Knowles: 7-7 at the half in this one, in what has been a bit of a strange game. The high-powered Rams offense (that still feels weird to type) was held to its lowest first-half total of the year. Honestly, Minnesota got a little lucky there -- not only did Kupp fumble on the goal line, but the Rams were short on timeouts at the end of the half thanks to blowing two trying to avoid delay of game penalties earlier in the half.
That's not to say Minnesota hasn't been doing well -- they have had the ball for longer, with more yards and first downs thanks in large part to some success on the ground -- but they have shot themselves in the foot with penalties and a missed field goal. Both defenses have been playing fantastically, and it feels like there's roughly no margin for error. I generally prefer offensive showcases, but a hard-hitting defensive battle like this can be one of the tensest things to watch in sports. Good stuff.
Interesting note: Kayvon Webster did not come out for the second half. He had left the field in the first half, but came back in later. Now, he's being evaluated for a concussion. Webster has been matched up with Stefon Diggs more often than not, and Diggs was targeted just one time in the first half, and that might well change now. Nickell Robey-Coleman is also doubtful to return with a thigh injury, so that's a couple injuries affecting the Rams' secondary. We'll see what the Vikings do to capitalize…
Oh my, Kai Forbath misses his second field goal of the day. Still a tie game; the Vikings are going to be kicking themselves. That's 13 points combined, for both teams, left on the board.
Aaron Schatz: Vikings defense really started getting to Jared Goff more in the second half. No more clean pockets. Both Goff and Keenum have made some bad throws under pressure, but nothing has been picked or really close to it.
Oh, and the Vikings just ran another one of those pointless "Wildcat" plays that isn't actually a Wildcat play. No fake, no play-action, no jet sweep action, no anything. Just Latavius Murray in the backfield by himself, running up into the line of scrimmage for a yard. What was the damn point?
Bryan Knowles: The Rams had four first downs on their first drive. They have had only seven the rest of the way. Mike Zimmer is dialing up a bunch of different ways to get pressure, bringing guys from different positions and different angles, and it's really helping keep the Rams in check. The Rams have been very good at avoiding pressure this year (eighth in the league this year after being 21st a year ago) which has helped Goff's development. The Vikings are destroying those clean pockets, and we're seeing more awkward passes and rushed decisions from Goff, especially in the second half.
The Rams should> have had another first down, but Kupp let a long completion go right through his hands. Not the simplest catch in the world to make, but something he should have come down with. Add in his fumble at the goal line, and this is turning into a day to forget for Kupp.
Derrik Klassen: Cooper Kupp again nixing a Rams opportunity. On third-and-10, Jared Goff threads a beautiful ball to Kupp on a corner route, but Kupp could not bring it in. It hit him right in the hands. Kupp has done some nice things as a rookie, but this is not the first time he has shot the Rams in the foot this year, and not even the first time today.
With Minnesota now in possession again, the game is 14-7 (Vikings) with 11 minutes left in the game.
Bryan Knowles: And THERE'S the game-breaking play we've been waiting for. UDFA Dominique Hatfield lets what should be a 1-yard gain turn into a 65-yard touchdown, as Adam Thielen runs right by him! There's the other shoe with Webster and Robey-Coleman out. Backbreaker.
Tom Gower: After they went straight down the field on the opening possession, the Rams had six first downs in their next seven (real) possessions. They had more than one first down and gained more than 27 net yards on one of those, the drive that ended with the fantastic Anthony Harris strip of Cooper Kupp just short of the end zone. Todd Gurley had four carries for 20 yards; he had 11 carries for 17 yards the rest of the game. The Rams were in third-and-long consistently, and Vikings have a pass rush. After Thielen smoked Hatfield for the score to make it 21-7, this one felt, and ended up being, very over.
Washington Redskins 31 at New Orleans Saints 34
Dave Bernreuther: The Washington defense, perhaps inspired by coordinator Greg Manusky's smedium t-shirt, has been in the Saints backfield quite a bit in the first two drives, making Drew Brees move off his spot and look a bit uncomfortable. So far he has underthrown a ball to Michael Thomas that was picked; missed a wide open Ted Ginn; and made a few poor throws. The Skins also blew up an end-around to Ginn for a huge loss, a play that was doomed from the start. I'm not really sure why the Saints felt the need to get cute, as their standard running game has been doing reasonably well so far. The tackles are really getting pushed around in pass protection though.
The blocking on Mark Ingram's touchdown run wasn't even that good. The pulling guard whiffed his block, but it looked like the Skins were all in the wrong gap or something. Ingram was in the second level immediately, made a guy miss, and was gone.
Andrew Potter: Sean Payton is often criticised for being "too cute" with his play calling -- Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have already mentioned that in the first quarter here. Sadly, it looks very much valid thus far. When the Saints simply hand off, they are getting consistent chunks of yardage, culminating in the Mark Ingram touchdown that tied the game at 10 just before the end of the first quarter. They have ended two drives, though, with frankly silly plays. On the opening drive, after a 4-yard rush, the Saints went five-wide and ran the Most Obvious Pick Play Ever -- two separate officials threw flags on Josh Hill, who threw a run block on Josh Norman 5 yards downfield. That set up the third-and-long interception, when Brees threw a duck down the left sideline to Michael Thomas, picked by D.J. Swearinger closing from centerfield. Then, on the field goal drive, the drive was basically ended by that terrible end-around to Ginn that lost 13 yards. Preston Smith had contain, never left his spot, and planted Ginn. Two self-inflicted wounds on those two drives.
Meanwhile, when they just hand off, their worst result so far is a 3-yard gain on first-and-10. They have only done that six times in their first 18 plays, because they keep putting themselves in a hole trying to get fancy.
Aaron Schatz: Does someone watching have a Marshon Lattimore injury update? We saw him go out when flipping on Red Zone but I don't know if he's come back.
Andrew Potter: It looks like a regular ankle sprain, that they showed being taped on the sideline. He's not with the trainers anymore, but isn't yet back on the field.
Bryan Knowles: Lattimore's not back in yet, but he's jogging a bit on the sideline. With Lattimore, A.J. Klein, and Kenny Vaccaro out, the Saints defense looks a little bit more like ... the Saints defense.
Dave Bernreuther: Piggybacking on what I said earlier about the Washington defense and Saints tackles, in the half-ending drive, we just saw what looked like a ball emerging on its own from a rugby scrum, as Brees somehow got rid of it while being essentially pancaked from both sides, throwing it up and over much taller men and very nearly still finding Alvin Kamara. He wasn't even visible in the traditional camera angle.
He has been OK when given time, though, and until that play their offense was looking strong on the drive. On the following play, though, a failed completion to Ginn, just shy of the sticks, led to a field goal that has to feel like a huge letdown with the Skins taking the second-half kickoff.
Scott Kacsmar: Redskins are only 4-5, but have played the No. 1 toughest schedule this season. Playing in New Orleans is another big challenge for this team, but the offense has moved the ball well and leads 17-13 at halftime. Washington already has road wins over the Seahawks and Rams this season. Played the Eagles (twice), Cowboys, and Chiefs tough. Seemingly starts every game strong. This wouldn't surprise me as an upset at all. It's purely coincidental since the coaching and players have changed so much, but Drew Brees has actually had some of his worst stats against Washington. In six games, he has eight touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He has been picked today, so the defense has gotten him in all seven meetings.
Andrew Potter: Halftime in New Orleans, Washington leads 17-13. For all of the concern about the defense losing Marshon Lattimore -- who has tried his ankle, but is back on the sideline and probably done for the day -- it's the running backs who are doing the damage for the visitors. Samaje Perine has a touchdown on the ground, Chris Thompson a touchdown through the air. Washington really should be further ahead, but blew their two-minute drill, working their way backwards from the Saints 32 to the 38 to turn a certain field goal attempt into a punt. That punt should have been fielded a the 1-yard line, but Joshua Holsey unnecessarily stepped back into the end zone before catching the ball to give the Saints a touchback.
On defense, Washington looks well drilled and sound. They have completely shut down the Saints' screens and misdirection game, forcing the Saints to play them straight-up. Bashaud Breeland in particular was a wrecking ball on the two-minute drive to end the half, blowing up Kamara on two of three straight targets before getting deep downfield in coverage on Michael Thomas. Ingram and Kamara have 80 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, while Brees is barely over 50 percent completions and has one bad pick, so the straight-ahead running game is still the most efficient path for the Saints offense at this point.
Dave Bernreuther: New Orleans' tackles are just getting slaughtered. Usually both at the same time too. And Brees knows it, which is affecting him because he has had open guys that he isn't seeing all of a sudden, which is not exactly his M.O.
I can't help but think that fourth-and-3 at midfield down two scores in the fourth quarter is not an opportune time to punt, and I'm more than a little surprised that Sean Payton decided to do so. Especially given the coverage lapses their defense has shown in the last few drives, including on the previous touchdown to Ryan Grant, who was so wide open that he was still able to score on a bad pressured throw from Cousins.
But nobody listen to me ... the Saints give up 9.75 yards in three plays and get the ball back with decent field position and still plenty of time on the clock.
A simple but very well executed play-action springs a guy named Sprinkle for an uncontested touchdown, and it looks like the Skins are going to win this. And for all I said earlier (EDITOR'S NOTE: See comments in Arizona-Houston game) about celebrations, I do have to tip my hat to Sprinkle for his sprinkling celebration.
Andrew Potter: Washington got their second completely uncontested touchdown reception of the half here to go up 31-16, and the Saints are in trouble. For all the warranted concern about the loss of Marshon Lattimore, the absence of A.J. Klein also looks key to this performance. Washington has consistently exploited the middle of the Saints defense, where Klein is certainly the best of the linebackers. Samaje Perine has ripped off more than 100 yards on 20-plus carries, consistently gaining yards after contact and falling forward at the end of his runs -- nothing especially spectacular, but solid between-the-tackles running. Klein is also the best of the linebackers in coverage, where Thompson and the tight ends have found some success.
On offense, Dave already noted the line's struggles in pass protection. They have had much more success on the ground, but are still running passes and gimmicks twice as often as they're handing off. Sometimes, it really is worth running the ball until the other team proves they can stop it, even with Drew Brees at quarterback. That said, they just drove 87 yards for a game-tying touchdown (with 2-point conversion), and made it look easy. Ball is in the hands of Kirk Cousins with a minute to drive for the win.
Washington blew this game with their end-of-half management in both halves. Turning their own field goal attempt into punt and allowing a Saints field-goal drive to end the first half was calamitous. Depriving themselves of a game-winning field goal attempt in the last minute despite having first-and-10 at the Saints' 34 was catastrophic. Then their overtime drive went drop-sack-drop, and the Saints -- whom I have criticised for not running the ball enough today -- picked up 51 yards on two handoffs to set up a Wil Lutz game-winner on first down. This goes in the books as an eighth straight win for New Orleans, but they should be sending the opposing squad a thank-you card for this one.
Arizona Cardinals 21 at Houston Texans 31
Dave Bernreuther: Tom Savage actually led a drive where he threw accurate passes and looked competent, and it led to a touchdown on a beautiful catch and toe placement by Lamar Miller, a running back. Which they then celebrated by using the football as the baton in a relay.
Maybe I'm just old and a curmudgeon (or maybe it's just that I grew up a Joe Morris fan), but I miss the draconian celebration rules. All these choreographed team celebrations are dumb. Act like you've been there.
Bryan Knowles: I'm pretty sure choreographed celebrations are all Houston fans have to look forward to for the rest of the season, so I'm all for them.
Aaron Schatz: I think the weird choreographed celebrations are kind of stupid. I miss choreographed dances. That's what I hated penalizing. Bring back the Dirty Bird. Bring back the Icky Shuffle.
Vince Verhei: Nah. I'm a fan of young men playing a game acting like young men playing a game.
Bryan Knowles: I just want to see a team, when they put up a 50-burger, have some continuity in their celebrations. Like, let's see some sort of ongoing plotline and character work here! Is that really so much to ask for?
Dave Bernreuther: I'm in favor of fun and games too, but the group celebrations all just seem so lame. I suppose I should find it charming that even the world's greatest athletes can be dorks too.
Plus at least it's not some stupid turnover chain...
The Cardinals had consecutive running plays blown up by Texans defenders that were so cleanly in the backfield that they may as well have lined up there. Adrian Peterson just gave himself up and let Jadeveon Clowney bear hug him.
Vince Verhei: In defense of Blaine Gabbert, he has never had a receiver as good as Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald one-on-one with any of Houston's corners is a mismatch, and Gabbert found that matchup for a touchdown to the left side. He had another touchdown to Ricky Seals-Jones, a highly rated recruit out of high school who never developed at Texas A&M, and whom the Cardinals have converted to tight end. Cardinals lead 14-10 at halftime on those two scores. I have two reactions.
1) Josh McCown is inactive today, which means the race for Worst Career Passing DYAR is going to be tight down the stretch.
2) As a Seahawks fan, I can't think of anything much funnier than the idea of Gabbert getting hot for six weeks and fooling the Cardinals into giving him a multi-year deal.
The Texans see your Larry Fitzgerald and raise you one DeAndre Hopkins. A big chunk of the Houston offense has been shallow crossing routes, and Hopkins finally caught one and turned it into a big gain, a 34-yard gain to convert a third-and-8. Next play, Hopkins takes Patrick Peterson deep. Maybe the NFL's best cornerback has tight, physical coverage, but Hopkins is able to fight him off and get a half-step behind him. Savage, to his credit, fit the ball into a tight window, and it's a 28-yard touchdown. That somewhat negates the tip-drill interception Peterson had earlier.
Rivers McCown: I will give Bill O'Brien credit: This offense has been revamped this week. Savage has not been asked to drop back and hold the ball very long. The run action wrinkles from the Watson days are back, to some positive effect even with Savage being a statue. The only reason the Cardinals are in this is that Savage is still Savage and popped out his league-high sixth fumble recovered by the defense. And was also picked.
Jacksonville Jaguars 19 at Cleveland Browns 7
Dave Bernreuther: Blake Bortles is playing like he wants Scott to be right in his upset pick. Is it really that cold up there, or he just being Bortles? Early in the first he threw a pass of maybe 4 air yards that looked more like a kick, end over end, than a throw, and just now he threw a screen pass off a defender's knee.
This is the kind of game a top-tier team should win in convincing fashion. Like when they stomped the Colts. I root for their rival, think Doug Marrone is a buffoon, and their uniforms are an eyesore, but as a fan of football I really was hoping that the Jags being good would be a real thing. Like the Rams. It's pretty upsetting that they're not. And this team is almost a lock for the playoffs already. (Who's excited for January Bortles time?) Much to the chagrin of most of America it's looking like either they or whichever weak five seed beats them will essentially grant New England another bye in the divisional round. One of these days the AFC ought to actually make it sort-of challenging for the Pats to get to the Super Bowl.
Vince Verhei: The Browns had three completions in the first half. Three. That's partly because the Jaguars defense is unreal, partly because DeShone Kizer is not very good, and partly because the Browns receivers are dropping a lot of passes. So they come out in the second half and run the ball twice -- and then pass the ball four straight times. One of those was caught, two were dropped, and the other was inaccurate. Browns punt.
Even if the Browns do wind up winless this year, they will have a building block for 2018. This defensive front is legit. They have held the Jaguars to 83 yards on 25 carries (with 29 yards on one Leonard Fournette run). This has put Blake Bortles in plenty of third-and-longs, which has been a formula for success for an entire generation of NFL football now. They just forced a three-and-out, but Jabrill Peppers fumbles the punt return back to the Jaguars. (That's Peppers' third fumble this year, which is a serious problem.) But with the Jaguars in field goal range, the Browns front steps up again: pressure and incomplete on first down, 4-yard run on second down, and Christian Kirksey with the sack and forced fumble on third down. Myles Garrett recovers the ball to end the Jacksonville scoring threat and keep it at 10-7.
I've said this before, but it bears repeating: DeShone Kizer's bad interceptions are SO bad. He had a clean pocket and open receiver on a short out route maybe 5 yards downfield, but he just air-mailed the ball over the dude's head, and A.J. Bouye, covering a different receiver downfield, snagged the ball before it hit the ground. The Browns defense is starting to wear down -- the Jaguars have run more than 70 plays now -- and they gave up a few first downs, but no big plays, and the Jaguars had to settle for another field goal. Down 13-7, the Browns can still win this thing with a touchdown, and they are driving -- Kizer hit Duke Johnson for a 21-yard catch-and-run at the two-minute warning. Browns have the ball at the Jacksonville 40 with all three timeouts left.
Dave Bernreuther: ... but they are still the Browns, and Kizer is still bad, so a sack and fumble ends any hope they had. Browns stay winless, and the mighty Jaguars are presently the AFC third seed.
Vince Verhei: ... and on third down, Kizer is sacked and fumbles. Jacksonville recovers and should have a clinching touchdown, but Kizer was ruled down on the field. Replay reverses the call to a fumble and Jacksonville recovery, but they can't give the Jaguars the return. Browns use their timeouts and force a punt, and after the ball goes into the end zone, they take over at their own 20 with more than a minute to go. This is somehow still a contest.
... and then on first down, Yannick Ngakoue zips around left end and swats the ball out of Kizer's hand, and the Jaguars eventually fall on it and get their touchdown anyway. Two-pointer fails, but 19-7 may as well be 190-7 for this team.
Jaguars had five sacks today and now have 40 before Thanksgiving. Only seven teams had 40 sacks in all of 2016.
Bryan Knowles: So, in the race to see which team is eliminated from the playoffs first, the Browns can be mathematically knocked out if the Bills beat the Chargers in the late games. If that doesn't happen, the 49ers can be knocked out if the Seahawks beat the Falcons on Monday Night. Exciting stuff! Kind of!
Detroit Lions 27 at Chicago Bears 24
Scott Kacsmar: Chicago's front seven is impressive, but that secondary still leaves a lot to be desired. Lions used some play-action to get their wideouts wide open down the field for two big plays. Kenny Golladay, who has the potential to be another one of those mid-round studs, had a 40-yard gain. Marvin Jones got free on a double-move for a touchdown. Marcus Cooper has been around a few teams in his brief career, but not exactly a starter-quality cornerback.
Aaron Schatz: Bears just ran a hilarious defensive scheme when Lions had third-and-11 from the 13. They rushed three and had eight guys all the way back on the goal line from the moment the ball was snapped. Like Hail Mary but with only 13 yards to go.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 at Miami Dolphins 20
Zach Binney: With seven minutes left in the second quarter, the Buccaneers managed to accumulate three separate penalties on a punt return. Chop block, block in the back, and I think holding? Not sure I've ever seen that before.
This concludes your highlights from Tampa Bay-Miami. Back to you in ... anywhere else. Just go watch another game.
Dave Bernreuther: What are you talking about, Zach? Jay Cutler's three first-half picks (one on a tip drill) are also highlight reel plays.
Zach Binney: And Jarvis Landry just fumbled (on a great hit by a Tampa defender), so that's FOUR turnovers for the Dolphins in the first half. At this point just ending a drive in a punt would be a huge victory for them.
Dave Bernreuther: And we have a Matt Moore sighting! See, excitement in Miami!
Somehow this team is still a playoff contender in the AFC.
Naturally he immediately leads a scoring drive and we're one Ryan Fitzpatrick miscue from a close game again.
Zach Binney: Controversial call in the fourth quarter on a possible safety. Ryan Fitzpatrick is hit at about the half-yard line by his own lineman, driven back into the end zone, and sacked. But they rule him down at about the half-yard line (where he appeared to be hit by his own lineman), and the call stands despite a Miami challenge. To me it looked like Fitzpatrick wasn't touched by Miami until he was fully back in the end zone, but I'm not certain enough of the goal line rules to say I'm 100 percent sure that was a safety.
Dave Bernreuther: Tampa kicks a field goal with four seconds left to win it. 23-20 ... BUT WAIT. The Dolphins run a poorly planned lateral play ending in a blind heave with no time left. It lands in the end zone, the Bucs recover, and the over/under of 43.5 is passed in a 30-20 Bucs victory.
I can only imagine how that must feel for gamblers.
Baltimore Ravens 23 at Green Bay Packers 0
Dave Bernreuther: Was it Dennis Pitta that mentioned the one-read offense earlier this week? Thus far he's spot on. The Hide-the-Quarterback offense remains in effect in Green Bay, where the elite one is throwing short and managing an offense that has mustered six points despite two turnovers and some good field position. At 13-of-17, somehow he is still under 6 yards per attempt, and somehow that's still an improvement over his usual day.
Vince Verhei: Ravens lead 6-0 at halftime. Packers turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions -- two easy interceptions for Baltimore (one Brett Hundley threw a pass into a crowd in the end zone, one where the receiver fell down) and a Devante Mays fumble. Ravens haven't turned those into touchdowns though, mainly because Joe Flacco has thrown a red zone interception of his own, and also because his 13 completions have gained less than 100 yards. About what you'd expect between two backup quarterbacks.
Dave Bernreuther: Brett Hundley just scrambled and ate the ball and took a sack ... on fourth down. He had all day to try to make something happen, too.
I can't be the only person surprised that McCarthy went for that one though, down 13-0 with most of a half left. Where were those balls in the 2014 playoffs, Mike?
The punt following the ensuing three-and-out is one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in a while. Baltimore punted from the 48, Sam Koch dropped it in a bucket, and Maurice Canady was there to down it inside the 1. Except he jumped to avoid the goal line and somehow managed not to touch the ball at all.
Which you'd think was a bad thing, except it bounced straight up, came back to earth, and promptly died without even a tiny second hop or roll. A second Ravens player came skidding past and also missed downing the ball (although this one appeared to be a lot more intentional) before it was finally blown dead.
At which point they ruled it a touchback. Harbaugh challenged. It appeared clear that nobody ever touched it ... and the refs upheld the touchback.
Who knows. This is what passes for excitement when you're stuck with Miami as the local broadcast, I guess. And/or when there have been three more punts since that one happened, just while I've been typing.
McCarthy just went for another fourth down at the 36. Again I'm surprised. Again they fail, though, so those two results probably mean we won't see him do anything smart again for another year or so.
Kansas City Chiefs 9 at New York Giants 12
Scott Kacsmar: I remember looking into Andy Reid's post-bye week career in January, and it wasn't as impressive as the 16-2 record suggests. However, down 6-3 in the third quarter to the lowly Giants looks really bad and surprising. I saw the tipped interception on that shovel pass that set up the Giants with a short field, but the overall lack of offensive success is surprising. Have to think Chiefs get it going in the second half while the Giants really need those takeaways to pull off the upset. Then again, maybe don't call on Shane Vereen to throw a pass (picked off) the next time you have a chance to score a touchdown.
Dave Bernreuther: I know it's windy, but I feel like we're watching the old Alex Smith again. Which makes that team a whole lot easier to defend.
They're certainly not helping things, though, by forgoing a quick shot at the end zone after Smith stupidly took a hit in bounds on a useless scramble instead of throwing it away with six seconds left. To be fair, it should have been first-and-goal on the 1, as Travis Kelce got mugged the play before, but still, that's awful awareness. The Chiefs play for the tie, and the post-bye Andy Reid team is lucky they haven't already lost to the 1-9 team that quit on its coach a month ago.
Aaron Schatz: Well, Chiefs-Giants got into overtime and we ended up with the Giants facing either a fourth-and-5 or a 53-yard field goal into the wind. And they chose to go for it, and the Chiefs sent a zero blitz. It did not get home fast enough. Eli Manning flung it into the air right before the free blitzer got to him and Roger Lewis made a ridiculous catch WHILE being interfered with. Looks like Giants are going to win this thing with a field goal in the next minute or so.
Vince Verhei: Holy crap the end of this game. The Chiefs get the ball first in overtime but fail to score. The Giants then have a fourth-and-5 at the Kansas City 36. That would be a 53-yard field goal, and Aldrick Rosas has already missed an extra point today, so they go for it. And Eli Manning lobs it deep to Roger Lewis. Phillip Gaines tackles Lewis and it's clearly pass interference inside the 10, but Lewis makes an amazing one-handed sliding catch anyway, and gets up and runs into the end zone for what looks like a winning touchdown. He's called down on the field, and replay confirms. It looks like they blow the spot and grant New York a few extra yards, but that's splitting hairs really. Manning kneels to put the ball in the middle of the field, and Rosas kicks a field goal to win the game for New York. That was a really, really gutsy fourth-down call, putting the game in the hands of a little-used second-year guy, but it worked out for them.
Buffalo Bills 24 at Los Angeles Chargers 54
Bryan Knowles: While we're all watching those three close early-game finishes, Nathan Peterman starts his career 2-for-5 with two interceptions #FreeTyrod
Vince Verhei: Yeah, but Tyrod Taylor can't find open receivers. Peterman can find them and throw interceptions in their direction. That's better. It's science.
(I didn't see either of these picks but that seems like the kind of thing a lot of Buffalo defenders said this week.)
Bryan Knowles: To be entirely fair to Peterman, the first interception bounced off of Patrick DiMarco's hands. To also be entirely fair, the second one came when he was about to take a safety and hurled the ball up for grabs.
Rivers McCown: That Feeling When your offense involves fullback passes in 2017.
Bryan Knowles: Hey, we're still voting for Pro Bowl fullbacks in 2017, so gotta get those stats up!
Andrew Potter: We've had one pick that goes on the receiver, and one pick that goes on the quarterback, so it must be time for a pick that goes on the offensive line. Buffalo's right tackle chooses to block an outside rusher instead of JOEY BOSA, and Bosa hits Peterman as he throws, turning a deep shot into a wounded duck that drops into the hands of Tre Boston. Boston, you may recall, was the main beneficiary of Blake Bortles' generosity last Sunday afternoon. The fourth-year safety, formerly of the Panthers, has doubled his career interception tally in his past two quarters of play, and probably won't ever see a friendlier stretch of opposing quarterbacking.
OK, seriously Buffalo, you're going to destroy this rookie in his first-ever start. That's his fourth interception in his first nine passes. Is there any way we can maybe just admit this was a bad idea and put Tyrod Taylor back in?
Bryan Knowles: The last time a quarterback threw four interceptions in the first half was 2007, when Peyton Manning did it against the San Diego Chargers. Manning turned out alright, so maybe it's not all gloom for Nathan Peterman. Right? Right?
Derrik Klassen: I honestly feel bad for Nathan Peterman. It's not his fault he is the collateral damage in this Tyrod Taylor narrative/debate. Granted, Peterman is playing as bad as he possibly could thus far, but it is magnified by how mystifying it is that he is playing to begin with. Just a weird, weird situation.
Bryan Knowles: You're right in that we shouldn't mock Peterman. All the mockery -- or, at least, 90 percent of it -- should be on Buffalo's front office for forcing this move. Peterman is clearly not ready, Taylor is a solid (if not great) NFL quarterback, the Bills were still in the playoff hunt ... this is just baffling.
FIVE interceptions in the first half. The NFL record for a game is eight. They have to pull Peterman before it gets there ... right?
Aaron Schatz: Can we just run a Week in Quotes of the things Buffalo fans tweeted at me over the last few days?
Vince Verhei: While most are wondering if Peterman will be benched for Taylor, Chargers beat writers are asking if Philip Rivers will be taken out and Cardale Jones will be put back in. Let me tell you something: if Cardale Jones throws a touchdown against Buffalo while Tyrod Taylor is benched and Nathan Peterman is doing whatever it is he's doing today, I will never stop laughing.
Bryan Knowles: Tyrod Taylor is in. Boo! I wanted to see records fall. Live with your Peterman decision, Buffalo!
Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Denver Broncos 17
Vince Verhei: Well, plenty of excitement early in this one. Broncos get great field position off a blocked punt. They turn it into a third down inside the 5, and they try the Seahawks Super Bowl pick play. If Russell Wilson couldn't make that play work, then Brock Osweiler likely can't either. Sure enough, Dre Kirkpatrick intercepts it and returns it 100 yards, but does not score -- he bobbles the ball untouched in the open field, and though he reels it in, he is brought down at the 1. Fortunately for him, Andy Dalton hits Tyler Kroft on a bootleg pass on third down for the touchdown. But obviously nothing is going to be easy in this game, and the Bengals miss the extra point and still lead just 6-0.
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C.J. Anderson doing a lot to put Denver back on top. He broke tackles in the backfield on a fourth-and-2 conversion, and then broke more tackles on a 3-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. That fourth-down conversion was set up by a third-down Osweiler scramble, where he took a big hit and still came up 2 yards short of the conversion. Bad decision there. Worse decision later in the drive -- with defenders all over him, he spun around and threw a duck of a pass very short and very high right in the middle of the field. He got very lucky that no Bengals were there to intercept it, but it was such a horrible pass the home crowd booed anyway. This game is good for some laughs, if nothing else.
And Andy Dalton quickly answers. Deep ball to Brandon LaFell down the left sideline for 29 yards and should have been more, but LaFell stepped out of bounds. Then another deep ball to the left, and Alex Erickson beats Bradley Roby for a 29-yard touchdown, the first touchdown catch of his career. I had to look Erickson up -- that was his first touchdown catch, but he led the league in kickoff return yards last year, and leads the league in both punt returns and kickoff returns this year. Also, there's no way he's more than 10 years old.
Rob Weintraub: Erickson is the rare case where the Bengals value production over draft status or sanctified "he knows the system" veterans. Erickson just made too many plays in preseason and training camp to be denied a roster spot, and has now blossomed some beyond special teams ace too.
Vince Verhei: Brandon McManus hits from 61 at the end of the half, but dammit, Marvin Lewis iced him, and the second try is blocked. So Bengals lead 13-7 at halftime.
Not much else to say I haven't covered already. Just two bad teams trading short gains and punts. Osweiler has officially been sacked twice but it feels like he has been under pressure a lot more than that.
Andrew Potter: With Tyrod Taylor now in the game down 40-10, and New England-Oakland a blacked-out blowout, I'm forced in the direction of Broncos-Bengals. First impression: if ever a game would benefit from the teams wearing their color rush uniforms, it's this one. There's too much orange-and-white standing out on both sides, and after the snap it gets very messy. The Bengals uniforms are naturally hideous no matter what, but Denver looked so much better with the heavy navy look of the Jake Plummer era. Sadly, their color rush uniforms double down on the orange instead of the navy.
Second impression: Brock Osweiler returning "home" this season has been about as magical as it sounds.
Rivers McCown: Andy Dalton takes a horrific sack on third down to put the Bengals out of tying field goal range late in the third quarter. One of those where he literally turned around mid-play to see if the guy behind him was free, realized he was, then promptly ate it. We knew before the season that his under-pressure stats were bad, but it seems like this year it's to the point where he's now anticipating pressure that doesn't even exist. It's been a rough watch.
Vince Verhei: 13-10 Bengals at the end of the third and I'm starting to nod off. Both quarterbacks are under 6 yards per pass. Bengals are under 2 yards per rush. Broncos have 108 rushing yards but nothing longer than 12. It's two boxers going through a feeling-out process for 12 full rounds. Paxton Lynch is active today. His presence would at least be something interesting to talk about, but aside from that one giant interception Osweiler hasn't been so terrible that he's likely to be pulled, just a soft kind of lousy.
Rob Weintraub: When the chips were down the Bengals suspended stars made plays. Vontaze Burfict forced a fumble, and then A.J. Green beat Bradley Roby for a touchdown on a nice back-shoulder throw from Dalton to make it 20-10.
Denver got a score right back on a pass from Osweiler to Demaryius Thomas, and it seemed Cincy was poised to blow another late lead on the road.
But ... Osweiler. Four-and-out and the Bengals hold on for a costly win come draft day.
Andrew Potter: The Broncos got the ball back trailing by three with two minutes left. They didn't even manage a first down, mainly because Osweiler took a lengthy, slow, cumbersome, laborious, leaden-footed, ponderous 7-yard sack on second-and-10. Despite the close score, there never looked to be any chance of Denver winning this. Even the great touchdown to Demaryius Thomas was more like something out of a Geico "surprising" skit than an actual, repeatable football play.
Rob Weintraub: By the way that's the first time Cincy has won at Denver since ... 1975. Yep, the Ford Administration.
Bengals are one game out of the playoff chase. If only they could've stopped the Titans at the end last we--
NO! Stop that train of thought this instant!
Vince Verhei: Heh. That game was November 9, 1975. I was born October 10, 1975. So it's not quite the first Bengals win in Denver in my lifetime, but it's close.
Scott Kacsmar: My apologies to Aaron for insisting that Denver should finish above Houston in projected wins this year. Not that we could have predicted things like the rise and fall of Deshaun Watson, or that Brock bloody Osweiler would be starting again for Denver, but it has been a brutal six-game losing streak for the Broncos.
New England Patriots 33 'at' Oakland Raiders 8 (Mexico City)
Aaron Schatz: Patriots are playing this game with a lot of extra injuries but we're not seeing it so far. Ted Karras has been very good in his first-ever start at center for the ill David Andrews. The Raiders don't have very good defensive tackles, so the degree of difficulty isn't too high, but he looks good. LaAdrian Waddle got hurt so the Pats are now down to their third-string right tackle, Cameron Fleming. He gave up a sack very quickly. But otherwise the Raiders just have very little pass rush. 23rd in pressure rate by Sports Info Solutions charting. Khalil Mack has 26 hurries, and nobody else is over 11. It's a one-man show. Block that one guy, and your quarterback has all the time he wants.
Bryan Knowles: Tom Brady is putting on a passing clinic for the Mexican fans. 9-for-9 on the Pats first drive leading to a touchdown. The Raiders are starting rookie Obi Melifonwu at cornerback; Melifonwu is a safety and matching him up against Brandin Cooks might be something the Patriots look at a couple times today. Just possibly.
Melifonwu has already asked to be taken out of the game, though not because of Cooks -- it's the high elevation causing him to have trouble breathing. Mexico City is more than 2,000 feet higher than Denver, which is about the only reason I can think of why the NFL doesn't play more games there; it's closer and more convenient than London and there are a ton of NFL fans in Mexico who'd love more games there.
Aaron Schatz: Two notes on Mexico City. First, it will be interesting to see when we get to the fourth quarter how much of an advantage the Patriots got from practicing all week in Colorado. Second, there's another reason why the NFL doesn't play more games in Mexico: Fan base doesn't have the same level of discretionary income. I think that's part of the reason why they don't think of putting a team there full-time. You wouldn't have the issues London would have as far as time change, jet lag, how to try out free agents during the season, and so forth. But I don't know if the fans can pay as much for tickets and merchandise, or if corporations can pay as much for the luxury boxes. Can you make up that income difference because a team in Mexico City would essentially become the home team for the entire country as far as merchandise and rights fees are concerned?
Dave Bernreuther: I can't be the only one that was rooting for the Pats to deliberately take a delay of game penalty just to attempt a 67-yard field goal instead of 62-yarder.
Aaron Schatz: The Raiders finally had a drive where they moved the ball consistently down the field, mostly with runs. The running game is breaking nice holes for the backs. But the passing game is all short stuff. Is Derek Carr even able to throw downfield to someone who is not Johnny Holton? Carr has only three "deep" passes in the first half, with only one completion (to Jared Cook) and the pick on a pass intended for Holton. Sixty-five passing yards in a half. Blech.
Bryan Knowles: If Roberts doesn't fumble there, we might have had a game in Mexico City. 14-7 at the half? I could get behind that. Instead, we have a 17-0 Patriots lead. As Aaron says, Carr doesn't throw downfield, either due to the design of Oakland's offense or his own conservatism, which makes it a little hard to put together a comeback. The Raiders need the Patriots to miss a step to come back here, and they're not missing any steps today. This one feels over.
Tom Gower: The Raiders pass defense is awful against, well, most types of receivers, but including running backs and tight ends. Tom Brady has 201 yards passing in the first half, and the Patriots have 17 points on four possessions, one of which started at their own 7 with :33 to go in the first half (that one ended in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal from 62 yards that would've been good from longer than that). Oakland's offense has made just enough mistakes that they haven't put any points on the scoreboard, in the manner that the Oakland offense has this season (they feel like they're not close to fourth in offensive DVOA), and thus it's 17-0 at the half despite the fine job of limiting the overall number of possessions.
Rivers McCown: I don't know that a team in the NFL has gotten less with more to work with than Oakland's offense this year. I know you have to protect Carr for him to work optimally, but he can hit deep balls; it seems like the offensive line is having a good year; the receivers are drop-prone but good at getting open … and this team is wildly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis even with all this going in their favor.
This defense is a cakewalk for Brady.
Scott Kacsmar: Make that 11 games in a row (starting with January's playoff loss in Houston) for Oakland's defense without an interception. There hasn't been a streak like that in the NFL since before World War II started. If the rest of the AFC West wasn't on the decline, I think we'd hear a lot more "Del Rio has to go" talk. Still might get to that point if things don't get better here. It's not that surprising to see the defense struggle, but this is comically bad, and the offense has been a huge disappointment.
Philadelphia Eagles 37 at Dallas Cowboys 9
Aaron Schatz: We know the Cowboys offense is going to suffer with no Zeke Elliott or Tyron Smith, but why is the Eagles offense struggling so much tonight? A couple of obvious drops, but I'm not sure what else is going on.
Carl Yedor: A big contributing factor to Philly's offensive struggles is likely that they are 0-for-5 on third down this far. On their opening touchdown drive, that situation never came into play, but since then the Cowboys have been stout in higher leverage situations. Not sure if Dallas is doing anything special or if the Eagles have just failed to convert on every third down thus far. If it's the latter, Philly fans likely have less to be worried about moving forward.
Scott Kacsmar: Thought it might be a shootout early, but a lot of inaccurate throws and pass break-ups followed. Eagles haven't really tried to get the running game going, while Prescott has had tunnel vision for Dez Bryant despite only hitting 4-of-10 targets for 26 yards.
Carl Yedor: And after going 0-for-5 in the first half, the Eagles convert two third downs on their first drive of the third quarter and look very potent in the process of scoring their second touchdown of the day. Two-point conversion is good, putting Philadelphia up 15-9.
Aaron Schatz: Dallas run defense also completely disappeared in the second half.
Zach Binney: There has been a fun little natural experiment in the second half. Unfortunately the Eagles' kicker is out with a head injury, but Doug Pederson's response has been to go for two after every touchdown and go for it on fourth down when they might otherwise kick a field goal. The results through the third quarter: 2-for-3 on 2-point conversions and a touchdown after going for it on fourth-and-5 from around the Dallas 20. Obviously it's only one team and one quarter, but it's resulted in a net gain of 5 points. So that has been fun.
Charles McDonald: How valuable is Sean Lee? I know that he's one of the best linebackers in the league, but they just completely fall apart without him. Guys are misaligned, blowing coverages, and missing tackles. It's interesting thinking about the value that we usually place on middle linebackers and the value that the elite ones tangibly bring.
Aaron Schatz: I'm Luke Kuechly and I approve this message.
Tom Gower: The Eagles have outscored the Cowboys 28-0 in the second half (now with roughly 9 minutes to play), and Carson Wentz is 1-of-3 for 6 yards on first- and second-down passes on their three touchdown drives. He has been lights out on third downs, but I always worry about superlative third-down performance when there's not an obvious scheme-related explanation for why third downs should be completely different (see Titans/Mularkey).
Rivers McCown: The Cowboys are broken.