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 emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails 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.
Kansas City Chiefs 31 at New York Jets 38
Bryan Knowles: Andy Reid gave up play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, and all of a sudden, the Chiefs offense explodes into life. Less than five minutes into the game, the Chiefs have roared into a 14-0 lead. Yes, it's only the Jets, but the Chiefs were getting nothing against anybody for the past six weeks. I wonder if these were part of the scripted 15 plays -- Andy Reid is one of the devotees of that practice -- and if they were, who scripted them? The early strategy is "throw the ball to Travis Kelce; the Jets can't cover him." Two touchdowns later…
Scott Kacsmar: One offensive touchdown in a little over eight quarters, but two within five minutes today. Definitely an interesting change, but had to expect it a little with how good this offense was earlier this season. The Jets also really struggle in the secondary, and it's amusing that Darrelle Revis, for the Chiefs, was made a captain today. The Jets are moving the ball well too in what could be a shootout. Nice quarterback sneak by Josh McCown on fourth down.
Rob Weintraub: Mayhem in the Meadowlands -- Marcus Peters just protested an admittedly shoddy call by taking the ref's hanky and hurling it deep into the stands. Not sure I've seen that before.
Bryan Knowles: What are the Chiefs doing?! Jets score to take the lead, but fail on the two-point conversion. The Chiefs were caught holding in the end zone, however, and were flagged. Marcus Peters than TOOK that flag, and tossed it into the stands! He then was tossed from the game, as you might expect.
There was also roughing the passer on the play, but at least that was a football play.
Rob Weintraub: Jets get it on take two, lead 38-31.
This wild sequence all started when the Chiefs committed a personal foul on a chip-shot field goal by the Jets, giving them a first down inside the 5. The Jets then ran nine plays to score with another penalty in there. The net effect was that not only did the Jets score but they ran the clock down, which means that Chiefs now have one drive to get a touchdown to tie the game.
- Delay of game on Jets.
- Run on first down.
- Run on second down.
- Incomplete on third down.
- Field goal is good, but Bennie Logan is flagged for unnecessary roughness, so the Jets get a first-and-goal at the 1.
- Run for a loss.
- Run for no gain.
- Incomplete on third down, but Steven Nelson is flagged for holding, so the Jets get a first-and-goal at the 3.
- Run on first down.
- Run on second down.
- Josh McCown scores a 1-yard touchdown on a sneak. But we're not done yet.
- Going for two, McCown scrambles and completes a pass short of the end zone. But Nelson is flagged for holding AGAIN. Marcus Peters then picks up the flag and throws it into the stands, which is a foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.
- With the ball at the 1, Elijah McGuire runs it in from one to put the Jets up 38-31 with 2:15 to go.
Bryan Knowles: A slight update -- Marcus Peters was NOT ejected, per the NFL. He just walked off the field and back to the locker room on his own accord. That ... that might be worse.
Vince Verhei: This is your reminder that even though Peters was a first-round talent, Chris Petersen threw him off the team at Washington in the middle of the season for disciplinary reasons. He's a headcase.
Peters started to undress in the locker room, was told he was not ejected, and ran back onto the field without his socks on. This game is all kinds of stupid.
And appropriately, the Chiefs reach the red zone on a big play by Tyreek Hill, but Alex Smith's third-down pass is nearly intercepted, and his fourth-down pass lands softly on the turf with no receiver in sight, and that's ballgame.
Aaron Schatz: May have to bring back that "stupidest moment of the year" FO award for Marcus Peters without socks. Man, have the Chiefs just IMPLODED.
Vince Verhei: John Morton is clearly the Coordinator of the Year, right? Nobody wanted any of the quarterbacks or receivers on the roster. Everyone was talking about 0-16. But he's got them in the third quartile of the league in points scored and offensive DVOA, and they might even be in the top half after this weekend. Mostly he has performed a miracle with McCown, who is somehow having one of his best seasons at age 38. I mean, at this point, I wouldn't be shocked if McCown was starting somewhere in 2018.
San Francisco 49ers 15 at Chicago Bears 14
Bryan Knowles: The first interception of Jimmy Garoppolo's career comes on … a completion to Louis Murphy, to be quite frank. The throw was on target, Murphy was hauling in the pass, but Kyle Fuller came over and ripped the ball free. That one might get taken away when we do our adjusted interceptions, methinks. So far, the one word I'd pick to describe Garoppolo's debut is "fluid" -- in that it feels like the 49ers' offense is somewhat connected, with plays leading into one another quickly, rather than being a bunch of discrete plays with no relation to one another. If Carlos Hyde wasn't having a bad day -- a dropped pass, a bobbled exchange, being in the wrong location on a screen -- this would almost be an NFL offense. Baby steps.
Living in the Chicago area, I had gotten the impression that Kyle Fuller was the worst football player in recorded history – or, at least, that's what you'd think if you listened to sports talk radio. He's having a heck of a game today, though – not only did he have the big interception, which led to the Bears touchdown, but had a great touchdown-saving tackle on Carlos Hyde as well. I mention this because the rest of the Bears defense is doing roughly bupkis. After the 49ers let C.J. Beathard get nailed 52 times in his five starts, they've so far kept the pocket clean for Garoppolo today. Some of that is Garoppolo handling the few cases of pressure better. More of that is Chicago's inability to beat San Francisco's piecemeal line.
Tarik Cohen ran back a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown on a play where he ran about 161 yards. He went backwards, he reversed field, he looped around, and finally found a seam. Up to that point, the 49ers had allowed 61 punt return yards all season. Cohen's pretty good, I guess. First rookie with a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown, passing touchdown, and punt return touchdown in the same year since Gale Sayers in 1965.
Scott Kacsmar: That was a sweet punt return touchdown by Tarik Cohen. I guess you still have to criticize the guy as a coach when he runs backwards like that, but when you have so much speed and talent that you can still make it into a long touchdown, the criticism should be light at best. That return combined with San Francisco's ball control that's led to field goals has only led to 16 offensive snaps in the first half for the Bears. They already came into today ranked 31st in offensive plays per game.
Bryan Knowles: At the half, the 49ers have 140 more yards than the Bears, 10 minutes of extra time of possession, and eight extra first downs … and are trailing, 14-9. Turnovers, special teams, penalties (six for 43 yards) and lack of execution in the red zone, the Four Horsemen of Bad Football Teams.
Dave Bernreuther: The Bears are actively making the third-rounder they're giving San Francisco for Trubisky worse ... by beating them in a game with a special teams touchdown and six passing attempts at the half.
Bryan Knowles: As good as Gould, and better. Garoppolo and the 49ers put together a 14-play, 86-yard drive, allowing Robbie Gould to kick his fifth field goal of the day for the win. It'd be nice if they could discover a way into the end zone, but hey. They're already carving Garoppolo's bust for Canton in the Bay Area. Not a bad debut, albeit against a pretty bad Bears team.
Minnesota Vikings 14 at Atlanta Falcons 9
Charles McDonald: Falcons have played well so far. Moved the chains effectively on their first drive (including a fourth-down conversion) and forced two Minnesota punts. Through about one quarter, they've help up their strong play from the past few weeks.
Carl Yedor: Confusing end-of-half time management here. Minnesota runs a going-nowhere draw on first down from deep in their own end, lets a ton of time burn off the clock, and then decides suddenly that they do actually want to try and score. They run out of timeouts with 12 seconds left and the ball on the 50. Minnesota then completes the ball over the middle to get into field goal range, but time runs out well before they can get to the line to spike the ball. I understand being concerned with Atlanta's offense and not wanting to allow the Falcons time for a drive of their own. But Atlanta's ranked 26th in defensive DVOA. You're probably going to be able to move the ball on them. Hindsight is 20/20, but playing conservative cost the Vikings a shot at three points there.
Vince Verhei: I got off to a late start today so I don't have a ton to say about the first half of the early games, but I've been impressed by both teams in this game. There's a lot of bad football being played this time of year, and the team I watch most, the Seahawks, are a good team that plays ugly games. This has been what football is supposed to look like -- good defenses that are pressuring the offenses and not giving up anything easy, but offenses that are avoiding mistakes making some difficult plays when given the chance. I understand there have been some big drops and blown coverages that I've missed, but from what I've seen these look like two deserving playoff teams.
Bryan Knowles: One big positive for Atlanta: they're keeping Adam Thielen in check. Just three targets on the day, despite him being Case Keenum's most-targeted receiver this season. Michael Floyd has stepped up somewhat to fill in the gap, but Thielen has been so productive the last four weeks, and Atlanta's pass defense is only so-so, that I'm surprised he hasn't been more of a factor in this one so far. Stick a pin in it, I suppose.
I really thought this game would have more offense, in general. A good game, but a surprising one.
Really, really impressive drive by Minnesota to take the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. A 15-play, 89-yard drive taking over half a quarter; just methodically marching down the field and taking whatever they needed, ending in a Kyle Rudolph touchdown. That's more of what I was expecting; that's good football, there.
Vince Verhei: Case Keenum hits Kyle Rudolph for a 6-yard touchdown that puts the Vikings up 14-9. Drive covered 15 plays, 89 yards, and more than eight minutes of clock, and included three third-down conversions. They're now 5-of-9 on third downs today, while limiting Atlanta to 1-of-8 on third downs. (The Falcons also converted their one fourth-down try.) And that has been the story for Minnesota all year. Coming into the week, their offense was second in third-down conversion rate at 46 percent, and their defense was first at 29 percent allowed. The DVOA rankings aren't quite as extreme -- they're third on third-down offense and fourth in third-down defense -- but it's pretty clear that this is the philosophy on which they've built their team: win on third downs, and the rest will take care of itself.
Bryan Knowles: And THERE'S the Adam Thielen big play we've been waiting for. And Atlanta's out of timeouts, too -- they were using them defensively with four minutes left in the game (!), so that could end up being HUGE.
Rob Weintraub: Vikes run for a first down and it is kneeling time, which the announcers don't seem to realize.
Good tough win for the Vikings. Nothing to get too bummed about for Atlanta really, either -- played a good defensive game despite some injuries. They bit on the last third down, but overall the unit hung in there well.
Carl Yedor: Big win for the Vikings, who are guaranteed to remain in position for a first-round bye in the playoffs after their win in Atlanta today. Not a lot of points on the board for Minnesota today, but it didn't end up mattering because they were able to hold the Falcons to four field goal attempts on eight drives today. Fortunately for Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans play each other, and Seattle hosts Philadelphia. So even though the Falcons missed an opportunity to pick up ground in the division/wild card race, they will likely end up in the same position by the end of the day. Thursday night against the Saints will be a big one.
Vince Verhei: Heh. I was going to say, this is good news for Seattle. Barring a miracle comeback by Detroit against Baltimore, the Seahawks are still going to be in a two-way tie for the last NFC wild-card spot even if they lose to Philadelphia. Basically, the NFC's second-tier teams are all happy that they all keep losing.
Dave Bernreuther: After all our celebration discussions the past few weeks, it's worth noting that Jerrick McKinnon busted out the Ickey Shuffle after his first half score. Of that, I approve.
Aaron Schatz: Wait, was Jerick doing the Ickey Shuffle or was he taunting the Falcons with the Dirty Bird? I thought the latter.
Vince Verhei: That was absolutely the Dirty Bird.
Dave Bernreuther: Actually you're right. I'm ashamed of myself.
Zach Binney: As a native Atlantan, oh yeah, baby, that was the Dirty Bird.
Denver Broncos 9 at Miami Dolphins 35
Scott Kacsmar: I've never been big on Trevor Siemian, but thought he could be efficient and protect the ball against Miami. So far he has a bad pick and knocked a ball out of the end zone for a Miami safety after a bad snap. It's 2-0, Marlins over Rockies.
Add a pick-six for Siemian and the Dolphins lead 16-3. Julius Thomas also confirmed his revenge game with a touchdown catch from Jay Cutler. If you think about it, this game was kind of a battle for "Worst AFC Team Not Named Cleveland." Denver seems to be in position to seize that title.
Aaron Schatz: I have a message from the Indianapolis Colts.
Dave Bernreuther: For all the worry about all those back-to-back game days with the Hurricanes (whose late-game chip-shot field goal last night amused me greatly), it's the weekend without a college game on Saturday, when the area hasn't seen rain in a month, when the field develops a sinkhole.
We naturally have the sound in here and I've been enjoying former Bronco Mark Schlereth just ripping into Trevor Siemian. It's like the anti-Gruden. Or if you gave (former Film Room writer) Cian Fahey a TV color gig. I love it.
Vince Verhei: In the first half in the last two weeks, Broncos quarterbacks have gone 14-of-29 for 125 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions, and three sacks. That's 3.4 yards per dropback, even before we account for the turnovers. And that has come against the Raiders and Dolphins, two of the worst pass defenses we have ever measured. Just a complete disaster. Hard to say that any of the passers on the roster this season deserve a shot to be on the team next season.
Zach Binney: Checking in from America's Game of the Week with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. Moments ago Miami gave up a pick-six to let Denver pull within 10, but the Dolphins get pressure and Siemian throws it out the back of the end zone on the two-point try, so it's still a two-possession game.
The Broncos followed that up with an onside kick, which I think I like except they telegraphed it and kicked it right to a backup Miami tight end.
Then three plays later Kenyan Drake breaks a long touchdown run and the Dolphins are up 17 despite being -1 in turnovers. That's fun for a historically bad passing offense.
Some more assorted stats from this game:
- Seven different Denver players have at least one reception, but Emmanuel Sanders (whose ankle has been bothering him) and Demaryius Thomas have combined for ...*pulls out calculator* … zero catches and one pick.
- The announcers have mispronounced at least five different player names.
Did Vance Joseph poop in Adam Gase's Wheaties this morning? The Dolphins just onside kicked (and recovered!) with 11 minutes left in the game up by 24. Gase channeling his inner Belichick to try to make sure he doesn't get fired?
Aaron Schatz: Given that Joseph was Gase's defensive coordinator last year makes this even stranger. Just really, really strange.
Update: opinion of my Twitter followers is that Gase has nothing against Joseph, but is running up the score on Elway because he thinks he should have been made the head coach in Denver instead of Gary Kubiak a couple years ago.
Vince Verhei: So to recap, both teams had pick-sixes in this game; the Dolphins had two safeties; the Dolphins were kicking onsides with a big lead in the second half; the Broncos were calling timeouts with seconds to go; and when it was all over the coaches had a totally routine handshake and moved on. What a weird game.
Oh, there was also a blocked punt in the Dolphins game. Add that to the list.
Zach Binney: The Dolphins scored 11 points on defense: a pick-six and TWO safeties on a high snap and punt-return fumble. Per CBS, this is the first time that has happened since 1961.
New England Patriots 23 at Buffalo Bills 3
Dave Bernreuther: On a two-play sequence in Buffalo, we witnessed some home cooking from the refs, which is not really something we tend to see all that often against the Pats. On second down, Tom Brady threw short of Rex Burkhead, which should've led to the shortest Flacco special ever since it led to him being mauled by Preston Brown, but no flag was thrown. On third down, Kyle Williams pitched his blocker aside by the facemask, with no call, before sacking Brady to lead to another field goal chance. The Patriots offense seems to be working well enough so far -- with one exception, which led to Brady exploding on McDaniels on the sidelines after missing Brandin Cooks -- but the score does not reflect that.
Meanwhile, the Bills have taken the playmaking athletic quarterback off the field at least twice so far to put the inferior version of him in instead, once for a useless failed Wildcat play and once for a deep pass that would've been a touchdown if the throw was slightly more accurate. There's nothing wrong with Taylor, who has been his usual unappreciated self. I really don't understand what McDermott has against him.
Aaron Schatz: At least the Bills actually tried a pass attempt in their Webb-o-cat offense, instead of just running straight ahead like every other awful direct snap to a non-quarterback that gets run in the NFL these days. Although I don't know if the Webb-o-cat counts as a "non-quarterback," since he sort-of is a quarterback, but sort-of isn't. They also got a nice big gain on one of those plays, straight up the middle with Richie Incognito paving the way. Webb has three carries for 27 yards. This whole game has just been a gigantic disappearing act from both run defenses. Patriots running backs are now at 16 carries, 125 yards. Bills have 10 carries for 60 yards from Shady McCoy, those Webb carries, and one Tyrod Taylor carry for 18 yards.
In other news, the Patriots keep taking players off the Bills roster and getting value from them. A couple weeks ago they took a defensive end off the Bills practice squad named Eric Lee. He had a big sack last week, and in the first quarter today he dropped off in a zone blitz and Taylor didn't even see him, threw the ball right to Lee for a red zone interception.
Somebody needs to send Buffalo some film of what it looks like when Tom Brady and Gronk connect on seam routes. Like, not overnight. They need to send that film last night, in a time machine. I don't think a big eight-man blitz with Cover-3 behind it is the right way to play the Patriots, especially with Gronk on the field.
Dave Bernreuther: Buffalo's halftime adjustment seems to have been to devote less coverage to Gronk, which has gone exactly as you'd expect on the first drive of the third quarter. After a Burkhead plunge this one already feels over, in a game in which Brady's line looks vaguely Flacco-esque (still more YPA though) and that was the game's first touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: We're going to get more of the Nathan Peterman experience, whether we like it or not. Tyrod Taylor was just carted off the field, towel over his head, after being hit on a couple sacks. Taylor's performance today (9-of-18 for 65 yards) was enough to get people in the Twitterverse wondering if he was going to be benched again; the injury makes it something of a moot point.
Vince Verhei: Like most of us, I think, I have been a staunch Tyrod Taylor supporter for years now. But he's having a terrible game against a terrible defense, and it was starting to become a valid question whether Nathan Peterman would get another shot at starting next week. And then Taylor left the field with a knee injury and Peterman came into the game, rendering the question pretty moot. If this is how Tyrod Taylor's Buffalo tenure ends -- wheeled off on a cart, head hung low and draped in a towel -- that will be a sad way to say goodbye to a guy who generally played well but was chronically underrated and underappreciated.
Dave Bernreuther: Did the Bills just have two defensive backs attacked after the interception, including Gronk delivering an ejection-worthy hit to the back a prone player, and somehow come out of that sequence losing 15 yards?
I guess that cancels out the home cooked sequence from the first half...
Vince Verhei: Rob Gronkowski took part in WrestleMania this year, and apparently he learned something. Tre'Davious White was face-down on the turf AND out of bounds, and Gronk ran up and dropped an elbow with all his body weight onto the back of White's head.
Gronkowski and Brady showing some stuff today Ridiculous pic.twitter.com/HBlGS1T7Go
— Tripp Morgan (@TrippMorgan6) December 3, 2017
Legal in WWE, very much not in the NFL. Should have been an ejection, should be a fine, should be a suspension.
Aaron Schatz: That Gronk play makes me sad. He definitely should be suspended, which makes me sad. That he even did it made me sad.
Indianapolis Colts 10 at Jacksonville Jaguars 30
Bryan Knowles: Hey, Frank Gore keeps climbing his way up the all-time rushing leaderboard, passing Jerome Bettis and about to pass LaDainian Tomlinson today. Focus on that, Colts fans, and not the 16-3 deficit as Blake Bortles shreds your secondary.
Dave Bernreuther: With a hat tip to Nate Dunlevy here, the Colts are having a decent day on the ground and keeping Leonard Fournette in check. Pagano's "Run The Ball And Stop The Run" goal has finally been met!
The Colts are losing 24-3.
Vince Verhei: My god, we're all going to have to deal with Jacksonville being more than defense -- Blake Bortles really is the best quarterback in the division, isn't he?
Bryan Knowles: Best healthy quarterback. That's a major qualifier in 2017.
Scott Kacsmar: Bortles carved up the Colts in Indy too. I guess a defense that can't pressure or cover is a good matchup for him.
Aaron Schatz: As I just pointed out on Twitter, a consistently good quarterback is the best thing to have, but it is better to have an inconsistent bad quarterback than a consistent bad quarterback. There is always a chance that Bortles or Joe Flacco suddenly goes on a three- or four-game run of reasonable play in the postseason, and with those defenses, that's enough to make the Ravens and Jaguars real championship contenders. Or, either team could lose by like 23-0 with no offensive touchdowns by their opponent. Or they'll play each other and the game will feature like 27 picks.
Dave Bernreuther: CBS with the Next Gen stats [that make you weep]: Blake Bortles (who, let's not forget, is terrible) has 228 straight passes against the Colts without a pick.
Houston Texans 13 at Tennessee Titans 24
Tom Gower: 10-10 game at the half, or a 13-13 game as each team has missed a field goal attempt. The surprise of the first half was the effectiveness of the Texans offense. Their first field goal came off a short field after a fumbled punt return by Adoree Jackson, but their touchdown drive covered 87 yards. They got a big play, a 57-yard catch-and-run to Braxton Miller where I'm not quite sure what the Titans were doing on defense. Houston's offense seemed like they would have a bad game because of a makeshift offensive line, but Tom Savage wasn't sacked in the first 28 minutes and did a good job of getting the ball out quickly when it was designed to (which was often) or otherwise not just eating it. The line woes have shown up more in the run game, where Lamar Miller, Alfred Blue, and Bruce Ellington have nine carries for 7 yards.
Tennessee has given DeMarco Murray most of the work at running back this week (carries are 7-to-3 through 30), and he has looked better than he did last week. They actually came out throwing the ball early to start the game and moved the ball down into field goal range before we saw more of the normal offense (two-man route on third-and-1, with a third player leaking out after chipping). Good drive for a field goal to tie in the final 40 seconds, aided in part by Jadeveon Clowney's third offside penalty of the half. Marcus Mariota's hard count is actually pretty good.
Rivers McCown: The Titans are running the ball well and somehow (read: special teams fumble and awkward Mariota) are only tied 10-10 with the fun-and-gun Tom Savage Texans, who have spread the field wide and lost all of their receivers to injury except DeAndre Hopkins and Braxton Miller. Andre Ellington made a few nice catches.
Vince Verhei: Just embed my Tweet:
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) December 3, 2017
Aaron Schatz: Again, what the heck is wrong with Marcus Mariota? Tom, do you have any idea? I realize none of us are passing mechanics experts, but egads.
Tom Gower: The Titans offense this year randomly fluctuates between awesome and terrible. When plays work, they work wonderfully. When they don't, it's ugly. They don't get open receivers unless defenses are confused because they don't have explosive players. Defenses are rarely confused. Big plays are all highly schemed and not particularly repeatable; each such play has a bunch of elements that come together. The mostly ineffective run game has put them into more third-and-longs, and Marcus hasn't been good there this year after he was awesome there last year for reasons I haven't taken the time to really dig into. Mostly frustrating, but the whole combination is actually not that bad. Throw out the six quarters of Matt Cassel, and they're around 9.0% DVOA even with a couple blah performances lately.
Rob Weintraub: Trailing by four and in Titans territory, tackle Jeff Allen false starts not once, not twice, but thrice! Don't think I've ever seen that before either. Needless to say on fourth-and-19 Houston did not convert -- or did they?!?! Diving grab by Stephen Anderson goes for 22 and is upheld on review, an incredible conversion for Houston. Win or lose, Allen better buy Anderson a Cadillac this very night.
I left out that it was fourth-and-4 when Allen went mad.
Of course Savage gets picked in the end zone on the next play, and my Texans are gonna lose.
Tom Gower: How to summarize the second half? Titans won it 7-3 for a 17-13 win in the game. They went four-and-out (defensive penalty to start the drive), three-and-out, and three-and-out (in a four-minute drill where they have sealed out some games lately) on their other drives until they caught the Texans unprepared for a toss play and Derrick Henry took it 75 yards for a clinching (and covering) score. The Texans probably had more overall success, but settled for two field goal attempts, one good and the other badly missed. Logan Ryan, who hadn't let DeAndre Hopkins annihilate the Titans (that's the baseline for success, especially after Houston scored 57 at home, granted with Watson), went out late, but Savage looked elsewhere more after that. Nuk was indeed the target on what proved to be the crucial interception, though. After the great conversion to Stephen Anderson after the triple false start by Jeff Allen, he tried to run a post-corner for the go-ahead score. LeShaun Sims, who didn't fare well in the first game, trusted his inside help on the post route and as a result was there for the pick when Savage threw the corner route.
Also, I should've noted the Texans' Spinal Tap drummer impersonation this game. They ended up losing during the game wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller; tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz; and running back Alfred Blue. Andre Ellington was playing receiver in the fourth quarter, and you could see Savage and/or Hopkins clearly directing him where he was supposed to line up on that play. Plus Jelani Jenkins and Johnathan Joseph on defense. Yes, those are just the in-game injuries.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20 at Green Bay Packers 26 (OT)
Vince Verhei: Jameis Winston's fumbles always result in comedy. Earlier he handed the ball right to defensive end Dean Lowry for a long touchdown. Now, on first-and-goal, the ball hits the turf and Winston has to scramble on his hands and knees like a baby to fall on it. Then an apparent touchdown is wiped out because a scrambling Winston threw the ball several yards beyond the line of scrimmage. No harm, though, because on third down he finds Cameron Brate for an 11-yard score to put the Bucs up 20-17. This inspires the Packers fan at the bar to circle the room like an animal at the zoo, muttering to himself about the stupidity of rushing three and how this is the kind of loss that should get everyone fired. I love football.
Andrew Potter: A field goal just before the two-minute warning sent us to overtime in Green Bay, then the Packers stomped all over the Buccaneers run defense on an eight-play drive for the walk-off touchdown. Six of the eight plays were runs, including one read-option that saw Hundley take off for 18 yards; five touches for Jamaal Williams; and a 20-yard score from Aaron Jones. On almost every play, the defining feature was the play-side Buccaneers defensive end laughing at the idea of outside containment -- Will Clarke, William Gholston, and finally Clarke again allowing Jones to bounce outside on the game-winner. The defensive end spots have been a revolving door all year long for the Bucs, but on that drive a revolving door would have at least slowed the outside run game a little.
Per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, the Buccaneers are now 1-15 in their last 16 games against a quarterback in the first 16 starts of his career. The Packers, meanwhile, have done just enough to cling on to their wild-card hopes with Aaron Rodgers back at practice this past week.
Detroit Lions 20 at Baltimore Ravens 44
Scott Kacsmar: I must say, Joe Flacco threw one hell of a pretty deep ball to Mike Wallace in this half. Ravens have really been dominant on both sides of the ball and lead 17-0 at halftime. Matt Prater vs. Justin Tucker is one heck of a kicking matchup, but Prater has had an ugly miss today and it doesn't look like this one should come down to a close kick anyway. Then again, the Lions have been known for improbable comebacks before.
Cleveland Browns 10 at Los Angeles Chargers 19
Andrew Potter: The Chargers took possession at their own 4-yard line after a Britton Colquitt punt and drove 76 yards to the Cleveland 20. Then their newly-signed ex-Browns kicker hit the upright with the 38-yard field goal attempt. This is the perfect start to a game between these two franchises.
Dave Bernreuther: I can't really even see the Chargers game from where I'm sitting, but with the Chiefs handing them control of their own destiny, it would be the Chargers-est thing ever to lose at home to the Browns.
And nearing the half, they trail 7-6 and look like they're trying to do just that, before a quick drive from deep in their own territory leads to a field goal on second-and-goal that is ultimately a disappointment.
Three catches for 46 for Josh Gordon in his return so far. Not a bad start.
Aaron Schatz: Two general thoughts I just shared on Twitter.
1) The Chiefs' implosion, especially on offense, is a bit mind-boggling. But the Chargers' run since that 0-4 start is not. We knew this team had a lot of talent, especially on the pass rush, and those early losses were close. Special teams is the least consistent part of the game, after all.
2) Imagine you take a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick and you hand him Josh Gordon as his top weapon and a defense led by Myles freakin' Garrett. The DePodesta/Sachi Brown experiment has a lot better chance of working than most people realize, thanks in part to Gordon getting his life together. But they need to hit on a quarterback with one of next year's two first-round picks. They don't need a great quarterback, but they need one who can be at least Matthew Stafford or non-2015 Cam Newton.
Carolina Panthers 21 at New Orleans Saints 31
Aaron Schatz: I will never, ever forgive Butch Jones for screwing with BackCAST this year by not knowing what he had in Alvin Kamara. Kamara just dominated the first Saints drive with gains of 8 and 10 yards, then breaking a tackle on a short pass for an 18-yard gain that was almost all YAC, and finally twisting away from two Panthers to get into the end zone for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2. The dude is incredible. How on earth they did not allow this man to dominate college football, I have no freakin' clue.
Rob Weintraub: Alvin Kamara's ability to be in awkward body position yet still make defenders miss is astonishing. He makes a couple of great plays in the passing game to get the Saints on the doorstep. But then three sensational bits of goal-line defense by the Panthers brings up fourth down. The Saints go for it and pitch it to who else? Kamara. He gets slammed almost entirely back toward his own end zone while his feet stay planted in the ground, but absorbs the blow and stretches over the plane for the touchdown. Another remarkable play. Saints strike first.
Vince Verhei: In case anyone missed it, a reminder that Kamara is having a rookie season for the ages.
Bryan Knowles: And Carolina marches right back down the field for the counter. Cam had all day to throw in the pocket, and the Much-Maligned Jonathan Stewart (as I think we're contractually obligated to call him at this point) had a couple good runs there. Neither defense covering themselves in glory so far, which sounds like exactly what you'd traditionally expect out of a Saints-Panthers game. 7-7.
Bryan Knowles: Don't let all the Alvin Kamara hype make you forget about Mark Ingram, who is having a career year. On that last Saints touchdown drive, Ingram ripped off a 72-yard run on which I believe Mike Adams missed the tackle three times. The Panthers allowed 149 yards rushing against the Saints back in Week 3; a season high by a wide margin. The Saints already have 103 today.
Vince Verhei: Saints already came into the game first in adjusted line yards, first in stuff rate, first in second level yards. One of these offseasons I'll finally do that offensive line retrospective piece I keep meaning to do. I suspect this team would do well.
Bryan Knowles: Once again, when things are looking terrible, the Carolina defense makes a play. The Saints had the ball and a 14-point lead; score again, and you could start writing this one off. Instead, Mike Adams punches the ball out of Josh Hill's hands and Luke Kuechly recovers the fumble. That wakes the Carolina offense up, and they hit Christian McCaffrey for a touchdown on a little swing pass he takes 20 yards to paydirt. Phew, we still have a football game here; 21-14 Saints.
Aaron Schatz: Nobody was even close to McCaffrey on that play. The Panthers receivers were bunched on the left and all went off to the right and the Saints defenders all went with them, leaving the lower left part of the field completely wide open for McCaffrey to run through. I don't know if that would be a great play design or just a bad defense from the Saints. But as I said on Twitter before, most of this game has reminded me that when I watch Carolina I always think to myself that their offense just doesn't seem to have any creativity to it anymore. Like, it's all the funky stuff from two years ago but now it's a bit more stale, and it's not built to emphasize the strengths/hide the weaknesses of the players who aren't as good as McCaffrey.
Carl Yedor: There are few things announcers love more than quarterbacks doing traditionally non-quarterback things. Normally this is limited to when a guy makes a block downfield to spring a big run, but today, Saints third-stringer Taysom Hill has been filling in on special teams for what has been a pretty meh unit this year. Hill has been in on some plays, which Aikman and Buck have made sure everyone watching the game on FOX knows. At least Buck has mixed in a few jokes about how much they're talking about him.
Bryan Knowles: I feel like we just need the phrase "Alvin Kamara is amazing" on loop. The Panthers are a top-five rushing defense, and Kamara (and Ingram!) are just running ALL over them. No non-Saints team has run for more than 109 yards against the Panthers this year; the Saints have topped that twice, with a quarter and a half still to go.
Aaron Schatz: Panthers just went for it on fourth-and-6 from the New Orleans 12. Probably the right decision, down two touchdowns with 11:22 to go. But they called a max-protect scheme, which means they didn't even send Christian McCaffrey out on a pass route. And they threw a 5-yard out to Devin Funchess. Is that really the guy you expect to get that extra YAC, enough to convert on a negative-ALEX fourth-down pass? I was not a fan of the play call. Saints now have the ball, 28-14.
Giving the Panthers some more credit for going for it, the Saints went backwards despite the Panthers getting NZI on first down, and they end up punting from their own 5. That's why you should go for it on fourth down in the red zone. And then ... pinning the other team means nothing when Kaelin Clay fumbles the punt return and the Saints recover. So now the Saints get another drive, only they are on the Carolina side of the 50, and there's 8:55 left. Here come the running plays, kids.
Zach Binney: Christian McCaffrey hurdle with just a bit over five minutes left in the game. Watch it. That is all.
Los Angeles Rams 32 at Arizona Cardinals 16
Vince Verhei: Josh McCown starts the day with what might be his best game in one of his best seasons. Then, Blaine Gabbert's first pass of the day is underthrown by 5 yards and easily intercepted. Gabbert Watch: dead.
Bryan Knowles: Gabbert, defending his crown with the same gusto and skill he's shown throughout his NFL career. You can't take down the king that easily!
Vince Verhei: Alec Ogletree rushes up the middle and gets nowhere, but never doubt Blaine Gabbert's ability to make any defender look good. Ogletree takes a step back and Gabbert throws the ball right to him. Ogletree takes it back 41 yards to put the Rams up 16-0. (Greg Zuerlein missed a PAT following a Gerald Everett touchdown catch.) At the end of the first quarter, Cardinals receivers have three catches for 21 yards. Rams defenders have two interceptions for 87 return yards. Not only is Gabbert Watch dead, I am going go through old editions of Quick Reads and remove all references to Gabbert Watch and deny it ever existed. Oceania is at war with Blaine Gabbert; therefore, Oceania has always been at war with Blaine Gabbert.
In other news, Angry Packers Fan is still here, and Todd Gurley is on his fantasy team. You can imagine how happy he is with L.A.'s pass-wacky offense -- 14 passes, three runs in the first quarter.
Cardinals get back into things with a 1-yard touchdown run by Elijhaa Penny, a man sent to earth by the devil to punish copy editors for their sins. The drive went nine plays, 67 yards, and officially included one completed pass for 6 yards. (Another short completion was wiped out by a defensive holding call.) Otherwise it was all runs, mostly by Kerwynn Williams with spot duty by Penny. They have removed their own quarterback from the game plan.
Angry Gurley Owner has me fighting back tears. "THEY HAVEN'T HANDED OFF IN FOUR F*CKIN' DRIVES! THIRD-AND-1, WHY WOULDN'T WE DROP BACK IN SHOTGUN AND THROW IT?"
He's not exactly right, but the last 16 Rams plays have seen one Gurley handoff, one Tavon Austin end-around, and 14 passes. Cardinals defense was fourth against the run by DVOA coming into the week and 13th against the pass, but this is still extreme.
Williams breaks off a big run for Arizona. "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T HAND IT OFF, JERKOFF!"
Dave Bernreuther: Somehow Blaine Gabbert's offense has scored two touchdowns in a half against Wade's defense, which shouldn't be possible. And just like the other L.A. team, the Rams run out of time on a first-and-goal situation and end the half with a field goal.
Vince Verhei: The Cardinals found the end zone on a pair of big Gabbert completions, the latter a 15-yard touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald, but the extra point is blocked. Rams then make Angry Gurley Owner less angry, as the running back gets four carries and two catches on the next drive. The Rams have a third-and-1 at the 4 with 9 seconds left. Jared Goff keeps the ball on a read-option and picks up the first down but is short of the goal line, and they kick a field goal to take a 19-13 lead at the half. Stunningly close game against a bad team considering they were gifted the one defensive score.
Rams' special teams are paying off. They go three-and-out (Angry Gurley Owner, sadly, has left), but Johnny Hekker booms a 70-yard punt down the sideline for no return. Patrick Peterson had no chance to field that one. Then the Cardinals go three-and-out, but Pharoh Cooper gets a 30-yard punt return. So right after punting from their own 9, the Rams get a first down at the Cardinals' 30. Jared Goff finds Sammy Watkins for an 11-yard touchdown, Rams now lead 26-13, and you can't help but think the Cardinals have missed their shot to be competitive here.
More Rams special teams: Phil Dawson lines up for a 45-yard kick to make it a one-score game, but the kick is blocked. Rams take over near midfield and drive to the red zone. Greg Zuerlein hits from 24 to make it 29-16 wait six minutes and change left. That's a lot of production from defense and special teams. Los Angeles offense has looked pretty ordinary today.
Dave Bernreuther: This has nothing to do with the actual game today, but I'm really looking forward to the upcoming matchup of Jeff Fisher's jilted ex-lovers in two weeks. I'm sure he is too.
New York Giants 17 at Oakland Raiders 24
Scott Kacsmar: Khalil Mack just stealing the ball from Smith in the red zone is the perfect ending to that half. Mack would be DPOY again if he could play the Giants every week. Good opponent to have when you're down receivers like Oakland is today. Points have been hard to come by.
Vince Verhei: Geno Smith's raw numbers in the first half (9-of-15 for 93 yards) look OK, but remember A) this is the Raiders defense, and B) sacks and fumbles count too. Smith has two of each, both by Khalil Mack, and both recovered by Oakland. The second was funnier, but more important. Just before halftime, the Giants got a first-and-goal when Oakland's punt protection failed so badly Marquette King didn't even have a chance to kick, he was just tackled for an 11-yard loss. But on second down, Mack got to Smith so quickly he didn't have to wrap him up for the sack or swat the ball out of his hands. He just reached out with both hands and yanked the ball away, then fell down in the pile. The ball never hit the ground; it was never even in the air. It just went from Smith's hands to Mack's. Raiders up 10-7 at halftime.
Philadelphia Eagles 10 at Seattle Seahawks 24
Vince Verhei: Really, really liked that first drive for the Seahawks. Give Russell Wilson the ball on a keeper to start, get his legs warmed up. Mix up short and deep dropbacks and short and deep passes (he looked deep, didn't throw it), and attack the left, right, and middle. Most importantly, limit the running back carries, because you suck at them and Philadelphia is the best at stopping them. But then on third-and-10, you run a give-up draw to set up a field goal? And still a long field goal at 47 yards? Blair Walsh converts to go up 3-0, but I wish they had been more aggressive there.
Back-to-back DPIs on the Eagles, then Wilson hits Jimmy Graham in the corner of the end zone for the score. And the front seven is getting pressure on Carson Wentz and limiting the run, and Wentz missed the one wide-open guy he had. Can't ask for much more.
Given Seattle's first-quarter struggles all year, I'm very surprised they're ahead after 15 minutes. I'm positively giddy they're up 10 points.
Seahawks take a 10-3 lead into halftime. Interesting gamesmanship at the end there. A third-down run failed to convert for Philadelphia, and the Eagles had a fourth-and-2 at the Seahawks' 46, with the clock running and under a minute to go. I think if they had sent the punt team in right away, Seattle would have called timeout. Instead the offense stayed on the field, and the Seahawks let the clock roll. Then Philly called timeout and punted, pinning Seattle inside their own 10 with just a few seconds left. I don't know, maybe they really were thinking of going for it and changed their minds -- but if that was the case, there would have been more urgency to snap the ball right?
Regardless, the story of this game is how Seattle's decimated secondary is winning the matchup against Wentz and his receivers. Eagles only had nine completions for 45 yards in the first half. No completion longer than 10 yards. Part of what you're seeing here is the greatness of Earl Thomas. Remember last year when he was out and the whole defense fell apart? Now you take out Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and Thomas (and Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett and Frank Clark) are still playing well. Really, when it's time for Thomas' Hall of Fame debates, they should just show the tape from the second half of 2016, and that from the second half of 2017. It's a world of difference.
Though I should add, Shaq Griffin is playing very well against Alshon Jeffery. Fresh off his big contract extension, Jeffery had more holding penalties (one) than targets (zero) in the first half.
Scott Kacsmar: Feels like Seahawks got away with one after a conservative half from Doug Pederson. I think if Seattle had called timeout right away, Eagles would have punted. By letting the clock go down, actually thought they would take the small risk to go for it. After all, this is a team that had like 13 seconds against the Giants and set up a 61-yard field goal with one play. This was doable, but just not an aggressive half in any way by Philadelphia.
Vince Verhei: Philly opens the third quarter with their best drive of the game, but just when it looks like they're about to tie the game, Sheldon Richardson strips Wentz, and the ball goes out of the end zone for a Seattle touchback. Seattle's got to lead the league in goal-line fumbles forced over the past few years.
I have never done the film study to back this up, but it sure feels like Cover-Zero against Russell Wilson always results in a big play. Case in point: third-and-10, Eagles blitz everyone, and Wilson finds Doug Baldwin behind Rodney McLeod (pretty obvious mismatch there) for a 47-yard gain down to the 1. It sets up a third-down 1-yard touchdown to Tyler Lockett and a 17-3 lead. Still 20-plus minutes to go against a very good team. If Carson Wentz wants to win MVP, he has a great opportunity to make a case for himself here.
My goodness Carson Wentz. Me misses a wide-open receiver for what would have been a touchdown on a fourth-down play in field goal range. But the Eagles force a punt and Wentz makes two MVP-level throws. Falling down and under heavy pressure, he somehow gets the ball deep, deep, DEEP downfield for a 51-yard gain to Nelson Agholor on third-and-13. Next two plays lose yards, and then Seattle gets pressure on third-and-long again and chase Wentz to his right. But Wentz make an amazing throw across his body, across the field, down the left sideline -- exactly the kind of throw you're not even supposed to try -- and hits Agholor again, a 27-yard touchdown on third-and-14. Agholor beat Byron Maxwell on the play. Seattle leads 17-10 with 12 minutes to go.
Aaron Schatz: With Aaron Rodgers still on the shelf, I don't know if the NFL has any quarterbacks who are better at improvising than the two guys in this game. That Agholor touchdown was a beautiful throw, and Russell Wilson just got a first down by scrambling and then flipping a lateral to Mike Davis who made it to the sticks. Apparently on replay this was a slightly forward pass, but Philadelphia never challenged.
Bryan Knowles: Philadelphia's going to really regret not challenging that, I think -- there was kind of an optical illusion of the pass going sideways because of all the movement, but replay was pretty definitive that it went forward. I'm surprised Pederson didn't just throw the challenge flag on principle; slow Seattle down if nothing else.
Vince Verhei: Wow wow wow. Wilson scrambles on third down and looks like he's going to be tackled short and the Eagles are going to get the ball back -- but at the last second he laterals to Mike Davis for 11 more yards. On replay, it looks like the lateral might have been forward, but Seattle snaps the ball before the Eagles can challenge. It's a flea flicker, but the Eagles aren't fooled, and Wilson throws the ball away. Regardless, a few plays later, the Seahawks split J.D. McKissic out wide, and he scorches a linebacker and Wilson hits him for a touchdown. Seahawks up 24-10 in their most fun game since they played Deshaun Watson and Houston.
One thought on the non-challenge: Philadelphia had already lost a challenge on the first drive of the second half, on the third-down spot before Wentz's sneak. They were probably reluctant to risk losing another challenge and be down to one timeout when they were already behind in the second half.
Regardless, when you consider the stakes, the circumstances, and the opposition, that was Seattle's biggest win in years. Like, since the miracle win over Green Bay in the 2014 NFC title game. Even in the playoffs, they were big favorites against Minnesota and Detroit (even if the Vikings game could easily have been a loss). Here, everyone, including me, figured they would get rolled and remain on the fringes of the playoff hunt. Instead, they get a surprise win and gain ground in the wild-card race, and maintaining pace with Los Angeles in the division. And it's the way they did it too -- the defense showed up big tonight. I figured if Seattle would win, it would have been a shootout. The game was closer than the final score would indicate, and I suspect the DVOA will reflect that, but Seattle tonight showed that at their best, they can still beat anyone.
Scott Kacsmar: I thought the Eagles would need a fourth-quarter comeback tonight, but still thought it'd be a close win. Seattle played really well and Wilson actually suffered fewer sacks than Wentz by the time it was over. Even without a few studs on defense, this is an impressive group for the Seahawks. Can't wait to see how they handle the Rams in that big rematch. Really bad night for Doug Pederson with shoddy game management (aggression and challenges). At least the NFC is fun with some fresh contenders. Could get even more interesting if Aaron Rodgers returns.