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.
Indianapolis Colts 7 at Buffalo Bills 13 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: Welcome to Week 14, where a snowstorm has reduced visibility in Buffalo to about zero. With that and Nathan Peterman behind center, they might not hit 50 passing yards.
Dave Bernreuther: Is it good strategy by the Bills to be wearing all red so they can see each other? Or bad strategy because now the Colts defense is in camouflage against the rookie quarterback?
CBS forgot to change the camera angle and gave us a great live view of a Colts defensive back falling down and leaving Zay Jones wide open for what would've been an easy first down and one man to beat for a touchdown.
Peterman threw the predetermined slant to Kelvin Benjamin anyway, and the Bills face a fourth-and-2 so important that both teams have to call a timeout, which allows enough time for another few inches of snow to fall, after which a Joe Webb Wildcat pass doesn't work. I'd criticize the play call, but really, I'm not convinced Nathan Peterman is a better quarterback than Webb.
Two drives, two fourth-and-short plays run in Buffalo. The Colts succeed, partly because nobody can see them, and partly because Frank Gore's Miami background prepared him well for these conditions.
I'm a fan of the fact that both coaches recognize the difficulty the kicking games will have. Pagano didn't quite have the balls to go for a fourth-and-7, though, and Adam Vinatieri -- with just a slightly higher degree of difficulty than the Tuck Rule kick -- emphatically makes the point that kicking is a BAD idea, which could make this one of the most interesting games of the season.
Shame the quarterbacks are Jacoby Brissett and Peterman...
That may have been the fastest first quarter I've ever seen.
If ever there's an appropriate time to punt from the 32, this was it, and Rigoberto Sanchez plopped one into the snow drift at the 2, where it stuck just like a golf ball in the mud. Shockingly, this one is still scoreless. And I am more entertained by a 0-0 poorly quarterbacked game than I have ever been.
For what it's worth, I'm not actually convinced that the snow has anything to do whatsoever with the offensive futility thus far. Vinatieri's miss is the only thing we can say for sure was the weather taking points off the board.
Bryan Knowles: Weather Strategy Alert: The Colts attempted zero passes in the first quarter. First time all season a team has gone the first quarter without passing. The last time that happened was last year in a Carolina-Tampa Bay game, but the Panthers had just three offensive snaps in that quarter. The Colts had 20.
Vince Verhei: At the end of a first half that had consisted almost entirely of runs and short punts that hit the snow and stuck to the field like magnets, the Bills put together the first real drive of the game. LeSean McCoy got some big runs that unfolded very slowly, as he and the defenders alike were delicately trying to maintain their footing. Then the Bills remembered they had Kelvin Benjamin, and he can move the ball for them just by winning jump balls. On back-to-back plays, he had a 21-yard gain on third-and-7 and then an 8-yard touchdown, and they looked exactly the same: he just sauntered along down the right sideline and outjumped a defender for the ball.
On the ensuing kickoff, Josh Ferguson caught the ball and was tip-toeing upfield, and as soon as the Bills coverage team got close he dived into a snowbank and disappeared. Looked like he got tackled by a Wampa. Bills lead 7-0 at halftime.
Tom Gower: I'm not sure how much to take away from that first half, but I did enjoy watching it. Fun seeing NFL players do things like burst through the hole, look to make a cut, and then fall down, almost like they had my athleticism. Yet my takeaway is that college teams would handle this environment better than the NFL. This is a time to use the quarterback in the run game, to give them better numbers and control a defender, yet here with are with Brissett's only carry a kneel and Peterman just scrambling as the Bills are surprisingly committed to the pass given conditions. We were 0-0 for quite a while, until LeSean McCoy broke off two separate long runs and Peterman hit Kelvin Benjamin (by far his preferred receiver today) first with a sideline pattern and then in the end zone. And then they kick the extra point. Hauschka hit it, but that's still not the decision I would have made given Adam Vinatieri missed badly from 33 yards earlier the game.
Dave Bernreuther: The J. Peterman Reality Tour comes to an abrupt end as he slideshead first and Antonio Morrison somehow got just as low and knocked him into next week. They didn't even give him a chance to pretend he was OK; Charles Clay and others immediately waved for the trainers.
Scott Kacsmar: Does DVOA treat this game differently with the snow? It almost feels like it should be thrown out from the season data as there's just no real predictive value to what is unfolding there today. Predictive for future snow games, sure, but it is rare we see one to this degree where literally everything is more difficult because of the elements.
Aaron Schatz: I don't have good snow adjustments in there at this point. The special teams adjustments are generic, based solely on the stadium and what week of the season it is. I'd love to make those improvements, but as I keep saying, the "to do" list is very long and management of the website/articles that pay my mortgage always come first. So for now, this game goes in DVOA. Like the thing with backup quarterbacks and opponent adjustments, people will just have to look at the Colts and Bills numbers with common sense, knowing what happened in this game.
Vince Verhei: Colts go three-and-out, and sure enough, it's Joe Webb at quarterback for the Bills. Honestly, I'm not sure that just putting him in there and running him every play like it's a single-wing isn't the worst idea, given the lead and the weather. But he hands off to Mike Tolbert, who rumbles for 25 yards, his longest run since 2015 -- and then he fumbles. Colts dig through the snow and ice and find the football (and also perhaps Captain America encased in ice, it's hard to tell). That's this whole game in a nutshell right there.
Brissett has Chester Rogers open in the end zone, but overthrows him. Rogers dives for the ball but lands out of the end zone and goes face-first into a pile of white powder like Tony Montana. (I hope you like these snow jokes because I am going to be making them long after the game is over.)
Tom Gower: Snow, no snow, the incompletion for Rogers in the end zone and subsequent fourth-and-5 incompletion stress something about Brissett's play so far: he's still operating at rookie/backup processing speed. Replays have been in short supply, but Rogers looked open enough that I'm guessing he didn't just pop open when Brissett threw the ball. Similarly, the fourth-down pass, also for Rogers, could have been thrown sooner. If it was just today, that's one thing, but that has been a consistent feature of his play.
Aaron Schatz: Wise move by the Colts to go for two in the snow rather than trying an extra point after they scored to make it 7-6. But terrible call of OPI on the two-point conversion. It looked like the Colts had scored on a read-option pass to Jack Doyle. They called an OPI on a wide receiver for blocking. But it looked like that receiver was within 1 yard of the line of scrimmage. That's legal. We're only talking about 2 yards here between the line of scrimmage and the end zone, and the blocking receiver certainly was not in the end zone.
So now the Colts are stuck trying a 43-yard extra point in the snow instead of a 12-yard two-point conversion.
Bryan Knowles: I was positive that extra point was going to go bad, but Vinatieri plays the wind, hooking the ball back through the uprights for a tie game!
This is going to end up as a tie with the new overtime rules, isn't it? I'm going to have to go back and check all my scenarios for ties, aren't I? Sassafrassa phantom pass interference...
Vince Verhei: This game keeps getting funnier. Colts fake the ball to Frank Gore and run a bootleg to the right. Gore steps up to block someone, but there's nobody there, so he tries to plant and reverse field. This results in Gore spinning and falling in multiple directions at once, like Clark Griswold stepping on planks in his attic.
The drive is a success though, as Brissett finds Jack Doyle in the end zone for a touchdown. But the comedy is still going. The Colts go for two, because nobody wants this game to go to overtime. They call timeout to call a play, which is odd. They get the conversion, but are called for offensive pass interference. With the penalty, they are forced to kick, but in this weather, with the penalty, that's no sure thing either. So they call timeout again so their guys have time to kick snow away from where Adam Vinatieri will be kicking. There are random sideline geeks out there trying to help, but the refs chase them away. Shouldn't that be a penalty for too many men on the field? Finally Vinatieri kicks, and it's clearly going to miss to the right, but the wind blows it back down the middle. So we are tied at seven and overtime looms.
Dave Bernreuther: Somehow, some way, the Colts march down the field and, inside the two-minute warning, a nicely designed play springs Jack Doyle for a touchdown.
Pagano being Pagano, I expected a PAT attempt, and was pleasantly surprised to see them go for two ... and it's Jack Doyle again! Aggressiveness is rewarded, and we all rejoice!
It's the Colts, though. So there was a flag for OPI. (I didn't see it.) And so, in a foot of snow, they need a 43-yard PAT to tie ... and Vinatieri pushes it several yards wide right.
But that was just to add drama, of course. The wind brought it back. 7-7...
And I'm going to need a few minutes to recap what happened next.
Bryan Knowles: Webb, still in at quarterback, throws an interception. Indianapolis then decides, heck, let's just kick another field goal and get out of here -- but Vinatieri misses it!
This game matters! For the Bills, for the Patriots, for the Steelers ... and it's just a massive comedy of errors.
Vince Verhei: Joe Webb throws an interception, and here's Vinatieri to try a game-winner. Remind me, has Vinatieri ever made a kick in the snow? But he's wide left on this one, and yes, we are going to overtime.
Scott Kacsmar: Buffalo should probably be going for the win rather than settling for a tie in overtime, thinking that this can still be a wild-card season. Interested to see how they attack this fourth-and-1 at the Indy 43. I'd run the ball for sure.
Vince Verhei: Buffalo's decision to punt on fourth-and-1 in Colts territory on the first drive in overtime might be the funniest thing yet. On the plus side, Colton Schmidt's punt was a beauty, pinning the Colts at their own 10. Next score wins, but I'm betting we end with a tie.
Dave Bernreuther: Early in the game it seemed that neither coach trusted the kicking game. Which was a 100 percent rational and correct decision.
In the end game, though? Back to normal. The Colts give up, post-pick, and deliberately try to kick from the same 43-yard point as before, which Vinatieri misses (which did actually surprise me). Shortly after, the Bills punt on fourth-and-1 (!), and honestly, a tie would be the most fitting ending to this game. But even that's a letdown, as a 0-0 tie would be even more appropriate. And hilarious.
Vince Verhei: Almost the same time as Green Bay wins in overtime, the Bills have a third-and-4 at the 21 and everyone's waiting to see if Steven Hauschka can win it -- but McCoy renders that irrelevant, breaking a tackle in the middle of the field and going 21 yards for a game-winner. Bills and Joe Webb are now 7-6 and very much alive in the playoff race.
Dave Bernreuther: Ohh, I'm exhausted. I've been on this field a thousand times. It's never looked so strange. The faces ... so cold. In the stands, a snowman has water bottle hands, and a child is crying. Fatherless. A bastard child, perhaps.
My back aches. My heart aches. But my feet ... my feet are resilient! Thank god I took off my cleats and put on my Himalayan (snow) shoes!"
Minnesota Vikings 24 at Carolina Panthers 31
Aaron Schatz: Remember my complaints last week that the Panthers offense was not creative enough? After a Case Keenum deep interception/arm-punt, the Panthers just got a 60-yard touchdown on third-and-1 by using an unbalanced line AND a sixth lineman. There were FOUR offensive linemen to the right of the center. I've never seen anything like it.
Charles has a video of it:
this how you run a god damn power play pic.twitter.com/UAmREd71wX
— charles mcdonald (@FourVerts) December 10, 2017
Bryan Knowles: Even more impressive, that run came against the Vikings run D. They hadn't allowed a run of 30 or more yards this season, one of only three teams who could boast that. Against a defense that doesn't give up big plays, sometimes you have to get creative. That was a thing of beauty.
I am very impressed with how well Carolina is moving the ball on the ground against Minnesota. They're being creative with play calling and formations, but it all ends up with straight power-on-power, and Carolina's winning, over and over at the point of attack. That being said, the Panthers should never, ever, ever punt on fourth-and-inches; not with Cam Newton behind center. Carolina's defense forced a three-and-out immediately after, so no harm, no foul, but aaargh.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like the Panthers' strategy in this game was that if they just stuffed the hell out of the run, there was no way that Case Keenum could continue to convert third downs at the rate he has been converting them. That was good when Latavius Murray started with four carries for 5 yards. Not as good with Jerick McKinnon in the second quarter gaining 43 yards on six carries. What's interesting is that the Vikings actually struggle significantly on third-and-long this year. They're second in DVOA on third-and-short, fifth on third-and-medium, but 29th on third-and-long (7-plus yards to go).
Another element of the Carolina-Minnesota game has been a good demonstration of the improvement of the Carolina cornerbacks this season. James Bradberry in particular looks good, but also Darryl Worley. Adam Thielen only has caught three of eight targets so far, and he, Stefon Diggs, and Laquon Treadwell have combined for just 72 yards.
As good as the Vikings defense is, it would be a lot better if Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander developed and lived up to their draft positions.
Not the best day for Case Keenum here. Just threw his second pick of the day, one of those passes that shows how difficult it is to code binary reasons for incomplete passes. Keenum threw the ball too high to Stefon Diggs on what looked to be a wide receiver screen, but Diggs did have his hands on it and really should have caught it. Instead, it bounced up in the air and right into the hands of Bradberry. The Vikings were almost at the red zone, but now Carolina gets the ball back with a 24-13 lead and 8:48 left.
Aaron Schatz: The Cam Newton pick is another one that matches that second Keenum pick: he overthrew Christian McCaffrey, and while it was off his hands too, the ball was thrown even higher than the one to Diggs. That one required a jump and a high catch, and McCaffrey couldn't make a great play, and boing, into Andrew Sendejo's hands.
Bryan Knowles: Great play by Adam Thielen to keep this thing a contest. 52-yard touchdown, breaking tackles along the way. That was exactly the kind of play you needed when you've been sputtering on offense. They hit the two-point conversion, and all of a sudden, we have a field goal game in one of the biggest games of the week. Get your popcorn ready.
Vince Verhei: We all knew Keenum had been playing over his head. He came into the weekend leading all quarterbacks in passing and rushing DVOA. But nobody really thought he was that good, and today the Panthers have made him pay for the mistakes he has gotten away with against other teams.
But we also knew, I think, that the rest of the Vikings roster was every bit as good as their record. Andrew Sendejo intercepts Cam Newton and returns it inside the 10, setting up a field goal. Keenum has thrown two picks and taken five sacks, but the rest of the team is really carrying him today.
Rob Weintraub: Got the feeling when Carolina was held to three after the Keenum fumble the Vikes would get new life. Sure enough, the game is 24-24 with three to play.
But Cam goes 62 yards on a zone-read, made Sendejo look foolish. Inside the ten with two minutes left.
Andrew Potter: Carolina has been trying all day to get Newton going on the ground. He has been stymied all day: seven carries for 13 yards. Options, draws, scrambles, nothing has worked ... until now. A read-option sees Newton step inside left tackle and break upfield into masses of space, almost as much as Jonathan Stewart found on his touchdown earlier. Newton is eventually caught, 62 yards later, and the Panthers are in a great position to retake the lead in another superb potential NFC playoff preview.
Rob Weintraub: Stewart scores after the long Cam run, and Carolina stops the Vikes in four plays to hang on for the tough win and first-place tie. They are bunched up like menhaden (obscure marine reference) in the NFC South!
San Francisco 49ers 26 at Houston Texans 16
Derrik Klassen: Every time I watch the 49ers, it becomes more and more apparent that Reuben Foster is a special talent. He just ruined an iso play the Texans tried to run. Rookie linebackers should not be able to trigger and take on blocks the way he does. It is going to be fun to see that defense be built around him.
Bryan Knowles: Jadeveon Clowney normally lines up off of left tackle, but not today. With Trent Brown back out with his shoulder injury (he played through it last week, but it tightened up this week), Clowney has moved to line up against Zane Beadles on the right most frequently. That is the textbook definition of a "mismatch" there, and helped lead to a Jimmy Garoppolo interception: a hurried throw into double coverage with an additional side of miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Something to watch as things go on, as I'm not sure any of the 49ers' backup linemen can handle Clowney.
Derrik Klassen: Scary sight for Tom Savage on Houston's last drive. After getting popped by Elvis Dumervil, Savage's arms sort of locked up and started shaking a little bit. Looks like they sent him off into concussion protocol.
Bryan Knowles: Something to consider as he approaches free agency: Carlos Hyde can't catch. The 49ers had a sure-fire touchdown where Hyde got behind the defense, Garoppolo threw a perfectly thrown ball -- and Hyde just lost track of it entirely, staring up at the roof as the ball thudded to the turf behind him. As a runner, I still believe Hyde is underrated; he has done some tremendous things over the years behind some very, very poor offensive lines. But there's a reason he has the third-lowest receieving DYAR among running backs. He's also had five out-and-out drops this year, which no es bueno, el Guapo. Shanahan uses his running backs fairly heavily in the passing game, and Hyde really isn't the right guy for that.
That being said, he just scored a touchdown on one of those tremendous "my offensive line gives me nothing, so I'm just going to get these yards out of sheer force of will" runs, so yeah. His contract is a really tough call this offseason!
Also, concussion protocol alert! After that scary hit, the Texans allowed Savage to come out on the field for another drive; a three-and-out. But now, they've pulled him, bringing in T.J. Yates. No new injury happened on the last drive, so this seems a lot like a delayed concussion protocol. Um, what exactly are they doing on the sideline in Houston?
Vince Verhei: Chris Nowinski weighs in on the Savage hit (includes the video, which is quite disturbing).
Disgusted that the @HoustonTexans allowed Tom Savage to return to the game after 2 plays after showing these horrifying #concussion signs (is that a seizure?) after a head impact. I would not let my worst enemy go through the 2017 #NFL sideline concussion protocol... https://t.co/PeJr5ISAIJ
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) December 10, 2017
Bryan Knowles: Speaking of mismatches: DeAndre Hopkins on, well, anyone. I know the Houston offense is injury-riddled but this is ridiculous. He has 144 yards; the rest of the Texans have 84. He has also scored both of Houston's touchdowns. The 49ere have tried every healthy corner on him at one point or another; they've put safety help on him; they've actively held him a couple times (Dontae Johnson, professional flag magnet). Nothing seems to work. The hook route is open every. Single. Time. 16-13, Houston, and about as impressive of a one-man show as you're ever going to see.
If the 49ers could get anything going in the red zone, they might actually be a half-decent team. They've ended up in the red zone seven times since Garoppolo took over as a starter; they have kicked six field goals. They look on pace to settle for another field goal on trip No. 8 as penalties push them back to the 25, but Garoppolo stands in the pocket, absorbs a shot to the chin, and throws a laser. Not the first time today he's delivered a great pass when taking a shot, which tells me A) C.J. Beathard was responsible for a significant chunk of those sacks in the middle stretch of the season, and B) the 49ers need to draft, like, eight offensive linemen.
Rivers McCown: It's incredible that T.J. Yates is on an NFL roster in 2017.
My main takeaways from this game are as follows:
1) DeAndre Hopkins can only be successfully taken out of a game by Brock Osweiler.
2) Cornerback Kevin Johnson has been a JAG this year after injuries and was roasted by the 49ers on both penalties and catches.
3 The Savage injury was scary and it's ridiculous that none of the neurological indies or team officials saw and understood that. His next two throws while obviously concussed were horrendous.
4) Jimmy G was under a ton of pressure today. I'm not sure if that says more about him holding the ball or about the 49ers offensive line, because the Houston pass rush isn't great at this point. But he looked better under the pressure than I ever thought he'd look when he was coming out, and I'm beginning to buy into the idea that he may make the 49ers look smart.
5) Seriously, this team had Savage concussed (or near it) last week, went into this game with two quarterbacks on the roster, and the other one was T.J. YATES.
Oakland Raiders 15 at Kansas City Chiefs 26
Vince Verhei: And now, fun with quarterback statlines. Can you identify these quarterbacks by their first-half numbers today?
- QB1: 1-of-2 for 11 yards.
- QB2: 3-of-8 for 38 yards and a touchdown.
- QB3: 5-of-12 for 31 yards with an interception and a sack.
QB1 is Jacoby Brissett, a backup quarterback playing in a once-a-decade blizzard. QB2 is Nathan Peterman, also a backup quarterback, also playing in a once-a-decade blizzard. QB3 is Derek Carr, one of the league's highest-paid quarterbacks, on a clear sunny day in Kansas City, in a game his team desperately needs to win to stay alive in the playoff race.
Derrik Klassen: Oakland's offensive approach to this game is downright terrible. Todd Downing is calling a flurry of quick passes against a Chiefs defense that is depleted (Marcus Peters is out) and just not playing well as of late. Going to constant short passes without any other threat plays perfectly into Kansas City's hands. One would think Downing would try to assert the running game and work the passing game down the field, but alas.
Green Bay Packers 27 at Cleveland Browns 21 (OT)
Vince Verhei: The most important decision for John Dorsey, of course, is quarterback -- DeShone Kizer has improved in recent weeks, but not so much that you pass on a Baker Mayfield or whoever at quarterback. But the most intriguing decision might be what to do with Josh Gordon. He's got three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown today, after four catches for 85 yards last week, after missing the better part of three years before that. He's still in the top ten for all-time yards per game. This is the most physically talented receiver the league has seen since peak Randy Moss. As Aaron noted last week, a Gordon-Corey Coleman-David Njoku trio would be one of the league's better WR/WR/TE sets in the NFL. But Gordon is a restricted free agent at the end of the year, and you've got to be afraid he'll get suspended again if he just mows grass or pulls a weed or cooks in a pot. For all their cap space, you can't possibly risk more than a two-year deal, can you?
Rob Weintraub: If you thought the Browns were going to ease into that first win, yeah, no. They cough up a 14-point lead, as Brett Hundley throws a short touchdown pass with under 20 seconds left. Overtime, but no snow, so who cares?
And Kizer gets picked in overtime after a playground attempt at a big play. In true Manziellian fashion, Green Bay gets it on a deflection. Next score wins, with Green Bay on the Browns 41.
Vince Verhei: Oh, Browns. They get a two-touchdown lead for the first time in the Hue Jackson era, so of course the Packers rally to force overtime. Three snaps into the extra period, Kizer scrambles on third-and-2, and makes a terrible decision to throw a pass while running backwards, falling down, under pressure. The result is a quasi-Hail Mary that comes down in the middle of the field about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. A half-dozen Browns and Packers jump for the ball, and Josh Jones reels in the interception to set Green Bay up with a short field, needing a field goal to win now.
Rob Weintraub: Pack run the bubble screen to Davante Adams and he takes it in for the victory. Green Bay still alive and Browns still winless.
Carl Yedor: Kizer's arm got hit as he threw the ball up, but that doesn't justify the decision to chuck it up there. The Packers will take it though. The return of Aaron Rodgers looms, and the rest of the NFC playoff contenders are nervously looking over their shoulders.
Rob Weintraub: Nice job to pull that one out by Green Bay but color me skeptical on the idea that Aaron Rodgers is going to magically get them into the postseason -- especially because everyone is anticipating it now. Assuming no total collapse by the Vikes (and they get the Bengals at home so consider that W eaten) they need a wild card. Atlanta holds tiebreaker on them, so the Falcons need to lose twice out of Buccaneers away, Panthers home, Saints away. Possible, but I doubt it. The Packers really needed the Saints to win Thursday, and the Vikings to win today. Ironically by losing Minnesota may have screwed their biggest rivals.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, a team that nearly loses to the Browns isn't one injury replacement from being a powerhouse, and they essentially need to go undefeated to make the postseason. Panthers, Vikings, Lions all in a row? Rodgers is great, but that's a heck of an ask from that defense.
Rivers McCown: If the Packers do make the playoffs, they should vote a share to Gregg Williams.
Chicago Bears 33 at Cincinnati Bengals 7
Rob Weintraub: Cincinnati passed on Reuben Foster because he was an injury risk, so they took a guy who was already injured and got hurt twice more to miss the season.
They miss someone, anyone with speed on defense today. Five starters are out and they are in major post-Steelers "tank the season, get everybody fired" mode.
Vince Verhei: Which means Marvin Lewis will probably get an extension.
Rob Weintraub: I think this time he's finally gone, though a place in the front office isn't out of the question.
I write a weekly piece for Cincinnati magazine about the Bengals. This week I wrote about the second-half futility under Marvin Lewis. And so what happens today? They give up 21 unanswered. Now being outscored 136-71 in the second stanza this year.
A.J. McCarron is in now, for what it's worth.
Dallas Cowboys 30 at New York Giants 10
Carl Yedor: After an absolute slog of a second half at MetLife stadium, Dak Prescott hits Cole Beasley on a short pass to convert on third-and-2 ... which Beasley then turns into a 54-yard gain. Prescott then hits Jason Witten for a 20-yard touchdown on the next play. Just like that. Normally I don't think the Cowboys would be confident with a 7-point lead and 7:30 to go, but the Giants have been struggling to move the ball in a big way. Eli Manning is at 5.4 yards per attempt as I type this, and the running backs have averaged barely more than 3 yards per carry today.
And then, to put a bow on it, Dallas has another third-and-short. Prescott hits Rod Smith underneath. Smith then takes it all the way for an 81-yard score. Barring a miracle, this one's over. Dallas would not have been mathematically eliminated with a loss, but they would have had quite the mountain to climb.
Seattle Seahawks 24 at Jacksonville Jaguars 30
Vince Verhei: Jaguars get the ball first, but go three-and-out on three straight passing plays (one bad throw by Blake Bortles, two good tackles by Byron Maxwell). Seahawks' first play is a completion to Paul Richardson for 3 yards, but Jacksonville is ... challenging? What? It's a 3-yard gain on the first play of the game! This is a huge risk with little reward! They win the challenge, so I guess no harm, no foul, but Seattle picks up the ensuing third-down conversion anyway, so it didn't matter in the long run.
Carl Yedor: For a second there I thought maybe they were going to try to argue that the defender picked the ball off somehow? Maybe? But no, Marrone just really wanted those 3 yards.
Vince Verhei: Germain Ifedi is called for holding, but he gets bailed out when Jalen Ramsey commits DPI on the play, so it's offsetting penalties. But Ifedi just can't stand to let that go, so he says something to the ref, and he gets flagged for "taunting the official." This leads to a third down with more than 20 yards to go, which obviously leads to a punt. That's a league-high 13 accepted penalties for Ifedi; nobody else had double-digits coming into the weekend according to NFLPenalties.com.
Jaguars last two drives have started with bad field position, moved into Seattle territory, then stalled. The first time, Josh Lambo kicked a 38-yard field goal. But the second one, Jacksonville ... punted? On fourth-and-3? From the Seattle 37? I know you can trust your defense and play field position there, and the punt was downed at the 9, but man that's a scaredy-cat call.
Carl Yedor: We've reached halftime in Jacksonville and the Jaguars lead 3-0. Seattle had a promising drive going at the end of the half, but Blair Walsh missed a 38-yard field goal, so Jacksonville retains the lead as opposed to being tied. The early part of that drive looked like a few years ago with four runs to Mike Davis accounting for most of the yards to start the drive. Walsh would probably be in danger of losing his job if not for the fact that the Seahawks are so up against the cap that they are barely going to be able to pay out all the per-game roster bonuses they will owe. Walsh's first season in Seattle will likely be his last.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars up 3-0 at halftime in a game that has largely gone like we expected it would: seven punts, one Jalen Ramsey deep-ball interception that may as well have been a punt, and one field goal attempt for each team (Lambo hit for Jacksonville, Blair Walsh missed for Seattle). Most shocking thing has been how great Seattle's offensive line has played against Jacksonville's front. They're almost up to 100 yards already, and it's not just Russell Wilson scrambles -- Mike Davis has 56 yards on nine carries. Of course, the Jaguars' pass defense has been much better than their rush defense. But then, officially, they have no sacks (I think one was wiped out on a penalty) and only one quarterback hit. Those numbers match with what I'm seeing -- I don't recall Wilson having as much time in the pocket all year as he has today. Now, it hasn't mattered, because Jacksonville's secondary is every bit as good as their front and has completely smothered Seattle's receivers. No targets for Jimmy Graham today, and Doug Baldwin's only target was the Ramsey interception. Seattle has not completed a pass for more than 7 yards yet. Some of their biggest plays have actually been penalties -- Dante Fowler has twice been called for hands to the face on Ifedi.
Not as much to say about Jacksonville's offense. On any given play they have 10 average or better players, but the 11th is the quarterback, and he's so bad. He has badly missed on four or five easy short throws. Seattle's defense continues to play well without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Jacksonville is clearly picking on Byron Maxwell, and I can't fault them for that strategy, but so far he has more than held his own, giving up no big plays and usually forcing short completions.
Seattle's first drive of the second half ends on another deep-ball interception, this time by A.J. Bouye in coverage on Graham. Graham tacks on a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness for good measure. And it leads to a touchdown when Dede Westbrook fakes a block on a fake wide receiver screen and cuts to the corner of the end zone, where he's wide open for the score. Daryl Johnston was weirdly saying it was a tough throw because there were three defenders in the area, but all three defenders were at least two steps behind Westbrook. It really wasn't a tough throw. I think, by the way, Maxwell was the primary defender on Westbrook in coverage again, but this was more about play design than any specific matchup.
Well this turned around quickly. Wilson makes an amazing pass on a deep crosser to Baldwin, who catches it for a gain of 43 to set up a short Walsh field goal. Terence Garvin makes a big hit on Corey Grant on the ensuing kickoff, knocking the ball free, and the Seahawks come out of the pile with it. Two plays later, Wilson finds Baldwin again, beating Barry Church on a corner route for a 26-yard touchdown, and we're all tied at 10. Officially, ten points in 59 seconds for Seattle.
Correction -- looked like on Baldwin's touchdown, the coverage error was by the linebackers on that side of the field, not on Church.
Carl Yedor: A barn-burner has broken out. The Jaguars scored on the short field after the Bouye pick, but Seattle moved downfield quickly, getting a field goal from Walsh to make it 10-3. Then, Jacksonville fumbles the ensuing kickoff, which Seattle recovers. Two plays later, Wilson finds Baldwin for the touchdown. It felt like the Seahawks were going to need a big play from their defense if they were going to score a touchdown today, but the special teams came up with the big play.
Before I can finish typing this message, the Jags score on a 75-yard touchdown after a touchback. It's a shootout!
Vince Verhei: And then on first down after the kickoff, Seahawks lose coverage on Keelan Cole. A bad pass still would have been completed, but Bortles made a perfect throw and it's a 75-yard touchdown. So that's 17 points between the two teams in the last 1:12 of game time.
Rivers McCown: I'm gonna go ahead and assume that Bobby Wagner's hamstring injury -- the one that kept him out of both of the last two touchdown plays the Jaguars have scored -- may be a factor.
Vince Verhei: More fireworks. Jon Ryan's punt is short, but it takes an easy hop right to Jaydon Mickens, who returns it 72 yards down to the 1. Leonard Fournette plunges in on the next play. So that's 24 combined points scored in less than three minutes of game time.
Whatever halftime adjustments Jacksonville made to shut down the run, they worked. Seahawks can't get anything going on the ground. So we get another deperate arm-punt interception for Wilson, this one by Bouye. Wilson keeps throwing up jump balls and Jags defenders are like, hey, free football. Just the fourth three-interception game of Wilson's career, including the playoffs.
So Jacksonville has the ball at the end of the third quarter, up 24-10, with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright both out of the game for Seattle. At this point it's going to take a comeback for the ages to pull this out.
Carl Yedor: Looks like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright both going down was the collective straw that broke the camel's back for the Seattle defense. Jacksonville's drives since the one where Wagner went down:
- TD (Wagner injured mid-drive)
- Kickoff fumbled away (so no offensive drive)
- TD (one play)
- TD (one play, after big punt return)
Vince Verhei: Wilson hits Paul Richardson for a 61-yard touchdown. That's Wilson's 16th fourth-quarter touchdown pass this year, already a record. Looks to be for naught through, because Jacksonville kills five-plus minutes on a field goal drive to go up 30-17. At one point Bortles converted a third-and-3 dropping a pass over Westbrook's shoulder down the sideline. That was a more impressive throw than his big touchdown earlier, because Maxwell had great coverage on the play. Bortles' margin for error was nil. Bortles has been much better in the second half -- I remember only one throw he should have made but missed, where he started to scramble but changed his mind at the last second.
Oh hey, there's Wilson-to-Tyler Lockett for a 74-yard touchdown. Seahawks are about to kick off down 30-24 with 3:42 to go.
Jacksonville goes three-and-out. Bortles nearly throws a pick-six to Maxwell. Jacksonville runs a give-up draw on third-and-long to punt the ball to back to Russell Wilson. Seahawks down six with 2:39 to go. I am shaking.
A third-and-1 sack gave Seattle a fourth-and-9, outside the two-minute warning, with two timeouts. They went for it, and Wilson's pass to Baldwin was incomplete. I think they panicked there. Even after their failure to go for it, they still have a chance to use their timeouts and get one more possession. Had they punted, they could have forced another possession, and good field position. Felt like they came back so quickly, they didn't realize just how much time they still had.
Rob Weintraub: In fairness, the Jags got away with a blatant hold on Richardson on that fourth down, which should have given Seattle a fresh set of downs.
Vince Verhei: Fournette runs for 13 yards on third-and-11. Game over. Fights break out as the Jaguars are trying to kneel out the clock. Everyone risking suspension here in the middle of a playoff race.
I believe there were five personal fouls just now. One on the Jaguars and four on Seattle. One of those was on Pete Carroll for running onto the field and telling his guys to stop committing personal fouls.
Quinton Jefferson was ejected and leaving the field and somebody threw a drink at him. So he went over to confront the fans. This resulted in more drinks being thrown at him, which resulted in Jefferson trying to climb into the bleachers and kill someone. He was eventually restrained. But, uh, yeah. That was all no good and I'm sure there will be more punishment to come.
So, Seahawks lose, Panthers win, Falcons win, Packers win, Lions win. Rams are losing late, but if they can make a miracle comeback, it will be a nuclear bomb for Seattle's playoff chances.
Philadelphia Eagles 43 at Los Angeles Rams 35
Dave Bernreuther: I want to say that Carson Wentz really underthrew that touchdown to Trey Burton. Had the linebacker turned around, that would have been an easy pick.
Instead, they go up 14-7 on two touchdowns to tight ends not named Zach Ertz. I won't lie; I expected his absence to slow Wentz's decision-making and hurt them a lot today.
Bryan Knowles: The Eagles have done a very good job dealing with the Rams' pass rush so far. The tackles are holding up well, and when pressure does get through, Wentz is slippery enough to get out of it. I have been impressed.
Aaron Schatz: Big injury in the Rams-Eagles game, as Andrew Whitworth rolled his ankle and is out for the Rams. They are saying he may come back in the second half, but it seems unlikely.
Eagles offensive line is doing a good job here of moving Aaron Donald back behind Carson Wentz in the pocket.
Bryan Knowles: If Sean McVay has one issue with his play calling so far (this season, not just this game), it's occasionally ... forgetting that the run game exists. Todd Gurley had just five carries in the first half. They're for 44 yards, though that's obviously somewhat inflated by the 30-yard run he had on Los Angeles' second play from scrimmage. That run, and the 64-yard scamper by Cooper Kupp, are pretty much the extent of the Rams' offense today; they're going to have to try to generate something if they're going to get back into this one. I'd try pounding the ball with Gurley some, but so far, nothing much is coming out of L.A.'s offense.
The Eagles continue to do a very good job dealing with the Rams' pressure. And when pressure does come, Wentz steps up and finds someone; ever since the opening drive interception, he has been lights out. There have been points, this season, where his play hasn't lived up to the hype around him. But in this, the biggest game of the year so far for Philly, he's been as advertised.
The Eagles have terrible tiebreakers (a head-to-head loss to Seattle, a strength of victory under .380, etc.), so, more so than Minnesota or Los Angeles or New Orleans, they need to rack up wins to get a high seed, especially against quality competition like Los Angeles. So far, so good...
Aaron Schatz: The Rams have good special teams in every area. Have for years now, even when everything else sucked. They just blocked a Donnie Jones punt and walked it in for a touchdown. It was a great play design; they overloaded the left side of the Eagles line and essentially forced Corey Clement on the left end to choose to block either backup safety Blake Countess or "the other" Mike Thomas. Clement sort of ends up with neither, which lets Thomas block the punt and Countess pick it up untouched to march it in for the score. I've thought in the past about trying to get a former special teams coordinator to write an occasional article for us on special teams design and play, somewhat similar to Ben Muth's column on the offensive line. This is the kind of play that's meant for. We don't think a lot about special teams design but it matters and often it's the reason for big plays like this. Big, game-changing plays, because now the Rams have a 28-24 lead despite essentially being outplayed all afternoon by Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense.
Strong decision for the Eagles to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2 with 2:28 left in the third quarter. Nobody was open. NOBODY. Wentz had plenty of time. And he somehow threaded it Alshon Jeffery, who caught the ball with his fingertips. Heckuva play.
Vince Verhei: Alshon Jeffery's fingertip grab on a fourth-and-goal touchdown is going to get all the attention, but check out Carson Wentz's poise on the play. He just stands there as lions and tigers and bears race around him, and waits and delivers the ball.
Rob Weintraub: Wentz took a nasty shot on a scramble for 6 that was called back earlier in the Jeffery touchdown drive. At first it looked like a sure knee injury, but he popped back up and stayed in. Has since left for the locker room, though.
Rivers McCown: They just downgraded Wentz to out with a knee injury. Really hope this isn't the latest cherry on our year of horrific injuries to the NFL's funnest players.
Rob Weintraub: The injuries continue to stack up around the NFC, except in Atlanta -- which is a big part of what happened last year when they stayed healthy and got hot while the rest of the conference was playing shorthanded (and the Cowboys blew it). The NFC is certainly deeper this season, but don't count the Falcons out in the big picture.
Aaron Schatz: Chris Long just strip-sacked Jared Goff and gave the Eagles the ball already on the Rams' side of the field. He leads the Eagles in hurries this year, despite playing a part-time role.
Officials just called No. 50 on the Rams, Samson Ebukam, for leverage on a field goal attempt by the Eagles. It didn't look like he did anything wrong. Maybe they meant to call it on Aaron Donald? But FOX went to Mike Pereira and Pereira at least didn't think there was any leverage on the play. So they took a 54-yard field goal off the board, the offense went 6 yards (plus 15 from the penalty), and Elliott came back in to try a 33-yard field goal. He hit that one too. 37-35 Eagles, 3:45 left.
Bryan Knowles: Philadelphia, now with Foles in for the injured Wentz, kicks the go-ahead field goal ... but the refs call leverage, which is a first down and the Eagles take the points off the board.
I didn't see anything worth a penalty there, but it's entirely possible I missed something in the scrum. Ends up costing the Rams just two minutes as they hold Philly to another field goal.
Popcorn game, this one.
Adam Schefter is reporting on twitter that the Eagles fear Carson Wentz has torn his ACL.
Eagles are concerned QB Carson Wentz tore his left ACL, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 11, 2017
Andrew Potter: Said this on Twitter, but if they think it's an ACL tear, it's almost guaranteed to be an ACL tear. The on-field exams for ACL injuries are close to 100 percent accurate, and the only recent example I can think of where it was misdiagnosed was Jeremy Maclin in January 2015. In Maclin's case, this was probably due to residual looseness in his knee from his previous ACL tears; Wentz does not have a similar history. We'll hear a thing or two about MRI scans today and tomorrow, but they almost always confirm the injury, and are usually done to check for additional damage. This late in the year, Wentz will probably miss part of the offseason and maybe begin next year on PUP. Terrible, terrible blow.
Aaron Schatz: Nick Foles is a good backup. He just whipped a laser to Jeffrey to convert a third down and basically end the game. He's no Wentz, but it's not absurd to think he could pull a Jeff Hostetler if that defense steps up.
Bryan Knowles: No one in Philly is thinking about this with Wentz hurt, but their win makes them the first team to clinch a playoff berth. And yeah, Aaron's spot on the money -- Foles might be the best backup any of the top contenders have (the big question mark behind the now-healthy Teddy Bridgewater not withstanding). He's got the biggest Hostetler potential in him. Still, what a blow.
Tom Gower: Not only did Foles hit the pass, Doug Pederson trusted him enough to try to win the game by throwing the ball. Not every coach would do that with a backup quarterback who hadn't played significant action this year before that quarter.
Rob Weintraub: Looking back at the touchdown Wentz threw after the injury, it's clear he's hurt. What I took to be him standing tall in the pocket despite the rush was actually a totally straight, stiff front leg. The throw was in the area but well low -- the great catch bailed him out.
What a shame for my main man from BisonLand.
Bryan Knowles: The other thing that could help Foles? The Eagles essentially have locked up home-field advantage today, thanks to the losses this week by Minnesota and New Orleans. In terms of tiebreakers, the Eagles now go from dead last to first -- they have the head-to-head win over the Rams, of course, but also just clinched the common games tiebreaker against Minnesota and New Orleans. Someone's going to have to actually pass them to get the Eagles out of Philadelphia now, and with games against the Giants, Raiders, and Cowboys left, it seems like the perfect schedule to get Foles up to full speed.
Obviously, never a good thing when your budding superstar tears his ACL, but the Eagles have about as perfect a situation as they could hope for.
Rob Weintraub: Meanwhile, I suppose that sews up the MVP for Tom Brady? Assuming he doesn't go down, too?
Bryan Knowles: Knock on wood.
Tennessee Titans 7 at Arizona Cardinals 12
Rivers McCown: Against a defense that allowed 350 passing yards to Tom Savage last week, Blaine Gabbert has taken four sacks and thrown for 52 yards as we hit the two-minute warning.
It certainly seems as if he is not good. But hey, maybe all empirical evidence on the subject is wrong. Let's give him three more starts just to be sure.
Tom Gower: Titans up 7-0 at the half. The Titans look like themselves: a mostly ineffective run game, a pass game that makes me want to tear my hair out, and a mix of some really good throws by Marcus Mariota and some I'd like to see him do better on. Arizona doesn't have a sustaining run game, and Blaine Gabbert hasn't been as good as he was the past two weeks (he was actually OK after a bad start last week). Titans touchdown came on a drive that started at midfield after a short Andy Lee punt. Gabbert took four sacks in the first half, because that's part of what he is now (and no, the line doesn't give him forever to throw). But like Rivers said, vaguely competent quarterbacks can throw against this defense.
Rivers McCown: Potential swing play here as the Titans run a fake punt at their own 35, and get it. Arizona challenges. A spot challenge. And Arians actually wins it as the ball comes up short of the line to gain on review. So Arizona gets a short field in a 7-3 game after that gamble backfires.
A shanked Phil Dawson field goal from 40 kept Tennessee in the lead until the fourth quarter, but Arizona drove down the field from their own 15 and kicked the field goal to take the lead with about six minutes to go.
To be clear, some of Tennessee's problems today are about Taylor Lewan being out. But they have been utterly unable to move the football. Arizona has no offense beyond reacting to blitzes with good checkdowns. They're winning this game almost completely as a reactive thing.
Rob Weintraub: Even by Mariota standards his latest pick was brutal --failing to clear the dropping linebacker, Josh Bynes, he throws it right at him. A late hit on the return sets up the Cards for more points.
Last chance for Tennessee, and the usually reliable Delanie Walker has back-to-back passes knocked free -- one was kicked loose by Brandon Williams. Fourth-down goes incomplete as well, and an ugly, perhaps important loss for the Titans in the desert is in the books.
Tom Gower: The Titans had been living on the brief stretches of every game their offense was awesome, to cover up the larger stretches of every game the offense was horrible. Today, they didn't get those stretches and therefore ended up with just seven points. They made it to Arizona territory two other times on 12 possessions, one of them a time-compressed drive at the end of the first half and the other ended by Marcus Mariota's first bad interception, which came on a miscommunication with Rishard Matthews (per Mike Mularkey postgame, Matthews ran the wrong route). His second interception was on him, a missed read. The Cardinals got field goals out of two short fields: one following the second interception and the one off the earlier failed fake punt. They didn't do a ton on offense, with Kerwynn Wiliams the standout performer with 20 carries for 73 yards, but Tennessee wasn't able to take advantage of any of Gabbert's interceptable passes and he didn't fumble on any of the sacks he took, and that was enough with Tennessee's broken offense.
Rob Weintraub: Jason LaCanfora reports that Mariota played with a knee injury, which would A) suck and B) explain some of the lack of oomph on his throws.
New York Jets 0 at Denver Broncos 23
Scott Kacsmar: I had my fill of this one after I saw Bryce Petty force a dangerous pass short of the sticks on third-and-short. He then missed the open fourth-down throw too. Denver leads 23-0 and the losing streak is finally going to end.
Baltimore Ravens 38 at Pittsburgh Steelers 39
Scott Kacsmar: Pretty entertaining half. Steelers put up 20 points on four drives. Ben Roethlisberger has been great, but did get away with one terrible throwaway that Terrell Suggs dropped, leading to a 52-yard field goal by Chris Boswell, who seems to have figured out Heinz Field's kicking difficulties. The Ravens also put together long back-to-back touchdown drives after some shoddy tackling by the Steelers. Alex Collins runs really hard. Reminds me of a Marion Barber, or Devonta Freeman for an active comparison. Steelers seem to have avoided the almost inevitable Le'Veon Bell injury. He left the game momentarily in the second quarter, but returned before the half ended.
Aaron Schatz: Have the Steelers decided to run the Patriots defensive scheme from September? The "let's not all run the same coverage" scheme? There have been some Ravens receivers just absurdly open. If they do this against the Patriots next week, it may be a bloodbath. Or both defenses will do it and we'll have 100 points scored.
Bryan Knowles: And now Baltimore takes a 31-20 lead late in the third quarter.
Who ARE the Steelers? I'm shocked they're not dead last in variance; it feels like they can blow out the best teams in football and then get dragged around by the very worst. Not that the Ravens are among the very worst or anything, but I was expecting a much stronger performance from Pittsburgh tonight. We're in December, and I still don't have any idea how good they actually are.
Aaron Schatz: I am so sick of having Pittsburgh upsets in Any Given Sunday.
Rob Weintraub: The Steelers are suffering from post-Bengals hangover too -- they're talented enough so that their version isn't nearly as lifeless as Cincy's effort, but clearly they aren't all the way there either.
Rivers McCown: Apparently Ryan Shazier is the most important defensive player in the league
Antonio Brown should be the offensive player of the year. Discuss.
Aaron Schatz: I will give Shazier credit for leading the league in defeats going into this week, with 28.
But wow, the Steelers are lucky they won that game. Roethlisberger heaved the ball up with some passes on that last drive that were begging to be intercepted. Just chucked it up to whoever could come down with the thing.