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.
Chicago Bears 10 at Detroit Lions 20
Bryan Knowles: No one watched that epic Detroit-Chicago battle? I'm shocked, shocked.
Tom Gower: I watched, by which I mean I had my eye on and somewhat paid attention to, Lions-Bears. Not much of a game, as the Bears are just too limited on offense. I was mucking around with the DVOA workbooks during the week and noted Mitchell Trubisky was the second-worst passer in the league from shotgun (min. 100 plays, which includes sacks but excludes scrambles, and this was before the MNF/TNF opponent adjustments). We saw some of that today as well, what with a few of his interceptions coming when he wasn't under center. It was pretty much the kind of game I expected from the Bears: a pretty solid overall defensive performance against a Lions front that was banged up yet at no point did it feel like they had a realistic chance of beating a decent but not great team on the road.
Dave Bernreuther: The most entertaining part of that game to me was a play that came back on a penalty -- Tarik Cohen's kick return where he showed off some remarkable acceleration after slowing down to let defenders pass 60 or so yards into his run. For some reason the Human Joystick Dante Hall came to mind when watching him run like that. I feel like he made one move too many or else he'd have gone all the way. Not that it'd have counted.
Los Angeles Chargers 13 at Kansas City Chiefs 30
Bryan Knowles: One of the reasons the Chargers have bounced back from their left-for-dead start? Third-down defense. Through the first six weeks of the season, the Chargers allowed opponents to convert 44.6 percent of their third downs, sixth-worst in the league. Since then, they've improved to 36.0 percent, ninth-best. They open the game with a big three-and-out thanks to pressure from Melvin Ingram; it forced Alex Smith to scramble around and miss Travis Kelce coming open deep over the top. Pass pressure! Alex has been better, in general, about standing up to pressure and buying time, but there, he just ran for his life.
I have seen deep defenses in desperation Hail Mary attempts; never with two minutes left in the first half. But, facing a third-and-21, the Chargers lined seven players up on the first-down marker, leaving about ten miles of open space between them and the front four. With them off camera when the snap started, it was one of the more bizarre things I've seen. Yeah, they stopped Kansas City from picking up 21 yards, but they basically gave them 18, and that was enough for Andy Reid to gamble and go for it on fourth-and-3. Eighteen yards means something in the first quarter, guys! That prevent stuff is for when it's touchdown or bust! It ended up with a field goal anyway, but that could have ended up being a disaster.
The Chargers are still last in our FG/XP metrics, as they can't seem to find a kicker. They have already cycled through YoungHoe Koo and Nick Novak, but now Travis Coons has missed an extra point as well. Los Angeles is lucky not to be down by more, as the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal attempt early, and missed a second field goal with seconds left in the half. Kansas City's outgaining L.A. 222-142 -- on one fewer drive, to boot -- but that high-scoring offense from September feels like it happened in 2007, doesn't it?
Dave Bernreuther: Alex Smith is at 13-of-16 with three passes having been dropped, according to the graphic they just showed, but I do seem to recall him throwing a pointless and inaccurate negative-ALEX pass while running to his right that wouldn't have gotten the first down anyway. They have done a pretty good job cooling off the Bosa/Ingram pass rush through the half, and Smith has looked pretty good otherwise, including on the deep strike to Tyreek Hill.
Ordinarily I'd argue against chancing a 52-yard field goal outdoors on fourth-and-3, but with seven seconds left in the half I can't complain. Harrison Butker missed just wide left, which is no huge surprise.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Travis Benjamin, no. Facing third-and-8, down 10 points, Rivers hits Benjamin for about 6 yards. There are zero Chiefs between Benjamin and the first-down marker, though Marcus Peters and a couple other Chiefs are right on the other side. If Benjamin lowers his shoulder and runs straight forward, he almost assuredly gets the first down. Instead, he cuts off to the side, presumably trying to break a big play, and gets stopped short. That forces the Chargers to go for it on fourth down with just 8:30 left in the game, and Philip Rivers throws an emergency off-balance pass which was intercepted by Ron Parker. If Benjamin just goes forward, that doesn't happen, and the Chargers are still in this one.
If this drive does anything -- even just eating a couple minutes off the clock -- that's ballgame. In which case the Chargers will be back on life support; they wouldn't be dead at 7-7, but they'd almost definitely need the Chiefs to slip up against the Dolphins and Broncos or the Ravens to suddenly struggle with the Browns.
Dave Bernreuther: Under two minutes to go, on your own 6 down by three scores, why on earth would you hand off to Melvin Gordon three times, exposing him to needless hits and injury risk, when you could just kneel it out and go home?
Those 10 yards just made me ten extra dollars in DFS too, but it's still infuriating.
Bryan Knowles: For that matter, why go into hurry-up mode down three scores ... but still include hand-offs at all? Pick one strategy or the other, Chargers.
Scott Kacsmar: This game may have been another case where the season data says more than the recent trends. While the Chargers had been recently playing better than Kansas City, we know the Chiefs have a very talented roster and were the best team in the league earlier this season. The talent of guys such as Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Marcus Peters really showed up tonight. Put this team at home in a near must-win game and I'm a bit surprised the Chiefs were a slight underdog. The Chargers turning into a mess in the second half is also about as predictable as it gets. Benjamin's failure to convert that third-and-long by not running forward was the highlight for me -- a real asinine play.
It still wouldn't shock me at all if the Chiefs pulled off a Giants- or Ravens-esque Super Bowl run to cap off this five-year window of the Smith/Reid era with a ring. While Pittsburgh has been this team's bugaboo, maybe they can avoid them in January thanks to a Jacksonville upset, and I still say this is the AFC team most likely to win a playoff game in New England. While so many were quick to write the Chiefs off, they just opened up a 26-0 lead on the Raiders last week and won by 17 against the trendy new AFC playoff favorite in the Chargers. It's really two of the team's most impressive games all season and it is coming at the right time.
Green Bay Packers 24 at Carolina Panthers 31
Bryan Knowles: Hey, points for Carolina for not letting recency bias control their decisions. Jonathan Stewart ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns last week -- by far his best game of the season. It's one of only two times he has topped 50 yards in his past nine games, though, and he remains in the bottom five in both DYAR and DVOA. So, forget the "hot hand" theory -- the Panthers have gone right back to Christian McCaffrey, who at least offers receiving value. Nine touches for the rookie on Carolina's first drive as they march right down the field. Despite this, no one decides to cover McCaffrey on the goal line, and he catches an easy, easy touchdown. Aaron Rodgers nowhere to be seen on that defensive stand, for shame.
Speaking of Captain Collarbone, he certainly isn't playing like he's hurt. He's willing to scramble around about as much as normal -- three scrambles so far -- and hit Davante Adams for a touchdown. No hesitation, no second-guessing. Ian Rapoport and company report that the collarbone isn't fully healed, and maybe -- maybe -- it came into play on a couple incompletions. That could just as easily be rust, though, and it's hard to look at every play and try to figure out what is and isn't an effect of the injury.
We harped a bunch on Oakland's inability to get an interception for the majority of the season, but the Panthers cornerbacks have been struggling, as well. They only picked up their first interceptions of the season last week -- and now they have another, as pressure forced Aaron Rodgers to basically do an arm punt deep downfield. An interesting strategic switch for the Packers today; they're using a lot of four-receiver sets. That would make sense, going from Brett Hundley to Rodgers -- but they weren't exactly using a ton of them earlier in the season. My guess would be a knock-on effect from Martellus Bennett leaving the team; they kept Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers to try to keep Hundley upright and are opening things up more now that ARod is back.
Aaron Schatz: The Rodgers arm punt wasn't really an arm punt, not on purpose. He was trying to make a play under pressure, had David Bakhtiari pushed back into him and it messed up his footwork, which had him hanging the ball up. Rodgers has been under a lot of pressure today, more balls thrown away than usual. The Packers switched their strategy on the last drive of the half, going to all short stuff: receiver screens, slants, and flats. One of the short crosses, the Panthers totally forgot to cover Randall Cobb, so he was able to scamper for a 33-yard touchdown. 14-10 Packers at halftime.
Tom Gower: We saw the Christian McCaffrey show early and at other times, as the Panthers were clicking on every third down early. Converted all three on the first drive and the first on the second drive before stalling in field goal range. But now they've stopped doing that, thus the Cobb touchdown puts Green Bay on top.
Bryan Knowles: Well, anything Aaron can do, Cam can do better. Rodgers took a shot on the Cobb touchdown, so Cam Newton decides to do the same thing to start the second half, absorbing a shot as he finds a wide-open Greg Olsen for a go-ahead touchdown. It feels like the Packers have blown a lot of coverages today, but usually it's receivers they struggle with, not running backs and tight ends. Today, though, there seems to be someone wide open on every other play.
And now things are beginning to get out of hand, as Damiere Byrd scores a touchdown on what I'm going to call a "questionable" review. Byrd made a pretty astounding jumping, bobbling catch in coverage, but it sure looked to me like he didn't gain possession until he was sitting out of bounds. If that was Austin Seferian-Jenkins, it's not a catch. 24-14 Panthers, and the Panthers are picking up steam.
Aaron Schatz: Carolina just challenged a third-quarter catch by Damiere Byrd based on the idea that his left butt cheek hit the end zone before the right butt cheek hit out of bounds, and that therefore there is a catch and a touchdown. And they won the challenge. Buttfumble? Now we've got the Buttchallenge. 24-14 Panthers.
Tom Gower: That Carolina touchdown was part of why I LIKE getting actual explanations from officials. The explanation we got was the receiver was ruled down by contact in the end zone, which says nothing of how and why they reversed the call on the field. An actual explanation would have said that "the receiver landed in the end zone and controlled the football before touching out of bounds," the "landing in the end zone" part of which was not obvious to me until Fox showed the zoomed-in replay after we got the call on the field of reversal. Had they shown that to us before the call, it would have been clear to me and presumably others that a reversal might be coming.
Aaron Schatz: Aaron Rodgers now has three interceptions. All three have been underthrown. The first underthrow was definitely because of pressure and the left tackle pushing him backwards, but perhaps Rodgers is not as healthy as we all want him to be?
Bryan Knowles: That would line up well with the Packers going to short stuff after their first couple drives; if Rodgers went to the sidelines and said he was lacking something on his deep ball, maybe they changed up their strategy to put him in a better situation? But with the Panthers marching up and down the field, they had to take some deeper shots, leading to the interceptions?
I have no idea if that's the case, but it would at least seem logically consistent.
31-17, and this one is just about over, and with it, Green Bay's playoff hopes. So here's the question that will be asked over and over again this week: should the Packers have rushed Rodgers back? I'm not saying Brett Hundley would give the Packers a better chance to win, but was the long shot the Packers had (needing to win out and get some help) worth bringing Rodgers back at 80 percent healthy or whatever it turns out being? I do lean towards "yes" here -- you have to at least give it a shot when you're in playoff range -- but it's not a cut-and-dry situation. The Packers don't bring him back if they're 5-8.
Tom Gower: Unless Rodgers has a significant risk of worsening the injury such that his availability for Week 1 next year is in question, you play him as soon as he's cleared. But he's clearly not the Aaron Rodgers we're used to seeing. He's not visibly hampered a la 2015 Zombie Peyton Manning, but we've noted the underthrows, it's his first three-interception game of any kind since 2009, and down 31-17 with just under six minutes to play, he took big sacks on third-and-6 and then fourth-and-14. Yes, Jason Spriggs is bad, but I'm used to not seeing quite that from the great Rodgers we're used to seeing.
Dave Bernreuther: 31-24 on a Rodgers-to-Rodgers hookup, then I blinked and the Pack have it inside the 40 at the 2-minute warning.
Maybe those playoff hopes aren't dead just yet...
Aaron Schatz: Recovered the onside kick. It's onside kick recovery day. Miami also recovered theirs in the final 2:00, then Jay Cutler immediately threw a pick to end the game.
Bryan Knowles: ... but Geronimo Allison fumbles, this time definitely ending this one. Allison's only playing because Davante Adams had been knocked out of the game by Thomas Davis on a pretty brutal shot earlier.
Cincinnati Bengals 7 at Minnesota Vikings 34
Bryan Knowles: So, this is apparently Marvin Lewis' last season in Cincinnati, possibly in a "you can't fire me, I quit!" situation. The Bengals are really playing their hearts out in honor of their departing coach. Oh, wait, not that, the other thing. Through a quarter and change, they're averaging just 1.8 yards per carry on the ground and 2.8 yards per pass. Eric Kendricks has 31 yards on an interception return; the Bengals have just 26 offensive yards. So yeah, that's going well.
Rob Weintraub: No excuse for the Bengals -- well, there is a bit of one, the whole team is hurt. They are currently playing nickel 100 percent of the snaps as they are down to two healthy linebackers, one of whom was recently signed from the practice. Meanwhile, the four starting defensive backs are all out too. So the touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs was thrown between Tony McRae and Clayton Fejdelem. Who? Exactly.
But still. The only reason this won't end 50-0 is because Zimmer won't humiliate Lewis. Complete (overdue) housecleaning coming in Cincy.
Bryan Knowles: Welcome back, Teddy Bridgewater.
Tom Gower: Welcome back indeed, Teddy Bridgewater. Brutal injury, and I wasn't convinced we'd see him on a football field again.
Philadelphia Eagles 34 at New York Giants 29
Scott Kacsmar: Well, Carson Wentz didn't play defense. Eagles somehow give up three touchdown drives of 75-plus yards to start the game in New York. The Giants haven't scored more than 24 points in any game this season, and the season-high 24 points were also against the Eagles actually. Divisional games, man.
Andrew Potter: Anybody who thought the Giants might upset the Eagles this week would probably have been expecting Nick Foles to struggle against a Giants defense that still contains most of the key players from DVOA's second-ranked 2016 defense. Instead, Foles has four touchdowns in eight drives and the Eagles have only punted twice, but the Giants have four touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer, including strikes of 67 and 57 yards. Shepard's 67-yarder was particularly bad from a defensive perspective, as most of the yards came after the catch while potential Eagles tacklers floundered around him. Scott already mentioned the previous game: the Giants now have both of their highest-scoring games this year against the Eagles. It could be worse, but the Eagles special teams is having a huge game blocking kicks: a field goal, an extra point, and a punt all blocked so far.
Baltimore Ravens 27 at Cleveland Browns 10
Scott Kacsmar: Terrible job by Baltimore in the red zone could be a turning point in this one. First, they had Joe Flacco run a kamikaze dive on a zone-read keeper, and he came up short after nearly getting killed on the play. Then, to the chagrin of the conservative CBS analyst, the Ravens rightfully went for it on fourth-and-goal, but a terribly blocked run with Alex Collins was stuffed in the backfield. The Browns drove 96 yards for a go-ahead touchdown after that when it looked like it was going to be 10-0 Ravens.
Bryan Knowles: Kind of amazing that the Browns had the lead in this one despite DeShone Kizer having just 7 passing yards. But that's really not fair; Kizer actually has 19 passing yards if you don't have this unfair prejudice towards positive yards. And if you include interception yardage, he'd have 45 yards! He even made history: his -12 passing yards in the first quarter were the lowest total in one quarter since Kerry Collins had -22 in 2009. See, it's all about maintaining a positive attitude and trying to find the best in any given situation. That, or their move away from analytics includes forgetting that the stats indicate throwing forwards might be helpful.
17-7 after a Cleveland fumble, and, well, the Browns are Browning.
Tom Gower: Plus, the Titans were down 59-0 in the game where Collins had -22 passing yards in a quarter. The Browns only being down seven isn't bad at all, and it's not like that Titans team had any more wins at the time than the Browns do. Granted, 0-5 and 0-13 are not exactly the same, but it's the thought that counts.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: We discussed Collins' bad day in 2009 in Quick Reads last week.)
New York Jets 19 at New Orleans Saints 31
Scott Kacsmar: I liked the little bubble screen from the Saints on a fourth-and-2 in a spot where most coaches would have kicked the field goal. You're playing the Jets, you're at home, so why not? It was initially ruled a touchdown before being correctly overturned, but still more than enough yards to convert for a first. I naturally oppose bubble screens in general, but they make a lot more sense when you need a couple of yards as opposed to 12.
Dave Bernreuther: Not really watching, but I have no idea how the Jets have kept this one close. Every time I look up at the game they look hopeless, and after seeing Bryce Petty rifle one directly at the feet of Robbie Anderson behind the line of scrimmage I am again forced to wonder just how bad Christian Hackenberg must be if he can't even beat out Petty...
Houston Texans 7 at Jacksonville Jaguars 45
Dave Bernreuther: The gaudy stats shouldn't fool you; Blake Bortles is still inaccurate as can be, and it's still ridiculous that a team with him at the helm is on track to host a playoff game and, pending the 4:25 result, even have the inside track for a bye.
But the defense is good, and T.J. Yates seems to like throwing while falling backwards and is generally even worse, so the Jags are running away with this one.
Arizona Cardinals 15 at Washington Redhawks 20
Dave Bernreuther: What's funny to me is that I have Blaine Gabbert on the TV right next to the Jags game. And he's doing a fine job showing us all that the Jags are still actually better off, even at quarterback, than before. At least he gave us some comic relief when he doinked one off of D.J. Foster's head before the Cards settled for yet another field goal.
The Redskins don't look good on offense. And it seems like every Samaje Perine touch is met by Cardinals defenders behind the line of scrimmage. But they have scored two touchdowns, and the Cards haven't sniffed the end zone in two games, so they have held an insurmountable one-score lead for the entirety of this contest. 17-12 at the moment.
After a Buttfumble-esque play by Gabbert, the gunslinging Bruce Arians decides to punt from near midfield with 2:30 to play down 20-15. But Bruce, how do you expect to have time to kick two more field goals?
Oh my, this just got a lot dumber. On first down, Kirk Cousins ran straight backwards, turned the wrong way, and chucked the ball into the pass-rusher. So somehow, the Redskins are punting the ball back to Arizona -- and leaving them a timeout -- with 2:12 on the clock.
Of course, it's still Blaine Gabbert. He of the 13-of-34 stat line. So maybe it doesn't matter. But still ... that was poor.
Not to be outdone, however, punt returner Brittan Golden eschews the fair catch to try to make a return. He had space up the sideline, but turned toward the middle of the field, danced, ate up clock, then finally lunged toward the sideline ... but it was too late, as the clock passed the two-minute warning and cost the team a play. To add injury to idiocy, Golden got hurt and had to be carted off.
None of this mattered, of course, because Gabbert. And all this Colts fan can think of is the 80-yard game winner to Cecil Shorts that the Colts allowed to him back in Luck's first year.
Los Angeles Rams 42 at Seattle Seahawks 7
Vince Verhei: Defense dominates early here. The Seahawks fumble the ball away on their first possession when Lamarcus Joyner knocks the ball out of Tanner McEvoy's hands on what would have been a third-down conversion. Rams take over in Seahawks territory, but have to settle for a field goal after Earl Thomas covers a ridiculous amount of real estate to tackle Robert Woods on a third-down screen pass.
As expected, the Rams defensive line has dominated Seattle's offensive line. Ethan Pocic just gave up a tackle for loss to Ethan Westbrooks and a sack to Aaron Donald on one three-and-out drive. That sets up a short Jon Ryan punt, but the Rams have to settle for a field goal again when Cooper Kupp drops a pass in the red zone. Kupp dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown the last time these two teams played. Rams lead 6-0, thanks largely to starting two drives with good field position.
On the Seahawks' third drive, Jimmy Graham catches a pass over the middle to convert a first-and-20, but John Johnson yanks the ball out as he goes to the ground. It's ruled a catch and down by contact, but the Rams challenge the play, and it is overruled to an incomplete pass. That's twice in the first eight official snaps of the game a Rams defensive back has negated a big catch by ripping the ball out of a Seattle receiver's hands. That leads to another Donald sack and another short Ryan punt, which Pharoh Cooper returns to the Seattle 1. Rams special teams come through again. Todd Gurley scores on first down to put the Rams up 13-0 and the Seahawks don't officially have a first down yet. Los Angeles has started its first three drives on the Seattle 40, the 50, and the Seattle 1.
Bryan Knowles: The Seahawks, notorious slow starters, are at it again. First three drives are two three-and-outs and a three-and-fumble-and-set-up-the-Rams-in-good-field-position (less catchy, that last one). The final punt ended up leading to the Rams' first touchdown when Pharoh Cooper returned a punt 53 yards to the 1. Honestly, Seattle is a little lucky to be down just 13-0; Cooper Kupp dropped a key third-down pass that could have led to a bigger play. Defense looking fine, but offense and special teams letting Seattle down so far. Holding penalties, dropped passes…
Vince Verhei: Seahawks finally get a little something going on offense, so this time when they punt it goes into the end zone for a touchback. Rams then drive inside Seattle's 30. Todd Gurley is stuffed on a third-and-1. Rams go for it, and it's a pass instead of a run. Don't like that call -- they've had much more success running it today, especially to the right side. But Jared Goff play-fakes and rolls to his right, and under pressure lobs a pass to nobody in particular. Michael Wilhoite catches an interception that he would have been better off dropping -- they lost about 10 yards there compared to what a fourth-down incompletion would have been -- but I'll take it. Great play by Bradley McDougald to take away the quick throw to Gerald Everett, then turn and put pressure on Goff.
Seahawks follow that with another three-and-out, and Cooper gets another big punt return to the Seattle 36. Are there records for field position? Because you can't get much better than what the Rams have had today. And it quickly turns into another goal-line touchdown for Gurley. Biggest play was a 15-yard screen pass to Kupp. Rams lead 20-0 and look very much like the best team in the league. Seahawks were actually favored coming into this game, which was confusing at the time and mind-boggling now.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, it was surprising that the Seahawks were favored -- but as surprising as the Rams taking a 27-0 lead late in the second quarter? I know the Seahawks have historically struggled with the Rams (though they beat them earlier this year), but this is, frankly, astonishing. They're dominating in every phase of the game, and it's not even really close. Aaron pointed out on twitter that, amidst all the injuries this season, the Rams have stayed healthy and dominant. People are worried about all the stars getting hurt; there are plenty of stars in Los Angeles fans will get to watch this January.
Vince Verhei: Wilson hits J.D. McKissic down the sideline for a big gain, but then pressure get to Wilson again, and he tries to throw the ball away, but it's a backward pass out of bounds and a loss of 23. This of course leads to another punt, and ANOTHER big return by Cooper and the Rams start in Seahawks territory AGAIN.
Frank Clark then beats Andrew Whitworth for a sack-fumble, but Rams recover. It's funny, I would argue that the one guy on the Rams who is NOT having a good day is Goff. He has had a lot of throwaways, the one failure to convert on fourth down, and most of the Rams' receiving yards have come after the catch. That leads to a third-and-20, and in the final minute they run a give-up draw to Todd Gurley ... who zips into the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown. He's now over 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Rams now up 34-0, and it's going to take a monumental second-half effort just to stop this from being the biggest blowout of the Pete Carroll era.
Rams start the first half with their first punt of the game, but the Seahawks soon respond with a punt of their own. We're in the third quarter now, and the Seahawks offense has given up more sacks (six) than it has gained first downs (five). There's a scuffle after the play, and Seattle's Delano Hill is ejected. Second week in a row the Seahawks have had a player thrown out of a game. I'm not calling for anyone's head, but the wheels are quickly coming off this team.
Dave Bernreuther: This just in: it's still really freaking hard to sack Russell Wilson.
Robert Quinn had him dead to rights on one play, which he somehow wriggled out of and managed a throwaway, and then had a one-on-one shot at him the very next play, only to see Wilson shift to the center of the field and pick up a first down. One play later, and at least the Seahawks are on the board, Wilson-to-Willson. 40-7 now. Despite that sequence, I'm sure Andy Benoit will find a way to spin this as a reason to prefer Matthew Stafford.
Vince Verhei: It's 40-7 at the end of three quarters. Rams have run for more than 200 yards as a team. Seahawks only have 118 yards of total offense. Seven sacks and counting. I can't imagine that Russell Wilson plays in the fourth quarter. I mean, they'll still be alive in the playoff race after this weekend, though there's not much reason to believe they'll actually make the playoffs, or that they deserve to.
Dave Bernreuther: Wow, I didn't know they got him seven times. Maybe edit my last message to "can be."
Also, Goff is at 120 whole passing yards in a game where his team has 40 points through three quarters. That can't be all that common.
Vince Verhei: Oh, it totally is [hard to sack Wilson]. They've just dominated the line so much Wilson often has had no chance to flee. And sometimes he has held the ball forever waiting for somebody to get open too.
Leading rushers in Seahawks games this year:
1) R.Wilson, 521 yards in 14 games
2) C.Carson, 208 in 4
3) T.Gurley, 195 in 2
4) E.Lacy, 179 in 10
5) J.McKissic, 178 in 11
6) C.Hyde, 171 in 2
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) December 18, 2017
Tennessee Titans 23 at San Francisco 49ers 25
Bryan Knowles: 49ers take an early lead, and if you didn't know better, you'd think it was San Francisco that was fighting for a playoff spot and Tennessee that was dead. The 49ers marched fairly easily down the field on their opening drive before being forced to settle for a field goal after an Avery Williamson sack when the 49ers went empty. The Titans went three-and-out when DeForest Buckner sacked old college teammate Marcus Mariota. The stands are slightly more full for Jimmy Garoppolo's first start -- turns out, when you have a draw, people come to watch you. Amazing! 6-0, 49ers.
Not a good day for Delanie Walker, coming back to Santa Franclara for the first time since Trent Baalke declined to re-sign him in 2013. He has dropped a touchdown that bounced off of his hands, and just fumbled the ball when Brock Coyle ripped the ball out.
Meanwhile, we have a Jim-Trent connection firing on all cylinders for the 49ers. Garoppolo-to-Taylor seems to have a little more chemistry than Harbaugh-to-Baalke. It's just amazing what competent quarterback play can do for a team; we have seen it very clearly in Houston this season, we have seen the Packers' offense fall off without Aaron Rodgers, and we see it in San Francisco now. How on Earth did the Patriots only get a second-round pick for this guy? 16-3 as we approach the half.
Tom Gower: 49ers lead 16-10 at the half. San Francisco controlled the first 28:28 of the game. They've had the ball four times and scored four times. Like other Tennessee opponents, they can't establish much on the ground (Matt Breida and Carlos Hyde are a combined 16-for-28), but Jimmy Garoppolo has more than made up for it. He has looked pretty good so far, composed in the pocket even when the Titans have tried to bring pressure and throwing some pretty precise passes at times. Not perfect, but the touchdown was a nifty one where he signaled to Garrett Celek and made a play outside the pocket in the close red zone. This looks better and more coherent than the not-yet-on-schedule Falcons we saw in 2015 in Kyle Shanahan's first season there.
On offense, the Titans have done something like their usual mix of not-so-good and very good. The drive that started with 92 seconds to go in the half was a thing of beauty, with Mariota going 5-of-6 for 64 yards and the score to Delanie Walker, who held on this time after an earlier drop. A couple of the throws, notably the one to Rishard Matthews that put them in goal-to-go, were very good (ditto the throw that Walker dropped on the earlier field goal drive). So they'll probably go three- or four-and-out a couple times to start the second half before randomly being good again.
Bryan Knowles: Tennessee has woken up with the AFC South title -- and possibly any playoff spot --hanging in the balance. After the very nice drive to end the first half, they have controlled the third quarter. They opened with a 14-play field goal drive, forced a quick punt from the 49ers, and are driving again as the quarter comes to an end. Still down 16-13, but they have looked more like a playoff team -- at least in the AFC -- after the break. Both quarterbacks will get a chance at a fourth-quarter comeback here, most likely.
While we have all been nail-biting in Pittsburgh, the 49ers and Titans have been marching up and down the field and trading field goals. The most recent one makes it 23-22 Tennessee, with 1:06 remaining. With C.J. Beathard or Brian Hoyer behind center, this is over. With Garoppolo...
Yup, yup. Garoppolo marches the 49ers down the field 64 yards for another game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould. This is becoming old hat. First three-game winning streak for the 49ers since 2014.
For the Titans, this ends any realistic hope they had of winning the division, meaning things are beginning to get a little clear in the AFC. Had the Patriots not lost on Monday night, we'd essentially know the AFC goes NE/PIT/JAC/AFC West Winner. That one loss does keep things in play for at least another week, though.
Tom Gower: Excluding the drive at the end of the first half, where they ran the ball once and let the clock run out, the San Francisco 49ers scored on seven of eight possessions. The Titans' only actual "stop" came when Trent Taylor dropped a pass that would have given the 49ers a first down. Even holding an opponent to field goals, it's hard to win many games when the other team gets points basically every time they get the ball. The Titans actually moved the ball well most of the time, scoring on five of their own eight possessions, but it wasn't enough. Delanie Walker's first-half drop shouldn't be forgotten, as well as that they call two run plays after getting first-and-10 at the San Francisco 40, which is how they ended up kicking a 50-yard field goal to take a narrow lead. It's kind of funny, because this is the kind of game I expected to see a lot more of from the 2017 Titans -- a low-key shootout where both offenses ended up moving the ball well but not necessarily for touchdowns.
New England Patriots 27 at Pittsburgh Steelers 24
Aaron Schatz: Well, it does look like the day we've been waiting to see for years has finally arrived. The Steelers have finally given up trying to play Cover-3 against Tom Brady and they're playing a lot of man instead, particularly Man-2 Under. It didn't help that on one early Cover-3 snap, Artie Burns got caught looking into the backfield on double play-action (both a fake handoff and a fake jet sweep) and thus left his third completely open for Brandin Cooks to catch a big deep pass that set up the first Pats' touchdown.
The Steelers offense looks good, with a couple of blown plays by Eric Rowe trying to cover the slot receivers leading to the first touchdown, and then a wonderful diving catch by Martavis Bryant after he put it into another gear and sped away from Stephon Gilmore. Unfortunately ... on that drive, Antonio Brown got sandwiched between two defenders in the end zone and injured his left calf. He's in the locker room now. It seems like these two teams can't play without one of the main Steelers offensive players getting injured, or being injured going into the game. 10-10 tie, nine minutes left, second quarter.
Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger made some great touch throws in that half, often from awkward positions to save some third downs. Very good day for the receivers too, but I'm pretty sad that Brown went down. He's the guy who seems to always stay healthy in this offense. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bryant really have to step up, and both have so far. Steelers are finally playing with a lead at halftime on Brady, which is something they have only done three times before (all at Heinz Field too). I'm still skeptical of this defense against the Patriots, but if the offense can continue to grind out long drives like that, then this could be a 2011 type of victory, the last time the Steelers beat New England. I'd imagine leaning on Le'Veon Bell a bit more in the second half. Not just on the ground, but as a high-percentage receiver.
Bryan Knowles: Now news has come that Antonio Brown is going to the hospital. Damn it. We can't have nice things in 2017.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm wondering what the upside was to kicking at 23-16 instead of going for two. Odd decision by the coach that tends to break the mold when it comes to going for two.
Aaron Schatz: Some random thoughts about Pittsburgh, now at 24-16 Steelers after the
Steelers respond to a Brady interception with a touchdown:
- Steelers' tight ends and wide receivers have been outstanding run-blocking this evening.
- Steelers run play-action less than any other offense in the NFL, less than 10 percent of pass plays, but they've had some nice big plays with it here.
- Patriots lost Rex Burkhead to what I'm going to guess was a torn ACL, and while that's nowhere near as big as losing Antonio Brown, it is a loss. The Pats can bring Mike Gillislee back next week but he's not the weapon in the passing game or the value in special teams coverage that Burkhead is.
- Steelers' pass rush is really dominating the Patriots' offensive line today. The exception for the most part is Nate Solder, who was terrible at the start of the year and has been much stronger since the Patriots' midseason bye week. The difficulty Brady is having getting time to throw is starting to feel like Super Bowl LI. Given how Super Bowl LI ended, I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing for Pittsburgh.
Bryan Knowles: The first three-and-out of the game happens with 2:16 left in the fourth quarter, and the worst possible time for Pittsburgh. You don't want to give the ball back to Tom Brady with any time left.
The Steelers can't stop the Gronk. Practically single-handedly marched the Patriots down the field and added the two-point conversion, to boot. 56 seconds left for Big Ben and the Steelers to answer, without Antonio Brown.
Oh my. Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster takes a 5- or 6-yard crossing route and runs it 80 yards downfield. Amazing. This game.
Aaron Schatz: Sixty-nine yards, actually. Appropriate way to beat an unstoppable Gronk. Great blocking by Le'Veon Bell on the side of the field as Smith-Schuster went up the sideline. Then the Steelers connected with Jesse James for the touchdown to take the lead ... except that it was overturned because the ball was bobbled. Who the hell knows what a catch is, part 9,567.
Dave Bernreuther: That's a far more obvious call than either ASJ overturn. Riveron got one right.
Bryan Knowles: ...and, after it was reversed, Ben Roethlisberger forces the ball into traffic, it's batted up, and the Patriots come down with an interception. Wow.
It doesn't quite seal up home field in New England because of the loss to Miami, but wow. I thought for sure this game was going to overtime.
Aaron Schatz: I'm going to need a few minutes to process this and I can't even imagine how Scott feels.
Carl Yedor: After the dropped would-be-interception, Gronkowski was just uncoverable on the final drive. Three chunk plays to get the Patriots inside the 10 and then topping it off with the two-point conversion.
And then, JuJu Smith-Schuster takes a crossing route 70ish yards to get it into the red zone. Pittsburgh scores on their next play in the middle to Jesse James. Or so they think! The catch rule rears its head again!
Boy does that end up costing them. After a short pass over the middle, Roethlisberger tries to run a fake spike-to-slant route (similar to last year against Dallas) but the ball gets tipped and intercepted. Patriots win after an absolutely wild final two minutes.
Andrew Potter: There is going to be a massive freak-out about that overturn this week, but that was an obviously correct call with the rule written the way it is.
Unbelievable ending. The Seahawks Super Bowl all over again.
Aaron Schatz: OK, I think I've calmed down a little bit here. I want to point out a couple things about those final couple plays. First, the Patriots completely blew coverage on the would-be Jesse James touchdown. Two guys followed one receiver and nobody covered James. It was the return of the defense from the first part of the season, between the bad tackling on the Smith-Schuster play and the bad coverage on the James play. They deserved to lose because of that. But that's not how we decide games. And on the final play -- the fake spike by the Steelers was ballsy but egads Roethlisberger, you have to throw that thing away if the initial throw is not there. You can't hold the ball and try to make something happen. You throw it away, and take the field goal and overtime. Just a huge, huge error, and it probably cost the Steelers home field in the AFC Championship (and cost the Jaguars a first-round bye).
This is insane. pic.twitter.com/60ifqIzddS
— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) December 18, 2017
Scott Kacsmar: Going to take a while to process that one. If the Steelers couldn't win that after everything they did well, I don't see how they get the job done in New England where they always play worse. I'm not sure Joe Haden can be a Gronkowski stopper, but something has to change there.
Dallas Cowboys 20 at Oakland Raiders 17
Tom Gower: Man, that first half of football felt completely anti-climactic after two huge matchups in the late window and two of the three games in the window going down to the final seconds. Oakland's disappointing season is continuing, but Dallas wasn't looking that much better. Dez Bryant with only one first-half target against this defense felt like a particular mistake.
Aaron Schatz: They did not get lucky with the end-season prime-time matchups. This game feels meaningless even though Dallas is still in the race. Next Saturday's Packers-Vikings game is now probably meaningless after the results of today. The early Saturday game involves the Colts, yawn. The two Christmas Day games are both one-sided, Steelers-Texans and Raiders-Eagles. They rolled the dice on teams that made the playoffs last year or would theoretically be in the playoff race at this point, and they lost.
Tom Gower: Notwithstanding what I said earlier, that ended up going down to the wire like the two late games involving AFC teams. And like one of those games (arguably both of them, depending on whether you hated the two Titans' runs before their field goal as much as I did), it ended in kind of a dumb way, what with Derek Carr fumbling forward into the end zone for a touchback. A pretty special game for Michael Crabtree, officially with seven catches on 17 targets for 39 yards and those two touchdowns, which of course ignores that 55-yard pass interference penalty he drew to set up what could have been a game-tying or -winning score.
Also, Gene Steratore getting out the penalty card for that measurement on the Cowboys' fourth-down conversion in what proved to be the game-winning drive was pretty fantastic. It's like he knew what he was doing at least bordered on the ridiculous, but he knew he had to do it anyway. Eventually technology will be to a point where we get AI officials who get everything precisely correct with no management hassle, but that doesn't seem like the sort of problem you can brute-force your way through.
Vince Verhei: Am I the only one who remembers seeing refs use index cards on a chain measurement like that before? I can't find a pic or clip now but I swear it has happened before.
Bryan Knowles: No, I seem to remember it happening when I was a kid, but it has been a long, long time.