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 16 at Baltimore Ravens 23
Carl Yedor: I haven't found anything particularly interesting thus far in Colts-Ravens (shocker). Frank Gore scored a touchdown, which I guess is impressive considering that he's 34 years old and in his 13th year in the league. He's over 1,000 all-purpose yards on the season. Joe Flacco has missed some WIDE open receivers, but the heavy wind and rain are likely having an impact there. Michael Campanaro almost gave the Colts a gift of a chance to score just before halftime when he muffed a punt, but Baltimore was able to recover it. The Ravens then punted, leading to Adam Vinatieri attempting a 60-yard field goal with the wind at his back as time expired. It fell short. Currently 13-7 at the half, and I think I've seen enough for this afternoon. One-word summary of this game: meh.
Dave Bernreuther: The first half of this now-rainy thriller has mercifully gone by quickly. The Ravens marched right down the field out of the gates, only to stall and take a field goal after easily converting a fourth-and-1 inside field goal range on the previous series. Somewhat surprisingly, the Colts methodically drove the other way, nearly chewing up the entire first quarter in one drive apiece before Adam Vinatieri's field goal attempt was blocked, which I believe puts the nail in the coffin for the $500,000 bonus that Jim Irsay ought to pay him anyway.
Thus far both quarterbacks have amused me with some negative-ALEX decisions made while not even under duress. Two plays before the field goal, on second-and-8, Flacco decided to throw a pass to a completely covered Alex Collins 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage when he could easily have thrown it away. That play had no chance at all, and it was easy to see. Jacoby Brissett's ended up far better. After being given what felt like seven seconds as five Colts blockers completely stonewalled five Ravens rushers (this might have been the best pass protection by a Colts line since Tarik Glenn retired), he checked down to Jack Doyle, who then ran for a first down.
If Trent Green is to be believed, the Colts -- they of the highly regarded pass rush -- managed to flush Joe Flacco from the pocket when sending TWO pass-rushers near the end of the half. That amused me.
Otherwise there's not much to say. The Ravens are not a good team, but they're the better team, so they moved the ball against a terrible Colts defense and have scored three times to take a 13-7 lead. Baltimore's defense, honestly, doesn't look too interested in playing hard today. The Colts have moved the ball well on two drives, which shouldn't be the case against a defense that's capable of pitching shutouts. Other than pass block better than anyone gives them credit for, the Colts have not done anything unusual or impressive on offense. Jack Doyle has been their star, with several catches and also solid blocking on the screen pass to Gore that went for a touchdown. Nothing about this Ravens team so far is anything that should scare paranoid Patriots fans about January.
Oh, man ... They let Vinatieri try a wind-assisted 60-yarder at the end of the half and he hit it dead straight ... and it damn near made it. I stand by my earlier comment about his $500,000 bonus for 90 percent makes. Two tough asks in a blizzard, a block, and a desperation 60-yarder ... none of those four misses should be held against him.
Scott Kacsmar: You can't say the Kamar Aiken revenge game isn't living up to the hype, because it never had any hype to begin with. Remember when Aiken caught 75 balls for 944 yards for the 2015 Ravens after all of their receivers were hurt? He has done very little since then. For Indianapolis this year, he came into the game having caught 14-of-41 targets for 131 yards. He dropped his only target today, which was an ugly one since it would have given the Colts a first down and helped make a field goal easier for Vinatieri. Sometimes wide receivers break out because they're truly gifted players who just needed an opportunity. In Aiken's case, he was just the last guy standing in 2015.
Dave Bernreuther: I fell asleep for most of the second half, so I will go ahead and echo Carl's one-word description of this one.
The Ravens just barely won a home game that went to the wire against a 3-11 team with a terrible defense, pretty much entirely because Jacoby Brissett is bad, and they're now virtually a lock for the playoffs in the 2017 AFC.
Minnesota Vikings 16 at Green Bay Packers 0
Bryan Knowles: Man, this game looked a lot more exciting before last week, didn't it? Aaron Rodgers coming back, possibility of a miracle playoff run in play. Instead, we're getting a relatively snoozy contest in freezing cold weather, with both teams looking like they'd rather be anywhere else.
The Packers are the walking wounded -- besides Rodgers, Damarious Randall, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Jahri Evans, and Davante Adams were all inactive coming in, and Jason Spriggs hurt his knee on the first play of the game. It's safe to say that has had a BIT of a chilling effect on their play in this one. That being said, you'd expect the Vikings to be rolling through -- they're a playoff team against a busted up offense and defense, and yet ... it's just 10-0 at the half, and they were a Brett Hundley red zone interception away from being in a one-score game. The Vikings have lost Nick Easton, Kevin McDermott, and Shamar Stephen as well, so it's not like they're at full strength, but I don't know -- I was expecting to see a little more out of the offense. We'll see how the second half goes.
The most interesting moment of the first half was an officiating snafu -- the Vikings were driving in the two-minute drill, but Adam Thielen was stopped short on a second-down play. Confusion with the chain crew, however, led the Vikings to think they had gotten the first down, and they were slightly peeved, a play later, to realize it was fourth down and time to punt. Turns out, third-down and first-down strategy are a little different, and they were rightfully chewing the refs out as they went to the locker room.
I can confirm that a football game happened, and that it took 60 minutes. That's about all you can take from this one. From the score, you'd think the Packers just got nothing going all night, but they actually outgained the Vikings (by 3 yards, but still). It was actually a fairly equal game -- had the Packers managed to turn their two red zone opportunities into points (rather than an interception and a turnover on downs), this might have gotten into a bit of a tricky situation for the Vikings at the end. Still, you can't knock the team's first shutout in 24 years, and part of their low yardage total might have been the lack of any real need to push the ball downfield.
Atlanta Falcons 13 at New Orleans Saints 23
Bryan Knowles: Marshon Lattimore versus Julio Jones is going to be a fun matchup to watch, today and going forwards. Lattimore ends a promising drive with a heck of a play on Jones on a third-down play. Jones looks healthy, though, which was a big question mark going in. Good! Games of this magnitude should be decided by healthy players, and that matchup is going to be something to shadow all day. Falcons moving the ball fairly well early, but a Jake Matthews holding call pulled back a long Devonta Freeman run. The Falcons got the better of the yellow hankies two weeks ago; we'll see what happens today.
The Falcons may be aware of people going "oh, well, if Alvin Kamara had been healthy, they don't win the first matchup." The Saints just tried a toss to him on third-and-3 in the red zone, and I'm pretty sure the entire Falcons defense sniffed it out and tackled him, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal.
Vince Verhei: Biggest play of the first quarter technically never happened. Falcons had a fourth-and-1 at their own 40 and went for it (!), even calling a timeout to make sure they were all on the same page in the noise of the Superdome. Devonta Freeman looked to pick up a first down on a simple I-formation off-tackle run, but the Falcons were called for a false start. So they ended up punting.
Zach Binney: With about 12 minutes left in the second quarter, the Falcons piled up enough penalty yards to face a first-and-40! Does anyone know the record for longest first down to-go distance? I'm not sure I've ever seen that.
Dave Bernreuther: I forgot to mention the second-and-32 that Flacco ran himself into last night, which is up there among the highest I've seen. I think 37 is the highest I can remember, and it was certainly on third down. I've never seen a 40, let alone on first down (!)
Vince Verhei: That was amazing, and worth breaking down in detail:
- First-and-10, false start, loss of 5.
- First-and-15, facemask on Freeman (grabbing Te'o's facemask -- he's still making an impact), loss of 15.
- First-and-30, offensive pass interference on Mohamed Sanu, loss of 10.
- First-and-40, Freeman run for 5.
- Second-and-35, Ryan-to-Hooper, gain of 5.
- Third-and-30, Cameron Jordan sack, loss of 5.
- Fourth-and-35, 55-yard punt, fair catch.
In the end it's just one drive and it won't kill them, but that was an amazing streak of incompetence in what feels like a must-win game.
PFR lists two first downs with 40 or more yards to go since 1994. One was just a few weeks ago. The Vikings had a first-and-40 against the Packers in October of this year. Before that, you'd have to go back to 1997, when the Saints had a first-and-44 against the Raiders.
Bryan Knowles: Guys, it's not even the first first-and-40 ~this season~. Vikings-Packers back in October, thanks to a facemask and illegal blindside block. They didn't convert.
Oddly, those are the second- and third-longest first downs in PFR's play database (going back to 1994). There was a first-and-44 in a 1997 Saints/Raiders game, which is as far back as PFR's play finder goes. Not a lot of plays in your playbook and so on and so forth with the cliche.
Zach Binney: Thanks for looking up that penalty yardage stat, guys! I swear I know how to use PFR, I just didn't feel like fiddling with it on my phone.
Bryan Knowles: Butt-ception! Matt Ryan's slant, off of his receiver's hands, on to Marshon Lattimore's posterior, scooped up for the interception. Is there anything that rookie can't do? Good, uh, butt control.
Andrew Potter: #Assterception!
I'm sure I described something like that in this week's Scramble, though I thought if it would happen to anybody, it would happen to the Chargers.
Vince Verhei: Something about high-stakes games makes coaches courageous. Saints have a fourth-and-1 at the Falcons 12, and they turn down the automatic field goal to go for it. Brees stumbles coming out from center and then bumps right into Mark Ingram, but the handoff is clean, and the play is blocked so well Ingram gets the first down anyway. Saints can't do anything after that though, and after a fumbled handoff on third down, they end up kicking a field goal from the ... 11. It's good for a 6-0 lead.
And then Matt Ryan's insanely unlucky year continues as we get the BUTT-INTERCEPTION. Ryan's pass hit's Marvin Hall right in the hands, but Hall tips it into the air. Marshon Lattimore falls to his belly trying to make a play on the ball, but the ball comes down and balances right on his heiny. I'm not sure certain if he knew it was there or not, but it sure looked like he was delicately trying to just maintain position and not let it fall to the turf. Then he curled it up in his hamstring and secured it for the turnover.
And that leads to Brees hitting Ted Ginn on a deep corner route for a 54-yard touchdown, and suddenly New Orleans is up 13-0.
It was Desmond Trufant in solo coverage on Ginn's long touchdown, by the way.
Falcons offense really was quiet that half. I suppose that's obvious since they have zero points, but they also have only five first downs, they're 0-for-4 on third downs, and they haven't run a play in New Orleans territory yet.
Scott Kacsmar: Wild start to the second half. Saints were looking to go up 20-0 after a big kick return by Alvin Kamara, but a tipped pass by Brees was intercepted, nearly for a pick-six. Just when you think the Falcons could cut the lead in half, Devonta Freeman fumbles at the 1-yard line and the Saints got it back again. The 2017 Falcons give new meaning to "game of inches" with all these plays this year.
Vince Verhei: Well, plenty of excitement in the first 90 seconds of the second half. Saints have Alvin Kamara returning the opening kickoff (he had just five kick returns all year coming into the day). It looks like he is going to be tackled inside the 10, but he is incredible and slips away, cuts across the field, and runs it out nearly to the 50. Brees' pass then hits Ginn in the hands on a short curl, but Ginn gonna Ginn, and the ball is tipped in the air and Deion Jones intercepts it and runs it back to the Saints 2. One way or another, the Falcons' first score seems inevitable, but then on second down Devonta Freeman loses the ball and Te'o is there again with the fumble recovery. Saints take over as every takes a deep breath and just starts the half over.
Bryan Knowles: Cam Jordan has his "triple-double": double-digit sacks, tackles for a loss and passes deflected. Since the NFL started tracking defensed passes 10 years ago, only two players have put up a triple-double: Jordan and J.J. Watt. Been a heck of a season for him; he should be in the conversation for defensive player of the year.
Saints sitting on a 20-3 lead and are about to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2013. Amazing what having a competent defense can do for a team.
Vince Verhei: OK, I realize they had a fourth-and-17 at their own 3, but Atlanta just punted down two touchdowns with four minutes to go. I'd rather take my chances on one deep shot to Julio Jones than expect to get the ball back, score, and then get the ball back and score again. Matt Bosher's punt doesn't even reach midfield, and the Saints take over at the 33. They can gain zero yards on this drive and still try a game-clinching field goal. And in fact, they gain 3 yards and no first downs, but Wil Lutz connects from 45. Saints now up 23-6 with barely three and a half minutes left and this one seems done.
Realistically, though, the game ended on the first play of the fourth quarter, when Freeman was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-goal at the 1. That was the second time this half the Falcons had a first-and-goal and came away with zero points. Down 17, it must have been a very hard decision to go for it or kick the field goal there. I can't fault them for being aggressive, but it didn't go their way.
Rivers McCown: Buttception aside, this felt like one of those games where the Falcons just weren't coached well enough to win. I think we all knew to subjectively downgrade Atlanta a bit because of Kyle Shanahan leaving and pure regression hitting their offense -- but Steve Sarkisian's inability to have any nuance pre-snap for Matt Ryan to read is malpractice.
Buffalo Bills 16 at New England Patriots 37
Aaron Schatz: We're early in the second quarter. The Bills just made it down to the goal line based almost entirely a 46-yard deep pass to Deonte Thompson, who whipped Malcolm Butler early in the route by starting right then switching to go left across the field. Left Butler three or four steps behind him. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to Butler in free agency. Everyone around the Patriots press agrees that he's had a poor year compared to last year. I think he's at least an average NFL starting cornerback, and that's a good thing to have. It's a good thing to have in your No. 2 corner. You don't pay that guy like a No. 1 corner, and Butler wants to be paid like a No. 1 corner.
But the Bills play calling leaves something to be desired. A couple of times, they've gone empty on third-and-2. This is a team with LeSean McCoy. He is ON THE TEAM. Hell, on third-and-2 from the 6 he was split wide and was the intended receiver. You don't want a threat of a run from McCoy on a third-and-2? Near the goal line? The Bills at least put him in the backfield when they went for it on fourth-and-2. That was a good decision, because field goals are unlikely to beat the Patriots. But McCoy went on a route, and Tyrod Taylor got sacked. So it's still 3-3. For now, field goals would beat the Patriots. I have a feeling that won't be true by the time we hit the fourth quarter.
Dave Bernreuther: As a Colts fan, nothing critical I say of Tom Brady will ever be taken seriously, but I wonder if perhaps the opinions of my Pats fan friends might: Brady is, again, slowly losing arm strength and accuracy as the season goes on.
Cian Fahey pointed this out about last year, showing how in games 13, 14, and 15 of his season (the playoffs), he threw far more interceptable passes than in the rest of the season, culminating in the Super Bowl, which still worked out well of course. But the same thing seems to be happening over the last few weeks, since about the Miami game. It's still the Pats, of course, so you can bet they've planned for this for a while. I'm sure there's a reason he's on a pitch count and is sitting out practices lately. I wonder, though, if that's enough for him to have enough juice for Game 19 this season. (You'll note that I'm just making the assumption that they're playing in February anyway.)
He's still ridiculously good and smart, though, throwing a completely safe and accurate pass directly at the pylon ... but even so, good lord that's a ridiculous catch by Rob Gronkowski for the touchdown.
Vince Verhei: Oh my god. Rob Gronkowski's one-handed touchdown catch to tie the game in the second quarter. Good lord. That guy is ridiculous.
Aaron Schatz: I'm very frustrated by the overturned Kelvin Benjamin touchdown that ended the first half of the Buffalo-New England game.
First, I'm frustrated because I don't know what happened to the concept of "incontrovertible evidence." I don't know why we're overturning plays when the replays don't make it clear the play should be overturned. I don't think there was clearly evidence that Benjamin was still juggling the ball when he had his foot tap in-bounds, and didn't have clear possession until the foot was out of bounds.
Second, I'm frustrated because there are a lot of otherwise respectable journalists on Twitter who have fallen into conspiracy thinking when it comes to the Patriots. I understand that this is the second "ball is being juggled" catch rule interpretation that has taken a touchdown off the board against the Patriots in the last two weeks. I understand that many people also still remember the Austin Seferian-Jenkins play. It's still ridiculous to think that there's some sort of edict from the NFL offices in New York ordering the league's officiating crews to always interpret every challenge in the Patriots' favor. The Patriots were not involved in the Calvin Johnson game. The Patriots were not involved in the Dez Bryant game. The Patriots did not force Derek Carr to fumble through the end zone a couple weeks ago. We've been going through this stuff with both the catch rule and the touchback-through-the-end zone rule ALL SEASON LONG, and with all 32 teams, all over the league. Whatever the problems with the catch rule, whatever the need to tweak it or clarify it or whatever we want to do with it, the problem here is the rule, not some sort of league-wide conspiracy that favors the New England Patriots. You know, the team whose fans are obsessed with telling the commissioner to go screw himself.
It's now 23-16, start of the fourth quarter. After marching up the field again, the Bills just tried a 50-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-1. Why? They have Shady McCoy. They're down 7. It's the Patriots. They're on the road. They have Shady McCoy. They have a mobile quarterback if they want to zone-read. Did I mention Shady McCoy???
The kick was short.
Dave Bernreuther: Why is there only one coach in football who is aware that outdoor 50-plus-yard field goals are not a sure thing?
Fourth-and-1 and the Bills choose to try a long field goal. I don't care how good Steven Hauschka is, that's not a gimme. You're outdoors, on the road, against a much better team, and you're down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. GO FOR IT.
Outraged, the football gods pushed it wide (and short -- it didn't have a prayer), and TMQ wrote the words Game Over in his notebook.
Tony Romo with the funny... called a fan wearing a Grinch mask Bill Belichick.
Ugh, that's so frustrating as an upstate New Yorker ... you haven't been stopping them. Even if the field goal was good, you're probably 50/50 to get the ball back down 7 to 11 points. Even if that field goal was a 100 percent chance, rather than 33 percent, that was a stupid decision.
The Pats are already at the 10 going the other way just while I looked down to type this.
Aaron Schatz: And Dion Lewis scored as I read your email. There's no run defense without Marcell Dareus. It's a shame because the pass coverage has been phenomenal today. Tre'Davious White, of course, but also Shareece Wright, and the safeties, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. I mean, sometimes Gronk is just going to catch it no matter how good the coverage, but there have been plenty of times Brady falls back with strong protection and he just hasn't been able to find anyone open.
Rivers McCown: The Kelvin Benjamin play was a great argument to end instant replay, which took five minutes to reach exactly the wrong conclusion. What will instead happen is that the NFL will go back to the drawing board, make the catch ruling even more convoluted somehow, and then make every instant replay go straight to commercial break.
Buffalo made four trades since August, Dareus to the Jags, Sammy Watkins to the Rams, Benjamin from the Panthers, Ronald Darby to the Eagles. E.J. Gaines has a bottom 20 success rate among qualifying cornerbacks, Benjamin has 14 receptions in five games. The Bills had the 28th-ranked run defense DVOA coming into today and gave up 193 rushing yards. All four of the teams they traded with are already locked into the playoffs. This is in addition to starting Nathan Peterman and constantly using Mike Tolbert in 2017.
If you can't spot the sucker at the table...
Aaron Schatz: Meanwhile, I decided to take my own look at Cian Fahey's theory about older quarterbacks declining at the end of the season. I put a quick-and-dirty study together during breaks in play and halftime. I took every quarterback at age 36 and over since 2000, and compared DVOA in Weeks 1-13 to Weeks 14-17. I only included quarterbacks who started at least 14 games in a given year, since the idea is that older quarterbacks get tired and therefore guys who played half a season shouldn't fall prey to the issue. Now this is only DVOA, not looking at specifics like accuracy or throwing deep. I also looked at regular-season only, and didn't go get the playoff stats for these guys.
There was no clear trend for the 36-year-old quarterbacks. But the trend for the quarterbacks at 37 or above is very, very strong. This should be a bit of a worry for Patriots fans AND New Orleans Saints fans. There are 18 seasons on this list, and 13 of them saw the quarterback's passing DVOA drop by at least 10 percentage points in the final month of the season.
|Player||Year||Team||Age||DVOA 1-13||DVOA 14-17||Dif|
Los Angeles Rams 27 at Tennessee Titans 23
Bryan Knowles: We're going to have more kicking tryouts in Los Angeles this week. Replacing All-Everything kicker Greg Zuerlein, Sam Ficken has now missed a field goal AND an extra point. No es Bueno. The Rams have been very fortunate with injury luck in this, the season where everyone and everybody seems to be hurt. But Zuerlein was just SO good; the drop-off from him to Random Kicker On The Street is massive.
Vince Verhei: Just saw a highlight of Todd Gurley's 80-yard screen pass touchdown, and ... goodness, that is very fast big man. (Remember, I am a professional football analyst. Please don't attempt this kind of cunning insight at home.)
Tom Gower: Holiday obligations limited my viewing of the first half of Titans-Rams, but Todd Gurley with 133 yards receiving through 30 minutes was not a surprise against the defense ranked 31st against running backs by DVOA. Ditto Marcus Mariota's first interception, another ugly pick after an underneath defender didn't bite on what the Titans wanted him to bite on. What I saw looked more like the 17-6 game we could have seen without a missed extra point and short field goal by Not-Greg Zuerlein -- and a short return score of a Jared Goff fumble-sack after a missed block up front left Jurrell Casey free -- than the 13-13 score we got.
Carl Yedor: Crazy stuff in Tennessee. Tennessee catches the Rams coming onto the field late after the touchdown and they pull a surprise onside kick, which they recover because there wasn't a Rams player in sight. But then, we see a flag (likely for offsides), but the officials blow the play dead because they never ruled the ball ready for play (I think?). It wasn't clear, and the crowd is unhappy. After a missed false start on Los Angeles's last touchdown drive, the crowd is now letting the refs hear it every time a call doesn't go their way, regardless of whether or not the call was correct. It will be interesting to see whether the Titans get a favorable call later on due to crowd pressure.
Vince Verhei: As the Titans explain, the Rams called a timeout right before that onside kick that was nullified.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 24, 2017
Tom Gower: Rams win 27-23. The Titans seem to be adapting their offense somewhat, running more three-wide receiver sets from more spread looks on early downs even outside comeback and hurry-up situations, and moved the ball last week and decently again this week (or at least that was my casual impression; I'll see what the numbers say later). But the Rams made enough plays. Todd Gurley is the key player for that team, while Jared Goff is, at least for now, very much an on-schedule player who needs things to be right around him. Good enough for an NFC West title this year, but a road playoff game or two will be a different sort of test. As a Rams fan, though, I'd just be enjoying an end to the playoff drought. Heck of a season for that team, no matter what January may bring.
Miami Dolphins 13 at Kansas City Chiefs 29
Dave Bernreuther: It's always noteworthy when Alex Smith throws a deep ball, so I feel obligated to point out that he just threw a DIME to Albert Wilson. Hit him in stride, in the hands, for a sure touchdown ... and Wilson dropped it.
That was not ideal.
Zach Binney: The Miami Dolphins 2017 Season: A Play in One Play. The Dolphins, with around three minutes left in the second, had their longest pass of the season ... a flanker screen to Jakeem Grant for a 65-yard touchdown.
Cleveland Browns 3 at Chicago Bears 20
Vince Verhei: The snowy weather here may actually be making Hue Jackson a better play-caller. All year long, the Browns have been very pass-wacky, even though they are good at running and bad at passing. Today, at halftime, they have 16 passes and 15 runs. The early returns haven't been great -- they're trailing 6-3, they're only averaging 3.5 per carry, and DeShone Kizer has still thrown an interception -- but the first win of the year is there for the taking.
Mitchell Trubisky is doing his best Russell Wilson impression today. He has run for a pair of third-down conversions and a team-high 40 yards. Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard have only 15 yards on seven carries. This is your reminder that Cleveland's run defense is very good.
Remember when I said Cleveland's run defense was very good? Well, their coverage against running backs sucks -- 30th in DVOA on passes to running backs coming into today. After a penalty wipes out a Myles Garrett pick-six, they force to short runs to get to third down, but then Benny Cunningham takes a screen pass 40 yards down to the Cleveland 16. Next play, Chicago finally gets a good run as Jordan Howard goes over left guard for the touchdown. Bears lead 13-3, and that feels like ballgame.
Another stuffed run for the Cleveland defense leads to a third-and-14. Trubisky then makes a great play. Browns bring a twisting blitz that leads to an unblocked rusher right in Trubisky's face, but the rookie still delivered a perfect pass to Cohen over the middle for a 13-yard gain. The Bears challenged the spot and lost, bringing up fourth down. And then something amazing happened: with a lead, in the red zone, John Fox opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 rather than kick an easy field goal. Howard converted on a run up the middle, and Trubisky scored a 4-yard touchdown run shortly thereafter. We're still only in the third quarter, but 0-14 teams aren't likely to come back when they're down 20-3.
Everyone do a shot -- the Browns turned the ball over in the end zone. Kizer hit Rashard Higgins on third-and-3. Higgins fell down, but got up and was slipping and scrambling hither and yon across the field and the Bears couldn't bring him down, but then Danny Trevathan clobbered him from behind and the ball got knocked into the end zone, where Prince Amukamara recovered it. That's the ninth time this year Cleveland snapped the ball in the red zone and turned the ball over. Nobody else has more than three.
Bryan Knowles: I'm terrible at wrapping presents. They're sloppy, they have random bits sticking out, they have bows and labels stuck in key, structurally integral positions. They're wrapped at the last minute so that they have to stay together for the shortest possible time. This is because I only wrap things once or twice a year, so any lessons I learned from the time before are forgotten before I get another chance to apply them.
See also: the Cleveland Browns red zone offense.
With their loss today, the Browns have wrapped up the No. 1 draft pick. That rarely happens before the end of the year! Congratulations Cleveland.
Rivers McCown: Imagine being 1-30 under a head coach and sticking with him.
Scott Kacsmar: I'm definitely convinced that the Browns are worse than the 2008 Lions. At least that Detroit team had several close calls and was really more like a 4-12 team who just couldn't catch any breaks. These Browns are just dreadful, and I don't see how you can bring back a coach who is likely to be 1-31 in two years.
Dave Bernreuther: To be fair, Rivers, I don't think the Browns' organizational plan under the Harvard Brain Trust was to try to win. 1-30 is basically their ideal situation as written in April 2016, I think.
Rivers McCown: OK. I don't think the Browns made the talent infusions they did this draft thinking that they'd go 0-16, and I'm not sure how you can't look at the way Hue has handled Kizer's ups and downs by throwing him under the bus and conclude he has the trust of the locker room. Frankly, he has been a massive disappointment as an offensive mind. They expected losses. I don't think they expected things to be this bad.
Vince Verhei: The problem with firing Jackson is, every single move the Browns made this offseason was to get better in 2018 and 2019, not 2017. If you're going to hold Jackson accountable for what happens this year, you don't make the Deshaun Watson trade especially, and you probably don't make the other trades that get you so many picks in the 2018 draft. The goal was not to win this year, it was to get younger and build a team with one strength (the defensive front), which is much better than a team with no strengths, which they have been for years.
But that said, the Browns' coaching this year has been horrible. The offensive game plan is too pass-focused. The defensive secondary plays way too deep most of the time. The handling of DeShone Kizer has been abominable. And, obviously, the draft picks coming down the road weren't enough to save Sashi Brown's job. The Browns said they would retain Jackson when John Dorsey took over, but sometimes plans change.
Rivers McCown: This is a good point. Independent of what happens with Jackson, Gregggggggggggg Williams is an abominable defensive coordinator who deserves to be fired.
Bryan Knowles: It's worth noting that DeShone Kizer extended his record today -- he's the first quarterback in history to lose his first 14 starts. One more (for the 0-16 season), and he'll pull off the anti-Roethlisberger.
There have been plenty of other talent-starved teams in NFL history. None of them have come up shorter more often than Hue Jackson's Browns.
Andrew Potter: The Browns didn't expect a winning season. I don't think for a minute they didn't expect to win at all.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh, I agree. They weren't trying to win, but there was no reason to believe they'd go 0-16 either.
To be clear, I didn't understand Hue's hiring, I don't think he's a good coach, and I don't think he has gotten the most out of a team that, as pointed out, DOES have a strong unit.
But I also think it's unfair to blame him for the fact that Kizer is terrible (he was inaccurate and pretty much awful in college too, so it's not like this was a surprise) or to scapegoat him for a result that is turning out to be better for the team in the long term.
It's a tough call. If I was a Browns fan I wouldn't want him as my coach in 2018. But I also don't blame him much for 2016 or 2017 either.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 at Carolina Panthers 22
Aaron Schatz: Well, the Bucs self-destructed at the end of what would have been a huge upset. Chris Baker got caught in a neutral zone infraction on fourth-and-3 from the 5, which then made it fourth-and-1 from the 3. Panthers went with a seven-lineman power set and Jon Stewart picked up the yard. And on the next play, Cam Newton ran QB power and scored despite dropping the ball behind the line of scrimmage and having to pick it up before he ran it in.
That left the Bucs with 35 seconds and no timeouts, and on the first play, Kawann Short sacked Jameis Winston and forced a fumble. And something happened at the bottom of that pile because Winston went completely ballistic. The Panthers recovered, and Winston went crazy, and got an unsportsmanlike conduct flag. Then after the Panthers' first play, he ran off the bench again and started yelling at the Panthers and his teammates had to hold him back. Will be interesting to see what the hell happened there.
New York Giants 0 at Arizona Cardinals 23
Dave Bernreuther: It looks like maybe Odell Beckham is still having an effect on this year's Giants, as Roger Lewis just turned the wrong way, reached behind him with one hand, and reeled in an Eli Manning pass for a catch that rivals Gronk for the best of the day and was far less likely to hold up to review than the Benjamin catch that got reversed.
Nobody cares about this game at all, but that one deserves a gif:
I thought OBJ was on IR pic.twitter.com/NVqYYg8Bzm
— Ryan Smith (@PFF_Smith) December 24, 2017
Jacksonville Jaguars 33 at San Francisco 49ers 44
Dave Bernreuther: Raise your hand if you had the 49ers marching straight down the field for a touchdown to open the game. (Liar!)
I know I pick on Blake Bortles a lot, but he just had Dede Westbrook wide open deep and missed him by several yards, leading to a punt. A 49ers field goal later, he threw an easy pick, which came off the board due to a drop.
There's still a chance this team can get the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Bryan Knowles: *Raises hand, looked around, slowly lowers hand.*
No, no, I didn't have that. The Jaguars have been calling this week "hat-and-t-shirt week," as they have planned to celebrate their divisional title with an easy win over a bad 49ers team. They do get to celebrate that title thanks to the Rams -- but now they're fighting on the sideline, arguing and yelling. The Jags, remember, have a history this season of dropping unexpected games to lower quality teams...
Of course, now we know that the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers to get a scouting report on a potential playoff opponent. TINFOIL HAT! PRO-PATRIOTS CONSPIRACY!
Wild 30 seconds here. Bortles gonna Bortles, throwing a deflected pass which Dontae Johnson (having a terrible year) intercepts and returns for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point is blocked, and returned all the way for a defensive two-point touchdown, which is still new enough to feel exciting and unusual. 16-2, 49ers, and we're looking at a possible Scorigami.
Aaron Schatz: I know this is a subjective, not analytical point, but San Francisco definitely feels like the better-coached team today. The defense is swarming to the ball, looks really inspired, and the offense is scheming guys open, especially Kyle Juszyzck.
Bryan Knowles: Turns out, Blake Bortles can throw touchdowns off of deflections, too! The man can do anything as long as the ball hits another player first.
All kidding inside, impressive one-minute drill from Jacksonville to tie the game at 16 just before halftime. It looked like they were about to take a two-score deficit into halftime, but Garoppolo threw a wobbler that was intercepted in the end zone, and the Jaguars were able to capitalize. 16-16 going into the half.
I agree with Aaron's point about the coaching, but the big difference between the recent games and the beginning of the season for the 49ers is how offensive plays ... don't end if one thing goes wrong. With Brian Hoyer or C.J. Beathard under center, any pressure ended the play. The primary receiver being covered ended the play. A slip in the backfield ended the play. Garoppolo can sense pressure, keep plays alive and make things happen. That's new! That's not something the 49ers have seen for some time.
Tom Gower: One of the things I looked at lately was what percentage of a quarterback's passes were thrown no more than 5 yards downfield. Hoyer had one of the highest percentages. In his first couple starts, Garoppolo had one of the lowest. Execution, and willingness to throw, matters a lot.
Aaron Schatz: While we're bitching about refs ... the call of forward progress that nullified Matt Breida's fumble in San Francisco seemed awfully quick on the draw. The Jaguars haven't helped themselves with all the penalties, including a couple of unsportsmanlike conducts on that drive. Handsome Jimmy G. just connected with Trent Taylor and it's now 30-19 San Francisco. Jacksonville's inconsistency has struck again today.
And then Blake Bortles throws his third pick of the day on a big miscommunication, he thinks Keelan Cole is turning around to get the back-shoulder throw about 3 yards before Cole actually turns around, and it goes right into the hands of the 49ers defensive back, Ahkello Witherspoon.
Bryan Knowles: Construction of the Jimmy G statue will begin Tuesday morning. 21-for-29 for 242 yards and two touchdowns (and an interception) against the Jaguars defense, and we're in a blowout now.
This is actually mildly annoying, as it takes MORE drama out of Week 17. While this game mattered less for Jacksonville than next week's, it could mean the two bye weeks in the AFC are locked up (if Pittsburgh handles Houston tomorrow). A Jaguars win would have kept three teams in play for two slots.
Vince Verhei: Coming into today, the best NFL passer rating by a starter against Jacksonville was 86.2 by Jared Goff. With about eight minutes left in the game, Garoppolo is at 105.8. He is going to destroy the Quick Reads tables.
Seattle Seahawks 21 at Dallas Cowboys 12
Bryan Knowles: This is a playoff game! Loser goes home (or, uh, plays a meaningless game in Week 17), winner stays alive. Let's just say that I hope the real playoff games are slightly more interesting than this one, which has started with four punts, two of them three-and-outs.
Vince Verhei: No score at the end of the first quarter. Best play of the game might have been by Byron Jones, downing a Chris Jones punt at the 1 and basically turfing a Seattle drive before it even started.
The two themes of the quarter have been the steady success of Ezekiel Elliott (51 yards on 11 carries, with no run longer than 6 yards), and the beating Dak Prescott has taken so far -- no sacks, but three quarterback hits and another big shot on a QB keeper.
Also worth noting that Tyron Smith started the game, but left after the first series, a three-and-out.
Elliott is now up to 15 carries, and ALL of them have gained 2 yards or more. But on third-and-2, instead of just handing off to him, they run an option play to the right side. Elliott is there to take the pitch, but Prescott keeps instead, and he is buried for a loss. That call makes zero sense to me when your quarterback is already getting slammed around. Worse for Dallas, there's a crackback penalty on the play and a 15-yard loss. Prescott hits a short completion to Rod Smith on third-and-long, and then Dan Bailey doinks in a field goal off the upright to put the Cowboys up 6-0 with a little less than six minutes left in the half.
Since Fox doesn't actually care about football, they have devoted most of their coverage to Dez Bryant pouting or whatever on the sidelines for most of the game. He was held without a catch in the first quarter. He finally caught a pass in the second, but Byron Maxwell punched it free and the Seahawks recovered. That led to Jimmy Graham drawing a DPI in the end zone, which in turn set up Graham's 3-yard touchdown to put Seattle up 7-6. Cameras then immediately cut to ... Bryant. Because nothing matters unless viewed through the eyes of how it affects the Cowboys and their players.
Seahawks, by the way, officially have 2 net passing yards on 14 dropbacks. That does not include the 10 yards on Graham's DPI, but it does include yardage lost on three sacks, including Demarcus Lawrence running Wilson down from behind as Wilson was scrambling away from the line of scrimmage, dragging him down for a loss of 22.
Carl Yedor: Byron Maxwell forces a fumble on Dez Bryant's first catch of the day, and Seattle then scores a touchdown with about 1:30 to play in the first half. For a second there, I thought that Russell Wilson might not be involved in an offensive touchdown, but it was not to be. The only time this year where Russell Wilson was not involved in an offensive touchdown was a J.D. McKissic run against the Colts way back in Week 4.
Seattle has recovered both fumbles that hit the ground in the first half, and that is certainly helping them overcome the massive disparity in yards gained. We head to halftime with Seattle somehow only down 9-7.
Vince Verhei: That's two 51-yard field goals for Bailey, one off the right upright, one just inside the left. Dallas has outgained Seattle 179 to 44 and yet you could argue they're lucky to be ahead.
Dave Bernreuther: I was one of those people that figured that Dallas and Dak's 2016 success was unsustainable and bet against them this year, but the reason I'm right is primarily the schedule (possibly also a bit of the suspension and the fires their owner has stoked). Prescott really does appear to have the goods. Despite taking a beating all half, he's as calm as can be, first using some eyes in the back of his helmet to sense Michael Bennett (who came from the strong side but didn't win until he was behind Dak, who was looking left and couldn't possibly have seen him) and step up before running for a first down, then on the next play slipping out of the pocket to throw a pretty pass to Williams for another, leading to the two-minute drill field goal to enter the half up 9-7. That's the kind of stuff you can't teach. He's not quite as adept as the opposing quarterback at throwing with touch when extending plays, but he still does things that make him far more than just a quarterback who benefits from his running game. He's a lot of fun to watch, and count me among the many people who look forward to a decade plus of Dak-Wentz battles.
Bryan Knowles: The Dallas Cowboys are beating the Dallas Cowboys. Dak Prescott just threw a pick-six, giving the Seahawks the lead again. That's his fourth pick-six of the season, the most in the league.
Vince Verhei: Prescott horribly overthrows Elliott, and it's an easy pick-six for Justin Coleman to put Seattle up 14-9, despite being outgained 182-53. Just a terrible throw by Prescott. He had plenty of time, but seemed focused on his primary read. Then when pressure eventually got to him, looked like he panicked. Coleman then jumps in the Salvation Army bucket, which is a penalty because reasons.
Dave Bernreuther: I think I just jinxed Prescott. That pick-six to Coleman was even worse than the stuff for which I routinely mock Bortles. That was at best terrible mechanics on an easy throw; at worst both an awful decision and a worse throw.
With Atlanta thoroughly likely to lose to Carolina next week, that play could well put the depleted Seahawks into the playoffs. Yikes.
Scott Kacsmar: I would rank that Prescott throw up there with the worst of any throw this season. Just late and totally overthrown. Dallas gets a break, though, with a questionable defensive pass interference penalty on the ensuing drive. But another third-down sack of Prescott leads to another field goal. Seattle leads 14-12.
Vince Verhei: There's few things I hate more than bitching about refs, but Dallas just got a 43-yard gain on a penalty when Cole Beasley locked Coleman in a classic Verne Gagne sleeperhold, yet somehow COLEMAN was called for pass interference. Fortunately for Seattle, they get two sacks in the next three plays to force another field goal, and now lead 14-12. One of those sacks was by Shaquil Griffin, which is not unusual today -- Seahawks have used a lot of secondary blitzes today, way more than I can recall in a single game.
Dez Bryant giveth, and Dez Bryant taketh away. Prescott scrambles and finds Bryant deep down the left sideline for a diving catch and a 33-yard gain. But two plays later, Prescott throws behind Bryant on a shallow cross, and Bryant tips it up and into the arms of K.J. Wright. Dallas' offensive numbers after crossing the Seattle 40 are going to be fuuuuuuuuugly.
Third quarter ends with Seattle finally getting a big completion, a 20-yarder to Doug Baldwin on a corner route. They still have just 101 yards of total offense, but they still have a 14-12 lead and the ball in Dallas territory with 15 minutes to play.
Doug Baldwin just scorches Chidobe Awuzie on a corner route for a short touchdown. He was so wide open Wilson only had to lob the ball softly to the corner of the end zone. Officially a 5-yard play, that pass traveled about 10 yards vertically, 20 yards horizontally, and 30 yards over the field surface. Seahawks up 21-12 with 12 minutes to go.
Aaron Schatz: Actually, I believe that's a 22.3-yard diagonal. :)
Andrew Potter: I was just about to say the same! Trigonometry class, Vince!
Vince Verhei: I misspoke. I didn't mean the diagonal of the pass, I meant the elevation. He threw it so high it was like he was trying to hit the roof.
Dallas' best play today has been the DPI against Seattle -- this time on Maxwell in coverage on Noah Brown for 29 yards. That leads to a first-and-goal from the 3. This is Ezekiel Elliott's time and everyone knows it -- except Scott Linehan, who has Prescott passing out of the shotgun on first and second down. Again, from the THREE. Crowd was booing the formations, even before the ball was snapped. Both passes are incomplete, and the second is wiped out by a holding penalty that moves Dallas back. A sack then forces them back more, and Bailey comes on to kick the field goal ... but he's wide right from 34 yards out. Seattle takes over, still up nine, with about five minutes to go.
Bryan Knowles: How on earth do you not give Elliott at least ONE crack at it from there? That's terrible coaching.
Vince Verhei: Interesting call here as the Cowboys have a first down in Seattle territory with about a minute to go, but they're out of timeouts. They spike the clock, but Michael Bennett is offside. (Being offside on a spike is the most Michael Bennett thing ever.) Jason Garrett then calls for the field goal on first-and-5. The thinking here is obviously "We need two scores, let's get one quick so we'll still have time for a second after we get an onside kick." But Bailey misses from 48, the Seahawks kneel out the clock, and that's ballgame.
I keep going back to that Coleman pick-six. It really might have been the worst play of the year. I have no idea what Prescott was doing. I have no idea what Elliott was doing. I don't even know what Bryant was doing behind Elliott -- he gave up on the play before the ball was even in the air. It was really, really weird.
Fox comes through with this fascinating graphic: Seattle becomes the first team to win a game with more penalty yards (142) than offensive yards (136) since 1966.
And now, somehow, all Seattle needs to get into the playoffs is a win over Drew Stanton and the Cardinals, and have the Panthers (who may have a division title and home playoff game to play for) beat the Falcons in Atlanta. Still unlikely, but pretty miraculous after that beatdown against the Rams last week.
Carl Yedor: Making fun of broadcasters on Twitter is a lot of fun, and there are obviously times when it's deserved. Sometimes the things that they point out are so obvious that it doesn't really sound like it should count as analysis. But at one point earlier today, Troy Aikman said that settling for field goal attempts is bad and hurts your chances of winning. In a world where I've heard broadcasters say, "any drive that ends in a kick is a good one." Full stop. I appreciate that Aikman pointed out something that seemingly obvious.
After all, it definitely played a major role today. Seattle got two offensive touchdowns on their drives into scoring territory. Dallas settled for six* field goal attempts. Groundbreaking analysis? Absolutely not. But it certainly helped Seattle become the first team to win a game in which they have more penalty yards than total yards (thank you to the FOX broadcast) since 1966. The Zombie Seahawks are still alive, somehow.
*I will say that for all the criticism Garrett will take in the aftermath of this game, that sixth field goal attempt was a smart decision, even though Bailey missed from 48 yards. You need a touchdown and a field goal to win, and you have 1 minute and no timeouts. Better to give yourself time for a potential onside kick-to-GWD scenario than try to get your touchdown and run out of time for the field goal in the process.
Scott Kacsmar: That ending was high on the absurdity level. First, I disagree strongly with Aikman. You can get a touchdown from the 30 with 65 seconds left with enough time to set up the long game-winning field goal. One completion is all a team needs sometimes for the field goal. It's even more reasonable than thinking you'll complete a Hail Mary or whatever. Not to mention the whole onside kick recovery is a big pipe dream, but still, that was terrible strategy. With 65 seconds left and a first-and-5 (not even first-and-10) from the opponent 30, you have to take a shot in that situation to get closer. Bailey was clearly shaky before that kick today. Just awful strategy and we're being reminded why the Cowboys have typically been a .500 club under Garrett when expectations should be for more.
Bryan Knowles: Seattle should hope that they DON'T flex Carolina-Atlanta to Sunday Night. The Panthers won't have anything to play for if the Saints win earlier in the day, and the Seahawks NEED the Panthers to go all out.