compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those e-mails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these 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.
In this week's Audibles, we welcome Zachary O. Binney, who has been filing guest columns on injuries for the last two years, as an official staff writer. He's a Miami Dolphins fan and we are so, so sorry.
New Orleans Saints 20 "at" Miami Dolphins Nil (London)
Scott Kacsmar: Meet the new Cutler, same as the old Cutler. A long opening drive (roughly 8:30) with some nice throws, but also a "don't currr" lob into the end zone that was intercepted easily by Ken Crawley. Having said that, the frighteningly bad defense the Saints exhibited on a third down prior to that pick leads me to believe we're still in for a competitive game here. But Drew Brees has put together his own long drive, and this is going to be a game with just two possessions (one still going) after one quarter.
Andrew Potter: Interesting combination of "can't cover, won't cover" in this first quarter. The Saints decided simply not to cover Julius Thomas on a third-and-7 on Miami's opening drive -- Thomas caught the ball with no defender in a 10-yard radius, and rumbled for 22 yards. The Saints were bailed out on the next play, however, when a falling Jay Cutler lofted a goal-line fade straight to Ken Crawley on first down. Terrible throw, bad effort by Thomas, absolute gift for a Saints defense which was otherwise sliced like butter in the opening nine minutes.
On the ensuing drive, the Dolphins can't cover Alvin Kamara -- he's finding space and evading tacklers on every touch. Given his combination of receiving ability both wide and from the backfield, and his comfort on inside runs, it looks like a matter of time until he's the premier back in the rotation. Saints got another gift though, when Dolphins rookie cornerback Cordrea Tankersley couldn't quite haul in a Drew Brees underthrow intended for Tommylee Lewis. After a holding call on the ensuing third-and 7, Wil Lutz misses a 41-yard field goal to keep us scoreless, despite both teams driving into the red zone on 7-plus-minute opening possessions.
Zach Binney: About four minutes left in the first half, there was an interesting penalty called on Miami for a pick play. Those are a point of emphasis for the refs this year, but in this case the Saints defender pulled and engaged with one Miami receiver (Kenny Stills), which cleared out space for a short pass to, I think, Jarvis Landry. It's hard to referee intent of the route, but it looked pretty clear to me that the defender initiated the contact, yet Miami was penalized. I'm curious if anyone else saw anything different?
Andrew Potter: I was just writing much the same thing. I hated the call. Marcus Lattimore initiated the jam on Stills. It seems cheap that the defender can initiate the contact at the line and still draw the foul.
Zach Binney: The announcers can't even summarize the first half of this game with a straight face. It has been messy, messy, messy. A fun representative sequence from the last two minutes: in about 20 seconds of game time the Dolphins went from forcing a Saints punt in their own end zone to first-and-25 from the Miami 6 thanks to a heck of a punt and three penalties. A few seconds later the Dolphins punted from THEIR end zone. Their fight song says they "take the ball from goal to goal," but this is not what they had in mind.
Rivers McCown: Real spanner in the works here as neither side seems able to make it work through the first 45. New Orleans finally got on the board after a free kick on goal late in stoppage time, and the referee has been very busy marking out yellows in his book.
Andrew Potter: If a soccer game included this much yellow from the refs, it would be short a couple of players by now. As I'm writing this, we've seen a penalty for every four plays -- 57 plays, 16 penalties.
The Saints are definitely getting the better of both the key penalties and the luck so far, with the hair's-breadth fourth-down measurement that set up their first touchdown drive only the latest example.
Bryan Knowles: I missed the first three quarters of this game. It appears I have not missed any actual football.
Derrik Klassen: Miami's offense is brutal. The offensive line cannot block, the skill players cannot get open beyond 10 yards, and the quarterback is as bad as you'd expect of a half-retired 34-year-old coming off of a bad and injury-riddled 2016 season. Getting shut out is one thing, but getting shut out by a miserable New Orleans defense is a special tier of bad.
What makes it even more sad is that Miami has long tried to create an offense. Over the past few years or so, they have poured three first-round picks into the offensive line, a first- (DeVante Parker) and second-round (Jarvis Landry) pick at wide receiver, $8 million per year for wide receiver Kenny Stills, and hired an offensive-minded head coach in Adam Gase. All that investment has led to a conservative, inefficient offense that not get anything going versus the 31st ranked defense in DVOA a season ago. Granted, the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill plays an important role in this disaster, but having invested so much on this side of the ball in the past few seasons, it's hard to rationalize the offense being this inept.
Miami is now losing 20-0 with four minutes left in the game. They are about to get the ball on what is probably their last possession, and there is no reason to believe this is the one they score on.
Zach Binney: Is Miami the worst offense in the NFL? They're certainly making a case for it with zero non-garbage time points against the Jets and Saints defenses the last two weeks. They have a lot of individual talent but they haven't been able to put it all together or run a game script they've liked. You can ascribe part of that to a short time with Cutler, and poorly timed interceptions and penalties this week, but the play calling has also looked predictable and uninspired. It's not a coincidence that the best they've looked was the second half of week 1 against the Chargers, which was also the one time the team was eager to throw downfield. They're finally at home next week against the Titans, but if their offense can't score a single point then the stadium they're in won't matter.
Rivers McCown: I'm sorry to dredge up something this old, but this desperately needs the video of Jay Cutler's Wildcat look.
Cutler really selling his role in the Wildcat at the bottom of the screen pic.twitter.com/WgHxXvxlHL
— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) October 1, 2017
The Dolphins are trying to run the same offense that Adam Gase did with Cutler in 2015 and with Tannehill in 2016. But this team simply can't run the ball, even with Jay Ajayi. I don't know if they need to actually put some tape on that has Cutler throwing deep, or if it's a widespread offensive line issue that just isn't going to happen this year. But if this team can't run, they have no offense. So, that's not optimal.
Los Angeles Rams 35 at Dallas Cowboys 30
Vince Verhei: I know others have been critical of the mish-mash of the Rams' new helmets with the old jerseys. I've actually really liked the look with the white horns and white jerseys and pants, even if the small swatches of gold look odd.
The blue uniforms, however...
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 1, 2017
Cowboys go up 10-3 on a 10-yard Dak Prescott touchdown pass to Ezekiel Elliott. Big play actually happened five snaps earlier. Cowboys had a fourth-and-1 at the Rams' 29, and could have tried a 46-yard field goal to go ahead. Instead they trusted their offensive line to win the game for them, and Elliott ran up the gut for 4 yards and a critical conversion.
Alfred Morris' first carry of the game goes for 70 yards. Great blocking at the point of attack, but still should have been a gain of 7 or 8, but the Rams safety took a terrible angle and ran himself out of what should have been an easy tackle, leaving nothing but green space. It was funny watching multiple Rams run Morris down from behind -- by NFL running back standards, that is one slow back -- but Elliott eventually finished things off with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to put Dallas up 17-6.
Dave Bernreuther: I get that turnovers are a bigger deal than a random first down, but what did Sean McVay see there to warrant wasting that challenge on the long run? That wasn't even close. Hopes-and-dreams challenges drive me crazy.
Also, received this image without me even bringing it up. Nice to know I'm not the only one who cares about this stuff...
The Rams look like a team that has to complete side quests to unlock their final uniform pic.twitter.com/D9JZAwGJnA
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) October 1, 2017
And now McVay is wasting his second challenge. On that? On second down? Does he not know the rules of the game he coaches? Wow.
As if to make my point, the Rams score on the next play anyway. Now I kind of hope they get screwed on a call they can't challenge later.
Vince Verhei: Adding some detail to Dave's notes: McVay's first challenge was on Morris' long run, because the ball came out at the end, though his knee was very clearly down first and it was a bad challenge.
The second challenge was on a Robert Woods pass in the back of the end zone that was ruled incomplete, and there was nothing on replay to overturn it. And on the next play, Cooper Kupp got open in the left flat and scored easily.
More fun and games with officials: Brice Butler catches a pass in the left corner of the end zone. The ref rules he did not get both feet down, but Butler doesn't see this, and runs to the middle of the field to celebrate with his teammates. Jason Witten has to run up and tell him, dude, you didn't score. But after a referee discussion, the catch is ruled good, and it is a touchdown, and Butler just starts to celebrate all over again. The play was reviewed and ruled a touchdown after all.
Carl Yedor: Rams with some high-wire clock management at the end of the half. On third-and-1 with no timeouts and the clock ticking down, they give it to Todd Gurley to pick up the first down. It wasn't clear from where I was sitting if they were going to get the snap off for the spike, but a penalty on Dallas stops the clock for them, allowing Greg Zuerlein to get the field goal off in time.
Vince Verhei: Cowboys had taken a two-score lead here and I mentally checked out a bit, but then before you knew it the Rams had jumped back out in front. Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley had runs of 14 and 17 yards to set up a Greg Zuerlein field goal. Then on their next drive, Gurley had runs of 16 and 7 yards, then a 53-yard touchdown catch on a skinny post when one safety missed a tackle and the other got blocked out of his shoes. Rams now lead 26-24 late in the third.
Bryan Knowles: Full credit to the Rams' offense in this one. They've been pinned deep by a couple of punts in the second half, and put together a couple of 70-plus-yard scoring drives to take over the lead. That's not something Jared Goff would have been able to do last season.
Meanwhile, the defense has clamped down; the Cowboys first three drives of the second half ended in punts, and the fourth ended with an interception caused by a ferocious pass rush; Prescott was nailed and the ball fluttered into the hands of Mark Barron. Rams up 8 with under 10 to play.
Vince Verhei: Rams have a third-and-4 at the Dallas 14, up 32-30 with a little more than two minutes to play. A touchdown ices the game; a field goal leaves the door open for Dallas to win with a touchdown. But they play conservative and run Gurley up the middle for a loss of 1. Zuerlein hits the field goal, and Dallas will have 1:55 to try to win.
That's seven field goals for Zuerlein today. Rams have moved the ball very well on their side of the field, but would have a comfortable lead with better play in scoring range.
On fourth-and-10, Prescott checks down to Elliott just a couple of yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Elliott tries and fails to break three tackles, finishing 2 yards short of the first-down line, ending the game with a whimper.
Dave Bernreuther: I don't have very nice things to say about Prescott throwing a 3-yard pass on fourth-and-10 and the game on the line.
Oddly I do have nice things to say about Jared Goff. It's not just better numbers; he legitimately looks competent.
Pittsburgh Steelers 19 at Baltimore Ravens 9
Bryan Knowles: As has been rumored, the Ravens have swapped starting running backs. Alex Collins got the carries on the first drive, replacing Terrance West. West actually hasn't had bad advanced numbers; he was fifth in DVOA and seventh in DYAR coming into the game. His standard stats (3.9 yards per attempt) have been less promising, and Collins was pretty much the only offensive highlight for Baltimore in their pantsing in London last week. Almost all his yards coming into this week have been in garbage time, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in the more competitive portions of the game.
So far? Two carries: one for 23 yards, one for -1. So, you know. Plusses and minuses.
Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers had 99 yards of offense on their opening drive, but only a net of 84 yards after penalties killed the drive in the red zone. Had to settle for a field goal, but the drive did take 10:23 off the clock. Le'Veon Bell looking more like his usual self so far, already up to 56 scrimmage yards. Still, not a game with many throws beyond the line of scrimmage so far. Joe Flacco's third-down passes are getting contacted by Pittsburgh defenders.
Bryan Knowles: If Baltimore is going to be in this game, they're going to have to do better on the ground. With Brandon Williams and Brent Urban both out, the Steelers had no trouble marching down the field behind Le'Veon Bell and James Conner. Pittsburgh ran for 58 yards on their first drive, and Bell added a couple of receptions for 20 more. A couple of penalties killed the drive in the red zone, and the Steelers were forced to settle for just a field goal, but it was a promising start. They even were successful running to the outside, where they ranked 30th (left) and 31st (right) in adjusted line yards coming into the week. Could be a long day for the Ravens if they can't get that under control.
Scott Kacsmar: The fact that Pittsburgh even drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round was surprising with Martavis Bryant coming back, but he's quickly climbed up the depth chart. Have to think Eli Rogers is a healthy scratch today to get JuJu on the field more in the slot, though Justin Hunter is active. A good third-down conversion by JuJu, but another drive bogged down after a big penalty set up second-and-29.
Vince Verhei: Let's get specific on that Pittsburgh penalty: Alejandro Villanueva gets into it with some Ravens and gets an unnecessary roughness foul, after a play where Le'Veon Bell was hit for a 4-yard loss.
Bryan Knowles: Pittsburgh attempted a two-point conversion pass, which failed. That's nothing particularly surprising; the Steelers go for two more frequently than just about any other team.
But the Steelers have now attempted a pass on their two-point conversions on their last 26 attempts. They haven't tried to run it in since Week 8 of 2013. This is all setting up, I presume, the least-expected Le'Veon Bell plunge of all time in some sort of crucial situation.
Carl Yedor: Consider me a fan of allowing the use of a ball as a prop for touchdown celebrations. JuJu Smith-Schuster did a kamehameha wave from Dragonball Z. Or maybe it was something from Mortal Kombat. I personally watched a lot of the former when I was a kid, so I'm gonna go with that one. Either way, I support the players having fun post-touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: I've been trying to find something to say about this game, but the Ravens have been doing absolutely nothing all day long. Since they kicked a field goal in the third quarter against the Browns, here are the Ravens last 19 drives with Joe Flacco in at quarterback:
Fumble, Punt, End of Game, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception, Punt, Punt, Interception, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Punt, Missed-62 Yard Field goal.
Is it the lingering effects of Flacco's injury? The difficulty travelling to and from London? The loss of Marshal Yanda? The lack of a solid answer in the running game? The answer is probably "yes" to all of these, but it's producing some ugly, ugly football.
The Steelers are up 19-0 at the half, and it's only that close because they've committed six penalties to force them to settle for a couple field goals. The Ravens are only down three scores, but this game feels more or less over.
I can also confirm that Smith-Schuster's celebration was the kamehameha. Now, if Mike Wallace busts out a Rei Gun, the Steelers will have recreated most of my high school lunchtime viewing.
Scott Kacsmar: The Ravens have a bit of a quandary. They came into this game with three running backs over 120 rushing yards this season. Alex Collins was the man on call today, but we'll see if that's still the case after a huge fumble set up the Steelers on a short field for a 13-0 lead. More than that, the Ravens really can't afford to grind things out on the ground down 19-0 at halftime. The offense has barely been more visible than it was in the first half in London last week. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is getting back on track offensively. I'm still not in love with all of the short passes, but Ben Roethlisberger started opening things up on the last drive, which led to another touchdown. He had a ton of time to stand in the pocket and find JuJu for a touchdown.
Apparently, the Steelers just can't get up for a game against a team like Chicago. Show them their rivals in Baltimore, and the performance is more on par with the contender we expected to see this season.
Derrik Klassen: The lengths the Ravens go to in order to hide Joe Flacco is unlike any other. Even Andy Reid gives Alex Smith a longer leash and puts more on his plate. The Ravens passing offense is screens, swings, and quick outs galore, with a few shot plays per game that Flacco tends to botch. Flacco isn't quick-witted or accurate enough to make that slow developing style of offense work.
At the half, Flacco is 9-of-13 for 49 yards. He is averaging just under 4 yards per attempt, which would be mediocre if those were rushing attempts, much less passing attempts. Flacco is bound to implode in the second half when the passing offense is forced to open up. The Steelers currently lead 19-0, and 2012 playoff Flacco is not walking through that door.
Vince Verhei: Justin Tucker comes up short on a 62-yard field goal at the end of the half. Steelers try to run it back, which catches CBS' crew totally off guard, as we cut to the Steelers watching tensely from the sideline, then Tucker running across the field like a drunken giraffe, then a shot of a tackle being made, and we were told there was a penalty on Pittsburgh but it didn't matter and the half was over.
(By the way, if you want to know why NFL players hate fantasy football, you should have seen the scorn Tucker drew on Twitter for missing from SIXTY-TWO YARDS.)
In the last six quarters of Ravens football, Joe Flacco has gained a net 57 yards passing with zero gains of 10 yards or more and led the Ravens to zero points scored.
Bryan Knowles: The last time the Ravens have had scoreless first halves in back-to-back games was 2009. In an entirely unrelated note, the Ravens can't really get out of Flacco's deal until 2020.
The streak is over! Joe Flacco finally leads a scoring drive.
Admittedly, it was a three-play, -6-yard scoring drive on the backs of a very fluky interception, but still!
Scott Kacsmar: I don't get how the Ravens got an interception there. Antonio Brown caught the ball, took a few steps, was tackled down, knee down with control, then the ball popped out to Eric Weddle after he rolled over. Bogus reversal.
Then Flacco missed an easy touchdown toss to a wide-open Breshad Perriman.
Andrew Potter: I wonder whether Brian Billick can bear to watch Ravens games the past couple of years. The current team is a total flashback to the Kyle Boller era.
I can't believe that the announcers couldn't figure out what was going on during the Weddle interception challenge. They spent ages talking about whether Brown's knee was down, without ever pointing out that by current catch rules, he never had possession. The receiver was being contacted going to the ground, so had to retain possession throughout the process. He did not, and the ball never hit the ground, so it was a clear interception and should have been a pick-six for Weddle.
The Ravens also should have had a touchdown on the next play, but Flacco wildly missed a wide-open Breshad Perriman. Perriman could have moonwalked into the end zone if Flacco had any accuracy at all.
Bryan Knowles: The Steelers miss a field goal, and the Ravens immediately capitalize. Alex Collins rumbles for 50 yards off tackle, and Flacco hits Mike Wallace through coverage to put the ball in the end zone. A missed two-point conversion leaves the score at 19-9, but at least there's some signs of life.
We mentioned Collins had taken over the starting running back job at the beginning of the game, and he's been very boom or bust. He has a 50-yard run and a 23-yard run ... and then four more carries for a combined 5 yards. That still qualifies as their best back on the day; Buck Allen and Terrance West have combined for four carries for zero yards.
Despite a few signs of life from Baltimore (particularly on defense) in the second half, the Steelers did end up hanging on to this one. The Ravens simply couldn't handle Le'Veon Bell; he had 186 of Pittsburgh's 382 yards today. Flacco added a couple more interceptions in the fourth quarter to seal this one.
The Ravens have some serious offensive issues to figure out. This was a brutal performance, and there aren't any easy answers.
Scott Kacsmar: It's probably never right to complain about a 26-9 road win over your hated rival, but I'm going to do it a little. I still don't think the Steelers look that good this year, but man, Baltimore looks a lot worse. I don't know how DVOA will treat this one, but it was already a tough situation to explain the Steelers as the No. 2 overall team headed into the week. The offense moved the ball well in the first half (on pace for 500 yards), but the second half was a real clunker that felt like it took forever. Baltimore had numerous chances to claw its way back in this one, but Flacco just never made a positive impact. Their running game basically had two big runs, and 13 other carries to nowhere. The passing game was a mess. The Steelers got some decent pressure at times and several sacks. Health wasn't good again with Ronnie Stanley going down at left tackle. But with the Steelers, Antonio Brown only had 34 yards and gave up the ball on that fluky interception call. He also threw a tantrum on the sideline with Todd Haley that I'm sure will get more run in Pittsburgh this week than it needs to. Roethlisberger missed Martavis Bryant on what would have been another deep touchdown for the second week in a row. The good news was that Smith-Schuster looks comfortable for a rookie, and Bell got into a groove for a change this year. But both Bell touchdowns came on drives that started in Baltimore territory. The difficulty this offense has in putting up 20 points is a bit alarming since health has been relatively great so far on that side of the ball.
The Steelers get Blake Bortles and the Jaguars next, so we still don't really know how the defense will handle a legit passing offense. I guess Kansas City in Week 6 at Arrowhead is an all-around great test for this team, which really has to be kicking itself for the Chicago loss. A 4-0 start when the Patriots are 2-2 would have been huge.
Tennessee Titans 14 at Houston Texans 57
Charles McDonald: Deshaun Watson gets better every time he steps on the field. Houston is incorporating speed and read options into their offensive attack, paying off huge dividends so far.
Tom Gower: Houston leads 30-14 at the half. The Titans started the game with the same garbage offense they'd started the past two games with (zero first downs on first three possessions), and this time it cost them. Andre Hal got his first interception of the half early, on a slightly overthrown Marcus Mariota third-down pass. Some miscommunication in the secondary, and a Watson option toss to Lamar Miller found the end zone. Punt, the Texans convert on a couple third downs (why are you not having Logan Ryan shadow DeAndre Hopkins, Dick LeBeau?), 14-0. Punt, another big gain on a completion to an uncovered receiver in the flat and other successful plays in the air and ground, 21-0.
Then something strange happened: Tennessee found some offense. Early-down passing success of a sort they hadn't had all year (Mariota's passing VOA the first three games on first or second downs before the two-minute warning was something like -91.6%), and Mariota finished off the drive with his legs. Mariota finished off the next drive, which had some more of that heretofore non-existent early-down passing success, and then it was 24-14. But the defense couldn't get another stop, so 30-14. The teams traded interceptions late. Mariota's was Hal's second, another high throw (though this one wasn't so high that Rishard Matthews maybe couldn't have done more to prevent it), while Deshaun Watson made a bad decision late in the down to throw across his body. That kept it at 30-14, a big error in easy field goal range.
Watson has looked very good so far. Composed, accurate, and until the interception, not making mistakes. He had been playing with fire a little bit. There were a couple late throwaways he had gotten away with, one where he nearly went down outside the pocket for a loss of around 10, but kept his feet. The Titans have seemed to come after him moderately so at times, with their usual five-man rushes from muddied looks, and he has used his legs at times to make sure those didn't get home. That Tennessee's defense has played so poorly (Adoree Jackson and Brice McCain can't cover Hopkins) has helped, as has a very effective run game, but he's been executing so far. And Mike Mularkey chose to receive the ball instead of deferring this game, so it might not still be a 16-point game before Mariota gets the ball again.
Dave Bernreuther: When the Moo Cows fell just short of a first down at about the 27 with a 16-point lead, I was afraid that Bill O'Brien would kick the field goal, since he tends to do things that aren't what I'd call smart. To his credit, he kept the offense out there, Watson -- who even I, one of the more negative graders of quarterbacks out there, have to say looks pretty damn good, that one interception excepted -- hits Nuk, and one play later the Texans are inside the 10. Good for you, O'Brien.
Bad for you, other Texans, taking penalties to mean this ends up a field goal drive anyway ... or maybe not! Oh my, that was a damn nice back-shoulder throw to where only Will Fuller could catch it for the score.
Tom Gower: Texans start the second half with an 8-minute drive ending in the end zone to make it 37-14. Titans come out with Matt Cassel under center, as Mariota suffered a hamstring injury, likely on his second rushing touchdown. On Cassel's first possession, he overthrows the short out on third down. On his second possession, he threw, I dunno, between two receivers on third down. Texans get another score on a pass to an uncovered receiver after a defensive bust, 44-14. Enough of this abomination. The long-term questions are about Mariota's health and if Tennessee's defense can be merely bad instead of the disaster they've been today.
Rivers McCown: This was the best-coached game I can remember Bill O'Brien's offense having. I'm not sure how to divvy the credit between him and Watson, but Watson had plenty of open throws to make and the Titans seemed to key in on Watson's running so much that they wound up letting multiple guys run free on the outside. If I had a criticism of Watson, it's that he still hasn't really learned what he can and can't do on the field. He made a few dangerous throws under pressure and was lucky that most of them fell harmlessly out of bounds. Or, maybe that's just his skill set? It's early.
I'm trying to temper my enthusiasm based on what we know about small sample sizes and not seeing his tight-window throws being absolutely flawless so far. But, uh, this guy can play a little. He's easily the most exciting quarterback the Texans have ever employed. And since the fanbase has suffered through David Carr, Matt Schaub's injuries and decline, and the last five years of hot garbage, I can forgive the enthusiasm that would be generated by Watson.
Carolina Panthers 33 at New England Patriots 30
Dave Bernreuther: Even the table full of Patriots fans next to me thought that Malcolm Butler interception should have come back on DPI or illegal contact. Both Pats defensive backs looked like they were throwing Damiere Byrd around back and forth like in a mosh pit.
Vince Verhei: Regardless of the coverage, that was a terrible interception by Cam Newton. Panthers had two receivers split to the right. Funchess ran deep, and both defensive backs went with him. The other receiver ran a hitch and was wide open for an easy conversion on third-and-3. Newton threw into double-coverage instead.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know about a penalty because I was too busy watching the other side and trying to figure out why Newton didn't just go to Christian McCaffrey, singled up on Kyle Van Noy. Seems like an easy whip route or something would have gotten the third-and-3. Whatever happened between the defensive backs and the receiver, throwing to a guy who was surrounded by two defensive backs seems kind of stupid.
Patriots' offensive strategy early seems to be to constantly spread things out, knowing the Panthers never deviate from having at least two linebackers on the field, and then throw to whoever is covered by a linebacker. Even though the Panthers linebackers are good in coverage, the Patriots receivers (including Gronk and James White) are very agile at getting away from them for receptions. Pats can also then motion this into a more standard I-formation and run for nice gains. Got a couple of good gains from Mike Gillislee out of I-formation.
Panthers bring out the razzle-dazzle play design on touchdown drive to tie things up 10-10. 12-yard reverse to Damiere Byrd and a couple of really nice screens, including the 28-yard touchdown to Fozzy Whittaker. Man, we've seen a lot of Damiere Byrd today. That's a third-year UDFA who almost never plays. I wonder if the Panthers are bringing him out because he's a pure speed guy and they don't think the Patriots can keep up with that? (So far, they would seem to be correct.)
Vince Verhei: Christian McCaffrey was really the key to that drive. His screen pass gained 12 yards. Then came the Byrd reverse, then Fozzy Whittaker scored on a 28-yard screen pass. On that play, McCaffrey lined up wide to the left, then motioned to the right, and it seemed like the entire New England defense followed him. The Panthers had way more blockers to the left side than New England had defenders.
Dave Bernreuther: Hard to believe that was the defensive design on the 43-yarder to Gronk, leaving a corner up in a shallow zone and a linebacker running deep. Looked like maybe the safety should have been the one picking him up downfield.
As I type, Brady gets away with a very interceptable pass that I can't really blame him for throwing. Gronk IS always open even when he's covered. Still, right into Mike Adams' hands and dropped, so the Pats settle for a field goal in a game that is more closely contested than I expected it to be.
Aaron Schatz: Panthers just ended the second quarter with a touchdown to go up 17-13 thanks to two colossal blown coverages in three plays by the Patriots defense. First a 43-yard reception by Kelvin Benjamin all alone, nobody within miles of him. I would have to go back to see who blew that coverage. Then two plays later, Devin Funchess waltzes into the end zone all alone when neither Eric Rowe nor Stephon Gilmore seems to realize that one of them is supposed to be covering him. What on earth is going on with the Patriots defense this year? It's mostly the same players as a year ago, and Gilmore for Logan Ryan is theoretically an upgrade, but the play is sloppy and it sometimes looks like they have never practiced the coverages.
Also, the Patriots offense has totally stopped using the empty sets that were working so well in the first quarter. I don't get it.
Patriots fell prey to an easy first down by Deshaun Watson on a quarterback draw last week. Now they've fallen prey to another easy first down by Cam Newton -- on a quarterback draw? It was hard to tell if that was a designed run or instead he just ran easily when the Patriots committed to a big pass rush and left a huge hole in the middle of the field. Graham Gano missed the extra point but the Panthers are now up 23-16 and the Patriots need to be seriously worried. Their defense looks horrendous. Even on the last drive, the one time they thought they got off on third-and-long, Stephon Gilmore got called for illegal hands to the face. (I didn't see any hands to the face in the replay, but that's fine, then it was just defensive holding, no difference really.) Meanwhile, the offense has had some issues because of drops or inaccurate Tom Brady passes or, on a big missed play-action chance to Dwayne Allen on the previous drive, something sort-of in between.
Dave Bernreuther: I've never seen as many wide-open receivers against the Patriots as I have today. Not even close. What is going on there? Three times at least they've had two guys chase one and leave another open, and they're playing so poorly I can't tell if Cam is healthy again or if the Panthers just look OK because of the opposition.
Sometimes my eyes disagree with DVOA. This is not one of those times. They legitimately look awful.
Charles McDonald: Man, what happened to the Patriots defense? I thought they could be really good on that side of the ball this year.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the good news (?) is that I think the last one against Kelvin Benjamin was a hole in zone, not a totally blown coverage. Sarcastic cheer!
Tom Brady marches the Patriots down the field, including a conversion to Gronk on fourth-and-3, and they complete things with an 8-yard sweep to the outside left by Dion Lewis. It's now 30-23 Carolina. The problem is that Brady is in the same situation Aaron Rodgers was in when the Falcons were leading Green Bay 24-0 at halftime of last year's NFC Championship Game. I didn't doubt Rodgers' ability to come back from that deficit. I doubted that the Packers defense could possibly hold the Falcons to zero points for the rest of the game to allow him to come back. Well, same thing here today. It would be a shock if the Patriots defense allowed zero points the rest of the way.
Bryan Knowles: Can anyone explain why Belichick let the time run out, allowing Carolina to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired? They had time outs in the bank...
Vince Verhei: Graham Gano hits a 48-yard field goal at the gun to win for Carolina. Weird clock management at the end by both teams. A New England penalty gave the Panthers a first down at the New England 34 with 41 seconds and one timeout to go. That's a 51-yard field goal from there, so you'd like to get another first down or close to it to feel confident in the kick. Instead, Newton runs a couple of sneaks and they settle for the long field goal try, and Gano, who has missed an extra point earlier, bails them out.
And for New England, they more-or-less sat back and let those last 41 seconds tick off, guaranteeing they would not get the ball back in regulation. They did use one timeout to try and ice the kicker, but that obviously failed.
Should add: By the end of the game, Kelvin Benjamin was out for Carolina, and Devin Funchess looked hurt after his last catch. No Benjamin, no Funchess, no Greg Olsen, things might have been really ugly for Carolina in overtime.
Rob Weintraub: I really believe Belichick thinks the games are long enough already, and he'll be damned if he's gonna stand there any longer than he has to. Five titles gets you that.
Aaron Schatz: OK, for the second time in my career, I went downstairs like a real live reporter and asked Bill Belichick a question in the postgame presser. He said that he did not call timeouts after the Jonathan Stewart first down and the penalty that followed because it was still a really long field goal for Graham Gano and he wanted to try to get the Panthers to kick the longest field goal attempt possible. If that was the goal, it succeeded, because they just ran a couple of short Newton runs and then brought Gano onto the field. But I don't know if that was the proper goal once the field goal got down below 50 yards.
After the game, all the discussion in the Patriots press box is about the communication problems in the Patriots defense. Other than the weakness of the pass rush, which is no different from last year, this defense is not getting physically beat. The problems are all mental. I have a hard time getting too angry about 5-yard defensive penalties. Those are usually just a case where defense is playing close and physical and sometimes the officials are going to throw flags, sometimes they aren't. The problem are the blown coverages. Huge, game-destroying blown coverages, with the Patriots defensive backs looking at each other afterwards like "OK, which of us did that wrong?"
It's the same defense as last year. It can't all be Stephon Gilmore, right? I've talked to a couple of people about whether the Patriots made a mistake letting Logan Ryan leave. Frankly, that decision didn't work out well for anybody except Ryan's financial advisor. Ryan had played with Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty for years, since Rutgers, and those guys all communicated well together. Gilmore comes, suddenly there are issues, but meanwhile Ryan was near the bottom of the league in the premium cornerback charting stats through three weeks (9.4 yards per pass, 31 percent success rate) and if the Titans gave up 57 today I'm going to guess Ryan did not play well.
How much can we blame this on coaching? Clearly, the coaching staff is not teaching the proper communication to the defensive backs for the defense they are playing right now. But also -- if they see in practice that the defense is having problems with communication, then it is on Matt Patricia not to call the plays that are causing the communication breakdowns. Although the players told Tom Curran in interviews after the game that they can't simplify the defense, the defense is as simple as it's going to get.
As far as the Panthers, I feel kind of bad that I'm being so Patriots-centric in my commentary today. But the Panthers ... are who I thought they were. The strengths and weaknesses are pretty much what you expect. The receivers are not really that good, despite being big and physical. Options and run game are strong. Secondary is better than last year with more experience, as expected. Pass rush is good. Defensive tackles are great. I'm not a great judge of physical health but Cam Newton's shoulder looks fine. Some of his decisions leave me questioning, but I don't feel like the throws demonstrated a shoulder problem.
Tom Gower: I don't chart live at all, but Ryan was not a significant factor in Houston's passing game today. The bigger problems were just (and all) the other corners on the roster, plus the linebackers.
Cincinnati Bengals 31 at Cleveland Browns 7
Dave Bernreuther: I'll never be a fan of the fade, but when you're as open as A.J. Green is, well, on every play, it's hard to argue against using it like that. Easy touchdown.
Vince Verhei: Green got matched up one-on-one on Jabrill Peppers on that touchdown pass. There are a lot of good ways to use Peppers. Covering Pro Bowl receivers isn't one of them.
Rob Weintraub: Nothing like the Browns to make the Bengals look like an actual good NFL team!
Since the Andy Dalton 2.0 game, the Bengals have beaten Cleveland six straight times, by a combined score of 173-47! That's pretty amazing, especially for a rivalry series. This is Nebraska-Kansas stuff from back in the day. By contrast, in the last six meetings Pittsburgh has lost once and has two three-pt wins over the Browns.
Meanwhile, Hue Jackson is now 1-19 as head coach. Everyone loves HueJax, and no one expects them to win much, but they were blown off the field by the Colts and Bengals in consecutive weeks. I mean, the personnel isn't that bad -- four offensive linemen who I would trade anyone on Cincinnati's line for, two good backs, some spry young defenders (maybe Myles Garrett will make that big a difference?) -- but if anything, the Browns look worse than last year. I wonder, if there is a "football guy vs. nerd" struggle soon, which side gets ownership backing...
Dalton's numbers today (25-of-30, 286 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions) are in line with his recent performances against the Browns, and Cleveland was terrible today, clearly, so I hesitate to put too much into the offensive revival, but it's apparent that Bill Lazor > Ken Zampese.
I didn't get to see much of this live. (By the way here's a stat -- I have watched Cincy live for six quarters plus overtime so far, while on tape/Game Pass for 10. When I watch live, the Bengals have been outscored 40-3. When I don't, Cincy is up 61-27. Tells you all you need to know.) But I saw enough to know this:
DeShone Kizer has accuracy issues, as everyone who scouted him in college knew. Kinda seems like that high release is the issue, but not sure. He's also very indecisive, though that is likely more inexperience, and can be fixed. Not sure his motion can.
Kenny Britt hasn't done Kizer any favors. More drops today, including one that went through his hands for an interception, and a false start, and tripped running under another ball. He did have a sensational grab with William Jackson all over him, but overall he's been Browns'd.
The defense is bad too. Giovani Bernard took a screen pass on the numbers, and ran straight down the numbers without even making a cut, completely untouched for a 61-yard touchdown. Not sure I've ever seen that before.
Cincy played musical chairs on the offensive line, trying to find someone, anyone, who can block. Still looking -- Cincy was 30-86 on the ground, and if you take out Dalton's runs that dwindles to 26-57 -- but other than some early damage by Emmanuel Ogbah, the quick passing game was effective enough to trample the hapless Browns. Cleveland's offensive line, a big-money unit, was dominated up front by the Bengals.
The pre-game story was Vontaze Burfict's return, but Nick Vigil had the better game, with 11 tackles and a sack. He's still figuring things out, but Vigil is a deceptively good athlete, and has played well.
Darqueze Dennard has been forgotten by everyone outside southern Ohio, but he has been very good in the slot this season, especially against the run. Very physical player -- health has been an issue, so hopefully he stays out there and fulfils his talent.
Jacksonville Jaguars 20 at New York Jets 23 (OT)
Vince Verhei: I think this tweet tells us every single thing we need to know about this game.
Jets fake punt on 4th-and-21 with 22 seconds left in the first half with a throw short of the sticks? Brilliant! pic.twitter.com/xNAJ5Wk1cx
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 1, 2017
Dave Bernreuther: During a commercial I turned around to a montage of Blake Bortles throwing passes to empty turf. Got a good chuckle out of that one.
Blinked, turned around, turned back, and the Jets have first-and-goal. They're not even showing a replay but I'm sure my first guess would be correct.
Man, there's so much talent on that team ... what a waste.
Bryan Knowles: Jets up 10, marching in for another score -- and Josh McCown throws a backwards pass which the running back was NOT prepared for at all. Myles Jack scoops it up and runs 80-odd yards the other way for the score. Oh, Jets.
Vince Verhei: That's the third touchdown of 69 yards or more in that game. Two runs and a fumble return. Wacky.
Dave Bernreuther: I apologize, this has nothing to do with intelligent analysis at all. But the Jags essentially just played for the tie from their own 1, and after predictably Bortling that right up, the Jets are already in range to kick a winning field goal in overtime. Which I hope misses, since ties amuse me.
But man, what a missed opportunity this year is for my Colts. They have Andrew Luck. They're in a division with four circus clowns for coaches. And Blake Bortles. And yet they'll likely be done for the year an hour from now. That's so depressing.
Bryan Knowles: I think you could write several books about the strategic battle in this one.
The Jets just spiked the ball on third down with 32 seconds left. If they had missed the ensuing field goal, it would have given the Jags time to do something. Of course, they kick the game-winning field goal anyway, but why take that risk?
Also, all that talk about "maybe the Jags have unleashed Garbage Time Bortles!" from last week should be changed to "man, the Ravens defense is terrible." Thanks, from the Ministry of Truth.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, when the Jaguars punted on fourth-and-3, in overtime, from the Jets' 43-yard line, they cost themselves 5.7 percent in win probability. In case you needed math to tell you how bad that call was.
Vince Verhei: Aside from the big-play highlights, I only saw the last few minutes of overtime, but those few minutes seemed to be just as silly as the previous 67. Jets looked to have a first down in New York territory, but Jermaine Kearse's big catch was wiped out by a holding penalty on Austin Seferian-Jenkins. (Hey, two former Washington Huskies.) That left New York with a third-and-18 at their own 12. A punt from there will likely leave the Jaguars in good position to get a short drive and a winning field goal. Still, the Jets call the give-up screen and gain 13, but still must punt. Things look good for Jacksonville.
But no, nothing can ever be that simple. Marqise Lee totally misplays the punt, and it bounces behind him and keeps on tumbling towards the Jacksonville end zone. It officially goes down as 70-yard punt with a 5-yard return. But there is also a block in the back penalty, so Jacksonville gets the ball at their own 3. That's a net 72-yard gain on the punt.
Two runs and an incomplete pass leave the Jaguars with a fourth-and-11, and now they're punting from their own end zone, and the punt doesn't even reach midfield, and the Jets are getting the ball in Jacksonville territory. But there's more -- Paul Posluszny gets flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the Jets get the ball at the 25 with 1:38 to go.
The Jets run the ball on first down, and Jacksonville calls its last timeout, hoping for a chance to score if the Jets miss the kick. Jets run again on second down, but then on third down Josh McCown ... spikes the ball? With 34 seconds to go? From the 23? Again, leaving Jacksonville time if the kick is missed?
Chandler Catanzaro comes in to try the kick, and after his misadventures with Arizona last year, anything seems possible. He makes the kick from 41 yards but a flag is down. I'm trying to think of the most ridiculous possible penalty they could call there, but instead the flag is waved off, and it's a Jets win.
Four weeks ago people were talking about the Patriots going 16-0, and the Jets going 0-16. Now they're tied at 2-2.
Aaron Schatz: In other news, Fulham is currently 4-2-5 after beating Queens Park Rangers 2-1 on Friday, so at least someone is listening to Tony. Sigh.
Charles McDonald: Who would have guessed that the Jets would have a better record than the Giants through four games?
How do we feel about Todd Bowles as a head coach? He might not be as bad as he's made out to be.
Rivers McCown: It's hard to know exactly how good or bad Bowles is because he has never really had a team I considered talented enough to make the playoffs. I think it's harder to evaluate the head coach when he doesn't have the tools.
Detroit Lions 14 at Minnesota Vikings 7
Bryan Knowles: Dalvin Cook goes down with a noncontact injury to his left knee. It doesn't look good; he had to be helped to the sideline. His knee just gave out as he tried to make a cut; this could be very bad.
Andrew Potter: Dire news on Dalvin Cook. Teams almost never get an ACL diagnosis wrong. The on-field tests are well over 95 percent accurate.
#Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said MIN is concerned that RB Dalvin Cook suffered an ACL injury. He'll get an MRI, but potentially season-ending
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 1, 2017
Buffalo Bills 23 at Atlanta Falcons 17
Zach Binney: Oh boy, the Falcons have lost both Julio Jones (hip) and Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) to injury, and it shows almost immediately. Following a debatable sack-fumble-touchdown for Buffalo, on the ensuing drive Matt Ryan chucks a jump ball downfield for their third receiver, Taylor Gabriel, and it's underthrown and intercepted.
If there's any silver lining it's that hip injuries haven't historically been super bad for receivers. Nearly 75 percent of players don't miss a game with them. However, the fact that Julio is out for the rest of this game raises some red flags, as about 10 percent of guys miss serious time. We'll have to wait and hear more.
Bryan Knowles: And then there was one. The Falcons, injury-depleted on offense, fall to Buffalo. That just leaves the Chiefs as the only undefeated team in football, pending their Monday Night game. And it's only Week 4!
San Francisco 49ers 15 at Arizona Cardinals 18 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: Cardinals march down the field on their opening drive, but the 49ers get bailed out when pressure gets there near the goal line, forcing Palmer to throw a duck into the end zone. It bounces off Rashard Robinson's hands (per usual), but Ray-Ray Armstrong is there to finish off the interception.
The 49ers were blitzing often on that first drive, and it was not working. It will be interesting to see if they follow the Cowboys' model from last week and rush less, giving their depleted secondary a bit more help the rest of the way.
Bryan Knowles: Rashard Robinson has been Peter Principle'd this year. He showed flashes of quality play as the third corner last year, so there was a lot of hope among the 49ers faithful that he could transition into a top cornerback without any issues. Well, not so much. He has been burned badly through four weeks, blowing coverages, missing tackles, and drawing penalties. He was in coverage on Andre Ellington's touchdown, and by "coverage" I mean he swiped ineffectively at the receiver.
... and as I type that, they overturn the call, as Ellington's hand was on the white. So, he dodges a bullet there, and we just have a tied game so far.
Brian Hoyer is Not Good. The 49ers put together a pretty nice drive, going from their own 15 into the red zone, but face a third-and-3. Hoyer drops back. He has George Kittle wide open. Pierre Garcon was moderately open on the quick out. Matt Breida is open in the flat, albeit short of the first down. Hoyer chooses none of these options, holding it and eventually getting swarmed for the sack. 6-3, 49ers.
Halftime! If you like offense, this is not the game for you. It's a field goal battle, with both current 49ers kicker Robbie Gould and ex-49ers kicker Phil Dawson with a pair of field goals and a 6-6 tie. The offensive explosion the 49ers showed against the Rams is nowhere to be seen -- which isn't particularly surprising.
Both teams have gotten bogged down in the red zone. The Cardinals suffered a Carson Palmer interception and a (questionably) overturned touchdown on their two trips down the field, while the 49ers took a terrible Brian Hoyer sack on their one visit. That's not to say there's nothing positive to say for either team -- the 49ers' pass rush began to perk up, with Solomon Thomas getting his first NFL sack. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have been the more efficient of the two on offense, dominating the time of possession and nearly doubling San Francisco's yardage total.
Still. Not exactly high-quality football being played out in the desert.
Vince Verhei: It's tied 6-6 at halftime. Arizona has way more pass plays (28) than runs (12), but that makes sense because David Johnson is hurt and San Francisco's secondary is suspect. Why on earth do the 49ers have 20 passes and 10 runs? Why do you take the ball away from Carlos Hyde and ask Brian Hoyer to beat Patrick Peterson and crew to win? Am I missing something?
Bryan Knowles: Hyde is banged up -- perhaps more than we know.
49ers open up the third quarter with a nice drive -- moving the ball really well, three straight 10-yard plays and eventually a first-and-10 from the 11. Then the Red Zone Woes strike again: offensive pass interference, bringing up first-and-20. Huge sack, bringing up second-and-30. Two-yard screen, incomplete pass, and the 49ers are forced to settle for another field goal. Maybe both teams should try scoring from outside the red zone.
We've got overtime in the desert. Both teams had multiple shots to win the game, but regulation ends with seven consecutive three-and-outs and then a kneeldown by Arizona. Thrilling offensive showcase here in the 12-12 tie.
Oh, and those last eight drives? Zero net total yards.
Vince Verhei: Well this is interesting. The game goes into overtime, and San Francisco kicks a field goal on the opening drive to go up 15-12. But it took them 7:32 to do it, and under the new overtime rules Arizona only has 2:28 to get their own score. That's doable, obviously, but it's a short enough time they might have to choose between a sure tie, or take a risk and go for the win.
Bryan Knowles: That's two very, very close reviews for touchdowns that have gone against the Cardinals. They're going to have some issues with the officiating.
Rob Weintraub: Ten-field goal game looms...
Unless a deflected catch by Brown is ruled good. The second toe tap is as close as it gets. Ruled incomplete on the field which may be prevailing point.
Yep, no touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: And that's the game -- and who else? Larry Fitzgerald comes down with the game-winning touchdown after the 49ers' 13th penalty of the day moves the Cardinals into scoring position. Fitzgerald is hurt on the play, as he hit the turf really hard.
Vince Verhei: And that whole clock conversation is moot -- Carson Palmer finds Larry Fitzgerald on a seam route, 19-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left, Cardinals win. 49ers, along with Browns, Chargers and Giants, remain winless.
Tom Gower: Carson Palmer sacked on second-and-10. Kyle Shanahan accepts the holding penalty, putting the Cardinals in second-and-20 at the 35, rather than third-and-15 at the 30. I know at that distance 5 yards can make a big difference in field goal accuracy percentage, but that comes at the cost of giving the Cardinals two chances to get more yards. San Francisco was called for pass interference on second-and-20, and a couple plays later Larry Fitzgerald catches the game-winner.
Rob Weintraub: Fitz wins it with a tremendous catch. Who else? After 69:38 of action finally a touchdown. Tough loss for San Francisco, who I thought were more physical and deserved the road win.
Bryan Knowles: That's three straight very close losses against divisional opponents for San Francisco. Obviously, at some point, Shanahan and company will have to turn those into wins, but if you assume 2017 is dead (which, at 0-4, it pretty much is), then a bunch of close losses is far from the worst possible outcome.
Philadelphia Eagles 26 at Los Angeles Chargers 24
Bryan Knowles: Chants of "Cowboys suck!" rang through stadium when news of the Rams-Cowboys score went through, as all the Eagles fans celebrated their rival's loss.
Of course, this game is being played in Los Angeles. The Chargers are going to play 16 road games this year, aren't they?
Andrew Potter: I've genuinely had to stop myself from filling in the headline on their home games as "Miami Dolphins 'at' San Diego Chargers (Los Angeles)," like I do for the London games.
Vince Verhei: Apparently there was a big cheer in Arizona too when it was announced that the Cowboys had lost -- even though this meant Arizona's division rival, the Rams, had won. People just really don't like Dallas.
New York Giants 23 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25
Rob Weintraub: How do you get O.J. Howard involved in the offense? Run the same play he scored on -- twice -- in the 2015 national championship game. Simple misdirection throwback, which usually doesn't work in pro football, but the G-men blow the coverage completely. 13-0, as the Buccaneers miss the extra point.
And why did some (including me) feel Howard was a bit overrated as a prospect? Because almost all of his plays at Bama were wide-open gimmes like the one he scored on. He never showed he could snag balls in traffic. Sure enough, on Tampa's next possession, Howard has an easy first down, but has the ball jarred free by Landon Collins. Maybe he gets there, but tough skill to learn on the fly in the NFL.
Vince Verhei: Do we really need Tiki AND Ronde Barber in the booth at the same time?
Rob Weintraub: Meanwhile, there is the "other" Tampa tight end, Cameron Brate, catching a drag and flat trucking over Collins for a big gainer. But Tampa's kicking troubles continue, as Nick Folk misses a 48-yarder, to go with the missed extra point. In fairness, there was a pregame downpour, and the track is sloppy. But after all the Aguayo drama the Bucs still need help there long term.
Andrew Potter: Did you know that most NFL franchises don't employ a specialist kicking coach? It's true. The one team that did last year? Baltimore Ravens. You know, the team with the best kicker in the league.
You'd think if any other team would invest in a specialist kicking coach, it would be the Buccaneers. Their field goal units have been terrible for years. The Tampa Bay Times ran an article about that during the offseason though. Dirk Koetter is not persuaded.
Vince Verhei: In Folk's defense, the weather early in that game (it's cleared up here in the second quarter) was so bad, the Giants didn't even want to try field goals. They went for it on fourth-and-4 from the 30 rather than try a 47-yarder.
Odell Beckham had a ball go through his hands, and apparently separated or dislocated a finger on the play. They're on the sideline trying to yank his finger out of socket and get it lined up right. He's screaming in pain. This is making me queasy.
Holy crap, Eli Manning just ran for a 14-yard touchdown. That's his longest run since ... uh, 2015. Much to my surprise, he's had at least one 10-yard run in 12 seasons now, but his longest is just 18, so this was pretty close to his limit.
Dave Bernreuther: Is that the longest touchdown run by a Manning brother?
I knew the field position, saw the celebration, but missed the play. Was shocked to learn that Eli ran that one in himself.
Scott Kacsmar: No Dave, Peyton Manning once had a 33-yard touchdown run against the Bills. Best I could find was this GIF:
Dave Bernreuther: Thank you Scott, and excellent GIF-finding. Thankfully that happened before I was a Colts season ticket holder and thus I don't feel quite as awful about my lack of memory ... which is a theme lately, given that it's my birthday, and well, I'm old and losing my mind.
Vince Verhei: It was the longest touchdown run of Eli's career, surpassing his 10-yard score against Miami in 2007.
In fact, it's longer than any touchdown Archie Manning ever scored -- their dad had 18 rushing touchdowns, a lot for a quarterback. But his longest was just 13.
Interesting sequence at the end of the first half. Mike Evans appears to score on a long touchdown, but on replay is ruled down at the 1. Like the end of the Lions-Falcons game last week, that includes a 10-second runoff, so there will be 35 seconds left in the half. But the Bucs elect to use their first timeout. So they have 45 seconds left. What do they do with those 45 seconds? Run for a loss, call timeout, incomplete, incomplete, and they kick a field goal with ... 35 seconds left. If anything they just left the Giants time for a miracle answer, but nothing comes of that, and the Bucs are up 16-10 at halftime.
After another missed Tampa Bay field goal, Giants go on an 11-play, 61-yard drive, converting three third downs along the way. Five different players had runs and/or targets on the drive -- they're really spreading the ball around. Wayne Gallman, making his NFL debut on his 23rd birthday, caps things off with a 4-yard touchdown catch. So it's 17-16 Giants, and those missed kicks are looming large for Tampa Bay.
Two themes in this game holding true. First, the Giants are getting gobs of short catches from everybody. Four players with five or six catches each right now, but none of those four has more than 52 yards.
Second, missed kicks. Aldrick Rosas just missed a 43-yarder for New York.
Jacquizz Rodgers is having a nice day for Tampa Bay -- 14 carries for 75 yards. Giants are having trouble getting their hands on the little guy.
Mike Evans and Janoris Jenkins just got offsetting pass interference penalties on one another. Just a BIT of hand fighting on that one.
More kicking woes here, some indirect, some direct. Bucs have a chance to try a 50-yarder to take a fourth-quarter lead, but opt to go for it on fourth-and-2 instead, partly because it's hard to trust your kicker on a day like this. The pass falls incomplete.
Giants respond by going three-and-out, and then Brad Wing's punt only goes 15 yards. Bucs now have a first down at their own 43 -- just 22 yards back from where they snapped that fourth-down play. And they make it pay off -- Jameis Winston hits Adam Humphries down the middle for a gain of 38, then finds Cameron Brate for the touchdown. They miss the two-pointer, but still lead 22-17. That's the fifth 30-plus-yard completion of the day for Tampa Bay. New York's longest is just 21 yards.
Giants finally get a big play, as Beckham beats Vernon Hargreaves for 42 yards on a slant-and-go. A few plays later he leaves with an ankle injury, but Manning finds Rhett Ellison for the go-ahead touchdown. Beckham then returns and appears to catch the two-pointer, but he stepped out of bounds before making the catch, so it's no good. Bucs take over with 3:16 to go (alert Steve Austin), down 23-22, with two timeouts left.
Rob Weintraub: Bucs driving, down one, and Nick Folk is praying that Jameis sticks it in the end zone...
There's Cameron Brate again, with a tremendous release off the line against Collins. Winston lobs one over the top and Brate hangs on for a 29-yard gainer. Chip-shot range but...
Folk yanks it! But not enough to miss! He sneaks it in, Bucs win, G-Men now 0-4.
Every NFC South team won save Atlanta.
Vince Verhei: From goat to hero: Folk nails a 34-yarder as time expires for the win. That Brate catch was huge -- it came on third-and-1, and an incomplete pass would have meant either a fourth-down play or a 56-yard kick attempt. Instead, Brate got behind his defender in man coverage down the sideline, and Winston made a big-time throw under pressure to put the ball where it needed to be.
Oakland Raiders 10 at Denver Broncos 16
Aaron Schatz: The switcheroo of the Denver defense continues through the first half of this one, 10-7 Denver. Marshawn Lynch has five carries for 10 yards and the three Oakland backs have combined for eight carries and 21 yards. But while the Denver pass defense was stalwart most of the half, it did give up a 64-yard deep touchdown to Johnny Holton where he got past safety Darian Stewart. Amari Cooper has no catches on four targets, though. Man, that guy is inconsistent.
Vince Verhei: Michael Crabtree is out today, right? That would help the Broncos put extra attention on Cooper.
Aaron Schatz: Yes, he is. Didn't help them remember to cover Holton though!
Tom Gower: Denver's offensive productivity, including apparently a good touchdown catch by A.J. Derby, came while some of us were enjoying the Jets and Jaguars attempt to avoid a scoreless overtime period.
Oakland's offensive problems seem persistent, though of course we don't know how much of this is just a Denver defense returning to form after some time in a different form than what they've shown for the last five or so years (excluding the games Von Miller missed in 2013, when they were awful). No Oakland run game in particular is a bit of a surprise, after the Raiders' impressive performance on Sunday Night Football last year highlighted what one team was and the other was not. But they did scheme up the Holton touchdown, so this is just a three-point game early in the third quarter.
Scott Kacsmar: Amari Cooper finally has a catch: a 1-yard grab on third-and-14. His history against Denver is brutal though. He has 142 yards in four games (one touchdown and 14-of-28 targets caught). Never broke 60 yards in any game.
Aaron Schatz: Emmanuel Sanders just ended up with a catch for -10 yards because the Raiders tipped a red zone pass in the air and he came back behind the line of scrimmage and somehow fought off all the Raiders defenders to prevent an interception. I think I might remove that one from the RECEIVING DYAR numbers because penalizing him for it seems wrong.
Vince Verhei: That play was hysterical. It looked like a Hail Mary, just on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The pass was tipped at the line, so it's something we'd remove from his statline at the end of the year anyway, right?
Before that play, Derek Carr took a knee in the back on a sack and headed to the locker room. EJ Manuel came in and threw short on third down, then the Raiders tried a fake punt with Marquette King running on fourth-and-11. He lost 3 yards, and then got flagged 15 yards for flipping the ball at a Broncos defender. Oops.
And then the Raiders escape, because Brandon McManus misses a 29-yard field goal.
Aaron Schatz: But on third-and-long on the next drive, Marshall Newhouse gets whipped by Von Miller. Newhouse isn't a good player in general but it's hard to blame him when A) it is Von Miller, and B) Derek Wolfe, next to Von Miller clearly reached out and held Newhouse a bit to help Miller get past him, but it wasn't called.
EJ Manuel comes in when Derek Carr hurts his back, and he suddenly marches the Raiders downfield with 6:00 left in the fourth quarter. But then suddenly the receivers can't catch the ball. EJ FREAKIN' MANUEL is finding open guys and even slinging in a perfect laser between defenders to Jared Cook that should have been a touchdown, and Cook and Amari Cooper just can't hold onto the damn football.
Rob Weintraub: EJ Manuel picked off as Simmons outjumps Cooper (Ben over Michael?) to preserve the win. Gotta say I'd have been disgusted if Denver conjured a way to lose that one.
Indianapolis Colts 18 at Seattle Seahawks 46
Vince Verhei: Each team got one first down on its first drive. Seattle's came on a 27-yard corner route by Doug Baldwin (who was questionable to play today), lining up at the inside slot in a trips formation and using both the outside guys as screens to get open. That was enough to get Seattle in field goal range, and Blair Walsh hits from 44 to give Seattle its customary 3-0 lead.
Jacoby Brissett had three real passes on his first drive (plus one more desperate fling while going down under pressure). All three were targeting Shaq Griffin, who did give up the one first down to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-6. But the Colts also lost their starting center on that drive, which means they are now down to their third-stringer at the position.
Following a punt that pinned Seattle at the 1, Russell Wilson was sacked by cornerback Nate Hairston on what looked like a zone blitz play for a safety. He almost made a Superman play to get a pass off, but after the live call was incomplete pass, instant replay turned it into a safety.
And then on the last play of the quarter, Wilson is under pressure again, but underhands the ball to Luke Willson for what looks like a pretty good gain ... but that is also reviewed, and his knee was down again, and it's another sack to bring up third-and-8. Drat.
Derrik Klassen: The Colts are in a tough spot on offense. Playing a secondary option at quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) on the road in Seattle is brutal to begin with. Now, starting center Deyshawn Mond is out with an injury, leaving backup Adam Redmond in his place. It's going to be a disaster trying to get that offense going with an inexperienced quarterback and center. The exchanges and callouts in that environment are too hard for veterans, much less backup players.
And right as I'm typing all of this, Brissett throws a pick-six on a 10-yard out to the left boundary to cornerback Justin Coleman. Have to imagine more of those plays are to come. I think Brissett is plenty capable under more palatable circumstances ... but these are not those circumstances.
Seahawks have a 10-2 lead following the pick-six.
Scott Kacsmar: Too many flags, challenges, and defensive scores killing the pace of this one.
Vince Verhei: I've had a frustrating evening here as technical difficulties caused me to miss a good chunk of the second quarter ... then I tune in and the Colts have the ball at the goal line, and I see watching the game would have been equally frustrating.
Carl Yedor: Chuck Pagano uses his last timeout of the half to ice Blair Walsh on a 37-yard kick. And ... it works. I suppose if there's one kicker where icing might psych him out, it could be Walsh after what happened last season. Regardless, we enter the second half with a 15-10 score in favor of Indy.
Vince Verhei: Colts target Griffin again, and it's a jump-ball touchdown for Donte Moncrief, and the Colts take a 15-10 lead.
Seahawks only have 20-some seconds left, but Wilson hits two big passes to give Blair Walsh a chance ... and Walsh honks the 37-yard field goal.
Feels like the Seahawks have one game in 2017 and they just replay it every week. The offense sputters and sputters and gets some big plays to stay in it, but can never get sustained offense. The defense generally prevents big plays, but gives up first downs. And as a result, the Seahawks have a massive disadvantage in time of possession, just 10:04 in the first half this week. Turnovers aside (the tip-drill interception tonight was Wilson's first of the year) it seems like this offense can't do anything. Like, at all. I keep checking the offense's stats (ours and the NFL's) and keep expecting to see them last in everything, but they are just middle of the pack or a little lower, and I don't get it.
Rivers McCown: This game is under review. We'll let you know how it shakes out.
Vince Verhei: Wilson scrambles for a 22-yard touchdown. Play was originally ruled down at the 1, then Seattle challenged and call was reversed. That's three times in three quarters a play involving Wilson's knee being down or not has been reversed.
Seattle kicks the extra point, but there's a formation penalty on the Colts. So they take the point off the board and go for two from the 1 ... and the Colts somehow forget to cover Doug Baldwin, and it's an easy two points and Seattle leads, 18-15.
Counting plays wiped out by penalty (and there were many), Seattle ran 13 plays that drive -- eight passes (including the scramble) and five runs. And most of those runs were options. Even when Wilson gives up the ball there, his wheels are still influencing the defense -- the options have clearly been Seattle's best running plays.
Carl Yedor: Wilson looks to hit Graham down the seam but the ball goes off his hands and right to Malik Hooker, who subsequently returns it to the Seattle 24. But the Colts go 2 yards on three plays and are forced to settle for a field goal. 18-18.
Vince Verhei: Wilson hits Graham in the hands on a slant route, but Graham tips it up and into the air, where Malik Hooker reels in the one-handed interception. Worse, Rees Odhiambo is injured on the runback. If he can't come back, Seattle will be down to its third-string left tackle. Cliff Avril and Jeremy Lane were also knocked out of the game in the first half. Graham's first two seasons in Seattle weren't nearly as bad as a lot of Seattle fans would have you believe, but this third year has been impossibly bad.
Seattle defense holds Colts to a three-and-out, and Adam Vinatieri, the last NFL player older than me, nails a 40-yarder to tie the game 18-18.
So, we have discussed Chris Carson, Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise in this space this year. We have discussed Alex Collins, who was cut in August and is now the top back in Baltimore. Now we must discuss J.D. McKissic. He was an undrafted wide receiver out of Arkansas State who spent time with Atlanta and Seattle last year, getting one run and two catches his rookie season. He survived the battle royal at running back for Seattle this year, and now you know why -- his second NFL carry results in a 30-yard touchdown run, He took the ball around right end, got a little bit of daylight, and shot into the end zone like a damn laser beam.
And that opened the floodgates. A Marcus Smith sack-fumble was returned for a Bobby Wagner touchdown three seconds of game time later. The Colts went three-and-out, and the Seahawks put together a long touchdown drive, scoring on a Wilson-to-Luke Willson pass, and that left them with a 39-18 lead that looks insurmountable.
Tom Gower: The second half has been complete domination by Seattle. They started out with the grinding drive and have continued with offensive success, Indianapolis has done zip on offense, and things just snowballed. But now Chris Carson is down with the cart out and his left leg in an air cast. Injuries SUCK.
Vince Verhei: And there's McKissic again, split wide and beating a linebacker on a 9-route for a 27-yard touchdown. This offense is so Jekyll & Hyde.
Rivers McCown: After further review, the Seahawks are awarded a win.
Vince Verhei: And a badly needed one. The alternative would have been falling to 1-3, traveling to Los Angeles to face a 3-1 Rams team with the season very much on the line. Now, I wouldn't say they can afford to lose, but a loss won't necessarily kill them.