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 e-mails 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.
Tennessee Titans 10 at Miami Dolphins 16
Tom Gower: Matt Cassel starting today for the Titans. In the words of Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, "When it's game time, it's pain time!"
Apparently Mike Freeman and some others are reporting that Colin Kaepernick reached out to the Titans and they said no. That's ... well, it's something. And so now we'll be watching a team that could easily win this game and its division running out Matt Cassel with Brandon Weeden behind him. Because they're both very well suited to run an offense designed for Marcus Mariota.
If Mariota makes Mike Mularkey's offense EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH, is the Cassel version just Smashmouth? (Did I just put the song All Star in all your heads? You're welcome.)
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure Kaepernick would give the Titans a better chance to win had he been signed this week; we all saw the Josh Freeman experience in Indianapolis in 2015. I'd still rather have him on my bench than Weeden ... or Cassel, in general, but maybe not for today.
Dave Bernreuther: Well sure. Expectations for today would have been quite low.
Then again, they are now too. I guess if we're not going to be able to count on Mariota being healthy, in such an easy division it makes sense to have a backup who can actually be relied on to win a game. Of course, I know that that's a decision for July more than it is for October.
Meanwhile, Cassel throws short of the sticks on third down, and in this case I can't even get too upset at Mularkey deciding to punt on fourth-and-short past midfield like his old self. Especially in a game where, even with what I just said about Cassel, the Titans could very well beat these Dolphins in a low-scoring, field position type of game. (Which, again, I am absolutely thrilled to have on the big screen with sound!) Two hopeless drives so far for Cutler's offense.
Zach Binney: I'm WILLINGLY watching this game here in Atlanta. The Dolphins fan club at the bar I'm at just celebrated like it was 1972 for the team's first first down at two minutes left in the first quarter.
It came after Miami's first fumble recovery of the season, which came at DeMarco Murray's expense. It was one of the more beautiful punch-outs you'll ever see. So the Dolphins have that going for them?
A chaotic reversal of fortune for the Titans at the end of the first quarter! In the space of 30 game seconds they have a beautiful 59-yard touchdown pass called back for a ticky-tack offensive PI, then two plays later Kiko Alonso sacks Matt Cassel hard in the shoulder, causing a fumble that bounces right to safety Reshad Jones. Everybody thinks it's an incomplete pass, but the whistle isn't blown and Jones runs unpursued into the end zone for Miami's first first-half touchdown of the year. Alonso was about two inches away from getting a roughing flag on that sack, too.
Tom Gower: Dolphins up 10-3 at the half. Only touchdown of the game came after Matt Cassel lost the ball very slightly before throwing and most of the players apparently thought it was an incompletion rather than a fumble. Dolphins field goal came after they started at the Titans 42 after a turnover. Titans field goal came after they started at the Dolphins 24 after a turnover. Further commentary is superfluous to this shot from late in the first half.
Dolphins-Titans summary in one photo pic.twitter.com/ywRK4Y0lIj
— Tom Gower (@ThomasGower) October 8, 2017
Zach Binney: I can sum up the first half of this game in one stat: there have been more turnovers than either team's passing yards per attempt.
Vince Verhei: Dolphins' first drive of the second half: run for a loss, false start, run for no gain, completion for a loss, punt on fourth-and-18. The one guy in a Dolphins jersey in this bar has gone from angry shouting in the first half to hearty belly laughs at this point. It's just funny now.
Tom Gower: I hit the "amused rather than angry" point somewhere in the second quarter. But I also came into the game with Matt Cassel-based expectations.
Bryan Knowles: Jay Cutler's gotten a lot of flak this season, and rightfully so, but he just hooked up well with Jarvis Landry on a little receiver option. Landry found an open spot at the goal line, and Cutler hit him before the safety could respond. They miss the extra point, naturally, so it's just 16-10 Miami.
Dave Bernreuther: Listening to the announcers trying to be polite about the quarterback play in this game has been highly amusing. They can't even come up with cliche-based excuses for some of Cassel's throws and decisions.
Zach Binney: Miami's offense is still the avatar of futility, but they scratch out a win against Matt Cassel's Titans. Miami's offensive problems run deep -- fans were calling for Moooooooore, but the Dolphins' receivers couldn't handle catchable balls for three quarters either. In the 113F heat index they finally got the running game going late, but they didn't show me anything to make me feel better long-term about the offense than I did last week after getting shut out by the Saints.
The run defense looked darn good, though. Of course that's tempered by the Titans having Cassel rather than Mariota, but Miami was in the backfield all day, limiting Murray to just 58 yards and racking up 6 sacks of Cassel.
As for the Titans, they should get Mariota back next week though it might be longer until he's back up to full speed.
Tom Gower: Each team had one stretch of actual offensive production in the second half and got a touchdown out of it. Those two drives, the first by Tennessee and the second by Miami, were amidst 10 other drives, none of which gained more than 19 net yards or included more than two first downs. Hopefully Marcus Mariota will be back for Monday Night Football next week.
New York Jets 17 at Cleveland Browns 14
Vince Verhei: Updated Myles Garrett career stats: One NFL snap, one NFL sack. Lined up on the right side, stunted into the middle, sack on third down to force a three-and-out. This production rate may be unsustainable.
Bryan Knowles: 0-0 at the half. The Browns had three chances to score, and failed each time, thanks to fumbles, interceptions, and missed field goals. Thrilling matchup so far.
I misread the clock. It's actually 3-0 at the half, as the Jets kicked a field goal right at the gun. I apologize; clearly this has been a tremendous game of football.
Vince Verhei: Some details on the first half:
- The Browns had third-and-goal inside the 4 twice, and turned it over on both plays (one fumbled snap, one interception).
- Zane Gonzalez has missed field goals from 52 and 39 yards.
- That last miss gave the Jets the ball at their 29 with 31 seconds to go. Josh McCown then flashed competence, as he does from time to time, picking up completions of 11, 10, 3, and 8 yards, setting Chandler Catanzaro up for a field goal try. And Catanzaro is good from 57, and the Jets actually lead 3-0 at the break.
- Browns lead 175-67 in yardage, nearly 2-to-1 in time of possession, and 11-6 in first downs. They have intercepted McCown once and sacked him twice. But they trail on the scoreboard.
Derrik Klassen: Is Myles Garrett doing the Odell Beckham Jr. thing where he misses the first few games with a leg/lower body injury, then immediately reassures people that he is an elite talent worthy of his draft slot?
Vince Verhei: See also: Bosa, Joey (though that absence was not injury-related).
The Browns are still looking for their first lead of the 2017 season.
Let it be noted that, at 2:51 Eastern Daylight Time on the eighth of October in the Year of Our Lord 2017, the Cleveland Browns have a lead over a professional NFL team.
Following his touchdown drive, Hogan's next pass was intercepted to set the Jets up inside the red zone, and McCown converted with a touchdown pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Browns are behind again. This is why we can't have nice things.
For the third time today, the Browns cross the Jets' 5-yard line and fail to score. With a fourth-and-2 at the 4, they bring in a bunch of tight ends, which brings in the Jets' jumbo package. But then Isaiah Crowell lines up alone in the backfield and runs straight up the gut. With all the extra blockers on the edge, there's nobody to clear space in the middle, and Crowell is stopped for a gain of 1. I don't get that play design at all.
Jets go up 17-7 on an 8-play, 97-yard drive. McCown hits Jermaine Kearse for a 24-yard touchdown. He went 6-of-6 for 85 yards on the drive. Jets have called 12 passes and four runs in the second half.
Carolina Panthers 27 at Detroit Lions 24
Bryan Knowles: The Lions march the ball down the field on their opening drive, thanks to some Carolina penalties and some blown coverage by Daryl Worley. The drive sputters out as Eric Ebron drops a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone, forcing the Lions to schedule a field goal. Ebron was booed for the drop, and booed again during the break when he was on the jumbotron for a promo. Detroit fans are a little fed up with his slow development.
Christian McCaffrey's first NFL touchdown was on a beautiful little play design in Detroit -- a faked option with Newton and Jonathan Stewart, and then just an inside shovel pass to McCaffrey for the score. Had Detroit on skates a bit there. 10-10 game.
Ed Dickson has 139 yards receiving today. He had 134 in all of last season. Detroit might want to consider covering him.
Aaron Schatz: Now 10-10 with about 10 minutes left in the second quarter. Lions have completely forgotten to cover tight end Ed Dickson, who's been wide open on two long YAC plays and now has three catches for 139 yards. Panthers scored the first touchdown of Christian McCaffrey's NFL career on a gorgeous shovel pass option that left the poor Detroit linebacker hopeless trying to decide between covering Cam Newton or McCaffrey. Before that, the Lions built a lead on Carolina's non-stop penalties. So far in this game, Panthers have seven penalties for 78 yards, Lions have zero penalties.
And as soon as I send that email, Lions get their first penalty of the game, holding penalty by center Travis Swanson to cancel out a nice 20-yard Zach Zenner screen gain. Swanson is one of the top two NFL centers named Travis.
Lions at least covered Ed Dickson on his fourth catch of the day, but Tahir Whitehead got beat crossing the field in man coverage. It's not Whitehead's best day. He's also not a good guy to be covering Christian McCaffrey. I also need to give Devin Funchess credit for looking a lot better this year. Newton hit him for a touchdown by waiting deep into the play and then throwing it high where Funchess could jump over Darius Slay. 17-10 Carolina at halftime.
Carolina defensive line took over in the second half of this game, with some help from defensive back blitzes. They've sacked Matthew Stafford five times in the second half, two by Captain Munnerlyn. On a fourth-and-1, Julius Peppers sliced through the line to take Zach Zenner down like 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage or something. Are we sure he's 37? We never talk about Julius Peppers as a Hall of Famer but damn, the dude is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Lions just scored on a touchdown pass to Daniel Fells, but that was a march against a passive zone defense to make it 27-17. They would still need to do it twice more in just six minutes to win this thing.
Oh, I'm sorry, the Lions just marched down the field AGAIN and will make it 27-24 with 3:23 left. This is insane. It's like the Panthers suddenly forgot how to cover guys. Even the incomplete passes on that drive were primarily miscommunications between Stafford and the Lions receivers. They went 53 yards for a touchdown in under a minute.
Nope. Lions aren't going to do it this time. Seventeen points was in fact too much. The Panthers needed to convert one first down because the Lions had no timeouts left, and they got it when Kelvin Benjamin got open against Darius Slay on a slant and caught a third-and-8 conversion. Panthers go to 4-1. One of our better preseason projections so far.
Scott Kacsmar: Since this is a Lions game I don't think I have to cover for Clutch Encounters for a change, I wanted to get some words in on it here. Specifically, what a two-week stretch for Cam Newton. I don't want to excuse his poor play in the first three games of the season, nor do I want to gloss over the stupid thing he did this week in belittling women who cover sports. He has to own those mistakes and slow start to the season. But I must say, his ability to push all of the criticism and shortcomings aside to have the best two-game stretch of his career is pretty amazing. Sure, he took advantage of some blown coverages, but find another two-game stretch where Newton was shredding defenses for over 10 yards per attempt and with big volume (over 300 yards and three touchdowns in both games). He didn't even have a running game today as he handed off 21 times for 28 yards. Not to mention both games were on the road, and he didn't have Greg Olsen available for either. If you told me he'd do that after the way the first three games went, I never would have believed you. Throw in the off-field situation he solely created for himself, and it's been a stunning eight quarters on the field for Newton. Maybe this can be a turning point in Newton's career where he takes the next step as both a passer on the field and a professional off of it.
Los Angeles Chargers 27 at New York Giants 22
Dave Bernreuther: Anyone else think that Philip Rivers might have had time to scoop that ball and throw it away rather than batting it away to ensure the safety? Maybe it was just the one replay I saw but it looked like no one from the Giants was nearby.
Eli Manning just got stripped on a third-down play, but it's worth noting that it wasn't his line's fault. He had several seconds and a clean pocket, and Joey Bosa eventually got a hand on it, and even then, he was blocked (quite possibly held) and the contact seemed almost accidental. Manning fell on it and the Giants defense held post-punt, so the damage was limited, but that one was definitely not on his linemen.
You can put Eli's poor swing pass to Orleans Darkwa (the play after Shepard's ankle injury) on the line; he had to backpedal and panic throw that one due to immediate pressure in his face. Might be able to blame that one on Weston Richburg not playing today...
Bryan Knowles: Gah. Odell Beckham goes down, clutching his left ankle. He's been carted off the field, sobbing -- this does not look like a short-term problem. Devastating. Same ankle he hurt in preseason, too.
On the short term, that leaves the Giants with just one healthy receiver, if I'm doing my math right. This is not a short-term concern for the Giants, though.
Arizona Cardinals 7 at Philadelphia Eagles 34
Vince Verhei: Eagles jump out to a 14-0 lead, with tight ends getting both touchdowns (one to Zach Ertz, one to Trey Burton). Punt returns for 19 and 76 yards by Kenjon Barner helped. So does a defense that looks unblockable and has limited the Cardinals to one first down (on a J.J. Nelson fly sweep) in their first two drives. And now the Eagles just forced another three-and-out. A dominant performance in all phases of the game so far.
Since then, though, Arizona seems to have waken up. They scored a touchdown on a 10-play, 75-yard drive, most of the yardage split between Jaron Brown and John Brown. It was John Brown with the 13-yard touchdown on third-and-9.
This game quieted down for a while, but then the Eagles burned a Cardinals blitz again. On a third-and-19, Nelson Agholor ran a post from the right slot and got isolated on rookie safety Budda Baker. He had him beat for a big gain, but Baker showed great recovery speed and was in position to make a tackle at about the ten. Agholor then juked, juked, and spun. Baker was on the ground and never touched Agholor, who did the Nestea plunge into the end zone. Eagles now up 31-7.
That's a career-high four touchdowns for Wentz on the day. Surprisingly, the three touchdowns he had in the first quarter were the first time he had ever thrown three touchdowns in a game.
Charles McDonald: Looking at the playoff standings after the early games is hilarious. Jets in the wild card over the Patriots, Bills No. 2 seed, Eagles and Panthers with first-round byes. This season has been madness so far.
San Francisco 49ers 23 at Indianapolis Colts 26 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: Brian Hoyer's hot-and-cold season continues. After lighting up Los Angeles and sputtering out of Arizona, he was 7-for-8 on San Francisco's opening drive. He should have been 8-for-8, but George Kittle let a touchdown pass go right through his hands. It wasn't the most perfect throw in the world, mind you, but an NFL player should make that catch.
The 49ers lead the league in both drops and penalties (with three already today!), and that's one of the biggest reasons they're 0-4. Not that they'd be 4-0 or anything without them, but considering they've lost three one-score games in their last three weeks, you'd think some cleaner play would have given them a win somewhere.
Derrik Klassen: This game is a rock fight. Neither defense is equipped to play well, but both offenses are inept. The 49ers offense is doing a better job of consistently getting yards on a play-by-play basis, credit to Kyle Shanahan, but Brian Hoyer keeps shooting the offense in the foot in big spots (third down, red zone, etc.). On the other hand, the Colts offense is inefficient. They have been trying to roll out and simplify the passing game, but not much is working outside of a few short passes to the flat.
Dave Bernreuther: And as you say that, Jacoby Brissett shows one of those flashes of being a real NFL quarterback, ducking pressure, slipping out to the right, and throwing a perfectly placed ball to T.Y. Hilton deep(ish) down the right sideline. That play had everything you'd ever ask of a quarterback.
Derrik Klassen: And of course, as I send that last email, the Colts rip off a string of chunk plays to get inside the red zone. Jacoby Brissett made two key throws to the right boundary to make it happen. Once they were in the red zone, the Colts chipped away at the remaining field with a few rushing plays and quick passing concepts, but stalled around the 5-yard line. A field goal was all they could muster on their best drive of the day. The Colts now lead 6-3 with about a minute left before halftime.
Bryan Knowles: It's interesting to note that NaVorro Bowman has been on the sideline with the backups. It's not that he's hurt; this is a coaches' decision to get more speed on the field. Bowman was coming off the field in preseason/Week 1 when Reuben Foster was healthy, but Foster's not back yet. This is just Bowman's lack of speed and explosiveness after the injuries he suffered last year -- and, to be honest, the fact that he's never fully recovered from the gruesome injury against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game so many years ago.
Dave Bernreuther: The Jets game means this one isn't the least exciting of the day, but so far it can be summed up by:
- The 49ers decided to kick on second-and-3 with seven seconds left (defensible, but certainly not entertaining.)
- Chuck Pagano iced Robbie Gould.
- Gould missed the kick that didn't count.
- Gould good on the second attempt, and it's a 6-6 thriller at the half.
At least something worth a cheer will happen at halftime, when they uncover Peyton Manning's name in the ring of honor in the end zone.
(Incidentally, it looks like that's directly above the suites in which I had my wedding reception.)
Bryan Knowles: 6-6 game at halftime, as the 49ers are involved in their second straight field goal battle. It took nearly 70 minutes before either team found the end zone in San Francisco's last game, and I wouldn't necessarily predict either team in this game to find it much sooner than that.
The Colts have come closest, getting the ball inside the 10-yard line, but San Francisco's defense stiffened up. That's pretty much the closest we've come to a real highlight in this one.
But hey, Peyton Manning's getting his jersey retired at halftime, so at least the fans have something to cheer about. I have a sneaking suspicion he might be the best quarterback option in the stadium today.
Was the hard count a skill of Jacoby Brissett's in New England? It's working like a charm today; the 49ers are jumping early and often. A lot easier to generate offense when you can get 5 yards almost at will.
If you see Brissett's numbers go up in the second half, it's because the 49ers are out of cornerbacks. Ahkello Witherspoon has a concussion, Asa Jackson pulled his hamstring, and Rashard Robinson is cramping and also not very good. Jimmie Ward has moved from safety back to nickel corner because the 49ers are just out of bodies at the position.
Indianapolis marches downfield and scores a touchdown. Marlon Mack looked really good, especially when bouncing the ball outside. Mack hasn't really made much of an impact on this season so far, but his speed gives the Colts' running a game a dimension that Frank Gore didn't have when he was in his prime, much less today.
Vince Verhei: Actually, Mack has made a huge impact this year, just not in a good way. He had 24 yards on 1 run, and 3 yards (not a typo) on his other 15 carries. He was next-to-last in DYAR through four weeks, on only 16 carries. That will change this week, obviously -- he's at 41 yards on six carries here in the fourth. Even there, though, it's one gain of 22 and five runs for 19.
Bryan Knowles: Mack just nearly rumbled one into the end zone there -- ran into his offensive lineman, but the 49ers had roughly no penetration, and he was able to bounce it outside. Ruled a touchdown on the field, but he was a yard short of the end zone before his lunge. Perhaps facing the 49ers is what the rookie needed to get on the right track -- at least, that's what Colts fans are hoping, I'm sure.
Jacoby Brissett runs a draw into the end zone, effectively ending the competitive portion of this one.
(30 minutes later…)
Bryan Knowles: I spoke too soon! After scoring zero touchdowns on Sundays to this point, the 49ers score two in the fourth quarter today to tie it up with 20 seconds left in the game. It was keyed by a great fourth-down call by Kyle Shanahan; the Colts were selling out for the run and the 49ers instead lofted the ball over the line. There are other fourth-down options other than smashing your running back into a line! It's amazing.
George Kittle makes up for his first-quarter touchdown drop to score the game-tying touchdown.
Dave Bernreuther: You speak too soon, Bryan, and my bar conversation criticism of Pagano comes to pass as, in the last minute, the 49ers move easily down the field again and knot it at 23, ruining not only a cover, but the 39.5 under as well.
(Is what Al Michaels would say...)
I am generally impressed by Brisset's eye level when moving but the few times I've seen him commit to the scramble, he has made awful decisions and ends up sliding right at or near the line of scrimmage. He needs to learn to avoid those chances unless there's a lot of green in front of him. Otherwise, throw it away or take a (well-reasoned) shot at a big play.
As I type -- and this is where I am so impressed at you guys' abilities to watch and comment simultaneously -- Brissett first misses his spot on a deep ball to Hilton that could have been a touchdown to the seam if thrown well, and then fires an interception at the goal line, which means that the Colts are in serious jeopardy of losing a game they led by two touchdowns over an 0-4 team.
Not going to lie. I'm almost hoping they do.
Bryan Knowles: After the interception in the end zone, the 49ers' offense isn't able to build a drive and are forced to punt the ball back to Indianapolis. They dawdle and take their time, but Marlon Mack, yet again, burns them for a huge gain. It's enough to get the Colts into field goal range, and Adam Vinatieri nailed the 51-yarder to end this one. Colts 26, 49ers 23, never in doubt. I told you the game was over! <_<
That's the 49ers' fourth-consecutive one-score loss. I mean, if you're going to have a lost season, that's probably the most encouraging way to do it, but it would be nice if they could get over the hump one of these weeks. I have a hunch that next week -- at Washington -- won't be that moment.
Scott Kacsmar: Just want to thank Adam Vinatieri for avoiding a likely tie there. It's definitely going to happen soon with the 10-minute overtime. The 49ers have taken things past the two-minute warning two weeks in a row. Tough 0-5 start, but Shanahan has them competing every week. Just aren't getting the big break to go their way yet for a win.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, one more thing -- the 49ers have now tied the NFL record for consecutive losses by three points or less, with four in a row. That ties the 1990-91 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1994 Houston Oilers.
Jacksonville Jaguars 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers 9
Scott Kacsmar: CBS had a graphic on Ben Roethlisberger that showed he had the lowest yards per attempt (6.8) of his career this year. Of course, the announcers didn't acknowledge that and talked about a lack of 300-yard passing games. But the low YPA sums up the decrease in efficiency in this passing game and the lack of big plays that Roethlisberger hasn't been hitting in 2017. So of course the first play from scrimmage was a 49-yard bomb to Antonio Brown, who beat Jalen Ramsey. But that only led to a field goal.
The Steelers were driving again, but Roethlisberger threw under pressure and Ramsey took some revenge with an interception. Jacksonville used that to drive 47 yards for a touchdown with Leonard Fournette leaping over the pile into the end zone for a short rushing touchdown. The Jaguars lead 7-3 a few minutes into the second quarter.
There were some fluky turnovers in games involving the Jaguars and Steelers last week, but we have another one here before halftime. Blake Bortles seemed to have a completion to his backup tight end, but he landed on a defender's body and wasn't actually down. The ball was ripped out and caught by Ryan Shazier, so it goes down as an interception. Legit call this time. Brown then moves the Steelers into scoring range after bouncing off Ramsey for the second time today. Boswell good from 34 yards away, but Steelers still trail 7-6 at halftime.
Andrew Potter: The record will state that Blake Bortles had another interception in the two-minute drill here, but this time it was absolutely not on the quarterback. Bortles hit tight end James O'Shaughnessy in Pittsburgh territory, but the Steelers defense kept him off the ground and Ryan Shazier ripped the ball away from him for the pick.
Jalen Ramsey versus Antonio Brown is a phenomenal matchup. Brown beat Ramsey deep on Pittsburgh's first play of the game, but Ramsey has been lights-out since -- almost singlehandedly ruining the previous Steelers drive before the Bortles pick with two perfectly timed pass breakups, to go with his interception earlier.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars had six straight runs to finish their touchdown drive, then four straight runs to start the next one. This is their game plan: keep the ball out of our quarterback's hands.
Dave Bernreuther: The Steelers offense is really struggling. They may as well have kicked on first down when they reached first-and-goal inside the 5, as none of those pass plays (to a covered JuJu Smith-Schuster, a covered Le'Veon Bell, and a covered Brown) had any chance of succeeding. Tomlin makes the gutsy call of going for the 20-yard field goal to put them back in the lead of another ugly game. But if this continues, they're in some real trouble, even with Blake making his best attempts (like a hilariously inaccurate second-down pass for no reason) to Bortle things up.
Scott Kacsmar: Pittsburgh settled for yet another field goal, but it's really a matter of bad play calling in the red zone. Tried to throw two screens where broken tackles were necessary to make anything happen. Then the third-and-goal play just wasn't well designed at all. Brown had to beat A.J. Bouye on a double move in the end zone, but Bouye wasn't having any of it and the window was so minuscule. Meanwhile, the Steelers have been blitzing a lot of defensive backs at Bortles today. They haven't been getting there, but T.J. Watt did on a third down to end another drive with the Steelers up 9-7.
Vince Verhei: Man, Pittsburgh's offense has been disappointing this year. Just 17th in scoring coming into the week. They have avoided turnovers, so the offense is seventh in total, passing, and rushing DVOA. But I figured they'd be a 30-points-a-game squad for sure.
And as I type that, Roethlisberger doesn't see Telvin Smith dropping into coverage and throws an interception right to him. Smith returns the ball for a touchdown, but the Jaguars miss the extra point and lead 13-9.
Scott Kacsmar: Pick-six for Roethlisberger after the pass was tipped at the line. Just a bad deflection right to Telvin Smith. Jaguars missed the extra point, but kind of felt like a two-point conversion situation there in what's been a game heavy on field goals. I'd rather go up 15-9 instead of 14-9, but now it's 13-9.
Aaron Schatz: And then Big Ben threw a second pick-six. This one was way downfield to Antonio Brown, tipped by Jalen Ramsey, caught by Barry Church and returned 52 yards for a score. I just saw the video and ... it wasn't horrible. I know that everyone is going to bury Big Ben after today's game, and there's no question that he hasn't been very good this season. But that play ... he threw to a covered receiver. Half the time, Brown snags that pass anyway. The other half, Ramsey slaps it away. The odds that it bounces straight to another Jaguars defender aren't very high. Sometimes, a run-of-the-mill bad play just turns into a horrible play on a random bounce.
Also, I continue to maintain that the Steelers offense has been better than people give it credit for in the first four games. Because even if Roethlisberger is falling apart, there's plenty of talent around him.
Scott Kacsmar: So Roethlisberger has a pick-six on a tipped ball on back-to-back drives. CBS had another good graphic about how he didn't have a pick-six on his previous 2,200 passes or so. Then two on four throws today. Sometimes stuff just happens, and Jacksonville has been very opportunistic today. The ability to slow down Bell is also big, because the Jaguars came in ranked 32nd against the run, first against the pass. Look good in both facets today.
Bryan Knowles: Perhaps it's worth noting that the real Big Ben stopped chiming in August due to renovation, and won't be sounded again for four years. *Tinfoil hat.*
Andrew Potter: At the start of the fourth quarter, the Jaguars took possession on their own 4-yard line. Twelve straight running plays and 8 full minutes of game time later, they kicked a field goal to go up by 14 points. That drive included three separate second-and-8 or second-and-9 runs, an inside handoff to Chris Ivory on third-and-3, and Leonard Fournette off tackle on third-and-11 to set up the field goal. With six minutes and change to go, this game has been everything the Jaguars wanted it to be.
Scott Kacsmar: Two awful challenges by Mike Tomlin today. One was a spot foul that looked obviously good, and now he wastes an important timeout on a pass that clearly hit the ground. Brown almost caught it, but what other angles could you need to see that the ball hit the ground?
Make that four interceptions for Roethlisberger after JuJu trips on a third-and-10. The worst pass on a pick was the first one, but somehow I imagine the lowlight package for Roethlisberger is going to show these three second-half picks instead. Just one of those days.
Aaron Schatz: Feeling bad for the Steelers fans ... they've finally rebuilt the defense just in time for the offense to suddenly implode. Steelers were No. 3 in defensive DVOA going into this week and have allowed Jacksonville only 4.4 yards per play so far with 4:30 left. This ain't their fault.
Vince Verhei: Well, that 90-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette, that's on the defense. Didn't change the game at all, but that was their fault.
Dave Bernreuther: It amuses me that it was the first half where Vince pointed out the "hide Bortles" strategy and then to close the game out the Jags may as well have had me out there handing off to Fournette. And they end up winning handily on the road in Pittsburgh in a game on which their quarterback threw 14 passes for 95 yards.
Five picks for Ben, who wasn't as bad as that stat indicates ... but the "out of rhythm" phrase a Steelers fan near me used most certainly applies. Far too many plays that were going nowhere at best today. Not sure if that's on Todd Haley or on Ben's decisions or on excellent Jags defense ... probably all three. It did seem pretty clear that the Jags' coverage was great all around, and their pressure better than good.
Buffalo Bills at 16 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Rob Weintraub: Cause I'm the one with the fat mad skillz/and I won't choke like the Buffalo Bills...
O'Shea Jackson shout out, but the Bills didn't choke -- indeed the Bengals should have won by much more than 20-16. Still, it was encouraging, considering how bad Cincy was in the first two weeks.
Score one for FO -- I do a weekly Bengals column for Cincinnati Magazine, and this week I spotlighted in part the one weak area of Buffalo's D so far -- covering No. 1 wideouts, per our stats. Sure enough, A.J. Green had a monster day (189 yards), including a 77-yard bomb for a touchdown through the rain.
On the other hand, Green single-handedly kept the Bills in it, having two passes go off his hands for interceptions (first throw was high, but postgame he claimed responsibility), and a third reception he fumbled away after a jarring shot from Lorenzo Alexander. The middle one set up the Bills at the Bengals 36, but the defense rose up and pushed them out of even Steven Hauschka's range.
Buffalo had virtually no wide receivers coming into the game, and lost Charles Clay to injury early on, so they had a hard time capitalizing (in fairness, both Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones left the game in the first half and did not return, but Dennard/Jackson/Shaw > Tate/Jones/whomever).
Brandon Tate, ex-Bengal, did his best to sink the old club, with a touchdown catch after one turnover, and a big punt return at 17-13 Cincy. A penalty tacked on to the end of the return put Buffalo at the Cincy 12. But again good defense from the Bengals held the Bills to three. Andy Dalton was very good on the late drive downfield to get a big field goal and force the Bills to use their timeouts. George Iloka got a sealing interception, and the Bengals are 2-3.
Vontaze Burfict and Geno Atkins were dominant, as usual, and Carl Lawson continued his awesome rookie campaign by living in Tyrod Taylor's grille (Cincy had six sacks today, 18 through five games, pretty good considering people thought they hadn't improved their pass rush much this offseason). Mike Johnson has found new life as a nickel pass-rusher lining up at defensive tackle -- he had two sacks today.
Offensive line still stinks, though, especially in the run game. Joe Mixon got the team's first rushing touchdown of the season, and he had to jump-cut away from three Bills in the backfield to do it. But Bill Lazor has the quick passing game executing well enough to mitigate the pass-blocking deficiencies. Tyler Kroft had another good game in place of Eifert.
If Mixon keeps his feet at Lambeau, Cincy is in first place. Arrgh.
I know I'm Bengals-centric, so for the Bills Mafia types let me point out that Jerry Hughes was sensational today for Buffalo, and he's been great all year. Jordan Poyer also had a good, opportunistic ballgame.
Seattle Seahawks 16 at Los Angeles Rams 10
Vince Verhei: Huge play early in this game. Rams move down the field with little resistance on their first drive, and Todd Gurley appears to put L.A. up with a touchdown run. On review, though, it's ruled that Earl Thomas swatted the ball out inside the 1, and the ball bounced forward, hit the pylon, and out of bounds. So instead of L.A. taking a 7-0 lead, it's Seattle's ball at the 20, no score, before what appears to be a few hundred people in the Coliseum.
Good design, bad result for both offenses. Rams have a third-and-1 deep in their own end. They line up in an I-formation, but it's Tavon Austin at tailback and Gurley at fullback. They run the fullback give, but it's their best between-the-tackles runner, not your typical tight end or fullback back there. Seahawks weren't fooled and stuffed the run and forced a punt, but I like the concept, and I'm sure they'll get Austin the ball in that situation later today.
Seahawks take the ball and go for the kill with a wide receiver pass. J.D. McKissic has Connor Barwin beat for what would have been a big gain, but Tanner McEvoy's pass is late, and Cody Davis comes all the way over from the middle of the field to get the interception. Great play by Davis, who had to cover literally half the field to make that play.
As promised, Rams got the ball to Austin, though it was a very simple design. On third-and-11, they just lined him up beside Jared Goff in the shotgun and ran inside zone. Every Rams lineman (and most of their tight ends and receivers) won his block, and Austin in the open field remains dangerous, and it's a 27-yard touchdown run. We've talked about Seattle's offensive line a lot this year, but their defensive line has been a weakness too -- 30th in run defense DVOA coming into the day, and likely to drop at this point.
However, Austin giveth, and Austin taketh away. Or giveth away. He has muffed two punts today. Rams recovered the first one, but Seahawks got the second.
Bryan Knowles: Per ESPN Stats and Info, Tavon Austin has the most rushing touchdowns by any receiver since he debuted, with nine. He only has 12 receiving touchdowns, putting him down in a tie for 86th among receivers over that time period. He's basically playing the wrong position, yeah?
Vince Verhei: Blair Walsh with a field goal at the last play of the half to tie the game 10-10. Russell Wilson rebounded from a bad interception earlier to lead two scoring drives. He has been very anti-Russell, with few big plays but converting lots of third downs -- 7-of-11, and one of those failures was a spike to set up the field goal. Jimmy Graham got isolated against John Johnson for the touchdown, though Johnson also had the interception of Wilson.
Biggest surprise has been how ineffective Seattle's pass rush is, and also how the Rams haven't been able to move the ball much anyway. Three of their drives have gained 9 yards or less. Richard Sherman has erased Sammy Watkins -- two targets, both incomplete.
Rams get a good drive going to open the second half, but it stalls in the red zone, and then Greg Zuerlein misses from 36. Interesting that Sherman usually stuck on the defense's left side, as usual, but sometimes was used in man coverage against Robert Woods instead of Sammy Watkins. Woods did beat him for a third-down conversion early.
I realize I haven't talked much about Jared Goff today. He has certainly improved since his rookie season, but he's losing the battle against the Seahawks secondary today. Hasn't killed them with a turnover, but he has missed some throws that were there to be made. His biggest play so far was a 22-yard scramble to convert a third-and-long.
Repeat after me: the Rams move the ball but can't score. After Justin Coleman and Shaq Griffin miss tackles on Malcolm Brown and Tavon Austin, respectively, the Rams have a first down inside the 20. Then Goff trips over Gurley's feet on first down and gives up an easy sack, Seattle's first of the day. Goff misses an open crosser on second-and-20, then the Seahawks blow up a third-and-20 running back screen and Sheldon Richardson gets his first career interception.
Let me revise that: Goff just overthrew Gurley on the screen. Should have been an easy completion. But Gurley jumped to catch it and tipped it to Richardson.
Rookie-level Jared Goff has emerged. Jarran Reed gets pressure up the middle. Goff can't step into the throw, and if anything is stepping backward when he releases it. It's a wobbling duck over the middle, and Earl Thomas has an easy interception. Seahawks now have the ball, up 13-10, with six minutes to go, and the Rams are down to one timeout.
And with a chance with a good drive to ice the game, Seattle goes three-and-out. Wilson threw a third-down pass to Graham that never should have been thrown. Looked like the defender was running the route. The ensuing punt leaves the Rams pinned inside their 10, but there's still plenty of time left.
Monster play by Frank Clark, zipping past Andrew Whitworth to swat the ball out of Goff's hands for the strip sack, and Richardson recovers for Seattle. That's L.A.'s fifth turnover of the day, and Goff's third of the second half. Huge game for Clark -- He's got a sack, a tackle for loss, a fumble forced, and a pass defensed. Rams have spent a good chunk of the second half trying to run at him with little success.
Rob Weintraub: Ooooh, Goff misses Cooper Kupp by this much streaking open in the end zone. Next play is incomplete, and the Hawks hold on.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, the Rams HAD this. Goff leads the Rams marching down the field with no timeouts, and is about an inch short of throwing the game-winning touchdown. The ball goes off Cooper Kupp's fingertips, and Seattle survives.
Vince Verhei: Well that suddenly turned into a nail-biter. Seahawks had a fourth-and-2 in the red zone, and lined up to go for it, and I had a whole thing about aggressive coaching typed up and ready to go. But it was an offsides play that failed, and they kicked the field goal.
Rams got the ball, down six, no timeouts, just over a minute to go. And then Goff made his two best throws of the day -- 35 yards to Tyler Higbee, right in the middle of Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Thomas; and then 20 yards to Woods. Given the clock situation, it was effectively first-and-goal from the 20. On third down, Cooper Kupp scorched Justin Coleman down the seam and Goff hit him in the hands -- and Kupp dropped the ball. Bullet: dodged. They tried the same play on fourth down, but Kupp was double-covered and the pass hit his feet, and that was that.
Gonna take a while for that to sink in. Bottom line is that for all their ugly football, Seahawks are tied for first place with the Rams, with a win in hand. But man, they gave the Rams chance after chance after chance, and the Rams just couldn't get out of their own way. I'm left with the impression that the Seahawks didn't win this game, the Rams lost it -- which is bad, because it means the Seahawks will need to play better in the rematch (and the rest of the year) if they want to win the division again. But hey, for now, first place going into the bye week, then a trip to play the winless Giants. Things could be worse.
I mean, you know the cliche about "knowing how to win?" There's truth to it. And the Rams, at this point in their development curve, don't know how to win. Too many small mistakes that all added up. The 2018 Rams probably win a game like this.
Baltimore Ravens 30 at Oakland Raiders 17
Dave Bernreuther: I will admit that I didn't even realize it was E.J. Manuel getting the start today for the Raiders. I cared that little once Derek Carr was hurt.
So it's only fair to point out that that escape and throw on the run for the touchdown was a phenomenal play.
Tom Gower: As Dave said, nice job by Manuel of stepping up to avoid a rushing Za'Darius Smith and then moving to find a good throwing base so he could hit Michael Crabtree for the score. Now if only the defense could make a play, as the Raiders were still down 21-10 after the score and Joe Flacco just hit Mike Wallace to put the Ravens inside the 10.
Scott Kacsmar: Let me continue my rant against conservative coaching in Dallas with this game in Oakland. Jack Del Rio just punted on a fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 44 with just under nine minutes left. You're down 27-17. Your defense stinks. What is that punt really going to accomplish when you're running out of chances at a comeback that won't require an onside kick recovery? You can't be afraid to go behind 13 points. Sure, if the Ravens get a touchdown to go up 34-17, then it's game over, but no matter where your defense starts this drive, the goal is the same. Fourth-and-3 should be considered a realistic option, especially inside the opponent's 45 in that situation.
By the way, the Ravens still have the ball and the clock is heading under five minutes.
Green Bay Packers 35 at Dallas Cowboys 31
Bryan Knowles: Dallas going aggressive early. They've had two fourth downs, both of them in easy field goal range, and have gone for and converted both of them. Both drives ended up in touchdowns, as well. The difference between 14 and 6 points could be huge against an offense like Green Bay's.
Aaron Schatz: The Packers defense does not look good today, which is what you should see when a good offense plays a mediocre defense. What's interesting is that they've got Ezekiel Elliott pretty hemmed in. The Dallas blocking looks good, but Elliott has only 14 carries for 30 yards. Instead, the Cowboys are doing it through the air, plus Dak Prescott scrambles. (The Packers having problems with a mobile quarterback, what a shock.) No matter what kind of coverage the Packers try to use, there are Cowboys receivers open. I know I'm the one always out there making noise and saying that you have to give young cornerbacks time to develop, that some of the best cornerbacks in recent years took three or even four years to develop into stars. OK, sure, but Damarious Randall is in Year 3 now so, you know, maybe get on with it already? It doesn't look like it's going to happen. And even when he had good coverage on Dez Bryant, Prescott dropped it in over the top for the second Dallas touchdown.
Scott Kacsmar: Cowboys came up short on a screen to set up fourth-and-2 at midfield. It just had that feeling of a moment where you want to keep the ball away from Rodgers. Either just go for it or do a fake punt or something, but Jason Garrett punted with a 21-15 lead. I wish coaches would coach with the thought process that "we don't have enough points yet to win this game." You're not going to win this game 21-15 with a quarter and a half left. What's the worst that can happen if you go for it and don't get it? Rodgers leads a 50-yard touchdown drive to take a 22-21 lead with more than a quarter left? That's no big deal. But going up 24-15 or 28-15 or 29-15, that is a big deal. I was complaining about this for a few minutes on Twitter, then Mike McCarthy just added to it by actually going for it on a fourth-and-1 at midfield himself, and that's ballsier since his team was the one trailing.
Consider that a likely turning point in this game. Garrett punted, McCarthy didn't.
Bryan Knowles: One of these days, I'm going to study when these coaches get conservative. Garrett was just fine with going for it on fourth-and-1 from the 20-yard line, but increase the distance by a yard and move it to midfield and he gets cold feet? Kind of an odd strategic decision there.
Aaron Schatz: And then in the third quarter, the Packers' running game suddenly got solid against the Dallas No. 28 run defense. Aaron Jones for 22, 3, 10, 7, 5 ... then a play-action to Jones and a bullet to a wide open Jordy Nelson in the end zone. So we're at 22-21 Packers.
Cowboys march down the field, Ezekiel Elliott finally gets a couple nice runs, Dan Bailey hits a 43-yard field goal to make it 24-22 Dallas. So the Packers need to come back while trying to march into the sunshine that comes through the windows in Dallas when the sun is going down late in the afternoon. And this is not a great stadium design choice...
Who needs lasers? You can see the reflection of solar flares in Witten's eyes. Jerryworld needs shades. pic.twitter.com/QHAOmQtbms
— Chris Sprow (@SprowESPN) October 8, 2017
Football. It turns so quickly. Dak Prescott just hit Terrance Williams with a pass in the hands and it bounced off and into the hands of Damarious Randall who returned it 20 yards for a pick-six. I don't think that was Prescott's fault in the least. Just a drop and a bad carom. Packers try for two and don't get it, so it's now 28-24 Packers.
By the way, this reader pointed out that the Chargers oddly did NOT go for two when they went up four on the Giants earlier today.
@FO_ASchatz Chargers kick meaningless extra point to go up 5 with 3 min left
Going for 2 would give them a shot at OT even if NYG scores
— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 8, 2017
After the Packers went for two, even though they missed, he tweeted at me, "Green Bay gets it."
Rob Weintraub: That was your basic "I'm Aaron Rodgers, and you're not" drive. I'd imagine voodoo dolls of No. 12 will be big sellers in Big D this week.
Bryan Knowles: The decision to throw a fade to Dez Bryant may have come back to haunt the Cowboys here. Aaron Rodgers marches the Packers down the field to score the go-ahead touchdown with just 11 seconds left on the clock. Run the clock down after a run on second-and-1, and maybe there's not enough time left for Rodgers to pull it off.
Aaron Schatz: I'm curious to see how the expected-win probability models will handle the question of whether Dak Prescott should have slid down at the 1 instead of scoring on that read-option play that put the Cowboys up 31-28. I know we went through this same question last year with ... Kyle Juszczyk, right? On Christmas against the Steelers? In that case, the other team also came back and scored to win the game. But that last yard is usually a lot harder to get than all the yards before it. I wouldn't want a player going down at the 1, down by more than a field goal, only to find that the offense can't push it in for that last yard and the winning touchdown. I think Prescott made the right decision.
I also don't think it's realistic to imagine that even if it makes sense for a player to go down at the 1 in this situation, he would have that win-probability logic overcome his adrenaline so that he actually WOULD go down at the 1. These guys are only human.
OK, except Aaron Rodgers, maybe. Escaping a sack to scramble on third-and-8 not only for the first down but for an extra 10 yards AND to get out of bounds, wow, what a freakin' play.
Vince Verhei: No way he should have gone down. They needed a touchdown on that drive, or they lose. You can assume the field goal is automatic at the goal line. You can never assume a touchdown is automatic.
Signed, a Seahawks fan.
Scott Kacsmar: I can't fault Prescott for scoring that touchdown. If the game was tied or the Cowboys were down one or two points, then I'd be shredding him right now. I think even down by three points, you can argue sliding down at the 1-yard line since you technically don't need a touchdown. You want one, but you don't need it until the deficit hits four points, which was the case here. Defense just has to make a play, and much like in January's playoff loss, it didn't come.
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, I'd have to agree with Vince -- take the touchdown when you can get it. There are plenty of other moments to point to in this game where the Cowboys could have done better. I'd love to hear Jason Garrett explain that shot at Dez Bryant on the second-and-1.
Kansas City Chiefs 42 at Houston Texans 34
Scott Kacsmar: Watching J.J. Watt go down with a serious injury was very tough to watch. Watching Alex Smith actually throw several third-down passes beyond the sticks, and converting them, was surprising.
Aaron Schatz: Looks like the Texans are hardcore trying to stop Kareem Hunt, but that leaves plenty of space for Smith to make passes, especially now that the pass rush is minus Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Aha, the solution to the Texans trying to stop Kareem Hunt seems to be throwing to the running backs instead of handing it to them. Charcandrick West just had his second touchdown catch right before halftime to make it 23-7 Chiefs, and Hunt had a 10-yard reception earlier.
Derrik Klassen: With each passing week, it feels tougher to make the case against Kansas City as the best team in football. Going up 23-7 at the half vs. a solid Houston team is no easy accomplishment, not to mention their undefeated record to this point.
Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson is having a decent night He has already thrown a great touchdown pass -- a heater from inside the 10-yard line to DeAndre Hopkins in the back of the end zone. If not for one D'Onta Forman fumble that killed a drive, Houston's offense would not look too bad right now. With J.J. Watt and others injured on defense, though, their hope of outpacing Kansas City's offense is bleak.
Tom Gower: The Chiefs had the ball five times in the first half. They scored five times. You'll win a lot of games when you do that. Travis Kelce is the standout with 98 receiving yards, while nobody else has more than 35 yards rushing and receiving combined. This is Andy Reid football at its best, though of course Houston has a point losing Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt in-game. Injuries suck.
Aaron Schatz: Watson is showing more of his impressive skills now that we've reached the second half. Best play came on fourth-and-1 near the goal line where Bill O'Brien trusted him to throw the ball. His first read was Hopkins on a slant, covered, so he scrambled around until he saw Will Fuller open on the right side, and he got Fuller the ball and Fuller went in for the touchdown. Again, didn't seem like any panic, when that first read was covered he kept looking to make a good play.
Bryan Knowles: They've confirmed that Watt's tibial plateau fracture has ended his season. Losing him and OBJ on the same day makes the NFL a less fun place.
Zach Binney: Season-ending seems to be the consensus. The only similar injury I can find that resulted in less than eight weeks gone was Dez, but that was an extremely minor one. So at an absolute minimum you're looking at an IR-DFR situation, but with the surgery report I don't doubt it's a season-ender.
Aaron Schatz: Last year's best return man vs. last year's worst special teams. You knew something had to happen. Tyreek Hill punt return touchdown. This one is pretty close to over.
Scott Kacsmar: These final scores continue to be very misleading for the undefeated Chiefs. A 42-34 win on paper, but it was their most dominant game yet this year. A few Hail Mary-type completions for Watson actually led to a five-touchdown pass stat line for him. Texans seem to have the real deal at quarterback, but now an injured defense. Chiefs will go into the Pittsburgh game a bit banged up too.
Tom Gower: The Chiefs punted twice in the second half, so for the game they only scored on nine of 11 chances with the football (giving them credit for Tyreek Hill's punt return touchdown). It's amazing that game ended up as close as it was in some ways, but there you have it. Good on Playmaker Score for predicting Will Fuller would have success; I was among the many who doubted him, but he's showed up and made good plays in his first two games this year.