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.
New Orleans Saints 26 at Green Bay Packers 17
Bryan Knowles: Saints turnover woes: Drew Brees underthrows a pass intended for Brandon Coleman in the end zone, and Damarious Randall easily jumps the route. The Saints had been driving, so that interception was big. Brett Hundley will need his defense to step up in his first career start, and that's a great way to do it. The Saints' early hot start was, in part, caused by a lack of turnovers; they tied an NFL record with no turnovers in their first four games, but have now thrown four in their past three quarters. As for Randall, he now has interceptions in three consecutive games -- and this one was all skill, as opposed to some of the lucky bounces he has taken advantage of in previous weeks.
And, as I'm typing this, Brees throws another interception deep in Green Bay territory, with Davon House having very good coverage on Michael Thomas. The absence of Willie Snead feels like it's hurting New Orleans significantly.
As for Hundley, the Packers' plan is pretty clearly "don't let him do very much." The Packers' score came on a long touchdown run by Aaron Jones; Hundley only threw two official pass attempts on his first two drives, both of them incomplete. He DID pull off an Aaron Rodgers-esque free play, getting New Orleans to jump offsides and then throwing deep, but the resulting deep shot was significantly underthrown.
Scott Kacsmar: We won't confuse Hundley for Aaron Rodgers any time soon, but definitely a couple of Rodgers-esque plays so far. Drew the Saints offsides on a third down to get a free play where he tried to throw deep. Another third down, he took off on a scramble and snuck his way into the end zone after a pretty sad tackle attempt by the Saints at the goal line. I'm not sure what he can do when he has to throw to bring the team back or when he's seeing a tougher defense, but there are more than enough tools here for Mike McCarthy to get a productive offense with his backup.
Bryan Knowles: I picked this game this week because I wanted to see how Brett Hundley would do with a week of preparation. The verdict so far is ... eh, alright. No big mistakes, some good movement in the pocket, the touchdown scramble, etc. It's notable that both Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams have no receptions in the first half; Hundley is not taking any shots deep. It has all been short, safe throws. The true offensive star of the first half for Green Bay has been Aaron Jones, who continues to outplay Ty Montgomery and has pretty clearly taken the starting role away. Not only has Hundley targeted him on five of his 15 pass attempts, but he has 91 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries so far. When you're running like that, you don't need your young quarterback to take any risks downfield. That's how you take a lead despite just 56 first-half passing yards.
The Saints have to feel happy they're just down 14-7 after that first half. Not only have they turned the ball over twice in scoring range, but Ted Ginn muffed two first-half punts. One was negated by a penalty, and he managed to fall on the other one, but they have been flirting with disaster. The wet conditions may have something to do with it, but it doesn't seem to be affecting the Packers too much! This could have easily gotten well out of hand, but instead, it's still just a one-score game.
Andrew Potter: The Saints have a couplet like this every year. They always follow a big win with a damp squib. Last year, after they blew the doors off the Rams in the Gregg Williams Revenge Bowl, they lost at home to Detroit while scoring only 13 points against the worst defense in DVOA. The year before that, they busted off 52 points in a win against the 4-3 Giants, then lost at home to the 1-6 Titans. The year before that, they got a huge win at the 7-4 Steelers, then were obliterated 41-10 at home by the Panthers. They have a very nasty multi-year trend of following up their (subjectively) best offensive performance and result of the season with one of their worst (and often, with a two- or three-game losing streak).
Bryan Knowles: Saints came out of the locker room at the second half looking more like, well, the Saints. Michael Thomas makes a great leaping catch to convert a third-and-long, and then Brandon Coleman catches a wide-open touchdown pass. Kevin King was in coverage, and must have been caught looking into the backfield or thought he had safety help deep or something, because he broke back towards the line of scrimmage on a Brees pump fake and let Coleman run right past him. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ended up technically closer, though the closest Packers jersey to the play was probably on one of the fans in the end zone seats.
Also working for the Saints: Ted Ginn (non-special teams edition). As mentioned previously, he botched those two punts, but he's not having his normal case of the Ginn Drops in the passing game. He already has five catches for 128 yards. That's not just his first 100-yard receiving game as a Saint, it's the second most receiving yards he has ever had in a game (going back to 2008 when he was with the Dolphins). His 47-yard catch-and-run helped set up a field goal that briefly gave the Saints a lead, but the Packers responded with a long field goal drive of their own. 17-16 Packers early in the fourth quarter; it has been a more competitive game than some would have expected.
The Saints are going to hold on to win this one. This is only the second time they have ever won at Lambeau Field. My first impression of that stat was "oh, well, they're a dome team in the cold," but no, that stretches back to the time when they played at Tulane Stadium, too. So, hey, nice to get that monkey off their back.
Coupled with the Panthers' loss in Chicago, the Saints are now alone in first place in the NFC South. It's the first time they have won four straight games since 2013 -- which also happens to be the last time they made the playoffs. Not a bad day's work for them; they came out in the second half like an entirely different team.
As for the Packers, they were extremely ineffective in the second half. The running game and defense allowed them to get by with little from Hundley in the first half, but when that started drying up, Hundley wasn't able to step up to make up the difference. I also blame the coaching staff a little for this -- the Packers kept everything short and safe. They only attempted three deep passes in the second half, and that wasn't all Hundley being conservative. McCarthy and company didn't open things up, and the Saints were able to just steam past them.
Jacksonville Jaguars 27 at Indianapolis Colts 0
Rivers McCown: The battle of who can get to their preferred rushing game script quickly was won by the Jaguars, who benefited from a blown coverage on a wobbly Blake Bortles deep ball and a couple of nice play-action plays to overcome poor rushing and an injury to Cam Robinson to lead 14-0 after one quarter. Indianapolis has had success in the rushing game, but their back seven has been woeful.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm surprised someone other than me is watching this one voluntarily, even Rivers.
Rivers McCown: It helps that it's literally the only game on TV in the Houston area.
Dave Bernreuther: The first quarter featured everything we have come to expect from the Colts: poor offense, poor defense, penalties on both sides, and a Chuck Pagano team coming out of the gates looking unprepared and outcoached.
Which is quite a feat, given that the opposing coach is Doug Marrone…
… who, in the first drive of the second quarter, decided to get extra cute with a two-play trick sequence ... while leading a terrible team by two touchdowns. Following a super slow-developing double play-action (handoff and end-around) screen pass that went for an untouched big gainer (in part due to the Colts being clueless and at least slightly in part due to Patrick Omameh being 3 yards downfield illegally at the time of the throw to clear a path), the Jags immediately showed the end-around motion again, with a Marqise Lee pump fake to Bortles almost leading to a rare wide receiver sack (I suppose that would just have been a run for a loss, which is less interesting) before a throwaway that was in danger of being picked off.
While it would be easy to make a joke about Bortles and his tendency to make those types of throws, the part that has me shaking my head is that they called those at all. It's the Colts. Their pass defense is terrible. You're already winning by two scores. Why put that on tape? We get that the Hide Your Quarterback strategy is a good way to go with that much talent and Bortles, but it's not necessary today. Just run a vanilla offense. It'll work. I promise.
Rivers McCown: I don't know that I remember seeing a defense quite as bad as the one the Colts are throwing out there. I know they can stop the run, and maybe this is part of a long-term ploy by Chris Ballard to tell Jim Irsay "this is the kind of defense Chuck Pagano wants and ... yeah..." But wowza. I have seen more disciplined play in Puppy Bowls. And now Malik Hooker is down as this quickly reaches blowout territory.
Andrew Potter: If it wasn't for that strip-sack of Bortles to basically end the half, the Jaguars would have scored on every drive of the first two quarters. The Colts, meanwhile, have run three plays in Jacksonville territory: a Frank Gore run right for a loss of 4, a Marlon Mack run left for a loss of 1, and a sack for a loss of 8. Four drives, four punts for Indy. The Jags defensive front seven in particular is utterly dominant. Only three sacks (only), but a bunch of pressures and hits, with Jacoby Brissett trying his hardest to become Ben Roethlisberger under pressure. Thing is, that didn't work for Ben this year, and it isn't working for Jacoby either.
Malik Hooker's injury looked very nasty indeed. Gotta think he'll miss more than just the rest of this game.
Scott Kacsmar: It still doesn't feel like the Colts are even partaking in this season without Andrew Luck. They got the Rams without Aaron Donald, Cardinals without David Johnson, Jaguars don't have Leonard Fournette today, and Indy is going to end up going 0-3 in these games in varying degrees of embarrassing fashion. If Luck was healthy, I think they'd be at least 4-2 coming into this game today, winning those games over Arizona and Tennessee instead of blowing fourth-quarter leads. That still shows how small the margin is between dumpster fire and probably division leader, but it's just not a recognizable product they're putting on the field this season. Beyond Luck, they have also missed Vontae Davis and Ryan Kelly this year, or arguably the team's two best non-Luck players.
That gives the Colts excellent field position, where they proceed to go straight backwards, punt ... and then give up a field-length scoring drive to make it 27-0, culminating in a play by Yeldon that looked far more fumble-like than Austin Seferian-Jenkins last week but wasn't even reviewed because he did cross the plane.
Blake Bortles is still really bad. He's so inaccurate and makes bad decisions, and we saw both of these things on a deep ball to Marqise Lee during this last drive. He has 321 yards passing midway through three quarters on the road against this defense.
I'm still watching Jags-Colts for some reason. The Jaguars are up to ten sacks, and while obviously their defense is impressive, I'm not sure I can think of even one sack that I wouldn't put on Brissett's indecisiveness.
There's something worth mocking on almost every Colts play -- for instance, throwing behind the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-14 -- but at least Pagano didn't try a "we didn't get shut out" field goal on consecutive fourth downs.
Of course, neither play ever had even a prayer of succeeding, but still, it's worth a pat on Chuck's back. Hopefully on his way out the door.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars got ten more sacks today and now have 33 in seven games on the year. They had 33 in 16 games last year.
Rivers McCown: 10 sacks already for Calais Campbell. I'm excited for the HOF debates about him.
Scott Kacsmar: Just wanted to add this stat. Since Doug Marrone took over in Week 16 last year, the Jaguars have won five games by 21-plus points. You have to go back to December 2007 to complete a string of the last five times Jacksonville did that before Marrone. Granted, it's not all about him. I think they have taken advantage of some divisional foes who were suffering quarterback woes (Marcus Mariota's broken-leg game last year, Tom Savage's brutal half in Week 1 before getting benched, and no Andrew Luck today). But there was also the massacre of Baltimore in London and the domination in Pittsburgh this season. That kind of stuff just wasn't happening in Jacksonville circa 2008-2015, but clearly the high draft picks on defense are paying off now.
Baltimore Ravens 16 at Minnesota Vikings 24
Rivers McCown: I don't think I have ever seen a challenged punt before, but the Vikings challenged that a bizarre punt from Baltimore's Sam Koch hit out and succeeded. Otherwise this game has gone about how you'd expect through one. Defenses dominating, penalty flag impact nullified.
Mike Wallace is throwing a tantrum after hitting his unhelmeted head on the turf. He's now stalking around the sideline angrily as we begin the second quarter, barking at coaches to give him his helmet back. Looking in equipment chests. They have ruled him out officially. This is bizarre.
Vince Verhei: I'm going to need more detail on that challenged punt in the Baltimore game. Who challenged what now?
Rivers McCown: So the punt hit near the sideline, then out of nowhere squiggled down the field for another 20 yards or so. The Vikings challenged that it actually touched out of bounds, and won the challenge.
Pretty much says it all about the Ravens offense that:
- the announcers are speculating whether Joe Flacco can get them in Justin Tucker's field goal range at the end of the half;
- they are implying that Tucker's actual range is 65 yards, and that if Flacco gets them there it's a success by their standards;
- something called "Griff Whalen" is tied for the lead among their wide receivers in receptions.
Blow this whole thing up, please. I'm sick of watching it.
It's almost annoying that Brandon Williams has returned and flashed often, because CBS is going to have to pretend to believe in the Joe Flacco magic for two more quarters.
Vince Verhei: At some point, seriously, don't you have to give Ryan Mallett a try? What's the worst that can happen? Your offense sucks more?
Rivers McCown: As I wrote in FOA 2017, keeping Mallett as the lone backup creates a bar of backup play so low that even Glaxo can beat it. Wow, Flacco. But I'm keeping that typo.
The real answer is someone out of house. But we know how those discussions have gone so far.
As expected, game ended with the Ravens only scoring a touchdown in garbage time. 4.8 yards per attempt for Flacco. Buck Allen led the team with 11 targets for 29 yards. Yeah, it was that bad.
Carolina Panthers 3 at Chicago Bears 17
Vince Verhei: Panthers have been fairly dominant in the early goings, but they trail due to a pair of defensive touchdowns by Eddie Jackson. Cam Newton botched an option pitch and put the ball on the ground, and Jackson scooped it up and returned it 75 yards for a score. Later, Newton threw a pass behind Kelvin Benjamin and the ball went straight up in the air, and Jackson reeled it in for a 76-yard touchdown. That's 151 return yards for Jackson, 41 yards for the Bears offense early in the second, but Chicago's up 14-0.
Aaron Schatz: Well, this one has started out a bit unexpectedly: 14-0 after 20 minutes on two defensive touchdowns by the Bears. Both were by Eddie Jackson, the fourth-round rookie safety out of Alabama. First one was a blown option play. Fault is sort of 50-50 on that one, it went right off Curtis Samuel's hands but the pitch from Cam Newton was spinning awkwardly. Second one was an interception where Prince Amukamara had Kelvin Benjamin totally covered but Newton threw to him anyway. Amukamara tipped it up, it was in the air for roughly three or four months (may be exaggeration) and when Jackson came down with it he somehow ran 76 yards without any Panthers tackling him. It doesn't help that the Panthers aren't exactly built to come from behind, and Ryan Kalil left the game with a re-aggravated neck injury. With this game script, Mitchell Trubisky may not throw more than two or three passes all day.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Foreshadowing!)
By the way, the Bears have done a good job of "building from the lines out." The offensive line is strong and the defensive front is outstanding. Akiem Hicks has been really good this year. They just don't have much of the other stuff -- lots of injuries for the second straight year, and very little depth. But at least they used the 2017 draft to start building the "skill positions" and secondary. Trubisky, of course, Adam Shaheen with the second-round pick, Jackson at safety, Tarik Cohen.
Derrik Klassen: The only thing stopping Carolina right now, is Carolina. They have surrendered two touchdowns to Chicago's defense, one off of a fumbled pitch attempt and another off of tipped-up interception. They have done a decent job of working down the field, but they keep getting in their own way with turnovers. The run game is still lacking in functional creativity and the wide receivers cannot create any separation.
Credit to Chicago's defense, though. Chicago's defenders, primarily the secondary, are playing well and regularly showing up in the right place at the right time. Cornerback Kyle Fuller is having a nice resurgence this year that has continued through this week. Rookie safety Eddie Jackson looks to be a star in the making and was the one responsible for returning the tipped interception for a touchdown. Additionally, the pass rush is doing a good job of forcing Cam Newton to throw early and/or move off of his spot.
Due to a handful of turnovers, Chicago heads into the half with a 17-3 lead over Carolina.
Scott Kacsmar: Obviously two long turnovers for touchdowns have a huge impact on the numbers, but has anyone noticed the play numbers in this one? The Panthers have run 63 plays to 27 for Chicago, and Carolina just got the ball back with half a quarter left. There hasn't been a modern team held to fewer than 30 plays since the Browns 2.0 launched in 1999 with a 43-0 blowout to the Steelers where they ran just 28 plays. Panthers are up to 37:23 in time of possession, but still trail 17-3. Crazy game. The kind of game, coupled with overtime wins, the Bears win in years they luck into first-round byes (2001, 2005, 2006, and 2010). I don't think this team is quite that good though. Just six passes by Trubisky today. If he doesn't throw another, that's the fewest passes thrown in a game since Drew Brees had six for the 2004 Chargers in Cleveland (snow game).
Derrik Klassen: Danny Trevathan just put the game away for Chicago. On third down, Cam Newton was rushed out of the pocket and forced a ball to Christian McCaffrey. Trevathan undercut the route for an interception, giving Chicago the ball at about Carolina's 40-yard line. Assuming the Bears run out some clock here and do not fall apart on defense in the last few minutes, this one is done. Chicago leads 17-3 with roughly six minutes to go.
Aaron Schatz: OK, halfway through the fourth quarter and this game is wacko. I felt like the Panthers were getting clobbered, but I just looked and somehow they have 20 first downs. The Bears offense is just so horrendous that the Panthers keep getting the ball back over and over. Trubisky has six pass attempts. What year is this? The entire Bears offense today is one 70-yard pass to Tarik Cohen. With the two defensive touchdowns, that's enough. The Panthers had four straight drives between the second and third quarters that went like this:
- 56 yards, ends with field goal on fourth-and-10 from Chicago 18.
- 63 yards, ends at halftime when Panthers can't line up to spike the ball in time at Chicago 15.
- 52 yards, ends on downs on a failed fourth-and-2 from Chicago 25
- 47 yards, ends with punt on fourth-and-13 from Chicago 38.
So that's over 200 yards ending with a grand total of three points and only two attempts at even SCORING points, because I'm willing to give the Panthers credit for being aggressive on the fourth-and-2.
Oh, and Newton just threw another pick with 7:06 to go, but at least Trubisky tried another pass attempt on the ensuing drive.
Vince Verhei: So Mitchell Trubisky finishes with four completions for the day.
Arizona Cardinals Nil 'at' Los Angeles Rams 33 (London)
Vince Verhei: Looks like Arizona's offensive explosion last week said more about Tampa Bay's defense than anything else. They have had some success moving the ball through the air so far today, but Adrian Peterson has 11 yards on five carries, and Arizona's first three drives resulted in two punts and a missed field goal. It's a somewhat similar story for L.A.'s offense -- modest gains, then red zone struggles -- but in their case it has been more Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin on the ground than Jared Goff through the air, and they have gotten close enough to kick a pair of field goals and take a 6-0 lead in what is quietly one of the week's bigger games.
Under pressure, Carson Palmer lobs a duck (though it's London, so I guess we should say pigeon?) deep to the middle of the field. It hovers forever and Lamarcus Joyner gets an easy interception and big return to set the offense up inside the red zone. Rams get a touchdown on the very next play. Todd Gurley dodged a Josh Mauro tackle in the backfield, but the other key to the play was -- swear to God -- a Tavon Austin block, as the 174-pounder went low and took out 220-pound Patrick Peterson to clear a path around the edge.
Carson Palmer's headed to the locker room, so Drew Stanton is in at quarterback for Arizona. Stanton lost a bet and showed up to the game in a Supergirl costume, but of course he plays more like Krypto. The Cardinals actually go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34, and Stanton picks up the first down on the sneak (they also caught the Rams with 12 men on the field). But they punt shortly thereafter, and the Rams have the ball up 13-0, looking for a score in the final two minutes here to maybe lock this up by halftime.
Bryan Knowles: Not a good day for Arizona across the pond. Not only are they down 13-0 thanks to a Todd Gurley touchdown, but Carson Palmer has just headed to the locker room with a left arm injury of some description. He got plastered after throwing an interception, and jogged off the field keeping his left arm stationary. I think he just jammed his wrist, in which case he might be back out for the second half. Maybe while he's in the locker room, he can find last week's Adrian Peterson mojo. The "Peterson is revitalized by his trip to the desert" narrative kind of died after one week, didn't it? He has eight carries for 11 yards so far.
Vince Verhei: Not only do the Rams follow that punt with a touchdown when Jared Goff scores on a 9-yard zone-read keeper, but Stanton then throws an interception right to Mark Barron on first down, and the Rams have time to add a field goal to take a 23-0 lead at halftime. Looking very strong that they'll be in first place for at least another week.
Aaron Schatz: And now, a message from the Rams bandwagon I have been driving since April:
Rivers McCown: Palmer done for the year with a broken arm. Welcome to the uncomfortable Kaepernick speculation zone, Arizona! I am excited to watch hand-picked backup Drew Stanton throw for 150 yards a game.
Tennessee Titans 12 at Cleveland Browns 9 (OT)
Vince Verhei: Jabrill Peppers is inactive today and Jason McCourty has left the game and is out of uniform in a walking boot on the bench. And yet, Marcus Mariota and company haven't been able to take much advantage of a secondary that has been pretty lousy at full strength. Delanie Walker had a chance at big play on a 9-route down the seam, but Jamar Taylor made a good play to tip the ball away. DeShone Kizer is rebounding nicely from his benching -- he's currently 9-of-11 passing, with six first downs -- but so far it hasn't translated into points. We're tied at 3 at the two-minute warning.
Tom Gower: Titans lead 6-3 over the Browns. The game was at an amazing pace for the first 28 minutes, getting to the two-minute warning at 12:59 p.m. CT, then slowed down. Hue Jackson did his best to lock up Keep Choppin' Wood early, declining a 15-yard face-mask penalty when on a Tennessee third-and-1 from the Cleveland 32 to accept an incompletion. The Titans unsurprisingly went for it, and the Browns jumped offside to give the Titans a first down. The Browns would go offside to give the Titans a first down two more times in the first half, both in third-and-reasonable.
The Titans can't run the ball. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry are a combined 13 carries, 36 yards. The Titans are 31st in the first half in running back rushing DVOA to date, ahead of only the Seahawks. They're actually No. 1 in the second half, thus their good overall numbers, but the first 28 minutes of the game have been ugly almost every week. No downfield passes, either -- Marcus Mariota's longest completion is just 18 yards, with yards after catch, and that came on the first play of the game.
The surprising thing is the Browns have been mostly at least semi-competent. Hue Jackson hasn't yet abandoned the run, and the offense seems to have been mostly designed around the idea that a rookie quarterback sholdn't be asked to take deep drops, stand in the pocket and survey the field, and then throw downfield. Kizer started 7-of-7, I believe, and is 12-of-19 for 114 yards at the half. We have still some of the same problems -- a nice job of side-stepping a free rusher, only to throw the ball out of bounds. Their one field goal came on a short field after a Delanie Walker fumble. Kizer threw a bad pick late in the first half in scoring territory, air-mailing one over Rashard Higgins right to Kevin Byard (pedantic note: the line of scrimmage was the 28, so technically not a red zone turnover).
Personally, I'm rooting for a more interesting second half of play.
Vince Verhei: God, Kizer looked so good for most of that half, but that interception was just SO BAD. Like, I'm not totally sure if that was a terrible overthrow or a terrible underthrow of the deeper receiver. He threw it between the two, into a pool of two or three Titans. It's seriously sad.
And then he throws another interception on Cleveland's first drive of the second half, as Kevin Byard gets his second pick, dropping off a short receiver to undercut a deeper route to pick off the ball. Again, when Kizer is wrong, he's so very wrong.
Following that interception, the Titans get a first-and-goal at the 1, but soon it's a fourth-and-goal after two runs and an underthrown Mariota pass to an open receiver on a corner route. Ordinarily I am all about going for it on fourth-and-goal, but here a 6-point lead against this team seems pretty safe. But from a yard-and-a-half out, they spread the field and give it to Derrick Henry, Danny Shelton, eater of worlds, blows up the play and it's so clearly short they don't even bother with instant replay.
Bryan Knowles: The Quarterback Shuffle continues in Cleveland -- Cody Kessler is in now. Pick one and stick with him, Hue! It feels like he's just plugging quarterbacks in at random now and hoping for positive results.
Vince Verhei: OK, now literally everything has gone wrong for Cleveland. Joe Thomas pushes Brian Orakpo to the ground, but then goes down clutching his left arm, and now he's on the sideline. First missed snap of his career. Everyone knew how monumental this was and players from both teams were coming up to wish him well as he left.
Look, there is no such thing as DeShone Kizer or Kevin Hogan or Cody Kessler. There is only BROWNS QB. Kessler picks up some first downs and things are looking great, then he lobs a ball deep into triple coverage, and there's Byard with his third interception of the day.
The good news for Cleveland is, while we're focusing on their quarterbacks and tackles, their defense has been stellar today. The Mariota-led Titans scored 37 against Jacksonville and 33 against Seattle, but they have been held to just 9 points today after another missed field goal. Browns defensive front has absolutely won the battle against Tennessee's offensive line today, and I'm not sure you can say that about anyone else this year. But Christian Kirksey, Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton all had big days today. Feels like Cleveland finally -- finally -- has one strong unit they can build around.
Browns have life with a minute to go! Isaiah Crowell takes a swing pass, makes a defender miss, and appears to pick up a third-down conversion, but on replay it's clear Crowell trapped the ball and it's incomplete. (Yes, Kessler underthrew a guy standing well behind the line of scrimmage.)
That brings up fourth-and-8. Browns opt for the field goal, and Zane Gonzalez is good from 54 to tie the game. Titans still have nearly a minute to go and all three timeouts to get a winning field goal in regulation. Given that, I think I'd have gone for it on fourth down. Curious if others agree -- I realize trusting the Browns offense to make a play is an inherently foolish thing to do.
Titans go three-and-out, but Brett Kern booms a punt that pins Cleveland inside its own 15-yard line. The Browns take a knee, neither team calls timeout, and we're going to overtime.
Dave Bernreuther: I'd love to know more about how this game has progressed to overtime but after a super-quick three-and-out, the Titans are already past midfield after a completion to Delanie Walker, who goes down in pain. All I can think of is that there's hope that's his ankle and not his knee.
After a few punts and drives where neither team covered itself in glory -- which probably answers my own earlier question -- Succop comes on for the winner, misses ... but had been iced, so the second attempt is perfect. Cheers, Hue Jackson.
Vince Verhei: Titans get two drives in overtime, and the second results in a 47-yard field goal try for Ryan Succop. Browns try to ice the kicker, and the first attempt doinks off the upright. Second attempt is good, and Tennessee escapes with a 12-9 win. The Thomas injury was a killer -- Brian Orakpo took over the game in the fourth quarter and overtime. Spencer Drango was helpless against him, even with tight end help.
Thus ends one of the most incredible ironman streaks of all time.
Tom Gower: Titans win 12-9 on overtime. Ryan Succop hits from 47 yards after Hue Jackson lets the clock run to the two-minute warning, rather than take a timeout so his team has, say, 2:30 to try should the field goal miss instead of less than two minutes. Succop's first attempt, negated by the two-minute warning, hit the right upright. The Titans' game-winning drive covered 19 yards, starting inside Cleveland territory after the Browns couldn't move the ball on their second overtime possession and Cody Kessler suffered a big sack on third down.
I didn't have a good feel for what kind of range Zane Gonzalez has, so I wasn't sure exactly what I thought the Browns should do on what proved to be the tying field goal attempt in the final minute. But if I was anything less than absolutely confident that Gonzalez had the leg to hit from 54 (his long was 41 coming into today's game), I would have gone for it. 54 is a pretty uncertain proposition even if you know you have the range, it would have just tied the game rather than won it, and the Titans would have had enough time to score to win if they could have done something on offense.
The Browns offense felt more energetic with Cody Kessler in the game after DeShone Kizer threw those two horrible interceptions, but ultimately the field goal drive to tie the game late was all he managed. Their base offense doesn't work well, and he can't force things. When he's playing in rhythm and getting the ball out quickly he can make some stuff happen, but when that isn't in the cards, things like the near-grounding (he broke the pocket by about 3 inches) and then the big sack he took, happen.
Overall, this is a win the Titans should be happy to come away with. The offense finally looked the same way with Marcus Mariota in both halves of a game, and they emulated the first half, not the second one. Time to get healthy (Delanie Walker's injury in overtime, long-term or OK after two weeks?) and rest up.
Carl Yedor: Cleveland is now 0-7, with four of those losses coming by exactly three points. Tough, but at the same time the offense just hasn't been putting up enough points. Outside of scoring 28 against the Colts (ranked 29th in defensive DVOA currently), the Browns haven't scored more than 18 points all season. DeShone Kizer has been the worst in the league by DYAR to this point. I doubt his standing as the worst quarterback will change much in the immediate future, as Joe Flacco was next-closest entering this week but was still 229 DYAR better than Kizer to this point. Not great, folks.
Rivers McCown: Without Thomas in overtime, that offense had no chance. It was a struggle to keep Kessler clean for three steps.
New York Jets 28 at Miami Dolphins 31
Zach Binney: I think it's safe to say this game isn't going quite as anyone expected in the first half. The Jets have scored 21, which is the most the Dolphins have given up this season (though seven of those were from a tipped pass that was picked off at the Miami 2). Miami, meanwhile, has scored two first-half touchdowns, which is two more than they have scored this entire season.
The biggest story so far may be the turf, which is muddy and torn. Players are slipping quite a bit, and Miami in particular seems to be having difficulty tackling Jets players in open space.
Two weeks, two good clean hits, two quarterbacks knocked out of a game. After Rodgers last week, Jay Cutler just took an absolute shot to the chest early in the third quarter, and he has left for the locker room. Looks like it might be a broken rib. The fans in Miami are getting what they want, at least: Matt Moore is in the game.
Aaron Schatz: The Dolphins were down 28-14 when Matt Moore came in for the injured Jay Cutler, and I'm guessing we'll see a lot of articles about how Moore gave the Dolphins life after the failed Cutler experiment. But the two quarterbacks have fairly similar numbers in this game -- both have two passing touchdowns, one interception, Moore is a little better on yards per attempt. The big difference has been better play by the Dolphins defense in the second half of the game. Miami couldn't get a score after tying it up 28-28, but on the first play after they punted, Bobby McCain jumped the route on Jermaine Kearse. Really bad decision by Josh McCown, and it essentially handed the ball to Miami in field goal range with less than a minute left.
Rob Weintraub: Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News picked this game to end in a tie. He was 37 seconds from overtime, anyway, and more than partial credit, but McCown gets picked deep in his own end. Looked like Cameron Wake put in the bull rush that forced McCown to throw short. Dolphins field goal is good, Jets poised to blow this one.
Correction -- upon further review it was rookie Charles Harris with the bull rush that prevented McCown from stepping up.
Dave Bernreuther: Rob, I'm not convinced anything forced McCown to throw that pick -- maybe he didn't get to make a full stride, but he had room, and it was a bad decision as well, doomed from the start. Maybe the bull rush accelerated the decision, but to me it looked like he might have thrown that anyway, and no amount of accuracy would have made that one work. Maybe I'm just being negative.
I'd say that's a great example of why the journeyman vet is always the wrong choice over seeing what the kid has ... but the Jets already know what Christian Hackenberg has. And if he hadn't thrown a back-breaking pick himself, it would probably only be because he hit the mascot on the sideline instead of it being in a spot where a defender could catch it.
That apparently makes 12 straight wins for the Dolphins in one-score games. That's amazing.
Zach Binney: This is not backed up by any numbers, but just watching them, Moore looked more decisive than Cutler. They were both being chased in the backfield all day, but Moore's mechanics looked better insofar as every other throw wasn't coming off his back foot. It also helped that the Dolphins didn't drop a ball after Moore came in -- they dropped two in the first half to bring them to 24 on the year, good for tops in the league to that point.
On the other side, 14 of the 28 points the Jets scored came of Miami turnovers in their own territory. Miami's defense is only 20th in DVOA, but this is also the second week in a row that they came up with a huge late interception to effectively seal the game.
Rob Weintraub: Dave I'm not absolving McCown -- taken for granted he'll screw up at some point, usually the worst possible time. Just giving some love to the oft-overlooked dudes in the trenches, and Harris taking his man into McCown's stride point definitely impacted the throw. Maybe would have been picked anyway, but...
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 at Buffalo Bills 30
Scott Kacsmar: Good throw from Tyrod Taylor to Logan Thomas for a touchdown. Yes, the Virginia Tech quarterback who started in Arizona. Apparently he has been converted to tight end for a team that badly needs pass receivers with Charles Clay out and last year's starters going to the Rams. Rookie Zay Jones has been targeted six times today and has no catches. Taylor overthrew him an uncatchable ball in the end zone on the play before the Thomas touchdown -- the two plays looked very similar, but the touchdown was a way better throw. That has been a big part of Buffalo's season. The Bills had six receivers who caught more than 70 percent of their targets coming into today. Taylor was 5-of-23 to Jones, and is now 5-of-29 (17.2 percent). Horrific stuff, but I'd have to see just how many were dropped, or maybe Jones has had bad luck with throwaways or batted down targets going his way. Still, they have had a horrible connection this season.
Dallas Cowboys 40 at San Francisco 49ers 10
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers have made a habit out of slow starts in 2017 -- they have been outgained 1,107-879 in the first half so far this season -- and they're off to another slow start today. After forcing a nice three-and-out from Dallas' offense, Trent Taylor fumbles the ensuing punt. Three plays later, Ezekiel Elliott (playing today as Schrodinger's Suspension continues to be on hold) plunges in for a touchdown. After a three-and-out of their own, San Francisco's other issue snaps into full focus -- penalties. Two penalties on Rashard Robinson -- including his league-leading fifth pass interference call -- keep the Cowboys' drive alive, and Elliott scores again. Robinson is not an NFL starting cornerback, and is one of many, many positions the 49ers will need to improve going forward.
The 49ers have had to put up pretty frantic comebacks in their five consecutive close losses, and they're putting themselves in a very familiar position already, down 14-0 just halfway through the first quarter.
San Francisco's rush defense has actually been above average this season, ranked 13th in DVOA coming into today. Nobody told Elliott that. Zeke has looked a little bit more like he did last year, as he has already run for 71 yards on 11 carries, to go with his pair of touchdowns.
Part of the problem? Eric Reid is playing an abnormal amount of weakside linebacker on rushing downs, which is something less than ideal. I believe the 49ers are doing it to give rookie Reuben Foster (back today and looking good after getting injured in Week 1) help setting the defense; with NaVorro Bowman out of town, they have lost a lot of experience up the middle. The result, though, is less actual skill on the field stopping the run, and that's hurting. Might have to go with Ray Ray Armstrong and just hope Foster has the defense down enough to make play calls. He is looking good on individual plays, but may not be ready to call the defense just yet.
It's not all great for the Cowboys, though -- Dan Bailey is out with a pulled groin. That forced the Cowboys go for 2 after their third touchdown (which they failed), and Jeff Heath, the starting strong safety, to kick the ensuing kickoff. Something to put a pin in, there.
Derrik Klassen: This game felt out of San Francisco's control from the jump. The 49ers defense forced a three-and-out on the first possession of the game, but Trent Taylor fumbled a punt return and set up the Cowboys for an easy touchdown. Since then, the Cowboys have scored another two touchdowns, only countered by a 49ers field goal.
Dak Prescott is dealing today. San Francisco's front is getting more pressure on him than expected, but Prescott is doing a good job of protecting the ball. He has been finding Dez Bryant at every opportunity, already finding him four times for 53 yards. Prescott also connected with Jason Witten in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. On the other side, C.J. Beathard is playing about as expected: hitting some open throws, but holding the ball far too long and failing to create anything extra. The 49ers offense has been fairly efficient, but much like the Panthers earlier today, they keep getting in their own way with turnovers. In addition to the fumbled punt, Beathard was strip-sacked in the red zone, effectively ending the 49ers' best drive of the day.
Dallas heads into the locker room with a 20-3 lead over San Francisco.
Bryan Knowles: 20-3 at halftime. The 49ers were driving late, but Demarcus Lawrence blew past Joe Staley and obliterated C.J. Beathard, forcing a fumble which he then recovered. Beathard's looked alright so far, but he has been holding on to the ball for too long. I'd say at least three of Dallas' four sacks were due, in part, to Beathard's internal clock not telling him it was time to get the ball out. Mind you, with San Francisco's offensive line, that clock needs to be set for only 2 or 3 seconds, but still. That was a problem of his at Iowa, as well, so this is nothing new. Apart from that, he has looked alright, but those sacks are going to kill ya.
Again, it's the mistakes which are killing the 49ers. Take out the fumbles, and this is probably a one-score game. But the Cowboys are just not making mistakes, capitalizing every time the 49ers mess up, and generally just playing very solid football. They're finding the holes in San Francisco's secondary (a potent combination of "bad" and "injured"), taking advantage of some softness in the running game, and just generally staying on track. Hard to see them making the same sort of mistakes that Washington or Indianapolis made to let the 49ers back in this one, but stranger things have happened -- like, having to play your second half without a kicker.
Derrik Klassen: Reuben Foster has been outstanding today, but nagging injuries keep getting to him. He winced a few drives ago when it appeared he tweaked his back; just now stayed down on the field for a minute after appearing to aggravate his ankle injury. Being blown out 33-3 heading into the fourth quarter, it would be best if the 49ers just sidelined him for the rest of this one. There is no value in pushing him at this point.
Rivers McCown: I have managed to tune into every game that was over before it started so far. Watching Jeff Heath kick has been funny though, so at least there's that.
Cincinnati Bengals 14 at Pittsburgh Steelers 29
Rob Weintraub: Last-stand game for the Bengals, so naturally the Steelers cruise right down the field, mostly on the ground. Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, 7-0.
Cincy was doomed the second they moved this from 1 p.m. to 4:25.
A tie that lasts all of four plays into the second quarter. Cincy blows a coverage and leaves JuJu Smith-Schuster wide open for an easy walk-in touchdown. Smith-Schuster then celebrates with a lame-ass game of hide-and-seek because is a Steeler.
Dave Bernreuther: Ben has not been himself this year, but that hurried but careful shuffle forward to avoid strong side pressure, then taking something off the throw while moving, hitting JuJu in stride for the score ... was very impressive. Some Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks don't have that kind of touch.
Rob Weintraub: Dalton has been sharp as well -- especially on third down, where he is 5-for-5. That fifth pass gives Cincy fourth-and-goal at the 1, though. Marvin ain't that dumb -- a must-go situation. Play-action to the new unstoppable Tyler tight end in Bengaldom -- Kroft. Touchdown!
14-14, and two of the better defenses in the league are getting torched.
Scott Kacsmar: Only one of the last 23 games between these teams saw both score 14-plus points in the first half. It has been a track meet today and the Steelers are in position for more points after one of Le'Veon Bell's most impressive plays yet. Moves on top of moves for his longest reception in three years.
Rob Weintraub: Scott left out the Bell stiff-arm to plant Dre Kirkpatrick and add some yards to that amazing play.
Cincy tackling has been atrocious in general -- some of that is Bell being Bell, but not all. Penalties have also hurt, all on defense. The latest was a 30-plus-yard pass interference call on Kirkpatrick despite the pass landing well out of the end zone. To my biased eyes it was uncatchable, but refs saw otherwise.
Bengals stiffen again in red zone -- last play was on odd run call to Bell where unless he scores Pitt has to kick. He didn't, they did. 20-14 Steelers at halftime. Tomlin was livid about something on that play but across the bar with no sound I couldn't tell what. Sorry.
Cincy hanging in but unless the tackling improves they are on borrowed time.
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers up 20-14 at halftime, but some bad game management in the last two minutes by both teams. First, the Bengals should have immediately called one of their timeouts after Bell lost 7 yards on a first-down catch, which he should have dropped. I mean, you have three timeouts, you can get the ball back. Why let the Steelers set up a deep pass to convert on the next down? Maybe Pittsburgh comes out and makes that throw anyway after a timeout, but at least make them think about it more after a bad loss on the first play. That eventually led to a red zone opportunity after a 34-yard pass interference penalty on Dre Kirkpatrick against Brown. I'm not really sure that pass was still catchable for it to be DPI. In the red zone, Steelers struggled again. Vance McDonald dropped a touchdown and a very odd run call on second down led to the clock going down to three seconds before timeout was finally granted. Should have been time for another throw, but Steelers ended up settling for a 24-yard field goal.
Rob Weintraub: Was that the reason for the Rage of Tomlin? Didn't get the time-out earlier?
Scott Kacsmar: This is Dalton's 13th start against the Steelers. Has yet to lead his team to more than 21 points in those games. He's 3-0 when the Steelers scored 10 points, but 0-9 in the other games where Pittsburgh always scored 24-plus. Steelers look more than capable of getting to 30 today. This has easily been Roethlisberger's best game this season.
Dave Bernreuther: Rob, I'm not biased, and while that was an obvious grab by Kirkpatrick, and I think 99 percent of people underestimate how much yardage a pro athlete can cover in the blink of an eye, I could have sworn the ball was thrown out of the end zone. And it felt like a gift to the Steelers to get first-and-goal.
Tomlin looked pretty heated about the timeout delay to me too, which led to the field goal decision, so I guess it's good (for you) that the penalty was a three-point swing, not seven.
Rob Weintraub: Bell carries Pitt down the field, but on third-and-inches Mike Johnson slips inside and blows him up in the backfield.
Another field goal, 23-14 Pitt, but back-to-back three-and-outs for the Bengals. Need a drive, pronto, but I'm not optimistic.
Yep, two plays in, yet another tipped pass off A.J. Green gets picked off. This is over if Pitt punches it in, probably over regardless.
Scott Kacsmar: These haven't been good throws, but still some bad luck for Dalton with a second tipped interception this quarter. Tipped interceptions have to be up this season. I would be absolutely shocked if that's not the case in the game charting data.
Rob Weintraub: Bengals go deep to Cody Core, who makes a sensational grab but can't get the second foot inbounds. Next play, another deflected pass gets picked off.
26-14 and Cincy is out of ideas offensively. Some John Ross speed might help open things up but he's just a rumor.
Scott Kacsmar: It's not all bad, Rob. Mike Tomlin is doing his hardest to keep the Bengals in this one. Fourth-and-1 should be an obvious quarterback sneak with a huge quarterback, but the Steelers almost never do it. Handing off inside to Terrell Watson is not a call anyone should be making in that spot. Marvin Lewis challenged the spot, which definitely looked short, but it's a hard challenge to win. He wins this one though and the Bengals take over with 14:57 left.
Rob Weintraub: Fourth-and-inches, and Pittsburgh goes for it for the first time all season. Watson is clearly short, gets a favorable mark, makes it by a chain length. Lewis challenges, and wins his second of the day. Bengals ball.
But it's for naught -- Cincy is done scoring in this one. I have seen this game my whole life.
Aaron Schatz: I realize he's 240 pounds while Bell is 225, but I'm not a big fan of Pittsburgh always using Terrell Watson over Bell on short-yardage downs.
Rob Weintraub: Game is similar to the Bengals' loss at Green Bay earlier this season. Early on the Bengals' scripted drives had great success. But later, when the adjustments are made and it comes down to execution, blocking, and quality quarterback play, the Bengals are lost. I'm pretty sure Cincy managed one lone first down after tying the game at 14, and certainly nothing sustained.
Same BS against the Steelers my whole friggin' life...
Scott Kacsmar: This is the third time the Steelers won a game by 15-plus points this year that I'm going to complain about anyway. The defense was fantastic in the second half in getting pressure on Dalton and taking him down for sacks. Totally shut A.J. Green down and everything. That's all fine, but it's the short-yardage calls that were terrible and kept this a game for longer than it needed to be.
When we talk about Tomlin's seemingly random aggression, this game is a perfect example of that. He took a pretty big risk on fourth-and-7 at his own 40 by doing a fake punt with Robert Golden throwing deep for Darrius Heyward-Bey. Any pass to DHB is a risk, let alone a deep one by a non-quarterback. It worked out for 44 yards, but a failure there would have really helped the Bengals out with great field position in a 12-point game. I don't get why Tomlin accepts the risk to go for that, but will do stupid stuff like take a delay of game and punt from inside the 40 in Kansas City last week, or why they don't ever use the quarterback sneak like they should. Even in this game, why not go for the fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 7 after the fake punt? By kicking the field goal, the Bengals are still down two touchdowns. The only difference is they have to get a two-point conversion too. So what? A first down there is going to kill most of the clock, and you have two of the best skill players in the world on your side. If the Steelers were stopped, then the field position isn't so troubling like it would have been if the fake punt had failed. You can get away with this stuff against the Bengals, but I still could never trust Tomlin to make the right decisions when this team plays New England, which is still the biggest challenge in this team's path of getting to the Super Bowl.
Denver Broncos 0 at Los Angeles Chargers 21
Dave Bernreuther: Just as I was about to say the Chargers were starting to look good (and not just due to the powder blues), a DPI puts the ball on the 1 and Anthony Lynn goes heavy for four straight plays. That was not a good look for the Chargers' offensive line, nor for Hunter Henry, who got eaten up by Shaq Barrett on second down. Melvin Gordon didn't have much of a chance at all on that sequence.
Still, pushing Trevor Siemian back inside his 1 is often better than three points, so I like the decision, if not the calls.
Naturally, Siemian makes me eat my hat with a first down scramble on third-and-7 to get the Broncos some breathing room.
Anyone have sound for this game and care to comment on the roughing the passer call on Melvin Ingram? At first he was so free and hit Siemian so hard that I assumed the flag was for hitting after the whistle. But it wasn't. The play was live. Siemian had the ball. Ingram hit him in the chest. How is that a penalty?
Tom Gower: I have this game on but am not following it intently. If there was an explanation for why the flag, I didn't hear one. The only thing I could really see was maybe if they thought Ingram made high contact, to the head or neck area, but I didn't see the play that way.
The other possibility would be if they thought Ingram dropped his head and went in with the crown of his helmet. I didn't see that happening, either, but that's probably the better possibility of what they thought they saw.
Chargers up 14-0 at the half. The Broncos have gotten at least one first down on three of eight possessions. People are starting to wonder if Brock Osweiler might not be able to give the team a spark. I think the offensive line might a significant issue, in which case playing Osweiler is not only not a solution to the problem but more likely to make it worse. The whole thing just looks ugly, and they have shot themselves in the foot when they got something going. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood after Titans-Browns, but I now find Denver a largely frustrating team to watch on offense.
San Diego has a punt return touchdown and one offensive score. Phil Rivers hit a couple throws that drive, gaining around 20 yards each on passes to Hunter Henry and Keenan Allen, to set up the short scoring throw to Austin Ekeler. Outside those two passes and including the Ekeler one, he's 6-of-16 for about 40 yards, so maybe giving the ball four times to Melvin Gordon in goal-to-go from the 1 after the first Broncos turnover at the start of the game was not so crazy, even though it didn't work. If only the Broncos had figured out something on offense in the last couple years, though of course the injuries don't help.
Scott Kacsmar: Wow, never would have imagined Travis Benjamin would outscore Denver himself 12-0. With Denver, Indianapolis, and Arizona getting blanked today, that's the first time since Week 15 of 2012 that we had multiple shutouts in the same week. There were three that day as well. It's so rare to not even muster a field goal. With Denver, I feel like we warned fans that their offense wouldn't get better after Super Bowl 50, and it really hasn't. Still have issues with the offensive line, a very inconsistent running game, a lack of receiver depth (Emmanuel Sanders out today really hurts), and oh yeah, they don't have much of a quarterback. John Elway has tried to at least address the offensive line, but I don't think he has made the best quarterback decisions and they haven't added another quality receiver.
Tom Gower: The second half from the Broncos offense did not look much better than the first half did. The Chargers didn't do much until Benjamin got open on a run from one of Ken Whisenhunt's trips sets and raced 42 yards for a score, but it didn't matter. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Chris McCain controlled the Denver offensive line, they had no run game, and Siemian couldn't force plays in the passing game. When's Paxton Lynch healthy?
Seattle Seahawks 24 at New York Giants 7
Vince Verhei: Conservative defenses ruling the day early. Seahawks' first drive ends when Giants rush three on third-and-long. Russell Wilson knows he has time to scramble in the backfield, but when he turns his back to escape a lineman, Nat Berhe comings charging out of the secondary to bring him down for a loss of 13.
Then the Giants' first drive ends when Seattle rushes TWO on third-and-long. Eli Manning scans the field for a while, realizes he has a one-one-one opportunity deep downfield and takes a shot, but Richard Sherman tips the ball away from Tavarres King. With New York's wide receivers all out, it will be interesting to see how Sherman is used -- on one play he followed Evan Engram across the formation. Can't ever remember him doing that to cover a tight end before.
Thanks to a bevy of New York penalties, an injury timeout or two, and the break between quarters, Seahawks have goal-to-go for nearly 15 minutes of real time. Eleven straight goal-to-go snaps, including those wiped out by penalty. And it ends in zero points when Eli Apple breaks up a pass to Jimmy Graham in the end zone. But New York responds with three straight runs and fails to pick up a first down, and Brad Wing has to punt out of his own end zone. A bad punt gets a good roll, but Seattle is still going to get the ball at its own 40. This is why we like going for it -- even failure will often work out in your favor in the long run.
I spoke too soon. First play after the punt, Avery Moss knocks the ball out of Thomas Rawls' hands, and Landon Collins recovers and gets a big return. (That's his second big play of the game -- he was blocked to the ground on one of Seattle's goal-line tries, but snapped back to his feet to make a big tackle on Tyler Lockett.) Two plays later, Eli finds Engram in the corner of the end zone and the Giants are up 7-0.
Giants lead 7-3 at halftime even though Seattle has outgained them 222-42. Seattle's offense had 11 goal-to-go plays on one drive; the Giants offense had 18 plays, total, in the half. These Seahawks are not close to the worst team in the league, but they must be the most frustrating. Drops aplenty. Penalties on the edge of scoring range. So many mistakes.
Giants' secondary is making tons of big plays. I mentioned Collins earlier. Apple keeps breaking up passes in the end zone. Devon Kennard drawing an offensive pass interference penalty on what appeared to be a game-tying touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett. (If you get a chance to watch that last play, watch New York's edge rushers -- they're in the backfield so quickly I thought it was a screen pass, but next thing you know Wilson's throwing into the end zone.)
Aaron asked about second-round rookie Ethan Pocic -- he played a bit on offense when Justin Britt left the game. Britt later returned. So this is what they're doing with their draft pick: slotting him as a backup to their one good lineman.
Carl Yedor: Adding to Vince's point, Pocic had been rotating with Mark Glowinski at left guard today as well as they try to find an injury replacement for Luke Joeckel. But still, he hasn't been playing much at all this season.
Vince Verhei: Jimmy Graham with a 29-yard catch-and-run gives him 50 yards today. That's 1,757 yards in 33 games in a Seahawks uniform, breaking the franchise record for career receiving yards by a tight end. (Itula Mili had 1,743 in 114 games.) Wilson then hits Paul Richardson for a big play to get into the red zone, but then a personal foul on Mark Glowinski moves them out of the red zone. Seahawks Twitter goes nuts saying this gives Seattle a better chance to score -- and they're apparently right, because a Giants blitz leaves no safety in the middle of the field. That usually means touchdown for Seattle, and it does here, as Wilson throws it up and lets Doug Baldwin go run for it.
Thank goodness Seattle has a chance to win here, because they were looking at wasting one of the best defensive efforts of the Pete Carroll ever. Obviously this Giants offense has a lot of problems right now, but they have damn near hopeless today.
Giants finally find a couple of big passing plays, the biggest a 25-yarder to Engram where Bradley McDougald missed a tackle. They get to a third-and-11 at the 30. A conversion means they have a chance to go back in front again. A short gain makes the game-tying field goal easier. They run a quick out to Engram that gains 1 yard. Now what in the hell is the point of that? On top of that, Aldrick Rosas misses a 47-yarder, and Seattle's 10-7 lead is maintained.
Jarran Reed gets pressure up the middle and knocks the ball out of Eli's hands, and Frank Clark recovers in Giants territory. Seahawks go for the kill with a flea-flicker (off a sweep, which is unusual). Paul Richardson is behind Landon Collins, but Wilson's throw hangs in the air too long and it's a jump ball in the end zone. I thought it was an interception for sure, but Richardson made a great play to leap and get his hands on the ball. That's four hands on the ball as they go to earth, simultaneous possession, tie goes to the receiver, touchdown Seahawks. They review the play and the call stands, saving me from a stroke. 17-7 Seattle with 9:29 to go.
Rob Weintraub: Crazy throwback bomb touchdown to Richardson that results in a long on-field rasslin' match for the ball. They give it to the offense!
Rivers McCown: Seattle runs a brilliant trick play where J.D. McKissic throws backwards to Russell Wilson, who hits Paul Richardson deep. Richardson and Landon Collins have a scrum for the ball, referees have no idea what to do and eventually call it a touchdown. That felt a lot like the old replacement refs Hail Mary that Seahawks fans are familiar with.
Bryan Knowles: Seattle's second touchdown comes on a simultaneous possession call; Paul Richardson and Landon Collins come down with the ball at roughly the same time, and tie goes to the receiver. Twitter's going crazy calling it "Fail Mary redux," which annoys me -- it was "Fail Mary" because of the replacement referees' confusion, as opposed to the catch itself. This was just a good contested catch!
The play design was neat, too -- an unorthodox flea-flicker, with the Seahawks running a pitch to J.D. McKissic, McKissic throwing back across the field to Wilson, and Wilson hitting Richardson in the end zone. Flea flickers are usually an underhanded toss back, so it's always nice to see something a little more energetic. A bit of the ol' razzle-dazzle.
Vince Verhei: Seattle ices this thing with a 12-play, 50-yard touchdown drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. Graham finished things with a 1-yard touchdown catch. Things really turned around in the second half as Seattle's receivers repeatedly smoked the Giants secondary -- in addition to all the yards and touchdowns they actually amassed, Baldwin split Apple and Collins on zone coverage for what should have been a 60-some-yard touchdown, but Wilson badly overthrew him. Even without that play, he still leads the team with nine catches for 92 yards and a score, and also ran down Collins to make a tackle and prevent a defensive score on the Rawls fumble in the first half. Giants ended up scoring anyway, but at least Baldwin gave the defense a chance at the shutout.
Carl Yedor: Not a whole lot to say here that hasn't already been covered. Evan Engram has been impressive today, which harkens back to when the Seahawks struggled to defend tight ends circa 2014 and 2015. Engram has been far and away New York's best offensive player today. Outside of him, the Seattle defense has been stellar. In spite of some early drops and a missed throw intended for Baldwin that would have been a long touchdown, Wilson goes 27-of-39 for 334 yards and three touchdowns. Seattle keeps pace with the division-leading Los Angeles Rams with a road win today.
Atlanta Falcons 7 at New England Patriots 23
Charles McDonald: Falcons and Patriots taking turns shooting themselves in the foot, much like the rest of their seasons. Sloppy game through half a quarter.
Aaron Schatz: There was an amazing Rob Gronkowski diving catch deep down the field, called back by an OPI call. And on replay ... Yeah, he sort of does push off the defender. But that is some ticky-tack small potatoes. We'll see if they call the whole game that close, but next time Gronk should try not ruining an awesome catch with an unnecessary slight push of the defender earlier in the route.
The Patriots have Johnson Bademosi, mostly a special-teamer, covering Julio Jones. It feels like this can't end well. I keep looking at the safeties to try to figure out if this is their usual "best cornerback on the No. 2 receiver, other cornerback on the No. 1 receiver with help" strategy. Because otherwise ... egads.
Well, Steve Sarkisian called a pitch play on third-and-4 which looked like a strange play call and actually lost 3 yards ... but then the Falcons went for it on fourth-and-7. I guess you don't call a run on that third-and-4 unless you are planning to go for it on fourth, and you go for it on fourth whether you gain or lose yardage on the third down. And it worked! Cassius Marsh lost contain on Matt Ryan and Matt Ryan (!) scrambled 9 yards for a first down.
It ends up in a field goal attempt, blocked by Marsh. So I guess he made up for that lost contain.
Scott Kacsmar: I was looking for offensive plays on fourth-and-7 or longer in the first quarter, ball at the opponent 40 or worse. Last one I could find was Tennessee's Kerry Collins converting a fourth-and-8 against the 2010 Texans. Since then, there were fourth-and-5 attempts by the Texans (Ryan Mallett threw short in 2015) and Drew Brees in 2015 (conversion to Brandin Cooks), so it's very rare for an offense to actually do what Atlanta did. I liked that move, but Atlanta couldn't pay it off after a blocked field goal.
Carl Yedor: I'd like to see what the breakeven point for going for it on fourth down there was for Atlanta. I think Brian Burke had a fourth-down calculator available online at one point but I haven't been able to find it quickly right now. Didn't result in any points because of Marsh's field goal block, but I honestly can't remember another time this early in a game where an NFL coach went for it on fourth-and-7 from midfield. This sort of thing happens a lot more frequently at the high school level, but then again, we're talking about high school.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots have switched up the coverage on Julio Jones as the game has moved along. A lot of Bademosi, but some Malcolm Butler, some Patrick Chung, some zone coverages where he's got a linebacker on him from the start. They just had Butler on him on a fourth-and-6 from the Patriots 47 with 2:00 left. Ended up with miscommunication and Ryan overthrew Mohamed Sanu. When are the Falcons going to start sending out the running backs on pass routes? That killed the Patriots in Super Bowl LI and also has hurt the Patriots all throughout the early 2017 season.
Scott Kacsmar: This one snowballed ever since the interception was negated by a roughing the passer penalty that the Falcons just didn't need to do. They did it last week against Jay Cutler, and they also had a pick taken away by penalty at the end of the Detroit game. Throw in four tipped picks for Ryan on the other side of the ball, and the Falcons are just having an awful season when it comes to interceptions. But I'm not sure what the plan is tonight. They're feeding Mohamed Sanu eight targets in that half while Jones had two catches. That's four quarters without a point for the Falcons, and a 48-0 scoring run allowed to the Patriots. I really don't see a competitive second half on the way here.
Carl Yedor: Following up from earlier:
— Brian Burke (@bburkeESPN) October 23, 2017
Aaron Schatz: The Falcons finally moved the ball well on the first drive of the second half, and then when they get down to the red zone, Ryan just overthrew his guys twice. He had Julio Jones in the corner space of Cover-2 and then Mohamed Sanu had a step or two on Devin McCourty in man coverage. Both would have been touchdowns. Was it the fog? Doesn't seem like it. Oh, and Matt Bryant doinked the field goal try. This is not a happy night for the Falcons so far.
Update: It is now middle of the fourth quarter. The Falcons ran a jet sweep on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and it got murdered with Kyle Van Noy flying through the line. Or at least that's what I saw on TV because from the press box the game looks like this:
One last thought. I spoke to Matt Chatham at halftime, he had D.J. Shockley on his podcast to preview the game. Shockley was Ryan's backup for a couple of years, does a lot of football media down in Atlanta since he was both on the Falcons and the Bulldogs. Shockley said that before the season, Sarkisian had Matt Ryan come in and told him, look, I know you have had something like six different offensive coordinators, I don't want you to have to learn anything new at this point. And he told Ryan that he could put together a playbook with his favorite plays from all of the offensive coordinators he has played with, and that's the playbook that the Falcons are using. I think that provides some interesting insight on the stagnation of the Falcons offense. I would imagine that most of that playbook is still Shanahan stuff. But no matter whether Ryan got to pick out plays he liked or not, Sarkisian is the one calling the plays during the games each Sunday.