Audibles at the Line: Week 1
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.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 at New Orleans Saints 40
Andrew Potter: A couple of interesting lineup decisions today in New Orleans. The Saints are reportedly starting Austin Carr, a 2017 UDFA who spent last season bouncing on and off the practice squad, at slot receiver. Carr was apparently released by the Patriots after his rookie preseason because he doesn't play special teams. He is a bit of a surprise starter over draftee Tre'Quan Smith and former Bears veteran Cameron Meredith, who's inactive.
Also inactive is Ronald Jones, the Bucs' second-round pick at running back. Many people, including me, thought at the time that the pick would have been better invested elsewhere, and Jones missing out on opening day won't exactly silence those doubters. Carlton Davis starts instead of the injured Brent Grimes.
Vince Verhei: The season's not even a minute old and Alvin Kamara is picking up right where he left off, taking a quick out and breaking tackles for a 35-yard gain, most of it after the catch. Then he finishes the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run on third-and-2, driving over Tampa Bay defenders. They had Taysom Hill at quarterback with Drew Brees split wide on the play. I don't get that theory but you can't argue with the results.
Bucs respond right away when the Saints blow coverage on DeSean Jackson, who is pretty much all alone for a 58-yard touchdown.
Dave Bernreuther: That was another beautiful deep ball, this time by Ryan Fitzpatrick, leading DeSean Jackson nicely so he didn't really have to adjust his pace or wait at all. And I can't help but wonder if Jameis Winston would've made it as accurately.
Andrew Potter: Four drives, four scores in New Orleans. The Buccaneers take the lead when Ryan Fitzpatrick takes a read option (yes, really) off to the right and trucks Marcus Williams at the goal line. Highlight play on that drive was an outstanding diving catch by Chris Godwin when Fitzpatrick's throw looked just a bit too far ahead of him. The Bucs are having their way with the Saints defense right now, both on the ground and in the air.
Vince Verhei: Saints continue to use Kamara as a receiver, putting him in the slot and having him run a deep corner into the end zone, but the coverage was tight and the pass was overthrown. Saints add a field goal. And now Ryan Fitzpatrick hits Chris Godwin and Mike Evans for good gains on back-to-back throws, and then Fitzpatrick carries it in himself for six. Bucs lead 14-10. Has the Saints defense of old returned?
We have a shootout, as Brees hits Michael Thomas for 35 yards, then Ted Ginn down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown. Saints lead 17-14. This game is one quarter and one play old and we already have 341 total yards of offense between the two teams.
Andrew Potter: Surprisingly, the Saints offense is the first to stall out after an all-out blitz takes Drew Brees down on third down on the offense's fourth drive.
The Buccaneers' fourth drive ends in their fourth score, this time a pass to Chris Godwin. Tampa Bay's receivers are running rings around the Saints coverage, particularly the linebackers and safeties. Both Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell are having difficult afternoons, and Demario Davis is yet another Saints linebacker who is fine as a run stuffer but cannot cover a tight end of the calibre of O.J. Howard or Cameron Brate.
Saints' fifth drive also ends in points ... for the Buccaneers. Mike Gillislee shows exactly why Bill Belichick let him go, fumbling on his debut, and Justin Evans scoops and scores. Saints are suddenly in dire trouble at home in the opening 30 minutes of the season.
Vince Verhei: This game is now out of control. In the time it took me to stop and eat breakfast, the Bucs added a field goal, a Fitzpatrick-to-Godwin 9-yard touchdown, and now a defensive score when Vernon Hargreaves forces a Mike Gillislee fumble and Justin Evans gets the scoop-and-score. It's 31-17 Tampa Bay. Fitzpatrick has 200 yards and two touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, and has also run for 16 yards and a score.
Saints get a Brees-to-Thomas touchdown to make it 31-24 Tampa Bay at halftime. Brees also has 200-plus yards and two scores. Alvin Kamara has 114 yards from scrimmage and a score. All told, seven different players in this game have at least 40 yards receiving. Again: it's halftime.
Dave Bernreuther: The Saints just committed three personal fouls on two plays. One undefined and declined one, and two roughing the passer calls, both of which were for completely safe and normal hits on Fitzpatrick. This landing on the quarterback point of emphasis is a joke. And on the second call, that's not even what happened. He hit and wrapped from the side.
The play itself was a deep strike to Mike Evans on a great throw by Fitz with pressure in his face. This game is absolutely nuts. I had the Bucs as the NFC's clear worst team and here they are dropping six scores (a field goal in this case, as somehow the Saints defense quickly held) on a playoff team with their backup quarterback.
Andrew Potter: The Buccaneers always had too much receiving talent to be truly bad, but Fitzpatrick has looked very good, and extremely comfortable in this offense. Dirk Koetter handed play calling to his offensive coordinator Todd Monken in preseason, and stuck with that into the regular season. It has worked very, very well. Mismatches all over the place, an offensive line that looks better than it has in years, and a quarterback who is experienced enough to take advantage of those mismatches without having to do anything spectacular. Time will tell whether this is just a Week 1 fluke, but they are making the Saints defense look very bad, and doing so in a variety of different ways.
Buccaneers finally punt midway through the third quarter, but only because Ryan Fitzpatrick overthrew Chris Godwin deep down the right sideline on third-and-1. The Saints had a big blitz called, but the Buccaneers line stoned it. Ken Crawley fell down in the middle of the route, so a better throw there finds Godwin uncovered with only grass in front of him. Looked like a couple of the shorter options were open too, but can't fault the decision to go for it all in that circumstance.
Mike Evans just ROASTED Marshon Lattimore deep right, and another Saints blitz gives up the deep ball. This time, Fitzpatrick's throw is perfect. Deep accuracy has always been Jameis Winston's weakness; Fitzpatrick has been on the money more often than not today. Buccaneers are just seven points shy of tying their franchise record (I think, need to check that), with over a quarter of the game to go.
Vince Verhei: Mike Evans burns Marshon Lattimore for a 50-yard touchdown. Lattimore is left on his belly on the turf, face buried in his palm. Bucs lead 41-24. Fitzpatrick now up to 335 yards and three scores late in the third. His career highs are 402 yards and, believe it or not, six touchdowns, with Houston against Tennessee in 2014.
Andrew Potter: And now Ken Crawley just got torched by DeSean Jackson, with yet another roughing the passer flag for good measure. Look, I get that defense can't always dictate matchups, but Ken Crawley versus DeSean Jackson with no safety help in the middle of the field is absolutely a recipe for disaster. It's an obvious speed mismatch, every time. 48-24, and Saints fans are now left hoping and pleading for this to be a Week 1 aberration rather than a sign of things to come.
Aaron Schatz: Ryan Fitzpatrick had 17.3% passing DVOA in three starts last year. This is now four games of evidence that he's pretty good in the Bucs offense. I'm as surprised as you are.
Vince Verhei: Remember the 2015 Saints defense, the worst defensive DVOA team of all time? The most points they gave up in a game was 49.
Update: here are the passing stats for QBs against the Saints in each of the last week 1 games since 2010. New Orleans week 1 defense turns every QB into a better version of Brady 2007. pic.twitter.com/oyCWXTzW2V
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) September 9, 2018
Jacksonville Jaguars 20 at New York Giants 15
Dave Bernreuther: I have been as critical of Blake Bortles as anyone (everyone), so it's only fair to point out that he started 2018 with a real bang; just a beautiful throw to Keelan Cole, who just ran straight past Janoris Jackson down the left side for a big gain. A real dime. Leonard Fournette follows with an easy 15-yard run and the Jaguars (who just look SO MUCH BETTER this year ... in the new uniforms, that is) are in scoring range already.
OK, so with that out of the way, Bortles underthrew one that Janoris Jenkins made up for with an incredible sideline straddling interception, and we can all go back to making fun of him.
The Giants were limited to a field goal to tie, though, after running two curiously slow-developing plays to get Odell Beckham the ball in space behind the line of scrimmage. One should've gained a short first down if not for Eli Manning taking forever to get him the ball; the other was sniffed out easily and lost yards. I know the Jags have a scary defense, and we all know (and have been reminded already today) that New York's pass pro, especially Ereck Flowers, is not great ... but man, throw a third-down pass to the end zone maybe. Are they really that scared of Jalen Ramsey?
On another note, I saw a guy in Barcelona earlier today was proudly sporting a Jags Keenan McCardell jersey. That is not something I expected to see. But it makes me think that maybe Shad Khan is on to something with his commitment to playing a game in London annually, as he was decidedly not American.
Bryan Knowles: Second-Overall Pick Watch. Saquon Barkley has six rushes for 12 yards. He's being hit in the backfield on essentially every play. It doesn't matter how good your running back is if you can't block for him, and the Giants O-line is looking ... rather horrendous. Every time I flip over, they're either blowing a block or holding.
Bryan Knowles: The Jags offense hasn't been able to do anything, so the defense comes and bails 'em out. Ereck Flowers, who is having a game to forget, gets mauled by Yannick Ngakoue, forcing Eli to step up. His pass is tipped right into Myles Jack's hands, touchdown, 20-9 Jaguars.
Dave Bernreuther: This was one hell of a reverse jinx. As I read it, Barkley breaks a huge run around right end off for a long touchdown to take that lead away from Bortles.
Things would be looking great for the Giants right now if not for the pick six ...
Houston Texans 20 at New England Patriots 27
Dave Bernreuther: Fumbling the ball back to New England on the game's first play is not exactly a recipe for success. Especially when you can cover Gronk perfectly and he can still do THAT. 7-0 Pats.
Aaron Schatz: One quarter down in Foxborough and the score is 7-3 Patriots, with each team being gifted a red zone opportunity by a turnover. First a botched handoff between Deshaun Watson and Lamar Miller. That led to a back-shoulder fade touchdown to Gronk over linebacker Zach Cunningham. The Patriots are clearly targeting Cunningham when they're on offense; before the Gronk touchdown there was a should-have-been touchdown to Rex Burkhead on a wheel route covered by Cunningham which Tom Brady overthrew. The Patriots' turnover was a tipped pass that the Texans caught on the Patriots 17. That led to the fun announcement that the Texans had a drive of four plays, minus-7 yards, and it ended with a score! The Texans offensive line looks really bad today. They were starting ex-Buffalo Bills right tackle Seantrel Henderson at right tackle and he's gone out with what's apparently an ankle injury, so now I guess it's Kendall Lamm. Martinas Rankin, the third-round rookie, didn't get enough time in preseason so I guess he's not ready yet. Anyway, the Patriots are getting a ton of pressure.
Dave Bernreuther: Rob Gronkowski has been wearing two defenders every time Red Zone has switched over to this game. And I do mean wearing. And he just "caught" a deep throw over the middle anyway. That was just absurd...
Even though it was pretty clearly not a catch. And the fact that they didn't booth review that one inside of a minute to play is kind of appalling, because it led directly to points for New England.
From what I've seen, the Pats' offensive line has done an excellent job handling the scary trio of Houston pass rushers. Loads of time to throw on that quick scoring drive.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots will go to the half up 21-6 on the Texans. Texans moved around their offensive line in the second half, with the rookie Rankin coming in to play left tackle and Julie'n Davenport moving over to the right tackle spot. They're getting better run blocking, but the pass blocking still leaves something to be desired.
I've been watching a lot of J.J. Watt and Marcus Cannon. There have been some double-teams, and some chipping, and some running plays away from that side, but overall I think Cannon deserves credit for keeping Watt from making plays today. They also had Watt moved to the other side some in the first quarter but haven't seemed to do that in the second quarter.
Friends in the Patriots media such as Christopher Price were telling me in the preseason that Phillip Dorsett was the guy, that Brady trusted him and that he was going to win out over Kenny Britt and Jordan Matthews, et al. Dorsett has four catches on four targets for 40 yards in the first half and his first Patriots touchdown.
Also, yes, the replay people have to be quicker on the buzzer with a play in the final two minutes like that Gronk catch. I have no idea if he caught it or not, but that stuff has to be reviewed within two minutes.
Let the record state that with third-and-7 on the Texans 20 with 6:10 left in the third quarter, the Texans pass rush finally gets to Tom Brady for the first time all game. J.J. Watt! I mean, they've barely breathed on him before this. Jadeveon Clowney has been completely shut down. Whitney Mercilus too. A lot of quick passing so that these guys can't even get the time to get to Brady.
Dave Bernreuther: Just when I was expecting to have to lament the fact that another team was trying to win in Foxboro by matching touchdowns with field goals, Bill O'Brien correctly chose to go for a fourth-and-5 ... and Watson threw his second consecutive just plain awful ball into the end zone. Tony Romo was beside himself, having correctly identified where the ball should have gone. You could hear him sigh and shake his head with disgust.
Aaron Schatz: The Houston fourth-and-5 that Watson missed looked like a miscommunication between Ryan Griffin and Watson. Second straight miscommunication by those two.
Bryan Knowles: Tony Romo is going apoplectic in the booth at the Texans' play calling in the red zone. He's not alone.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots gift the Texans another drive that starts inside the red zone, thanks to a Riley McCarron muffed punt return. The ensuing drive involved five plays but also two holding penalties on Pats cornerback Stephon Gilmore and a false start on Houston as the ball and "momentum" went back and forth. Eventually, Watson found Bruce Ellington in the end zone so the Pats will now have the ball with a 27-20 lead, but there's 2:08 left and the Texans have all three timeouts.
By the way, Watson is running around and scrambling fine, doesn't look like there's any real tentativeness on that based on the ACL injury. If anything he's been tentative throwing the ball, not running with it.
Vince Verhei: I was going nuts when the Texans punted on fourth-and-8, down two scores, at midfield with four minutes and change to go. That's waving the white flag in a game that's not over yet. But they got bailed out when the Patriots fumbled the punt, and here we are.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots got one first down on their final drive, then worked the clock down under a minute and downed the punt at the 1. Houston moved the ball a bit with a helmet-hit penalty on Duron Harmon and a catch by DeAndre Hopkins, but it all ended in a Hail Mary try that didn't even make it to the end zone. Pats win 27-20.
A couple takeaways: Texans have to look at the play calling and figure out why they were moving the ball so much better in the second half. Patriots should feel good about their pass protection, because even though Watt was getting through a bit more in the second half, they kept Tom Brady mostly clean with Clowney and Mercilus as non-factors.
Rivers McCown: O'Brien has to get out of his own way. His over-cuteness is a major problem for the offense, and one that showed early as the Pats loaded up the seams and dared them to run in good looks and Houston simply wouldn't do it. Watson looked scattershot as well. I expected some of his bad passes last year to make splash plays for defenses this year, and I'm not overly concerned because New England with an offseason to prepare for you is not, say, the Browns or Titans of 2017. I thought the rhythm of the offense was more of a problem. The Pats also got a ton of pressure on him without having to commit much in pass rush.
Houston's defense actually kinda impressed me. Cunningham had issues. Kevin Johnson was picked on often. But other than that, you come to Foxboro and allow less than 30 with a short field and no pass rush in the first half? I'd take that any day of the week. Kareem Jackson had a nice early conversion to safety box score with two forced fumbles. Gronkowski is a problem for 31 other teams and I thought New England did some pretty cool things with Cordarrelle Patterson.
Buffalo Bills 3 at Baltimore Ravens 47
Vince Verhei: As if Nathan Peterman and the Bills offense against the Baltimore defense wasn't already a mismatch, it's also windy and rainy in Buffalo. They can't even keep the main camera lens clear. This could be fun.
First drive, Ravens have already had Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on the field at the same time. Jackson was just a decoy, going in motion behind the play as Flacco handed off, but it shows they're at least trying to advantage of his skills and not just telling him to sit on the bench and watch. Later on the opening drive Jackson had a run for no gain out of a full house formation on first-and-5. But the Ravens overcame it, and Alex Collins finished the drive with a short touchdown run.
Your first drive of the Peterman era: LeSean McCoy run for loss of 1, throwaway that was close to intentional grounding, sack for loss of 3. And so Jon Ryan ... wait, Jon Ryan got cut? The Bills have a punter named ... Corey Bojorquez? Really?
Aaron Schatz: Bojorquez was in camp with the Patriots and the Bills signed him after final cuts and cut Ryan. As the punters turn, I guess.
Vince Verhei: Buffalo's defensive front has played well today, holding the Ravens to 12 yards on ten carries and with multiple sacks and pressures in the passing game. Tremaine Edmunds then forces a Collins fumble, recovered by the Bills to set the offense up in Baltimore territory. A Ravens penalty makes it first-and-5 at the 30. The offense then goes incomplete pass to Kelvin Benjamin, McCoy run for 1, Terrell Suggs sack, and Stephen Hauschka misses a 52-yard field goal in the rain. It's still 17-0 Baltimore. In five drives, the Bills are still looking for their first first down. They have 13 yards of offense; the Ravens have 54 yards on punt returns. It's not going well.
Third down, Ravens blitz. It's picked up and Peterman has plenty of time to throw. With all that single coverage, he still manages to throw a pass 6 feet over Kelvin Benjamin's head (I'm not sure I could do that if I tried) and Tony Jefferson has an easy interception. Ravens fail to move the ball but Justin Tucker still hits from 39 to put Baltimore up 20-0.
Dave Bernreuther: He learned that one from Josh Allen, Vince.
Aaron Schatz: You know, last year we made a big deal about how the Patriots were projected compared to our highest projections in the past but I never went and looked at how the Bills were projected compared to our lowest projections of the past. If anyone has all their FOAs around and wants to check that ... the Bills are projected pretty damn low considering the inherent conservativism of our projection system.
Vince Verhei: Joe Flacco has had his ups and downs today, but right at the end of the half he drops a sweet throw in the bucket for a Michael Crabtree touchdown in the back of the end zone. They go for two and a four-touchdown lead but don't get it, and they have to settle for a 26-0 lead. They've continued to sprinkle Jackson in for cameo appearances but it hasn't worked yet. His best play was when he lined up at wide receiver and came across the formation from right to left. Flacco gave him the ball to pass, but Jackson had a wall of Bills in his face. Most players would have been sacked. Jackson was athletic enough to slam on the brakes and cut back the the other way and throw the ball away.
Bills get the ball back with time for one play in a game that is already over. Peterman dumps it off for a gain of seven, the clock hits zeroes, and we go to halftime with Buffalo still seeking its first first down.
LeSean McCoy finally gets Buffalo a first down on his own, getting shut down in the backfield for what should have been a loss, but cutting back the other way for a 12-yard gain, Buffalo's longest play of the day. Of course they go three-and-out after that. And then Bojorquez drops the snap on fourth down. He bends over to pick up the ball, and stands up with the ball still on the ground. Eventually Ravens charge and recover. I watched Jon Ryan's entire career and it wasn't all wine and roses but he didn't do anything THAT funny. Did we mention that Bojorquez never punted in an NFL game before today, not even in the preseason? Seems relevant. (And yes, it's still rainy as hell out there.)
Bryan Knowles: And we have a Josh Allen sighting, less than one game into the season.
Vince Verhei: (I've watched almost every snap of this game and only just realized it was in Baltimore. Stupid white jerseys at home.)
Peterman with another interception, but this one's on Kelvin Benjamin, who quit on a curl route and let Brandon Carr outmuscle him for the ball. That's inexcusable for a wideout of Benjamin's size. Carr returns the pick to the goal line and Buck Allen carries it in for the score, and it's 40-0 early in the third. Ravens record for points in a game is 55 set in 2012. Bills record for points allowed is 58 -- also by Baltimore, though it was the Colts in 1976.
Allen comes in and gets a field goal against the Ravens' backups in a drive filled with pushing and shoving and personal fouls against both teams. I'm amused that the Bills didn't like Tyrod Taylor because he was a scrambler who took too many sacks, and on that drive Allen ran three times for 28 yards but was also sacked three times.
Game ends 47-3 as neither of the rookie quarterbacks does much of anything. Jackson finished 1-of-4, Allen 6-of-15. It must be said that Allen was the victim of several drops by his receivers, which brings me to a key point: this Buffalo offense is just rotten from top to bottom. The receivers can't get open or catch. The offensive line gave up six sacks and had a ton of penalties. This unit has LeSean McCoy and Josh Allen scrambles and that is all.
San Francisco 49ers 16 at Minnesota Vikings 24
Bryan Knowles: Welcome back, Dalvin Cook. He's shown no problems related to that season-ending ACL from a year ago. On the first series alone, he had three carries and two receptions. The carries ended up going nowhere, but the receptions earned 21 yards before the drive puttered out. He's such a weapon in space; it's great to see him back to full health.
49ers fans are seeing first-hand the difference between a potential playoff contender and an expected playoff contender. They haven't been able to get out of their own half of the field all day, and Kirk Cousins is beginning to deal. His touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs was perfect, as Diggs managed to get good positioning on Ahkello Witherspoon. Diggs has looked good all day, as neither Witherspoon nor Richard Sherman seem able to slow him down just yet. 10-0 Vikings.
And, of course, Marquise Goodwin is down on the field now, which should help with the 49ers' offense.
Dalvin Cook continues to run wild against the 49ers -- maybe a bit too wild. After breaking through about three tackles, Cook skips into the open field, but rookie Fred Warner chases him down from behind and pops the ball out. Fumble, 49ers ball. The 49ers do nothing with the bounty, but at least they stopped what was looking like a sure touchdown.
10-3 at the half. It could easily have been 17-3 ... or 10-10. A pair of fumbles is the difference.
The 49ers' offense woke up a little bit after the Dalvin Cook fumble -- he would have gone the distance if he hadn't been caught from behind. They put together a 14-play, 69-yard drive to get the ball down to the 5-yard line, after which they had five plays: Alfred Morris stuffed, Alfred Morris stuffed, Jimmy Garoppolo sacked (negated by defensive holding), Alfred Morris stuffed, Alfred Morris stuffed and fumbles, Vikings ball. Maybe don't run Morris into the line over and over and over and over?
The Vikings are looking good, regularly moving the ball, but you feel like they left some points on the board. It's not just the Cook fumble; they had a two-minute drive going that ended up running out of time after bad clock management. Too many passes thrown into the middle of the field, too much time getting everyone back to the line. It feels like the Vikings should be leading by more, and we'll see if that comes back to haunt them.
Vince Verhei: Just saw a replay of that Cousins-to-Diggs touchdown. My God what a beautiful throw. I've always thought Cousins was a pretty mediocre quarterback overall who once or twice per game would take your breath away (sometimes for bad reasons). If he can make throws like that routine ... well, that's why they gave him $84 million.
Dave Bernreuther: 100 percent agree, Vince. That was the third or fourth beautiful throw I've seen this half on Red Zone. I'm really (overly) critical of quarterback play -- and Cousins -- too and I don't say that often, but maybe it's just the sea air or something ... I'm finding a lot of good so far today.
Bryan Knowles: I can confirm it's not just the Red Zone plays. Cousins is looking worth every penny of his massive deal so far. He's also made a couple big plays with his legs to convert third downs. It's only two and a half quarters, but it looks like Minnesota made the right choice at quarterback.
Jimmy G has been up and down. He had a deep ball that ended up just a hair out of the reach of George Kittle -- should have been a 40-yard gain. On the very next play, he throws an ugly pass right to Vikings rookie Mike Hughes, returned for a touchdown. Garoppolo had another touchdown pass (this one to his own team) dropped. It's 17-6 midway through the third quarter, and the Vikings defense has just kept the 49ers out of sync all day long.
Derrik Klassen: Kyle Shanahan is working his magic to get people open as well as ever, but this 49ers offense still does not look like it has the horses. Alfred Morris fumbled twice inside the five, George Kittle dropped a free pass down the field, and the wide receivers are nonexistent (three catches for 27 yards on 10 targets). Despite the pick-six, Jimmy Garoppolo has done a good job of giving guys chances to make a play. Someone has to step up now and in the future if this 49ers offense wants to be able to contend against top tier defenses like Minnesota's.
Bryan Knowles: Everything Kirk Cousins is doing is working. 20-for-28 for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one just now to Kyle Rudolph where Jaquiski Tartt never turned his head. It's 24-6, and I think we can call this one more or less over. The 49ers aren't a million miles away from being good, but the Vikings are already there. Consider the gauntlet thrown down in what should be an entertaining NFC North race this season; up to the Packers to respond tonight.
Derrik Klassen: Well, there it is! A wide receiver stepped up! After getting sacked on first down, Jimmy Garoppolo was pressured once again and forced to scramble on second down. The play looked doomed, but rookie Dante Pettis found a sliver of open field in the back corner of the end zone and hauled in a touchdown throw from Garoppolo with a fingertip catch. Those are the type of plays this young wide receiving group needs to make in order to help out Garoppolo.
Bryan Knowles: I thought Pettis was a reach in the draft, but he's looked sharp in preseason. It'll be interesting to see what this 49ers' receiving corps looks like by the end of the year -- it's possible Garcon gets replaced by young players like Taylor and Pettis by the time all is said and done.
Derrik Klassen: I don't even have a guess as to what Jimmy Garoppolo thought he saw on that game-ending interception. Minnesota's offense crumbled the entire fourth quarter and gave San Francisco every opportunity to get back in the game, and Garoppolo just tossed the game away to Harrison Smith. Granted, Smith does have a knack for flying in out of nowhere to make a play, but as a quarterback, you can not leave the ball up in the middle of the field for him to do that.
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Cleveland Browns 21 (OT)
Scott Kacsmar: James Conner looks like the best player on the Steelers' offense so far. Ben Roethlisberger had a few ugly misses, but then a perfect floater to 2017 DVOA leader JuJu Smith-Schuster. That continued a pass-heavy approach on the drive, but Roethlisberger was late and forced a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Denzel Ward. Good debut quarter for the first-round rookie. On the other side, Tyrod Taylor looks a bit indecisive so far and way off on his passes when he does get rid of the ball. But Josh Gordon is only checking into the game now with just over five minutes left in the first quarter.
Bryan Knowles: The Steelers finally get something going, with Roethlisberger finally hitting JuJu for a big gain after floating some ugly-looking wobblers earlier. On the very next snap, however, Roethlisberger forces the ball into coverage, and Denzel Ward makes a great diving catch to snuff out a scoring drive. Still 0-0, which is a lot better than Cleveland's had in recent years.
Hey, Antonio Brown finally arrived! The Browns couldn't stop Brown last year, as he caught all 11 targets against them. Brown finally snagged his third target for about 3 yards. Baby steps, I suppose.
Scott Kacsmar: Good example of the "new rules will increase scoring by extending drives that would have been over in the past" prediction. Roethlisberger tried to scramble to make something happen and threw the ball away through the end zone, but instead of a field goal try, the Steelers had a first down thanks to roughing the passer on Myles Garrett. It was the new call about landing with your weight on the quarterback. It wasn't a dirty hit, but that's what they're flagging now, and it led to an extra four points for the Steelers. Conner walked in a touchdown that any back in the league would have scored.
Bryan Knowles: The offensive line seemed oddly excited about that "touchdown any back in the league would have scored." The level of animosity between the O-Line and Bell is a little stunning to me.
Dave Bernreuther: Myles Garrett finally got his wish to hit Ben Roethlisberger ... and was flagged for a personal foul. I'd need to see it again in real time before I really complained, but that seemed like it might have been kind of iffy to me. On the very next play, Conner scored one of the easiest touchdowns you'll ever see.
Scott Kacsmar: Cleveland's most interesting drive of the day still ended in a punt, but not before Jarvis Landry actually caught a deep ball by beating Joe Haden on a double move. Not to get off brand, but the Browns made sure to get Landry a shovel pass on third-and-6 that killed the drive. Gordon was also flagged for unnecessary roughness on the play, taking the Browns further out of field goal range. I don't think the penalty was warranted at all. Looked closer to a flop than anything dirty.
Dave Bernreuther: Why smart writers, even in statistics-focused media, watch tape instead of just looking at stats: Tyrod Taylor just threw one of the worst deep balls you'll ever see. It just flat out died mid-air -- is it windy there? -- but Jarvis Landry somehow slowed up and ducked underneath the defender to make a ridiculous backwards shoestring catch, and the Browns pick up a big gain.
All of which I mention because for the most part, as FO alum Cian Fahey has often pointed out, Tyrod Taylor throws a beautiful deep ball, and barely gets any credit at all for it. And this throw was the exact opposite.
Bryan Knowles: Make it three first-half interceptions for Ben Roethlisberger. One thrown into triple coverage, one an arm-punt that was miles away from any Pittsburgh receiver, and a third that bounces right off of Jesse James' hands. That last one wasn't his fault, but oof. Not a great way to start the season for him.
Scott Kacsmar: Browns tied the game after finding rushing lanes for the first time all day. Taylor with a good scramble play to get the touchdown. That may have had Cleveland believing again, but the Steelers came back quickly with a big YAC play by JuJu. Two penalties on the offensive line actually wiped out two touchdowns in the red zone, and things were moving backwards with a second-and-22. But even though Roethlisberger and Brown have been off today, they delivered a beauty with a touchdown against single coverage.
The Cleveland passing game has been pretty putrid today, but at least Landry caught another deep ball on a blown coverage. If it was a better throw, then it may have gone for a score. Meanwhile, Conner looks great, which really shouldn't come as a surprise. He's had some huge holes, but he's also made a few good runs. He looks quick, and has caught a few balls. Bell may be back sooner than he wants to be.
Also, I'll add that Bruce Arians is making his booth debut today for CBS and I think he's doing a nice job. Trent Green plays it too safe for me, but Arians provides some good balance for keeping it real.
Aaron Schatz: They ran a quarterback sneak with Ben Roethlisberger! Finally! What is that, the first one in two years?
Bryan Knowles: Cleveland is currently +5 in the turnover column, and they're still losing. The last time a team lost despite being up at least five in the turnover column was 2012, when the Cardinals lost to the Falcons.
Teams are 654-30-3 when they have at least a five-turnover lead. And now Cleveland is driving...
This just in: Josh Gordon is really good. Maybe the Browns should consider using him more.
And we have a tie. Cleveland hasn't won their season opener since 2004, and they have a real shot here.
Scrap that five-turnover margin thing because, with the ball and the game tied, Taylor throws an interception down the sideline. Steelers choose just to kneel it out, and we have overtime.
Oh, how much do I want this game to end up in a tie?
The Steelers go ultra-conservative, setting up a 42-yard field goal in bad weather... and Chris Boswell hooks it. 1:43 left, tie game, Browns ball.
Cleveland goes three-and-out, but that just gives enough time for Roethlisberger to throw ANOTHER interception, but that just gives enough time for the Browns to commit a block in the back.
36 seconds left, no one is in field goal range.
And Cleveland misses the field goal! Nine seconds left, Pittsburgh ball.
This is the funniest game I have ever seen.
Scott Kacsmar: The only thing I hate more than kickers is a tie. The two tend to go hand in hand too.
Bryan Knowles: It's pronounced "Tie-Rod."
The Browns chose to spike the ball with 13 seconds left, meaning the Steelers had one shot at a Hail Mary after the missed field goal. It falls incomplete, and we have two 0-0-1 teams in the AFC North.
Do the beer fridges unlock in Cleveland? Or maybe they just, like crack open.
Derrik Klassen: Only the Browns miss that kick. ONLY the Browns.
Cincinnati Bengals 34 at Indianapolis Colts 23
Vince Verhei: In his first quarter of football since 2015, Andrew Luck scrambles, and as he goes down Shawn Williams comes in with a helmet-to-helmet shot like he was trying to ice Luck forever. Williams is quite rightfully ejected. Can we not go out of our way to hurt Luck again? Please?
Dave Bernreuther: Nothing much to say here, other than how nice it is to see Andrew Luck throwing downfield and getting his first touchdown pass since 2016. I feel like Eric Ebron is going to see the end zone a fair amount this season. I don't do fantasy (despite working in DFS), but I did drop his name to a few overly persistent advice-seekers at my dog park, so I like that that made me look smart.
Rob Weintraub: Not surprised that Williams was ejected, though there were worse hits. The roughing the passer calls on Carlos Dunlap were much softer. He made of point of "planking" and not landing with full weight, and still got called. Luck is gonna get protected, everyone gets that, but it got a little absurd. Especially as there were at least two face mask/blows to the head of Andy Dalton that were not called.
Frustrating all around.
On the other hand, Cincy talked all offseason about forcing turnovers after last year, and got two huge ones -- the game -icing strip-six by Clayton Fejedelem (who replaced Williams btw) and the early pick of Luck in the red zone by Preston Brown, who then was injured. Promising game from Joe Mixon, awful game from Bobby Hart (shocker), and more good and bad from A.J. Green, with two fumbles and a dropped touchdown, but also a diving touchdown grab.
Luck was mostly content to work crossers underneath, as Cincy took away most deep stuff by game plan. That worked fine for Luck, as he had guys open and good protection for the most part. Hard to gauge if he is still regaining strength or not given the way it played out, but he has always killed Cincy down the field and didn't do much of that today.
Cincy will have to play much better to beat the Ravens but the fact they came away with a road win despite the ups and downs has to be considered a good thing.
Tennessee Titans 20 at Miami Dolphins 27
Zach Binney: We've had some delightful aggression here from both sides: the Titans went for it on fourth-and-goal from inside the 5 but a great open-field tackle from Minkah Fitzpatrick leaves them short. The Dolphins then drove 98 yards for a touchdown. Whaddya gonna do?
Then at the 2-minute warning in the first half Miami goes for it on fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 21. They fail after Ryan Tannehill holds onto the ball a bit too long and Drake catches it out of bounds.
Frustrated by the results, Cthulu has now decided to grant us a lightning delay with sunny skies just before the half. Welcome back to South Florida, folks.
Tom Gower: Just over a minute to go in the first half, and we're in that lightning delay. The Titans moved the ball well their first two possessions but only got three points out of it. I attribute some of their struggles to the time required to adjust to the new offense, as they've been just a little bit off on a number of pass plays thus far. The defensive possession after the failed fourth-and-goal was especially exasperating as a Titans fan, featuring two offsides penalties on the first set of downs, a missed tackle short of the sticks the next set, and a further personal foul penalty.
Scott Kacsmar: If this game was cancelled, would anyone even notice?
Vince Verhei: Wait, it's halftime of the late games and Chargers-Dolphins is still delayed? They're going to finish that game tomorrow, aren't they?
Tom Gower: Titans-Dolphins has been set to resume at 6:55 p.m. Eastern after a delay that began at 4:53 p.m. Eastern. The earlier delay was nearly two hours, from 2:13 to 4:10 Eastern. I'm really wondering if DirecTV will be able to carry the rest of the game, because the standard window runs from 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Eastern.
Bryan Knowles: All the late afternoon kickoffs are final (or about to go final), and we're still playing football in Florida. Blaine Gabbert-led football, at that. Fun!
Less sarcastically, both the Dolphins and Titans have had kickoff return touchdowns today. That's the first time in a decade we've seen that, and it's just the 17th time in league history. This will be something to track as the season goes along; the new kickoff rules might mean a more open field, which could lead to longer returns. Kickoffs were brought out a lot during the preseason, but I chalked a lot of that up to returners trying to win jobs (you don't win jobs with touchbacks!). We'll have to see what effect this has as the games actually count.
Tom Gower: What a goofy way to begin a season. I don't even know what I should say about parts two and three of the game. Miami's offense sputtered in part three, with a couple three-and-outs and then a bad interception in the end zone. Mike Gesicki ain't going to win many jump-ball chances when Ryan Tannehill doesn't get the ball over the corner. Then part three, after the second delay of nearly two hours, when most of the scoring took place. Kickoff return scores are often sui generis. Miami scored field goals off short fields and a long touchdown pass. Blaine Gabbert isn't a good quarterback, which isn't a surprise if you watched him in the preseason. Or last year. Or the year before. Or pretty much any year of his career. He made some throws, but missed plenty, while Dion Lewis did his best to carry the offense without Mariota. Delanie Walker's disclocated ankle, almost certainly season-ending, is a huge bummer for the offense. We'll see about Mariota and Lewan for next week. Losing this game, a pick-'em where I leaned very slightly to Miami, isn't a huge bummer, but the injuries could be. I'll figure out all I think about this game some other day.
Kansas City Chiefs 38 at Los Angeles Chargers 28
Bryan Knowles: First touch of the season for the Chiefs is a punt return for Tyreek Hill. Just a simple 91-yard return for a touchdown, nothing out of the ordinary there. That's Hill's ninth 50-plus-yard score since the end of the 2016 season, which is nuts.
Derrik Klassen: Kansas City's new offense is as fun as we'd expected so far. Patrick Mahomes is throwing all over the yard, often off his back foot, and looking good. Tyreek Hill already has a receiving touchdown, return touchdown, and an acrobatic catch to his name and it is not even halftime yet. Andy Reid even sprinkled in a triple option play with "orbit" motion. Who knows how the defense can hold up for the remainder of this game and through the season, but this offense looks like it has the juice.
Andrew Potter: The Chiefs are so much fun to watch when their offense is firing like it was on the opening drive of the second half. Mahomes looks like he's trying to drill a hole in his receiver with every pass -- he really only has one power setting -- but he has the receivers to catch those off-target bolts. Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill in particular have made some outstanding grabs of rifled passes that weren't quite on target. Andy Reid does what Andy Reid does, and mixes in a bunch of misdirection plays, options, and finally a DeAnthony Thomas sweep that goes down as a touchdown pass for Mahomes because the toss was forward instead of backward. I don't expect this offense to be consistent, because the quarterback certainly isn't, but even on its bad days it's very unlikely to be boring.
Derrik Klassen: I know this is not technically Patrick Mahomes' first start, but it is his first as the solidified starter for this team. Mahomes looks as incredible as you could ask of a young quarterback. Not only is he doing a fine job with the simpler throws, but he's dropped a few downfield bombs on the Chargers' secondary. Mahomes is delivering on his promising talent.
Scott Kacsmar: Just when the Chargers had a chance to make this very interesting, they muffed a punt and the Chiefs are 2 yards away from another touchdown, already up 31-20. Not only did J.J. Jones muff the punt, but he recovered the ball and still fumbled again. You like to think teams can break old habits, but the Chargers of the late Norv Turner years, the Mike McCoy era, and the Anthony Lynn era so far look indistinguishable.
Give Mahomes another touchdown "pass" on a simple flip to Hill. Makes you feel like those should count as runs instead of passes.
Derrik Klassen: 100 percent agree with Scott about those "touch" passes. They should not count as passing touchdowns. I bought into the idea of not counting them as passing touchdowns when Nathan Peterman put up four touchdowns vs. Clemson in 2016, but two or three of them came off of touch/shovel passes.
Andrew Potter: Bryan and I saw some light criticism in preseason for taking the under on the Chargers due to "bad juju." That's not what I think either of us meant though. They're just a team of players who continually make fundamental errors in critical moments. Today, they've already allowed a punt return touchdown. Now, on a Dustin Colquitt punt, J.J. Jones muffs the initial catch. Instead of just getting on top of the ball, Jones attempts to pick it up and return it with a bunch of Chiefs players around him. DeAnthony Thomas knocks the ball out, long snapper James Winchester recovers, and the Chiefs have the ball at the 2-yard line. Instead of getting the ball back down 11, the next time Philip Rivers takes the field they'll be trailing by 18. It may be just perception bias, but it us seems like Chargers players continually make simple mental errors like this, going all the way back to Marlon McCree and perhaps beyond.
Bryan Knowles: To be fair, the Chargers are also cursed.
Andrew Potter: Orlando Scandrick has been picked on for two straight Chargers touchdown passes, to two different receivers. He was barely in the same zip code as either Keenan Allen or Tyrell Williams. He looks like a guy who was picked up just before the season, after being released by a team with question marks of its own in the secondary.
Seattle Seahawks 24 at Denver Broncos 27
Derrik Klassen: Earl Thomas reminding the nation early on just how special he is and how much he means to the Seahawks defense. Broncos quarterback Case Keenum tried to rifle one down the seam past Thomas, but Thomas jumped in front like he always does and picked off the pass. Would not be surprised if Thomas or someone else grabs another interception off Keenum.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks' first drive goes three-and-out. Then we get:
- Michael Dickson punts the ball 60 yards. (Yes, they're in Denver.) Adam Jones gets a good return, but a Broncos penalty negates that and puts the ball at the 10. A 70-yard field position switch. GO DICKSON.
- Thomas' interception. Case Keenum tried a seam route, but Thomas jumped the route before the ball left his hand, and the receiver never turned around.
- Next play, play-action leaves the Broncos defense completely fooled, and rookie tight end Will Dissly gets a 15-yard touchdown catch. 7-0 Seahawks.
So remember our Royce Freeman-Devontae Booker debate in the Denver backfield? Forget that -- it's undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay with the 29-yard touchdown catch, wide open on the flat route. Looked like Shaquem Griffin was out of position in coverage. Griffin has also missed some tackles. There's a reason most linebackers have two hands.
Dickson's second punt goes 59 yards and pins Denver at the 2. Dude's gonna win MVP.
Russell Wilson finds Dissly again, this time on a short post that doesn't look like much, but then Dissly breaks two tackles, and then two more, and next thing you know it's a 66-yard gain. Drive stalls there but Seattle kicks a field goal to go up 10-7.
Derrik Klassen: Case Keenum has gotten his act together since the Earl Thomas interception. He's found Emmanuel Sanders at every opportunity and done a good job of making the throws available to him. To be fair, Keenum has been relatively clean in the pocket, but hard to knock him down for making use of a good situation thus far.
Vince Verhei: Bad day for Tre Flowers, the fifth-round rookie corner who is starting at corner for Seattle. He has been beaten regularly by Emanuel Sanders, who already has seven catches for 100-plus yards and a long touchdown on a deep cross, running all the way across the field. Now Sanders beats him on a deep stop-and-go, and Flowers is hurt making the tackle and has to leave. Akeem King, who was signed off the practice squad yesterday, is now at cornerback, at least until halftime. Fortunately for Seattle Bradley McDougald jumped a slant route to intercept the ball, and that took us into halftime. Broncos lead 17-10, in part because Brandon McManus made a long field goal and Sebastian Janikowski missed one.
Seahawks are lucky they have Dissly, because their wide receivers have been hammered -- a combined one catch for 2 yards in five targets. That's not including a sixth throw when a touchdown to Brandon Marshall was negated by Marshall's offensive pass interference penalty. (The fact Seattle's offense and Denver's defense both have dudes named Brandon Marshall has led to some comedy with the announcers.) And the pass protection has been, well, Seattle-riffic. The Broncos have 4.0 sacks; Von Miller has two, and a forced fumble.
In short, the Seahawks still look like the Seahawks. They can't get anybody open or block anyone, but they somehow make just enough big plays on both sides of the ball to somehow keep the score close even though it feels like they have been badly outplayed. (Denver leads in first downs, 14 to six.)
Michael Dickson's first punt of the second half goes 69 yards and out of bounds at the 6. He's averaging 58.5 yards per punt, with two of four inside the 20.
Tre Flowers is back for Seattle and helps the defense force a punt, but then Von Miller, who is Superman today, just yanks the ball right out of Chris Carson's hands. But then very next snap, McDougald gets his second interception, jumping in front of a deep pass to Sanders, and then a big return to set Seattle up back in Denver territory. Between the picks and the punts, Seattle must be crushing Denver in field position today.
Derrik Klassen: Good ol' regression is back to haunt Case Keenum. After an overly successful first half, Keenum came out firing in the second half ... with two interceptions, both to Bradley McDougald. Keenum must have money on Seahawks +3.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks make the interception pay off with a game-tying touchdown on a Wilson scramble and route down the sideline by their Brandon Marshall. Dissly had actually been open down the sideline for a score earlier, but Wilson missed him. That wasn't Wilson's first bad throw of the day -- he also missed a wide-open Nick Vannett on a third-and-1 -- but he's still finding ways to make plays with a depleted receiving corps. Doug Baldwin is out for the game with a right knee injury, which is different than the left knee injury that kept him out for the entire preseason.
Shaquem Griffin, by the way, has been benched for Austin Calitro.
Wilson finally makes his first big mistake of the day, as he fails to get the ball over the shallow defender on a pass to Marshall, and Justin Simmons gets the interception. Broncos offense can't gain a yard from there, but McManus adds another field goal to put Denver up 20-17.
Derrik Klassen: And with that touchdown pass from Russell Wilson, the Seahawks go up 24-20 with most of the fourth quarter to go. Denver had control of this game early, but when your own quarterback keeps coughing up the ball and your secondary starts to fall apart, a quarterback like Wilson will take advantage. Still plenty of ball game left, but it feels like the Seahawks are asserting themselves in the driver's seat in this one.
Vince Verhei: I haven't mentioned how surprisingly pass-heavy the Seahawks offense has been today. Counting sacks and scrambles, their pass plays outnumber their runs by more than 2-to-1. Their drive after the field goal included one handoff in seven snaps (including one play wiped out by penalty). The last of those passes was a deep-drop play-action, and it left Tyler Lockett running wide open deep in the backfield, and Wilson hit him for an easy 51-yard touchdown to go back up top 24-20.
And there's Denver back on top on a long drive when Demaryius Thomas is just barely able to keep his toes on the ground before catching the ball in the end zone. Shaquem Griffin returned to the field on that drive ... and gave up a long reception to Jake Butt. Don't think another hand would have helped there. Not a good debut for the rookie.
Seattle's last two drives both ended with Wilson trying and failing to run out of third-down sacks. Dickson responded with punts of 57 and 63 yards to pin Denver inside the 20 twice. But now Denver has the ball and the lead and is just stampeding Seattle, running all over them. They're up to 141 yards rushing and 465 yards of total offense. Been a while since Seattle's defense has been knocked around like that.
Third-and-7 inside the two-minute warning, Seattle out of timeouts, ball in Seattle territory, first down wins the game. But they run, and they're going to punt with just over a minute to go, and Wilson will get the ball needing a field goal to tie. I would have been aggressive there and let Keenum throw.
Well, never mind. Completion in bounds, fumbled snap, false start on a spike, ten-second runoff, two desperation heaves from inside the 20, game over, Broncos win. I guess the second of those was intercepted, but it doesn't matter.
Dallas Cowboys 8 at Carolina Panthers 16
Bryan Knowles: So, one of the questions we had about Carolina coming into this year was how Norv Turner's more traditional offense would treat Cam Newton, rushing threat. While Dallas is doing a great job shutting down all the actual running backs on the roster, Newton already has 59 yards on the ground in just the first quarter.
You would think Dallas has never seen a read-option before. Newton's up to 63 yards and a touchdown, and Dallas just looks absolutely puzzled by his ability to move with the football in his hands.
In worse news for the Panthers, Greg Olsen's out with a foot injury. He missed a ton of last season with a foot injury, so this isn't good news at all.
Aaron Schatz: The Cowboys are going to die on the hill of meaningless gimmick screens to Tavon Austin this year. Sigh. Their offense looks terrible. It's not just that it looks badly designed or that the receivers aren't good. Dak Prescott himself does not look good. Just underthrew wide-open Blake Jarwin on third-and-7. We wrote in the book that we learn more from 24 good games of Prescott than eight bad games. That may have been wrong. Or at least, we're now on nine bad games.
Bryan Knowles: It's now been three straight games where the Cowboys have failed to get at touchdown in the first half, as their offense has remained firmly in neutral, if not reverse. Zeke Elliott has been absolutely smothered, and while Prescott is completing passes, they're going for less than 5 yards per attempt. If Christian McCaffrey doesn't fumble inside the 5 on the Panthers' first drive, we might be talking about a game that's already out of hand. As it stands, it's 10-0 Carolina, and Dallas just does not look like a team that's going to come up with any answers.
Tom Gower: I'm with what Aaron and others have said. Dallas just looks awful on offense. Dak has not been good, at all, and the offensive line hasn't been opening up space for Elliott the way it did last year. Just, yuck.
Bryan Knowles: Alex Armah scores a touchdown, it's 16-0, and it's all over but the shouting. Only remaining questions are if any individual Panther will top 100 rushing yards (Newton's leading the way at 64, though the team has 150 combined) and if the Cowboys will be shut out for the first time since 2003. I know the offensive line situation means that we're not as high on the Cowboys as the projections were in the book, but this is more than just an offensive line problem today.
Aaron Schatz: Dallas is still in this thing, 16-8 and marching down the field with five minutes left. It helps that their pass rush has been overwhelming the injury-riddled Panthers offensive line. Panthers lost right tackle Daryl Williams with a knee injury, he went off on the cart.
Cowboys go for it on fourth-and-10 at midfield instead of punting with three timeouts. Deonte Thompson can't hold onto it. They do stop the Panthers with three-and-out and get a touchback on the punt so they will have 1:50 and no timeouts to get the ball 80 yards. Good luck, kids.
Nope. No luck. Incomplete, scramble out of bounds, and sack-fumble for Dak Prescott, game over, Panthers win.
Rivers McCown: Watching this game felt like watching the older brother beat up the younger brother. These teams just feel incredibly similar to me, except the Panthers are a little better everywhere and lost half their team to injury in the process.
I don't think Dak is above criticism, but I don't think his play in this game was a distinct problem. This combination of coaching staff and personnel around Dak just isn't good. Elliott needs more passing-game targets. Nobody else on the team (maybe Tavon?) can force a missed tackle. They're all catch-and-fall. I think we're measuring Scott Linehan's time in months rather than years remaining. Oh, and Connor Williams is a reach at guard.
Chicago Bears 23 at Green Bay Packers 24
Vince Verhei: I just turned the Sunday night game on. Did the Bears just run a two-tight end, T-formation backfield set on first-and-10? That's ... kind of awesome actually.
Yes, the Bears really did run a two-tight end, full-house backfield set on first-and-10. That's kinda awesome. pic.twitter.com/GZqj3oUEoG
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) September 10, 2018
They follow that with some Emory & Henry-style formations with offensive linemen split wide, and then an Emory & Henry with an unbalanced line quarterback keeper for the touchdown. The Bears are my new favorite team.
Aaron Schatz: Not a full Emory & Henry ... both plays had the unbalanced line because the tight end was playing in place of Charles Leno at left tackle while Leno was out wide right with two wide receivers. I'm going to guess those are all run-pass options where Mitchell Trubisky can keep, hand off, or throw a screen to the receiver who's out wide right behind Leno.
Good for Matt Nagy going for it on fourth-and-4 in No Man's Land (Packers 37), even if it didn't work (sack-fumble recovered by Trubisky).
Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers, carted off in Week 1. Sometimes, the NFL is terrible.
Again, I want to resist the clarion call of National Jump to Conclusions Week but holy mackerel do the Bears look for real tonight. Both sides of the ball.
Vince Verhei: It's scarier than it would otherwise be because it seems like all the reasons for improvement are legit and not random flukes. A quarterback improving in his second year with vastly improved weapons around him? Makes sense. A first-year head coach bringing a new, innovative attack that's much more effective than the vanilla schemes of his predecessor? Makes sense. An A+ pass-rusher coming in and single-handedly making the whole defense better? Makes sense. It's not even a half of football yet (and the offense has actually been quiet outside that first drive), but yes, the rest of the league should be concerned.
Scott Kacsmar: That's just a devastating half for Green Bay. The game was stabilizing a bit before the Rodgers injury. If that's not bad enough, Khalil Mack looks as good as ever despite not even having a preseason with anyone. My favorite part was when Mack almost had another sack and Roquan Smith was there to clean it up for his first sack on his first snap.
I read partially torn ACL for Rodgers, but can't trust anything on Twitter right now. Michelle Tafoya is saying Rodgers will give it a go, but I'm not sure that's even a good idea with the way Mack is feasting out there. You hate to throw in the towel, but at 17-0, quarterback's mobility has to be compromised, I'm not sure I put him back out there tonight.
Bryan Knowles: I see Aaron Rodgers back on the field, and they say he might give it another shot tonight. That's great news -- that it's even a possibility -- but good lord, don't put him out there now. Let him have the week to rest, and then get back out against someone not named Khalil Mack, please.
Rivers McCown: As a fan of watching bad process get publicly destroyed, I am enjoying Khalil Mack's assimilation of the entirety of Green Bay.
Aaron Schatz: Mike McCarthy just kicked a field goal with 3:41 left, down 20-0. Does a field goal seem like it's the right way to try to catch up now? Are we risking Aaron Rodgers' health for moral victories where we think "oh, yay, we didn't get shut out?"
Vince Verhei: Eh. There's still a long time left. Bears offense has scored six points in the last two and a half quarters and is hardly pulling away. I think going for it would have been the right move, but I think you can justify the field goal as an attempt to win the game still.
Aaron Schatz: And hey Aaron Rodgers just threw a 39-yard touchdown on off his injured leg because he's amazing.
Scott Kacsmar: I think it was early enough and the fourth down was long enough to justify that field goal. So many times we can say things like "it'd be a one-score game right now if they took that easy field goal." Bears haven't been marching up and down the field tonight either.
Aaron Schatz: Well shoot I guess I take it back because the Packers just marched up the field again and now it's 20-17 with 9 minutes left. Not only is Rodgers just dealing despite the leg injury, but they've mostly shut down the Bears pass rush with quick throws.
Dave Bernreuther: 20-17, Bears start gashing them on the ground again ... and then on third-and-a-short-1, throw for the end zone. Which is cool, except...
How do you call that play without planning to go for it on fourth down? And how do you not go for it on fourth down when you've been tearing it up on the ground like that?
That just seems nuts to me. A first down ends the game. Instead they kick to go from a one-score lead to a one-score lead, and now McCarthy can't even get conservative and play for the tying field goal. Rodgers has 2:42 to score.
Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers does not need 2:42 to score.
Good lord, what does it take to keep that man down?
Aaron Schatz: And he scores. 75 yards to Randall Cobb. Amazing. I swear, Khalil Mack dropped off his pass rush on that play. I can't figure out why. Took a couple of steps forward on Bryan Bulaga, then dropped off. And the Bears had no deep safeties so Cobb just went all the way down the field.
Tom Gower: I turned this game on early in the fourth quarter after dealing with some other obligations. I've seen Rodgers not be fully mobile, but he's moved his team up and down the field with aplomb for two touchdowns with a couple pretty good throws tucked in there. What's everybody else talking about?
Aaron Schatz: I don't know what Vic Fangio was thinking on that play, no deep safeties on a play where you absolutely can't allow a deep pass. It looked like one safety was covering Cobb in man and the other was doubling Davante Adams. But when Cobb beat his guy -- there was nobody to stop him.
Dave Bernreuther: He did drop off, Aaron. And I was thinking "interesting, they're playing coverage these last two plays, and it's wor-- oh. Hm."
What a throw. The second he saw Cobb it was just a flick of the wrist, perfectly placed beyond the linebacker, and then after that, the race was on. I've just got to assume that one of the other routes drew the safety away, or he fell down, or something ... it just makes no sense otherwise, since it's not like they were blitzing. Were they spying Rodgers? That seems unlikely ...
Aaron Schatz: I rewound and watched it again. That's the safety that Rodgers is perfectly placing the ball beyond. One Bears safety is hugging the (offensive left) sideline in case Davante Adams goes long. The other one I think comes up and tries to jump ahead of Cobb, and misses. It's No. 39 Eddie Jackson. I think he was supposed to be deep in case of a big play and instead he jumped forward and when Cobb beat him it was off to the races. That's not on Fangio.
Dave Bernreuther: Yup. They just showed the all-22. Two-deep. They weren't Gregg Williams deep, but they weren't up in the box either. So the only head-scratcher is what Mack left to go do and why that was more important.
Vince Verhei: Did the Bears ever go back to the unorthodox formations they used on their first drive? You know, when their offense worked?
James Koh of DirecTV with a cool diagram of the Cobb play and how it all went so wrong for Chicago.
The Randall Cobb game winner from #SNF. So many moving parts but the key is #39 FS Eddie Jackson gets forced on an island because the Bears doubled the two outside WRs. Jackson coming forward, comes too far. Cobb is also the only WR to break off his original route #CHIvsGB pic.twitter.com/UCg25dsWjC
— James Koh (@JamesDKoh) September 10, 2018