compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Baltimore Ravens 24
Aaron Schatz: Baltimore just started with a 11-play touchdown drive. All runs. Planned runs -- no scrambles. Five Lamar Jackson carries on options and draws, five handoffs to running backs, and an end around by John Brown that went nowhere. But the other carries all went somewhere. Including the end zone.
Scott Kacsmar: I saw some of those Jackson runs, and let's just say that won't be a long consecutive-starts streak if he keeps taking hits like that. An NFL quarterback just can't take that many hits over and over, and that was one drive. It worked there though.
Bryan Knowles: That 75-yard Baltimore drive is not the longest drive this season with no passing plays, but only barely -- the Jets had a 77-yard "drive' consisting of one running play against Denver. But 11 running plays in a row? That's a rarity, especially in the first quarter. We saw the Jaguars do it in their stomping of Pittsburgh last October, but they were sitting on a 20-9 lead in the fourth quarter at the time. We haven't seen such a run-heavy first-quarter drive since Week 17 of 2010, when the Jets rattled off 12 straight rushing plays with their backups. At some point, you'd think Baltimore would have to trust Jackson to throw in an absolute must-win game for Baltimore.
The Ravens did decide to let Jackson throw a bit -- three attempts for, uh, 4 yards in three drives. After that 75-yard opener, the Ravens haven't even added 20 more yards on their next two drives, as the Bengals have seemingly clued in that Jackson cannot, will not, or is simply not trusted to throw the ball deep. It would be the perfect time for Baltimore to play on that and unleash a deep pass against a Bengals defense cheating up, but we'll have to see if the Ravens are capable of doing that. As it is, the Bengals finally got out of neutral to tie the game 7-7, thanks in large part to the good field position they're getting from the Ravens' offense sputtering.
Add Lamar Jackson to the "ugliest interception" competition for the week; after scrambling around, Jackson threw a terrible pass to, uh, someone? The boxscore claims Willie Snead, but I may have been closer to the pass attempt than he was. Shawn Williams comes down with an easy interception. I will note that Jackson has now attempted exactly one deep pass; it was incomplete.
Cincinnati turns that touchdown straight into seven points, taking a 14-13 lead. Their two touchdown drives have started on their own 43 and the Baltimore 32; whenever they've had worse field position than that, they've failed to gain even 20 yards on their drives. All Baltimore needs to do is not shoot themselves in the foot, and they're failing miserably there.
Dave Bernreuther: Not all of college's offensive influences on the pro game are bad; tomorrow night's game will be a great showcase of that.
But this Ravens offense is miserable. It's like watching a college game where the only good athlete on the field is the quarterback (a.k.a., most Louisville games). Except now Lamar Jackson isn't the only good athlete on the field ... and he's doing things like dropping snaps, throwing terrible picks, looking down instantly once his first read is covered, and running predictable quarterback draws for a few yards at a time as the absolute upside of this offense given how little they're willing to open it up.
A series of pretty much exactly all that leads to a bogged-down goal-to-go situation and a field goal. Which in this game is good enough for the lead with eight minutes to play. Which is sad. And rough to watch.
It's also, I should note, still more promising than the Joe Flacco Ravens offense.
Carolina Panthers 19 at Detroit Lions 20
Dave Bernreuther: Whoever allowed these teams to wear silver helmets and then neck-to-toe solid black vs. solid dark-ish grey should lose his job immediately. This is like watching a college game.
Complete with shoddy execution, as Devin Funchess straight-up drops a touchdown on first-and-goal. He is bailed out three plays later by a well-sold play fake from the heavy set to an uncovered Greg Olsen. 7-0 for the darker shade of grey.
Vince Verhei: Not only are both teams wearing silver helmets and black and charcoal uniforms, but they're also both trimmed with similar shades of light blue. It's a scrimmage.
Bryan Knowles: WOAH, Riverboat Ron fails. Down seven, the Panthers score a touchdown ... and chose to go for two, with 1:07 left in the game. Cam Newton had an open receiver, but he puts too much mustard on the ball and it falls incomplete. Lions will win this one, barring an onside kick recovery.
Aaron Schatz: Jarius Wright was wide open right in the middle of the end zone. What a bummer for the concept of aggressive football.
Vince Verhei: Cam Newton finds D.J. Moore in the corner of the end zone to make it 20-19 with 1:07 to go. But Graham Gano has already missed a field goal and an extra point, so instead of kicking a tying extra point, they go for two. I'm thinking they run Newton on a dive or a read option, but no, he drops back. Lions rush three and Cam has forever in the pocket, but his pass to a receiver on a crossing route is too high and incomplete. Lions recover the onside kick and win. Just a crushing loss for Carolina against a bad team, dropping them back to 6-4 and right in the heart of an incredibly muddled playoff field.
Aaron Schatz: This is the problem with how the NFL views overtime.
Analytic nerds just cost the Panthers a win
— Shaun Morash (@MrazCBS) November 18, 2018
Notice what the subtext of this tweet is: if Carolina went to overtime, they would win the game. There's absolutely no understanding of the idea that overtime, like a two-point conversion try, is roughly a 50-50 proposition.
(Asterisk: Given the strengths of the Carolina offense, as well as the fact that Carolina was favored in this game, both the two-point conversion try and going to overtime were probably a better than 50-50 proposition for the Panthers. But they were likely similar.)
Dave Bernreuther: Oh, man. I thought maybe the re-emergence of Riverboat Ron was just a "run the play if we get a good look or else call timeout" kind of thing, but after the timeout ... they go for it anyway.
So with the score 20-19 with 1:07 to play after the Moore touchdown, they still run a play for the win ... and Cam just flat out missed his guy. And the Lions will kneel it out.
And I said this prior to the timeout, which iswhy I get to type it now: I don't like it.
Yes, I liked the Reich call to play to win earlier this year ... but with that much time left and when you 100 percent lose it you fail ... I kick that extra point. 1:07 is still plenty of time to reach field goal range if you're tied too, but without that sense of urgency, there's way less reason to fear that.
I guess Rivera really just didn't want to go to overtime.
That's a really big loss for them too.
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 16
Scott Kacsmar: The Jaguars always give the Steelers problems. The offense started three-and-out after using a timeout before third-and-1. The gap was there for Ben Roethlisberger on the quarterback sneak, but he needed to be much more aggressive in attacking it. I haven't heard too much of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo this season. Doesn't seem like they've been on as many big games in 2018. Nantz is the second person this week I've heard say the Jaguars were down 29-0 before losing 29-26 in Indy last week. Where is this coming from? Donte Moncrief made it 7-7 with a long touchdown. Maybe he's confusing the Colts scoring 29 before halftime and zero afterwards. Anyways, Blake Bortles is throwing sidearm on third down and it hasn't worked so far today. Four drives and four punts early in this one.
Andrew Potter: Further to the discussion of Baltimore's opening drive, I was going to suggest that the Jaguars should consider using that approach today. Lo and behold, they just had their 11th rushing attempt in a row on this first-quarter drive, albeit one of those was a Bortles scramble on a pass play.
Scott Kacsmar: You could say 13 runs in a row for the Jaguars, but a holding penalty on the 13th really hurt them. Says a lot about how the team feels about Bortles when they just run on third-and-10 to kick a 48-yard field goal for the first points of the day. Also, it appears the main goal of Leonard Fournette's career is to beat Pittsburgh. He already has 10 carries for 43 yards today after having two of his biggest games as a rookie against the Steelers.
Aaron Schatz: That's 13 runs in a row for the Jaguars, and 14 out of 15. And with 15 plays, the Jaguars managed to make it 64 yards, and it ended with a 48-yard field goal to make the score 3-0. Steelers are definitely having trouble tackling today. But the problem with a run-first offense like what the Jags are running today is that it's intended to get you into "third-and-manageable" when the better offensive strategy is to try to avoid ever getting into third down in the first place.
Dave Bernreuther: And on fourth-and-short from the 20, they take the 38-yard field goal. Which takes them from up one score to ... up one score.
I mean, I suppose that's defensible. Points are points. But you're not playing the Bills. You can probably expect the Steelers to score a touchdown here and there. (Even though they always play down to you.) Time and again, though, this Jaguars coaching staff demonstrates that they really just aren't all that interested in making optimal decisions on offense.
Of course, as I type that, Jalen Ramsay picks off Roethlisberger (on a play that should win on replay review), so maybe the Gary Kubiak "nah, it's cool, we're up one score with most of the game to play, I trust our defense ... we can stop trying to get first downs" strategy is sound...
Aaron Schatz: You don't measure "up by one score" in the second quarter! I'm sure the numbers say to go for it, but it was fourth-and-3, not fourth-and-1, and the difference between a three-point lead and a six-point lead does matter. It's not like the Steelers are revving up for just one more drive at the end of the game.
Dave Bernreuther: Yeah, I know. That wasn't egregious by any means. In the context of an entire half of not letting your quarterback try to advance the ball, though, I'm more inclined to question their aggressiveness.
Then again, their quarterback is Bortles...
Scott Kacsmar: Nothing like following up your best game of the season (52-21 vs. Carolina) with your worst. Then again, the Titans seem to be doing the same right now in Indy. Steelers get the ball to start the third quarter, so getting a score before halftime here is crucial. Maybe the hurry-up offense will help, but the receivers are being covered really well today.
Bryan Knowles: Is this the annual "lose to a terrible football team" game for Pittsburgh? They have one every year; I thought maybe they got that out of their system early with the tie against the Browns, but maybe that didn't count.
Aaron Schatz: Jalen Ramsey has completely shut down Antonio Brown today. Five targets, one catch with 13 seconds left and with D.J. Hayden in coverage instead of Ramsey. Two interceptions on passes intended for Brown: one when Ramsey undercut a route in zone coverage, and the other when Roethlisberger threw it over Brown's head and into the arms of Barry Church.
This game is bad for passing.
Whew what a game pic.twitter.com/tw1ZlOySnF
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) November 18, 2018
Scott Kacsmar: Not sure there has been a worse half of quarterback play that this one. After Roethlisberger threw his second interception, Bortles tried to give it right back, but Sean Davis dropped the ball. It's 9-0 at halftime, and I am also sick of how offenses never want to throw a Hail Mary before halftime anymore. Roethlisberger had a chance for one, and I don't know if he cares about not throwing a third (meaningless) pick of the half, but there is no logic to throw a screen to James Conner at midfield. It was fourth-and-3 and he didn't even gain enough for the first down. There was a similar checkdown by Russell Wilson before halftime on Thursday night. This happens often now and I'm sure it has helped the league-wide interception total stay down at historic lows.
Vince Verhei: OK, I've got a few things to say about this Pittsburgh-Jacksonville game:
1) A few hours after reports broke that Jacksonville would try to trade Jalen Ramsey, the cornerback had a great interception, undercutting a throw to Antonio Brown on a seam route and making the diving catch that was ruled incomplete live but reversed to an interception on review. Field Yates summed up my feelings on Ramsey perfectly here:
Jalen Ramsey just turned 24, is due $3.6M in 2019 with the 2020 fifth-year option available too. If the Jaguars do actively shop him, the list of suitors that would ponder a deal will likely include: the 31 other NFL teams.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 18, 2018
2) Roethlisberger's first interception was a great play by Ramsey; his second was a brutal overthrow of Brown that was reeled in by Barry Church. Blake Bortles responded by saying "Hey! Terrible passes are MY gimmick!" He then threw three terrible incompletions in a row, one of which was almost intercepted but was trapped by the defender, and one where he had D.J. Chark for a first down at the sideline but threw the ball 6 feet over his head. Bad football all around.
3) I absolutely hate time of possession and don't think it actually matters more than a handful of times a year. If there are exceptions, though, they are in games with results this extreme. Jacksonville had the ball for 22:15 in the first half, compared to 7:45 for Pittsburgh; they ran 41 plays to Pittsburgh's 25. If the Steelers collapse in the fourth quarter, I'll believe that fatigue had something to do with it.
Tom Gower: Everything that people are trying to communicate with "time of possession" can be communicated as simply with "plays," which are never definitive but may carry actual meaning about game control and fatigue.
Andrew Potter: I'm not sure that this is Pittsburgh's annual letdown game so much as an example of how different the Jacksonville defense is when everybody's healthy. For weeks, the Jaguars have been missing D.J. Hayden and A.J. Bouye, and I'm not sure there's a bigger defensive dropoff in the league than that between the Jaguars' starting cornerbacks and their immediate backups. The secondary domination has taken the pressure off the offense, allowing them to play the game the way they want. This is who the Jaguars are: when they can control the game script, they're a difficult opponent.
Scott Kacsmar: I forgot to mention that Bortles' longest completion today is 14 yards, and it was an off-target throw that was tipped forward to Dede Westbrook on a deflected catch. Bortles dropping back is Pittsburgh's best hope of a comeback right now. Mike Tomlin got lucky in accepting a holding penalty that would have otherwise been fourth-and-short deep in Jacksonville territory, but he let them replay the down at third-and-12. Bortles was sacked and stripped, but the Jaguars were fortunate to recover the ball. Still good field position for the Steelers. The problem with Jacksonville's run-heavy, hide-the-quarterback approach is that it struggles when you're getting penalties, and that's something Jacksonville hasn't avoided well today.
Andrew Potter: Ben followed up that Bortles fumble with his third bad pick of the day, but got it back on one of those terrible, waste-of-time, insulting, pathetic, "bodyweight" roughing penalties against Calais Campbell. One of those calls that makes you question what they want pass-rushers to do, other than simply not bother.
Dave Bernreuther: So speaking of Jaguars penalties, they gave the Steelers 30 free yards on consecutive ticky-tack personal foul calls. Andrew adequately described the first one, and the second was a "late" hit on Conner wherein the linebacker arrived barely late even in the slow-motion replay.
So what does Ben do with this free field position and reprieve from an interception? Throws another pick to Ramsey. Of course.
And the Kubiak "were ahead, so we're good" strategy really may just work in Jags-Steelers games.
(Meanwhile Cam Newton just got actually late hit cheap-shotted -- no full body weight or anything, but below the knees from behind and later than Campbell's hit -- and is knocked out of the game, but there isn't a flag.)
Vince Verhei: Oh look, there's Ramsey again with a brilliant interception in the end zone, on another throw to Brown. He's clearly down in the end zone, nullifying a big return, but still a ridiculous play.
Bryan Knowles: Your point about the Jaguars finally getting their corners healthy is well taken, Andrew, but Pittsburgh scored 50 points last week! I'm not sure what the record for fewest points the week after a 50-burger would be, but I imagine Pittsburgh's zero would at least tie the record, as that's how numbers work.
It looks like Leonard Fournette just crowd-surfed his way into the end zone for a score, making it 16-0 Jacksonville. It's still technically a two-score game, and we have a full quarter to go, but nothing Pittsburgh has done today has given me any confidence in their ability to score.
Like I was saying, I was always confident Pittsburgh would immediately score, with Big Ben hitting Antonio Brown for a 78-yard touchdown on the second play after the Fournette touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Brown's touchdown, it should be said, was not a case of beating Jalen Ramsey. It was zone coverage, looked like Cover-4, and that quarter belonged to Tashaun Gipson. Ramsey did take a poor angle trying to tackle Brown before the end zone, though.
Bryan Knowles: Weellll ... it won't be the annual Pittsburgh letdown if they don't actually lose this one. Pittsburgh drives 80 yards in two and a half minutes to get within three. They chose to kick deep with 2:28 left and all three timeouts left, so they're trusting their defense to shut down Bortles one more time...
Pittsburgh drives the ball into the red zone, and then things go to hell. With a timeout left in the pocket, Big Ben spikes the ball to waste a down. On the next play, Roethlisberger throws the game-ending interception ... but it's overturned by a facemask penalty. This is crazy.
Vince Verhei: Not counting whatever happens in the last five seconds here, Jacksonville's last four drives: four three-and-outs, -3 total yards.
Andrew Potter: This sport, man. Just unbelievable in Jacksonville. That sequence on the goal line was nuts, and somehow the Steelers are getting out of here with a win.
Here's how that final drive went:
- 35-yard gain on second-and-4 to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has been the clear MVP of this game for the Steelers.
- After an incompletion, Ben Roethlisberger hits James Conner in stride down the left sideline for what should be a walk-in touchdown. Conner drops it.
- Big gain to Antonio Brown, down to the 2-yard line.
- Ben hits D.J. Hayden in the back of the end zone for a game-sealing pick, EXCEPT, after a long conversation, a facemask penalty is (correctly) called on Hayden, overturning the interception.
- Ben throws the ball away on first down with 8 seconds left, but A.J. Bouye is called for defensive holding to put the ball on the 1.
- Ben drops back, apparently to pass, but tucks and heads for the goal line. He's tackled, and his head collides with the butt of tackle Matt Feiler. That prevents him from extending properly, but he still manages to scrape the ball across the goal line before his knee is down. Touchdown, Steelers win.
Those last 100 seconds were every kind of madness.
Scott Kacsmar: That was about the most dramatic win you can ever have against a 3-6 opponent who looked like they were playing for their season. I thought the game was over at so many points, including a couple of really bad drops by Conner down the stretch. Roethlisberger also never makes those goal-line runs easy (Super Bowl XL, 2010 Miami come to mind). Great time to be 6-foot-5, but man, I can't believe they kept going shotgun there without any runs to Conner. The spike might have been ill-advised too. Just a crazy comeback to keep pace near the top of the AFC.
Aaron Schatz: Jacksonville was up 16-0 with 17 minutes left, and they prevented a two-point conversion which took away the possibility of tying the game with just two drives, and still somehow lost that game. Their offense is terrible. What's the point of a run-first offense that can't run out clock? That's just embarrassing.
Vince Verhei: For what it's worth, on the touchdown, it looked to me like the plan was a shovel pass, but the Jaguars had that covered, so Roethlisberger just kept the ball.
The spike on first down made no sense unless they planned to run it at the goal line at least once, but they got away with it.
Tennessee Titans 10 at Indianapolis Colts 38
Bryan Knowles: If the Colts can't beat the Titans at home, their slim playoff hopes are basically gone -- they'd be 4-6, at least two (and possibly three) games out of the wild card. One matchup I'm trying to keep an eye on in this one is Adoree' Jackson, who is shadowing T.Y. Hilton everywhere he lines up so far in this one. Hilton already has a couple grabs early, however, and the Colts take the lead on a 1-yard Marlon Mack plunge.
Dave Bernreuther: I'll let someone unbiased say if the end-of-return flag for holding on Maulet that negated the Chester Rogers punt return score was legitimate. I didn't see it. Live or on replay.
Andrew Luck's ownership of the Titans continues. On third-and-1 near the goal line, he draws them offsides for a fresh set of downs that allows Marlon Mack to score. It's worth pointing out that for all the hype this rebuilt mauling Indianapolis line and run game have gotten, Marlon Mack still has a habit of making nothing from something at times, and he very nearly didn't get in for that easy touchdown. One of the many things I love about Frank Reich is the way that he has managed to switch between running backs and play to each of their strengths, but without it being a tell (yet, anyway).
Last week we saw the Titans one-up the Pats on the reverse pass to the quarterback, and so on third-and-goal today the Colts tried to one-up that by scoring, but the Titans actually covered Luck (perhaps because they've practiced against this play, hmm ...) and Eric Ebron threw it anyway into coverage. 10-0 after the field goal is good.
That possession was set up near midfield by a turnover. I'd love to report what happened, but I can't, because instead of showing a replay of what had happened while I was reading Scott's Jags email, they showed the entire Colts team gathering 50 yards away in the end zone doing the same tired team photo celebration that they and everyone else have done a dozen times already. I am so sick of these stupid me-first look-at-me choreographed idiotic celebrations. Especially when they involve running across half the field.
Damn ... I sound like Gregg Easterbrook. Now get off my lawn!
Bryan Knowles: Remember that Hilton/Jackson matchup I was watching? Hilton just won. The speed-versus-speed matchup saw Hilton burn Jackson downfield for a 68-yard touchdown. This is the time we mention that Luck has never lost to the Titans, right? 17-0 Colts, midway through the second quarter.
I do wonder how much of the Titans' defensive struggles today are due to Dean Pees having to head to the hospital before the game; our hopes that it ends up being nothing serious. It would explain, to a certain extent, why the Titans' D seems so discombobulated, allowing 8.5 yards per play as the Colts have scored again. At 24-0, this one is feeling pretty over -- and, as Scott pointed out on twitter, the Titans haven't beaten Luck or Peyton Manning-led Colts teams since 2008.
Halftime note: Marcus Mariota was shaken up, flexing his right hand (which I believe is the same one he was having issues with earlier in the year). Blaine Gabbert came in, and I don't think he's the guy who's going to lead the 21-point comeback.
Tom Gower: Colts up 24-3 at the half, and that pretty accurately reflects the Titans' level of performance in the first 30 minutes. The offense that looked so much better the last two weeks can't get out of its own way against an eminently beatable defense. The run game has subtly been just effective enough to not be bad, and it's worse than that today. Marcus Mariota had a bad pick to give the Colts a short field where he expected Cover-2 and Quincy Wilson to squat, only Wilson retreated. He got banged up, possibly on the throwing hand right before the half on a sack. Fortunately, Blaine Gabbert managed to get a field goal by throwing a short pass and getting a Colts player to commit a penalty. Defensively, the big strike to Wilson, the Titans good ranking by yards by tight ends looks like a function of opponents going elsewhere, and, well, just one thing or another. Special teams, good most of the season, set up a Colts score by giving up a long punt return -- a touchdown negated by a hold on Wesley Woodyard (yeah, it was legit). Oh, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees was taken to the hospital after a medical scare in the booth.
Bryan Knowles: Blaine Gabbert sees these pretenders to the "worst interception of the day" throne, and responds with THIS.
THE MANIAC!!!! pic.twitter.com/cNusJBzIFw
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) November 18, 2018
That ball came out sideways, wobbled, and hit the defender right in the chest.
Long live the king.
Tom Gower: The last 30 minutes of that game happened, much to Tennessee's regret. Good defense on Eric Ebron, who went targetless as T.Y. Hilton came down with over half of Andrew Luck's passing yardage. We'll see how Marcus Mariota's health ends up, with more details to come tomorrow (Vrabel's New England background says he'll say as little as possible about that and we may have to wait for Thursday's practice report with the Titans not playing until Monday next week). But this was a reality check for the Titans and a sign that the offensive learning curve was not as far ahead and the defense not nearly as good as last week's still very good win would have you believe. This isn't a team challenging for the top of the AFC but one that can play there in spurts but won't always do so. If that's what you were expecting from this season, as I was, and weren't very bullish after the last two games (ditto) and thought the Colts were a legitimate opponent capable of beating a Titans team that didn't play well, the result is surprising but not expected.
Houston Texans 23 at Washington Redskins 21
Scott Kacsmar: There has not been a lead change in any Washington game this year. First time that's happened for a team's first nine games since 1954 Redskins did it. Will they make a 10-point comeback today after Houston started hot? Talk about a game-changing penalty: J.J Watt had a strip-sack on third down that Washington recovered, but should have ended the drive. Tyrann Mathieu was flagged for defensive holding to negate that. Adrian Peterson finished the drive with a touchdown and Washington is back in it at 10-7.
Bryan Knowles: Alex Smith throws the rare pick-12 -- Justin Reid intercepts a pass intended for Jordan Reed in the end zone and takes it back 101 yards for the score. First one of those this season -- we've had exactly one of those in each of the last six seasons, so Smith has helped us reach our quota. Thanks, Alex! Alex has nine completions, Deshaun Watson has eight, and each has 101 passing yards -- but Watson has thrown 11 times, Smith has thrown 22. It has not been a particularly efficient day for Alex, is what I'm saying here.
Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT watch the Alex Smith leg injury. When Joe Theismann is chiming in on Twitter, saying it's exactly like his 33 years ago, you know what it looks like. That's a season-ender for him, right there.
Stop the presses! For the first time this season, we have a lead change in Washington, and all it took was a little Colt McCoy magic to get it done. Adrian Peterson runs in for the score as Washington finally comes all the way back, taking a 21-20 lead. Does Washington have some kind of bet on how many terrible injuries they can suffer while still making the playoffs?
Vince Verhei: We have a lead change in a Washington game! Deshaun Watson is under pressure and throws an interception that Preston Smith catches 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage. That sets Washington up at the 13, and Colt McCoy hits Jordan Reed for a touchdown two plays later. Houston comes back with a field goal, but then Washington drives 67 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Big play was McCoy converting a fourth-and-1 at midfield with a keeper around left end. Adrian Peterson finishes the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, Dustin Hopkins adds the extra point, and Washington now leads 21-20, still almost 12 minutes left in the game.
We had a second lead change here as Ka'imi Fairbairn kicked a 54-yard field goal to put the Texans up 23-21. But Houston special teams giveth, and Houston special teams taketh away -- in the final minute, Fairbairn misses from 45, and Washington will get one more chance to kick a field goal and win.
They get to a fourth-and-10 at the Houston 45, but with eight seconds left and no timeouts, they have to try the 63-yard field goal, and Hopkins' kick is short. Washington falls to 6-4, just one game ahead of Dallas with the Eagles still to play today, and the playoff berth that seemed so solid three or four weeks ago now looks very tenuous indeed.
Bryan Knowles: The 63-yard attempt for the win ... falls JUST short. So close. Houston wins, and the NFC East continues to be wide, wide open.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 35 at New York Giants 38
Vince Verhei: Remember last week when the Bucs gained approximately one million yards and only scored three points? Their first red zone drive today resulted in a Jacquizz Rodgers run for a 1-yard loss; incomplete pass to Rodgers; completion to Cameron Brate short of the sticks; and on fourth-and-1, a stuff of Ryan Fitzpatrick's quarterback sneak. Giants then took over and drove 95 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Both touchdowns by Saquon Barkley -- one rushing, one receiving.
Then the Bucs get first-and-goal, which soon turns into fourth-and-goal at the 1. God bless these guys, they're not letting all these failures affect their play calling. They go for it on fourth down again, and this time Fitzpatrick scrambles, then runs, and just manages to come down across the goal line. Touchdown Bucs! Giants still up 14-7.
Crazy play here. Fitzpatrick throws a slant to DeSean Jackson, but Janoris Jenkins beats Jackson to the ball and has a chance at the interception. He's on his back bobbling the ball -- if he establishes possession, it's an interception, but he's probably down by contact right there, with Jackson touching him. Instead, Alec Ogletree comes over and pulls the ball off Jenkins' chest. He falls down himself, but he's untouched, and he gets up and returns it 15 yards for a Giants touchdown and a 21-7 New York lead. Fitzpatrick is still out there for the next drive, as the world waits for Jameis Winston to make another spin through the Bucs' revolving quarterback door.
— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) November 18, 2018
It's not technically a red zone turnover, but the Bucs have the ball in New York territory when Fitzpatrick lobs a pass into the end zone for a double-covered Jackson and it's intercepted again, as Curtis Riley pulls in the ball. That's Fitzpatrick's third interception of the day. New York responds with a field goal to make it 24-7, and yup, here's Winston coming out for Tampa Bay.
Bryan Knowles: And that's it for Fitzmagic; Jameis Winston is back in. What on Earth are the Buccaneers going to do next season behind center?
Catanzaro missing the extra point would complete 2018 Bucs offense bingo, I think.
That didn't last long, though, as Eli Manning hits Odell Beckham for a score to make it 31-14. Suddenly my preseason pick of the Bucs being the worst team in a stacked NFC is starting not to look so foolish after all.
Vince Verhei: Thanks mainly to some big runs by Peyton Barber, the Bucs get inside the New York 10. Winston scrambles and has Mike Evans wide open, but tries to run instead. He's hit and fumbles, but the ball bounces forward and Evans recovers for the score. This is what counts as a good red zone play for the Bucs these days.
The last few minutes here have encapsulated the Bucs' entire season. Winston hits Adam Humphries for a touchdown to make it 31-28, but the video recap of the drive focuses on bad throws that should have been intercepted -- two passes that hit five total defenders before falling incomplete. Then, needing a stop to get the ball back and get the tying or winning score, they immediately surrender a 54-yard catch-and-run to Evan Engram. Barkley follows with his third touchdown of the day and the Giants are back up by 10 with under four minutes to go.
Dallas Cowboys 22 at Atlanta Falcons 19
Vince Verhei: Monster play in this game that won't look like anything special in the boxscore: The Falcons gave the ball to Marvin Hall on an end around, and it was set up and blocked well and looked like it was going to be a big play. But Leighton Vander Esch, engaged with a very good offensive tackle in Jake Matthews, held his ground and pushed Hall to the outside, then pushed THROUGH Matthews to stop Hall in his tracks. So it goes down as a quiet 3-yard gain, but it could have been much worse, in what has been a low-scoring affair thus far.
Atlanta leads 6-3 in the half. In a game full of defensive plays, the best defender may have been ... Julio Jones?! The wide receiver has broken up a pair of passes that could have or should have been intercepted. The latter of those plays, Matt Ryan floated a ball downfield that Dallas safety Jeff Heath was fielding like a punt. Jones morphed into Ronnie Lott and leveled Heath, knocking the ball to the turf and sending Heath to the blue tent. But the Cowboys have held the Falcons out of the end zone thanks to an excellent game from their defensive front. They have sacked Matt Ryan three times already and limited Atlanta to a total of 24 yards on nine carries.
As for Dallas, it's the Ezekiel Elliott show. He has 97 yards from scrimmage; the Cowboys only have 110 yards of total offense. Cole Beasley dropped a pass in the end zone right before Dallas kicked its field goal -- right now, that's the difference in the game.
Derrik Klassen: Pass rush pressure has been killing the Falcons all day. The Falcons' offensive line surrendered nine quarterback hits and three sacks in the first half. If that were a full game's worth of stats, that would be bad enough, but that much pressure on the quarterback in just the first half is a nightmare. Matt Ryan has had precious little opportunity to get the ball out to where he wants to.
Not sure quite what to expect given Sark's track record, but it would be nice to see a few more screens and/or max protects to mix it up on Dallas and make them think twice about playing so aggressively up front.
Vince Verhei: After a quiet third quarter where both teams traded field goals, the Cowboys finally get a touchdown early in the fourth. Cole Beasley redeems himself with a big catch on a crossing route for a third-down conversion inside the red zone. Next play, Dak Prescott keeps it on the read option and plows into the end zone for six. But then Brett Maher honks the extra point and the Dallas lead sticks at 12-6.
Dallas spent this whole game just hanging around, and now suddenly they're on the verge of putting this thing away. Atlanta pulls off the Matt Ryan special, the pass that should be caught but is instead tipped for an interception, in this case Calvin Ridley tipping the ball to Leighton Vander Esch. Two plays later, Elliott rumbles 23 yards for a score, and this time Maher hits the extra point. Cowboys now up 19-9, though there's still more than 12 minutes left. Elliott's now up to 180 yards from scrimmage; Cowboys have 257 total yards.
We are quickly nearing the end of this one, as we just hit the two-minute warning just after 12:30 Pacific. Atlanta got a field goal on their last drive and then forced a punt, and then a really dumb late hit penalty on Lance Lenoir way out of bounds let them start their drive at their own 32. They've been moving since then, and currently have a second-and-1 at the Dallas 34, trailing 19-12 with all three timeouts left. But they don't need them, because one play later it's #ALWAYSJULIO -- he runs a 9-route against Chidobe Awuzie and outjumps him in the end zone for the touchdown. Matt Bryant adds the extra point and we're tied at 19-all. Dallas has 1:52 left and all three timeouts to get a winning score.
Maher kicks a 42-yard field goal at the gun to win. Dallas did get conservative at the end -- they had a first-and-10 at the 30 with three timeouts and 29 seconds to go, and settled for three runs up the gut and the kick -- but I can't hold this one against them too much. Atlanta had timeouts left, and Dallas had to run to get the Falcons to burn those. And from that position, an incompletion on third down might have left Atlanta time to do something if Maher has missed the field goal. Elliott finishes with 122 yards rushing and a team-high seven catches for 79 yards. Atlanta, at 4-6, is all but done for the season.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not quite sure Atlanta's dead-dead -- Minnesota's in the sixth seed at the moment, at 5-3-1 and a big game against Chicago tonight, and it's not like Atlanta has no winnable games going forward. Still, this is one they probably had to have. Dallas might be your NFC East favorites now with Smith out for the year.
Tom Gower: I expected this to be a high-scoring game between Atlanta's offense and Atlanta's defense, but for 45 minutes it was a bit of a slugfest and a bit of a mess. Then the game I was expecting broke out in the fourth quarter, with all three of the game's touchdowns and two field goals. The Dallas offense runs through Zeke Elliott, but we already knew that. The decision I want to highlight from this game was Dan Quinn, down 19-9, electing to kick the field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Cowboys 3. They got the stop and Julio touchdown they'd need to tie the game, but that left them vulnerable to Dallas just needing a field goal at any point to win the game in regulation. That's exactly what they got. Jason Garrett did go a bit conservative at the end of the game, but that's a lot more justifiable in a tied game.
Philadelphia Eagles 7 at New Orleans Saints 48
Vince Verhei: If the Saints want to wear these all-white uniforms with the gold numbers in every game they play the rest of the year, I would be fine with that.
Andrew Potter: Drew Brees just overthrew both Josh Hill and Taysom Hill, who were both open in hand-holding distance in the end zone. So the Hills are alive, but the throw was over the Hills and far away.
Vince Verhei: Puns that bad should come with some kind of warning, man.
Carl Yedor: Another injury in the Philadelphia secondary. Avonte Maddox gets helped off the field after a second-down play in coverage in the red zone. The Saints score on the next play and push their lead to 10-0. Meanwhile, the Eagles have gone three-and-out on both of their drives thus far. This one could get out of hand quickly if the Eagles don't come respond with a score here, ideally a touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: The Eagles did not respond with a score there. Rather, Carson Wentz threw a pass into double-coverage deep, and Marshon Lattimore finds his first interception of the season. This one is getting out of hand fast.
Dave Bernreuther: "The Hills are alive, but the throw was over the Hills and far away."
Also groan: Marshon Lattimore picks off a badly underthrown pass and AGAIN we have to watch TV coverage of a whole team running to the end zone to do a stupid celebration in front of cameras. The Giants and Colts -- and possibly plenty of others -- did this same thing earlier today too. STOP IT. This is even dumber than the stupid hopping-up-and-down-in-unison celebration that all baseball teams have now adopted as acceptable over the last decade or so. At least that's sort of spontaneous.
Carl Yedor: 24-7 at half, and it has been quite the methodical effort from New Orleans so far. They've had some chunk plays, but it has been more a problem that the Eagles haven't been able to move the ball with any reliability against the Saints. It's easy to get bored with how good the New Orleans offense is at cruising down the field, but with the exception of one three-and-out that featured Taysom Hill throwing the ball on an early down, New Orleans has been able to get pretty much whatever they want most of the time. The Saints start the second half with the ball, and they very well could stick a fork in this one with another touchdown drive.
Aaron Schatz: With another great catch by Michael Thomas, consider the fork to be stuck.
Tre'Quan Smith, Playmaker Score's favorite 2018 rookie, has made some sweet contested catches today. Hard to notice, what with everything else the Saints do well.
I haven't seen anything quite like that since 2007. One could easily argue that that's a dick move. And I wouldn't argue back.
Denver Broncos 23 at Los Angeles Chargers 22
Bryan Knowles: Love essentially dead teams taking chances. Last week, against the Chargers, the Raiders ran a fake punt on their first drive on their way to scoring points (and, uh, losing anyway, but still!). This week, the Broncos run a fake punt against the Chargers and get the first down. Is there something teams are seeing on film against the Chargers? I suppose with their kicking game more or less under control, the Chargers need to find some way to be terrible on special teams to remain On Brand.
The very next play, Phillip Lindsay races 41 yards for a touchdown, and the Broncos have a 7-6 lead.
Vince Verhei: After the Chargers get a pair of field goals, Denver gets a touchdown to go ahead. First they convert on a fake punt, as Colby Wadman completes a pass to Andy Janovich for 12 yards on fourth-and-5. Very next play, Phillip Lindsay finds a big hole in the middle of the Chargers' line, makes one man miss, and is gone for a 41-yard touchdown. "Lindsay has blazing speed," as Ian Eagle astutely notes.
Mike Pouncey has had trouble with shotgun snaps today -- none have officially been fumbles, but at least a half-dozen have been off-target, forcing Philip Rivers to bobble or secure the ball. The last one threw off his timing and resulted in an interception to Chris Harris in coverage against Tyrell Williams. The Broncos then reach the red zone, but they go for it on fourth down again, and with 1 yard to go Lindsay is stuffed in the backfield to end the drive.
Bryan Knowles: Chris Harris just got totally lost in coverage, leaving Keenan Allen wide open in the end zone for an easy touchdown. For all the bobbles, the special teams errors, the penalties ... the Chargers are still the better team, by a not-insignificant margin.
Vince Verhei: Chargers lead 13-7 at half. Case Keenum is averaging 3.3 yards per pass; Phillip Lindsay is averaging 16.0 yards per rush. If you can tell me why Keenum has 17 passes and Lindsay has only three carries (and the Broncos only have eight as a team), you might be Vance Joseph.
Dave Bernreuther: I don't really have anything to say about this game except to note how stupid it is that one team is wearing navy helmets with all white jerseys, pants, and socks, while the other is wearing white helmets with all navy jerseys, pants, and socks.
This would be a far cry from the powder blues...
There really isn't a ton to say about this game otherwise. The Chargers are winning. As expected.
Bryan Knowles: Los Angeles was marching in to ice the game, but Rivers ends up throwing a pick right to Von Miller. Three rushing plays later, the Broncos get into the end zone and make it a 19-14 game, and all of a sudden we have a contest again. And it takes three runs to do it, with Keenum being put on ice. We'll see if the Broncos realize what's working best for them the next time they get the ball.
Vince Verhei: With the Chargers up 19-7 and driving again, Philip Rivers puts his name in the "Ugly Interception" hat. Tries to throw a wide receiver screen, but throws it right into the mitts of Von Miller, who returns it for 42 yards. Credit to Travis Benjamin, who not only ran Miller down, but tried (and almost succeeded) to knock the ball out of his hands. The Broncos then finally go run heavy, and three straight runs gain 8, 7, and then 3 yards, the last a touchdown. So it's 19-14 now. Nineteen, I should add, because Mike Badgley is the latest Chargers kicker to miss an extra point this year.
— NFL (@NFL) November 18, 2018
Bryan Knowles: The real story in this one has been penalties, as the Chargers keep shooting themselves in the foot. They have 12 for 110 yards, so while they've nearly doubled Denver's offensive output, they just keep giving Denver extra chances and killing their own drives with stupid mistakes. The Broncos have just taken the lead -- the two-point conversion fails, but it's 20-19, Denver, early in the fourth quarter. Some sloppy, sloppy football from the Chargers.
Vince Verhei: Well, well, lookie here. On second-and-10, Courtland Sutton produces a 39-yard catch-and-run into the red zone, and Lindsay scores on a direct snap 2-yard run shortly thereafter. As Bryan noted, the two-pointer failed, but Broncos still up 20-19.
With a fourth-and-1 at the Broncos 12, the Chargers line up to go for it, but when the Broncos don't jump offsides, they call timeout and kick the field goal. So great, they're ahead 22-20 now, but why not take the delay of game and kick the 34-yard field goal instead of a 29-yarder, saving the timeout in a close game? And if your answer to that is "because Chargers kickers," then I will concede that is a solid argument.
Dave Bernreuther: After a third-and-very-long screen gets them to fourth-and-barely-1, down 20-19, the Chargers line up to go for it from about the 10 (ish) ... and then let time drain and call timeout. And then send Michael Badgley out for the field goal.
There are no words. Do you not think that, inside of eight minutes in a one- or two-point game, you might eventually want to have your timeouts? Is a timeout there more valuable than the 5 yards that would have pushed a 28-yard field goal to 33 yards, a.k.a. extra point distance?
Ugh. Loud noises and swear words. That's infuriating.
Vince Verhei: This game ended almost exactly the same time as Raiders-Cardinals. Both times, teams lined up for winning field goals. Both times, the opposing coach used a timeout to ice them. Both times, the kickers won the game anyway. I call that a good Sunday.
There's a lot of blame to go around here for the Chargers, but let's not forget that with a third down and the clock stopped for the two-minute warning, Philip Rivers intentionally threw a pass at the feet of his receiver to avoid a sack -- and in doing so, he stopped the clock. He knew immediately he had screwed up, but it's even more clear in hindsight.
Meanwhile, in Carson ... Vance Joseph learns his lesson and actually tries to gain yards before the game-ending kick. And good thing, too, as after a stupid ice attempt on a perfect kick, Brandon McManus hooks one pretty badly, and only succeeds because it was such a short attempt after a long catch and run by Courtland Sutton.
So in just a few minutes, both the road dog Raiders and the road dog Broncos pull out last-second field goals to win games they had absolutely no business winning.
Oakland Raiders 23 at Arizona Cardinals 21
Bryan Knowles: Oakland just called two timeouts in a row. You can't do that; that's an illegal procedure penalty. The two-time outs didn't help, anyway, as Derek Carr just threw the incomplete pass on third-and-now-7.
What a terrible football team.
Dave Bernreuther: I actually saw that same thing happen last night in college too, as West Virginia called two straight timeouts when attempting to come back against Oklahoma State.
I recognize of course that the rules in college are different, and apparently that's allowed ... but it's still really dumb, especially when your quarterback fails on the succeeding play anyway.
(That said -- it wasn't the dumbest thing I saw yesterday. My hometown team, full of optimism for the first time in 17 years ... kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal. With ten seconds left in the game. In order to lose 36-3 instead of 36-0. Congrats on that one, Dino Babers. You coward.)
Vince Verhei: The resistible forces had an early edge here, with four touchdowns in the first 20 minutes or so, but since then the movable objects have clamped down with five straight punts at the end of the first half. Two touchdowns apiece for Derek Carr and Josh Rosen, but those are Carr's only first downs so far today, while Rosen has also thrown a pair of interceptions. The Raiders' schedule is brutal after today (Chiefs, Steelers, Broncos at home; Ravens, Bengals, and Chiefs on the road), so this could be their last chance to screw up the first overall draft pick. Naturally, they're threatening to do just that.
Bryan Knowles: If Oakland wins this one, with the Giants also coming out on top today, this might be the best week of San Francisco's season.
Vince Verhei: Raiders dominated the third quarter, as their two drives totaled 19 plays, 107 yards, more than 12 minutes of possession time ... and six points, a pair of field goals. That last drive, thanks to penalties, they ran four plays inside the 5, and still couldn't find the end zone.
The Raiders, up 20-14 midway through the fourth quarter in a battle of one-win teams, just punted on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 38. Weak.
Aaron Schatz: ... and put it into the end zone. Way to get 18 yards of field position, Raiders.
Vince Verhei: And then David Johnson got runs of 10 and 53 yards, Christian Kirk chips in a conversion on third-and-11, Larry Fitzgerald catches a 5-yarder for his second touchdown of the day, and very quickly the Cardinals go ahead 21-20.
Dave Bernreuther: Took all of thirty seconds (rough estimate) of real time for the Cardinals to drive all the way the other way for a touchdown to Fitzgerald ... pretty sure they could also have done that when starting at the 38 if you had failed, Jon...
Bryan Knowles: To be fair, the punt goes right hand-in-hand with choosing to kick the field goal from the goal line to make it a six-point lead. Next-level stratigery.
Dave Bernreuther: For sure. Nothing that Gruden (wrongly) chooses to do surprises me.
Vince Verhei: So, Fitzgerald scored the go-ahead touchdown with with 5:02 left. Since then, the Raiders have punted -- twice. And yet they still might win, because thanks to penalties, Arizona has a fourth-and-25 at about their own 40 at the two-minute warning. (One of those penalties was a hold that wiped out a long David Johnson touchdown run.)
And the punt is a touchback. Raiders have no timeouts, but they have 1:53 to work with and can win with a field goal.
Dave Bernreuther: That's appalling.
Of course he hits it, and Gruden is all proud of himself as if he coached well.
Vince Verhei: Yup. A deep pass down the sideline to "M.Ateman" (I don't know who that is, and I'm not looking it up) and then a 20-yard gain on third-and-10 on a wide receiver screen to Seth Roberts. I was sure the clock would run out there, but Carr was able to spike it with two seconds left. The Cardinals tried to ice the kicker, but it didn't work, and Daniel Carson (who are these kickers today?) hits the game-winner from 35 yards. Raiders win.
What a badly played, badly coached, but oddly compelling game.
Bryan Knowles: Oakland's win puts the 49ers into the top draft slot at the moment. I assume our odds will still give the Raiders a better chance of taking it home, as their schedule is murder from here on out, but the path to the Raiders not getting that top pick had to include a win today, so good job, Gruden and company!
Minnesota Vikings 20 at Chicago Bears 25
Carl Yedor: This one has been pretty one-sided thus far, as Minnesota has struggled to get anything going. Chicago has used some cool formations that you normally don't see in the NFL (like the old-school T-formation), which is not entirely out of the ordinary. But the moment of the currently-still-in-progress first half for me was the Bears recreating Steve Smith's infamous boat celebration after Anthony Miller's touchdown reception. With the boat celebration and the Joe Horn cell phone, I wonder which other ones we might see again later this season.
Aaron Schatz: The Minnesota defense (seventh in DVOA) has done a lot better for itself than the offense (17th) so far today. The Bears only have 5.3 yards per play, but the Vikings only have 3.5 yards per play. That's awful. Oh, and two turnovers, including Kirk Cousins just airmailing the ball deep on what looked like a miscommunication with Kyle Rudolph, that took away any chance of the Vikings actually scoring before halftime. Khalil Mack is killing Riley Reiff. The Vikings have to figure out a way to get a tight end over there chipping or something to help Reiff out.
Well, here we are in the second half and while Cris Collinsworth has spent the entire game trying to blow sunshine on the Bears' offense, this game is completely about a dominant performance by the Bears defense. The Bears offense has 4.5 yards per play tonight, as of 8:00 left in the fourth quarter. Whoop-de-do. Considering the quality of the opposition -- an average offense, not the Bills or Jets -- this is probably the most dominant performance of the year by the Bears defense, which has been No. 1 in the league but not historically great. A pick-six just made it 20-6 and the Bears once again went for two to make it 22-6. That's a couple of interesting go-for-two decisions tonight, after the earlier decision to make it 11-0 instead of 10-0.
One more note on the Bears defense: up through last week, they rank 31st in schedule strength. Only the Colts had an easier set of offensive opponents. Cardinals! Jets! Bills! Dolphins! This isn't what they've done all year. This is a step up from the rest of the year.
Tom Gower: Good win for the Bears. I was almost screaming at the television with Collinsworth's praise for the offense, and I wonder if somebody at NBC was doing the same putting up a graphic showing punt/TO/TO of their second half work as he was waxing rhapsodic about the time Aaron sent his email. But Minnesota didn't do a dang thing on offense, and Kirk Cousins was definitely not part of the solution with the bad pick-six.