Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Week 12

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.

Oakland Raiders 17 at Baltimore Ravens 34

Derrik Klassen: Who is to say if it will last, but Oakland's offense is already off to a good start with an opening-drive touchdown vs. what is (used to be?) a solid Baltimore defense. The drive was not gimmicky via good field position or a busted coverage, either. Oakland just marched down the field with passes to different depths, end-arounds, and even a fourth-down conversion in Baltimore territory. Jon Gruden's offense deserved that score as much as any. Still, they'll need to score off the script because Baltimore's defense should tighten up.

Lamar Jackson has played pretty darn good today, but he's still a rookie and the growing pains were bound to show up. On a third-and-10, Jackson tried to fit a ball in near the sticks, but an underneath defender swooped in, tipped the ball up, and allowed another Oakland defender to pick off the pass. Occasionally not taking underneath defenders into account was a problem for Jackson in college, so it's no surprise it showed up in his second start. Hopefully he learned a lesson with that one.

Dave Bernreuther: I would disagree that Lamar Jackson has played well thus far; inaccurate throws have cost them at least two drives independent of the bad interception thrown directly to the defender. Just before half, a good throw to Michael Crabtree would have had a shot at being completed into tight coverage, but he threw much too far infield. He lacked Joe Flacco's touch on the underthrown ball that causes the defensive back to run into the receiver, apparently, as well as his luck; it popped back up into the air for Gareon Conley to gather an easy interception. The pick itself was unlucky, but the decision to throw was questionable. Only a perfect ball would have been completed there.

He has actually been unlucky even when he has thrown a perfect ball, though. He dropped one nicely in down the right sideline for a 74-yard gain to Mark Andrews ... but Andrews is not exactly fleet afoot. His run after the catch was one of the few times when Chris Berman's "rumbling bumbling stumbling" call wouldn't be annoying, given how accurate it would have been. And so despite being the only person on the screen at the time he caught the ball, he was caught from behind inside the 10, and instead of the touchdown, the Ravens only ended up with another field goal.

New York Giants 22 at Philadelphia Eagles 25

Bryan Knowles: It might be a series of terrible opponents (San Francisco and Tampa Bay), but the Giants offense has looked ... more competent the last few weeks. It takes time for a new offense to really set in, and maybe it has just taken a few months for the team to really understand and adapt to Mike Shula's offense. The Giants took their first drive 75 yards in nine plays and easily punched the ball into the end zone (though they missed the two-point conversion attempt). It feels weird that the Giants now have the highest weighted DVOA in the NFC East (post-Alex Smith injury), but they have passed the eye test so far.

Scott Kacsmar: This is going to be a tough slate to find a good game. The Giants started with a touchdown, but missed the two-point conversion. You'd think the Eagles would want a good answer to not stay in a hole, but they just seemed disinterested in their opening drive after a holding penalty on Jason Kelce negated a 52-yard touchdown run. On third-and-10, the Eagles just ran a wide receiver screen and punted. The only thing missing was an actual white flag.

Dave Bernreuther: At least you guys have a choice. The Philly market has blacked out the CBS game so this is all I get, aside from a little stream of Red Zone.

So far this hasn't been a terrible game to watch, though. The Giants DO look competent on offense, which one should hope would be the case with some of the talent they have. An uncalled pass interference or hold just now kept Saquon Barkley from getting into the end zone a second time, and the Giants kick a field goal to go ahead 9-0 after failing on a two-point conversion a few minutes ago.

It's not just the skill position guys doing well in Philly. Rhett Ellison just settled into a zone for a decent gainer on a well-placed pass from Eli Manning as well. That one looked a bit Eagles/Colts-ish too, with multiple tight ends working down the field. Just before that, Odell Beckham over the middle was a predictably large gain against this Eagles defense after what they put on tape last week.

THREE more nice plays by Saquon Barkley have been called back by penalties too; a hold sandwiched by ticky-tack block in the back calls against Beckham and Bennie Fowler. And these penalties (and the one uncalled earlier) are really the only things stopping the Giants thus far. Eli's high completion percentage is much less a product of a wimpy offense today, too. He's throwing downfield.

The Eagles have moved the ball pretty well all game too, but without much to show for it until a Zach Ertz score, followed by a successful two-pointer to make it 19-11. Being within one score will not be much consolation for them, though, if the defense doesn't start coming up with stops. The Giants are approaching 350 yards of offense in the first half, a week after the Eagles gave up over 500. With the Giants nearing the red zone again -- their best hope for a stop here with the way they're playing is the clock running down.

Of course, immediately as I type that, the Giants attack down the middle of the field, but Eli floats it short, allowing Malcolm Jenkins to undercut the route and pick it off. After a brilliant 19-of-23 start, Eli has thrown two terrible passes in a row to close out the half.

Well, safe to say that whatever Jim Schwartz said at the half worked. The Eagles have put the brakes on the Giants offense and continued at about the same offensive pace, and just like that, they have the lead. Turns out that not being a sieve translates to winning football.

It's not all the Eagles, though. The Giants continue to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties. With ten minutes to play and a three-point game, maybe it's not such a bad thing that this is my only broadcast option.

Seattle Seahawks 30 at Carolina Panthers 27

Bryan Knowles: Seattle's offense hasn't woken up yet, but their defense is coming up big when it needs to. The Panthers have gotten into the red zone twice, but the Seahawks stopped a Cam Newton draw on fourth-and-2 the first time and then forced a field goal the second time, so they're only down 3-0. They only have 12 yards of offense so far, so that's going to need to change soon, but this game could have gotten out of hand early, and it hasn't.

Vince Verhei: Just to add some details to Bryan's note: The Panthers had third-and-short inside the 10 on each of their first two drives, but got stuffed on runs both times (once by Newton, once by Christian McCaffrey). Dominant short-yardage defense is the only thing keeping them in the game -- Carolina is consistently picking up 3 to 8 yards at a time.

Carl Yedor: Seahawks go down and tie it up at 3. On third down in the red zone, Doug Baldwin was wide open over the middle of the field, but right tackle Germain Ifedi got bullrushed into Russell Wilson as he was releasing the ball, causing the throw to sail. Ifedi has been much improved this year, but that was not a good rep for him.

Of course, as soon as I say something nice about Ifedi's play this year, he misses a blitzing linebacker coming off the edge, choosing to double-team the end with his hand on the ground instead of sliding to pick up Shaq Thompson. Wilson thinks he has time to sit in the pocket based on the box count and takes a big sack, eventually leading to another three-and-out.

Vince Verhei: That's at least the second time an unblocked blitzer has taken Wilson down right away.

Panthers get a couple of big plays off wide receiver runs -- one a triple-option look to the left where Newton looked to pitch to the running back, but it was actually a pitch to Curtis Samuel coming back the other way. Then, in the red zone, they get a second-and-3, but give up on the short-yardage runs. Play-action, Newton to Samuel on a slant route for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead.

Nobody uses the I-formation anymore, and it looks like Carolina forgot how to defend it. They blitz Wilson but leave fullback Tre Madden totally uncovered, and it's an easy catch-and-run down to the 1. Next play, I-formation again, and Chris Carson plunges ahead for the score and a 10-10 tie. Tyler Lockett also had a big catch on third-and-4, then broke several tackles for a 20-some-yard gain on that drive.

Bryan Knowles: It's halftime. Cam Newton is 14-for-14 for 159 yards and a touchdown, the Panthers have only punted once and are yet to turn the ball over ... and they only lead by three. Seattle has to feel very happy they dodged a bunch of bullets in that first half; a statline like this normally goes alongside a blowout. Seattle is being bailed out by their short-yardage defense, but they're going to need to figure out a way to slow Cam down if they want to come back in this one.

Vince Verhei: Another goal-line stand for Seattle results in a 13-10 lead for Carolina at the half. McCaffrey was tackled in bounds on third down and Carolina was out of timeouts. (They actually called their last timeout with more than seven minutes to go in the half.) They had to scramble to get the field goal off and barely got the ball snapped. And it was a dribbler that skipped and slid, but Michael Palardy made a great play to get it down and Graham Gano hit the kick. Panthers are now 0-for-4 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth.

Newton is having a monster game -- he's 14-of-14 for 159 yards -- but they have just the one touchdown to show for it. McCaffrey has been bottled up on the ground, with 20 yards on eight carries, but he leads the team with eight catches and 79 yards.

Seattle is in the game because of short-yardage defense (in addition to what we have already discussed, they also stuffed McCaffrey on third-and-1 to force a punt) and big plays from everyone on offense. They have only completed seven passes, and nobody has caught more than two, but they're averaging more than 17 yards a catch as a team.

Seattle looks to force a punt on Carolina's first drive of the second half, but Cam Newton does Cam Newton things, slipping a shoestring tackle and running for 26 yards. But the red zone remains a nightmare for the Panthers -- Newton forces a pass to Chris Manhertz, who has all of one catch on the year. He's not close to open, and Bradley McDougald tips the ball up to himself and reels it in for the interception. That's Seattle's first turnover in several weeks.

FOX is having a terrible broadcast, by the way. They said Carolina had converted several third downs; I checked, they're 0-for-4. They also had a 16-10 score on the screen for several minutes when it was still 13-10.

Chris Carson with a highlight reel run. He tries to hurdle a defender and gets hit and does a full flip -- but sticks the landing and comes up on his feet! He's tackled right away for no gain after that, but I don't think I have ever seen that before.

Carl Yedor: Here's the Carson flip:

Vince Verhei: The bad news for Seattle is that their insistence on running on second-and-long is leading to a lot of third-and-longs. The good news is that Russell Wilson is starting convert them. He found an uncovered David Moore for a 51-yard gain, then Lockett for a 12-yard touchdown to put Seattle up 17-13. That was an interesting call -- it was ruled a catch short of the end zone, but instead of taking first-and-goal from a few inches, Seattle challenged the play. It was an obvious call on replay and an easy reversal to a score, but as close as he would have been, was it worth risking a challenge there?

Bit of a crazy sequence here as Carolina receivers fumble on back-to-back plays, but they recovered both times. That includes Ryan Kalil recovering a McCaffrey fumble 21 yards downfield -- good hustle by the lineman there. Next play, Shaquill Griffin is called for pass interference in the end zone, and the NEXT play, McCaffrey carries it in for the easy score to put the Panthers back up 20-17. Newton ran for another third-down conversion on that drive too.

The Fumble Gods are smiling on the offenses today. I talked about Carolina's fortune earlier. Carson also had a fumble that went out of bounds in the first half, and just now had a fumble in scoring range that was reversed and ruled down by contact. Seattle then went for it on fourth-and-1 and just barely converted, but it ended up not meaning anything -- they gained zero yards after that and kicked a field goal to tie the game at 20-all.

Bryan Knowles: The crazy fumble luck in this one continues, as McCaffrey fumbles at the goal line but the Panthers fall on top of it. That's five Carolina fumbles, zero lost (plus one for Seattle, as well).

McCaffrey, when he's not putting the ball on the ground, is going off. The Panthers just had a 75-yard drive, every yard of which belonged to McCaffrey. He has over 100 yards rushing and receiving, as the Panthers take a 27-20 lead.

Vince Verhei: Jesus this game. McCaffrey runs for 59 and 15 yards. He's now over 100 rushing and receiving. But on first-and-goal, he fumbles again, but Carolina recovers AGAIN. That's three fumbles for McCaffrey and five total for the Panthers, and Carolina has recovered ALL of them. Two plays later, McCaffrey scores on a flat/slant combo where his man gets caught up in the trash, and Panthers go on top 27-20.

Dave Bernreuther: This one is fun. On fourth-and-3 from the 35 (Mike McCarthy probably would have punted), Carroll and Wilson flash their cojones and go for it all. And even with one arm being held, Moore goes up and gets the near-perfect ball from Wilson. That brought a tear of joy to my eye and I can't stand Russell Wilson.

Vince Verhei: David Moore is really good at catching balls in traffic. Seahawks have to go for in on fourth-and-3, and Wilson finds Moore down the sideline, isolated on Corn Elder. Elder is grabbing Moore's right arm with both his hands, the most blatant coverage foul you'll ever see, but that doesn't matter because Moore catches the ball with his other arm for the 35-yard touchdown. So we're tied at 27 now, Seattle about to kick off with 3:26 to go. Two timeouts remaining for each team.

Bryan Knowles: Ooooh, Gano just misses a 52-yard go-ahead field goal. And now Seattle's got the ball with 1:40 left, in great field position (albeit with no timeouts remaining). Popcorn game, this one.

Vince Verhei: Well hey now. Graham Gano misses a 52-yard field goal. And this comes after Newton threw an incompletion on second down, handing Seattle a free timeout. Now Seattle is out of timeouts, but has more than 90 seconds to drive for a winning field goal.

Bryan Knowles: As a side note, the FOX broadcast just flashed a graphic saying the Seahawks would have a 16.5 percent chance of winning the NFC West with a win today. Uh, suuuuure.

Aaron Schatz: We would have Seattle with less than 1 percent chance of winning the NFC West even with a win today.

Bryan Knowles: This is what happens when you just check how often 6-5 teams win the division without taking, you know, the actual situation in 2018 into account, much less relative team quality.

But hey, it's still a possibility. With a loss today, the Seahawks would have been eliminated from the division race ... but Sebastian Janikowski's 31-yard field goal ends this one. He was set up by a 43-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett, which Seattle decided was enough -- two kneels and a spike later, and the Seahawks escape with one. That was a heck of a game.

Vince Verhei: Add that to FOX showing Seattle had possession when it was Carolina's ball. They had a worse day than either team. Anyway...

On third down, Elder loses Lockett down the sideline, and Wilson hits him for a 43-yard gain to the 10. And then Seattle manages the game perfectly: kneeldown on first down to burn Carolina's last timeout, kneeldown on second down to burn 40 seconds, spike on third down to stop the clock with 4 seconds left, Sebastian Janikowski with the winning field goal on the last play of the game.

Massive win for Seattle, massive loss for Carolina. They're both 6-5 now as the NFC wild-card scene gets even more muddled. Seattle now gets to play at home for four of its last five games, and the road game is at San Francisco. Panthers have lost three in a row, each one devastating in its own way. Now they have to travel to Tampa Bay and Cleveland before the brutal Saints-Falcons-Saints gauntlet at the end of the season.

Carl Yedor: Holy cow. What a finish. After the missed Gano field goal, Seattle is faced with a third-and-5. Wilson has all day to throw and finds Lockett for 43 yards deep into the red zone. Two kneels and one spike later, Sebastian Janikowski kicks the game-winning field goal as time expires. Seattle gets a massive win on the road for wild-card tiebreaker purposes. Carolina is still in a decent position but not nearly as comfortable as it would have been with a win.

Jacksonville Jaguars 21 at Buffalo Bills 24

Andrew Potter: First blood Buffalo against the Jaguars (don't ask me why, I don't know) on an alarmingly-easy second drive. Shady McCoy looked hesitant on his first few carries, including his first reception, but Josh Allen hit Kelvin Benjamin on a deep over for about 20 yards, that turned into 32 yards because the referees missed that Benjamin's knee was down, then 47 because Jalen Ramsey ultimately took Benjamin down by the facemask. A crosser from right to left got Jason Croom wide open for another first, then Isaiah McKenzie took a sweep wide right for the easiest touchdown of his life. The Jaguars are tackling poorly early, and even on his lone incompletion Josh Allen had Zay Jones open against A.J. Bouye but the pass was tipped at the line.

The Jaguars gained about 25 yards on their opening drive after being pinned at the 1, but Leonard Fournette was stoned short of the line after catching a dumpoff on a Bortles rollout on third-and-1. Earlier, Jerry Hughes leapt OVER Bortles to whiff on a sack, leading to a first down on another dumpoff to Tommy Bohanon. Anything longer than that isn't getting close.

Now, on the third play of their third drive, Josh Allen just hit a BOMB under pressure to Robert Foster, matched up downfield against Barry Church deep centerfield in Cover-3. Seventy-five yards later, it's 14-0. That throw was an absolute beauty, exactly the sort of thing that makes a team spend a first-round pick on arm talent alone. Allen was surrounded in a closing pocket, about to get leveled, and unloaded a gorgeous throw to Foster in stride.

We're still in the first quarter, but the Jaguars are already in a deep, deep hole.

The Jaguars claw themselves out of the hole for the moment by going back to last week's game plan: 11-play drive, 10 runs, and the only pass was a dumpoff to the fullback. At this rate, Tommy Bohanon might be the Jaguars' leading receiver today. Even on third-and-3 from the 5, the Jaguars run straight power up the middle with Fournette, and he duly powers into the end zone.

Next drive is more of the same: six plays, 74 yards, ending in a Fournette goal-line plunge to tie the game. The highlight was a 43-yard end-around by receiver Dede Westbrook, which featured some particularly impressive blocking by tight end James O'Shaughnessy, first sealing the edge on the end of the line then getting downfield to lead block for Westbrook. Jaguars have called one pass in their last 17 plays, and even that was a fullback dumpoff. They're going to run, run, and run some more, and so far the Bills can't do a thing about it.

On the other side, Josh Allen hasn't been flawless, but has been really quite impressive so far. He's finding open receivers, making plays with his legs, and extending plays when the initial throw isn't there. The Bills aren't afraid to let Allen sling it, and they have been rewarded for that already.

Inside the two-minute warning, the Jaguars finally do let Bortles throw downfield, and he misses horribly on a throw to Keelan Cole. All the diving receiver can do is knock the ball in the air, where it's intercepted by Matt Milano. This might be the only team in the league that would have a more effective two-minute offense by simply continuing to hand off every play.

We have settled more into the expected pattern in the third quarter. The Jaguars have gone three-and-out three times in two drives -- they got a freebie first down on their second punt because the Bills had too many men on the field on fourth-and-5 -- whereas the Bills have a single first down from their two. Buffalo had a shot at getting into scoring range, but a huge drop by Deonte Thompson on another beautiful Allen deep ball (technically punched out by Tashaun Gipson, but Thompson had the catch and should have held on) led to Allen's first truly bad throw of the game, a horrible miss along the sideline in the vague direction of Robert Foster.

Bryan Knowles: We have got a donnybrook in Buffalo. Donte Moncrief and Levi Wallace simultaneously caught a ball in the end zone (later ruled down at the 1), and neither wanted to give it up. That cued both teams to come in pushing and shoving, and soon punching and kicking. Leonard Fournette and Shaq Lawson exchange blows and headlocks, and are both are ejected. And then, in the tunnel as they head off the field, they have to be separated again. A lot of tensions boiling over here.

Andrew Potter: One big factor in this game has been a slew of ill-timed penalties by the Bills. They have cost themselves several first downs and repeated defensive stops with unnecessary fouls. Now the Jaguars go three-and-out again with a Bortles sack on third down, but Buffalo is called on yet another big penalty and the Jaguars get another free first down. That leads to a 30-yard bomb from Bortles to Donte Moncrief, a bad throw short of the receiver that Moncrief turns into a superb grab. The catch is initially ruled a touchdown, but overturned because Moncrief was down by contact a yard short of the end zone. A proper brawl breaks out while the receiver and defensive back wrestle for the ball, resulting in Leonard Fournette and Shaq Lawson being ejected. Carlos Hyde is immediately stuffed, a false start and a holding call push the Jaguars back to the 17, Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams sack Blake Bortles on back-to-back plays, and the Jaguars miss the field goal.

So in the last few plays, the Jaguars have lost a touchdown, lost 20 yards, missed the field goal, and lost their most effective offensive player for the game. Apart from that, the play was fine.

Dave Bernreuther: Well that was all very entertaining. The refs seemed to be attempting to play Jingle Bells on their whistles, to no avail, in stopping the brouhaha, and then the Jags go straight backwards, culminating in a Bortles sack that makes the easy field goal a lot more difficult, and of course Josh Lambo misses it. This game is actually quite a bit more interesting and exciting than their playoff game last year.

Andrew Potter: The Jaguars have now also lost Andrew Norwell, their expensive offseason acquisition on the offensive line. After being helped off the field, he was carted into the locker room. Chris Reed is in at left guard, between fourth-string left tackle Ereck Flowers and backup center Tyler Shatley. Cue the "this is fine" dog meme.

In between losing Fournette and Norwell, they also fell behind on a Josh Allen touchdown run. Technically, it was a scramble on a called pass play, but really Allen called his own number when the Jaguars left basically nobody defending the middle of the field between him and the end zone. Allen's stat line is nothing to write home about, but he has played better than his numbers -- he's Buffalo's leading rusher, and he's lost several plays on offensive line penalties and that Deonte Thompson drop.

The penalties are now beginning to make this tough to watch, which is unfortunate as it has been a much better game than most people expected. The teams have combined for 23 penalties for 170 yards, plus two ejections, another pair of offsetting penalties, and a couple of others declined.

Dave Bernreuther: Josh Allen's cannon throw earlier accounts for almost half of his passing yards, as he is 8-of-19 for 160 in total.

But he also leads both teams in rushing, going over 100 yards, with a 17-yard fourth-quarter score to give the Bills a lead. Which is a good spot to be in against Blake Bortles, who just threw a beautiful pass -- ha, I'm just kidding, of course, it's Blake Bortles -- into coverage from his own end zone for a backbreaking interception. Their defense, given the worst possible start, holds, but it's far too late at this point, as it's 24-14 and the Jags have no timeouts and Blake Bortles.

It's worth pointing out that the same Buffalo fans who are going to go berserk over this Allen performance couldn't wait to get rid of Tyrod Taylor, whose worst days were about this good.

Andrew Potter: In backhanded defense of Bortles, that was one of his better throws of the day, and James O'Shaughnessy should have caught it.

I don't remember Tyrod Taylor having many days where he threw this well. Allen was far from perfect, and his accuracy declined as the game progressed, but he had several of those outstanding highlights that make it easy to see why somebody couldn't resist his physical tools.

The Jaguars did drive for a consolation score against the Bills' soft zone defense, but a simple onside kick recovery allowed the Bills to kneel the game out.

It's amazing to see how far the Jaguars have fallen since that early-season smackdown of the Patriots. It really does look like that was their Super Bowl, and they haven't played close to that level since. Indeed, the closest they came was last week, against the other big-game opponent from last year. The defense in particular keeps having communication breakdowns to allow big plays, and they aren't competent enough on offense to be able to afford even one such breakdown in most games. We expected some regression for them this year, but I genuinely did not expect this. Now that Buffalo is a game ahead of them and has the tiebreaker, the Jags are staring at yet another top-five draft pick, and I don't think any of us really saw that coming after last year.

New England Patriots 27 at New York Jets 13

Aaron Schatz: Strong pass protection by the Jets early. The Patriots had a couple blitzes that were picked up easily, giving Josh McCown plenty of time, although each of those passes ended up way overthrown. McCown has hit a lot of shorter stuff, though, a lot to Jermaine Kearse in the slot with Jonathan Jones as the nickelback in coverage. Kearse got the first touchdown of the game. The Patriots just came back and answered with a 34-yard touchdown strike to Gronk over the middle. Interesting decision by the Jets, as the Patriots missed on third-and-2 before that from the Jets' 24. The Patriots also got an OPI call and the Jets had to choose between fourth-and-2 on the 24 (likely a 42-yard field goal attempt) or giving the Patriots third-and-12 on the 34. If they stop them on that, it's a longer field goal, but you're also giving the Patriots another chance to convert. They gave them another chance, and the Patriots converted with the touchdown to Gronk.

A surprising 10-10 at halftime. The Patriots got down into the red zone and ran two lousy fade patterns to Gronk (lined up wide right) that the Jets defended pretty easily. They had to settle for a field goal. Then the Jets had a big 41-yard pass to Quincy Enunwa, but that was followed by a deep pass to Robby Anderson intercepted by Stephon Gilmore. So the Patriots take the ball at the 2, all three timeouts and over 2:00 left, and ... hand off three times and then punt. How oddly conservative. The Jets get the ball back around their own 40, move it about 20 yards downfield, and get a 55-yard field goal by Jason Myers that just kind of flutters in the air and then curves in between the uprights. So that's 10-10.

Dave Bernreuther: After a fairly gruesome injury to Sony Michel -- again, sigh -- the Patriots instantly revert to their last no-Michel offense and go for a fourth-and-1 with a give to Cordarrelle Patterson that converts.

On the replay, the announcers praise the block of Jacob Hollister, which surely did help create that hole for Patterson. Thing is, though, he did it by bear hugging the guy from behind. And I mean really behind. Back numbers to chest numbers behind. Somehow that went uncalled. But the Jets escape harm, as Brady throws two low inaccurate passes and then misses Gronk, who was probably held, and the Pats kick a field goal anyway. I thought that the Jets would probably move the ball and possibly score some points in this one, but them shutting the Pats down but for one big play, even into the second half, is unexpected. Even at home for a divisional game.

Aaron Schatz: Michel was weirdly bent back on that injury, but not actually injured. It looked more like it hurt, like your body just isn't supposed to bend that way. He came back at the start of the fourth quarter and immediately broke off a 33-yard run.

Dave Bernreuther: Thank goodness. And he is rewarded with a touchdown.

Actually isn't that his second "very bad looking but turned out to be not so big a deal" injury in about a month?

Aaron Schatz: The first was the knee injury, which did cost him a couple weeks but was not as bad as it looked on first glance. Also, his right knee was down, so the touchdown has been reversed on replay.

... but he broke the plane on a carry on the next down, so now Michel has scored. 27-13 Patriots.

The Jets got the ball back with 5:15 left, down 14, and took their sweet time getting down the field. Short passes, taking a while to get lined up, not managing to get a play off before the two-minute warning. This was exactly the kind of late-game drive everyone always criticizes Andy Reid for, although nobody will remember because it's the Jets in a random midseason game, not a playoff game under the prime-time lights. The Jets got down to the 4 and couldn't get the touchdown or convert on third-and-2 and fourth-and-2. Last pass went right between the hands of Jermaine Kearse.

Another couple things about this game. The Patriots blitzed a lot more than I expected to see. They also ran a lot more than expected, not just when they had the lead in the second half. There were a lot of old school, I-formation power runs and isos today. Over 130 yards for Sony Michel. And there were a lot of penalties today. Shaun Hochuli's crew leads the league in penalties per game and oh man did you feel it today. Eighteen total penalties, 11 on the Pats and seven on the Jets.

Tom Gower: Coming off the loss to the Titans and then the bye, there's a temptation to turn today's performance into Yet Another Exegesis of Whether The Patriots Dynasty Is Finally Over Now, but overall this game felt like Yet Another Patriots Win Over A Game But Ultimately Lost Jets. Josh McCown had a decent game for him. Rob Gronkowski scored a touchdown in his return. Tom Brady was for the most part efficient, with Julian Edelman, Gronk, and Josh Gordon the leading receivers. Gordon actually made a couple plays, unlike the Titans game where Brady kept looking for him and he kept not winning against Adoree Jackson. James White only had one catch on five targets, but a number of these appeared to be quasi-throwaways. Aaron mentioned Michel's big game and the character of the Patriots running game; when they weren't called for a flag, which happened way too often in a game I already wasn't excited about getting locally, the Patriots line did a nice job and it seemed like Jets second- and third-level defenders had a hard time fitting things up. Overall, a good recovery from two weeks ago, but Patriots Dynasty Watch is not over yet.

Cleveland Browns 35 at Cincinnati Bengals 20

Tom Gower: I'm not watching this game, but Damarious Randall apparently just intercepted an Andy Dalton pass and handed the ball to Hue Jackson after running out of bounds on the Bengals sideline and that needs to be mentioned.

Bryan Knowles: You think the Browns are fired up to play their old head coach? With Hue Jackson staring from the defensive sidelines, the Browns are firing on all cylinders. Baker Mayfield is 14-for-18 for 203 yards with a couple of touchdowns; he's just picking the Bengals apart. They also just picked off Andy Dalton to get the ball in good field position again. It's 21-0 midway through the second quarter, and the Bengals are just looking shellshocked. You'd think Jackson would be able to clue the defense in to the Browns' offensive strengths, but I suppose he never figured out what those were while he was in Cleveland.

Scott Kacsmar: Nick Chubb may have had the touchdown catch of the year. Great effort to catch the ball through a defender and maintain control through the ground. That would have been impressive for a wideout, let alone a running back. Mayfield has thrown multiple touchdowns in five straight games. The Cleveland franchise record still belongs to Frank Ryan (six games), who was unexpectedly great at throwing touchdowns in the 1960s. Haven't seen a ton of Baker today, but did see one third-and-11 where he scrambled and fired a perfect sideline pass for a conversion. He's definitely going to make the Browns a trendy pick for the playoffs in 2019. The Browns are up 28-0 on the road, and all of this coming with Hue on the other sideline has to feel extra sweet for Cleveland.

Vince Verhei: Hue Jackson falls to 6-38-1 when coaching for or against the Browns.

Bryan Knowles: I think we have a good indication of just what Baker Mayfield thinks of his former head coach.

San Francisco 49ers 9 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27

Bryan Knowles: It has not been a good 24 hours for San Francisco. Reuben Foster has been released after the fourth arrest of his short career and Marquise Goodwin has had to leave the team to deal with a personal issue. At least we get to watch George Kittle, who is second in the league in YAC behind only Saquon Barkley. The 49ers offense at this point is "throw the ball to Kittle, run with Matt Breida, repeat." Fourteen of San Francisco's 19 offensive plays have gone to one of those two guys; it has not exactly been an amazing demonstration of balance.

Tampa has gone back to Jameis Winston, and he's looking good so far today. He's not doing anything too deep, generally -- a lot of high-percentage plays -- but he's at least hitting them, and Tampa has done a good job of moving the ball down the field, though they only have one score to show for it. 7-6 Tampa Bay midway through the second.

Dave Bernreuther: It's nice when halftime shows actually show football highlights instead of stupid celebrations. I spoke of Lamar Jackson not throwing a perfect sideline pass to Crabtree on his second pick; the FOX halftime show just took the time to point out how Jameis Winston threw his guy open in exactly that way, to the outside shoulder and away from the defense. This is easily his best game, technique-wise, of the season. Even his misses have been safe, which stands in pretty good contrast to his usual reckless self.

Bryan Knowles: Kyle Shanahan does have a bit of a history with questionable challenges, and he just wasted another one on a Nick Mullens sneak at the goal line. He may well have gotten in, but there was certainly no video evidence of that occurring in sea of bodies. The 49ers had a second-and-1, and ran into the pile twice, getting stuffed. They lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1, but a false start pushed them back, and they decided to kick the short field goal instead. 13-9 Tampa Bay.

Dave Bernreuther: I thought it was a near certainty that Mullens got in, and couldn't believe that they didn't signal it. But yeah, that was a terrible challenge. There wasn't any angle at all that fit the criteria for an overturn. Not even close. And with a high percentage play coming up anyway, that's not a flag I would have thrown.

Then again, maybe he knew something about his team that we don't; on the fourth-and-goal play, they false started. Whoops.

Miami Dolphins 24 at Indianapolis Colts 27

Vince Verhei: In this week's fashion post, the Chargers are wearing royal blue jerseys (with yellow numbers!) and pants against the Cardinals' all-white unis. Game looks like a Pro Bowl.

Dave Bernreuther: Vince, check out the other two late games. This is appalling.

I don't know what upsets me more: That the Colts and their always-agreeable tradition-first uniform choices are out the window in favor of the all blue pajama look; or the fact that a still not reliable defense just lost its best player on the first play of the game.

Vince Verhei: I was just going to say, Denver in their all-orange against Pittsburgh in yellow-and-white ... that game just looks like roadwork.

Dave Bernreuther: At least the Dolphins wore the teal pants instead of going all-white against the all-blue, mirroring the Chargers game.

The Colts defense didn't even put up a fight on a free play swing pass to Kenyan Drake. If they don't get that figured out, this game has all the makings of a 1999-like shootout. Or at least it will have to, if they want to have any chance of winning.

Vince Verhei: I don't think I have seen the Colts go blue-on-blue before. And you know what? I don't hate it. Especially not against the Dolphins in teal -- there's a nice contrast in colors there, but they don't clash.

Dave Bernreuther: They never have. And when Nike got the uniform contract, there was some talk of alternates in black, and the front office vetoed it. We saw these at the Color Rush unveiling last year, but they opted not to wear them. (I always thought that they could have just worn their usual all-whites and gotten away with calling that Color rush while also complying with Nike's stupid crap.) Since 2004, when team COO Pete Ward switched from the lighter blue with blue masks and white shoes to the current look, they have worn a throwback on Thanksgiving of that year, maybe one other time, but have otherwise been perfect. Until today.

Speaking of perfect, the offense stormed directly back downfield to tie it up, but actually ended on a less-than-perfect throw from Luck, which Eric Ebron came down with anyway. Dan Pompeii wrote a good feature on him the other day, in which he admitted to not being quite ready or mature when he first came into the league. What a find he has been for the Colts a few years in to his career, though. Lions fans must be sick right now watching this.

Scott Kacsmar: Eric Ebron catching yet another touchdown makes you wonder what exactly went wrong in Detroit. His DVOA in the red zone was good for a couple of years, but Matthew Stafford rarely wanted to use him there. Andrew Luck has been big on him all year and it's working well.

You have to love the announcers talking about how Ryan Tannehill will be playing in significant pain (his words) this season, and the very next play is a keeper run by him. Maybe it's just exaggeration, or maybe it's just another case of getting a player on the field at all costs.

Dave Bernreuther: Darius Leonard is back in the game, and he picks up a sack on a third-and-4 to force the Dolphins' third straight punt. That's a nice turnaround from the wet tissue paper defense on the first drive.

The Dolphins had the ball because T.Y. Hilton went out of bounds meekly a yard or less shy of the sticks on third-and-7 on the previous possession. I would have liked to have seen a replay of that one though, as it seems like his arm might have been a lot farther forward at the time he went out. It was the end of the quarter, though, so we didn't get replays, but a full two minutes of commercials instead. Even if the spot was wrong, though, that was a really weak play by Hilton, and I hope Reich got in his face for it.

I love Bruce Arians for putting a sack on Andrew Luck for holding it too long. It won't count, of course, because of an illegal contact call downfield, so the streak remains alive. But it's nice to hear someone putting most of the blame where it belongs, as opposed to blindly crediting the new and improved offensive line for that part of the team's improvement.

Vince Verhei: Can I just say that Jacoby Brissett completing a pass to Andrew Luck for a fourth-down conversion was the coolest play of the day? Because it totally was. They did the Taysom Hill, Lamar Jackson thing with the backup taking the snap and the starter split wide, but the Miami corner just gave Luck a massive cushion, and Brissett threw him the ball. It was a high pass and Luck had to jump to reel it in, but still a pretty easy conversion under the circumstances.

Dave Bernreuther: The opposite of the play(s) of the day just happened. We just had turnovers on three consecutive plays. Luck pick deep, fumble after a catch, and another Luck pick deep. All in the blink of an eye. Not the prettiest football being played here all of a sudden.

Maybe this is just me being angry for other reasons, but prior to the Jack Doyle touchdown, T.Y. Hilton didn't put up much of a fight to get in when being tackled after a catch at the 1, and on the first Luck interception he didn't make much of an effort to play defense or dislodge the ball once he knew the defender had leverage.

I get that he's small, and I get that I'm just in a bad mood, but man, I thought those were three plays in one half where he could have been a bit tougher.

Vince Verhei: This all happened in the last minute of the half, the most exciting 60 seconds of football so far today:

  • Leonte Carroo outjumps a Colts defender to catch a 50-50 ball, and when the defender falls down, it turns into a 74-yard touchdown.
  • Next play from scrimmage, Andrew Luck throws deep to T.Y. Hilton, but it's intercepted by Xavien Howard.
  • Next play from scrimmage, Mike Gesicki catches the ball, but fumbles and it's recovered by Indianapolis.
  • Next play from scrimmage, Luck throws deep to Ebron, but it's intercepted by Howard again.
  • Miami mercifully kneels out the half so everyone can catch their breath.

I would assume back-to-back-to-back turnovers is an NFL first.

Anyway, we're tied at 14 at the half.

Scott Kacsmar: I can't cite a specific example, but I'm sure back-to-back-to-back turnovers from scrimmage has happened before. What might be historic is how quickly Howard picked up two interceptions.

Tom Gower: Luke Kuechly had two interceptions 11 seconds apart against Dallas a few years ago, so Howard's feat is not a record.

Vince Verhei: Dolphins lead 24-17 thanks to the running game -- Frank Gore had a 23-yarder to put them in the red zone, and then Kenyan Drake scored on second-and-13 from the 14 --but they may have fallen a little too in love with it. On third-and-10, protecting a one-score lead deep in their own end, they hand off to Drake. Margus Hunt is not fooled and drops Drake for a 5-yard loss. Worse, Drake stays down grabbing his arm, then heads to the tent. Miami is punting with exactly eight minutes to go.

The Colts get a big catch-and-run from Hilton and another touchdown from Ebron (sweet throw from Luck, finding Ebron in the seam) to tie the score. Then Drake returns to the field -- but Miami gives it to him on third-and-10 AGAIN. That leads to a punt, and Luck and the Colts will have several minutes here to kick a winning field goal.

Ryan Tannehill is a seventh-year pro and the Dolphins still don't trust him to throw on third-and-long with the score tied. He's not a disaster on the Bortles level or anything, but at this point it's clear the Dolphins need something new at that position.

Dave Bernreuther: Another Ebron score ties the game up after the Colts come back rather quickly from a 10-point deficit, and why Andrew Luck is more special than some of his stats indicate is that you almost expect that from him. Part of the reason they fell into the 10-point hole was that Chester Rogers and his old stone hands killed a drive a while ago, but he has since made up for it with two catches, including one after Luck pulled a Houdini.

Another part of the reason they were down two scores was that Vinatieri missed a kick. Vinatieri doesn't often miss twice, though. And he doesn't here, hitting from 32 as time expires to take the win. Not quite as impressive as many had hoped, but a win is a win.

Vince Verhei: That field goal felt inevitable from the point Miami punted, but let's not overlook how awesome that Luck throw to Rogers was. Step up in the pocket, looking like he's going to scramble, then throwing on the breaks and lobbing the ball deep. Just tremendous.

Dave Bernreuther: Why I love Frank Reich, reason 387: After the game he mentioned two key plays. One was the obvious one: Luck's escape and throw to Rogers, but the other was his decision to kick short and pin them deep on the final drive. They covered it well but were further helped by a penalty, and once Miami started at the 6 it seemed almost a fait accompli that the Colts would score next and win.

Adam Gase, meanwhile, must infuriate Dolphins fans. After going up two scores, he stopped trying to win. (Actually, several Colts fans on Twitter noted that he didn't seem to be coaching to win even in the first half.) Two three-and-outs for -5 yards total, full of short passes and a pair of handoffs on third-and-10. A lot of fans still lack faith in Ryan Tannehill, but he's at worst a decent quarterback. They coached that game like they were playing Hide the Bortles.

Tom Gower: As I noted on Twitter, compare Reich's decision with what Todd Bowles did earlier today, booting the ball through the end zone on a kickoff from the 50. One completion to Josh Gordon later, the Patriots were almost at midfield, and the drive would end in the end zone after Bowles accepted a penalty on an incompletion to make it third-and-12 instead of fourth-and-2. Coaching matters, a lot, in many areas.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 at Denver Broncos 24

Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers are going to want a reset button for Christmas. This is another troubling road start, but it's not Ben Roethlisberger this week. The special teams let a defender leap over the line to block a field goal on the opening drive. Then after a great play design to get Xavier Grimble wide open, he fumbled through the end zone for a touchback. I don't know why he didn't just dive and reach, but instead opened himself up to a bit of a helmet-to-helmet shot and lost the ball. Denver's up 3-0 after barely making its field goal. Case Keenum was also lucky that a pass tipped high up into the air didn't land into the hands of a defender.

Wow, I was getting ready to type how the Steelers left 14 points on the field in that half, but a fake field goal takes away four of those points. Chris Boswell may have had his choice of receivers, but he hit the left tackle Alejandro Villanueva with the score. Pretty ballsy call before the half there. Steelers have moved the ball very well with a quick-passing attack by Roethlisberger, but not finishing drives well. Vance McDonald dropped a touchdown and a shovel pass on third down didn't work, but kudos to Mike Tomlin and the special teams for being aggressive with the fake. 10-10 at halftime and we have a good one.

Vince Verhei: Pittsburgh's fake field goal touchdown on the last play of the first half just stole the Play of the Day trophy from Andrew Luck's fourth down conversion. Direct snap to the kicker, and a pinpoint pass from Chris Boswell to an uncovered Alejandro Villanueva (don't forget, he played some wide receiver at Army) for the score. I was hoping they would fake it again on the extra point, but Boswell just kicks it through to make it 10-10 at the half.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers have been moving up and down the field, sure, but their drives had ended in a blocked field goal, a fumble-touchback, and a field goal up until the end of the first half. Some long passes to Ryan Switzer set the Steelers up inside the Denver 10, but the Broncos were able to hold, setting up a scaredy-cat 19-yard field goal for Pittsburgh...

... Except, no, it's a direct snap to Chris Boswell, who throws a dime to Alejandro Villanueva for Pittsburgh's first touchdown of the day. It's 10-10 at the half, Pittsburgh gets the ball to start the second half. If they can just tidy a few things up, they'll win this one without too much trouble, but you have to frown at being tied at halftime against a 4-6 team, even if it's a really good 4-6 team.

If you're having trouble converting in the red zone, one solution is to avoid the red zone entirely. Roethlisberger just hit JuJu Smith-Schuster on a 97-yard catch and run to take a 17-10 lead. It's the longest offensive touchdown of the year to this point (beaten only by a 102-yard Jakeem Grant kickoff return and Justin Reid's 101-yard interception return from a year ago). So that's good.

On the other hand! Roethlisberger was pulled down in the end zone as he threw the ball, and has gone into the locker room. He seems to be more or less alright, jogging into the tunnel ... but Josh Dobbs is warming up for now.

And as I write this, Roethlisberger runs back OUT of the tunnel and onto the field, because the man is practically indestructible. This is the second time this year I have written up an "oh no, Roethlisberger is hurt" note, and he has come back in within a play each time.

Scott Kacsmar: CBS had a graphic that said JuJu is the first player to have two offensive touchdowns of 97-plus yards in NFL history, but I think that's wrong. Pro Football Reference has Gaynell Tinsley going 97 yards for the Cardinals in 1937, and he outdid himself with a 98-yard touchdown catch in 1938. Wikipedia biography also backs this up, and I could look at an Arizona media guide later, but I think they just missed this pre-1940 feat. Still impressive for Smith-Schuster either way.

Vince Verhei: Phillip Lindsay is a really, really nice player, man. His 2-yard touchdown puts Denver up 24-17, and he's now up to 99 yards on only 12 carries. The only question: why does he only have 12 carries, while Case Keenum has 28 passes? Don't I ask this same question every week?

Aaron Schatz: I actually don't mind the Denver pass/run ratio. We're not talking about him like we talk about the hot young offensive playcallers, but I think Bill Musgrave deserves some credit for designing a Denver offense that's so good on the ground and has a lot of misdirection in it to prop up Case Keenum. They just went up 24-17 and on the touchdown drive there was a sweet little pass play that was fake screen left, then fake screen right, then toss up the middle to a wide-open tight end Jeff Heuerman. The Denver offense also uses a lot of motion to confuse defenses, like the best modern offenses.

I mean, if I asked where Denver ranked in offensive DVOA going into this week, you would probably guess something in the bottom half of the league, right? They're 11th.

Vince Verhei: Points taken, but I will add that they are third in rushing offense DVOA, 20th in passing offense. They're one of the few teams, and the only good team, that has a higher DVOA on running plays than on pass plays. And those are team totals -- that doesn't even account for Lindsay (21.6% DVOA) being much more effective than Royce Freeman (5.8%). If you want to take carries away from Freeman and give them to Lindsay going forward, I'm fine with that.

Dave Bernreuther: Bill Musgrave deserves a ton of credit for the last Raiders playoff appearance and the semi-misplaced hope people still have in Derek Carr, which is why it was about as odd that they let him go as it was that the Jets let John Morton go after making chicken salad last year.

I'd give some credit to Vance Joseph and his defense today too, but I'm not actually convinced they're playing well so much as maybe the Steelers are blinded by their uniforms.

Bryan Knowles: We already had a big-man touchdown in this one, and now we have a big-man Interception! Big Ben threw into ... well, I'm going to call it double coverage and be generous ... and the nose tackle jumped up and snagged it down. Broncos are going to pull off the upset!

Dave Bernreuther: Can we stop with these stupid team photo celebrations? Never mind that I'm a curmudgeon, Denver, but you did the exact same freaking thing earlier in the game!

(Oh, also, first-and-goal on the doorstep, the Steelers go uncreative fade, predictable run, and a pass straight into the gut of the wrong team. That was ... ungood. And now once again the Patriots have the inside path to a bye.)

Vince Verhei: Steelers have a third-and-goal from the 2, needing a touchdown to tie ... and Roethlisberger throws a brutal interception right to defensive tackle Shelby Harris. That's a 290-pound man dressed like a traffic cone, so I have no idea how Ben didn't see him. Worse, the cornerback (Chris Harris, I assume) was blanketing Antonio Brown in coverage, and likely would have had the interception if Harris hadn't been there.

So right this second, Baltimore and Indianapolis are tied at 6-5 for the second wild-card spot, with Tennessee at 5-5 playing against Houston Monday night, and then the Bengals, Dolphins, and Broncos all at 5-6. Going to be a crazy battle royal for that last playoff berth.

Aaron Schatz: Denver's schedule gets much, much easier now. Three of these are road games, but: Cincinnati, San Francisco, Oakland, and Cleveland. Then the Chargers in Week 17. It's time for Broncos fans to start rooting for the rival Chargers as hard as possible, because the best thing for Denver would be for the Chargers to clinch the 5 seed before Week 17 and then rest guys in the final game of the regular season.

Then again, the worst thing for Denver would be for the Chargers to still have a shot at the AFC West title in Week 17, and not rest guys.

Arizona Cardinals 10 at Los Angeles Chargers 45

Vince Verhei: The Chargers had a fourth quarter from Hell last week and lost a game against Denver that they absolutely should have won. And things weren't much better in the first quarter this week. Playing a Cardinals team that was coming off a home loss to Oakland, the Chargers quickly fell behind 10-0. They got a touchdown, but then a Philip Rivers fumble set Arizona up in scoring range with a chance to extend the lead to two scores. But the drive went nowhere and then Phil Dawson missed a field goal. Since then, this has been all Los Angeles -- they scored touchdowns on three straight drives, getting an interception of Josh Rosen in there on defense. Rivers is 19-of-19 for 187 yards and two scores (both to Mike Williams), though he also has four sacks (2.5 by Robert Nkemdiche) and the fumble. The Cardinals did nothing on offense in the second quarter, and there's nothing here to indicate they can come back from a 28-10 halftime deficit.

Bryan Knowles: So, Cam Newton was 14-for-14 in the first half. Philip Rivers says "hold my bolo" -- he has set a pair of NFL records today, first by opening the day with 23 straight completions, and now tying Ryan Tannehill's record with 25 consecutive completions on the touchdown pass.

He's 25-for-25 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Rivers is good, but it's also important to remember that Arizona is really, really bad.

Ooooh, and Rivers can't break Tannehill's record. He was hit as he threw, and his dump-off pass fell incomplete. So Rivers and Tannehill remain tied with 25 consecutive completions, the NFL record. Of course, Rivers did it all in one game, so that's, I don't know -- a bonus point?

Vince Verhei: Not sure why L.A. felt the need to line Melvin Gordon out wide and give him the ball on a reverse while leading 28-10, but they did, and it could not have gone worse -- the play lost 10 yards (officially, it's one of Rivers' record-setting completions, to Austin Ekeler) and Gordon went down with a knee injury and has not returned.

The Chargers are up 42-10 with 13 minutes to go and Philip Rivers' day is done. Geno Smith is running the offense. Rivers finishes 28-of-29 for 259 yards and three touchdowns. The sacks, the fumble and a bunch of short completions will probably keep this off our "best of" list, but it's clearly a special day.

Meanwhile, Arizona's last seven drives include four three-and-outs, one other punt, an interception on first down, and a kneeldown to end the first half.

Bryan Knowles: Arizona ran three plays in the third quarter, which is terrible. They only ran five plays in the third quarter last week, so, you know. Halftime has not been good for the Cardinals recently.

Vince Verhei: We should mention that Arizona's offensive line has been destroyed by injuries. They had a graphic up earlier going through all the changes and I couldn't keep track of them, but I think their Continuity Score after the year is just going to read "#DIV/0!"

Green Bay Packers 17 at Minnesota Vikings 24

Scott Kacsmar: Special teams had a huge impact on the tie between these teams earlier this year, especially on the Vikings. Dan Bailey has already missed two field goals tonight, though the one before halftime was 5 yards longer (56) after a false start penalty. That's tough when the defender jumps offsides and the offensive guy reacts, but since it's not immediate, he gets hit with a false start. Vikings were statistically the better team, but it's tied on the scoreboard, just like last time.

Tom Gower: 14-14 at the half. Minnesota played conservatively in the two-minute drill, privileging avoiding letting Green Bay try over putting points on the board, thus the long field goal attempt on early downs. I wondered early if this game would be decided more by which of the two teams' foibles showed up more frequently. After Green Bay's regular appearances nationwide (five of their past six available in this non-local market), we have all gotten a look at their issues, including, yes, whether Rodgers is missing third down conversions he really should be taking (tonight's example: Jimmy Graham seemingly completely uncovered on a crosser), the non-Jaire Alexander defensive backs, the Vikings' offensive line, Kirk Cousins doing the same thing Kirk Cousins always does, and, oh, pick a Minnesota defensive issue, like being down Andrew Sendejo, plus some occasional interesting decisions and mistakes, like the 12 men penalty on fourth down after the early timeout. And, yep.

Dave Bernreuther: Oh, so NOW Mike McCarthy goes for it. Now that he knows he's on the chopping block and has nothing to lose.

They failed, though, so I'm sure that makes it a bad decision in his eyes...

Aaron Schatz: Xavier Rhodes has mostly erased Davante Adams tonight. Yes, he has a touchdown, but only 24 yards as of the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Dave Bernreuther: I was just about to say something about Rodgers' latest third-down sack -- as well as that I do sometimes find Rodgers complicit in the turnover-wasting we discussed earlier this year -- when I saw this link from Michael David Smith.

Rodgers has always seemed to take more sacks than a player of his caliber should. To a certain extent, it's just something that you live with and take the good with the bad, like vintage completions-with-defenders-hanging-on-him Big Ben or pre-Reich Andrew Luck, because that holding it till the last second resulted in a lot of magic. And Rodgers has certainly made a lot of magic. But he also takes a lot of sacks where it really does seem like he has an opportunity to get rid of the ball safely, and he still doesn't. And, as that article's first section notes, it happens unusually often on third down. And it's not entirely wrong to call that a hidden turnover.

Anyway, in this case I was just going to note that he took two straight third-down sacks. Now that Minnesota has scored ten points after those two drives ended, those sacks are starting to look worse. (Welp, make that three straight.) And I'm wondering if with him, especially as his efficiency has declined a bit, the risk/reward on holding on to the ball is getting skewed.

Of course, it's also fair to consider whether the stubborn old-ness of McCarthy's offense and route combinations are the bigger culprit.

Aaron Schatz: Love Minnesota's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 7, up 24-14. No question that a touchdown in that situation helps you much more than a field goal that changes 24-14 to 27-14.

Scott Kacsmar: I have always been a big fan of pointing out 17 > 13 > 10. Teams usually settle for the field goal, so good job by the Vikings to try. Fortunately, it doesn't look like they'll need those extra points. The defense has been great on third down (1-for-8), which was a staple of the 2017 team's success. Cousins has had a great night too.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to send this before Rodgers converted Green Bay's second third-down of the night and Rhodes pulled up with a leg injury. We still have a game, though with an onside kick likely needed, the Vikings should be okay here.

Aaron Schatz: Rodgers underthrew Equanimeous St. Brown on second-and-1, overthrew an open Davante Adams on third-and-1. Both of those throws are on him. And then ... the Packers kick a field goal. The fourth-and-1 is so much easier to convert than whatever fourth down the Packers will have to try to convert if they recover an onside kick here. They should have gone for it, not kicked the field goal.

Vince Verhei: I'm following online, not watching, so I can't comment too much. But I can say that the fourth-down decision-making in this game has been mind-boggling.

Tom Gower: Yet mind-boggling in a totally unsurprising way.

Dave Bernreuther: The overthrow was so slight that I'm willing to look the other way on that one. But man ... if you're going to go for the three first, why not just do it once you're in range and save time?

As usual, the Packers don't have their timeouts late in the game, so the Vikings will run their third-down play at the two-minute warning and then be able to let it tick down. If we assume a stop, Rodgers will get the ball back. But now he'll need a touchdown, and not a field goal. And the dream of another tie (because I'm evil like that) is very close to dead.

Aaron Schatz: I don't have a problem with McCarthy going for it earlier on fourth-and-1, on the play they didn't convert because Aaron Jones just ran it up into the defense for no yards. McCarthy actually goes for it on fourth down a lot more than you probably think. If we combine 2016 and 2017, he has the highest Aggressiveness Index in the league.

Tom Gower: The Green Bay Packers have now lost the last eight road games Aaron Rodgers has started.

Scott Kacsmar: I didn't mind the late field goal. Any strategy that includes recovering an onside kick feels like a lost cause this year. That's what would have happened if they kept playing for the touchdown. So at least by kicking the field goal, McCarthy saved the two-minute warning and could bait the Vikings into throwing on a third down that might even save more time with an incompletion. For two plays, the defense worked too, setting up a big third-and-6. But instead of getting Rodgers the ball back with more than enough time for a touchdown, the defense allowed another conversion to end the game. Green Bay's offense really struggled the final seven drives after a good start.

Comments

170 comments, Last at 27 Nov 2018, 5:32pm

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I don't remember Tyrod Taylor having many days where he threw this well.

Allen's stats were roughly the same as Taylor's stats for Cleveland in a monsoon against Pittsburgh in week 1. Which was his worst full-game as a pro.

Taylor's Buffalo career was 10% higher completion percentage, twice the TD rate, and half the INT rate of Allen, and 1/8th the INT rate of The Human Interception. He was a considerably better QB than either to this point.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I don't mean the box score. I literally mean the throws. Allen had a couple of bad misses, and he was worse in the second half than the first, but he made several very high-quality throws. One of those was a beauty downfield that Deonte Thompson turned into an incompletion, and two good completions for first downs were called back on offensive line penalties that ultimately turned them into a deep overthrow of Kelvin Benjamin in third-and-25.

He's unrefined and unpolished, but you could easily see why the Bills thought he was a first-round talent.

9 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

So why was Taylor so much more successful throwing to the same collection of brick-handed morons the Bills call WRs?

I remember him bouncing a bunch of passes right off the hands of his receivers in the playoff game, so it's not like systemic drops are a new thing. And Buffalo spent the last two years trading away every receiver he had chemistry with.

12 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Because Tyrod Taylor is a better QB. However, he still wasn't that great and the Bills were a bad team a long way from win now mode (their playoff appearance last year was a fluke), so moving on from him was a perfectly sensible thing to do. Whether Allen was the right QB to draft in the first round is another debate, but his deficiencies doesn't mean the Bills should still have Tyrod as their starting QB.

36 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Buffalo traded one receiver from Taylor's one good year - Watkins. Everyone else left through free agency.

Taylor wasn't really more successful at throwing to the WRs, Clay and Shady were just more successfully involved in the passing game. Admittedly, that impression is from memory, but that's certainly what I remember seeing.

I was not a fan of the drafting of Allen, but it's not hard to see why the front office in Buffalo thinks he has more upside than Tyrod did.

54 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Taylor's worst game as a pro was against the Saints last year when he threw for a whopping 56 yards and a pick (and was relieved by the human interception who managed to throw for 79 yards and a TD). Every game he played with Cleveland was better than that disaster.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Villanueva (New House) had 34 receptions for Army in 2009. On a team that only completed 73 passes. He was far and away their best receiver.
https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/players/alejandro-villanueva-1.html

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Phillip Lindsay is a really, really nice player, man. His 2-yard touchdown puts Denver up 24-17, and he's now up to 99 yards on only 12 carries. The only question: why does he only have 12 carries, while Case Keenum has 28 passes? Don't I ask this same question every week?

Because it's a mistake to run in the modern NFL and per efficiency metrics.

52 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

In general yes, but I think Phillip Lindsay is at near parity with Case Keenum in yards per attempt (pass attempt net yardage vs. carries). Denver this year likely is the exception that proves the rule.

I don't think this means Denver should run all the time, but 2-1 pass/run is probably excessive given the strengths of the team. At the very least, using more play action (Denver is one of the least in the league) and fewer empty-set formations would likely be beneficial.

161 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

It's not significantly worse than a third-down incompletion, which is almost as likely to lead to a change in possession*.

* Yes, yes, an incompletion on third and relatively short may result in the team going for and making it on fourth down, where a sack on third and relatively short will be more likely to result in a punt. Splitting hairs.

166 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

You also need to consider fumbles; Rodgers has fumbled 6 times on 34 sacks. Assuming recovery rates on sacks are about 50/50 (which is what Football Perspective determined in a 2012 study), that's 3 turnovers. If Rodgers had forced a few more passes, would he have thrown 3 more interceptions? You also probably would consider a fumble to be a worse turnover for the offense, given field position.

167 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

That is a good point, especially since his fumble rate this season isn't an outlier (over his career, he has 77 fumbles and 397 sacks) - which combined with the 50% average recovery rate means he has about a 10% turnover rate on sacks, compared to a career 1.5% interception rate.

Now, passes thrown under duress are probably more likely to be intercepted than the average, but even if he's 5x more likely than average to throw an interception when trying to avoid a sack, that's less likely than losing the ball on a sack/fumble (and as you note, a sack/fumble usually gives the defense better field position than an interception).

The right answer, of course, is to just throw the ball into the stands before he gets sacked even if he's still in the pocket and take the intentional grounding penalty, which avoids the possibility of either an interception or a lost fumble.

And to get back to the original point, a sack on third down isn't so much a hidden turnover as it is about 10% of a hidden turnover (assuming the fumble rates on sacks for Rodgers aren't too far out of the ordinary, which I haven't bothered to look up).

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

That's a 290-pound man dressed like a traffic cone, so I have no idea how Ben didn't see him.

Perhaps he blended into the traffic-cone orange "R" in the end zone lettering. Finally, something useful for monotone uniforms!

7 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

But he also takes a lot of sacks where it really does seem like he has an opportunity to get rid of the ball safely, and he still doesn't. And, as that article's first section notes, it happens unusually often on third down. And it's not entirely wrong to call that a hidden turnover.

Does film review show open receivers on those plays?

Because throwing it away is like taking a TO to avoid delay of game on a punt -- you're kicking it away anyway. The yards lost don't matter. So long as you don't fumble, you're better off taking the risk of the sack for the chance to convert any of those you wouldn't have had you thrown the ball away to avoid the sack.

48 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Right.

It's akin to investing. If you are a serious investor and make money on every single investment, the proper conclusion is that you're not investing in enough. Your threshold is too high if your hit rate is 100%; if you made more 60-70% investments, you'd be making even more money in the long run.

Rodgers's interception rate is so low - and his sack rate high enough - that he probably should be "forcing" the ball more.

53 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Man, I agree with both lines of argument here and now my head might explode. I'd love to see some EdjSports/similar numbers on what's the better course of action, take a sack or make a risky throw. Maybe using the pass completion odds that some of the telecasts have been using as a way to calibrate it?

24 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Agreed. Taking sacks mostly on 3rd down would suggest good football sense.

As long as you're not giving up a safety or being knocked out of reasonable field goal range, holding the ball a little longer to give your receivers more of a chance to get open seems like the right risk-reward decision in 3rd down. On 1st or 2nd, throw it away. On 3rd, retaining possession >> 7 yards of field position after a punt.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

Aaron Schatz: Rodgers underthrew Equanimeous St. Brown on second-and-1, overthrew an open Davante Adams on third-and-1. Both of those throws are on him. And then ... the Packers kick a field goal. The fourth-and-1 is so much easier to convert than whatever fourth down the Packers will have to try to convert if they recover an onside kick here. They should have gone for it, not kicked the field goal.

Normally I would agree. But then, normal QBs don't have Rodgers luck in converting Hails Mary.

10 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The Jaguars coaching staff should be banned from wearing those "BOLD CITY" hoodies they were in this weekend. You don't get to call yourselves bold when your entire season has been defined by your unwillingness to even attempt to move the ball on offense.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

"It was an obvious call on replay and an easy reversal to a score, but as close as he would have been, was it worth risking a challenge there?"

First: This would be like having the sun rise, a ref ruling that the sun did not rise, me looking at the sun rising in the sky and throwing a challenge flag then you, also seeing that the sun has, indeed, risen in the sky asking " is it worth risking a challenge flag here?"

To which every human being on earth looks at you in wonder and asks "what risk?"

Second: Super Bowl 49. Or the NFCCG vs SF when Lynch fumbled at the goal line. THAT is a risk.

14 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I have always hated the non-intuitive and archaic rules related to fumbles in the end zone. Can anyone explain them to me? When my wife asked, I totally lied and said that it was a rule that made more sense in 1890 when no one was forward-passing and games ended in scores like 5-4. She accepted this, but I gotta look like I know what I'm talking about next time it comes up?

I could wanting to avoid a Holly Roller... but we already have Holly Roller rules, don't we?

18 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

It's my least favorite rule in football. I don't know the genesis of it either, but it seems to me that a fumble through the endzone should just be the fumbling team's ball at the spot where it was fumbled. I don't understand why it's suddenly a turnover, without a recovery, when everywhere else that the ball can go out of play on a fumble, it's not a turnover. (I suppose it could go the other way, and the NFL could make any fumble that goes out of bounds a turnover... at least it would seem more consistent to me.)

Here's an article where the author agrees : https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2017/11/15/16653504/fumble-turned-touchback-rule-change-suggestions

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

There's only one non-intuitive one -- if the offense fumbles the ball into the EZ and it goes OOB with no one recovering, it is the defense's ball on the defense's 20.

Note that it is impossible for the offense to fumble the ball in the EZ. If the offense has possession in the EZ (and you have to have possession to be able to fumble in the first place) it is a TD and the ball is dead.

27 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The Holy Roller rules (which are obscure and arbitrary, but necessary to discourage intentional fumbles and to avoid arbitrary reffing calls about fumbling intent) are newer than the fumble out of bounds in the end zone rule. So we did not "already" have them.

If by "explain" you mean "explain what it means", are you daft? You know exactly what it means: A loose ball going out of bounds in an end zone is awarded to the team defending that end zone, resulting in a safety or touch back depending on the situation.

If you mean "explain why it is needed", the answer is that there MUST be a rule defining possession of a ball that goes out of bounds. Such a rule is ALWAYS going to be arbitrary, awarding possession to a team that has not earned it by recovering the ball.

The rule as it stands gives results that we expect for things like blocked punts: to get the TD you HAVE to POSSESS the ball in the end zone. If you merely block the punt out the back of the end zone, you get a safety instead, even though a punt going out of bounds in any other way is always awarded to the receiving team. I've never heard anyone complain about that. TDs are special, and should always be earned.

To emphasize: the rules are arbitrary. They have to be. There is no moral or logical high ground to be had here. The rules as they stand work well for punts (in my opinion), "unfairly" reward the offense or kick-receiving team in the main field of play, and "unfairly" reward the defense in its own end zone. There is no "fair" rule possible, and this configuration of rules is among the fairest, tilting neither to the offense nor the defense.

The best thing about the rules as they stand is that there is absolutely no encouragement to "accidentally on purpose" fumble a ball through the end zone. That eliminates a lot of bad stuff that would otherwise happen.

Ultimately, there's a simple solution to all this: hold onto the damned ball.

101 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I'm okay, coach, I'm okay. it just knocked the wind out of me. Forever.

I'll assume the attempt is about 60 yards (i.e. at midfield) and the blocker is right there as well, making both the kick attempt and the rebounded FG roughly 60 yards. Man, the blocker would have to have his poor torso angled perfectly to make this happen.
Might have to pull Madden out of retirement to join forces with Neil DeGrasse Tyson to telestrate the angle of incidence=angle of reflection and F=MA aspects of that play. After an appropriate moment of silence, of course.

43 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

I don't see why you're conflating the rules for punts with the rules for fumbles. On a punt, the offense is intentionally surrendering possession of the ball. It is literally against the rules for the offense to touch the ball after it's punted before the defense touches it*. There is no need for consistency between the rules for possession following a punt and those following a fumble.

And of course the rules are arbitrary; all rules are arbitrary. But as they currently stand, they seem to massively overweight the significance of the goal line. Fumble a ball at the one yard line and have it bounce out of bounds an inch outside the pylon, and you retain possession with the ball spotted one inch from the goal line. Fumble a ball at the one yard line and have it bounce out of bounds an inch inside the pylon, and you lose possession.

Clearly the rule can't be identical for a ball fumbled out of bounds in the field of play and one fumbled out of bounds in the end zone; it makes no sense to award a team a touchdown for fumbling the ball through the end zone. But it seems overkill to surrender possession based on a two-inch difference in where the ball goes out of bounds.

Changing the rule so that the fumbling team retains possession at the spot of the fumble, or at the one yard line (using the analogy of a spot foul in the end zone) wouldn't encourage any "accidental on purpose" fumbles through the end zone - if you fumble the ball, the best outcome you can get is a dead ball spot at the spot of the fumble (or the one) and the worst outcome is that the other team gets the ball; if you don't fumble the ball, the best outcome you can get is a touchdown and the worst is a dead ball with possession. (And batting the ball forward so it goes out of bounds in the end zone to give you a better dead-ball spot is already a penalty that moves the ball back ten yards.)

* The enforcement is only that the defense gets possession of the ball at the point where the offense touched it - but it is by definition an "illegal touch".

135 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The rules already favor the offense... why change them to make another rule that favors the offense?
I agree with nat -- some rules just have to be arbitrary.

Or to be less arbitrary: the end zone fumble rule ensures that the offense can't benefit by directing the ball out of bounds.

47 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

The non-intuitive and archaic rules make sense in 1890 when American football was recently an off shoot of Rugby Football, which itself was an offshoot from Association Football (soccer).

Think of how in soccer whenever the ball goes out of play - goal-line or sidelines - it is given to the opposition.

Now consider the American Football situation is less intuitive since they moved the goalposts off the goal-line (1974) but the goal-line rules essentially still apply in their own way. Offense fumbles through its own endzone - it's a safety. Offense fumbles through opposition's endzone, it's a touchback. And also because when an offense fumbles along the sideline it retains possession - whereas in soccer it's a throw-in for the opposition.

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 12

This - right here!

The endzones are 'possessed' by the other team, like the goal in soccer, because soccer begat rugby and rugby begat grid-iron American and Canadian football (invented by the Canadians). Thus fumbling out of bounds in the area of field possessed by the other team is the same as the other team recovering the ball in their possesion.

Because the endzones are 'possessed' by the team which defends that goal, a fumble exiting the endzone, out of bounds, is treated as a recovery by the team who 'possesses' the endzone... in the endzone.

I kinda think the change of possesion on a fumble out of bounds would be good, but before modern fumble rates the games would have been unwatchable.

_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.