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

Audibles at the Line: Week 13

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.

Cleveland Browns 13 at Houston Texans 29

Dave Bernreuther: Many Houston residents are getting annoyed by the fact that the Moo Cows refuse to open their roof on this beautiful day, but I'm more annoyed because this means that Britton Colquitt won't be able to punt the ball out of the stadium.

Win streak be damned, I'm still not sold on the Texans, Bill O'Brien, or even their defense. But they're still facing a rookie quarterback, as good as Baker Mayfield is, so I'm really interested in seeing how he handles himself against that pass rush.

As a Colts fan, I find the four seed that would come with catching the Texans to be pretty undesirable (as they would just become Chargers fodder like they did a decade ago), so I should probably root for the home team. But even though Gregg Williams is kind of despicable, I still find myself really enjoying these new Browns. I'm really hoping they can keep things rolling and give us a great battle between Baker and Deshaun Watson on a day when both their alma maters are likely to end up qualifying for the College Football Playoff. This is my favorite game of the 1 p.m. slot.

Scott Kacsmar: For the fourth-down revolution to start, teams have to stop punting in situations like Bill O'Brien's Texans just did. It was fourth-and-3 at the Cleveland 40 with a 10-0 lead. Watson has completed 12 of his first 13 passes today. The defense is playing well. Just keep the foot on the gas there. Possession and the prospect of taking a three-score lead has to outweigh gaining 29 yards of field position or letting Cleveland start at its own 40.

Of course, it's going to be completely forgotten after Mayfield threw an interception that was returned to the 1.

Tom Gower: Thirty minutes completed in Houston, and the Texans hold a 23-0 lead that accurately reflects the comparative level of performance between the two teams thus far. Houston started out hot early and at one point had a 10-0 lead in points and a 22-3 lead in offensive plays. That was before any of Baker Mayfield's three interceptions, as Houston's defensive disguises have mostly left underneath players in position to disrupt his throws. Zach Cunningham as an underneath player got the first, Johnathan Joseph the second after appearing to pass off the intended receiver, and the third was an awful heave into a crowd of defenders in the end zone. Deshaun Watson's ball placement has been very good for the most part and was spot on in the early going. Like Deshaun Watson behind that offensive line, though, he has taken three sacks and overall gotten some pressure. Baker has had a couple decent throws, but for the most part the Browns have just looked awful, not in good position often enough and not making plays when they have been in position.

Dave Bernreuther: Well this one hasn't turned out to be as interesting as I had hoped. Watson looks fantastic, Nuk Hopkins is showing off those hands, and the Texans look the part of an 8-3 team, just dominating the game, while making Baker Mayfield look like a rookie, with three interceptions thrown through halftime.

Chicago Bears 27 at New York Giants 30 (OT)

Bryan Knowles: The Bears quarterback was a game-time decision, and it turns out, despite assurances to the contrary, that Mitchell Trubisky is NOT ready to go. It's Chase Daniel again, as he continues to destroy his money earned-to-passes thrown ratio.

His first pass of the game is a touchdown pass! Unfortunately, it's to Alec Ogletree, who picks up his third interception and second pick-six of the year. Not exactly the start they were hoping for.

Kudos to Matt Nagy for realizing that they might need to take a few more chances with Daniel under center. The Bears went for it on fourth-and-1 from just about midfield, with Tarik Cohen cutting back and finding room for an 8-yard gain to keep their drive alive. The strategy for the drive was pretty clearly to take the focus out of Danel's hands, as Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen had six consecutive rushes before Daniel hit Adam Shaheen for a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game.

Vince Verhei: In the record-setting era of 2018, the Bears and Giants are playing a game out of 1918. The Giants' first two drives were both three-and-outs; their third lasted six plays before Eli Manning threw an interception to Kyle Fuller. It was a simple slant route, but Fuller broke on the ball before Odell Beckham had even made his cut. Looked like miscommunication on the offense's part, or tremendous film study for Fuller, knowing where the ball was going.

Meanwhile, the Bears followed their game-opening pick-six with a three-and-out before the Sheehan touchdown. Even that drive required one fourth-down and one third-down conversion, and the touchdown was the only completion on the 10-play drive. Somewhere in there, Daniel had another ball that should have been intercepted -- Taylor Gabriel was several steps behind the corner and a good throw would have given him a touchdown, but Daniel's pass was a lame duck in the middle of the field. Curtis Riley had a chance to catch an interception that was like fielding a punt, and he dropped it. Just bad football by all involved.

And now, early in the second quarter, Tarik Cohen beats Landon Collins down the seam and should have a touchdown, but Daniel can't get the ball over Ogletree, who jumps and makes the one-handed grab for his second interception of the game.

Bryan Knowles: Big. Man. Touchdown. From the originators of the play, to boot. Akiem Hicks gets the carry on fourth-and-goal, and bulldozes his way into the end zone. Shades of the Fridge!

It was set up by an amazing catch by Allen Robinson, off the helmet of B.W. Webb, but whatever. Receivers make great catches all the time, yawn. Big man touchdown!

Vince Verhei: Bears get creative at the goal line. On third down, Jordan Howard takes the direct snap, fakes a pitch, and dives straight ahead. He's stopped, so they go for it on fourth-and-1. They line up with split backs, and one of them is 6-foot-5, 332-pound defensive lineman Akiem Hicks -- and Hicks gets the handoff on a give and scores.

That was set up by an amazing grab by Allen Robinson down the sideline. I didn't catch the corner, but there was more hand-fighting between those two than in the Wilder-Fury fight last night. Robinson pinned the ball against the guy's helmet and then reeled it in for a 30-yard gain.

Giants get a fourth-and-1 conversion and then a 57-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas on the last play of the half, and we have a 14-10 game at the break. Really, it has looked exactly like you would expect from the league's best defense playing with a backup quarterback against a bad team: complete dominance, kept close on the scoreboard by a few bad passes. Take away Daniel's interceptions, and the Bears would be ahead by at least two touchdowns. But the Bears are just manhandling New York's offense. Receivers are getting jammed at the line and mugged over the middle and just can't get any separation. Saquon Barkley has seven carries for 43 yards, but half that total came on a 22-yard gain on third-and-23 (which set up the fourth-and-1 and the field goal, so it wasn't useless, but still). They only have four first downs the whole game. Counting sacks, neither team has more than 60 yards passing. The Giants are going to get a lot more playing catchup, but presumably from here the Bears will probably be content to keep running the ball as long as they're ahead and counting on their defense to win this.

And very quickly the Giants change this entire game. Manning pitches to Beckham, who shake-and-bakes an invisible man, then lobs a ball to a totally uncovered Russell Shepard for a 49-yard touchdown to put New York up 17-14. That's now 49 passing yards for Beckham, 76 for Manning.

Bryan Knowles: When you can't beat a team with skill, beat them with trickeration! The Giants run an end around to Beckham, who pulls up, scrambles around for a minute, and finds a wide-open Russell Shepard deep downfield for a touchdown! The announcing crew called it a coverage bust, which I suppose is true, but OBJ did a decent job of selling pulling the ball down and running with it, allowing Shepard to slip past his defenders. The Giants take the lead -- the Bears probably can still do a bunch of grinding in the second half here, but they may need Chase Daniel to do a bit more than they had hoped.

Dave Bernreuther: Shepard was so wide open that even the worst mechanics in the world by Odell Beckham couldn't hurt them, and the WR-WR connection off an end around puts the Giants back in front. That is the most open you'll ever see a guy in the NFL. He had the entire middle of the field to himself.

Bryan Knowles: Make it a 10-point lead for the Giants. New York forced a three-and-out from Chicago on the series after the OBJ touchdown pass and proceeded to march down the field. Last week, Saquon Barkley disappeared in the second half, only getting five touches. On this drive alone, he had seven, albeit two were being stuffed at the goal line. It included a hell of a hurdle -- Barkley is so fun to watch in open space.

A pass interference call set the Giants up on the 1-yard line, and Barkley was stuffed twice, followed by an incomplete pass to set up fourth-and-goal. Full credit to the Giants for going for it, and OBJ ends up entirely uncovered in the end zone for the touchdown. He crossed back against the grain of the play, and whichever linebacker was supposed to go along with him just blanked. We all know the Saints and Rams were likely to get the top two seeds in the NFC no matter what, but the 8-3 Bears were at least staying in the discussion. A loss here ends that talk.

Vince Verhei: A pass interference call on Prince Amukamara in coverage on Beckham puts New York at the 1-yard line. Two runs are stuffed and a play-action pass results in no open receivers and a throwaway, but they go for it on fourth down. They run double crossers, and somehow the Bears leave Beckham -- Odell Beckham! -- uncovered, and he gets the easy touchdown to put New York up 24-14. Kind of amazing how quickly this turned around after New York looked so hopeless in the first half.

Just to put a bow on this one: the Bears got the ball at their own 1 after a punt with a chance to drive for the tying score, but on first down Taylor Gabriel fumbled the ball away to New York, and the Giants eventually added a field goal for a 27-17 lead to ice this thing.

BUT WAIT!

Bears get a field goal. Graphic says teams are 3-of-30-something on onside kicks this year. But the ball dribbles towards Beckham -- who looks like he pulls up short, and lets the Bears recover! Bears still have more than a minute to tie the game with a touchdown!

This day started slow, but man there have been some great finishes.

OH MY GOD THIS GAME. Cohen beats Collins again, and this time Daniel hits him, and it's a 23-yard gain for a first-and-goal inside the 10. Gabriel continues his bad day, drops a pass in the end zone, but then B.W. Webb is flagged for DPI on Robinson, which gives the Bears a first-and-goal at the 1 with three seconds left. And they hand off to Cohen -- who pulls up and throws to Anthony Miller for the game-tying touchdown. The extra point is good and we're going to overtime.

Well that game fizzled out. Giants got a field goal on their first drive in overtime. Bears got the ball and were able to convert one fourth down and recover THREE of their own fumbles, but got to fourth down again without even crossing midfield. Daniel lobbed a pass to the middle of the field to Gabriel, and it was tipped away by Janoris Jenkins, and the Giants win.

Bryan Knowles: The Bears' overtime drive was terrible, including THREE Chase Daniels fumbles (albeit at least one caused by a bad snap), all recovered by Chicago. They did convert one fourth-and-7, but they eventually ran out of steam. A bit of a disappointing ending to what was a fantastic game, as the Giants win 30-27.

Los Angeles Rams 30 at Detroit Lions 16

Derrik Klassen: Through two drives, L.A.'s offense only has three points in hand, but Jared Goff looks like he's settled in already. Not fazed by pressure, doing his best to keep passes in places only his guys have a shot at it. L.A.'s pass-catchers are struggling to get open outside the numbers, but I expect them to spring free enough times for the Rams to do their usual business.

Of course, Goff makes the one mistake you don't expect from him: throwing deep at three Lions defenders for almost no reason, resulting in an interception. I'm not often shocked when Goff panics under pressure or lacks a little juice throwing to the sideline, but to just chuck a ball into three opposing players? Hmmm.

Vince Verhei: For a while this game was surprisingly close, but the Rams added a touchdown and field goal late to take a 13-3 halftime lead. Looks like the Lions are focused on taking away the deep ball, which has frustrated the Rams -- Goff threw the one bad interception on one deep pass, and the Lions have broken up some other completions downfield with big hits. Surprising, because the Lions have been by far the NFL's worst defense against wide receivers, but the defense has played well enough to keep Detroit in the game.

Too bad for them, because their offense has done almost nothing. The Lions had one red zone drive that ended in a field goal; the other four drives all covered less than 30 yards and ended in punts. Dante Fowler and Aaron Donald each have a pair of tackles for loss for L.A.

Lions won't go away, but man, nothing is coming easy for them. Damon Harrison gets the hat trick -- sacks Goff, forces a fumble, recovers the fumble -- to set the Lions up in Rams territory. Even with that short field, the Lions run 10 plays and settle for a field goal. T.J. Jones looked like he had a touchdown, but was called for OPI on the play. For what it's worth, it looked like pretty mutual hand-fighting to me, but there was certainly contact. Lions then ran a give-up draw on third-and-goal from the 19, which got the home-team fans nice and pissed off, before kicking the field goal to make it 13-6.

After a Rams field goal extended the lead, the Lions start pulling out all the tricks and finally get a touchdown. They tried a double-pass, but Bruce Ellington was under instant pressure, nearly fumbled, and made a great play just to throw the ball away. The replay made it clear that the Rams were not fooled, and they had the downfield receiver double-covered anyway. Two plays later, though, the Lions go tackle-eligible, and it's a screen to Taylor Decker, and this time the Rams are fooled -- neither Decker nor his two blockers are touched as Decker scores. Rams lead 16-13. With Chicago down by two scores right now, wouldn't it be something if the Saints, Bears, and Rams all lost this weekend?

Is Jared Goff trying to lose this game? The Rams force a punt and the offense takes over inside its own 20. Goff then throws passes that hit defensive linemen in the hands behind the line of scrimmage on first AND second down, perfect pick-six opportunities, but neither lineman can make the catch. On third down, Goff hangs in the pocket forever and gets sacked, and the Lions are getting the ball back, still down just three. This has to be Goff's worst game of the year given the competition.

But then there is no mistake Jared Goff can make that Aaron Donald can't erase. He destroys Graham Glasgow up the middle for a fumble-sack, and the Rams recover. Shortly thereafter, Todd Gurley runs off tackle through a truck-sized hole for a touchdown. The Rams now lead 23-13 with less than seven minutes to go -- certainly not over, but definitely feels like they're in control. I'm of the opinion that Goff is a mediocre quarterback who is boosted by A-plus teammates and coaching staff, and that has never been more true than today.

Lions get a field goal and trail 23-16 with almost three minutes left and all timeouts remaining, but then they try the onside kick and the Rams recover. That seems like a terrible decision to me -- I know the Rams have been the better team all season, but the Lions could have given up a couple of first downs and still gotten the ball back. rather than relying on an onside kick that the Rams were very ready for.

Or not -- Gurley breaks free and runs into the red zone -- and then runs horizontally and goes down at the 1! Now the Rams can run three plays, kill time, and kick a field goal to ice the game. There's still 2:32 to go, but the Lions just called their last timeout. That's some galaxy brain clock management by Gurley.

Bryan Knowles: We've gone final here, and the Rams are officially the first team to make the playoffs. Saints would have pipped them to the line if they had handled their business in Dallas, but, well...

Baltimore Ravens 26 at Atlanta Falcons 16

Scott Kacsmar: The roof is open on a nice December day, and the sun is shining at an angle so that Jim Nantz and Tony Romo can't see anything. But the monitor is enough for them to call the game properly so far. They saw a nice opening drive touchdown from Lamar Jackson. I have to say, this might be the first time ever that the Ravens had a quarterback you actually were excited about watching, and I don't mean the play where Robert Griffin was in at wide receiver. Jackson made some nice improv plays before a designed 13-yard touchdown run where he just got the ball to break the plane. I think injury concerns are legit for Jackson's playing style, but as long as he's protecting himself and not meeting linebackers head-on he should be OK. It would also be good if he hasn't taken any sliding advice from RG3, who was notoriously terrible at doing that.

Buffalo Bills 17 at Miami Dolphins 21

Bryan Knowles: Miami has one of the more interesting quarterback decisions to make this offseason, so I've been trying to keep an eye on Ryan Tannehill today. His first drive went really, really well, capping off with a nice 18-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker as he was getting hit -- a good job of staying up under pressure and delivering the strike, knowing he was going to take a shot. That's the Tannehill the Dolphins were hoping for. On the next drive, however, Tannehill rushed for a 3-yard loss, was sacked down to the 7-yard line, and then was sacked again, nearly taking the safety. His offensive line did not help there, but his pocket presence was ... well, non-existent. That's the Tannehill the Dolphins need to move away from.

Dave Bernreuther: On third down, trailing by a touchdown, Zay Jones just came wide open in the end zone and Josh Allen threw it 10 yards behind him, leading to a field goal.

People can praise his scrambling all they want -- and he did make Kiko Alonso look silly on one rush in the first half, not that that's hard at this point -- but I don't care how effective your legs are when you're getting 5 yards per attempt and throwing away easy touchdowns. That's the kind of play that will lose you a game.

Bryan Knowles: Zay Jones may be having the best day of his career. He just caught his second touchdown pass of the day -- a personal best -- and his 62 yards are already his fourth-highest game total since being drafted as a second-rounder in 2017. That may say more about his struggles so far in the NFL rather than great praise of his day today, but he has given the Bills 14 of their 17 points (the two touchdowns and a two-point conversion). 17-14, Bills, early in the fourth quarter.

All of a sudden, we have a back-and-forth game in this one; it has been surprisingly exciting here in the second half. Kenny Stills just leapt over two defenders, turning what might have been an interception in the red zone into a go-ahead touchdown. He was well, well covered, and Tannehill never should have thrown it there ... but all's well that ends well, I suppose. 21-17 Dolphins.

Dave Bernreuther: That play was everything you'll ever need to know about Josh Allen.

Plenty of room in the pocket, start running around. A few jukes make it look like a Russell Wilson impression, and he breaks free and moves into open space. And then ... the big-armed quarterback who can make any throw ... throws a duck 10 yards short of a WIDE-OPEN Charles Clay. All caps isn't even enough emphasis there. Clay was standing there all alone in the end zone. He was uncovered where he stood and uncovered for many yards in every direction.

Allen left it short, barely to the goal line, and Clay couldn't get there. And, mercifully, this game is over.

Vince Verhei: Allen finished with 135 yards rushing. That's after he had 99 (officially -- he was over 100 before kneeldowns) last week. He's now averaging 48 rushing yards per game. For comparison, in his first year as a starter in 2002, Michael Vick averaged 52 rushing yards per game and only went over 90 yards three times. Allen is far from perfect, or even good, but the Bills are desperate for reasons for optimism on offense, and that kind of quarterback mobility is obviously something you can work with.

Indianapolis Colts 0 at Jacksonville Jaguars 6

Dave Bernreuther: It's the return of the ridiculous roughing the passer call! Matthew Adams of the Colts just had a completely unabated path to the backfield and went to make a textbook shoulder tackle, but Cody Kessler turtled, which led to maybe a tiny bit of head-to-head contact, and the Jaguars got a free first down in what has thus far been the most productive play for either side so far.

The new Jaguars offense is thus far indistinguishable from the old Jaguars offense, in that it's mostly running and hiding the inadequate quarterback. The Colts offense has also looked out of sync thus far, with Andrew Luck throwing a pick and also fumbling a ball when Anthony Castonzo got beat quickly by Yannick Ngakoue, only to have that negated by a defensive holding call. Marlon Mack hesitated to squander a midfield first down on third-and-2, and as we near the end of the first quarter the best thing to happen to the Colts offense was a taunting call that extended a drive after an incomplete third down pass.

They're not winning on any first or second down so far, but since that penalty they've converted two third-and-7s to T.Y. Hilton over the middle. But the drive hits a snag as Joe Haeg's return to the lineup sees him enter the game as a sixth lineman, only to immediately get beat and take a ticky-tack flag for holding. Thus far this officiating crew seems to really want to see themselves on television. This has been a very ugly game all around through one quarter.

In the second, the ugliness continues. Frank Reich took three points off the board to accept a penalty, but the drive bogged down again. A pitch to Jordan Wilkins on fourth-and-goal was stopped just short, and a lot of Twitter seems upset that they didn't take the points there. But you don't take the three off the board to then kick from the 2, and this is Cody Kessler and the Jags we're talking about here. People forget the probabilities of scoring next ... and in the blink of an eye the Jags go three-and-out and the Colts will start on the good side of midfield. Man, it's nice having a smart coach in Indianapolis.

Aaron Schatz: I never realized how much Cody Kessler has happy feet. Definitely seems to feel pressure that's not quite there yet, three scrambles so far, none of which were successful plays. Meanwhile, here are Kessler's Air Yards on his completions so far: -4, -4, 1, 1, 2, 1, 5, -3. And yet the Jaguars are winning thanks to the yards after the catch on those short passes. At halftime the Jags have 4.0 yards per play. The Colts have 2.6 yards per play. Yuck.

Dave Bernreuther: It's halftime in Jacksonville. The only reason this didn't happen half an hour earlier in a 3-0 game is that there has been a flag thrown on nearly every play. This game is UGLY. But credit the Jaguars defense for showing up and playing like it's 2017. They're making things difficult for Andrew Luck, and not just because Jalen Ramsey -- who overcame his injury to start -- fake offered Luck assistance getting up. The Jags are covering and tackling well, while also getting into the backfield more often than anyone has against the Colts in months.

I don't understand what just happened.

No sound here, but I don't get why on earth Luck threw a 3-yard out with nine seconds left, I don't get why the ref wound the clock when the receiver (Erik Swoope) landed completely out of bounds, and I don't understand why they were willing to let that stand and left the field.

That said, a high-powered offense that had been playing well just got shut out and lost to Cody Kessler, and they weren't all that likely to score on the next play, especially given their ridiculous 0-for-3 effort on fourth downs to that point (including a sack where they didn't even bother blocking an obvious safety blitz), so I have a hard time caring.

What an abysmal game for the Colts. Boy was that ugly. You should never lose a game where your defense only allows six points. Ever.

Bryan Knowles: It's a ref's judgement call -- the receiver was being knocked backwards as he was going out of bounds, so that's forward progress, and the clock keeps running. It's a borderline call, I agree, but the Colts should never have been in that situation -- they should have thrown it into the end zone twice.

Vince Verhei: I hate that rule, because A) it has left me confused many, many times, and B) most of the time it's not an obvious call at all, and it just feels like you're asking the ref to determine if he feels like the game should be over or not.

Dave Bernreuther: I think that's a ridiculous judgment to make, but I agree. In that situation that throw is pointless. That's an Alex Smith type pass, not something Luck should be doing. An incompletion would've been more valuable than those 3 yards.

Aaron Schatz: Luck's decision-making on that whole final drive was awful. Two plays before the pass to Erik Swoope that ended the game, he threw a 4-yard flat pass to Eric Ebron that took 20 seconds off the clock when there were only 35 seconds on the clock to begin with.

Dave Bernreuther: I hated that too. And on the play between those two, Luck dropped one in a bucket up the sideline to about the pylon and I thought Ebron's effort to get to the spot was poor.

Colts deserved to lose. And they could maybe use a dose of reality after that win streak anyway. But man ... getting shut out is a tough pill to swallow.

Arizona Cardinals 20 at Green Bay Packers 17

Bryan Knowles: I really thought Green Bay would destroy Arizona in a must-win game, but so far, not so good. The first quarter was scoreless with less than 100 yards of combined offense, and Josh Rosen has more passing yards than Aaron Rodgers so far -- not a statement I was expecting to say after the first drive or so.

After the game started with six straight punts (including three three-and-outs), Rodgers did throw a touchdown on fourth-and-4 to get the Pack on the board. It was only a 35-yard drive; the Packers were winning the back-and-forth run of punts, and Jaire Alexander's return set the Packers up deep in Arizona territory. The very next drive, though, the Cardinals marched right down the field, converting a trio of third-and-7s on their way to score the tying touchdown. It's a close one on the tundra, which doesn't bode well for either Arizona's draft position or Green Bay's playoff hopes.

Vince Verhei: So apparently none of us watched this game, but I can't help but note that Green Bay scored 17 points in a home loss to a team that just lost to Oakland. Aaron Rodgers threw 50 passes and only gained 233 yards. This franchise is badly broken, and nobody's job should be safe right now.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Nobody's job WAS safe.)

Carl Yedor: I actually caught a bit of it but was pretty underwhelmed and was frankly quite surprised at Green Bay's inability to take care of business against the Cardinals. Arizona was in third-and-23 deep in their own territory late in the fourth quarter before Rosen scrambled to his right and hit Larry Fitzgerald for a diving catch to extend the drive that led to the go-ahead field goal. Rookie running back Chase Edmonds had a few nice runs spelling David Johnson. But outside of that, in a game where they were favored by two touchdowns, Green Bay laid a massive egg. Mason Crosby missed what would have been the tying 49-yard field goal as time expired.

Carolina Panthers 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24

Andrew Potter: The last time these teams played, Carolina shredded the Buccaneers with layer upon layer of creative misdirection offense that the Bucs defense simply couldn't handle. This time, the only reason the score didn't hit 17-7 Tampa Bay midway through the second quarter was a goal-line fumble on the careless stretch by Peyton Barber. The return of Lavonte David has certainly helped the Bucs -- he has one sack and tipped the ball to safety Andrew Adams for an interception on Carolina's opening drive -- but it's shocking how easily a secondary comprised of Adams, Justin Evans, De'Vante Harris, Ryan Smith, and Javien Elliott has handled the Panthers receivers to this point. Both sacks were unblocked blitzers from the second level -- one each for David and Kevin Minter -- but Cam Newton has been forced into a couple of scrambles and dumpoffs by good coverage deep downfield. Greg Olsen just went off with what sure looked like a season-ending recurrence of his foot fracture, which certainly won't help. Only one big play from Christian McCaffrey, a 53-yard run to set up his own 8-yard receiving touchdown, has the Panthers on the board as we hit the two-minute warning.

And just like that, De'Vante Harris makes a great play to break up a deep ball into the end zone for Curtis Samuel, then Javien Elliott gets a pick and good return on the next play to set up the Buccaneers on the edge of field goal range.

That interception leads to a Jameis Winston touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, which means Winston now holds the Buccaneers franchise record with 81 touchdown passes. He came in trailing Josh Freeman by one touchdown. By comparison, Blake Bortles has 103. What a sad, sad history that is.

Aaron Schatz: Seems like everyone out there who does film study on the Internet this year has written at least one piece about defenses getting killed by leaving wide-open receivers in the red zone in the corner hole of Cover-2. So I turn my head to the Panthers-Bucs game, and there's Godwin catching a wide-open touchdown in the corner hole in Cover-2. The Panthers don't seem to be playing with the urgency that should go along with a three-game losing streak.

Andrew Potter: Cam Newton is now up to four interceptions against a Bucs defense that had three total coming into this game. Three of those were to Andrew Adams. The last time Newton threw this many picks in one game, he was a rookie. The last two were heavily affected by pressure from Gerald McCoy. They're still in the game, but this is nothing like the Panthers offense we saw in early November.

That final drive from the Panthers was horrible. They got the ball back on their own 26 with 65 seconds remaining, then used 45 of those seconds to go all of 12 yards. One more play got them to their own 44, at which point we learned just why Taylor Heinicke has been throwing Hail Mary attempts for the Panthers this year. Cam Newton threw two attempts from around his own 40-yard line, and neither came down within 10 yards of the end zone. After an offside penalty gave the Panthers one more shot with zeroes on the clock, Heinicke came in to throw the final attempt. It had the distance, but was batted down.

This was a horrible defeat for Carolina, and a massive blow to their playoff hopes. Christian McCaffrey showed up -- another 100 yards on the ground, and 160 total -- but the rest of the offense did not. Cam Newton said this week that he felt he was playing the best football of his career. This sure wasn't that. The receivers were too easily blanketed by a patchwork Buccaneers secondary, and the line allowed too many pressures to go with the four sacks. Kind of a disaster all around, and the losing streak continues.

Denver Broncos 24 at Cincinnati Bengals 10

Bryan Knowles: This is sort-of a postseason elimination game -- the winner, at 6-6, will be right in the midst of the AFC wild-card race, while the 5-7 loser will probably be toast. It would be nice if either team was playing like a playoff contender, but I suppose you can't have everything. The first eight drives had seven punts and then a wobbling, knuckleball attempt on a 50-yard field goal by Denver. The most notable thing from those first eight drives was A.J. Green being carted off on a non-contact foot injury. Remember, today was his return from the toe injury that cost him a month or so of the season so far; I would assume he aggravated that. Chris Harris was also carted off, likely with a broken fibula. This one has seen more major injuries than touchdowns.

It's 7-3 at the half, as both offenses finally found a way to move the ball on their last drives of the half. The Broncos were sparked by Devontae Booker -- remember him? Was going to be the Broncos' Week 1 starter at running back before Phillip Lindsay became A Thing? He picked up 38 receiving yards on the touchdown drive, capped off by a Lindsay touchdown. The Bengals, meanwhile took advantage of a pair of Denver penalties to move the ball into the red zone, but a Jeff Driskel intentional grounding and then two Driskel incompletions forced them to settle for a field goal. 7-3 at the half.

The Broncos are now in control. Their first drive of the half looked like it would start with a three-and-out ... but Alex Erickson muffed the punt, and the Broncos fell on top of it in Cincinnati territory. Two plays later, Case Keenum found Courtland Sutton in the end zone, jumping over his defender to haul in a touchdown. The ensuing Cincinnati drive saw Driskel intercepted by Justin Simmons, which set up a 65-yard run by Philip Lindsay for the touchdown. It's a 21-3 lead, Cincinnati has show. no ability to do anything today, and I'm flipping off the game. The Bengals are toast.

Rob Weintraub: A.J. seems certain to become the 15th Bengal to hit injured reserve this season, which doesn't even reflect guys like Cordy Glenn and Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard who merely missed several games. It's beyond a season from hell; this is a season from Apokolips, the Darkseid planet.

I'm all for blowing it up and at long last ridding ourselves of Marvin Lewis et al., but he has been ridiculously shorthanded this year.

San Francisco 49ers 16 at Seattle Seahawks 43

Bryan Knowles: The wins by the Cardinals, Giants, and Jaguars mean that all of them stayed alive in the playoff race, at least mathematically. The Jets, too, caught enough of a break to dodge elimination this week.

That means we have basically a race between the Raiders and 49ers -- both are eliminated with a loss, both are facing apparently hopeless divisional matchups, and both are trailing early. The Seahawks marched 74 yards downfield, aided when the 49ers apparently decided Jaron Brown really didn't need to be covered, setting up a 45-yard gain, later capped off by a Brown touchdown catch. Those were the only two passes on the drive, as Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, and Russell Wilson earned everything else with their legs. Sebastian Janikowski missed the extra point, so it's just a 6-0 lead for Seattle.

I would put odds on the Raiders being the first to be knocked out, as their game started 20 minutes earlier, but that's about the only hope the 49ers have.

Vince Verhei: Boy did I hate Seattle's first drive. Three straight handoffs resulted in a fourth-and-1 from their own 46. They call timeout to consider their options ... and then they punt. On fourth-and-1. Near midfield. After a timeout. On the first drive of the game. Impossibly bad game management.

Boy did I love Seattle's second drive. Play-action gets Jaron Brown uncovered on a deep crosser for a 45-yard gain. With a sixth lineman on the field, they fake the jet sweep right, then pitch to Rashaad Penny left, and that sixth lineman gets a big block on a cornerback to clear room for a 15-yard gain. Second-and-goal from the 11, Wilson scrambles to make third down makeable, and then on third down he scrambles again and buys time for Brown to get open for a touchdown and the lead.

Carl Yedor: After trading punts to start out, Seattle moves down the field thanks to a chunk pass play from Wilson to Jaron Brown and a nice run on a toss play to Rashaad Penny. Wilson caps off the drive with a touchdown pass to Brown, and after a missed Janikowski extra point, we sit at 6-0 near the end of the 1st quarter.

Bryan Knowles: Malcolm Smith deep in coverage on Tyler Lockett may be sub-optimal. The 49ers have a number of issues to sort out entering 2019, but I think replacing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh would make tons of sense. 13-0 Seattle.

Vince Verhei: This, of course, is the revenge game for one of the great defenders in Seattle history. I am speaking of Malcolm Smith, who won a Super Bowl MVP against Denver and didn't do much else in a Seahawks uniform. Now he's playing for San Francisco, and whatever talents he has, covering Tyler Lockett down the field is not one of them. Lockett might have gotten away with a push-off, actually, but he did get away with it, and it's a 52-yard touchdown. That's 101 passing yards and two scores for Russell Wilson on three dropbacks. Efficient!

Jeff Wilson is an undrafted rookie with seven carries and one catch coming into today. For some reason, he has been San Francisco's lead back today, with Matt Breida the change-of-pace. 20-some minutes into the game, he already has seven runs and two catches, with a big gain on a screen pass and a fourth-and-1 conversion. But then, as he is being tackled, Bobby Wagner rips the ball away for a fumble and recovery. It was a weird play where they were basically hugging and you couldn't see the ball. I have no idea how the call on the field was a fumble, but since it was, there was no way the replay could overrule it, because you could never see Wilson down on the field with the ball.

Bryan Knowles: Matt Breida has a lingering ankle injury, and it's possible it has flared up again. Best guess, at least -- he wasn't as explosive as usual against Tampa Bay.

The Seahawks just had a 90-yard touchdown drive. This included a muffed punt by the 49ers, an unnecessary roughness penalty on a sliding Russell Wilson, and a pass interference at the goal line.

It feels like there's a "The Aristocrats" joke somewhere in here, but the 49ers would probably fumble that one, too.

Vince Verhei: For the second time in the first half, the Seahawks had a three-and-out drive with zero Wilson passes. That should never happen unless they're ahead in the fourth quarter. But it doesn't matter because Michael Dickson just puts a ball into ORBIT. Officially 56 yards, with a ton of hang time. It was up there so long, I was surprised when it finally came back down. I think that threw off Richie James' timing, because he muffed the punt, and Seattle recovered. The ensuing Seahawks drive wasn't the prettiest thing ever, but it worked out in the end, as Wilson hit Doug Baldwin for a touchdown on third-and-goal from the 1 and a 20-0 lead.

The second half is 16 seconds old. Tyler Lockett returned a kickoff 84 yards to the San Francisco 20. (Jaquiski Tartt ran him down from behind, which was amazing.) Penny took a pitch for a 20-yard touchdown. It's 27-3 now and Seattle may not pass again.

Well that third quarter turned out to be eventful. San Francisco finally got a touchdown as Dante Pettis, who played college ball a few miles up the road, slips a tackle and goes into the end zone. They threatened to score again, but a third-down sack on a defensive back blitz by Justin Coleman took them out of field goal range. Richard Sherman finally appears on the screen, making a big hit on a running play, but then missing a tackle on Doug Baldwin, who scurries for a first down on second-and-21. Lockett's monster day continues, as he draws a 43-yard DPI, then runs for a first down on a jet sweep. Kyle Shanahan is clearly caught on camera saying "duck you" (darn it, autocorrect) to an official, which is a 15-yard penalty.

And now, early in the fourth, Wilson hits Brown for an 18-yard touchdown. It's 34-10 now, and Wilson has four touchdowns on nine completions.

(It's hard to blame him because he had to cover forever, but for the record, Sherman gave up that last touchdown to Brown.)

Carl Yedor: This game was almost definitely over, but after the 49ers marched down into the red zone again, Bobby Wagner picked off a Nick Mullens pass over the middle and returned it all the way for the touchdown. Janikowski misses another extra point, making the score 43-16 with under four minutes to play.

The announcers have been talking about Mullens keeping the 49ers in the game pretty well throughout, even though it was 20-3 at halftime and 27-10 to start the 4th quarter. Mullens has been mostly fine, but I wouldn't exactly call that keeping them in the game given the deficit. Making major improvements to the defense has to be priority number one this offseason for the 49ers.

Vince Verhei: I would add to that: except for some big plays by Pettis (who had a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter), most of the 49ers' big plays have been running back screens. So it's not Mullens that has given them trouble, it's Wilson and Breida.

On that note, Breida did indeed tweak his ankle in pregame, and though he did play some, that's the biggest reason Wilson had such a big day: 134 yards from scrimmage with about a minute still to go.

New York Jets 22 at Tennessee Titans 26

Aaron Schatz: Have we secretly replaced Marcus Mariota with Cody Kessler? He's got the same thing going on today that Kessler did. Everything is a short pass. Early on he had a 15-yard incomplete pass to Corey Davis but since then it's all short. Currently at 7-of-11 for 23 yards. That's 2.1 yards per pass. This goes with the game from last week where he had over 95 percent completion rate but the big pass was almost all yards-after-catch by Jonnu Smith. Can nobody pass the ball downfield anymore?

Bryan Knowles: Welcome to the football game, Titans. This is pretty much a must-win for Tennessee, but the Jets jumped out to a 16-0 lead. None of Tennessee's first five drives gained more than 25 yards, and four of them were held to 7 yards or less. No es bueno. They finally got things going, with some big plays to Corey Davis and some key Mariota scrambles. Anthony Firkser scores a touchdown to get Tennessee on the board, but the ensuing extra point is blocked -- the second block by the Jets' special teams, responsible for a four-point swing. 16-6, Jets as we go to the half.

As Aaron noted, Mariota has not exactly been airing it out so far. His 10 completions have gained just 62 yards, and every single pass has been short; the 22-yard Davis reception was more run after the catch than it was air yards. The Titans seem to have no interest in airing the ball out at all. The only reason they're still in this game is the defense; they've held the Jets to just field goals on all three of their scoring drives. The touchdown came off of a Mariota pick-six. Things did look better on that last drive, though, so maybe the Titans can build in that coming out of the locker room.

Tom Gower: Marcus only attempted two or three "deep" passes last week, and it has been a continuing issue with the Titans offense. That Atlanta in Kyle Shanahan's first year also struggled to even attempt deep passes -- Matt Ryan threw bombs every other week or so -- is about their only redeeming grace of sorts.

Jets up 16-6 at the half. Like the Colts game two weeks ago, you thought of this game as a basic competence test for the Titans offense. Also like that game, the Titans are failing it, looking moribund and mistake-prone for the first 28 minutes until driving the field to get on the board (they had a blocked extra point to go with earlier blocked punt, courtesy of formerly good special teams). The Jets touchdown come on a pick-six by Trumaine Johnson where they could not either obstruct him on a legal pick or win at the catch point. The offensive line, in basically its THIRD YEAR almost completely intact, is still way worse than it should be, and Marcus is still Marcus: capable of playing extremely well within the design of a play, but prone to not handling it well when he cannot execute the design of the play. Josh McCown, meanwhile, is doing enough to move the ball some, but not enough to find the end zone even off a short field like the blocked punt gave them.

Bryan Knowles: Maybe the Titans have learned from last week. When facing a power situation, hand the ball to Derrick Henry, and not Luke Stocker. You know, the running back, and not the tight end. Result is a touchdown, as the Jets lead is cut to 19-13.

I didn't catch this one live as I was writing the Mike McCarthy extra point, but Marcus Mariota probably just saved Tennessee's season. The Titans had missed on their first ten third-down conversion attempts, but lucky No. 11 bailed them out -- Mariota hit Corey Davis for an 11-yard score with 36 seconds left. First third-down conversion, first lead of the day. Malcolm Butler picked Josh McCown off to end things. At 6-6, the Titans are still right in the thick of that AFC playoff race, but man, did they ever need this one.

Tom Gower: Titans win 26-22. The offense that couldn't keep out of their own way scored on four of six non-kneeldown second-half possessions, two touchdowns and two field goals and enough for the win, and without the benefit of good field position (best was their own 36). They actually connected on two deep shots, both to Taywan Taylor in his return from injury, for 40-plus yards. They had a few better runs, but it was mostly the passing game as thanks to the deep passes Mariota was over 11 yards per attempt in the second half after being under 4 in the first half. The Jets, meanwhile ... Josh McCown hit eight of his first nine passes for 82 yards and finished 17-of-30 for 128 yards -- or, yes, a 9-for-21-for-46-yard stretch that included two sacks and a couple of interceptions. That included a 20-yard completion on a failed comeback drive against soft coverage in the final minute. The Jets started the second half in Titans territory after a long kickoff return and couldn't get anything out of it. Their two field goal drives were largely on the ground, as a couple times they found success on the edge rather than the Titans' more common defensive problem of their linebackers getting caught on blocks at the second level. But when you can't throw a lick, it's hard to close out games, and Tennessee got a crucial win for their continuing hopes at something or other.

Minnesota Vikings 10 at New England Patriots 24

Aaron Schatz: Patriots don't seem to care that the Vikings have had the best defense in the league over the last few weeks. First drive was all passing, marched down the field in steady chunks, touchdown. Second drive was stopped after 16 yards, but then they came out for the third drive and decided now they would run the ball, and that got steady chunks, all the way until they were at third-and-1 1/2 at the goal line. But the Pats spread it out, went empty backfield, and couldn't connect with Julian Edelman. And I was a bit surprised, they kicked the field goal instead of going for fourth down on the goal line. So now it's 10-0.

We're 25 minutes into the game and there's no targets yet for Gronk or Josh Gordon. The Vikings secondary is down a guy or two. Xavier Rhodes has a hamstring injury and played the first drive, sat the second drive, then played the third drive again. When in there, he has done a good job of staying on Gordon. Trae Waynes is also in the concussion protocol. So there's a lot of rookie corner Holton Hill today.

We'll go to halftime with the Patriots up 10-7. Adam Thielen only had one target in the first couple of drives but they just found him in the end zone for the touchdown right before halftime. The Pats have been double-covering him a lot of the game while using Stephon Gilmore on Stefon Diggs for hot Stephon-on-Stefon action. That play the Pats had both McCourty brothers on Thielen but Devin McCourty was really in better position to double Thielen if he went inside and instead he went from the slot to the corner of the end zone, beating both of the twins.

Second half, 2:20 left. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of discussion of a couple of Vikings incomplete passes just now. Both appeared to be DPI on Patriots rookie J.C. Jackson, one on Adam Thielen and then one on Aldrick Robinson. From the press box, the Thielen play looked like more of a DPI; on replay, it looked like Thielen might be overdramatizing a bit but the Robinson play definitely had Jackson pulling on Robinson's arm. Vikings settle for field goal to make it 10-10.

On next drive, Patriots finally take advantage of the Vikings being down their top two cornerbacks, completing a pass to Josh Gordon where Marcus Sherels whiffed on the tackle and Gordon scampered 24 yards. Then they hit Gronk over the middle, then a James White run, and then Gordon got wide open in a zone of some sort (I think Cover-2) and scored a 24-yard touchdown. Now we're at 17-10. Damn that was quick.

Bryan Knowles: Here's the Aldrick Robinson play -- that's PI for most refs in the league, I would think.

Vince Verhei: Oh, that's a horrible miss by the refs.

Aaron Schatz: With 7:35 left, down 24-10, the Vikings followed up a holding call on second down with the following negative-ALEX fiesta:

  • 4-yard pass on second-and-20.
  • 5-yard pass on third-and-16.
  • 4-yard pass on fourth-and-11.

What the hell was the point of these plays? Especially the 4-yard pass to a fully covered Laquon Treadwell on fourth-and-11?

Vikings get lucky when Tom Brady throws a pick on the second play of the ensuing Patriots drive. Vikings will get the ball back near midfield. Still down two touchdowns, now 5:25 left.

Dave Bernreuther: Down two touchdowns on fourth-and-11, Kirk Cousins decisively throws a 4-yard pass with no hope of yards-after-catch to Laquon Treadwell. That's winning football.

But it works ... one play later, Eric Kendricks steps in and takes the ball away and the Vikings get a new set of downs.

Aaron Schatz: Cousins goes deep for Aldrick Robinson, and I swear he had J.C. Jackson beat. Somehow Jackson caught up with it, maybe the ball just hung a bit in the air, and he tips the ball up in the end zone, and safety Duron Harmon comes down with it. So much for that Vikings chance to come back.

Kansas City Chiefs 40 at Oakland Raiders 33

Bryan Knowles: Jon Gruden attempted to challenge a fairly obvious touchdown by Travis Kelce. That's bad, because there's zero chance it will be overturned.

It was a scoring play, so that's worse -- all scoring plays are automatically reviewed.

It happened with seven seconds left in the half, so that's worst -- that's a penalty.

Other than that, the Raiders have to be happy with their Gruden hire.

Oakland made it really, really interesting late ... but they end up falling short, 40-33. That means the Raiders do just beat the 49ers to the line as the first team mathematically eliminated from the postseason.

Los Angeles Chargers 33 at Pittsburgh Steelers 30

Scott Kacsmar: Unless you have Justin Tucker, you don't kick a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 at Heinz Field. But Anthony Lynn maybe isn't familiar with this opponent. In fact, this is only the third meeting in the last nine seasons between these teams. A rare AFC matchup these days. To make the Chargers pay for the missed kick and good field position, Ben Roethlisberger finally hit the deep ball he has missed so often to Antonio Brown this season. That set up James Conner for a short touchdown run and it's quickly 7-0.

It has been a bad season for missing false starts, but the Chargers have gotten touchdowns on probably the two most egregious misses of 2018. The first one (against Cleveland) led to an official getting fired, and I think someone in this game should join him after missing a right tackle's false start on what became a 46-yard touchdown from Rivers to Travis Benjamin. It was so blatant, and it wasn't the first time tonight they missed one too. Seemed like there was at least a fourth one missed on a drive later by the Chargers as well. I'm not sure why this keeps happening when it's one of the most clear-cut penalties in the game and it's what the line judge should be looking for.

Carl Yedor: Roethlisberger hasn't looked sharp tonight. There have been at least 3 WIDE-open guys that he has airmailed, including the would-be touchdown to Justin Hunter that he just missed. The pick was also a weird throw, looked like he didn't step into it at all. With that said, Pittsburgh is still up 16-7 thanks to their defense and special teams shutting down most of what the Chargers have wanted to do tonight.

Derwin James has been all over the field and making a lot of plays, but the thing I'm most fascinated by with him is his mouthguard situation. It looks like he has one of the molded mouthguards that you can pop in and out and doesn't attach to your helmet with a strap a la Steph Curry, but he also has one that's attached to his helmet that he doesn't actually use and is only there for cosmetic purposes.

Scott Kacsmar: Not bad when you've had an uneven half, yet still lead 23-7 at halftime and are getting the ball to start the third. Keenan Allen and Antonio Brown are having huge games while no-one else is doing too much. Pass protection has again been excellent for Roethlisberger, the least-pressured quarterback in 2018. Plenty of time to find Brown on a 28-yard touchdown in the end zone late in the quarter. The Chargers have nine rushes for 2 yards. It's more than fair to say they miss Melvin Gordon tonight, but maybe the question is why not abandon the run? It seems like it has done nothing but set them back in the down-and-distance all night, and pressure has deflected a few of Rivers' passes right back at his face.

Tom Gower: The Chargers have had two possessions that have gained more than 14 yards. One ended with a missed 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-1. I have no idea what Anthony Lynn was doing with that decision. The other ended in a long touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. They can't run, and Philip Rivers hasn't been able to do enough to compensate for when they've tried to run. Meanwhile Pittsburgh has moved the ball almost every time, with Antonio Brown having a huge game. Credit to the Steelers line with another excellent job.

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers pulling Philip Rivers for a down to stick in Geno Smith to run a read option has to win this year's award for most pointless overthinking of things.

Tom Gower: Ahem, Luke Stocker's first career carry (in his eighth season) on fourth-and-1?

Aaron Schatz: Oh, yeah, that was pretty bad. I think that one wins because it was fourth down.

Scott Kacsmar: Joe Haden had a pick in the end zone, but his own teammate (Sean Davis) blew him up and Allen ended up catching a touchdown for the Chargers. Crazy play. It's only 23-15 after a two-point conversion from Rivers to Antonio Gates. The only good news for Pittsburgh on that drive is that the Chargers kept running the play clock down to single digits so it's almost the fourth quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Hey! The Chargers did a thing on special teams that was not terrible! Punt return for a touchdown by Desmond King combined with 2-point conversion ties the game 23-23.

Now the Chargers discover their rushing game with a shotgun power play that has guard Dan Feeney pulling left. They ran it a couple of times on a big drive that has the game now at 30-23.

Bryan Knowles: I'm wondering if three offsides in a row is the NFL record. It might well be.

Tom Gower: Yeah, that email I sent about the game at halftime? Never mind. Everything changed in the second half for reasons I'm not sure I get. But the Chargers scored on the punt return touchdown and all three offensive possessions, including the field goal that would be retried and retried, and the Steelers stalled out three times. Crazy change of events.

Carl Yedor: In Rivers' post-game interview, he said he had been talking to his teammates in the locker room about a Sunday night game from 2006 against Denver where they came back from almost the exact same deficit and ended up winning by a similar score (he thought it was "35-28 or something"). Out of curiosity, I went and checked, and he was absolutely right.

In Week 11 of 2006, the Chargers played in Denver on Sunday Night Football. Denver took a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter (so not exactly identical but very similar) before the Chargers ended up coming back to win 35-27. I guess when you don't play on Sunday Night Football all that often the exact details become easier to remember.

Scott Kacsmar: None of us have ever seen a Pittsburgh team blow a 14-plus-point lead at home until tonight. Obviously took some wild events for it to happen, but I would be feeling awfully low if I was a player in that locker room. There's a pretty decent chance the Steelers finish no better than the fourth seed now, which would mean a rematch with these Chargers (or the Chiefs if they stumble) in January. They should have Gordon back for that one, and the offense really made it look easy once they realized Justin Jackson was a better fit tonight than Austin Ekeler on rushing plays. Great throw under pressure by Rivers to run the clock down on the game-winning drive. Pittsburgh's defense just couldn't stack good plays in the second half at all. This season could take a really dark turn if the Conner injury news is bad and they lose in Oakland, the sight of several past horrors, next week.

Comments

133 comments, Last at 05 Dec 2018, 5:19am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

SD-Pit was one of the worst officiated games I've ever seen. Chargers were gifted their first two TDs and I don't believe Haden was off sides on the first missed FG.

51 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I definitely won't completely blame the loss due to the refs blowing calls (It was due to Keith Butler forgetting he has a great slot corner in Mike Hilton, and placing a LB on Keenan Allen, and the offense going to sleep during a lot of the 2nd half), but it was terrible officiating all around. Missed false starts, missed holds, phantom holds (One of them at least, on Ramon Foster), missed offsides, a missed illegal block in the back on the punt return (It wasn't a full on blow in the back, but other players have been flagged for less than that) and the Haden offsides didn't look offsides. At least, the replay didn't show the LOS, so I can't tell if it was offsides.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Regarding the final play of the Colts-Jags game, I've always been confused why a runner can be deemed to have his "forward progress stopped" if he's knocked slightly backwards as he goes out of bounds. In the field of play, having a play blown dead due to forward progress being stopped takes at least a second or two, and at the very least a firm grasp of the runner. Yet somehow things change near the sideline and it's allowed if the runner goes backward a foot or two on the initial hit.

8 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I guess the reason would be because, when being tackled in the field of play, the runner has the opportunity to make further progress up the field; whereas, when getting tackled into touch, that opportunity does not exist.

Regardless, that was the worst offensive display I think I've ever seen from the Colts. Or maybe my memory simply won't allow me to remember the 2011 season?

16 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Not that it likely mattered, but that call was just a cherry on top of the horrible officiating in that game. Both offenses were terrible, but it didn't help that both teams were often in 1st and 20 due to a ticky tack holding call. There was maybe one legitimate hold I remember and often they were completely invisible. Throw in the personal foul on the Adams sack and variety of bizarre penalties on the Jags and the officials very much wanted to be the star of the show.

Seeing some media bashing Reich for going for it on 4th downs and not understanding "hidden value" in not making them. The 2nd 4th down where they eschewed the field goal from the 31 was a direct result of not making it on the drive before and making Jax punt from their own 3 or so on their posession. You can't bash both decisions without acknowledging that going for it the first time was the only reason they were in field goal range the second time.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Patriots had 74 offensive plays. The Vikings top 4 corners from September combined for 104 snaps, reducing them to having to tell Lil' (and verging on old) Marcus Sherels and undrafted free agents to defend against Brady in Foxboro, in December. Toss in a o-coordinator who has a reasonable fear that nobody will ever get blocked (it's easy to criticize short passes when you haven't guaranteed a hundred million to a qb with a crappy line), and some homerific refereeing, and the poor chance the Vikings had of winning this game 10 weeks ago pretty much vanished. Kind of suprised they had it tied at 10 deep in the third.

6 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

"Homerific refereeing"

Yes, that 4th down spot that NO ONE on the field thought was a first down (Vikings even changed some personnel!) was sure homerific. As was the non-PI on Edelman in the first half.

For whatever reason, this crew seemed to hate to call PI.

Sure, that's cherry picking, but that's the point - one can cherry pick officials' errors for both teams in pretty much any game.

19 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

"For whatever reason, this crew seemed to hate to call PI" - That about summed up the day, and magically we had scoring and QB performances similar to what you saw in the <2011 era. It was kind of refreshing. The fact that the Audibles crew caught it and called it home cooking while ignoring that for some mysterious reason the Pats didn't throw downfield much until the Vikings forced them too by actually scoring points is instructive - putting aside the Edelman missed call that wasn't discussed. It's a counterpoint to the Joe Flacco theory of QBing.

The 4th down spot call was interesting - I'd be curious what others thought. The spot seemed fairly obviously wrong by a foot or two (and therefore first vs. 4th). This is a call that the NFL could easily get right if they worked harder at video analysis - but maybe it's not worth the ensuing delay. I thought it was a good use of an otherwise likely to be useless timeout by BB (in no small part because of the psychological effect of acknowledging the play your defense appeared to make).

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Belichick seems to be very clearly resurrecting the early 2000s Patriots - ball possession, runs between the tackles, dink and dunk. This D isn't close to the ones of the first dynasty but it's better than the recent incarnations, with a stronger pass rush and a secondary that seems to have gelled. The approach is undoubtedly matchup specific, another chunk is about limiting Brady's exposure (and waiting for Minnesota's D-line to tire). I wonder though if BB sees that many teams no longer have the heavy personnel on D to consistently stop a throwback approach, with teams playing nickel and dime more than base. The Pats have a good o-line that has gotten healthy and can run block quite well. Although I'm not as high on him as Pats fanbase, Michel is good enough to gain extra yards behind that line, White and Patterson are good change of pace options, and Burkhead is finally back. Devlin is also probably the best blocking fullback in the league.
As far as the cries of bias, well, Patriots fatigue set in a long time ago for everyone not raised in New England and I think that even quality analysts just wish the Pats would go away. I get it - sometimes I feel that way myself and I've followed the team for forty years. Too many of the fans have a ridiculous sense of entitlement - the bashing of Belichick, McDaniel and Brady that goes on after a 14-point win would make you think the team lost by 30.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I agree that there is a clear effort to attack teams unprepared to defend against a pro personal package (I/Broken I with a TE in the game). I think the Patriots tilt toward downhill running/PA against teams unprepared to defend against it from a personal & scheme point of view is one of the most interesting things going on in the NFL. I also think it's a great strategic play to reduce exposure at the QB career and have Brady end his career like he began it - an effective QB playing within himself in a well thought out scheme (rather than an off the cliff QB trying to play like he did in his prime), at the same time as making a transition possible without crushing a rookie QB by reordering the personal.

As far as Pats fatigue - It's an element of American culture that I don't really understand and it drives me nuts. I watch the NFL because I want to see what the best can accomplish, every year more that BB wins 12 games and takes a team deep in the playoffs despite the structural disadvantages he's at (due to drafting at the bottom, having lots of cap casualties, and the way that the schedule favors teams that lose the previous year) is a testament to me of what a great professional can accomplish and a privilege to witness. The day will come soon enough that Pats as we know them won't be around and I'll have to go back to watching "good" instead of "great" at the organizational level - there really isn't another truly organization in the non-basketball North American sporting world to watch right now.

87 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

About 90% of the time I hear someone complain about play-calling, I think they ought to be forced to repeat, about a hundred times, "Personnel dictates playcalling, personnel dictates playcalling, ...". I mean, you'd think it would be obvious that there are no generic players, allowing you to call plays in a vacuum, but rather players with wide ranging, unique, and specific skill sets, which both expands options and places constraints on the playcaller, but the way you hear a lot of people talk, sometimes people with reputations, it becomes clear that this concept is frequently overlooked.

90 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

One of my favorite comments was from Brian Bilick of all people, who was calling a Jets game where they were hopelessly behind by halftime and still came out running and throwing their typical offense.

When asked why, he said - "You spend all week of practice on a gameplan designed against a specific opponent playing to the strength of your offense." Its not as simple as, oops it didn't work, now lets go turn into the Patriots."

91 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I can explain the Pats fatigue...they win too much. I appreciate individual players on other teams, but the NFL is a zero sum game and success for one team does come at the expense of another(including my team at a time when they were also dominant), even if indirectly. Imagine you are fan of the bills, jets, and dolphins - every year writing off the division because you simply don't stand a chance. Imagine you are Pittsburgh, knowing your defense is always suffering a learning curve against the Patriots. Imagine you are a fan of Peyton Manning(me) constantly having to hear how your favorite player lacks mental toughness to be the game's greatest because he can't beat one specific opponent - something curiously common for everyone else too.

There's a team I root for in the nba that's getting the same treatment right now. And I totally get it.

Ok, the analogy is strained somewhat because the that team out talents everyone(at least when healthy) while the Patriots do it through all of these marginal advantages that add up together to be something substantial. But still, it's not exactly easy to stomach the Patriots when every year it feels like the an up and coming team ends up dying in the frosty winds of Foxborough. I don't expect NE fans to be bored with it and I certainly would cherish every moment of this were I them. But for everyone else, yeah...like the old cliche, "it is what it is".

97 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

It's two parts incompetence, one part responses to their divisional bully.

this is not meant as an excuse for the stupidity of these teams or all of the other teams that have not won.

It's more like...it's perfectly reasonable to admire the Patriots and simultaneously root with all of your fervor against them.

103 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I think people who have watched the AFC east for years really should have a sense by now of how Dynasty's have the secondary effect of driving their rivals to do crazy things. If you look at the AFC east, the Jets fired Eric Mangini and Herm Edwards (two middling head coaches) specifically because they couldn't beat they Patriots - then held on to Rex Ryan!!! for 5 years because he played the Pats tough. A huge part of failed-Bill's head coach bingo is guys who were fired in substantial part for getting blown away by the Pats (and part of the reason they hired Rex Ryan was because he "knew how to beat them"). The rational approach is of course what the Bronco's did - try to make your team better each year and don't worry that the team that beat you in a critical game happened to be the same one a couple times in a row - it's about getting better regardless of the menace of the fan base; but most football teams are managed with fan sentiment looming (near) as large as winning.

114 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Buffalo (and Miami, to a lesser extent) also have had significant ownership challenges during the Pats' dynasty. In Buffalo's case, it was Wilson being cheap at nearly-Mike Brown levels, especially when paying coaches. Pegula is better, but has the aforementioned Ryan debacle to overcome. It looks like the new staff is following the Carolina/Denver model and just making the team better, and not worrying so much about the Pats.

Although they did draft a MLB that will be able to cover Gronk when he figures out how the game works. But I think that was just coincidence, not by design, since the staff was looking for their Kuechly.

121 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Rex Ryan got to 2 AFC championships with a rookie quarterback who has not turned out well, to the point that people are griping that Washington is giving up on the season by playing him. No matter how you feel about Ryan, he was a better coach than Mangini or Edwards. He went for it on 4th down more often (that's how he closed out the playoff game against the Chargers) than either of them. Even his worst team, the 2014 Jets, looks better coached than this year's version. Also, Herm Edwards wasn't fired. He quit. He probably quit on that 2005 team before the season started; he had dinner with his friends in the Kansas City front office the night before the season opener. While Rex did not do well with Buffalo (he probably should have waited a year or two before going anywhere, and the Bills should have hired a defensive head coach or co-ordinator who fit the team's personnel), he did start Tyrod Taylor over the first round guy, leading to some competence on the offensive side. That probably led to the Bills finally making the playoffs the next year.
I'm not sure the Broncos have a rational approach either; I would think their approach is to have Super Bowl John smooze the best available free agent quarterback of all time. That's partially luck, not a great plan. They also kept John Fox too long, and only won with Peyton once they went with someone else less conservative in their game decisions. They almost didn't win one with Peyton at all.
Luck has partially led to the weakness of the rest of the AFC East; Pennington's injuries when he is the only quarterback to win the division aside from Brady the last 12-14 years, the Dolphins losing on playoff tiebreakers several years in the beginning of the Pats dynasty, chosing Culpepper instead of Drew Brees, Saban leaving them. The Bills have been a terrible organization the entire time though; their best coach was probably Doug Marrone.
As a Jets fan, I am looking forward to Brady and Belichick's retirement. I might even enjoy Belichick trying to hang on after Brady-then again, I might not. But I am more dispirited by how foolish the Jets coach has been this year, and how foolish their front office has been the last five years, than the Patriots winning streak. I even root for them against teams I hate more, like the Steelers. Sunday was fun.

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

So, because I'm a Broncos fan, I want to defend the team and their approach.

I think that Elway is good at scouting pass rushers and cornerbacks. Not so sure about his ability with safeties, linemen, or any offensive players outside of receivers (I think he's mediocre at that last one, given that so far his best-looking wideouts have been D. Thomas [McDaniels pick], Sanders [drafted by Steelers], and maybe Sutton [rookie with upside]). The big question is whether he can find a QB, and I give him a pass on Lynch since a lot of teams whiff on QBs (SD drafted Ryan Leaf, then a few years later drafted Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers; Buffalo hasn't had a guy since Jim Kelly; neither Winston nor Mariota [sp.] look like world-beaters).

So given that, combined with the fact that pretty much no team wants to admit to a rebuild (aka three years of losing), I'm not surprised that his method seems to be to try and find a guy in free agency to hold down the fort while trying to draft a QB. It's not completely nonsensical, although it hasn't paid off yet (apart from Manning, but everybody without a long-term QB solution was going after Manning).

As for Fox, I think that keeping him too long is more a factor of hindsight than anything. Prior to his disastrous stint in Chicago, he was seen as a guy who built Carolina up and got them to a Super Bowl before things got too comfortable, and he was basically hired to right the ship in Denver after Josh McDaniels McDanielsed the team. I believe he was hired to do the same thing in Chicago–to help a team in the gutter climb back to mediocrity/playoff contention (so basically as a rebuild coach), and honestly I was surprised the Broncos fired him as soon as they did. (Not that I disagree with the decision, especially with the benefit of hindsight.)

Of course, it's also possible that it's all smoke and mirrors and Elway lucked into Manning and everything that came with it, but I'd give him a few more years and see how things pan out.

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

That's a great point about planning for life post-Brady that I hadn't considered - Belichick moving the micro and macro level, job security an advantage he's earned but which makes it even harder for new coaches who have to win quickly to sustain success. The Ryan Jets were able to compete for a while via good drafts and free agents until the rookie contracts came due. It seems like they only escaped from cap hell yesterday.
Of course, McCarthy is an example of the dangers security presents - stagnation being foremost.
It's fascinating to see decent analysts miss the point of what BB is trying to do. After the Vikings game, the Pats only opened up after Minnesota tied it and there was plenty of grousing along the lines of - why didn't they throw it downfield sooner? Well, maybe because they didn't want to watch Brady get dismembered by a good pass rush. Or guys pointing out that since the Vikings were averaging 8 yards per carry, they should have run it more. If they had, of course, that YPC average would have gone down very quickly.
The Vikings receivers were both playing hurt but I still think the Pats shutting them down was pretty impressive. The defense is underrated and I think it will get even better now that it seems like one of the real weaknesses - speed and athleticism at LB - is being addressed by the latest Oakland castoff.
Seeing the Pats play the Rams in the SB would be fascinating because of the ways Belichick would try to scheme to overcome the talent disparity. A long way to go before that's a concern though.

123 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

The Jets escaped cap hell a lot quicker than people realize. Idzik had plenty of money to play with his second year, and did nothing with it. Also, their cap issues were due to signing/trading for veterans, something Tannebaum still does (perhaps that's why the Dolphins remain decent, while the Bills and Jets are rather bad this year, he doesn't let the team completely tank).

The Pats are totally shielding Brady now that they have a good run blocking line and several good backs to hand off too. The Saints have been doing this too. Looking at the rest of the AFC, not sure if that plan will work against the Texans or Ravens, but KC and Pittsburgh will be hard pressed to stop it. The Rams' run defense has been bad this year too. If the Pats end up playing Chicago, they would need to rely on Brady or turnovers a lot. Much as everyone gripes that the Pats win it every year, the playoffs will be a lot of fun this year.

133 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Ravens always play the Pats well but a mistake-prone rookie QB lessens the threat (For some annoying reason, Flacco usually has good games against NE). Home field looms large for the Pats, larger than usual. Pittsburgh is in real trouble. I can't see Houston winning in January in Foxboro but in the Gulf Coast swamps - sure. K.C. is so dependent on peak offense to win that even a slight decline would make them vulnerable. We'll see how they handle the loss of Hunt but bad weather could also slow them down. At Arrowhead though, they'll be a clear favorite, even with Andy Reid playoff magic in effect. As we saw in the Vikings game,Pats still can wing it when need be but the margin of error has obviously shrunk. If the Pats stay healthy and Gronk overcomes his nicks and dents (and isn't in irreversible decline), they could win it all. Even without 90% Gronk they'll be a tough out, especially if the defensive improvement isn't a mirage. Pats at 13-3 probably do get homefield and the most likely team from AFC to face the Rams.
Next week's game in Miami will a great reveal. Although a few of the losses have been because there was nothing to play for, they have had some head-scratching fails there (one probably cost them the championship game against Manning's corpse). If NE they roll Adam 'Definition of Mediocrity' Gase, than I'll start to think they're for real. Stumble and the end is nigh.

76 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Well, not exactly. No team is the same as the team that played back in week 2 or 3.

For example, that Lions team had Ameer Abdullah and was playing better than the current Lions team, and that Pats team didn't have Edelman or Gordon or Burkhead, a healthy O-line, and wasn't regularly starting Jason McCourty.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Man, if the Bears performance yesterday is a harbinger, the NFC North has turned into a complete and utter disaster, from what I thought was a really intetesting division after the Mack trade.

22 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I’d say this is at least the 2nd one of those for the Bears...the loss to the Dolphins feels worse because they had a healthy Trubisky for that one. And blowing the game against the Packers opening week is looking worse and worse since the Packers have turned out to not be any good.

124 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

Really, the defense falling apart toward the end of the game has been a problem in more games than that. They've just been good enough overall to overcome it in a couple of their wins. If Trubisky comes back healthy this week and stays healthy, then I'd say the defense crumbling in the 4th quarter is my biggest concern going forward.

That said, 9-7 certainly isn't impossible (nor is 8-8!), but I'm about as confident of the Bears winning the division as I was before Sunday. Assuming they lose to the Rams, which with a healthy Trubisky is probable but far from a certainty, they need to win 2 of 3 against the Packers, Niners, and Vikings to get to 10 wins which will presumably be enough to win the division. I feel good about that. The Giants game was ugly all around but I still think not having Trubisky was what turned it from a too-close win to a loss.

126 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 13

I think the "defense falls apart at the end of the game" narrative is a little overblown, or at the very least, is not actually worse than "the offense starts games poorly". I'm looking game by game:

Packers: no argument here, the defense collapsed, though it was SO good early; the offense *also* collapsed here, though
Seahawks: the defense gave up 14 fourth quarter points (though 7 were with 14 seconds left) and scored 7 of their own, I wouldn't call this a collapse
Cardinals: it was the opposite, the defense gave up 14 points in the first quarter and nothing after that; the offense looked awful early in this game, and rallied a bit
Buccaneers: total blowout, can't really count it
Dolphins: another collapse, but if the offense had done anything in the first half, it wouldn't have mattered
Patriots: a weird game, the defense gave up 24 of the 38 total points, only 10 of which were in the second half; this loss is almost completely on the special teams
Jets: defense gave up 7 of the 10 total points in the fourth quarter (while up 14); if this is a collapse, then 2/3 of all games involve defensive collapses
Bills: total blowout, doesn't count
Lions: the defense gave up two late touchdowns, though they were up 3 scores (four if any two-pointers were missed); again, if this is a "collapse", then lots and lots of teams collapse
Vikings: gave up two fourth quarter touchdowns, but like Seattle, had scored one of their own and the second one was with less than a minute left; they basically made the Vikings take up a lot of time to score, which is arguably the "better" strategy here (see the Packers and Dolphins games, where they gambled for interceptions / big plays and allowed tons of YAC)
Lions: gave up 3 fourth quarter points, scored 7 of their own
Giants: third quarter was horrendous here, but the defense stepped up in the fourth to allow the comeback (the only fourth quarter points were after Gabriel fumbled inside the Bears' 20); OT was bad

I count:
- two true collapses (Packers and Dolphins)
- one where they gave up two touchdowns, both while up three scores (Lions I)
- two where they scored a defensive touchdown to ice the game before giving up scores in the last minute (Seahawks, Vikings)
- one where they came out flat at halftime, but buckled down (and having a good QB would have meant the game wasn't really close) (Giants)
- one where the defense played lights out in the second half (Cardinals)
- two where the defense played consistently throughout the game (Jets, Lions II)
- one where special teams colored the entire game (Patriots)
- two blowouts that don't tell us much (Buccaneers, Bills)

So do they collapse too much? Yes, because in theory, you want zero blown leads. But some of these "collapses" wouldn't have been leads to begin with if the defense was overall worse, so this complaint to me seems like the classic "blaming your best player" mindset that fans have.

I'd also love to know how the Bears compare to other defenses up one score, two scores, etc. My impression is it's easier than it's ever been to score touchdowns late in games, so it could be that the demand to "never collapse" is unreasonable given the current scoring environment and rules.

So do I wish the defense looked just as good in the fourth quarter, overall, as it did in the first? Of course I do. Do I expect the Rams and/or Saints to score multiple times in the fourth quarter? Yes... but they'll do that against 31 other teams. The hope - as it is for just about every other NFL team - is that the Bears have a big enough lead so that a late touchdown by their opponent doesn't lose them the game... which is scary, but to me, just the way the NFL is.

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Generally, the Giants game doesn't bother me too much, because I think they win by multiple scores if Trubisky played. The early pick six by Ogletree is the easiest thing to point two, but Daniel also killed at least a couple drives by sacks of the type that Trubisky usually avoids. I tend to think the Bears would have been up 14-3 at halftime instead of 14-10, so the defense would have had more breathing room.