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

Audibles at the Line: Week 14

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.

Atlanta Falcons 20 at Green Bay Packers 34

Scott Kacsmar: Ever see a team lose both challenges in the game's first 90 seconds? Joe Philbin just did that in his interim debut in Green Bay on a pair of Julio Jones catches. The first one looked very iffy to me. I know they changed the catch rule for 2018, but not sure it has been a smashing success so far. He looked like he lost the ball very quickly out of bounds. Both catches held up and Jones finished the drive with a slow-developing drag route for a touchdown.

Dave Bernreuther: The McCarthy-less Packers have some fight in them! Aaron Rodgers gets hit in the back as he slid on a run, and next thing you know, we've got a melee and even a flying punch. Fun.

Some things never change, though. They're still losing challenges, and Rodgers just took another third-down sack. Still, they're playing with fire, and a 48-yarder from Mason Crosby sends them to the half up 20-7.

New England Patriots 33 at Miami Dolphins 34

Dave Bernreuther: A friend and I have had a hunch all week that the Patriots are tired of hearing about this Miami schneid, and after watching how useless Kiko Alonso was last week, I had a hunch that the Pats would find a way to use that area of the field and put together another one of their statement wins. My company full of DFS touts didn't necessarily agree with me, so I'm just going to write this here to start off in case I'm right.

One drive in, I look smart, inasmuch as saying "I think the Patriots offense will score points" can be considered smart. True to recent form, they've used the ground game, with seven carries on that drive for Sony Michel ... and then the fantasy-leeching score by James Develin. Of course.

The Dolphins needed only two plays to cross midfield coming back the other way, though, before Frank Gore broke a long run inside the 5, so it's still entirely possible that nothing about this trip will be easy.

Following a turnover, Julian Edelman runs the same route he scored on in the Seahawks Super Bowl a few years back, but in what seemed like slow motion, which I suspect is about 10 percent ACL/age and 90 percent the turf quality (which has also apparently claimed a cameraman). 13-7 Pats after a perfectly placed throw by Tom Brady, as Edelman was not nearly as open as he was before.

Scratch that, the Pats surrender ANOTHER long run, this one to ex-Patriot Brandon Bolden, and this one into the end zone. Who knew that I'd find myself enjoying a Miami game here in Miami?

Zach Binney: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Brandon Bolden revenge game in Miami. Bolden has two of Miami's three touchdowns here midway through the second quarter. His stat line so far: two carries, 60 yards, two touchdowns.

Dave Bernreuther: Tom Brady looked amazing on that drive. Dan Fouts correctly hushed over the laser throw to Cordarrelle Patterson for the score, but the throw on third down before that was brilliant as well. Brady is nearly perfect today so far and I am feeling smart about that one. (Heh.)

Ryan Tannehill, though, looks good coming back the other way, as he had time to do a dance in the pocket before a nicely placed deep ball to Kenny Stills. The only reaction at my table as he stepped into it was "uh oh." It is never a good thing when an entire room says "uh oh" at the same time.

Bryan Knowles: Uncharacteristic brain fart by Tom Brady to end the first half. After New England's second punt block of the day, they set up in the red zone with 30 seconds left and no timeouts. Easy field goal at least, right? Especially with Gronk taking the ball to the two? Instead, Brady gets sacked by Robert Quinn with 9 seconds left, and the Patriots are unable to spike the ball, so the half just ends. 27-21 Patriots at the half in what has been an exciting game to watch.

It's a must-win game for Miami if they want to stay relevant in this one, and they've come out firing on all cylinders; it's been an impressive overall performance. Ryan Tannehill had to head to the locker room just before the half, though; if Brock Osweiler is under center after the half, I'm not so sure the Dolphins will be able to hang in in this one.

Aaron Schatz: Note that Tannehill did return after halftime, limping a little but he was able to hit Brice Butler for a post-route touchdown against Stephon Gilmore (!!!) after a couple of big tackle-breaking runs by Frank Gore.

Dave Bernreuther: Holy shit.

Vince Verhei: [indecipherable screaming]

Bryan Knowles: Mother of god. Lateral woo-woo.

Tom Gower:

Dave Bernreuther: But seriously ... Wow. How on earth...

Gronk tripped as the last line of defense. And it is pandemonium here at Sandbar in Miami.

Zach Binney: Where were you for the Miracle in Miami?

I was at the Dolphins bar in Atlanta. On the floor in stunned silence. I didn't say a word. A 3-legged dog named Lady licked my face to make sure I was still alive. Then I hugged my dad.

Aaron Schatz: One final thought on the incredible ending. If Brady remembers the situation at the end of the first half and throws the ball away, and Stephen Gostkowski comes in to get the short field goal, Miami still would have required a two-point conversion after the big hook-and-ladder touchdown just to send the game to overtime.

New Orleans Saints 28 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14

Dave Bernreuther: I'll just stick with tradition here and mention my weekly uniform gripe: the Buccaneers look stupid in all-orange. Or whatever you even call that color...

Bryan Knowles: Next year is the NFL's 100th season, and they should celebrate by making everyone bust out their throwbacks for significant portions of the season. I'll take 10 games of the creamsicles and four of the pewter reboot over whatever the hell the Buccaneers are wearing this week, please.

Derrik Klassen: It has been a slow day for the Saints offense. The backs have a combined -4 yards on six carries, and one of the TFLs nearly resulted in a safety. Drew Brees and the passing offense have been fine, but they aren't doing a good job of getting the ball to anyone but Michael Thomas, and Brees does not seem all that willing to even try throwing elsewhere. Would like to see them force a few more touches to Alvin Kamara and make the Bucs defense to deal with him.

Watching Tampa Bay's passing offense has been disorienting. Jameis Winston started with a deep connection to Mike Evans, followed by a laser to Adam Humphries over the middle shortly thereafter, but it has been all over the place since then. Overthrown deep shots, weird drops, and a slew of defensive penalties have led to a terribly volatile passing offense that is somehow staying on the field despite not actually producing a whole lot. I want to say it will all settle down, but with Winston at quarterback, who knows?

Vince Verhei: Last week, the Saints scored 10 points in a loss to Dallas, and we chalked it up to the weirdness of a Thursday road game, combined with the Dallas defense playing out of its mind. So what's the story with New Orleans scoring three points in the first half against Tampa Bay today? They can't run at all (nine carries for a total of 3 yards), they can't get any big plays (no completion longer than 20 yards), and Drew Brees has thrown what I assume is his ugliest interception of the year (I mean, there's only four of them) on a busted screen pass. Tampa Bay's pass defense has improved since firing Mike Smith, but their run defense has declined. But nothing is really working for the Saints today.

As earlier noted, Jameis Winston can look really goofy sometimes -- witness his second-to-last pass of the half, when almost scrambled, then jumped backward and hit Adam Humphries for a first down. You don't often see fadeaway jumpers in the NFL, but there it was. Their passing game is barely any better than New Orleans' today, but they're getting enough production on the ground to get them into the red zone, where Cameron Brate has a pair of goal-line scores.

As you'd expect, Saints get back in the game early in the second half. Taysom Hill blocks a punt -- he lines up wide to the punter's left, stunts to the inside, and comes in untouched. Saints need only five plays to score from there, with Zach Line catching a 1-yard touchdown, then Alvin Kamara scoring on a two-point conversion, and Tampa Bay's lead is cut to 14-11.

Bucs special teams today: 0-for-2 on field goals, one blocked punt allowed, and a bad punt that set the Saints up near midfield. New Orleans gets a first-and-goal at the 4, and it takes them four plays to score from there, but on fourth down Brees gets the reach-across-the-goal-line sneak for the touchdown. Saints now up 18-14, but still 11 minutes and change to go.

Floodgates are open. Saints force a three-and-out and take over near midfield again, and then Mark Ingram drags defenders into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. Saints have scored 22 points in the last 13 minutes of game time and now lead 25-14.

Carolina Panthers 20 at Cleveland Browns 26

Bryan Knowles: This is a must-win game for the Panthers, who have been in a tailspin over the past month. Their offense seems to have gotten the message, as they marched right down and scored easily on their opening drive. The Carolina offense continues to be the Christian McCaffrey show, as he touched the ball seven times on the 11-play scoring drive; the Browns seem to have trouble matching up with him. The defense, however, remains suspect, as it takes the Browns just three plays to respond. A 66-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to Breshad Perriman sets up a Jarvis Landry rushing touchdown to tie the game. Looks like this one is going to be a bit of an offensive showcase.

Mayfield has yet to throw an incomplete pass through three drives, as he continues to slice and dice Carolina's defense. He just hooked up on his second big shot of the day, finding a triple-covered Jarvis Landry 50 yards downfield in the end zone. The pass was thrown perfectly and Landry comes down with his second touchdown of the day. Mayfield trusts his arm, woah boy -- that really isn't the kind of throw you want your quarterback to be making, because it needed to be perfect. It was one of those "no no no no no YES!" plays that you see from Favresque players.

Dave Bernreuther: To echo Bryan, Baker Mayfield looks fantastic. I didn't see it live, but the highlight montage that ended in the second Landry score also included a gorgeous deep ball to Breshad Perriman down the left sideline, and he's really just making excellent throws, which is fun to watch on the screen next to the Darnold-Allen crapfest. Which just saw a badly dropped interception where Allen hit a defender right in the gut. (But it was thrown really hard, guys!)

Bryan Knowles Jet sweeps seem like a better way to use Jarvis Landry than wide receiver screens. Landry scored on a jet sweep earlier today, and just had a 51-yard run to set Cleveland up in the red zone again -- it would have been a score if he hadn't been caught from behind by Luke Kuechly (!). Nick Chubb gets the call for the touchdown on the next play, as Cleveland takes a 23-20 lead. If Carolina loses this one, we can stick a fork in 'em.

Uh, I missed the extra point after the Browns touchdown, so something really, really weird happened there. The Browns kicked the extra point to take a 24-20 lead, but Carolina jumped offsides. The referees announced that ... the Browns accepted the penalty, taking the point off the board. They line up 5 yards closer ... and miss the extra point. So, according to the refs, they accepted the penalty only so they could re-try a kick they had already made.

There HAS to be something else there, and I look forward to post-game explanations, because ... wha?

Andrew Potter: That might be the most Browns thing that ever happened in the entire history of the multiverse.

Dave Bernreuther: Cam Newton just airmailed one over Devin Funchess, and the Damarious Randall pick just about seals the Panthers' fate. What a collapse. They were playing so well a month ago.

Indianapolis Colts 24 at Houston Texans 21

Dave Bernreuther: Four drives, four punts through just the first half of the first quarter in the defensive struggle we all expected when placing our daily wagers (Narrator: he did not expect this). The loss of Jack Doyle was almost certainly felt on a midfield third-and-2 for the Colts, as a scrambling Andrew Luck calmly threw to an open Erik Swoope, who didn't quite have the control of his body necessary to stay in bounds. It took a challenge flag to get the call right, and the Colts -- somewhat surprisingly -- chose to punt.

Scott Kacsmar: Deshaun Watson slid early on a third-and-12 scramble, which the Colts challenged and got overturned. That's a situation where you need to dive headfirst, but Michael David Smith linked to a story from August that the NFL is supposedly treating headfirst dives and slides the same as a player giving himself up this year. I can't say I've ever seen that mentioned or applied in any game I've watched this year. Also, how would it work when a quarterback dives from the 1 into the end zone? You couldn't say the play should be ruled dead at the 1 when he starts his dive, so I find it unlikely this is a rule that's actually being put into use this year. If Watson went headfirst there, I bet there wouldn't have even been a challenge. The Texans converted anyway on fourth down after a sweet one-handed catch by their tight end Jordan Thomas.

Dave Bernreuther: Not the greatest sequence for the referees in Houston. Following the challenged catch and overturn, we saw a free 15 yards for Houston on a pretty minor helmet contact that could be argued was as much a coincidence of the receiver's head moving sideways as it was targeting, and then on third-and-12, Watson took off running, gave himself up at the 19, and had a knee down at the 18, and the officials gave him a first down beyond the marker at the 17. Reich wisely challenged, but that should not have been necessary at all.

And then we have a turnover overturned on another personal foul call, this on Malik Hooker. Hard to argue that one, as it was all helmet to all helmet, unless the argument is "well what was he supposed to do on a low throw?" Which would probably have a point, but the rules are the rules.

Bryan Knowles: For the first time in six quarters, the Colts have managed to find the end zone. Andrew Luck found T.Y. Hilton for a 60-yard bomb downfield, setting up an easy Marlon Mack touchdown to the tie the game at seven. Hilton averages 96 yards a game against the Texans, so it didn't matter that he was questionable with a shoulder injury -- he was always going to play, and play well in this one. It's an incredible level of player-over-team dominance.

Dave Bernreuther: My gambling interests may have preferred that T.Y. got the touchdown as well, but at least it's nice to see the Colts find the painted area of the field.

Tom Gower: Colts up 17-7 at the half. After the moribund start with four three-and-outs (featuring a couple of dropped passes by tight ends), the Colts offense and specifically Andrew Luck moved the ball almost at will in the second quarter. The only blemishes were an interception that went off receiver Zach Pascal's hands and running out of time at the end of the first half and having to kick a field goal. Unless, of course, you count that they can't run the ball, and Luck has been under a fair amount of pressure when he hasn't been able to get the ball out quickly. But he's hard to sack and has an idea of how to get the ball out and options to get the ball out, so no sacks. Houston can't run the ball or protect either, and unlike Luck, Watson takes sacks (three in the first half). He found a little bit going with his tight end on their one scoring drive, but hasn't been real precise with his throws and I feel like the Texans offense may be missing out on that deep-strike ability they got from Will Fuller and Indy got on the big play to Hilton.

Bryan Knowles: Houston's running game has been shut down all day -- or, at least, their running game not involving Deshaun Watson -- but Lamar Miller just found the end zone to cut the Colts lead to 17-14. They almost scored the play previously, and in fact threw a challenge flag on Griffin's catch, pushed out at the pylon. Houston's first drive out of the locker room has been their best of the day so far; 75 yards in 16 plays with Watson looking confident and competent. Apparently, both teams thought this game started about an hour after it actually began, but since the boring start, this game has become really interesting.

Dave Bernreuther: It's any part of the ball just touching the line for it to break the plane, right? Same as forward progress ... so what in the hell did the refs see that made them mark Ryan Griffin shy of the touchdown? Further, how did the end zone shot from behind Malik Hooker not overturn it? What is it with this game and challenges?

Houston again wisely goes for it, and a direct snap to Lamar Miller makes this one a game again.

The Texans finally got to Andrew Luck. On first down, the Colts bring everyone in tight and run play-action. Or attempt to. Nobody on Houston was fooled, and nobody on Indianapolis blocked, and Luck very nearly got eaten.

No matter, though. Next play, he made an Oh Wow throw, stepping up at a full run before taking something off it to drop one in to Hilton to convert second-and-18, and then a great double-move by Zach Pascal gets him open for a score to put the Colts back up ten. Excellent response from this offense since they earlier threatened to go scoreless through six full quarters.

Tom Gower: I haven't been as bothered by any of the officiating decisions today as everybody else seems to be; from the down-the-line shot CBS showed us before they went to commercial, I didn't see enough to overturn the call on the field of no touchdown on that Griffin catch, and no other angle convinced me I was wrong. But to think that's the best Texans drive ... they took 16 plays to go 75 yards and had to convert three third downs and one fourth down. Their first touchdown drive I remember as being much more fluid, and I think that's illustrative of the kind of work and repeated execution they need now that they're lacking the pure explosive element. Granted, there were some good plays, most notably Watson's pass to DeAndre Hopkins to convert third-and-10 to get in the red zone, but it's easier when you get chunk plays and make it look easy like Luck did to restore the 10-point lead the next possession.

Bryan Knowles: Their other big drive was aided by multiple Indianapolis personal fouls, which is why I called this most recent one their best; they moved the ball down the field themselves. I'll grant you that the first scoring drive had more big plays from Houston's offense, however, so YMMV.

Tom Gower: I should note that DeAndre Carter was supposed to be the guy who provided the explosive element, but he went out early in the game and now Houston has been playing Joe Webb at receiver with Keke Coutee inactive.

Dave Bernreuther: I don't know who this Grover defensive lineman is for the Colts, but he just took his second hands to the face penalty to extend a drive. Watson missed Miller behind the line of scrimmage BADLY on third down, though, leading to a punt. They pinned the Colts deep, but the Texans defensive linemen can commit penalties too -- in this case a hold -- to give the Colts some breathing room. One more touch pass to Hilton later, the Colts are at midfield and Hilton is over 150 yards against Houston again.

The Colts have been sending a lot more blitzes than usual, and the corner ones are working. This is not a team known for its pass rush, but they have been overwhelming the Texans' line.

Watson has dropped back 51 times already today (Hm, so said the graphic -- that can't be right though. By the box score he has 33 attempts, five sacks, and five runs.) for only 163 net yards, and Nuk Hopkins only has three catches. This is not exactly the pass defense against real teams that Colts fans are used to seeing.

Tom Gower: The Colts' strategy in the fourth quarter was to run the ball to burn clock, as the deliberate and non-explosive Houston offense struggled to execute another drive. They stalled out near midfield twice after running on first and second downs. The second time, Houston actually did something with it, as Watson finally beat the blitz and found Ryan Griffin for a big play. Backs against the wall, Frank Reich put the hands in the ball of his best player, passing early and often, and a third-and-1 encroachment penalty on Jadeveon Clowney gave them the final first down they needed to end the game.

Baltimore Ravens 24 at Kansas City Chiefs 27 (OT)

Aaron Schatz: The Ravens are bringing a lot of blitzes, pass rush from all angles, but Patrick Mahomes is doing a good job of getting away from it. He's forced outside of the pocket a lot but he's throwing it away or finding Travis Kelce.

The Ravens, meanwhile ... their first drive showed what happens when this run-heavy offense doesn't work. Chiefs pass rush had Lamar Jackson totally dead to rights on a third-and-8. Second drive showed what happens when it does work. Huge holes up the middle on read-option pistol plays. A mix of Jackson keeping and handing off. Nice blocks by James Hurst and Nick Boyle. Eight plays, all runs, 75-yard touchdown drive. Now 7-7.

One of the most impressive things about Pat Mahomes is his ability to zip accurate sidearm throws under pressure. He did it twice on the final Kansas City drive of the first half. You have to credit Baltimore for how much pressure they can bring but for the most part it's not knocking Mahomes off his game. On the other side, Jackson has had a couple of good throws but it's still mostly a ground offense. Jackson had Michael Crabtree open on one third-and-8 but Crabtree slipped on the grass. 17-10 KC at halftime.

Vince Verhei: Can only confirm what Aaron said about how run-reliant Baltimore is right now. Their two scoring drives covered 124 combined yards in 18 plays, with only two completions -- both on third-down conversions. It's effective enough, especially against a terrible run defense like Kansas City's. But when they got the ball back with less than three minutes to go, they ran three times, threw an incomplete on third down (Michael Crabtree fell down on the route), and punted. That left the Chiefs with 1:36 left, which was all they needed for a field goal and a 17-10 halftime lead. It could be worse -- they missed a field goal earlier. It's still just a one-score game, but Baltimore's margin for error here is razor-thin -- they can't afford to fall down by multiple scores in the second half.

Patrick Mahomes is amazing. He makes throws that look like video game glitches -- his feet, body, and head will all be pointed straight downfield, but instead the ball will head to the sidelines, knifing through defenders for a completion. Just ridiculous. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Spencer Ware (77 yards from scrimmage in the first half) went down late in the second quarter and immediately grabbed for his collarbone. Not a good sign.

Aaron Schatz: The pressure finally got to Mahomes on the first drive of the second-half. Third-and-3, he threw it up for grabs under pressure and it ended up going right to Chuck Clark from the Ravens.

The Chiefs are one of the worst defenses in the league against tight ends. Ravens just went for it on fourth-and-2 from the 10 and hit a touchdown pass to a wide-open Maxx Williams, who was right at the sticks but easily made up the yards to score. 17-17.

Vince Verhei: Stats for that drive: 14 plays, 73 yards, three completions, including a third-down conversion and the fourth-down conversion.

Aaron Schatz: In the first half Mahomes was able to step up in the pocket against pass pressure and make plays. And the second half there's even more pressure and he doesn't even have time to do that. I think the Ravens just beat three different Chiefs linemen on a third-and-5 and Mahomes has nowhere to go. Ravens then got a huge punt return that sets them up on the Kansas City 14, tied 17-17.

Vince Verhei: Ravens seem to have really figured out Kansas City's protection schemes. Last three Kansas City drives have gained a total of 34 yards, with two punts and an interception. A Cyrus Jones 55-yard punt return sets them up in the red zone, and then on third down they run double crossers, and Jackson hits John Brown for the go-ahead touchdown. Ravens now lead 24-17 with 4:04 to go.

Third-and-3, inside of two-minute warning, MVP favorite at quarterback ... and you throw behind the line of scrimmage? Spencer Ware loses a yard, and KC calls timeout to discuss fourth-and-4.

(It is very good news that Ware is back, of course.)

Aaron Schatz: It was actually a Baltimore timeout. Kansas City came out of the timeout with a false start so now it's fourth-and-9.

Bryan Knowles: Patrick Mahomes is not human. Not HUMAN. Being chased out of the pocket, throwing back against the grain of the field, hitting a 30-yard pass to Tyreek Hill? Astounding.

Vince Verhei: Y'all gotta see Mahomes' scrambling, throwback pass to Tyreek Hill for a big play and a fourth-and-9 conversion as soon as possible. One of the best plays all year.

Tom Gower: Video:

Vince Verhei: Fourth-and-3 from the 5, unblocked rusher comes right into Mahomes' face, but he calmly hits Damien Williams out of the backfield with a soft lob for the tying score. 53 seconds to go, and the Ravens still have two timeouts and can win with a field goal. But that drive was just ridiculous.

Aaron Schatz: That's was Za'Darius Smith for the Ravens on the 30-yard play, and Eric Fisher who blew the block on the touchdown. Fisher has had a bad game. A big reason Mahomes has been under the gun so much.

Bryan Knowles: The only criticism I have of that Chiefs drive was calling the timeout with time left on the play clock. There could have been 30 seconds rather than 50 seconds on the clock for a potential Baltimore game-winning drive.

Did I say the Chiefs' time-out was terrible? I mean it was genius -- they just got a strip-sack of Lamar Jackson, and now THEY could kick the game-winning field goal with 30 seconds left on the clock. I've been out-12-dimensional chessed by Andy Reid!

Vince Verhei: But with three seconds left, the snap is bad, the kick is pushed wide right, and we're going to overtime. What a game.

Chiefs get a field goal on their first drive. Baltimore's driving, but we're already at the two-minute warning, and it occurs to me that a tie will help both teams.

Tom Gower: Baltimore wins almost every tiebreaker, so they don't benefit much from a tie and should just play for the win. Which they'll now have to do with RG3 after Lamar Jackson was taken down on a sack to make it third-and-22.

Vince Verhei: A hold and a sack makes it third-and-22, and worse, Jackson is hurt and has to leave. Robert Griffin comes in to finish things off. His first pass is nearly intercepted. His fourth-down pass is accurate, but it's broken up by a Chiefs defender (missed the number) to end the game. It was borderline DPI, but there's no way they're going to call something that ticky-tack on fourth-and-ballgame. Chiefs clinch a playoff spot. Ravens remain in a very crowded wild-card race, especially with Miami, Indianapolis, and Tennessee all winning this week.

Also, while we're sharing highlights today, here's that Mahomes no-look pass I was talking about earlier. Everything about this says pass down the middle, but that's not where it goes.

Rob Weintraub: I think we all can agree that "Showtime" is a stupid nickname for Mahomes. I propose "Sundance," because like Robert Redford's gunslinger, he's deadly accurate on the move.

Vince Verhei: Best I've heard is "Post Mahomes." And I don't think I've ever even heard a Post Malone song.

Scott Kacsmar: I'm still good with "Ketchup" as Mahomes' nickname. He allegedly loves ketchup, and you can make it a play on words with "catch up" since he's forcing every team to have to play from behind against him. But today was a tough one. Didn't have the late lead until overtime, then the defense had to finish it off. Good different type of win for the Chiefs this year. Baltimore is a tough opponent despite the record.

New York Giants 40 at Washington Redskins 16

Bryan Knowles: Like the Texans/Colts game, this one has opened with punt after punt after punt. Just 62 combined yards at the end of the first quarter, with six of the seven drives ending with someone punting the ball away. The other drive was a terrible, terrible pick-six by Mark Sanchez, who was apparently the best quarterback Washington could find. For a team still in the running for playoff position, that's embarrassing.

Uh, allow me to amend my first-quarter update here. The Giants have gotten slightly better in the second half, turning a 7-0 lead into a 34-0 lead going into halftime. Saquon Barkley is just devouring Washington; he has 159 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Washington seems neither willing nor able to stop him.

As for Washington. Mark Sanchez's first-half line: 5-for-13, 30 yards, two interceptions. Their longest drive of the game was the first one, which gained 14 yards, 12 of which came on one Adrian Peterson run. They have just 51 yards of total offense. If Sanchez was picked because he "understands the system," then the system sucks.

Vince Verhei: Let's learn to count with Mark Sanchez!

0: passing first downs.
1: pick-six.
2: total interceptions.
3: sacks.

And that's enough for today.

Wait! Now we're up to four sacks! and five sacks! as Washington opens the second half with a three-and-out.

Mark Sanchez has been benched for Josh Johnson, the top draft pick in the Alliance of American Football, or whatever it's called.

Bryan Knowles: And now we're down to Josh Johnson in Washington. Everyone involved with this "finding a backup quarterback" situation should be fired, immediately.

Dave Bernreuther: I just looked up and thought I saw Mark Sanchez running a read-option keeper, which of course brought to mind the Kap jokes, but it was actually Josh Johnson. He of the five-touchdown, 10-interception career ratio with six years off. That also apparently "knew the system." If the system is "try not to score any points," then Washington's quarterback plan is BRILLIANT.

At least Gruden didn't kick a field goal from the 20 to avoid the shutout just now...

Vince Verhei: I'm sorry Dave, you must be mistaken. I was specifically told that Washington could not sign Colin Kaepernick because they could not install an option offense midseason. I'm sure what looked like an option was really just clever sleight-of-hand.

Bryan Knowles: Josh Johnson's most recent NFL pass was 421 days before Colin Kaepernick played in the Super Bowl. At one point in the past five years, Johnson was Kaepernick's backup's backup. This is an embarrassment.

New York Jets 27 at Buffalo Bills 23

Dave Bernreuther: The quarterback play in this one is about what you'd expect. So, perhaps wisely, the Bills have been using Josh Allen as a runner, which you'd think defenses would expect by now, and as a RECEIVER, which they wouldn't.

The pass to him in the end zone on a bit of a deeper Philly Special ball was a bit short, allowing the defender to catch up, but hell, Zay Jones is still probably the most accurate quarterback on the field. Allen has as usual been missing guys -- including another clean-pocket scramble that has morons gushing about his running while ignoring the fact that the tight end (Logan Thomas, not Charles Clay) was running uncovered down the seam and would've scored -- and with the Jets knocking on the door at the other end, Darnold threw way over Robby Anderson's head and forced the Jets to choose a field goal.

That's actually Darnold's only miss so far, but it was a baaaad one. Allen, meanwhile, has less than 5 yards per throw and more than 12 per rush. And people are EXCITED about this. Sigh.

A penalty wipes out a bad Josh Allen throw, and then a penalty wipes out a good Josh Allen throw (he completed a pass to a teammate behind the line of scrimmage; for Allen, this is noteworthy). And then, well, I'll let someone post a Tweet of his horrible decision and pick ... and so now he has an interception to go with his lost fumble.

And in non-Josh Allen news, the Bills seem to be trying to commit a penalty on every play here in the second quarter. Multiple false starts at home is not a good look, guys.

Bryan Knowles: Ask and you shall receive, Dave.

Dave Bernreuther: A Sam Darnold run on third-and-goal is stopped about an inch from the goal line. There's a delay while the injury cart comes out. It's 23-20 Bills with 1:22 left and the Jets are 3-9 and committing penalties every other play.

I shouldn't be so surprised that Todd Bowles sent the offense back onto the field. But I am. And the Jets ... can't lose on a field goal.

The Jets are now kneeling this one out already because -- color me shocked -- Josh Allen threw a terrible ball that was easily intercepted. Todd Bowles goes aggressive and is rewarded. Good for him.

Vince Verhei: And yet, they were only in the game because Allen ran for 100 yards and a score again. He's like Michael Vick, but even worse at passing and even better at running.

Dave Bernreuther: Which is why people will continue to be foolishly optimistic and keep trying to defend him ... ugh.

I have a hard time agreeing that he's better at running. They're just not defending it well just yet. Miami sort of tried to spy him, but they used Kiko Alonso's corpse. The Jets just left wide open swaths of field in front of him today. And hell, even his longest run was worse than the easy touchdown pass it should have been.

Opposing defenses are going to learn that they can just play the run, spy him some, and dare him to be accurate in order to beat them. And that'll be that, I think, since...

Denver Broncos 14 at San Francisco 49ers 20

Bryan Knowles: George Kittle has broken Vernon Davis' franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end, which is pretty good considering that he's catching passes from the junior varsity squad. He already has four receptions for 94 yards at the end of the first quarter, and should be one of a couple of49ers on the NFC Pro Bowl offense (considering that Kyle Juszczyk is the only NFC fullback with any usage whatsoever). It's a 6-0 lead over playoff-contending Denver, early. Hey, gotta celebrate what you can in a lost season.

I'm continuing to beat the Kittle-for-Pro Bowl drum after he just caught a pass at the 30 and lumbered 70 yards into the end zone. That was more Shanahan than Kittle, though; he caught the ball with nothing but daylight between him and the end zone, as the Denver linebackers were creeping up to defend against the run. 13-0, San Francisco -- a loss for Denver would be pretty bad in the tight AFC wild-card race.

Scott Kacsmar: Well I think Kittle will obviously get a Pro Bowl nod. His only real competition is Zach Ertz, assuming they're still back to doing conference voting. The question is would there be any chance he could get All-Pro consideration, or is that Travis Kelce's to lose? Kittle is a YAC machine and looks very athletic despite falling to the fifth round. First truly great draft pick for the John Lynch era. Also, this is a bad week for the Broncos to lose Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles) after trading away Demaryius Thomas. Hard to fathom that offense without both, and we're seeing the early results aren't good.

Bryan Knowles: They're doing conference teams, but not conference ~voting~ -- you can vote for four AFC tight ends if you really want to, but only two will make the team.

Yes, this is dumb, why do you ask?

The all-time single-game record for tight end receiving yards is 214, by Shannon Sharpe for the Broncos back in 2002. George Kittle has 210 yards in the first half.

The all-time single-game record for receiving yards by a 49er is 289, by Jerry Rice in 1995 against the Vikings. Kittle has 210 yards in the first half; he currently ranks ninth in 49ers history behind Rice, Rice, Rice, Rice, John Taylor, Terrell Owens, Dave Parks, and Bernie Casey.

20-0 at the half, as the 49ers are apparently unbeatable*

*offer only good when playing at home against teams from the AFC West.

Dave Bernreuther: CBS showed a graphic about Kittle being 4 yards shy of Shannon Sharpe's record of 214 receiving yards by a tight end, and I found myself hoping they'd take a penalty from first-and-goal at the 3 so that he could break it in the first half. Alas, he did not, and Nick Mullens lobbed one to Dante Pettis instead for a short score. 20-0 against that defense headed into the break is a pretty impressive result. Most of that was Kittle's YAC, but Mullens ... really doesn't look any worse than a lot of the other quarterbacks in the league right now. Just like last year, the 49ers are rounding into form late in the season. They really don't look like a 2-10 team. Gotta give a nod to Kyle Shanahan there.

Pittsburgh Steelers 21 at Oakland Raiders 24

Bryan Knowles: The game hasn't kicked off yet, but we have some early news -- apparently, Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie will not be returning in 2019. That should probably be fine, though; Jon Gruden has said that players are "dying" to join his team, so they should have a really big offseason with Gruden behind the controls.

Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers have struggled on defense to start this one, leaving Jared Cook too open when he has clearly been the most consistent receiving threat for the Raiders all year. Hmm, sounds like Keenan Allen last week for the Chargers. If they don't get pressure, it's going to be a long day. At least Ben Roethlisberger looks sharp on the road. He has hit nine of his first 11 with a third-down, drive-killing drop by JuJu Smith-Schuster to start things. Stevan Ridley finished off a drive with a short touchdown to tie the game at 7.

You have the least-pressured quarterback (Roethlisberger) against the worst defense at creating pressure this season. All Oakland really needs, though, is a couple of third-down stops today. They came up with a sack to force a field goal attempt from 39 yards, and Chris Boswell missed it badly. He's having a lousy season and that has been the case since Week 1.

JuJu redeemed himself by pulling down a high Roethlisberger pass in the end zone and tapping his feet down for a touchdown before halftime. Boswell hit the post on the extra point, but it deflected through. Pittsburgh should lead 14-10 at halftime.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers' success might end up benefiting the Raiders here, who have just made the clutch move of surrendering the lead to the Steelers. They went three-and-out after the Boswell missed field goal, and Pittsburgh marched down the field behind Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald to take the lead, 14-10.

Roethlisberger took a big shot at the end of the first half, and so Josh Dobbs has been put into the game. This is, I assume, not a drill -- the last two times I've sent the "Big Ben is hurt!" email, he has been back within two plays. It looks like this one might be for real, though.

Scott Kacsmar: It's a rib injury for Roethlisberger. The sack on an earlier drive seemed to be the culprit, but he played after that obviously. Joshua Dobbs played that whole drive, though, and it wasn't a good start. This will be a big one to monitor with the New England game coming up next.

Bryan Knowles: The race for that No. 1 draft pick just got a little bit tighter. Oakland has taken the lead over the Steelers, taking advantage of Pittsburgh's inability to get anything going with Josh Dobbs. They've had three punts and a fumble since Dobbs has come into the game; it's worth noting that Big Ben is throwing on the sidelines but has not come back into the game. That would keep the 49ers in the No. 1 draft slot even if they won, but THAT game is more in question now, as San Francisco has done zip in the second half, and Denver has made it a six-point game.

Correction: Roethlisberger HAS come back into the game. And he immediately leads the Steelers on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Big Ben may be slightly better than Josh Dobbs, #Analysis

Vince Verhei: I've only been watching this out of the corner of my eye, but every time I look at it, Derek Carr is making a brilliant pass, squeezing balls into tight windows. I don't know why they only have 17 points, but I just checked his numbers and he's over 9 yards per pass, so it's not just my imagination. And then he drops one neatly into the basket for Seth Roberts for a 47-yard gain. Raiders are now down 21-17, but have a first-and-goal at the 7 with 1:16 to go. And on fourth-and-goal, with two tight ends to the left, Derek Carrier gets open on an out-and-in for the touchdown. The extra point puts Oakland up 24-21 with 21 seconds to go.

Bryan Knowles: We've had back-to-back-to-back 70-plus-yard drives here to make this exciting at the end. A bomb to Seth Roberts gave the Raiders a first-and-goal inside the 10, but it took them all four shots to finally get into the end zone.

And NOW Big Ben finds James Washington, who laterals back to JuJu for a 54-yard gain with five seconds to go!

Boswell out for the tying field goal ... .and it's BLOCKED!

The Raiders win! Holy cow, what a finish.

Vince Verhei: SO MANY INSANE ENDINGS TODAY.

Steelers run a hook-and-lateral, and for the second time today, IT WORKS! Smith-Schuster takes the pitch and zips downfield, pushed out of bounds with five seconds to go. With no timeouts, they go for the field goal right away -- but Boswell slips on the Oakland turf and falls on his ass, and the kick is blocked to end things.

Rob Weintraub: Between the hook-and-lateral in this game and the excellent end to the Fish-Pats game it was like Tony D'Amato got a long-awaited job in the NFL. "Call Comanche!"

Detroit Lions 17 at Arizona Cardinals 3

Dave Bernreuther: I wanted to watch a Josh Rosen closely in this one, but this game has just been brutal to watch. And to play in, apparently, as Detroit seemed to lose half their defense in a series of plays at the end of the first. This one has been really ugly in just about every way so far, including the playing surface (how does it get that bad in that dome/special high-tech growing pallet?) and the Cardinals uniforms (cardinals are red, you jabronis). It's 3-0 and not yet halftime, and nothing about the way Matthew Stafford or the Lions are playing makes me confident in their two-minute drill.

After the punt, the Cardinals take over on their 25 with about the same number of seconds left ... and run a give-up draw.

Then they call timeout with 0:24 left. Um, OK.

Next play is a draw to David Johnson. He gets the first down, and the Cardinals let the clock run out and run to the locker room. Mission accomplished?

If you have three timeouts and 30 seconds left, you should TRY TO SCORE. But if you decide not to ... why run those plays at all? Take a knee and avoid the injury risk. What the hell was the point of that sequence?

Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Dallas Cowboys 29 (OT)

Vince Verhei: Carson Wentz is having a terrible day (42 net yards on 10 dropbacks, with a sack and a fumble, plus a failed run on a third-and-1 option play), and yet the Cowboys are lucky to be up 6-0 at halftime. Dallas has had three drives of 50 yards or more, ending in one interception, one field goal, and one missed field goal. They got bailed out on the last play of the half when Brett Maher made up for his earlier miss with a 62-yard field goal. Eagles can't get anything going at all, but the Cowboys can't get anything going in Eagles territory. Best player of the half may have been Rasul Douglas -- he had the interception in the end zone for Philadelphia, and also eluded Tyron Smith to tackle Michael Gallup on a third-and-forever wide receiver screen. That led to the missed field goal, which might have been good if it had been closer.

Aaron Schatz: OK, it's a little nuts that this game is just 6-0 Dallas at halftime, and at the same time it's a little nuts that this game even made it to 6-0.

The latter because it required a 62-yard field goal by Brett Maher going into halftime after Tyron Smith got called for offensive holding while the Cowboys were trying to get into a more realistic field goal range.

But honestly the Cowboys should be winning by more than this. They've completely outplayed the Eagles today. At halftime the Cowboys are outgaining the Eagles 233-70. The problem is how the Dallas drives at ended. A 10-play, 69-yard drive ended when Dak Prescott threw a pick to Rasul Douglas, who he completely missed because he was concentrating on Amari Cooper who was being covered by someone else. Then a 10-play, 52-yard drive (77 yards before penalties) ended with a missed 45-yard field goal by Maher. In my Upset Watch column for ESPN, I pointed out that the Cowboys are 31st in offensive DVOA in the red zone this year. Well, in the first half the Cowboys were in the red zone twice. One time stalled out, leading to the first field goal. The second time moved backwards with penalties, leading to the missed field goal.

The Eagles have had only four drives. The first one was seven plays, 36 yards, a good job of moving the football. But the next two went three-and-out and the fourth ended on a Wentz fumble when Tyrone Crawford pushed past Jason Peters and slapped the ball out of Wentz's hand.

Tom Gower: Our latest instalment of the Cowboys vs. scoring territory, a continuing struggle, and another instalment of Texas NFL teams and their difficulty creating explosive plays. Amari Cooper does have a 27-yard catch and Zeke a 20-yard run, but this is another team that has to repeatedly execute to score and isn't elite at repeated execution. Fortunately, like the other Texas NFL team, they have a really good defensive line and some other talented defenders, so can be in position to succeed notwithstanding what they lack on offense. Or maybe I'm just seeing the same thing because I'm used to seeing it.

Aaron Schatz: And despite getting outplayed all day, the Eagles now have it within three points because Dak Prescott totally airmailed a pass to Michael Gallup and Corey Graham returned it 28 yards from the Cowboys 30. Hard to blame the Cowboys defense for letting the Eagles score when they only got to defend 2 freakin' yards. But the Eagles miss the extra point so we're at 9-6. The Eagles are still going to have to figure out a way to get their offense going to actually win this game. Their oft-lauded offensive line is getting dominated by the Dallas front.

Vince Verhei: So it turns out Dak Prescott can make terrible plays at both ends of the field. He overthrows Michael Gallup, and it's an easy interception for Corey Graham, who returns it to the Dallas 2. Next play, Alshon Jeffery scores on a wide receiver screen, but then Jake Elliott misses the extra point, so Dallas still leads 9-6.

This game is drunk.

So it turns out Dak Prescott can also make terrible plays in the middle of the field -- he gets hit and stripped by Michael Bennett, and the Eagles recover. On the last play of the third quarter, the Eagles go for it on fourth-and-3, just inside of Dallas territory. Darren Sproles slips out of the backfield, and turns a Wentz dumpoff into a 22-yard gain. That's Philadelphia's first completion of the game that has gained more than 12 yards, and almost all of them came after the catch.

Aaron Schatz: OK, another fumble by Dak Prescott, this has not been a very good game for him. The Eagles move the ball down from the Philly 45 to third-and-goal from the Dallas 8. I don't understand the play call here. I understand throwing to Zach Ertz, but it's a short crossing route 5 yards short of the goal line. It would be very hard for him to get in from there unless the Cowboys had left him wide open. He doesn't even catch the ball, though, so the Eagles kick a field goal and we're now at 9-9.

Vince Verhei: Of all the times for this rule to be called ... Ezekiel Elliott takes a dumpoff, breaks a tackle, and picks up a first down -- but then gets a personal foul for lowering his head to initiate contact. Worse, he shows why that rule was put in place, as he's woozy and has to leave. The Eagles commit pass interference to bail the Cowboys out somewhat, but now Zack Martin is down.

Aaron Schatz: Apparently, according to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first time all year -- and thus, the first time all-time -- this penalty was called against an offensive player.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, Dak just did something good for a change. Amari Cooper outruns Sidney Jones, and a perfectly thrown ball gives Dallas the lead back.

Aaron Schatz: De'Vante Bausby has been bouncing around practice squads for three years and wasn't on the Eagles active roster until three weeks ago. He should not be covering Amari Cooper one-on-one, even with safety help. Cooper just beat him and then went all the way to the house to make this game 23-16 just one play after the Eagles had tied it at 16.

Vince Verhei: A bad drive and a bad punt set the Eagles up in Dallas territory, and they make it pay off with a four-play touchdown drive to tie the score. Dallas Goedert with a 26-yard gain and then the 3-yard score on the drive.

Next play from scrimmage, Cooper runs down the right sideline, and it's a 75-yard touchdown and Dallas is ahead again. Philly's ravaged secondary is finally breaking down. Cooper now up to 182 yards and two scores.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, boy, did they just call an iffy OPI on Dallas Goedert on what would have been a game-tying touchdown. He pushed off Jeff Heath oh so slightly, a couple of seconds before Carson Wentz got the pass to him. It was a really light push-off.

Rob Weintraub: Philly gets a long pass to Goedert, who breaks a tackle and goes the distance, only to see it wiped out by an extremely dodgy OPI. Wentz is then sacked, but an extremely dodgy roughing the passer wipes THAT out. Jeez.

Aaron Schatz: Here's a link to the two penalties. I actually understand the roughing the passer more than the OPI, because I think this is the "Brady rule" for going below the knee.

Rob Weintraub: It was definitely the Carson Palmer Rule ... oh, right.

Aaron Schatz: So, the Eagles score and tie the game, 23-23. Wentz launches a beautiful pass to Alshon Jeffrey along the left sideline, which gets the ball to the 2, and then after Wentz loses yardage on a run, Sproles goes in on a 6-yard touchdown pass. I think Pederson makes the right decision not to go for two to try to win the game. Same situation as Carolina a couple ofweeks ago, right? The problem is that a two-point conversion doesn't win you the game because Dallas has 1:35 left to try to come back with a field goal. If you miss the two, you have to recover an onside kick. If you make the two, you are taking the lead but also encouraging Dallas to play aggressively on offense, whereas they might play conservatively with the tie to try to get to overtime.

Tom Gower: 23-all in overtime. OK, so Dallas gets a couple Amari Cooper deep passes for touchdowns, both explosive plays and allowing them to avoid their bete noire of scoring territory.

Aaron Schatz: Think it was on Jason Garrett's mind that he got criticized for not going for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime earlier this year? The funny thing is ... we'll have to wait to see the EdjSports numbers, but I bet it was the right decision to kick the field goal, not to go for it, BECAUSE of the fact that a tie in this game probably wins the NFC East for Dallas. A tie is almost as good as a win for them because they would be 1-0-1 against the Eagles on the season for the tiebreaker (and would still have a one-game lead with three to play and the Eagles still having to go to Los Angeles).

Well, that's all an intellectual exercise because the Cowboys convert fourth-and-1, and then on third-and-8, the ball bounces off defender Rasul Douglas' hand and back into the arms of Amari Cooper who scores the game-winning touchdown. I feel awful for Douglas. He made the play and deflected the pass! The Cowboys essentially just won the NFC East.

Cincinnati Bengals 21 at Los Angeles Chargers 26

Rob Weintraub: Incredibly, the Bengals should be beating the Chargers in front of about 22,000 fans in L.A. Philip Rivers carved them up early to go up 14-3, but Cincy stopped them for three consecutive three-and-outs. Meanwhile, Jeff Driskel appeared to score on a headfirst dive on the goal line, but the new rule saying he "gave himself up" at that point spotted it at the half-yard line. Alex Redmond then false-started, and the Bengals kicked.

They then scored to make it 14-12 with fewer than 30 seconds left. Of course, they also allowed L.A. to score before halftime, thanks in large part to Jordan Willis, who jumped offsides to negate a sack and give L.A. 5 yards to kick a 59-yard field goal as time expired. I don't have it in front of me, but I believe the Bengals have given up points in the last 2:37 of the half in every single game this season, and under two minutes in all but one.

Marv Lewis opens the second half by going for fourth-and-1 at his own 36. Right call, wrong result -- stuffed, of course. L.A. goes on fourth-and-1 themselves, converts, and get three more. 20-12 Chargers.

The Bengals drive inside L.A.'s 35, face fourth-and-7, rightly decide to go for it -- and false start. Rookie center Billy Price, the first-round draft pick whose errant snap cost Andy Dalton his season, rocks back before the shotgun snap.

You just can't make it up.

Bengals with a superb 75-yard drive capped by a Joe Mixon touchdown run to get to 23-21, but the two-point attempt is a quick read that gets taken away, and by the time Driskel comes back to secondary guys he's sacked. Cincy has two timeouts, but on the other side of the two-minute warning, so may onside here.

Either way, they are definitely covering the 16-point spread.

Bad two-point conversion, bad onside kick. Two things Cincy does not do well. L.A. ball, 1:50 left, Austin Ekeler is hurt so watch that, he would presumably have gotten some carries here.

Ouch, Clayton Fejedelem and Ekeler slammed helmet to helmet on the kick, just a football play but surely he's into the protocol.

Los Angeles Rams 6 at Chicago Bears 15

Aaron Schatz: Both quarterbacks have had accuracy issues in this game, and not necessarily because of pressure either. With 4:55 left in the second quarter, both quarterbacks are just 7-for-15. Jared Goff seems to be underthrowing guys and Mitchell Trubisky has dangerously airmailed a couple of passes, one of which became an easy interception for Marcus Peters.

Carl Yedor: The Rams are about to go three-and-out, continuing a struggle of an offensive night, and they pull out a fake punt from former high school quarterback Johnny Hekker. After converting the fake after a challenge to overturn the spot, L.A. cruises down the field before stalling out in field goal range, leading to a 50-yard kick from Greg Zuerlein. We're knotted up at 6-6 as Chicago is driving at the two-minute warning.

Tom Gower: 6-6 game at the half. Both teams have three points on a short field after a turnover and three points on a drive by the offense (and special teams, for the Rams). Both quarterbacks have been somewhere between not-so-good and awful, throwing two interceptions each after Eddie Jackson picked off Goff's Hail Mary. Pressure seems to have gotten to Goff; not that bad, I don't think, but enough to make him uncomfortable and off balance. It doesn't help that the Rams haven't been able to run the ball at all (Todd Gurley has five carries for 11 yards). Trubisky, well, he's not making change my opinion that there's no real consistency in his game. It's cold, but I don't think it's that windy, and plenty of teams have put up points in expected cold before, so I'm not buying that excuse for that sloppy first half.

Aaron Schatz: The Bears not only got a safety, they marched the ball up the field 81 yards after the free kick and then got one of the coolest plays I've seen in a while. They brought in all these fat guys and then threw a pass to a completely different fat guy! They had defensive linemen at running back and at tight end, but instead of a handoff they play-action and Trubisky throws to an eligible right tackle, Bradley Sowell, sneaking out. It was beautiful. 15-6 Bears.

Carl Yedor: BIG GUY TOUCHDOWN. Chicago lines up like they're going to hand the ball to Akiem Hicks, putting everyone in the box on third-and-goal. But no! They run play-action and throw to Bradley Sowell, a tackle lined up as an eligible receiver! Consider me all aboard the Matt Nagy express.

Aaron Schatz: Seriously, there was not a single wide receiver, tight end, or running back on the field for that play. Six offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, and a quarterback. That was wild.

Tom Gower: Technical question: how are we describing that personnel package?

Bryan Knowles: "Awesome."

Aaron Schatz: Trubisky just airmailed another interception, over the head of his receiver and into the arms of John Johnson. What is going on that Trubisky keeps throwing too high?

And Kyle Fuller answers by jumping the route on Goff's first throw. Back-to-back interceptions, one by each team.

Somebody please tell Collinsworth that Gurley's inability to run isn't killing the Rams' ability to play-action. It's the Bears' defensive line pressure that's killing the Rams' ability to play-action.

Tom Gower: Final, Bears win 15-6. A thorough domination of the previously nigh-impenetrable Rams offensive line, completely shutting down Todd Gurley and forcing Goff to be uncomfortable all night. He looked bad, and I give a lot of the credit to the guys in his face and not finding the open receivers to beat the coverage. Trubisky didn't really end up doing anything, but he didn't lose the game by himself and that ended up being all that mattered.

Scott Kacsmar: I thought that was largely a poorly played game by both offenses, especially the quarterbacks. The defenses contributed, but just a lot of bad throws too. Sean McVay also didn't use his timeouts well. Very sloppy all around. Never really felt in doubt after the fat guy touchdown made it 15-6. Fortunately for the Rams, they'll avoid playing in Chicago in the playoffs, but may have to go back to New Orleans after giving up control of the No. 1 seed again to the Saints.

Also, keep making the point about regression and the Bears defense, but this is crazy stuff. They now have 25 interceptions in 13 games after having 24 interceptions in the previous three seasons combined. Goff never had a game with more than two picks before tossing four tonight. One was a Hail Mary before halftime, but hey, the Bears will add that to the tally too. So I'd still be skeptical of a Dallas or Chicago winning on the road in January, but these last two weeks show there's some hope that it won't just be a two-team race in January and an inevitable rematch between the Saints and Rams for the Super Bowl.

Dave Bernreuther: Well, that was impressive.

When I picked the Vikings to win the NFC before the season, I did so for two reasons: the first was that I totally forgot about the Saints; the second, and much more important, was that for as well coached and talented as this team is, Jared Goff is still not actually any good. He has certainly been much better since they shed Fisher, and on the right nights, he can make all the throws that McVay asks him to ... but if you make his job difficult, he's only just good enough to get you beat. He's still the weak link of that team, by far, and I predicted that the Rams would cruise to the 1 seed but still lose before the Super Bowl, and tonight is exactly why I thought that. Goff spent a LOT of time running away from immediate pressure. But he also made some terrible throws when there wasn't any. He looked awful. Hopeless, even when he had time.

But...

There's still a flip side to that argument. And we saw it on the flip side of the field. Because Trubisky was worse. It was his worst game of the year. And it didn't matter a lick, because the defense was insanely good. On their quarterback's worst night, they dominated an 11-1 team. Which means that come January, anything is possible. So even though I can explain WHY I predicted that about the Rams and point to this game as a great example ... this game is also excellent evidence of why my prediction was stupid.

I don't look forward to the AFC playoffs very much, with Houston's and Pittsburgh's performances today being a large reason why ... but the NFC playoffs, especially if the Seahawks keep improving, are starting to look like they could be even better than we expected at the start of the season.

Comments

229 comments, Last at 16 Dec 2018, 12:01am

1 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The Eagles have two overtime losses this year and their total time of possession in those two OT periods is 0:00. That about sums up the season.

163 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

In the Titans game Eagles actually did get the ball first, got a FG, gave up the TD on the ensuing drive. Regardless, still been a rough year. As an Eagles fan I am just happy they got it done last year because you never know if/when you'll make it back.

I don't think I am too worried long term just yet. The offense has been incredibly frustrating and Wentz has been very inconsistent but sometimes years like this just happen.

2 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"They line up 5 yards closer ... and miss the extra point. So, according to the refs, they accepted the penalty only so they could re-try a kick they had already made.

There HAS to be something else there, and I look forward to post-game explanations, because ... wha?

Andrew Potter: That might be the most Browns thing that ever happened in the entire history of the multiverse."

The penalty was a dead-ball foul - the kick just happened because some of the players kept going, but the whistle had already blown. If it were a live-ball foul, they obviously would've taken the kick. It wasn't offsides - it was a neutral zone infraction. The Panthers jumped offsides and caused a Browns player to move. No play.

157 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I think the confusion is because the kicking team has to elect whether or not to re-kick with a 5 yard move forward or take the 2 pt attempt from the 1 yard line, so he explained that they elected to move forward and take the kick, but it sounded like they accepted the penalty.

3 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

The officiating in the Eagles/Cowboys game was really, really bad. I mean, cover your eyes bad. It's always a horrible look for the NFL when the former official in the booth is like "huh...?" over a penalty, and in that game there were *two* of them in quick succession.

And that's not even mentioning the screwup on the opening kickoff, where I have no idea why the official blew the whistle there (or how that wasn't a clear recovery, but whatever). Yeah, he couldn't see the ball being out, but he definitely could see the players rushing to jump on something, and there's no downside to waiting to blow the whistle.

4 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

So if the Pats don't take that last timeout and instead run the clock down to 20 seconds and jump offsides...it's game over right?

5 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Much has been made about the decision to put Gronk out on defense in an obvious non-Hail Mary situation.

I was still calling Belichick a moron for kicking the field goal prior to that play. 4th and goal from the six with less than 20 seconds left? I thought the obvious play was to go for it on fourth. Either a) the Patriots get the clinching touchdown, or b) Miami takes over from their own 6 yard line, about 10 seconds left (perhaps significantly fewer if Brady takes the snap and moves around a bit before throwing) and no times out?

I'm still calling Belichick a moron for that one, but I've read nothing else about it. Am I wrong? Why score to go up by 4 when a) a Field Goal isn't a plausible option for Miami, b) puts a kickoff return in play?

30 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yes, they can decline the runoff. It's flat out in the rulebook. Section 7, Article 1. "The defense always has the option to decline the 10-second runoff and have the yardage penalty enforced, but if the yardage penalty is declined, the 10-second runoff is also declined."

75 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Yeah but i was talking about just starting the play clock again at 25, not the 10-second runoff...the Bears did it last night but it doesn't apply inside the last 2 minutes of a half.

The game clock was running when the Bears committed a deliberate false start (with the play clock down almost to zero); after the penalty the play clock reset and started, so the Bears ran off 50 seconds of game clock between snaps.

Again, not relevant in the last two minutes.

The deliberate holding play would have worked though...

96 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

It's actually the last *5* minutes of the second half for that. And while you could basically do anything you wanted on the 4th down play offensively (holding, offensive pass interference, etc.) the other team could always decline the penalty and take the result. So probably the sleaziest thing you could do is go for it on 4th down, commit OPI intentionally and score a TD. Then the opponent's only real choice is to take the penalty. But of course even in that situation there's no guarantee you'd make it on 4th down, although the intentional penalty would help.

13 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I'll take everytime to go up 5 with :07 on the clock and opponent on the 31. That crazy play happens 1/1000.

However, what happened if the Pats took the delay? Was there a way to waste other 25 seconds? (even if that would have lead to countless unsportsman conduct debates...). I am asking because I am not that educated in those ruling minutiae.

I am also ok with the Gronk and the Hail Mary personnel. I understand Tannehill was not a credible threat but there was 3-4 occasions of stop that (#31 playing the ball instead of tackling the guy).

Anyhow, game was also lost by whiffing an XP, a feasible FG and the Brady sack at the end of the half.

Negative side: goodbye to #1 seed.
Positive side: HOU and PIT losses. Offense was on fire and 3rd down pressure was fine (even with opponent adjustment). Yet this team has no good chances in the PO if forced to play outside Foxboro.

29 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"I'll take everytime to go up 5 with :07 on the clock and opponent on the 31. That crazy play happens 1/1000."

No way - kicking the field goal was absolutely, 100% a mistake. Without a doubt. Kneeling on 4th down might have been a better option.

Think about it. Kicking the field goal gives Miami the ball on the 25, with enough time for one play. Kneeling gives them the ball on the *6 yard line*, with enough time for one play. The fact that a field goal wins it in that situation is irrelevant - there's *not enough time* to get from the 6 yard line into field goal range and run another play. Miami had no timeouts. It was just a mistake, full stop.

55 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Not 22 seconds, most likely 20. Vikings/Saints was 25 seconds starting at the 20 *with one timeout*. Packers/Cardinals started at the Green Bay 4, but with *55 seconds* left.

But you're missing the point a bit: Both of those were *touchdowns*. I'm not saying they couldn't've won it with a touchdown in that situation. I'm saying they couldn't've won it with a *field goal*. Because that's the only difference between those two situations - the Patriots gave 25 yards of field position to prevent the Dolphins from winning with a field goal in a situation where it was nearly impossible to imagine them being able to do that.

I've seen wacky-lateral plays for touchdowns before. I would *love* for someone to find a team starting at the 5, 20 seconds or less with no timeouts, and winning the game on a field goal. I certainly don't remember it ever happening.

57 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Pittsburgh got into FG position starting a drive from their 30 with no TOs and 0:15 on the clock.
The Cowboys hit a 62 yard FG to end the half.

If you combine those plays, you have Miami in range for a makeable FG after the Pittsburgh version of the hook and ladder play, if the Pats had kneeled.

None of this is likely. There are no likely wins starting from this game condition.

66 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"None of this is likely. There are no likely wins starting from this game condition."

That's the reasoning behind BB's decisions. In 99,99% scenarios you are confident your guys can manage hail marys and trick plays to end the game.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjCXGo6oHyY

At 10:20 you have the biggest mistake: Jones (#31) playing the freaking ball for no reason, instead of putting the guy to the ground.

84 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

He didn't go for the ball, he just took a terrible angle. That's something we see throughout the defense on that play: defenders jogging, taking bad angles, etc. They thought the game was over and didn't focus. It's that simple.

If they replayed that last play 100 times, the Dolphins wouldn't score again. The problem here was mental and team effort. It wasn't "Belichick was a moron for using the wrong strategy."

92 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Well, yes, the primary responsibility is always on the players, but the coach has to take the hit for having, somewhat obviously, the wrong players on the field. Having Gronk out the last play is only marginally more sensible than having the kicker or punter on the field, on a play where making a tackle is the only goal.

122 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I didn't like what #31 did on the final play.

I thought he tried to play the ball rather than the man. Maybe he did take the wrong angle on the player.

Thing is, I wondered how much the changes to rules about defenseless receivers influenced that decision?

110 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Pittsburgh got into FG position starting a drive from their 30 with no TOs and 0:15 on the clock."

The Steelers *had* a timeout. They didn't use it, but it changes the defense: without timeouts you can literally sacrifice the middle of the field to protect the sidelines. And it's 25 yards closer - jeez, linemen can barely even *run* from the 6 yard line to field goal range in 15 seconds.

74 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Kneeling gives them the ball on the *6 yard line*, with enough time for one play. "

Not really. You're ignoring the time spent on the kick-off. Also, you're ignoring the relative difficulty of getting a FG with 15 seconds left from the 6 as opposed to a getting a TD after a kickoff. The Dolphins burned time on the kickoff return so either way we're talking about two plays. And the FG forced Miami to score a TD.

My guestimate (comparing very small probabilities in both cases) is that the probability of scoring a TD after a kickoff with 15 seconds left is less than 1/10000. And perhaps scoring a FG after a pass completion from the 6 yard line with the same amount of time is equally likely. Regardless we are talking about the relative probabilities of two exceptionally unlikely events. Without any kind of way of calculating said probabilities, since both are so unlikely there's no reasonable way to sample the true probability.

Preferring one option over the other is hardly a "mistake, full stop." That kind of assertion is unjustifiable arrogance. In the Super Bowl era (50+ years of recorded games), no prior game had ever ended the way the game in Miami ended yesterday. So we're talking about 10,000 games with no prior evidence of any flaw in that strategy. Calling the decision a "mistake" is absurd.

109 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Not really. You're ignoring the time spent on the kick-off."

Let me be clear, I said that kneeling *might* have been a better option. The "mistake, full stop" was with regards to not going for it. And in that case, you'd burn several seconds on the play. So a minor difference relative to the kickoff. You already a boost in your winning chances because if you go for it and succeed, you automatically win.

"That kind of assertion is unjustifiable arrogance. In the Super Bowl era (50+ years of recorded games), no prior game had ever ended the way the game in Miami ended yesterday."

Oh, that's a crazy distinction. Practically *every* game is unique - at least some component of "down, distance, score, time remaining, number of timeouts remaining" etc. differs. Big deal. Kickoff returns have happened before to win games. Crazy lateral plays have happened before to win games. We're not talking about protecting against those. Those plays are *always* going to be present. And situationally there's no reason to believe that the likelihood is any different.

The choice is simple: do you want to be up 2, with your opponent having the ball on the 6 yard line with 15-17 seconds left, or be up 5, with your opponent having the ball on the 31 yard line with 7 seconds left. To me, that's an absolutely obvious choice. I don't see how it's even debatable. The 3 points don't do anything, so the yardage and time are the only thing that matter.

And the reason why I say it's a mistake is simple: the *best* that could happen (other than P(crazy), which is always present) for the other team on the first play (from the 6) is to complete a 20-25 yard pass to the sidelines, to get them to the 30 or so with about 7-8 seconds left. That's just the amount of time it takes for that play to happen. But that puts them in the *exact same* situation as the other case, so by definition, going for it is the better option (because the probability for the 'best case' to happen must be less than 1, and you've also got the chance of scoring on 4th down).

118 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

You are fighting the good fight, Pat. I've read through all these comments and agree with your analysis.

Whatever the case, we are dealing with a few percentage points swing (at most), but one of the hallmarks of the Belichick-era is the Patriots shifting these few percentage points in their favor. It seems as if this was a rare misstep by The Hoodie.

125 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

It's actually a bit interesting - really, if you think about it, this was a 4th down call. And up until about 2012, Belichick was one of the most aggressive coaches in the league. Back in 2006, FO's first Aggressiveness Index rated Belichick as nearly *twice as likely* to go for it on 4th down as opposing coaches. But... that really hasn't been true since then - last year Belichick was middle-of-the pack, basically about average.

So that's part of the reason why it feels so strikingly different to me - if this was 2009-2010, I think Belichick's going for it there.

155 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

From the data, it looks like it's Belichick - at least in the 2012-2013 data, coaches *on the whole* were being more conservative, period. Which means Belichick became *significantly* more conservative. And if memory serves, the Aggressiveness Index measure is normalized to long-term baselines, which means Belichick going from an AI of ~1.8 to ~1.1 is a change in his tendencies, not the league's.

205 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

What about the game on Sunday makes you think there was any possibility of a successful run from that position to the end zone?

The Patriots had no running game. They'd had 1st and goal from the 7 and managed to gain an entire yard in 3 plays. Certainly they could not reasonably expect to run it in from the 6 yard line. So that leaves them with the choice of a passing play, which burns no clock, or a FG, which nearly guarantees 3 points.

Having watched Belichick for 18 years, I think your conclusions about a decrease in aggressiveness are off, based on nothing more than narratives overfitting sparse data.

212 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Pass play burns a fairly respectable amount of time here. You don't need a ton. And if it works, it's almost certainly immediately game over.

" I think your conclusions about a decrease in aggressiveness are off, based on nothing more than narratives overfitting sparse data."

There are no narratives here. Just data. FO's Aggressiveness Index is really nice in compensating for situations, but even in the raw data you can see it - from 2000-2010, on 4th and 2 inside opponent's 40, Belichick went for it 24/51 times. That's 47%, and it's psychotically high compared to the NFL baseline. From 2011-present, exact same situations, Belichick went for it 6/37 times. That's 16%, which is basically the NFL baseline.

Statistically, those two results are pretty incompatible, even with the data size. You're more than welcome to believe that it's due to situational differences in that small dataset, but given the fact that FO's Aggressiveness Index shows basically the same thing, that's not a great argument.

Interestingly, it's really manifesting in exactly *one* way: rushing attempts. Let me put it to you this way: on 4th and 2 inside the opponent's 40, from 2000-2010, Belichick ran the ball on 12/48 attempts - 25%. From 2010-present, he's run the ball on *zero* out of 40 attempts. Pass attempts were nearly identical: 7/40 and 9/48. There's a clear and obvious change in strategy over those two time periods. You're welcome to not think it's "lack of aggressiveness" or whatever, but that's just semantics to me.

119 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

And the chances of completing that 20-25 yard sideline pass against a team defending the sidelines is probably less than 10%. The chances of gaining 55-60 yards and OOB, so to have a somewhat reasonable chance for a game-winning FG is far, far lower.
20-20 hindsight might've been a direct snap to (former QB) Edelman with max protect and just Gronk and Gordon going out. Then run around as long as possible - unless one of those two get open - and either throw it a yard or so over the head of one or, if outside the box, plain old throwaway. Or maybe even scramble for the TD.

206 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

What is the threshold of likelihood here? The argument in favor of a different strategy needs to be based on "The probability of winning following my alternate suggestion is higher than the probability of converting one do-or-die play from the 31 yard line that required a TD." Which is itself at least 99.99%.

Long passes downfield to the sideline happen all the time. The Steelers did one Sunday.

Any argument about the low likelihood of converting a 60+ yard play that ends in the desired outcome has to concede that That's exactly what the Dolphins accomplished!. The entire last play took about 17 seconds, and Drake could have ducked out of bounds should that have been necessary (though, given the disposition of defenders, he could have kept running easily).

215 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

"Any argument about the low likelihood of converting a 60+ yard play that ends in the desired outcome has to concede that That's exactly what the Dolphins accomplished!."

Which is why going for it is a good argument. It's the only one that has an outcome that isn't affected by that low likelihood.

111 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

1 in 10000 is what it feels like, but in reality, the probability of returning a kickoff for a TD is, what, maybe 1 in 500 just by its lonesome at the absolute worst, without even considering the probability of a play going for a TD after that.

140 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Counting the 2nd quarter version of this, it looks to be closer to 1:132 odds. (6 in 792 drives)
http://pfref.com/tiny/Y1h9Q

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201512030det.htm#pbp_174
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199910310nor.htm#pbp_164
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200312210jax.htm#pbp_165
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201011140jax.htm#pbp_165
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201812090mia.htm#pbp_174

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/200711250crd.htm#pbp_87 (2nd quarter, short field)

Of the five, the Packers and the Saints conversions were longer/with less time, and the Houston one was nearly identical.

The Saints scored on a hook/ladder play. The Texans on a hail mary. The Packers did both. They got an untimed down after a defensive penalty on the hook/ladder and scored on the hail mary. Both Hail Mary conversions used a shorter initial pass play to set up the bomb. Neither team had a TO remaining when they started the short pass play.

No one has converted the 'kneel it' version, but there's only been 15 attempts.
http://pfref.com/tiny/n0f0f

If you move it out a little to "inside own red zone", two teams have gotten to the point of attempting a FG and Chicago actually pulled it off.
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201212020chi.htm#pbp_150
https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201411160car.htm#pbp_180

This one would be 1:42 odds.
http://pfref.com/tiny/pIcw4

152 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

Chicago had 2 timeouts remaining. Carolina's a better comparison, but even in that case, 22 seconds is a lot more than 15, considering each play takes about 7 seconds in the Carolina case. And they were 10 yards closer - which is a big deal since even they only ended up trying a *63* yard field goal.

In any case 6 in 792 is entirely consistent with 1 in 42 given counting statistics, which implies that going for it (which has the 'immediate win' scenario built in) is the right call.

Being more extreme, starting drives inside the 10, there have been 13 drives in that situation in your list. Not one of them made it to the opponent's side of the field. The longest one was a 33 yard gain... starting with 18 seconds left, at their own 3, the Steelers managed 33 yards: a single play which ended the game.

161 Re: Audibles at the Line: Week 14

I don't regard a scenario with 13 prior examples in 20 years of data as being representative of its odds being better or worse than a 1:132 chance in a scenario that only crops up about twice a week.

This seems to be the first time a team with a lead in a similar game state as the Pats were in ended up losing.
http://pfref.com/tiny/y0795

But it doesn't crop up all that often.