Audibles at the Line: Week 2
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.
Houston Texans 17 at Tennessee Titans 20
Tom Gower: So, Marcus Mariota is active, but on the bench as Blaine Gabbert gets the start. The top three tackles are all out. So, how do the Titans generate offense? With a fake punt, of course. The Texans leave Dane Cruikshank entirely uncovered, and Kevin Byard, the upman, hits him for a 66-yard touchdown. Byard might be the best quarterback the Titans have available today, considering Mariota's health.
Dave Bernreuther: We all rolled our eyes when we saw that Blaine Gabbert was starting, especially since the Titans have only two quarterbacks on the active roster. Turns out that doesn't matter: Kevin Byard fires a strike to Dane Cruikshank, who looked like he was about to be caught from behind but found a new gear and made a nice fake to get in for the score on a fake punt. Tennessee is thus far playing the way that you should play when your quarterback is hurt.
Blaine Gabbert throws a pass behind the line of scrimmage to a covered Taywan Taylor, who eluded the man covering him and then more than eluded Tyrann Mathieu on his way to the end zone. For that, Gabbert gets credit for a touchdown pass. And the Honey Badger is probably not going to want to watch the film on that one, as he got faked out of his jock strap. Somehow a team that started Blaine Gabbert is winning 14-0.
... I thought the preseason was over. pic.twitter.com/MHx3RSsE2R
— Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) September 16, 2018
I know the Byard-to-Cruikshank touchdown was technically an offensive play, but in reality we can chalk it up to Houston's ever-terrible special teams.
Oh my God I just saw the fake punt touchdown. Cruikshank just lined up wide as a gunner and nobody even lined up over him. The fake probably wasn't even called until they lined up and saw the opening.
I guess that proves definitively that Gabbert is not only a worse quarterback than Mariota, but a worse receiver, too, because Mariota scored a touchdown on HIS reception from this own pass last year.
Deshaun Watson with a terrible mental mistake to end the game. No timeouts left, 15 seconds left on the clock. No one's open so Watson ... does he throw it away? No. Does he bomb into the end zone for a jump ball? No. Instead he scrambles past the line of scrimmage, runs back BEHIND the line, and throws a pass in bounds anyway with time expired. Like, four things wrong with his decision-making on that play. The clock hits triple zeroes, and Blaine Gabbert wins an NFL game in the year 2018.
Tom Gower: The Titans started off playing the way a team without quarterback or top three offensive tackles should play, with the opportunistic fake punt and a well-schemed drive after starting their next possession in favorable territory near midfield; a mix of Wildcat (not just a direct snap, but the complementary jet motion); and letting their limited quarterback do as much as he could. After that, it was a matter of desperately hanging on as the pass rush tried to get to Deshaun Watson before he could find a receiver. With a few drives ending just short of field goal range (after the Titans took advantage of that early just-short 54-yarder), it worked well enough until Watson found Will Fuller (who had a really productive game) for a go-ahead score. Then, the Titans offense finally did some things for the first time in a couple quarters. Blaine Gabbert converted one of the reasonable third downs he couldn't earlier (third-and-long wide receiver screen, with predictable results), and tie game. Another Houston drive stalled in long field goal range, and the Titans moved the ball well enough to get a go-ahead field goal, while Houston's final opportunity would end in Watson's multiply inexplicable decision. Big win for Tennessee, coming off a loss and with games against Jacksonville and the Eagles coming up.
Rivers McCown: It's baffling how hard everything is for the Houston offense this year. Watson's touchdown throw to Fuller was in the rhythm of the offense. Almost everything else involved him getting pushed off a spot, recovering, then throwing from a different spot. Nothing is easy. Nothing is open unless it takes forever to develop.
I don't have much else to add to the ignominy of Blaine Gabbert winning an NFL start in 2018. Houston got played hard.
Minnesota Vikings 29 at Green Bay Packers 29
Tom Gower: Aaron Rodgers is, in fact, playing, with a brace the size of a small moon on his knee. The Packers are using a lot of pistol formations to try to buy him some extra time from that pass rush, and Rodgers seems to be willing to get rid of the ball quicker, rather than hold the ball and try to make something happen like he normally does. It was working until Davante Adams dropped a pass.
And as I type this, the Packers special teams give their battered quarterback a lead, blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone. Not too shabby a start.
Dave Bernreuther: Three big special teams plays in the first 15 minutes of the day: first a fun trick on a punt return by the Chiefs, then the Byard pass for the Titans, and now a blocked punt touchdown for the Packers. That's a great way to give your injured quarterback a bit of a cushion against a ferocious defense.
Bryan Knowles: Hey, Laquon Treadwell is still in the league! He scores a touchdown, beating Kevin King (with deep safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix apparently thinking you can give up the first 5 yards of the end zone) to tie the game at seven. Of course, it may not be super-challenging to be open against the Packers' secondary; Kirk Cousins is 7-for-7 already.
Aaron Schatz: Packers offensive line getting surprisingly big holes in the running game early against that great Vikings front. Rodgers' lack of mobility is pretty obvious, and he's still throwing weirdly without stepping into it with the left leg. The Vikings are playing him differently because of it and he took advantage. You don't leave the whole middle of the field open with Rodgers on a third-and-7 because usually he can scramble for the first. And the Vikings did it -- and Rodgers scrambled for the first anyway! Lumbered for it. Looked a lot more like Tom Brady than Aaron Rodgers on that scramble.
Bryan Knowles: We all saw what Michael Dickson can do last week, but the battle for rookie punter of the year may be joined. J.K. Scott just boomed a huge one, with over five seconds of hang time. Packers were inside their own 20, and the Vikings ended up starting their drive inside their own 20. Maybe the fifth round is the best time to be drafting punters.
I question the Packers' time management at the end of the half -- if you get the ball with 1:37 left, even with no timeouts, you should really get more than five plays -- but they still had just enough time to drive into Minnesota territory and kick a field goal to take a 17-7 halftime lead. I really have liked the Packers' game plan today; keeping everything short and quick to try to prevent Rodgers from taking unnecessary shots. It's not as impressive as the second half against Chicago, but it's working just fine. The defense has also started to pick it up after a frankly bad first quarter.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are having real trouble generating pressure. Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter wreaked havoc last week, but today, Rodgers has all sorts of time. Special teams miscues are also killing the Vikings -- not only did they have the blocked punt returned for a touchdown, but they also missed a field goal just before the half. This could be a 10-10 game, if not for all that.
Aaron Schatz: Vikings march down the field in the third quarter and get Stefon Diggs open in the end zone based almost entirely on motion. Right on the goal line, he comes in motion right and then goes back left. Cornerback Tramon Williams covering him gets sort of caught among the other defenders, so when they snap the ball Diggs is open moving left into the end zone and can catch the ball off his shoelaces for a touchdown.
Bryan Knowles: That Vikings touchdown was a thing of beauty, though I wonder if a better corner than Tramon Williams would have been able to follow the motion.
Big stop for the Vikings' defense, forcing Green Bay to kick a field goal with 7:35 left in the game. Yeah, it's still a two-score game, but a touchdown and a field goal is much more doable than two touchdowns.
Aaron Schatz: Make that a two-point game, not two-score. Kirk Cousins just launched it to Stefon Diggs, who sped past Devon House for a 75-yard touchdown. I think House was in because Kevin King was out with an injury.
Bryan Knowles: Of course, even a two-touchdown wouldn't be a big deal if Stefon Diggs is going to catch 75-yard touchdowns all day. It's worth noting that Kevin King is out, and Davon House is being asked to cover Diggs on the outside. That is a mismatch.
Dave Bernreuther: Holy crap is about all I have to say about that (deep bomb from Cousins to Diggs).
Bryan Knowles: And that might be ball game in Green Bay. In the two-minute drill, just outside the red zone, the ball bounces off Treadwell's hands, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix comes down with the interception. Not Cousins' fault, really, though the pass was a bit high. Any score ends it, and really, any extended drive ends it, too.
Aaron Schatz: Very curious clock management by the Packers at the end of this game. They get the ball back after that interception and run before the two-minute warning. But instead of running the clock with two more carries, they ... throw the ball twice. The first one was very close to being a touchdown catch for Davante Adams, but Eric Kendricks got it out of his hands in the end zone. As a result of two incomplete passes, the clock stops twice and Minnesota does not need to use its two timeouts. So the Packers kick a field goal on fourth down to make it 29-21, but the Vikings will once again have almost two minutes and two timeouts to come back with a touchdown (and they'll need a two-point conversion).
I'm curious what the EdjSports numbers will say about throwing vs. running the ball on those plays. Is the possible gain of a touchdown to ice the game worth the risk of stopping the clock, giving Minnesota more time to come back?
Cousins throws an interception on the first play which should make this just an academic exercise ... except Clay Matthews gets dinged for another roughing the passer, just like against Chicago last week, to extend Minnesota's attempt at a comeback drive.
Ugh. The roughing call on Clay Matthews was the "putting your body weight on the quarterback" version of roughing the passer. I hate that call so much. The league needs to stop trying to legislate against the concept of intertia.
Andrew Potter: Just put flags on them and be done with it. There's basically no legal way to take a quarterback down anymore.
The two-point conversion is good, and we have a tie ball game. That roughing call looms very large.
Dave Bernreuther: Double ugh because he didn't put his weight on him at all. It was an arm tackle. What an absolute joke.
So of course a few plays later Cousins finds Thielen for the score and then Diggs on a really nice play for the two pointer to tie.
And as a fan of football and drama I should like this ... and having picked the Vikings to win the Super Bowl I should like this ... but ugh. That penalty was ridiculous. This game should be over.
Vince Verhei: Here's the Matthews foul. The only thing pass rushers can do anymore is jump and try to block the pass.
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 16, 2018
Bryan Knowles: McCarthy icing the kicker with 7:30 left in overtime is delightfully petty.
Dave Bernreuther: But it "worked." And Zimmer's worked. So we will have to continue to sit through this crap.
I can't believe we are still watching this game.
Bryan Knowles: We are going to have a heck of a battle for loser-league kicker. The Vikings miss their third field goal of the game, so they steal a tie rather than the full win from the Packers after that questionable roughing the passer call.
Derrik Klassen: Did all the NFL kickers get together and decide to make this the most baffling weekend in NFL history?
Aaron Schatz: Packers stall in field goal range when the Vikings get a nice sack. They sent cornerback Mackensie Alexander which forced David Bakhtiari to decide between blocking two different guys. Vikings take the ball after the punt is a touchback. They march down the field. Great play by Latavius Murray where he got caught behind his own blocker, and turned out of it to get 10 yards instead of getting caught behind the line of scrimmage. A nice leaping grab by Adam Thielen too. Vikings get it all the way to the Packers 17 and bring in Daniel Carlson. Carlson's missed two field goals today, including one in overtime, from 48 and 49 yards. He's not going to miss from 35, is he?
Nope, he is. Have we mentioned that the decision to shorten overtime to 10 minutes was stupid? Two weeks, two ties in the NFL. Did they want more ties? They got more ties.
Dave Bernreuther: And this would be a tie that does not make me giggle. This should not have happened. It's only half the injustice that it could have been, I guess. But it should still not have happened.
Aaron Schatz: Just to update the end of the Packers-Vikings game, referee Tony Corrente said Clay Matthews was penalized not because of putting his weight on the quarterback, but because "when he hit the quarterback he lifted him and drove him into the ground." It sure didn't look like that to me.
Andrew Potter: That is quite obviously not what happened. It was a freaking arm tackle. Matthews did everything exactly as the league wants it done, specifically avoided putting any of his body weight on the quarterback, and still gave up a huge, game-extending penalty. That it happened is bad enough. That the referee is then making up total cobblers to justify it is unacceptable.
Carl Yedor: Not sure if this was mentioned on any broadcast, but assuming I ran my Pro Football Reference query correctly, this is the first time since 1971 that there has been a tie in both Weeks 1 and 2. The NFL didn't adopt regular season overtime until 1974.
Tom Gower: We covered that fantastic game-tying drive, but I just wanted to register for the record my dislike of the new overtime format. It feels too short to be satisfying and we've already gotten two ties. Maybe fluky, sure, but it fits with what I think so it is therefore right (this is how 2018 works, right?). I'd rather have no overtime and just accept ties as a way of life than this pusillanimous nonsense.
Indianapolis Colts 20 at Washington Redskins 9
Dave Bernreuther: Andrew Luck looking sharp early, hitting T.Y. Hilton in stride for one nice gain before a nice back-shoulder throw to Eric Ebron for the score. As long as Ebron doesn't start dropping half the balls thrown his way, he's going to be a productive player in that offense.
Vince Verhei: There's not much I like about the Washington NFL franchise, but I do like their burgundy jersey-white pants combo.
Colts up 7-0 at the end of the first quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the game. Most surprisingly is that they did it mostly on the ground (six runs for 35 yards). Not much has happened since then. A couple of big grabs by T.Y. Hilton and lots of pressure on Alex Smith, but none of it has translated into points yet.
Scott Kacsmar: I haven't been watching this game, but it looks like something from The Twilight Zone. The Colts are up 14-3 on the road and are about 50/50 on run-pass ratio. Meanwhile, the Redskins are being led in receiving by Adrian Peterson (three catches for 30 yards) and in rushing by Jamison Crowder (one run, 25 yards). How does that happen?
Vince Verhei: It's halftime, and yeah, Peterson now has 100 receiving yards in a game and a half with Washington. His career-high in a full season is 436, but then, he has never played with Alex Smith before.
Really, Washington's whole offense is backwards today. The wide receivers had three catches for a total of 1 yard until Paul Richardson had a 34-yard gain in the closing seconds; Peterson has three catches for 30. The running backs have seven carries for 2 yards; Jamison Crowder has two for 29. Turns out this is a bad way to run an offense, which is why Washington only has three points and, aside from a long missed field goal at the end of the half, haven't really threatened to score more.
First-half star for Indianapolis has been T.Y. Hilton. He's up to five catches for 71 yards and also has a big DPI that I think pushes him over the 100-yard mark.
Adam Archuleta makes a good point on commentary: between 298-pound Margus Hunt and 265-pound Jabaal Sheard, the Colts have really big ends for a 4-3 defense, and they're just destroying Washington's offensive line, which is a good one. Washington running backs are now at 12 carries for 6 yards late in the third quarter. But Swearinger gets his second interception of the day when Luck forces a throw into double-coverage. That sets up another field goal, and Washington is hanging around, down 14-6.
After Washington added yet another field goal, the Colts marched 75 yards in 13 plays and Luck found Hilton for a touchdown and a 21-9 lead. Washington theoretically had time if they could have found a way to get into the end zone, but just outside the red zone Jordan Reed fumbled the ball away. Colts recover with five minutes to go and a two-score lead and this one looks done.
Kansas City Chiefs 42 at Pittsburgh Steelers 37
Derrik Klassen: In just six minutes of game time, the Chiefs are up 14-0 on the Steelers. Thanks to a nice special teams return by De'Anthony Thomas, the Chiefs got within striking distance on their first drive and immediately capitalized on it with a Patrick Mahomes-to-Chris Conley connection. After forcing the Steelers offense to three-and-out, the Chiefs got the ball at their own 29 and marched right down the field, again ending in a Mahomes touchdown pass, this time to Travis Kelce.
Mahomes is a flawless 4-for-4 right now with 84 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, that pace will not last, but for Mahomes to come out firing on the road is a good sign. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense need to respond quickly, but their first two drives were about as lackluster as you could imagine from any team.
Scott Kacsmar: The Steelers look really bad in all phases. Mahomes has receivers running open everywhere. Chris Boswell just missed a 49-yard field goal, getting off to a terrible start after signing his new deal. The offense only seems to know two plays today: the screen (with penalties) or an overthrow by Roethlisberger. This might get out of hand quickly today.
Bryan Knowles: The question was posed on Twitter: When was the last time the Steelers were down 21 points at home in the first quarter? They answer, apparently, is 1965, when Mike Nixon's Steelers fell behind 27-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs are doing something that hasn't happened to the Steelers in multiple generations.
Vince Verhei: It feels even worse than 21-0. Mahomes has three touchdowns on three drives. Kansas City's averaging 15.1 yards per pass and 7.7 yards per rush. They have seven first downs on only 15 plays and have only gotten to third down once. The Steelers' first two drives both lost yardage, and they almost gave up a hysterical defensive score when Roethlisberger had the ball stripped and about a dozen different players got their hands on it before Kansas City recovered it and scored, but the whole thing was wiped out by a holding penalty. Pittsburgh has just looked helpless so far.
Scott Kacsmar: Some pressure on Mahomes has finally led to a stop for the defense. If the Steelers have a chance to make this 21-point comeback, it's that the Kansas City pass defense is terrible. Philip Rivers might have been in Norm Van Brocklin territory last week if his receivers had not dropped passes. Today, for as bad as it has looked at times, Roethlisberger is 11-of-17 for 135 yards and a touchdown. On his misses, his receiver usually beat the defender, but he has overthrown the pass and struggled to keep it in bounds. This defense looks pretty bad without Eric Berry at safety.
Derrik Klassen: Despite a decent first quarter, the Chiefs defense is back to being themselves: bad. The secondary is struggling to keep up with Pittsburgh's pass catchers, which is to be expected, but on top of that, the Chiefs are losing the perimeter. Pittsburgh has been constantly picking up yards the past few drives through speed outs, flat routes, screens, and dumpoff passes outside the hashes. Kansas City's defense does not have the speed to match.
Not only did the Steelers tie the game with a touchdown pass just before the half, but Chiefs defensive back Steven Nelson was helped to the locker room following that play. If Nelson can not come back soon, both in this game and over the next few weeks, the Chiefs secondary is going to make every quarterback look like they are throwing at their pro days again.
Bryan Knowles: If you saw "Chiefs 21, Steelers 21," you could be excused for thinking it has been a back-and-forth game between two great offenses and two, uh, not-so-great defenses. I guess it has technically been back-and-forth, in the sense that the first quarter was all Kansas City and the second quarter was all Pittsburgh. Very, very strange game in Pittsburgh.
Aaron Schatz: I'm shocked that the Roethlisberger touchdown at the end of the second quarter was legal. He definitely looked like he had passed the line of scrimmage before he passed the ball, but they reviewed it and decided it was good.
Scott Kacsmar: Roethlisberger still had part of his body behind the line when he threw it. It was close, but I think they got the call right. Dan Fouts saying it's where the ball is was laughably wrong. It has always been about the body. But yeah, I mentioned Norm Van Brocklin's 554 yards earlier and Roethlisberger is in range with 278 at halftime. He's also leading the team with 6 yards rushing at halftime. I would imagine a different second half since they're tied and not chasing, but I'd definitely keep throwing at will against this defense. They can't cover these receivers and Roethlisberger has been moving around to create even more separation. Should be an interesting finish. See if Mahomes can get back on track, because once the pass rush started doing something, the Steelers got stops.
Steven Nelson returned and looked like he had a big interception in the end zone, but that's because he grabbed Antonio Brown first. That penalty was the 10th for the Chiefs today. A potential big story here is that Brown is limping and out of the game. He took his helmet off on the sideline and didn't look pleased at all. The offense seems to have punched in a touchdown with Conner, but review is pending.
Derrik Klassen: Patrick Mahomes has six passing touchdowns in this game and now 10 total on the season. With the fourth quarter barely underway, it is entirely possible that Mahomes gets a seventh passing touchdown. What the hell do you even say about that?
Vince Verhei: Seems as good a place as any to share this:
NFL MVP Venn Diagram pic.twitter.com/h1rRjCifk3
— Mike Goldfarb (@MikeGoldFool) September 16, 2018
Scott Kacsmar: To wrap this one up, the Chiefs continued to find easy offense while the Steelers didn't. Only a safety after the one good punt of the day by Pittsburgh and a fumble by Conley kept this one close. Much like the 45-42 loss in January to Jacksonville, the offense made a lot of plays to stay close, but couldn't get the ball back for one final drive. Before that January game, the Steelers never had a home game in team history where they scored more than 36 points and lost. They've done that in two home games in a row now. This is why I still don't understand how the draft led to another wide receiver and a backup quarterback. Unless Le'Veon Bell has picked up the ability to kick field goals or play defense, he's irrelevant right now. The Steelers have the same 0-1-1 record as Cleveland and it could stay ugly on defense if Ryan Fitzpatrick keeps doing what he has to start this season. Before last week, only Drew Bledsoe in 1997 began a season with back-to-back games of four touchdown passes. Now Mahomes and Fitzpatrick have done it.
Also, Andy Reid with a mobile, accurate quarterback in a loaded offense might be the most exciting thing in the NFL.
Los Angeles Chargers 31 at Buffalo Bills 20
Bryan Knowles: Don't let the quarterback situation in Buffalo fool you; the defense is also collapsing at an incredible rate. 14-0 Chargers, and it doesn't look to be getting much better any time soon.
Derrik Klassen: I am oddly intrigued at the possibility that the Bills might be an all-time bad team. They have been pure comedy through a game and a half.
Dave Bernreuther: It's not just you, Derrik. I like(d) the Bills too. But when you go all in on a terrible quarterback after unceremoniously dumping a good one, I'm going to root for you to fail.
And fail they are. It's now 28-3 after a throw I'd make fun of a kid for attempting, but Rivers threaded a needle for the fourth score. Meanwhile, the Bills are being the Bills and Josh Allen is being Josh Allen ... leaving clean pockets for no reason and missing receivers badly on short passes. AKA the same thing he did in college, when he wasn't even good against mediocre competition.
The Bills, whom none of us mocked for kicking a field goal down 40-0 last week, are now being outscored 75-6 through six quarters. Although as I type this Allen just [left a clean pocket for no reason and] rifled a ball [with terrible mechanics] about half a mile [to a covered guy] for a big gainer, so maybe they'll add something to that total.
Bryan Knowles: And the Bills finally score a touchdown, as Chris Ivory plunges in from the 1! Every offense in 2018 has now found the end zone.
I'm not rooting for the Bills to be terrible; I would have loved it if they had shocked us all and had all these bizarre decisions pay off. It just ... you know. Isn't happening.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm not sure what the point of having a big armed quarterback is if you design a rollout for him with an open tight end in the end zone and the quarterback won't rip the ball in there. It was second-and-goal and Charles Clay was drifting right, and instead Allen held it, kept moving, and threw it away before being bailed out by what I think was a questionable horse collar call on Melvin Ingram. On the ensuing easy first-and-goal, the refs missed a blatant false start by a guard, and Chris Ivory got an easy touchdown.
All of this was set up by a terrible throw by Allen that he was lucky to have caught for a long first down by Patrick DiMarco as he was falling down from changing direction. So even bad teams will occasionally score touchdowns ... but man, even when they succeed, they look bad.
Adventures everywhere in this game. I'd love to hear an explanation for how on earth it's a touchback when a punt is muffed backwards into the end zone, cleanly recovered, and then after a long attempt to run it out to no avail, the returner first loses his helmet and is then ultimately tackled even deeper in the end zone. To top it all off, the Chargers picked up a personal foul for hitting a guy without a helmet, so somehow the Bills are going to get the ball at the 35.
Again ... even when successful (and/or lucky), they just look like they should have Yakety Sax dubbed over them. And I'm trying to hard to be entertained, but wow ... it's just bad. What the hell was he thinking trying to run that ball out? And how was that a touchback once he got going and started making moves?
Bryan Knowles: OK, let's all try to follow along, because this was a very odd sequence of events.
The Chargers were forced to punt. The Bills returner muffs it, and the ball bounces its way to the 1-yard line. The Chargers can't pick it up and advance it, but that's moot -- because a BILLS player (Taiwan Jones) picks it up, and retreats into the end zone. There, he gets clobbered, and his helmet flies off, causing the play to be immediately dead. That should be a safety, but immediately after the helmet comes off, he's hit again by a Chargers player (who had no way of seeing the helmet had come off, due to the timing/angle). That's an unnecessary roughness call, so instead, the Bills get a touchback plus the 15 yards for the foul.
I am not 100 percent sure that play was called correctly, but that was one of the weirder series of events you'll ever see. Jones left the game bloodied after the play. Theoretically, the refs should have blown the play dead the second Jones' helmet came off, but there was just not enough time between the helmet being removed and the follow-up hit to actually physically blow the whistle. Bizarre sequence. I think it should have been a safety, with the foul assessed on the ensuing free kick, but this is why I'm not an NFL ref.
Vince Verhei: I'm very confused and I'll have to see a replay before I know what's really going on ... but you can run around with the ball in the end zone and get tackled and it's a touchback, as long as you don't leave the end zone first. It sounds like there's a lot more going on here than that, but on that one detail I think they got it right.
Dave Bernreuther: But Vince, he picked it up before the end zone. He ran there voluntarily and was tackled.
Bryan Knowles: I thought the same thing when watching it live, Dave, but I finally saw a replay which looks like Jones doesn't establish possession until he's in the end zone proper.
Taiwan Jones takes hit to head without his helmet pic.twitter.com/zSPi5HZ5wd
— LeadingNFL (@LeadingNFL) September 16, 2018
Vince Verhei: Football Zebras now has the breakdown.
The key passage:
As soon as Murphy touches the ball, either team may recover when it becomes loose. Because Murphy does not catch the ball -- punt catches have the same process as a pass -- he is not charged with possession. It is correctly ruled a muffed punt rather than a fumble. This distinction is a key, because on all kicking plays, the following applies: "a kick is a kick until it is possessed."
When the ball is loose in the end zone, it is still nominally a kick. That means that, by rules standards, the kick is the impetus that put the ball in the end zone. This means that a dead-ball is in the end zone treated as a touchback, not a safety, since the Chargers provided the impetus to put it in the end zone. (There are exceptions if a Bills foul occurs in the end zone after possession.)
Dave Bernreuther: Nice find, Vince. I had no idea that site was publishing live content these days. Instant bookmark. And that's a great explanation.
That said ... he ran around and changed direction and didn't give himself up. That seems wrong to me.
Bryan Knowles: ... this is new. Apparently, Vontae Davis retired at halftime, going up to McDermott and telling him he was done. I've never heard of anything like that before, but I guess that's just what this season will be for Buffalo.
Carolina Panthers 24 at Atlanta Falcons 31
Andrew Potter: The Falcons lost starting safety Keanu Neal for the year last week. This week, replacement Damontae Kazee lasted all of 20 minutes before being ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a sliding Cam Newton. Newton was evaluated for a head injury, but the long break to confirm the ejection with New York allowed him to return without missing a snap. Former Patriots second-rounder Jordan Richards, for whom the Falcons traded on cut-down weekend, is now the first-string strong safety.
Tied at 3 here, but the Panthers just reached the red zone.
Falcons red zone touchdown alert! Calvin Ridley beats Donte Jackson on a slant route and Matt Ryan finds him for the 11-yard score. These teams have matched each other drive-for-drive in the first half. That Falcons scoring drive was a rough one for the rookie Jackson. He gave up an iffy pass interference call on a third-and-9 pass to get the drive started, though it looked like Ridley fell down more than Jackson interfered. Two plays later, Jackson was unblocked on the backside of an outside zone run, but Tevin Coleman cut back his way and juked him out of his shoes to pick up 36 yards -- Jackson did recover to make the tackle and pull the ball free, but it went out of bounds along the sideline. Then to end the drive, Jackson was again juked out of the play at the line of scrimmage, this time allowing Ridley to get open on the slant.
Matt Ryan has thrown three deep balls for Julio Jones, and missed badly on all of them. The most recent was underthrown, possibly due to pressure by Wes Horton, and intercepted by Donte Jackson, who wasn't even covering Jones. Fortunately for Atlanta, Jackson was tackled at his own 2-yard line, and the Panthers went three-and-out after -- get this -- Devin Funchess dropped a contested catch on third down.
Matt Ryan's second rushing score of the day is Atlanta's fourth red zone touchdown in four trips today. Ryan plowed through two defenders at the goal line on that scramble, after his first came on a goal-line sneak. Falcons have dominated the game since the tail end of the first half.
It scares me that Jarius Wright might be Carolina's most reliable receiver. Yes, that Jarius Wright. Cam Newton's first interception just came when he found a wide-open C.J. Anderson, but Anderson tipped an easy catch into the air for Ricardo Allen. Devin Funchess has failed repeatedly on contested catches. Torrey Smith had one very good touchdown reception, but has otherwise been a non-factor. Ian Thomas, in for the injured Greg Olsen, had one big drop in the end zone on the drive that led to the Smith touchdown. Wright, at least, has been reliable when the ball has come his way as probably the fourth or fifth receiving option.
Oh, there's rookie D.J. Moore with a 51-yard score. First catch of his career. Based on this, it's a wonder we haven't seen more of him already.
Cleveland Browns 18 at New Orleans Saints 21
Vince Verhei: I'm not watching, so I don't have much insight into how Cleveland leads 6-3 at halftime, but I do see that Tyrod Taylor has completed 10-of-11 passes. That's good! Those ten completions have produced a total of 66 yards, 22 on one play. That's bad! It's a whole team of Jarvis Landrys now!
Bryan Knowles: Nooo, Tyrod Taylor throws an interception, and now the Saints are knocking on the door to take the lead. Zane Gonzalez has missed two field goals and an extra point so far today; that's seven points left on the field in what is (currently) a two-point lead for the Browns.
...which Zane Gonzalez misses. His eighth missed point TODAY (two field goals, two extra points). Tie game, Saints get the ball with 1:16 left. Rooting for another tie over here.
Derrik Klassen: It does not seem possible for the Browns to have missed *that* extra point but here we are.
Dave Bernreuther: Tyrod Taylor just threw a 47-yard bomb on fourth-and-5 and the Browns uh, tied the Saints in the Superdome after another missed extra point, because Browns.
I love everything about this. I love that they threw deep instead of to the sticks. I love that they honked the extra point. I love that the 0-0-1 team is now possibly headed to overtime again this week. (I fell asleep before being able to add last week that contrary to everyone else, I LOVE ties. They make me laugh. Some people just want to watch the world burn.)
Bryan Knowles: And Zane Gonzalez gets a chance to redeem himself, as the Browns move the ball into (long) field goal range with eight seconds left...
... and he misses. Again. Three missed field goals, two missed extra points. Saints win, 21-18. Poor Gonzalez; my heart breaks for him.
Dave Bernreuther: Only a 1-31-1 coach would jump up and down screaming to force the kicking unit that has already missed four kicks onto the field to try a 52-yarder on the road when there's time to run another play.
How is he still employed? Seriously.
Philadelphia Eagles 21 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
Vince Verhei: We interrupt your regular programme to bring you another look at the Irish hero "Notorious" Ryan Fitzpatrick:
— Post Sports (@PostSports) September 16, 2018
Arizona Cardinals 0 at Los Angeles Rams 34
Vince Verhei: First quarter ends with no score in a good old-fashioned NFC West rock fight, though the Rams just moved into the red zone on a pair of passes to Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. Todd Gurley presently has -1 yard on six carries as the Cardinals' front is just tearing the Rams' offensive line apart.
And there's Gurley with an 11-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter ... but Greg Zuerlein apparently hurt himself in pregame warmups and is in the locker room, questionable to return. The Rams have to go for two and Gurley dives and just barely crosses the line for an 8-0 lead.
Aaron Schatz: From the play-by-play I just assumed the Rams were being smart by going for two once a penalty moved it from the 2 to the 1. Going for two because the kicker was out is a little less smart. Still, hey, good for them.
Andrew Potter: The penalty occurred specifically because the Rams were going for two. The Cardinals weren't ready, so they ended up with a guy offside at the snap because he was sprinting onto the field at the last second.
Vince Verhei: Rams take a 19-0 lead into halftime. Their secret weapon has been JoJo Natson, who has 90 yards on three punt returns. They stalled in one red zone drive and Johnny Hekker had to come on and kick the first field goal of his career. Then at the end of the half, when in normal situations you'd kick the ball almost every time, Gurley scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with no time left, and then scored his own two-point conversion again.
This shows the advantage of a dominant defense -- it lets your offense overcome a sputtering start -- and the Rams' defense has dominated today. Cardinals only have two first downs and are averaging 3.3 yards per play. Aaron Donald in particular has been impressive, but really it has been a whole team effort. Arizona hasn't even crossed midfield yet. The Cardinals have scored six points in six quarters this year and you've got to think we'll see Josh Rosen one of these weeks.
Cardinals had a third-and-2 on the first drive of the second half. They tried to convert by running right over Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. This failed as we all knew it would and the Cards went three-and-out and punted.
Scott Kacsmar: I think Arizona has been as uninspiring as any team so far this season, including the Bills. While they are playing the Rams on the road today, they were down three touchdowns to Washington at home last week before a meaningless touchdown. I was worried about Bruce Arians retiring there, because this team still managed to finish 8-8 last year despite losing David Johnson in Week 1 and lost Carson Palmer for about half the year. They got Johnson back, Sam Bradford is at least serviceable, and they still have a star corner in Patrick Peterson (nice pick today to keep this from being a bigger rout). Yet they've gone down 24-0 and 19-0 to start the season. I don't know about Steve Wilks yet, but this team isn't showing us anything so far.
Vince Verhei: It's now 34-0 and the Rams feel guilty about getting all these easy two-point conversions and have their punter kick extra points instead. In its own way, that may be even more disrespectful.
It's going to be a very, very tough question this week about who's worse, Buffalo or Arizona. The Bills at least have some explosive ability.
Aaron Schatz: The bigger surprise should not be the absence of the Arizona offense, it should be the disintegration of the Arizona defense, which has been top-ten for how many years now? I wonder how much of that is due to the scheme change.
Bryan Knowles: Breaking news. In the last minute of the game, the Cardinals finally moved the ball past midfield. Congratulations, Arizona Cardinals fans.
Rivers McCown: David Johnson had 120 targets and 80 receptions in 2016, fully healthy. Those netted 879 yards, four touchdowns, and a league-leading 274 DYAR among running backs.
This year, David Johnson has 12 targets for 33 yards. Why do these former Panthers defensive coordinators have to create every bad offense in the NFL? Why do NFL teams continue to fall for this con?
Detroit Lions 27 at San Francisco 49ers 30
Bryan Knowles: We have a 10-7 game early on here. On San Francisco's first trip to the red zone, they managed -17 yards and had to settle for a field goal, and then had a horrible defensive series that allowed Detroit to march down the field and take the lead. San Francisco's second offensive possession worked a little better, though Kyle Shanahan got livid when his up-tempo offense got thwarted by the refs being unable to keep up, blowing a play dead because the refs weren't in position yet. Still, ended up with a touchdown and it's 10-7.
It's 13-10 at the half, and Detroit is doing a good job getting pressure. While Jimmy Garoppolo has been effective when he has been able to throw, he has taken four sacks already, three of them in the red zone to force field goals. It's not all the offensive line, either; Garoppolo is holding on to the ball too long, as his receivers are just not finding ways to get open. That makes the Josh Gordon rumors all the more enticing for 49ers fans, because there's just no one open in the red zone. Full credit to the Lions, who couldn't cover anyone last week, for the quick turnaround here.
That being said, Detroit can't get anything going on offense. Their touchdown was on a blown coverage, as opposed to anything particularly impressive by the Lions offense, and the field goal was set up by a facemask. 49ers doing a good job of beating themselves on both sides of the ball, so they should be happy with any sort of halftime lead. Lots to work out at halftime, though.
Vince Verhei: Just saw the Breida touchdown. It wasn't just Garcon, there were two or three other blockers downfield just begging for somebody to hit, with no Lions in sight. Did Detroit even have 11 guys on the field there?
New England Patriots 20 at Jacksonville Jaguars 31
Bryan Knowles: We have the hottest game in 15 years -- 97 degrees at kickoff and over 100 in the heat index. Hottest game since a 2003 Cardinals-Packers game, outdoors in Tempe.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) September 16, 2018
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, you've got to see it. Astonishing,
Aaron Schatz: Cole ends the drive with a more conventional catch over Eric Rowe for a touchdown in the back left corner of the end zone. The Patriots' strategy today is apparently to stop the run and passes in the middle of the field -- a lot of Cover-1 Robber -- and to force Blake Bortles to beat them with passes to the outside. So far, he's doing it, 14-0 Jacksonville.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars now up 14-0 on a pair of Blake Bortles touchdown passes, and obviously Cole had the one amazing catch, but I really can't stress enough that Bortles looks as good today as I can remember seeing him. He's not just making throws to wide-open first reads --he's going through his progressions, with excellent pocket presence as he's moving just enough and only when necessary to adjust to pressure, and finding whichever man is open. Jacksonville would have won the Super Bowl with this Bortles last year. Of course, it's not even halftime yet, so he'll need to maintain this for 40 more minutes.
Aaron Schatz: Yeah, this does not look like the Jacksonville defense is regressing as expected. They're playing pretty stalwart against the run and getting plenty of pressure on Brady. The Patriots finally got a drive going but it was all short stuff, James White passes and the like. The second-leading receiver right now is third-string tight end Jacob Hollister. Chris Hogan has only one catch for 6 yards.
Dave Bernreuther: Vince said everything I was thinking but didn't want to say out loud: it's not just the results of plays -- Bortles' decision-making and reads look like those of a quality starting quarterback. One you could win a title with. Or, in other words, not Blake Bortles. That second touchdown drive, even throwing behind Cole (which, yeah, wow), were as good as you could ask. Good process, good reads, good throws.
But this is the Patriots. And he's still Bortles. And they had a two-score lead eight months ago too. There's still another half of football to play.
Aaron Schatz: Jaguars go up 21-3 when Austin Seferian-Jenkins goes to the corner of the end zone and Patrick Chung gets caught up in a bit of a pick from the two wide receivers who were outside of ASJ. This may be the best I've ever seen the Jaguars' passing game play with Bortles at quarterback. He's getting phenomenal protection, even with left tackle Cam Robinson out of the game and replaced with backup Josh Wells. Andrew Norwell looks great as well. This is almost all passing. At halftime it's 25 passes and nine runs, and two of those runs were actually Bortles scrambles.
Bryan Knowles: I've only been catching parts of this game, but it seems like the Patriots are having all sorts of problems dealing with crossing routes. You wonder if they'll work more zone in the second half, but at the moment, the Jags look nigh-unstoppable. Of course, we've seen that before...
Tom Gower: Jacksonville's offensive attack was indeed short crossers and going after New England's linebackers in space with short passes. That's something we've seen before, along with New England driving the field in the second quarter while trailing by double digits to the Jaguars. The Patriots settling for three, though, and then Jacksonville's fantastic responding drive to make it 21-3 at the half, that's different. This is still the same offense that completely sputtered in the second half against the Giants last week, so I'm not changing my opinion of their fundamental essence, but that went a lot better for them than I was expecting it to.
Aaron Schatz: It's not just short crossers though. There's some deep stuff going on, the Donte Moncrief touchdown was over Stephon Gilmore, the Cole touchdown was over Eric Rowe. They're going to the outside receivers a bit too. It's all working right now.
Dave Bernreuther: And it really can't be overstated how much of the difference seems to come from the quarterback. That half-ending touchdown drive was like watching the Patriots at work. Bortles was calm, took what was there, made good decisions, and made accurate throws. He looked like he had been in the two-minute drill his whole life and just plain expected to score.
And he's an NFL quarterback playing what we've pretty much come to accept as a not-so-great defense at this point, so that shouldn't be noteworthy... but it's Blake Bortles. And the same coaching staff as last year too. And they're playing like the Patriots offense. It's weird.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars go up 24-3 and the bar turns the channel to Raiders-Broncos. Hmm.
Even weirder, the 27-0 Rams-Cardinals game is still on.
Aaron Schatz: Bortles throws an interception that gets tipped into the air by Jonathan Jones covering ASJ, Kyle Van Noy comes down with it. But then the Patriots lose the ball because they have backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle blocking one-on-one with Dante Fowler and he gets beat badly. He's trying to hold Fowler and he can't even succeed at that and Fowler gets the strip-sack. It's one of those plays that goes against the whole idea of "momentum." The Patriots should have had the "momentum" after the interception, and after scoring the game's last 10 points, but there really isn't some magic "momentum" that makes the Jaguars defense stop trying to make plays. And they made a play.
Next Jaguars drive bogs down and it looks like they might go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots 43. Get that and it almost ends the game. But no, it's just the "trying to draw them offsides" nonsense and the Jags get a false start and have to punt. Pats will get the ball, down 24-13, 9:47 left, on their own 9. Feels like the Jaguars offense got a bit conservative here with the lead in the second half. I think they've handed off on every first down. (Nope, just most of them. There was a nice 16-yard pass to Corey Grant leaking out of the backfield on one first down.)
Scott Kacsmar: It doesn't get much worse than the "let's use a timeout and try to draw them offsides on fourth down with no intention to run a real play" farce. It's even worse when you do it against the Patriots, a team you should know you have to finish instead of continuing to give Brady chances.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots decision to punt on fourth-and-a-foot with 8:13 left was a mistake. And that's even not considering that the Jaguars un-conservatized themselves with their first play, threw a crossing pattern to a wide open Dede Westbrook, and Westbrook went down the left sideline for a huge 61-yard touchdown. 31-13 and I think this sucker is over.
Vince Verhei: I was stunned at that punt. Yes, it's deep in your own end, but you're down by two scores midway through the fourth, and it's fourth-and-inches and your quarterback is the master of the sneak. Trying to win on special teams and defense instead seems very un-Patriotic, if you will.
Tom Gower: I mentioned it last year, but Bill Belichick's transformation into a more typical NFL coach when it comes to that kind of strategic decision-making is still baffling to me, especially considering the direction the league has moved.
Jacksonville's continued aggression (they just threw on second-and-9 after a Patriots timeout with just over three minutes left as I type this) is a pleasant change from what happened in the AFC Championship Game. And they're doing this without either of their first two draft picks for last year. Josh Wells hasn't been perfect, but he has been more than adequate as an in-game fill-in. With a different defense on the other side of the ball, that might be a different situation, but that's not this New England defense.
Vince Verhei: A play call I hate: Jaguars take over up 31-20 at their own 16 with 3:40 left. Obviously the defense is going to be crashing the run like crazy. But Bortles steps back, then makes an overhand lateral to Dede Westbrook, who is immediately swarmed for a loss of 6. Basically an extended pitch play, but it gave the defense extra time to swarm in for the stop. Worse, big risk for a fumble on that play, which would have been a catastrophe.
A play call I love: On the very next play, rather than a short gain just to burn New England's timeouts, Bortles hits Niles Paul on a corner route for a 22-yard gain to convert the second-and-16. Fortune favors the bold!
And then Bortles scrambles for a 10-yard gain on third-and-8. He has been the man today.
Aaron Schatz: This week in a nutshell: Going into Sunday Night Football, favorites are 3-10 against the spread and 6-7 straight up. It was a bloodbath for favorites today. That leaves out the Green Bay-Minnesota game, about which I wonder: was that the first pick 'em line in NFL history that pushed?
Addendum: I guess the Minnesota-Green Bay line moved to Vikings -2 this morning. I'm always fairly oblivious to major Sunday morning line moves. So that makes favorites 3-11 against the spread this week with two games left.
Scott Kacsmar: I want to go back to New England punting on fourth-and-1 from its own 18 with 8:01 left before the Westbrook touchdown. I think that's the kind of fourth-down decision that virtually all NFL coaches are playing scared with. Logically, you are more likely to convert there than not, and the Patriots should have a better percentage than most offenses since they've mastered the sneak and the short passing game, and rarely get stuffed runs. But even if they get stopped, you still have the goal of keeping the opponent out of the end zone. If Jacksonville gets a field goal, is there really much difference between being down 11 and being down 14 at that point? At least with 14, now you don't have to worry about getting a two-point conversion. You're more likely to face overtime, but that's fine. Also, if you get a quick stop, that's going to save you time to come back from this two-score deficit. The worst thing is to punt the ball back and give up a time-consuming touchdown drive. Even a long field goal drive makes you feel foolish in that spot. The Jaguars ended up getting a very quick touchdown to basically seal the deal, but I absolutely would have gone for it in that spot if I was Belichick.
But if he's not willing to take the heat in that spot should the play not work, then which coach is right now? I don't think we're there yet even though we should be.
Rivers McCown: Outside of the situational play stuff, the Jags stiffed New England's receivers. Only 11 of the 24 Patriots receptions were by wideouts. Of the 104 yards they gained, 48 of them came on two plays. This is not exactly a new and alarming trend by the Jacksonville defense, but I think it goes to show you that this was a game where the Patriots finally missed Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Brandin Cooks. (Recall in the AFCCG, Cooks and Amendola were their two leading receivers and both were excellent efficiency-wise.)
Zach Binney: This week in thoroughly meaningless stats: Florida teams start the season 6-0. When was the last time that happened? Has it ever happened? Do we blame global warming or something? We are through the looking glass here, folks.
Bryan Knowles: It's happened once before, Zach: 1997, when all three Florida teams earned wild-card slots. Dan Marino's Dolphins were 9-7, losing to the Patriots in the wild-card round. Mark Brunell's Jags were 11-5, losing (badly) to the Broncos in the wild-card round. Trent Dilfer's Bucs were 10-6, losing to the Packers in the divisional round.
If past is prologue, the team with the worst quarterback will go the furthest, so go-go Tampa Bay?
Oakland Raiders 19 at Denver Broncos 20
Derrik Klassen: Case Keenum just threw his fourth interception of the season and has been bad enough today that you can probably expect another. Regression on Keenum's interception luck from last season was to be expected, but this is already out of hand. Four interceptions in five and a half quarters at home is not a good sign.
Bryan Knowles: Derek Carr is currently 21-for-22 passing. Sure, that's a good bounceback game for Oakland, but what does that say about the Broncos' secondary? Good lord.
Vince Verhei: Courtland Sutton makes a great leaping catch over a defender for what appears to be a touchdown. The ref rules him out of bounds, even though he comes down like a full foot in bounds, not close to the white line. The play is reviewed, and it is determined that his first foot comes down in bounds, but then slips out from under him and I guess brushes against a white blade of grass? Because they very quickly announce the call is confirmed. Broncos got a touchdown that shouldn't have counted last week against Seattle, now they have what should have been a touchdown taken away this week.
Bryan Knowles: Someone does make a clutch kick today! The Broncos drive down the field, despite some questionable decisions by Case Keenum to waste some clock, and Brandon McManus kicks the field goal to escape with a 20-19 win.
There were, like, three times that Denver was in danger of running out of clock. Keenum scrambled rather than throwing the ball away at midfield, wasting 27 of their remaining 54 seconds. Tim Patrick cut the ball inside on the reception that put them in field goal range, nearly getting tackled in bounds before a great block got him to the outside. Ends up not mattering, though, and Denver's a surprising 2-0.
Tom Gower: Derek Carr completed 29-of-32 passes, and the Raiders lost. I didn't see any of the first 59 minutes of the game, but that is the first game in NFL history where a team completed at least 90 percent of its passes (minimum 10 attempts) and lost. That's crazy.
New York Giants 10 at Dallas Cowboys 20
Carl Yedor: You're at midfield and drafted Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall. Barkley's strengths may not be getting the dirty yards inside, but you'd hope he would be able to pick up fourth-and-inches there instead of just punting it back to Dallas (who got a big-play touchdown before I even got the game on). Dallas ended up settling for a field goal on the next drive.
Vince Verhei: First-quarter carries:
Saquon Barkley: 2
Jonathan Stewart: 1
What, is Barkley already worn out?
Aaron Schatz: Then in the second quarter, the Giants *do* decide to go for it on fourth-and-inches, from their own 35. They get an Eli Manning sneak, apparently his first since 2010 according to the broadcast. I wonder what the difference was between the earlier decision and this one. Maybe the difference between 1 foot to go and 2 feet to go?
Scott Kacsmar: Eli and Barkley each have two carries, but Eli has 3 yards to 2 for Barkley. I'd also say watch out for the single-game failed completions record (Derek Carr, 16). Eli has to have about six or seven by now, mostly to Barkley, who has seven catches for 23 yards. This is not fun to watch. Seeing the Cowboys get Tavon Austin a 64-yard touchdown bomb was interesting though. This is already the fifth-most prolific receiving game of Austin's career, and he hasn't caught a pass since that opening bomb.
Aaron Schatz: Demarcus Lawrence just got Dallas' fourth sack with a minute left in the first half. Cowboys are doing a great job of dialing up pressure and getting untouched rushers with scheme. You've got to figure out a way to stop a stunt that brings Demarcus Lawrence in untouched.
Vince Verhei: At halftime, Barkley is up to four carries. Manning has 20 passes (plus four sacks). Barkley also has eight catches for all of 32 yards, but still: why even bother with the draft pick?
Only two of Manning's 16 completions have gone for first downs. That's not ideal.
Bryan Knowles: Eli Manning's first-half passing chart belongs in the Louvre.
Eli Manning's first half passing chart, via Next Gen Stats.
16 of 20 for 97 yards, 4.9 YPA, 4 sacks. pic.twitter.com/WOQxbFO7Tb
— Kevin Patra (@kpatra) September 17, 2018
Rivers McCown: Not that I think Eli deserves the entirety of the blame for this offense, but I am ready to watch Kyle Lauletta.
Scott Kacsmar: Prescott had half of his passing yardage come from the Austin touchdown before a drive that consumed 8:23 to score a clinching touchdown. Some excellent throws on that drive, and his running has been a big factor on the night. This isn't much different than the last time the Giants played in Dallas, a 19-3 loss in Week 1 last year. It's not nearly enough to make us think Dallas is back to 2016 caliber, but the Giants have really been outmatched all evening.
Andrew Potter: Saquon Barkley finishes the game with 108 yards from scrimmage, which sounds like a productive day for the rookie. Except ... Barkley caught 14-of-16 targets today for a grand total of 80 yards. Nobody has ever done that before. The closest is probably Julian Edelman with 13 catches for 78 yards against the Jets in 2013, but everybody else who had 14 or more receptions in a single game tallied at least 90 yards from those receptions.