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 37 at Indianapolis Colts 34 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: The Colts marched right down the field on their first drive, with Luck finishing 5-for-5 for 68 yards on their way to the end zone. Nothing deep, as we continue the Luck Arm Strength Watch 2018, but short and efficient against a Texans defense which has yet to prove they can stop anyone through the air this season. The Texans will have a slightly easier time, however, if T.Y. Hilton stays out -- he went down after a 40-yard catch-and-run, immediately dropping the ball and clutching his shoulder. Even when the Colts DO get a big play -- the catch was the longest play of the Colts' season -- they can't have nice things.
So, that's Hilton out, along with Jack Doyle and Anthony Costanzo. If the Texans can't come back in this one, I question how many games they could possibly win this year.
The Colts, backed up in their end zone after an excellent punt from the Texans, just had a pretty embarrassing gaffe. The snap failed to reach Andrew Luck, and the Texans pounced on the ball in the end zone before the Colts could even touch it. You won't see an easier defensive touchdown in your life. Wow. Hey, take the points any way you can, I suppose.
Scott Kacsmar: I cannot believe an NFL center could have such a feeble snap with his quarterback standing in the end zone like the Colts just had. Did Ryan Kelly think Luck was under center? He should be able to feel that. For the ball to be that short of the quarterback is just absurd, and the Texans recovered the fumble for one of the easiest gift touchdowns you'll ever see. That could be huge on a day where I don't see the Colts scoring a lot with the injuries on offense.
Bryan Knowles: Will Fuller has caught a touchdown in every game he's played with Deshaun Watson, and he adds another one today. The five-play, 52-yard drive might be Houston's most impressive to date this season, which might be damning with faint praise, but hey. It's the closest we've gotten to the Texans offense that wowed us the first half of 2017, so it's worth pointing out.
A live look at Andrew Luck's arm:
Andrew Luck's shoulder is just fine. Nothing to see here. pic.twitter.com/olCUo9PlZl
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 30, 2018
Houston is finally beginning to look like the team we thought they would be at the beginning of the season, and it's not a moment too soon. J.J. Watt has two sacks in the first half alone, causing fumbles on both of them. I'm not sure a tackle alive can stop prime J.J. Watt alone, but we can definitely say that Denzelle Good won't be the one to do it. It's a 21-10 lead for Houston at the half -- far from over, but a much-needed boost of confidence for Texans fans so far today.
Who knows if it's going to be a one-week mirage or if it's a turning point, but the Texans look like an entirely different team today -- the team we thought they'd be to begin the season. Their drive to start the second half went 15 plays for 79 yards, capped off by a 5-yard Watson scamper into the red zone. It's his third score of the day; he's already over 200 yards passing and only has five incompletions on the day, making plays with his arm and his legs. It's the Watson we were promised last season. It's 28-10 Houston, and I think Texans fans can breathe a little easier. 1-3 isn't the end of the world; 0-4 pretty much would have been. Unless they absolutely fall apart here in the second half, they're looking good today.
Dave Bernreuther: A game that looked like a sure thing for the Moo Cows is very much in doubt, and I'll admit that I haven't really been watching before now. What I have noticed, though:
- T.Y. Hilton isn't out of the game, but his hamstring is very obviously bothering him.
- I am nominally still a Colts fan, but I don't think it's bias to call the Nuk Hopkins touchdown in the first half a blatant push-off.
- Deshaun Watson doesn't look especially good.
- Kudos to the refs for still throwing the flag on [unknown Houston returner] on a punt in which he let it bounce and raced up to block a Colt [also unknown; the TV is the smallest in the bar], who did nothing more than brace for impact but knocked him into next week. An impact like that is one where you'd actually understand a bad call, but they got it right. And we got a highlight reel hit.
OK that was cool. Arm strength and time off and two years of Pagano-induced conditioning made me forget that Andrew Luck is still pretty freaking amazing. And down eight, just like that, it's 2013 again and the Colts mount a potential game-tying drive after being down three scores. And a really well-designed dagger route to Nyheim Hines gets them in the end zone ahead of a quick release and short-range dart -- but importantly, a dart nonetheless -- to Chester Rogers for the two-pointer that ties it up. 28-28 in Indianapolis, and that is why we're all so much better off now that Andrew Luck is back.
I'm not going to lie, though. For all we've come to expect of Reich as a Pederson disciple, I'm not sold on his tactics. Kicking deep rather than short there, with 45 seconds left and the Texans lacking timeouts, strikes me as very obviously wrong. And just like that, Watson has time for one pass beyond midfield, and we see a last-ditch, Josh Scobee-like, 59-yard field goal attempt. Which seems pretty inexcusable. On the level of the last plays of Peyton's Colts career ... but Ka'imi Fairbairn pushes it wide right. And we will see overtime. For the second game this time slot.
Bryan Knowles: The prevent defense has once again only prevented a victory. The Texans, who at one point had a 28-10 lead, surrendered it all with some of the softest defense you will ever see in the fourth quarter. Both teams have now exchanged field goals in overtime, so we have just 1:50 left for someone to do something. We are looking straight at our third tie of the season, as the ten-minute overtime continues to be the worst of both worlds.
Dave Bernreuther: I don't fault Frank Reich for that fourth-down call at all. Punting is playing for the tie. As underdogs and down two games already, a tie is useless. A win is useful. Good for him, even though it didn't work out.
Aaron Schatz: I'm very interested to see the Game Winning Chance numbers on this but I would tend to disagree. It's early in the season, there's nothing wrong with playing for a tie and a 1-2-1 record. It's one thing if we're talking about going for it on fourth-and-4 on the opposing 40 or something. But this was his own 43. Also, there are only 27 seconds left. Even if the team converts the fourth-and-4, it's possible they run out of time before they can get the ball into field goal range, which means they're getting a tie anyway.
Bryan Knowles: I'm going to disagree here, Dave. With 24 seconds left, the ball on your side of midfield, facing a fourth-and-4, the Colts opt to go for it. They're stopped short, Watson and the Texans hit one pass, and Houston escapes with a game-winning field goal.
With 24 seconds left, a first down doesn't even get you into field goal range. I'll have to check the win percentages on this one, but it feels an awful lot like a lot of risk for very little gain.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm getting yelled at by drunk morons calling that the worst call in the history of football, so I'm only growing more resolute in my support of it.
That said, I'm eager to see the math on it. Because success didn't guarantee a victory. Nor did failure guarantee a loss (the defense on that slant was quite poor, and the icing the kicker proved to be a bad choice as well), but my initial thought is/was that 1-3-1 coming out of the Thursday game is not in any way useful in a division with two 3-1 teams, so you play to win the game.
That said, a friend pitched another scenario with some merit: the AFC is bad. A 9-7 record may get you in. Hell, 8-8 may get you in. And if you consider the Jags a reasonable 12-4 team, you aren't winning the division anyway. And a tie and a record of 9-6-1 might actually have a bunch of value over 9-7. So this becomes very interesting.
I'll admit that I'm also just plain fascinated by stuff like this. Because for all that we've been able to learn about and apply win probability added and all ... I don't know that we've seen a good example of "tie probability" added. And how to compute the value of a tie. This isn't the 1980s NHL. As far as I know nobody has really spent too much effort studying the up side of ties ... which means that I still love that call just because it starts the discussion.
I also still love it because I prefer aggression to conceding, and I maybe -- maybe -- like the message it sends to a roster lacking talent.
(Numbers-wise I'm liking it a lot less the more I think about it, though. But I'm far from hatred. And I'm VERY excited to see the studies it leads to. And pretty annoyed that Brian Burke isn't publishing to his own site anymore.)
Bryan Knowles: Burke HAS weighed in now over at ESPN, saying it was a -5.1% Win Probability decision. That's counting a tie as half a win, though -- which is true, you know, statistically, but some half-wins may be more valuable than others, especially in the division. That would be an interesting thing to look at at some point.
Aaron Schatz: Reich's response after the game was not about the probabilities at all. They simply decided they wanted to try for the win, not the tie.
Frank Reich on the 4th down call: "I'll just address it now. We're not playing to tie. We're going for it 10 times out of 10."
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) September 30, 2018
Dave Bernreuther: When you're the type of team that'll have to scratch and claw to get to eight wins, I think I still lean toward rolling the dice at -5.1% WP and hoping for the best over near-guaranteeing the tie. But I'll hedge by saying that upon further consideration I disagree if this looked like a team(and season) for which I thought a division title was possible or likely.
It's still a nice change from Pagano, if nothing else. So good for him.
Tom Gower: I like to think I like to be as aggressive as anybody, but I agree with the models that suggest punting, especially with the head-to-head perspective against a team that's behind you in the standings. I know, they're behind in the greater cause of the division and the playoff spot, but it's hard for me to see enough chance of getting the win even with a successful conversion, which is less likely than not.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the official EdjSports write-up on how their Game Winning Chance model saw the decision:
The set of game variables (clock, field position, score) in this decision came together in a perfect storm, greatly magnifying the impact of this fourth down decision. Make no doubt about it, this was an aggressive call. Perhaps surprisingly, the simulation model from which we derive our usual aggressive fourth down stance actually disagreed with Coach Reich. The Edj model was in favor of punting the ball and estimated that the GWC (game winning chance) sacrificed by going for it was 3.5 percent. This conclusion was further supported by substituting a top passing offense and weak passing defense into the simulation. Even under that extreme scenario, the punt is still the top choice.
An important assumption that enters the model’s assessment is the value of a tie. The model values a tie as half a win. It’s important to note that Coach Reich is likely valuing a tie much differently than the model. He made this clear in his postgame press conference by declaring, “I’m not playing to tie.” To try to account for this difference in assumptions, we re-assessed this decision by assuming it occurred in the postseason when tie games are not an option. In this alternative scenario, the Colts would need to convert the fourth-and-4 approximately 81 percent of the time to justify the more aggressive approach. Historically, NFL teams would be expected to succeed closer to 50 percent. Again, we see the punt being favored.
To unpack this surprising finding a bit, the Colts’ field position played a significant role in this decision. At their own 43-yard line, the Colts were at an important threshold of the field. From their own side of midfield, they could expect to receive the maximum benefit from swinging field position with a punt. To hone in on this effect, we ran a sensitivity analysis by varying the yard-line where the Colts faced this fourth-and-4 decision, keeping all other game variables constant. We found that the “crossover” point or the yardline where the two decisions reached parity with one another in terms of GWC was the Indianapolis 48.
Miami Dolphins 7 at New England Patriots 38
Aaron Schatz: Chalk up another interception for the Dolphins, who lead the league this year. This time by Bobby McCain, who had good coverage on Phillip Dorsett on a third-and-9. Not sure what Tom Brady saw there; Dorsett was covered all the way. Dolphins haven't done much on offense so far -- one nice 22-yard pass to Kenny Stills and then a lot of short stuff that went nowhere. Patriots pass rush looking much stronger than in recent weeks, pressuring Tannehill in a few passes so far. It helps to get back the team's top pass-rusher, Trey Flowers. 3-0 Patriots near end of first quarter.
Vince Verhei: It didn't lead to anything, but I loved Miami's play in the first half when they faked a SHOVeLL, then handed off to a player on a jet sweep going the same direction behind him.
Zach Binney: Early in the second quarter and that's about the third or fourth massive overthrow by Tannehill. Not sure what's up, but he's looked a lot more accurate in the first three weeks. Miami is in trouble if he can't keep the offense chugging vertically.
Dave Bernreuther: Cordarrelle Patterson scored on what reminded me of a college play -- he was so wide open (after the same crosser/wheel combo the Broncos ran to take the Seahawks to overtime in that exciting post-Super Bowl rematch a few [5?? Man I'm old] years back) that it didn't matter that the ball was underthrown, and then he just outran and juked the defenders who were catching up to the play on the way to the end zone. I didn't see anything too illegal pick-y, so I'm a little curious as to just how Xavien Howard got beat so badly.
What really stands out to me so far, especially on the last few drives, is how slow Ryan Tannehill looks. Slow afoot, slow in decision-making, slow delivery, and floating footballs. I've never known him to be prone to any of these things, so it almost makes me wonder if I had something slipped into my coffee, but it has been very strange to watch. He has had the benefit of some decent defense (above mentioned play excepted), a turnover, and some drive-extending penalties, but so far the Miami offense -- and Tannehill especially, and literally -- appear to be stuck in mud.
Aaron Schatz: On the Patterson touchdown, Xavien Howard got beaten by a legal pick in the first yard after the line of scrimmage. He didn't really get beat, I think he was switching to cover the other receiver.
Howard does give up a touchdown near the end of the second quarter, in simple one-on-one coverage on Phillip Dorsett. Dorsett beats him just on technique, with what I think was a whip route. So we go into halftime 24-0. So much for the Dolphins ranking second in DVOA going into this week. They've fallen apart in pretty much every area of the game. The offense doesn't seem very creative, with a lot of second-and-long runs going nowhere to go with penalties and Tannehill's overthrown deep balls. The defense is giving up big holes in the running game. They seem a bit overwhelmed by the situation, with plays like a blown snap recovered by the Patriots and a frustrated unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Laremy Tunsil a couple of plays later.
Bryan Knowles: So, all those "The Patriots are dead!" obituaries? Maybe we'll hear just a little less noise from the blogodrome this week. I've been watching this one, waiting to say something interesting and insightful -- and no, it has just been a methodical crushing of Miami. It has not been that New England has been particularly explosive or dramatic; they've just been brutally efficient, marching up and down the field and preventing Miami from doing anything whatsover on offense. Adam Gase's play calling has not been spectacular, but the Dolphins also just aren't executing. Tannehill can't get anything going deep, with just 68 yards on eight completions at the half. His very first play of the game was a decently deep pass to Kenny Stills for 22 yards, and he has hit nothing longer the rest of the day. The Pats are getting pressure, and everything's just shut down. It's one of those boring dominating games, as opposed to the offensive explosion in Chicago, but the end result is the same.
A little bit of Florida football deflation today, I would say.
Aaron Schatz: Ran into Omar Kelly from the Sun-Sentinel at halftime. He blames Miami's faltering run defense heavily on the loss of William Hayes, who was their strongest run-stopping defensive end.
Cincinnati Bengals 37 at Atlanta Falcons 36
Rob Weintraub: Taking in this octennial visit south by Cincy in person. Usually goes badly for the Bengals in Atlanta. Sure enough, an easy Falcons touchdown on the opening drive. But Dalton answers with a touchdown pass to the dearly missed Tyler Eifert, and it's 7-7. Not so hard to believe is that the Bengals have screwed up two substitution patterns already, leading to burning two timeouts in the first quarter.
Long touchdown pass to ... John Ross!! He lives! Buuuut, not for much longer -- he pulls up lame in the end zone with an apparent groin injury. Typical.
21-14 Bengals in this predictably defense-free game. Last team with the ball wins.
Cincy scores just before halftime, but not "just" enough, as Atlanta gets into field-goal range and Matt Bryant of course hits it. 28-24 Bengals at the half. The "Pee Wee vs. Mascot" game at halftime had better defensive play.
Hard to tell from here but it appears Tyler Eifert just broke his leg in gruesome fashion. Unbelievable.
Bryan Knowles: Robert, be glad you're at the game and don't get to see that replay in high-def slow motion. That's one of the worst injuries I've seen in a while, and I really wish I hadn't.
Rob Weintraub: Predicted on Twitter the Bengals wouldn't score after that Eifert injury. So far, alas, I'm right. Didn't help that his replacement let a pass go right off his hands and bounce for an interception.
Falcons get a highly questionable roughing the passer call to negate a sack-fumble as well, then have their usual wide-open receiver for six. Two-pointer no good, 33-28 Falcons early fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Calvin Ridley gets an easy touchdown on a seam route to put Atlanta up 33-28 early in the fourth, and then things get interesting. They go for two and don't get it (a bubble screen with offensive pass interference that didn't get into the end zone anyway) and now lead by just five. I know it's a shootout and that seven-point lead looks tempting, but by going for two and not getting it, they leave themselves open to getting beat by two field goals. Seems like they got greedy to me, though that is with benefit of hindsight.
Bryan Knowles: Andy Dalton just walked right into an ugly strip-sack in the red zone, with Takk McKinley seeing no resistance on his way to the quarterback. I think Dalton's knee was down, but we're in a review, and it's gonna be close. This is the kind of game where one defensive play might just be enough to win it.
Dave Bernreuther: Just as Rob mentions the Bengals scoring, Dalton throws one low and inside to a completely and thoroughly covered A.J. Green in the end zone. He's A.J. Green, though, so somehow he reaches around the defender to catch it at waist level for the score...
Only for it to come back on a hands to the face penalty (?) where it looked, at worst, like a perfectly normal block led to a finger slipping and maybe briefly grazing the facemask of the rusher. I don't have the benefit of a DVR here, but wow. That looked like one where they should've kept the flags in their pockets.
Rob Weintraub: A.J. Green with a great touchdown catch, but of course wiped out by penalty. A few plays later, third-and-goal, McKinley goes around Bobby Hart for the strip-sack. But replay shows Dalton was down (I guess -- poor replays and audio in here). So Cincy gets a short field goal to close to 33-31. Eight minutes left and to say I'm not optimistic the Bengals get a stop here is an understatement.
Miraculously, Cincy held the Falcons to just three. Down five with four and change left. Lewis called timeout twice to preserve clock on that drive so all or nothing now. I don't have to tell you my prediction. Blocking has been atrocious this half.
Dave Bernreuther: Wow is about all I have to say about that. And I can't help but note the difference between the Bengals' productive use of A.J. Green vs. Sarkisian's use of a similar talent in Julio Jones.
Rob Weintraub: !!!!!!!
Trust me, Cincy can still lose this ... But they don't!!! Incredible, mainly because Cincy seldom wins in my presence. Key to the game was my not recording the local telecast -- that always works out poorly in my experience. Can't fully process what happened, sorry for the readers. Pure fan experience today. And a game like that reminds us all why we are fans.
Aaron Schatz: Two thoughts from watching the final Cincinnati drive in this game.
- I realize that the Bengals DID manage to constantly convert fourth downs and came back to win this game, but man, Vic Beasley was just eating Cordy Glenn's lunch for most of this drive. The play that almost knocked the ball out of Dalton's hands, then a play that did knock the ball out of his hands, then the illegal use of hands penalty to move the Bengals back when they were finally getting close to the touchdown.
- I don't know what that coverage was on the final touchdown throw to A.J. Green. Cover-2 maybe? I don't think "let A.J. Green go to the corner of the end zone by himself" is a good coverage.
Buffalo Bills 0 at Green Bay Packers 22
Derrik Klassen: It has been a rough first quarter for Josh Allen. Through a few drives, Allen is 3-of-9 for just 21 yards, only completing two quick passes out of the backfield and a slant route to convert a third down. Given his athletic ability and arm strength, Allen is bound to find a big play or two vs. this Packers defense, but it has yet to happen and Allen is struggling to carry over the success he saw last week.
Dave Bernreuther: Josh Allen is doing Josh Allen things: under no pressure at all on a designed quick rollout, he Chuck Knoblauched a ball 5 yards over Charles Clay's head when Clay was probably less than 5 yards away from him.
On a third-and-5, perhaps spooked after getting clobbered by Colts castoff Antonio Morrison, he left a clean pocket, ran around for no reason, reversed field back to that pocket ... and threw behind a nearby LeSean McCoy to end the drive.
Vince Verhei: There's some Tim Tebow to Josh Allen's game. He's not going to throw many interceptions, I don't think, simply because so many of his passes are so bad NOBODY has a chance to catch them. He's not getting help from Kelvin Benjamin, who has dropped a pass and somehow managed to escape a personal foul when he tried to poke his fingers into Jaire Alexander's eyes. Searching for Benjamin's name on Twitter yields some fun results -- looks like all of Buffalo is sick of him.
Aaron Jones runs for a touchdown to put Green Bay up 13-0. Packers are now up to 70 rushing yards on only 12 carries. That includes some good runs by the allegedly injured Aaron Rodgers -- he had a 10-yard scramble for a first-and-goal to set up the Jones touchdown.
Derrik Klassen: Josh Allen just made 1 (one) deep pass on a busted coverage and the broadcast immediately went with the "That was Favre-like" line.
Vince Verhei: And Allen follows that with a brutal interception -- scrambling to his right with two Packers all over him, instead of throwing it away, he lobs a duck deep to the middle of the field at about the goal line. Apparently intended for Zay Jones, but Alexander catches it like he's fair catching a punt and returns it out of the end zone to the 26. That's 58 yards on receptions for the Bills, 27 yards on interception returns for the Packers defense.
Derrik Klassen: The score is just 16-0 heading into the half, but it has been a dominant performance from Green Bay thus far. The offense is cooking and has been excellent aside from an interception that was caused due to a batted pass. Most notably, the Packers offense has converted seven of their nine third down attempts, giving them the freedom to hold onto the ball and give the Bills offense fewer chances to find their footing.
Key difference for this game versus the Vikings game for Buffalo is the defense. Versus Minnesota, the secondary clamped down on many of the passing concepts and did not allow YAC. Kirk Cousins was forced to take short throws and the Bills did well to rally and make tackles. The front also generated much more pressure, including multiple strip-sacks on Cousins. The Bills have not been able to generate that same pressure vs. Aaron Rodgers and the secondary has constantly been out of position, be that blowing coverage or failing to rally for tackles. The Bills offense obviously needs to show some life, but if the defense does not get it together, the Packers offense could come out firing again in the second half.
Dave Bernreuther: The best part is that even after that deep ball, Allen goes into the half with a sterling 3 yards per attempt on 5-of-19 passing. Without that he's 4-of-18 for 23 yards and a pick.
It's fun that this is happening on the same field as Aaron Rodgers. And even funnier that the Bills gave away players and picks in order to move up to draft him 17 slots higher than Rodgers was.
My bias is showing but I don't even care. It's funny. But also depressing, in a way, because Brandon Beane gets paid over a million dollars a year and kept his job, even after making that decision. (For the record, I am pretty confident that nobody here gets paid over a million dollars per year.) And nothing about this is even remotely surprising to anyone with functional eyes.
Rodgers, meanwhile, is injured and looks amazing even on his incompletions. Earlier in the game he was flushed from the pocket and had the presence of mind, touch, and accuracy to float one up for Davante Adams in the right of the end zone, where he was well defended ... but I am pretty certain he started the play on the left side of the formation and was still on that half of the field when Rodgers threw it up. Later, again moving to his right (quite ably for someone with a knee injury), a flick of the wrist led to a highly precise dart on the sideline where only Geronimo Allison could've caught it, and he almost did. Buffalo fans, take note: THAT is the kind of mobility and arm talent that you trade multiple assets to land.
Scott Kacsmar: Whether or not Ha Ha Clinton-Dix makes the interception today, each Josh Allen interception has made you want to say "Ha Ha!" However, Rodgers really just got away with a possible pick-six on a fourth-down throw. Reminded me of the Kyle Fuller dropped pick in Week 1, though hardly in as important of a spot with the Packers up 19-0 and basically toying with the Bills today.
Derrik Klassen: Aaron Rodgers' numbers still look fine, but he has been more careless today than usual. It is likely due to the discomfort his knee is bringing him, but the point remains. The Bills defense has dropped at least three interceptions today, which is quite uncharacteristic of Rodgers, especially since there is still a full quarter of play left. Rodgers has still made a number of great throws, but he has been a fortunate that the Bills' defense is not capitalizing on his mistakes and that the Bills' offense can not move the ball.
Dave Bernreuther: Josh Allen sacking himself -- running backwards for no reason while I was having a conversation about his awful pocket awareness -- is a signal that it's time to stop. Mercy rule. I'm not going to make fun of him for the rest of the year. It's just too easy.
Vince Verhei: I appreciate that Dave. I'll need all that Allen material for Quick Reads.
Bryan Knowles: Leave some for Scramble, dang it!
Dave Bernreuther: Maybe add a "Josh Allen throw of the week" or "This week in Josh Allen Pocket Follies" to scramble down by KCW and Jeff Fisher the other awards?
Vince Verhei: I'm pulling seniority. I've been making fun of terrible quarterbacks since before you sent your first Tweet. I get first crack at Allen jokes.
Bryan Knowles: This is how revolutions start, you know.
Andrew Potter: Now, now. I'm confident there will be more than enough mockery to go around.
Detroit Lions 24 at Dallas Cowboys 26
Andrew Potter: The Cowboys in their white uniforms against the Lions in all grey is exactly as hideous in practice as it sounds in theory. It looks like somebody severely messed up their color and contrast settings.
Dave Bernreuther: Ha. It looks like I'm watching a TV with the R and G component cables unplugged.
Whoever decided the Lions should wear any color other than Honolulu Blue should be fired.
Scott Kacsmar: Lions find the end zone first after a 45-yard touchdown to Golden Tate. It's one thing for the corner to slip on the route in trying to keep up with Tate, but Jeff Heath had a great shot to make a tackle and looked like he stepped in quicksand.
Vince Verhei: Tavon Austin runs a fly route on Darius Slay. He's not really open, but Dak Prescott hits him in the chest and at least gives him a chance to outfight Slay for the ball. Sadly, Austin fails to do that, collapses to the turf, and immediately starts grabbing his wrist and shoulder. A thin Dallas wide receiver corps looks even thinner now.
Scott Kacsmar: Ezekiel Elliott had 37 yards on his first 11 catches this season, which gives you another idea of how bad that offense has been. He just had a 38-yard touchdown on a screen pass. The Cowboys have had three pass plays of 30-plus yards in this half.
Vince Verhei: There was a weird play right before that Elliott screen pass. Prescott dropped back, pinballed off a couple of defenders, tried to keep his balance, and eventually fell to his knee for a sack. But when he stood up, Romeo Okwara knocked him right back down, an easy 15-yard penalty. That turned a second-and-long on Dallas' side of the field into a first down at the Detroit 38, and Elliott and his convoy of linemen took over from there. My favorite play in football is still the well-executed screen, with a wall of big linemen rumbling downfield escorting their teammate into the end zone. Really gets to the heart of what I think football should be.
Happy to report that Austin has returned to the game -- he just gained 7 yards on a jet sweep on Dallas' first drive of the second half. The way he was grabbing at his shoulder earlier, I was sure it was a broken clavicle and his season was done.
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys got down to the 4-yard line with 5:52 left, up 20-17. On fourth down, they kicked the field goal to go up 23-17, thus forcing Detroit to be more aggressive on their next drive. If you guessed "Detroit will march down the field, score a touchdown, and take a one-point lead," you win a prize. I'm not a fan of going up 6 at the end of the game. Go for the touchdown. At least you know you'll pin the other team deep if you fail.
Vince Verhei: Golden Tate remains really good. Gets his second long touchdown of the day when the cornerback (Byron Jones, I think) gives him a free pass down the sideline. Come to think of it, looks a lot like the same Cover-2 Dallas ran that resulted in a long score against Seattle last week. Tate is now at 8-8-132-2 and Detroit is up 24-21. When we think of the moves that crippled the Seattle empire, we usually think of the Percy Harvin and Max Unger trades, but letting Tate leave in free agency was a bad transaction too.
Aaron Schatz: Dallas gets away with the bad decision by marching down the field with the ball back, mostly with a beautiful catch down the right sideline one a deep pass to Ezekiel Elliott. Cowboys bring in rookie kicker Brett Maher and take home a 26-24 win. I would have gone for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4 though.
Vince Verhei: To Aaron's last point: The Cowboys had scored a touchdown earlier after converting a fourth-and-1 from the 3. (Elliott actually fumbled on the play, but Dallas recovered.) Obviously there's a difference between fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-goal from the 4, but they had already reaped the benefits of goal-line aggression earlier.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 at Chicago Bears 48
Bryan Knowles: Make it four games, four strip-sacks for Khalil Mack. That trade looks smarter and smarter by the day, doesn't it?
Chicago is up 21-3 early in the second quarter, and Tampa Bay's defense just looks completely lost.
Vince Verhei: Mitchell Trubisky had two touchdown passes in his first three games. He has four in the first half today, most to wide-open receivers. He's averaging more than 17 yards per pass. This is one of the worst Tampa Bay defenses ever, and think of the ground that covers.
Aaron Schatz: Just for fun, worst Tampa Bay defenses in DVOA history, including the worst defense in DVOA history, period.
|2018||21.0%||29 (through three games)|
|1987||16.9%||26 (12 games)|
Dave Bernreuther: I just happened to look up during a commercial to the Bears game, was shocked to see it was already 21-3 Bears, but then immediately saw a composed and accurate Trubisky throw downfield to wide open Trey Burton for some serious YAC, followed by a somewhat odd touchdown pass to a wide-open Josh Bellamy as well to go up 28-3. Pretty sure that's not something we can put on Fitzmagic/Fitzpumpkin.
What's interesting to me, though, was that it seemed (on the tiniest TV in the place) like what sprung Bellamy was a downfield pick in which the receivers both started running routes for several strides before then combining in the type of action we're used to seeing at or behind the line of scrimmage. But without any type of contact that seemed illegal. So Bellamy was free to leak out toward the sideline and catch an accurately placed floater and waltz in to the end zone. I need to see that one again, because it seemed very different from your average pick play but had exactly that type of result.
Anyway, the Bears -- the BEARS -- are up 28-3. Which would be unusual if it was the fourth quarter. But it's bear-ly halfway through the second. Oh. And now they have first and goal after a Trubisky run while I typed all that. And score one play later on another of those K.C. special touch passes. I have no idea how they even got the ball back ... but I'm still less confused right now than the Bucs defense was after that play.
Vince Verhei: Trubisky scrambles for 26 yards to set up a first-and-goal, then hits a SHOVeLL to Taylor Gabriel for the touchdown. That's 254 yards and five touchdowns passing for Trubisky, plus 53 yards rushing. There's still nearly five minutes left in the first half.
Bryan Knowles: SHOVeLL alert in Chicago! That's Trubisky's fifth touchdown pass in the game, already, in the first half. Red Zone is making a big deal about that being the Bears "modern" record, but forget that -- Trubisky's got a real shot at Sid Luckman's franchise record of seven, set back in 1943. 35-3 Chicago, and the Fitzmagic is gone.
Vince Verhei: Seven touchdowns isn't just the Bears record, it's the all-time NFL record, and if the Bears don't make a concerted effort to get Trubisky three more, I'm going to be very angry.
Dave Bernreuther: As a Peyton fan I should disagree, but I don't. I will also be very upset.
Right now the Nagy offense looks like it's trying to outdo the Reid-Mahomes offense. And while on the whole I am a little annoyed at the college-ifying of the NFL (because I do like good defense, hate these RTP issues this year, and sort of miss when 400 yards passing was unusual) ... I am also entertained. Very, very entertained.
Scott Kacsmar: The Bears only scored 49 points on offense in the first three games. They put up 35 in the first half today. I'd say even if Dirk Koetter survives this season, defensive coordinator Mike Smith is definitely getting the boot.
Vince Verhei: Ah, the Bears are already calling off the dogs. Following a Ryan Fitzpatrick red zone interception, the Bears have a third-and-7 in Tampa Bay territory. They take the ball away from Trubisky and hand off to Tarik Cohen for the give-up draw. It doesn't even gain a yard, but Cody Parkey is good from 50 yards to put the Bears up 38-3 at halftime.
The FitzMagic has ended. Jameis Winston is in at quarterback on the first drive of the second half. He converts a fourth-and-1 at his own 34 with a completion to Adam Humphries, but a few plays later, 2018 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack his arm on a pass. The ball goes basically straight up, and eventually comes down into the arms of Danny Trevathan for an interception.
This is not going well for the Bucs, but hey -- maybe the Bears defense is for real. That would be one of the more surprising developments of September.
Vince Verhei: Tarik Cohen gets 28 yards on a wheel route to set up a first-and-goal at the 3. The Bears, clearly aware of the situation, call three straight pass plays, and on third down Trubisky gets touchdown No. 6 on a flat route to a wide-open Gabriel. There are still more than 25 minutes left in this game.
Bryan Knowles: Trubisky finishes with just six touchdown passes. Fire the bum!
Scott Kacsmar: This one is hard to believe, but the Bears are the only offense since 2001 to have five touchdown drives of 70-plus yards before halftime. An offense has had at least four such drives in a first half 14 times since 2001, and three of those have happened in the last two weeks of action. The Redskins did it to Green Bay last week, the Rams did it to the Vikings on Thursday night, and now the Bears in this game.
New York Jets 12 at Jacksonville Jaguars 31
Scott Kacsmar: Blake Bortles is 15-of-16 for 192 yards with a throwaway and an easy 31-yard touchdown to T.J. Yeldon. Jeff Fisher is the CBS analyst and he sounds like he's calling the game from the comfort of his hotel bed. Very dull.
Dave Bernreuther: Forget 15-of-16 ... at one point Blake Bortles was a picture perfect 11-of-11, 111, according to a graphic I saw. Now that's just fun.
Philadelphia Eagles 23 at Tennessee Titans 26 (OT)
Tom Gower: The Titans were the better team for the better part of the first half, but are down 10-3 at the half, unable to get into scoring position after an opening field goal drive. Marcus Mariota has looked fine for the most part, until an ugly interception gifted the Eagles a field goal right before halftime. Tennesee's pressure got to the Eagles at times, but they've been taking advantage of Wesley Woodyard's absence by attacking the middle of the field. The touchdown was different, a throw to Jordan Matthews when he lined up out wide and ran a post route against what might have been quarters coverage, with Malcolm Butler a victim again after not getting inside help. Carson Wentz has looked fine to me, with a couple excellent throws. Two stood out, a seam throw that would have converted third-and-long that Nelson Agholor dropped, and a deep sideline completion to Alshon Jeffery.
Carl Yedor: Harold Landry forces a big fumble on a sack of Wentz, and after moving down the field they line up on third-and-short to hammer away in short yardage from about the Philly 25 with Dion Lewis instead of Derrick Henry. They don't get it, but they successfully convert on fourth down on a bootleg where Mariota flipped it to Lewis for the first down. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the drive immediately stalls after a negative play on a screen pass to Henry, and the Titans settle for 3.
Andrew Potter: Landry made a big play earlier in that drive as well, breaking off his rush to pursue Carson Wentz on a scramble when no other Titans defender was in position to stop Wentz. Landry caught up to Wentz barely past the line of scrimmage when he looked set to gain at least 20 yards. It doesn't look like much on the stat sheet, but it was tremendous awareness and pursuit.
The defensive lines have probably been the best unit on each team. It was a real surprise to see only two sacks apiece at halftime. Just about every yard either team gains is hard-earned. A real slugfest, by 2018 standards at least.
Derrik Klassen: Not watching this game, but it's no surprise Harold Landry was the one to come up with a big play. He has been outstanding all season. Early on, it looks like Tennessee got a good one with Landry.
Bryan Knowles: Oh my, full credit to Mike Vrabel for his play calling in overtime. With 1:02 left in overtime, the Titans could have kicked a 50-yard field goal to tie the game. Instead, the Titans went for it on fourth-and-2, setting up either an easier field goal or a potential winning touchdown.
And the gamble pays off! After just missing on several throws, Mariota hooks with Corey Davis to pull off the overtime win!
It was an ugly victory, for sure, but the Titans are becoming experts in ugly victories, and they all count the same in the win-loss column. And thank you, Titans, for not playing for our third tie of the season.
Tom Gower: After a first half of struggles, Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee offense were mostly outstanding the second half. They still couldn't run the ball, with Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry combining for six carries and 0 yards after halftime (12 for 24 for the game, long of 14), but Mariota didn't have an incompletion after his pick at the end of the first half until Darius Jennings dropped one deep downfield in overtime. But they couldn't finish in the four-minute drill, and Philly got a big punt return to set up a tying field goal after their offense had mostly sputtered after starting the second half with another touchdown to extend their lead.
Then overtime. The first two fourth-down decisions weren't even decisions, then the fourth-and-2, which I didn't think was that hard of a call to go for it given it would have been a 50-yarder and the Eagles would have had over a minute and a timeout to beat you.
Final takeaways? Mariota was fantastic. The Eagles had some tackling in space issues, notably on Dion Lewis. Tennessee's complete lack of a run game. Corey Davis with the game-winning touchdown as part of a 161-yard "breakout" game. Zach Ertz with 10 catches to lead Philadelphia, productive for much of the day against a Tennessee defense that had major issues, with rookie first-round pick Rashaan Evans getting yanked at times late. The Titans pass rush, credited with 11 quarterback hits on Wentz. Third-down drops, an issue on multiple times for both teams.
Seattle Seahawks 20 at Arizona Cardinals 17
Vince Verhei: Big news before the game is that the Cardinals are starting Josh Rosen with Mike Glennon as the backup and Sam Bradford as a healthy inactive. That's bad news for Bradford because he is missing out on active roster bonuses that pay him more than $300,000 per game; it's good news because he is still making $16 million in base salary to do basically nothing.
In other news, Sam Bradford is my favorite football player.
Cardinals' first two drives resulted in a quick punt and a lost fumble, but on their third possession their moving, and they have a first down in the red zone as the first quarter ends. Josh Rosen's two best throws so far have actually been incompletions. The first was a deep corner to Christian Kirk he dropped right in the bucket, but Kirk dropped. Then he had an amazing throw that somehow got through both Tre Flowers and Earl Thomas for what looked like a touchdown, but on review Chad Williams failed to get a second foot down in bounds. Cardinals are definitely picking on Flowers. Everything's going to the left as they're avoiding Shaquill Griffin.
Second quarter starts, and the Cardinals kick a field goal to make it 7-3 after Justin Coleman breaks up two passes.
This game is not yet 20 minutes old, and already the Seahawks have seen three drives end on third-down completions that failed to pick up a first down. Brian Schottenheimer is on fire!
Seahawks get a lucky break when David Moore fumbles on his first career reception, but the ball bounces right back to him and he picks up a first down at the Cardinals' 24. Seattle turned that good fortune into a holding penalty, a completion for a 5-yard loss on second-and-17, a run for 2 on third-and-22, and a missed 52-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, his second miss of the day.
And then Rosen hits another pass that should have been a big play, a gain of 40 or 50 yards, but J.J. Nelson drops it. That's like 100 yards he has lost on dropped passes this half.
Bryan Knowles: I've been very impressed by Josh Rosen so far, which makes you wonder why Sam Bradford got as long as he did under center. He was my favorite quarterback of the draft -- "favorite" not necessarily meaning "best" here, but I just liked the guy more every time I saw him or heard from him -- and I'm glad to see him doing decently in his first start.
Vince Verhei: Cardinals get a touchdown where the biggest play was a pass interference in the end zone on Coleman. David Johnson carried it in from there.
On their last drive of the first half, Seahawks get what I think is their fourth third-down completion that does not pick up a first down (though this was on third-and-14, which is forgivable). They then opt to go for it on fourth-and-1 rather than try a 60-yard field goal, which is the wrong call, but the team that says it wants to run when the opponent knows it will and has already run for 95 yards on the day opts to pass. Chandler Jones zips by Duane Brown and sacks Wilson to end the drive. Cards take over at the 50, but don't have time to do much with it, and Phil Dawson misses a 50-yard kick at the gun. Cards up 10-7.
At the half, Wilson is 12-of-14, but for just 85 yards and three first downs. The Seahawks are 0-for-5 on third downs and 0-for-1 on fourth. Rosen is officially 6-of-13 for 50 yards, but has played much better than that.
Aaron Schatz: I don't know if going for it on fourth-and-1 is the wrong call there. A 60-yard field goal is really hard to hit, even for Janikowski, even in Arizona. That's a tough one.
Vince Verhei: Oh, I mistyped. I definitely think Seattle was right to go for it there. But I strongly think they should have run instead of pass.
Carl Yedor: First half in one word: ugly. Three missed field goals, two fumbles, at least five dropped passes. Seahawks managed another rushing touchdown by a running back, so I guess that's a plus? Schottenheimer's offense remains mind-numbingly frustrating to watch. Basically, when you're able to run the ball well, it sorta works. When you commit penalties or get stuffed on early downs, it doesn't. Cardinals are bringing a ton of pressure in obvious passing situations, which is to be expected of Steve Wilks. Rosen has looked a lot better than his numbers show, as Vince mentioned. Maybe our Arizona prediction won't look as bad if Rosen can bring the offense towards competency. David Johnson has had a few nice runs as well.
Vince Verhei: Coming into the game, Wilson was averaging a career-low 7.0 rushing yards per game, and I don't think he had kept the ball once on an option play. He finally does here, and runs for a 10-yard gain and a first down. Then he scrambles on third down to set up fourth-and-1 at the 29, and they again turn down the field goal to go for it. They run the option, Patrick Peterson shadows Wilson, and Penny gets an easy first down. Unfortunately Wilson fumbles the pitch on the next play (looked like the center stepped on his foot) and they lose 9 yards. It leads to a field goal try, and Janikowski hits from 40, and we're tied at 10.
Carl Yedor: Seahawks go down and kick a field goal on their first possession of the second half. Carroll went for it on fourth-and-1 earlier in the drive, which was an improvement in game management, but that likely had more to do with a lack of confidence in Sebastian Janikowski after he missed multiple kicks in the first half. And, with a little zone-read, they easily pick up the first down on a handoff to Rashaad Penny. I mean, if you're going to pour resources into improving the running game, fourth-and-1 is the time to try and cash in. Seattle immediately went backwards afterward, so they end up forced to kick anyway. 10-10 with 5 minutes left in the third.
Vince Verhei: I was shocked last night to see Seattle's offense with the best red zone DVOA in the league. Only a handful of plays over three games, of course, but they're at it again here. Mike Davis loses a 1-yard touchdown to an illegal formation penalty because sixth lineman Joey Hunt apparently failed to report as eligible. But a penalty on Arizona's defense gives Seattle another first down, and eventually Davis gets a 1-yard touchdown that counts. 17-10 Seattle.
Third-and-1. You haven't converted a third down all day. Your team has run for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Run the ball! Instead Wilson drops back, does a couple of pirouettes, and throws incomplete. Seattle's play calling today has been schizophrenic and self-destructive.
And then Michael Dickson kicks his first touchback of the season, and Arizona needs only five plays to tie the game. Sweet over-the-shoulder pass to Ricky Seals-Jones for 31. Screen pass to David Johnson for 30 yards. 22-yard touchdown pass to Chad Williams.
Oh wait, there's more. Earl Thomas goes down on the play holding his leg. Seahawks form a circle around him holding hands. He's carted off in an air cast. Looks like he flips off the Seattle sideline as he's wheeled off. This is why he wanted that extension so bad.
Bryan Knowles: Well, all the curse words in the world. Earl Thomas is being carted off with a cast around his leg.
This is why players hold out, and why they should, and why they deserve to get paid; you never know when something is going to happen in a game this violent.
Vince Verhei: Video of Earl's bird:
— Eldin Beganovic (@eldinbeganovic) September 30, 2018
Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Earl Thomas all saw their Seahawks careers end due to injury in this stadium. Which is also where Malcolm Butler got his goal-line interception. If it burns down this week, it was me.
Carl Yedor: The Arizona turf monster strikes again. Earl Thomas gets carted off on the Cardinals' game-tying touchdown pass. Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor's Seattle careers both ended in Arizona last season, and if this is serious, it could be the end of Thomas' tenure with the Seahawks as well.
The touchdown itself was a dime by Rosen. Patiently sat in the pocket and delivered the ball in a place only his receiver could get to.
Bryan Knowles: Josh Rosen leads the Cardinals into range for a game-winning field goal, but Phil Dawson hooks it. The Seahawks get the ball back, and settle for a 52-yard field goal attempt -- a lack of urgency? Learning nothing from the Atlanta game last season? It ends up not mattering, though -- Seabass hits the field goal, and the Seahawks escape Arizona with a win.
Cardinals should be happy with Rosen's performance, though; you wonder what their season would be like if they had, you know, started their first-round rookie from the gun rather than messing around with Sam Bradford. Maybe it's just 1-3 instead of 0-4, but still.
Vince Verhei: I can barely form coherent sentences at this point. Rosen made a bunch of big throws and had Arizona in position to win, but instead of trusting him to convert a third-and-6 they hand off to burn Seattle's last timeout, but then Phil Dawson misses a 45-yard field goal. Seattle has 1:50, an eternity even with no timeouts. Two runs and a pass get them to the Arizona 40. At that point, with a kicker who has missed twice already, they do my ultimate pet peeve and PLAY FOR THE LONG FIELD GOAL. They run on first, run on second, clock on third. This is stupid. Stupid stupid. But Janikowski bails them out with a 52-yard field goal and Seattle wins 20-17. I'm actually angry. Seahawks management deserved to lose today, for many reasons, but because the Cardinals are an even bigger wreck they get to congratulate themselves for seven days.
San Francisco 49ers 27 at Los Angeles Chargers 29
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers jump out to an early lead in this one, thanks to a pick-six. The 49ers' defense has actually been pretty solid today, which is a pleasant change of pace. Yes, they left Antonio Gates wide open in the end zone for the Chargers touchdown, and if the Chargers could make a kick it'd be 14-10 rather than 14-6, but a lead is a lead.
Joe Staley has just gone down, though, which won't help C.J. Beathard. Beathard has been ... well, boring, but that's better than he was last season when every other play was a sack. An aggressive defense plus a safe offense is not exactly what 49ers fans had in mind for this season, but hey, if that can keep up, they'll take it.
Halftime here, tied at 17. That's a good result for the 49ers based on what expectations were coming in, and a good result for the Chargers after a first quarter where they could get absolutely nothing going. The Chargers have been able to capitalize on big plays -- a 56-yard punt return to set up a field goal just before the half, a 22-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler, etc. -- to tie things up. They're not moving the ball consistently, but they're making enough big plays against busted coverages to keep pace. The 49ers are the exact opposite; they've only had one play of 20 yards in the first half, with nothing else even going past 15. They've only got 138 yards of total offense, but that's mostly just about gameflow and not success. They have been able to move, slowly but surely. They had a 21-play, 72-yard field goal drive in the first half. That's the longest drive for any team all season, in terms of plays, and the longest drive to not end up as a touchdown since the Browns had a 21-play field goal drive back in 2015. So, you know. Not the most thrilling offensive performance we've seen, but at least the game is exciting when the Chargers have the ball!
More worryingly for the 49ers is that both starting tackles, Staley and Mike McGlinchy, have left the game. The Chargers should be able to get good pressure here in the second half.
There's a law, somewhere, that the Chargers can not have a good kicking game. They score to take a 23-17 lead -- their fourth consecutive scoring drive to get back in this one -- but they miss another extra point, and Chargers fans have to be tearing their hair out.
On the other hand, the 49ers bad tackling from last week in Kansas City has finally arrived, so the Chargers are beginning to take this one over.
Not an ideal red zone outcome: C.J. Beathard hits Garrett Celek right in the numbers, but the ball bounces off of Celek's hands, right into the arms of Tyrell Williams. Williams takes it all the way back into the other red zone.
Just a bit of a swing, there. The 49ers' defense holds tight so it's just a field goal, but that's at least a six-point swing in what's now a nine-point game.
The 49ers are driving, but on consecutive plays:
- Matt Breida goes down, in exceptional pain, and has to be helped to the sideline.
- C.J. Beathard, scrambling around and avoiding a sack, takes a wicked shot and has to limp off the field.
The 49ers are now down to Nick Mullens, who was just brought off the practice squad yesterday, and Alfred Morris at running back. A pair of third-stringers. Oh, and both starting tackles are out. Other than that, this is the Kyle Shanahan offense we were all expecting to see, right?
The Chargers, clinging to a two-point lead with 3:50 left ... punt on fourth-and-1 from the 49ers 37? That's a heck of a scaredy-cat punt, there, and the 49ers get the ball back out to the 30 within a play.
Of course, it ends up not mattering, as Beathard is hit by an unblocked rusher, the ball pops into the air, and Isaac Rochell brings it in for the interception. If the 49ers can hold the Chargers to a field goal, it's still a one-score game ... but San Francisco is out of timeouts after a couple failed challenges earlier in the game. It has not been Kyle Shanahan's finest hour, in terms of game management.
Rob Weintraub: Addendum to the Rochell interception -- the play-by-play guy yelled "Rochelle Rochelle!!" afterwards. He didn't add "Isaac's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk!!" sadly.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh wow and here I thought I was insane for having heard that and going off on a Seinfeld tangent mid-game. Thank you for pointing out that I am not [entirely] crazy.
Vince Verhei: If I have to lean on either Philip Rivers winning a game or C.J. Beathard losing one, I'm going with the latter.
Bryan Knowles: Beathard was pretty good today! The two picks were a ball that bounced off a receiver's hands, and an unblocked rusher popping the ball into the air.
I know, I'm as shocked as you are.
This won't come as a shocker to Falcons fans, but Kyle Shanahan tends to trust his offense rather than playing it safe when sitting on a lead. For example, take the end of the first half today: sitting on a three-point lead with 47 seconds left in the half, Shanahan could have knelt and headed into the locker room, with his double-digit underdog team holding on to a small lead. Alternatively, with two timeouts left, they could have run the ball and, if they had broken a big play, could have opted to get aggressive from there. Instead, they threw three straight passes -- two incomplete, and the third leading the receiver out of bounds. They drained just 17 seconds off the clock and had to punt. The Chargers returned said punt into field goal range to tie it up at the half. In a two-point loss, that's a huge moment! He also blew two timeouts on challenges that were arguably not close -- one on a fumble out of bounds, and one on a spot on a third-down play, neither of which looked particularly promising at the time. That meant the 49ers couldn't stop the clock at the end of the game and potentially get the ball back down five.
Of course, none of that would matter if the 49ers could block, tackle, or cover, but little things do matter in close losses. And the Chargers should feel very fortunate they came out with a win at all in this one, despite being pretty obviously the better team.
New Orleans Saints 33 at New York Giants 18
Bryan Knowles: Surprised to see the Giants clinging to a 7-6 lead this early. The Saints are finding room to drive -- helped in one case by a fake punt, the kind you can do when your gunner's actually a quarterback -- but they're not finding their way into the end zone. A lot of credit to the Giants defense for keeping an explosive offense in first gear so far.
Vince Verhei: Our preseason projections had the Giants defense as the worst in the league. I think it's pretty clear we were wrong about that.
Aaron Schatz: What is going on with the Giants offense? Where's the downfield scheme that Pat Shurmur had in Minnesota last year? Everything is short either dumpoffs or screens. They're getting consistent gains with it, but it's all short. Manning currently is 15-of-19 for 84 yards. That's not even six yards per completion. And as I type this, there's a four-yard pass to Odell Beckham. Why is Odell Beckham standing around just four yards downfield?
Bryan Knowles: The Saints have been running a surprising amount of stuff today with Taysom Hill behind center and Drew Brees split out wide. I've counted six plays with Hill behind center, and I may have missed one or two. It has finally paid off, though -- after four straight field goals, the Hill Wildcat ends up giving the ball to Alvin Kamara for the Saints' first touchdown of the game. 19-7.
Vince Verhei: Drew Brees is the all-time leader in completions and will soon be the all-time leader in passing yards. He has been, at worst, the second-best passer in the league this season. Lining him out wide repeatedly might be the best example ever of a team out-thinking itself.
Aaron Schatz: The Giants finally started throwing downfield near the end of the third quarter! Consecutive passes of 12 and 23 yards! Couldn't do anything in the red zone, though, so now we're at Saints 19, Giants 10.
Janoris Jenkins has done a great job of shutting down Michael Thomas today. Just had only his third target of the game. It was a wide receiver screen. Of course, Thomas got a first down on it because he seems to get a first down on everything.
Saquon Barkley leaps over a pile to get into the end zone, Giants get the two-point conversion, and we're at 26-18 Saints. On the ensuing kickoff, Ted Ginn decides to try to field the ball at the 2 and muffs it. By the time he picks it up, the Giants coverage team is all around him, and he goes down at the 3. That's about as bad a kick return as you can have without fumbling it back to the kicking team. Saints manage to get a first down on a pass with their first play, though, so they won't be pinned in their own end. Driving now, up eight, three minutes left.
Aaron Schatz: Saints get a 9-yard gain by Kamara, a 1-yard gain by Kamara, and then he gets away from everyone for a 49-yard touchdown and that should be the ballgame.
Overall, I think the Giants defense looked a lot better than anyone would expect, especially without Olivier Vernon. But the red zone performance they had in the first half is really not sustainable, and eventually the Saints offense was able to establish itself. As for the Giants' offense, what a mess. There's so much individual talent, but it's very clearly less than the sum of its parts right now. They've got to get the ball downfield more. And they need more than 10 carries for 44 yards from Barkley, which is what they have as of 2:00 left. They're just not giving him the running holes he needs to be successful on the ground.
Cleveland Browns 42 at Oakland Raiders 45 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: I'll admit, I'm occasionally flipping over to this game just to see what could be the last ever football game played on a baseball infield, if the Raiders do indeed leave the Coliseum after this season. It only took 100 seasons, right?
Cleveland was beginning to run away with this one at one point, and as the Raiders have been outscored in the fourth quarter more than any other team in the NFL, things were looking good for the super-rare back-to-back wins for Cleveland. But they just had troubles on the quarterback-center exchange and the Raiders jumped on it. Two plays later, Derek Carr finds Jordy Nelson for the Raiders' first fourth-quarter touchdown of the season, and a 31-28 lead early in the fourth. Browns gotta Brown, even though they've been very un-Brown-like today.
Dave Bernreuther: Without sound. I don't know what happened, but to everyone's eyes, that was an obvious fumble by Derek Carr and what could've been a touchdown return. For some reason it was blown dead and the Raiders punted.
The universe is just, however, and a penalty and two long runs later, the Browns -- the Browns! -- are in good shape in Oakland, although there are still over four minutes left.
I have no idea what's happening in Oakland. A game icing spot is overturned after review, and so the Browns punt on fourth-and-inches, up eight. This shouldn't matter, but on the punt two blatant penalties go uncalled, then Gregg Williams plays a Gregg williams defense with safeties lined up in another area code, and in the blink of an eye, the Raiders have first-and-goal, punch it in, and convert the deuce, and I guess we'll get another overtime game.
The Raiders have decades of history of unconscious referee bias against them, so they deserve a boost, but wow has this half felt like they've gotten some home cooking. This game should be over.
Gruden changes his mind about punting in order to try a 50-yarder from the dirt. That feels like a one-in-three proposition to me, and as expected, it's a miss.
After a flag gets picked up and a punt, we're at midfield inside of four minutes and Gruden is again playing for a long field goal. Like Vince, I find this despicable. And I can't be alone in rooting for the tie here. The Browns deserved to win this one in regulation ... but 1-1-2 would be hilarious.
Baltimore Ravens 26 at Pittsburgh Steelers 14
Scott Kacsmar: Steelers win the toss and defer. I know we generally applaud that to try setting up the double score midway through the game, but I don't think I like the decision with this matchup. Until the Pittsburgh defense shows more, I would want to put the offense on the field first instead of potentially starting the game down 7-0 and feeling like it's an uphill battle all night.
Just like that, the Ravens are driving with a couple of third-down conversions. The Wildcat with Lamar Jackson is alive and well too. John Brown smokes the secondary for a touchdown on a nice throw by Joe Flacco. The readers are just going to have to believe me (proof: Twitter timestamp) that I typed the first paragraph about not deferring before the touchdown happened. 7-0 Ravens.
All tied at 14 in Pittsburgh with two minutes left in the first half. The Ravens have to be kicking themselves. Michael Crabtree was wide open for another possible touchdown, but Flacco missed the throw under pressure. Alex Collins fumbled at the 1-yard line when it looked like the Ravens would make it 21-3. Vance McDonald, after an early fumble, is having another big half for the Steelers after his stiff arm on Chris Conte on Monday night. Roethlisberger has another shot at throwing for over 250 yards in the first half for the third week in a row if he gets another possession (224 yards so far). The offense is definitely feeling it, but we'll see if the defense can keep getting stops. This secondary is a mess.
Aaron Schatz: Two things that stand out to me from this game. First, the right side of the Pittsburgh offensive line is back, and the offensive line continuity is one of the reasons why our projection system loves the Pittsburgh offense every year, but where's the run blocking? James Conner has six carries for 14 yards so far. Second, it's clear that Baltimore is a great example of how changing receivers changes your scheme because they can do different things. Joe Flacco really is able to throw deeper patterns now that he's got guys like John Brown around, so he doesn't have to be Super Captain Checkdown like he has been the last couple years. Have to go look at the numbers but I'm guessing he finally has a year where he isn't leading the league in failed completions.
Scott Kacsmar: Last I looked Eli Manning was on pace to shatter the failed completions record, but we'll see. Also, one thing I really loved from Baltimore was a true double team on Antonio Brown on the two-point conversion. They had two guys lined up across from him at the line, so the play never went there at all. The Steelers still scored with a throw to the right, but I love to see when a defense actually employs a true double team on an offense's best weapon in the red zone.
Tom Gower: What a dismal second half for the Steelers offense. Just three first downs on six possessions and 47 yards overall. No semblance of a run game (Conner finished with 19 yards on nine carries), and Ben Roethlisberger wasn't making plays on his own -- more like the opposite of it. Baltimore's offense was consistent much more than explosive, but that was more than enough for the road division win.