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

Audibles at the Line: Week 1

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.

Washington Redskins 27 at Philadelphia Eagles 32

Bryan Knowles: Trouble brewing in Washington, as Adrian Peterson is a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. Reportedly, a number of Washington veterans are angry with the move, after the load Peterson carried last year following the Guice and Smith injuries. Honestly, AP is a little lucky to still have a job at 34; he was a rumored cut for a lot of the offseason.

I was on Washington as the worst team in the league, before Miami decided to trade away everyone with a pulse. I'm on Philadelphia as one of the top two or three teams in the NFC. I thought Washington was making a terrible choice starting Case Keenum.

So, of course, Keenum opens up the day 8-for-9 for 136 yards. Washington scores a touchdown on their first drive of the season for the first time in 15 years (!) thanks to a Vernon Davis 48-yard catch-and-run on a play where Philadelphia decided tackling was optional. It's 7-0 Washington, and they're driving again.

Ah, the Eagles woke up. DeSean Jackson with a 50-plus-yard score, his first in an Eagles jersey since December of 2013. Still 17-7 Washington in what would be the surprise upset of the day, but it's early.

Rivers McCown: Eagles seem to be playing a lot of zone. If there's one thing Keenum is smart enough to handle at this stage of his career, it's this. Haven't really had as good a look at the offensive problems but maybe Zach Ertz can touch the ball some more? Maybe they're trying to spread a bit too much?

Bryan Knowles: The biggest potential upset of the day has been wiped back to zero, as DeSean Jackson catches his second long touchdown pass of the day. It's nice to see Jackson with a good quarterback once again; it has been a while. 21-20 Philly.

Dave Bernreuther: Washington led 20-0, then the Eagles stormed back to go up 32-20 before the Indigenous Persons scored a pointless touchdown on the final play of the game.

Pointless to all but those who had their eye on that 10.5-point spread, of course. That was quite the gut punch.

Atlanta Falcons 12 at Minnesota Vikings 28

Vince Verhei: Serious protection issues in Atlanta early. First snap of the season, Anthony Barr comes unblocked around left end for a sack. Three snaps later, a rusher comes untouched right up the middle to block a punt. That sets the Vikings up deep in Atlanta territory, and Kirk Cousins hits Adam Thielen for a 23-yard touchdown.

It's funny watching commercials for Smackdown during a Vikings game and hearing the announcers talk about Roman Reigns. No mention that he went to camp with the Vikings once upon a time. (So did Brock Lesnar for that matter.)

Vikings up 21-0 at the half, and they have just been steamrolling Atlanta -- 120 rushing yards on 19 carries, but just 47 yards on seven passes (and they may not throw any more in the second half). Following the blocked punt and an early Matt Ryan interception on a 50-50 ball, the Falcons have avoided disaster, and have gotten into field goal range twice. The first time, though, a penalty knocked them back and forced a punt; the second, Devonta Freeman fumbled the ball away.

Dave Bernreuther: Different coordinator, same red zone struggles (often from dumb formations) for the Falcons. Matt Ryan looks pretty bad today, and not just because of his awful jump-throw interception there; even the throw that got them in to the red zone was awful but bailed out by a penalty. To be fair, though, it was after some great pocket movement and while on the run, which isn't exactly his strong suit.

Vince Verhei: Falcons are driving and threatening to get back in the game when we get a DPI challenge. Calvin Ridley has Trae Waynes beat for a touchdown, but Ryan's pass is badly underthrown. Waynes never turns for the ball and wipes Ridley out. Vikings challenge the play. Not sure why, looked open-and-shut to me, but the review goes as smoothly as any other review, and the call on the field is upheld.

That give the Falcons a goal-to-go, but on second down Ryan bootlegs to the right and has nobody open. Under pressure, he lobs a duck to the corner of the end zone. I think he may have even been throwing the ball away, but regardless, Anthony Harris is running ahead of Luke Stocker and gets the interception. That's two picks and a fumble recovery for Harris today. Atlanta's drive goes 13 plays and 82 yards but ends in zero points.

Dalvin Cook gets his second touchdown of the day to put Minnesota up 28-0 and ice this game in the third quarter. Atlanta's front is just getting bullied -- Cook and two of his blockers just muscled Falcons out of their way and across the goal line.

Los Angeles Rams 30 at Carolina Panthers 27

Bryan Knowles: Todd Gurley watch: the first Rams drive of the season? Seven pass attempts, no rushing attempts. Who knows how healthy Gurley is.

Scott Spratt: Cam Newton throws a borderline forward/lateral swing pass that gets deflected and recovered by Sam Ebukam on the Panthers 10. Goes down as a fumble loss turnover, and the Rams go up by 10 with some major assistance by Panthers mistakes -- two fumbles and a missed field goal so far.

Vince Verhei: Sloppy game for the Panthers so far. D.J. Moore lost a fumble. Joey Slye missed a field goal (a 50-plus-yarder, to be fair). Now, Cam Newton's backwards pass is tipped, loose, and the Rams recover. Malcolm Brown, who is not Todd Gurley, gets 5-yard runs on first and second down, the latter a touchdown to put the Rams up 10-0. That's now two carries for Brown, three for Gurley early in the second quarter.

Scott Spratt: Panthers first-round rookie pass rusher Brian Burns has been incredibly disruptive in his first career game. He was Football Outsiders' No. 1 prospect in SackSEER, and after the preseason and 1.5 quarters he is living up to that expectation.

Christian McCaffrey tried to leap over Eric Weddle but ended up kneeing him in the head. Weddle is bleeding profusely.

Bryan Knowles: Carolina is lucky to be down just ten going into the half. Multiple turnovers leading directly to Rams points, and just a general sense of rust and lack of cohesion. They had opportunities, but their timing was just off, or they dropped a pass, or they fumbled, and so on and so forth. They're being bailed out by the Rams also being rusty; their offense has been rather slow and plodding all day long, but they have been able to capitalize on Carolina's mistakes. It's 13-3 Rams at the half, as both teams have a lot they need to improve going into the second half.

Vince Verhei: Slye hits a field goal at the end of the half to cut the Rams' lead to 13-3. Story here is how the Panthers defense is keeping them in the game despite all the offensive goofs. Jared Goff has thrown 20 passes and gained less than 80 yards. Gurley is up to five carries for all of 8 yards; Brown is at 5-29. Rams are lucky to have Greg Zuerlein -- he has made field goals of 49 and 56 yards, or else this would be a one-score game.

Dave Bernreuther: This game is hard to watch. Zuerlein hits another kick to open the third quarter and go up 16-3, but Goff missed a receiver (Josh Reynolds? Robert Woods?) WIDE OPEN in the end zone on the play before.

Vince Verhei: Todd Gurley lives! He gets a 25-yard run off right tackle to put the Rams in the red zone. Next play, he fumbles, though the Rams recover and the play was wiped out by a penalty anyway. Zeuerlein, as noted, gets a field goal.

Panthers respond with their best drive of the game, as Newton looks sharp throwing underneath routes. Then they score on a really cute touchdown — Christian McCaffrey takes a direct snap, fakes a handoff to Newton (you read that correctly), and dashes through a giant hole in the middle to close the score to 16-10.

Bryan Knowles: Panthers making some noise, with CMC scoring on the read-option-direct-snap. Getting the ball directly into the hands of their best playmaker; whoda thunk it?

Scott Spratt: In the Panthers game, there was a close no-catch vs. catch-and-fumble that was challenged, and the refs determined that it was a catch but couldn't tell if the receiver's knee was down. So they just kept the original call of a non-catch? I'm confused but feel like the Panthers should have the ball on that maybe turnover.

Malcolm Brown has both bunny touchdowns for the Rams today, so that may put a fork in Todd Gurley as a RB1 in fantasy.

Bryan Knowles: It's a good thing the Rams signed their star running back to a huge new contract; Malcolm Brown is clearly worth every penny.

Wait, what?

Scott Spratt: Blocked punt by Jermaine Carter! The Panthers have life.

Dave Bernreuther: A very unusual event: the Rams kicking game produces a negative result, as Hekker has his punt blocked, giving the Panthers the ball at the five. CMC gives an incredible effort, aided by a helmet, to stay on his feet and punch it in two plays later, and we have a three-point game.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, terrible throw by Jared Goff. Interception, and the Panthers have the ball down just three. Nightmare.

That might just well do it. Carolina goes three-and-out after the interception, and then Todd Gurley shows up to the football game. Four straight Gurley runs sets up a Jared Goff pass to Tyler Higbee in the end zone. That makes it 30-20 Rams with just 6:37 left; there's certainly time remaining for Carolina to do something, but they've got to score every time they touch the ball from here on out.

Dave Bernreuther: That's what you get for kicking on fourth-and-1, McVay. To go up by another score, sure, play it safe, but 13 is really no better than ten.

Of course, Newton seems determined to throw another pick, so they're in pretty good shape either way.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers would probably enjoy the timeout they lost when they "lost" the challenge they actually won earlier.

Buffalo Bills 17 at New York Jets 16

Bryan Knowles: Josh Allen has thrown his first touchdown pass of the year! Unfortunately, it was to C.J. Mosley of the Jets. The throw was low, though Cole Beasley should probably have dug down to get it. 7-0 Jets.

Dave Bernreuther: I saw the celebration after the touchdown and got excited to make fun of Josh Allen, but you can't put that one on him. Beasley settled under the coverage and low was a perfectly good place to put that throw. Beasley should've had it. The Jets defense got lucky on that one, although thus far they do look pretty solid overall, getting good penetration and covering people well.

That green sure does look nice on TV in the sun, eh Vince?

Vince Verhei: Indeed, Dave. Indeed.

Aaron Schatz: The two biggest stories here are that the Jets have missed two kicks (XP, FG) and that the Bills have four turnovers (two fumbles, two picks). Despite the four turnovers, Josh Allen looks better than I expected. I know, that's strange to say with four turnovers. But he actually looks pretty accurate today. He's mostly throwing good passes. One of the picks was the one that was tipped by Cole Beasley; that pass was a little low but Beasley has to catch that ball. The other pick was definitely a bad pass by Allen, it was like he didn't even see unblocked pass-rusher Harvey Langi, easy tipped pass and into the hands of Neville Hewitt. But really, I mean it, most of the other passes look better than last year. And the two fumbles don't say anything about him as a passer. One was a strip-sack where he didn't tuck the ball in well, the other was a botched center-QB exchange when the Bills got aggressive on fourth-and-1 from the Jets 36.

And yet despite the four turnovers, the Jets have only six points. They can't find a kicker. Kaare Vedvik apparently can't get it through the goalposts. Their offense doesn't look great. They barely passed the ball on the first couple of drives. They just let Le'Veon Bell carry it and he looked like Le'Veon Bell, only with a couple more stuffs at the line than we're used to. He's at nine carries for 38 yards. On passing plays, they don't seem very good at identifying where the Bills' pass-rushers are coming from -- there has been a lot of pressure from untouched rushers and even an untouched corner blitzer tackling Bell behind the line of scrimmage on a running play.

Vince Verhei: At halftime of a low-scoring game, the Buffalo Bills have handed off three -- THREE -- times. And it's not like they haven't had the ball. Allen has 23 passes, a sack, and eight runs. I know we have been campaigning for NFL teams to pass more often for years, and I'm happy that Allen looks better, but this does not seem like a team that needs to be that unbalanced.

Dave Bernreuther: Agree about Allen. Nobody enjoys piling on to him more than I do but he hasn't been the problem. His worst pass was actually a pick that didn't count due to a penalty. The Jet defense is just all over them, and the Bills are doing themselves no favors with the game plan at all.

Aaron Schatz: Even the interception that didn't count was not an inaccurate pass. It was a case of not reading the defense well so Marcus Maye could just jump the route.

Dave Bernreuther: Very true.

I'm a little surprised they gave the Jets a safety. Not so much because the replay was clear (although it still seemed likely to me), but that the ruling on the field didn't give them forward progress out of the end zone.

The Jets defense is having itself a fantasy day for the ages. Four turnovers, a touchdown, a safety, and a sack as well. They have accounted for 100% of the points in this game since the PAT was missed, and that would have me wondering just how common that feat would be if not for the fact that their offense is driving after the free kick and has first-and-goal.

Bryan Knowles: Moot point since the Jets just scored a touchdown, but I believe the record for points scored only by the defense belongs to the 1950 Giants, who had two safeties (one caused by a snap out of the end zone) and two fumble returns for a touchdown in an 18-7 win over the Steelers.

That does include extra points, however; no team has scored even seven solely defensive points in NFL history (or, at least since 1940 when they really started recording who scored what).

Rob Weintraub: What Le'Veon brings: shoestring catch on third-and-goal for a touchdown. Four-point play as the Jets get seven, not three; well five-point play in fact as he also caught the two-point conversion. Huge difference-maker for New York on critical downs.

Aaron Schatz: Given the current state of the Jets' kicking, that might be a seven-point play. Josh Allen just had another almost-interception by Marcus Maye; this one was a dropped pick instead of cancelled by a penalty. It's the second time he just didn't have any idea where Maye was and threw to what he thought was an uncovered receiver in a zone.

Dave Bernreuther: Still moot but I was actually curious about if a game existed where the points scored were ONLY by the defense. I assume PATs make that incredibly rare.

Aaron Schatz: Bills just made the game 16-10 by depending heavily on the run after the Jets lost C.J. Mosley with a groin injury. Three carries for 50 yards by Devin Singletary, plus a 7-yard run by Frank Gore, a couple of passes, and finally a 3-yard touchdown scramble by Josh Allen.

I wrote in the ESPN Upset Watch about the Jets having problems with running quarterbacks last year, but they have actually kept Allen pretty contained except for that scramble touchdown. He's at nine carries for 30 yards with about 10 minutes left in the game.

Dave Bernreuther: The Bills now have the lead, 17-16. I won't call that a good throw at all for the 38-yard score, but it was risk-free toward a defender committing a foul, and John Brown somehow caught it and escaped anyway. Now we'll see if Sam Darnold can do anything to bring them back.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, I couldn't tell if Allen underthrew that ball on purpose or not, but Brown did a good job of adjusting to it even though he had Darryl Roberts hugging him the whole way. I don't think Roberts was committing DPI yet when Allen threw it, though.

Jets' following drive, Darnold had Robby Anderson deep down the left sideline on third-and-1 and Levi Wallace made a great play to slap it away. Le'Veon Bell pushed extra hard with a second effort to convert the run on fourth-and-1. But Darnold had his next two passes tipped, the third-and-10 pass was to nobody, and the pass pressure got to Darnold and hit him in motion on fourth down to end the game. Bills will win 17-16.

Baltimore Ravens 59 at Miami Dolphins 10

Dave Bernreuther: Ryan Fitzpatrick is embracing the tank. Just an awful decision and throw on the move to Earl Thomas, which is VERY weird to see since he's wearing purple. A nice option decision and throw from Lamar Jackson to Marquise Brown made for another quick touchdown for the Ravens, and while nobody is surprised that they're making it look easy, it's still a bit unsettling just HOW easy it is. This looks like a college game with a top-10 team against a cupcake.

As soon as I hit "send," the Ravens had the ball back again and Jackson hit Brown for another long score, this one of the deep throw variety. Even cheating (a bad defensive hold) didn't help the Fins keep Brown from getting behind everyone.

Yeah, it's Miami, but if the Ravens have that as a legitimate and persistent threat, that changes a lot of things.

Scott Spratt: Marquise Brown has three targets. Tight ends have three. No other player has one yet. I know it's a weird blowout, but Brown may be a real WR1 for this team.

I may be the only person still watching the 28-0 Ravens-Dolphins game, but DeVante Parker made an incredible leaping catch in double-coverage. Ignoring context, it may be the catch of the week.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, I'm watching it. I've got Lamar Jackson in all my daily fantasy leagues, and I'm having a very good morning.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm watching too. Sandbar erupted in cheers (with the appropriate amount of sarcasm) when the Dolphins kicked that field goal after the incredible deep catch. Dolphins fans finally have realistic expectations for the first year since I've been down here, and it's kind of a relief. They regard not being shut out as a success for the day, and now that they're all content we might get to have the sound for another game on here after halftime. (Which is nice, because whoever is doing color for this game struggles mightily with his sentences.

Touchdown pass No. 4 for Jackson, this time to Miles Boykin. Congrats on your DFS start, Bryan...

Scott Spratt: While up 35-3 and on their own 30, the Ravens run a fake punt with 1 yard to gain and Anthony Levine Sr. carries it to within 10 yards of a touchdown. What did the Dolphins do to make John Harbaugh so angry?

Zach Binney: Miami has the Dolphins
The greatest football team
We take the ball from goal to goal like no one's ever seen
We're in the air we're on the ground, we're always in control
And when you say Miami you're talking Super Bowl!

Cause we're the, Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins number one [DRAFT PICK!]

... my modification to the fight song is not going over as well as I'd hoped at our fan club.

Bryan Knowles: Are we sure Miami's projection was low enough? I mean, they were just at -30.6%, our lowest projection in ... well, at least since the 2012 Rams, if I remember correctly. But, like...

Aaron Schatz: Miami's projection went down for the final simulation so now their projection is officially worse than the 2012 Rams. I would have to go back to all our preseason projection articles to see where their projection stands all-time among the worst projections.

Dave Bernreuther: Lamar Jackson's first incomplete pass of the day -- up 35-3 nearing halftime -- was a nicely thrown deep shot to Marquise Brown that was mere inches from being caught for what may well have ended as a third long catch-and-run score. Not a bad miss at all. The third-and-7 completion that followed (caught a yard shy of the sticks) was much worse.

The Ravens follow this with a fake punt. Up 35-3. That's kind of a dick move. And more importantly, why put that on film in a game like this? I wonder if that was just a player option based on the defense's look. Even so, not a good look.

The Dolphins can't cover anyone without holding, and Jackson wisely threw straight at it on third down, so the drive ends with an easy Mark Ingram score to make this one 42-3. In the second quarter. Maybe we'll get to see Josh Rosen in the second half ... although if I was him I'd consider pulling a Vontae Davis. It is going to be a loooooong year here in Miami. (Don't worry though, they'll still black out all the FOX games opposite these, even on doubleheader days!)

Zach Binney: By the way, we're all in agreement that we're calling Miami's process the Fish Tank, yes?

Bryan Knowles: Josh Rosen is in, as Fitzmagic has fizzled. We may also have seen the last series for Lamar Jackson, who currently is sitting on a perfect passer rating; he'd be the first Ravens quarterback to ever do that.

Vince Verhei: 42 points may actually be a bigger deficit than anything Rosen faced in Arizona last year. Regardless, it's a familiar scenario, with similar results, as his second pass is intercepted at the sideline.

And Robert Griffin is now in at quarterback for Baltimore.

Griffin just threw a touchdown pass to Mark Andrews ... on fourth-and-goal ... to put Baltimore up 59-10. I can only assume that John Harbaugh is disgusted by Miami's obvious tanking efforts and is trying to punish and humiliate them.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm OK with that. Hopefully the whole league does it to them. Even though it's the right strategy. And with over nine minutes left I'm hoping we see 60.

Rivers McCown: Baltimore is just trying to wow the playoff committee.

Kansas City Chiefs 40 at Jacksonville Jaguars 26

Bryan Knowles: What was beginning to look like a fun back-and-forth game (Patrick Mahomes has over 200 yards passing in the first quarter!) has a sour note to it now, as Nick Foles has gone back to the locker room for X-rays -- something in the left shoulder. He was sandwiched between a pair of Chiefs defenders on a deep touchdown pass and will not return. Sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew is entering the game.

Andrew Potter: It's the first half of Week 1. Nick Foles is out for at least the rest of this game, injured on his first touchdown pass for the Jaguars. Sammy Watkins just scored his second touchdown of the day thanks to a massive blown coverage. His earlier score came when he caught the ball on a curl route and danced through the secondary for the score. I'm not sure what the worst possible start to the season would look like in Jacksonville, but "can't cover, can't tackle, and starting quarterback injured" has to be high on the list of possibilities.

Vince Verhei: The first quarter isn't over yet and Sammy Watkins already has touchdowns of 68 and 49 yards. The first, Jacksonville showed no interest in tackling him; the second, no interest in covering him. And yes, of course he is on my fantasy bench.

Scott Spratt: Jags are going to trade for Eli, right? Tom Coughlin was the original one who had interest.

Bryan Knowles: Patrick Mahomes is limping off the field, and that triggered an all-out brawl in the end zone.

Dave Bernreuther: It's a bloodbath in the heat in Jacksonville. Before Foles went out, I saw Tyreek Hill carted off, although a Chiefs fan told me it didn't look that bad. Then Foles got crunched. And now Matt Moore is in for the Chiefs after Mahomes limped off. Thankfully that didn't look bad. And indeed, most of the nation exhales with relief as Mahomes takes the field two plays later.

Bryan Knowles: Just for the record, Patrick Mahomes is currently sitting on 297 passing yards, and is driving, late in the second quarter. He is technically on pace to break the single-game passing yardage record, which Norm Van Brocklin has held since 1951. And he's doing this with a banged-up ankle and Tyreek Hill out for the day. For him to get the record, he'll presumably need Minshew to keep playing well (7-for-7 for 117 yards -- hello, Chiefs defense!), and I'd be cautious with his ankle, but it's worth monitoring.

Rivers McCown: It can't be overstated how sloppy the middle of the Jags defense was playing in the first half. Guys were running wide open. Ronnie Harrison took a poor tackle angle on the first Watkins touchdown. The linebackers were a step slow on anybody over the middle over the top and that's before Myles Jack got ejected.

Minshew off to a hot start to keep them in it. He wasn't one of my favorite quarterbacks in the draft but he hasn't been asked to do all that much yet. Biggest play was a D.J. Chark catch-and-run. Chark showed a lot in the first half.

Scott Spratt: Has "Minshewian Candidate" been taken yet? He's 13-of-13 in relief of the injured Nick Foles.

Dave Bernreuther: Rules question: on a third-and-1, Mecole Hardman started on the left, motioned across, stopped, circled back around into the backfield near Mahomes, never set, and was moving slightly forward at the snap.

How is that not illegal motion?

The conversion made it possible to go from 30-13 to 37-13 on yet another Sammy Watkins touchdown, so it's mostly inconsequential, but I'm curious.

Scott Spratt: Also, "Big League Minshew."

Bryan Knowles: Just to follow up: Nick Foles has a broken clavicle. That's at least a six- to eight-week injury; more eight to 12. We won't see Foles until November at the earliest.

Tennessee Titans 43 at Cleveland Browns 13

Vince Verhei: Just saw the brown-and-orange stripes in the Cleveland end zone for the first time. It's, well, it's distinctive, that's for sure.

Bryan Knowles: They did that last year during their color rush weeks. But this year, they've got permission to use their color rush uniforms as much as they want, so they're just keeping the end zone like that.

I do not like those uniforms, but I don't like ANY of the Browns' current uniforms, so eh.

Dave Bernreuther: They're AWFUL for watching on a side screen. The numbers and names are impossible to read.

Baker Mayfield looked really good on the opening drive, which of course made fantasy players everywhere swear loudly by ending in a touchdown by Dontrell Hilliard instead of any of their popular weapons. The Browns have been mostly quiet since, save for three personal fouls on defense for beating up Mariota. This game, much like the one in Carolina, is not nearly as exciting as I had hoped.

With under a minute left in the half, Baker Mayfield hit Odell Beckham for a first down to get them past midfield, and then again to his left to get close to scoring range ... only they flagged Beckham for OPI. Replays showed him more or less dragging his man down the field, badly held well beyond 10 yards downfield, before finally shaking free. I have no idea how they decided that it was Beckham that committed a foul, but it backed the Browns up and pretty much ruined their chances, so they go to half still stuck with the six points they got on their first drive. 12-6 Titans.

Scott Spratt: Derrick Henry just took a screen pass 80 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. It had some Music City Miracle vibes, and it was probably more receiving yardage than Henry will have the rest of the season.

Apparently the Browns have 16 penalties for 157 yards? Has anyone been watching that?

Vince Verhei: I've caught bits of the second half here. Penalties haven't helped, but the wheels have just totally come off this team. Mayfield has thrown a pair of bad picks -- one into tight coverage with no chance of completion, one behind a receiver who was surrounded by four defenders. Mariota has thrown three touchdowns, all on short, easy throws off play-action. The biggest was Derrick Henry taking a screen pass 75 yards untouched for a score. Delanie Walker has both of the other two in a nice return -- his second was a cute one where he blocked inside, then spun backwards out to the flat. Tennessee's now up 36-13 as the Browns have underachieved even their most pessimistic prediction.

OK, I just checked the box score, and it's not just 16 penalties for Cleveland, but the Titans have a half-dozen first downs by penalty. That's atrocious.

And now a holding call on the Browns offense for penalty number 17, the franchise's most since 1951.

Rivers McCown: I got cut in from the Jaguars game once the power truck got hit there, immediately into the Titans making the game uncompetitive.

I'm sure we'll explore "settling for Greg Robinson at left tackle" in Any Given Sunday unless something crazier happens at that point. Mayfield was harassed often in the few plays I got to watch.

Tom Gower: Sorry, no emails from me during the game watching away from home. My normal Audibles-away-from-home diet of "halftime update of what happened in the first 30 minutes" would not have covered the blowout aspect of this time as the Titans won 43-13. Despite the final score, this one was 12-6 at the half and did not assume any blowout characteristics until the final 17 minutes.

The total story may be that, yes, it turns out having an offensive line IS actually important, and the Browns do not. Their offense started out with an excellent opening drive score, with Baker Mayfield finding time against pressure, Odell Beckham looking like a far superior athlete to Malcolm Butler, and the biggest play being a completion against Cover-2 to Rashard Higgins. Then new kicker Austin Siebert missed the extra point to keep it at 6-0 and everything fell apart. David Njoku can't haul in a pass, sack on third down, punt. Third-and-short, incomplete to Hilliard (who vultured the first touchdown from you Nick Chubb owners), punt. Nine yards on first down, incomplete on second and third, punt (on fourth-and-1 from their own 39 down 10-6, so this would have been a fun time to establish your reputation as an aggressive coach, Freddie Kitchens). Next drive, left tackle Greg Robinson gets kicked out after the first play, and they can't recover from second-and-very-long. Next drive, start backed up, get safetied. They finally did something in the third quarter, with a terrific Mayfield-to-Jarvis Landry pass on third-and-long setting up a touchdown that made it 15-13. But Mayfield tried to force a pass into a small angle, and Kevin Byard eliminated it. And Mayfield tried to force a pass to Landry with Logan Ryan in perfect coverage, and after the Titans scored to make it 36-13 the competitive portion of the game was over.

Tennessee's offense ... it wasn't great for 40 minutes. They got a couple of explosive pass plays to A.J. Brown -- one on a designed shot play and the other a great intermediate pass plus run after catch by him -- that set up a couple of field goals. Their initial touchdown drive to make it 10-6 in the second quarter included:

  • (a) 15 yards from Myles Garrett slapping Delanie Walker in the helmet,
  • (b) a Damarious Randall defensive holding penalty on a third-and-10 incompletion,
  • (c) a Sheldon Richardson roughing the passer penalty, and
  • (d) a Sheldon Richardson neutral zone infraction penalty on third-and-4.
  • Total: 47 yards of offense and 40 yards in penalties on the 87-yard drive.

The Titans were playing like a team that knew they couldn't have success with their offensive line by just lining up and playing, so you saw a couple different types of screens and plenty in obvious pass rush situations. Some of these worked, or nearly did, like one to Dion Lewis on the first field goal drive that likely would have ended in the end zone had he caught it. But at 15-13, I was worried about the Titans losing a game I thought they would looked better in. Then Derrick Henry went 75 yards on a beautiful screen to restore the nine-point lead. They cashed in both turnovers for scores, with Henry finding more running room late, and that was that but for Butler's late exclamation point.


Takeaways? The Browns' total lack of discipline. They had 96 yards in penalties through 25 minutes, 142 through 40, and finished with 182 penalty yards, and that total did not include any defensive pass interference penalties at all. Instead, it was 15-yarder after 15-yarder, with some 5-yarders and offensive holds mixed in. If you remember the Colts-Browns scrimmage that finished early because the Browns kept starting fights, this was the identity you might have seen today. The offensive line was a big issue, both with and without Robinson. Cam Wake had a couple of sacks, and he wasn't the only problem. Nick Chubb finished with a nominally decent 16-74 statline, but did not feel like a vital part of the game (6-24 in the first half). Turns out, you need more than some flashy "skill position" players to win games in the NFL.

Aaron Schatz: Last word on this game:

Indianapolis Colts 24 at Los Angeles Chargers 30 (OT)

Bryan Knowles: With all the early games at the half, it has been reported that Chargers kicker Michael Badgley will not play. Punter Ty Long will be kicking for them against the Colts. Long did kick quite a bit in the CFL, and a number of teams were interested in his kicking ability, possibly as a two-way special teamer. The Chargers were notably NOT one of those teams, but now they'll need his placekicking abilities.

Nice drive for Jacoby Brissett, leading the Colts 75 yards for a touchdown. Just one incomplete pass to open the day. Gonna calm a lot of people in Indy with a drive like that. They miss the extra point, however, and trail 7-6.

The seven comes from a Chargers touchdown that only happened because of an unnecessary roughness call on a Chargers field goal attempt. We mentioned earlier that the Chargers have to have their punter kicking; that means he can't hold, so Tyrod Taylor is holding for the first time in his life, and there's a rookie long snapper, too. A lot of uncertainty there, but they nailed the nullified field goal, and the extra point.

Dave Bernreuther: The fact that the Colts have a functional offense now makes the loss of Andrew Luck even more depressing. Plenty of movement and smart design, good blocking, and Jacoby Brissett not being asked to do too much, and they have negated the L.A. pass rush and moved the ball, culminating in a nicely designed short pass to T.Y. Hilton in which his route resembled a draw play, in that he delayed a bit at the start before heading downfield. So far it's their special teams that's the issue here, with a personal foul costing them four points against and an Adam Vinatieri PAT miss making it a 7-6 game.

Scott Spratt: Midway through the second quarter, up just one point, Philip Rivers throws it up in the air in the end zone, and Keenan Allen pulls it down in double-coverage for the touchdown. Oh by the way, he was being held the whole way.

Dave Bernreuther: The fastest half I can remember ends with another Vinatieri miss. If not for the delay after Darius Leonard had the wind knocked out of him, that may well have been at halftime in an hour.

Vince Verhei: So let me get this straight. The Chargers go through all this trouble to switch back to powder blue jerseys ... then wear white at home?

Rivers McCown: The Colts can still run the ball, but they're having issues on third down. Way too early to give up on Brissett, but that was one of his bugaboos in 2017 and I don't know how the Colts are solving it without being more run-heavy.

"The Chargers seem to really miss Melvin Gordon," he said as if it was an original thought.

Bryan Knowles: It feels like both of these teams have protection issues. The Chargers more than the Colts, mind you (four sacks already), but I've seen Brissett go down and/or be pressured every other time I flip it back to this game as well. Pass protection.

Rivers McCown: Adam Vinatieri hooks a second field goal. With a missed XP tacked on, the Colts are out seven points in a game they trail by eight.

That felt really weird to type.

Colts pick off Rivers in the end zone on a nice zone read by Malik Hooker, go the length of the field with a steady diet of Marlon Mack, and get a touchdown as T.Y. Hilton evades two tacklers after starting behind the line of scrimmage.

Forced to go for two and the tie, they RPO to Mack, who bulldozes the Chargers. What a comeback.

Bryan Knowles: I had stopped paying attention to this one down the stretch, but we have a tie game with 38 seconds left! Brissett leads a 16-play, 80-yard drive, including a crucial fourth-down conversion, to lead to a T.Y. Hilton touchdown. The Marlon Mack two-point conversion ties it up; how costly are all those Vinatieri misses?

Chargers still have two timeouts.

Dave Bernreuther: Jacoby Brissett is still not Andrew Luck, and is at times sort of a one-read QB ... but he's trusting his guys, willing to throw to one-on-one matchups and not into stupid places, and has been throwing it well, and while they're no juggernaut, the offense is working. And T.Y. Hilton, who has never been known for being tough or breaking tackles ... well, I won't say he really *broke* them, but he evaded two en route to a catch-and-mostly-run score in the final minute. What an excellent finish for the Colts when all seemed lost. And now I'm going to be late to my hockey game because it looks like we'll have overtime. Also:

Bryan Knowles: Ballgame, with the Colts never touching the ball in overtime. They played deep, deep, deep on defense, seemingly trying to take the big, game-winning touchdown away. The Chargers were more than happy to oblige, using that big space that opened up to march right down the field; a walkoff Austin Ekeler touchdown seals it. Gotta question the Colts' defensive strategy in overtime.

Dave Bernreuther: That felt like a sunnier version of the 2008 Wild Card game ending.

Cincinnati Bengals 20 at Seattle Seahawks 21

Vince Verhei: Notes from the end of the first quarter in Seattle:

  • The biggest plays in the game have been a pair of mistakes on punts. Seattle's Cody Barton committed a really dumb penalty, running into Kevin Huber way after the punt to extend a Cincinnati drive, which ended in a field goal. Then on a Seattle punt, rookie linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven forced an Alex Erickson fumble, and Seattle recovered.
  • Add Cincinnati to the list of pass-wacky teams today -- 16 passes, only three runs in the first 15 minutes. Jadeveon Clowney, playing a straight-up right-side end, has made a big impact, with two hurries and a tipped pass.
  • Bengals up 3-0.

Teams exchange touchdowns in the second quarter. For three drives, Seattle's offensive line looked as bad as any Tom Cable unit, with nowhere to run or instant pressure on every snap. On drive four they put things together. D.K. Metcalf had a nice catch and later drew a DPI in the end zone. Chris Carson had some good runs (one on a fly sweep!) and scored from 1 yard out.

Didn't take long for the Bengals to answer though. Blown coverage gave up a chunk play to C.J. Uzomah, then John Ross scores a long touchdown on a wheel route off of a flea-flicker. I should add that the flea-flicker worked even though the Bengals are still stuck on three handoffs through almost 25 minutes.

Seattle gets another touchdown on a pair of big receptions. Metcalf gets a step on the corner and Wilson drops a perfect pass over his shoulder for a big gain, then on third down Carson catches a big negative-ALEX pass in the flat and breaks three or four tackles for a 10-yard score.

The Bengals are left with a few seconds to answer. Ross gets wide open when two Seahawks bonk into each other, but drops the easy pass. Next snap, Andy Dalton forces a deep ball to Ross, who is not open. Sadly, though, Tedric Thompson is not Earl Thomas. He's in perfect position for an easy interception, but he misjudges his jump and the ball goes over him, right to Ross for the easy long touchdown, and Bengals lead 17-14 at half.

Interesting defensive wrinkles by both teams. The Seahawks are mostly sticking to base personnel against three-wide sets, using a lot of zone and giving up (mostly) short completions. The Bengals opened with a lot of five-man fronts, part of the reason they were manhandling Seattle's front early. Since then, the Seahawks have used more spread formations, the Bengals have gone to standard four-man fronts, and things have gone much better for Wilson and company.

Just watched that long Ross TD again. The Bengals were out of timeouts and there were just a few seconds left. If they had just let Ross catch the ball and tackle him there was no way the Bengals would have gotten another play. So frustrating.

Carl Yedor: While no one can reasonably be expected to completely replace Earl Thomas. The drop off from Thomas to Tedric Thompson is stark. Not that this is a surprise given Seattle's on-off splits from when Thomas was still on the team, but the Seahawks were certainly hoping for more from a guy they drafted in 2017 partly as a reaction to Thomas breaking his leg late in the year and having the pass defense crater.

Cincinnati has to be encouraged that 2017 first-round pick Ross is making an impact in Zac Taylor's new offense. Combining 4.2-range speed with the ability to scheme said fast guy open is a dangerous mixture for opposing defenses. If this is what happens against a banged-up Bengals offense, the Steelers, Saints, and Rams should not have many problems scoring on Seattle in the weeks to come.

Vince Verhei: Seattle's first three drives of the second half:

  • One play, Carson loses a fumble.
  • Run for a loss on first AND second down leads to three-and-out.
  • Sack on first AND second down leads to a three-and-out.

Throw in a bunch of good gains on screen plays and the Bengals had three drives deep in Seattle territory. Those three drives resulted in:

  • Dalton fumbling the ball away when it slipped out of his hand as he tried to pass.
  • Missed field goal (in the rain, might have had something to do with it).
  • On third-and-1, Dalton badly underthrows a wide-open tight end and it's incomplete; on fourth-and-1, Gio Bernard is stuffed for no gain. (Joe Mixon is out with a foot or ankle injury.

Wilson scrambles and finds Metcalf for a big third-down conversion at the end of the third quarter. Metcalf is now up to four catches four 89 yards, plus one DPI drawn and one OPI committed. Tyler Lockett, meanwhile, has zero targets.

First play of the fourth quarter: play-action, Wilson has plenty of time, Lockett is wide open in the middle of the field, easy long touchdown, Seahawks lead 21-17.

The Bengals gets a field goal on a drive that included roughly 1 billion short throws targeting Tre Flowers, mostly successful.

Later, Seahawks have a third-and-1 with Cincinnati out of timeouts. For I think the first time today, Seattle brings in sixth lineman George Fant. They run read option, and Carson rumbles for a big gain. That allowed Seattle to kill most of the clock before one last punt and some desperate Cincinnati stuff at the end.

Weirdly, I kinda feel like both teams could feel good about this one. Seattle, in many ways, played like garbage, but still came away with a win, albeit at home against a bad team. Things are even brighter for the Bengals. Andy Dalton, playing without A.J. Green, set career highs in completions and yards. John Ross finally played like a top-10 draft pick. Most of all, Zac Taylor called just a masterpiece of a game. He used slants, curls, and especially screens to get by with a team that wasn't going to block anyone today, and Seattle had little answer for it until late in the game when they started bringing interior blitzes to swat passes down, since Dalton wasn't giving them time to get sacks. The Bengals will kick themselves over the missed opportunities in the third quarter, but they showed a lot to work with here.

Carl Yedor: Cincinnati had the ball with about 5 minutes left and got one first down before punting on fourth-and-7 with 3:30 to play and two timeouts. Seattle gets one first down but then has to punt back to the Bengals with about 20 seconds left. The Bengals' final desperation drive goes nowhere and ends on a bizarre sack-fumble that looked like a forward pass. Had that ruling gone in favor of Cincinnati, they likely would have had time for one more possible play to reach field goal/Hail Mary range, but things were looking very grim. Seattle escapes 21-20 after giving up over 400 passing yards to Andy Dalton (on 51 attempts).

Seattle seemed like they were staying in their base defense with Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Mychal Kendricks at linebacker, so the Bengals responded by going super pass-heavy. As in, 78% pass in a game that was close throughout. I wonder if Cincinnati will continue to be that pass-heavy in more neutral game script situations; they averaged only 2.4 yards per carry throughout behind a banged up offensive line.

San Francisco 49ers 31 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17

Bryan Knowles: Kwon Alexander's San Francisco debut was, uh, notable. A couple of huge hits, a dropped interception, and then a helmet-to-helmet blow on Jameis Winston which had him ejected. All in the span of one quarter.

Andrew Potter: Cameron Brate has had two touchdown grabs called back on the most recent Buccaneers drive, both on holding penalties against right tackle Demar Dotson. The first was a well-designed screen, the second an athletic grab in the back of the end zone. Brate will continue to draw those red zone looks, but not on this drive: it ends on third-and-goal from a mile away, when O.J. Howard catches a short pass and fumbles it into a crowd of defenders. Another Buccaneers red zone trip ends with nil points.

Bryan Knowles: It's OK, though, because the Buccaneers defense has the offense's back. An ugly, ugly throw by Jimmy Garoppolo goes right to Vernon Hargreaves for one of the easier pick-sixes you will ever see.

Andrew Potter: The defense has the offense's back? When's the last time we could write something like that about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Dave Bernreuther: It feels like there's has been a penalty flag in every other play in this one, including TWO holding calls that negated Cameron Brate touchdowns. The sloppy play extends to the quarterbacks, and Handsome Jimmy just threw an incredibly ill-advised pass that Vernon Hargreaves took to the house, giving the Bucs the points that we thought they had earlier (twice).

Bryan Knowles: FIVE touchdowns have been called back by penalty so far this game, three for San Francisco, two for Tampa Bay. This is unwatchable.

After 281 consecutive pass attempts, the 49ers finally come down with an interception -- their first since late October of 2018.

It has been a long time since I've seen a football game this sloppy.

Twelve combined penalties, negating five touchdowns. Ugly interceptions on both teams, including turnovers that prevented sure-fire field goals for each squad. Players disqualified, borderline pass-interference calls...

7-6 Buccaneers in a half of football that should be burned and forgotten by all involved.

In an exciting and creative twist, this time a penalty sets up a touchdown rather than taking one away. Garoppolo airmails his receiver, but is bailed out by a (somewhat ticky-tack) pass interference call. Very next play, he finds Richie James Jr. in stride for a 39-yard touchdown; the first really, really good throw he has made all day long.

The 49ers have now tied their interception total for all of 2018. Jameis Winston throws a perfect pass right to Richard Sherman (I believe the receiver fell down), and he takes it back to the house. It's only his third career pick-six, which shocks me considering Legion of Boom etc., etc., etc., but I suppose it's hard to get a pick-six when no one will throw the ball at you.

Nice bounce-back drive from Winston and the Buccaneers -- an 11-play, 75-yard drive which included a huge conversion on third-and-12. This time, Marquise Goodwin beats Sherman in the end zone for a touchdown, and it's back to a one-score game.

The 49ers now have more interceptions than they did in ALL of 2018. Ahkello Witherspoon picks up the 49ers' second pick-six of the day on the ugliest pick-six of the game, a comparison that has a lot of competition today. Who was Winston even throwing to? Should have been thrown right into the ground.

The defense bails out the offense, and the 49ers should hang on to this one for a win. Ugly, ugly win -- but considering they've had just five road wins since Jim Harbaugh left, one they'll take.

Rivers McCown:

  • 49ers 17
  • Bucs 17
  • Jameis Winston pick-sixes 14

Winston still has two minutes to drive to take the lead. Which lead?

New York Giants 17 at Dallas Cowboys 35

Aaron Schatz: Cowboys using a lot of 12 personnel early, with both Jason Witten and Blake Jarwin. Jarwin ends up snagging their first touchdown of the game when he goes up the seam against what looked like a Cover-2. The announcers pointed out that inside linebacker Tae Davis bit on play-action, but I don't know if he would have been the guy to backpedal that far and cover Jarwin anyway. The Giants also had a touchdown drive that was mostly a 58-yard carry by Saquon Barkley, so it is 7-7 after one quarter.

Rivers McCown: Very proud of the Giants for establishing the run early. It paid off for them.

Amari Cooper made a big difference for Dallas last year. He's getting open quite easily in structure against the Giants. Michael Gallup is getting one-on-one against some of the lower rungs of the Giants cornerback depth chart and exploiting it.

Tom Gower: Looked like a pretty good first half for new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and Dak Prescott. Amari Cooper is still good, Randall Cobb has been effective, and Michael Gallup looks like he's an improved player. Zeke has been splitting time with Tony Pollard, but who cares other than fantasy owners like me -- they've been passing well and often.

Bryan Knowles: Why bring Daniel Jones in with 1:50 left in a blowout?

Detroit Lions 27 at Arizona Cardinals 27 (OT)

Aaron Schatz: The Cardinals kicked a field goal to go down 17-6, with fourth-and-4 at the Detroit 24 with 4:43 left in the third quarter. If you're Arizona, you've got to use some David theory and be extra aggressive in situations like that. Detroit came back on the very next drive and went 82 yards down the field to make it 24-6 on a T.J. Hockenson touchdown catch.

Tom Gower: Have we already noted that the Cardinals kicked the field goal and fourth-and-goal from the 2 down 17-0 in the first half? Because if we're noting this decision, we should note that one too if we haven't.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, but wait, as long as we're noting Arizona decisions, how about the fact that they then kicked yet another field goal to go down 24-9 with 11:00 to go. Yes, it was fourth-and-9 from the Detroit 16 and that's a tough situation to convert in, but guys, at some point you need some touchdowns to catch up to Detroit.

Tom Gower: Since we're piling on the Cardinals, I'll note that Kliff Kingsbury kicks the extra point down 24-15 with 5:57 to play, rather than learning whether he needed one score or two to potentially get a result.

Aaron Schatz: Arizona finally gets a touchdown as David Johnson burns linebacker Jalen Reeves Maybin up the seam. Down nine, the Cards kick the XP first to "stay within one score."

Bryan Knowles: Hey, the Cardinals found the end zone! Finally! I mean, too little too late from the offense that was supposed to revolutionize the NFL, but hey!

Aaron Schatz: Oh my god the Lions are going to blow this. They had the perfect play called on third-and-5, with J.D. McKissic crossing left to right in the backfield and he was all alone. Easy swing pass and first down. Except the Lions has called a timeout right before the play. So they take that off the board and on the replacement third-and-5, the Lions for some reason run what looked like four verts (?!?!) and threw deep. And Stafford totally underthrew his guy, so out comes the punter. And Sam Harris' punt is partially blocked! So now the Cardinals have the ball at their own 40 with 2:31 left.

Bryan Knowles: The announcers for this one said "boy, we were wrong to doubt the Cardinals when they kicked that third field goal, because look at them now."

No! No, you weren't! If they had scored a touchdown instead of a field goal there, that Larry Fitzgerald touchdown would have been for the win! Instead, the two-point conversion just gives us a tie game.

Aaron Schatz: Cardinals march down the field in overtime, mostly on a great sliding catch by Fitzgerald on the left sideline, but they stall out inside the 20. Field goal. Then the Lions move down the field with a couple of nice play-action passes to Marvin Jones. They stall out inside the 20 too. Field goal. Now 27-27 with 3:45 left.

Bryan Knowles: I don't know why Kingsbury punted with a minute left to try to preserve a tie. I don't know why Danny Amendola didn't just step out of bounds. I don't know how Tramaine Brock didn't hang on to a game-winning pick-six (or at least a chance at a field goal).

This game was fit to be tied.

Aaron Schatz: I do understand Kingsbury punting to preserve the tie. A tie is better than a loss. He's a new coach. He's not going to hand the other team the ball close to field goal range with a chance to win the game, which is what they do if they don't convert the fourth-and-7.

Bryan Knowles: Counterpoint: the Cardinals are not going to be a good football team this year. They're not legit playoff contenders or anything. This isn't like last year, when the Colts damaged their playoff odds by not playing for a tie. If I'm Kingsbury, I'm giving Murray a shot there.

Aaron Schatz: It's early in the season. Every team has a right to think its a playoff contender. You should know when to be aggressive because you're the underdog but it's OK to not think you're a loser as well.

EdjSports ran their numbers on the Cardinals' decision to punt in overtime. Treating a tie as half a win, the simulator was in favor of going for it, but only by 0.4%. In other words, it was pretty much an either/or decision for Kingsbury.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3 at New England Patriots 33

Rivers McCown: Josh Gordon has Logged On.

Carl Yedor: Mark Barron seems to be the guy on Pittsburgh's defense that McDaniels is going after. Him on White in man coverage seems like a solid win for New England, especially coming off motion across the formation.

Aaron Schatz: Gordon was totally open in the middle of the field on that touchdown. At first I thought it was zone but on further review it looked like man coverage and just ... nobody took Gordon when he made a short cross.

The third drive, the Patriots had Philip Dorsett wide open on the right side on second-and-goal but Brady overthrew Rex Burkhead on the left side instead. There have been a lot of open guys running around for the Patriots. That drive ends with a field goal so we're at 10-0.

Scott Spratt: What does everyone think is the theory behind the Patriots not having an official defensive coordinator? Do they split up the work normally done by the coordinator among the Belichicks and Jerod Mayo?

Aaron Schatz: I'll ask around at halftime...

Phillip Dorsett beats Mike Hilton easily up the seam, open for another touchdown to make it 17-0. Pats are a well-oiled machine right now and they're about to add Antonio Brown to this.

Rivers McCown: Cool season.

Bryan Knowles: Yeah, that's ballgame. I'm sorry, but Pittsburgh has provided roughly zero fight today.

Aaron Schatz: Steelers finally go for fourth-and-1 on Patriots 47. They go 11 personnel, don't get the look they like, call timeout. Come out in an empty backfield, shotgun. I'm thinking quarterback draw? There's a colossal gap in the middle of the Pats defense if Big Ben wants to try it.

Nope, pass to Donte Moncrief, defensed by Patrick Chung, turnover on downs.

Tom Gower: Patriots up 20-0 at the half. The Steelers defense that looked really good against the Titans in preseason Week 3 is not to be found tonight, with the Patriots going to mesh-style double-crosser concepts to rip them apart in man coverage, and finding zone voids in other times. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's lack of receiving depth beyond Juju Smith-Schuster is an issue against a team like New England. I didn't expect this to be much of a game, given Pittsburgh's history in Foxborough, but I was hoping for more than we got through 30 minutes. Oh well.

Aaron Schatz: I would like to congratulate Mike Tomlin for kicking a field goal from the 1-yard line and turning a three-score game into a three-score game.

Rivers McCown: Pittsburgh's decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 down 20-0, with 25 minutes left in the game, was such a powerful copout that even the very conservative broadcast booth slammed it.

Special shout out to the third-and-goal play call: throwing a fade to a guy who disappoints every team he joins. (Donte Moncrief.)

Dave Bernreuther: If you're down 20-0 against the Patriots and you're on the 1 and you kick a field goal you should be fired before the quarter is done. That's absolutely inexcusable.

So naturally the Pats throw it deep a minute later and it's 27-3.

Dorsett is having a nice sendoff in his last game as a regular player on this roster...

Carl Yedor: Maybe as a karmic reward, the Patriots then score in four plays, hitting a big play down the field to go up 27-3. Still theoretically a three-score game but...

Aaron Schatz: Also, put this wherever, but asking a few people in the Patriots press box, here's their thought about why Belichick doesn't name a defensive coordinator.

  • It's possible that he's teaching both Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo, they come up with the game plans together, so nobody is the sole defensive coordinator.
  • This is just what he has always done; he doesn't trust people enough until they've served in the job for a year before he gives them the title ... Bill O'Brien had to wait for the OC title, Patricia had to wait for the DC title, Flores wasn't technically DC last year.
  • Related to that, he's still smarting over Eric Mangini. There's a rumor that he had a deal with Mangini that if he made him DC, Mangini would stick around for a certain number of years. And instead, Mangini left to go to a division rival after just one season. And so Belichick doesn't want anyone leaving after just one year as coordinator like that. But it didn't work with Flores, because it was so obvious Flores was the guy even though he didn't have the title.

Anyway, those are some thoughts on it from the collective New England press.

As a couple of people pointed out, the Steelers just had inside linebacker Vince Williams covering Josh Gordon on what ended up as a 46-yard catch for Gordon. That's a bit of a mismatch.

Dave Bernreuther: Well there was a safety there too, ostensibly to assist, but he turned the wrong way and never had a chance.

On third-and-10, Roethlisberger flat-out drops a snap. And NOW they go for it on fourth down. And 9. Much more likely to lead to points. Well done.

I'm not sure what's more nauseating here; the Steelers' effort overall or the non-stationary sideline cameras.

Rivers McCown: Isaiah Wynn immediately looks good in his first start, Gordon looks beastly, Rex Burkhead mixing in well, Ted Karras held his own.

I don't know how you leave this game feeling bad about anything if you're the Pats. And you get a fifth preseason game next week to work on Antonio Brown.

Dave Bernreuther: It amuses me that the team with Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Philip Dorsett, and soon Antonio Brown just ran a second-down play with James Develin and Rex Burkhead split out wide.


148 comments, Last at 11 Sep 2019, 6:55pm

47 Thank you for putting in…

Thank you for putting in that time! 

I'm sure there have been a few 6-2 games on record, but now I want to see an all-defensive score 6-2 Scorigami. Maybe we can get one of these involving the Bears this year. Too bad they don't play the Jets.

12 "and was moving slightly…

"and was moving slightly forward at the snap."

I've been seeing a lot of that in college lately and pre-season. I'm not sure if that's a rule change, or just incompetent officiating.

17 It's a shame that

"Aaron Schatz: I would like to congratulate Mike Tomlin for kicking a field goal from the 1-yard line and turning a three-score game into a three-score game.

Rivers McCown: Pittsburgh's decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1 down 20-0, with 25 minutes left in the game, was such a powerful copout that even the very conservative broadcast booth slammed it.

Special shout out to the third-and-goal play call: throwing a fade to a guy who disappoints every team he joins. (Donte Moncrief.)

Dave Bernreuther: If you're down 20-0 against the Patriots and you're on the 1 and you kick a field goal you should be fired before the quarter is done. That's absolutely inexcusable."


staff can point this out but users get banned for it.

25 Did they finally ban Tomlin…

In reply to by SlevinKelevra

Did they finally ban Tomlin is Infallible? In fairness I don't think these staff members are 1-issue commentators. 

Honestly I feel like Tomlin has evolved into an Andy Reid-like figure. Good at player development and keeping players pulling together, but poor at game-day coaching. Unfortunately unlike Reid it seems he also sucks at scheme, a fact which appears to have been covered up by working with great coordinators that stayed for a long time. Honestly I think that Steelers team could be back in business with some changes at the assistant level.

32 Keeping his players pulling…

Keeping his players pulling together?  You need to watch last year's season of Days Of Our Steelers, brought to you by the same guy who created Sacksonville Abbey and General Hospital, on Youtube.  I can't tell you the guy's name because it would get me kicked off the comment board, and also the Steelers twitter feed.

56 Count me among those who…

Count me among those who think the Steelers should get rid of Tomlin. I hate having to walk back earlier defenses of him, especially when I now find myself in agreement w Mr. Infallible.

The Steelers were again so comically awful in coverage against NE, a team that has eaten their lunch for the better part of two decades. It was almost as bad as that 2016 opener where they inexplicably left Gronk uncovered the entire game.


Were this only a gaffe against NE, I'd be more forgiving. But Pitt chronically underachieves, with last year's meltdown a particular lowlight. This team was the only team to rank in the top 5 in RAP in offense and defense and still miss the playoffs.


Fire Tomlin

67 The list of coaches who…

The list of coaches who should never be fired, or should have never been fired, and who have been a head coach for 5 years or more, can probably be listed on one hand. It's no real concession to say Tomlin's become ineffectual in Pittsburgh, and needs to go. There's no point in making that decision this week, but there may be in 12 weeks or so.

The issue I had in the Tomlin debate that was so frequent here was the contention that he was a bad NFL head coach, in the face of a winning percentage over 100 games plus that indicated otherwise. I certainly could see a reasonable argument that he was overrated, but to say that someone with that winning percentage was a bad head coach was, to me, ridiculously dismissive of how hard it is to go 8-8. Even with good or great players it is hard, because as seen with Antonio Brown, it can be really damned difficult to manage good and great players, especially with 53 players to manage. The likelihood that Tomlin's been a bad coach for the balance of his career is pretty small.

72 the likelihood is that…

the likelihood is that Tomlin as a coach (ability) with a typical NFL team/roster is closer to the 2-5 record the Steelers have in the last 7 games is very high. He walked into a (by NFL standards) golden situation that managed to hold itself together well enough to win 8-10 games on autopilot for a decade .

The issue is that people such as yourself correlate win % with coaching ability as if they are 100% causatively correlated.
Bill Belichik would go 1-15 against the NFL if you replaced his roster with the 53 best players from Abilene Christian. He'd still beat 1 team though.

77 The issue is people like you…

The issue is people like you using 7 game samples to form judgements that you describe as being "very likely" to be accurate, at the expense of hundreds of other games. This is unwise. The issue is people like you who think that 8-10 wins a year, for a decade, can be accomplished on "autopilot" in the NFL.  The issue is people like you who don't actually pay attention to what other people have written, and thus you falsely write that another person did "correlate win % with coaching ability as if they are 100% causatively correlated", when the other person explicitly spoke of likelihoods, not certainties, meaning they were explicitly rejecting "100% causitive correlation".

Also, must we make this exchange about something as trivial as football games so negatively personal? If so, I'd rather skip it. How ya' doin', Omar?

102 7 games is all we have to…

7 games is all we have to sample from under the current conditions.

There are things called outliers in statistics. His W/L record despite his actual coaching ability is one of them.

I pay attention to plenty you have written.

108 Yeah, I know there are only…

Yeah, I know there are only 7 games. That's the point; when answering the question "Has Coach X been a bad NFL head coach from the years 2007-2018?", it is unwise to use the 7 data points obtained in the last 2 plus months of games to form a judgement which you think is "highly likely" to be correct. I concede that he may be bad now, but that wasn't what I was talking about, just like I never stated or implied that win% was 100% causitively correlated with coaching performance.

136 More than a Feeling?

I'm starting to think that in recent years, Pittsburgh had better talent than their record indicated and that a significant part of the  blame for suboptimal performance is on Tomlin.

98 I would'nt be surprised if…

I would'nt be surprised if Tomlin has hit his expiration date in Pittsburgh, but I also believe that we should be wondering if BIg Ben may be coming up (or a bit past) his expiration date.   

63 Do you honestly think

In reply to by SlevinKelevra

That dude got banned for a one-off negative comment about an NFL head coach, instead of the constant, grade-A asshole behavior?

130 He had a weird schtick about…

He had a weird schtick about Tomlin that persisted across seasons and was a comment on every single audibles thread, even when they won but especially when they lost. If they won, it was because the team was uber talented and they should have won by 20 more points. When they lost, it was entirely a product of Tomlin.


Like Will, I don't think Tomlin is necessary a great coach, but it became a tired narrative and agenda spewing when Mr. Infallible was involved. When someone seems to lose all objectivity, its time for a bit of self reflection. We all need it time to time.  

18 Kudos to Miami brass

After years of pretending the AFC east was competitive (It hasn't been in over a decade) the Miami franchise finally decided to take the fans money and run. The best news in this is, I didn't watch the game, won't watch any games, can't understand why anyone would watch these games. The NFL is dead in Miami and I won't be back for the playoffs either because I'll be knee deep in watching other sports that have teams that try. And for all the just wait for the future talk. You mean Miami is tanking to get picks to build for the future just like how the Browns did it? The Browns got blown out too this week. So there's that. All Miami's future seems to be is hoping future drafts will rise them back to the dull 7-9 level we were all sick of watching already. Until the NFL fixes it's product and actually has a competitive AFC east (Err... AFC in general these days), why should fans of the Jet's, Bills, and Dolphins watch at all? Oh but they will watch and we know it (And I'll watch a few NFC games this year where the product seems better in general), so the AFC side of the product will continue to suck for the foreseeable future. It feels like were only a few seasons from teams doing annually what they're doing in MLB these days (which isn't a good thing for the MLB product.). END OF RANT :)

27 If the NFL is dead in Miami,…

If the NFL is dead in Miami, and The U is dead in Miami, does that mean football is dead in Miami?

I'm as tired of the Patriots not  being challenged in their division as anyone (as anyone who isn't a fan of the other three teams), but I don't get how the NFL is responsible for a "fix". What is to be done? Give Darth Hoodie a lobotomy? Confiscate Mrs. Brady's earnings so Mr. Brady cares more about taking up more of the Pats' cap space? Have a dealer bring Fetanyl over to Josh Gordon's house?Have the other AFC East owners write "I will not be a moron" 100 times on a chalkboard every morning? As for the rest of the AFC, how does the league fix the fact that a Chief pass rusher wasn't able to line up onside on the last possession of the game? I suppose they could pay Wade Phillips to be defensive consultant for every AFC team on the Pats' schedule, but the Rams may object to that.

Dont mean to be too harsh; it sucks to have the team you follow be looking up at achieving mediocrity, and tanking in the NFL is a really stupid strategy.

97 tanking in the NFL is a…

tanking in the NFL is a really stupid strategy.

I was thinking about this too. Has tanking ever worked out in the NFL? I can't think of a single example, no matter how loosely I define "tanking" or "working out".

I think bad teams in 1997 maybe should have tanked, but that's a one-year thing to get an obvious HoF QB. Is Tua really that great of a prospect that he's worth tanking for? Was Mayfield last year, theoretically?

110 Nah, it was even dumb in…

Nah, it was even dumb in 1997. First, the injury rate in the NFL is too high, and you just don't get near-certain top 5 careers in football like you do in basketball, and one football player, even at qb, can't have the impact that a basketball player can have. You really are better off trying to teach the guys you have on your roster how to win games, so you can identify who might become a useful player.

116 I may be in the minority but…

I may be in the minority but I'm amenable to tanking if it is able to get you a good bite at the quarterback Apple, provided your owner is allowing you to be patient enough to grab that quarterback without reaching.

31 Feel just like you Johonny. …

Feel just like you Johonny.  I admit disagreed with your stance for a long time, but I'm there.  Just want to say, that while Bills won't be challenging the Pats for anything this year (barring some brutal injuries or an asteroid), they may be a playoff contender if Allen is as accurate as he was yesterday.  As a Jets fan, I'm just hoping they become the first 0-16 with a -20 point differential.  Get rid of Gase, free Sam.

In other news, anyone see the new Godzilla movie this Summer.  I really loved it when the heroine used a Fenway Park transmitter to get all the monsters to destroy Boston.

34 Oops, forgot about the "Have…

Oops, forgot about the "Have Godzilla Attack Boston" approach to fixing the AFC East.

Eh, who am I kidding? Godzillla likely is a meth freak, who'll get popped just as he enters Boston Harbor, get suspended for a month, then have his contract with the league voided. Darth will then sign The King of Monsters as Gronk's replacement in Week 9.

81 I watched a bit of the…

I watched a bit of the second half of the Jets-Bills game. I felt bad for you as I saw Gase was doing the exact same things he was doing last year. Allen did not look very accurate in the part I watched, though. One throw was behind, another into an empty spot of the field, and the long underthrow that was caught. Maybe he planned it that way, but you know, I don't think so...

120 From what I saw Allen's…

From what I saw Allen's accuracy has improved tremendously, from god-awful to below-average/acceptable. His decision-making is still the main problem, but that's something that can be hopefully weaned out of his system (although Jamesis shows it's not a given). Either way, I don't think he will be a bust at this point. The Bills have smart coaches and a solid long-term plan for developing players, which I can't even believe I'm typing at this point. 

The only sad part is I think they should have gone for a real talent like L Jackson. Maybe Rosen even succeeds behind their plan, and Darnold definitely does. So much of a QB's success is contextual, and the Bills have a decent context. Allen will probably develop enough so the Bills are continually stuck between 7-9 and 10-6 for the next ten years with no real hope of winning a championship, a la Carolina with Newton or Detroit with Stafford.

51 I get that with the Patriots…

I get that with the Patriots going to the Super Bowl 3 years in a row it feels like the AFC isn't competitive, but in truth the AFC championship games have been extremely competitive the last two years. Obviously the NFC is more competitive, but the AFC's competitiveness is waaaay beyond the AFC East's "competitiveness."

76 I don't the ultimate result…

I don't the ultimate result is the same as competitiveness. If a team won eight straight titles but won each of their playoff games by one point, I'd still say the league was very competitive (and obviously, that team was getting insanely lucky). There have been plenty of times over the years where other teams without those QBs almost broke through. The Jags two years ago, the Jets when they played the Steelers in the 2011 season, KC last year. It's only in retrospect that everything is predictable.

Also, Manning switched teams. Usually competitiveness refers to teams, not individual players.

78 Do you have a rebuttal of my…

Do you have a rebuttal of my observation, or just evasion?

The Lions have 9 division titles in their history (yes, this is correct). They have two since 1991. They have none since 1994. Had they played in the AFC East in the Brady era, they would have another 2, with two more that came down to tie-breakers I didn't feel like hashing out.

The Pats, having been traded for the Lions into the NFC North, would have 5 more seasons of not winning their division, rather than the one year total in the Brady era.

There is no competitiveness in the AFC.

83 You are the one evading…

You are the one evading. First you talked about the competitiveness of the entire conference, in the context of who goes to the Super Bowl. That's what I addressed. Now you are talking about a single division. Your post doesn't have much of anything to do with what I wrote.

137 Say What?

If the Lions were in the AFC East, they would have played different teams and almost certainly ended up with different records. Same also goes for the Pats in the AFC North.

Also not taken into account is that the reality of spending twenty years in the same division as the best franchise in the sport has taken a heavy toll on the other division franchises.

80 "There is no competitiveness…

"There is no competitiveness in the AFC."

I wasn't trying to say the AFC was "competitive." I'm just saying if you say "there's no competitiveness in the AFC" then there's *massively negative* competitiveness in the AFC East. The two situations aren't even remotely comparable.

62 The AFCCG may have been…

The AFCCG may have been competitive, but the AFC is so incredibly top heavy that the games leading up to it typically aren't. For instance, is it really a stretch to say in Week 1 that it will be the Patriots vs the Chiefs/Chargers again? No one else is better than just "good" and most are mediocre to average at best.

93 Let's not conflate terrible…

Let's not conflate terrible afc east with uncompetitive AFC. Aside from the Manning led teams, the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers have been pretty good. 


It seems to me the real issue is none of the other great QBs in the afc has figured out how to defeat a Bill Belichik defense. Basically, the only thing stopping the pats from representing the AFC in perpetuity was Manning

122 Yeah, that is, I believe,…

Yeah, that is, I believe, the main thing people mean when saying the AFC isn't competitive. Rivers, Rothlesburger, Luck, etc, every one of them constantly got chewed up by the Patriot machine whenever they ran into it. The Steelers are particularly egregious about it (perennial season record powerhouses that stumbled everytime against the Pats). That has cemented the idea of being non-competitive, because no matter how good said team & good->great QB that heads it is and do in during the season, its expected now that they'll get beaten, or worse, finally be actually winning and inevitably make some mistake that the Patriots capitalize on and come back and win. And of course, the Patriots won't miss on the playoffs and a high seed because their entire division keeps being a dumpster fire. Even when they look like crap at the beginning of the season or stumble, other good teams stumble worse/trip up, letting the Patriots back in.

It makes any excitement for the AFC have a ceiling, because it always runs into "wow they look good. Though they'll still lose to the Pats for some reason, but yeah, they look good... maybe Brady will finally get old or something?"

123 It helps when the Patriots…

It helps when the Patriots don't have HFA.  Then, if knuckleheads don't line up offside on the Patriots last possession, or stupidly try to return an int that needs no return, the chance of the Empire losing a playoff game significantly increases.

131 Something Mr Manning at…

Something Mr Manning at least made the Patriots think over. I wonder if every Pats fan wasn't secretly fist pumping the moment Manning retired/declined into nothingness. Comparatively speaking, he seemed like the only one who could effectively puncture through the vaunted Pats defense. At a minimum, they could not get away with 0 pass rush like they can against the other qbs. 

139 The Pats have had a merely…

The Pats have had a merely situationally good defense for about a decade now. A vaunted defense is one that you can lean on, and win a championship,  if you have an o-line that looks like 5 drunks trying to find a set of car keys in a dark parking lot, or a physical and/or mental wreck at qb. The common thread of the Patriots for 20 years, beside a HOF qb with somewhat modest financial ambition grabbed in the 5th round, and a coach who made a bargain that makes Faust look like Job, is that year in, year out, with almost zero exceptions, they get m-effers blocked. They may not always look like the '62 Packers, but they never suck, and if you dare put 6 in the box to defend against Financially Non-Ambitious Tom, they'll go all Csonka, Kiick, and Morris on your ass. As much as I've tired of them, I'd admire the hell out that.

142 Yeah, that more than…

Yeah, that more than anything is what I want. Other teams to rise to the occasion consistently, turn the AFC into a fun four-way (or whatever), rather than being stuck hoping the Patriots will finally fall apart and have it stick. Its been two decades, isn't the NFL supposed to follow success like lemmings? *grouse*

28 It shouldn't be time to…

It shouldn't be time to panic for Browns fans. You pretty much cannot win a game giving up 200 yards of penalties. There was some gross indiscipline in there for sure, but it did also feel like the refs were determined to penalize anything and everything (which seems to be a week 1 trend in recent seasons). Stuff like conceding a 75 yard TD on a screen pass is unforgivable, but correctable. Having your starting LT ejected is never going to help matters. And all of Mayfield's really bad play came after he took a nasty hit whilst being sacked. Assuming he isn't badly hurt there's no reason for alarm there (although why he was then kept in the game until the very end is highly questionable). There were some flashes of good play there, the coaches just need to get everybody to calm the f*** down..