Audibles at the Line: Week 11

New Orleans Saints WR/TE/RB/ST/QB Taysom Hill
New Orleans Saints WR/TE/RB/ST/QB Taysom Hill
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions 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.

Tennesse Titans 30 at Baltimore Ravens 24 (OT)

Cale Clinton: Hot start to this one, as tempers flare in the lead up to this game:

Bryan Knowles: So far, the Tennessee defensive strategy appears to be "sell out to stop the run, as the Ravens aren't passing downfield." That's both probably right and solid enough in theory, though the Ravens were successful enough on the run to get a field goal onto the board. Dez Bryant has not been an addition that strikes fear in the heart of defensive coordinators, it appears.

The Titans' offense, meanwhile, has been helped by penalties -- a big 40-yard pass interference was the play of note on their first drive, getting the ball into Baltimore territory and eventually leading to the first touchdown of the game. It's 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Scott Spratt: Apart from Week 8 when Mark Ingram was hurt, rookie Ravens runner J.K. Dobbins has finished with 48 rushing yards or fewer every game this season. Well, he already has 47 rushing yards on six carries today. Dobbins has more carries than Ingram and Gus Edwards combined so far. Maybe he's the wrinkle to help the Ravens offense break out of their funk?

Bryan Knowles: So, I said that the Titans were daring the Ravens to throw deep. Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews were more than willing to take them up on that, picking up 30 yards on third-and-13.

I thought for sure they were going to check down, pick up some yards, and go for it on fourth down, but shows what I know. The Ravens score three plays later, though it takes them two separate reviews to do so, and Dobbins gets himself an octopus, scoring the touchdown AND catching the two-point conversion.

14-7 Ravens, midway through the second quarter.

Scott Spratt: Is octopus a football term? Maybe related to the hockey hat trick thing? I've never heard it, but I like it.

Bryan Knowles: Sports Illustrated's Mitch Golditch coined it last year, I believe -- any time someone scores a touchdown AND the ensuing two-point conversion, thus picking up eight points, it's the octopus.

Scott Spratt: Ouch, Patrick Queen. That's not how you expect Derrick Henry to injure you.

Cale Clinton: We have a Dez Bryant sighting! He has completed his first catch since 2017.

Bryan Knowles: So, scratch that "Ravens can't throw deep" plan from Tennessee. Lamar Jackson just hit Mark Andrews for a 31-yard score -- a beautiful throw, turning Andrews around and leading him right into the end zone.

Jackson only has 101 yards passing, but that counts as a monster day compared to Ryan Tannehill's 44. The Ravens have a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter, and Tennessee has to get off the deck soon here.

Scott Spratt: A play after the Titans' center gets injured:

Setting up a cool third-and-goal from the 27-yard line. Not ideal.

Aaron Schatz: Mike Vrabel just kicked a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Baltimore 4 so he could be down 21-16 instead of 21-13. That's a bad kicking decision.

Scott Spratt: The A.J. Brown YACtion on this possible Titans' game-winning drive is just absurd.

Bryan Knowles: They may have kicked a questionable field goal last time down in the red zone, but this time, the Titans weren't to be denied. A.J. Brown caught the ball about 4 yards short of a first down on third, and still managed to claw his way through three or four tacklers to get into the end zone, giving the Titans the lead. What effort by Brown!

The two-point conversion is good, as Tannehill runs out to his left, and the Titans have a 24-21 lead with 2:18 left in the game! Drama, in what was the most important game of the early window.

Bryan Knowles: The Titans were down 21-10 in the third quarter, but Derrick Henry took over the game from there. The Ravens started with the ball in overtime, but went three-and-out, opting for a screen pass and playing for field position on third down. They never touched the ball again; Henry ended up running in the 29-yard game-winning score, 30-24. What a comeback -- and a huge, huge win for Tennessee.

Cale Clinton: Dots on Henry's walk-off touchdown run

Tom Gower: Looking back a little bit, the story of this game feels like the schizophrenic day of the Titans' offense. The opening script was pretty effective, leading to an opening-drive score, and the second possession started off reasonably well until a great disguise by the Ravens defense led to Ryan Tannehill throwing a pick to Tyus Bowser. From there, the Tennessee offense went into a tank for two quarters. Even when they did score, the offense was garbage. Their field goal drive at the end of the first half finished with them gaining 10 net yards on their final 12 offensive plays on offense (an errant roughing the passer call and a fake punt both extended the drive). The second field goal drive had a third-down conversion and 50-yard play, but otherwise not much positive. Then the fourth quarter hit, and Tennessee was almost unstoppable. Derrick Henry started ripping off chunks of yardage, and oh by the way, they actually threw the ball on first downs. After three non-screen first-down passes in the first three quarters (to go with 14 runs and a screen), they called three non-screen first-down passes on their first possession of the fourth quarter, then kept it up. Baltimore was concentrating their defense on the middle of the field, and while it's still weird for me to see, both Corey Davis (all 113 yards after halftime) and A.J. Brown (all 62 receiving yards after halftime) are both capable of winning one-on-one matchups. In particular, they seemed to use Marcus Peters' preference to cheat against him, going inside and then out to beat him.

On the other side of the ball, this seemed like a pretty favorable matchup for Tennessee, with their run defense and being stronger between the hashes being a good fit for Baltimore's offense that doesn't tend to attack much outside, especially in the pass game. When the Titans offense was struggling, this didn't seem like a big deal. Lamar Jackson hit a few darts and touch throws for big gains, but if you came into this game concerned about the Ravens' lack of diversity in how their offense won games, I don't think this game assuaged your concerns. Maybe the Ravens win this game in overtime, as a mistimed snap caused a play that might have provided the game-winning score to shut down early and you could have papered over that concern. The fact of the loss, given the results-oriented nature of the NFL, maybe makes that a bit more difficult.

Detroit Lions 0 at Carolina Panthers 20

Scott Spratt: Former XFL star P.J. Walker is starting the Panthers-Lions game for an injured Teddy Bridgewater, increasing my unofficial tally of former Matt Rhule Temple starters on the team to seven. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady tried to get Walker settled into the game with an easy completion on a wide receiver screen on his first attempt, and then Walker made a nice intermediate throw to the sideline for a first down. But the Panthers offense stalled out near midfield and punted to end their first drive.

This game could be a tough watch with Walker starting and the Lions missing D'Andre Swift, Kenny Golladay, and Danny Amendola. But hey, both defenses are in the bottom 10 in DVOA. Maybe second-string offenses can still score against them.

Scott Spratt: Walker throws a pretty deep ball.

Scott Spratt: A few thoughts about this 51-yard Matthew Stafford touchdown to Marvin Jones:

  1. Flea flicker!
  2. Linebacker Shaq Thompson stayed with Marvin Jones for the entire 51 yards and then whiffed on the pass deflection.
  3. It was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty, thus summing up the Lions experience in a single play.

Scott Spratt: Bryan, rank these early-window quarterbacks: P.J. Walker, Taysom Hill, and Carson Wentz.

Bryan Knowles: I mean, Walker just threw an interception in the end zone, so I'm not overly happy with any of 'em. I think I have to cape for the presumptive XFL MVP, followed by Wentz. I'm still waiting for Taysom Hill to actually do something.

Scott Spratt: Yeah, poorly timed question because that Walker end zone pick was bad from any angle.

Scott Spratt: P.J. Walker threw his second terrible interception in the end zone, but the Panthers remain up 17-0 with six and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter. It isn't a great look for the Lions to be shut out by a team with a backup quarterback and the No. 27 DVOA defense. They had an 11.9% chance to make the playoffs at 4-5.

Scott Spratt: The Lions just secured their shutout by committing encroachments on back-to-back plays, giving the Panthers a new first down with less than two minutes left. Woof.

Vince Verhei: The Panthers were 27th in defensive DVOA coming into today.

This has to be the end for Matt Patricia, doesn't it? He can't possibly survive this.

Philadelphia Eagles 17 at Cleveland Browns 22

Bryan Knowles: The Browns drove 95 yards but ended up getting stuffed at the goal line on fourth down, coming away with zero points. That's the longest drive without scoring since 2018; it's HARD to move the ball that well and come up with nothing.

Perhaps feeling sorry for them, Carson Wentz tries to throw a screen pass to Miles Sanders and misses Sione Takitaki entirely; Takitaki easily jumps the route and runs it back 50 yards for the score to give the Browns a 7-0 lead. Oops!

Bryan Knowles: Seriously, look at this throw -- that's 4 yards off target on a screen pass. Eef.

Aaron Schatz: In Wentz's minor defense, he was whacked by a corner blitz by Denzel Ward as he was throwing the ball.

Bryan Knowles: Points! Offensive points! It's a miracle! The Browns-Eagles first half was the first this season to have zero offensive points, with the only touchdown coming off of Carson Wentz's pick-six. However, a Fletcher Cox sack-fumble (with the Browns offensive line hilariously not realizing the ball was sitting on the ground just behind them) gives the Eagles the ball inside the red zone, and even 2020 Carson Wentz isn't going to screw that one up, hitting Richard Rodgers the very next play to tie the game at seven. Exciting, high-quality football.

Vince Verhei: I'd like to remind you that we may be watching not one, but both of these teams in the playoffs, especially if Cleveland wins today.

Carl Yedor: I've been flipping between this game and the Washington-Cincinnati tilt because Washington's game is on CBS instead of FOX. (I would have Titans-Ravens normally. Sigh.) I would normally say that this sort of weather-addled defensive struggle would be a nice change of pace compared to our standard offensive fireworks if not for the fact that Cleveland just played in a similarly ugly game a week ago against the Texans. Can the Haslams pop for a roof or something? I imagine that might take away from some of the local charm, but it would likely improve the offensive output. Wentz and Baker Mayfield have both struggled mightily to move the ball, with three sacks taken and a turnover committed by each. Cleveland just nabbed a field goal thanks to a big play down the sideline to KhaDarel Hodge, but points seem likely to be at a premium given the elements.

Vince Verhei: Down 12-7 in the fourth quarter, Carson Wentz tries to turn Travis Fulgham into DeAndre Hopkins, lobbing a pass into quadruple-coverage in the end zone. The big difference between this play and the Hail Murray is that Wentz's throw came on third down with 11 minutes to go. Just a horrendous decision on Wentz's part. The pass is predictably intercepted but reversed to incomplete on replay. The Eagles kick a field goal and still trail 12-10.

But that doesn't last long. A 54-yard Nick Chubb run puts Cleveland into the red zone. Kareem Hunt runs it in from 5 yards out, and the Browns are now up 19-10. Hunt's got one hell of a statline right now: six carries for -2 yards (not a typo) and a touchdown.

Scott Spratt: Woah, this Nick Chubb stiff arm is almost as good as the one Derrick Henry hit Josh Norman with a few weeks ago.

That victim is defensive end Joe Ostman. He's 259 pounds!

New England Patriots 20 at Houston Texans 27

Cale Clinton: We've already got a fun game brewing in Houston. New England's offense, one of the worst first-quarter units in the NFL this season, marched down the field with maybe their most impressive opening drive of the year. Multiple great throws by Cam Newton, along with a continuation of Damien Harris' career performance against Baltimore, helped to orchestrate an impressive 10-play, 84-yard touchdown drive.

Deshaun Watson immediately answered with three immaculate completions against a quality Patriots passing defense. His first, a 44-yard strike to Brandin Cooks, was perfectly placed in between Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Devin McCourty, where only Cooks could come down with it. Watson completed a great ball to Jordan Akins for a pickup of 22 yards, just barely out of reach of Jason McCourty. The drive was capped off with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobbs, who wasn't even open when Watson released the ball.

Rivers McCown: Texans have no running game through three drives but their passing game has been good. It helps that there was not much pass rush from the Patriots through most of those first three drives. They were rushing three a few times; there just hasn't been much opportunity for Laremy Tunsil replacement Roderick Johnson to blow blocks. However, the Patriots coverage wasn't so great, especially on the second drive with big completions to Brandin Cooks, Jordan Akins, and then Randall Cobb in the end zone. On the last couple of plays of the third drive, the Patriots finally got the pass rush going, leading to a holding call and an almost-interception.

As far as the Patriots offense, they're connecting on passes a little more than normal, taking advantage of the run expectation with some play-action, and the running game is finding a lot of room on outside runs against the worst DVOA run defense in the league. 7-7 with the Patriots about to get the ball for a third time.

Aaron Schatz: Deshaun Watson just trucked Devin McCourty on a scramble to get into the end zone and make it 14-10 Texans. Watson looks excellent today both scrambling and passing the ball but it sure helps that the Patriots coverage is just not good enough to cover on all these three-man pass rushes.

Aaron Schatz: Texans just took a 21-10 lead on a touchdown catch to the almost entirely forgotten Keke Coutee, in the game due to an injury to Cobb. At least the Patriots tried a real pass rush on this one but Kyle Duggar's safety blitz got picked up well by Duke Johnson. Rivers has a good video:

Bryan Knowles: New England's win over Baltimore last week swung them from underdogs to favorites today against Houston, but I was less than convinced that a rain-slogged day in New England would translate to a sunny day in Houston. And, indeed, the Texans look to be taking a 21-10 lead into the half in a game that has been pretty much all Deshaun Watson carrying his team on his back -- the Texans have 274 yards, and Watson has accounted for 271 of them through the air and on the ground. He also has all three Houston touchdowns.

Can we take up a collection to get Watson a better team to work with?

Cale Clinton: I'll start the GoFundMe.

While he's still with the Texans, let's at least appreciate all the franchise firsts he'll write in Houston's history books:

Scott Spratt: Watson did sign a four-year extension in September. That may have been before the 0-3 start and Bill O'Brien firing, but it was after all of O'Brien's terrible offseason trades. Is it fair to say that he signed up for this to a certain extent? Or do young quarterbacks not have enough leverage to escape a bad situation because of things like franchise tags anyway?

Bryan Knowles: We saw what happened to Dak Prescott. I think if you get a chance to sign for a lot of guaranteed money, you take it; who knows what the next hit will bring.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots just brought it to within 21-17 with a beautiful 42-yard strike from Newton to Damiere Byrd over the not-at-all-outstretched arms of Philip Gaines in coverage. Gaines just kind of watched it sail over his head and into Byrd's hands. Still, despite the successful drive, a bit of a surprise that the Patriots aren't getting more rushing yards since the first quarter against this Houston run defense that has had so many problems this year. That drive was almost all on two deep passes to Byrd. Also, Rex Burkhead failed on a third-and-4 pitch on the previous drive and is out with a knee injury, probably done for the year.

Cale Clinton: Great work by Damiere Byrd on this route to come away with his first touchdown catch as a Patriot.

Not only was that Byrd's first touchdown reception of the season, this was Cam Newton's first touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season. Thanksgiving's this week.

Cale Clinton: Damiere Byrd is having a day. He has already picked up his first career touchdown catch as a Patriot. His 132 yards receiving marks a career-high, and his six receptions match a career high. He has really helped New England's offense stay on the field at times. Ben Baldwin's live box scores have Byrd listed at an 86% success rate and an 86% 1st Down % with an EPA/play of 2.08.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots made it down to the Houston 24 on their last drive but the Patriots can't pick up a Justin Reid blitz and Newton has to heave a desperation throw to nobody. Previous pass was batted down by J.J. Watt, his fourth batted pass of the day. Newton also threw too low for N'Keal Harry a couple of times. Not his best drive, certainly.

At the end of the day, this is just not a good Patriots team. Deshaun Watson was a one-man wrecking crew today, but the Patriots couldn't cover when they weren't getting pressure and they couldn't bring Watson down when they were getting pressure. The defense is bad. I think the question the Patriots have ask themselves is why their power running game, the best part of the team, stagnated after the first quarter against a poor run defense for Houston. Maybe how bad your run defense is when you're expecting a balanced offense is different from how bad it is when you know you can play the run first.

Vince Verhei: I don't know who's writing the Houston chapter in FOA 2021, but I suggest they read a lot of Nietzsche.

Houston wins mean nothing. Houston losses also mean nothing.

Rivers McCown: It was very interesting that the Texans actually started bringing blitzes against the Patriots -- that's something we haven't seen a lot of today and it ended both of New England's final two big drives.

Vince, as the upcoming writer of the Texans chapter, I can assure you that the Texans are much darker than Nietzche at times. This season in particular is right out of Cioran.

Longer write-up that is mostly praise of Watson here.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 at Jacksonville Jaguars 3

Scott Spratt: Bryan, was it you who mentioned how bad the Steelers' spread record has been as heavy favorites in recent seasons? I feel like they are going to lose to one of the bad teams like the Jaguars, Washington, or the Bengals. I'm just not sure it'll cost them the top AFC seed given their banked wins.

Bryan Knowles: It was indeed. The Steelers have failed to cover their last seven games as double-digit favorites, stretching back to 2017. They have only lost one of those games outright -- the Raiders upset them in 2018 -- but they always seem to have issues. Since Mike Tomlin took over in 2007, they are 10-19 against the spread as double-digit favorites. At nine games under .500, that's the worst in the league.

Cale Clinton: Well, it seems like the Steelers have finally come to play. Ben Roethlisberger used his body to read the lone high safety off of the right side of the field, creating a one-on-one ball to Chase Claypool for a great touchdown. The Steelers defense forced a turnover in their own red zone when a Jake Luton pass was tipped at the line and hauled in by Minkah Fitzpatrick. The drive was capped off by this absolute circus catch by Diontae Johnson:

... followed up by a 1-yard punch-in by Benny Snell Jr. As I write this, Pittsburgh has stopped another Jacksonville drive with a Terrell Edmunds interception to prevent a Jaguars score before half.

Cale Clinton: I don't think Mike Tomlin needs to be worried about this game having trap game potential any longer. Jake Luton has just thrown his third interception of the afternoon, giving Terrell Edmunds his second of the afternoon. Pittsburgh takes over at their own 43-yard-line up 20-3 with 8:41 left to play.

Cincinnati Bengals 9 at Washington Football Team 20

Vince Verhei: Well here's a completely insane play. First, watch what happened when the Bengals had fourth-and-goal from the 3:

So, Joe Burrow scrambles. Chase Young hits him and forces the fumble. Kamren Curl recovers for Washington, but then HE fumbles, and the ball bounces backward into the end zone, where his teammate Ronald Darby falls on it for the recovery. That should be a Bengals safety. However, there was holding on Cincinnati, so that will wipe out the play and bring up fourth-and-long and, presumably, a field goal, HOWEVER, on review, it is determined that Curl never had possession, which means it was never Washington's ball until Darby fell on it in the end zone, so that's a touchback and Washington's ball at the 20. Got it?

This play is going to light Aaron's computer on fire.

Bryan Knowles: F'n Calvinball play. Did they take into account that the Bengals were in a vortex spot?

Vince Verhei: Bengals lead 9-7 at halftime and in no way has it been that close. Washington's offense has consisted almost entirely of two plays: a 42-yard completion to Terry McLaurin on their second drive, and the goal-line touchdown run by Antonio Gibson that followed. Outside of that possession, then have run just one play in Cincinnati territory -- and on that play, Alex Smith was intercepted. Meanwhile, the Bengals reached the Washington 35-yard line on each of their first four drives, but struggled to put points on the board -- they had that wild fourth-and-goal play, and Randy Bullock missed an extra point (following a touchdown by A.J Green, his first of the year) and a short field goal. He came back and hit a field goal from 53 yards out. After that interception, Bullock missed again to end the half, but I'm not going to yell at him for missing a 58-yarder.

Bengals have doubled Washington in first downs (16-7) and nearly done so in total yardage (247-125) and turnovers are even. And they're only up by two.

Bryan Knowles: Oh dear. Joe Burrow just got sacked, and his left leg crumpled. He's being carted off with what looks like a left knee injury. That's a nightmare for the Bengals...

Cale Clinton: If this is the end of Burrow's season, what a tragic way to go out. He has really put together a quality rookie season despite not having much time to do it. Burrow had an average Time to Throw of 2.65 seconds this season, 11th in the league per Next Gen Stats. The Bengals also allowed 32 sacks through 10 games, third-highest total in the NFL.

Hope that the Bengals recognize the kind of player they have leading their offense, and spend as much capital as they can protecting him.

Vince Verhei: Please don't be Greg Cook 2.0. Please don't be Greg Cook 2.0. Please don't be Greg Cook 2.0...

Vince Verhei: The first and second picks in the draft.

Aaron Schatz: The good news about Burrow re: Greg Cook is that A) medicine has developed significantly in 50 years and B) Cook had shoulder injuries not knee injuries.

Rob Weintraub: I might just give up on football. It has been a pleasure working with all of you.

Vince Verhei: I know we're an analytics site and we're supposed to pooh-pooh things like momentum, but you could tell the wind totally left the Bengals' sails as soon as Burrow got injured. They punted on the next play, and the same Washington offense that had been so constipated in the first half picked up four first downs in their next five plays, the last of those a 3-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Steve Sims. Ryan Finley and the Bengals followed with a third-down sack and a three-and-out, which set up a Washington field goal. Bengals punted on their next drive too, and Washington has the ball to start the fourth quarter, now up 17-9.

Andrew Potter: Broadcasters often say momentum instead of morale, but they're not the same thing. It's tough to imagine much more demoralizing than losing your top draft pick, franchise quarterback, future star to a major knee injury during a season in which his development was easily the biggest thing you were playing for.

Cale Clinton: Joe Burrow gives his season send-off. Man.

Vince Verhei: Two notes on Washington's win.

  1. Alex Smith gets his first win as a starter since Week 10 of 2018.
  2. Washington moves to 3-7, tied with the Giants (who have a bye this week) and a half-game behind the Eagles, whose loss to Cleveland drops them to 3-6-1. The Cowboys are currently 2-7 and in the first quarter. In Week 17, it's the Football Team at the Eagles and the Cowboys at the Giants, and we'll find out who gets to five wins and takes the division, and I'm going to get hammered on Mountain Dew and tequila and giggle through the whole thing.

Atlanta Falcons 9 at New Orleans Saints 24

Cale Clinton: The transition from Taysom Hill: Gadget Guy to Taysom Hill: Starting Quarterback hasn't gone as smoothly as Saints fans may have hoped. Through New Orleans' first four drives, Ben Baldwin's live box scores have the Saints passing game generating -0.38 EPA/play and a 36% Success Rate on 14 dropbacks. Taysom Hill specifically has posted a CPOE of -8.9 and an estimated QBR of just 15.5. Atlanta's defense entered this game ranked 28th in the league in weighted pass DVOA.

Scott Spratt: I'm not sure if this 44-yard Taysom Hill completion continues your point, Cale, or contradicts it.

Aaron Schatz: I have no idea what No. 45 Deion Jones is doing on that play.

Cale Clinton: Emmanuel Sanders looked like a center fielder tracking down a fly ball on that play.

Cale Clinton: Implosion by Atlanta heading into half. A driving Falcons team was halted in its tracks at the Saints 39-yard line after a near-interception by Janoris Jenkins, saved only by Christian Blake tugging on Jenkins' dreads (the announcers made a point to take time and let fans know that there's technically no rule against that). Ryan took an 8-yard sack after being swallowed up by Cam Jordan. Instead of letting Younghoe Koo try a 65-yard field goal, Atlanta elected to pass, resulting in Matt Ryan actually throwing an interception this time. To add insult to injury, Brian Hill ended the interception return with a horsecollar tackle. While it ultimately resulted in nothing, it just really helped cap off an extremely Falcons close to the half.

Vince Verhei: Remember when Ben Muth accurately described Jared Goff as a human Juggs machine -- he'll make the throw if the pocket is clean and his first read is open? That has reminded me of how Taysom Hill has played today. Aside from that horrible underthrow, he has delivered a couple of nice fastballs today, but god forbid that first read isn't open and he has to go through progressions. Looks like he has never played quarterback before and he's not even sure what the rules are. The Saints are trying to protect him by throwing a lot of screens where he doesn't have to actually think. But that's what I keep thinking of watching Hill play: he's a much faster, much older version of Jared Goff.

Which raises the question of why Sean Payton is taking such a terrible risk by playing him. A loss to the lowly Falcons here could well cost them the top seed in the NFC. I'm thinking about how Payton had to face Michael Vick when he first got to New Orleans, and then had to deal with Cam Newton's entire Carolina career, and there must have been this pocket in his brain building quarterback run schemes for a decade and he just couldn't resist the urge to unleash them when he got a chance.

Scott Spratt: Maybe the issue, Vince, is that Jameis Winston isn't a great option, either? He did throw 30 interceptions and take 47 sacks last year. I feel like everyone was on the same page that he was bad until the Saints signed him.

Vince Verhei: Sure, that's why Winston is a backup. But he also threw for 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He is a hit-or-miss, hot-and-cold, boom-and-bust quarterback, but he is an NFL quarterback. I'm not sure I can say the same thing about Taysom Hill.

The Saints have 10 points at halftime, mostly due to a fluke result of a terribly underthrown pass, against a terrible Atlanta defense. Winston's Buccaneers scored 10 points or more in the first half 13 times in 16 games last year. I saw nothing in the first half to make me think that Hill, on the whole, is better than Winston.

Now, having said that, Hill was much better on New Orleans' first drive of the second half, hitting a bunch of short passes that picked up plenty of YAC. On second-and-goal, he threw a pass off his own lineman's helmet that could have been intercepted. On third-and-goal, he completed a pass to Michael Thomas short of the goal line. Fourth-and-goal from the 2, Hill scores on QB power, and the Saints go up 17-9 on by far their best drive of the day.

Cale Clinton: Saints are doing a little Falconing of their own. A 57-yard touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders was wiped off the board by an Eric McCoy holding call. Doesn't stymie them too much, as they convert the first down and continue to march downfield into Atlanta territory.

Scott Spratt: This is the best video I can find of that Hill touchdown wiped out by a penalty:

Pretty good bullet there from Hill.

Cale Clinton: An 11-yard sack on the very next series sets up a weak screen attempt on third-and-long, and the Saints punt. From up 15 and ready to kick the extra point, to up eight and handing the ball back over.

Bryan Knowles: I, too, was ready to jump all over Taysom Hill today, and his performance in the first half was sub-par, but he has settled down somewhat since halftime. I still wouldn't call his performance today good, but it has been serviceable -- his 224 yards passing involves a lot of empty calories in terms of YAC and a couple of floaters that were lucky to be brought down, and I still don't trust him to go to his second read, but he hasn't been the nightmare I feared-slash-hoped for. He just scored his second rushing touchdown of the day off of play-action; he's kind of using his legs as a checkdown option. Basically, it has been a Good Tim Tebow day, and that's more than enough to handle the Falcons.

24-9 Saints early in the fourth quarter.

Cale Clinton: Revisiting my Taysom Hill comments, things have really improved for him in this game. Through three quarters, he has bumped his EPA/play up to 0.12 -- 0.01 EPA/play as a passer and 3.68 EPA/play as a rusher. His CPOE has completely flipped, now sitting at 9.3. His estimated QBR has also gone from a 15.5 to a 58.0. He's currently 17-for-22 for 224 yards with six rushes for 27 yards and two touchdowns.

Vince Verhei: Yes, if you had told me coming in that the Saints would have a fourth-quarter lead, then I could see the benefits of Hill's safe, ground-based style over Winston's wheelin'-and-dealin'. But at this point it doesn't matter -- the Saints are just dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The last four plays of that drive: Hill run for 6 on third-and-3, Alvin Kamara run for 5, Latavius Murray run for 6, Hill touchdown run. They're just blowing the Falcons off the ball -- it's not like the Saints are running options or play-fakes. Hill is just handing off and disappearing or running himself, and whoever has the ball is gaining tons of easy yardage.

Meanwhile, New Orleans' defensive front is giving Atlanta no room to breath. The Falcons have only gained 40 yards on the ground, and they have given 33 of those yards back on seven sacks. Atlanta's first three drives of the second half: three three-and-outs, negative total yardage.

Andrew Potter: He hasn't been helped by a sieve-like offensive line, but this might be the worst game I've ever seen Matt Ryan play. He has been slow to process and statuesque in the pocket. The Saints have eight sacks, and they haven't all been the line's fault. Now, Janoris Jenkins gets the second pick of Ryan when he throws off-target into heavy coverage. The Saints defense has been so dominant, they might have won this game with Josh Hill at quarterback.

Vince Verhei: The dots on the Hill's terrible underthrow big play are hysterical. Also, long hang time on an underthrow like this is in no way a good thing.

New York Jets 28 at Los Angeles Chargers 34

Vince Verhei: Joshua Kelley: not a good football player. Last in the league in rushing DYAR, and that's him wearing No. 27, missing the block that leads to a blocked punt in the first quarter.

Jets then drive 29 yards on four straight runs, La'Mical Perine scoring from 5 yards out on the last of them. Jets lead 6-0 after Sam Ficken misses the PAT.

Scott Spratt: This is probably the Jets' best chance to pick up a win this season, Vince. Their remaining schedule:

  • vs. MIA (10th in DVOA)
  • vs. LV (14th)
  • at SEA (eighth)
  • at LAR (ninth)
  • vs. CLE (21st)
  • at NE (25th)

Although maybe the now-7-3 Browns will be resting their starters in Week 16. What a crazy year.

Vince Verhei: So far this game has been every bit the glorious trainwreck I was hoping for. Chargers respond to the Jets touchdown by driving 74 yards in 11 plays, but Keenan Allen fumbles just outside the goal line and the Jets recover. The Chargers appear to be Chargersing as hard as they can, but then it's time for Joe Flacco to throw his first pass of the day:

Chargers lead 7-6.

Cale Clinton: Scott, you forget that the Jets are still the Jets. After allowing the Chargers to drive all the way down the field, the Jets defense forces Keenan Allen to cough up the football and recovers the fumble at their own 4-yard-line. The very next play, Tevaughn Campbell jumps a shallow out route and takes Joe Flacco back to the house.

Scott Spratt: Haha, great point, Cale. I should have said this was their least bad chance to win the rest of this season.

Vince Verhei: How bad are things in New York? The Jets are now just tackling each other. Here's Marcus Maye with perfect form to bring his teammate Arthur Maulet to the ground and give Mike Williams a clear path to the end zone for a 39-yard score:

Cale Clinton: Coming off what was easily his worst start as a rookie, Justin Herbert has certainly capitalized against this Jets defense.

Last week vs. MIA: 20-for-32, 187 yards, two TD, one INT

Through just over one quarter vs. NYJ: 15-for-16, 149 yards, one TD

Scott Spratt: So, 0-16 I guess?

Vince Verhei: Tyron Johnson burns Neville Hewitt on a nine-route for a 54-yard gain. That sets up Herbert's 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Henry. Chargers now lead 21-6.

Herbert is up to 18-of-20 for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Flacco has thrown four passes, completing one (a zero-yard gain on third-and-15) with a pick-six.

Cale Clinton: ... aaand Herbert has already eclipsed 200 yards. Needed just 17 passes to surpass his total passing yards last week. The Chargers are averaging 11.2 yards per attempt on passing plays. Herbert currently has an EPA/play of 0.71 with a CPOE of 19.5. Bless the Jets.

Bryan Knowles: Scott, the Jets were at 14.9% to go 0-16 entering today, per our playoff odds. Subjectively, I'd have it closer to 40%, but people aren't good in general in differentiating between 85% and 100% chances and things like that; that's why we've got models.

I'd pick that Week 16 Browns game as their most likely win from here on out, considering the Browns occasionally forget how to football goodly. I suppose you could stretch to hosting the Raiders as their second-best chance? It ain't great.

Vince Verhei: The game settled down late in the first half, but the Chargers added a field goal at the gun to take a 24-6 lead into halftime. Officially, Herbert is up to 257 yards passing (he's got 40-some more on DPI penalties). The real rookie record (not counting guys such as Marc Bulger and Jeff Garcia who had been pro players for a while before their first NFL game) is 433 yards by Andrew Luck against Miami. Herbert likely passes that mark unless he gets pulled before then. Which may well happen, because both teams have already suffered injuries -- Quinnen Williams and George Fant for the Jets and Uchenna Nwosu for L.A. have all left the game.

Vince Verhei: More fun with Chargers numbers at halftime:

  • Keenan Allen: 10 catches (in 11 targets) for 108 yards
  • Tyron Johnson: one catch, 54 yards
  • Mike Williams: two catches, 52 yards, one touchdown
  • Hunter Henry: four catches, 48 yards, one touchdown
  • Joshua Kelley: one catch, -6 yards (sigh)

The Jets -- all of them, combined -- have three catches for 30 yards.

Cale Clinton: More context for Herbert's big numbers in the first half:

Bryan Knowles: The Jets are still technically alive for the playoffs at the moment, so now, in the second half of this one, we'll finally get to witness Adam Gase's much-ballyhood HYPERDRIVE.

... right? They DO have that gear, and Gase hasn't been just spouting hot air for weeks-slash-months-slash-years?

Vince Verhei: Hey, a Jets highlight! Breshad Perriman gets a step inside of Casey Hayward and Flacco hits him for a 49-yard touchdown.

They reviewed the play to make sure he crossed the plane. He did, and it's 24-13 now.

Cale Clinton: At this point, I'm quietly rooting for Jets competence so Anthony Lynn keeps Justin Herbert in the game and lets him keep throwing.

Vince Verhei: Ask and ye shall receive, Cale. A third touchdown for Herbert and he's up to 332 yards now. Watch the replay of this from the end zone angle -- this is a pretty special throw, a rifle of a pass that also shows anticipation for where the receiver is going to be before he's open.

Cale Clinton: Is everybody on the Chargers in on this whole Herbert thing? The Chargers have drawn three penalties that kept the Jets offense on the field. Flacco missed a pass on third-and-5 from the Jets own 30-yard-line, only to be saved by an illegal contact penalty. On an incomplete pass from third-and-3 from the Chargers 29-yard-line, Denzel Mims drew a DPI call. He then drew another on an incompletion on third-and-goal from the 2. The next play resulted in a Frank Gore punch-in.

Guess everybody wants to see Herbie take a shot at history!

Bryan Knowles: Random trivia note of the day: Frank Gore just scored his first rushing touchdown of the season, cutting the Chargers' lead to 31-19. That's the 100th rushing touchdown in NFL history by a player 37 years old or older. All but 16 of those touchdowns have come from quarterbacks, however -- Gore joins Marcus Allen, John Henry Johnson, and Fred McAfee (!) as the only running backs to plow into the end zone at his age or older.

Scott Spratt: Gore is the man, and I'm happy he scored that touchdown. But weren't the Jets going to feature La'Mical Perine coming out of their bye as a sort of tryout for the 2021 season? Apparently not because Gore has 14 touches and Perine has eight.

Vince Verhei: There you go, Scott, trying to find logical, rational thought in a Jets organization that has none to offer.

Meanwhile, Herbert can run too -- he just scrambled for first downs on third-and-2 and second-and-5. He throws incomplete on the next third down, but Jordan Jenkins is called for roughing the passer -- the 12th such call against Gregg Williams' defense this year. That sets up a field goal and a 34-19 lead. Herbert's at 366 yards inside of 70 minutes to go -- he's probably only going to get one more drive to break the record.

Vince Verhei: Flacco finds Chris Herndon for a touchdown, and now this is real interesting. Chargers lead 34-26 with about four minutes to go -- they can't just run three times and punt, they've got to kill some serious clock or score.

Vince Verhei: And instead they go three-and-out and the Jets are getting the ball back and a chance to tie.

The Chargers remain the Chargers.

Cale Clinton: Scott, I shouldn't have pointed out that you forgot the Jets are the Jets. I forgot the Chargers are the Chargers, and that they invent new ways to lose games.

Scott Spratt: It's a movable object/resistable force situation, Cale.

Cale Clinton: With the Jets failing to score and the Chargers having no reason to pass, we've officially fallen well short of 433. Still, this is Herbert's best statistical start of his rookie season. His 366 yards through the air mark a career high, and he did it while posting his second-highest completion percentage on the season. This is also the fifth time this season he has thrown for three or more touchdowns.

Vince Verhei: Jets got inside the L.A. 35 on a roughing the passer call, but four straight passes picked up a total of 1 yard and the Chargers took over. They were content to run four straight times, the last of those a 28-yard loss by punter Ty Long for an intentional safety. That still left one second on the clock, but the Jets couldn't do anything with the free kick, and the game is over.

As for the Jets, yes, it's a bizarre for a team going nowhere to devote so much playing time to a running back as old as Gore. It has almost never happened before, and never by a team this bad that should be building for the future.

Cale Clinton: Not only was today a big game for Justin Herbert, but it was also a career day for Keenan Allen. Allen notched a career high 16 receptions, and his 145 receiving yards marked a season high.

Miami Dolphins 13 at Denver Broncos 20

Cale Clinton: Rough start for Denver for this one. Drew Lock throws an interception on the Broncos' first offensive drive. Tua Tagovailoa nearly gives it right back, but a defensive holding call on A.J. Bouye nullifies the turnover and gives Miami a first down. Tua and the Dolphins drive all the way down and cap the drive off with a toe-tapping touchdown for Davante Parker:

Scott Spratt: The Broncos caught a break when the refs ruled Noah Fant down after a 15-yard catch when it looked pretty clear on replay that he fumbled before his knee touched the ground. But the team couldn't take advantage when, six plays later, Melvin Gordon failed to pick up a yard on a fourth-and-1 from the Dolphins' 14 yard-line. That gives Miami the ball down 13-10 a few minutes into the second half.

Bryan Knowles: Been paying attention to the other three games, so I was surprised to turn my head and see the Broncos up 20-10 on the Dolphins. The Miami offense is averaging 2.6 yards per play, which I'm fairly sure qualifies as "bad" -- they're outgained 328-85 so far. The vaunted Dolphins defense is getting no pressure on Drew Lock -- yes, Lock started the game with the interception, but since then he has been much more effective, spreading the ball around and taking what's made available for him. This would be a very significant upset; the Dolphins are part of that four-way 6-3 tie at the bottom of the AFC wild-card race, and the Browns have already won...

Scott Spratt: I think the Broncos may have solved the Dolphins. Melvin Gordon's second rushing touchdown pushed the team to 148 yards on 24 carries still in the third quarter. The Dolphins have the No. 8 DVOA pass defense but No. 29 run defense. Why throw the ball against them?

Bryan Knowles: The Dolphins have seen enough -- Tua has gone to the bench, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is in. Tagovailoa took a hit, for sure, but I don't think this is injury-related.

Scott Spratt: I think I lean your way, Bryan. But I'll also mention that Tagovailoa has been dealing with a foot injury. Maybe that influenced his poor performance today.

Vince Verhei: The Dolphins could be a playoff team this year, so if they think Fitzpatrick gives them the best chance to win -- and he probably does -- then they absolutely should make that switch.

Scott Spratt: Woah, Melvin Gordon was a foot away from scoring a touchdown to seal this Broncos win. But then linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, fresh off a roughing-the-passer penalty on the previous play, punched the ball out to force a turnover that should allow Ryan Fitzpatrick an opportunity to go 99 yards to tie this game.

Scott Spratt: We were this close to some serious FitzMagic!

Great read by safety Justin Simmons.

Cale Clinton: The Broncos' Hail Mary to end this game was meaningless to ALMOST everyone. With the completion as time expired, Drew Lock went from 209 passing yards to 270 passing yards. The over/under for Drew Lock passing yards closed around the 240 mark.

Aaron Schatz: Just to close the circle on Miami-Denver, Brian Flores said after the game that Tua was benched for performance, not injury, according to Michael Giardi of NFL Network.

Green Bay Packers 31 at Indianapolis Colts 34 (OT)

Scott Spratt: After a fumbled snap gave the Colts a short field, Mo Alie-Cox gave the ball back to the Packers. Stretching for a first down, he allowed safety Raven Greene to peanut-punch the ball free.

Still 0-0 early after a pair of turnovers.

Bryan Knowles: After the exchange of turnovers, the Packers continue to drive. Robert Tonyan ends up entirely uncovered on a post up the middle, and Aaron Rodgers isn't going to miss that -- 7-0 Packers midway through the first. So far, the highly ranked Colts defense hasn't done much to slow down Green Bay; the turnover was on a botched snap. Take that play out, and the Packers are averaging 10.2 yards per non-broken play.

Bryan Knowles: Some Charmin-soft defense by Green Bay on Indianapolis' ensuing drive. They were way off on third-and-13, letting T.Y. Hilton get to the sticks with no real effort, and a couple of plays later, mass confusion leads to Michael Pittman being entirely uncovered. He romps 45 yards to the end zone, and we're tied at seven. The defenses have yet to show up to Lucas Oil.

Scott Spratt: To your Packers' offensive efficiency point, Bryan, I kept thinking the Colts' No. 4 DVOA defense was propped up by a soft first-half schedule. But then they put up -18.4% and -18.1% DVOA defensive performances (where negative numbers are good) against the Ravens and Titans the last two weeks. I think it's clear now that they're a really good defense.

Aaron Schatz: Pittman wasn't completely uncovered but having just linebacker Christian Kirksey on him with nobody behind him on the entire right side of the field was not a good look.

Scott Spratt: Possibly retroactively informing that fumbled snap earlier, Packers center Corey Linsley is heading to the locker room because of back injury.

Tom Gower: By the dots, it looks like the Packers were in quarters coverage and T.Y. Hilton took the deep player to that side of the field completely downfield while Zach Pascal completely ran the deep safety out the play. Nice design, and worked spectacularly.

Scott Spratt: Heartbreaking Rodrigo Blankenship doink on a 50-yard field goal try:

Bryan Knowles: The Blankendoink was set up by Rodgers' fourth interception of the year -- a great jump by Rock Ya-Sin, though the pass should have been further up the field. No harm, no foul however -- Rodgers takes the ball after the field goal miss and hits a long pass to Davante Adams to get the ball back into Colts territory. He also throws a little quasi-screen to Equanimeous St. Brown which turns into a 23-yard NEAR-score -- St. Brown leapt for the Pylon, but couldn't quite get it in. No matter; Aaron Jones scores the next play, and the Packers have a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Packers blocking on screens has been excellent today. They just followed up a Philip Rivers tipped interception with a couple of passes to an open Jace Sternberger and then Davante Adams on a screen pass goes into the end zone. Green Bay is protecting well against the pass rush and finding holes in the zone.

Bryan Knowles: It's a day for big defensive plays, if not necessarily good down-to-down defense. The Packers and Colts have combined for four turnovers in about 20 minutes of football -- this time, it was Philip Rivers throwing a tipped ball which ends up in the breadbasket of Christian Kirksey. It's hard enough to beat the Packers when you're playing well; when you keep giving them short fields, you risk being blown out early. It takes the Packers just four plays before Davante Adams scores, and it's 21-7 Packers -- each score coming off of a turnover (or missed field goal, which is the same basic thing).

Bryan Knowles: I am not a defensive guru, but may I suggest that Preston Smith on Trey Burton is not a wise defensive strategy.

Bryan Knowles: Rock Ya-Sin had the great interception earlier in the game, but now he has a painful pass interference call on his ledger for the day -- a 51-yard foul on third-and-1. He's hot, but he also had Marquez Valdes-Scantling's arm in a lock for about 10 yards. Not the most egregious pass interference in the history of the league, and another point in the "maybe pass interference should be a 15-yard foul" column, but it was a foul. Packers get the ball at the 1, score on the next play, and take a 28-14 lead into the half.

Certainly wasn't boring, if perhaps not the best played half of football you'll ever see.

Aaron Schatz: Two scoring drives for the Colts with a Packers three-and-out in between have made this game 28-25. The first drive was all runs until the Colts got inside the 20, then suddenly switched to passes that weren't having much success. Rivers ended up taking a sack on second-and-goal from the 11 which really knocked things back and the Colts had to settle for the field goal. Second drive had more success with the pass, including those patented Colts passes to running backs and then a beautiful ball dropped right in the bucket to T.Y. Hilton for 23 to get them near the goal line. Jack Doyle had an easy little curl against zone to score the touchdown, and then Nyheim Hines ran in the two-point conversion. Still, the Colts have got to figure out a way to bring more pressure on Aaron Rodgers on the Packers' next couple drives or they won't be able to finish this comeback.

Aaron Schatz: So far, so good for the Colts defense in the second half. They forced a second three-and-out and then Philip Rivers brought the Colts from their own 36 to the Green Bay 12. But Rivers got hurt on a pass to Trey Burton, so in came Jacoby Brissett. Brissett had already come in on a couple of third and fourth downs in clear running situations, but in this situation they handed off to Jonathan Taylor instead of Brissett taking it himself, and it failed. Field goal makes the game 28-28.

AND WAIT! The Packers have fumbled the ensuing kickoff! Brissett is on the field as the Colts take the ball back at the Green Bay 28! And Rivers comes back in after the first play!

Scott Spratt: Man, these afternoon games all went from boring to fascinating in the last 15 minutes.

Aaron Schatz: Colts end up going three-and-out, sort of. It looks like Jonathan Taylor breaks through the Packers' first line of run defense on third-and-2 and goes all the way for the score, but it got called back on holding on receiver Zach Pascal. Then a Green Bay offside, followed by a Trey Burton drop that wouldn't have gotten a first down anyway. Blankenship makes the field goal and the Colts have come back from 28-14 at halftime to make it 31-28.

Aaron Schatz: Colts stop the Packers on fourth-and-1. The Packers went play-action and the Colts doubled Davante Adams, with Bobby Okereke tight on Jamaal Williams coming out the backfield and Rodgers had to lay up a lob that was out of Okereke's reach and it was out of Williams' reach too.

Aaron Schatz: Colts are trying to finish out this game and they just drew two offensive holding calls in a row. That's six on the game. Packers decline it and go with second-and-20 instead of first-and-30 because they want to get this drive over with so Rodgers can get the ball back.

Aaron Schatz: Followed by an illegal motion call, also declined. The problem with the three straight penalties is that even when declined, they kept stopping the clock when the Colts wanted to drain it.

Vince Verhei: "Offensive penalties with a close lead in the fourth quarter" would probably be a good barometer for teams that don't win as many games as DVOA says they should.

Aaron Schatz: The Colts went for it! They eschewed the awful six-point lead that forces your opponent to be aggressive, and went for fourth-and-4 instead of trying a difficult 54-yard field goal! And they got it with a slant to Nyheim Hines!

Aaron Schatz: Oh good, the Colts followed up their fourth-down conversion with THREE MORE offensive holding calls, two on the same play.

Aaron Schatz: Holy mackerel. Rodgers just completed it 47 yards to MVS in the middle of the safeties on Cover-2. Crazy throw and catch. We'll need a video. Puts the Packers close to field goal range with a minute left.

Bryan Knowles: Here's your video, Aaron. And also other Aaron.

Aaron Schatz: Rodgers with a bad decision to spike the ball even with almost a minute left. So when the Packers got down to the goal line, they had just two chances for the end zone before they had to try the field goal. Seven yards to Tonyan, then incomplete to Adams in the corner of the end zone, and Mason Crosby comes on for fourth-and-3 and drills it to make the score 31-31.

Vince Verhei: To clarify, Rodgers spiked the ball on first down with 57 seconds to go and then again with 42 seconds to go. It's the second one, obviously, that hurt them most.

Tom Gower: Both the spikes were bad! They just got away with the first one!

Bryan Knowles: The Packers get the ball first to start overtime, but Marquez Valdes-Scantling fumbles, the Colts jump on it in field goal range, and go on to win the game.

And with that, the New York Jets have become the first team eliminated from the playoffs.

Aaron Schatz: I'm just blown away that the Colts managed to run the ball three times in field goal range without another offensive holding penalty.

Vince Verhei: I think it was four accepted holding penalties on that one drive, right? That's as many as the Falcons, Cowboys, or Raiders had committed ALL SEASON coming into today.

Dallas Cowboys 31 at Minnesota Vikings 28

Bryan Knowles: Weird call by the refs in this one. Donovan Wilson had a sack of Kirk Cousins and popped up with the ball -- a pretty clear strip and recovery. But the refs missed it, forcing Mike Zimmer to use a challenge to get things corrected. Justice eventually prevails, and the call is reversed. Andy Dalton, back from his concussion, doesn't waste the gift -- he hits CeeDee Lamb to get the ball into the red zone, and then Zeke Elliott to give the Cowboys the early ... 6-0 lead, as the extra point is blocked.

Cale Clinton: OH MY.

Vince Verhei: CeeDee Lamb stealing the rookie receiver spotlight from Justin Jefferson in this game. Fourth-and-1, Lamb takes the ball on a jet sweep to convert. That sets up his own touchdown, when he runs a corner route from the slot and makes a nice catch while falling down for a 4-yard score. Lamb now has 12 yards rushing and 25 rushing. Jefferson to this point has just one target -- but being Justin Jefferson, he caught it for a 27-yard gain. Cowboys up 13-7 in the second quarter.

Vince Verhei: The Lamb catch in close-up and slow-mo is ... holy schnikes.

Bryan Knowles: Tony Pollard goes 42 yards to give the Cowboys a surprising 24-21 lead, but watch cornerback Chris Jones give the ol' arm-tackle whiff on the edge. Not a great look.

The two-point conversion is more fun, with Zeke Elliott pitching the ball back to CeeDee Lamb for the score. This would be the upset of the day if the Cowboys can pull this off, right?

Cale Clinton: Either Dallas just put together a quality run-dominant drive to take the lead against Minnesota, or the Vikings defense just allowed themselves to get run over. 64 of the 75 yards on that drive were picked up on the ground, with Ezekiel Elliott waiting patiently to find an opening for a 15-yard gain and Tony Pollard capping the drive off on a 42-yard touchdown run.

Announcers targeted Vikings cornerback Chris Jones on the Pollard touchdown, claiming his failure to pursue Pollard was a "business decision" resulting in the worst possible result.

Bryan Knowles: Well, hold that upset for a moment, and put some more points in the Minnesota column in our ongoing battle of the rookie receivers -- Justin Jefferson runs past his corner and away from the safety, burning two defenders on a 39-yard score to give the Vikings the lead back.

Cale Clinton: Minnesota answers! Kirk Cousins drops the ball 39 yards right over Justin Jefferson's shoulder. Busts out the Griddy in the end zone and puts the Vikings up 3.

Vince Verhei: Rookie of the year.

Scott Spratt: Vince, did you see this video of the Vikings' front office reacting to the Eagles picking Jalen Reagor, leaving Justin Jefferson to them on draft day?

Bryan Knowles: Oh, the Vikings just completely missed Dalton Schutz, who runs across the defense and catches a go-ahead touchdown pass. Cowboys take a three-point lead with 1:37 left in the game...

Scott Spratt: Not pictured: Dalton throwing his previous pass right at Vikings defender Kris Boyd. He squeezes that and this game would probably have been over.

Scott Spratt: Hahaha! On Kirk Cousins' fourth-down incompletion that will seal this Cowboys win, announcer Kenny Albert shouts "There is a flag! Or is that Adam Thielen's shoe?"

It was his shoe. Thielen wears gold shoes.

Vince Verhei: Cowboys win, which means your updated NFC East standings are now Eagles in first at 3-6-1, everyone else tied at 3-7.

Kansas City Chiefs 35 at Las Vegas Raiders 31

Scott Spratt: The Chiefs have the No. 7 DVOA pass defense, but they may be susceptible to deep passing. That was the blueprint the Raiders used to upset them in Week 5. That week, Derek Carr compiled 219 yards and two touchdowns on his passes with 16-plus air yards. Last week, the Panthers gained 97 yards on their similar deep attempts (and nearly won). No other team has reached 70 yards on deep passes against the Chiefs this year, and no one else has beaten them.

Meanwhile, on his opening touchdown drive tonight, Carr completed 26- and 29-yard passes to Darren Waller and Nelson Agholor that I believe traveled at least 16 yards in the air.

Bryan Knowles: Put Patrick Mahomes in motion, direct snap to Travis Kelce, have him underhand it to Byron Pringle in the backfield. OK, calm down, Andy.

Scott Spratt: In basketball, shooting (free throws) underhanded is the ultimate sign of being humble. In football, throwing passes underhanded is show-boating haha.

Carl Yedor: Through the first drive by both teams, neither team has shown much resistance on the defensive side of the ball. On this pair of touchdown drives, they combined to only face three third downs (though Kansas City needed a fourth-and-1 conversion to extend the drive). Kansas City has been running that underhand screen to a tight end/H-back a decent amount this season, but they added a twist tonight, with Kelce playing the role of Mahomes down at the goal line. I wonder if the Chiefs just get bored in their offensive meeting rooms from time to time. "Hey, that was cool, can I try it next time?" "Sure, why the heck not, it'll probably work regardless." Such has been life for Kansas City in the Mahomes era to this point, and football is all the more fun for it. 7-7 with four minutes left in the first quarter.

Aaron Schatz: With an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Raiders bench, Jon Gruden saves himself from kicking maybe the dumbest field goal of the season. Why would you kick a field goal from the 1 against a Kansas City team that you can't beat without a ton of points?

Carl Yedor: Some boneheaded moves by the Raiders at the end of a drive here. On third-and-goal at the 1, Carr's pass falls incomplete, and Gruden sends out his field goal unit against *Kansas City* with that pass offense (first in DVOA) on the sidelines and that rush defense (30th in DVOA) on the field. Compounding this decision (or perhaps causing it, it was unclear which happened first), someone on the Raiders' sideline got flagged for a 15-yard penalty that pushed them back off the goal line. So if the penalty happened before the field goal decision was made, then it's just one mental mistake. If it happened after, that would be two. Regardless, missing out on a chance at seven points there could come back to bite the Raiders later in the game.

Bryan Knowles: This game is basically to determine if there's any drama left in the AFC West; I don't trust the Raiders to make up three games on the Chiefs in the last six weeks of the season if they lose this one.

At halftime, the verdict appears to be: yes, quite a bit of drama! The Raiders are up 17-14, helped by an uncharacteristically boneheaded throw by Patrick Mahomes just before the half when the Chiefs were in position to at least tie the game, if not more. Mahomes is being outplayed by Derek Carr, which I believe is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

Aaron Schatz: Apparently, not a boneheaded throw. General opinion on Twitter seems to be that Demarcus Robinson screwed up the route. Here's Dan Orlovsky's breakdown:

Bryan Knowles: I disagree with Orlovsky (receiver had inside leverage; throw it inside, Pat!), but as he played in the NFL and I did not, I will defer.

Scott Spratt: Demarcus Robinson just caught a third-and-1 pass, dove, stretched out for the first down, and then had the ball jarred loose on its impact with the dirt. It's being challenged as a possible incompletion because that jarring loose of the ball on the ground could conceivably have happened prior to the "football move" portion of the catch rule.

Can we make the rule "it's a catch if we know it's a catch"? I feel like this is a situation where subjective beats objective.

Aaron Schatz: Raiders now up 24-21 and the Chiefs finally just got a stop, but they are getting absolutely no pass rush tonight. Carr has all day to throw.

Aaron Schatz: 28-24 Chiefs and the Raiders make it all the way down the field to the 1. They just got a false start to move it back to the 6 but with 2:00 left I wonder if the right move here would be to just let the Raiders score and keep the most time on the clock possible for Mahomes to come back and lead a game-winning drive.

Scott Spratt: To that point, Aaron, Andy Reid took a timeout when the Raiders got back to the 1-yard line after a penalty backed them up. It seems like the Chiefs will have at least a minute and a half on offense, which should be more than enough for them.

Aaron Schatz: Well, it only took 17 seconds anyway. Jason Witten scores (being covered by defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon ?!?!) and Mahomes will have 1:43 to come back at least into field goal range to tie it. 31-28 Raiders.

Aaron Schatz: Chiefs take the lead 34-31 in less than a minute and a half! Mahomes finds a wide open Travis Kelce when Jonathan Abram left his zone to come up and go after Mahomes when Mahomes made like he was going to scramble.

Bryan Knowles: Defending the Chiefs is so tough. Abram needed to hang on for another couple seconds before charging, but can you blame him? Mahomes can just put you in such an impossible position.

Tom Gower: Interesting Sunda night affair. I didn't feel like I had a great handle on it because the offenses felt unstoppable, then they just didn't, and I wasn't sure how much of that was just offensive execution being hard and whether it was the defenses just making the job difficult enough. But the second half was mostly that. Kansas City had the need-to-score drive that was time-limited, and looked like they were the juggernaut Chiefs offense we've seen in the entire Patrick Mahomes era. Derek Carr overall played a terrific game, managing what pressure there was and finding lightly defended receivers. But he had the extremely time-limited need-to-score drive and thus gets the interception when he tried to force something when there was absolutely nothing there, whether in the vicinity of Nelson Agholor or elsewhere.


120 comments, Last at 25 Nov 2020, 4:11pm

1 Packers/Colts

The Colts kicking short all game on kickoffs knowing GB would be unable to do anything was good coaching.  Versus, you know, the Packers special teams management.  Which is unfamiliar with the concept of good coaching.


Everyone got a full view of the Mike Pettine experience which no Packer fan wants to see continue.  The stubborn refusal to do anything that hints at forcing the action.  Constant retreat mode.  The hope strategy of hoping a receiver drops a ball, hopes a qb makes a poor throw, hope that the offense does something that stops a drive. Versus, you know, maybe doing something of your own initiative. Defending the run is something other teams do.  It's bizarre really.  I am sure he is an intelligent person.  I am sure he knows a lot about football.  But things are not translating onto the field of action.  If not for some great individual effort by the likes of Clark and Alexander Indy could have put up over 50 today and that is not hyperbole.  With a qb that cannot throw downfield, nor really move.  


Coaches change but the Pack formula of poor defense, poor special teams (save for Crosby) and good to great offense remains.  It's disappointing.


If 12 could try and look away from 17 a bit more often maybe he recognizes that double team on 4th and 1 or sees Tonyan wide open in the end zone at the end of the game.  Rats

2 Whither Aaron Jones

In reply to by big10freak

Some of this is losing control of the game in the second half.  But 10 carries for Jones seems underutilizing a quality player

7 I actually didn’t hate the…

In reply to by big10freak

I actually didn’t hate the way the Packers D played yesterday. The Colts were handed short field after short field and the defense did OK at containing them. They didn’t play some shutdown defense, but they played OK. Colts average starting field position was their 39 yard line, as a result of turnovers and poor punting, and that was a big part of the game.

Really the only thing that the Packers did truly wrong all game was the turnovers in my opinion (and some bonehead offsides penalties), and the 3 fumbles were pretty random plays. Run D held up pretty well: the first drive of second half was embarrassing for a bit but they stiffened afterward, with a final YPC allowed of 3.8.

Offense played really well outside of the turnovers, against a really good defense. Averaging 8.2 ypa against the Colts is really good. Part of the reason that the MVS fumble was so disheartening was that it felt inevitable that the Packers were going to score. That it felt that way against the 4th ranked DVOA defense is a testament to how well they were playing.

22 The most frustrating thing…

The most frustrating thing about the Packers defense is watching teams exploit the same obvious things week after week, like Zadarius and Preston crashing from the edge and not keeping contain, or getting Preston isolated in coverage. Teams know they're doing these things and are able to exploit it for big plays every week. And the run defense is just poor - yes, they were able to stiffen in the red zone, but the Colts were easily moving the ball down the field and the extent to which they were able to keep the Packers offense off the field in the second half was huge. (With an assist from the KR fumble, obviously.)

The funny thing is that you're right that the Packers defense generally got tougher as the Colts got closer to the end zone. Which just makes the chunk plays they got by exploiting Packers' tendencies like Doyle racing past Smith for the easy score and the blown coverage that led to the first TD stand out even worse.


23 Yes it is very frustrating…

Yes it is very frustrating to watch the Smiths continually crash in and then watch the play bounce outside. It’s bad.

I think Preston keeps getting matched up in coverage partially as a result of GB playing 5-man fronts to help stop the run, but it’s hard to tell for sure what the root cause is. But yes it is highly exploitable.

Again not saying that Packers D was some dominant unit yesterday, but they played well enough to secure a win. If even one of the turnovers doesn’t happen, I think the Packers squeak out a victory. It’s disappointing to lose in that way, but long-term I’m actually kind of encouraged. To lose by 3 in OT despite 4 turnovers against the #5 DVOA team bodes well in my book.

28 I pretty much had the same…

I pretty much had the same view although I thought this was Rivers' best game I've seen of him in a while. 

Sure the Packers got gouged a few times on third and longs, but the Colts were fortunate in a lot of ways.  

Not only did the turnovers swing against them, but the Colts converted a lot of their fourth Downs plus got helped out by timely( untimely ) penalties.

I was over all pretty happy with the way the Colts defense played. Even on plays they got burned deep, the coverage was there and they got pressure enough to keep Rodgers frustrated. 

78 Last Week...

In reply to by big10freak

..someone mentioned the Packers having the top seed in the NFC.  

THIS game is why they're the most fraudulent good team in the conference.  They dominate the first half against a quality Colts team then no-show in the second half.  Credit the Colts' defense for shutting them down, but all you need is basically one score to close out that game and you can't get it.

I picked the Colts to win, but after that first half, I expected Rodgers and co. to close out.  I won't trust the Packers for the rest of this year, no matter what their record is.

That Pettine curse is in full effect...

84 THIS game is why they're the…

In reply to by DIVISION

THIS game is why they're the most fraudulent good team in the conference. 

So Arizona isn't a good team? Because you lost to the Lions, last seen being shut out by Carolina.

50 Stafford must surely have…

Stafford must surely have been hampered by injury yesterday? I fully expect abysmal running and defense whenever I watch the Lions, but the passing game usually flashes. 0 points against the Panthers is inexplicable. 

4 I dos ort of enjoy the…

I do sort of enjoy the confusion about catch rules. In a timeline where the NFL does everything it possibly can to make passing easier, the Sophie's Choice between "Credit the receiver for just touching a ball!" and "But that makes them all fumbles!" is hilarious to watch.


5 Pittsburgh seems to be…

Pittsburgh seems to be coming alive.  First in the league in point differential, first in interceptions & forced turnovers, first in scoring defense, first in sacks, etc. 

I know people have been saying they don't have the offense, but they are quietly having a very solid year.  They are 4th in the league in points per game (only 2.3 ppg less than KC, who many consider the best offense in the league) and have put up at least 24 points every week. 

That said, I expect them to lose to Baltimore on Thursday.  They seem tired and Baltimore will be extremely desperate.

18 Yeah, if/when the Steelers…

Yeah, if/when the Steelers play KC I suspect time of possession would have to be a focus of the Pittsburgh game plan. 

KC certainly does make me nervous since Pittsburgh has been reliant on their defense forcing the opposing team into making mistakes...and Mahomes doesn't make many.

35 If they can't break that…

If they can't break that tendency, and figure out how to contain KC without going blitz-heavy, PIT could be setting themselves up for another version of the "yeah, but they can't beat NE" syndrome, and for the same reason.  

15 I expect them to lose too…

I expect them to lose too just based on how the first matchup went, but the Steelers were able to rest a bunch of guys for the last couple drives and the Ravens had to play into OT, so you'd think the Steelers would be in better shape

20 The Ravens playing into OT…

The Ravens playing into OT this week certainly helps even out the "tired" a bit, but I was thinking more about the Steelers being forced into a Week 4 bye where the Ravens had theirs in week 7.

I'm not sure how much the last game really matters.  The Steelers and Ravens have moved in opposite directions since then and Jackson's performance against the Steelers in that game wasn't exactly a fluke.

Oct 2019: 1TD, 3INT, 5 sacks, 54.9 rating.  Nov 2020: 2TD, 2INT, 4 sacks, 65.8 rating

I think if Pittsburgh can keep the Ravens from running for another 3000 yards they have a decent chance.  But like I said, Baltimore is desperate.  If they lose, their playoff chances take a big hit.

24 HFA on short rest?

The other thing that helps the Steelers is this game is in Pittsburgh.  I am not sure if home field advantage is still a thing this year without fans, but it has to be an advantage to play at home in a short week from a rest stand point.  It's just a short trip from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, but minor travel is more taxing than not having to travel at all.  Hopefully, the Steelers don't eat too much turkey until Friday!   

29 Losing to Ravens likely

As a Pittsburgh fan, I always assume that the Ravens and Steelers will split the series each season.  Off the cuff notions (as opposed to actual statistical analysis) suggest that the Ravens are likely to fulfill this expectation on Thursday: (1) They really, really need a win and motivation can be a big factor. (2) 'Rivalry' games are overrated, but this rivalry has been a real one over the last number of seasons, again giving Baltimore a 'motivation' edge.  (3) Going undefeated is unlikely, and this is the most likely loss.  (4) Games in this matchup are often close, and all it takes in a close game is one break or one poor decision. 

If the Raiders had held on last night, I'd even suggest that a loss would not make much difference to the Steelers--among other things, they might have to play Baltimore again in the playoffs, and conventional wisdom suggests that it's difficult to beat a team with whom you are fairly evenly matched three times in one season.  However, that number one seed could really help Pittsburgh. 

As a side note, if the headline were to read "Steelers Cap Undefeated Season with Super Bowl Win," what do you think the subhead would be?  My prediction is "Many Fans Call for Tomlin's Ouster." 


36 "if the headline were to…

"if the headline were to read "Steelers Cap Undefeated Season with Super Bowl Win," what do you think the subhead would be?  My prediction is "Many Fans Call for Tomlin's Ouster.""

LOL ... PIT must be the only franchise with a fanbase divided about a so-far undefeated season.  On the one hands, wins!  On the other hand, Tomlin.

It must be so frustrating when an over-rated coach continues to be in charge of a team that does so well, year after year. /sarcasm

44 Tomlin seems to attract a…

Tomlin seems to attract a lot of Reidian criticism, with the added hit of continuing a successful franchise rather than rebuilding one -- Tomlin was seen as a caretaker of Cowher's legacy for a long time. Granted, Cowher himself got that, re: Noll. They've had 3 coaches in the last 51 years.

But Tomlin is an excellent handler of personalities, is coordinator-agnostic, and his teams execute well.

He has some consistent weaknesses, though -- his teams play to the level of competition and aren't strategically flexible, especially in-game. So he keeps generating good playoff teams who run into one of those teams who stylistically they can't handle, and his great seasons don't turn into titles.

Like Harbaugh, though, he's great at maximizing a roster. This is secretly the ninja skill of Harbaugh, Reid, and Belichick, although I think Belichick's wheelhouse is turning a good roster into a great one. This is probably Reid's, too.

104 Your last paragraph is so…

Your last paragraph is so important, and so often overlooked.  To a lesser extent, guys like Lovie Smith and even Jim Caldwell fit into that bucket (though I'd hesitate to say they fully maximize, more than they get consistent above-50th-percentile performances).

39 That pretty much echoes my…

That pretty much echoes my thoughts (other than the oust Tomlin part).  If Pittsburgh loses and KC wins...the tiebreakers seem to work for KC.

1) Record: Same

2) Head to head: NA

3) Conference record: Same

4) Common opponents (minimum of 4): KC and Pittsburgh wont have 4 common opponents.  So I don't know if this one applies?  If there is no minimum of 4, then KC would lock this up based on going 2-0 against Baltimore and Denver (yes, I already marked the Denver game as a win).  Pittsburgh would end up 2-1.

5) Strength of victory/strength of schedule/etc: No idea at this point, season would need to play out.

Both teams have a few quality opponents coming up...should be a very interesting race to the finish!

46 Common opponents

KC and Pittsburgh wont have 4 common opponents.

It's games against common opponents, not the number of common opponents, and almost every pairing of teams in the same conference have at least 4 games against common opponents. An exception would be teams matched up solely due to the previous year's record; Pittsburgh and Denver play each other (so the head-to-head game would determine the tiebreaker unless they tied that too), but only share Buffalo and Tennessee as common opponents.

In this case, they are Buffalo, Baltimore (Steelers play twice), Houston, and Denver (Chiefs play twice).  Whoever had the better record from those 5 games would win the tiebreaker.

64 Yeah, I understand how it…

Yeah, I understand how it works...just didnt look closely enough at the schedules I guess.

Though now it looks like the Ravens had to shut down their who knows if the game will even happen.

51 Tiebreakers

If ESPN's Playoff Machine is correct, if the Steelers lose to anyone except Washington and the Chiefs and Steelers end up 15-1, KC would win the tiebreaker either on common opponents or on Strength of Victory (though there may be a combination of wins and losses for Steelers and Chiefs opponents that changes this.)  If the Steelers lose to WFT the Steelers would have the better conference record.

EDIT: If the Steelers lose to Cincy they'd still be the #1 seed on Strength of Victory, at least in theory.  Again, there's probably a combination of wins and losses that could change that tiebreaker.

73 A week ago

In reply to by young curmudgeon

I commented on another site that after an undefeated season, the Super Bowl will see Roethlisberger dink and dunk like none have ever dinked and dunked, going 62-67 passing for 316 yards and 6 touchdowns in a game where the Steelers run the ball 5 times (including two end-of-game kneeldowns) for a total of 7 yards and win 42-10 - and there will be large sections of Steelers' fandom calling for OC Randy Fichtner to be fired because they still can't establish the run.

34 Ravens/Steelers

Hopefully the Steelers run defense will be better with Alualu back this game.  He went out and Buggs got pushed around in the first matchup even though Buggs made a game-saving play late.

I wonder how long it will take the Steelers to abandon whatever garbage Fichtner cooks up and go to their no-huddle, spread the field with receivers offense where Ben figures it out.  It worked against Baltimore and it's worked whenever they've used it instead of the Horizontal Bull**** Offense they normally use.

81 Pittsburgh...

...haven't been tested enough this year to find out how good they are.

They play down to the level of the competition (Jaguars/Cowboys).

They should beat Baltimore, but will they?

6 Is octopus a football term?…

Is octopus a football term? Maybe related to the hockey hat trick thing?

It is a hockey term, although somewhat antiquated. The genesis for the Red Wings use of an octopus was that the NHL playoffs used to be two four-win rounds. So if you won 8 games (an octopus), you were the champs.

It is currently more accurately a hexadecopus, but those are comparatively expensive.

83 You're the type of guy...

In reply to by young curmudgeon

...I would call "baby curmudgeon" in person because it'd get under your skin.

The great thing about working in the Psych field is being able to see people's boundaries and the subsequent decision on whether to test said boundaries.


102 OK, I'm genuinely curious

 I'd like to know what it is that I did or said to elicit this response.  What I wrote as a harmless 'throwaway' comment with a bit (admittedly only a bit) of humor seems to have put you into an extremely bad mood, so much so that you felt moved to respond with a disparaging comment, to offer an armchair analysis of my personality, and to praise yourself for your deep insight into human nature.  I have no interest in getting into a long discussion, I'm not trying to be snarky, and, no, you haven't gotten 'under my skin.'  I'm honestly interested in why you feel this way; if I am inadvertently offending people, that's something I should know about. 

107 To both of your sentences,…

To both of your sentences, just because you can doesn't mean you should. Name calling is uncalled for and juvenile, and the fact that you pointed out you made an explicit decision to do so is just the same.

9 This has to be the end for…

This has to be the end for Matt Patricia, doesn't it? He can't possibly survive this.

Matt Patricia is like a cockroach Terminator.

10 if not for the fact that…

if not for the fact that Cleveland just played in a similarly ugly game a week ago against the Texans.

Third week in a row. Their Raiders game was also played in a windstorm. 

Maybe that run-based offense wasn't just about hiding Baker Mayfield.

\The Eagles were their only opponent actually equipped to stop the run

11 Good lord, you all are harsh…

Good lord, you all are harsh on Taysom Hill. It's his first NFL start (at QB, obviously)! And he played quite well, all things considered. I like the fact that this site mostly analyzes things as they are rather than justifying preconceived notions; though there were a couple of begrudging comments in the end acknowledging that he didn't live down to your expectations (and hopes, judging by your collective tone), that didn't happen here.

13 It was that Josh Allen…

It was that Josh Allen jersey he was wearing that confused them.

 his 224 yards passing involves a lot of empty calories in terms of YAC and a couple of floaters that were lucky to be brought down, and I still don't trust him to go to his second read

But isn't that the Saints offense these days? Throw it to Kamara or Thomas short and let them YAC it up?

Hill adds the wrinkle of the occasional deep shot, which seemed to keep confusing Atlanta. Probably because NO hasn't thrown one in two years.

12 Broadcasters often say…

Broadcasters often say momentum instead of morale, but they're not the same thing.

Conceptually, how would morale be evidenced vis momentum?

68 Momentum is just wrong.

  The broadcasters should be using some combination of "initiative" and "morale" instead of "momentum".   Why?  Momentum is a physical quantity (mass * velocity), that has no meaning when applied to the ebb and flow of a game. It does apply to the players' bodies when they're in motion, though.

14 Bad weather/offense

It's surely a function of the era and team I group up watching, but I feel like the get-off-my-lawn guy every time I hear things like Carl suggesting that the Browns should play in a dome to increase offense. I love games like that, where teams have to battle the elements. Bad weather aside, I like low-scoring games where scoring a TD doesn't feel like just holding serve, and last-minute comebacks don't seem inevitable. 

The prevailing attitude seems to be that a lack of scoring is usually down to bad offense rather than good defense, and high-scoring games are usually down to good offense rather than bad defense. Maybe there's some validity to that given the way the rules favor offense, but good defense should still get more credit imo.

19 I agree. Bad weather games…

I agree. Bad weather games have a much more epic feel to them. Not only are you battling the other team, but the planet has a bone to pick with you also. And it does definitely feel like the NFL is trending towards an arena football feel. Not nearly there yet obviously, but it feels like defense is less important each year.

26 The Browns would have to be…

The Browns would have to be fools to change to a dome right now.  They play in an AFC with Mahommes, Rothlisberger and a bunch of up and coming quarterbacks (Herbert, Burrow, Jackson).  Mayfield may still have some promise, but what the Browns have that those other teams don't have is running backs.  Also, a pretty good defense.  That's how Parcells won two Super Bowls with the Giants; dominant defense, running game and a home field that reduces guys like Marino to rubble (seriously, Marino had a losing record in that stadium).  

31 The 1980s Tigers had a slow…

The 1980s Tigers had a slow team who hit for power. They played on a field that aided left-hand power, and they dealt with speed by cutting the infield grass with a machete and turning the dirt into quagmire. 

49 You rarely see it at the top…

You rarely see it at the top level these days, but that used to be a standard play in soccer when hosting a superior opposition. Turn the pitch into a quagmire to prohibit slick passing/movement. Here in England there are famous stories of lowly clubs calling in the local fire crews to drench the field in the lead up to a big game. 

86 Kirk Gibson...

...preferred the dirt.  I just wish he was as good a manager for my D-backs as he was a player for the Tigers/Dodgers.

On a side note:  I also hope the D-backs can trade for the MLB right to Kyler Murray so he can play both sports in AZ.

I think he'll eventually pull a Deion.

38 Ha! The "era and team I grew…

Ha! The "era and team I grew up watching" that I referred to in my original post was in fact the Parcells-era Giants (though my introductory experience was the short-lived Joe Pisarcik era that preceded it). 

16 Put Patrick Mahomes in…

Put Patrick Mahomes in motion, direct snap to Travis Kelce, have him underhand it to Byron Pringle in the backfield. OK, calm down, Andy.

Everyone is letting their TEs pass these days.

17 NFC East on Thanksgiving

The winner of the game between 3-7 Dallas and 3-7 Washington will finish the day in first place, percentage points ahead of the Eagles.  

(Clearly the game will end in a tie.)

63 Both QBs suffer gruesome leg…

Both QBs suffer gruesome leg injuries in the first quarter. Having exhausted all viable QBs on the roster, by agreement both teams kneel it out from there on. Game ends in 0-0 tie.

21 Ohio

As an Ohioan, I'm sick about both Ohio NFL QBs.  Really sad for Joe Burrow, a great kid who was thrust into a bad situation; I've been saying all year, "Man, he looks great but he's taking too many hits, I hope he doesn't get hurt."  Now this.

As for the QB in Cleveland, he's now gone three straight games without a TD pass.  Yeesh.  I'm not QUITE ready to give up on Mayfield yet, but I'm teetering on the brink.  I love his passion and feisty attitude. but an NFL quarterback is supposed to throw a touchdown pass once in a while, right?

Enjoying Ohio State, though!


27 The Bengals need that 3rd…

The Bengals need that 3rd pick, so they can get the Oregon offensive tackle.  Sewell would at least lock down the left tackle spot.  Watson came back fine his second year, I'm would hope Burrow could to.

Mayfield hasn't thrown an interception in the last three games either.  At least he's learned to not play hero ball at the team's expense.  He did lose a fumble in this past game though.

30 Tua was not good

I think Miami showed the limits of okay defense, terrible offense. Tua looked pretty bad all day outside of the short field drive. They could get punked by the "due" JETS next week and that would end the season for the most part. There are limits to a team with no run defense, weak running backs, and one healthy wide out. Although Fitz drove the team which makes you think plays were there that Tua wasn't hitting. Until Tua can put up more than 80 to 160 yards, not sure how excited I am in him. He doesn't scramble. He doesn't push the ball down field. He does avoid INTs.  It's only 4 games into his career. At least Miami hasn't gotten him killed... yet.

88 We knew this was coming, baby John.

A good offense figured out Tua and limited him and this is what it looks like.  I know his foot was hurt, so that was probably part of it.

If he doesn't scramble or pick up any yards, he's going to be a sitting duck against a great pass rush.

I'm just surprised it came against the Broncos.  

32 Taysom Hill's floater

Turns out Hill's plant leg was hit as he threw that 44 yard pass to Sanders in the second quarter.

33 Indy Riggo drill?

After the two GB 5-yard penalties, Indy had 1st and 10 at GB 42 with 2:17 left.  11 plays later, Indy had 4th and 26 from the GB 39 with 1:33 left, GB having called only one timeout.  That averages 4 game-clock seconds and 0.273 yards per play. 

55 Holding flags

Aaron Schatz: I'm just blown away that the Colts managed to run the ball three times in field goal range without another offensive holding penalty.

I thought the same thing as Aaron.  Throughout the regulation sequence just before the two minute warning I was begging for a short pass call. It didn't matter if they didn't pick up a first down, or only 4-5 yards.  Just keep the damn clock moving or force the Pack to burn their TOs.  Obviously some sort of systemic, collective brain fart was infecting the blockers on running plays....

9 accepted holding calls in the game is the most in the NFL in 17 years.

Quenton Nelson?!?!  At this point, I assume credit has to be given to the Packer's front 7. The Colts weren't holding just to keep their hands warm.

43 Colts-Packers

1.  That was intense.  I won't say much about holding calls.  Most (probably all but 1) of the Colt holding penalties were deserved and Reich trusted the running game way too much in general.  Lack of holding calls the other way were more of a problem.

2.  Blackmon is a stud.  My dad told me some players were out because of COVID and I said as long as Buckner, Leonard and Blackmon play the defense will be fine.  I will be requesting my Blackmon jersey for Xmas to replace my worn out Sanders jersey.

3.  Rookie receivers rarely flash.  I am impressed with Pittman so far.  If he and Campbell are ever healthy at the same time, I like it even if QB is still a long term question.

4.  Rivers is fine.  So much better than Brissett.  if the defense stays healthy this is a legitimate contender.  Not favorite, but contender.  If this defense were ever present when Peyton or Luck were around, I would be salivating.

45 I was thrilled with what I…

In reply to by jedmarshall

I was thrilled with what I saw from Blackmon and Buckner. Buckner's shoe string tackle on Rodgers was just insane.


I didn't think the secondary played that badly considering they gave up a couple huge deep bombs. At least they were in coverage to make a play, they just got either out executed or committed a late penalty. This is a sharp contrast to the days of clueless holes in the zone the Colts were famous for.

Rivers played well yesterday, but he still cannot be counted on to throw more than 15 yards down the field and you can tell its taking every bit of coaching and scheme to get this offense to be average/above average. They need a quarterback. 

48 Completely agree with all of…

Completely agree with all of this.  Buckner's tackle was amazing.  Rodgers would have gotten 10-15 yards more on that if that didn't happen.

Ya-Sin needs to stop grabbing.  His coverage is spot on.  

Okerele had fine coverage.  Safety help was late.  I sure hope him one on one was not the plan.  I don't think it was. He shouldn't be expected to make that coverage.

This team is never winning if Rivers is the most important part.  And that isn't the design.  He just needs to be good enough.  As a Colts fan for the last almost 30 years that feels very very weird to say

56 HAH!

" As a Colts fan for the last almost 30 years that feels very very weird to say."

Yes, but it is somehow comforting, no?

62 This has been a very…

In reply to by Bobman

This has been a very enjoyable Colts season. I don't root for the pacers but they probably are the basketball equivalent of the pacers, no flash but competency across the board. Unfortunately that doesn't leave you much in the way of title contention which I suppose its what it's all about. 


However I suspect my fellow Colts fans will agree, living through an era where your favorite team is expected to win the super bowl every year and your quarterback is expected to be an MVP every year, this new world spares you a lot of heartache.


I'm assuming packer fans and Saints fans and maybe even Seahawks fans will not in agreement.

95 Crazy (but at the same time, reasonable) expectations

Oh I am sure they can relate.  Much as I love Peyton, I think Rodgers is probably a better all around QB.  Much as I loved Luck, I live in Seattle and see Wilson doing the impossible week after week. I can completely relate to my wife's frustrations at Wilson having to carry the whole team each week, trying to do too much, a few ill-placed INTs, and a defense that lets him (and her) down every week.  It comforts her exactly zero when I explain "You know, that's exactly what it was like in 2003 for the Colts when... honey, are you still awake?  Why are you sharpening that cleaver?"

60 Brissett in short yardage

In reply to by jedmarshall

So far so good, but here's where I think the real payoff will be:  Brissett can also throw it.  He's probably right around replacement quality as a starter, but my impression was that was mostly decision-making, not physical skills.  And he's started maybe 20 NFL games, so he's seasoned.  I expect a day in a key situation (vs Steelers?) or playoff game where he takes the snap, tucks the ball in his gut and hunches over, then stands tall and tosses a simple 8-yarder to a WR on a slant who takes it to the house.

Because it's 3rd and 1 and everyone has come to expect him to run it or hand off. It's all there on film.  I mean, duh!

I have a complaint (I think) about the whistles in that game.  I applaud the refs not blowing the whistle on Rivers's incomplete pass returned for a TD just in case--let it play out.  Good job.  But on Brissett's first down run that appeared to get about 10 yards because he was imitating an angry rhino, I heard no whistle (i.e. players still playing full speed and could get hurt) yet they placed the ball back a few yards where they had determined his progress was momentarily stopped.  Two things about that:  If there was no whistle and he kept going, then he wasn't, you know, stopped.  And if he was stopped, why no whistle?  That was an awesome run.

I am shamed that on one sweep to the left side I pointed out Rivers making a credible block (better than his tackling) and applauded him for it, only to find out later that it was the situation that caused him to injure his foot/ankle.  (What a doofus).  I was surprised and pleased to see him get in the way rather than running from contact.  That's fiery rookie QB attitude.  Combined with aging vet QB brittleness.  Dude, how did you get hurt?!?!  (My brother texted me me back:  What do you expect from a guy with eight kids?  My answer:  An early, merciful death.)


89 You guys need a stop-gap.

In reply to by jedmarshall

Rivers is almost done.  He can barely move in the pocket.  

Brissett can't be too bad if he's a Belichick disciple.  

Also, if you guys had this defense during Peyton's reign, he'd have at least two more SB wins.  The highlight of those Colts defenses was Bob Sanders!



96 Rivers's Movement

I agree he's close to the end, but he moves amazingly well in the pocket (if the pocket is phonebooth sized).  Unexpectedly well?  Probably because we have low expectations?  Yeah, that seems about right.

He looks like he's always about to be crushed (TV camera angles probably foreshorten the distances) and yet avoids the sacks.  He sets his feet instantaneously and that damn shotput motion or the sidearm sling gets the ball out.

He moved nicely when blocking on the run play vs GB where he injured his foot/lower leg.

Just don't ask him to tackle.

47 This has been my fourth…

This has been my fourth viewing of Jackson thus far. And I keep coming away with the same thoughts.

For a guy who people say that defenses lay back and dare to beat them throwing, Lamar actually can throw some very pretty dimes. Hes a lot more accurate than I think people realize; here I mean threading passes into tight windows. His throws to the outside are less effective but that might be a function of the receiving core.

The problem is, when you add it all up, at least this season it doesn't equate to elite play and I can't quite put my finger on why. He's not a terrible sack machine the way I thought he might be. I think he just doesn't happily take checkdowns or punish defenses enough with the short, simple stuff. Its not that he's looking for the home run every time, it just feels like he's a bit slower than he needs to be.


Right now, I'd say hes probably a top 5 QB; there are a few names I would definitely take above him. The issue is, he's competing with people who are elite and he feels just right on the cusp of it. 

90 Lamar is no Slot-Hooker!

He hasn't progressed from last year to this year and it shows.  The team has regressed overall because teams are stacking the box more and forcing Lamar to play hero-ball.  He's not confident enough in his arm skill to throw as much as the other young mobile QB's:  Mahomes, Watson, Murray.

The difference between Murray and Jackson is that Murray has elite talent both passing and throwing and Lamar doesn't.  It's clear as day.

99 The main difference between…

The main difference between Murray and Jackson, besides about 4 inches, is that Murray has DeAndre Hopkins to bail him out on a hail mary and Jackson doesn't.  Seriously, Josh Allen has more receiver talent to work with than Jackson does right now.  Hell, if Mims keeps playing as well as he did last Sunday, the Jets have more receiver talent than the Ravens right now.

112 Agree with the other…

Agree with the other comments that the difference is a lack of talent with BAL receivers.  The "splash plays" that dominate the highlight reels usually require talent at both ends of the throw, and right now that talent just isn't there in the BAL receiving corps, other than Andrews at TE.

52 The Raiders lost because…

The Raiders lost because they weren’t aggressive enough on 4th down, or weren’t prepared enough to consistently execute a 4 down strategy. Plain and simple

Gruden deserves a lot of credit for the offence he has put together there, and the level of play he is extracting from Derek Carr. Their execution was generally terrific last night. But, absent an elite defense, you cannot punt/kick the ball against the Chiefs on 4th & medium or less and expect to win. Particularly galling when they are a divisional opponent for whom you are compelled to specifically prepare. 

I don’t know how you defend Mahomes, Hill & Kelce. All 3 could well end up in the HOF. 

66 I think the Raiders biggest…

I think the Raiders biggest problem right now, besides the obvious lack of talent on defense, is the obsession with establishing the run when they're just not that good at it. It just leads to a lot of third and mediums which they've survived by converting at an unsustainable rate, but that won't last forever.

108 Whilst I agree, that…

Whilst I agree, that condition is certainly not unique to the Raiders. Anyhow, Carr has certainly played well enough this season to not need to be hidden, or whatever their reasoning for establishing the run may be. 

79 Many more years of Gruden

At least he is not a cap hit, so they can dump him, but Gruden is coaching like the game he coached 20 years ago.  I think he has frequent flyer miles on EDJ Sports "5 worst decisions of the week."  He made number two this week, with a punt that you mentioned.  But yet, in the same division is Anthony Lynn who punted on the opening possession of OT against the Chiefs on 4th and 1.  Lynn will be gone soon, I would think, and that along with Herbert, may open the door from the endless one score losses for the Chargers.

109 It's frustrating indeed…

It's frustrating indeed watching highly compensated coaches making such obviously foolish strategic decisions. But it's important to keep things in perspective. The Raiders have been a top 10 offence by DVOA last season and this, with a roster that, on paper, isn't exactly flooded with talent. Gruden is doing a good job overall. 

91 It's more than that BJR baby...

Their defense wasn't able to get enough stops, but on offense that Algolor bugga-boo case of the dropsies came back.

He dropped a couple big ones in the second half.

Derek Carr played better than I've ever seen him play and it still wasn't enough.

They should have gone for it on 4th down on several possessions.  No reason to be conservative.

57 Packers/Colts reviewed touchback rule?

Can someone explain this rule to me? The facts seem clear, on slow-mo telephoto review, the ball hit the goal line and bounced back into the field of play. After a little indecision, Darrius Sheppard picked it up and tried to advance it, tackled at the four.

If he had tried to advance it out of the end zone, it would be placed at the four. Hypothetically, if he had done what he did, but got lucky and returned it to midfield, it would be placed at midfield, no? If he did that and replay showed what it did, his hypothetical 48 yard return would be negated and Green Bay gets it at the 25? Why?

So is there some special rule for bouncing in the end zone and back into the field of play? Football rules are Byzantine, but I'm skeptical this has been anticipated. I think it should have been placed at the four because he tried to advance it, and the refs blew it because of the novelty of the bounce.

OTOH, what a choice, if, as in this case, the returner can't be sure. Do nothing and let Indy cover and get the ball, or cover it and give up the possible touchback. Seems like maybe there ought to be a rule to cover this?

69 touchback rule

I think the kickoff touchback rule (and punt one too) is that if the ball touches the ground in the end zone, it is automatically a touchback and the play is dead; that is, you can catch a kickoff in the endzone and bring it out, but you can't pick it up off the ground in the endzone and bring it out.  

76 Ding! Ding! Ding!

In reply to by jds

Thank you. I never realized that the returner had to touch it before it hits the ground in the end zone to be allowed to bring it out, but it looks like you are correct. And the refs got it right.

Actually, not what happened here, but to be precise on the rule it sounds like the returner could muff it and pick it up and then bring it out.

Article 4 ... (d) The ball is dead if ... (2) it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback).

So to answer my own hypothetical, if he returned it to midfield, then after review, it would have been placed at the 25. And there's no awful choice issue for the returner if he's not sure; Shepperd did the right thing.

116 touchback

In reply to by anotheroldguy

Glad you mentioned this because I was wondering the same thing.  Would be nice if that was explained during the game.  

59 New intro!

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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.)

This Bills fan is a few weeks late to thank you, but he sees you, Audibles at the Line! And he thanks you. 

110 As someone who almost always…

In reply to by Tutenkharnage

As someone who almost always skips past the intro, I can't blame you for being a few weeks late on it. Weirdly enough, the one time I glanced up at it was the week it changed.

114 Yep

Same thing happened to me: I skipped by the intro for several weeks and missed the change when it was made. Still appreciate it, though :)

65 We watch the games that we,…

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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.)

You're not going to have a choice on Thursday!

The larger statement of the bolded phrase is also correct.

That said, no one should have to watch the Lions. Their game-film is like a beta implementation of Scorpion Stare.

77 Lions fans out of luck

I am sure that the worst part of being a Lions fan is not the lack of coverage on Pro Football Outsiders Audibles at the Line.  After getting shut out this week, I would think that the less coverage the better.  Of course if we are speaking of little or no coverage over the years regarding the Lions, we are usually talking about their secondary.

97 well done

puling out the old-timer credentials there....

I mean, for Pete's sake, there's even a standard complaint format named for a Lions fan.  There's gotta be at least a couple others.

74 Dear god, you're not kidding…

Dear god, you're not kidding when you say "perfect form tackle by Marcus Maye," there. It was almost like this was a video game, where he spawned in with the wrong jersey or something. Like he somehow perfectly wrapped up and tackled his own teammate. Not, got tangled up with him. Straight up form tackle teaching tape. 

Gotta get Trevor Lawrence somehow.

92 Strangest Packer Game of Year

Says more about their season-- hurt chances for Number One seed, but didn't kill them...underscores they are just one of about 5 teams in NFC that could make the SB, but nothing dominant-- than their team. They played well in some ways, not in other-- but counter to much of their rep coming in.

4 TOs against one of the best defenses in the league-- surely means they get whipped? No... they actually probably should have won the game...

Rodgers directs 4 TDs in one half against this supposedly top notch defense and has 2 TD lead. Surely they win because he's a great frontrunner-- (NO) and if they do lose, it will be because of a defensive shit show (NO)....

the one constant is bad special teams. Kudos to Colts for all those kickoffs to the 2,3, 4 or 5 yard line-- they knew the Packers were no threat to break one and a much bigger threat to cough the ball up. YUP.

Defense alternated between very good (punched fumble and INT in first half, pretty good (stops in first half, only allowed 3 pts on 3 turnovers until the final game winning FG where it didn't really matter what they did) and poor-- the coverage on the Pittman score (more examination than the Zapruder film, it seems--- all the experts love to pile on a missed GB coverage, as if other teams don't have same problems in this day and age) and one very poor extended drive by Rivers after the first 3 and out in the second half....

But I don't feel much different about them than I did before the game-- they can beat or lose to almost anvbody. They will probably host yonly one or two Lambeau home games but not a BYE... Someone gonna beat them before the SB unless this defense plays a lot better....The should have won this game... were basically the better team but made sloppy mistakes... but they didn't-- and that will hurt

94 It should be worth noting…

It should be worth noting that good defense is a relative concept. By today's scoring totals, Colts defense is quite good. By yesteryear's standards, which really could apply even only going back 10 years, this defense is below average. Such as the state of the NFL these days

115   Not sure I would agree…

  Not sure I would agree that Packers should have won the game.  They got beat badly in the second half and outside of Colts botching the last 2 minutes they wouldn't have had a chance to win/tie it.  My guess is DVOA will show that it was a even game.  Packers cashed in 14 points on two turnovers and the Colts got 9 points from 4 turnovers.  I do 100% agree that Colts Special Teams made a huge difference.  Packers have a good team and Clark was a monster Sunday.  Nelson hardly ever has trouble with his man but Clark was winning a lot.  Pack should have easier road to Super Bowl and they do have top 5 QB who is on his game right now.  

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