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.
Indianapolis Colts 26 at Houston Texans 20
Dave Bernreuther: Last week's loss to Derrick Henry and the Titans was easy to forgive, given the missing defensive starters, but it was still quite damaging, not just to the Colts' divisional hopes, but to their playoff hopes in general; it is not hard at all to craft scenarios in ESPN's Playoff Machine wherein a 10-6 Colts team misses the playoffs entirely. As it stands, they're 7-4 and in the seventh seed, a game up on the Raiders and Ravens (to whom they lost), with HOU-LV-HOU-PIT-JAX upcoming. Today's game, then, is a very big one for the Colts.
So it is not great news, then, to see confirmation that Philip Rivers needs surgery on his right foot and is playing through what is apparently bad turf toe. It's bit cliché to point to the past two Decembers and suggest that he struggles to drive the ball to the sidelines, and his accuracy has always outweighed what was never that strong an arm anyway, but as a veteran of many a foot fascia injury (including right now, even), man ... if I was Romeo Crennel I'd be cheating up on the running backs and short stuff A LOT. As a Colts fan, I'm going to be very afraid of a 2015 Manning type situation here.
Using the backs a lot is a good idea against the Texans anyway, of course, and Reich can do wonderful things with three tight ends on the field, so perhaps the game plan won't change much, but Anthony Castonzo being out again this week certainly levels the playing field a bit. The edge on the punt unit is also narrowed, if not eliminated, with the loss of Rigoberto Sanchez, and the Texans also have the luxury of a few extra days of preparation after playing on Thanksgiving.
All of which is to say ... nothing. The Texans have Deshaun Watson, who has shown himself to be incredible and capable of carrying the team no matter how many anchors the organization ties around his ankles. If he plays like he has been playing, none of the above even matters. Either the Colts stop or at least limit him, or the Texans can deal their playoff hopes a severe blow.
Bryan Knowles: Rivers' foot injury helps explain why the Colts have been using Jacoby Brissett as a situational player; Rivers isn't exactly mobile at the best of times, but working on a bum foot dampers the odds of making those sneaks and short-yardage pickups.
Of course, if Rivers can just stand in the pocket unpressured, he doesn't need a fully functional foot to work. Rivers was a perfect 4-for-4 on the Colts' opening drive, starting and ending the game with long gains to T.Y. Hilton, whom the Texans are trying to contain in man coverage. It, uh, isn't working so far. I know Hilton hasn't had a typically successful season, but the Texans may want to consider having some safety help on him,or this is going to be a long day.
Bryan Knowles: Of course, the Colts do not have the best quarterback in this matchup -- sorry, Rivers. The Colts have pressured Deshaun Watson on every drop back so far, but it's not enough to get pressure on him -- you have to actually get him down. Sometimes, that's working -- DeForest Buckner already has a big sack. Sometimes, it forces Watson to scramble; he's up to 18 rushing yards already. And sometimes, it just lets Watson hit the highlight reel, dodging and weaving through traffic until he finds a wide-open Keke Coutee 40 yards downfield to set up, what else, a Watson touchdown run the next play. 7-7 halfway through the first.
Dave Bernreuther: One thing I didn't mention earlier was T.Y. Hilton. His dominance of the Texans was put to bed last season and his numbers this year have been down, so the idea that he might suddenly pop up and dominate again was, well, more popular than it should have been given how little his actual game/skills have changed (many Colts writers have pointed out that he has still been getting open, drawing coverage, etc,, even as his targets and yards have dropped lately). I saw Hilton 100-yard game at +750 on some sportsbooks, and through one drive, anyone who got those odds is probably feeling good about it.
In other news, DeShaun Watson is good. After Buckner announced his return with a first-down sack, Watson ran for 7, escaped serious pressure for a 64-yard dart on the run, and ran it in from 11 yards. 82 yards, easy as pie.
Dave Bernreuther: One play after a near-pick in the end zone (correctly ruled incomplete), Watson almost threw another, through no fault of his own ... really athletic play showing a ton of range there by Anthony Walker over the middle. Reminds me of vintage Gary Brackett. I kind of just wanted an excuse to say I miss Gary Brackett, because he was awesome, but also, as I've said several times this year: these Colts linebackers are the best I've seen in pass coverage since the better days of the Tony Dungy tenure.
Bryan Knowles: Had a bit of a delay here, as the refs had to review whether or not Hilton came down in bounds on a leaping catch on third-and-9. It's Hilton against the Texans -- of course it was a catch. Hilton's up to 74 yards already; that's his second-biggest day of the year, and we're only at the end of the first quarter, with the Colts holding on to a 14-10 lead.
Bryan Knowles: I love that teams going for it on fourth down has become commonplace enough that we don't feel the need to talk about it all that often. Sure, some teams are smarter about it than others, but it's a pretty universal NFL trend, and that's exceptionally pleasing to me.
Frank Reich has always been pretty good about going for it on fourth, but even he probably gave a second thought to it this time. The Colts had third-and-1, but DeMichael Harris was stuffed for a 3-yard loss, putting Indy in no man's land. A 56-yard field goal attempt wasn't particularly appealing, so the Colts had to go for it on fourth-and-4, calling a pretty simple running back screen to Jonathan Taylor. It was a decent screen and probably would have picked up the first down no matter what, but the Texans made the bold choice of not covering Taylor in any way, shape or form. Taylor ends up taking the 2-yard pass and rumbling the remaining 37 yards to the end zone. An absolute defensive disaster for the Texans, and the Colts have a 21-10 lead.
Dave Bernreuther: My love for Frank Reich is real. My criticisms of the third-down play (jet sweep-ish play with horrible blocking) are out the window when the idea all along was to go for it on fourth, which it was. And then a beautiful call to a forgotten Jonathan Taylor coming out of the backfield for a catch-and-run touchdown on fourth-and-4 from the 39 -- a spot at which all previous Colts coaches would have punted, even when they had the best offense in the league, for what it's worth -- puts the Colts up two scores.
Third-and-8 on the next drive for the Texans, I'm not sure Watson was wise to pull the ball down and leave a clean pocket through a narrow gap, but damn ... shows what I know. It opened up space for a big play to continue the drive. He's good.
Bryan Knowles: Watson is almost as good as the Texans' defense is bad. Houston's defense isn't the worst I've seen by any stretch of the imagination, but they seem to have a couple of terrible mental errors per quarter -- guys being in the wrong position, not covering their guy, hitting the wrong gap -- just a total lack of discipline. That's almost more frustrating than just being talent-starved.
But, again, as frustrating as it is to watch the Houston defense, it's that fun to watch Watson working. I was going to type "the Texans offense," but I'm pretty sure Watson is a synonym for that at this point. The Colts keep putting him in pressure, he keeps slipping away, and he keeps making big plays. And maybe because the Colts are worried about stopping Watson's arm, the Texans RUN offense is making a rare appearance. They're at 6.3 yards per rush, and that isn't ... well, it isn't all Watson, David Johnson had a couple of big runs on the Texans' last drive, including the touchdown to cut the Colts lead to 21-17.
Fun game, this one.
Dave Bernreuther: Is it me or is Watson slipping pockets through the exact same spot every time (left guard)? I wonder if there's a way to adjust your defensive Line calls to account for and sort of trap that. At times he has seemed maybe a tad too willing to leave, but not in that same deer-in-headlights happy-feet way that some of his contemporaries do ... and anyway, it works for him, so I'm not going to call it a bad thing.
T.Y. Hilton made it to that 100-yard milestone in the first half, so last year really was just an anomaly, I guess. Man, his statline in this building is something else...
And speaking of that building, I've been on a few occasions, but the first of which was during Cookout for a BBQ competition back in its infancy. It is only fitting, then, that I smoked ribs today ... and they are FANTASTIC. I'm high-fiving myself for these ones. Maybe this is not for Audibles, but you guys are my sole football-watching company this year (and I like that!) and if I'm not able to share the ribs themselves at least I can share in my pride.
Dave Bernreuther: Castonzo's absence gets noticed bigly on a third-and-3 that ends in a bad beating and a sack to kill a drive near midfield. No matter, though, as the defenses have transformed in this second half. The Colts get the ball back quickly and move into the red zone despite four straight Rivers incompletions. Backed up to third-and-13, a quick screen to Michael Pittman -- well blocked, unlike seemingly every other screen I've seen in all games today -- gets them to within a yard of the first down. Reich decides to go for it, and the run is stuffed ... as I send a text saying "I'm curious what Aaron sees about the probabilities on that one." But I don't hate backing a sackable quarterback up against his goal line -- Justin Houston gets to Watson for a safety. So that worked out nicely, and in this scoreless half, it's fitting that the defense gets on the board first.
With a three-point lead I'd go for it every time, but up four ... I want to say that even I might have considered the field goal. Aaron, what say the numbers?
Dave Bernreuther: So after the fourth-down attempt and the safety, Nyheim Hines breaks a nifty long return on the free kick, only to have it come back on what I believe is Anthony Walker's third penalty of the day, Nursing the six-point lead, the Colts get a bit conservative and start milking the clock, which was going rather cromulently until yet another holding penalty, this one by Ryan Kelly. A third-down shrug of a screen sets them up for a punt from midfield ... and this is where Sanchez is missed, as Ryan Allen rolls it into the end zone. And now, after all that ... the Colts have the dreaded six-point lead against Deshaun Watson starting on the 20 with plenty of time. Ugh. A field goal would have iced the game, and they knew it. And they sort of played like it too.
And now the Texans are inside the 10 already in just the time it took to type that.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh, wow. Immediately after CBS left a graphic with IND 8-4 and HOU at 4-8 on screen for WAY too long while the Texans were lined up in second-and-goal, they snap the ball into Watson's freaking shin and the Colts recover.
What a stupid, stupid way to lose a game. But also what a perfect way to sum up the way that Watson's team has failed him. Sorry, Rivers.
Rivers McCown: Outside of blowing that fourth-down play, the Texans had I thought a very good defensive day for them. Chaz Green was touched on, but they also stuffed the run better than they have in a bit. Of course, that's a real "Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" line. But, well, baby steps for them.
The Texans' interior line was crushed by DeForest Buckner all day and though Watson did a great job eating on zones, the lack of a real man-to-man winner on big third downs mattered. Here's the long form on it. Watson took this loss very personally.
New Orleans Saints 21 at Atlanta Falcons 16
Bryan Knowles: It seems very likely we will see our first team clinch the playoffs today, though which team will win the race to punch their ticket first is fairly interesting. Three teams can finalize their berths today -- the Saints, Steelers, and Chiefs. New Orleans can get their playoff berth finished here in the early window if they beat the Falcons and the Lions beat the Bears. Detroit over Chicago is a tough ask, however; the Saints may have to wait until next week to actually slip in. Pittsburgh gets in with a win, but their game has been moved back to Monday night; they have to count on an upset here in the early window -- Bengals over Dolphins, Texans over Colts, or Jets over Raiders -- to get in today. With all three of those results seeming unlikely, it may be the Chiefs, who get in with a win over the Broncos in the nightcap, who end up in the postseason first.
Of course, there is no actual benefit to making the playoffs first, but it's a fun thing to keep an eye on as the early games play out.
Aaron Schatz: Three straight three-and-outs, two for Atlanta and one for New Orleans. Atlanta's first drive was about the New Orleans pressure, the second drive was about the coverage. Matt Ryan actually had time on third-and-6 and there was nobody open with a double team on Julio Jones. Taysom Hill actually connected on his two passes but one was short and the other went right through Tre'Quan Smith's hands. Saints escape a fourth straight three-and-out when Grady Jarrett goes low on Hill on third-and-long for a roughing the passer. Kind of surprising how much Hill has dropped back to pass so far. Some not even with play-action, a lot of straight dropbacks. Partly due to down-and-distance, but he turned a second-and-20 into a new set of downs with two completions. Oh, and a 43-yard scramble where he stayed in bounds right down the sideline, and then a passing touchdown! To a wide-open Smith. Busted coverage. Looks like Darqueze Dennard was supposed to have him but gave him a lot of cushion ... which is strange because in the end zone, there's no need to give so much cushion, it's not like Smith can run any farther downfield. 7-0 Saints.
Aaron Schatz: Saints just missed a 40-yard field goal so it's still 7-3 but they are moving the ball and the Falcons are not. Taysom Hill somehow has 16 pass attempts and 0 designed runs so far in this game. (His runs are a scramble and a muffed handoff that gets charged as a run by him.)
Aaron Schatz: This is weird but Taysom Hill looks like a real boy today. I mean, a real NFL quarterback. Obviously, you don't make decisions based on one half, but Atlanta has been a good defense the last few weeks. Hill has converted a third-and-8, a third-and-13, and a third-and-17. He's 17-for-23 at halftime and didn't have a designed run play until 2:00 left in the second quarter. The Falcons were sending blitzes up the middle on him, but that 43-yard scramble sort of convinced them not to do that, so now there's very little pass pressure. The Saints would have more points except for a missed field goal, and then a decision to go for it on fourth-and-7 in no man's land where Jared Cook dropped a pass that would have converted. Meanwhile, Atlanta's offense is mostly living off a couple of big plays and continues to stall out in the red zone. 14-9 at halftime.
Vince Verhei: Aaron beat me to the punch, but it's striking how sharp Hill has been on third downs today. The Saints are 6-for-9 on third downs, and I think all six of those conversions are Hill completions -- and, as Aaron noted, many of those have been in long yardage.
Dave Bernreuther: Hill also threw a perfect pass on a fourth-and-7 (another of those downs that no longer make us raise an eyebrow) that hit Jared Cook in the hands and was dropped. The only thing I've seen him not do well was one early deep pass that looked wobbly and nowhere near anyone, but I think even that one was just a miscommunication where his receiver cut off the route.
Matt Ryan has been targeting Russell Gage almost every time I look up, which strikes me as a bad idea, as he has one catch for 3 yards on his five targets (but did draw a flag just before the halftime field goal). Doesn't matter who the offensive play caller is in Atlanta, it seems ... still a lot of dumb fades in the red zone, including one to Gage that had no prayer.
Aaron Schatz: OK, maybe some of what's going on with the Falcons offense is their route concepts. On third-and-8, they ran a bunch of short little things including a throw to Julio Jones 7 yards short of the sticks. Don't you maybe send Julio Jones past the sticks on third-and-8?
Aaron Schatz: Russell Gage finally comes alive. Earlier in the game he had drops and slips on the grass, but the Falcons just came back with a huge scoring drive after Taysom Hill fumbled in the red zone. Three big passes to Gage including one where he had to reach back for a tough ball but caught it anyway, and then the touchdown where they ended up with him one-on-one with linebacker Kwon Alexander. It's now 21-16 Saints.
Bryan Knowles: Well, well, this game isn't quite over yet after all. The Falcons have been stalling out all day, with just three field goals to their name, but the Saints haven't been able to put them away. A big drive from Russell Gage -- three receptions for 48 yards, including the touchdown -- has made this a one-score game with 7:43 left. Seahawks and Packers fans holding their breath; a Falcons upset here would be huge in the race for the NFC bye...
Bryan Knowles: And, to close off the note earlier -- the Saints' win, plus the Lions' comeback, means they're the first team to clinch a playoff berth this year. Congratulations!
Aaron Schatz: Saints' offense shut down in the fourth quarter, which along with some defensive lapses allowed the Falcons to come back into the game, but overall this was the best quarterback game for Taysom Hill. Yes there were a couple of balls that could have been picked off but I was surprised how good he looked, especially on some of those later third downs when the Falcons doubled Michael Thomas and Hill had to go somewhere else. Part of it was a real lack of pass pressure coming from the Falcons.
Marshon Lattimore had some troubles in coverage today, and Calvin Ridley had a huge 27-yard catch on him to continue the Falcons' last big drive, but after 65 yards the Falcons ran out of steam in the red zone yet again. The Falcons got to second-and-2 on the Saints 13 but then Gurley for no yards, Gurley caught going horizontal and was swallowed up for a loss of 7, and finally a pass a little bit over Julio Jones' head in the end zone. The Falcons did get the ball back one more time but that last drive had just 27 seconds to go 61 yards and ended in a Hail Mary attempt.
Cleveland Browns 41 at Tennessee Titans 35
Scott Spratt: On their opening drive, Baker Mayfield marched the Browns fairly easily down the field against the Titans' No. 27 DVOA pass defense. He connected with Rashard Higgins for 35 yards, then after a pump fake left him in an awkward throwing stance, Mayfield still hit rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones in the hands on what would have been a walk-in touchdown. However, People-Jones dropped the pass, and the Browns subsequently stalled and settled for a field goal to give them a 3-0 lead.
Carl Yedor: Cleveland took the ball and moved it quite effectively until they bogged down in the red zone. Their red zone struggles could largely be blamed on a first-down drop by Donovan Peoples-Jones, who dropped what would have likely been a touchdown straight down the middle of the field. Mayfield had to double clutch his throw to avoid getting it knocked away or picked off, so it's possible that the timing change messed with Peoples-Jones when he was expecting the ball. Regardless, Cleveland was stuck from there and had to settle for three after mixing Nick Chubb runs with some chunk throws.
Tennessee, unsurprisingly, featured a heavy dose of Derrick Henry and their usual play-action. After a third-down play-action pass out of a jumbo set that fell incomplete when intended for an eligible lineman, Henry tried to power forward to convert the fourth-and-1, but Cleveland's defense held firm and got the stop. It appeared that Henry converted the fourth down, but the replay view was not conclusive enough to overturn the spot.
Offensively, this looks about as expected, with both teams sticking to the formulae that have gotten them to identical 8-3 records thus far. The Titans' 8-3 is obviously substantially more impressive, but if Cleveland can lean on their rushing attack and shorten this game by reducing the number of possessions, they could pull the upset with superior execution.
Dave Bernreuther: Fat Guy Touchdown! Kendall Lamm uncovered for the 1-yard score. Mayfield is not missing the easy touchdowns this week so far.
The Browns, 22nd in DVOA and universally regarded as a terrible 8-3 team, are now up 17-0 at 8-3 Tennessee.
Just like we all predicted ... right?
Scott Spratt: Big man touchdown! Offensive tackle Kendall Lamm puts the Browns up 17-0.
OT Kendall Lamm gets it in.pic.twitter.com/9E5BscFQNP
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 6, 2020
I guess turnovers can always make a difference, but I didn't see this one coming. The Titans are 12th and the Browns are 22nd in DVOA this year.
Scott Spratt: And suddenly every game has significant injuries. As Ryan Tannehill connected with Corey Davis to cut the Titans' deficit to 17-7, A.J. Brown pulled up short and grabbed his knee without making contact with anyone.
Vince Verhei: Titans get back into this on back-to-back great catches, the first by A.J. Brown where he outjumped Terrance Mitchell for a 40-yard gain on a seam route to the left side. Next snap, Ryan Tannehill goes to his right, and there's Corey Davis high-pointing the ball for the score.
CD with the HANDS! @TheCDavis84
-- Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 6, 2020
Cleveland still leads ... and Donovan Peoples-Jones just scorched some poor Titans cornerback on an out-and-up for a long touchdown and Cleveland goes up 24-7.
Dave Bernreuther: The Titans drove for a very quick answer after the Lamm score, but if you blinked you missed an even quicker response: Donovan Peoples-Jones got another one, on a sweet double move down the sideline, and the Browns have now put together four scoring drives in four attempts.
Carl Yedor: The first points on the board for Tennessee come at a cost. After the Derrick Henry fumble set up Cleveland's second touchdown of the afternoon, the Titans turned to the air to turn things around. Ryan Tannehill was 3-for-3 through the air, including a 40-yard dart to A.J. Brown and a touchdown pass to Corey Davis. Brown, however, went down with a non-contact injury on the touchdown play after catching both targets for a combined 52 yards in the drive. Hopefully he's alright -- he was able to get up and was helped off the field -- because Derrick Henry's six carries for 15 yards and a fumble won't get the Titans back into this game.
...and maybe nothing will. Browns answer with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones. 24-7 Cleveland.
Vince Verhei: I think Breon Borders (39 for Tennessee) has to retire now. I don't make the rules.
-- Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 6, 2020
Scott Spratt: A.J. Brown came back into this game, so at least one good thing happened for the Titans in this first half.
Dave Bernreuther: Another 90-yard drive, another touchdown pass for Baker Mayfield, who is a scant few yards from a perfect passer rating. The Browns are flat-out destroying the Titans.
Carl Yedor: So much for needing to shorten the game. This is a beatdown. Tennessee has no answer for Cleveland's offense, which is putting on a clinic. That's a fairly decent surprise, though Tennessee's defense has struggled a lot this year. The bigger surprise has been Cleveland shutting down the Tennessee offense, particularly the rushing attack. Derrick Henry has 15 yards and a fumble, which has helped lead to the Titans looking completely out of sorts. Tennessee has a chance to make things look more respectable, but it would take an epic collapse to turn this into a win.
Tom Gower: What to say about that game, since I didn't talk about it live? As noted, the Titans came in with the 28th-ranked defense. As I noted on Twitter earlier this week, the much-ballyhooed-around-Nashville defensive turnaround that seemed to coincide with Desmond King's arrival concealed a defense that maybe still wasn't so great. By DVOA, the Titans had actually been worse in the past four games than they were before that, even with the tremendous third-down improvement. There were reasons to think they might actually have improved some, since the early-season non-awfulness was built on an interception rate that you probably couldn't rely on going forward given your pass rush is Harold Landry and, uh, don't ask, with no real hope for personnel improvement given Ian Rapoport's report this morning that Jadeveon Clowney had season-ending knee surgery. The real question is as much as why Breon Borders, a scrap-heap player on his ... seventh NFL team? ... got beat a couple of times for long touchdowns as why he seemed to be a better option than the since-released Johnathan Joseph. This is probably just one game, like the "defense carries bad offense" game against Chicago or the "offense is great except can't turn that into points" against Cincinnati or "the defense's two quarters of control" last week against the Colts once Anthony Castonzo went out were all just one game (each). That it happened this week was a surprise and doesn't mean it's going to happen next week (if it does against the Jaguars and Mike Glennon...), but it's within the range of possibility pretty much every week.
The Titans defense looked better in the second half, because the Browns intentionally decided to "shorten" the game by running at literally almost every opportunity. They ran on first-and-10, first-and-20, and third-and-17 (plus a scramble on second-and-18!) one possession, while the extended fourth-quarter possession featured seven runs and two third-down screen passes. A commitment to not-that-effective early-down running was why I thought this game might sneakily be a bit low-scoring, but that ended up only being true of the Browns final 30 minutes.
Anyway, a very bad week for Tennessee and a very good week for Cleveland (until the final two minutes of the game made things a bit too interesting for their sake). But like I said, it's probably only one game, until it's more than that.
Cincinnati Bengals 7 at Miami Dolphins 19
Scott Spratt: Wow, Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard just made an acrobatic interception.
Xavien Howard grabs his 8th INT of the season! (leads NFL) #FinsUp
-- NFL (@NFL) December 6, 2020
That gives him eight for the season, the most in the NFL. When he and Byron Jones both got healthy, the Dolphins started their ascent to their current position of 10th in DVOA pass defense.
Scott Spratt: That breakout pass defense I just mentioned very quickly lost starting safety Eric Rowe and starting linebacker Elandon Roberts to injuries today. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brandon Allen just hit Tyler Boyd for a short completion that Boyd then turned into a 72-yard touchdown.
Huge touchdown for Tyler Boyd!
-- Dynasty Nerds (@DynastyNerds) December 6, 2020
That's safety Bobby McCain that takes the terrible route for the tackle that allows Boyd to turn the corner and score. I'm guessing the Rowe and Roberts made a difference on the play.
Scott Spratt: Yikes, now left guard Ereck Flowers is down injured for the Dolphins. This first quarter has not been kind to the Dolphins' playoff chances, even apart from their 7-0 deficit to the Bengals.
Scott Spratt: Oh no! The Dolphins did their sweet fake field goal formation at the goal line, and normal punter Matt Haack ran in a touchdown. But an illegal formation penalty because of non-declared eligible linemen wiped it out and motivated the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.
-- NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 6, 2020
Apparently both of the linemen who failed to declare themselves eligible are rookies. What a bummer.
Scott Spratt: Well, Tua Tagovailoa just had his highlight of the year erased by a terrible Jakeem Grant drop. I think that was going 90 yards for a touchdown.
tua threw a dime pic.twitter.com/TCbM8eAk5L
-- josh houtz (@houtz) December 6, 2020
Meanwhile, Tagovailoa was hit hard on a throw later in the drive. It looked like an incomplete pass to me, but the Bengals scooped and scored, and the play was ruled a fumble-return touchdown on the field (which I always like when the refs let the play continue if they are unsure). It's being reviewed as I type this.
Scott Spratt: The fumble-return touchdown was overruled on review and deemed an incomplete pass.
I chose to watch this game because I thought Tua might be the highlight of an otherwise underwhelming early slate of games. But do you know who isn't excited to see Tua play today? TV analyst James Lofton. On that 90-yard drop, Lofton intimated that Tua was responsible for the drop because his passes spin differently than a right-handed passer's would. And on the incompletion/fumble play, he called out Tua for failing to see a pass-rusher that he said Ryan Fitzpatrick would have seen.
Bryan Knowles: Woah, the arc of this one just changed. Both Xavien Howard and Tyler Boyd ejected on the same play, for ... slapping each other in the facemask? Maybe I missed a punch being thrown somewhere, but nothing on any of the replays I saw even justified a personal foul, much less an ejection, much less an ejection for both players. Zwuh?
Scott Spratt: I really don't see that at all, Bryan. Neither player punched the other. It was some simple shoving.
Tyler boyd and Xavien Howard ejected for throwing punches pic.twitter.com/LcUYQxzAJw
-- Fried (@FriedWillBarton) December 6, 2020
Rob Weintraub: Not only were both players ejected, which is ridiculous, but somehow the Bengals get penalized 15 yards while Miami's punch is deemed not penalty-worthy. Makes it a 53-yard field goal, which, in the most predictable portion of the season, Randy Bullock misses. Miami, now already practically in range for Jason sanders, is gifted three points to make it 7-6 at the half.
A sequence that nearly sums up the 2020 Bengals. At least a loss, now definite, actually helps the team in the big picture.
Scott Spratt: I guess it's not just James Lofton because the CBS halftime team just admonished the Dolphins for playing Tua as well. Is this a Ryan Fitzpatrick "respect among former players" thing? I thought Tua played fine in the first half beyond even the Jakeem Grant drop.
Scott Spratt: Tua led an effortless-seeming touchdown drive to start the second half going 5-of-6 for 76 yards. Maybe that will change some analyst opinions about him?
Scott Spratt: Tua is having some luck even out in the second half. Check out this sweet one-handed snag by tight end Mike Gesicki!
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 6, 2020
Scott Spratt: Emmanual Ogbah just took out the Dolphins' collective anger on quarterback Brandon Allen, stripping him on a sack and allowing teammate Christian Wilkins to scoop and score.
On review, the refs changed the ruling to an incomplete pass. But I wouldn't want to be Allen right now backed up against his own end zone.
Rob Weintraub: A bad hit by Michael Thomas as a gunner leads to Brian Flores leading two-thirds of his team across the field to engage in an all-out brawl. Three ejections result, including Davante Parker for slugging a Bengals coach. That's five dudes ejected today, or one more than Zac Taylor has wins in nearly two seasons. Somehow Flores wasn't penalized. Meanwhile Jonah Williams, who missed all of his rookie season to injury, gets rolled up on and gets carted off, to go with his rookie quarterback. What a year. What a team.
Scott Spratt: Ever since that Dolphins' defensive non-touchdown, the Dolphins defense has constantly been in the backfield hitting the Bengals quarterback. Brandon Allen was knocked out of the game with a chest injury, and so Ryan Finley is in now.
Rob Weintraub: Also, the Bengals dressed only three cornerbacks today and one, Mackensie Alexander, went out with a concussion. One of the healthy ones is LeShaun Sims, who is ... not good. So keep that in perspective when analyzing Tua.
Oh, and now Brandon Allen is hurt, and QB3, Ryan Finley, is in. What fun.
Jacksonville Jaguars 24 at Minnesota Vikings 27 (OT)
Scott Spratt: It's 1:25 p.m. ET, and the Jaguars and Jets are currently both up at least seven points. By my count, those teams have led on just 42 and 63 offensive plays all season. No other team has led on fewer than 100 offensive plays.
Scott Spratt: I just saw how the Jaguars took that lead:
Laviska Shenault's tipped-pass touchdown looked like a Madden glitch pic.twitter.com/HcENxjMkcQ
-- BroBible (@BroBible) December 6, 2020
Bryan Knowles: This game was 9-6 Jaguars at the half -- clearly, a bad day for Minnesota, but you can go into the locker room, shake it off, and come back out strong. The Vikings are a significantly better team than Jacksonville, so a reset should favor them...
... but on the very first play of the second half, Kirk Cousins throws the ball straight to Joe Schobert, who takes it all the way back to the house. Oops.
To be fair, the Vikings moved the ball on their second drive, hitting Justin Jefferson for a big 40-yard gain -- and here's where we plug our ESPN article about the best rookie wide receiver seasons in history. That leads to a score, so it's still just a three-point Jaguars lead, 16-13. Still, Jacksonville playing like a team which doesn't care if they have a chance for the top pick or not.
Scott Spratt: Speaking of Justin Jefferson, he just scored a touchdown and went over 1,000 yards on the season in just 12 games.
-- QB List (@TheQBlist) December 6, 2020
The Vikings finally have their first lead at 19-16. I'm going to be disappointed when the Jags and Jets end up losing by 20 apiece after their hot starts today.
Bryan Knowles: Don't count the Jets out of the No. 1 pick just yet -- the Jaguars march down the field and score the touchdown AND the two-point conversion, and we have a tie at 24 with 1:08 left!
Las Vegas Raiders 31 at New York Jets 28
Dave Bernreuther: FanDuel Sportsbook posted earlier that someone made a $25 preseason bet on the Jets' first win being today. At +25000! It's 7-0 early, and I'd love to know who made that bet, and if this game stays close, I'll also love to know whether he has any fingernails left in about two hours.
Scott Spratt: Derek Carr tied the game up with a touchdown pass to Darren Waller about two seconds after you wrote that, Dave. Maybe the soothsayer won't have to bite his nails off after all.
Dave Bernreuther: Yeah, he'll come find me and peel mine off instead. My in-game jinxes this year are just brutal.
Vince Verhei: We're tied at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter. Raiders have moved the ball well on both of their drives, but the first ended in a tip-drill interception that bounced off of Henry Rugg's hands and into Arthur Maulet's. Second drive had a much better conclusion: a 9-yard touchdown to Darren Waller. Waller is already up to six catches for 79 yards and that score after 15 minutes.
What's going on with the Jets is more interesting. Jets got a touchdown on their first drive when Sam Darnold hit Jamison Crowder on third-and-goal from the 3. Announcers then started talking about how Darnold had a tendency to get off to slow starts. That didn't fit my impression, so I checked Darnold's DVOA numbers:
- First quarter: -2.5%
- Second quarter: -29.8%
- Third quarter: -61.5%
- Fourth/OT: -73.0%
Yeah, I don't think it's the slow starts that have been the problem.
One of the questions (the many, many questions) we have had about the Jets offense this year is why a team that is going absolutely nowhere has given a 200-year-old running back so much playing time. Well, that may not be an issue anymore -- Frank Gore has left the game, being evaluated with concussion symptoms. After he leaves, Josh Adams -- who has only 12 carries in the past two years coming into today -- gets a 25-yard run when the Raiders safeties take terrible angles and let him run up the middle. That sets up Crowder's second touchdown of the day when the Raiders lose track of him out of a bunch formation, and the Jets are up 13-7 now.
Scott Spratt: It is technically true that Sam Darnold has had slow starts, Vince. He just hasn't gotten better over the rest of the game.
Vince Verhei: You know what Scott, I hadn't thought of it that way, but I suppose you're right.
Bryan Knowles: Start biting those nails again, Unidentified Bettor, because the Jets just scored again to re-take the lead. The miss the extra point, so it's just 13-7, but still, it's the Jets. Apparently, the Raiders' sluggishness wasn't only a thing against the Falcons.
Dave, you said that someone bet money that this would be the Jets' first win before the season started? That would be some impressive precognition.
Vince Verhei: I have reassuring news, everyone: the Jets still suck after all. Sam "Slow Start" Donald has two sack-fumbles and an interception on back-to-back-to-back drives in the second quarter for New York. The first of those turnovers led to a Daniel Carlson field goal; the second led to Darren Waller's second touchdown of the day, which, well...
D-Wall just decided to do it himself
-- Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) December 6, 2020
That's Bryce Hall (37) and then Marcus Maye (20) playing "defense" for the Jets on that non-tackle. Waller is now up to 8-123-2.
After that third Darnold turnover, the Jets came up with back-to-back sacks on the last two plays of the half to prevent a field goal, but the Raiders are still up 17-13 at halftime.
Vince Verhei: Raiders open the second half with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. They had barely a dozen rushing yards in the first half; they had 39 on that drive, the last two coming on Derek Carr's scramble for a touchdown on second-and-goal. They also got two more first downs from Darren Waller, who is now up to 10 catches in 13 targets for 151 yards and two touchdowns. I just looked the best tight end DYAR game in our database: it was Travis Kelce against Houston in the playoffs last year. His statline that day: 10-12-134-3. The Jets have been a little below average against tight ends this year, so opponent adjustments won't do Waller any favors there.
Scott Spratt: Jets fans must hate to see Sam Darnold putting up this sort of effort to make it into the end zone.
Sam Darnold with the truck stick into the end zone. TD Jets. 24-21 pic.twitter.com/xVjdpFFyxM
-- Coast Trash (@Coast__Trash) December 6, 2020
He's really the only thing standing between those fans and Trevor Lawrence as their 2021 quarterback. Fortunately for them, the Jets still trail after the touchdown and two-point conversion 24-21.
Vince Verhei: This game isn't over yet. Jets just drove 96 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. The last 55 of those yards came on six straight runs (including two Darnold scrambles, one of which got into the end zone for the score). Ty Johnson has 88 yards on 14 carries; Josh Adams has 74 on eight. The Jets have run for 190 yards with more than 10 minutes to go; their season-high coming into the day was 129 against Denver in Week 4. Part of this is obviously the Las Vegas defense, 30th against run in DVOA coming into today. But you've got to think that part of it is also Adam Gase's stubborn refusal to give the youngsters a chance no matter how badly Gore struggled.
Anyway. Darnold completes a pass for a two-point conversion and the Raiders' lead is cut to 24-21.
Rob Weintraub: Mekhi Becton goes down a little banged up and slowly rises to his feet. Upon doing so he reveals his (rather immense) butt crack to a horrified nation of football fans.
Bryan Knowles: The treads are coming off the tank! After four straight punts took up the majority of the third quarter, the Jets put together a 96-yard drive to get the score within three. On the Raiders' ensuing drive, Henry Ruggs fumbles the ball right back to New York, Sam Darnold hits Ryan Griffin to get the ball inside the 5-yard line, and Ty Johnson gets in on his third crack. It's 28-24 Jets with 5:34 left, and upset alerts are flaring throughout the league.
I'd pay good money to know who Trevor Lawrence was rooting for.
Vince Verhei: Jets lead! Henry Ruggs fumbles the ball away just shy of midfield. Jets score six plays later -- one catch by Ryan Griffin for 18 yards, five runs by Johnson for 27 yards and a score. (They also got an unnecessary roughness foul on Clelin Ferrell, who has a pair of strip-sacks today but hurt the Raiders badly there.) Jets up 28-24 with 5:34 to go.
Vince Verhei: And we're down to the wire. Raiders have a second down in the red zone at the two-minute warning. Waller is the biggest reason they got there -- he had a 29-yard catch on third-and-10 and also drew a holding penalty on fourth-down. Two timeouts for each team, but it feels like this drive is going to decide the game.
Vince Verhei: Fourth-and-3, Carr hits Hunter Renfrow for a go-ahead touchdown -- but it's wiped out by offsetting penalties. So it's fourth-and-3 again, and Carr releases a floater while backpedaling. He underthrows Nelson Agholor on a flat route. Incompletion, Jets football.
Bryan Knowles: Oh, Jets.
Vince Verhei: OH MY GOD.
OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.
Rob Weintraub: You can't convince me the Jets didn't throw that game...
Vince Verhei: OK.
Jets go three-and-out on three straight runs. That includes a run on third-and-6 where they went out of bounds, but got a very generous call from the officials, who ruled forward progress had been stopped and the clock kept running.
Raiders get one more chance when Agholor gets three steps behind the defense on a post, but Carr totally overthrows him. Game over right?
-- Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) December 6, 2020
Scott Spratt: Remember when Andy Dalton upset the Ravens in Week 17, 2017, and suddenly became a hero in Buffalo since that win put the Bills in the playoffs? I feel like Henry Ruggs may be New York's new favorite son -- a remarkable turnaround from 45 minutes ago when his fumble allowed the Jets to pull ahead in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Knowles: How do you leave an undrafted corner one-on-one with Ruggs in that situation? Gregg Williams, what on earth are you doing?
Rob Weintraub: The Raiders are going to slip into the playoffs based on the Jets playing -- literally -- Cover-0 with seconds to play, and everyone will conveniently forget how they got there.
Dave Bernreuther: Rob, it's because Jon Gruden is excellent and very much worthy of his contract.
This result is especially hilarious to me because for years, almost every comment by sharp viewers about Gregg Williams has been to mock him for leaving a safety so far down the field that it looks like he's defending a Hail Mary.
Aaron Schatz: I doubt seriously that Gregg Williams specifically called a Cover-0 defense on that last play so the Jets would lose on purpose. Losing doesn't help the current coaching staff, they won't be around next year to enjoy the draft picks. Gregg Williams called a Cover-0 because he's Gregg Williams and that's just how he rolls.
Bryan Knowles: Gregg Williams is just waiting to invent the Cover-Minus-1 defense.
Scott Spratt: Did anyone point out how much that Ruggs touchdown cost the mystery bettor?
Dave Bernreuther: $6,250 on a $25 bet, Scott.
Working in DFS, I've seen far worse beats, dollar-wise, but man ... to be that close to being emphatically proven right on a call that specific ... he must feel like he got stabbed in the gut.
(So, a familiar feeling for a Jets fan, then.)
They won't do it, but if FanDuel wanted some good PR they'd pay that out anyway on a bad-beat special (which I want to say they've done before).
Detroit Lions 34 at Chicago Bears 30
Bryan Knowles: We haven't talked about this one much
in deference to the traditional Audibles intro because more interesting things have been happening elsewhere in the league. But the Bears are still on the edge of playoff contention, thanks entirely to their 5-1 start, so this is a relevant game.
What do the post-Matt Patricia Lions look like? Well, the defense hasn't exactly sprung to life with Patricia gone; the Bears are at 7 yards per play, with plenty of success on the ground. But on offense, interim coach Darrell Bevell has leaned into his historic tendencies and let Matthew Stafford go deep frequently; Stafford is 4-for-8 for 120 yards on passes traveling more than 15 yards through the air today. The offense feels more active, and I don't know how much of that is bias from looking for it and how much of it is Bevell able to call his game outside of Patricia's umbrella.
As a result of all this, the Bears are clinging to a 23-20 lead late in the third quarter. If the Bears do give up this lead, they will not be the first team to go from 5-1 to 5-7; the 1967 San Francisco 49ers managed to pull that feat off. But still, that would not be a good look!
Scott Spratt: Was Patricia meddling in the Lions' offensive play calling, Bryan? I always assumed he stayed away from that since he came up as a defensive coordinator.
Bryan Knowles: I don't think he was specifically making play calls or anything, per se, but the Lions have been less aggressive this season, and I do think, reading between the lines of some of the comments Patricia's players have made, that he put a bit of a conservative crimp on the offense. Bevell has denied this, but Taylor Decker came out this week and said "One thing that Bev has always preached to our offense -- and now as the head coach -- is pace in and out of the huddle. Running plays fast. Getting up to the line of scrimmage, line up, run the play, because pace, as an offense, is a weapon. And as a defense, if you can match the pace, then they can't use that as a weapon."
It will be interesting to see how that actually holds up in the stats. The Lions weren't exactly a slow offense leading up to today; they were 13th in our pace stats. And their 66 deep balls entering this week was mid-table; it's not like they're New England out there or anything. Patricia was 26th in EdjSports' CCI, grading offensive play calling in clutch situations. It will be interesting to see if any or all of those numbers improve with Bevell calling the shots. But it does sound like the players, at least, feel freer with Bevell in charge than Patricia.
Not that it matters if their defense can't stop anyone; in the time it took me to look all that up, the Bears put together a 12-play, 72-yard drive to extend the lead to 30-20 with 10 minutes left to go.
Bryan Knowles: Trubisky tries to lead a game-winning drive, but Allen Robinson goes out of bounds on third down a yard short of the marker -- he could have made it had he known where he was on the field. The Lions hold on fourth down, and they're going to win this football game!
Los Angeles Rams 38 at Arizona Cardinals 28
Dave Bernreuther: I'd love to see the dots on the opening score here ... Dan Arnold was "nobody else visible on the screen" wide-open for an easy touchdown before most people even joined the broadcast.
Also, this uniform combination (all-black with white helmet for a team named the Cardinals against bone) is awful.
Bryan Knowles: Since their opening touchdown drive, the Cardinals have 1 yard of tidal offense and a pair of punts. The Rams have also punted in that timeframe, but also have a turnover on downs and now, an 85-yard touchdown drive to tie things up at seven. On this last drive, Jared Goff did a good job standing up to pressure in his face -- no huge plays, barring maybe a 16-yard completion to Tyler Higbee, but no major mistakes and kept the team moving. It's kind of a bad sign for how his season is going that that's a good sign for him, but you take what you can get. All tied at seven early in the second quarter.
Dave Bernreuther: The Rams have called 21 passes and eight runs so far, 20 minutes into this game.
The Rams currently have the No. 1 run offense DVOA, by the way (and the Cardinals are very middle-of-the-pack in run defense), and Jared Goff is at 5 yards per attempt, even completing 70% of his passes.
I'm not one to argue with Sean McVay, but that is ... odd.
Dave Bernreuther: If I was feeling really mean I'd follow Vince's side-by-side box score photo from the Seahawks game with one of Kyler Murray and last week's Kendall Hinton. We're nearing halftime and Kyler is 1-for-8, with the one completion being one of the worst blown coverages of the year. Take that away and he's 0-for-7 with 4 yards rushing and -9 on two sacks. At least he hasn't turned the ball over ... but the Cardinals are about to close out the first half of a huge game for their playoff chances having run 16 plays for 62 yards, 59 of which came on the Arnold touchdown.
Kliff Kingsbury, meanwhile, is not using his three timeouts in an attempt to gain another drive this half. I suppose maybe the preceding paragraph could have something to do with that.
Dave Bernreuther: OK, two plays after he could/should have, Kingsbury stops the clock. It's also worth noting that they kick off to start the second half.
I know some people like him, but I remain unimpressed by his coaching acumen.
Bryan Knowles: The score is finally beginning to represent the actual results here, with the Rams up 224-61 in yards but only 14-7 in points. The Rams are 0-for-2 on fourth downs, which explains some of the gap there. It may not matter unless the Cardinals can find some gas for their offense in the second half; this is a pretty bad showing in the division.
Vince Verhei: After twice turning the ball over on downs inside Arizona territory, the Rams finally deliver in the red zone. Jared Goff hits Tyler Higbee for a 1-yard touchdown on third-and -- goal and the Rams are up 14-7.
Updating Dave's last Tweet: there have 22 completions in this game now. The Rams have 21 of them.
On the plus side, the Cardinals are averaging 59.0 yards per catch, which I assume would be a record.
Bryan Knowles: It would be, Vince, but not by as much as you'd think. Per PFR, the 1942 New York Giants had a game where they went one-for-one for 50 yards and a touchdown.
... that may be a lack of data in their database, but it also may just be World War II football being terrible.
Bryan Knowles: UPDATE: I have the New York Times boxscore from the year!
One yard rushing and one complete pass, and they win. Football sucked in the 1940s, I tell you what.
Bryan Knowles: Well, the Cardinals have woken up some here in the third quarter. Perhaps feeling the game getting away from them, the Cardinals attempted a fourth-and-12 from the Rams' 40-yard line, picking it up to keep their best drive of the day going. No highlight plays of note, really, and 75 yards in 15 plays isn't the most efficient way to play football, but death by a thousand papercuts is still death. It's now just a 17-14 Rams lead; we have a football game.
Bryan Knowles: While I was looking up stats, things went crazy in Arizona.
The Rams responded to the Cardinals' 75-yard touchdown drive with one of their own. Cam Akers is having a heck of a two weeks; he ran all over San Francisco last week and has been fairly effective today; his 22-yard reception was the big play there.
And then the Cardinals responded to that 75-yard touchdown drive with their own 75-yard touchdown drive, of sorts. They did have to punt, but the Rams muffed it, and the Cardinals got the ball back inside the red zone. So, after all that, it's 24-21 Rams as these two teams just march up and down the field against one another.
Bryan Knowles: "The Cardinals have the momentum!" the announcers proclaim, as the Rams line up for a third-and-11. And that momentum, apparently, allows them to simply not cover Gerald Everett, who picks up 22 yards and a new set of downs. A few plays later, Darrell Henderson rushes for 38 yards and a score, making it a 10-point Rams game once again. No word where the momentum is, but with 10:07 left, the Cardinals aren't out of this yet. They kind of have to score on this drive, but at least they're not out of it.
And, after three straight 75-yard touchdown drives, that last one was a welcome breath of fresh air: a 76-yard touchdown drive.
Dave Bernreuther: And there goes Henderson. Took a while, but now they look like a No. 1 rush offense. Goff, meanwhile, is well into respectable yards per attempt as well on 46 attempts.
Philadelphia Eagles 16 at Green Bay Packers 30
Scott Spratt: I like that CBS put up a graphic within the first five minutes of this game that showed how the Eagles have had bad continuity with their skill-position players in recent seasons and offensive line injuries this season. That's definitely the reason Carson Wentz has -822 passing DYAR this year, by far the worst among regular starters.
Eagles fans: Yeah, Wentz will be fine.
Scott Spratt: The Eagles managed just 90 yards of total offense in the first half and so naturally trail 14-3. I haven't been locked into this game, so I'm surprised to see in the boxscore that Jordan Howard has four carries versus just five for incumbent starter Miles Sanders. They just signed Howard last week after the Dolphins released him. Does anyone know what the deal is with that? Are the Eagles just grasping at straws since their season has gone so poorly?
Carl Yedor: As someone who had Sanders on his fantasy team last year, Philly loved using Howard over Sanders for reasons I never quite figured out when both were healthy, though it may have had something to do with Howard being more willing to decisively follow blocks instead of trying to hit home runs. Howard also had a massive game against the Packers last year, so I wouldn't be surprised if they still think he has some juice as a playmaker. I'm not saying it makes sense, but that might be the logic.
Scott Spratt: This not just in, Davante Adams is really good.
Aaron Rodgers 👉 Davante Adams
-- Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) December 6, 2020
Bryan Knowles: In a week where many top teams have struggled -- see New Orleans and Seattle having trouble with clearly lesser opposition -- the Packers are staking their claim for top team in the NFC, at the very least. 20-3 after a 99-yard touchdown drive and you can pretty much put this one in the books already.
Dave Bernreuther: This time it was you scooping me by saying the exact same thing I was about to, Scott!
On their first touchdown drive, Adams' hands were just incredible on both the pass down to the 1 (blanketed, maintained possession going down) and on the touchdown itself. Earlier in this drive, on the deep pass, he caught it in tight coverage with what looked like only fingertips. And now for his second score, he looked to have no clear path (although it was more room than Jones had on the previous first-down run!) and managed to beat the defenders to the pylon anyway. He's having one heck of a game.
Aaron Schatz: Bryan, I think the Eagles also count as lesser opposition. : )
Bryan Knowles: Oh, most certainly. But at least the Eagles actually look like lesser competition today!
Aaron Schatz: The Eagles have done it. They put in Jalen Hurts. I believe he rolled left on his first three pass attempts, but one of them was a sweet 35-yard launch to fellow rookie Jalen Reagor.
Dave Bernreuther: First pass: a deep completion to Reagor. Very nice.
Next play: play-fake to nobody, rolls left for a loss. Not so much.
Bryan Knowles: Remember when I said the Packers were making a statement by handling their lesser competition? Uh, I take that back. Jalen Reagor just returned a punt 73 yards to the house, and it's 23-16 Packers with 6:30 left...
Bryan Knowles: It looks like the Packers will survive the late-game comeback from the Eagles, with Aaron Jones turning in a 77-yard touchdown run to give Green Bay a 30-17 lead with 2:36 left. That fourth quarter got more nail-bitey than anyone in Lambeau would have expected, and the Eagles should feel somewhat optimistic about what Jalen Hurts was able to do, but the result seems to be more or less out of question now.
New York Giants 17 at Seattle Seahawks 12
Vince Verhei: Seahawks lead 3-0 at the end of a quiet first quarter. They moved down the field with ease on their first drive but settled for a field goal. Second drive ended with a third-down sack when a stunt got a rusher unblocked right up the middle. Colt McCoy has had some surprising success thousand-cutting his way down the field, mostly with passes to former Seahawks star Golden Tate, but threw a tip-drill interception on a pass to Evan Engram near the edge of field goal range.
Tyler Lockett left the game with what looked like a neck injury when the top of his head collided with a defender's knee. They said he was evaluated for a concussion and cleared to return, but he's still on the sideline.
Most entertaining play design may be the Giants taking starting guard Shane Lemieux and sticking him at fullback on a second-and-1. He didn't really do anything on the play, but Elijhaa Penny did run for a first down.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks have a fourth-and-6 at the 37. Long field goal? Pass to DK Metcalf? Of course not! You intentionally take a delay of game and punt!
Michael Dickson's punt goes out of bounds at the 9. Including the delay of game, they gained 28 yards on the punt.
Scott Spratt: In related news, Vince, Pete Carroll landed at 29th in the critical call index in the 2020 debut of EdjSports' Coach Rankings last week.
Vince Verhei: Ahem.
This is real, and does not include Wilson's lost fumble on a botched snap. pic.twitter.com/qtzM5zMrgv
-- Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) December 6, 2020
Scott Spratt: The Seahawks may not need offense, Vince. Their special teams just blocked a punt, and while they couldn't fall on it in the end zone to score the touchdown, they still got the safety for batting it through the end zone. It's 5-0 Seahawks, and maybe that will be enough.
Seahawks block the Giants punt and it's a safety. pic.twitter.com/KMnAuwKdmO
-- Alex. 👋 PS5 Owner. (@Dubs408) December 6, 2020
Carl Yedor: It appears that Jason Garrett may have taken his evil juju with him to New York. Some may have forgotten, but in the 2018 playoffs, Seattle lost to Dallas in the wild-card round while displaying an absolutely infuriating run-pass balance for most of the game. Seattle ran the ball over and over again despite 1) having next to no success with it and 2) shredding Dallas through the air almost every time they threw the ball. Prior to the game, general manager John Schneider made a comment (I think on radio maybe) to the effect of they were planning on having a good old-fashioned smashmouth game with the Cowboys that week. Now that Garrett has moved on from Dallas, Seattle had no qualms about throwing it all over the yard against the Cowboys this year, but they seem content to ugly it up with his new employer in the Giants. In keeping with that theme, it's 5-0 at halftime thanks to a last-second safety courtesy of a blocked punt.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks get a blocked punt for a safety late in the second quarter and lead 5-0 at halftime.
Russell Wilson is having a miserable game. He looks panicky and indecisive and hesitant, like he has never played in the NFL before. He's responding to pressure by completing passes for a loss or taking a needless intentional grounding foul. On his fumbled snap, he easily could have fallen on it behind the line of scrimmage, but tried to scoop it up instead and ended up kicking it forward for a New York recovery.
It doesn't help that James Bradberry has had a good game against DK Metcalf. Metcalf has three catches for 51 yards, which sounds OK for 30 minutes, but none of those catches have gotten any closer than the New York 36 -- he hasn't done anything to put points on the board.
Bryan Knowles: I know the Seahawks' offense is stuck in neutral today, but Pete Carroll is not helping. Facing fourth-and-2 from the 40, the Seahawks opt to punt. Two plays later, Wayne Gallman breaks free and runs 60 yards into the Seattle red zone, and two plays after that, Alfred Morris runs up the gut to get into the end zone. The two-point conversion is good, and you have your normal, everyday 8-5 score.
Vince Verhei: And the Giants take the lead on three straight runs: Wayne Gallman takes off down the left sideline for 60 yards, Alfred Morris goes left tackle for 13, and Morris finishes with the 4-yard touchdown. Giants get the two-pointer and lead 8-5.
Not that it ended up mattering, but it was Jamal Adams who chased Gallman down on the long run and allowed Jordyn Brooks to make the tackle. Brooks leads Seattle with eight tackles today; Adams is second with seven and also has another sack.
Dave Bernreuther: I was surprised to learn that 8-5 makes it >50% more likely (33.0% to 20.8%) that this game ends in a Scorigami. Because I'm a jerk, I'm rooting for the NFL's first 8-8 game. It would make the NFC East "race" even more interesting.
Vince Verhei: Fourth-and-1 at midfield. You're down by a field goal. Your running back has 56 yards on nine carries; your quarterback has 41 on five. Not even Pete Carroll could punt here, and he doesn't ... but it's a play-fake and a bootleg? The Giants are 100% not fooled, nobody is open, and Wilson's pass under pressure isn't close to complete.
And then Gallman runs for 13, and then 23, and then McCoy hits Morris for a 6-yard touchdown. Point after is no good, but the lead is up to 14-5 now.
The announcers, of course, credit McCoy for that touchdown drive instead of Gallman or Morris, but that is low on my list of concerns right now.
Bryan Knowles: Vince, it seems like the Seahawks' defensive line is on skates, as every time I flip over, someone's running backwards. Am I flipping back at bad times, or are the Giants really bullying them that much up front?
Carl Yedor: Seattle finally chooses to go for it on fourth down but come up short. The Giants take advantage of good field position and quickly take advantage with a touchdown drive that only requires McCoy to drop back once. McCoy hit Alfred Morris on a rollout to the flat for a walk-in touchdown. Graham Gano misses the extra point, so New York's lead is 14-5. Coincidentally, Seattle has lost a game 14-5 before; it happened in 2016 against the Buccaneers.
Dave Bernreuther: Damn it, Graham Gano. How do you doink what could've been a 15-5 lead?
Vince Verhei: Bryan, you are not wrong. Every run play for the Giants in the second half starts 4 yards downfield.
Russell Wilson continues to have a terrible day. So are the announcers.
Russell Wilson took a 15-yard sack on this play. Announcers showed this replay and said nobody was open. Umm... pic.twitter.com/7jgSyfyCFW
-- Vincent Verhei (@FO_VVerhei) December 6, 2020
Vince Verhei: Wilson's pass to Chris Carson is tipped to Darnay Holmes for the interception. That's Wilson's 11th interception of the year, tying his career high. That gives New York the ball inside the Seattle 40, but they go nowhere. On fourth-and-1, Graham Gano hits a 48-yard field goal to turn a two-possession score into a ... slightly different two-possession score, 17-5.
Dave Bernreuther: Fourth-and-1 at the 30, up by nine as a big underdog, and you ... kick a freaking field goal? Shame on you, Joe Judge. Takes that two-score lead to ... a two-score lead. WIth just enough time for Russ to get hot, too.
Vince Verhei: Seattle's top two right tackles, Brandon Shell and Cedric Ogbuehi, were both inactive today. Jamarco Jones started, but now he's out with a groin injury. So it's fourth-stringer Chad Wheeler in at right tackle, giving up a sack to Jabaal Sheard. But a holding penalty on New York gives Seattle new life after that, and Wilson rolls out to his left, away from Wheeler, and finds Carson on a corner route. Carson catches the ball at the 2 and steps across the goal line for a 28-yard touchdown. The lead is cut to 17-12 with just over six minutes to go.
Vince Verhei: McCoy throws for a pair of first downs. We're at the two-minute warning now. Giants have a third-and-5 at the Seattle 42. Seahawks do have two timeouts left, but one more first down should still just about finish this one off.
Vince Verhei: McCoy's third-down pass is incomplete. And then the Giants ... punt? From the 42?
The ball goes into the end zone for a touchback and a 22-yard net gain. Seahawks have 1:48 and two timeouts to go 80 yards and win.
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks cross midfield, but then on first down Wilson overthrows David Moore and Julian Love drops what should have been a game-sealing interception. Third down, the Giants use another one of the stunts that has given Seattle trouble all day for the sack and forcing Seattle to call their last timeout. Fourth-and-18, Wilson scrambles and throws a Hail Mary -- which I don't think was the plan -- but it's batted incomplete and the Giants win.
I mean, the Giants win. It wasn't a fluke, they outgained Seattle 5.3 yards per play to 4.7. They were +1 in turnovers, but gave that back on the blocked punt. They were the better team today. Colt McCoy's first win as a starter since 2014.
Unbelievable. One of the biggest upsets of the year and one of the worst Seattle losses of the Wilson era.
Bryan Knowles: Did the Seahawks close at -10 or -11 favorites? The Raiders were 11-point underdogs against the Chiefs in their win, which would be the only other game this season to really challenge this one.
Carl Yedor: On one hand, I was watching the game today and was thoroughly mystified by the fact that Seattle wasn't moving the ball at will. Maybe being down to your third-string and subsequently fourth-string right tackles played a role in that, but it didn't seem like they were getting consistently worked. Either no one was getting open or Wilson wasn't seeing guys down the field, but it seemed like there were a ton of plays where he was holding the ball forever without anyone coming open. On the other hand, it's hard to say that the Giants were lucky to win the game. Sure, the interception was a little fluky, but Seattle got a similar tipped pick early in the game. Seattle had five drives that were in New York territory at some point but did not result in any points, due to a mix of sacks, penalties, and timid coaching. Is Wilson so concerned about turning the ball over that he isn't seeing guys and attempting throws that he should be? It isn't 100% clear, but Seattle needs to get this fixed if they're serious about making a playoff run.
New England Patriots 45 at Los Angeles Chargers 0
Scott Spratt: The Chargers entered this week with by far the worst special teams at -12.7% DVOA. And that probably just got even worse as the team allowed Gunner Olszewski to return a punt for a 70-yard touchdown to put the Patriots up 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Gunner Olszewski with the punt return for a touchdown .
This time it's not called back due to a penalty. pic.twitter.com/YsHtujZxmh
-- Pats Buzz (@PatsBuzz) December 6, 2020
Scott Spratt: Wow, CBS just showed a graphic that the Patriots have won 94 straight games after leading by 14 or more points at the half. Unsurprisingly, that is an NFL record. The Pats are a minute and a half away from that halftime lead barring something crazy here. They are in the red zone poised to expand on their 14-0 lead.
Aaron Schatz: This game is like the platonic ideal of what the 2020 Patriots are supposed to be. The defense looks much better than usual. Stephon Gilmore is shutting down Keenan Allen. There's an actual pass rush getting to Justin Herbert. The offense is all rushing and short passes. They're winning 21-0 even though Cam Newton has a grand total of 42 passing yards. He has two rushing touchdowns. Add in the strong special teams play, and like I said, platonic ideal. One thing I've noticed: Newton is throwing quickly more often, and when the pocket breaks down, he's taking off and scrambling sooner than he did earlier in the year.
And just as I was about to send this, the Patriots block a field goal attempt and return it for a touchdown to take a 28-0 lead into halftime. Yikes.
Bryan Knowles: The Chargers' special teams nightmares continue. They move into field goal range at the end of the first half, but Michael Badgley has his field goal blocked, New England scoops it up, and scores a touchdown.
It's so rare for a team to be so bad at all aspects of special teams...
Dave Bernreuther: CBS also kindly told us, prior to Newton's second touchdown run, that the Chargers had allowed 15 straight touchdowns in red zone possessions. So now 16. That's not so good.
On the next possession, Herbert was mid-jump for a desperation pass when he realized he didn't have anyone open (smart), and thus tossed it to his lineman (less so). Two flags flew, but one was picked up, leaving only the Chargers with the illegal touch call. Not sure how they didn't get Chase Winovich for the defensive holding there, though, as he had his man by the jersey and shoulder pads before his illegal touch.
The Chargers then line up to kick ... and we get ANOTHER block and score. Patriots special eams now have two scores to match Newton's. It's looking an awful lot like 2019 all of a sudden (although that was more defense than special teams on the game-flipping scores)...
MADNESS. The Patriots block a field goal and Devin McCourty returns it for a touchdown pic.twitter.com/GzArwgaZiq
-- Pats Buzz (@PatsBuzz) December 6, 2020
The broadcast earlier mentioned that the Patriots are the least penalized team in football, Aaron. So add that to the list of what Belichick wanted this team to be.
Scott Spratt: Look how Chase Winovich bides his time to bait Justin Herbert into this interception and then makes the great hustle play.
Chase Winovich, bem comum pic.twitter.com/mSS5Se1gr7
-- Rodolfo (@RodolfoBuenoo) December 7, 2020
He seems like he's going to be a quintessential Patriots defender. Also, he is clear evidence that Justin Herbert shouldn't have gotten a haircut.
Scott Spratt: I can't really blame announcers for trying to fill air time with the Patriots now up 35-0 here. But I feel like the "Bill Belichick is 20-5 against rookie quarterbacks" storyline misses the mark on the fact that the Patriots have been really good in general and have routinely beaten bad teams whoever their quarterbacks were.
Vince Verhei: A further note on the Chargers' special teams: Nora Princiotti from The Ringer points out the Chargers have punted three times today, and have had the wrong number of players on the field for two of them.
Dave Bernreuther: Speaking of things other writers have said about this game, Mike Reiss called Olszewski's punt return touchdown in an ESPN preview.
Meanwhile, in a 35-0 game, Kenneth Murray is celebrating a "tackle" when Cam Newton slid to give himself up behind the line of scrimmage on a designed run to nowhere.
Dave Bernreuther: Jarrett Stidham comes in and leads the Patriots straight downield for another score -- passing for nearly as many yards on three attempts as Newton did all game, by the way -- and this game is now 45-0, although the Chargers are driving to save a bit of face here in the endgame.
Denver Broncos 16 at Kansas City Chiefs 22
Scott Spratt: Oof. Drew Lock was actually moving the ball on the Broncos' opening drive, highlighted by a 37-yard completion to tight end Noah Fant. But it looked like he just threw that ball up for grabs in the red zone, and safety Tyrann Mathieu pulled it down for an interception.
It felt like the Broncos needed to play mistake-free football to remain competitive tonight. This is the sort of start you'd expect in a multi-score Chiefs win.
Scott Spratt: I don't think Vic Fangio has the disposition for it, but I would have loved to see the Broncos go for that fourth-and-2 from their own 40-yard line. As the inferior team, I think it helps your chances to take a few of those higher-variance chances.
Carl Yedor: I think Denver's earlier decision to kick the field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Kansas City 35 may have confirmed that Fangio doesn't have the disposition for it. Denver then gets bailed out when Kansas City neglects to challenge what might have been a touchdown to Tyreek Hill that was ruled incomplete. It sure looked like it was incomplete in real time, so I don't blame the ref, but after glancing at the review on the broadcast, it looked like the ball never actually hit the ground before landing in Hill's arms on a deep shot. Still 3-3 for now.
Scott Spratt: Woah, Tyreek Hill caught that ball. He seemed to drop a deep pass in the end zone, but it sort of pinned between him and his defender such that it never touched the ground.
The moment Al Michaels realizes Tyreek Hill caught that ball. Priceless. pic.twitter.com/oZ5yItHlRZ
-- Alex Brasky (@AlexBraskyBDN) December 7, 2020
The refs didn't realize it on the field, and then Andy Reid punted without a challenge. Huge break for the Broncos who improbably remain tied at 3-3.
Scott Spratt: And now Melvin Gordon just ran for 63 yards? This is a game of improbabilities! It makes me think maybe the Broncos really can win.
Bryan Knowles: I will note that the last two times the Chiefs wore red-over-red, they lost -- to the Colts in 2019, and to the Chargers in 2018.
This is definitely relevant.
Scott Spratt: What a rollercoaster for the Broncos to end the first half. First, Noah Fant tipped a screen pass to himself and caught it, setting up a play that looked likely to gain the Broncos a lot of yards and a new first down. But then Fant failed to follow his blocker and got taken down short by Tyrann Mathieu. Brandon McManus missed the subsequent 57-yard field goal attempt, which gave Patrick Mahomes 28 seconds to go down the field. He promptly did that with chunk completions to Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce, the latter of which featured Kelce throwing defenders on the ground with stiffarms. But then defensive tackle Shelby Harris batted down Mahomes' pass headed toward the end zone with seven seconds left in the half. That prompted the Chiefs to settle for their third field goal, and the Broncos came out of all of that still up 10-9. Phew.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs just stalled out in the red zone again. Broncos had everyone covered and Jeremiah Attaochu beat Mike Remmers. Kansas City's inability to score touchdowns tonight (well, touchdowns that they realize they scored) is baffling.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs are doing it again. Yes, they finally got a touchdown by Travis Kelce, but they're letting yet another opponent hang around in the fourth quarter. We keep hearing about how dominating this team is supposed to be and they keep playing close games. Today the problem is some bad luck combined with the Broncos' defensive line getting pressure. They've dropped a couple of big passes. Tyreek Hill just had a big touchdown called back on holding. On one hand, if so many things go wrong for Kansas City and they're still winning, what happens when they stop having bad luck? But on the other hand, at some point won't some opponent be able to make up that last bit of difference in the fourth quarter?
Bryan Knowles: I generally agree with you, even though we saw the Chiefs pull out all those come-from-behind victories in the playoffs last year. I do wonder, however, if the Chiefs' ability to crank up extremely quick-paced offensive strikes gives them a cushion that, say, the Pittsburgh Steelers don't have at their disposal when they struggle with mediocre teams? I have no idea if that's at all backed up by anything statistical, just a passing thought.
But yeah. If the Chiefs are the best team in football, you'd expect them to have some bigger leads from time to time.
Aaron Schatz: Huge mistake by Denver to punt on fourth-and-3 at midfield. Chiefs back in four plays to where they would have been if the Broncos had gone for fourth down and failed.
Aaron Schatz: Chiefs kick the dreaded field goal that goes up six but I have my doubts that the Broncos can come back and score a touchdown in 1:04 without a timeout.
Carl Yedor: The Chiefs settled for their own passive play on fourth-and-3, but they opted for a field goal instead of trying to go for it to ice the game while Denver punted. Not sure what the win probability numbers are there, but if you're Denver, you have to be happy that you're at least getting the ball back with a chance to win the game. I don't have a lot of faith in Drew Lock with no timeouts and a minute left, though it would be a great time for him to have one of the first signature drives against a good team in his young career.
Carl Yedor: Never mind. Lock throws a pick on fourth down, and Kansas City escapes.