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.
Dallas Cowboys 30 at Cincinnati Bengals 7
Cale Clinton: The Andy Dalton Revenge Game is under way!
While a matchup between two teams with five combined wins is by no means the most compelling game in this early slate, we have already witnessed something truly rare. On the Bengals' opening drive, Giovani Bernard coughed up the ball on his first handoff of the afternoon. He's usually not one to cough it up -- the broadcast had pointed out this was Bernard's first fumble in over 800 carries. His last fumble? Week 5 of 2013, his rookie season.
Cale Clinton: Cincinnati's got a case of the cough-ups! This time it's Trayveon Williams, who loses the ball and allows it to spill into the open field. Aldon Smith is able to scoop it and score without much resistance.
Cale Clinton: (In the voice of The Count from Sesame Street) THREE! THREE FUMBLES! AH AH AH!
The Bengals run the ball on fourth-and-1 from Dallas' 14-yard line, but Alex Erickson coughs it up after converting the first down. We were one play away from having all three fumbles occur in the first quarter. Every Bengals drive has ended in a lost fumble. Terrible ball control and even worse luck.
Dave Bernreuther: Earlier this year we saw the Cowboys putting the ball on the ground in bunches; today we're seeing the opposite. To open the second quarter, Zac Taylor keeps the offense on the field for fourth-and-1 -- correctly, but I was still sort of surprised, even down 10 -- and Darien Thompson forces the THIRD fumble of the day with a perfectly placed helmet, and we find ourselves with a decent example to cite when discussing fumble luck ... as if we needed more. Dallas has scooped up all three loose balls, and the Andy Dalton Revenge tour rolls on.
Bryan Knowles: "Andy Dalton Revenge Game" just sounds wrong, like, philosophically. It's accurate, mind you -- a 17-0 lead speaks for itself, and Dalton's 9-for-11 for 92 yards and a score himself, so it's not all fumble luck -- but it's just a weird sentence to type.
Cale Clinton: Only in 2020, Bryan. Only in 2020.
Cale Clinton: The Bengals finally show signs of life, converting a 16-play, 77-yard drive into a touchdown just before halftime. A.J. Green picks up just his second touchdown of the season and Austin Seibert bangs in the extra point off of the right upright.
Tennessee Titans 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 10
Cale Clinton: Tennessee is breaking out the bag of tricks early in Jacksonville! Ryan Tannehill runs the flea flicker and gets it to A.J. Brown, who makes a miraculous one-handed catch with the cornerback draped on him.
THE AMAZING ARTHUR JUAN! @Brown1arthur
-- Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 13, 2020
Scott Spratt: It's not a huge surprise to look up and suddenly see Derrick Henry with 122 yards in the first half, especially against the Jaguars' No. 23 DVOA run defense. But Aaron, didn't your DVOA article from last week detail that Henry has a chance to put up an historically great rushing season? That isn't getting a ton of fanfare, maybe because Dalvin Cook has been the perceived No. 1 back this year.
Aaron Schatz: Not really historically great because the best rushing DYAR seasons are all from around the turn of the millennium, but definitely "best since Adrian Peterson in 2012."
Scott Spratt: Even that is pretty impressive, Aaron. Meanwhile, Henry's 122 rushing yards today brings him to 1,429 for the season. He led the NFL with 1,540 last year (in 15 games), and he's going to fly past that. Could he reach 2,000? He gets to close the regular season with the Lions, Packers, and Texans triumvirate that David Montgomery has rolled over in recent weeks with lesser blocking and lesser talent.
Cale Clinton: With the Jaguars down 31-3 with six minutes to go in the third quarter, Gardner Minshew has taken the field for the first time since Week 7.
Scott Spratt: Derrick Henry update: he's up to 215 rushing yards this week (with about 10 minutes left) and 1,532 for the season. That's just 8 yards shy of what he put up in 15 games last season.
Tom Gower: The Jaguars really set the tone to their game early. On the game's opening possession, Mike Glennon converted a couple of third-and-shorts, then on third-and-9 from the Titans 39, they called a screen to Tyler Eifert. I assume this was to set up a more makeable fourth down, but no, Doug Marrone calls for the 53-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-5. Aldrick Rosas lost footing on his plant leg and the Titans blocked the kick to keep the game scoreless. After that start -- 5-for-5 for 37 yards -- Glennon would put up a further 48 yards on eight completions in 18 attempts before his eventual benching for Gardner Minshew. The moribund Titans' pass rush couldn't get to him (for the game, they had zero sacks and one quarterback hit, which came against Minshew), but any sort of disruption seemed to bother him -- he wasn't consistently precisely accurate, throwing receivers open, or doing anything downfield. That let Titans corners do a much better job against Jacksonville's receivers. The final straw proved to be his interception, a rare downfield attempt that was thrown a good couple of yards behind where it should have. Minshew provided some more improvisational ability and had some success against the Titans playing soft, but struggled when they got down to more compressed areas of the field. Watching them play with Glennon today just felt so pointless that I hope they stick with Minshew for the last couple games if only for watchability reasons.
Arizona Cardinals 26 at New York Giants 7
Vince Verhei: We had some internal discussion Saturday night about which game would get the most attention, Vikings-Buccaneers or Cardinals-Dolphins. And then there's the only game on local TV in the Seattle area: Cardinals at Giants. Announcers are talking about Daniel Jones and how he has cut down on turnovers. On cue, Markus Golden -- who played seven games FOR the Giants this season -- comes unblocked off the edge, right in Jones' face, and Jones just stands there and waits for the sack to come. Golden drills him and knocks the ball free, then scoops it up and runs back inside the Giants' 10. Two runs and a SHOVeLL pass leave Arizona with a fourth-and-goal from the 1. They go for it and Kyler Murray play-fakes and rolls to his right. KeeSean Johnson is open in the back of the end zone, but Murray doesn't see him in time. When he finally makes the throw, it's behind the receiver, and James Bradberry is able to break up the pass. Giants take over at their own 1.
Vince Verhei: There's a line in The Queen's Gambit where (paraphrasing) one chess player notes that another sacrifices his bishops like he's got dozens of them. Apparently Kliff Kingsbury feels the same way about timeouts. Murray hits the dirt to avoid an unblocked blitzer on a first-and-15 incomplete pass and apparently tweaks his hamstring. Kingsbury calls timeout so his quarterback can recover ... then sends a gimpy Murray back onto the field for a handoff to Kenyan Drake that loses a yard and a wide receiver screen that gains 1. I'm pretty sure Brett Hundley could have gained zero yards in two snaps without losing a timeout. But the Cardinals do get a field goal.
Giants fumble away the ensuing kickoff, but the Cardinals are unprepared and have to call another timeout on first-and-10. At least that drive paid off -- on third-and-goal from the 7, Murray hangs in the pocket and takes a big hit to deliver a jump ball to Dan Arnold, who comes down in the end zone for the touchdown and a 13-0 Arizona lead.
Dave Bernreuther: I noted Kingsbury's puzzling use of first half timeouts last week too, Vince. Maybe it's a game theory thing? (Ha.)
Vince Verhei: It's still 13-0 at halftime and I'm trying to figure out how on earth Seattle lost to this terrible New York team last week. The biggest answers are A) pass protection -- Russell Wilson was sacked five times last week, but Murray has not been sacked today; and B) rushing defense -- the Seahawks gave up roughly 700 yards on the ground last week, but the Giants are at 10 carries for 43 yards today.
Bryan Knowles: Also, Vince, the Seahawks were unlucky enough to play against the Giants' best quarterback.
Scott Spratt: To that point, Vince, the Cardinals do have the 10th-best adjusted sack rate allowed at 5.7%. The Seahawks are second-worst at 9.1%.
Dave Bernreuther: I think Bryan nails it. Jones is back in the lineup and has, predictably, put the ball on the turf twice that I have noticed. Dave Gettleman started receiving some actual praise this week in some circles, given how well the defense has played lately. Jones' first half -- 50% completions and barely one net yard per attempt, plus two fumbles -- is a nice reminder that there's a reason that this was the first time we heard Gettleman praise.
Vince Verhei: Jones is currently 6-of-12 for 44 yards with three sacks and two fumbles. You may be onto something Bryan.
Vince Verhei: This game could be a blowout, but Arizona has had some troubles in scoring range. Kenyan Drake's 1-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter makes it 20-0. Arizona has had five scoring chances -- two touchdowns, two field goals, and the fourth-and-goal stop -- while the Giants have yet to run a play in Arizona territory.
Colt McCoy has been warming up, but Jones is still in the game.
Bryan Knowles: My (mostly) tongue-in-cheek criticism of Daniel Jones aside, he did just hit a big 40-yard pass to Golden Tate, which nearly doubles his passing yards for the game. The Giants had Colt McCoy warming up, but that pass probably keeps Jones in for the rest of the game, and it leads to the first New York points of the day. Still 20-7 Cardinals, mind you, but a bit of a spark of life.
Vince Verhei: For the record, Colt McCoy did come in to finish the game, but it's not a benching scenario -- the Cardinals scored to go up 26-7 with less than three minutes to go, and Jones, who has already been sacked a half-dozen times today, was pulled for his own protection as much as anything else.
Indeed, McCoy's first dropback ends in a sack.
Minnesota Vikings 14 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26
Dave Bernreuther: There was a lot of chatter this week about Tampa Bay's first-down play calling and the fact that they have faced an uncommonly high number of second-and-8s. Coming off a bye, to start a drive ... Tampa Bay calls a run up the gut. It's blocked well, though, so it set them up for second-and-5.
There has also been a lot of chatter, for several weeks, about the lack of motion in Arians' offense and how it doesn't help his quarterbacks. So on their second first down, Bucs fans were surely happy to see two men in motion ... only to then see Brady hand off from shotgun to set up for another second-and-long that helped cripple the series.
Minnesota had previously opened the game with an impressive series before Kirk Cousins was sacked out of field goal range. More of the same on their second drive, with Dalvin Cook finding room and Cousins perfect so far. I haven't watched them closely since they turned their season around, but so far, the Vikings are impressing me.
Aaron Schatz: Dalvin Cook really battering the Bucs' No. 1 run defense so far. Eleven carries for 49 yards and it looks better than that. Cook isn't just running through holes, he's pushing piles for 3 and 4 extra yards at a time. Vikings are also finding holes in the Tampa Bay zones. First drive ended at the Tampa Bay 40 with a punt. Second drive scores a touchdown. Shanked extra point, 6-0 Vikings.
Dave Bernreuther: Funny moment (to me, anyway) on a first down in this one, as Cousins hands to Dalvin Cook, who runs directly into the back of C.J. Ham, transferring the entirety of his own momentum to Ham, who wasn't prepared for that at all and went straight to the turf. In real time it looked an awful lot like the metal balls of a Newton's Cradle.
Aaron Schatz: Minnesota's Dan Bailey just honked a 54-yard field goal. He also honked a 36-yarder earlier, and an extra point. They have now missed more points (seven) than they have scored (six).
Dave Bernreuther: Critics of Tom Brady's deep ball and/or Bruce Arians' offense probably did not enjoy Scotty Miller getting open deep and Tom Brady delivering him a very well-placed touchdown pass, which Miller caught despite looking like he was being interfered with. Brady remains quite good.
He's also getting a bit lucky, because he's currently leading in a game that he has no business leading, given how well the Vikings have played on every other play. But Dan Bailey has missed three kicks (I'll give him a pass on a 54-yarder, although it looked like it would have missed from half that distance too), so the Vikings look quite likely to be trailing at halftime.
Scott Spratt: Missed kicks seem rampant in first halves today, Aaron. Beyond Bailey's troubles, Brandon McManus missed an extra-point attempt for the Broncos, Jason Sanders missed a 45-yarder for the Dolphins, and Aldrick Rosas missed a 53-yarder for the Jaguars.
Bryan Knowles: Dave, I believe that 54-yarder would have missed even if you had two goalposts stacked side-by-side. The Vikings should consider never kicking again this game.
Aaron Schatz: I have never seen a DPI called on a Hail Mary before, but the Bucs just got one on the Vikings at the end of the second half. A couple of defenders pushing Rob Gronkowski, but to call that on a Hail Mary seems really iffy. I have seen way worse from defenders on Hail Marys before. And yet the Bucs eschewed the chance to score a touchdown and kicked an 18-yard field goal from the 1 on the untimed down to end the half. I would think that the touchdown there is greater than a 3.0-point value play. That's an error by Tampa Bay.
And speaking of errors, can we please stop with the runs to nowhere on first down? Seven of Tampa Bay's first nine first-and-10 plays were Ronald Jones runs totaling 19 yards. The Bucs got more yards than that on their two passes (a 20-yarder to Mike Evans and a pass Brady sailed over Jones' head). We go to halftime at 17-7 Tampa Bay.
Vince Verhei: Tom Brady already led the NFL with 16 DPIs for 297 yards coming into today, and he just got an absolute gift of one on an end-of-half Hail Mary. That gave them an untimed down at the 1 and they hit a field goal for a 17-6 halftime lead. There was definitely contact on Rob Gronkowski in the end zone, but on that scenario you can't throw the flag for anything short of some high-level jiu-jitsu.
Aaron Schatz: Thanks to Michael David Smith for pointing out this 2009 game decided by DPI on a Hail Mary. It's pretty rare.
Dave Bernreuther: The good luck continues, following an overturned interception via DPI (with which some disagreed; seemed defensible to me). The Bucs, despite going right back to their old ways with the first-down runs, now hold a two-score lead at halftime and will be getting the ball.
Dave Bernreuther: Maybe it's the humidity ... after a nice dart on the move to Gronk, Ryan Succop honks an extra point too.
This game reminds me a bit of the Chargers game in Tampa Bay; fast start for the visiting offense, but then the tables turned completely and Brady stepped on the gas and buried them. Bailey has cost them points, sure, but that doesn't explain the rest; one drive into the second half and this would be a two-score game even if he had made those kicks.
And that's even including "No risk it, no biscuit" Arians chickening out and taking the field goal after the gift at the half!
Bryan Knowles: With neither Tom Brady nor Kirk Cousins exactly lighting up the field today, this game brings up a very interesting question -- who the heck is the NFC's third Pro Bowl quarterback?
I'm definitely not asking this question because I have been tearing my hair out prepping for this week's Scramble, no sir.
Aaron Schatz: Kyler Murray because of rushing value?
Aaron Schatz: Vikings just went down the field on the Bucs. The Tampa Bay run defense was working better on this second-half drive but the zone pass defense was not. The drive was almost all passes to tight ends and running backs underneath. Vikings went for fourth-and-6 because they had no trust in Bailey to hit a 44-yard field goal. They also went for two after the touchdown pass to Irv Smith, Justin Jefferson gets the conversion and now it is 23-14 Tampa Bay.
Dave Bernreuther: Dan Bailey just missed wide right AGAIN.
Aaron Schatz: It was a good drive by the Vikings too. Another couple of long pass plays to Irv Smith, Kirk Cousins with a nice draw on third-and-2. But Cousins took two sacks in the red zone and the Vikings were basically forced to try a field goal, it was fourth-and-28.
Cale Clinton: I have always wanted a head coach to approach special teams the way I play Madden: never use the field goal kicker. Go for every fourth down inside your own 40-yard line, go for two every time, and punt only when absolutely necessary.
At this point, Mike Zimmer should at least consider that for next week.
Aaron Schatz: The Vikings are not going to have the same kicker next week.
Dave Bernreuther: Worth noting, Cale, that Pulaski Academy coach Kevin Kelley (known for being even more aggressive than you just described, and friend to/of Bill Belichick) is an FO subscriber.
Aaron Schatz: Looks like Vikings-Bucs is over. Vikings converted a couple of fourth downs on their final drive but for the most part, the Tampa Bay coverage was too good. On the last series, Cousins took sacks on second and fourth down as there was just nobody open. Tampa Bay got lucky today with all of Bailey's missed kicks but also their defense got its act together more in the second half, especially the run defense, and they shut down any chance the Vikings had at coming back.
Denver Broncos 32 at Carolina Panthers 27
Bryan Knowles: This is a pretty evenly matched contest, by which I mean both teams can be very charitably described as on the very fringes of the playoff race -- Denver's out if they lose this game, and Carolina won't be too far behind them. That doesn't mean we can't get some exciting football, mind you, or some good stories. Diontae Spencer, a former multiple-time CFL all-star, has finally scored his first touchdown in the NFL, an 83-yard punt return, and a fairly exciting one. Sometimes, a punt return is just "run straight up the field against a wide-open seam," but Spencer made a few big cuts to make some tacklers miss before turning on the jets. Always nice to see someone take the long route to NFL success.
The Broncos miss the extra point, of course, because they are the Broncos, and lead 6-0.
Scott Spratt: Great callout by the CBS broadcast team that Teddy Bridgewater -- he of the guaranteed $33-million contract -- drives a minivan.
-- Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 25, 2020
Bridgewater has a slightly different personality than the quarterback he replaced in Carolina, Cam Newton.
Bryan Knowles: Bad teams make bad plays. Denver's most recent drive was boosted by a roughing the passer penalty and a taunting penalty on the Carolina defense. I'm not saying it was all Carolina -- Jerry Jeudy had a nice route to burn Rasul Douglas for a 31-yard gain -- but Denver has the worst offensive DVOA in the league, so getting extra first downs is probably their best bet to consistently move the ball.
13-7 Broncos as we approach the end of the half.
Aaron Schatz: In defense of Denver's offense, if you take out the Kendall Hinton game they move all the way up to 31st!
Scott Spratt: Drew Lock just threw an easy touchdown to rookie KJ Hamler to put the Broncos up two scores despite Brandon McManus' pair of missed extra points.
Drew Lock to rookie KJ Hamler deep for the scorepic.twitter.com/NnRv341FYJ
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 13, 2020
I think Bryan is the MVP of Audibles so far because he also pointed out how Jerry Jeudy burned Panthers cornerback Rasul Douglas in the first half. Douglas was burned again on this score well before he (pretended to?) slip. I think the Broncos found a defensive weakness to target.
Scott Spratt: This probably wouldn't have mattered either way since the Broncos went up 25-10 with just 3:35 left in the third quarter. But head coach Vic Fangio just accepted a Panthers defensive penalty on a made extra-point attempt and went for two points, now from the 1-yard line. Drew Lock couldn't complete a pass on a bootleg, and it wouldn't have mattered since a Broncos player failed to report himself eligible and drew an illegal formation penalty. But it's great to see Fangio play a bit aggressively.
Bryan Knowles: On the ensuing Panthers drive, Teddy Bridgewater and Curtis Samuel go to work -- the two hooked up three times for 37 yards, leading to a Bridgewater draw for a score. They choose to just go for the extra point, so it's still 25-17, Broncos.
You're gonna get a lot of coverage of this near-meaningless Broncos/Panthers game the rest of the way, as it's the ONLY thing left remotely interesting during this early slate.
Scott Spratt: The Broncos just came up short on a completed pass on a third-and-1. That play was wiped out by a timeout that nobody on the field heard as the entire play happened. But then the Broncos failed to pick it up again on their second try, this time on a Melvin Gordon run. Now the Panthers are going to get the ball back with a chance to tie the game with an eight-point touchdown drive with 10:15 left in the fourth quarter.
Bryan Knowles: And the last competitive game of the early window is probably closed now. Down eight, the Panthers are forced to settle for a field goal in the red zone. Still five minutes left, though, so a stop would give them a chance to win the game.
... and instead, Drew Lock throws his fourth touchdown pass of the day, finding a wide-open KJ Hamler 40-plus yards downfield for what should be the icing touchdown. Hamler burned the entire Panthers defense; Rasul Douglas was once again the closest guy to him, though I don't know if it was his coverage that he blew or just a general failure on the back half there. 32-20 Broncos with just four minutes left; I think we're done here.
Scott Spratt: The Hamler touchdown:
-- Ben "Fight On" Shpall (@BenShpall) December 13, 2020
Vince Verhei: I look forward to an offseason full of Denver fans and executives pointing to Lock's four-touchdown day against a bad defense as evidence that he can still be The Guy.
Scott Spratt: This game may no longer be over. The Panthers just went 75 yards in 28 seconds to pull within five points with 3:26 remaining and all three timeouts left.
Vince Verhei: Joey Slye for special teams player of the week! Panthers just faked an onside kick down 32-27 with three and a half minutes to go. They lined up with the ball sideways on the tee, but Slye didn't kick onside, he slapped a groundball down the field. In preparation for the onside kick, Denver only had a returner back, and that returner sat and watched the ball skid towards the end zone. Instead it died short of the goal line, and the Broncos are going to start inside their own 10-yard line.
Cale Clinton: Are we sure this one's done? Carolina's able to march 62 yards downfield on four plays and score a touchdown in 28 seconds. The Panthers then manage to pin Denver at their own 6-yard line on the kickoff. A little over 3 minutes left, and Carolina has all their timeouts down 32-27.
Scott Spratt: How did Panthers kicker Joey Slye make the ball do this??
-- Nathan Fry (@FrySports) December 13, 2020
Bryan Knowles: Wooooah, Melvin Gordon JUST dodges a safety on third-and-13. That would have made it a three-point Denver lead and opened up the chance for a tying Carolina field goal.
Dave Bernreuther: Not only that, but the Broncos get to start their drive inside the 10-yard line too. And they seem determined to go backward too, playing not to lose with slow developing run plays.
And just like that, Carolina has the ball back with 2:48 to play.
Scott Spratt: There's the Teddy Bridgewater I remember! On a fourth-and-8 the Panthers have to convert to extend the game, Bridgewater checked down about 7 yards shy of the sticks. Curtis Samuel was tackled on the spot, and the Broncos earned their fifth win.
Scott Spratt: The announcers noted that the Panthers now have seven losses in their nine one-score games. That's the same number of one-score losses as the Chargers have. They are tied for the most in football.
Houston Texans 7 at Chicago Bears 36
Scott Spratt: David Montgomery has really enjoyed the Bears' turn in their schedule. He went for 254 combined yards and three touchdowns against the Packers and Lions the last two weeks, two teams ranked 25th and 28th in DVOA run defense. This week, he starts the Texans (26th) matchup with an 80-yard touchdown carry.
David Montgomery takes it 80 YARDS to the house on his FIRST rush of the game.
-- Rotoworld Football (@Rotoworld_FB) December 13, 2020
We'll see if Deshaun Watson can respond missing all of his starting receivers from early in the season.
Scott Spratt: Efe Obada just scooped and came this close to scoring on a Drew Lock fumble:
-- Nathan Fry (@FrySports) December 13, 2020
Obada is a great story. He was born in Nigeria and ended up homeless in London for a time before taking up football later in his childhood. However, I think the bigger football story highlighted by that play is Jeremy Chinn's incredible rookie season. He was the player who sacked Lock on the play -- he lines up all over the field, not just at his natural safety position -- and he is in the mix for defensive rookie of the year. He scored on a pair of fumble returns himself in his last game in Week 12.
Cale Clinton: I understand that a lot of Chicago's success today has come on the back of their defense and the breakaway run by Montgomery -- and Houston's already-poor pass defense is banged up -- but this game has really highlighted just how perplexing the whole Nick Foles situation was. Trubisky has already completed 18 of 21 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. For reference, Foles had thrown three first-half touchdowns in his 8 games with the Bears, averaging 97.5 first-half passing yards in the process. No, Trubisky's not great, but he's a serviceable quarterback. More importantly, Nick Foles -- especially on the contract he's on -- isn't any more valuable that Trubisky currently is.
Yes, sometimes teams just need a fresh start. I know that you can certainly point to moments over the last three years to justify the decision to move on from Trubisky. But how much of the decision to trade for Nick Foles can be simply chalked up to juxtaposing Trubisky to Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes? Chicago currently sits at 5-7, one game out of the playoffs. I don't think they'd be any further out had they stuck with Trubisky the whole season.
Vince Verhei: Houston's entire 2020 season summed up in one painful snap:
Deshaun Watson shaken up. pic.twitter.com/cr4utzGdjD
-- Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 13, 2020
Scott Spratt: The Bears wrapped this up at 36-7 with Mitchell Trubisky throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns versus just 219 and one for Deshaun Watson with his depleted receiving corps. Bears general manager Ryan Pace is finally vindicated.
Rivers McCown: Hi, I lost power today just after this game ended. I wrote this.
I think the Texans should consider playing better than this in the future.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 at Miami Dolphins 27
Bryan Knowles: Miami's defense has come to play today. Kansas City's first drive ended on a tip-drill interception for Byron Jones; the Dolphins have forced a turnover in 19 straight games, the longest active streak. The Chiefs' SECOND drive ended with Jerome Baker sacking Patrick Mahomes for a loss of 30 yards. That is not a typo, and I believe that's the most yards lost on any play this season, beating out a Joe Flacco 28-yard sack back in October.
It's hard to determine when the last play that lost more than 30 yards was; Stathead has some trouble with those sorts of plays, including missed field goals and turnovers and whatnot. I believe the answer was a 34-yard intentional safety from Andre Johnson at the end of a 2003 Texans/Bills contest. If you look for plays that were not intentional, it may be Stone Casey losing 30 yards on a sack in a 1997 Cardinals-Giants game. 30-yard losses are pretty dang rare!
Bryan Knowles: And, thanks to the flipped field position from that 30-yard sack, Miami gets the ball in Kansas City territory to start their next drive, A 20-yard slant to Jakeem Grant gets them into the red zone, and Tua Tagovailoa finds Mike Gesicki in the end zone to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead as the first quarter winds to a close. Getting big chunk plays against the Kansas City defense is probably the best strategy to stay in the game against them, and so far, so good for the Dolphins.
Cale Clinton: Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores spoke at length this week about the difficult task of defending this Chiefs team, wishing he could use 14 defenders to cover all of Kansas City's offensive weapons. Well, he has done a pretty good job with just 11 thus far. They have mostly rushed four and dropped seven into coverage, forcing Mahomes to wait and allowing mistakes to happen. Kansas City's first two drives have ended with an interception on a tipped pass, and a punt following a 30-yard sack on third-and-long.
Dave Bernreuther: I love Patrick Mahomes, but I HATE when quarterbacks turn around and run backwards. So I may have cheered the 30-YARD sack he just took, even as I root for him and the Chiefs. Russell Wilson is the only player I have seen who can consistently make that seem like a good idea (and I hate when he does it too; the neon-clad prayer that Antoine Bethea mis-defended a few years back is still burned my brain as an example of "bad process, good result"), and while if anyone else can get away with it and throw it away even while facing the wrong direction 30 yards behind the line, it's Mahomes, but still ... please don't do that, Patrick.
Not only are the Dolphins playing without every running back we have ever heard of today, but they're also short two starting linebackers, including their playcaller, Kyle Van Noy. So far they have stopped the Chiefs twice, though, via a Byron Jones interception and that sack. A few plays later, Mike Gesicki found a soft spot in the defense created by Tua's movement to his left, putting the Dolphins in front despite their personnel losses. Hard to ask for a better start than that.
Scott Spratt: The CBS broadcast just flashed that the Dolphins are No. 1 in the NFL in first-quarter points this season, 17 points ahead of the Chiefs in second place. That's pretty stunning of the No. 19 DVOA offense ... but maybe it's the defense because the Fins just tip-drilled their second interception in this first quarter.
Vince Verhei: Noting the oddities of Stathead's database, it looks like 30 yards ties Stoney Case's record for most yards lost on a sack since 1994 -- but there was a fumble on that play, and that bouncing ball probably had something to do with all that lost real estate. Same for Matt McGloin's 29-yard loss on a fumble-sack against the Jets in 2013. It looks like the record for most yards lost on a sack without a fumble was a tie at 28 yards between Flacco, Tim Tebow, and Kurt Warner.
I don't think this means anything, really, but I couldn't pass up the chance to compare Mahomes to Case, McGloin, Flacco, or Tebow. At least Warner is a Hall of Famer.
Bryan Knowles: After what may have been the worst first quarter of Patrick Mahomes' career, the Chiefs come right back -- 21-yard pass to Travis Kelce, 9-yard pass to Kelce, 13-yard pass to Demarcus Robinson, 32-yard Tyreek Hill run for a touchdown. No one produces lightning-fast scores like Kansas City does at the moment. I really want to dive into that this offseason -- does the Chiefs' ability to score so quickly and pick up yardage in chunks mean that they're in less trouble than other teams when down multiple scores? Or is it just "good teams are good?"
One way or another, it's 10-7 Dolphins midway through the second quarter.
Aaron Schatz: Well, the Chiefs are the best offense in the league. The question is "would some other best offense in the league in a different year be in more trouble down multiple scores?" and I have a feeling the answer is no. Especially when you consider that in the current offensive environment, leads are in more danger than ever before, and especially if you're facing the best offense in the game in the best offensive year in history.
Cale Clinton: I think we made similar comments earlier this season about how Kyler Murray looks like he runs in fast-forward because of how many steps he needs to take to scamper around the field, but Tyreek Hill highlights REALLY look like they're sped up.
-- Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 13, 2020
That 32-yard touchdown looks like it was half that distance. He's one of the only players whose speed really pops on the broadcast. Just unparalleled speed.
Bryan Knowles: Tua Tagovailoa started his career with 152 pass attempts and no interceptions. That streak is over; a deep pass down the middle ended up grabbed by Tyrann Mathieu after a tip. Mathieu now has four interceptions in the last three games. Not bad.
That sets the Chiefs up for the longest drive of the game -- nine plays, 72 yards, ending with a touchdown to Travis Kelce. It's worth noting that the Chiefs were moving the ball pretty well even in that first quarter -- it was three big plays that swung everything to Miami. Now, with fewer 30-yard sacks and bouncing interceptions, the Chiefs are re-establishing themselves, back up 14-10. Another double-digit comeback in the works, it appears.
Bryan Knowles: Coming into today, the Chiefs led the league with 59 plays of 20 yards or more. They have added five more today, including two on the first drive after halftime. First, Clyde Edwards-Helaire catches a little screen and earns about 25 YAC to get the ball to midfield. And then Mahomes, perhaps afraid of having his stats padded by YAC, throws the ball 55 yards on a dime to Tyreek Hill, who had burned the Dolphins' (excellent) secondary and was all alone.
21-10 Chiefs, and this one might be over if the Dolphins can't get something going right now.
Bryan Knowles: Aaaand by "get it going," I did not mean "punt right to Mecole Hardman, who returns the ball for 67 yards and a touchdown." 28-10, and I'm switching the big screen to a more competitive game.
Scott Spratt: Wait, which games are competitive, Bryan? Every leader is up 12 of more points as of 2:55 p.m. ET.
Bryan Knowles: I think we're down to Panthers-Broncos and Cowboys-Bengals, and I'm stretching pretty hard to include the latter in that sentence. Ah well.
Cale Clinton: Dots on the latest Tyreek Hill touchdown:
Tyreek Hill reached 21.91 MPH on this 44-yard deep TD from Patrick Mahomes, the 4th-fastest speed reached by a ball carrier this season and Hill's fastest this season.
-- Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 13, 2020
Next Gen Stats clocked Hill at 21.91 miles per hour on the reception, confirming what we already know: he's really fast.
Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs are going to win this game, but the Dolphins just had great catches on both ends of the field. Xavien Howard and Mike Gesicki both made one-handed grabs in the end zone, one for an interception and one for a touchdown. Some pretty football there, albeit it a losing effort.
Dave Bernreuther: Xavien Howard with a brilliant one-hand leaping grab of a Mahomes pass that wasn't a great bet to reach Tyreek Hill, but wasn't poor either. Somehow the Dolphins are +3 in turnovers but down by 20 points.
Make that 13, though, as we see a fine example of "bad process, good result": Mike Gesicki was never open. He wasn't open when Tua decided to throw it, nor was he open when the ball arrived. If ever there was a time when the over-used phrase "triple coverage" actually applied, this was it. That was a terrible decision to throw the ball.
Gesicki caught it anyway for the touchdown. We're seeing some good hands in Miami Lakes today.
Dave Bernreuther: For a guy who came into today without an interception thrown, Tua Tagovailoa throws an awful lot of interceptable passes. He has gotten away with a lot of underthrown passes today, one for a touchdown, a few others for DPI calls, and now suddenly this formerly 20-point game is also within one score.
Scott Spratt: I assume Patrick Mahomes is the first ever full-time quarterback starter who more than doubled his season-to-date interception total in one game in December.
Meanwhile, this game just got interesting with a Dolphins stop on a third-and-1. The Chiefs have a decision to make on a fourth-and-1 at midfield up six with 2:31 left.
Aaron Schatz: On the last Chiefs drive, the Dolphins were giving the Chiefs receivers so much space that they basically handed Mahomes first downs. I know they were afraid of being beat deep, but all the Chiefs needed was a couple of first downs to ice the game. Kansas City did decide to run and didn't get yardage so they ended up with fourth-and-1, but Reid chose to go for it and Tyreek Hill easily was open on a short cross for the conversion.
Atlanta Falcons 17 at Los Angeles Chargers 20
Cale Clinton: I appreciate this level of self-awareness by the Atlanta Falcons social media team:
-- Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) December 13, 2020
Two titans of failure, who have turned losing into an art form and spectacle. I, for one, can't wait.
Dave Bernreuther: Not sure what it is about these royal blue uniforms (almost called them throwbacks, but I guess they aren't, except for the color), but they seem far more pajama-like than any of the other unitard-style getups we have gotten used to.
There are four such combinations playing right now -- Detroit is also in full blue, but somehow far less pajama-like, as well as Seattle's usual home garb and the Eagles looking awful in solid black -- as well as four road teams in all-white. The Packers, 49ers, and Raiders all look [even more] fantastic [than usual] by comparison.
Anyway, given the success of their other combinations, this one strikes me as completely unnecessary and a waste of a chance to rock the powder blues at home.
(Also, there is football being played, not that I have noticed anything about THAT ... )
Vince Verhei: I love this Chargers set, but then I love all Chargers sets. I'm pretty sure my top five NFL uniform picks would all be various Chargers combos.
Dave Bernreuther: I don't dislike them. The distribution of yellow and white is good enough that it's harmonious either way; they're just not in the same ballpark as the main set.
Scott Spratt: Woah, Falcons slot receiver Russell Gage has a cannon!
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 13, 2020
Vince Verhei: That may be the best throw we see all day.
Cale Clinton: The broadcast flashed a graphic at the start of Los Angeles' first offensive drive praising Herbert's rookie season while noting he's currently coming off of his two worst games of the season. Through one drive, things seemed to have returned to business as usual. The Chargers marched 88 yards down the field on 15 plays, with Herbert going 6-for-6 for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Something to keep in mind while watching this game: Justin Herbert needs just one more game with 300-plus passing yards to set the record for most such games by a rookie quarterback. He's currently tied with Andrew Luck with six games apiece.
But forget all that: Russell Gage has officially taken over Mohamed Sanu's role of Atlanta's passing wide receiver, delivering a 39-yard strike to Calvin Ridley for a touchdown. Ballgame's knotted at 7 at the end of the first quarter.
Cale Clinton: After starting the game off hot, the Falcons and Chargers have started to trade squandered opportunities. After Atlanta forced a three-and-out, they start their offensive drive off with Russell Gage taking a quick RPO pass 35 yards and into Chargers territory. Atlanta picks up their next first down, then goes incomplete pass, no-gain run, and sack to set up a Younghoe Koo field goal. Atlanta kicks off, and Nasir Adderley is able to find a seam and return the kick 73 yards. The Chargers then go three-and-out, electing to kick a field goal on fourth-and-4 from Atlanta's 17-yard line.
Dave Bernreuther: Huge return ripped off there by Nasir Adderley after he shows some stunning patience to let a defender sprint too far past him and let a hole open up. Unfortunately for the Chargers, the next series goes nowhere.
Bryan Knowles: Disaster at the end of the half for the Chargers -- stop me if you have heard that one before.
Third-and-1, 18 seconds left in the half. Chargers have the ball inside the 5-yard line, but they have no more timeouts. They call a running play (?) and are stopped short, and the field goal team runs onto the field. Unfortunately, the offense does not run OFF the field, so there's about 20 guys milling around, confused as to what to do. The clock expires before they can line up properly and kick the field goal. That won't technically hurt their special teams DVOA, I'm sure, but it was still colossally stupid.
Cale Clinton: What a disaster to end the half for the Chargers. With 22 seconds, the Chargers take their final timeout, then run for no gain. There was a miscommunication between coaches: the offense stays out, then half the field goal team runs out as the clock ticks down to zero. As RedZone's Scott Hanson pointed out, Anthony Lynn had taken over special teams duties after all their struggles this season in that phase of the game.
Aaron Schatz: Bryan, just like their league-leading total of special teams penalties, the inability to line up for a field goal will not be reflected in the Chargers' special teams DVOA. But we will know it in our hearts.
Vince Verhei: Falcons just ran a play with two guys running verticals. The receiver on the right was in single coverage and a step behind his defender. The receiver on the left was bracketed in double coverage.
Matt Ryan threw to the guy on the left. He was intercepted.
Cale Clinton: The Chargers call such a frustrating offense. They have really leaned into screens and passes into the flats. It's such a departure from the long strikes they'd often run during Herbert's first couple of games. I understand this isn't the healthiest offense, but this kind of play calling has killed drives for Los Angeles. If the Chargers go in a different direction at head coach this offseason, I hope the new offensive coordinator recognizes the weapons that he has and injects some creativity into this offense.
Bryan Knowles: In what is an elimination game for the Falcons, the four fourth-quarter drives have gone: Chargers punt, Falcons interception, Chargers interception, Falcons interception.
17-17 ballgame; team that screws up least will win.
Cale Clinton: Oh, well would you look at that! The Chargers complete a pass that traveled 20-plus air yards! And they completed it!! AND it set up the game-winning field goal!!!
Letting Justin Herbert throw downfield: it works.
Cale Clinton: I think we knew this one was going to get a little wacky, but I can't believe just how accurate that Spider-Man meme turned out to be.
New York Jets 3 at Seattle Seahawks 40
Carl Yedor: The Jamal Adams Revenge Game starts off with a Jets drive for a field goal. Seattle is without Carlos Dunlap today, which could have a significant negative impact on Seattle's defensive output. On the other hand, they're playing the Jets. The Jets nearly pulled the upset against the Raiders last week, and Seattle was just upset by another New York team that same weekend, so they should not overlook them in the slightest. On the bright side, Seattle's ideal starting offensive line is back on the field together for the first time in quite a while. The Jets put up little resistance in their first game without Gregg Williams calling the shots on defense, and Wilson hits rookie receiver Freddie Swain for a touchdown to retake a 7-3 lead.
Scott Spratt: Amazing concentration interception with Marcus Maye tipping and then catching this Russell Wilson pass in the end zone.
Marcus Maye what an amazing INT off Russell Wilson while covering Metcalf.pic.twitter.com/SmTMCJ3Jwc
-- Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 13, 2020
A touchdown there would have opened up a 14-3 Seahawks lead. With the turnover, the Jets maintain a (probably small) chance to win their first game of the season this week.
Vince Verhei: That is Wilson's 12th interception of the season, a new career high. Penny Hart had a 19-yard run on an end around to set up Freddie Swaim's 19-yard touchdown. They can win this game if Wilson quits making mistakes.
In all seriousness, Wilson has been a very ordinary quarterback for six weeks now. This slump is starting to have me concerned.
Meanwhile, Sam Darnold tries to throw revenge right to Jamal Adams and hits him right between the numbers, but Adams drops the ball.
Carl Yedor: I think part of what has made Wilson's slump so mystifying is that there are a variety of different potential culprits. Wilson is undoubtedly playing worse, though a handful of the turnovers have been very clearly not his fault/in desperation situations. The offensive line has been banged up, which is impacting its ability to protect and Wilson's confidence in that protection. Wilson has been missing open guys and forcing throws. Receivers have been dropping passes. Defenses appear to have better game plans against the passing concepts Schottenheimer has been dialing up. It's hard to say what the solution would be when there is no one clear problem that needs fixing. Outside of just saying "play better."
In spite of his recent poor play, Wilson can still throw to DK Metcalf, who catches an end zone fade for another touchdown. Frank Gore then fumbles on the Jets' first play of the following drive, and Pete Carroll eschews going for it on fourth-and-1 in favor of a Jason Myers field goal. All of a sudden it's 17-3. Carroll's decision-making has also been a bit of a problem lately, but that's more to be expected.
Vince Verhei: In defense of Carroll, I will say this: it's the Jets. I'm OK with kicking the field goal and sitting back and letting them beat themselves.
To wit: Corey Ballantine returns the ensuing kickoff to the Seattle 30, but the drive stalls 11 yards later, and Sergio Castillo misses a 37-yard field goal.
Carl Yedor: Yeah, to Vince's point, it probably doesn't make a difference against the Jets, but bad decisions could matter a lot more against the Rams, Saints, or Packers.
Seattle executes a pretty easy two-minute drive for a touchdown just before the half, putting them up 23-3 courtesy of a touchdown run from Chris Carson at the goal line. Myers missed the extra point to keep the lead at 20, but it similarly doesn't seem like a miscue that will have a significant impact. The Jets manage to answer with another field goal attempt thanks to a coverage bust on third down that freed Braxton Berrios for a big gain. However, Sergio Castillo misses AGAIN from about 43 yards out. A better offensive team would have the Seahawks sweating a bit because the Jets' mistakes have kept this from being a lot closer. All that said, it's 23-3 with Seattle getting the ball next.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks up 23-3 at halftime. It should probably be a little closer than that -- the Jets have missed three field goals now, and one of those followed a missed DPI that should have given them a first down at the 1 -- but we don't need to overthink this one. The Seahawks, flawed though they may be, are a good team. The Jets are 0-12 for a reason.
Jamal Adams has his weekly sack (not a terribly exciting play -- he just chased a scrambling Sam Darnold out of bounds) and now has 8.5, a record for defensive backs since sacks became official in 1982. This is only his ninth game of the year.
Vince Verhei: Heh. Maybe the Jets have missed all those field goals because Jay Feely is in the building doing TV. Feely's teams won just once in eight games in Seattle, and he only hit 11 of 17 field goal attempts in this building. That includes three misses in a 24-21 loss with the Giants in 2005, and two misses in a 13-10 loss with Arizona in 2011.
Scott Spratt: I know it's the Jets, but the Seahawks just pulled Russell Wilson for Geno Smith in the third quarter. It is 37-3.
Vince Verhei: The third quarter is not quite over yet, but Russell Wilson's day is done. The Seahawks lead 37-3, and Wilson has thrown four touchdowns, so Geno Smith is taking snaps now against his old team. (Wilson is now up to 36 touchdown throws this year, also a career high.) Smith may just hand off the rest of the day, but it would be big news if he threw a pass -- no backup quarterback has thrown a pass for the Seahawks since Trevone Boykin went 4-for-6 in Week 17 in the 2016 season.
I was semi-joking about Hart and Swain early, but the stars have been largely quiet today, with role players shining instead. Will Dissly and David Moore (who is so anonymous Greg Gumbel called him Dan Moore) had touchdowns in the third quarter. Shaquem Griffin had a sack, the first in the regular season of his career.
Smith takes a sack, then throws incomplete, and the Seahawks punt. Smith throwing for a touchdown would be the ultimate humiliation for the Jets, I would think.
Scott Spratt: Geno Smith Revenge Game, Vince?
Indianapolis Colts 44 at Las Vegas Raiders 27
Dave Bernreuther: The return of Anthony Castonzo lasts all of a few plays before he leaves with a knee injury. Chaz Green enters the game and immediately gets flagged, pushing the Colts back 5 yards and contributing, at least slightly, to another red zone drive stalling out. The Colts moved the ball, but settle for three.
On the second series (the Raiders went three-and-out in the blink of an eye), the Colts re-shuffle the line, bringing in Joey Hunt (who?) to play left guard, meaning that Quenton Nelson makes his debut at left tackle. Not his position, but heck, he's talented, mean, and drafted highly enough to be at least a decent bet at being OK there, even if he proves to be slightly less than quick.
Dave Bernreuther: Foster Moreau sounds like the name of a character in a Wes Anderson movie, not that of an NFL tight end. But he just caught a nice ball from Derek Carr and juked DROY candidate Justin Blackmon out of his shoes on slow-but-effective cutback (Blackmon may have slipped a bit, or maybe just didn't expect that one at all). The Raiders quickly answer a T.Y. Hilton touchdown, which I missed entirely because like a true football analyst I was talking about uniforms. (Also in part because there are six 4 p.m. games, and I LOVE IT!)
The Raiders have an injury return of their own, with Jonathan Abram back in the lineup. Thus far his return is also off to a poor start, as he did Abram things (or at least, that was what he was known for at the time of the draft) and took an unnecessary roughness penalty to give the Colts first-and-goal in advance of the Hilton score. The play began in the red zone, so it wasn't too much to blame, but as I recall, the two knocks on him (and he was on the Colts' radar in that draft, or at least that of their fans and writers) coming out of Mississippi State were injuries and personal fouls.
Vince Verhei: That Moreau touchdown is worth watching. Looks like he surprised himself by making the catch.
Foster Moreau was 10/1 to score a touchdown in today's game.
-- FOX Bet (@FOXBet) December 13, 2020
Scott Spratt: Foster Moreau had 29.6% receiving DVOA as a rookie last season, third-highest among the 47 tight ends with 25 or more targets. Naturally, the Raiders demoted him for Jason Witten this year.
Carl Yedor: I think a decent part of why the Raiders felt they might have needed an upgrade over Moreau was that they primarily threw to him in short-yardage situations out of heavy formations. He did well with those targets (and stole a decent number of touchdowns from Darren Waller in the process), but catching mostly bunny throws when you aren't the focus of the defense's attention might justify looking for more juice. That Witten would represent that upgrade at this point in his career is ... let's say dubious.
Scott Spratt: That's a good point, Carl. It looks like Moreau had just four targets thrown more than 6 yards downfield in 2019.
Dave Bernreuther: Derek Carr can really throw some sneakily good games at you, and maybe it is something we can credit to Jon Gruden (as much as I hate doing that). So far today he is playing really well, and not just in the simple single-read or behind-the-line-of-scrimmage type of coach-programmed ways. He just put the Raiders ahead on a great ball to Nelson Agholor where he really sold that he was going to throw to his left, not just with his eyes but with his foot placement too. The snap back to Agholor was VERY quickly done and the ball placed perfectly between the two linebackers. I have noted several times that these Colts linebackers are quick in coverage; in this case, as the announcers pointed out, Anthony Walker got spread out wide a bit in the zone, but Darius Leonard could likely have gotten a hand on it if not for being left flat-footed by Carr.
It's also worth pointing to how much work it took -- likely including being held -- for TWO Raiders linemen to restrain DeForest Buckner on that play. They picked him up almost completely off the ground and gave Carr a pocket, but it looked like it took almost everything they had. That's why they made the investment in him.
Philip Rivers answers quickly. 23 yards to Michael Pittman, 41 to T.Y. Hilton (who was far more open over the middle than he should have been), and that Raiders lead is erased. This has been a really entertaining first half.
Dave Bernreuther: I know we're trying not to overdo the Twitter videos, but Kenny Moore's OBJ-like spin/stretch/single-hand interception in the end zone just now is worth watching over and over again. That was REALLY impressive.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the Kenny Moore interception.
-- Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) December 13, 2020
Dave Bernreuther: The Colts have still completed the usual short passes, but something I have seen more often than usual is that Philip Rivers' first read in this game seems to be a deep shot. This is really not what I'd have expected without Castonzo, but he's looking for chunk plays as if this is a Bruce Arians offense.
Also interesting: with time winding down in the half, they first go to the draw play on third-and-10, finding a huge hole for the first down, and then do so again with just 11 seconds left, and Nyheim Hines was one move away from scoring. That was a heck of a risk, and it very nearly worked. Sadly, he was stopped with a single second left, meaning they took the chip shot instead of being rewarded with a touchdown. But you certainly can't accuse Frank Reich of being predictable today.
Bryan Knowles: The Raiders entered the week with the second-worst rush defense DVOA in football. They actually hadn't been doing all that bad today, until Jonathan Taylor just turned on the jets. 62 yards for a score, and no Raiders defender really had a chance at even touching him at any point. That stretches the Colts' lead to 10 points as they try to keep pace with the Titans...
Bryan Knowles: The Colts will do anything to not have Philip Rivers under center in key situations, won't they? They had Nyheim Hines run the Wildcat from the 3, handing it to Jonathan Taylor for his second touchdown of the day. Remember when I said Las Vegas was somewhat holding in there against the run game? Well, that's no longer even remotely true; Taylor's up to 135 yards on 17 carries, the Colts are up 34-20, and I'm up to find my remote control.
Dave Bernreuther: I only just realized Anthony Castonzo came back in the game now, in the fourth quarter, when Quenton Nelson false started. Does anyone remember when he re-entered? Did it coincide with the dam bursting in the run game?
200 yards rushing and the Jacoby Brissett package against a weak rush defense that wasn't even looming over center is apparently somehow still not enough to go for the quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 at the 20. Sure, a field goal makes it a three-score game and a first down doesn't ice it (with over seven minutes left), but the "try to lure them offside" play is still a huge letdown.
New Orleans Saints 21 at Philadelphia Eagles 24
Aaron Schatz: Eagles' offense looks very designed on the first Jalen Hurts drive. Screens, play-action, zone-reads, and straight handoffs. I don't think Hurts dropped back to pass on a normal pass play once. Eagles go for it on fourth down twice but Miles Sanders got stuffed on the second one.
Aaron Schatz: Wil Lutz misses a field goal for the Saints. On the second Eagles drive, they introduce a couple of more standard dropback passes for Hurts. One of them comes on fourth-and-2 from the Saints 15 and results in a touchdown for Alshon Jeffery, who only had two catches and eight targets before today.
Scott Spratt: Duke Riley made a great interception on a deflected pass that careened high off of Alvin Kamara and came on Riley quickly.
Duke Riley hauls in the INT off the tipped pass! #FlyEaglesFly
-- NFL (@NFL) December 13, 2020
The Eagles are already up 7-0 and now have the ball on the Saints' side of the field.
Does it mean anything if the No. 1 and No. 2 DVOA teams in the Saints and Steelers lose in consecutive weeks to NFC East teams in the bottom half of the league in DVOA? Does it just mean that it's still 2020?
Aaron Schatz: Scott, if the Saints lose to the Eagles, the biggest thing it means is that the Saints are playing a backup quarterback and probably not even the better of their backup quarterbacks. The Saints certainly wouldn't be No. 1 in DVOA if they had Hill at quarterback all year.
Aaron Schatz: Well, 82-yard Miles Sanders touchdown run makes it 17-0 and I don't know if the Taysom Hill offense can come back from that. Huge defensive lapse from the Saints, although I think it was more just good blocking by the Eagles. Saints were in a two-deep, Zach Ertz got out to block the corner Janoris Jenkins, then Malcolm Jenkins missed a tackle and the safety on the other side couldn't intercept Sanders before Sanders got to the end zone.
Scott Spratt: Does that deficit mean we see Jameis Winston in the second half, Aaron?
Aaron Schatz: As someone who's driving the Saints bandwagon thanks to how much DVOA loves them, man, I sure hope so.
Aaron Schatz: Also, turns out it was a defensive lapse from the Saints. They showed a replay on the broadcast that showed linebacker Kwon Alexander filling the wrong gap which allowed Sanders to get to the second level. Then the Ertz block, the missed tackle, and he was off to the races.
Cale Clinton: I just keep imagining a 3-8-1 Eagles team making a quarterback change, running the table, winning the lowly NFC East, and going on a 2017-style Super Bowl run. It's hilarious. I'm laughing to myself alone at my desk.
Scott Spratt: Oof. After Jalen Hurts ran a nice two-minute drill that got the Eagles to the 4-yard line, Jake Elliott doinked the 22-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. The Eagles are still up 17-0, but that miss feels important.
Vince Verhei: Taysom Hill was sacked twice more in the first half and has now given up more sacks this season than Drew Brees in less than half as much playing time. Jamies Winston is far from perfect, but if he's not playing in the second half, that's an indefensible decision.
Scott Spratt: I don't want to disagree with your conclusion, Vince, but I'll note that Jameis Winston took 47 sacks last season behind the Tampa Bay offensive line that Brady has taken just 16 sacks behind in 12 games this season.
Aaron Schatz: The Saints aren't dead yet. Taysom Hill led a pretty good touchdown drive there after the Eagles started the third quarter with a three-and-out. He had some crisp passes -- a couple of inaccurate passes, but a couple of nice crisp passes too. He did a good job of recognizing blitzes and finding his hot read. Inside the 10, the Saints went back to the run with Kamara for 4 up the middle and then 5 on a pitch to the left. I'll note that I thought this would be a good place for Hill to run -- surprisingly, he has only one designed run so far in this game to go with two scrambles. 17-7 Eagles.
Aaron Schatz: The Saints just lost a 55-game streak of not allowing a 100-plus-yard rusher.
Aaron Schatz: Um ... the Saints just made this game 17-14. Taysom Hill got it 37 yards over the shoulder for a one-handed catch by Emmanuel Sanders, who beat a cornerback playing outside leverage by running a corner-post (clown) route.
Taysom Hill with the deep ball TD to Emmanuel Sanders! #Saints
-- NFL (@NFL) December 13, 2020
Vince Verhei: Ah, right on schedule, Taysom Hill making me look like an idiot. Ah well.
Aaron Schatz: Eagles defense is giving into the Saints in part because they have been destroyed by injuries today. Rodney McLeod, Avonte Maddox, and Darius Slay are all out of this game. Malik Jackson got injured a couple of plays ago. Derek Barnett just went out as well. But the Eagles stop the Saints on third-and-3 at midfield. Saints go for fourth-and-2 and roll Taysom Hill right, and he gets sacked by Josh Sweat and loses the ball. Not that the fumble matters, it was fourth down. Eagles will take over. We'll see if the Saints keep blitzing Jalen Hurts. They have done a lot more of that in the second half and the pressure is getting there, although the Saints still have not sacked Hurts.
Aaron Schatz: Jalen Hurts just went over 100 yards rushing so that means after not allowing a 100-plus-yard rusher for 55 games, the Saints have allowed two of them in the same game.
Aaron Schatz: Eagles score another Miles Sanders touchdown; this one is just 1 yard. They only had to go 53 yards after the Saints failed on fourth down. Big run was a Jalen Reagor end around for 19 yards. 24-14 Eagles.
Aaron Schatz: Taysom Hill takes a sack on first down where Josh Sweat beats Terron Armstead again, then a sack on third down based on coverage. Saints try a 57-yard field goal on fourth-and-16 and Wil Lutz misses it, so that's probably ballgame. Eagles will win 24-14.
Tom Gower: This Saints drive down 24-14 that started with 6:22 to play in the game has me screaming at my television. Taysom Hill is being incredibly deliberate in what he does. Aside from short throw to Kamara that got out of bounds, New Orleans has not shown much of a demonstrable sense of urgency. They're letting 30 or 40 seconds run off between plays, Taysom is throwing to the middle of the field (fine if you're hurrying, to be fair), and now they're taking a 57-yard field goal attempt after Taysom was sacked twice in three plays. Wil Lutz couldn't hit that one, and while the Saints have two timeouts left, their chances of winning the game are pretty minimal. Against an Eagles defense that kept losing defense players to injury DURING THE GAME, especially the defensive backs, this was a poor offensive showing. It was particularly a poor offensive showing throwing the ball.
Aaron Schatz: I spoke too soon. Kwon Alexander punched the ball out of Hurts' hands on a third-and-1 keeper and the Saints recover. Three plays later, they have gone 51 yards on two passes, and Jared Cook catches a 20-yard touchdown over CFL refugee Alex Singleton. So here comes the onside kick with the score 24-21 Eagles.
Aaron Schatz: Saints do the watermelon kick and it went off the heel of an Eagles player and they almost get it -- they may have even had it first at the bottom of the pile -- but it is ruled Philadelphia's ball and NOW the game is over.
Scott Spratt: It looked to me like the Saints had to recover their onside kick that deflected off an Eagles player's heel. Look at the position of the ball and players before the Eagles snagged it.
-- John Breech (@johnbreech) December 14, 2020
Tom Gower: N.B. the Saints were in a must-onside position there because they spent 4:27 on the previous drive.
Green Bay Packers 31 at Detroit Lions 24
Scott Spratt: Davante Adams is doing Davante Adams things early in the Packers game.
Davante Adams is a 99 pic.twitter.com/Uvsh909nwL
-- IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) December 13, 2020
Amani Oruwariye is likely overmatched out there. The Lions' top cornerback pick from the last draft, Jeff Okudah, is out for the rest of the season after having groin surgery.
Vince Verhei: I just turned this on at halftime because it looks like none of us are watching and -- hey! The Packers and Lions are tied at 14-all! And it could be worse -- Matthew Stafford was sacked on a Hail Mary attempt on the last play of the half.
Vince Verhei: And the Packers open the second half with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that eats up nearly nine minutes of clock, seriously shortening the game. They twice converted third-and-long on defensive penalties, and Aaron Rodgers ran it in on third-and-goal from the 6 for a 21-14 lead.
Scott Spratt: The Packers have continued to kill the Lions with paper cuts in the second half. They have now out-snapped the Lions 26 plays to three in the second half with 16:38-versus-1:21 time of possession. The Lions didn't need a lot of time to erase a two-touchdown deficit last week, but that seems a lot less likely with their inability to get the Packers offense off the field today.
Vince Verhei: The Lions followed that long touchdown drive with a three-and-out. Packers then went 79 yards in 12 plays for another touchdown, this one a Rodgers pass to Robert Tonyan, for a 28-14 lead. That drive ate up nearly eight minutes. We are three minutes into the fourth quarter, and the Lions have run three plays on offense in the second half.
Scott Spratt: Ouch, Matthew Stafford just got bent in half as he dove forward rather than slid to secure a Lions first down. He's clearly feeling that, but he stayed in the game. And now Kerryon Johnson just ran in a touchdown to cut the Lions' deficit to 28-21. They'll still need a defensive stop with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Another extended Packers drive can salt this one away.
Scott Spratt: Well, Stafford just walked off and into the locker room. He was clutching at his ribs, which he broke some of last year and missed time. That guy just has the worst luck.
Vince Verhei: Packers are trying a 53-yard field goal, but a false start makes is a 58-yarder. No worries, Mason Crosby drills it easily, tying his career long. (Playing in a dome didn't hurt.) That makes it 31-21 with under four minutes to go and should finish things off.
Scott Spratt: Stafford is back on the sideline and lingering as an option for the Lions. But I think the Packers may have made the decision easy. Despite a false start that extended their field goal attempt from 53- to 58-yards, Mason Crosby connected to extend the Packers lead to 10. Jamal Agnew just had a massive return, but the Lions will still probably need a successful onside kick even if Chase Daniel can score here.
Cale Clinton: I thought that Crosby kick might have iced the game, but hold on! Jamal Agnew returns the ensuing kickoff 71 yards, setting Chase Daniel and the Lions up with a short field and two timeouts.
Vince Verhei: Almost simultaneous with the onside kick in Philadelphia, the Lions try an onside kick and nearly recover, but the ball didn't quite go 10 yards. The play is reviewed and the call stands. Lions have a couple of timeouts so we're not in kneeldown territory yet. However, the Packers run on first and second down. Third-and-6, Rodgers play-fakes and finds Tonyan, who just barely gets the first down, and NOW we're in kneeldown territory.
Scott Spratt: We had dueling onside kicks from the Lions and Saints at the same time, and they were nearly too close to call. The Lions kick took forever to go the necessary 10 yards, but Miles Killebrew appeared to snag it after 10 on the last bounce. But the replay seemed to confirm the ruling on the field that the ball touched out of bounds before he could snag it.
Their games got exciting, but the Packers and Eagles are going to hold on. And now the Packers will be tied with the Saints atop the NFC.
Cale Clinton: Per Corey Sharp of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Doug Pederson is now 11-2 without Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Washington Football Team 23 at San Francisco 49ers 15
Bryan Knowles: Chase Young has been feasting. Nick Mullens has no pressure sense. The combination thereof has not been good for the 49ers.
On the stat sheet, Young only has one sack. He has been far more destructive than that today. And that one sack caused a fumble, which he scooped up and ran back 47 yards for the a defensive touchdown, so it was one of the most valuable sacks you could actually have.
The Football Team leads 13-7 with 58 seconds left in the half.
Aaron Schatz: Just flipped to 49ers-Washington on RedZone. Has Mullens been sailing everything high like this all day?
Bryan Knowles: Oh, no, not at all Aaron. He has also been throwing short and well behind his receivers, too.
Bryan Knowles: The most notable things coming out of this game might be the injuries: the 49ers have lost Deebo Samuel and now Fred Warner is down on the turf. On the other side of the field, Alex Smith has hurt his leg and has been replaced by Dwayne Haskins to start the second half.
Scott Spratt: Oh no, Bryan. Was it the same leg that Smith had all of the surgeries on?
Bryan Knowles: Yes, Scott, but it's the calf, not the knee, and he was walking around.
Bryan Knowles: I have to ask why Nick Mullens is still in this football game.
Through three quarters, the 49ers and the Football Team are basically tied in yards, 209 to 197. They have run basically the same number of plays. And yet, Washington leads 23-7 because they have two defensive touchdowns -- one on Chase Young's sack-fumble, and just now, Mullens threw the ball right to Kamren Curl with no one else in the area for a 75-yard pick-six. Mullens has been sacked four times and hurried plenty more than that, and he has never been able to handle any sort of pressure. C.J. Beathard should have been in this game at halftime.
Scott Spratt: Haha, Washington has 23 points and no offensive touchdowns. That is not easy to do!
Bryan Knowles: It sure isn't. The NFL record for points without any offensive touchdowns is 30, done by the 1993 Chicago Bears: three field goals, two pick-sixes and a fumble return. That's in play for the Football Team, with Mullens coming back under center to start the fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Last team to do it was the 2017 Ravens, who got touchdowns on a punt return, a kickoff return, and an interception return, but still lost to the Bears in overtime.
Bryan Knowles: I was going to look up the last team to do it and win, but the 49ers just drove and scored, so they're only down eight with 10 minutes left to play...
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 at Buffalo Bills 26
Carl Yedor: This has been an ugly one through four drives. One first down that occurred on a drive where Josh Allen threw an interception. Diontae Johnson has multiple drops already. Buffalo's defense has been improving as the season progresses. Getting Matt Milano back from injury has definitely helped, as he has been effective in coverage during his career. The snow might be having an impact on two offenses that have a lot more success through the air than on the ground, but it doesn't appear to be snowing particularly hard right now.
Scott Spratt: The ongoing little bit of snow makes it tough catching conditions. However, it's worth pointing out that, according to SportRadar charting, Diontae Johnson led the NFL with 10 drops entering the week. He has dropped 11.3% of his catchable targets since he entered the league in 2019, and that is the fifth-highest rate of the 89 wide receivers who have seen 50 or more catchable targets.
Note that James Washington is 11th on that list (10.0%), and Eric Ebron is second on the tight end version (12.1%).
Scott Spratt: That was a really cool segment and discussion about Josh Allen's throwing mechanics. It sounds like Bills quarterback coach Jordan Palmer -- Carson's brother -- has been trying to change the sequence of Allen's motion to flow from hip rotation to shoulder rotation to arm movement. Traditionally, he has gone shoulder first, then hip, then arm. That seems like a pretty massive overhaul for a player in the NFL. Maybe it explains how Allen has made a pretty much unprecedented jump from sub-60% completion rates his first two seasons to 69.9% so far this year?
Carl Yedor: Sounds a lot like how baseball players in recent years have been using high-powered cameras to analyze their swings and pitch grips to totally change their hitting/pitching profiles. That honestly could be a big part of why Allen has improved so much. Adding Stefon Diggs obviously helped too because it pushes everyone in Buffalo one rung down the target ladder and into more favorable matchups, but the quarterback still has to make the throws.
On a less fun note, Buffalo was leading 7-3 at this point in last year's contest between these two teams. The quarterbacks that day were Duck Hodges and a significantly worse version of Josh Allen, and yet we still saw more points at this stage in the game than we have seen tonight.
Aaron Schatz: Just to add, Jordan Palmer isn't the Bills quarterback coach. He's sort of a freelance quarterback tutor who works with a lot of quarterbacks in the offseason.
From the start of the game I expected to see a lot of short crosses and passes to running backs from the Bills trying to take advantage of Pittsburgh's backup inside linebackers. Where did they go?
Dave Bernreuther: Earlier I mentioned the pajama-ness of the Charger's unitards. The Bills' red look is a close second; they look like they're wearing Christmas footie pajamas. (Also, when they go red, they should reverse the color of the buffalo on the helmet.)
The second interception (oh, it seems it was ruled a fumble) was no fault whatsoever of Josh Allen's, but man was it costly, giving the Steelers the field position they seemingly refused to take on the previous drive (punted from the 40 on fourth-and-3) and leading to the first points of the game. Allen's line so far -- 7-of-15 for a paltry 39 yards and a pick -- is reminiscent of 2018, but even in struggles, he still looks quite a bit different and more in command. His defense is making it close to as tough on Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers and the weather are on him, so being down 7-0 isn't too horrible a position to be in.
As I show confidence in him, of course, he drops the football, and then jump-throws off his back foot on the next snap. Hmm. Perhaps my first half proclamation jinxes have shifted to the late game.
Scott Spratt: The big thing that happened in Ben Roethlisberger's attempted two-minute drill at the end of the first half was an interception that Taron Johnson returned for a touchdown, giving the Bills a 9-7 lead. But I'm fixated on the extra-point attempt that Tyler Bass "missed." Did that look good to anyone else? Is it weird that those makes and misses are still judged by referees just looking up?
Bryan Knowles: Seven first-quarter punts, and three more in the second quarter, led me to go through Stathead's archives for the most punts in a game between two teams who finished the year with winning records -- not two terrible offenses that couldn't move the ball to save their lives, but two actual decent teams.
The record appears to be 23, which has been done a few times. Most recently was a 1996 game where the Bills beat the Colts 16-13 with Chris Mohr and Chris Gardocki booting the ball back and forth to one another all day long. I suppose the 1996 Colts don't meet my criteria of an actual decent team, considering they finished that year with a -12.9% DVOA, but you have got to draw the line somewhere.
These are the things I get up to when the most important game of the week starts off rather slowly, shall we say. I suppose the Steelers' offense has been the better of the two, but when 4.0 yards per play is the high-water mark in a game, not much is going on. One big mistake from Pittsburgh -- the pass straight to Taron Johnson -- is the difference now, with Buffalo holding on to a 9-7 lead. The Bills will have to be better in the second half if they're going to keep the lead; Pittsburgh is doing an excellent job at getting pressure on Josh Allen, making him look ... well, more like the Josh Allen we're familiar with, rather than the New and Improved 2020 Edition.
Vince Verhei: Earlier today, the Green Bay Packers scored 31 points in eight drives in their game against Detroit.
The Steelers had nine drives in the first HALF against Buffalo and only scored seven points -- and that's not even including the pick-six they threw.
Bryan Knowles: While the Steelers are doing an excellent job pressuring Josh Allen, might I suggest they spend a little bit of effort covering Stefon Diggs as well? Diggs caught four passes on the Bills' first drive out of the half, including two first downs and a touchdown. That was exactly the kind of drive Buffalo needed coming out of the half; counter the Pittsburgh pressure by getting the ball out quick and letting Diggs run around people.
Scott Spratt: Well this game has taken a turn. The Bills have touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half and Stefon Diggs is open everywhere on the field. Meanwhile, in between, Ben Roethlisberger took his first sack since Week 8 -- he has the shortest average time to throw at the position per Next Gen Stats -- as he got sandwiched between three Bills defenders on a third down.
The Bills are up 23-7 and seem to be in total control.
Carl Yedor: Pittsburgh's offense seems broken tonight. They can't get any consistent push in the running game, which is resulting in mostly dud plays when they do hand it off. It then puts pressure on Roethlisberger to move the ball either by dink-and-dunking or going for bigger chunks. The Steelers, for the most part, have chosen the former throughout this season, though they have occasionally hit some big plays here and there. Tonight, almost everything has been short, which has made moving the ball consistently a struggle. Roethlisberger is at 4.5 yards per attempt right now. Not ideal. The drops have hurt, and they have only served to magnify how hard it is to move the ball like that. One botched play and your series is wrecked. Buffalo takes advantage of good field position after another three-and-out and quickly moves the ball down field for a score. It's 23-7 now, and with how Pittsburgh's offense has been playing, that might be a huge mountain to climb.
Dave Bernreuther: Earlier Josh Allen was backing away from pressure and it affected his accuracy. Now he's calmer and living up to the better mechanics illustrated in the Palmer segment, and just like that they have scored twice. They had very little to show from five first-half targets of Gabriel Davis, but attempt six hit paydirt.
The score was preceded by Roethlisberger taking his first sack in roughly forever, and he got a little bit lucky that his butt had hit the ground just before the ball popped out. Just as the Steelers pass rush stopped impacting Allen, the Bills' rush is starting to get to him. Almost just threw another interception, and with the ensuing punt, suddenly this two-score game is in danger of losing out to bed in the battle for my attention.
Bryan Knowles: It has been a foregone conclusion for a month and a half, at least, but the Bills' win tonight will officially eliminate the Patriots from the AFC East race. The Patriots have won 11 straight divisional titles; we may never see a team pull that feat off again. For everything weird about the 2020 season, seeing the Bills or Dolphins take home the AFC East crown may be the weirdest of them all.