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

Audibles at the Line: Week 7

Seattle Seahawks WR DK Metcalf and Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Pittsburgh Steelers 27 at Tennessee Titans 24

Bryan Knowles: How rare is it for undefeated teams to meet each other at the end of October? This is only the eighth matchup in NFL history between teams sitting at 5-0 or better. I would not have expected this to be a matchup of 5-0 teams, and not just because this game was originally scheduled for Week 4.

Tom Gower: The most recent high profile matchup I remember between undefeated teams was the 6-0 Broncos facing the 6-0 Packers in 2015, which I wrote about at the time for NBC Sports.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers chewed up most of the first quarter with their opening drive of the game -- a 16-play, nine-minute march to a touchdown, their first opening-drive touchdown in their last 23 games. It wasn't easy -- a touchdown was called back for a facemask, forcing the Steelers into first-and-goal from the 16-yard line, but a little bit of improvisation from Ben Roethlisberger in the form of an underhand flip under pressure kept the drive alive, ending in the Diontae Johnson touchdown for the 7-0 lead.

Dave Bernreuther: There's probably nothing I can say about this game that Tom won't say better, but I still want to wonder out loud how many times we've seen, in non-two minute drill situations, a quarterback throw TWELVE passes on a drive. Roethlisberger was 10-of-12 on that opening drive (and that doesn't even include the one he threw to James Conner that came back on the penalty, although that created more chances to run plays), which is quite good, but even in today's game and using short passes like runs, 12 in a drive seems like a lot.

Bryan Knowles: Coming in to today, the Titans were allowing their opponents to convert 57.8% of their third downs, worst in the league. Or, if you prefer counting numbers, they have been allowing 7.4 third-down conversions per game. Or, if you prefer DVOA, they've been allowing a 29.9% DVOA on third downs, 29th in the league.

The Steelers are already 7-for-7 on third downs this game, and they've been long pickups, too -- they've picked up third-and-11, -12 and -14 already today. This is why they've run 29 offensive plays, and the Titans have run ... three. This is also why they have a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

Aaron Schatz: More specifically, the Titans were 30th in DVOA on third-and-long entering today.

Dave Bernreuther: Shades of the third (into fourth) quarter of the 2008 AFC divisional game, except the Titans actually got to run three times as many plays.

Bryan Knowles: I'd like to welcome the Titans' offense to the football game -- better late than never. They may have a new entry for luckiest completion of the year, with Adam Humphries converting third-and-9 on a head's up tip drill play, and it may have required Ryan Tannehill to recover his own fumble after being popped by Vince Williams, but a few bounces going your way is often how comebacks start. 14-7 Steelers midway through the second quarter.

Bryan Knowles: Special teams coming to play! T.J. Watt and the Steelers defense force a quick three-and-out, forcing the Titans to punt from inside their own red zone. With 1:51 left to play and Pittsburgh sitting on a timeout, it looks like this is going to set up a drive that will take the remainder of the first half ... except Ray-Ray McCloud receives the punt and runs it all the way back to where the Titans punted it from! On RedZone, Scott Hanson was trying to will it to be a touchdown after opening the broadcast noting that there had not been a punt return touchdown yet this season, but no dice. A few plays later -- on another third down, naturally -- Roethlisberger hits Diontae Johnson for the 24-7 lead. Titans are going to need to dust themselves off in the locker room in a big way.

The Steelers are just putting on a clinic today. Their defense, which was so great towards the end of 2019, hasn't missed a beat. I'd put the third-down conversions more on Tennessee's defense than Pittsburgh's offense, but converting time after time after time isn't just luck. I had the Steelers as the most likely team to underperform their FOA projections. I'd like to officially retract that at this point.

Aaron Schatz: 24-7 at halftime. I previewed this game by saying that one side was strength against strength (PIT defense against TEN offense) but that the other side was a clear advantage for Pittsburgh (TEN defense against PIT offense). But the Steelers are winning on both sides of the ball. Roethlisberger is distributing the ball all around to all his receivers except for the hot hand coming into this game, Chase Claypool. The Titans seem to have put Malcolm Butler on Claypool exclusively and it's working, Claypool has just one catch for -2 yards, but then they don't have anyone to cover all the other guys.

Titans on offense have a touchdown drive but also three three-and-outs. They've been hurt by special teams as well. They had a kickoff muff that led to a drive start on the 10, they allowed a long punt return to Ray-Ray McCloud (one of my favorite NFL names), and then they had a muffed punt snap that led to an aborted play and gave the Steelers the ball back in field goal range at the end of the half. But after a false start, Roethlisberger went with a Hail Mary with 11 seconds left instead of just trying to get it into closer field goal range, and the Titans picked that off. Otherwise it might be an even bigger Steelers lead.

Cale Clinton: While Pittsburgh's success on third down has certainly been a factor in the Steelers' big first half lead, Tennessee has set them up with good field position all day. Not counting the two drives started in touchback position, Pittsburgh has had drives start on their own 39-yard-line, Tennessee's 17-yard-line, and Tennessee's 32-yard-line. Yes, the last of those three drives ended on the first play with an interception in the end zone. However, with the ease Pittsburgh has had driving the ball downfield, the least you can do is make them drive further and increase your odds of getting a stop.

Dave Bernreuther: I was in that boat with you, Bryan, though that was mostly based on the fact that Roethlisberger looked washed since about 2018. But the time off did him some good, and there hasn't been a hint of regression from that defense, so yeah, I'll join you on that train. They look great, and man am I looking forward to seeing them face off against the Ravens.

Aaron Schatz: "A.J. Brown, YAC monster" just reappeared from last season, as Ryan Tannehill play-faked on second-and-8 and then hit Brown right between two defenders and there were no other players between him and the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown. 66 YAC on that one.

Cale Clinton: A lot of the chatter coming into this game centered around the Pittsburgh pass rush facing off against Ryan Tannehill, who has been incredibly successful under pressure this season. That certainly hasn't been the case today. Tannehill is currently 8-for-16 through the air for 127 yards and two touchdowns. The 50% completion rate would be his lowest of the year by more than 12 percentage points.

If you take away YAC Monster A.J. Brown's 73-yard touchdown reception, Tannehill has just 54 yards through three quarters.

Aaron Schatz: Titans now trail only 27-24 with 17 points in the second half. Their running game and play-action game have finally gotten going; meanwhile their defense is now shutting down the Steelers offense in the second half. There have been a lot of Roethlisberger passes tipped into the air today and the Titans picked one off for their field goal drive.

Bryan Knowles: Intriguing sequence here, as we approach the two-minute warning. The Steelers face third-and-2, throw a quick slant to Chase Claypool, but are ruled just short. It looks questionable, however, so Mike Tomlin is about to challenge -- but an offensive pass interference flag comes in late. Mike Vrabel accepts the penalty, avoiding the challenge, and forces a third-and-12. Roethlisberger then has to throw a shot into the end zone, that's tipped and then intercepted by the Titans! Big sequence of events there!

Aaron Schatz: Titans defense gave up four straight third-down conversions on that 7:39 drive, but that fifth one didn't work out for the Steelers.

Aaron Schatz: Breaking down the Mike Vrabel decision to take the penalty:

Cale Clinton: Nothing has gone right since the Pittsburgh Steelers went up 24-7. The results of their offensive drives following their third touchdown of the afternoon.

  • Interception in the end zone on the first play of the drive.
  • A field goal, set up by a 21-yard DPI penalty on Malcolm Butler.
  • Three-and-out after looking near-unstoppable on third down.
  • Interception, after a ball thrown off the facemask of a Titans pass-rusher popped up into the air.
  • Punt.
  • A 16-play, 82-yard drive ending with an interception in the end zone.

Dave Bernreuther: The Steelers get back to their ball-control ways of the first quarter, mounting a 16-play drive. That's exactly what you dream of as a way to put a game away. And on third down, Ben Roethlisberger hits JuJu Smith-Schuster in both hands in the end zone ... and it's picked! What a game.

I still don't know what to think about that play. Part of me wants to say Ben had no business throwing that ball at all; JuJu was covered, even by a linebacker, and the safety was right there. That's a really low-percentage throw. But ... JuJu got both hands on it and just couldn't secure it. And the pick, as consequential as it was, was pretty much just a lucky bounce.

But in the end, it's entirely possible that the Steelers could BENEFIT from the pick; had it not been made, Tomlin almost certainly orders the field goal, which makes it a six-point game. And we all know what that does to coaching decisions as compared to a three-point game in a two-minute drill. The starting field position after the touchback was only 5 yards different too, and the Titans reached midfield almost instantly, where they just took an intentional grounding penalty which created both a ton more urgency and a much more difficult field goal.

Aaron Schatz: Steelers zone coverage was giving up plenty of underneath yardage to Tennessee on the Titans' last drive, but the Titans went for it all on third-and-13 and Tannehill couldn't hook up with A.J. Brown in the end zone. Stephen Gostkowski misses the 45-yard field goal and this game is over!

Dave Bernreuther: I want to make sure we give credit to Vrabel and Art Smith for not just playing for the field goal there and throwing to the end zone on the penultimate play. Obviously the three- vs. six-point lead thing would've allowed them to settle for the field goal, as I discussed, but unlike the Rice Owls yesterday, they were far from content to just accept that attempt.

Tom Gower: The first half of this game was almost all Steelers, as was noted. The Titans only had two drives that ended in the first 28 minutes of the game, and one of those resulted in a touchdown. I wouldn't be surprised if Arthur Smith still had plays from his pre-game script that he still hadn't called after 30 minutes. It was just all Pittsburgh, but they weren't ripping off plays in chunks. Instead, Tennessee was doing just enough to get them to third down -- sometimes short (third-and-1, third-and-1, third-and-1, third-and-3), sometimes not (third-and-11, third-and-14)-and then letting them convert, often on throws short of the sticks that got enough yards after catch.

When things started to change in the second half, some of it seemed to be being in a better position to make those tackles and then actually making them (not always, as, say, the third-and-7 conversion to JuJu Smith-Schuster showed, but enough to actually get off the field without allowing points, which they only managed in the first half when the Steelers went straight to the Hail Mary from the 37 after the aborted punt/maybe failed fake attempt.

Brown's noted long touchdown was the first real positive moment from the Titans on offense in the second half, but it took them a while for a second one. They gained net -3 yards on the "drive" to cut it to 27-17, then the fourth quarter only featured three legitimate possessions. The Titans ran a little bit of no-huddle, but otherwise didn't show much urgency on the drive to cut it to 27-24, burning the final 30-odd seconds of the third quarter trying to hut-hut rather than run a play, and their fifth play of the fourth quarter came 2:20 in, not the sign of a team that's hurrying.

The Steelers followed with their own time-consuming drive that ended with Ben's third pick of the game (naturally, like the first non-Hail Mary one, it came off a deflection), leaving the Titans not quite three minutes and one timeout to get at least a tying field goal. Tannehill got them in position, but the NFL's 32nd-ranked FG/XP unit struck again from 45 yards and that was that.

There are plenty of things to unpack from this game, like a moribund Titans pass rush (zero sacks and three quarterback hits on 49 Roethlisberger attempts); the Steelers being the first team this year to make Tannehill look like the guy who took a lot of sacks every season before this one; Pittsburgh's lack of explosive plays (Ben hit JuJu on what looked like a turkey hole (deep sideline void) shot against what looked like Cover-2 for 28 yards in the fourth but otherwise those third-down conversions for about 20 yards were their biggest pass plays on the day); Tennessee's lack of explosive plays (Brown's touchdown obviously excluded, otherwise their longest play gained just 18 yards); the rarity of teams losing when they finish +3 in turnover margin like the Titans did; just what the Pittsburgh defense did to slow down Tennessee's offense; and more. If Chiefs-Broncos or Sunday Night Football ends up uncompetitive, I may pick one or more of those to elaborate on.

Bottom line: the Steelers got a crucial win. Tennessee remains a strong contender for an AFC South title, but beyond that remains a serious question mark for a team this unbalanced. Unless things change.

Carolina Panthers 24 at New Orleans Saints 27

Scott Spratt: With both Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders out, I was lining up my Panthers run defense jokes, assuming I'd need them early. And Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray did account for 50 of the Saints' 75 yards on their opening drive. But near the goal line, Drew Brees passed, and tight end Jared Cook made an excellent catch, touching his knee down in the back corner of the end zone to put his team up 7-0 halfway through the first quarter.

Scott Spratt: Cam Newton avoids the sack with a spin move ... oh wait, that's not Cam Newton, it's Teddy Bridgewater!

And the announcers underscore that Curtis Samuel has now caught all 11 of his third-down targets this season. According to Sportradar, no other receiver has more than five third-down targets without a failed catch this season. That completely baffles me. Samuel caught just 11 of 25 (44.0%) third-down targets all last season. Among the 53 receivers with 25 or more third-down targets, only Odell Beckham (40.6%) and Alex Erickson (42.3%) had lower catch rates on their third-down targets.

Bryan Knowles: Some vintage New Orleans defense, by which I mean Marcus Williams covered the wrong route, letting DJ Moore wiiiiide open for one of the easiest 70-plus-yard touchdowns you'll ever see. The announcers suggested Teddy Bridgewater led Williams to the sideline with his eyes, which I suppose is a little more face-saving than "forgot what a safety is supposed to do," but that was too damn easy.

Scott Spratt: Teddy Bridgewater's average depth of target hasn't changed dramatically with his new team. He averaged 7.5 yards with the Vikings, 6.2 with the Saints, and is at 7.0 entering this week for the Panthers. But his 8.1 yards per attempt are a career high by 0.8 yards. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady may be the real deal.

Scott Spratt: That's 2019 SackSEER class leader Brian Burns sacking Drew Brees and forcing a fumble that becomes a turnover. Burns had 7.5 sacks as a part-time player as a rookie. That was his third so far this season. He seems like the biggest reason the Panthers have the 13th DVOA pass defense, and not the league's worst like one would have expected with their turnover and youth.

Vince Verhei: With no timeouts left, Drew Brees completes a pass to Alvin Kamara for a first-and-goal, then spikes the ball with five seconds to go. Announcers are saying the Saints should take the field goal right there, but fortunately for New Orleans Sean Payton is more aggressive than that, and Brees hits Deonte Harris for a 4-yard touchdown. That's a huge score -- it's the difference in the game as the Saints now lead 21-17 at halftime. It has been an interesting contrast between New Orleans' thousand-cuts offense and Carolina's big-play attack.

Scott Spratt: Curtis Samuel just got to 14 catches on 14 third-down targets. Nuts!

Scott Spratt: Still waiting for Christian McCaffrey to return from his ankle injury, the Panthers just gave a carry to Myles Hartsfield. an undrafted rookie safety from Ole Miss. He did not take a carry in college. Awesome.

Scott Spratt: Alvin Kamara just became the third player in NFL history to reach 2,500 rushing and receiving yards in his first four seasons. Christian McCaffrey was the second. Any guesses for the first?

Aaron Schatz: Marshall Faulk?

Scott Spratt: Good guess but no. My friend Matt called him the proto-Marshall Faulk.

Bryan Knowles: Roger Craig is always my guess for these sorts of things -- first 1,000/1,000 yard guy in NFL history.

Scott Spratt: Bryan is correct! Craig had 13,100 career all-purpose yards, and I feel like no one ever talks about him.

Cale Clinton: Not sure if it's just FOX advertising their World Series broadcasts, but there has been a lot of baseball talk in this game. Specifically, the comments have centered around Drew Brees' former role as a shortstop in high school, using the angling of his arm to create passing windows and find receivers.

It's not quite the same as mentioning a speedy skill player ran track and field in college, or the classic "Did you know Antonio Gates played college basketball?" comment every announcer made during his playing career, but I'm always intrigued when NFL players played other sports growing up. Football is such a multi-faceted game, and players using mechanics from other sports to enhance their game will never get old to me.

Dave Bernreuther: Cale, that middle infielder background has been so obviously key to the success of Patrick Mahomes and Russell WIlson that you'd think it'd be discussed even more often than it is. Can't say that I've ever heard it mentioned about Brees though, which is odd.

Scott Spratt: What the announcers have failed to mention, Cale, is that Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson played minor league baseball and went 0-for-39 in his career with 37 strikeouts. I think he might officially be the worst baseball player of all time.

He's pretty good at football though!

Scott Spratt: The Panthers started their current drive down 27-24 with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter, and I've been really impressed by how slowly the Panthers have operated. They are keeping things conservative and taking the full play clock each play. It's now down to 3:20 on the Saints 38-yard line. The Panthers can probably only win if they can score without leaving Drew Brees any clock.

Scott Spratt: Wow, Joey Slye just tried a 65-yard field goal and hit it 64 yards and dead straight. That was impressive.

Bryan Knowles: Oooh no. Stuck in no-man's land on fourth-and-19, the Panthers have to try a record-setting 65-yard field goal. Joey Slye's kick is straight and true -- - and about a half-yard short. That would have been amazing.

Vince Verhei: Impressive try by Slye. I was about to critique that decision by Matt Rhule, because even a made kick would have left the Panthers kicking off to Drew Brees in a tie game, but I only just now realized there were only two minutes left in the game and Carolina was down to one timeout, so punting wasn't a serious option either. It's the sack Bridgewater took on third-and-11 (and the completion for a loss he threw on second down) that really put Rhule in a bind there.

Cale Clinton: That drive felt like it was going a little too well for the Panthers. Teddy Bridgewater escaped from what seemed like a sure sack on third-and-2 to scramble for the first down and then avoided another on the next play, finding enough time to get rid of the ball. A screen to Mike Davis looked to be a deep loss, but Davis was able to escape Saints defenders and mitigate the loss to set up third-and-11. Teddy couldn't save himself three times, taking the sack and setting up the Slye field goal attempt.

If that ball is downed a yard closer, this game is tied at 27.

Andrew Potter: That missed field goal is only the second drive all game on which the Panthers have failed to score. 27-24 doesn't sound like an offensive explosion by today's standards, but there has only been one punt and one turnover (a Brian Burns strip-sack) by either team. It has just been constant 1,000-cuts offense from both squads. Marcus Davenport's sack on the third-and-11 that led to the long field goal was probably the difference in the Saints win.

If I was a Panthers fan, I'd consider that an encouraging performance, at least on offense. The defense clearly still needs a lot of work.

Buffalo Bills 18 at New York Jets 10

Bryan Knowles: Adam Gase has given up play-calling duties to Dowell Loggains, raising the question -- what exactly is it is you DO here, Mr. Gase?

Dave Bernreuther: Josh Allen is really hard to tackle. After a holding call makes Buffalo's first-and-goal quite challenging (from the 17), he managed to evade what should've been two easy sacks by stiff-arming defenders that had him in their grasp before safely throwing the ball away. It wasn't quite "throwing them out of the club" like Rob Gronkowski or Khalil Mack have, but it was still damned impressive.

On second down, he sidearm sails the ball nowhere near a wide-open guy. That one would've come back anyway due to a declined penalty, but it still happened. Then on third down, he lost a fumble, and somehow the Bills are still losing to the Jets right now. Perhaps giving us the 2019 Josh Allen Experience rolled into one series was just an attempt to keep the Jets in the game and make it interesting?

It's 10-0 Jets now, though, which is their largest lead of the season. Fun's over, Bills. Time to pick it up a bit.

Scott Spratt: 40% of ESPN Eliminator Challenge participants picked the Bills, now down 10-0, this week. The next closest favorite was the Chiefs at just 13%.

Vince Verhei: Jets lead 10-6 in a game that has had more offense than you would guess from the score. Seven of the eight drives in the first half reached the opponents' 30. The Jets, however, have turned those opportunities into one field goal, one La'Mical Perine touchdown run, and a failed fourth-down play when Perine was stuffed for no gain at the 18-yard line. That's still better than what the Bills have done: two field goals, a missed field goal, and Allen's sack-fumble. Say what you will about Sam Darnold, but in 2020 he is a vast improvement over Joe Flacco, completing 11 of 15 passes for 116 yards. However, his interception near midfield set up Buffalo's field goal at the gun -- if the Jets punt there, it's probably a 10-3 lead right now.

Vince Verhei: Some notes on the play calling in this game: the Bills have almost given up on running the ball, with only four handoffs in the first half (all to Devin Singletary, for 18 yards), while Allen has 21 dropbacks plus four of his own runs for 48 yards. The Jets, as you'd expect, have been more ground-based, with 18 handoffs and only 17 pass plays, and it has been working -- Perine's at 36 yards on 10 carries and Frank Gore has added 46 on eight, with a long gain of just 11. Eight of those handoffs have gained first downs.

Vince Verhei: The Jets offense has returned to form, punting twice in two third-quarter drives with only one first down gained. But the Bills' struggles in Jets territory continue, and they can only add a pair of field goals for a 12-10 lead at the end of the quarter. They're killing themselves -- Allen had a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis wiped out by an illegal formation penalty.

Vince Verhei: We haven't mentioned today that Buffalo is playing without four tight ends due to COVID testing and quarantining. I guess the Jets forgot about Buffalo tight ends too -- Tyler Kroft was just left all alone down the sideline for a 38-yard gain, Buffalo's longest of the day. Kroft and fellow tight end Reggie Gilliam have now combined for 73 yards. But the drive stalls again when Allen is pressured into an incompletion on third down in the red zone. Tyler Bass comes in for his seventh field goal attempt of the day, but misses for the second time, and it's still 12-10. Stefon Diggs has five catches for 43 yards. I saw him walk off after a big hit in the first half, but I'm honestly not sure if he has returned or not.

Aaron Schatz: Diggs is back, just had a 5-yard catch.

Vince Verhei: This game is Groundhog Day. Jets go three-and-out for their third straight punt. Bills get into the red zone on a big play, this time a 26-yard Zack Moss run down the left sideline. But Allen again fails on third down in the red zone, taking a sack that forces a field goal try when they might otherwise have gone for it. Bass connects this time, but the Bills lead is only 15-10 with six minutes to go. They've run 17 more plays than the Jets and nearly doubled them in total yardage, 387-200, but this game is still very much in doubt.

Vince Verhei: I am not making this up: another Jets punt leads to another Allen third-down failure (a stuff for a loss on third-and-1), which leads to another field goal. Bass kicks a 40-yard field goal on fourth-and-2, and the Bills lead 18-10. At the two-minute warning and with only timeout left, this really is New York's last chance.

Bryan Knowles: The Jets had 186 yards in the first half. They had 4 in the second half.

Vince Verhei: Jerry Hughes gets a tip-drill interception to ice the Bills' win. Defense gets the credit for this one -- Jets had just one first down in their last four drives, and that came on a penalty when Micah Hyde hit Breshad Perriman with a shot to the head. Sam Darnold finished with more sacks (six) than passing first downs (five).

Cleveland Browns 37 at Cincinnati Bengals 34

Bryan Knowles: Ugly football so far -- Joe Burrow throws an interception in the end zone, only for Baker Mayfield to throw it right back on his first passing attempt of the day. To add injury to insult, Odell Beckham made the tackle on Mayfield's interception and had to be helped to the locker room.

Dave Bernreuther: Joe Burrow, continuing his growth, looked pretty decent on his first drive, and while the box score will show only that he was picked by a defensive lineman in the end zone, it won't show that the ball was tipped and that he made a good read. (He should've put a little more air under it, of course.)

Baker Mayfield answers with an interception on his own first attempt of the game, thrown short into coverage deep down the right sideline intended for Odell Beckham. And this might end up being the worst play for any team all season, results-wise, because not only was it a turnover, but both Beckham AND JC Tretter are down with injuries. I missed the replay, but from what I saw live, it did not look like anything about that pick could be blamed on the injury. (Aha -- finally a replay. Beckham was injured on the return, while giving a good effort.)

A DPI in the end zone sets up not one but TWO quarterback sneaks for the Bengals, and Burrow burrows his way in on the second try. Yes, I am going to say that every single time he ever runs a quarterback.

I read something this morning about Carlos Dunlap apparently trying to AB his way out of town by posting part of the game plan online. Haven't verified this, but what I can verify is that so far -- and yeah, it's only been a few plays, and after last week I'm not going to jump to any grand conclusions about the Bengals or their opponents in the first quarter, heh -- the Bengals' defensive line is attacking. Credit to Mayfield for not doing his usual pocket-fleeing on an early third down, but hanging in there didn't help him -- the rush clearly affected him, forcing an inaccurate throw, and he got pummeled.

We're not even to the first turn, but through a few attempts, the battle of No. 1 pick quarterbacks in Ohio is looking very lopsided in favor of the guy making his seventh career start. If last week is any indication, my typing that will mean that the Bengals immediately roll over and play dead while Mayfield turns in his best performance of the year.

Sure enough, with the Bengals driving again, Myles Garrett comes in for the strip-sack for a huge turnover. I'm just going to apologize to Rob and all other Bengals fans and shut up now.

Cale Clinton: As good as Joe Burrow and the Bengals have looked through the first half, it can't bode well that the Browns are only down seven with under 100 total yards of offense. Baker Mayfield has rebounded nicely after his atrocious start, where he missed his first five passes to five different receivers. He has been 5-for-5 with 49 yards and a touchdown since then. The Browns offense has been fueled by Jarvis Landry and Kareem Hunt thus far. Between the two of them, they account for 80% of Cleveland's offensive production through the first half.

Bryan Knowles: We talked a little bit about Baker Mayfield's early struggles, but since the first quarter, he has been 10-for-10 for 114 yards and two touchdowns -- and remember, Odell Beckham hasn't been playing after getting hurt in the first quarter. It's nice to see him bounce back after what might well be the worst quarter of football for a quarterback this season.

Bryan Knowles: The Browns have come all the way back, retaking the lead at 24-20 early in the fourth quarter! Mayfield is now 15-for-15 for 182 yards and three touchdowns after that disastrous first quarter, and just hit Rashard Higgins on back-to-back 21-yard completions; the same basic play ran twice in a row for the same results. He capped it off with a shot to David Njoku in the back of the end zone for the score, and there's a lot of "bench Baker" tweets from about 1:15 that have aged very poorly.

Bryan Knowles: And we go back-and-forth in the Battle of the Higginses. This time, it's Cincinnati's Tee Higgins who finds the end zone after some absolutely putrid tackling, and the Bengals take the lead back, 27-24. Nice little drive by Joe Burrow -- some big plays to Drew Sample, a heady scramble on second-and-10. He's up over 300 yards again; the fourth rookie quarterback in NFL history to have five 300-yard passing games. And it's still only October.

Cale Clinton: Joe Burrow does everything he can to put the Bengals in a position to win. After a Billy Price false start set up third-and-11, Burrow turned a designed pass play into a 12-yard rush, picking up the first down. Incredibly fun rookie season for the No. 1 overall pick.

Dave Bernreuther: Raise your hand if you thought that it'd be Donovan Peoples-Jones that ended up as the difference maker in the game featuring OBJ, A.J. Green, Jarvis Landry, and others. Lost in the finishes in Atlanta and Tennessee, the game in Ohio ended up with perhaps the best finish.

Darius Phillips is going to have nightmares about that one for a while; the throw went straight through his hands.

Vince Verhei: Each of Baker Mayfield's first five passes was incomplete. He only threw one incompletion the rest of the day ... and that was a spike to stop the clock.

Rob Weintraub: Plenty of anguish on Bengals Twitter after yet another close defeat, which has become the defining trait of the Zac Taylor era. Maybe I'm numb to it but other than the fact it was the Browns I'm feeling pretty positive, mainly because Joey B was sensational, particularly given the fact his only two decent linemen (Jonah Williams and Trey Hopkins) went out early. Almost everything was makeshift but Burrow put up 400 yards and 34 points. Of course, it was the drive that stalled at the Browns 5 that wound up the difference, along with the horrendous pass defense. Down both starting corners and almost all their defensive front, the Bengals sold out on the run and played soft behind it, allowing Mayfield to do his usual stat-padding against the Bengals. Taylor did a very good job finding a consistent attack without Joe Mixon and any time to throw deep, taking advantage of Burrow's tremendous intermediate accuracy. Just would be nice to win a close one one of these years...

Also, apparently Carlos "Costanza" Dunlap got into a fight with a coach after the game and subsequently listed his house as being for sale on Twitter. Could have gotten a three for him last year, now his value is approximately zilch.

Apparently this is the first time in the modern NFL that a team lost while scoring 33-plus points with zero punts. Which kinda says it all...

Rob Weintraub: One more Bengals note -- they are now -31 in point differential. -24 of those were against the Ravens, meaning in the other six games they are -7, showing just how maddening this season has been.

Detroit Lions 23 at Atlanta Falcons 22

Cale Clinton: Detroit catches an enormous break to set up their first score of the game. Matthew Stafford was left scrambling on third-and-goal, eventually sacked by A.J. Terrell. However, the sack was flagged as Terrell was flagged for roughing the passer. The tackle itself looked clean, but Terrell made contact with Stafford while both were stood up. A little head movement on Stafford's part may have made it look like helmet-to-helmet contact. Bit of a ticky-tack call, but I suppose you'll end up with calls like that with the league's initiative to protect the quarterback.

Fourth-and-goal from the 11-yard-line becomes first-and-goal from the 3, and D'Andre Swift easily carries it in for the touchdown.

Cale Clinton: This hasn't been the most entertaining game through the first half. Each team has two three-and-outs to their name thus far. Each teams has also had a touchdown set up by penalties. The Lions' lone touchdown only came to be because of A.J. Terrell's roughing the passer call, while the Falcons' first scoring drive of the day was kept alive by a defensive pass interference call on Jeff Okudah, setting Atlanta up with first-and-goal on Detroit's 1-yard-line.

There are some signs of life as we enter the half, however. Following a fourth-down stop by the Atlanta defense, Matt Ryan led a 13-play, 98-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Detroit answered by driving into field goal position with 30 seconds left in the half to cut the deficit to four.

Bryan Knowles: Accidental touchdown alert! Down two, Todd Gurley busts one into open space, the end zone ahead of him. But what he wants to do is fall down, setting up a first-and-inches, and letting the Falcons drain the last 1:04 off the clock. His momentum is too much, however, and Gurley accidentally breaks the plane, for the go-ahead touchdown! That forces Atlanta to go for two, which they convert, making it a six-point game with 1:04 left, but giving the Lions the ball back.

Man, if the Falcons lose because they ACCIDENTALLY scored the go-ahead touchdown...

Andrew Potter: That Gurley touchdown was met with the hilarious sight of Gurley trying but failing to stop short of the goal line, and the Lions defenders signaling touchdown hopefully toward the referees.

Vince Verhei: In a non-Daniel Jones occasion, this would have been the funniest play of the week.

Scott Spratt: Atlanta did it! They allowed the Lions to march the field in a minute and are an extra point away from another heartbreaking loss!

Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, the unintentional touchdown leads to a Lions winning touchdown! Oh no, how can the Falcons find so many ways to lose! So, that should wrap things up for the Lions...

...except T.J. Hockenson, who scored the touchdown, celebrates too much and gets called for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the extra point back! (Editor's note: the penalty was actually called against Danny Amendola, not Hockenson.) Meaning Matt Prater needs to kick a 40-yard extra point to win the game. It would be the most Lions thing ever to whiff that ... but they do in fact convert. I suppose there's only so much chaos I can ask for from the two teams most likely to below fourth-quarter leads.

Aaron Schatz: I believe that's actually a *48*-yard extra point.

Andrew Potter: Only the 2020 Falcons could possibly lose a game by accidentally taking a touchdown lead with a minute to go.

Vince Verhei: EDJ ran the numbers. Atlanta's Game-Winning Chance when they had first-and-goal: 94.8%. GWC after the touchdown and two-point conversion: 85.7%. The touchdown cost them nearly 10% GWC.

Cale Clinton: We know the Falcons have blown some bad leads this season, but I never realized it was this bad.

Dallas Cowboys 3 at Washington Football Team 25

Scott Spratt: Washington just went up 22-3 in the second quarter. This looks like a mismatch, and Dallas had already fallen to 26th in overall DVOA earlier this week. Dak Prescott is making so much money while he recovers from his ankle injury.

Bryan Knowles: There were some questions in this week's DVOA rankings as to why the Eagles were favorite to win the division over Dallas. Well, uh, call this week Exhibit A.

Bryan Knowles: The Cowboys have allowed 20-plus points in the first half of their last six games. That's the first time in NFL history that's ever happened. Yes, blame the Dak injury and the patchwork offensive line, but this is a bad football team on all sides of the ball.

Vince Verhei: Football Team leads 22-3 at halftime and it doesn't feel like it has been that close. Their first drive ended when Kyle Allen was stuffed on a fourth-and-goal sneak, but that didn't matter -- a few plays later, Landon Collins sacked Andy Dalton and forced a fumble, recovered by Dallas in the end zone for a safety. (In much worse news for Collins, he was later carted off the field with an ankle injury.) Allen came back to throw a pair of touchdowns, the longest a 52-yarder to Terry McAulin, who roasted Trevon Diggs down the sideline. Washington is also steamrolling Dallas on the ground -- 18 carries for 125 yards, including 11 carries for 94 yards and a touchdown by Antonio Gibson. His longest run was a 40-yarder where he lined up as a wingback and took a handoff on a sweep from left to right.

Dallas' offense is awful. Unwatchable. A couple of big plays on their last drive got them up to -- UP to -- 3.1 yards per play for the half. And that drive ended when Ezekiel Elliott bobbled Dalton's pass in the red zone and it was intercepted by Cole Holcomb. Dalton has gained only 67 yards on eight completions (including 41 on five by Amari Cooper) and given 24 yards back on a pair of sacks. Elliott has 10 carries for 43 yards, which isn't terrible, but given the score he probably won't be running much in the second half. Chase Young technically doesn't have any sacks, passes defensed, or quarterback hits for Washington, but he's still making an impact with a team-high five tackles.

Dave Bernreuther: There was a lot of talk in the traditional media about how the Cowboys should try to go out and trade for Ryan Fitzpatrick after the Tua Tagovailoa announcement. And that's the kind of talk that is usually narrative-driven and reactionary and is sort of why this site came to exist in the first place.

It isn't wrong in this case, though. Better quarterback play won't fix this defense, of course; the games with Dak showed us that. And Fitzmagic still has plenty of flaws and is capable of putting up a total stinker of a game. But if the Cowboys had Ryan Fitzpatrick right now, even without any time to learn the offense, they might well be winning this game, and he could at least give a bit of hope in a division that might be winnable at 6-10 or 7-9. Barring a miracle, Andy Dalton is not going to be the one supplying that better play.

There's no sugarcoating it: he has been awful. The Cowboys receivers are getting open, and even without pressure on Dalton (although to be fair, they are definitely getting a bunch of pressure on Dalton), he's just unwilling to pull the trigger. He's holding the ball WAY too long, and frequently, when he does decide to throw it, he's throwing into traffic or just flat-out missing guys. That discussion with my friend a few weeks ago about the luck that Cowboys fans have had (relative to Jets fans like our other former roommate) has come up again today, but in the context of "I guess I really can't complain about that luck evening out a bit."

Early on, we got a great example from Riverboat Ron of why you should ALWAYS go for it on fourth-and-goal. The Football Team was mere inches away, so it wasn't even that hard a decision, but somehow the maligned Cowboys defense came up with the stop, plugging up every gap that Allen could possibly have snuck through. But it took only a few plays to illustrate why it's fine to give up those three points; even having gotten a first down to get out of the end zone, a sack of Dalton (in this case, due more to quality play by the defensive line than to the previous criticisms of Dalton) led to a fumble that bounced its way into the end zone. Dallas recovered to limit the damage to two points on the play, but the next time I looked at that screen, Washington was up 9-0. Which shouldn't be at all insurmountable, even with that pass rush, when the other team is quarterbacked by Kyle Allen. But with the way Dalton has played through one half, it just might be.

Of course, their 28th-ranked defense is playing their part too ... They've put up very little resistance at all, short of one nice sack I remember (which may not have even counted, since I remember it being Dorrance Armstrong and the box score says he has no sacks), and have allowed the 30th-ranked offense to put up 252 yards and 20 other points on them.

Aaron Schatz: Just a reminder that it isn't all about Andy Dalton for Dallas. The Cowboys are playing now without Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, AND Zack Martin on their offensive line, as well as Joe Looney, who had replaced Travis Frederick at center when Frederick retired.

Dave Bernreuther: I forgot about Looney, Aaron. Certainly explains some of the gun-shy element I've seen. Hard to blame Dalton for hearing footsteps even on the plays where they're not there.

I think maybe their run of injuries might get swept under the rug a bit because of how ridiculous things have been in Philly. At least that's true in my echo chamber, anyway.

Vince Verhei: Well, we're about to find out what the third level of offensive hell is like for Dallas. Dalton scrambles on third-and-10 and slides well short of a first down, but he takes a terrible shot to the head that knocks his helmet off and appears to knock him out cold. That's a 15-yard penalty on Jon Bostic that should probably be an ejection. But it's a first down for Dallas, and Ben DiNucci, a rookie out of James Madison, is about to take at least one snap at quarterback.

Andrew Potter: That hit from Bostic was vicious, and results in a fully deserved ejection.

Vince Verhei: Well, DiNucci's first drive sure was exciting. His first five plays:

  • Fumbled snap, recovered by Dallas for a loss of 9.
  • Deep completion to Amari Cooper for 32 yards, Dallas' longest gain of the day.
  • Sack for a loss of 2.
  • Handoff to Tony Pollard for no gain.
  • Sack-fumble, recovered by Dallas for a loss of 14, leading to the Cowboys' third punt of the day.

Green Bay Packers 35 at Houston Texans 20

Rivers McCown: Wow, I get to sum this up entirely? Well, the Packers jumped out to a 21-0 lead as the Texans tried to have their pathetic cornerback corps deal with the loss of Bradley Roby (knee) after the third play of the game. Davante Adams' fantasy owners can tell you how well that went. A disastrous game plan and something that was remarked upon by both Matt LaFleur and Adams in their press conferences as something that they basically drew up during the week and that worked exactly as it did in practice. You love to see it.

Houston's offense is anchored to David Johnson, who continues to struggle and spent half the game trying to do pointless spin moves that resulted in him getting helmet after helmet in the back. Deshaun Watson played well -- 300 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers. But the red zone was unkind without a running threat and they'd already fallen too far behind to take the game back.

Kansas City Chiefs 43 at Denver Broncos 16

Cale Clinton: We've still got some time before this one kicks off, but it looks like we're getting our first snow game of the year today!

Scott Spratt: I'm sure fantasy football players love to see Clyde Edwards-Helaire breaking tackles and scoring his first touchdown since Week 1 now that Le'Veon Bell is on his team!

Cale Clinton: Not only is this Le'Veon Bell's first game as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, but this is also his first game playing against the Denver Broncos. Despite the Broncos, Steelers, and Jets all playing in the AFC, Bell has never matched up against this team. Now he gets to play them twice a season.

Vince Verhei: Drew Lock is quickly becoming must-see TV. Kansas City tight end Nick Keizer (playing at fullback in place of the absent Anthony Sherman) fumbles, and the Broncos recover in Chiefs territory. Lock, as he is wont to do, immediately went deep, hitting Tim Patrick at the sideline for a 27-yard gain. A few plays later, on third-and-goal, Lock keeps on a zone read, fakes out Tanoh Kpassagnon on his way to the outside, and then gives Kpassagnon a Nelson Muntz "HA-HA!" point as he jogs into the end zone.

Brandon McManus misses the XP, so Kansas City still leads 7-6.

And in the time it took me to type all that up, the Chiefs scrambled out a seven-play, 53-yard field goal drive to extend their lead to 10-6.

Dave Bernreuther: After his initial precipitation-induced face shield drama, Andy Reid has decided not to risk it and is sporting the team-themed mask this time around. Something looks odd about it, though, and I can't yet figure out what's going on. But so far it reminds me of "ma in her kerchief and I in my cap" from the animated 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and given the snow on the ground, I can't help but think that having a Christmas special now stuck in my head is somewhat appropriate.

(In Miami. Before Halloween.)

Of all the many things to enjoy about snow games, my favorite might be the early-game portion where you can still see individual footprints on the field. Reminds me of the dots GIFs we post.

Cale Clinton: It must be painful for the Denver Broncos to keep Patrick Mahomes relatively contained, only to let up touchdowns in the other two phases of the game. First, Daniel Sorensen took a Drew Lock interception 50 yards the other way for a touchdown. Now, the Broncos allow Byron Pringle to return the kickoff 102 yards for six. Take those away, and Denver's only down one instead of 15.

Vince Verhei: Kansas City is up 24-9 at halftime, and it is really, really weird to watch a Chiefs game where Patrick Mahomes may be their worst player. He's not having a horrible day -- 7-of-11, 99 yards, no picks -- but he has been sacked twice, Kansas City is averaging more yards on rushes (8.4) than dropbacks (6.4), the defense has three sacks and a pick-six, and they've got the special teams touchdown too. If you're trying to sort out the pecking order in Kansas City's backfield, the numbers there are currently 44 yards and a touchdown on five carries for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, 19 yards on three carries for Le'Veon Bell.

The Broncos runners have also done well (79 yards on nine carries for Phillip Lindsay, 38 on seven for Melvin Gordon), but given the score they're not likely to get much more action in the second half.

As you'd expect in the snow, turnovers have been an issue. In addition to the pick-six and the Kizer fumble, there was a play where Gordon lost a fumble to Kansas City lineman Tershawn Wharton, who then fumbled himself, only for the ball to be recovered by his teammate Tyrann Mathieu.

Vince Verhei: Let's check in on how the second half started for Gordon and the Broncos:

Scott Spratt: That Melvin Gordon flea-flicker toss back was just a bit outside.

Tom Gower: I have a hard time knowing what to take away from most weather games, especially those that weren't particularly competitive. Daniel Sorenson's pick-six and Byron Pringle's 102-yard kickoff return let the Chiefs take a 15-point lead after less than 25 minutes of the game. Patrick Mahomes looked like he was on the way to what I believe Aaron noted on Twitter might be the first negative-DYAR game of his career and it didn't matter. Some later production made Mahomes' numbers look fine overall (15-of-23, 200 yards, one touchdown), but it wasn't a great performance to watch. Drew Lock also looked awful for much of the game, the worst I've ever seen him play in the NFL. Maybe, just maybe, throwing in snow is more difficult than normal throwing. The unsurprising results make me want to not put too much weight from this game on other non-snow games. Maybe the Chiefs do have enough on defense and special teams they can win even when the offense doesn't look great and can't take advantage of opportunities (they lost yardage when starting at midfield and could only get a field goal when starting at the 14). Or maybe this was just one fluky game.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 45 at Las Vegas Raiders 20

Bryan Knowles: With Tom Brady sneaking in a touchdown, I went back to try to figure out if he's the leader in quarterback sneak scores -- his reputation as one of the best sneakers in NFL history would at least make that a plausible record. Problem, of course, is that play-by-play has historically not included sneaks as notation, so we have to make a few educated guesses -- specifically, I'm assuming any quarterback rush of 3 yards or less was a sneak, and anything more was a scramble.

That would mean Brady just snuck in his 24th touchdown, including the postseason. That's good, but it's not quite the quarterback record -- Otto Graham had 38, Cam Newton has 35, Y.A. Tittle had 31. Some of those were probably more traditional running plays, but still.

Scott Spratt: Jon Gruden called a fake punt on a fourth-and-1 from the Raiders' 34-yard line, and Jeff Heath converted.

There is a lot of good Heath commentary from disgruntled Cowboys fans on Twitter. Here's my favorite:

Scott Spratt: Ronald Jones had another brutal drop, and I'm interested to see he has "just" three charted through six weeks by Sportradar. HIs 15.0% drop rate (of catchable targets) by their charting is seventh-worst at the position this season.

Of course, some other data providers might be a little less forgiving in their charting.

Dave Bernreuther: The last-minute COVID switch of this game means that instead of getting a top-tier FOX crew, we've got the backups in -- Adam Amin and Mark Schlereth. I have nothing bad whatsoever to say about them, but man is it weird to see/hear a late slot game with Tom Brady announced by unfamiliar voices.

We're not too deep into this one yet, but thus far, Derek Carr looks worlds better than Aaron Rodgers did against this defense last week. And that's not a sentence I ever expected to type.

Note to the Raiders defense: I know that he isn't the same player he used to be, but even so ... leaving Rob Gronkowski completely uncovered is still sub-optimal strategy.

Scott Spratt: Leonard Fournette has way better hands than Ronald Jones!

Bryan Knowles: Happy national tight end day! The Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski connection just caught Steve Young-Jerry Rice for the second-most touchdowns all-time with 92. I highly doubt they'll catch Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison's 118, but then, I thought Gronk was done a year ago.

Vince Verhei: Gronk had a 9-inch height advantage on Nevin Lawson on that touchdown. Just look at this size difference. This looks like an all-state senior against the freshman squad in high school.

Cale Clinton: Fresh off the heels of his best game in a Buccaneers uniform, Rob Gronkowski has continued to impress today. He has really made some athletic plays this afternoon to rack up four receptions for 56 yards and a score so far. It's tough to separate this version of Gronk from the all-time great tight end he was in New England; he's past the point of that peak. The Tampa-era Gronk, however, can certainly still impress.

Bryan Knowles: The Buccaneers, conversely, employ all the wide receivers. Brady just threw a beautiful ball to ... wait a second, let me check my depth chart ... WR5 Scotty Miller for a touchdown. This is definitely the team that needed to sign Antonio Brown.

21-10 Buccaneers at the end of the second quarter -- not over or anything just yet, but the Bucs are beginning to roll.

Dave Bernreuther: There is no amount of Brady bias (well, anti-Brady bias) that can lead to any conclusion other than that his touchdown pass to Scotty Miller, to make it 21-10 as the half ends, was absolutely spectacular. And that would be true if he was 23, never mind 43.

(But seriously. He's FORTY-THREE and still dropping dimes!)

Aaron Schatz: Miller is really the Bucs' third receiver, not the fifth one. At least, until Antonio Brown shows up.

Bryan Knowles: Well, the Raiders just found an interesting way to convert third-and-long -- just have your opponents commit 5-yard penalties on back-to-back plays. That's some real four-dimensional chess, there.

On a more actual positive note, Carr takes the new leash on life with a rare deep shot, hitting Nelson Agholor for 44 yards to set up a touchdown the next play. Agholor becoming a reliable receiver (he had 136 DYAR on 11 targets coming into today) probably doesn't make the top 10 weirdest things about 2020, but it might in a sane year.

Vince Verhei: You know how we say "Sorry, Rivers" whenever DeAndre Hopkins makes a big catch in Arizona? What do we say when Nelson Agholor makes a big catch in Las Vegas? "Sorry, Carson?" "Sorry, Rocky?" "Sorry, Mac, Dennis, Charlie, and Dee?" Agholor goes deep for a 44-yard gain, and he's now up to 107 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Darren Waller scores from there and the Raiders are back in this thing, 24-17.

Bryan Knowles: If it's Agholor, maybe it's Sorry, Mike.

Vince Verhei: Of course!

Scott Spratt: It's sorry to this guy:

Vince Verhei: The Raiders, down 24-17, just kicked a field goal on fourth-and-1 in the red zone in the fourth quarter. Boo.

Scott Spratt: In Jon Gruden's defense, Josh Jacobs hadn't been lighting it up against the No. 3 DVOA run defense. He has 17 yards on 10 carries. What play would you call to convert the yard, Vince?

Vince Verhei: That's a fair question, Scott. I'm definitely rolling with Carr and not Jacobs against the run defense there. Pick your target -- Agholor, Waller, Ruggs are having good days -- but don't forget the ball was at the 17, not the 1. You can make the Bucs defend the whole depth of the field, not just the line of scrimmage.

Hindsight is 20/20, but Brady followed that field goal with a touchdown pass to Chris Godwin, and the Bucs are now up 31-20 with 7:22 to go. Pretty sure Gruden wishes he had left the offense on the field now.

Bryan Knowles: I don't know what play the Raiders should have called, but they had to try at least something, because their defense was unable to hold up their end of the deal. Brady and company just march right back down the field, including picking up fourth-and-3 from midfield, to punch it into the end zone. Now the Raiders need two scores and have just 7:22 to do it in -- and I'll say, I don't fancy their chances to get much closer than they did when they kicked the field goal.

Vince Verhei: Carr responded to that Godwin touchdown by throwing an interception to Antoine Winfield on his next throw; Godwin got the ball down to the 1 and Ronald Jones scored from there. Next possession, down 38-20, the Raiders have no choice but to go for it on fourth-and-1 ... and Carr takes a sack out of bounds. Are you f*cking kidding me? It's fourth down and you're running to the sideline and you can't just lob the ball somewhere? That sets up Brady's fourth touchdown of the day, this one to Tyler Johnson. This was a one-score game barely four minutes ago; the Bucs are up 45-20 now.

Cale Clinton: Brady's fourth touchdown of the afternoon doesn't mean much to this game, but it does have historic implications. The touchdown pass to Chris Godwin is Brady's 559th, passing Drew Brees on the career passing touchdowns.

When Brees broke the record, they stopped the entire game to hand Drew a piece of paper. When Brady did it today, they barely mentioned it on the broadcast.

San Francisco 49ers 33 at New England Patriots 6

Aaron Schatz: Patriots had not allowed an opening-drive touchdown in a regular-season game at home for 32 straight games. Jeff Wilson just took it in to make it 7-0 San Francisco. A couple plays in that drive where nobody seemed to be on Deebo Samuel as he caught a swing pass and added up the YAC. People need to understand how mediocre the New England defense is this year.

Bryan Knowles: With Raheem Mostert on IR, the 49ers have run a couple plays with Deebo Samuel at halfback. I mean, at this point, why not?

Aaron Schatz: Interesting strategy from the Patriots who are using Stephon Gilmore on George Kittle on third downs. It didn't work the first time on this drive with Kittle catching a pass to convert third-and-11, but on the second third-and-long, Jimmy Garoppolo overthrew Kittle in the middle of the field and the ball went right into the arms of Devin McCourty for a gift interception.

Bryan Knowles: Cam Newton looks ... slow? Maybe that's not the right word for it, but both in his motion and his processing, he doesn't look like the same player he once was. Maybe that's an effect of the long layoff from injury, maybe it's an effect of COVID, maybe he's just not the same player he once was, but he just threw a Garoppolo-esque interception right to Fred Warner.

Bryan Knowles: I'm convinced the 49ers do not actually employ any wide receivers. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk? Just running backs with illegal numbers. Well, whatever works -- the 49ers are averating 5.1 yards per rush behind Jeff Wilson, Samuel, and Kyle Juszcyzk. The Patriots know the 49ers are running (or doing a short screen) on nearly every play, and they just can't slow them down. Lawrence Guy coming off the field isn't going to help, either.

49ers take a 16-3 lead (Robbie Gould missed the extra point) midway through the second quarter.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots are a total mess today. They just fumbled twice within three plays, on a kickoff return and a second-down run, getting lucky to recover both of them. Then Newton skipped a third-down pass ahead of his receiver Damiere Byrd. Newton's throws look terrible, and the 49ers are outplaying the Patriots in pretty much every way.

Cale Clinton: Not sure whether to credit Kyle Shanahan's play design or point to the Patriots miserable rushing defense, but you can drive a car through some of the holes being created for the 49ers running backs. Top-to-bottom domination by San Francisco on both sides of the ball.

Bryan Knowles: I am stunned. The Patriots are looking terrible in every phase of the game. The 49ers are picking up 10 or 15 yards pretty much every time they touch the ball, just from stretch run after stretch run. On the other side of the ball, New England can't buy a completion.

If you're Bill Belichick, do you think about bringing in Jarrett Stidham for the second half? Newton just does not look right, and you wouldn't think the offense could get much worse with the backup in there. But it's not like they're a quarterback change away from being in this one or anything.

Aaron Schatz: Newton is so off today. Just threw behind Julian Edelman, off his hands for Newton's third pick. Before that, even a completion to rookie tight end Dalton Keene was inaccurate, even though Keene caught it.

Bryan Knowles: And now he's all the way off -- in that Stidham is warming up and should be coming in the next time the Patriots have the ball.

Rob Weintraub: It's almost as though Cam Newton came down with COVID or something...

Seriously we have one player, Ryquell Armstead, in bad shape because of Coronavirus, and it would hardly be surprising if Cam, like Rudy Gobert for example, isn't bouncing right back to where he was pre-CV.

Jacksonville Jaguars 29 at Los Angeles Chargers 39

Vince Verhei: Scramblenauts, I would like to nominate Anthony Lynn for your Confusing Coach of the Week award. Justin Herbert came into the week third in the league in yards per pass behind only Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, but the Chargers have been rotating quarterbacks today. OK, you think, that's weird, but Herbert is a rookie and Tyrod Taylor is a veteran, so maybe Lynn is looking for some veteran leadership. But Taylor's not active today, still recovering from injured ribs, which means Herbert has been yielding time so that Easton Stick can take some snaps. And if you can explain that one, you're a wiser man than I am.

Cale Clinton: Justin Herbert's fifth career game hasn't looked quite as impressive as his first four. His eight completions on 14 passes through three drives have mostly come on screens and over-the-middle routes. He has consistently missed on the downfield strikes that so thoroughly impressed me prior to the bye. Herbert's longest gain of the first quarter was earned with his feet, a 31-yard scramble that stands as the longest run by a Chargers quarterback since 1988 (per the broadcast). His longest pass of the first quarter, a 26-yard pass to Keenan Allen, is more a credit to Allen's incredible catch radius than Herbert's passing.

On the other side of the ball, Gardner Minshew failed to complete a pass in the first quarter after going 0-for-3 on dropbacks. Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone discussed the possibility of benching Minshew if his less-than-stellar play continued into Week 7. I know that Minshew Mania may have led to an inflated perception of the mustachioed signal-caller, but I don't believe his play has been poor enough to warrant a benching. One quarter through this game, it's not looking great for Minshew.

Cale Clinton: Just as I hit send on that, Justin Herbert completes a beautiful strike to Donald Parham for six. How's that for the reverse jinx?

Parham notches his second reception of the season. Both catches have been touchdowns.

Scott Spratt: Amazing body control by James Robinson avoiding the right sideline and stretching out to hit the pylon to pull the Jaguars within two at 16-14 at the half.

Robinson is an undrafted rookie, but he's third at the position with 66 DYAR as a receiver. Only Alvin Kamara (132) and Chris Carson (69) have more.

Vince Verhei: The first half summarized in one stat: at one point the Chargers led the Jaguars in first downs 13 to zero, but then the Jags rattled off nine first downs in a row. The Chargers put up a 16-0 lead on two touchdowns, a field goal, and a missed PAT; the Jaguars nearly tied it with two touchdowns, scoring one two-pointer and missing another. The Jags might well be ahead, but Joey Bosa hit James Robinson for a loss on fourth-and-1 at the 29.

Bosa and the Chargers have been making life miserable on Gardner Minshew, sacking him four times and limiting him to 8-of-15 passing. But Minshew's receivers have been making big catches -- Laviska Shenault, DJ Chark, and James O'Shaughnessy each have 20-plus-yard gains -- and Robinson is up to 82 yards on 14 carries despite that fourth-down stuff.

The Chargers have been very creative in trying to replace Austin Ekeler -- seven different players have carried the ball in the first half, led by their quarterback (30 yards on four carries) and a wide receiver (Joe Reed has 14 yards and a touchdown on his two carries). Herbert has had something of an off day (13-24-143), but the Easton Stick Experiment has thankfully disappeared.

Cale Clinton: A two-point lead headed into halftime is still a lead, but it is also part of a larger trend for this Chargers team. In Week 4 against the Buccaneers, the Chargers led by 17 in the first half and lost the game. They also lost in Week 5 to the Saints after leading by 17 in the first half. The Chargers led by 16 at one point during this first half.

Another stat for the Chargers, per the Insights tab for this game on the NFL app: Justin Herbert is one of three quarterbacks since at least 1950 whose first four starts all ended in one-score losses. He joins Case Keemun and Dan Orlovsky in that camp.

Cale Clinton: More baseball talk this afternoon! This time, it comes after a 12-yard scramble by Justin Herbert. Because of his baseball background in high school, the announcers say that Herbert told them sliding comes naturally to him.

Cale Clinton: I've been a big fan of Jacksonville's aggression on fourth down during this game, I just haven't been a fan of their play selection in those situations. The Jaguars missed fourth-and-2 from the Chargers 29-yard-line after a James Robinson outside run was blown up by Joey Bosa for a 2-yard loss. This time around, on fourth-and-2 from Jacksonville's own 47, they chose to run a Gardner Minshew keeper to the right sideline. He fell a yard short.

Bryan Knowles: The Jaguars are killing themselves with penalties. A holding on a failed third down gives the Chargers a new set of downs, and Justin Herbert responds by finding Virgil Green in the end zone for the go-ahead score. Unfortunately, Green comes down very badly on his ankle; that looks like a major injury, though he is able to walk to the sideline with help.

Either way, it's 22-21 Chargers after the failed two-point conversion in what's probably the second-best game going on at the moment.

Vince Verhei: We should add that the Jaguars have 21 because on the first drive of the second half, the Chargers went three-and-out; on the ensuing punt; Jacksonville safety Daniel Thomas got the block, the recovery, and the touchdown.

Cale Clinton: Now it's the Chargers' turn to kill themselves with penalties! On back-to-back plays, Jerry Tillery draws a roughing the passer penalty and Denzel Perryman gets unnecessary roughness. The Jaguars had gained just 5 yards on the drive prior to the combined 30 yards in penalties. This set up a Gardnew Minshew dime to Chris Conley for a score, followed up by a completed two-point conversion to take a 29-22 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Justin Herbert looks like he's gonna be a good one. Even in what is arguably his worst day as a pro, he flashes -- he just hit Jalen Guyton on a perfectly thrown shot downfield, tying the game back at 29, and we go back and forth in Los Angeles...

Scott Spratt: Video for the Guyton catch.

Vince Verhei: And then the Jaguars fumble on the ensuing kickoff and the Chargers recover. Herbert scrambles in for a touchdown shortly thereafter. The play is reviewed and upheld, and the Chargers go back on top 36-29.

And there's still a whole quarter to go!

Scott Spratt: We've come a long way from the Chargers bringing Easton Stick in for a few plays, Vince. Justin Herbert is up to 321 passing and 61 rushing yards with more than nine minutes still left in the fourth quarter.

Cale Clinton: Broadcast just dropped another Herbert stat: the rookie is just the second quarterback to throw for 250-plus yards in each of his first five games. The other? Patrick Mahomes.

Vince Verhei: This game kind of petered out in the fourth quarter after that shootout in the third. Chargers got a field goal to go up 39-29 and it felt like it was over at that point. Biggest story is the injuries -- Dede Westbrook was carted off with a leg injury that we were told was so graphic they were not going to show a replay. Bosa and Melvin Ingram have also been moving in and out of the game with assorted bumps and bruises.

Cale Clinton: With Doug Marrone spending the Jaguars' final timeout, the two-minute warning behind us, and the Chargers in the red zone, this one is all but over. What didn't seem like the best Justin Herbert game to start became an all-time game for the rookie signal-caller. This is the best start from a volume stat perspective of Herbert's five games so far. Per the NFL app, he is the first Chargers quarterback since Dan Fouts in 1983 to throw for 3-plus touchdowns and run for at least one. Herbert also joins Deshaun Watson as the only rookies to throw for 3-plus touchdowns in three consecutive games. I've really enjoyed watching the start of his career. It also feels good to know that he is currently being mentioned alongside Mahomes, Watson, and the only Hall of Fame quarterback in Chargers history. Yes, he's young. Yes, this came against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But a win's a win, and -- for his sake -- I hope there's more of them to come.

Cale Clinton: Last thing on this game: we've got a Scorigami! 39-29 final

Seattle Seahawks 34 at Arizona Cardinals 37 (OT)

Bryan Knowles: Any thoughts that the Seahawks' hot start would disappear after their bye week can be put to bed. Tyler Lockett had been relatively quiet the last couple weeks, but made a phenomenal one-handed catch to start things off, and the rest of the drive didn't get much more difficult than that, as Seattle parts the Red Sea and jumps out to an early lead. That was too damn easy.

Bryan Knowles: My favorite part of teams realizing it's OK to go for short fourth downs is that it frees them up to take shots on third-and-short. Cardinals face third-and-2 from the 35-yard line and take the shot to DeAndre Hopkins -- no hesitation, no second thoughts, likely because they were fine with picking up 2 yards on fourth if necessary. It wasn't necessary, as Hopkins reaches over Quinton Dunbar for the score, but love the thinking there.

Scott Spratt: Woah, did DeAndre Hopkins just kick the pylon with his outside foot to break the plane on that long touchdown?

Cale Clinton: One more thing on the Hopkins touchdown: Kyler Murray threw that ball 35 yards with touch to the pylon without having his fingers on the laces. I don't know how common it is for quarterbacks to throw like that; I know I've never seen it before, let alone see one go for a touchdown. When Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth pointed that out I was stunned.

Carl Yedor: Through one quarter, this game has been going about as I expected, which is to say there has been a lot of scoring. Seattle got a stop on Arizona's possession, but that was more a function of the Cardinals making mistakes as opposed to anything special the Seahawks were doing defensively. They had an opportunity to force back-to-back three-and-outs, but Murray scrambled for a first down after dodging a blitz, ducking out of bounds just past the first down marker. Seattle has moved the ball well too, though they stalled out at the Arizona 25 after Greg Olsen was unable to keep both feet in on a deep end zone shot down the sideline. 10-7 Seattle at the moment, but additional points should not be at a premium tonight.

Vince Verhei: Wide receiver screen to DeAndre Hopkins. Poona Ford forces a fumble and K.J. Wright recovers for Seattle.

Sorry Riv -- wait, how does this work now?

Carl Yedor: Did I speak too soon? After the Hopkins fumble, Seattle gets down to the goal line and tries to take advantage of a quick snap with Chris Carson flaring out toward the corner of the end zone. Budda Baker had other ideas. The impressive young safety snatches the ball out of the air and heads the other way, only to be taken down from behind by DK Metcalf. Metcalf had to make up some serious ground on Baker to keep him out of the end zone (which is just another example of the second-year pro being a very fast dude). Didn't seem like it would keep the Cardinals off the board, but on fourth-and-goal from the 3, Seattle makes the stop.

Bryan Knowles: I'm not entirely sure No. 14 isn't actually a heat-seeking missile in a wolf grey jersey.

Budda Baker hit 21.3 MPH on the interception return, but DK Metcalf hit 22.6 -- and it matters a hell of a lot, because the Seahawks keep the Cardinals out of the end zone, preserving the 13-7 Seattle lead. What a football play by Metcalf!

Scott Spratt: Oh my god. I know the Russell Wilson pick was uncharacteristic and all that, but it's unimportant. Did you see where DK Metcalf came from to make that tackle to prevent the pick-six? It was diagonally across the field, almost a replay of my favorite play from NFL history when Ben Watson did the same and forced a fumble against Champ Bailey!

The Watson one:

The Metcalf one:

Scott Spratt: Also, a weird football quirk. Budda Baker didn't have an interception in his first 50 career games -- and he justifiably made two Pro Bowls in that time -- but he has made two interceptions in his last two games including tonight's.

Vince Verhei: Hmm. Has Russell Wilson ever thrown a goal-line interception in this building before? None are coming to mind. I guess it never happened here before.


And the Metcalf tackle ends up saving Seattle seven points, because the Cardinals go for it on fourth-and-goal, and Murray scrambles back 20 yards before lobbing it to nobody in particular. I want to point out the third-down play though — Arizona goes with split backs, but the "back" on the right is wearing 70-something. But the play is a quarterback sweep to the left, and the Seahawks snuff it out for a loss. Weirdness all around there.

Dave Bernreuther: DK Metcalf is the Freeze.

Bryan Knowles: Random thought: Kyler Murray runs sideways more than any other player I can remember. Maybe it's just solid defense from Seattle, but Murray keeps cutting 90-degree turns and headed straight towards the sidelines. It's a bit odd.

Carl Yedor: Big drive here as the fourth quarter starts with Seattle in possession. Seattle's best corner Shaquill Griffin has been ruled out with a concussion, which means that Seattle's very-bad pass defense might somehow get even worse. Compounding that, Wilson is forced out of the pocket under duress on a third down and airmails Metcalf while rolling out. Patrick Peterson gratefully snags that in the end zone and Seattle is stopped with no points. Arizona has the ball back now only down 3.

Cale Clinton: This Week in Niche Stats: A couple of short guys (relative to NFL standards) makin' big plays!

Bryan Knowles: That had to be a miscommunication, right? Because that was a floater, as gentle as can be right into Patrick Peterson's hands. Wilson has had a couple of very uncharacteristic throws tonight.

Vince Verhei: Yes, Metcalf broke his route off when Wilson scrambled and Wilson didn't see it.

And then Murray gives the ball right back with an interception to Quandre Diggs on a horrible overthrow. I had to step out for a good chunk of the third quarter and got back just in time to watch each quarterback make his worst throw of the night.

Bryan Knowles: I think that's the third time tonight Tyler Lockett has made an incredible catch; he is so good.

And the refs are so bad. They ruled Lockett out of bounds on the fourth-and-2 touchdown pass. It's going to get overturned, so no harm, no foul, but A) the ref was right there and Lockett was in, and B) weren't they told to err on the side of the score, to trigger the automatic replay? Now, the Seahawks have to use a challenge -- hopefully that won't come back to bite them.

Aaron Schatz: Tyler Lockett has owned Dre Kirkpatrick tonight, egads. While Patrick Peterson on the other side has shut down DK Metcalf.

Vince Verhei: To be fair, Lockett has also owned Peterson tonight -- burned him for the big catch on the first drive, and I think on his long touchdown too.

Aaron Schatz: Oh, you're right. It hasn't been Peterson on Metcalf all game, that was Peterson on the deep touchdown to Lockett.

Vince Verhei: Let's not overlook the decision to go for it on fourth down rather than kicking the field goal for the six-point lead, which would have forced Arizona into four-down mode for a winning touchdown.

Is there a list anywhere of the most difficult receptions by Next Gen Stats or something? Because Lockett would have to be all over it, I would think.

Bryan Knowles: There is, Vince!

It's actually a different Seahawks receiver -- David Moore -- with the most improbable reception of 2020, back in Week 2.

Vince Verhei: Thanks for the list of catches Bryan. Lockett has just one this year and one last year, though I'd guess that last one will qualify too.

Bryan Knowles: I have never heard a referee apologize before. Seattle has never played a normal game.

Aaron Schatz: Arizona went 75 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown thanks in part to Benson Mayowa's leverage penalty giving them a free first down instead of a 52-yard field goal. But damn, even Donovan McNabb thinks the Cardinals maybe should have shown a little bit more hurry-up on that drive.

Bryan Knowles: The 15-yard penalty on the field goal bailed Arizona out, big time. They got the ball down two scores with 6:44 left in the game and used over four minutes as they painstakingly moved the ball down the field. With just a field goal, I think that would have been way, way too much time off the clock. But now, at least they have all three timeouts and the two-minute warning, and only need the field goal to tie...

Vince Verhei: The Seahawks have struggled to find a spot for Shaquem Griffin. He's too small to be an every-down defensive end, so he has often been relegated to a third-down mini-rusher. He's a perfect defender, though against the Air Raid -- you can line him up on the edge and he rush, drop back in coverage, or spy against Kyler Murray, as he has often done tonight. There are no fullbacks or tight ends to overwhelm him with size, and he's free to roam.

Well, maybe not a perfect defender -- he can't stop Murray from hitting Christian Kirk for a 4-yard touchdown, and the Seahawks are left clinging to a field goal lead.

Vince Verhei: Old Pete Carroll returned at the worst possible moment. Three runs to set up a punt on fourth-and-2 with a field goal lead and a minute to play. That's plenty of time for Murray to tie the game ... and in fact he does, and we're going to overtime.

Bryan Knowles: Good job by NBC catching Larry Fitzgerald running the ball back to the center to allow that last spike to happen in time. Arizona's time management made that a lot closer than it needed to be, but hey -- I guess you can't knock results.

Vince Verhei: So, as has been pointed out on Twitter, there were still four seconds left on the play clock when Seattle punted. There were only two seconds on the clock after Arizona's last spike.

Bryan Knowles: No sacks for either team in the first 60 minutes -- two sacks on the first drive of overtime, and the most improbable thing in this weird football game has happened -- a defense got a stop.

Aaron Schatz: I can't believe the Cardinals actually stopped the Seahawks in overtime. They got the first two sacks of the entire game! What a play call by Vance Joseph to blitz Byron Murphy from the slot on third-and-12.

Bryan Knowles: I can't believe Arizona iced their own kicker! Or tried a field goal on second down! And missed it.

Aaron Schatz: The alternative to icing their own kicker was to take a delay of game penalty and move the field goal back another 5 yards. I think the bigger problem was kicking on second down instead of running the ball to try to get that kick as close as possible.

Vince Verhei: None of which would have been an issue if they just left the offense out for another play! Never settle for a 40-plus-yard field goal!

Bryan Knowles: Yeah. A 41-yarder isn't a gimme, as evidenced. Bizarre, bizarre play calling to end this one.

Bryan Knowles: This football game is ... I have no words.

The game-winning touchdown, correctly called back due to massive holding, which also pushes Seattle out of field goal range, forcing Russ to push the ball on third down, resulting in his third interception of the day...

Aaron Schatz: Isaiah Simmons was playing only his fifth defensive snap of the game when he intercepted that pass.

Bryan Knowles: And with that field goal, congratulations to your first-place team in the NFC...

The Chicago Bears.

What a weird season.

Vince Verhei: There was complete confusion on that last interception. Simmons was running it back and there were receivers still running downfield not expecting the ball to even be out yet.

Each team ran 80 plays tonight. Don't see that very often.

Not much else to say about this. When you deliberately play in an attempt to win every game by one score, you will occasionally lose games by one score.

When I thought Metcalf had scored the game-winner, I was thinking about Seattle going 16-0 and being an underdog at home in the playoffs. So ... now I guess I look forward to Seattle going 15-1 and being an underdog at home in the playoffs.

Carl Yedor: Wow. You don't see that very often. In keeping with Seahawks-Cardinals SNF tradition, Zane Gonzalez has a field goal attempt to win the game, and it's good! But wait, Arizona nearly got a delay of game and had to call a timeout before the penalty occurred, nullifying the kick. Of course, because it's a game featuring Seattle in prime time, Gonzalez misses the second try, allowing the game to continue. Seattle then has about three minutes to try to get into field goal range and attempt their own kick. On a third-and-10, DK Metcalf gets free on a screen pass for what looks like a touchdown, but the play is called back for a holding penalty downfield that sprung Metcalf. On the subsequent third down, Wilson tries to dump the ball over the bluffing linebackers' heads but gets picked by Isaiah Simmons in the process, setting up the Cardinals with another great opportunity for a field goal. Gonzalez gets his redemption, and Arizona wins 37-34.

It was only a matter of time before Seattle's defense came back to bite them, as their close-game luck did not continue today. Not having normal passing-down back Travis Homer in there to block helped Arizona get after Wilson late and force some errant throws, as it looked like there were problems with blitz pickup late in the game. But when your defense is so bad that your offense needs to be near-perfect to win, those little things can matter a whole lot.

Tom Gower: I was having enough trouble summarizing the first 55 minutes of that Cardinals-Seahawks game aside from platitudes about Russell Wilson managing to outlast the team playing Russell Wilson's defense, a positively Tom Brady-esque second act to his career. And then we got the Cardinals screwing up, getting a fortunate penalty gift, the Cardinals screwing up, the Cardinals tying the game, the Cardinals finally getting a stop, the Cardinals doing that field goal thing, the Cardinals getting a stop, the Cardinals screwing up, and the Cardinals winning the game.

Vince Verhei: There is a ***lot*** that happened at the end of that game and it's going to take time to digest, but as I'm settling down I want to repeat what Aaron said earlier: tremendous defensive play calling by Arizona at the end of that game. It wasn't just numbers for the sake of numbers, it was disguised coverages and ambush rushers the offense hadn't seen all night. The Seahawks looked completely out of sorts, because they had no idea what Arizona was going to do from one play to the next.

Dave Bernreuther: Watching the Cardinals load up to the line before fanning back on a full sprint on these zone blitzes (although on that interception, they actually only sent THREE of the seven guys, so can we still even call it that?) has been absolutely incredible. Not because it's a new or different strategy, but how has it been well-executed. Usually the good quarterbacks can still get a bit of a tell from a guy or two and adjust the protection. Or sometimes a disguise is great but the act of disguising it makes that first step back into coverage a bit slower. On the last two big plays -- the sack on the prior drive and the pick -- they moved so quickly into their zones that it almost looked like an umbrella snapping open. It's hard to say Wilson did anything wrong on that interception. He seemed to know what was coming and got rid of it quickly; Simmons just beat the ball to the spot. I've seen plenty of talk about him not having an actual position in the NFL, but that speed definitely fit well there.

It's fair to ask: with zero sacks in regulation, where was this pressure and clever blitzing the rest of the game? (I was listening but not watching; finally left bed to watch overtime, so for all I know they were tricky all game and Seattle just picked it up.) But I don't want to get too hung up on that. What a defensive sequence. Especially after the letdown of the missed kick. Against a deserving MVP candidate and without crowd noise.

Goes without saying, but what a game. Glad I snuck back downstairs.


165 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2020, 8:39am

1 Derrick Henry

I mentioned his name in the subject line because you didn't in the article itself. That is rather remarkable, no?

3 Easy to laugh at the Falcons…

Easy to laugh at the Falcons for scoring a TD.

But we talk all the time about not relying on kickers. And that's before you factor in potential to have penalties (or even turnovers) on subsequent plays. And that the pressure is all on the snapper/kicker for the game-winner rather than a midgame, low-consequence three points.

Remember when the Patriots let the Giants score in SB a decade ago, they couldn't drive the field in a minute with an offense that had scored over 500pts that year.

The Falcons were the playing the Lions.

Call me analytics heretic, but I'd say the only time you don't take the score is when you're already ahead.

4 Hilarity Clarity

I'd like to clarify that I was laughing specifically at the sight of the ballcarrier trying but failing to fall over while the defense was animatedly signalling touchdown. We were only fractionally short of the defense specifically shoving Gurley into the end zone. 

I understand your point about taking the score while behind, but I have to think that for this Falcons team, in a dome, a 20ish-yard field goal (following kneeldowns) was a much safer bet than their defense having to guard a lead with over a minute left. And so it proved.

5 Thanks for the reply Andrew,…

In reply to by Andrew Potter

Thanks for the reply Andrew, I wasn't calling you out about laughing at the Falcons. It was a generalised statement as there were many on Twitters who did and let's be fair, it IS easy to laugh at how it's another game they've managed to "snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" this year.

If it weren't for automatic reviews, a smidgen closer and we'd probably have seen the HC throwing the challenge flag to try and get it overturned!

72 It was in the last two…

It was in the last two minutes, so a challenge would have had to come from the booth. At least the Lions wouldn't get burned as badly as the illegal challenge cost them eight years ago on Thanksgiving.

13 Before I get into the…

Before I get into the Falcons taking ownership of the Chargers' end-game curse, I'd like to point out that my most comfortable moments as a Lions fan are chasing a late deficit with Stafford and Prater.

It's the only football-related skill we're good at.

117 Stafford's 4th quarter comebacks/HOF quiz

Your comments led me to look up the all time leaderboard of 4th quarter comebacks, clearly the modern era offense has led to many more 4th quarter comebacks.

Who amongst these will not be inducted in the hall of fame?

1.  Peyton Manning:      43

2.  Tom Brady:               37

3.  Drew Brees:             36

4.  Johnny Unitas:         34

5.  Dan Marino:             33

6.  Ben Roethlisberger: 32

7.  John Elway:              31

8.  Matt Ryan:                30

8.  Matthew Stafford:     30

32 "But we talk all the time…

"But we talk all the time about not relying on kickers"

You have to rely on somebody.  I'd rather it be the kicker than a terrible defense.  I mean, they could've taken two knees, run the clock down to 0:03, and tried a 19-yard field goal -- a 100% proposition (rounding to the nearest integer) for any NFL team.  Why wouldn't you take that over giving the other team time for a counterstrike, which probably loses you the game 15%-20% of the time?

You don't have to be a hard-core analytic person to work this out.

And for what it's worth, I've never seen a team fail the few times I've seen them forego scoring to attempt a game-winning field goal within 30 yards.


65 "I've never seen a team fail…

"I've never seen a team fail the few times I've seen them forego scoring to attempt a game-winning field goal within 30 yards."

Although it's very unlikely, it's not impossible (sorry, Vikings fans):



82 Oh, I remember this game…

Oh, I remember this game well.  But it’s not the same thing.  The Viking didn’t forgo a TD to set up the field goal.  Peterson got stopped on 3rd down and set up a 4th down kick.

Of course kickers have missed short GW attempts before, but I’ve never seen it after intentionally not scoring a TD.  It’s anecdotal but I bring it up as a counter to equally unfounded “don’t trust the kicker”/“always take the points” tropes.


88 Short field goals

The Cardinals and Seahawks both missed sub-30 yard field goals on non-4th downs in overtime back in 2016.  Not quite the same as intentionally not scoring a TD, but the Cardinals chose to send out the field goal team when they needed less than a yard to score.

102 Yes, the infamous Cards…

Yes, the infamous Cards-Seahawks tie is pretty good.  The big qualifier there is that the Seahawks disrupted the kick by jumping over the line in a manner that was probably illegal even at the time.  (If I remember correctly, Wagner touched the O-linemen, which should have made it leverage under the old rules.)

There's a funny gif of Wagner from last night's game looking dejected when Mayowa commits one of the dumber 15-yard penalties you will ever see, because he knows the flag is coming before it's even thrown.

By the way, that Mayowa penalty hurt doubly because it looked like he got benched immediately after that (and the Cardinals scored seemingly instantaneously after that), and he, sadly, is the Seahawks most reliable pass rusher.

89 I agree with you that taking…

I agree with you that taking knees and then kicking the <25 yarder is the obvious best strategy, but this is some iffy logic.  Are you suggesting that kickers are more likely to make attempts that aren't on fourth down, or when their team intentionally settles?  I don't see why Walsh's failure isn't a valid data point, just as every other 4th-down kick from inside the five is one.

101 It is absolutely a valid…

It is absolutely a valid data point in the larger point of whether or not kneeling and kicking a chip shot is better than scoring the touchdown and giving your opponent the ball back.  I think the "analytics" case for that is not in dispute.

The original commenter was making a non-analytic argument based on tropes "don't rely on the kicker" and anecdotes.  So, my point was, even anecdotally, taking a knee and kicking is the better move in my experience.  I couldn't think of an instance in which it failed in *that specific situation*.  Then it became more a thread of "remember some times" rather than anybody actually making a rigorous case.

123 Yea I definitely agree with…

Yea I definitely agree with your first point, and I was thrilled when Gurley scored.  I only linked the Blair Walsh game to make the point that the chances of a kicker missing from inside the 5 is minuscule, but not zero.

6 “The Jaguars had gained just…

“The Jaguars had gained just 5 yards on the drive prior to the combined 30 yards in penalties.”

This is misleading commentary. On the roughing the passer, Minshew completed the pass. And on the unnecessary roughness the ball was caught for a decent gain. 30 yards definitely helped but Jags offense wasn’t hapless at the moment. 

7 "There is a lot of good…

"There is a lot of good Heath commentary from disgruntled Cowboys fans on Twitter. Here's my favorite:"

Methinks you *might* want to check the username on that tweet, Scott...

8 Cam looks terrible

But, really, he looked a lot better in the first three games of the season.  Maybe COVID did suck away some body strength even if he was asymptomatic.

As for the Pats' D - they really miss their linebacker corps.  JaWhaun Bentley isn't cutting it.   The first SF drive could have been stopped with zero first downs if Bentley could have made an open field tackle of Jimmy Garoppolo.  

Not much to say about the LB corps: it isn't getting back any time soon.  The secondary is fine.  (Yes, Gilmore wasnt perfect vs. George Kittle, but Kittle is an All-Pro for a reason.) The line is OK.

The offense continues to look bad.  The good news is that the line play was much better than it was versus Denver.  The bad news is the QB play was horrid.  Cam looked worse than Dwayne Haskins out there.  (I have the pleasure of being able to watch a lot of WFT games as I live in the DC area.)

As for Was-Dallas: Dallas looks really, really bad.  The Squirrels showed for a second time that their D-Line is good enough to make mincemeat of a makeshift O-line.  But that's really just part of the problem.   The 'Boys have enough talent at skill positions so that scoring more than 3 points should be easy.  But they just stunk.

As for the third game of the time: that was really the dumbest overtime I've ever seen.  Cards can run the clock down, but instead make a FG try on an early down...and miss.  Seattle is driving for a winning FG with ease...until Russell makes an inexplicable pick.  But my hopes for another Cards-Hawks tie are dashed as the Cards fail to blow the FG try on their second attempt.  


14 That could be part of it…

That could be part of it.

Part of it could be that after week 3, teams had been able to scout the new NE offense and their tactics/plays no longer had the benefit of surprise.

The other part is their defense has quietly relapsed. You don't get Denver every week.

Dallas is like the bizarro-Steelers. They are just as emotionally-volatile as the Steelers are, but cannot manage that at all. Tomlin is basically the Doc Rivers of the NFL. It feels like his playoff performance is a disappointment, but few could manage the powder keg of the Steelers locker room as deftly as he does.

23 yeah

I think Cam hasn't been able to do the read-option since coming back. Maybe it's the loss of oline, his illness, and running back injuries combined? Maybe it's teams playing Cam to run now, but they went from a run first team to a passing team and their lack of wide receiver talent has been exposed. I'm going to guess that their going to try to get back to running the football, because that has to work for their offense to work. The good news is, the Bills look beatable, Miami is starting a rookie, and the Jets appear on their schedule. The bad news is, both the 49ners and Denver have problems too and the Pats looked flat against both of them. That said, it doesn't look like the East's year.  Maybe the Bills find their MOJO from weeks one through four or Tua isn't going to be a typical rookie. But right now the best football isn't being played on the east coast. Particularly in the NFC. 


Did the 49ners lose another back? That guy Wilson looked like a beast until he went down.

54 At the moment, it's looking…

In reply to by johonny

At the moment, it's looking like Wilson has a high-ankle sprain.  Now they're down to their UDFA Hasty and Jerrick McKinnon, who's playing for the first time in three years. 

Also Deebo Samuel is out with a hamstring strain. 

It's crazy their injuries.  They're on their fifth center of the year.  Their top three DEs are on IR.  Two of their starting cornerbacks are out and both starting safeties.  Only four defensive starters were playing yesterday.  Crazy.

62 "I think Cam hasn't been…

In reply to by johonny

"I think Cam hasn't been able to do the read-option since coming back. Maybe it's the loss of oline, his illness, and running back injuries combined?"

It also could just be game script - they were down 7-0 before they touched the ball, and the first two drives were run heavy - 7 rushes, 4 passes. And then in the blink of an eye, they're down 17-3, and then 24-3. At that point you look at rushing plays and say "well that's not gonna work." I mean, last week he still had 10 rushes, for instance.

They're clearly not a play-from-behind kinda team, and, well, the defense certainly wasn't helping.

165 The problem, as I see it, is…

The problem, as I see it, is that if you're going to have an offense featuring Cam Newton, you need to commit to it.  With the strengths (good run blocking OL, deep and diverse backfield) and weaknesses (not particularly accurate QB, WR and TE corps that resemble an FCS school), McDaniels needs to dust off the Tim Tebow playbook.  This team should not be attempting 25 pass plays per game.  They need to run, run, and run some more and hit the defense with 6-8 play-action passes a game.  There are all kinds of great offensive schemes one can run with a mobile QB and multiple RBs -- watch some NCAA film, or hell, look at Baltimore. Tire out the defense.  Make a habit of running on 4th downs and keep the defense off the field.  Don't worry about giving the defense a short field if you turn the ball over on downs -- they were going to let the offense score regardless.

It might be a throwback type of game plan, but that's the only way the Patriots are winning games this year.  Counting on Newton to accurately place a throw where Edelman or White can make a defender miss and rack up YAC ain't happening.  Similarly, counting on Damiere Byrd or Jakobi Myers to get uncovered and make a play on 3rd and 7 is also a low-percentage strategy.  You cannot play things down the middle.  Worse than losing, the Patriots are becoming unwatchable.  I spent most of the last three quarters playing NHL 20, and feel like I made a wiser investment of my time.


20 When was the last time a…

When was the last time a Patriots quarterback had such a terrible performance?  Was it Bledsoe’s last full year as a starter on that bad 2000 team?  Do we have to go all the way back to Hugh Millen, Marc Wilson, or Tommy Hodson?

40 or the week before

In reply to by johonny

Hoyer + Stidham vs. KC  was pretty bad.  

There's been a lot of bad recently.

Bledsoe was notorious for gunslinging and derailing otherwise good games with bad picks.  Cam didn't have an "otherwise good game".  He looked dazed and confused out there.  

26 Are you new to NFL in 2020?

Some of us said in pre-season that the Patriots were going to be .500 this year at best.  I called it early...

Belichick doesn't have the talent on either side of the ball do do a whole lot more.

Cam is not a good passer and is no longer an elite runner.  These past few games have shown that.  I have no idea what made some of you think this run/pass option was going to work when he can't complete a 7 yard out.

The Niners basically ran the ball at will and didn't need to rely on Jimmy G for much.  He had 2 INT!

Patriots fans, this is your Karma.  Maybe you can finish 2nd in the East, but watch out for Miami!


42 you're a funny guy

Feels like I've been a regular on this site longer than you've been watching football.

I encourage you to find a site more suitable for what you bring to the conversations.  This isn't a trash-talking site.  Your need to insult people is wearing thin.  

And like many people, you clearly do not understand "karma".  

74 I'm afraid we need to credit…

I'm afraid we need to credit the SEA D with the competence of the NE passing game in Seattle.

I don't think NE is as "toast" as some people believe.  Of their four losses, they were one play from beating SEA, kept KC surprisingly close in a game where Hoyer needed to be pulled for incompetence, were a final drive TD away from beating DEN, and got blown out by SF.  They're a flawed team for 2020, but not a hopelessly flawed team for 2021.

On D, their edge rushers and DL are okay-ish.  They won't win games for you, but they're good enough they won't cost you games, either.  Their secondary is still pretty good.  Their middle LBs are the weak spot.  Overall, this a D that DVOA will probably show as being middle of the road to a bit better by the time the season is out.  Or in other words, a good enough D to win with.

On O, I'll stand to be corrected by Mr. Muth, but their OL still looks pretty good to me, the DEN revolving injury door game excepted.  Their RB crew is functional.  Newton brings a unique skill set to the game, which you can love or hate.  Maybe he doesn't bounce back, but I think he's suffering mostly from the issue that made Brady look so horrible in the second half of last season:  their TE and WR corps is hot, steaming garbage. 

It'll be interesting to see what happens if BUF beats NE this week.  That'll effectively end the season for NE.  I'll be curious to see how Belichick plays out the string.

27 Didn't Bob Hayes approach…

Didn't Bob Hayes approach that Bolt velocity on the anchor leg of the 4X100 at the 1964 Olympics?.. He got the stick about 3 yards behind and hit the tape 2-3 yards ahead, an incredibly dominant dash at that level.

144 Source?

Do you happen to have a source for that? Everything I've seen from Next Gen Stats says he "reached 22.75 MPH" which would imply it was the max speed. 

And on their website, it says:

"Fastest Ball Carriers shows the maximum speed, measured in Miles Per Hour (MPH), a player achieves on a given play when carrying the ball on offense (rusher, passer or receiver) or special teams (punt or kick returner)."

I presume they use the same for non-ball-carriers, but they don't get any more specific than that on what the actual calculation is (i.e. even if it's max speed, what distance is it over? fastest 5 yards? 10 yards? etc.)

11 If last week is any…

If last week is any indication, my typing that will mean that the Bengals immediately roll over and play dead while Mayfield turns in his best performance of the year.

Use your powers only for good, Dave.

15 Andrew Potter: Only the 2020…

Andrew Potter: Only the 2020 Falcons could possibly lose a game by accidentally taking a touchdown lead with a minute to go.

Texans did it last week. Less egregiously, but they did.

I don't get why you try to go down at the inch mark. Why risk it? Hell, a kick is easier from a few yards back, because you don't have to elevate it as severely.

43 people are being too hard on Gurley

It's really not asking too much to hold an offense from scoring a TD when they have less than a minute to do it. I'd wager that, ordinarily, the odds of doing so are roughly comparable, if not much higher, than the odds of hitting a FG, even a short kick.  And it's not like Matt Stafford suddenly turned into Peyton Manning 2006.  

I get that the Falcons have a bad defense.  I just think it's sad if Todd Gurley is upset at himself when, really, the defense is to blame here.  

45 And it's not like Matt…

And it's not like Matt Stafford suddenly turned into Peyton Manning 2006.  

At the end of the 2006 season, Peyton Manning had 22 successful 4th quarter comebacks.

Through today, Matt Stafford has 30.

Just saying. =)

\\Stafford and Ryan are tied with 30 a piece, behind Brady, Brees, and Roethlisberger. 

64 Some of that volume. …

Some of that volume.  Although Manning's Colts weren't exactly the '85 Bears, they were far better at holding leads than most of the defenses Stafford has had to deal with...hence more need/opportunity for game winning drives/4th quarter comebacks.

81 That's true, but it cuts…

That's true, but it cuts both ways. Stafford has had to execute multiple 4th-quarter comebacks in the same game, because he defense kept giving it back.

Rivers is low on the list, but some of that is because the Chargers' end-game is a cursed object.

149 great

You're comparing the cumulative stats of a 7th year pro with those of a 12th year pro.  And, yay!  The 12-year pro is about 30% ahead.


152 9th. Manning was only about…

In reply to by RickD


Manning was only about 10 games behind by that point.

That said, half of Stafford’s wins are GWDs, versus 30% for Manning. Detroit’s defense has mostly sucked.

86 I’ll take that wager!If…

I’ll take that wager!

If Gurley goes down on the 2 it’s like an old extra point and kickers were basically 100% on those (which is why they were moved).  Kim has never missed a kick from inside 30 on his career let alone 20.

Even if you only give the Lions a 5% chance to score that’s a huge difference proportionally.  And given the Falcons bad D and propensity for folding under pressure, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable percentage.

A typical team *should* be able to play defense in this situation but the Falcons are not a typical team and defense has been so bad in 2020 we probably need to rethink these end game scenarios.

90 "I'd wager that, ordinarily,…

"I'd wager that, ordinarily, the odds of doing so are roughly comparable, if not much higher, than the odds of hitting a FG, even a short kick."

I think you'd be wrong.  A field goal from inside the five is basically an old extra point, and those were converted at more than 98% every year starting in 1994 until they were moved back in 2015.  Whereas an offense has a better than 2% chance of scoring a touchdown in one minute after receiving a kickoff.

"I just think it's sad if Todd Gurley is upset at himself when, really, the defense is to blame here."

Given the swing in win probability, I think that's fair.  Especially if Gurley had been coached / instructed to do so.

He's not the sole culprit, but I think it's just as fair to blame him for this, just like we'd give him blame if he ran out of bounds or fumbled when they were trying to run out the clock while winning by 4.

104 I'd say 98% underestimates…

I'd say 98% underestimates the true conversion rate, given that this data goes back to 1994, when we know kickers have gotten much better since then.  I would put it at 100% (rounding to the nearest integer).

Couple this with the fact that offense are dominating this season and the Falcons have a lousy D, and it's a no-brainer Gurley should've gone down, in my opinion.  He knew it too!  The idea was right but the execution was off.

120 Absolutely, when Will Harris…

Absolutely, when Will Harris #25 tried to tackle Gurley, I said, “What are you doing, you moron!”.  When Gurley fell into the endzone, I did a fist-pump. 

Harris is constantly out of position and whiffing on tackles...except the one time the team didn’t want to tackle them ball carrier.

126 I'm going to guess the 98%…

I'm going to guess the 98% rate is probably still pretty close.  While kickers have continued to improve, at that range the chance of a miss is less a bad kick by the PK, and more a result of either:

  • a bad snap;
  • a bad hold; or,
  • a blown blocking assignment (which is almost negligible at this range since the angle of the kick is so high, plus recent rule changes make kick blocks tougher, so this one's pretty much zero, too).

So basically, if your long-snapper and your holder don't mess it up, the FG is pretty much a given.  If you have your regular battery healthy, you should be good to go.  If you have backups playing in either of those positions, you might think about taking the TD instead, maybe.

108 I will not blame the defense

The FG is nearly 100% here, no defense is close to that percentage in making a stop; even the Jets are more likely to score a TD against Tampa Bay than any NFL kicker is to miss that kick.  Feel free to replace Jets/Tampa Bay with your favorite inept offense/great defense.

Gurley's job was to put his team in the best position to win, he did not do that here.  NFL network, on their highlights show, had a clip of a prior year Gurley game against the Packers, trailing by 2 points where he went down intentionally at the 4 yard line.  He knew what he had to do, he has done it before.  I expect more from a veteran player.

Bottom line, do not put your defense on the field at the end of a game when it is not necessary to do so.  

16 NFC West.

My baby Cards made things interesting, but played well enough on defense to beat those pesky Hawks.

Murray outplayed Wilson and basically showed that he is better than his predecessor was in year 2.

Seahawks are not going to win the West with that horrible defense.   I told you guys wait for division play!  Now watch the Rams and Niners take advantage of a team with no pass rush and a leaky secondary.

Should be interesting...

Cards have now beaten the Hawks the last two times they've played.

22 Passive Aggression..

...basically informs of what type of person you are.

Most people were discounting my Cards, despite the fact that Seattle's defense is historically bad, Dallas-level bad.

Even though, they made many mistakes, they won.

2-0 in division play.

Seattle isn't even making it out of the West without some personnel changes.  They let Fowler go and seem to think they don't need a pass rush.  Their secondary sucks also. 

18 What do we say when Nelson…

What do we say when Nelson Agholor makes a big catch in Las Vegas?

Remember when we thought Eric Ebron had solved his hands issues in Indy?

Good times. Get used to more 55% catch rate games.

30 Except if you look at…

Except if you look at Agholor's career it looks way more like 2019 was an aberration low. He wasn't a bad receiver in 2017, and I think the low DVOA in 2018 was more about usage than anything else (he had a respectable catch rate, it's just that his targets were frequently short).

And of course, the Raiders aren't asking him to be the only viable WR on the team, so that helps. Although it's funny that he's still playing on a team dominated by a tight end receiving.

Obviously 2020's an outlier at its current point but it's far more likely that Agholor will regress to something like an average/above-average backup receiver than a below-average one. 

35 2019 wasn't even Agholor's…

2019 wasn't even Agholor's worst year. 2016 was worse.

His catch rate was also terrible in 2015, but his depth of target was a lot higher.

He's basically had three terrible years (2015, 2016, 2019) and two middling years (2017, 2018). 2020 is the huge aberration. It seemed after 2016 he had solved his yips, but they returned with a vengeance in 2019.

It's not just Wentz. He was subpar with Bradford and Foles, too. He's probably an okay WR3, but he's overmatched as a WR1 or WR2.

39 "2019 wasn't even Agholor's…

"2019 wasn't even Agholor's worst year. 2016 was worse.

His catch rate was also terrible in 2015, but his depth of target was a lot higher."

2015 and 2016 were Sam Bradford and early Carson Wentz, and the first two years of his career. I'd be inclined to look at those as early growth, then a flattening out at "average-ish backup receiver." Like I said I didn't mean 2020 as it is wouldn't be an aberration (of course it would) but he's likely to settle out closer to 2017-2018 levels of production by the end of the year.

"It's not just Wentz. He was subpar with Bradford and Foles, too. He's probably an okay WR3, but he's overmatched as a WR1 or WR2."

I'm not claiming it's Wentz. I certainly didn't here, and even previously I wasn't claiming it was necessarily Wentz's fault. I said Agholor wasn't a type that Wentz likes to throw to. Wentz doesn't have the most consistent mechanics (to say the least!), and therefore not the most consistent accuracy, and Agholor's not great at ball tracking. I just don't think it was a great fit in Philly (and they suck at figuring out WRs who fit in Philly).

And I agree that Agholor's probably what you want as a third receiver, but by the end of his time in Philly he had been buried way below that, because they asked too much and Wentz lost all trust in him.

28   Bryan Knowles: There were…


Bryan Knowles: There were some questions in this week's DVOA rankings as to why the Eagles were favorite to win the division over Dallas. Well, uh, call this week Exhibit A.

Yeah, the question apparently should've been why the Eagles were the favorite to win the division over Washington. At this point, Washington's odds should just continue to increase week-by-week as the preseason projections ramp down in importance, since as Dallas collapses, they're likely to solidify the top spot in the NFC East's DVOA. 

Washington could easily enter the last game of the season (versus Philly, fittingly) 7-8 - that only requires wins over NYG/DET/CIN/DAL/CAR. Whereas I think it'd be hard for Philly to get to 6-8-1 by the end of the season (which requires winning at least one game of CLE/SEA/GB/NO/ARI). I could easily see a 6-9 WFT versus 5-9-1 Eagles Week 17 game to decide the division, though.


29 You're outthinking yourself here...

Philly has the most difficult remaining schedule of the NFC Least teams.

Even losing most of those, they should still be in prime position to play for the division in the last couple weeks of the year because the Giants and Cowboys are complete dumpster fires.

Washington is makes some strides, so I really see them as the only threat at this point.

That D-Line of Washington is the best in that division and Allen can be adequate as a game manager.

I'm almost wagering that Philly is too injured and has too high a hill to climb at this point.

DVOA be damned.  It's Philly vs. TWFT for the NFC Least.


34 "Philly has the most…

"Philly has the most difficult remaining schedule of the NFC Least teams."

I'm not outthinking myself, that's what I just said. Philly's got a half-game on Washington at this point, and the difference in their schedule could result in Washington being anywhere from -1.5 to +1.5 games relative to Philly by Week 17. The only difference in their schedule is CAR/DET (versus Philly's likely two losses at GB/NO), and Philly still has a "winnable" game versus Cleveland (it was "winnable" for Washington, so call it for Philly too). 

"I'm almost wagering that Philly is too injured and has too high a hill to climb at this point."

I dunno. It's a bit of a tough ask for Washington to sweep Carolina/Detroit, although I certainly think it's possible. If they don't sweep those games, it'll almost certainly come down to Week 17. Even if they win 1 of those (and Philly doesn't win the Cleveland game), they'll be 6-9 and Philly will be 5-9-1, which means winner takes the division in that game.

And come week 17, I'm not positive about where the Eagles offensive line will be. That's a long time for Seumalo/Johnson/Peters to get healthy. Which, y'know, isn't much better than what they had week 1, but that was a relatively close game.

73 Rounding the corner

Hey, why so down on the NFC East? It went 2-2 this week, its best yet, and one of those defeats was by a single point. I'm tired of all the naysaying, this division has the best New York team and the best record of any team in Texas, and is going to host at least one playoff game. DVOA darlings like the Vikings can only dream of being in a division as competitive as the NFC East.

85 this division has the best…

this division has the best New York team


 The best New Jersey team. The only New York team is 5-2.

(I realize it's snark, but gotta represent the Mafia)

136 Cherry picking and Washington could easily go 5-0?

Could easily win all of these games?  What is easy about 5 Washington victories?  Why would they be favored to win all of these games (even if they were, there could be an upset).  By DVOA coming into this week, they were barely better than two of these teams, and worse than 3 of them.  And now they will pass Dallas, so you can say that they are better than 3 of these teams.  

33 A couple minor corrections…

A couple minor corrections for the Washington / Dallas section:

  • Washington's WR1 is named Terry McLaurin, not Terry McAulin.
  • Ben DiNucci didn't fumble his first snap; the reality was actually much stranger and more interesting. It was basically a basketball chest-pass that traveled backward to Ezekiel Elliott, who was running a short swing route away from DiNucci. It hit Elliott in the hands, though Elliott had to reach back awkwardly for it, and couldn't bring it in. I'd call it worse than a fumbled snap because either the Cowboy's coaches made an awful decision -- asking DiNucci to execute a pretty unusual play in his first snap -- or DiNucci was asked to throw a simple swing pass and panicked in a uniquely bizarre way. In any case, you can see the play here. (BTW, I think that video title and premise is awfully harsh for a rookie 7th-round pick taking his first snaps.)

56 lol, yeah, a rookie 7th…

lol, yeah, a rookie 7th-round pick taking his first snaps behind four backup offensive lineman and the worst of the original starting five. The world is cruel and social media is crueler.

36 Packers/Texans

Do any Texan observers know why Houston wouldn't or couldn't double Adams?

Really glad to see Preston Smith make some big plays.  The player has been stuck in coverage a lot this season


37 As a Seahawks fan, that was…

As a Seahawks fan, that was one of the most gutting losses I've watched in a long time.  Not because it was a loss, necessarily, but because of what it shows about the team.  As good as the offense has been, they were stopped on three straight drives when they needed points (or a just another first down) to seal it.

And the defense... oh boy... it's not just that's it's bad, it's like they're not even trying to stop anybody until the other team gets in the Red Zone (and even then, they aren't that good).  It looks like they're playing prevent on every down.  The Cardinals D started getting aggressive and showing exotic blitzes and coming after Russ.  It could've failed miserably (if the refs miss that David Moore holding call, for instance), but at least they were trying something.  The Seahawks sit back and rush four (or three) and play coverage like they have Avril and Bennett coming off the edges and the LOB in coverage.  The only way they stop anybody is when the offense makes an unforced error or they get fumble luck.  It's so awful to watch.

I could easily see this team go 1-5 in their ridiculously tough division and be on the fringe of the playoffs.

60 Given how well Seattle's…

Given how well Seattle's offense has been playing, and their willingness over the years to trade for players, I have to think they're working pretty hard to land a pass rusher. The problem they'll probably have is that teams know how badly they need one...

The injuries in the secondary probably do limit, to some extent, what they're comfortable doing in terms of pressure looks. Not that they were playing all that well at the beginning of the season, either, but I remember seeing them bring Adams on blitzes in the first couple of weeks.

109 Pancaked.

Get used to it.  You've got some tough games ahead and it's not going to get any easier.

I fully expect the Niners to use their newfound rungame to bludgeon the poor Seattle D like they did to NE.

Based on what I saw last night, Seattle will not be able to stop it.

I honestly see the Hawks losing the next three before a rematch with my Cards.

Caroll is insane if he thinks you're going to do anything with your defense as it currently stands.  It's a personnel issue, not a schematic problem.

Good luck.


38 Escaping with the win

Pittsburgh managed to turn a blowout win into a close game, per standard ops.

Referring to a previous post of mine...I finally saw a few of those WTF throws by Ben this week.  The pick at the end of the first half was just an ill advised throw.  Throw short, take a few yards, kick the FG, and go to the locker room.  Second pick was a deflection that could have gone either way, but the third (while hitting his receiver in the hands) was another ill advised throw.

It seemed every bounce in the game went the Titans way, Tannehill could have been picked at least 3 times that I saw (e.g. ridiculous tip that fell into his receiver's hands), but being able to win despite being -3 in turnover ratio actually bodes well for the testicular fortitude of the team.

110 Bill Simmons...

...lamented that Big Ben is at the point in his career where he's more up and down than he's been.

I expect that to continue.

Part of the reason why I see the Ravens beating them next week.

Ben is as likely to throw 3 INT as 3TD.



163 I'll take it

In 6 games this year he has had one off game and that was against TEN.  If "up and down" means having 5 good-to-great games against one bad one...I'll take it. 

He is on pace for a career high completion percentage and near career low interception percentage.  Can that change?  Of course it could, but hard to say he is up and down at this least any more than he has been in the past.

What I was happy to see was that gunslinger mentality going away, which it had until the TEN game...where it was completely unnecessary with the game well in hand.


48 Bostic likely not suspended...

Report on suggests that Bostic won't be suspended for the hit that took Andy Dalton out.

Apparently "Luckily for the seven-year veteran, he doesn't have the on-field priors that might lead to a suspension for such a wayward hit."

I know the NFLPA doesn't like giving the league more chances to suspend players, but surely if they are concerned about player safety the next CBA ought to allow someone to be suspended for a hit that bad (and unnecessary). Maybe they League and Union can work on having a safety discipline committee with some ex-players etc on it to work on making this kind of thing happen.


50 That game from Wilson was so…

That game from Wilson was so up and down, basically running the QB gamut of quality. Some plays of utter brilliance, some Nathan Peterman-esque turnovers, and even some prolonged stretches of malaise. It was weird.


I want to give Simmons credit for that pick. Maybe the coordinator screamed in his ear to run to that spot at all costs, but it was pretty awesome defensive play.

112 Simmons is making the adjustment...

...but he needs more experience.

How about just giving the Cards credit as being a better team overall than the Seahawks?

Their defense is definitely better.

Seattle's defense is being masked by some great play by a few players but overall they suck!

Wait until they start playing the rest of the division.  

116 "How about just giving the…

"How about just giving the Cards credit as being a better team overall than the Seahawks?"

Consider that prior to this game, Seattle was unbeaten while the Cardinals had two losses. Also consider that Wilson had three horrible turnovers that normally he doesn't do and yet the Seahawks were leading most of the time by 10. Even if you credit the Cardinals will forcing those turnovers, this was a close game played at Arizona. 

You can argue that given the offense, defense, and special teams that Cardinals are more well rounded. True. But the Seahawks are good at the most valuable thing to be good at in the NFL and that's the passing game. Unless Seattle runs into a team with an equal or better passing attack(and there are maybe 1 or 2 that fit the bill), the Seahawks will likely be in almost every game and be a scarier team than the Cardinals to this point. 

113 Simmons is making the adjustment...

...but he needs more experience.

How about just giving the Cards credit as being a better team overall than the Seahawks?

Their defense is definitely better.

Seattle's defense is being masked by some great play by a few players but overall they suck!

Wait until they start playing the rest of the division.  

114 Simmons is making the adjustment...

...but he needs more experience.

How about just giving the Cards credit as being a better team overall than the Seahawks?

Their defense is definitely better.

Seattle's defense is being masked by some great play by a few players but overall they suck!

Wait until they start playing the rest of the division.  

53 Jets 2nd half

After resembling a competent NFL offense, the Jets decided to revert back in the 2nd half.  I'll honestly say this, if you were trying to lose the game you would call the same plays the Jets called in the 2nd half. Gone was the creativity in the run game and targeting of Mims.  The plays in the first half were designed for Sam to throw vertically, but the second half everything was in front of the defense.  That might work with receivers who can get separation, but Berrios doesnt belong in the league (and apparently neither does Herndon whose only catch was nullified on a penalty).

And as an aside, your emails provided significantly better analysis than anything Gannon said yesterday.  I dont want to sound like an A-hole, but we know that a majority of players from that era are getting/already have CTE.  Guys like Gannon, Aikman, Simms, etc have no business being on a microphone for three straight hours.  They add no insight to the coverage and most importantly in this era have absolutely zero understanding of analytics.  

57 Dr.Z used to say, QBs are…

In reply to by Jetspete

Dr.Z used to say, QBs are typically the worst announcers because, by nature of the position, they think they know everything and have 0 interest in learning about the nuances of other positions or other schemes they are not familiar with already. Couple that with the fact that we are getting close to 20 years removed from Gannon's era ( more than 30 years removed from Phil's era), and you get terrible analysis that's unrelated to CTE.


150 Merlin Olsen

Was a damned good color man, FWIW.  Back in the day, Dick Enberg & Merlin Olsen were NBC's #1 team.

Olsen also did a stint on Little House on the Prairie.  

I'm of the age who knew Olsen through his announcing work but had never seen him play.  


66 Of note

The Steelers' radio broadcast team has a former OT (Tunch Ilkin) as color commentator and former OG/OT (Craig Wolfley) as sideline reporter.

69 also, i heard Gannon call…

In reply to by Jetspete

also, i heard Gannon call the Squirrels the Redskins at oen poiint. Don;t recall how that tema came up ion that game but they did

148 tip

follow RJ on Twitter.  In addition to his astute comments about football, there's a lot of commentary about collectibles like baseball cards.

92 Could have been worse; Dan…

In reply to by Jetspete

Could have been worse; Dan Dierdorf could still be in the booth.  One of the best things I ever saw was a banner stating "Get a job Dierdorf" during MNF many years ago.  It only last one play (kickoff), but it was magnificent.  I think it was a game at the Meadowlands? 

58 When did ESPN stop doing…

When did ESPN stop doing game recaps?

They've really given up all pretense of being journalists, haven't they?

147 do you mean

They purged half their staff a couple years ago.  It's becoming a purely automated website.  It's crap.

This  is a common phenomenon in journalism in general, but with websites in particular.  The geniuses with MBA figure that they can increase profits by cutting staff costs.  They destroy their product by doing so, but MBAs are not particularly concerned with quality control.  

157 It's an agency problem.  The…

It's an agency problem.  The decision makers have short term financial incentives, so they think and act short term.  The issue isn't them: it's the ownership group that incentivizes them to act short term.  The closest an ESPN owner can get to the organization is electing the directors of Disney, i.e. ownership interests are way up the corporate hierarchy, a long way from ESPN's offices.

The "good news" is that if the brand gets in trouble, a new group of executives can be hired with a new set of financial incentives to make the opposite decisions of their predecessors.  And then, once that's successful, they can be replaced by another new group of cost-cutting executives to improve short term profitability again.  And so on, and so on ...   

63  Allen had a touchdown pass…

 Allen had a touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis wiped out by an illegal formation penalty.


An illegal formation penalty where they asked the official if they were lined up correctly, the official told them yes, and then a different official threw the flag. It also happened (apparently exactly the same way) to the Jets in the second half. It also happened at least once in the Buffalo/Tennessee game with this same crew.

It was that kind of day for both teams.

77 Rob Weintraub: Apparently…

Rob Weintraub: Apparently this is the first time in the modern NFL that a team lost while scoring 33-plus points with zero punts. Which kinda says it all...

Super Bowl LII is apparently too ancient to count as the modern NFL. Why, back then the stadiums were packed, with no social-distancing orders!

94 Idk if others felt this way,…

Idk if others felt this way, but watching the 49ers on offense I came away with three main conclusions

1) They have only one real weapon on offense. Kittle. Everyone else is that stereotypical playmaker, but only from space and running room point of view. I don't think this offense, outside of Kittle, offers much in the way of traditional receiving.

2) Kyle Shanahan's schemes get so much mileage out in space attacks. This game they effectively moved the ball at will using long stretch runs, off screens, and bootlegs. This might be the least personnel dependent offense in the NFL

3) I had a great opinion of Jimmy G 2 years ago. I had a good opinion of Jimmy G 1 year ago. I now have a continually souring opinion of him today. He's not a bad qb. Hes probably still a good one. But I have no doubt that if you took him off this offense, he'd get lumped into the Kirk Cousins/Jay Cutler category of overpaid for what he is. You can obviously do a lot worse than Jimmy G as the 49er fans know full well, but just as Patrick Mahomes showed, you can do a whole lot better too. 

95 1) Agreed that Kittle is by…

1) Agreed that Kittle is by far their #1 offensive weapon.  However, I don't think Mohstert, Aiyuk, and Samuel are throwaways either. 

2) Agreed.  I'd be nervous to face a team with highly talented LBs and safeties.  

3) JG is a middling QB.  What are their options though?  Gamble with a trade for the mercurial Fitzmagic?  They won't likely draft high enough for a stud college prospect.  Try to pick up Rosen or Darnold cheap?  I don't see any obvious solutions that make them better off. 

98 It's weird.  Back in FOA…

It's weird.  Back in FOA 2017, just before Shanahan's first season, I wrote about what his offense normally included and what pieces the 49ers were still missing.  Motion and movement and YAC has always been a major part of it, but his pre-49ers offenses ALSO all featured a deep-threat receiver to stretch vertically -- Julio Jones in Atlanta, Pierre Garcon in Washington, Andre Johnson in Houston.  That gave his offenses room to run all the short stuff underneath, and I thought we wouldn't see Shanahan's offense really take off until they got one of those guys.

Well, it's Year 4 and we're still waiting -- and he deliberately took Brandon Aiyuk, who is another short-catch-and-YAC guy, instead of Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb or Justin Jefferson.  It's like he's decided to make the entire offense out of the black box, using misdirection and pre-snap motion to an almost absurd level, generating the same sort of space that a player like Jones would  get by running a deep route.

So, I'd disagree that Kittle is their only real weapon on offense, but you're right in saying that Samuel and Aiyuk and company aren't exactly stellar in traditional receiver roles -- their skillsets would normally be considered complimentary pieces for standard offenses, and them being the featured players 'feels' wrong.  I mean, it's working, so it can't be all bad, but it's a strange thing to watch!


As for Garoppolo...

In 20020, Jon Bois describes a theoretical 100-man offense, with multiple quarterbacks, who just march up and down the country and crushes people.  QB1 in that offense has a very set job -- she reads the defense pre-snap and immediately shunts the ball to the proper side of the offense for the given situation.  Never makes a second read, never stands in the pocket, never tucks and runs.  A dispatcher, whose entire job was to know exactly where the ball should go so other playmakers could make plays.

Jimmy Garoppolo is the Dispatcher.

111 I think Shanahan also picks…

I think Shanahan also picks receivers with an eye on their cost.  Julio Jones is expensive, and all the rookie WRs you mentioned went ahead of Aiyuk in the draft.  Shanahan couldn't have gotten them if he wanted them.  He's usually tried to have a bargain speedster on the roster like Marquise Goodwin or Tavon Austin, but even when healthy, how important have those guys ended up being? 

I agree that Garoppolo is the Dispatcher.  He's that way because that's what Shanahan wants him to be.  He wants Garoppolo's pocket passing to be a "break-glass-in-case-of-emergency" ability, and not because Garoppolo's bad at it but because it's inherently riskier.

124 Yes, he would much rather…

Yes, he would much rather spend premium capital on a DT than a WR.  That's why he ends up with Aiyuk instead of Lamb. 

Shanahan thinks:  Kinlaw + Aiyuk >> CeeDee Lamb + Ross Blacklock or some other DT

107 1)  Yah, Mostert has looked…

1)  Yah, Mostert has looked better than any of the 49ers other backs.  Wilson and Hasty and Coleman and McKinnon et. al. have their moments, but then Mostert steps on the field.  Also...I think your point in #2 contradicts your point in #1.  Shanahan doesn't rely very much on traditional receiving.  Why would you expect to see much of it?  Aiyuk & Samuel can run good routes, but how often does Shanahan want to depend on that? 

2) Yes, that's his game, horizontal space.  Not just outside attacks, but inside, too:  inside zone, power runs, slants, and leaks are all big.

3) I think a lot of what's forming your opinion of Garoppolo is Shanahan's scheme.  I've come to realize that Kyle S. is at heart incredibly conservative.  If he can win by running 45 times a game, he will, because it involves the least risk.  Garoppolo is a pretty passer with good accuracy and an elite release.  He can win a shootout if he has to (see 2019 vs New Orleans for an example), but Kyle would much, much rather not do that because he doesn't want to assume the risk.  He's no Andy Reid.  A primary goal of his offense is to reduce variance.

119 I think Bryan noted that…

I think Bryan noted that Shanny adapts to the personnel on hand. Its not like he has to run this kind of offense. He certainly didn't run this style in Atlanta when he had Julio and Matt Ryan, though that one featured a lot of passes to running backs as well


As for Jimmy G. I agree, there are games where he looks the part. So does Goff btw. When things are clicking, they have a prototypical smoothness to their games that seem repeatable week to week. But then if you watch them enough, there's enough bad in there to make the whole thing feel ricketty. Maybe I am being too pessimistic about Jimmy G and maybe he'd look a lot better in a traditional air it out type offense. Maybe. But he also has a lot of bad tendencies I've noticed; like talking big yardage losing sacks and he's good for at least one awful interception over the middle right into the hands of a defender. Again, you can do a lot worse than Jimmy G. 

125 It's more accurate to say he…

It's more accurate to say he acquires personnel to fit the kind of offense he wants to run than that he adapts to the personnel he has on hand.  Of course he does both, but the first is paramount.  He has the kind of guys he wants, and the FO gets them. 

99 It was Atlanta's 3rd loss…

It was Atlanta's 3rd loss this season with a win probability of at least 98%, the most by a team in the last 20 seasons. The rest of the NFL has 4 such losses combined this season.

We've had around 110 games so far this season (with postponements I'm not going to try for an exact count) and so we'd expect 2 comebacks on average, and there have been 7? It seems like the probability calculator is a bit off.

103 Amen

Totally agreed. I've noticed way too many comebacks from 99.9%. The win prob models really struggle with late-game situations. Can't say I blame them- it's hard to simulate the final few minutes of games, since strategy is so different (hurry-up offenses, prevent D, timeout usage, etc). I don't know what the solution is, but current models have plenty of room for improvement.

106 Some models out there do…

In reply to by RevBackjoy

Some models out there do seem more accurately calibrated than others, he said, subtly endorsing his EdjSports Overlords.

127 You're doing John Oliver…

You're doing John Oliver wrong.  You're supposed to pile on your corporate data daddy at every opportunity.

You know, assuming you have the same sort of lucrative FO writing contract that makes you financially independent for life the way Oliver has with HBO.  I assume you negotiated exactly this sort of contract before agreeing to write Scramble preseason articles during a Covid year?


153 Not to be that guy, but of…

Not to be that guy, but of the original outsiders, at least four turned their exposure at FO into paying jobs (Michael David Smith, Mike Tanier, Doug Farrar, Bill Barnwell) - even if one of them had to come back to FO during the pandemic

So, y'know, sometimes it works out...

154 Exposure

I had a friend at work who'd say, "Everyone says this project will give me exposure, but people die of exposure."

143 It's an offense evolution…

In reply to by RevBackjoy

It's an offense evolution problem. If you base things on historical percentages, you'll underestimate the ability of a team to come back in a modern offense.