Titans, Steelers, Saints Notch Key Divisional Wins
NFL Week 8 - 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.
Tennessee Titans 34 at Indianapolis Colts 31 (OT)
Dave Bernreuther: Jay Feely's cliche-loaded introduction ("whichever team can run the ball better will win this game") already has me wishing that I could pay full attention to this one while the sound from another game was on. I'll miss too much if I try, though, and this one is important enough that I want to catch every play.
Nobody really stops Derrick Henry, of course, but it's the fact that I'm not super confident that the Colts will be able to stop Ryan Tannehill (last week's bomb cyclone performance against Jimmy Garoppolo means nothing to me) that has me worried here. I'm still not so sure he gets the credit he deserves in this offense, given Henry's exploits.
Dave Bernreuther: During the (very unfortunate) Jeffery Simmons injury timeout, Feely just said it again. "Smashmouth football ... whoever runs the ball best is going to win this game." The Colts have thus far had a 37-yard pass play, a fourth-down conversion by pass, and passed for a score on fourth down. That's a successful 82-yard opening scoring drive with a 4-9 R:P ratio, Jay.
Dave Bernreuther: I think my negative Colts fan reverse jinx may be undefeated. On the second play of the Titans' drive, Tannehill threw into a huge amount of traffic and Kenny Moore made an easy interception. It took the Colts one single play (a 10th pass, Jay) for Michael Pittman Jr. to give the Colts a two-touchdown lead and completely change the game script.
This game isn't over, because the Titans are still going to move the ball—by ground and by air—and score, but it's hard to ask for a better start than that. Even better, a first-down negative rush from Henry puts the Colts in position to force a punt on the next possession.
Another thing that's worth pointing out is how nice it is that both Taylor Lewan and Braden Smith are back this week at tackle for both teams. Lewan's injury was especially scary since it involved the cart, so it's great to see both of them back. Lewan took some of the sting out of losing Julio Jones.
Scott Spratt: It took Carson Wentz seven minutes and 16 seconds to throw a pair of touchdowns on the Titans' 18th-ranked DVOA pass defense after Patrick Mahomes couldn't throw any in 60 minutes last weekend? Since it's Halloween, has anyone considered that the Chiefs may be hexxed?
Dave Bernreuther: Ryan Tannehill's second pick of the first half goes to Tyquan Lewis, in what was a very interesting call from Matt Eberflus on third-and-11. The Colts sent six pass-rushers, including a corner, but Lewis, who was lined up as the nose (although still off the center's left shoulder), dropped straight back into coverage, and Tannehill threw it straight to him.
Lewis who can be forgiven for not being exactly fleet of foot as a ballcarrier, given that he's a giant defensive tackle) ended up falling down and losing the ball, injuring his knee on the turf in the process, and Anthony Firkser recovered, giving the Titans a first down, on which A.J. Brown took off for a touchdown that tied the game.
And that might be the worst outcome I have ever seen following a forced turnover. Lewis is out of the game, and instead of a touchdown lead with the ball in opposing territory, it's now a tie game.
Dave Bernreuther: Mike Vrabel just challenged a play in order to get an incompletion overturned to a failed completion ... on third-and-12. It gave them fourth-and-2 instead of 12, and they still punted.
Why on earth would you bother?
Bryan Knowles: This is developing into one of the better games of the day; punches and counter-punches. After the inexplicable challenge-win-punt set by Vrabel (has that ever happened before? I can't imagine it's common...), the Colts run their best play—that's right, the Underthrown Pass Interference! Nice to see its return after Sunday Night. That sets up a first-and-goal, Wentz hits Jack Doyle for a 5-yard score, and the Colts now have a 24-21 lead in a game they MUST win to have a shot at the division title.
Dave Bernreuther: That's as cheap and upsetting a touchdown as I can ever remember supporting. The Joe Flacco special, and a questionable one at that, puts the ball on the 5 for an easy uncontested score by Jack Doyle. The Colts are back on top, but there's still more than a quarter to play. This one should be interesting.
Bryan Knowles: Wait, wait, wait, the Titans PUNTED at midfield in a tie game with less than two minutes left? Well, that'll be the dumbest thing that happens in this ga—
... wait, Carson Wentz's pass was tipped, and returned for a touchdown, and the Titans take the lead? A calculated punt decision by Mike Vrabel!
Aaron Schatz: The Colts were trying to set up a tight end screen to Mo Alie-Cox and Wentz was pressured in the end zone and couldn't throw the ball away. He threw it right to rookie corner Elijah Molden. Just an awful, awful play by Wentz.
Ladies and gentlemen … . CARSON WENTZ!!!! pic.twitter.com/51AGjDNzHm
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 31, 2021
Dave Bernreuther: Calling that a pass is quite charitable of you, Bryan. Looked like his typical in-the-grasp desperation crap. I guess it's defensible when you're in the grasp in the end zone, but still ... groan. He had ample opportunity to have avoided that too.
Bryan Knowles: And, after the Titans touchdown, the Colts come roaring back with their signature play, the underthrown DPI to set up a score!
Aaron Schatz: Six DPIs for the Colts going into today's game, another three so far in today's game.
Dave Bernreuther: Wentz is just painful to watch, even when he succeeds. Sandwiched between two errant throws, he nearly takes a sack and chucks it into coverage, where Pittman (who is a bleeping stud) comes down with it. Then the Colts benefit from ANOTHER Flacco special—underthrowing an open man and drawing another DPI by Kevin Byard in the end zone—and the game is tied. I'm a little surprised they didn't just go for two there, honestly.
I'm a Colts fan. And they have done a lot well in this game. But they deserve to lose with the way Wentz has played this quarter, and I'm a bit ashamed to be cheering for such undeserving nonsense. Especially since I know exactly what Tom must feel like right now, even though he has been silent thus far.
Bryan Knowles: "Say what you want about Carson Wentz..." the announcers begin, just before Wentz throws an interception right to Kevin Byard.
I'm pretty sure what I want to say about Carson Wentz may not be fit for publication.
Aaron Schatz: Wentz pick:
Another Wentz interception, this time in overtime.
— EdjSports (@edjsports) October 31, 2021
Bryan Knowles: The Colts defense does a solid job of firming up after the interception, but the Titans were already in decent field goal range. The 45-yard kick gives the Titans the win and, in all likelihood, the division title. It's not the most impressive 6-2 I have ever seen, but it is still 6-2, and that counts for a lot.
Tom Gower: Yeah, Dave, with my current normal away-from-home game-watching setup, I'm more concentrated on watching the Titans game (or one of the games on an adjacent television) or firing off possibly snarky and unfair tweets about transitory events than composing possibly semi-thoughtful emails to Audibles for people who don't care about my attempts at snark and/or events of transitory importance now unimportant.
I don't know quite how to sum up that game, aside from it got a lot more competitive after the Colts took the 14-0 lead before the first quarter was halfway over, and it stayed competitive to the end almost 60 game-minutes later. Going to bullet point format:
- A week after averaging a tick under 3.0 yards per carry against DVOA's 31st-ranked run defense, Derrick Henry averaged a tick over 2.6 yards per carry against DVOA's first-ranked run defense. Long of 9 yards. I have mentioned on Twitter and possibly in here that's he's turned into very much a boom-and-bust runner this year. While I haven't run success rate numbers for today's game (better than you might guess for last week) and obviously this one will get an upward boost from opponent adjustments, the overwhelming benefit of giving the ball to him this year has been on the plays where the Titans haven't actually given him the ball. But that hasn't stopped Tennessee from the weird trend that I really noticed against the Bills a couple weeks ago where he gets the ball on exactly one of every series where they have first and second downs; it wasn't 100% today like it was against the Bills, but it's still overwhelmingly common enough that you should basically assume that's how it's going to go in "normal" situations.
- Two picks by Ryan Tannehill, I think both mentioned. The INTFUM to Tyquan Lewis where he blew out his knee, and the other one Kenny Moore beat Tannehill, breaking off his coverage.
- The matchup from the previous Titans-Colts game was still seen today, with plenty of crossing routes from Tennessee to large even if not quite the same effect.
- An eventful game from both teams in terms of fourth downs. The Titans went for their two attempts, while the Colts got theirs out of the way early, with the two successful conversions on the opening drive and their failed attempt on their third possession.
- I'd be curious to see what EdjSports has to say about the Titans' decision to punt on fourth-and-6 from the IND 45 with 1:39 to play in a tie game.
- After halftime, Carson Wentz's boxscore stats were 9-of-24 for 87 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INT. That obviously doesn't include the massive DPI penalties, but the boxscore line matches my impression of how good he was. And none of the deep passes, penalty or not, actually "looked" good, in terms of being thrown accurately and well and on time. That feels like a persistent issue with Wentz from what I have seen of the Colts this year as a casual observer.
- Wentz late in the down is an adventure. Not quite in the same way as Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that cosmically feels like a right-ish comp.
- Yes, it felt like Jonathan Taylor should have gotten more carries. Maybe the Colts' holding penalties to negate good gains exasperated Frank Reich and led him to shy away. Or maybe the play calling was a little more balanced than it felt like. But Wentz's Adjusted Net YPA was 3.73, less than Taylor's per-carry average, and it wasn't because the Titans were sacking him all the time (they had one, by Harold Landry on a stunt); credit, perhaps, the return of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.
- Whatever, the Titans won to sweep the season series and are now effectively up four games on the Colts with nine games to play. That's not officially unsurmountable, but it feels that way with whatever you think of the current levels of team quality.
Carolina Panthers 19 at Atlanta Falcons 13
Scott Spratt: Two weeks ago, Sam Darnold threw a terrible interception on the first play of a game. This week, it was a Chuba Hubbard fumble on the Panthers' first play that handed the ball to the Falcons just outside of the red zone. Yikes.
Scott Spratt: The Panthers offense looked more professional on their second drive, in part because recent addition and former Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah started playing and provided a pair of bigger plays of 9 and 17 yards. I don't think that's a Hubbard punishment for the early fumble—he's still playing, and offensive coordinator Joe Brady said last week that he was going to work Abdullah in more in his second week with the team. The team has badly missed Christian McCaffrey's after-catch ability, and head coach Matt Rhule is of course desperate to establish the run. Clearly a Football Outsiders fan.
The Panthers came close to a touchdown when DJ Moore got both feet in bounds on a near-end zone catch. But he lost control of the ball as he hit the turf, so the Panthers settled to tie the game up at 3-3.
— Bill Voth (@PanthersBill) October 31, 2021
Scott Spratt: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is making his Panthers debut today. And with Calvin Ridley inactive for personal reasons, Gilmore is drawing some one-on-one assignments with 6-foot-6, 246-pound "tight end" Kyle Pitts. That probably isn't fun! Pitts has drawn a pair of (legitimate) pass interference penalties to turn third-down incompletions into new Falcons first downs—although just one of those was against Gilmore.
Already up 10-6, the Falcons just converted a fourth-and-1 and are just outside the red zone in the final five minutes of the first half.
Scott Spratt: Well, Matt Ryan messed that up by throwing an interception right to Shaq Thompson filling a zone in the middle of the field. But that was just Ryan's second interception since the Falcons' Week 2 beatdown by the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. And after the fact, it looks like Ryan's hand is bleeding. He may have gotten stepped on on the previous play.
Scott Spratt: Let's check in on how the Panthers' pass-catchers are faring this week...
Stop it. pic.twitter.com/Pj0UiMk8rf
— John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) October 31, 2021
Yeah, that's three more drops today to put the Panthers at 23 on the season, the most in football.
Scott Spratt: New-ish Panthers kicker Zane Gonalez has hit field goals of 29, 51, and now 57 yards as time expires in the first half. David Tepper must be ecstatic the team found a real kicker. The Panthers are 27th in special teams DVOA so far this season, and have finished in the bottom 10 in nine of the last 15 years.
With that last kick, the Panthers closed their deficit to 10-9 at halftime.
Scott Spratt: Robby Anderson has been the biggest dropped-pass problem for the Panthers this season, but I don't blame him for this one.
OH MY GOD! Robby Anderson got CRACKED by Erik Harris!!! SHEEESH! pic.twitter.com/DORMDtWgs7
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) October 31, 2021
Erik Harris absolutely smashed him. I'm just glad to see Anderson walking on the sidelines.
Scott Spratt: Sam Darnold had actually played well today and has even scrambled six times for new first downs. But on the last of those scrambles, he got smashed by Aaron's guy Foyesade Oluokun and left the game with a possible concussion.
— Ace Football Analytics (@js_ace_football) October 31, 2021
P.J. Walker tried to throw a pick in the end zone, but the Falcons couldn't come down with it. And then the Panthers actually ran a touchdown in to extend their lead to 19-10. The Panthers have 193 rushing yards on 40 carries. The Falcons' ranking of 28th in run defense DVOA seems high to me.
Scott Spratt: It has been confirmed. Darnold suffered a concussion and is out for the rest of the game—which the Panthers can probably win by running out the clock.
Scott Spratt: Fittingly, Stephon Gilmore (effectively) ended this game by undercutting Kyle Pitts and intercepting a Matt Ryan pass that was basically a prayer down nine points with less than two minutes left.
Scott Spratt: A bit of cool strategy near the end here. The Falcons just kicked a 53-yard field goal on a first down with 20 seconds left. That nets them just enough time for an onside kick and one or two Hail Mary passes.
Cincinnati Bengals 31 at New York Jets 34
J.P. Acosta: Mike White has completed his first two passes in his first career start. So there's a plus for White.
J.P. Acosta: The Jets—yes, the Jets—score on their opening drive. Lot of tempo and quick passes for Mike White, and Michael Carter got a lot of touches. Jets up 7-0.
J.P. Acosta: Mike White is 11-of-11 so far. I promise I'm not making this up.
J.P. Acosta: And then he throws a tipped pass that ends up as an interception by Jessie Bates. Cincy ball on the NYJ 1.
J.P. Acosta: The Bengals had four chances to score from the 1-yard line. They went:
- Negative run.
- Negative run.
- Drop by Ja'Marr Chase.
The Jets defense holds.
Dave Bernreuther: I have been as high as anyone I know (probably not Rob here, of course) on the Bengals and their defense this year. So naturally, going up against a terrible team giving a backup quarterback a start ... they give up an easy opening-drive touchdown. This is one of the reasons I stopped betting.
Dave Bernreuther: Troubling start so far for pass-catchers from Ohio. In Cleveland, Austin Hooper dropped a sure touchdown and cost them four points, and now in New York, Ja'Marr Chase dropped an imperfect but still pretty easy one on third-and-goal, and after Joe Burrow gets barely snagged by the jersey on fourth down, the Bengals leave fully seven on the field.
Quick bit of redemption there as an immediate interception gives the Bengals the ball right back, and there's that defense I was expecting.
J.P. Acosta: The Bengals have woken up on offense, with Burrow finding Ja'Marr Chase in the end zone to put the Bengals up 14-7.
J.P. Acosta: Keelan Cole just might have had the catch of the year, but they're probably going to overturn it. Out of respect for coolness it should stand.
THIS TOUCHDOWN COUNTS I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SAY. pic.twitter.com/bNHtxen7fj
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 31, 2021
J.P. Acosta: Mike White took a nasty hit to the head area on a pass, and in comes … Josh Johnson.
J.P. Acosta: Ty Johnson just tight-roped the sideline for a touchdown. It was ruled out at the 2-yard line, but they overturned it. The ensuing two-point conversion is no good. 31-26 Bengals.
Bryan Knowles: Your AFC-leading Bengals are in trouble! The Jets scored a touchdown to make things a one-score game, and then the very next play is a Joe Burrow interception. Mike White hits Tyler Kroft, and the Jets have a 34-31 lead with 3:35 left in the game!
J.P. Acosta: Following a Joe Burrow interception, Mike White finds a wide-open Tyler Kroft for his THIRD PASSING TOUCHDOWN, and the Jets have taken the lead.
Aaron Schatz: The Jets just picked off Joe Burrow on a great tipped pass by Shaq Lawson. Jets with the touchdown just two plays later, and then the Jets ran Philly Special and Jamison Crowder hit Mike White for the two-point conversion. Wild.
Vince Verhei: Mike White: Franchise quarterback.
Mike White is the first Jets quarterback to throw for 400 yards since Vinny Testaverde. in 2000.
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) October 31, 2021
Scott Spratt: I can't believe Darnold didn't get to 400! He has thrown for 496 yards the last three weeks combined.
Scott Spratt: The Jets are still the Jets. With a three-point lead and the ball and 2:08 left, they ran out of bounds before the two-minute warning, threw incomplete, and then false-started to land in a third-and-11.
San Francisco 49ers 33 at Chicago Bears 22
Aaron Schatz: Robert Quinn having a lot of impact on the first 49ers drive, but couldn't stop the 49ers from getting into field goal range. Quinn blew up Deebo Samuel by recognizing a little pass out to the slot receiver—not a screen, there were no blockers—and also was getting good pressure against the great Trent Williams, even drawing a holding penalty. 49ers get back into field goal range with a pass to Mohamed Sanu after the holding penalty and then Joey Slye honked it so we're still scoreless.
Bryan Knowles: The Bears, under Chris Tabor (Matt Nagy is on the COVID list), are finding success attacking the middle of the 49ers' defense. Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney have a couple of big grabs down the middle, and the Bears take a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter. Now, I say "big," but I'm referring to the down-and-distance; big conversions, but not big yardage. It's more like death by a thousand papercuts here, and I don't believe Allen Robinson has even been targeted yet. After teams have had such success taking deep shots against the 49ers' cornerbacks this season, it's an interesting strategy—but one that's working, so far.
Scott Spratt: Allen Robinson was averaging just 5.7 targets per game entering this week, Bryan. That slots him just between K.J. Osborn (5.8) and Kalif Raymond (5.6) at the position. I know the Bears are technically in the wild-card race, but I feel like they may trade Robinson playing out his franchise tag for about $18 million this year.
Vince Verhei: The early window is so weak this week that this contest between two teams with losing records is the only game on local TV. What's notable to me is how the Bears have been taking advantage of Justin Fields' mobility, with lots of rollouts, bootlegs, and designed runs. They have scored on each of their first two drives, and Fields has 13 yards rushing (including a 9-yard gain on third-and-1 to set up the touchdown) without a sack so far.
I wish nothing but the best for Matt Nagy's health, but, um, can we just leave him on the COVID list for a while?
Bryan Knowles: I have been—and will continue to be!—critical of the Jimmy Garoppolo Experience this year for the 49ers, but credit where credit is due: Jimmy just hit his first big pass of the season, a 50-yard shot to to Deebo Samuel that went about 45 yards through the air. Normally, a 50-yard Samuel catch goes for -3 air yards and 53 YAC, but this was an actual, legitimate throw. Garoppolo only had one throw above 35 air yards this season coming in (it was intercepted), and 12 throws of 20-plus air yards, so that was unexpected. Out of time, it just results in a field goal, so it's 13-9 Bears at the half.
And yes, Vince. It's amazing that as soon as Matt Nagy is sidelined, the play-action and motion we have been screaming at the Bears to give Justin Fields have started appearing in the offense. Funny how that works.
Aaron Schatz: I do think it's a little silly to think that Nagy wasn't involved in the planning for this game. I doubt that it's as simple as "interim head coach = better scheme for Justin Fields."
Bryan Knowles: See, that's how long passes go to Deebo Samuel. You throw for -3 yards, and then he runs 10 zillion yards. That's the entire 49ers' offense.
They're reviewing the score (video coming as soon as the NFL tweets it out), but at any rate, the 49ers turn third-and-20 into a touchdown, or close enough to it.
Aaron Schatz: Haven't seen a Samuel video yet but here are dots.
Here's the Deebo Samuel 83-yard reception dots.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 31, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Here's the video, Aaron:
DEEBO SAMUEL. 83 YARDS. #FTTB
— NFL (@NFL) October 31, 2021
Dave Bernreuther: If we're being honest, that was actually a -4 or even -5 air throw, depending on whether you're measuring from the catch point or where his feet were. (84 yards? A zillion? Tomayto tomahto.)
That was just some abysmal tackling in the space there before he hit full speed.
Scott Spratt: It looks like Joey Slye missed his 10th career extra point on 82 career extra-point attempts. I hope Deebo Samuel didn't give that ball to a fan like Mike Evans did with Tom Brady's 600th touchdown pass, Bryan. That ball belongs in Canton.
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers have a long history of good receivers—Jerry Rice, obviously, but also Terrell Owens, John Taylor, Dwight Clark, Gene Washington, R.C. Owens, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Deebo Samuel is making his argument to be right along with them; he now has more yards through seven games than any other receiver in San Francisco history, topping Rice's mark.
And, after forcing the first punt of the day for either team (!), the 49ers open up with another long pass to Samuel, which eventually sets up an Elijah Mitchell touchdown. An ensuing two-point conversion makes up for the Joey Slye experience, and the 49ers take a 23-16 lead early in the fourth.
Aaron Schatz: For anyone who doesn't understand why you wait until later in the draft to take running backs, watch Elijah Mitchell and Khalil Herbert in this game. Two sixth-round picks. Both with a lot of talent. Herbert has great vision in a crowd to find the hole. Mitchell just pushed a gigantic rugby scrum of dudes into the end zone. Sixth round.
Bryan Knowles: The question, as always, is if Kyle Shanahan is watching this game, or if he'll be infatuated with the next Joe Williams/Trey Sermon that comes his way. Mitchell was a BackCAST favorite!
Aaron Schatz: Herbert, admittedly, was not a BackCAST favorite. Still looks really good though.
Bryan Knowles: This Justin Fields touchdown on fourth-and-1 may not be how you draw it up, but it's a thing of beauty.
JUSTIN FIELDS IS A MAGICIAN
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 31, 2021
Vince Verhei: No joke, that may be the best play a Chicago Bears quarterback has ever made. Fields over 100 yards rushing on the day now.
Bryan Knowles: No surprise that a 49ers quarterback has two rushing touchdowns today ... wait, it's still Garoppolo? Huh. Alright.
After the Bears missed their extra point, the 49ers still had a one-point lead. Time to run some clock, and by run some clock, I mean a pair of 20-yard completions, a 27-yard run by Elijah Mitchell, and then the second Garoppolo scoring run of the day, this one intentional as opposed to due to a botched snap. 30-22 lead; the game's not over, but the Bears need points right now to keep them alive.
Aaron Schatz: Problem with a lot of mobile quarterbacks like Fields is that they mix those amazing scrambles with plays where they leave the pocket and get tracked down for big sacks. And that's what just happened to Fields on third-and-10, he took a 14-yard sack and the Bears punted on fourth-and-14 down by eight with just 4:31 remaining. Fields has been sacked four times today, Garoppolo zero.
Bryan Knowles: Those four sacks means that Fields has actually lowered his sack rate today.
Miami Dolphins 11 at Buffalo Bills 26
J.P. Acosta: The Bills go up 3-0 on a Tyler Bass field goal, but it felt like the Bills were surrendering by calling a third-and-9 quarterback power with Josh Allen. Felt odd.
J.P. Acosta: I have no words.
Omg what a disaster. Only the Dolphins can pull this off. pic.twitter.com/Qyosmf8yQ2
— Will Manso (@WillManso) October 31, 2021
Vince Verhei: Well I have some words, and they're for the Bills, and they're not positive. The Dolphins have been one of the most disappointing teams of the year, they're offense is doing things like … that, and Buffalo should be stomping them comfortably. But it's 3-3 at halftime. What on earth has happened to this Buffalo offense? I think we expected some regression, but Miami is coming off back-to-back losses to Jacksonville and Atlanta—this should not be close. I have not been watching the first half, but I'm going to pay attention to the second half.
J.P. Acosta: I have a question: if a returner muffs a punt on the 10-yard line and his team recovers it in the end zone, how is that a touchback? Because that just happened to the Bills and Isaiah McKenzie.
Scott Spratt: We had lengthy discussions about that last week J.P. when I think Brandon Aiyuk accidentally kicked a punt into his end zone before he corralled it and got a touchback. I landed with it where I am with the question of "what is a catch?" ... I have no idea!
Aaron Schatz: Shockingly, the Aiyuk play from a week ago isn't even listed as a muffed punt in the play-by-play! It's just listed as a 79-yard punt and touchback!
Vince Verhei: At least with the Aiyuk play, you could argue the returner was in the process of catching the ball as he fell into the end zone. This time, the Bills returner called for a fair catch at about the 10, muffed it, and his teammates fell on it in the end zone. If you don't want that to be a safety, fine, I guess, put the ball at the spot of the muff. But instead it's a touchback, so Buffalo GAINS 10 yards by fumbling and recovering it 10 yards further back.
Vince Verhei: Well I don't know what the hell happened in the first half here, but the second half has been the one-sided ass-kicking we were all expecting. The Bills opened the third quarter with a three-and-out, but have since scored three touchdowns and a field goal in four drives. Most of their offense has been Josh Allen scrambling around and either running or throwing to Cole Beasley, and it has worked fine. Miami, meanwhile, has gone three-and-out three times and thrown a bad interception, adding in one Tua Tagovailoa touchdown run after a 40-yard catch by Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins did go for two and convert with a pass to Gesicki; at the time, that cut the lead to 17-11, but the Bills scored twice after that to win 26-11.
Philadelphia Eagles 44 at Detroit Lions 6
Bryan Knowles: Every time I watch Jalen Hurts, I'm less and less impressed. His pocket presence seems close to nonexistent—or, at least, Option 2 on every play is "bail out of the pocket and try to make things up on the fly." It's "turn nothing into something" syndrome, which ends up being nothing more often than not.
I'm not saying it's not working, mind you, as the Eagles have a 7-0 lead over the winless Lions, but man.
Bryan Knowles: The Eagles' offense is beginning to kick into gear, as they realize Detroit has neither the talent nor the inclination to stop their running game. They just had an eight-play touchdown drive bookended by three solid runs on either side, with only a couple of passes to Dallas Goedert in the middle to break up their march to the sea. With the Lions doing essentially nothing on offense, I'm not sure this will be one of those "Dan Campbell keeps things tight" games we all enjoy so much.
17-0 Eagles late in the second quarter.
Aaron Schatz: Don't think I agree with Lions going for it on fourth-and-1 from Philly 22. Yes, you're down 17-0, but with only 13 seconds left, it's hard to have enough time to score a touchdown even if you convert the fourth down. EdjSports had this as an 0.5% error.
Los Angeles Rams 38 at Houston Texans 22
Derrik Klassen: Fourth-and-goal target to Darrell Henderson at the end of the first quarter did not work, but the Rams have generally done a great job getting him going. Texans are struggling to keep Henderson contained, especially when the Rams let him get out to the edge. Texans defense is giving up too much space when they try to set the edge and the linebackers have not been filling fast enough to make up for it. Blend all that together with the Texans' typical tackling issues and you get Henderson with 62 yards through his first six carries.
Vince Verhei: L.A.'s first three drives:
- 11 plays, 75 yards
- 10 plays, 72 yards
- 10 plays, 56 yards
This has been probably the most dominant performance by an offensive line I have seen all year. No penalties, no sacks, just one quarterback hit, and 10 carries for 73 yards and four first downs. They're just pushing Texans defenders wherever they want and Darrell Henderson is getting gobs of easy yards. Unfortunately they have had some red zone struggles—I have no idea why they tries a pass on fourth-and-1 with the way their line is manhandling Houston—and they only lead 10-0.
Of course, it's Houston, so 10 points will probably be enough to win.
Derrik Klassen: Davis Mills interception was just ... confusing? Not as egregious as the Ryan Tannehill interception in the Colts game, but it's hard to tell what Mills was thinking. He did well to get outside the pocket on a third-and-10, but he either did not see the linebacker working to the flat or miscalculated his ability to fit the ball past him through a tight window. Either way, ugly pick for the rookie.
Aaron Schatz: Sean McVay has suddenly gotten much more aggressive today. Went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3 (missed) and then fourth-and-3 from the 5 (holding penalty, followed by touchdown pass on the ensuing first down).
Vince Verhei: Just to put a bow on this one: the Rams solved their red zone problems and took a 24-0 lead. To Houston's credit, they are at least trying to win, which I'm honestly not sure you could have said last week. They had a double pass called at one point, but the Rams had it sniffed out, and Rex Burkhead threw it away. Then when a Rams penalty nullified an interception, they struck with a 15-yard pass to Nico Collins, one of their biggest plays of the day, to at least move into field goal range (and down 24-0, you can justify a field goal at the end of the half). Unfortunately Ka'imi Fairbairn missed the kick, and that's when I turned this one off and turned Dolphins-Bills on.
Dave Bernreuther: Tip for Jonathan Greenard: When you're losing 38-0, with your team having gained 78 total yards, and it's the opposing team's indecisive backup quarterback that nobody (myself included) can even name ... maybe scale a step or two back from the full "look at me" celebration after you sack him four seconds after the snap.
Dave Bernreuther: It was about 15 minutes of real time ago that I scolded the Greenard sack dance. Since then, the Texans have scored three touchdowns.
They're still not going to win, but wow. Maybe the sack fired them up.
Rivers McCown: I wrote about the three-touchdown run. I'm real tired of this particular football feeling, guys.
Anyway congrats to Tom on the division. May it go better in the playoffs this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers 15 at Cleveland Browns 10
Bryan Knowles: Rules question: Can you rough the passer on a fake field goal? I know some of the passing rules get slackened on fakes and tricks, but Chris Boswell just got destroyed as the Steelers attempted to run a fake field goal. Were Boswell a quarterback, there's no doubt in my mind that a flag would have been thrown.
Aaron Schatz: I think you absolutely can be called for roughing the passer, and my guess is the ref just missed this.
Chris Boswell got ROCKED on a fake field goal attempt pic.twitter.com/H6w3EuArYz
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 31, 2021
Vince Verhei: When two quarterbacks are going off, we call it a shootout. So what do we call it when dueling edge rushers are dominating? Because this has been the Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt show. At halftime, Watt has 1.5 sacks and a big fourth-down stop; Garrett has a monster red zone sack of his own. That turned out to be a giant play because it put the Steelers at third-and-17 at the 18. It says a lot about the way this game is going that Pittsburgh took the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger's hands from there. Najee Harris took a draw for 8 yards to set up the field goal, which was the fake, a direct snap to Chris Boswell where he drifted out to his right before taking the hit and throwing an incompletion. He headed to the locker room before halftime, so that's obviously something to watch in a tie game.
Otherwise, it's 3-3, and it's a well-earned 3-3. Neither team can run or get any kind of downfield passing going, so it's just a nonstop exchange of slants and swings and screens. Feels like the first defense to miss a big tackle is going to lose, but obviously that hasn't happened yet.
J.P. Acosta: Can we call it a pass-rush rager? Because that sounds epic!
Vince Verhei: Done. It's T.J. Watt vs. Myles Garrett in a PASS-RUSH RAGER.
J.P. Acosta: *Begins aggressively fist pumping*
Bryan Knowles: D'Ernest Johnson has fallen back to second string, because obviously, but he's still getting some work today thanks to Kareem Hunt's continued absence. And he still has that vision he showed last week, doing some impressive work to get into the end zone for the first time for either team today, and giving the Browns a 10-3 lead.
Vince Verhei: That touchdown came at the end of Cleveland's best drive of the day. Nick Chubb started it with a burst up the middle for 21 yards on first-and-10, then Mayfield picked up several first downs on crossing patterns to his tight ends to move into scoring range.
Dave Bernreuther: So Boswell has a concussion, and the Steelers have to go for two-pointers for the rest of the way. And they do, and they convert ... but a penalty pushes them back. So, in a first for me, the Steelers are forced to attempt a 12-yard two-point conversion, and it doesn't go well. 10-9, Cleveland.
Bryan Knowles: Pittsburgh COULD have kicked an extra point with the punter. But he has zero experience kicking, and indeed the ensuing kickoff goes out of bounds.
Honestly, I wonder if he could practice an old-school drop kick real quick for future extra points.
Vince Verhei: That's back-to-back good touchdown drives for the Pittbsburgh offense. 25 total plays as they are converting a lot of third downs. Fourth-and-goal, they tease letting punter Pressley Harvin try a field goal, but they end up going for it, and Pat Freiermuth makes a tremendous catch in tight coverage for the score. The two-point conversion fails again so it's still a 15-10 lead.
Vince Verhei: Browns are driving for a potential game-winning score, but Jarvis Landry fumbles and Watt recovers at the Pittsburgh 20. Steelers get to a third-and-8, and then Greg Newsome quietly makes one of the finest defensive plays you'll see today. Steelers run dueling crossing routes to get Diontae Johnson open for what looks like a sure first down, but Newsome is able to fight through traffic and bring Johnson down short of the line to gain to force a punt. Just an outstanding hustle play, practically a turnover.
Vince Verhei: At the two-minute warning, Browns have a fourth-and-12 at the Steelers 26, down 15-10 but with all three timeouts left. The way this game has gone, I'm probably kicking a field goal there, hoping to use my timeouts to get the ball back and kick another field goal to win. Instead they go for it. Landry is open for a conversion, but Mayfield's pass is late, and Minkah Fitzpatrick breaks it up. I know Mayfield is playing with a bad shoulder today, but that looked like a mental mistake, not a physical error.
But then the Steelers get a big play as Johnson gets loose on a slant for a 50-yard gain and is smart enough to stay in bounds. Pittsburgh runs out the clock from there, with Roethlisberger killing the final six seconds with a fourth-down moon ball into the end zone.
New England Patriots 27 at Los Angeles Chargers 24
Aaron Schatz: Excellent first drives by both offenses. It shouldn't surprise you that Brandon Staley was aggressive on a key fourth-and-1 near the goal line, then Austin Ekeler pushed a big pile into the end zone. For the Patriots, Mac Jones looking very—sorry to use this word, Mike Tanier—POISED in the first drive. Went through his progressions to find his open man, particularly on a 44-yard deep pass to Nelson Agholor. Then at the goal line, he didn't force a pass to Jakobi Meyers running through the back of the end zone when the Chargers coverage dropped off and had the route taken away; he found Jakob Johnson underneath for 2 yards. Damien Harris pushed it in from the 1 on the next play. 7-7 tie so far.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots just got down to the goal line and against the worst run defense in the league they ran three passes and just one running play. They went empty on first down. Empty! On third down, Mac Jones thought he had a DPI against Hunter Henry but the officials picked up the flag because Henry started the play in a blocking stance. So of course the defender engaged him. Fourth down was a goal-line corner fade to Jakobi Meyers. Yuck. At least the Patriots went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. (More of the 1.5, really.) But I would have liked to have seen more running plays.
Aaron Schatz: The start of the game was so nice for Mac Jones, but the last couple of drives have not been. Passes out of reach, miscommunications like at the goal line, throwing to Hunter Henry when he wasn't looking, then a great grab on the sideline by Jakobi Meyers but twisting and coming down out of bounds. Jones is 7-for-18 so far. I was going to say "goes into halftime 7-for-18" but the Patriots just intercepted Herbert as the ball went off the hands of Austin Ekeler and into the hands of ex-Chargers safety Adrian Phillips. So Pats get the ball back with a minute to go on the Chargers 40.
Aaron Schatz: OK, so much for that drive. Another miscommunication where Meyers wasn't looking for the ball. Another overthrown pass over Kendrick Bourne's head short. Jones 1-for-4 on that drive, Nick Folk hits a 49-yard field goal so we'll go to halftime at 14-13 Chargers.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots finally start really leaning on the running game for their first drive of the second half, and it looks like they have a touchdown, but Damien Harris gets it called back with a hold on Justin Herron, in for an injured Isaiah Wynn at left tackle. It was a good call, Herron's man probably tackles Harris if Herron doesn't hold him. Then the Pats throw the short pass on third-and-long to get into better field goal range and Kendrick Bourne coughs it up. Chargers recover. Pats offensive line is pushing the Chargers around in the running game but they're still down 14-13.
Aaron Schatz: That was Derwin James letting himself be known, forcing the Bourne fumble, by the way.
Aaron Schatz: Again, the Chargers are getting hit by regression on third downs. They're outgaining the Patriots today 6.7 to 4.9 yards per play, although a lot of that is just the big 75-yard run by Justin Jackson back in the first quarter. Still, the Chargers are 2-of-8 on third downs so far while the Patriots are 7-of-15. Make that 7-of-16, Brandon Bolden just got stuffed in the backfield on third-and-1 by Derwin James coming untouched through the line. Patriots punt it back to the Chargers, losing 17-16.
Aaron Schatz: Fascinating challenge by Bill Belichick. He challenged a holding call on the Chargers, challenging that the hold took place in the end zone. He lost the challenge but I think it was a good gamble, if that was called holding in the end zone it would have been a safety giving the Patriots the lead AND the ball. Chargers ended up converting third-and-9 with a bullet from Herbert to Keenan Allen to get out of the shadow of their own goal posts.
Aaron Schatz: Now the Chargers get bitten by miscommunication! Herbert threw to Jared Cook without Cook even looking at him, Adrian Phillips picks it off, gets up off the ground, and runs it in for a pick-six! Two-point conversion to Meyers and now it is 24-17 Patriots.
Aaron Schatz: Fantastic (likely final) drive by the Patriots. Tons of running, but also a couple of passes to wide-open receivers, and the Patriots easily move the ball downfield chewing clock. Multiple Patriots slid down in bounds in order to keep the clock running. Sign of a well-coached team. They took roughly seven minutes off the clock. Nick Folk field goal, and the Chargers will get the ball back down 27-17 with 2:19 left and no timeouts.
Jacksonville Jaguars 7 at Seattle Seahawks 31
J.P. Acosta: Geno Smith scores on a fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak to give the Seahawks an early 7-0 lead. The Seahawks got into the red zone easily, but the Jaguars defense made them work for the touchdown.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks still up 7-0 at the end of the first. It was a deep completion to Tyler Lockett that got Seattle to the 1-yard line to set up Smith's sneak for the touchdown, as "target the Jacksonville corner who is not Shaquill Griffin" remains a solid strategy. The good news for Smith is that he is 4-for-4 with that rushing touchdown; the bad news is that deep shot to Lockett is his only completion for a first down, as he remains content to check-down his way to three-and-outs
Jaguars have punted twice and are mostly playing small-ball themselves. They actually got to the edge of field goal range on their first possession, but a sack on a defensive back blitz (Ryan Neal, not Jamal Adams) put an end to that idea.
J.P. Acosta: In case you're wondering, Geno Smith hasn't thrown an incompletion yet, and just threw a TD pass to DK Metcalf. 14-0 Seahawks.
Vince Verhei: To recap the last few minutes for Jacksonville:
- James Robinson takes a run out of bounds and leaves the game with an apparent ankle injury.
- Trevor Lawrence throws an easy interception to Quandre Diggs when Tavon Austin appears to run a deeper route than Lawrence was expecting.
- (Wait, it's 2021 and Urban Meyer thinks he's genius enough to be turning Tavon Austin into a quality wide receiver?)
- Alex Collins runs for a 7-yard gain on second-and-2. Jacksonville safety Raeshawn Jenkins then draws a flag for taunting. Yes, he was taunting on a play where Jacksonville gave up a first down.
- Smith picks up a few more first downs on short passes to Lockett and DK Metcalf.
- Metcalf beats his old teammate Griffin with this touchdown catch, which is basically impossible to defend:
DK METCALF, FOLKS. #Seahawks
— NFL (@NFL) October 31, 2021
Metcalf then also draws a taunting foul, but at least he was taunting after making a GOOD play.
Scott Spratt: Smith does have a -19.6% passing DVOA, though.
J.P. Acosta: The Jaguars were called for 12 men on the field on defense. So naturally, they almost get called for it again and have to burn a timeout. It's Week 8.
Vince Verhei: It's hard to express just how incompetent this Jaguars team looks. J.P. mentioned the problems their defense is having just counting to 11, but he didn't mention that those two incidents were on back-to-back plays! They got a do-over and STILL had an extra man on the field and had to call a timeout! They then had a third-down stop wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty, then an interception wiped out by an offsides penalty (Smith likely knew he had a free play). And with those plays wiped out, officially, Smith opened this game by completing 14 passes in a row. There's a lot of failed-completion empty calories in there, but still: 14 in a row! Geno Smith! And Seattle got two touchdowns and a field goal in four possessions, so it's not like none of those completions have been effective.
One reason Seattle was surprisingly high in DVOA coming into the week was their schedule, fourth-toughest. By DVOA, the worst team they have played so far is Tennessee, who is now 6-2. The Seahawks with Geno Smith are a bad team, but this is the first time all year we have seen them against a terrible team, and they're up 17-0 at halftime and it doesn't feel that close.
J.P. Acosta: Gonna drown my sorrows in Reese's Pumpkins.
Vince Verhei: Tyler Lockett's averages over his last five games: 3.4 catches, 31.8 yards per game.
Tyler Lockett in the first half today: eight catches, 92 yards.
Carl Yedor: First-half thoughts on this one: I know Jacksonville isn't good, but I am very surprised that Seattle was able to shut them out in the first half. Lawrence is at 5 yards per attempt, plus a sack, which against Seattle's defense is not impressive. The defense has quietly been playing better in recent weeks against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but it never felt like a unit to rely on in any way. Geno Smith is laser-focused on Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, which is logical, and he has been reasonably effective throwing the ball as a result. Nothing otherworldly, but absolutely acceptable considering that he's a backup.
That shutout may not hold for long because Jacksonville is set up with excellent field position for its first drive of the second half, but the first half is definitely something to build on for Seattle.
Vince Verhei: The Seahawks are just bullying Jacksonville at this point, venting their frustrations over their string of tough losses. Double-pass trickeration leads to a 28-yard completion to Lockett. (That's now 133 yards of offense for Lockett, 106 for the Jacksonville Jaguars.) And actually it was pretty good coverage by Andrew Wingard on the play, just a good throw by Smith. That sets up Metcalf's second touchdown of the day, a 5-yarder, and Seattle goes up 24-0.
Vince Verhei: Seahawks still lead 24-0 at the end of the third, and there's not much else to say here. I'd love to give you an evaluation of Trevor Lawrence, but I don't feel any more qualified to do that than I was two hours ago. With no DJ Chark and no James Robinson, the Jacksonville skill players are just a parade of kick returner types masquerading as offensive players. You have Jamal Agnew getting alligator arms and dropping a pass on third down even though there was no defender close to hitting him — he just threw on the brakes and turtled up as the ball flew by him. They're lining up Laviska Shenault at tailback and giving him straight handoffs. Lawrence is also getting no time to throw, with a couple of sacks and pressure forcing him to throw incomplete here on a fourth down early in the fourth quarter. That's before we get to all the pre-snap penalties. There's just nothing for him to work with here.
Carl Yedor: The most interesting part of this game in the second half was Adam Archuleta asking Greg Gumbel whether he enjoys things like ice skating and dressing up in costume for Halloween only for him to invariably answer "no" because he's no fun.
Oh, and Jacksonville scored a touchdown on a fourth-down pass to Jamal Agnew with 1:49 to play to make it 24-7. Seattle then returned the ensuing onside kick for a touchdown to make it 31-7. The clock hasn't run down to zeroes, but this one's done.
Vince Verhei: The Jaguars suck in ways I have never seen a team suck before. They finally get on the board as Lawrence hits Agnew with a touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal. Got there by picking apart a defense that was only interested in killing clock. Drive lasted 15 plays and ate up nearly five minutes of time, and the scoring play came after the two-minute warning. They could go for two and try to tie with two more touchdowns and two more two-pointers, but they kick for one instead to make it 24-7. Fine, game over, I'm not mad they're waving the white flag.
Only they are NOT waving the white flag, because they come out and try the onside kick. It's not going to matter, but if you're going to kick onside there is no justification for kicking the PAT. None. The football gods punish them for their one-foot-in, one-foot-out comeback attempt as the kick attempt is a disaster and Travis Homer returns it for a Seattle touchdown and a 31-7 lead.
I don't know what DVOA is going to say, but to my eyes the Jaguars have to be the worst team in the league.
This is Geno Smith's first win as a starter since his last game with the Jets in 2016 … when he only threw eight passes before tearing his ACL. It's his first win in a game he started and finished since 2014.
J.P. Acosta: Why did I ever choose to be a fan of this team?
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 31, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 at New Orleans Saints 36
Bryan Knowles: The first Saints drive was going pretty well, but the Buccaneers bottled up Alvin Kamara's first, second, and third effort on a fourth-and-1; Kamara's not a bad runner at all, but running straight up the middle at Vita Vea may not be the world's best strategy. Gifted a short field, and with Antonio Brown still out, the ensuing Buccaneers drive becomes the Chris Godwin show, converting a third down over Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and snagging a touchdown a few plays later to give the Bucs an early 7-0 lead.
Scott Spratt: Mark Ingram rejoins the Saints with 18- and 7-yard screen passes on his first two touches to cross midfield on the second Saints drive. He also got in a shoving match after I think Jason Pierre-Paul pushed him down after the play. This game looks chippy early.
Bryan Knowles: Mark Ingram looks like an entirely different player, by which I mean actually useful and not Loser League fodder. But it's not Ingram who's leading the team in rushing yards, nor is it Kamara—it's Jameis Winston, who has scrambled for nearly 40 yards already to keep Saints drive alive. For comparison, he has only thrown for 60 yards—but one was a nice shot to Tre'Quan Smith for a touchdown, tying things at seven.
It IS chippy, in a fun divisional rival sort of way.
Scott Spratt: Ouch, Jameis Winston got pulled down by the horsecollar—or maybe more accurately the back of his jersey—and seemed to hurt his leg or ankle on the play. Trevor Siemian may end up coming into this game—Taysom Hill is also out injured and may not be the true backup in any case.
Dave Bernreuther: Jameis Winston's injury shows us why they instituted the horsecollar tackle rule in the first place ... except it wasn't a horsecollar. It was a "sticky gloves grabbing the jersey near the nameplate or sleevehole" tackle, which should be perfectly legal.
The 15 yards helps the Saints, I guess, but not having their starting quarterback, even though it's just Jameis, is an issue. At least they're out of the shadow of the end zone and not in danger of giving Tom Brady yet another short field if/when they punt, if Winston can't come back into the game.
Scott Spratt: And now Winston is being carted to the locker room. Not exactly the revenge game we were hoping to see.
Bryan Knowles: Two turnovers now in the first half from Tom Brady, first on a strip-sack fumble, and now on a pretty bad interception to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. That gives the Saints a short field before half, and you give Trevor Siemian a short field at your own peril! Siemian hits his first passing touchdown since 2017, a little play-action toss to Alex Armah, and the Saints have a 16-7 lead. That'll probably last until the half, though the Bucs get the ball back with 27 seconds and two timeouts remaining.
Bryan Knowles: Breaking news from New Orleans: Kevin White exists! In physical space and everything! The Saints open the second half with a 38-yard bomb to White to get them into scoring range immediately. It's tough sledding from there, requiring not one but two fourth-down conversions in a span of 30 yards, but the Saints eventually get into the end zone, and we have a 23-7 ballgame, Jameis Winston or no Jameis Winston.
Bryan Knowles: Bullet dodged for the Buccaneers, as Leonard Fournette fumbled into the end zone, where the ball was scooped up by the Saints, fumbled again, and then went to New Orleans in a pileup. Fortunately, the refs ruled that Fournette never had possession on the catch—it was close enough that the call could have gone either way—and the Bucs get into the end zone a couple of plays later to cut the Saints' lead to 23-14.
Bryan Knowles: Tom Brady has now thrown more touchdowns in his 40s than he did in his 20s, which may be the most impressive stat he has assembled in his long career. This one was a 41-yard bomb to Mike Evans—well covered, but perfectly placed. And now the lead has been cut to 23-21, and things are beginning to feel inevitable.
Bryan Knowles: I am going to have to ask you to look way, way down your gamecards until you find Cyril Grayson on your Buccaneers depth chart. In all the discussion of Tampa Bay's weapons, Grayson's name doesn't exactly get mentioned all that much. In fact, the Saints may also not be aware he's with the Buccaneers, as they opted not to cover him any way, shape, or form, leading to Brady hitting him for a wide-open, 50-yard, go-ahead touchdown. Easiest thing in the world.
The conversion fails, so the Buccaneers just have a 27-26 lead with 5:44 left in the game.
Bryan Knowles: Terrible clock management in New Orleans. The Saints had a first down on the 9 with two minutes left and Tampa Bay holding two timeouts. You're in chip-shot field goal range, so the goal has to be to use as much time as possible; at least make sure Tampa Bay runs out of timeouts. Instead, they throw a pair of incomplete passes, so Brady's going to get the ball back with 101 seconds left and a timeout, needing a field goal to win. This is, shall we say, suboptimal.
Dave Bernreuther: What the (bleep) is the point of throwing that ball on third-and-goal? Your best hope is a failed completion that does you no good. Kamara was covered the entire time Why was that route even an option in a one-point game inside of two minutes?
So now the field goal gives the Saints the lead—a rare time when a Brady defense gives up a lead after a fourth-quarter comeback—but the Bucs need only a field goal and have all the time in the world.
Sean Payton deserves a ton of credit for this game—it's not as if even Jameis is all that great, and he left in the first half, leaving only a quarterback whose career peak could charitably be described as "maybe better than Brock Osweiler for a game or two"—but when that's what you have at quarterback, why would you even give him the option to check down to that throw?
Oh, wow. P.J. Williams picks Brady's second attempt on the next drive (the one I considered a sure thing) and takes it to the house. Game, blouses, pending the PAT.
Bryan Knowles: And the clock management doesn't matter—Brady takes a shot, P.J. Williams returns it for a touchdown, and the Saints are going to win.
Technically, Williams probably should have fallen down at the 1 and kept the ball, but you know what? I'll spot him the score.
Vince Verhei: Well, the DVOA rankings and playoff odds are going to be interesting this week. With Buffalo sleepwalking through the first half and Arizona losing, I expect the Rams to move into first with a comfortable win. But by win-loss record, I believe the top teams in each conference would be Tennessee and Green Bay, which is going to do weird things to the playoff odds. And we still have Dallas to play tonight.
Bryan Knowles: The big Saints win is thrown more into chaos with the news on Jameis Winston's injury, which Sean Payton is describing as "significant," and others are calling potentially season-ending. If true, and no offense to Trevor Siemian, that throws two NFC playoff spots very much up for grabs, with the Saints, Panthers, Vikings, 49ers, and Falcons all within, at worst, one win of a playoff spot, and the Seahawks, Eagles, and Bears not all that far behind. The bottom of the NFC playoff picture is going to be complete chaos, especially if Dallas wins tonight.
Washington Football Team 10 at Denver Broncos 17
Bryan Knowles: Not a lot of eyeballs on this one, so we may have missed Chris Blewitt kicking the ball on such a line drive it hit his blockers in the back. Through the first, oh, 25 minutes of the game, that was the highlight, but Teddy Bridgewater just put together a nice five-minute drive to march Denver down the field. Tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is back off IR today and has already made a couple nice grabs—he has had more of an impact than the also-returning Jerry Jeudy today, to the chagrin of my fantasy squads. Melvin Gordon catches a flat route and takes it 15 yards for a score, and the Broncos take a 10-3 lead late in the first half.
Vince Verhei: Broncos lead 10-3 at halftime, but as always, it feels like Washington should have more points than they actually do. They have gotten into scoring range four times, but in addition to the field goal they hit and the one they missed (badly), they had a failed fourth-and-1 play in the red zone. Then on the last drive of the first half, they had a third-and-3 at the 36 with a timeout, just needing one more first down to try a field goal, but Taylor Heinicke was sacked and fumbled. Washington recovered but out of field goal range, so they tried a Hail Mary, which was intercepted.
Vince Verhei: The Football Team has tied this at 10-10 at the end of the third, with Heinicke dropping a rainbow to DeAndre Carter in the corner of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. Landon Collins was not happy about being moved to linebacker, but the results have been positive so far—he has a sack and a team-high six tackles so far.
Vince Verhei: Washington's field goal try is blocked AGAIN. That's two today and one last week. Yikes.
Bryan Knowles: Stay tuned for this week's Loser League article, Chris Blewitt and the Art of Nominative Determinism.
Vince Verhei: The Football Team threatens to tie the game but are once again undone by mistakes in scoring range. Third-and-6 at the 7, just 21 feet away from a touchdown, but Heinicke is sacked and fumbles. Football Team recovers, but now it's fourth-and-19 at the 20. Heinicke proceeds to turn the ball over on what is essentially his second Hail Mary interception of the day.
Washington still has three timeouts so this isn't over-over, but it doesn't look good.
Bryan Knowles: It looks better now, Vince! The Broncos had the ball with 35 seconds left, up a touchdown. They then fumbled on first down (but recovered), threw an incomplete pass on second, and then fumbled again on third; Washington ball inside the 30.
Vince Verhei: OH DEAR GOD. First down, Javonte Williams fumbles, but Denver recovers. Second down, Teddy Bridgewater throws incomplete to stop the clock (?!?!?!!?!?!). Third down, Melvin Gordon fumbles and Washington recovers. They're still only down seven, 21 seconds to go, two timeouts, ball at the 24.
Vince Verhei: Welp. Washington loses one timeout when an offensive lineman is injured. Then with four backup linemen on the field, they give up a sack and are forced to use their last timeout. Third-and-forever, Heinicke's pass leads a receiver out of bounds, and I think it might have lost yardage anyway. Fourth-and-forever, Heinicke's pass goes out the back of the end zone. Talk about going out with a whimper.
Dallas Cowboys 20 at Minnesota Vikings 16
Bryan Knowles: It's now official: Dak Prescott will not play tonight against the Vikings. Get ready for the Cooper Rush show!
Scott Spratt: The Cowboys may not have Dak Prescott tonight, but they do have the best run-blocking offensive line in football with 5.36 adjusted line yards. And after the Vikings went 75 yards and scored on their opening possession, the Cowboys got a pair of 8-yard plays from Ezekiel Elliott, one a carry and one a screen pass. Perhaps the Cowboys can play conservatively and make a game of this one.
Scott Spratt: Speaking of offensive line play, the Vikings seem to be trending. First-round left tackle Christian Darrisaw missed the first three weeks with a core muscle injury but then ramped up from zero to 28 to 89 offensive snaps from Weeks 4 to 6 leading into the team's bye. That last game against the Panthers, the new-look Vikings offensive line did not allow a Kirk Cousins sack, the first time the team managed that feat since late in 2019. Overall, the Vikings rank second in football with a 3.2% adjusted sack rate.
Scott Spratt: From the normal camera angle, Cooper Rush's interception looked like a nice deflection/tip drill from Harrison Smith to Xavier Woods. But the replay from behind showed that Blake Jarwin was completely blanketed by the high safeties. I don't know what Rush saw that enticed him to throw that ball.
Scott Spratt: I was going to compliment the Cowboys defense for forcing their third straight drive of four or fewer plays and a punt. But then Bradlee Anae went offsides on the punt on a third-and-5 and gave the Vikings a free first down. That's rough.
Bryan Knowles: A rather moribund first half gets off to a good second-half start, as the scout team connection of Cooper Rush-to-Cedrick Wilson splits the safeties. 10-10 as we start the second half, and, hey! Action! In a football game! Whodathunkit.
Scott Spratt: Wilson did a little Barry Sanders weave around Harrison Smith at the end of that touchdown.
OPENING THE SECOND HALF IN STYLE! #DallasCowboys
— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) November 1, 2021
Pretty cool, although all of the Cowboys fans tweets about how Wilson is going to get paid this offseason may be going overboard. He entered the week with 14 catches and 168 yards this season.
Aaron Schatz: This game is awful. Minnesota has a drive right now in the fourth quarter where they basically moved the ball downfield on BS penalties like an insane roughing the passer where the defender Tarell Basham didn't hit the quarterback in the head or below the knees, and didn't land directly on his body either. When the Vikings run actual plays they just go backwards. Somehow the Vikings got a field goal out of it to take a 16-13 lead.
Aaron Schatz: Minnesota got a defensive delay of game for trying to call two timeouts in a row. Then Ezekiel Elliott breaks a couple of tackles to gain a first down on third-and-11, and then a 5-yard touchdown to Amari Cooper. Cooper Rush has 325 passing yards and the Cowboys have the lead. The Vikings should be ashamed of themselves. They played this whole game so conservatively and just plain badly. Yuck.
Bryan Knowles: If you let Cooper Rush engineer a two-minute go-ahead touchdown drive, you deserve whatever results come your way.
Tom Gower: I don't know what was the worst part of tonight's game for the Vikings: the defensive delay of game; the failure to tackle Zeke Elliott; the big pass to Cedrick Wilson; the repeated completions to CeeDee Lamb, mostly in front of Bashaud Breeland playing off and soft; the role of C.J. Ham in the pass game; Mike Zimmer's conservatism; or the utter blackness of knowing that, once Dallas took the lead in the final minute, there was almost no chance Kirk Cousins would lead a scoring drive after the agonizing hilarity (to me, if not to the Vikings fans I watched the game with) of the ending of the first half. It's easy to overstate the effect of individual games; based on future events, I did it myself when the Titans lost to the Jets. But this could be one of those games that an organization chooses as an inflection point.