Tipping Points: Week 7
by Scott Spratt
Four bye teams and a number of one-sided matchups foretold a Week 7 of the NFL light on drama. But an unexpected rainstorm across the northeast added some intrigue where none was expected, and one can always count on the Chargers to entertain in agonizing fashion -- assuming one isn't a Chargers fan.
Game of the Week
Chargers at Titans
I thought the Chargers had perfected the agonizing loss in Week 2, when in the third quarter they overcame two touchdown-nullifying penalties to reach a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line only to fumble it away and eventually lose by just three points. But the third quarter isn't the fourth quarter, and after Sunday, I'll never doubt the Chargers again.
The Chargers planted the seeds of their heartbreak on their first drive when they went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Titans' 31-yard line -- a decision that boosted their Game-Winning Chance (GWC) by 2.3% over a field goal attempt -- but failed to convert when Philip Rivers, under pressure, threw off his back foot and behind intended receiver Hunter Henry. But from there, the Chargers matched the Titans field goal for field goal and touchdown for touchdown for a 10-10 score at the half, and that was still the score at the start of the fourth quarter as the Titans entered the red zone.
A false start and incompletion forced the Titans into a third-and-11 just outside of the red zone, but Ryan Tannehill found Adam Humphries open in the middle of the field and with enough of a cushion to run after the catch for a first down. Two plays later, Tannehill squeezed a 5-yard completion between two defenders to tight end Jonnu Smith, playing for an injured Delanie Walker. Then he hit on another 5-yard pass, this one at the back of the end zone to Tajae Sharpe, also lost by the Chargers' coverage. Cody Parkey missed the extra point, but the Titans pulled ahead to 16-10 with 13:11 left to go in the fourth quarter.
As he was in the first half, Rivers was anxious to answer that touchdown with one of his own. He started the next drive with back-to-back 23-yard completions, both to Henry, the first down the left sideline and the second on a deep cross that Henry then cut upfield. That pair of plays put the Chargers at the Titans' 29-yard line, but Rivers overthrew Keenan Allen and Henry on would-be touchdowns on second and third down. That prompted a 50-yard field goal attempt that Chase McLaughlin -- starting for injured kicker Michael Badgley and playing in front of punter-turned-kicker-turned-exclusive-punter-again Ty Long -- split between the uprights, cutting the Chargers' deficit to just three points.
The Titans' ensuing drive quickly found a third-and-1 from their own 34-yard line. But Tannehill worked his progressions and rifled a pass into a tiny window to receiver Corey Davis, who then broke free of a tackle and added 25 more yards for a 38-yard catch-and-run.
That play encapsulates the Titans' decision to make the switch at quarterback from Marcus Mariota to Tannehill. Mariota's Titans were often in unmanageable third-and-longs, but even when he had a third-and-5 or fewer this season, Mariota completed just 43.8% of his passes and converted just 37.5% into new first downs, both the lowest rates of the 30 quarterbacks with at least 100 total attempts this season. Tannehill's Titans converted six of 11 third downs on Sunday, and Tannehill made that kind of accurate throw throughout the game. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he completed 22.1% more passes than expected on his throws, dramatically better than Mariota's 2.6% underachievement this year.
After Davis ran the Titans to within 28 yards of the end zone, Tannehill did not need to throw another pass to score. He scrambled and slid for a 6-yard gain, and then running back Derrick Henry took three carries for 8, 3, and 11 yards, the last one through a pair of would-be-tacklers and into the left side of the end zone.
That left the Chargers with less than seven minutes to score 10 points, a tall task for most teams but one seemingly within reach for Rivers, who didn't need any excuses to play aggressively all game. He hit Mike Williams and then Henry twice in the middle of the field for moderate gains of 10, 11, and 13 yards that also drained 83 seconds of clock. And then he unloaded on a pass down the right sidelines, hitting Austin Ekeler in stride on a pass he threw 35 yards in the air.
The touchdown returned the Chargers' deficit to just three points, but with 5:09 left at the start of the next Titans' possession, they would need a defensive stop to allow them a chance to complete the comeback. Tannehill connected with rookie receiver A.J. Brown to move the sticks on a third-and-4 and then again on a third-and-6. But on that second play, cornerback Casey Hayward made a shoe-string tackle from behind that dropped Brown just inches shy of another first down. Having already extinguished the Chargers' three timeouts, Mike Vrabel opted to run rather than punt. It was an excellent decision that boosted the Titans' GWC by 13.5%, but the Chargers defense slammed into the line and stopped Tannehill's attempted sneak for no gain and prompting a turnover on downs.
That defensive stand offered the Chargers new life, increasing their GWC from 10.9% to 42.3%. And Rivers nearly doubled that to a peak of 82.0%. But the Chargers just couldn't cover that last 18%, no matter how hard they tried. Middle-of-the-field completions to Williams and Ekeler got the Chargers inside of the red zone with 49 seconds left in the game. There, Rivers found Ekeler, who leapt for the end zone, surrounded by five Titans defenders. It looked like Ekeler scored when his elbow touched down with the ball across the plane, and it was ruled a touchdown on the field, but the replay showed that Ekeler's butt hit the turf with the ball still a yard shy of the end zone.
That overturned call delayed the Chargers' elation, but with a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line and 39 seconds to score, their victory seemed a given. A false start penalty set them back, but then a defensive pass interference penalty returned them to where they started, now with 34 seconds remaining. That's when Melvin Gordon scored the Chargers' second touchdown that wasn't.
Eerily similar to the Ekeler play, Gordon reached the ball across the line before it hit the ground, prompting a touchdown call on the field. But Gordon's left knee hit the ground before the reach, overturning a second game-winning score and leaving the Chargers with just 19 seconds. Undeterred, they ran a similar play for Gordon. This one was ruled down short of the end zone, and the review went even worse for the Chargers than before. In the scrum, Gordon had lost the ball. The Titans recovered it in the end zone, returning the ball to their offense and allowing Tannehill to end the game by taking a knee.
It's almost inconceivable that the Chargers lost this and their Week 2 games the way that they did, but I don't think this is déjà vu of their 2017 season. They started that year with four straight losses and ended up a game back of the Chiefs with a 9-7 record, but they were a top-12 DVOA team that season with a top-12 DVOA offense and defense. This year, their 2-5 record matches their No. 22 DVOA ranking, and while their offense has been on the field for their greatest heartbreaks, their No. 27 defense is the team's biggest problem. They allowed 312 yards and an 80.0% completion rate to Tannehill in this one and seem generally lost against the pass without safety Derwin James. Now three games behind the division-leading Chiefs, the Chargers are down to a 6.7% playoff chance, but they will likely draw those Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes in Week 11 before their bye.
Even with the win, the Titans' playoff odds remain much lower at 10.6% than the other three teams in the AFC South. Those teams don't have a significant advantage in terms of record -- all four teams have either three or four wins -- but they do in DVOA. Entering this week, the Titans had the sixth-lowest DVOA in football thanks to a bottom-four offense, but perhaps Tannehill can spark some significant improvements there. Already 0-2 in the AFC South, the Titans may need to run the table in their last four divisional games in November and December.
The Best of the Rest
Texans at Colts
Speaking of the AFC South, its top two teams -- at least by record -- squared off in the premiere game of the 1 p.m. window, and they delivered on that anticipation. The Texans had an opportunity in the first half to build a substantial lead, but three red zone trips -- including one on a drive that started on the Colts' 4-yard line after a fumble recovery -- led to three field goals and had the Texans trailing by five at the half with a score of 14-9. The Colts extended that lead to 28-16 with touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half, the third and fourth passing touchdowns of Jacoby Brissett's afternoon. But the Texans were driving to try to answer at the start of the fourth quarter.
On a fourth-and-1 from their own 35-yard line -- a spot on the field where coaches seldom go for it but should -- Watson hit a diving Kenny Stills underneath tight coverage from nickel corner Rock Ya-Sin. Bill O'Brien's decision to go for it rather than punt increased the Colts' GWC by 4.4%. But two modest Carlos Hyde gains and an incompletion to Hyde later, the Texans were in another fourth-and-1 just shy of midfield. Bill O'Brien again made the right call to go for it on offense, but this time, the Colts pass rush forced Watson's own blocker back into him. Hit as he tried to throw, Watson lost his pass short into the turf, turning the ball over on downs and leaving the Texans a scant 4.5% GWC.
Starting their ensuing drive at midfield, the Colts were just a few productive runs away from a field goal that would have extended their lead to 15 points with too little clock left for the Texans to try to answer. But Brissett helped the Texans out immensely, throwing away two passes to stop the clock despite decent pass protection. A punt pinned the Texans back to their own 11-yard line, but it left them with a bit more than 12 minutes at the start of their next drive. And they quickly flipped that field position, first with a 10-yard Hyde scamper and then a well-protected 15-yard strike to DeAndre Hopkins.
The Texans weren't in a hurry-up, but they went no-huddle, trapping the Colts' defenders on the field and mitigating their pass rush, which entered the game in the top seven in football with a 31.6% pressure rate according to Sports Info Solutions (subscription required). Watson avoided a coverage sack with an 11-yard scramble and then found Hopkins on a 15-yard catch-and-run that put them in Colts territory. Watson had protection on a first-and-10 from the Colts' 41-yard line, but he double-clutched. That afforded pass-rusher Justin Houston enough time to escape his block and beeline toward Watson. Panicking, Watson threw off his back foot and sailed a pass over the head of Duke Johnson, an easy pass for cornerback Pierre Desire to pick.
The interception dropped the Texans to a new nadir of a 3.5% GWC, but again, the Colts bailed them out on offense. After a 1-yard Marlon Mack run, Brissett threw another pair of second- and third-down incompletions -- although the first was off of T.Y. Hilton's hands -- and punted back to the Texans, this time with 8:41 remaining. Watson took immediate advantage of his second life, arching a pass 40 yards down the right sideline to Kenny Stills for an over-the-shoulder catch. Stills did a tremendous job of boxing out Desir so that he was the only player who could make a play on the ball. Four modest gains of 7 to 11 yards later, Watson connected with Hopkins in the end zone for a touchdown, Hopkins' first since Week 1 and one the Texans desperately needed, increasing their GWC by 22.3%.
For the first three quarters, the Colts offense did whatever it wanted against the Texans defense, producing a stellar 44.4% DVOA. But in the fourth quarter, the Colts compounded conservative play-calling with mental mistakes that stopped the clock and gave the Texans more and more chances. On this third drive of the quarter, the Colts earned a quick first down with a 26-yard completion to Zach Pascal, but Pascal ran out of bounds when he didn't have to. And then Brissett netted just 1 yard on two short completions, threw a deep incompletion to stop the clock again, and then punted back to the Texans with 4:09 remaining and the Texans needing just one touchdown to pull ahead.
The Texans' problem was they were pinned back on their own 4-yard line, and after an incompletion, a short run, and a sack, the Texans were still at their 5 on fourth-and-9. That's when they produced the most compelling play-calling conundrum of the week and perhaps the month. They chose to take an intentional safety.
You can see the logic of the decision. An attempted punt would have been from the back of their end zone and seemingly at best would have left the Colts with a short field. Bryan Anger's 73-yard free kick completely flipped the field positioning, pushing the Colts back to their own 20-yard line with 2:35 remaining. But deeper analysis shows the safety to be the wrong choice. Even if their punt had led to a field goal, the Texans would have been down eight points, which is still a one-possession game, the same as their seven-point deficit after taking the safety. A punt would have increased their GWC from 4.3% to 7.5%. And if O'Brien really wanted to be bold, he could simply have gone for it on offense, where a fourth-and-9 pass attempt would have bumped their GWC up to 14.5%. Meanwhile, if O'Brien believed the intentional safety was his best option, it made no sense to call a timeout before taking it. A delay of game penalty would only have cost them half the distance to the end zone, which the safety would then erase. Now, the Texans were stuck trying to stop the Colts offense with 2:35 remaining and just two timeouts instead of three.
Fortunately for the Texans, Indianapolis seemed committed to giving them their full nine lives. They ran Mack twice for a net no gain and then threw short to Hilton for 1 yard. All three plays ended in bounds, but all three stopped the clock thanks to the two-minute warning and the Texans' final two timeouts. However misguided, O'Brien's gambit paid off and kicked off a final drive from their 36-yard line with 1:41 to try to tie the game.
That was enough time left for Watson to use the full field, but things started poorly when he hit tight end Jordan Akins on a shallow cross and cornerback Quincy Wilson was able to pull him down in bounds. A false start stopped the clock at 1:19, and then Watson overthrew Johnson to advance to a third-and-9. Watson deftly dodged a blitz and found Akins to move the chains with an 11-yard strike, and the Texans rushed to the line to snap the ball with 37 seconds remaining. There, Watson wound up for what would have been a 16-yard gain that would have provided the Texans with several shots at the end zone. But Stills couldn't quite handle the deflection off his own fingertips, and linebacker Darius Leonard -- in his first game back after missing three games with a concussion -- secured the game-sealing interception just before the ball hit the ground.
The Colts' win inched them in front of the Texans for first place in the division, but with a No. 19 DVOA compared to No. 14 for Houston, the Colts remain 1.2% behind the Texans in playoff odds. Watson is obviously the standout passer in the division if not the entire NFL, but it's the backup quarterbacks Brissett and Gardner Minshew who have led their teams to top-10 DVOA offenses. The Texans, taking three more sacks in this game after having a reprieve against the Falcons and Chiefs and their bottom-10 pressure rates, are 11th in offensive DVOA heading into Monday Night Football. All four AFC South teams are close enough in quality and close enough in record that the division seems likely to be decided by interdivision games. The next of those comes in Week 9 between the Texans and Jaguars in London. Sadly, Sir Blake Bortles will not be involved.
49ers at Redskins
I certainly didn't expect to include a matchup of the No. 2 DVOA 49ers and No. 30 DVOA Redskins in this week's Tipping Points, even with the game in Washington. But the football gods tested the 49ers' easy path to a 6-0 start with moderate winds and persistent rain. Quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Case Keenum combined for just 21 completions and 228 passing yards, and Garoppolo in particular struggled to maintain his grip on the ball, fumbling once and throwing several duck passes in the first half.
Adrian Peterson -- already loving life under run-establisher Bill Callahan at interim head coach -- carried the ball on the Redskins' first eight plays from scrimmage. That run-exclusive strategy worked for the Redskins for a bit, but neither team scored in the first half. Dustin Hopkins missed a 39-yard field goal for the Redskins, and Robbie Gould missed a 45-yard attempt for the 49ers. The Redskins didn't bother trying to kick on a fourth-and-1 from the 49ers' 28-yard line, and something tells me Callahan wasn't simply minding the analytics that say that a run there was a 1.8% GWC boost over a field goal try. Peterson lost a yard on that carry, and the Redskins turned it over on downs.
Failed fourth-down conversion aside, the weather seemed to favor the Redskins in the first half. Their -5.2% first-half offensive DVOA was miles ahead of the 49ers' -59.5%. But after a telegraphed Garoppolo deep pass interception to safety Troy Apke on their first drive of the second half, the 49ers made the adjustment and asserted their superior talent. From 12:30 in the third quarter to the end of the game, Garoppolo threw just eight more passes, only one of which travelled more than a few yards downfield. And he completed all eight of them. Their second-half 2.3% offensive DVOA was respectable in the conditions.
But the Redskins certainly had their chances. They squandered their likely best one with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Keenum had just completed a high-point 19-yard pass to Trey Quinn, who then slid out of bounds in the mud along the left sidelines. That advanced the Redskins to the 49ers' 29-yard line on the ninth play of a rare extended drive. But Peterson was loose with the ball on a stopped carry, and defensive tackle Jullian Taylor was able to punch it free.
The fumble return put the 49ers in favorable field position at their 41-yard line, and they crossed midfield with a 13-yard completion to George Kittle to start the fourth quarter. Two Tevin Coleman carries put them in a third-and-1, but Jeff Wilson -- in for an injured Matt Breida -- failed to convert on third down. Similar to the Redskins in the first half, the 49ers likely did not need the analytics to tell them to go for it on offense rather than try to kick a field goal in that weather. But the 49ers still surprised by throwing a pass, which Garoppolo completed to a diving Ross Dwelley, playing for an injured Kyle Juszczyk.
Garoppolo followed that play up with his lone deep strike of the final 27 minutes, a 26-yard connection with wide receiver Kendrick Bourne.
The 49ers couldn't punch the ensuing first-and-goal from the 7-yard line in for a touchdown, but Gould converted on a 22-yard field goal attempt to expand the 49ers' lead to 6-0, which might as well have been 26-0 given the conditions of the weather and of the Redskins' second-half offense.
The Redskins actually showed a bit of creativity with a screen and a jet sweep on two of their three plays on their next possession. But that creativity netted them just 4 total yards thanks to excellent one-on-one tackles by defenders K'Waun Williams and Kwon Alexander. Entering the week, the 49ers and Patriots were tied for the fewest broken tackles at 27 apiece according to Sports Info Solutions (subscription required). That's a big reason they have the top two DVOA defenses in football.
The 49ers offense took over with 6:54 remaining after a Redskins punt, and there was little mystery to their game plan with that lead and that weather. They ran Coleman twice for three yards a pop, and then Garoppolo hit Kittle on a 16-yard slant to earn a new first down. Coleman and Wilson ran for another first down with 9- and 6-yard gains, the second of which took the Redskins' second timeout. Another 6-yard Wilson run took the last Redskins' timeout, but the 49ers followed it up with another 8-yard Coleman scamper for a first down. Coleman lost a yard on his next two runs, but that cut the clock to 1:15. And then Coleman avoided some backfield pressure and hit the edge to gain 6 yards, setting up a 29-yard field goal try. Gould hammered that one home, pushing the 49ers' lead to an insurmountable 9-0 with just 23 seconds for the Redskins to try to answer.
Keenum overthrew Quinn over the middle on first down. But on second down, he didn't see Nick Bosa coming from behind. Bosa ended the game with his fourth sack of the season and celebrated with a quick swim.
Already with a top two DVOA for several weeks, the 49ers didn't need to secure this win in challenging conditions to prove their mettle as a contender. But it is certainly a nice one to have, extending their divisional lead to two games over the losing Seahawks and pushing their playoff odds to 93.1% and odds of a No. 1 seed to 40.0%. They are likely set for another defensive-minded affair in San Francisco in Week 8 with the Panthers and their league-leading 27 sacks coming to town.
The Redskins, meanwhile, put up an atrocious -74.4% second-half offensive DVOA in this one, and that already includes a major bonus for playing the 49ers defense. Callahan insists that rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins isn't ready to play, and so points could be at a premium with the Keenum-led Redskins heading to Minnesota and then to Buffalo the next two weeks to face two more top-10 DVOA pass defenses on the road.
Vikings at Lions
The Lions are in the top 10 in DVOA pass defense, but their game against the Vikings on Sunday was anything but defense-minded. Six of the teams' nine first-half drives ended in touchdowns, with all three of the Lions coming through the air from Matthew Stafford to receiver Marvin Jones.
Kirk Cousins threw a pair of first-half touchdowns as well, but things were far from perfect for the Vikings in the first half. Adam Thielen secured Cousins' first touchdown pass with a beautiful catch while dragging his feet at the back of the end zone, but his momentum carried him into the back wall and knocked him out of the rest of the game. With a short week leading into a Thursday night game against the Redskins, Thielen looks unlikely to play in Week 8.
The Vikings were also lucky to escape a pair of costly turnovers. The first came the play before their second touchdown, when breakout free agent addition Justin Coleman defensed a pass in the end zone into the hands of his teammate Tracy Walker for an interception that was nullified by a questionable defensive pass interference penalty. On the next Vikings drive, Coleman stripped receiver Stefon Diggs, but Vikings teammate Alexander Mattison was able to recover it in a sea of blue jerseys.
With those handful of lucky breaks, the Vikings entered intermission tied at 21-21. They led 28-24 at the start of the fourth quarter and were driving into Lions territory. Cousins converted a second-and-12 with a 14-yard strike to Kyle Rudolph between a pair of defenders, but then he bookended a 7-yard Dalvin Cook run with two deep incompletions, the second of which went through Diggs' hands and should have been a touchdown.
It was Diggs' fourth drop of the season. He had just three drops in all of 2018. And, naturally, this one proved costly because Dan Bailey yanked his 45-yard field goal attempt wide to the left just one play later. Starting with good field position, the Lions gained a quick 18 yards on a pair of J.D. McKissic runs and a slant pass to rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson. A McKissic catch-and-run would have brought the Lions to the edge of field goal range, but an offensive pass interference penalty cost them 10 yards and a sack cost them 5 more. On third-and-18, Stafford had all day to throw and found Danny Amendola in a hole in the zone, 2 yards shy of a first down. And on fourth-and-2 from the Vikings' 41, the Lions chose to go for it, a 7.1% GWC boon over a field goal attempt and 8.6% one over a punt. But Stafford was either too quick or too slow to pull the trigger. He tried to force the ball into McKissic, who would have been well short of a first down even if he had found the pass between two Vikings defenders. The incompletion turned the ball over on downs and dropped the Lions' GWC from 37.8% to 21.6%.
Still down four points, the Lions defense needed a stop. Instead, the Vikings offense marched down the field and in short stretched the lead to multiple scores. On first down, Cousins rolled left and threw across his body for a 10-yard completion to rookie tight end Irv Smith. And then Cook and Mattison took over, running for 34 yards on five carries, highlighted by a third-and-1 pitch where Cook embarrassed the safety Walker with an upfield cut that turned a 3-yard gain into a 23-yard gain.
Cook entered Week 7 with 30 broken tackles, tied for the fourth-most at the position (subscription required). If you give him some credit for the Vikings' outrageous play-action success this season, then he deserves to be mentioned with Christian McCaffrey as the position's top (albeit unrealistic) candidates for MVP.
From 15 yards out, Cousins capped that drive with an easy pitch-and-catch that Rudolph jogged the last 10 yards untouched into the end zone. That plus the extra point extended the Vikings lead to 35-24 with 5:40 remaining.
The Lions were down to a 3.8% GWC, but like the Texans, they went to a no-huddle offense that quickly netted Stafford completions of 11, 10, and 14 yards. After an incompletion stopped the clock with 4:26 remaining, Stafford found Jones for a 10-yard back-shoulder catch. And on third-and-10 with 3:59 left, Stafford hit Jones with a 24-yard strike in the middle of the field, thrown low beneath the coverage. Fittingly, Jones caught the short touchdown pass two plays later. This was his second career game with four touchdown receptions, a feat only Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe accomplished before him.
Kenny Golladay couldn't secure the Lions' two-point try all the way to the ground, so the Lions were still an unlikely victor (15.4% GWC) when they kicked deep to the Vikings, down five with 3:05 remaining in the quarter. Those chances were all but snuffed out completely when Cousins connected on a moon shot to Diggs on a play-action fake. Coleman seemed to lose track of Diggs on the play and then showed no interest in trying to tackle him, allowing Diggs to double the play's yardage to 66 yards with a run after the catch.
Two plays later, Cook punctuated the drive and the Vikings win with a few more broken tackles on a 4-yard touchdown run. The Lions got the ball back on offense, but with just 1:55 remaining and down 42-30, there was little they could do. Stafford completed a trio of moderate gainers before throwing a prayer that Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes picked to seal the game.
A preseason Football Outsiders sleeper, the Lions continue to hang with some of the league's top teams. Entering this week, they were the No. 14 DVOA team, and they may climb this week despite the loss given the Vikings' standing as a top-four DVOA team. But after winning consecutive close games over the Chargers and Eagles in Weeks 2 and 3, the Lions have lost three close games in a row to the Chiefs, Packers, and Vikings. The Giants and Raiders will likely prove to be easier foes in Weeks 8 and 9, but a 2-3-1 record may already be too much of a deficit in an AFC North with a couple of elite teams in the Vikings and Packers.
Meanwhile, the Vikings needed this win to keep pace with those Packers, fresh off a dominant win over the Raiders that included six Aaron Rodgers touchdowns. But even if the Vikings can't overtake their division rival, they lead the NFC with a 39.9% chance of securing a wild-card berth.
Cardinals at Giants
Owners of that miracle tie with the Lions, the Cardinals were a win in New York away from returning to .500 on the strength of a three-game sweep of fellow bottom-10 DVOA teams in the Bengals, Falcons, and Giants. Daniel Jones certainly did his part, throwing an inexplicable interception right to linebacker Jordan Hicks to set the Cardinals up with a short field for their second touchdown and 14-0 lead. The Giants turned an eventual 17-0 second-quarter deficit to a just a three-point shortfall at the half thanks to a Jones touchdown to tight end Rhett Ellison and a blocked punt touchdown. But Jones never saw the front-side rush of Chandler Jones that led to a fumble, a short field, and another Cardinals touchdown in the third quarter. This one was backup running back Chase Edmonds' third of the day, and it returned the Cardinals' lead to two scores.
As the third quarter wound down, Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas had a chance to cut that deficit to seven points. But he doinked a 37-yard attempt -- in the same weather system that affected the 49ers-Redskins game, but still -- off the right upright. So the Cardinals entered the fourth quarter with the ball and a 24-14 lead. And, suddenly, Edmonds lost his powers. He ran for an exceptional total of 126 yards on 27 carries on the day -- playing in place of an active but injured David Johnson -- but took consecutive carries to start the final period for -4, -1, and -7 yards, forcing a Cardinals punt.
I hate to speculate, but this may have been a Space Jam situation because the Monstar Jones started his fourth quarter with 10-, 20-, and 13-yard strikes to Cody Latimer and Darius Slayton, the middle of which came all in the air and despite a pass rush on the brink of another strip sack. A healthy Saquon Barkley sprinkled in a handful of moderate gainers and capped the drive with a 7-yard power run that cut the Giants' deficit to 24-21.
With 6:49 remaining, Kyler Murray converted a third-and-2 to tight end Maxx Williams, but Edmonds followed that with another 6-yard loss that backed the Cardinals into a third-and-14. Murray found Edmonds in the flat, and Edmonds got closer to a first down than he should have, bringing the Cardinals to a fourth-and-2 from their own 46-yard line. I would have loved to have seen Kliff Kingsbury go for that fourth down -- a run would have boosted the Cardinals' GWC by 6.3% and a pass would have boosted it by 3.9% -- but instead he punted, returning the ball to Jones and the Giants with 4:23 left in the game.
Jones continued the magic with a 13-yard completion to Bennie Fowler on first down, but then he took a sack that backed the Giants into a second-18. Two plays later, that became fourth-and-15. The Giants didn't have much choice other than try to convert it -- their GWC jumped from 14.1% with a punt to 19.1% with a pass -- but Jones again failed to sense the pass rush, which this time came on the backside via a cornerback blitz from Patrick Peterson. Peterson crashed into Jones at full speed, forcing a fumble that the Cardinals recovered.
Starting the next drive in the red zone, the Cardinals could afford a pair of Edmonds runs for no gain. They eventually kicked a field goal on fourth-and-10 and kicked off to the Giants up 27-21 with 2:09 remaining. Jones fumbled again when he failed to recognize that pass rusher Terrell Suggs was right behind him. Offensive lineman Nate Solder recovered it for the Giants, but on a second-and-24, Jones was in too difficult a situation to convert. He took another sack on third down and ended the game with an accidental pop-up forced by contact from defensive end Jonathan Bullard.
The Cowboys' three straight losses before Sunday night returned the Giants into the mix in the NFC East. But with the No. 26 DVOA, there was little reason to expect New York to remain competitive, and Jones' lack of awareness of pass pressure looked in this game like a fatal flaw that would prevent the Giants from making a playoff push. With the loss, their playoff odds fell to 2.3%.
Similar to the Colts, the Cardinals limped to the finish line in this one, falling from a stellar 40.3% offensive DVOA over the first three quarters to an abysmal -99.3% DVOA in the fourth quarter. Edmonds, perhaps out of gas after the first extended work of his career, lost yardage on five of his eight fourth-quarter carries. Nevertheless, the Cardinals hung on for their third straight win. Unfortunately for them, they don't play in the cushy NFC East. In the West, they remain three games back of the undefeated 49ers and sport an uninspiring 3.3% chance of making the postseason. They face those 49ers head-to-head in Weeks 9 and 11.