Week 3: Justin Tucker Saves the Ravens, Chiefs Can't Save Themselves
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.
Los Angeles Chargers 30 at Kansas City Chiefs 24
Scott Spratt: This game is a matchup of two bottom-five teams in run defense DVOA, but two drives into the game, Patrick Mahomes has been the only ballcarrier to take advantage. He has already scrambled twice for 22 yards, one of which came on a free play with a Joey Bosa offsides.
Mahomes just threw an interception, but it was a tipped ball. No need to panic, people.
Scott Spratt: The Chargers didn't get anything out of their interception of Mahomes, and then Ty Long shanked a punt 24 yards to give the Chiefs the ball back at midfield. The Chargers special teams: still got it!
Scott Spratt: Joey Bosa was questionable for this game with an ankle injury, and he just looked like he re-aggravated it.
The silver lining for the Chargers is they just punched a Tyreek Hill completion out for their second forced turnover of the day. Hopefully for their sake, they will turn this one into some points.
Scott Spratt: The Chargers did manage six points out of that second turnover. Check out Justin Herbert's bizarre body contortion on his touchdown throw to Keenan Allen. Crazy.
Herbert jump pass TD? #BoltUp
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Meanwhile, Tristan Vizcaino pulled the extra-point attempt wide left. The Chargers special teams: still still got it!
Derrik Klassen: Justin Herbert is playing really efficient football thus far (8-of-10 with one of those incompletions being a drop), but the offense needs to be able to get work on the ground so the burden of quick-game can be relieved from the passing offense. Chargers running backs have five carries for 8 yards through their first three drives, with the longest run between them being just 4 yards. That's an embarrassing look given how poor we know the Chiefs' run defense to be. We'll see if they can get it sorted out as the game continues. Have to imagine the Chargers won't continue to get bailed out by off Chiefs turnovers in the red zone.
Scott Spratt: And Clyde Edwards-Helaire just fumbled! That's the Chiefs' third turnover of the day, and it comes after Edwards-Helaire cost the Chiefs their win over the Ravens last week with a late fumble.
Scott Spratt: Joey Bosa came back in at some point, but now Derwin James is out with a shoulder injury. The Chargers may win today, but I'm not sure if it's going to help or hurt their prospects for the playoffs.
Vince Verhei: It's halftime and I have had this game on, but I don't have much to add to what has already been said. The Chargers are taking away the big play and making the Chiefs dink and dunk, and the Chiefs are moving the ball but keep making bad turnovers. And the Chargers are moving the ball, like they usually do, but they're delivering in the red zone for once. So, L.A. up 14-3 at halftime.
Vince Verhei: Chiefs get the second-half kickoff and march down the field and score. Patrick Mahomes touchdown pass to Jody Fortson (great catch of the back half of the ball as it nearly flew through his hands) on third-and-goal. Chargers still up 14-10 but Kansas City, of course, is not going to go away easy.
Vince Verhei: Chargers go three-and-out and Kansas City gets another long touchdown drive, with Mahomes throwing a touchdown to Edwards-Helaire, and KC goes up 17-14. The Chiefs, like Thanos, are inevitable.
Vince Verhei: Chargers go back up 21-17 early in the fourth as we have got a good old-fashioned AFL shootout now. L.A. turns down a game-tying field goal attempt from the 28-yard line, wisely realizing you can't beat Kansas City with field goals, and Herbert converts a fourth-and-4 with a completion to Keenan Allen, then finds Mike Williams in the right side of the end zone for a touchdown.
Scott Spratt: The Chargers may regret not extending Mike Williams last offseason because he just caught his third touchdown of the season to put the team back up 21-17. Williams led all wide receivers with 2.1 expected touchdowns entering the week, and he also converted on a two-point conversion today.
Bryan Knowles: And, of course, the Chiefs come right back, never seeing a third down on a 12-play touchdown drive.
We have had five drives in the second half so far; four of them have been 70-plus-yard touchdown drives. The defenses may still be in the locker room.
Scott Spratt: In this week's installment of Chiefs game theory, the Chiefs just retook the lead at 24-21 and will kick the ball back to the Chargers with 6:43 left in the fourth quarter. That's substantially less time than the Ravens had last week, and I think the Chargers have to try to drain the entire clock here on one last scoring drive. What do you guys think?
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, Scott—it's score in 90 seconds or less, or score in 6 minutes or more, and I think anything in the middle there is probably bad for their overall chances.
Dave Bernreuther: I think that after Justin Herbert hits Williams for almost 45 yards on the first play, they're going to have a REALLY hard time draining another 6 minutes off the clock, Scott.
Scott Spratt: Wow, the Chargers almost scored a touchdown to retake the lead with 2:30 left, but they committed another illegal shift penalty. Remember that's what took one of their two penalty-nullified touchdowns away last week, and they committed one earlier today on a fourth down. Not great.
Scoring a game-tying field goal with 2:14 left is probably not ideal, in terms of that Chiefs strategy we were talking about earlier, Scott!
Bryan Knowles: One more tidbit: That was the first time all season a Chiefs opponent had had the ball in the red zone and failed to score a touchdown. If there was ever a time for a stop...
Scott Spratt: That's putting all of your eggs in a third Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble, Bryan.
Scott Spratt: Haha, and I'm wrong again! Patrick Mahomes just overthrew a third-down pass pretty flagrantly, and the Chargers picked him off for their fourth forced turnover of the day.
Dave Bernreuther: ANOTHER turnover! Near midfield too. The Chargers might fail on their red zone attempt and still manage to win this one, on the road, and send the Chiefs to a 1-2 record.
And here I thought this was just another quality Chargers team that'd be cursed to a losing record.
Vince Verhei: I cannot believe the Chargers threw on second-and-4 AND third-and-4 to set up a long field goal attempt. Even if this kick is good, Mahomes will have 48 seconds and a timeout to get a tie.
But the Chargers are GOING FOR IT?
Bryan Knowles: Oh no, the Chargers line up to go for it on fourth-and-4, but false start. Now they're out of field goal range!
Bryan Knowles: Too much going on to cover. To recap:
- The fourth-down pass was incomplete, but the Chiefs committed pass interference and kept the drive alive.
- Rather than run the clock out and kick a field goal, the Chargers score a touchdown, leaving 32 seconds left on the clock.
- But they miss the extra point! So they're up 30-24, with 32 seconds left, and Patrick Mahomes getting the ball back. Can't be comfortable!
Scott Spratt: I was confused at first when Tony Romo said the Chargers should down it at the goal line. I thought he meant spike the ball, which didn't make sense since Mike Williams had gone out of bounds to stop the clock on the previous play. But he meant take a knee to keep the clock running. Instead, the Chargers threw another Williams touchdown with 32 seconds left. And of course, they missed the extra point and now Mahomes has a chance to go the length of the field for a win.
Vince Verhei: The Chargers just scored a terrible go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown. I'm apoplectic about how Kansas City is going to get this ball back with 30 seconds and a timeout because the Chargers, with timeouts, refused to run the ball even once. On first-and-goal from the 4, I'm taking knees and trying a field goal with zero seconds left. Instead they get a touchdown but miss the PAT (well, I guess the figgie would not have been automatic). And Mahomes has time for a miracle.
Dave Bernreuther: This is all going according to plan. So after the false start, the Chargers end up getting a first down anyway via penalty on DeAndre Baker. Then, with first down inside of field goal range, they ... throw the ball. Twice. First on a back-shoulder fade, shy of the end zone, which stays in bounds, and then to the end zone for another Williams touchdown.
That definitely deserves an award of some sort. Huge cajones there. I love it.
Bryan Knowles: And while we're all briefly distracted by game-winning league-record field goals, Mahomes' last-ditch Hail Mary falls incomplete. The Chargers win, the Chiefs fall to last place in the AFC West.
I think we can say that our model was too low on the Chargers this year, yeah? I mean, it hasn't always been pretty, but beating the Chiefs on the road is worth several tons of kudos, and Justin Herbert looks great. Now, if they could just figure out how to line up properly...
Scott Spratt: Apparently Andy Reid was feeling ill and left Arrowhead in an ambulance.
Chiefs announced Andy Reid was feeling ill, so he did not address media out of caution. I can confirm he left the stadium in an ambulance. Players didn't know he wasn't feeling well and were told he should be ok. Everything is pointing toward the Chiefs taking every precaution.
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) September 26, 2021
Arizona Cardinals 31 at Jacksonville Jaguars 19
J.P. Acosta: Rondale Moore had a huge punt return that set the Cardinals up in plus field position, and Kyler Murray takes it in from the goal line to put Arizona up 7-0. The Cardinals are too fast on the edges for Jacksonville to keep up this early.
Vince Verhei: Most notable sequence in the first quarter to me came after a Jaguars punt pinned the Cardinals at their own 1. With no breathing room, Arizona put Kyler Murray under center, which looked as weird as you'd imagine. Must have felt weird too, because the Cardinals went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Jacksonville, who took over near midfield.
No worries, though, because early in the second quarter, Jacob Hollister bobbles a pass in the red zone and Byron Murphy comes down with the interception to end the scoring threat.
J.P. Acosta: Just as everyone expected, this has been a defensive struggle. Since scoring on their second drive, Arizona hasn't been able to convert a third down.
J.P. Acosta: Trevor Lawrence is still very good, folks. Led a one-minute drive before halftime that ended in a great touchdown pass to DJ Chark under pressure. 7-7 with 21 seconds left in the half.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Gus Johnson needs to announce everything ever. If I were to design a play for Gus Johnson to call, it would probably be an Arizona attempt at an NFL-record 68-yard field goal as the half expires, with it coming up short. And then Jamal Agnew could catch the ball with his heels on the end line, and return it 109 yards for a touchdown. If only such a play could actually happen.
J.P. Acosta: Oh my God Matt Prater tried a 68-YARD field goal to end the half. Jamal Agnew took it from the back of the end zone all the way into the end zone to end the half. Josh Lambo missed the XP but it's 13-7 Jaguars.
A 68-YARD FG ATTEMPT TURNS INTO A 109-YARD RETURN TD.
MAYHEM IN JACKSONVILLE.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Scott Spratt: Sunday Ticket popped that highlight play with text that said Matt Prater missed a 109-yard field goal attempt. I'm not sure whether the reality was more or less exciting.
J.P. Acosta: Every game Gus Johnson calls turns into Big 12 chaos.
Dave Bernreuther: And just as I type about regretting still giving the Colts main TV (and thus, sound) status, Bryan makes me regret it even more by telling me what I missed by having this game on a tiny screen without sound.
Gus (after either Fring from Breaking Bad or the rat in Cinderella, depending which of us you ask) was heavily in the running for the new dog's name already, so I'm going to take it as a sign that Gus Johnson gave us a good memory from today and consider it done. The new old dog is Gus. (Welcome, Gus!)
Vince Verhei: Can we talk about Kingsbury's decision to try the 68-yarder? It's the end of the half, not the end of the game. That's 4 yards longer than the NFL record. I'm sure Prater has hit them from there in practice, but in game action, you're probably more likely to give up seven points there than get three. Not that we should have expected the worst-case scenario, but it seems like a risk you only take in desperate situations.
Bryan Knowles: Well, Matt Prater likes kicking those things. He attempted another long bomb (62 yards!) in the 2018 preseason ... which was also returned 109 yards for a touchdown.
Adam Humphries takes the missed FG 109 yards to the house for a KICK SIX! pic.twitter.com/Otds1qyt0M
— FlurrySports (@FlurrySports) August 25, 2018
Scott Spratt: The EdjSports win probability model estimated Matt Prater would only make that kick 2.4% of the time. I bet that's a hard number to project though, especially since Prater spent most of his career in the thin air in Denver.
Vince Verhei: We should add that Prater himself is the record-holder at 64 yards, so he had as good a chance as anyone to hit from 68.
J.P. Acosta: The Cardinals opened the second half with the ball … and three plays later turned it over. Kyler Murray threw an interception to Andrew Wingard, the first Jaguars turnover created this season
Bryan Knowles: The Jaguars just had a "we dare you to stop us" sort of drive. Eight plays, 75 yards, every single one of them a rush—Robinson for 66 and the score, Lawrence for 3, and Hyde for 6. That was just an "our guys are going to beat up your guys" sort of drive—from the freaking Jaguars!
They miss their second extra point of the day, of course, but that still means they have a 19-10 lead late in the third quarter.
Vince Verhei: Big day for that Jaguars offensive line. They're now up to 127 yards rushing with a whole quarter to go and they haven't given up a sack today.
Bryan Knowles: I think you'll probably be talking some Josh Lambo in the Loser League column this week, Bryan.
Bryan Knowles: Ah, rookie Trevor Lawrence has come back. He just floated a ball that Byron Murphy was all over, returning it for a score and a 24-19 Arizona lead. Lawrence has now had two interceptions in each of his first three weeks in the NFL. Per RedZone, the only other teams to pull that off were Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning, so I suppose an INT-heavy beginning isn't exactly the end of the world.
Vince Verhei: Jaguars had that great all-run drive, just manhandling the Cardinals on the ground. Then their next possession they try to get cute with a flea-flicker and that pick-six was the ugly result.
BYRON MURPHY JR.
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 26, 2021
Vince Verhei: I questioned Kliff Kingsbury's aggression earlier, so I'll praise him for his aggression late. Cards have a fourth-and-1 inside the 5, up 24-19 in the fourth quarter. Instead of taking a sure field goal to turn a one-score lead into a one-score lead, they go for it and Murray keeps and converts on a run that looked like a designed scramble, if that makes any sense. James Conner goes on to score from a yard out and Arizona goes up 31-19 with less than seven minutes to go.
New Orleans Saints 28 at New England Patriots 13
Bryan Knowles: Terron Armstead had to be helped off the field on the Saints' second drive. If there's good news, I suppose is that it appears to be an arm injury rather than something with his leg or knee. Saints have a vet in James Hurst to replace him, but considering how Winston struggled with pressure a week ago, that's worth monitoring.
So far, the Saints seem to be happy with dinking-and-dunking their way down the field, like they did in Week 1. After the two teams exchange punts, the Saints ran an 11-play, 69-yard drive where Winston did a good job finding some holes in New England's zone as they slowly marched down the field. It ends with Winston dodging pressure and hitting Kamara for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
Aaron Schatz: Saints take a 7-0 lead on their second drive. Patriots playing more zone than they usually do and they were letting the Saints find guys in the holes, particularly Deonte Harris for a 12-yard gain to convert a third-and-10 and then Alvin Kamara wide open on an angle route to score the touchdown for 7 yards. Mac Jones took two deeper shots on the Patriots' first three-and-out, so at least they're trying to get the ball downfield a little more.
Aaron Schatz: Aldrick Rosas is keeping the Patriots in this game by himself, thanks to two missed field goals. Otherwise, Saints are dominating on both sides of the ball. Their defense is pressuring Mac Jones on nearly every pass play and he doesn't look good reacting to it. Patriots are doing OK on the run except that James White is out of the game and was carted off with a leg injury after running for one of only two Patriots first downs so far today. When Saints are on offense, they're eating up the Patriots' zones and after a couple of early run stuffs, their running game is getting regular yardage as well.
Bryan Knowles: Mac Jones had been getting some praise for not throwing an interception through his first two games, unlike Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Well, that streak is over. Jones was clobbered as he threw, the ball fluttered into P.J. Williams' hands and then, uh, chaos breaks out. Williams returns the ball inside the 10 and gets hit, fumbling the ball forwards. The Saints recover it in the end zone, and it's called a touchdown on the field, but then there's confusion about advancing the ball on a fumble and change of possession and Williams being down, and the finally rule that the Saints get the ball at the 9-yard line.
Jones should have eaten the ball and taken a sack, so you can blame him for that, but his offensive line collapsed in front of him; pressure gave him the opportunity to make the bad decision. Jones has already been hit six times today, and frankly, I think that count might be a little soft.
The down-by-contact ends up not mattering, though it really looks like it should. On third down, Winston was being wrapped up by yet another Patriots defender and chucks the ball into the end zone himself—same kind of decision Jones just messed up on. But for the second straight time, a Saints player comes down with the ball—Marquez Calloway has it, and the Saints are up 14-0 with less than two minutes left in the first half. Bizarre, bizarre play.
Scott Spratt: From what I have seen, the Patriots have had some open deep receivers the first couple of weeks, but Mac Jones has chosen to take a lot of lower ceiling throws. He's a rookie, so that's OK. But I think Jones has been more conservative than Josh McDaniels wants him to be.
Bryan Knowles: You're absolutely right, Scott. Jones had just six deep pass attempts in his first two games, and most of them were at just about the 15-yard cutoff for official NFL play-by-play. He's nearly at double digits today, so I suppose that's a good sign for his development. Now, if he could just complete some...
Bryan Knowles: Mac Jones may have just had his best throw in the NFL so far, hitting Jakobi Meyers for 27 yards. That's part of the Patriots' best drive of the day as they march 72 yards into the red zone before everything seizes up. Two runs with Brandon Bolden slamming into the line, and then a four-yard pass on third-and-11, sets up fourth-and-7 inside the 10. With the Patriots down 21-3, this might be the ballgame here ... and Belichick chooses to send out the field goal unit. The 26-yard kick is good, but that feels like game, set, and match for the Pats; a white flag field goal if I have ever seen one.
Vince Verhei: Patriots close to 21-13, and Sean Payton responds by rotating quarterbacks. Jameis Winston stays on to throw passes and even convert a third-and-1 on a sneak, but Taysom Hill also runs a lot of option plays to grind clock. And the combo works as Hill scores a 4-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 28-13. I am very pro-Winston in this particular quarterback duel, but I don't hate the idea of using Hill as a "closer" to finish out wins.
Cincinnati Bengals 24 at Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Bryan Knowles: The beginning of this game, a real barnburner if I have ever seen one: three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception, interception. Total net yards: -2. The AFC North, everybody!
Finally, 10 minutes in and on the sixth drive of the game, the Bengals decide to be the first team to play some offense today. Joe Burrow hits Ja'Marr Chase for 15 yards for the first first down of the game (at 5:20 left in the first quarter!), and then hits Tyler Boyd on a little route that should have been down at the 10; enough for a first down but not much more. But Boyd bounces off of three Pittsburgh defenders and somehow stays on his feet, racing the remaining 10 yards for a touchdown. 7-0 Bengals, late in the first.
TYLER BOYD WITH THE GROWN MAN STRENGTH pic.twitter.com/ZGojnxq3K6
— Upside Play (@TheUpsidePlay) September 26, 2021
Vince Verhei: The Steelers have had the ball four times: three punts and a pick. Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 10 passes, completing five for 17 yards—not per catch, total. He has also taken a sack.
More ineffective passing game: Vanderbilt against Georgia yesterday, or Pittsburgh against Cincinnati today?
Vince Verhei:The last two drives neatly encapsulated the state of the Pittsburgh offense compared to the rest of the league. The Steelers finally got a touchdown, but it took them 15 plays and eight and a half minutes to drive 86 yards. They had to convert three third downs; their longest play gained 20 yards. They're struggling to get explosive plays.
Then Cincinnati gets the ball back and takes less than 30 seconds to score, this time on Ja'Marr Chase's weekly home run play.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Vince Verhei: Ben Roethlisberger just threw this very, very bad interception.
More like Logan PICK-son
WATCH on CBS pic.twitter.com/r4dNxI8S6k
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 26, 2021
That set up Chase's second touchdown of the day and a 24-7 Bengals lead.
Vince Verhei: It got lost in all the insanity of the last hour, but I do want to point out the exact point this game was decided, because I think it's telling. The Steelers had a fourth-and-10 in the red zone, down 24-10 with about three minutes left. Obviously, they go for it … but Roethlisberger's pass is a quick swing to Najee Harris behind the line of scrimmage. And it's not because Harris was wide open — he was immediately hit for a loss. When it's fourth-and-ballgame and you can't even threaten the line to gain, it's time to do some serious soul searching as a franchise.
Bryan Knowles: Vince, I gotta add something on Najee Harris; something that might well come up in Quick Reads. Harris had 14 catches on 19 targets for 102 yards.
His 7.29 yards per reception ties an NFL record low for anyone with 100-plus yards in a game, matching Christian McCaffrey in 2018. I'm not going back into our database for targets in the 1980s, but since 1992, Harris' 5.37 yards per target is tied for fifth-worst for anyone with a 100+ yard game, behind some "we'll keep chucking the ball to Roddy White/Chris Carter/Randy Moss and hope it eventually works" days. That trio might be slightly better as the focal points of your passing attack than Najee Harris.
Dave Bernreuther: But they were 12-0 last year, Vince!
(I'll never, ever understand that one.)
I had that game on the bottom TV, and every time I looked down, Roethlisberger was doing something terrible. While Terry Bradshaw spent the between-games show making excuses for him and blaming the line, they need to face the reality that my SportsGrid business colleague Cam Stewart pointed out earlier today: that Steelers offense is bad.
Including sacks, Ben dropped back 62 times for a net of 297 yards. That's awful. I know they were a "short pass instead of run" offense last year, but today they targeted Najee Harris out of the backfield NINETEEN times.
NFL defenses are going to solve that puzzle. Quickly.
Scott Spratt: I don't think that's fair, Dave. Diontae Johnson missed the game and then JuJu Smith-Schuster left early with a rib injury. What were the Steelers supposed to do?
Dave Bernreuther: I didn't realize that about JuJu. So I guess I don't have an answer ... they had one strength, and it was gone, and I'm the last person that'll say you should run more often in today's NFL
But that's still not a good offense, and at least part of it is that the quarterback probably shouldn't still be in the league. They're not the only team that played without their best wide receiver today.
Rob Weintraub: You know, I feel kinda bad beating this Steelers team. Their offensive line is poor, the offense is just checkdown theater, and Ben looks ancient. Sure, Cincy dominating them in Heinz Field is nice, but this was a cat toying with a wounded mouse.
Who else had the Bengals of all teams ending Pittsburgh's 75-game sack streak? Yes, they were without T.J. Watt and others, but these are the supposedly OL-helpless Bengals, who usually turtle at the sight of black and gold. They were just fine today. Give Joe Burrow a lot of that credit—he was doing plenty of adjusting up front, and must have done the job well. Two plays stood out—his audible to a 2020 style quarterback draw that looked plenty like his old self, followed by getting all day to throw on the second touchdown to Chase.
Ja'Marr of course now has four TDs in his first three games as a pro, and his bomb at the end of the half really signaled that this was Cincy's day. Pittsburgh almost always scores on the Bengals at the end of the half, and they did today too—but this time they were answered with authority. Heck, Chris Boswell even missed a kick, the first time he has missed one against Cincy in his career! And Logan Wilson, whose pick last week almost enabled a miracle comeback, had two more today. He's not a kinetic linebacker in the mold of Devin Bush but is a far superior pass defender and has stepped up his overall play this season. And Jackson Carman, rookie guard, played a mostly clean game and had at least one flattener (word?) that I saw.
No, the Steelers aren't good. But all I know is the Bengals have now beaten them twice in a row.
Washington Football Team 21 at Buffalo Bills 43
Vince Verhei: Bills go up 14-0 early in the second on a pair of Josh Allen touchdown passes, one to Emmanuel Sanders, one to Zach Moss. Each touchdown drive lasted eight plays; they also had a 10-play drive that ended in a failed fourth-and-2 at the Washington 35. Meanwhile, Washington has had two possessions and went three-and-out on both of them. So, it's early, but Buffalo has looked awfully dominant so far.
Vince Verhei: Washington finally gets a first down on a Terry McLaurin reception … but two plays later Jordan Poyer jumps a sideline pass by Taylor Heinicke and returns it into the red zone. Allen soon delivers touchdown pass No. 3, this one to Dawson Knox. It's 21-0 now; the Bills are currently on a 59-0 run dating back to the fourth quarter of Week 1.
Vince Verhei: Antonio Gibson was done with that Buffalo scoring streak.
GO, GIBSON, GO.
Antonio Gibson goes for a 73-yard TD! #WashingtonFootball
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Bryan Knowles: It's a windy day in Buffalo. So Dustin Hopkins' ensuing kickoff gets caught in the wind, and blown back for the coverage team. And so there was a pileup to try to get the loose ball. And at the bottom of that pile? Dustin Hopkins.
Hopkins basically kicked a 60-yard onside kick to himself, which is not a sentence you normally hear.
Vince Verhei: Video of that very long onside kick:
THE KICKER RECOVERED HIS OWN KICKOFF. #WashingtonFootball
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
That set up Heinicke's touchdown scramble. This game went from 21-0 to 21-14 in barely three minutes of game time.
Vince Verhei: Bills have extended their lead to 36-14 at the end of the third quarter as their defense has just been throttling Washington most of the afternoon. Since their last touchdown, the Football Team has punted four times and thrown an interception while picking up only two first downs. Buffalo has gotten four touchdown passes from Josh Allen and a trio of Tyler Bass field goals and this one looks done.
Indianapolis Colts 16 at Tennessee Titans 25
Bryan Knowles: The big news in this one so far is health. A.J. Brown is on the sideline after pulling up a little gingerly on a route. Didn't get hit that I saw, so that's almost surely a hamstring; he has not returned. To make things fair, Quenton Nelson is also on the sideline; he got caught in a pile at the line of scrimmage and ended up getting rolled up on. Not good news for either team involved.
In other injury news, Carson Wentz! He's got two (2) sprained ankles, but is holding up ... well, alright. At the very least, he doesn't look worse than he did last year on two healthy ankles, so there's that. He doesn't seem to realize he has two sprained ankles, in that he keeps trying to move around to extend plays and is, uh, not succeeding. But it doesn't matter for now. Ryan Tannehill threw a ball right to Darius Leonard, giving the Colts a short field, and they were able to dink-and-dunk their way down the field to tie the game at 7 on a Nyheim Hines run. My fantasy team thanks them.
Rivers McCown: I was too kind to Carson Wentz in FOA 2021.
Dave Bernreuther: Don't forget Kwity Paye, Bryan; he's out for the game as well.
I don't have a ton to say about this one. I was going to make fun of James Lofton for how he pronounced Bobby Okereke—rhymes with "carrot cake"—but here in the second quarter they actually just explained that everyone, right down to the Colts PR staff (and the people that I know), had been saying it wrong all along and that's actually how it's supposed to be. So ... Bobby O'Carrotcake it is.
That's really the most interesting thing about this game to me so far. I don't enjoy watching Carson Wentz play football. Neither, it seems, do my dogs.
(And yes, I did maybe just say that so I could brag about my newest senior rescue—the old dude in the corner, who arrived two days ago after three weeks in the shelter—and how well he has adjusted.)
Kenny Moore just got the Colts' second interception of the half … that's somewhat interesting. The ball hit Chester Rogers right in the chest, and now with under a minute left in a half that nearly saw the Titans waltz to a 21-7 lead, the Colts have a short field, two timeouts, and a chance to tie.
Or perhaps not a short field, because Carson Wentz takes another bad sack. Can't put that one on the ankles at all either.
Dave Bernreuther: A play after the sack, Wentz shows perhaps even worse pocket presence than before, ducking and running when it wasn't necessary, finding open space, but chucking the ball away anyway rather than resetting his feet. The Colts get bailed out by an illegal contact call, however, and then on the next play hit Michael Pittman over the middle to the 31.
The *Titans* call a timeout, leaving the Colts with one left and 17 seconds to go. What do they do? Hand it off and center the ball to kick a field goal. Huh?
Wentz was limping a bit during that timeout, so I suppose it's possible that he couldn't have made a throw downfield. But come on. That's terrible. There was time for two shots at the end zone before kicking. (Or, more likely because it's Wentz, there was time for one sack and a timeout before kicking.)
I'm having a hard time keeping the Colts on my main screen.
Rivers McCown: They're smart dogs, Dave.
I get that he isn't healthy and the broadcast booth pretty much said "he woke up in throbbing pain every day this week," but, uh, why would you play someone who is this limited?
Dave Bernreuther: As the third quarter draws to a close, the Titans win a challenge on Parris Campbell's non-catch and Carson Wentz takes one of those third-down sacks that they'll blame on the line for not picking up but is still the quarterback's fault for not throwing the damn ball. After a punt, Xavier Rhodes takes a 30-yard DPI near the end zone to basically give away any hope the Colts had in this one. Mike Vrabel properly goes for two after a Jeremy McNichols touchdown, and with the amount of time that each drive has been taking in this game, a two-score lead with 12 minutes to go ought to be enough.
Wentz actually made his best throw of the game, across his body after fleeing the pocket to his left, hitting Zach Pascal for 27, followed by a penalty and a nice long catch-and-run into the red zone for Nyheim Hines, so I might be in full on reverse jinx mode here.
But the 2021 Colts show up again in the red zone. A near miss off a fingertip, a draw, and an absolutely terrible throw on third down by Wentz lead to a 24-yard field goal attempt. The Colts are within a score, but they need a stop. Against the Titans and fourth-quarter Derrick Henry.
Tom Gower: We're now at halftime of the Sunday night game, and I'm still trying to think about what seems like an obvious question: what, exactly, was the Indianapolis Colts' plan to win today's game? The implied belief, from what they actually did, is that Carson Wentz gives them the best option to win even if it meant spending what felt like every snap in shotgun (actual number: 44/57, 77%), able to attempt only a limited game plan, with Wentz struggling to make quick decisions and trying to extend plays even though playing through two sprained ankles meant he had almost no mobility, with trouble running any sort of power run game of the kind you might use to hide a limited quarterback, and with Wentz's injury (and yeah, some offensive line issues) limiting his ability to take shots downfield in the passing game. I mean, it's a way to do something. Kind of. Sort of. I go back to when I was on the Twitch stream with Aaron and Mike in the offseason and openly wondering about whether Jacob Eason ranked as the league's worst backup quarterback situation, an exceptionally curious problem to have when your quarterback has Wentz's injury history.
To win this game, the Titans basically had to not lose it. I thought this might end up a low-scoring game, with Tennessee sticking to a mostly ineffective run game forever and ever and thus limiting their offensive output. Derrick Henry didn't end up with a particularly efficient day (I haven't run success rate numbers yet, but he ended up right at 4.0 yards per carry on 28 attempts and Next Gen Stats had him at -1 Rush Yards Over Expectation after last week's +88), but Ryan Tannehill was solid on third downs and scrambled effectively when the opportunity presented. Really, after a three-and-out, the Titans were stopped by their own mistakes. And fortunately for the Colts' "don't you have an actual idea?" plan, they did. Just-signed-off-the-practice-squad tight end Tommy Hudson got caught up in the trash on one of the crossing routes the Titans had used successfully to attack the Indy defense and Darius Leonard got a gift interception. A mistake by Chester Rogers led to the second interception. A fumble by 2020 UDFA Nick Westbrook-Ikhine in the red zone (the sixth of the season in a Tennessee game, and the sixth not recovered by the Titans) stopped them again. But those were their only non-scores (excluding the final kneeldown drive) after that first drive, so it's hard to be too critical of the offensive performance. And with games against the Jets and Jaguars the next two weeks and the rest of the AFC South winless outside it, this could be a boring AFC South race by the time the Titans start their much more interesting stretch in mid-October.
Baltimore Ravens 19 at Detroit Lions 17
Bryan Knowles: Marquise Brown is having himself a day but, uh, not in a great way. Brown has dropped three passes this game, at least two of which would have gone for touchdowns. He keeps getting wide open; you just have to wonder how much longer Baltimore will be going to him if he can't pull in balls placed right in his hands.
Ravens are up only 10-0, as the Lions continue to be the Good Bad Team, playing teams tougher than expected.
Scott Spratt: I thought that might have been a persistent issue for Brown, Bryan, but it doesn't seem to be. Brown has dropped just 5.4% of his catchable passes since the start of 2019, less than half the rate of the positional leaders with 100 or more targets in that time. I guess it's just a bad day.
Better to have those against the Lions than other teams, I guess.
Scott Spratt: Apparently the Lions are up 17-16 with 26 seconds left. I have no idea what happened. I just know that I love Dan Campbell.
Scott Spratt: Justin Tucker is going to try a 66-yard game winner. I haven't checked the EdjSports model, but I think it's at least 50/50.
Bryan Knowles: And while we're all watching the Chiefs-Chargers finish, Dan Campbell's Lions have come back from a 13-0 deficit and have managed to earn a 17-16 lead. That forces the Ravens to try a 66-yard game winning field goal, and Justin Tucker has already missed one today.
But he doesn't miss that one! Off the crossbar, and through! What a kick by Tucker, and the Ravens ESCAPE!
Scott Spratt: Tucker!!!!!!!!!! The 66-yarder hit the crossbar and flipped over and in! Ravens win!
Scott Spratt: Tucker, I assume: "Are you not entertained???"
Bryan Knowles: Not just a game-winner, but the longest field goal in NFL history. Justin Tucker. Never a doubt. My god.
And full credit to the Lions—they nearly came back against the 49ers, they had a halftime lead against the Packers, and then they made the Ravens need an NFL record to win. They are this year's Good Bad Team. Should be lots of optimism going forward about Campbell, if not necessarily about the roster.
Dave Bernreuther: Whoa. I thought all the games were over, but flipped to Detroit because of that email. I had no idea that was a 66-yard kick. What an amazing and completely under-the-radar way to win a game. Congratulations to Justin Tucker.
Carl Yedor: What in the world Justin Tucker! A new NFL record! I thought for sure after the Ravens were unable to get out of bounds on the long fourth-down conversion that they were too far away, but Tucker cares not for mortal expectations.
Chicago Bears 6 at Cleveland Browns 26
Tom Gower: I wasn't watching this game all the time, but it was on the TV adjacent to the Colts-Titans game and from what I saw, Justin Fields has the same unwillingness to make a quick decision, even if it's just that "this play isn't working, so I'm going to throw a low-risk, low chance of completion pass." There was one play in particular where it was a guaranteed three-step drop, Jason Peters threw a cut block, and Fields just didn't throw the ball and got sacked. And that wasn't the only play like that. And, yes, rookie quarterback, NFL defensive linemen are physical freaks who can run you down from behind even if you are pretty quick in your own right. No, the Bears offensive line isn't great. Yeah, he's a rookie, and the speed of the game is legitimately that much faster and it takes rookies time to adjust. I call it rookie/backup processing speed for a reason. Maybe Matt Nagy wasn't doing anything to help Fields in terms of three-step routes and design (or worse, he was doing the Mike Mularkey asynchronous route-drop nonsense where the quarterback has no choice but to look like an idiot because he has reached the top of his drop and all his receivers are still running their routes). But that requires a more intensive analysis of the game than I was able to devote to that game live.
Miami Dolphins 28 at Las Vegas Raiders 31 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: Miscommunication in Las Vegas helps the Dolphins out early. Derek Carr was looking for Foster Moreau across the middle, except Carr led him, and Moreau stopped. That meant the only receiver in the area was Elandon Roberts, who took it back 85-yards for a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
Yes, yes, I know, an 85-yard pick-six is a yawn-inducing play compared to what we have seen elsewhere, but hey, gotta start somewhere.
Vince Verhei: Dolphins jumped ahead with a long pick-six by Elandon Roberts after Derek Carr and Foster Moreau were on different pages. Raiders quickly get the ball back and get a fourth-and-1 at their own 34. They call timeout, and given time to think about it, they decide to go for it, but Peyton Barber is stuffed for no gain. I can't find video, but based on the description it sounds like a straight dive play.
So Dolphins take over already in field goal range and Malcolm Brown scores on a 24-yard touchdown shortly thereafter. Dolphins have a surprising 14-0 lead.
Scott Spratt: The Raiders and Dolphins entered this game back-to-back with the 19th and 20th DAVE ratings. I wouldn't find a Dolphins win surprising.
Bryan Knowles: Cue the Men Without Hats.
The Raiders are forced to punt, and they make a great play to down it at the 1-yard line. A personal foul moves it back to the one-half-yard line, so this is as shadowy of one's own goalposts as you can possibly be.
What play call do you use to get out of this? Why, a wide receiver screen, of course! Jaylen Waddle catches the ball 3 yards deep in the end zone, where he is immediately tackled. Safety! 14-2, Dolphins. Stop throwing screens!
Vince Verhei: Everything about this play sucks.
— Las Vegas Raiders (@Raiders) September 26, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Management tip: when one of your employees goes above and beyond and salvages a project, you should take steps to reward them in the future.
For example, Peyton Barber fumbled at the goal line, but Alec Ingold was able to pluck it out of the air and keep the ball for Las Vegas. On the next play, Derek Carr finds Ingold for a 1-yard touchdown pass. Derek Carr: successful manager.
14-12 Raiders late in the second.
Bryan Knowles: It took Vegas a while to get into gear offensively, but their defense did more than enough in the first half to keep them in it while things got cranked up. Miami has had six drives so far; they have scored on just one of them. Can't ask for much better than that.
Meanwhile, after starting with a pair of punts, a pick-six, and a turnover on downs, the Raiders have found their gear. Lots of Hunter Renfrow, including the touchdown on third-and-9. The announcers have been riding hard on "third-and-Renfrow" today, and, well, there's a reason he has earned that nickname. Raiders take a 19-14 lead midway through the third quarter.
- Step 1: Trade Khalil Mack for draft picks.
- Step 2: Draft running back Josh Jacobs with one of the acquired first-round picks.
- Step 3: Sign another running back in Kenyan Drake with a contract that makes him the 15th-highest paid back by average annual value.
- Step 4: Give Peyton Barber more touches than Drake in Week 2 and 3 with Jacobs sidelined.
- Step 5: Start 3-0.
Football is easy, guys.
Bryan Knowles: I had this one written off with the Raiders up 25-14, but since then, Miami has driven back with a field goal and a touchdown with a two-point conversion to tie things at 25. The Raiders had a chance to ice this one; they stuffed Miami on fourth-and-1 on the Las Vegas side with less than five minutes left, but the offense went three-and-out, even losing 16 yards in the bargain. That gave Miami just enough time to march down for the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, with Brissett succeeding on two out of three plays at the goal line to make this one a contest again. Overtime, here we come!
Bryan Knowles: The Raiders take the overtime kickoff and hit some quick big plays—Henry Ruggs for 16; Bryan Edwards for 32—to get them right on the edge of the red zone. But then, Carr breaks down, with a pair of incomplete passes forcing the Raiders to settle for the 38-yard field goal (as all the Vegas -4 betters tear their hair out).
With 6:27 left in the game, I am now rooting for the "double-field-goal-overtime-tie" scenario.
Scott Spratt: And here is Jacoby Brissett escaping pressure and completing a 27-yard pass on a fourth-and-20 down by three in overtime when anything less than 20 yards would have ended the game.
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Even the backup quarterbacks are insanely good in the NFL.
Bryan Knowles: Brissett's heroics lead to a field goal, and the chance for the tie is alive, with just 2:43 left in the game...
Aaron Schatz: Raiders seal it with a long pass to Bryan Edwards, who had a big day, and a couple of big runs by Peyton Barber, who even more surprisingly had a big day. They end up kicking the game-winning field goal from the 3 to win 31-28.
Seattle Seahawks 17 at Minnesota Vikings 30
Bryan Knowles: It is entirely possible that DK Metcalf might be a problem for Minnesota. Seattle's first drive saw Metcalf catch three passes—a 17-yard gain, a 27-yard gain, and a 10-yard touchdown. And the Vikings weren't particularly close to stopping him on any of those plays. 7-0 Seattle early, and that was FAR too easy.
Vince Verhei: First quarter ends with Seattle up 10-7. Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins are a combined 13-of-15 for 152 yards and two touchdowns. It feels like every Seahawks game ends in a close win and every Vikings game ends in a close loss, so I expect this one to be close throughout.
Bryan Knowles: Kirk Cousins has now thrown three touchdowns in the first half. Alexander Mattison is up to 96 first-half yards. Seattle's defense is ... well, they're playing football. I can say that much for them. They are on the field and lining up. What they're doing after that is slightly less impressive.
21-17 Vikings at the half, so I'm taking suggestions now as to how Minnesota will blow this and Seattle will pull off their usual fourth-quarter magic. Tip-drill interception, fumbled back to Seattle in field-goal position, perhaps?
Scott Spratt: Put me down for a long Tyler Lockett touchdown, Bryan. Lockett was too quiet in that first half. It makes me suspicious.
Vince Verhei: Only drives in that first half when either team failed to score:
- A Vikings punt after Cousins tried to throw a third-down pass with one shoe on.
- A missed field goal for Seattle.
- The end of the half when Seattle ran out of time.
Seattle came into the game giving up 90-plus receiving yards per game to running backs, worst in the league by more than 20 yards. Mattison leads the Vikings with five catches for 60 yards in the first half. Most of those were on screens. Just YAC upon YAC upon YAC.
Vince Verhei: Vikings up 24-17 and driving at the end of the third. Seahawks only had five plays in the whole quarter, a short drive that ended in a punt. Seattle's defense just can't get off the field. Only stop they have had in the second half was a third-down strip-sack by Darrell Taylor that forced the field goal. But Cousins is usually dropping back and find plenty of peaceful, quiet space in the pocket and making easy throws to wide open receivers in holes in zones.
Vince Verhei: Vikings just kicked a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 1. That keeps it a two-score game at 30-17 and leaves Seattle a glimmer of hope, where a touchdown would have put this one to bed. But that shoeless throw by Cousins in the first half remains the only drive on which the Vikings have not scored. Just a putrid game for Seattle's defense, coming off that terrible second half/OT against Tennessee last week.
Vince Verhei: Penny Hart somehow got open in the end zone on fourth-and-long at midfield, but Wilson's pass was a little underthrown and Hart ended up dropping it. Seahawks exhaust their timeouts getting the Vikings to third-and-long right before the two-minute warning. So, hand off and punt, right? Nope, third-and-long is automatic for Minnesota today, so Cousins throws to Justin Jefferson for the conversion and that's game.
Worst game Seattle has played in a long time drops them to 1-2 behind the Cardinals, Rams, and 49ers, none of whom have lost going into San Francisco's Sunday night game. They play at San Francisco in Week 4, then host the Rams on Thursday night in Week 5, and we're already in must-win territory.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 at Los Angeles Rams 34
Vince Verhei: We're through one quarter in Los Angeles with five punts and zero points scored, though the Rams will start the second quarter with possession just outside the red zone. Each team has dodged a major bullet so far. For L.A., DeSean Jackson got open behind the defense, but Matt Stafford's pass was just a bit late and/or underthrown and Ross Cockrell was able to break it up. The Bucs, meanwhile, had Rob Gronkowski open on a deep corner route, but Tom Brady's pass was about 6 inches too deep and Gronk couldn't hold on despite getting both hands on it.
Scott Spratt: The Rams just went 95 yards for a touchdown on the drive Vince mentioned and looked pretty good doing it. Matthew Stafford was 8-for-8 passing, and while none of the passes were deep, the Rams look like they may have a running game proxy in their short passes to Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee to replace an actual running game that probably wouldn't work against last year's No. 1 DVOA run defense.
Bryan Knowles: And the scoreless streak ends as the Rams draw first blood. Sean McVay really loves him some Tyler Higbee, and more to the point some Tyler Higbree screens; Higbee caught four passes on that 95-yard touchdown drive, including both a first down and a touchdown on screens. Now, I said earlier that teams should stop throwing screens after the Miami Debacle, but McVay's screens are, well, schemed in some way. Rather than just throwing the ball out to the edge and hoping a receiver can beat a corner, these are screens to a tight end on the inside behind multiple blockers. I'm still not in love with them as a concept, but they have gotta be higher-percentage than going one-on-one out wide.
Aaron Schatz: Jamel Dean was injured for the Bucs so we're starting to really feel the questions about the Tampa Bay depth. That puts them down two cornerbacks with Sean Murphy-Bunting also out.
Aaron Schatz: Buccaneers march it back up the field to tie the game 7-7. So far, it seems like the Bucs' completions are usually blown coverages or receivers beating their guy, while the Rams' completions are much more about scheme—either getting a guy wide open in a zone or shorter passes with a cavalcade of blockers like the Tyler Higbee touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Now the Rams head back up the field to make it 14-7 with a couple of passes to a wide-open Cooper Kupp including the touchdown. I know how Todd Bowles likes to play it but I don't know if the Bucs' secondary is healthy enough right now for Tampa Bay to blitz this much.
Bryan Knowles: Tyler Higbee's up to five catches already; he has been a fairly integral part of the Rams' game plan to this point. But he came up lame on that last Rams drive; that's something to watch going forward.
Also something to watch: all the injured Buccaneers defensive backs. Jamel Dean is now out, so that Bucs are missing two starting cornerbacks. That leads to Cooper Kupp being left wide open for a touchdown as the Rams take a 14-7 lead late in the second quarter.
Bryan Knowles: McVay said, coming into the game, that he had to try to find a way to get DeSean Jackson more involved in the offense. Stafford had missed Jackson on a couple bombs in the first half; some underthrows on what would have been touchdowns.
He didn't overthrow him THERE. Mike Edwards came up as if he was expecting Jackson to stop running. Jackson did not stop running. 75-yard touchdown pass and the Rams have a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter. That one has been just waiting to happen.
Bryan Knowles: That was Jackson's 10th touchdown of 75-plus yards, which moves him into the top 10 all time, along with a bunch of return men and then also Tyreek Hill. (Devin Hester, Ollie Matson, Dante Hall, Bobby Mitchell, Timmy Brown, Josh Cribbs, Tyreek Hill, Eric Metcalf, and Gale Sayers)
Aaron Schatz: Edwards slipped and fell, too. The Bucs had a good defense called to stop the deep pass, and Edwards fell, and that was that. DeSean Jackson is just too fast for anyone to catch up to.
Bryan Knowles: Gronk goes down with an injury, so instead Brady hits Cameron Brate for a 17-yard catch-and-run to the goal line. The Tampa Bay depth at their skill positions is just crazy. The touchdown comes on a Brady sneak, and man, remember when that was a play we saw nearly every week? It has died down a little as, y'know, the man is 44 years old, but he's still got it when he needs it. 21-14 Rams.
Scott Spratt: I guess we're going to see how the Bucs fare with some injuries this year after suffering the fewest adjusted games lost in 2020.
Bryan Knowles: Another bomb to DeSean Jackson—this one a measly 40 yards—and then Cooper Kupp shakes Carlton Davis out of his shoes with a precise fake in route, cut back outside for the score. I swear, I could watch Rams games with just an iso camera on Kupp at all times; the Rams line him up all over the field, and he's doing some incredible work with his routes so far this year.
28-14 Rams midway through the third as this second half has been more what we expected out of this game.
Aaron Schatz: Rams go up 28-14. Stafford hit a crossing DeSean Jackson who ran upfield for a 40-yard gain, almost all yards after the catch, with Carlton Davis desperately trying to catch him. Then Cooper Kupp, open again, 10 yards, touchdown. Jackson has been huge today, and he stretches the defense to the point where I'm not sure what Tampa Bay is supposed to do. They're not getting enough pressure with just four pass-rushers, and if they blitz there will be open guys. Then again, they aren't blitzing and there still are open guys. The Rams are good at scheming.
Aaron Schatz: Bucs' depth at the receiver position is pretty ridiculous. Tyler Johnson was our Playmaker sleeper last year and he's the fifth wide receiver for the Bucs. Made two big catches on a field goal drive, including a beautiful one where he had to turn around and locate the ball in the air quickly after finding the hole in the corner of Cover-2. Bucs stall out in the red zone though—Brady threw it just out of the reach of the outstretched hands of Gronk (returned from his injury) on second down and throwing it away on first and third downs. 31-17 Rams.
Scott Spratt: Troy Aikman: "You build a lead with the passing game and then you keep a lead with the running game."
That's a really nice distillation of a major tenet of football analytics. I'm only surprised by the source.
Vince Verhei: Troy's a reader!
Well done Aaron My first exposure to Football Outsiders https://t.co/4iutrWURLh
— Troy Aikman (@TroyAikman) August 5, 2018
Scott Spratt: I was just typing up a thought about the Bucs leaving Tom Brady in on a two-minute drill down by 17 points. It seemed like a bad idea for potential injury reasons. But it looks like Giovani Bernard is the important player who got hurt on the drive. He caught a short touchdown pass but got hit in the knee as he went head over heels into the end zone.
Scott Spratt: The Panthers are alone in first place in the NFC South and possibly No. 1 in DVOA. Cancel the rest of the season.
Tom Gower: Going back through the box score, and thinking about this game, what stands out to me isn't so much the feeling that the Rams ended up really dominating this game (which is totally understandable, because they were up for two-plus scores almost the entire second half), but instead just how good Matt Stafford was on third downs. Some of them were short (they ended up 5-for-5 with no more than 3 yards to go), but not all of them. The DeSean Jackson touchdown to start the second half came on third-and-10. Ditto the Robert Woods completion on the next drive (and the Jackson catch-and-run later in the drive was third-and-5). If one or two of those plays comes out differently and the Rams are just good on third downs instead of exceptional, this game could have felt differently than it did. Full credit to Stafford and his receivers for making those plays, but outside of the Bucs' complete inability to run the ball, I'm not drawing any grand conclusions off of it and not adjusting my general beliefs about Tampa Bay.
Green Bay Packers 30 at San Francisco 49ers 28
Bryan Knowles: The 49ers are wearing the red version of their 1994 throwbacks, which are in turn 1955 throwbacks. They look so much better than the white ones. I may be the only person to think this, but I am dying on that hill.
Coupled with the Browns' AAFC throwbacks earlier today, and it has been a good day for alternate unis.
Bryan Knowles: Packers coming out quick—not having Rodgers hold the ball long, which makes tons of sense considering they have three backups on the offensive line. The Packers' receivers have found some room to get open deep against the 49ers' secondary, with Davante Adams just running some unstoppable routes. It's 10-0 late in the first quarter and the 49ers need to figure out something in their secondary sooner rather than later.
Scott Spratt: Aaron Rodgers has now thrown 10 touchdown passes from the 1-yard line since the start of 2020. That's twice the total of the next closest quarterback, Tom Brady.
Scott Spratt: That Jaire Alexander interception was like when a baseball is hit high and hard into right-center field and the camera is following the centerfielder the whole time and then, suddenly, the right fielder enters the frame and makes a ridiculous catch.
Play design works to hold both cover 4 safeties, but the backside CB makes the play. Really nice job by Jaire Alexander to find work pic.twitter.com/t2P1LOFVSu
— SyedSchemes (@syedschemes) September 27, 2021
Aaron Schatz: Aaron Jones just went up the middle for 3 yards to make it 17-0 right before halftime. Packers have done an excellent job of getting the ball out quick enough to limit the problem of their inexperienced offensive line. On the other side, the 49ers haven't been able to hide their inexperienced cornerbacks. Davante Adams is killing rookie Deommodore Lenoir with back-shoulder catches.
Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers is having an Aaron Rodgers-esque day. 16-for-18 for 184 yards and a touchdown, and that's not including a couple of huge pass interference calls that gained an additional 50 yards, converting some key third downs. The Packers' reserve linemen are doing a great job holding up against the 49ers' line, and that's giving Rodgers all the time he needs to pick apart the secondary.
Shanahan is frustrated on offense. He has begun working without a tailback, with Trey Sermon playing second banana to Kyle Juszczyk. George Kittle is the 49ers' leading rusher, which should tell you all you need to know about how the 49ers' offense is ticking. But then again, Shanahan isn't helping things—he opted to punt on a fourth-and-1 at midfield, after which the Packers marched right down and scored. Something's gotta change, and soon, or else this one will become a blowout.
17-0 Packers with 1:02 left in the first half.
Carl Yedor: The 49ers just have no answer for Davante Adams, though that is not exactly a unique situation around the league. Seven catches, 73 yards, and no sign of letting up. Not having Jason Verrett out there can't be helping matters, but whenever Green Bay needs a play, Adams is unsurprisingly the guy. Green Bay is now up 17-0 with a minute left in the half, and if the 49ers don't answer quickly between their end-of-half drive and the opening drive of the second half, things could get ugly.
Scott Spratt: I don't want to be the "Play Trey Lance" guy, but Lance does seem like a solution to a specific 49ers problem in their lack of a running game with Raheem Mostert and Elijah Mitchell out injured.
Bryan Knowles: I will, in fact, be the "Play Trey Lance" guy!
J.P. Acosta: It's not only that the run game isn't there: it isn't explosive. Outside of the Kittle rush there haven't been many holes for big running plays
Bryan Knowles: Trey Lance: One play, one touchdown, 17-7 game at the half.
Play Trey Lance.
Scott Spratt: Kyle Juszczyk just motioned from wide to under center to take a quarterback sneak? Cool, I guess, but don't quarterback sneaks work basically always without the fanfare?
Bryan Knowles: That's Kyle Shanahan, troll. All eyes on Lance, just sneak Juszczyk in to screw with all of us.
The first drive to start the second half is more what I was expecting to see out of San Francisco all day. Four different players ran the ball—Sermon, Juszczyk, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk—and that kept Green Bay off balance enough for Garoppolo to make short pass after short pass. Garoppolo finds Aiyuk in the back of the end zone, the score is 17-14, and it looks like a football game has broken out in Santa Clara.
Bryan Knowles: A third big pass interference call, all on third downs, keeps the Packers' drive alive. This one, at least, was without question—the first two were ticky-tack, but Fred Warner was draped over his guy on that last flag.
Deommodore Lenoir has played well up until tonight, but not only is he struggling with Adams, but he just made a huge mistake, misunderstanding the coverage and letting Marquez Valdes-Scantling get wide open for the touchdown. 24-14 Packers early in the fourth.
Bryan Knowles: Jerome Boger is really making an impact on this game, which is less than ideal when you're the ref. The 49ers got bailed out by a pass interference call—I guess what goes around, comes around. Of the five big PI calls that we have had so far in this game, two of them should have been PI. It's really changing the feel of this game, and not in fun and exciting ways.
Oh, the 49ers turn the PI into a touchdown after a somewhat questionable catch ruling—the ball hit the ground on a Mohamed Sanu catch, but it was ruled that he had control of the ball. A few plays (and a few penalties!) later, the 49ers find the end zone and it's 24-21 Packers with 7:48 left. Set up for a good finish, if flags stay in pockets.
Aaron Schatz: Boger's crew just missed a clear helmet-to-helmet hit on Davante Adams.
Aaron Schatz: After Jimmy Garoppolo's terrible backwards pass under pressure/fumble, Matt LaFleur kicks the field goal that goes up 6. NEVER KICK THE FIELD GOAL THAT GOES UP 6.
Bryan Knowles: The penalties are driving me nuts. Ward should have been flagged for 15, and maybe even tossed, for that shot on Adams. Then, the Packers had a questionable roughing call on Garoppolo, and just ... argh. I guess it's evening it up from the bad calls earlier, but I don't want to see a game where both teams are getting shafted by the refs! Boger's crew is embarrassing themselves tonight.
Anyway, on the field, after the kick to go up six, the 49ers drive down the field, with Deebo Samuel basically magically willing the ball into his hands, and Kittle steamrolling over people, and we have a 28-27 49ers lead with 37 seconds left. Rodgers gets the ball back, but has no timeouts.
Good finish to a frustrating game.
Aaron Schatz: You know the Packers are throwing to Davante Adams. How can you not put extra coverage on Davante Adams???
Bryan Knowles: Just some great play by Rodgers to finish the game. The 49ers play soft, and Rodgers finds Adams twice over the middle of the field and races down to get both spikes off. That's some phenomenal play, considering the Packers had no timeouts left. Mason Crosby nails the 51-yarder and the Packers walk away with a 30-28 victory.
Story of the game for me is still the terrible ref job on both sides, both at least we got some great classic Rodgers passes to finish us off!
Tom Gower: The ending of that game was nuts, just completely nuts. Jimmy Garoppolo's throwing the ball backwards. Matt LaFleur is going for field goals, and it worked? Kind of? Maybe? George Kittle is making defenders look silly, like normal. Deebo Samuel is bailing out Jimmy G with contested catches. And Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers, and he's good enough at being Aaron Rodgers to get away with big play hunting even when sometimes he shouldn't. And Jerome Boger and company, a constant factor in the first 58 minutes (that Jimmy G pass to start the touchdown drive sure didn't look forward when I rewound to check, but Green Bay was out of timeouts and couldn't challenge), weren't much of one the final two minutes, or at least I didn't notice them then.
Macro-level view, coming in, I thought the Packers would get shredded on the ground by the 49ers run game. And the 49ers had some offensive success at times, and the Packers have their weak links on defense. But overall, this was a more consistently effective defensive performance than I was expecting. Starting their third-string left tackle and having him get his lunch eaten by Nick Bosa on the opening drive, it seemed like it might be a long night for the Packers offense. But no, the 49ers only ended up with the one sack and two quarterback hits (barring later stat updates, of course) on 33 passes. It wasn't always pretty, and almost losing a game it felt like you controlled is exasperating, but it's still a good win for the Packers that I didn't expect them to get when the game kicked off.