Week 6: Chiefs Back on Track, Cardinals Still Unbeaten
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.
Miami Dolphins 20 "at" Jacksonville Jaguars 23 (London)
Scott Spratt: Your interest in watching the 30th and 31st teams in DVOA play in London at 9:30 a.m. or earlier in America may vary, but I was curious to see how Tua Tagovailoa looked in his return from injured reserve with his broken ribs. Well, so far, so good. On the Dolphins' opening possession, Tagovailoa led a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive and converted third downs of 9, 6, and 4 yards. And maybe more importantly, he looked capable and comfortable facing pressure, moving around in the pocket, and even scrambling.
With a win today before their bye, the Dolphins could reenter the AFC wild-card race. The AFC does not seem to have seven standout teams, and the Dolphins are moving from the sixth-hardest opening schedule by DVOA to the second-easiest the rest of the season.
Scott Spratt: That was cool. The Dolphins brought in Jacoby Brissett for a third-and-1, presumably to sneak for a new first down. But instead, Brissett play-faked and delivered a 25-yard rope to Durham Smythe.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Scott Spratt: Haha, this is Tagovailoa's first trip out of the United States. The broadcast painted a fun picture of his getting a passport and being excited as a tourist.
Scott Spratt: Good lord, Marvin Jones.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
I probably should mention that the Dolphins' top two corners Xavien Howard and Byron Jones that represent the normal strength of their defense are inactive today. But I'm not sure anybody would have stopped Jones on that leaping touchdown grab.
That late touchdown drive closed the halftime gaps in score to 13-10 and yards to 259 and 169 in favor of the Dolphins. I think those margins fairly represent the difference in quality of these teams, but both teams could have done more on offense in the opening half. The Dolphins settled for field goals on a pair of red zone trips, the first of which was sabotaged by an offensive holding penalty. Meanwhile, the Jaguars lost a long James Robinson run to a facemask penalty on the opposite side of the field and have dropped at least three passes, the first of which from Dan Arnold would have netted Jacksonville a first down inside the red zone. These teams are bottom-10 in defensive DVOA like they are in offensive DVOA, and neither is doing much with pressure to disrupt the pair of promising young quarterbacks.
Scott Spratt: I lost track of the second half while updating projections, but it seemed pretty wild.
- Christian Wilkins strip-sacked his former Clemson teammate Trevor Lawrence to force a turnover.
- Tua Tagovailoa threw a baffling interception the very next play with no offensive player within 10 yards of a defender.
- The Dolphins went for a fourth-and-1 late but called a shotgun handoff and failed to convert. It was a zone-read play, but I don't think anyone was following Tagovailoa there with his broken ribs.
- Practice squad promotee Matthew Wright made 54- and 53-yard field goals on the Jaguars' final two drives to tie and then win as time expired.
Minnesota Vikings 34 at Carolina Panthers 28 (OT)
Scott Spratt: Sam Darnold threw an interception on the first play on a bad decision to throw from the left side of the field to the right sideline. The "Darnold has turned back into a pumpkin" theory is looking strong early in Carolina.
Vince Verhei: Sam Darnold's first play of the day may be the worst interception of the year.
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Scott Spratt: Following that stellar Sam Darnold start, Haason Reddick punched a Justin Jefferson catch out for a fumble that the Panthers turned into a touchdown in short order. The Vikings have had a pair of red zone trips—the first after the Darnold interception—but have settled for two field goals. Mike Zimmer did not go for a fourth-and-2 from the Panthers' 7-yard line.
Bryan, if you like offense, I would recommend you watch any game but this one.
Bryan Knowles: Way ahead of you, Scott! The Vikings seem not to be aware you can throw the ball past the sticks on third down, or go for it on fourth down when you fail, so, you know, that's fun.
Scott Spratt: Does it count as a revenge game if Chris Herndon scores a touchdown while playing Sam Darnold?
Scott Spratt: The Panthers just tried to call two consecutive timeouts. John Fox, is that you?
J.P. Acosta: It's almost halftime, and Sam Darnold has completed ... five passes. Not exactly an efficient offense right now for the Panthers.
Scott Spratt: Michael Strahan was ranting for 20 seconds about a quarterback failing to live up to expectations with good supporting talent and how it might be time for a change, and I couldn't figure out if he was talking about Sam Darnold or Kirk Cousins.
Scott Spratt: Hey, the Panthers actually recovered a loose ball in the end zone this week! Last week, Jalen Hurts successfully batted the high snap back out of the end zone for a safety that made a major difference in end. This week, Kenny Robinson scooped the Frankie Luvu blocked punt and scored to put the Panthers up 17-12 halfway through the third quarter.
Scott Spratt: Hey, J.P., Sam Darnold finally got his sixth completion with four minutes left in the third quarter. Sadly, DJ Moore fumbled after the catch and the Vikings have the ball back after just scoring to go back up 18-17.
J.P. Acosta: Will he get to 10 completions before the end of the game? Find out next week on Dragonball Z!
Bryan Knowles: Sam Darnold HAS gotten to 10 completions. He also has yet to get to 100 yards, and has suffered yet another turnover, fumbling on a sack to give the Vikings the ball with a 28-17 lead and 8:30 left in the game. And with that, I think all the early games are essentially over; it hasn't exactly been a great day for competitiveness so far.
Vince Verhei: Somehow, this is simultaneously the only competitive game of the early window and yet also the worst game of the early window. Vikings miss a long field goal on fourth-and-4 from the 32. Panthers then answer with a field goal of their own, set up by a 30-yard Darnold scramble that is their longest gain of the day. Vikings still lead 28-20 but there's 4:41 left as this battle of dueling incompetence refuses to go away and die.
Scott Spratt: The Panthers were in a fourth-and-10 in their own end zone when Sam Darnold found Ian Thomas of all people for 41 yards.
Darnold Dart. #KeepPounding
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Why is this game still happening at 4:23? Woof.
Bryan Knowles: Not just a fourth-and-10, but a fourth-and-6 a few plays later, setting up a game-tying touchdown! Each team is trying to blow this one, and they're both failing!
Scott Spratt: The Panthers needed 96 yards plus a two-point conversion in under two minutes? Sure, it definitely makes sense that happened.
Vince Verhei: OH GOD THEY'RE GOING TO OVERTIME. Darnold hits DJ Moore for 25 yards on fourth-and-6, then Robby Anderson for a 7-yard touchdown, then Tommy Tremble for the two-point conversion. Panthers had a bunch of drops on that drive too.
Vikings still have 42 seconds and two timeouts, so I guess overtime is not guaranteed.
J.P. Acosta: Sam Darnold's statline is absolutely hilarious: 17-41, 200 yards, a TD, and a pick. Peak Sam Darnoldness.
Scott Spratt: He wasn't good, J.P., but his receivers also dropped at least seven passes. It was rough.
Dave Bernreuther: This is now the fourth game of six this year that Kirk Cousins has led an end-of-game drive into field goal range in very little time. Greg Joseph is 2-of-4 on the kicks, however, and we all get exactly what we wanted: overtime!
Bryan Knowles: And now we have a missed 48-yard field goal, so it's still a tie. I suppose there's one second left, so maybe we'll get some crazy, end-of-game nonsense, but it looks like we're headed to OT.
Vince Verhei: 40-plus attempts with only 200 yards? It's an Osweiler! Though I assume he'll get at least 1 yard in overtime and lose it.
And yes, of course, the Vikings played for the long field goal, with 6- and 8-yard completions on their last two throws, and then missed the kick. Of course they did.
Bryan Knowles: Osweiler had four "Osweilers," tied for second all-time with Sam Bradford. Joe Flacco and Bernie Kosar each had five.
This would be Darnold's second, after Week 1 of 2019, an ugly game against Buffalo.
Vince Verhei: And it is, because Carolina never gets the ball in overtime. Second-and-13 at the Carolina 27, and I'm certain we will see two runs and a kick, but no! Cousins drops back and finds K.J. Osborn for the score, and the Vikings win.
For reference, as I type these words, the second quarter between Arizona and Cleveland just started.
Aaron Schatz: Here's your end of the MIN-CAR game:
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) October 17, 2021
Kansas City Chiefs 31 at Washington Football Team 13
Bryan Knowles: I have this, not Ravens-Chargers, on my main screen to start the day, because I like offense, and a battle between two of the five worst defenses in football seems like a good choice to see some offense. Plus, if the Chiefs really are In Trouble™, then Washington is the kind of feisty opponent they should let hang around. If they are, in fact, basically the same Chiefs team we have seen the past few years, they should pull away early. We'll see what happens!
"What happens" at the moment is a three-and-out for the Washington offense, followed by a 95-yard march for a score by Kansas City that saw the Chiefs convert a fourth down at midfield when they weren't busy getting 15-plus-yard passes to Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and something called a "Jody Fortson." Ah, the priors, they are reestablishing themselves.
Aaron Schatz: Somehow Tyreek Hill just turned another ball off his hands into a Patrick Mahomes interception.
Bryan Knowles: Kansas City implodes? They turn the ball over for the second time today, with Mecole Hardman fumbling on an end around (remember, no Clyde Edwards-Helaire today!), and then the defense obliges by allowing a 16-yard gain on a screen pass on third-and-16, giving Washington new life. They then terribly blow a coverage on Ricky Seals-Jones, who gets behind everyone and rumbles 39 yards for a score, and Washington takes a 13-10 lead in the waning moments of the first half. Those alarm bells ringing a little louder in Missouri at the moment.
Vince Verhei: Video of that comical Ricky Seals-Jones score:
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) October 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Is this the worst play of Patrick Mahomes' life? For context, it's third-and-1 in field goal range with the Chiefs down three.
If you're going to turn it over, do it in the funniest way possible pic.twitter.com/hHxvElpkMl
— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) October 17, 2021
Vince Verhei: I apologize to Sam Darnold for accusing him of throwing the worst interception of the year.
Bryan Knowles: Somewhat astonishing stat here. Mahomes is already up to eight interceptions this season (yes, two were Hill drops, and another bounced off of shoulder pads, but they're still interceptions). The only Chiefs quarterback with more interceptions in his first six games in the past 20 years was Matt Cassel with nine in 2012, which happens to be the franchise record during NFL play (Cotton Davidson had 11 for the AFL's Dallas Texans in 1960).
Andy Reid said he spoke with Mahomes a little bit this week about trying to do too much and, well, I think that's a decent description of Mahomes' play so far this season. He's so exceptionally great that he feels he can do anything—and is usually right. But with the defense crumbling, and a lack of weapons around him, he's putting everything on his shoulders—he feels like they need a touchdown every single drive, and that's not great for decision-making. Don't get me wrong, it's working more often than not; again, he's Patrick Mahomes. But it just looks like he feels he has to do something exceptional on nearly every play, and there are times when he just needs to go down and regroup for the next play, and we're kind of seeing the worst parts of it today.
That being said, anyone feel confident in Washington's chances with a 13-10 lead at the half? No? I didn't think so.
Bryan Knowles: Of course, one of the reasons Patrick Mahomes believes he can do anything is, well, most of the time, he's right. He had a nifty jump pass that would be ill-advised for about 79 quarterbacks in the NFL today to convert a third down before hitting Tyreek Hill for a touchdown a few plays later to give the Chiefs a 17-13 lead. He had a short field to work with, too, because Washington had missed a 42-yard field goal. For all that has been rightfully said about Kansas City's defense, they have held Washington to three field goal attempts—and I think "held" is an appropriate descriptor, as the closest one was a fourth-and-5. If the Chiefs do hold on to win this one, those few stops will make the difference.
Bryan Knowles: And just as the main CBS feed switches over, Damien Williams punches the ball in for his second touchdown of the game, moving this one to a double-digit Chiefs lead as well. Washington has been unable to take advantage of Kansas City's struggles, and the Chiefs aren't going to struggle all game. Kansas City is up to 400 yards offense, they're outgaining Washington 6.8 to 4.9 on a per-play basis. It's only the mistakes and turnovers that are keeping Washington in this one, and they have been absolutely unable to make Kansas City pay.
Los Angeles Rams 38 at New York Giants 11
Vince Verhei: Kadarius Toney gets three catches for 36 yards on New York's first drive, which ends in a field goal and a 3-0 lead. That includes two first downs, one on third-and-14 after a Daniel Jones strip-sack that New York recovered. But now he has gone to the locker room and been declared out with an ankle injury. So no Toney, no Kenny Golladay, no Saquon Barkley. Good luck, Mr. Jones.
Bryan Knowles: Comedy of errors on fourth down, here. The Rams line up to punt, and no one covers gunner Ben Skrowronek. Skrowronek does the Rams' secret signal for a fake punt, which is waving his hands around like a madman. Joe Judge catches it, and audibly yells from the sideline to watch the fake, to which the Giants special teams responds by not moving even the tiniest of bits. Johnny Hekker hits Skrowronek for the first down, but everything's called back due to offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties—no explanation as to who committed the fouls, or what the fouls were, mind you—wiping everything off the board, so forget that entire last paragraph, I guess.
Vince Verhei: Still 3-0 at the end of one. Giants went for it on fourth-and-1 in their own territory, but Jones was stuffed on a sneak. Rams then went three-and-out, but appeared to convert on Johnny Hekker's latest fake punt. The Giants left one of the gunners completely uncovered, but were very fortunate that the pay was wiped out by offsetting penalties. Rams have now punted twice in two drives. They're having lots of trouble in pass protection—they have given up two sacks in the first 15 minutes after giving up only four in their first five games.
Bryan Knowles: Alright, so Los Angeles finally gets on the board, but it's still just a 7-3 game. Time for the Giants to respond—they can't afford to go to 1-5 if they're even going to pretend to have relevance this season. This looks like the time for Daniel Jones and company to shine, depleted offense or not. Time to put together a long, confident drive to show the Rams just who they are!
Incomplete, decent run, false start, sack-fumble giving the Rams the ball inside the red zone, and a touchdown four plays later for Los Angeles. 14-3, Rams in the second quarter.
Vince Verhei: OK, second quarter looks a little more like what we expected coming in. Rams drive 66 yards in six plays for a touchdown—big plays from Cooper Kupp, Tyler Higbee, and Sony Michel on the drive to set up a Robert Woods score. Then Jones is strip-sacked *again* and this time the Rams recover, already in the red zone. They get to a fourth-and-1 at the 3 and go for it, and Stafford hits Kupp for the touchdown. Rams up 14-3, still eight minutes till halftime.
Aaron Schatz: Sean McVay went for a fourth down! Will wonders ever cease? The touchdown to Kupp came on a fourth-down go!
Bryan Knowles: The last four Giants drives have gone three-and-out, sack-fumble, three-and-out, interception, for a combined total of -5 yards. We haven't had a drive go farther than 20 yards since there were 10 minutes left in the second quarter, but that hasn't mattered because the Giants keep giving the Rams the ball in excellent field position. The Rams convert Daniel Jones' interception into a score, it's 21-3, and this game, and the Giants' season, is over. Man, that was an interesting game for about a quarter, right?
Los Angeles Chargers 6 at Baltimore Ravens 34
Aaron Schatz: Excellent pass-protection for the Ravens early. Lamar Jackson has big pockets and time to throw. And when everybody is covered, he just takes off and avoids tackles and does something like run 21 yards on a first-and-20 scramble. Ravens just got their second touchdown on a handoff to Le'Veon Bell and lead 14-0.
Bryan Knowles: Baltimore goes up 14-0 after a Le'Veon Bell rush as the Ravens are already up to 8.4 yards per carry. Is the Ravens offense a particularly bad matchup for the Chargers? They were 31st in rushing defense DVOA coming in, and, well, they're playing like it.
Aaron Schatz: Chargers and Ravens just exchanged picks. Jackson pick was particularly egregious, right into the arms of Kyzir White in the middle of the field. Just completely didn't see him, I think he was a robber in a Cover-1.
Scott Spratt: From the sideline view, it looked like Jackson was just throwing it at Kyzir White.
Chargers get it right back. #BoltUp
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Aaron Schatz: Chargers follow up their pick with a huge launch downfield to Mike Williams and then Jared Cook in the right corner of the end zone for six. And then do the Chargers miss the XP? Of course they do! 17-6 Ravens.
Aaron Schatz: Chargers went for fourth-and-1 on their own 19, down 24-6. Probably the right move. Miscommunication on a pass to Jalen Guyton. Late-down regression has hit the Chargers big time today.
Scott Spratt: Brandon Staley going for two fourth downs in his own territory? Great! Justin Herbert throwing both passes to a receiver with Marlon Humphrey in coverage? Not great!
Vince Verhei: That is all going to lead to an annoying amount of I-told-you-so this week, but it helps a little that the Chargers held the Ravens to field goals after both of those failed fourth downs.
Aaron Schatz: Ravens coverage has also been very strong today, and not just Humphrey.
Aaron Schatz: Chargers pass rush can barely sniff Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews has been constantly open. Just caught a third-and-10 conversion.
Aaron Schatz: Then Ravens score on speed option around the left side. Each running back has a touchdown today. Time to watch other games.
Vince Verhei: And with that score, CBS switches me to the Kansas City-Washington game. Not that I blame them, but I definitely did not see that coming after last week's Chargers game.
Aaron Schatz: Just one last word on this game, and the idea of late-down regression.
- Chargers, third down, Weeks 1-5: 33-of-68 (49%)
- Chargers, third down, today: 3-of-12 (25%)
- Chargers, fourth down, Weeks 1-5: 7-of-8 (88%)
- Chargers, fourth down, today: 1-of-4 (25%)
Cincinnati Bengals 34 at Detroit Lions 11
Vince Verhei: Bengals lead at 10-0 at halftime of a real barnburner. The two teams have combined for 10 first downs, seven punts (including six three-and-outs), seven penalties, and two turnovers. Lots of pass breakups, so a good game if you're playing in an IDP league, I guess. Bengals did get a long Chris Evans touchdown and a bomb to Ja'Marr Chase to set up the field goal but otherwise have done barely anything. Still more than Detroit, though. Jared Goff somehow has only 38 yards on nine completions, which does not make for enthralling television.
Bryan Knowles: Detroit came into this week 32nd against running backs in the receiving game. They have allowed two touchdown passes to running backs today—one to Chris Evans in the first half, and now a 40-yard Joe Mixon catch-and-run on fourth-and-1 to give the Bengals a 17-0 lead early in the third quarter. Mixon was escorted down the field by Ja'Marr Chase, so I guess they did draft a blocker in the first round this year, just like everyone wanted them to.
Dave Bernreuther: I put this game on side-by-side with the Rams for comedic effect. It did not disappoint, and I didn't even see Matthew Stafford do anything all that great. Goff showed why they made the trade, though, looking pretty much useless and averaging less than 4 yards per attempt. I was really interested in seeing how this one went for the Bengals because their defense really impressed me in defeat last week, getting after Aaron Rodgers on almost every series. Not exactly a recipe for success for Jared Goff.
But hey, at least they didn't get shut out ... down 27-0 in the red zone in the fourth quarter, Dan Campbell keeps the goose egg off his resume with a 35-yard kick. Congrats on the moral victory.
(Ah, a bit of redemption on the next drive: before a few lingering, very sad fans, D'Andre Swift punched in a touchdown. I will rescind about 10% of my sarcasm from the previous sentence; down 27, they should still have gone for it on fourth-and-9.)
Green Bay Packers 24 at Chicago Bears 14
Vince Verhei: I turned to this game just in time to see Justin Fields hit Darnell Mooney for a 5-yard touchdown pass that cut the Green Bay lead to a tenuous 17-14 margin. Well, no matter. The Bears lost track of Davante Adams deep down field and it looks like he has scored, but he is ruled out of bounds at the Chicago 21. Again, no matter—three plays later, Aaron Rodgers runs in a touchdown and the Packers lead extends to 24-14.
Dave Bernreuther: Aaron Rodgers has given the Packers a bit of breathing room with a rushing touchdown after the Bears drew within 17-14. I think they'll be OK, but the Packers really need to clean up their red zone defense. Including today's two scores, Packers opponents are a perfect 15-of-15 on trips to the red zone this season.
Not 15 times scoring points, mind you. 15 touchdowns.
It's supposed to be easier to defend the shorter field, guys!
Vince Verhei: Bears had a first down at the Packers 32 but then Fields was sacked twice in the next three plays. That left them with a fourth-and-26 just barely across midfield, and down two scores with less than three minutes to go, they had to go for it. The Hail Mary failed, the Packers take over, and this one's done.
That's four sacks on the day for Fields; that continues to be a problem for him and the Bears. What's not a problem is running back. No David Montgomery, no Damien Williams, no problem—sixth-round rookie Khalil Herbert rushes for 97 yards and a touchdown, adding two catches for 15 yards.
Houston Texans 3 at Indianapolis Colts 31
Dave Bernreuther: Indeed, someone on staff watched this one. I loved the third-and-3 deep ball to Parris Campbell that the Colts clearly called knowing they'd be going for it on fourth down. Just a great ball from Carson Wentz and everything about the sequence was great. What I found interesting was that the play-action didn't even fool the Texans' safeties. Replays showed them retreating the entire time ... and yet somehow Campbell still just ran right past them.
I didn't love that Jonathan Taylor had what should have been a long touchdown run ruined by a terrible downfield block by Michael Pittman. That was weak, especially since Taylor was both directing Pittman AND actually pushed him in the direction of his man. Even with the help, Pittman whiffed the block. Come on, Michael. You're gigantic. Learn how to block.
The Colts showed last week that they can put it together on offense and look like a quality football team. They did it again this week (and welcome back to T.Y. Hilton!), but it's hard to say it means much since it was the Texans (sorry, Rivers). They also showed last week that they aren't quite there yet when it comes to stopping the pass ... despite the final score here, I'm not so sure they made a ton of progress on that front, either. It's hard to tell, given the opponent.
Rivers McCown: Here's what I wrote about my garbage team.
Thanks Dave, sorry to contribute to you giving up a first for Carson Wentz.
Arizona Cardinals 37 at Cleveland Browns 14
Scott Spratt: The Cardinals are playing without their normal center Rodney Hudson—not to mention their head coach—and it showed up in the red zone there. An early snap hit Kyler Murray on the shoulder and trickled behind him. But no worries, Murray jumped on it and then hit Christian Kirk for a touchdown on third-and-19.
Bryan Knowles: Near-disaster for Arizona on their first drive as Kyler Murray was looking away when the snap came, causing it to fly over his head and set up a third-and-goal from outside the red zone. Of course, because everyone on the Cardinals has hit their 95th percentile outcome this year, Murray recovers on the next play to hit Christian Kirk, who is in bounds by millimeters, to give Arizona the 7-0 early lead. Who needs a head coach?
Vince Verhei: Do we know which offense leads the league in aborted snaps? Is it the Cardinals? I feel like they have a lot. I know they had two last week, and another one just now on second down in the red zone for a loss of 14. No matter, because on third-and-forever, Kyler Murray calmly hits Christian Kirk on a deep out for the score.
Kyler Murray: bad at catching snaps, very good at throwing footballs.
Aaron Schatz: Arizona was in fact your leader with four aborted snaps through five weeks! One was on a punt.
Vince Verhei: An epic egg-laying for Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense so far. Their first four drives:
- A big play to Donovan Peoples-Jones and facemask on Arizona get them into the red zone ... where they go on to take a sack on fourth down.
- Two plays, sack-fumble, Arizona recovers.
- Three plays, interception where Mayfield throws above and behind his receiver. There's a review to see if Robert Alford stepped out of bounds on the return, but the turnover is going to stand.
So the Cards take over in Browns territory, but can't do anything with it as Takk McKinley sacks Murray on third down. Matt Prater's 51-yard field goal try juuuuuuust sneaks in past the upright and the lead goes to 20-0. And it seems I am looking at the Raiders and Broncos to give me just one good game this afternoon.
Bryan Knowles: Nice for Cleveland to show up to this one. The good news is that the Browns finally got on the board; a healthy dose of Kareem Hunt opening things up enough for Mayfield to hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a score to make things 20-7. The bad news is that Odell Beckham came up clutching his arm after a catch earlier in the drive and has gone into the blue medical tent, and not in a way that makes it look like he's coming back.
Scott Spratt: Baker Mayfield just completed an end-of-half Hail Mary touchdown to Donovan Peoples-Jones, and the look on Kyler Murray's face was priceless. "That's my thing, dude."
HAIL MAYFIELD!!!!! #Browns
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Mayfield, of course, set up for that Hail Mary with three passes in a row for less than 10 yards. Seems like it's probably more efficient over the long run to go 20-20-20-15 instead of 5-7-6-57, but then I'm not a professional NFL quarterback!
23-14 at halftime, and the Browns should thank their lucky stars they're within single digits.
Dave Bernreuther: That was the first Hail Mary I have seen in a while that didn't involve over-the-top blatant pass interference. The Cardinals let Peoples-Jones box them out and high-point the ball without grabbing or tackling him (or making all that much of an effort to play the ball either, really).
That changes the complexion of this game a LOT.
Vince Verhei: Browns offense spent most of the first half throwing up all over themselves like the most embarrassing guy at your bachelor party. Even on the Hail Mary drive, they only ran five plays in 43 seconds because they kept wasting time with short completions in bounds, and one incompletion nearly turned into a tip-drill pick.
And yet ... the Cardinals have had their share of luck too. Murray is up to three fumbles now, but Arizona hasn't lost one yet. The Browns lead in total yards (201-188) and yards per play (6.9 to 5.1). The Cardinals got one field goal on a zero-yard drive and another on a drive that lost 5 yards. They're only ahead because of turnovers, red zone performance, and penalties—the Browns have committed seven of them, resulting in four Arizona first downs.
The Cardinals are up nine and they're going to get the ball first in the third quarter and will probably win the game, but this hasn't been their best day either.
Vince Verhei: Dots on the Hail Mary are ... interesting. Cardinals have seven in coverage against four receivers, which should be a mismatch. But the Browns go 3x1, and three defenders go to the one guy on the right, and there's a linebacker covering air in the middle of the field, so it's really three-on-three at the catch point. Seems like they bungled the defense on that one.
Baker Mayfield's Hail Mary 57-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones traveled 66.4 yards in the air, the longest completed pass in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) by 2.0 yards.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Oh no. Mayfield goes down and fumbles, but that doesn't matter right now—he has stayed down, and the doctors were immediately waved onto the field. He left the field under his own power, but he was in pretty obvious pain. Case Keenum is the backup.
Vince Verhei: First half opens with three straight three-and-outs. Fourth drive of the half, Browns are driving, as Peoples-Jones is almost single-handedly keeping them in this game. But just across midfield, Mayfield scrambles and fumbles, and the Cardinals recover. That's five fumbles in this game now, and Arizona has fallen on all of them. Worse, Mayfield came into the game with a bad non-throwing shoulder, and it looked like he fell on it awkwardly and was taken to the dreaded blue tent. Case Keenum is warming up.
Bryan Knowles: I am going to suggest that covering DeAndre Hopkins is probably your first priority when playing the Cardinals. Probably your second and third priority, too. Instead, Denzel Ward passes him off to play ... nothing, as Hopkins was the only receiver on that side of the field, and the safety passes him off to ... no one in particular, and Hopkins is left standing all alone in the back of the end zone. Easy pitch-and-catch, 30-14 lead, and Cleveland is on the ropes.
Vince Verhei: Mayfield has returned to the field following that Hopkins touchdown. Not sure if that matter for today, but it's good news for the rest of the year.
Vince Verhei: I think it was Odell Beckham making some of those earlier catches I was crediting to Peoples-Jones. But he can't do it all. On fourth-and-4 in the red zone, down 16, they throw a slant to Beckham, but he can't hang on. Still 11 minutes to go, but this has not looked like a team that can afford to miss on scoring chances like that.
Vince Verhei: Cards take over after that fourth-down stop and put together an 11-play, 93-yard drive that ate up more than seven minutes and ended with an A.J. Green touchdown catch to put this one on ice. Murray had his FOURTH fumble of the game on that drive, but Arizona recovered again. Gonna be fun explaining why he's outside the top 20 in Quick Reads this week.
Dallas Cowboys 35 at New England Patriots 29 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: The podcast was very, very down on the Patriots' chances in this one—where's that fabled New England bias, guys?—but the Patriots just took an early 7-0 lead. The Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-inches in their own territory and got stuffed. In fact, the Patriots stuffed Elliott on third-and-1 and fourth-and-inches for the short field.
The ensuing drive is the Damien Harris show, running for 21 yards to get New England into the red zone, and then lining up as quarterback from the 4 to plunge in himself for the early score. No doghouse for Harris, I guess!
Aaron Schatz: Patriots take an early 7-0 lead after Ezekiel Elliott fails to get a yard twice on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1. Long 21-yard run for Damien Harris, 9-yard pass to Jonnu Smith, 4-yard touchdown direct snap to Harris. Interesting that the Pats were pushing the Cowboys around with their backup offensive line, with Michael Onwenu and Isaiah Wynn not starting today even though they both came off the COVID list this week.
Bryan Knowles: Bill Belichick referred to Dalton Schultz as the Cowboys' best receiving option in the leadup to this one. I assume he did not mean Schultz's ability to track tipped balls, but Prescott drilled one off of Cedrick Wilson's hands, which flew 10 yards downfield right into Schultz's hands. Hey, better to be lucky, right?
And good. Lucky and good. Prescott and the Cowboys began picking apart the Patriots' pass defense on that last drive, finding Schultz twice for big gains, Cooper for another, and Blake Jarwin in the end zone to tie things up. That was, if anything, too easy.
Bryan Knowles: Two deep passes! On one drive! You spoil us, Mac Jones. A four-play drive which averages 18.8 yards per play is pretty nice if you can keep it up. Jones' touchdown pass to a falling-down Hunter Henry gives the Pats the lead back, and we have had three touchdowns in about 10 minutes of gametime. This is what I was expecting from Kansas City-Washington, not Dallas-New England.
Dave Bernreuther: Interesting first few drives so far ... not a ton of defense happening. The broadcast pointed out that that was the Cowboys' first touchdown against the Patriots in a full decade—since 2011. To that I'll add that in barely 10 minutes of game time, the Mac Jones Patriots have already scored more than the 2019 Tom Brady Patriots did last time the Cowboys came to Foxboro.
My only conclusion from any of that is just that the new 17th game being added is very confusing; I always liked the ease of remembering the last time teams crossed conferences, and the whole DAL@NE happening twice in three years is throwing me off.
The last drive got a major boost by a Trevon Diggs personal foul, when he obviously retaliated against Cam Newton (errr, N'Keal Harry ... also confusing: the new numbers!) and gifted the Pats a red zone spot. But Jones is starting to make the decision to cut the former owner of that No. 1 jersey look smart; I know he's still doing some rookie things, but it seems like every time I look up these past few weeks, he's also doing seasoned-veteran type things. The pass two plays before the penalty, for instance, were great ones.
Aaron Schatz: Just about to write that the Cowboys had open receivers on every play, and it wasn't going to get any easier with slot corner Jonathan Jones out with an injury and replaced by special-teamer Justin Bethel. Then Bethel slapped away a pass to Noah Brown in the end zone, right into the hands of Kyle Dugger for a Patriots interception. So they get the ball back, up 14-7, even though Prescott is 13-for-16 with 161 yards.
Scott Spratt: That would have been Jakobi Meyers' first-ever touchdown catch after 116 receptions in his career. Instead, it was wiped out by a penalty, and then Mac Jones lost the ball on a strip-sack. Sad times for Meyers.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots get a touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers called back on holding on James Ferentz. Then Randy Gregory absolutely brutalizes right tackle Yodny Cajuste and slams Mac Jones to the ground, ball comes loose, Dallas recovers. Patriots offensive line was playing pretty well up until those two plays, but that's quite the turn of events on two huge offensive line mistakes.
Aaron Schatz: Here's the Gregory hit. Totally legal, and massive.
Randy Gregory WOW
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) October 17, 2021
Aaron Schatz: Patriots pass up fourth-and-one foot from their own 35 and the punt gets blocked. Dallas now set up inside the red zone. Belichick used to be the most aggressive coach in the league on fourth downs. Now the league has totally passed him by on that aspect of the game.
Dave Bernreuther: I'm with Romo on the spot of the ball after the third-down completion to Meyers; it looked like he reached forward well over the line to gain, but the ref spotted it a full yard short. From his vantage point back at the line of scrimmage, that's at least defensible, given the angle, but that's pretty terrible. The spot leads Belichick to elect to punt ... and it's blocked. That's a horrible swing based on what appeared to be an officiating error.
Dave Bernreuther: "Reached forward" isn't the best way to say that, now that I rewound. While airborne, Meyers was twisted around and appeared to catch the ball a bit past the 36, with his body roughly straddling the line. I have seen far more generous "forward progress" awarded on comeback-type catches. And it looks to be closer to a full yard than a foot short where they spotted it.
Aaron Schatz: Oh my god, the Patriots just stuffed the Cowboys on four straight plays from the 1. Elliott twice, then Prescott, then Prescott lost control of the ball trying to go over the top on fourth down and what was originally called a touchdown got flipped to a fumble and Patriots recovery in the end zone. Wow. What a stand.
Bryan Knowles: Full credit, full credit to New England's short-yardage defense so far today. Lots of stuffs on X-and-short plays—the stuff to set up the first touchdown, and now four straight stuffs from the 1. Heck, from the inches. A heck of a goal-line stand right there.
Aaron Schatz: Let the record state that the prevailing opinion on Twitter seems to be that Prescott was in on third down and the officials made a mistake to call him short of the goal line. And that should have been a booth review, since it was the final 2:00.
J.P. Acosta: I feel like I say this because of their defensive reputation, but the Patriots holding Dallas' offense to 10 points thus far is really impressive. And it looks like they're primarily in man coverage.
Aaron Schatz: To go back to Dak on third down, here's a video for people who want to argue about it:
Plays like this are why a computer chip will eventually be put in the football pic.twitter.com/tTJHnL2fyR
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Hey, the Cowboys decided not to call a "smash right into the line in a tight formation" play on X-and-1! Back down to the goal line after a pass interference, they go three-wide, line up CeeDee Lamb against Jalen Mills, and let their quarterback make a play. Touchdown, 17-14 Cowboys.
Bryan Knowles: I think the Patriots may have found a weakness in Dallas' run defense. They just had a 13-play drive; eight of the 11 plays that actually gained yards had the Pats (mostly Harris) steamrolling over the Cowboys' front. With so many backups in on New England's offensive line, that's a surprise, but hey—don't knock it if it works. Patriots take a 21-20 lead with 6:23 left in the game; the upset is a-brewin'.
Aaron Schatz: Maybe the most important offensive drive of the season for the Patriots and they just passed the test with flying colors. They went 70 yards in 13 plays to take a 21-20 lead, first NFL touchdown by Rhamondre Stevenson to cap it off. A couple of big holes for steady runs, including a 21-yard carry by Damien Harris. Jakobi Meyers with a third-and-9 grab where he got smacked (legally) and kept the ball in his hands. Offensive line kept Randy Gregory off of Mac Jones, helped by Dallas dropping Gregory into coverage on Hunter Henry a couple of times.
Carl Yedor: That last drive by the Patriots was a great example of bully ball. Smart run on third-and-medium catching Dallas in a blitz look that would have also set up a short fourth-down attempt had it come up short of the marker.
Bryan Knowles: Mike McCarthy settles for a 51-yard field goal on fourth-and-less-than-one ... and the kick never had a chance. Wow. The Patriots looking to run some clock now.
Aaron Schatz: It wasn't listed as a block in the play-by-play but it sure looked to me like Justin Bethel got a hand on that kick to send it wide left.
Bryan Knowles: Oh my! And Mac Jones bails the Cowboys right back out; the ball sliding right out of Kendrick Bourne's hands to Trevon Diggs, who does. Not. Stop. Pick-six, and it's 26-21 after the two-point conversion fails. WOW.
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys make up for it when the Patriots finally decide to be aggressive, empty the backfield ... and the ball goes right off Kendrick Bourne's hands into the hands of Trevon Diggs for a pick-six. How do you throw to a guy covered by Diggs when you need to kill clock? Even if you think it was the right move to be aggressive and throw and try to get the first down, why throw to THAT GUY?
Scott Spratt: Should Diggs have slid down before the goal line there?
Aaron Schatz: Interesting question, Scott, considering what happened on the next play. Kendrick Bourne—covered by Diggs!—75 yards to the house!
Bryan Knowles: There's an argument, Scott, though I tend to say go ahead and score the points when you're losing. They just horked a field goal and got stuffed at the line, and...
... and they get the ball back anyway, as Jones finds Bourne for a 75-yard touchdown on the very next play, and what on Earth is going on?
Scott Spratt: Correction: should Bourne have slid down there?
Aaron Schatz: Bourne definitely should NOT have slid down. There's a difference between sliding when you need a field goal and sliding when you need a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Here's Damontae Kazee as the high safety for Dallas going after ... a pick maybe? And totally out of position on the Bourne touchdown.
Ships passing in the night pic.twitter.com/7pZ8K2unIE
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 17, 2021
Bryan Knowles: Bad timeout usage by Dallas! After a big gain gets them to fourth down in field goal range, the Cowboys take a timeout with 24 seconds left. Sure, they kick the field goal and tie things up—but now the Patriots get the ball back in a tie game!
Scott Spratt: I guess Bill Belichick isn't any more confident in Mac Jones' ability to convert on a fourth-and-3 now than he was a couple of weeks ago.
Bryan Knowles: The Patriots punt it away from midfield on fourth-and-3 and never see the ball again. The Cowboys probably "deserve" the win, considering how they had two turnovers in the end zone earlier in the game, but this has to feel like a major missed opportunity from New England.
Aaron Schatz: Cowboys make it downfield and I thought they would go conservative and play for the field goal, but nope, touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb ends it. Another heartbreaking close loss for the Patriots, definitely felt like they had this one when the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (still never explained) knocked Dallas back to its own 45 right before the end of regulation. They let up the 24-yard pass to put it in field goal range, then the drive in overtime. Very disappointing.
Aaron Schatz: Also, no pass rush today at all. Not even Matthew Judon got close to Prescott. Even when they blitzed they couldn't get close to him. No sacks at all on 51 pass attempts.
Las Vegas Raiders 34 at Denver Broncos 24
Vince Verhei: Thanks to the Chargers' loss, the winner of this game is going to be in first place, and at halftime, it looks like that's going to be Las Vegas. Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater have had similar opportunities (21 dropbacks for Carr, 20 for Bridgewater), but the Raiders passer has been much more productive (13 completions for 210 yards and two scores) than his Broncos counterpart (12 completions for 99 yards and a tuddie). Biggest star of the game has been Maxx Crosby with 2.5 sacks. Raiders up 17-7 and it could be worse—Daniel Carlson had a 43-yard field goal try bounce off the upright and out. Still, he hit from 50 yards, so it evens out.
Bryan Knowles: Tied for first place, at least. The Chargers would have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Las Vegas, and the conference -ecord tiebreaker over Denver. Tiebreakers don't matter all this early, I suppose, though it also lets you say the Chiefs will be firmly in last place.
Vince Verhei: Yes, I meant to say TIED for first place.
Vince Verhei: Kenyan Drake had a 31-yard touchdown catch earlier, and just added a 19-yard touchdown run. It's 24-7 early in the third. It's not over yet, but this has been an impressive showing for the Raiders, who had every reason to fall apart and instead came out with what looks like it's going to be their biggest win of the year.
Seattle Seahawks 20 at Pittsburgh Steelers 23
Carl Yedor: If Seattle is going to succeed tonight, they are going to need the team's skill players to help out Geno Smith in his first start replacing Russell Wilson. Seattle went three-and-out on its first drive, but they were a bit more capable of moving the ball on the second possession courtesy of a few nice plays by some role-players. On a third-and-long, Smith checked down to passing game back Travis Homer, who then subsequently made a few Steelers defenders miss en route to a 27-yard gain. On the following play, wide receiver Penny Hart came up with a nice toe-tapping catch on the sideline to move the chains again. Seattle's drive stalled out thereafter, keeping this a 0-0 game, but the Seahawks offense showed some surprising signs of life against a tough Pittsburgh defense.
Vince Verhei: So, to recap Seattle's first two drives:
- Line up to snap the ball on third-and-4. Get interrupted by a dumbass fan running onto the field. Line up to snap the ball on third-and-4 again. Call timeout coming out of the stoppage. Throw a short completion to punt on fourth down. Good thing you called that timeout! Otherwise you would have been punting from a little farther back!
- Third-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 38. That's no man's land, obvious go-for-it territory. Do they run to make the fourth-down attempt shorter? No, a pass, and it's incomplete. Then Pete Carroll cannot resist his fetish for punting in opponent territory. They intentionally take a delay of game to make their punt look slightly less cowardly. Michael Dickson's punt is excellent and should have been downed inside the 5, but incompetent coverage men grab the ball and take it into the end zone for the touchback.
I am not enjoying this first quarter.
Scott Spratt: You can sum up the Seahawks' first quarter by the fact that Cam Newton is trending on Twitter.
Bryan Knowles: I'm fairly sure that Najee Harris lined up against Benson Mayowa is a slight mismatch. Easy pitch-and-catch for the touchdown and the 7-0 lead.
Carl Yedor: I had been wondering how long it would take Pittsburgh to get a drive going against Seattle's leaky defense, and a poor punt by Michael Dickson gave them a prime opportunity with a short field. Najee Harris gets the score after motioning into a mismatch in the slot against Benson Mayowa. Seattle then punts again (better from Dickson this time), and Pittsburgh can really create some separation here with another score.
Bryan Knowles: Is Eric Ebron the most random person to have three rushing touchdowns in his career? He's gotta be on the shortlist: five rushes, -6 yards, and three touchdowns in his career.
There are a couple other players who have three rushing touchdowns on single-digit carries (Brian Dowling, a quarterback with the 1972 Patriots, and safety Nolan Cromwell, who did it with the Ray Malavasi Rams), but they both had at least seven carries and positive yards.
These are the things I think about during a pretty boring half of football.
Tom Gower: Not only that, but Ebron's three rushing touchdowns have been with three different teams! The Lions, the Colts, and now the Steelers.
We're at halftime. The Seahawks have officially run 21 offensive plays for 65 yards. Whatever the backup quarterback first-start bounce may be, we haven't seen it tonight. The Steelers offense looks no more effective than it has in the recent games I have seen (Ben Roethlsiberger has completed 18 of 23 passes but none of those have gained more than 12 yards, and the total is 119 yards), but the game feels much more lopsided than the 14-0 score.
Vince Verhei: Seattle came into tonight averaging a league-low 4.9 plays per drive. Tonight's drives, not counting the kneeldown: 3, 7, 3, 4, 3 plays.
Seattle's defense came into tonight allowing 6.7 yards per drive, more than all but two other teams. Tonight's drives for Pittsburgh: 3, 5, 6, 8, 14, 3 plays.
In other words, this is just like every other Seattle game this year, where the Seahawks either score right away or punt right away, then watch their opponent grind out one first down after another with no ability to stop them.
What we're going to see over the next month or so is just how rotten most of this roster is, and how they have been carried by a Hall of Fame quarterback for quite a while now, and without that Hall of Fame quarterback they have about a half-dozen plus players across the rest of the team. And one of those guys is a punter, who is having a bad game tonight.
Bryan Knowles: Well, the Seahawks offense woke up in the second half—or, perhaps more accurately, the Steelers defense went to sleep. I'm still trying to figure out how no one tackled Gerald Everett on his 41-yard reception; he should have been stopped immediately and the defense just sort of ... didn't tackle him. And before that it was Alex Collins, just running right up the middle over and over again, and the Steelers had no answer. All of a sudden, it's 17-14 Steelers, and we have a ballgame.
Vince Verhei: Travis Homer breaks out for a 26-yard gain on the last play of the third quarter, bringing their team total to 128 yards. Pretty surprised they gashed the Steelers so much—Pittsburgh's defense was much better against the pass than the run coming into the week.
Vince Verhei: A Roethlisberger soap-dish pass is replay-reviewed to a fumble and Seattle recovery in Pittsburgh territory. Seahawks have all that MOMENTUM! the announcers love to talk about, but a holding penalty moves them back, and a loss on a wide receiver screen moves them back more, and they end up not even getting a chance at a go-ahead field goal, and then the punt goes into the end zone for a touchback. Sigh.
Bryan Knowles: Well, of course the punt went into the end zone. Far too much MOMENTUM! behind it, naturally.
Tom Gower: The game just ended with the Chris Boswell field goal. It has been 54 minutes since I last got an Audibles email. I don't know if the rest of us are asleep, stupefied, or just at a loss as to what we should contribute to something that is meant to record what just happened. That, or something related to the Darrell Taylor injury situation. Best wishes to him for a speedy recovery, and I was glad to head the NBC broadcast report that he had movement in his extremities.
After not calling a run play in the second quarter, the Seahawks came out and ran the ball extremely well in the third quarter. They tied the game at 17 despite a vintage Geno Smith sack for double-digit yards. As noted, they started at the plus-35 and ended up punting. The Steelers got a go-ahead field goal. The Seahawks fumbled twice in the last 25 seconds of regulation and recovered both fumbles. The Seahawks tied the game and forced overtime. Geno Smith took another vintage sack for double-digit yards at a time where the Seahawks might have gone for it on ... yeah, I know, Pete Carroll, it's fourth-and-3, it's a punting down. The Seahawks got another snap. Geno Smith fumbled, and the Steelers kicked a field goal and made it to win. A bit like New England's offensive performance earlier today, which involved sustained moments of competence with long periods of inactivity, I don't know if this was a good(-ish?) game or a bad one that ended up competitive.