Even though six teams had a bye, Week 10 offered no shortage of drama, with the one-win Dolphins and Falcons providing major upsets over the Colts and Saints and a slew of other games offering excitement deep into the fourth quarter. The Dolphins couldn't even make the five-game Tipping Points cut despite turning a 28.9% Game-Winning Chance (GWC) into a victory in the final minutes. Read the following recaps, and I think you'll understand why.
Game of the Week
Chiefs at Titans
Patrick Mahomes returned for this game from a dislocated knee, and if he was rusty from a two-game absence, he shook that off in one play. On his first pass attempt, he rolled right and threw deep across his body to Tyreek Hill. Safety Kenny Vaccaro undercut it and nearly made the pick, but the ball just touched the ground before he could secure it. After that, Mahomes completed passes of 10, 19, 12, and 16 yards before hitting Travis Kelce on a 3-yard shovel pass for an opening-drive touchdown.
If the Titans were intimidated by the Mahomes-led Chiefs or their 10-point first-quarter deficit, they never showed it. In the second quarter, Ryan Tannehill needed just four plays -- including a 52-yard deep strike to recent practice squad graduate Khalif Raymond -- to produce an offensive touchdown. Then linebacker Rashaan Evans scooped up a Damien Williams fumble and returned it 53 yards for a defensive touchdown that gave the Titans a 13-10 lead. And that's how the game progressed for the next two quarters, with the Titans answering every moment of Mahomes brilliance with a balanced and physical approach that was equally effective.
The fourth quarter opened with a Chris Jones sack that forced the Titans to punt the ball back to the Chiefs, who were already up 22-20. Williams pushed the pile on a first-down carry for 6 yards, and then Mahomes threw quick to Sammy Watkins for a 9-yard gain. Cornerback Adoree Jackson just got a hand in to break up a deep strike to Tyreek Hill down the right sideline, but on the next play, Jackson and no one else could catch up to Mecole Hardman, who exploded into fifth gear after a 15-yard Mahomes jump throw and outraced the Titans defense to a 63-yard touchdown.
The Chiefs were up nine with 11:54 remaining, boosting their GWC to 86.3%, the highest it had been to that point. The Titans needed an answer, and Derrick Henry spearheaded those efforts. His 4-yard drive opener was erased by a defensive holding penalty, but he followed that with runs for 1, 4, 12, and 3 yards, sandwiching a critical third-and-10 Tannehill scramble that went for 12 yards and extended the drive. Even on his moderate gains, Henry routinely dragged his would-be tacklers for several extra yards. Entering the week, his 2.8 yards after contact per attempt were ranked fifth of the 35 running backs with at least 75 carries. He ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on just 23 attempts this week, taking full advantage of the weakness of the Chiefs' No. 28-ranked DVOA run defense. And after a 17-yard slant catch-and-run by rookie receiver A.J. Brown, Henry capped this drive with a 14-yard near-touchdown and then a 1-yard actual touchdown that returned the Titans' deficit to just two points.
The Chiefs' defensive weakness made it easy for the Titans offense to rely on its strength, but the Titans defense had the mirrored problem. They entered the week much stronger against the run (No. 3) than the pass (No. 20), and despite their best offensive efforts to keep in touch, they didn't seem like they could stop Mahomes. After a pair of Williams carries that went for 12 yards to start the next drive, Mahomes effortlessly floated a deep pass to Hill, which Hill secured for 39 of his total 157 yards on the day. But just shy of the red zone, Hill dropped a short pass that hit him in the hands, and then Jackson elevated with Hill at the goal line to disrupt a touchdown shot on third-and-8. Harrison Butker split his 39-yard field goal attempt between the uprights, but those three points created a 32-27 lead that the Titans could still erase with one touchdown drive.
They started those efforts from their own 25-yard line with 3:14 left in the quarter. Henry exploded up the middle for 14 yards and an immediate first down, but then he was stood up after just a 2-yard gain. Daniel Sorenson quickly closed the gap and tackled tight end Jonnu Smith out of bounds for just 3 yards on second-and-8, and the subsequent third-and-5 became third-and-10 after a Taylor Lewan false start. There, Tannehill tried to scramble up through the pocket, but pass-rusher Frank Clark pulled him down from behind. That left the Titans with a fourth-and-17 at their own 32-yard line at the two-minute warning. They had all three of their timeouts but made the correct call to go for it on offense, improving their GWC from 10.0% with a punt to 15.0% with Tannehill's deep pass to Brown. And Tannehill nearly converted it. Despite feeling pressure from four different Chiefs pass-rushers, Tannehill dropped his 25-yard pass right into Brown's hands as he fell backward to the ground. Brown just couldn't hang on.
The incompletion turned the ball over to the Chiefs on downs, and with 1:48 remaining and already in field goal range, the Chiefs were up to a 95.4% GWC. Either a first down or field goal would almost certainly secure their victory. Williams pushed the pile twice to get close to that former result with 3- and 5-yard runs, but on third-and-2, Mahomes took a shotgun snap. With no one open, he rolled right. Perhaps without his recent knee injury, he could have turned the corner and ended the game with a first-down scramble. Instead, Mahomes slid down for a give-up sack that -- while backing up Butker's field goal attempt to 47 yards -- forced the Titans to use their final timeout.
Butker had already made four field goals on the day, but he didn't get the chance to kick his fifth. Long snapper James Winchester snapped the ball before holder Dustin Colquitt was ready. Colquitt couldn't field it cleanly, and then to compound the mistake, he threw the ball deep toward the sideline, tacking on a 10-yard intentional grounding penalty that set the Titans up from their 39-yard line with 1:21 remaining and no timeouts, needing a touchdown.
Tannehill offered the Titans hope, escaping a pair of near-sacks and scrambling for 18 yards into Chiefs territory. He threw a perfect deep pass to Brown that rookie corner Rashad Fenton just broke up with an arm between Brown's hands, but then Tannehill answered with a 20-yard bullet to Anthony Firkser. And then with 29 seconds left on the Chiefs 23-yard line, Tannehill found slot receiver Adam Humphries, who made a sharp cut inside that caused Fenton to lose his footing. It was Humphries' only catch of the day, but it was a big one. The touchdown gave the Titans the lead, and Tannehill's two-point conversion through a Juan Thornhill attempted tackle stretched that lead to three points.
Twenty-three seconds would not be enough for most quarterbacks to lead a game-tying drive. But Mahomes isn't most quarterbacks. Ryan Succop kicked a low, bouncing kickoff that ensured a runback that would take up more time. But Hardman was able to field it at the 19-yard line, and he slashed up the middle for another 19 yards that offered Mahomes 17 seconds from his 38-yard line. Mahomes needed just one throw. The Titans brought just one pass-rusher, giving Mahomes plenty of time to survey the field. He rifled a pass to Demarcus Robinson that carried its 23 yards before cornerback Logan Ryan could take the two steps he needed to undercut the pass for a pick. The completion advanced the Chiefs to the Titans' 39-yard line, already inside of Butker's deep field goal range. They added 5 more yards with a quick strike to Robinson on the left sideline, and that set Butker up with a 52-yard attempt to force overtime. And once again, he never had a chance.
Joshua Kalu perfectly timed the snap and raced around the edge, diving and blocking the attempt before it even reached the wall of linemen. After falling to a low point of a 4.2% GWC just a minute and a half earlier, the Titans finished off their upset win over the Chiefs.
The Titans' win did not pull them out of the basement of the AFC South, but it did nearly triple their playoff odds from 5.9% to 16.8%. Half of that chance comes from their bid for a wild card, where they now trail the Raiders and Steelers by just half a game for the second spot in the AFC. But half also comes from their division, which looks much weaker after the Colts lost quarterback Jacoby Brissett and then lost at home to the Dolphins on Sunday. The Deshaun Watson-led Texans remain Tennessee's biggest obstacle, but the Titans have yet to play them this year. Win both of those December games, and perhaps the Titans can sneak their way in.
With the weakness of the AFC, the Chiefs could still afford to lose and fall to their current 6-4 record. They are just half a game up on their division rival Raiders, but with a 29.7% DVOA that dwarfs that of the fourth-ranked AFC team -- the Texans at 9.9% -- the Chiefs maintain a strong 84.0% playoff chance and nearly three-in-four odds to win the AFC West. Their biggest problem could come in the playoffs if some of these early-season losses cost them a bye or home-field advantage. They beat the Ravens head-to-head and will have a chance to do the same to the Patriots, but they would need to tie either team in record to take advantage of that tiebreaker. That's starting to look unlikely.
The Best of the Rest
Bills at Browns
A major source of the Chiefs' postseason comfort is the AFC's leading wild-card team, the six-win Buffalo Bills. Their 6-2 start was built on victories over terrible opponents. All six of the Jets (No. 31), Giants (No. 27), Bengals (No. 30), Titans (No. 23), Dolphins (No. 32), and Redskins (No. 29) that they defeated entered the week in the bottom 10 of teams in DVOA. The Bills (No. 25) are their peers and actually trailed the 2-6 Browns (No. 24) by a spot. It was little surprise then that the Browns held a three-point lead at 12-9 entering the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Levi Wallace read a wide receiver screen and was able to tackle Jarvis Landry for a 3-yard loss that backed the Browns up to a third-and-9 from their 37-yard line. Baker Mayfield tried to get that and a lot more with a 20-yard floater to Odell Beckham down the left sideline, but he radically underthrew the pass. Tre'Davious White dropped the easy interception and then had teammate Jordan Poyer crash into his back for good measure. Still, the Bills got the ball back on offense after a 47-yard Jamie Gillan punt.
With Zay Jones now in Oakland and Duke Williams being inactive for the second straight game, Josh Allen continued to rely heavily on his pair of free-agent additions at receiver, John Brown and Cole Beasley. He found the former for 17 yards on a play-action pass to start the next drive, but then good defense forced a pair of incompletions and a checkdown to Frank Gore short of the line to gain. The Bills punted back to the Browns with 11:32 left in the quarter.
With White locking down Beckham for most of the game on the outside, Mayfield relied heavily on his slot target Landry. He started the next drive with a 12-yard completion, thrown high and against the sideline where only Landry could make the catch. After a 6-yard Nick Chubb rumble through a broken Shaq Lawson tackle, Mayfield again tried and failed to find Beckham deep with White running stride for stride. The incompletion still left the Browns in a manageable third-and-4, but initial pressure disrupted Mayfield's rhythm and forced him back in the pocket, where linebacker Matt Milano could reach him with a rush around the right side. The sack pushed the Browns back to their 24-yard line and forced the third punt of the quarter.
With offense at a premium, Bills returner Andre Roberts took matter into his own hands. Fielding the punt at his own 30-yard line, Roberts ran left and forward, squeezing between a pair of would-be tacklers and carrying four Browns for the final 5 yards of his 22-yard return. That return seemed to spark the Bills' offense. Allen immediately found rookie tight end Dawson Knox for a 21-yard catch-and-run. Then, after an offensive holding penalty backed the Bills to the Browns' 37-yard line, Allen rifled in another deep completion, this one over the top of two defenders to Beasley for 26 yards. Two plays later, on a third-and-10 from the Browns 11-yard line, Allen summarized the entire Josh Allen experience. He deftly evaded the pressure of the Browns pass rush and scrambled forward and out of the pocket. But as he cut, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson chopped the ball free, Allen's 11th fumble of the season, second in the league behind Daniel Jones (13). The ball made a beeline for safety Damarious Randall, but he couldn't corral it. Instead, offensive lineman Jon Feliciano grabbed it and dove sideways into the end zone.
The referees ruled Feliciano down a yard shy of the touchdown, and they overturned an initial touchdown call on a Gore run to the left side. But Allen took the ball in himself on second down, his second rushing touchdown of the day and sixth of the season.
The touchdown put the Bills up 16-12 with 5:21 remaining. Mayfield started his next drive with a screen pass that Kareem Hunt -- in his first game back after an eight-game suspension -- did well to even return to the line of scrimmage. Mayfield then connected with Beckham for one of his five catches on the day, this one for 13 yards to the left sideline with too big a cushion left by his defender, White. Hunt made another short catch on first down, and on an attempted jet sweet second down, Hunt dropped the ball. At the right place at the right time, Jerry Hughes scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown that would likely have sealed a Bills win -- they had a 74.2% GWC even before the play. But the referees correctly overturned the touchdown, calling the fumble instead an incompletion since Mayfield shoveled the "handoff" forward as a pass.
Hunt made up for the heart attack he nearly gave to the Browns fans, lining up as a receiver and catching a 9-yard sideline pass on the ensuing third-and-7. That may be a strategy on which the Browns come to rely as a way to keep both Hunt and power back Chubb on the field together. The very next play, Chubb showed why his lack of receiving skills shouldn't keep him on the sideline. On a carry that probably should have been stopped at the line of scrimmage, he pulled a pile of Bills defenders for 10 yards on an impressive 21-yard gain.
Chubb entered the week in the top 10 of backs with 2.6 yards after contact per attempt, two-tenths of a yard behind the aforementioned Derrick Henry.
The Browns let the clock run down to 2:23 after the Chubb run, and then a short Beckham catch took it down to the two-minute warning. They clearly wanted to take as much time as possible to prevent the Bills from answering their possible touchdown with a field goal that would then send the game to overtime. That plan was sabotaged by Landry, who somehow secured an incredible second-and-6 catch for 24 yards, first cutting upfield and then turning to the outside to make the catch on his back shoulder. The momentum carried him out of bounds to stop the clock, but I doubt Browns fans were too upset now just 7 yards away from a touchdown.
Two plays later, Mayfield found Rashard Higgins open in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard score, putting the Browns up by three points with 1:44 left in the game.
It was plenty of time for Allen to lead a drive into field goal range. But that looked unlikely after an unblocked Mack Wilson forced Allen to throw the ball away on first down and then Devin Singletary couldn't get by Randall, gaining just 2 yards on second down. That set up a Bills third-and-8 where, again with excellent protection, Allen found Brown for 21 yards and a new first down. He followed that with a line-drive pass to Isaiah McKenzie along the right sidelines, advancing the Bills to the Browns' 41-yard line and the edge of Stephen Hauschka's field goal range. Singletary added 6 yards on a short completion, but after a third-and-4 deep miss to Brown's back shoulder, the Bills settled for a 53-yard field goal attempt. That's a tough distance with that pressure at outdoors with cool temperatures and moderate 10 mph winds, and Hauschka had already missed a 34-yard attempt in the first half wide to the left. This one was falling that way as well, but it looked as if it would end up a few yards short even if it had been straighter. And with the missed kick, the Browns held on for their third win of the season.
The win was the Browns' first of eight steps to 10-6, and as has been the theme of this Tipping Points, that would likely be plenty to land a wild card in a top-heavy AFC. But Myles Garrett will have to forgive DVOA for its continued pessimism. The win improved the Browns' playoff odds by just 1.7% to 10.2%.
Meanwhile, the loss dropped the Bills below a 50% chance of making the playoffs, despite their bank of wins. It would have helped them dramatically to win just one more. Their 31st-ranked schedule to date should get much harder in its final month with matchups against the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots. Even including easier games against their division rival Dolphins and Jets in their final seven, the Bills have a neutral schedule by DVOA (0.1%, 18th) over the rest of the season.
Panthers at Packers
If our first two games were showcases of two of the game's premiere power backs, then the Panthers-Packers game was a matchup of two of its most elusive ballcarriers, Christian McCaffrey and Aaron Jones. But only Jones had the benefit of facing the Panthers' No. 32 DVOA run defense, a defense he torched for 66 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries over the first three quarters. McCaffrey wasn't quite as effective, but the Panthers had moved the ball. They also made a handful of critical mistakes. Kyle Allen fumbled away a snap under center at midfield, leading to a Packers touchdown. He later threw an interception in the end zone, not seeing safety Adrian Amos reading his eyes and breaking on the ball from the center of the field. That had the Panthers down a couple of scores at 24-10 at the start of the fourth quarter when Allen converted a third-and-9 with an intentionally high pass to big tight end Greg Olsen to advance to midfield.
After a 4-yard McCaffrey run, Allen hit Curtis Samuel on a 15-yard comeback and then threw a perfect 21-yard strike to Jarius Wright between two Packers defenders. Those completions put the Panthers in the red zone, and McCaffrey needed just two carries to capitalize on the trip with a touchdown.
Down eight points with 11:58 to go in the game, the Panthers went for two, making one of analytics' favorite decisions. Had they converted, they could have won the game outright with another touchdown and an extra point. And if they missed, they would know of the need for another two-point conversion or an additional field goal in advance, helping plan their strategy. The decision improved the Panthers' odds of a victory from 7.4% to 8.2%. Unfortunately for the team and for the public response to a great decision, the Panthers failed to convert. With no one open, Allen hung in the pocket before rolling right and trying to squeeze a throw into Olsen between two defenders at the back of the end zone.
Still down eight points with just under 12 minutes remaining, the Panthers needed to make a stop, but they had no answers for Jones and the Packers' running game. Jones went up the middle untouched for 9 yards to start the next drive, and then he followed that with a 13-yard carry down the right sideline. But rather than stick with the run from there, Aaron Rodgers play-faked and threw short to Davante Adams at the right sticks. It was snowing pretty heavily by that point. Geronimo Allison broke Eric Reid's ankles with a sharp catch and cut, but Donte Jackson was able to bring him down after just a 4-yard gain. And then Rodgers, escaping pressure and rolling right, took a deep shot to Allen Lazard in the end zone that Jackson was able to leap and break up. Still more than 10 yards away from realistic field goal range in those weather conditions, the Packers punted, pinning the Panthers back to their own 8-yard line.
Allen escaped that predicament on second-and-7 with a 14-yard strike to an in-cutting D.J. Moore. That put the Panthers at their own 25. But a short completion and incompletion later, it was third-and-8, and Allen couldn't escape a Packers pass rush that won up the middle and on both edges. The sack pushed the Panthers back to their 16-yard line, and even a good punt set the Packers offense up close to midfield.
With 6:31 remaining, one would have assumed the Packers would return to the ground game. Instead, Rodgers faked a handoff to Jones and hit Adams for a 5-yard completion near the left sideline. Adams made the astute move to cut in, keeping the ball in bounds and the clock running. Jones took a carry there, which he advanced 4 yards despite being hit in the backfield. Then Rodgers found Adams again on a mirror-image play to the right sideline, which Adams again cut toward the middle of the field to keep the clock running.
The Packers started their next set of downs with a 1-yard Jones carry, but a delay-of-game penalty -- which was unnecessary since the Packers still had their third timeout -- backed them up to a second-and-9 and forced Rogers to throw the ball. Pressure forced a weak throw behind fullback Dan Vitale that Shaq Thompson came close to picking off, and then Rodgers settled for a short throw that Jimmy Graham stretched to 11 yards that was nevertheless 3 yards shy of the first-down marker. In no man's land on a fourth-and-3 from the Panthers' 38-yard line, the Packers best choice was a run (97.6% GWC). But they still maintained a 94.9% chance to win after a punt pinned the Panthers back to their own 11-yard line.
Undeterred by a headwind of snow, Allen started the Panthers drive with a slow toss to Curtis Samuel down the left sideline. With increasingly bad footing, it was difficult for defenders to make sharp cuts to match receivers' routes. Allen felt blindside pressure on the ensuing first down and tried to throw an intermediate pass to Samuel as he rolled toward the right sideline. But with little zip on the pass on the run and into the headwind, Jaire Alexander jumped the route and nearly sealed the game with a Packers pick-six.
McCaffrey took advantage of the Panthers' extra life, pushing his way through the line for 8 yards and to the two-minute warning. On third-and-2, Allen hit Moore on a 7-yard slant route, and then two plays later, Allen made his best pass of the day. From the left hash, Allen dropped an 18-yard pass into Olsen on the right sideline, just over Amos in tight coverage.
That put the Panthers in Packers territory with a minute and a half remaining. Olsen secured a critical third-and-5 conversion, reaching high and behind him to snag a pass thrown away from undercutting safety Darnell Savage. Under consistent pressure, Allen threw incomplete on the Panthers' next three downs, the first of which could easily have been flagged as an intentional grounding penalty as Allen back-handed a pass to avoid a third Preston Smith sack on the day. That left the Panthers in a fourth-and-10 with just a 4.1% GWC, but Allen converted for the third time on the drive with a 12-yard floater to Moore. The completion advanced the Panthers to the Packers' 13-yard line, and that became the 4-yard line after a short Moore completion and a Za'Darius Smith neutral zone infraction.
It was third-and-1, but with just 19 seconds left and without any timeouts, the Panthers had to be more concerned with the clock than the first-down yardage. Rather than hand off -- which could have ended the game if McCaffrey failed to score -- Allen threw incomplete in the face of pressure on both third and fourth down. That latter incompletion would have ended the game, but a Preston Smith offsides penalty gave the Panthers a new first down at the 2-yard line with eight seconds to score a touchdown. After an incompletion short of McCaffrey cut that in half to four seconds, the Panthers decided to hand it to their best playmaker on the last play of the game. Linebacker Kyler Fackrell went right around left guard Greg Van Roten and hit McCaffrey in the backfield, but McCaffrey spun away from the attempted tackle. In a crowd short of the goal line, Van Roten grabbed McCaffrey and tried to pull him across the goal line. But McCaffrey was ruled short on the field, and no replay video caught a clear view to suggest that McCaffrey was able to stretch the ball out and break the plane.
In a game nearly even in total yards and time of possession, the Panthers' pair of turnovers cost them and prevented them from taking advantage of a Saints upset by the Falcons. The Panthers still trail the Saints by two games in the division and now also trail the 7-3 Vikings by a game and half for the second NFC wild card. The Panthers have just a 21.6% chance of reaching the playoffs, and that relies more on their chances of catching the Saints in the division than it does of overtaking three of the Seahawks, Vikings, Rams, and Eagles to secure that second wild-card spot.
With the Vikings winning later that night, the Packers needed this victory to maintain their one-game NFC North advantage. The win also erases the memory of their baffling 26-11 loss to the Chargers last week. After a Week 11 bye, the Packers travel to San Francisco to take on an undefeated (as of Monday afternoon) 49ers team in a game that could have major NFC bye and seeding implications.
Cardinals at Buccaneers
The Cardinals and Bucs game came into this week with a combined five wins and this game somehow had even fewer playoff implications than Dolphins-Colts. But Dolphins wins are old hat by this point, and Jameis Winston never fails to deliver a compelling performance. His outing on Sunday looked like it might be of the bad variety when he threw an interception to Byron Murphy, who looked more like the receiver than the cornerback sitting between Chris Godwin and Winston's third attempt of the day. But Winston settled down, orchestrating 11- and 7-play touchdown drives to put his Buccaneers up 17-13 at the half.
It was 20-20 with two minutes left in the third quarter when Winston made the bad decision to try to force the ball into Godwin in traffic. The tipped ball flew up in the air and allowed linebacker Jordan Hicks to intercept the pass, setting the Cardinals up at the edge of the red zone. But the Cardinals squandered that scoring opportunity when Lavonte David ripped the ball out of David Johnson's hands, setting up his offense deep in their own territory. And then Winston scrambled his way to the Buccaneers' 35-yard line with a slow but steady run up the left sideline and into the fourth quarter.
Winston tried to hit Godwin on a deep ball, but Godwin fell down trying to make the cut. Two plays later, Winston hit on a similar-length pass to rookie receiver Scotty Miller, who spun back to his outside shoulder to make the catch with safety Jalen Thompson looming. The 28-yard completion advanced the Bucs into Cardinals territory. A Ronald Jones carry and catch added 1 yard apiece, and then Winston somehow squeezed an outside throw past Patrick Peterson for a 10-yard Godwin catch. A false start and a Winston sack courtesy veteran Terrell Suggs backed the Bucs into a second-and-23. Winston regained 15 of those yards with a checkdown pass to Dare Ogunbowale and a scramble up the middle. That set Matt Gay up with a reasonable 46-yard field goal attempt. Gay pulled it left of the uprights, but a defensive offsides penalty gave him a mulligan from 41 yards that he split down the middle. The three points gave the Buccaneers a lead by a margin of 23-20.
With almost 10 minutes still remaining in the quarter, the Cardinals had plenty of time to answer with their own scoring drive. They started methodically, with a short handoff to Johnson and a Kyler Murray zone read carry for 7 yards and a first down. But then they pivoted to the pass, and pressure and good coverage prompted Murray to throw the ball away on first and second down. He threw a jump ball deep left to KeeSean Johnson on third down, which cornerback Jamel Dean easily defensed. And then on fourth-and-10 from their own 36-yard line, the increasingly aggressive Kliff Kingsbury called the not-often-seen fake punt flea flicker. Punter Andy Lee underthrew the pass by a good 10 yards, but that just created a defensive pass interference penalty that would have secured a Cardinals first down. That wasn't necessary, however, since Pharoh Cooper fought back through the contact to secure the 26-yard catch.
The Cardinals did accept a defensive pass interference penalty on the next play. Bruce Arians challenged that call on the field, but cornerback M.J. Stewart clearly hooked Larry Fitzgerald's arm with his elbow to slow him down and prevent a catch. The second consecutive big play moved the Cardinals all the way to the Buccaneers' 13-yard line, and after a well-read short pass to Fitzgerald lost the Cardinals 2 yards, Murray back-footed a touchdown pass to Christian Kirk, open in the middle of the field. It was Kirk's third touchdown of the game. He had not scored previously all season.
The extra point put the Cardinals up 27-23 with 7:22 remaining. That was still plenty of time, but Winston is not as patient as Murray and the Cardinals. He threw deep and incomplete to Mike Evans on first down, and then he threaded a 19-yard completion in low to Evans, beneath tight coverage from the linebacker Hicks. On first-and-10 from the Bucs' 35-yard line, Breshad Perriman came free late and over the top for the deep connection Winston desperately wanted. But pressure pushed Winston backward and forced him to throw the ball away. Ronald Jones looked like he would make up for that as he broke a short pass upfield into the secondary and past the first-down markers. But untouched by Cardinals defenders, Jones dropped the ball, turning the ball over to the Cardinals in the most Buccaneers way possible.
Now with a lead and the ball on offense, Murray made a herculean effort to avoid a sack and throw the ball away on first down. New Cardinals back Kenyan Drake broke a second-down inside carry to the outside for 17 yards that moved the team into Bucs territory. He was stood up on the new first down, but Murray picked him up with a 24-yard strike that Fitzgerald held onto despite a major collision with safety Jordan Whitehead. But when Drake got stood up on another first-and-10 carry, Murray couldn't make up for it a second time. He unwisely threw the ball retreating and on his back foot, and after receiver Trent Sherfield slipped to the ground, Dean secured an easy red zone interception.
The game was devolving into the sloppy fourth quarter you might expect from a pair of six-loss teams, but Winston seldom maintains his high highs or low lows for long. After the interception put his offense back on the field on their own 8-yard line, he threw a 20-yard rope that Godwin caught and then somehow extended for another 30 yards after he bounced off of his bigger would-be tackler Hicks.
A Murphy defensive pass interference penalty and a 14-yard Peyton Barber run later, the Buccaneers were in the red zone. A referee-initiated review handed Thompson a defensive pass interference penalty for tackling Evans in the end zone, and on the eventual third-and-1 at the 1-yard line, Barber sidestepped Suggs in the backfield and waltzed in for a touchdown and a 30-27 Buccaneers lead.
From a fourth-quarter nadir of a 13.7% GWC, the Bucs were up to 72.7%. But the Cardinals still had 1:43 and needed just a field goal to extend the game to overtime. The Cardinals earned one reprieve in the form of a fourth-and-5 defensive pass interference penalty on Vernon Hargreaves, but an offensive holding penalty on the next play backed the Cardinals into a first-and-20 on their own 38-yard line with just 18 seconds remaining. Murray needed eight seconds to escape pressure and throw incomplete, and that set up a final play that Murray throw deep and up for grabs. Dean clearly hit Kirk early on the pass, which should have resulted in a defensive pass interference penalty and set up the Cardinals with a short field goal attempt to tie. But the penalty went uncalled, and the Buccaneers held on for a narrow and elusive victory.
With the strength of the NFC wild-card contenders, a win would not have done much for the Cardinals' playoff hopes. With a loss instead, they are all but mathematically eliminated, boasting just a 0.1% chance at the sixth seed. The Bucs are hardly in better shape with a 0.8% chance at the playoffs, and one can argue they are in worse shape following the win. Now at 3-6, the Bucs are down to a 13.8% chance of earning a top-five NFL draft pick. Should they choose to move on from Winston this offseason, they may not have the necessary draft capital to secure their next franchise quarterback.
Vikings at Cowboys
The Sunday night game was a fitting end to a day of exciting fourth-quarter finishes. It didn't look that way early after the Vikings orchestrated 53- and 90-yard touchdown drives to build a 14-0 first-quarter lead. But Dak Prescott led his own pair of touchdown drives to pull within three points at the half and then briefly built a 21-20 lead on a 12-yard Amari Cooper touchdown halfway through the third quarter. It was 28-21 Vikings at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Cowboys were starting a drive, and Prescott converted a third-and-14 with a 20-yard strike to Randall Cobb cutting out to the right sideline.
Ezekiel Elliott, bottled up for most of the day by the Vikings' No. 9 DVOA run defense, gained just 1 yard on first-and-10 and consistently landed the Cowboys in second- and third-and-longs throughout the fourth quarter. But that didn't stop Jason Garrett from calling a run on all five first downs that drive. Prescott overcame that one with incredible sack avoidance and an 18-yard completion across his body to Cooper. He converted the third-and-5 three plays later thanks to a fortuitous defensive holding penalty on Harrison Smith, erasing a Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffin sack. He converted the next one with a 24-yard completion to Cobb, delivered with poise under the pressure of a Vikings blitz. But he couldn't deliver on either second- or third-and-goal from the Vikings' 5-yard line, throwing the former away to avoid the sack and then throwing too high for Jason Witten, who was falling to the ground after colliding with Smith in the end zone. A more aggressive coach could have improved the Cowboys GWC from 27.4% to 30.6% with a fourth-down pass, but Garrett went conservative and kicked a field goal to cut his team's deficit to four points, still with plenty of time with 10 minutes left in the quarter.
The Vikings made that task much easier for the Cowboys, declining from an impressive 28.5% offensive DVOA in the first three quarters to just -46.6% in the fourth. On their subsequent drive, Dalvin Cook took a carry and a catch a combined 3 yards. A neutral zone infraction turned a third-and-7 into a more manageable third-and-2, which Kirk Cousins converted with a short strike to Kyle Rudolph. And then Cousins and Cook generated another new first down with 12 total yards on a respective scramble and run. That latter run advanced the Vikings to midfield, but they added just 3 yards on first and second down. On third-and-7, Cousins threw way in front of Stefon Diggs, who was tangled up with Chiodobe Awuzie down the right sideline. That forced a punt, returning the ball to the Cowboys at their 6-yard line with 4:34 remaining in the game.
Prescott extricated his offense from the shadow of their end zone with a 20-yard threaded needle to Cobb between two Vikings defenders and a 10-yard pass to Cooper just past the left first-down marker. Prescott bounced a pass just short of Michael Gallup at the right first-down marker, but he answered that with a strike to Gallup in the same spot on the field. The 13-yard gain advanced the Cowboys to midfield, and then a quick slant to Cooper beat the Vikings blitz and allowed Cooper to run the Cowboys to the Vikings 31-yard line.
Still with more than two and a half minutes, the Cowboys could comfortably run on a first-and-10 with Elliott, who fared well by the day's standard with 4 yards. Prescott found Jason Witten for an 8-yard catch-and-run that created another Cowboys first down and advanced the clock to the two-minute warning. Prescott returned to the slant to Cooper, which Cooper secured as he fell to the ground for an 8-yard gain. That set up a second-and-2 from the Vikings' 11-yard line. And in continued defiance of the results of the day, Garrett called for second- and third-down Elliott runs, which Elliott took for 0 and -3 yards to set up a fourth-and-5. An offensive play was a no-brainer call still down four points, but linebacker Eric Kendricks undercut an Elliott out-breaking route. The pass defense turned the ball over on downs and boosted the Vikings to a 97.9% GWC.
Still facing a trio of Cowboys timeouts, the Vikings ran Cook three times to try to earn a first down that would have salted the game. Instead, Cook lost yards on two of his three carries, forcing a punt from the Vikings' 10-yard line that started the next Cowboys possession from their 46. Unfortunately, the Cowboys had just 17 seconds left to cover the 54 yards they needed for a game-winning touchdown. Prescott cut a bit into that with 3- and 6-yard short completions to tight end Blake Jarwin, but that still left him with a 45-yard Hail Mary attempt with three seconds remaining. He got plenty of air under the ball, but Vikings safety Jayron Kearse elevated to make an interception in the end zone, ending the Cowboys comeback efforts.
The Cowboys handed their division-rival Eagles a 37-10 loss just three weeks ago, but this Cowboys loss dropped them to a tie with the idle Eagles at 5-4. The Cowboys maintain an edge of 63.2% vs. 36.8% chance to win the NFC East thanks to a significant weighted DVOA advantage of 26.0% (fourth) vs. 5.2% (13th). But the Eagles' remaining schedule is much easier, 25th easiest vs. just 15th for the Cowboys and with the pivotal remaining head-to-head matchup coming in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, this huge road win vaulted the Vikings ahead of both NFC East contenders, the Panthers, and the Rams in the standings and even ahead of the 7-2 Seahawks -- set to face their undefeated divisional rival 49ers tonight on Monday Night Football -- in playoff odds. They will face a critical game in Seattle in Week 13 following the team's Week 12 bye.